With only a few short hours left in the 2016 calendar year, it seems as if every major developer has gone out and made some sort of major announcement regarding their 2017 plans, just to ensure they can spend the first day of the new year with their families. While 2016 hasn’t been the greatest year for sim racing as a collective entity – marked by yet another round of botched console releases, rehashes of the original rFactor, poorly supported mass market driving games, and even Image Space Incorporated themselves giving up on their flagship product – 2017 is already turning out to be a pretty wild and wacky year. We’ll obviously not know for certain what the new year brings until we’re deep into the summer months, but 2017 will surely be a turning point for sim racing, offering a landscape decidedly different than the current array of titles on the market – all of which have very little to offer.
There’s a lot to run through, so let’s get to it.
Porsche Meets iRacing
This is the announcement that pushed me to write this article in the first place. After years spent as a brand exclusive to titles pushed out by Electronic Arts, and appearing in the Forza Motorsport line of games as a dedicated expansion pack long after each game’s release, everybody is getting Porsche. The boys over at Kunos Simulazioni were able to snatch up the license a few months earlier than the rest of the sim racing developers all vying for the iconic German brand, but due to just how many sim racers call iRacing home, this is an acquisition that matters. While I’m obviously not a big fan of the product they put out, iRacing is undoubtedly the biggest name in sim racing, and for every person who rushed out to buy the trilogy of Porsche expansion packs for Assetto Corsa, there were ten people on the iRacing forums begging for Porsche to appear in their highly competitive online-only racing simulator. This is now officially a done deal; Porsche is coming to iRacing, bringing a trio of race cars to the popular service – the 911 GT3 Cup, the 919 LMP1 hybrid, and the Porsche 911 GT3-R, according to the launch video.
But before you head over to Dairy Queen and order a custom cake to celebrate the announcement in your own special way, there’s unfortunately a catch. The way iRacing has been coded only allows for a maximum of five different car models in each race, unlike isiMotor based titles where the model limit is exponentially higher. When iRacing inevitably introduces the Porsche GT3 entry into the Blancpain Sprint Series sessions, it will most likely be at the expense of another car, meaning one of the vehicles currently on the roster will be taken out of competition entirely, and those who purchased the replaced car will now own a piece of iRacing content that is completely useless to them. And if it happens to be a car you’ve grown attached to, then tough luck for you.
I’ve known this was on the cards for quite a while, but I wasn’t aware when I was allowed to reveal it, so my apologies for not writing about it a bit sooner. Sector 3 Studios have been quietly working on a project to turn RaceRoom Racing Experience – a highly underrated simulator held back by absurd microtransactions – into a competitive online platform which offers a similar structure to iRacing, but (hopefully) at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately, the information I’m not privy to is what exactly this will all look like when the public finally get their hands on it, though it’s nice to know the team at Sector 3 seemed to have been lurking around these parts long before PRC’s popularity exploded, and may possibly implement a few suggestions I published all the way back in March of 2015.
There are also plans to step away from the atrocious package that RaceRoom Racing Experience has become and pursue a traditional boxed product more in-line with GTR 2 or Project CARS, as Sector 3 Studios announced in October of this year that SimBin will be responsible with developing “cross-platform” titles created by Sector 3. Though I can confirm the upcoming game will probably be powered by a relevant version of the Unreal Engine, as indicated by the leaks earlier this year, pretty much everything else about the simulator is totally up in the air.
Those who enjoy watching an online community fracture via additional downloadable content packs released for Assetto Corsa are about to enter a special kind of hell; Kunos Simulazioni have confirmed even more are on the way, with Laguna Seca, a special Ferrari bundle, and the Mazda 787b highlighting an admittedly strong selection of cars for the simulator which took the community by storm in late 2013. The team also plan to build a fantasy location similar to the Lienz hill climb festival for the original rFactor, which will include several layouts for endurance, tarmac rally, and drifting fans.
Beyond of the flurry of DLC, which more than doubles the cost of Assetto Corsa for those late to the party, the team have announced the opening of a second studio, as well as a partnership with SPARCO to bring what’s most likely either a dedicated racing wheel or seat to the consumer racing simulator market. Depending on how you feel about Assetto Corsa, these announcements can be viewed either as positives or negatives. The team are financially stable enough to significantly expand their operations, which is always good to hear in a niche genre with a fluctuating audience, but are doing so at a time when the console version of Assetto Corsa is still being blasted by owners due to the underwhelming experience contained on the physical game disc. Kunos Simulazioni are essentially announcing an abundance DLC to be released for the 2017 calendar year, while basic features such as custom lobbies are nowhere to be found, once again forcing users to sit in around in a virtual Buddhist temple and ask philosophical questions such as “what qualifies as a finished racing simulator?”
