I found myself deleting rFactor 2 for good over the weekend. While it’s one thing for a developer to ask their customers to exhibit some patience when it comes to updating their product and keeping it up to par with what else is available on the market, there comes a time where I simply can’t sit around and wait any longer for a game I purchased in 2013 to magically improve upon what’s an admittedly lackluster base. Yes, rFactor 2 does exhibit the most simulation value out of all modern racing simulators available for the PC, but it’s wrapped up in such a bland afterthought of a product, the few standout aspects – such as the refined tire model and introduction of real road technology – are basically meaningless when there are no genuinely compelling aspects which would make you want to boot up the game in the first place.
I’ve owned rFactor 2 since it was first put on the marketplace in what I recall to be the spring of 2013, though it most likely showed up a few months earlier. In something like four years of shelf life, the game still feels like an elaborate beta program with no true sense of self. I still struggle to name a single captivating car or location in rFactor 2 that can’t be found in a rival racing simulator, the core group of modding teams still trying to support the game have recently been exposed as amateurs who are merely winging it – unsure of exactly what the physics engine wants from them, online racing is non-existent aside from private leagues who do little to advertise themselves to the general public, and some of the basic gameplay fundamentals you’re exposed to outside of single car test sessions have in some cases gone backwards from the alternatives available for less on the Steam Marketplace. It’s just not a very good package, and despite Studio 397 attempting to woo customers with yet another amateur level open wheel car, I think it’s time to wave goodbye to rFactor 2. Go back to the drawing board guys, it’s not worth trying to save.
First, let’s talk about the visuals. I don’t want to mislead people here, rFactor 2 can look quite beautiful in an extremely specific set of weather conditions, but most of the time what you end up observing are instances like the shot above, where a combination of the game’s art style and lighting engine takes on a washed-out pastel look with this weird silver haze surrounding everything. While Automobilista and RaceRoom Racing Experience both receive their fair share of criticism for cartoonish graphics, rFactor 2 travels to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and produces a very depressing, lifeless atmosphere.
Sure, I’ll praise Image Space Incorporated for going to town when it comes to trackside detail, as even the obscure shit like porta-potties (no pun intended) have been given high-poly models and play an integral role in adding to the vibrancy of the event, but the entire thing is coated in this very drab and dull color palette that the game can’t seem to shake. And those who try and force the game to run a specific HDR filter to counteract this awful atmosphere are taken back to the days of early Xbox 360 titles, where every racing game basically turned into a neon disco party, as demonstrated in the above on-board shot yanked from the game’s official forums.
In short, you can never get rFactor 2 looking anywhere close to pleasing on the eyes, even if it holds a steady 60 FPS. You’ll always be stuck in one of two very specific dimensions of hell; everything is either a gloomy day in England with an unnatural haze hanging over the landscape, or an Xbox 360 racing game whose sole purpose was to smear bright colors over your television. There is no happy medium.
The artificial intelligence is where this game starts to lose serious points. I’m aware the various rFactor 2 shills often run around to tons of different message boards boasting about the rigidity of the offline racing experience, but the reality is that rFactor 2 simply isn’t popular enough for the abundance of complaints to gain any sort of traction within the community as they did with mainstream releases such as Assetto Corsa and Project CARS.
I’m lucky enough, in a city primarily dominated by their love of Hockey and god-awful country music, that someone still started a sim racing cafe featuring the commercial variant of the rFactor 2 software, and both myself and fellow short track drivers are able to frequent the place on a weekly basis. Not only does the owner consistently notify us of other customers running into AI issues, the few private leagues which call Impulse Sim Racing home have disabled AI cars altogether, as on their best days they are downright unpredictable. I’ve actually been asked to serve as a steward for one of these private leagues, and in their rules Email they specifically state they race without AI cars because the entire event becomes an exercise in frustration when bots are placed on the grid alongside human opponents. These are people who are more or less paying to race rFactor 2 on a per-week basis, so for them to completely eradicate AI cars from the event in favor of an eight or nine car field speaks volumes about the kind of experience they were receiving in the past.
I used to take the elitist stance and chalk this up to a set of poor drivers just getting their feet wet in the world of sim racing, unsure how to conduct themselves in a pack, until I experienced these issues myself. For a developer who made a serious push to include Stock Car Racing within rFactor 2’s vanilla content – multiple car configurations, and a host of ovals inspired by real world NASCAR locations – the offline experience against the AI is downright brutal. They ignore the player’s position, run nonsensical lines even at the highest of difficulties (slower lines, at that), cause track-blocking wrecks the other AI cars are unable to maneuver around (in a similar fashion to Project CARS), and sometimes lose all composure entirely during a caution flag period. Last night we ended up backing out of a race prematurely because the AI cars merged out of pit road and sat stationary on the race track in turn one at California Speedway. Sure, some will bitch that the NASCAR content is a relatively new addition to rFactor 2, but if you’re going to put this stuff into your own game, at least make sure it sort of works.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Offline racing against bots is just not satisfactory in the slightest. Aside from a generic boost in aggression and a willingness to pass each other, the rFactor 2 computer opponents still disregard your existence and will fuck you over for no justifiable reason whatsoever. Again, those who frequent a sim cafe powered by rFactor 2 consistently request for them to be turned off entirely because they’re just too goddamn unpredictable and half-baked. That’s not a good sign by any means.
