A Steam user review by an account going under the name of RWB Rodders claims Automobilista is a “hidden jewel” in the land of sim racing – and on the outset, you’d have every reason to believe him. With over 180 hours in the simulator since it’s launch on Steam’s Early Access platform in the spring of 2016, it’s not wrong to assume this guy knows what he’s talking about. While other games may boast a huge cult following among the sim racing community, or tout massive sales numbers aided partially by a marketing campaign traditionally seen with mainstream AAA titles, Automobilista on paper should be the superior simulator you finally discover after exhausting all other options.
And I was part of the crowd who advocated for Automobilista as well. Building upon a solid base in the widely used isiMotor engine, Reiza Studios upped the physics engine refresh rate and tweaked other behind-the-scenes elements to essentially build the ultimate rFactor package money could buy; quite literally, I might add. When you examine the simple element of how Automobilista interprets the relationship between four racing slicks and the tarmac, no consumer simulator does it better.
But then you actually try and play the game.
The team over at UnitedRacingDesign released their totally not DTM payware mod earlier this evening, and as someone who’s a fan of their work, I had no problem handing them $8 CDN to download their fictional pair of German Touring Car championship seasons. After a few testing sessions at various tracks, in which I dialed in the setup and genuinely felt as if my disposable income went towards a quality piece of content for Automobilista, I figured it was time to participate in a short offline racing event.
I chose the 2012 rendition of the Ribeirao Preto circut found in the vanilla list of content; a temporary street course some 4Chan users affectionately refer to as the Brazilian Death GP for it’s tendency to punish you for even the smallest of mistakes. With lap times coming in at just over a minute in length, and several extremely technical sections really testing your driving skills, I thought it would be the absolute best place to run the light, nimble, and extremely powerful 2013 DTM cars for a 12 lap session.
We didn’t make it through Qualifying.
Straight up, I don’t know how artificial intelligence this poor made it into a consumer product, especially after what was essentially an open beta period where people were paying pretty substantial amounts to test the sim ahead of schedule. The AI was simply unable to string a lap together without trashing their respective vehicles, and the problems never boiled down to a single corner. If they weren’t helplessly smashing into barriers, they were taking lines that were beyond nonsensical – such as this guy in the BMW knockoff monster trucking over the hairpin berm.
The most challenging part of setting an acceptable qualifying time wasn’t ensuring I ran a clean line while maximizing my time on the throttle; I was constantly forced to avoid completely absurd wrecks that I was virtually unable to predict. Every AI driver in the field trashed their car on multiple occasions.
I mean, it was seriously incredible. You’d check the delta bar at the top of the screen, hyped to be on a killer lap that was a couple tenths ahead of your previous effort, and suddenly there would d be a guy driving backwards on the circuit, grinding the wall in the process.
Or, you’d catch up to an AI car in the third sector, only to see him channel his inner Ken Block and drag the side of the car along the tarmac after literally jumping over the final corner. It looked as if I’d traveled back in time to 2007 and had been downloading sketchy Russian conversions for rFactor – only this time I had the credit card receipt to prove I’d given $40 to Reiza Studios for what was transpiring on my screen.
Analyzing the replay became a game unto itself; capture every last qualifying incident for use in an article on PRC.net, as there was no way I was actually going to finish the event in a satisfactory manner at this rate. In a hardcore racing simulator aimed at a fraction of a fraction of an already small audience, there was arguably more chaos than Destruction Derby 2 on the original Sony PlayStation.
AI cars were jumping over kerbs, completely disregarding the concrete walls which lined the circuit, and going all-out Saudi Arabian stunting – which made for some neat screenshots given the expressions of certain 2D fans plastered throughout the facility.Damaged cars parked on the side of the circuit were decimated by other AI cars arriving on the scene. Very rarely were there more than five cars on track at any given time, as circuit activity cycled through sets of cars every 45 seconds or so; the first wave of five would go out, wreck, and warp back to the pits, allowing the next set of five cars to do the exact same. We basically repeated this process for the entirety of the eight minute qualifying session.
It was hard to watch, especially knowing the reception Automobilista receives among the sim racing community as the aforementioned hidden jewel for those that don’t feel games like iRacing, Assetto Corsa, or Project CARS have met their own personal needs. What was occuring on my monitor was nothing short of complete incompetence, and as you’ve seen with both Project CARS and Assetto Corsa on current generation consoles, a game displaying this kind of ineptitude from the so-called artificial intelligence would receive a public flogging.
We ended the session with only five of the fourteen entrants completing a single timed lap within the eight minute period. Let me explain this to you in terms which you can understand; at a track where laps are just over a minute long, and most drivers will be able to click off five or six in that time frame, more than half of the AI bots on the grid – despite having more than enough track to work with, could not complete the out lap without destroying themselves.
This is what you get for your $40 USD when purchasing Automobilista in its current state. From a raw physics standpoint, I believe this is the best simulator currently available on the market, but you can’t actually play the game without the AI having some sort of colossal meltdown. Reiza Studios are extremely lucky this game does not have a mass market following, because very few gamers would be willing to accept the atrocious experience outlined above.