Project CARS 2 Will Probably Hit Shelves in 2017
I think it’s safe to say that the sequel to 2015’s buggy yet fairly successful multiplatform racing simulator Project CARS will be in your hands within the next 365 days, at least according to a cryptic tweet from the game’s official Twitter account. Leaks initially discovered on 4Chan have indicated the team have acquired licenses to all major brands for the release of Project CARS 2, as Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Porsche can all be seen on track together, not to mention surprises such as the historic Daytona Beach Road Course from the beginnings of NASCAR, as well as the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit used by the Verizon IndyCar Series. Though I’ve made it clear I was no fan of the original game, credit must be given where credit is due – the sheer sales numbers have allowed the team to go out and acquire many lucrative licenses for pieces of content that just weren’t possible during the original project, indicating it will probably be worth adding to your collection if Slightly Mad Studios can afford proper Q/A testing this time around.
While there are rumors that the ladies and gentlemen from Codemasters are hard at work on a sequel to 2015’s sleeper hit, DiRT Rally, it appears all good things must come to an end. Steam users have discovered that DiRT 3, the original GRID title, and Formula One 2013, have all been removed from the Steam marketplace and are no longer available for purchase, presumably due to certain licenses expiring. While your average sim racer has most likely played each of these games to death at one point or another – as both DiRT 3 and Grid were quite solid titles in their own right – their removal from Steam marks the end of an era; most of us are old enough to remember when both of these games were brand new, and I actually recall DiRT 3 as the final game I purchased from Blockbuster before they went out of business for good.
You’re still able to obtain keys if you’re curious about what each title has to offer, but it’s just not the same, man…
For fans of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, despite the tour’s appearance on Fox Sports as a live broadcast, and a decade-high spike in the number of television viewers, there is simply no modern virtual rendition of the world’s largest motorsports sanctioning body. Released in 2007 for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, NHRA Drag Racing: Countdown to the Championship features a roster of drivers who have long since retired or passed away, a season schedule boasting tracks no longer on the tour, and class performance specifications horrendously out of date. It simply isn’t cutting it for drag racing fans.
With no major developer set to unleash a fully-licensed NHRA title any time soon, NitroSim.com member Mike Russo has taken up the task of resurrecting NHRA Drag Racing 2 by means of a complete visual make-over, injecting all of the drivers and locations from the 2017 NHRA season into a drag racing simulator which first hit store shelves in November of 2000 – but is still quite a competent game on modern hardware. To make things short and sweet, the project will be completed at some point in 2017, and most likely be released as a free download for those curious about the sport of drag racing.
This one comes as a shock to many, but it’s understandable Bugbear would finally make a public statement on this matter, as the game has been sitting in Early Access since January of 2014. The team from Finland have admitted in a roundabout way that they used up all available capital to create Wreckfest and fail to push it out the door, announcing a few weeks ago that an investor has come on board to give the project an extra financial boost, which should see the spiritual reboot of FlatOut from the original developers finally make it into our hands as a finished product. The poster child of unfinished Early Access games, Wreckfest has sat in limbo for a period of years, offering a competent yet totally incomplete arcade racer that draws upon inspiration from the original Destruction Derby, but no matter how good it looks in screenshots or YouTube videos, everyone knew the game wasn’t done.
It’s supposedly going to be finished now, but Bugbear still have a lot of work ahead of them. There aren’t many tracks, there aren’t many cars, and there’s virtually no semblance of a career mode to speak of – as it stands right now, Wreckfest is little more than a fancy tech demo, so it remains to be seen what this game will actually look like after some sort of proper development cycle has been unleashed on this eternal science project.
This one’s a bit of a scary thought. Despite failing to impress sim racers not once, but twice, with the officially licensed WRC titles that were both buggy as fuck and incredibly underwhelming from a gameplay standpoint, it appears the shovelware developer – alongside publishing partner-in-crime BigBen Interactive – have secured the rights to develop both the next Test Drive Unlimited title, as well as FlatOut 4.