The vanilla content is a weird mix of stuff that doesn’t go well together. When I jump into RaceRoom Racing Experience, I’m given entire DTM and ADAC GT Masters seasons to mess around with, and when I fire up Automobilista, I’m allowed to make laps in every major South American auto racing series, with a partial array of historical and modern Formula One seasons offered on the side as an added bonus. This is a fantastic way of doing things from a design standpoint, as it allows the average sim racer to become familiar with an entire discipline of motor racing, and gain confidence in one class of car while still exploring a sizable amount of the game’s content and remaining within their comfort zone.
rFactor 2 does the exact opposite, essentially taking single race cars from random parts of the world, and pairing them with one or two individual circuits that just barely suit that particular car. You’re given the Skip Barber Formula 2000 – a car many of you are familiar with from its status as a beginner car in iRacing – but running it anywhere outside of Lime Rock or Palm Beach is an exercise in boredom. The 60’s Grand Prix cars are a nice throwback to Grand Prix Legends, but rFactor 2 offers just Spa, Monaco, and Monza as dedicated 60’s stomping grounds – ripping around Sepang or Estoril in these beasts just doesn’t work in the slightest. There’s a GT3 car in the Chevrolet Camaro, the class-killing GT1-spec Sumo Powered Nissan GT-R, a touring car in the NGTC Honda Civic, and a Chevrolet Corvette from the ALMS GT2 class, but you’ll soon find that you end up racing every professional class category machine at either Silverstone, Bathurst, or Interlagos.
Oh, and there’s an experimental ATV thrown in as an off road physics test, but again, there’s just one track for the quad.
There are tons of amateur open wheel rides that are quite frankly hard to tell the difference between, yet interesting announcements such as the Corvette Daytona Prototype or Super GT-spec Nissan GT-R are still yet to surface. NASCAR receives a lot of love thanks to an unlicensed knock-off series, but the pitiful AI turns oval races into a chore and invalidates a large segment of the game fairly quickly. IndyCar is represented with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway… but that’s as far as it goes.
Because ISI have attempted to pair each vehicle with one or two tracks, a lot of the location roster becomes redundant depending on the car you select. As a result, most of the time when booting up rFactor 2, you’re rotating between a core circuit group consisting of the following locations:
- Lime Rock
- Palm Beach
It all produces a scenario where despite what on the surface appears to be a very diverse array of content spanning the entire world of auto racing, all too often you find yourself turning laps at Silverstone or Interlagos because a large portion of the game either doesn’t interest you, or isn’t compatible with the car you’ve selected. As a sim racer, this is extremely boring.
Horrible third party mods have done the opposite of extending rFactor 2’s lifespan. The original rFactor spawned one of the biggest third party modding communities ever seen in modern PC gaming, as basically everyone who could use a 3D modeling program to spit out something half decent were able to pair with a self-proclaimed race car physics expert and shit out something that was within the ballpark of their virtual rendition’s real-world counterpart. For many reasons we’ve discussed previously here on PRC.net, such as ISI’s unwillingness (until recently) to provide extensive documentation regarding the modding component, most modders who could inject rFactor 2 with fantastic third party content, instead jumped ship for Assetto Corsa. And that’s fine, they had every right to do so.
But this left rFactor 2 fans with EnduRacers, MAK-Corp, and UnitedRacingDesign as the three teams tasked with providing rFactor 2 owners with a set of compelling content for rFactor 2 beyond the vanilla list of cars and tracks. And of the three teams mentioned, only UnitedRacingDesign pushed out pieces of content that were worth the download, providing sim racers with five modern GTE entries and three DTM cars from 2013 before fucking off to other simulators.
The other two teams, MAK-Corp and EnduRacers, proceeded to create mods that were in no way realistic – thus invalidating the purpose of the software they had been created for. As we’ve discussed earlier in the week, MAK-Corp’s rendition of a 2004 Williams FW26 broke the real life Interlagos track record by eight seconds and could pull upwards of seven G’s under heavy braking thanks to the ability to abuse rapid-fire downshifting techniques, while the Porsche Carrera Cup mod put out by EnduRacers at the start of 2016 came with a set of tires that literally didn’t wear out, and could be driven sideways as if you’d purchased a copy of Driver: San Francisco. This behavior was also present in their highly-anticipated Endurance Series release from only a few weeks back, a mod featuring many GT and Prototype machinery from the late 2000’s.