I’m not looking forward to either of these titles, and I have a damned good reason for that. The two Test Drive Unlimited games were both mammoth undertakings, as each developer had been required to essentially build a compelling experience around a serviceable replica of Oahu and Ibiza, which simply isn’t a task for a team whose only claim to fame is a line of yoga games, and a rally racer that most sane people refunded after less than an hour of playtime. My concerns are mirrored for Kylotonn’s FlatOut 4, as the franchise relied on an incredible damage model and competent artificial intelligence, neither of which Kylotonn are capable of producing as a team.
Those of you who eagerly followed the development process of Project CARS may remember a little game by the name of World of Speed; a free-to-play online racer created by Slightly Mad Studios, which used assets from Project CARS yet substituted the grueling real-world physics of a hardcore racing simulator to a package significantly more approachable for newcomers. The work was taken up by Slightly Mad Studios as a side project to acquire additional income and continue to fund the development of their primary product, but was eventually handed off to Lauda Interactive – headed up by Niki Lauda’s son. Yes, that Niki Lauda. He’s a video game designer now, I guess.
It’s been hard to follow what’s happened to World of Speed since then, as Lauda Interactive’s website hasn’t been updated in several months, and most dedicated driving game news outlets tend to cover simulators first, and leave any time left over for mainstream arcade games rather than stuff stuck in development hell. Thankfully, the English-speaking section of World of Speed’s official forums contains what’s supposedly a short official post from the Russian developers, indicating closed testing did not go well, they have no time frame for when the next round of testing will take place, and… well… yeah. This game probably isn’t coming.
Mere days after I had published an article mocking Studio 397 for a relatively underwhelming December blog post, which indicated rFactor 2 would remain a fairly uninteresting simulator for the foreseeable future, the team now in charge of developing of rFactor 2 went out and released the exact car I had used as an example of ISI’s general ineptitude; the Super GT-spec Nissan GTR. Thanks guys, here’s your gold star!
On a more serious note, the timing of the Nissan GTR release displays just how far Image Space Incorporated had fallen off the map in the sim racing community, considering a completely random developer team were able to package the car and upload it almost upon request. The sim racing community has been loaded with obnoxious Jehovah Witness-like personalities begging to share the good news of rFactor 2 to anyone who would lend an ear, but the release of the streamlined GTR indicated just how bizarre it was for them to worship Image Space Incorporated as sim racing gods. ISI were truly sitting on their asses, almost reluctant to work on their own product as entire years flew off the calendar, and yet here comes a new team that was able to put out a car first announced in 2013 in a matter of days. Even though I’m the administrator of a private rFactor 2 league in my spare time, I still refuse to have this game installed on my hard drive, but I gotta give credit here where credit is due – Studio 397 knocked it out of the park on this one. It’s an admittedly small gesture to release a car people had been waiting on for years, but the timing of it was absolutely perfect – and hilarious.
Though like I said, it definitely brings into question what’s happening at Image Space Incorporated.
Make no mistake, the 2016 calendar year was absolutely awful for sim racing as a genre. Quite simply, there were a whole lot of games either released or given substantial updates, yet not a single one of them stood above the rest, nor put up a valiant fight against the quality products released in other video game genres; each of them instead offered a half-baked experience that got some select aspects correct, but never the whole enchilada. It’s clear that many developers who call sim racing their home are running on fumes and pipe dreams, but unlike the previous 365 days, 2017 brings with it a glimmer of hope and optimism.
Provided the whole eSport trend catches on, there might be a lot more money circulating within the scene, and developers can afford to do more than just repackage rFactor, or continuously push out DLC while leaving a lot to be desired with the core selection of features. RaceRoom Racing Experience may possibly craft a legitimate rival to iRacing – something people have wanted for years within the genre – and the team at Slightly Mad Studios did reel in a whole bunch of money after selling over two million units of Project CARS, so provided their resources are allocated correctly, there’s a chance the sequel may be worth your time. As strange as those two scenarios sound, it’s at least a starting point, and it’s why I believe the dark ages are finally coming to a close, albeit very slowly. There may be a light at the end of this tunnel, but to truly reach the golden age of sim racing, we first need a glimmer of hope – even if it comes as a fake light mod which harnesses the power of the sun.