So in the four years of rFactor 2’s existence, we’ve got only eight cars in total worth downloading, and this same predicament is present when it comes to additional tracks. Because we’re at a point where a lot of work is needed to create a circuit from scratch, many people are opting to just rip content from other games where the locations have been created by a team of professionals. Which is fine, I don’t have a problem with ripped content because I’m an asshole.
However, there’s a catch.
While the laser-scanned versions of Brands Hatch and the Nurburgring Nordschleife originally found in Assetto Corsa are available for rFactor 2, nobody has actually sat down and optimized them for use in rFactor 2, meaning there are a whole bunch of cool tracks floating around for this game that actually drive like shit and cause heavy performance hits to your CPU. And though the temporary street circuits of Adelaide and Lester are exceptions to the rule, some of the stuff available for rFactor 2 on the Steam Workshop is just fucking sad.
For a series that once thrived on third party content, we’re at a point where none of the remaining rFactor 2 mod teams have a fucking clue as to what they’re doing, either quickly converting ancient tracks to the new platform just for something different to race on, or churning out mods with tire compounds that physically impossible for Pirelli or Falken to create in real life, all while pretending rFactor 2 is the ultimate simulation platform and that the new mod releases use an abundance of real-world data.
Lastly, we have the online component. The consumer version of rFactor 2 requires you to purchase a separate online pass just to merely access the server browser you’re accustomed to seeing in a variety of rival racing simulators – a really boneheaded move when you examine why online passes were created in the first place.
rFactor 2 initially launched in early 2013, during a time where EA Sports was bundling these little pieces of paper called Online Passes within new copies of Madden, FIFA, NHL, and other miscellaneous sports games they were releasing. When you booted up FIFA for the first time, you were asked to enter the code written on the piece of paper, and this allowed you to access the numerous online portions of the title – which if you’re not aware, has been the main draw of sports games for several years
What the online pass did for EA Sports financially, is if some kid returned Madden to EB Games, and a savvy customer picked up that same used copy for half price, they could still make money off of this transaction at some point, which was when the kid eventually wanted to play against his friends online. Game developers don’t make money off of used video game sales, but to their credit, EA Sports found a loophole where they could. It was absolutely genius, and made sense for them as a business at the time – though they eventually scrapped the concept due to widespread complaints.
Despite all of this guaranteed to never occur with the rFactor 2 software – a kid in a Tom Brady jersey is never going to return a boxed copy of rFactor 2 to GameStop – ISI adopted the online pass system regardless. And because of how little fanfare the game received to begin with due to the above four elements I’ve already mentioned, those who bought the $14 CDN online pass quickly discovered the server browser was just as empty as all other server browsers for rival racing simulators, immediately told their friends not to purchase the online pass, and online racing for rFactor 2 died almost immediately after the servers went live.
Sure, there are still private leagues here and there, operating for a dedicated group of individuals whom still call rFactor 2 home, but compared to the followings enjoyed by iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, RaceRoom Racing Experience, or even one of the Reiza titles, you’re basically forced to sign up for one of three different endurance racing leagues if you want to play rFactor 2 online at all. We’re talking hole-in-the-wall communities with extensive background checks and shit tests to prove you’re not a random asshole going to ruin their fun, rather than a lighthearted open league for people to sign up at their leisure, regardless of skill, and race on a specific day.
In conclusion, I’ve put rFactor 2 in the trash bin and don’t expect to be taking it out anytime soon.
Visually, the game is an abomination, only producing satisfactory visuals in very specific lighting and weather conditions that almost never happen during traditional gameplay. When racing offline, the AI opponents simply do not live up to the hype in the slightest that’s been endlessly regurgitated by resident trolls and shills hell-bent on spreading the gospel of rFactor 2. The default roster of content isn’t captivating in any sense of the imagination, and of the few modding teams left trying to breathe life into the simulator, even less actually know what the fuck they’re doing to begin with. Online racing is placed behind an unnecessary paywall, and the handful of leagues worth joining who do use rFactor 2 as their platform of choice all center around ultra-hardcore endurance racing events where driver swaps are mandatory. The real-road stuff, twenty four hour day/night cycle, and dynamic weather effects are all quite nice, but there are exactly zero reasons to sit down and play rFactor 2.
It’s a piece of software whose main achievement over the past few years is merely winning arguments against Assetto Corsa fanboys, and adding yet another random amateur open wheel car to the simulator simply won’t save it from its inevitable demise.