Don’t look over there, look over here! The January 2017 update of RaceRoom Racing Experience deployed a few short hours ago after a brief period of routine server maintenance, and other than the free-to-play racing simulator finally receiving a long awaited circuit in Silverstone International Raceway, there are certainly more negatives than positives to discuss this afternoon. For a game that’s looking to implement some sort of organized online racing service comparable to iRacing in the near future, Sector 3 have a mammoth amount of work to do in order to properly prepare for what lies ahead with R3E.
Yes, there’s now a beautiful rendition of Great Britain’s most iconic purpose built auto racing facility for R3E owners to purchase, and you’re now able to execute pit stops entirely by yourself – without the computer ever taking control of your car – but these are immediately forgotten about once you hit the track. Silverstone is already found in every other modern racing simulator on the market, and a whole host of these games dating back to the days of MS-DOS have allowed you to drive the car in pit lane and stop in your respective pit stall for a set of four racing slicks with complete independence. With this latest update, Sector 3 are essentially playing catch-up. Once you realize that you’re celebrating the ability to do things you were once able to do in simulators released decades ago, the magic of Steam downloading a sizeable update for R3E is lost.
Don’t get me wrong, R3E’s rendition of Silverstone is fantastic and a worthwhile addition to the game compared to all of the obscure Swedish tracks Sector 3 recently announced, but there are many fantastic versions of Silverstone floating around in the wild. And there are still many problems with R3E that should have taken precedence over the release of a new track.
Traditionally when I compose pieces like these for any number of racing simulators, I typically head online for a race or two, save the replay, and spend a couple of minutes poking around with the free roam camera so our readers have a collection of pretty pictures to look at. It’s incredibly hard for me to do that here. R3E currently suffers from a problem where if any user retires from a race prior to its completion, they don’t show up for the duration of the replay. This never used to be an issue until a build or two ago. Sector 3 still haven’t fixed this, meaning several key players from a battle that occurred early on in a GT3 session at Silverstone are nonexistent in my replay file. It’s pretty hilarious watching myself and the guy in the Corvette give space to our imaginary friend in the Mercedes SLS AMG for the opening laps, not to mention a cluster cars randomly scattering in turn one to avoid a wreck you can’t actually see.
For leagues using R3E as a competitive platform, this is a deal breaker. As an administrator or steward, how do you go back and analyze footage of an incident, when there’s a chance the car that caused the incident won’t appear in the replay unless they finished the race prior to disconnecting from the server? Oops.
Around this same time last year, RaceRoom Racing Experience featured a setup exploit that let you run the lowest downforce configuration possible in every GT3 car on the roster, without any obvious detrimental effects to your performance. Basically, you could set the rear wing to a value of 1 (out of a possible 20), and utterly stomp the field with free top end speed, when in theory the car should have been a deathtrap and nearly undrivable in all but the slowest of corners on the race track. I used this exploit to my advantage for a few races before reporting it to Sector 3, and it was supposedly rectified by March of 2016.
I don’t think they’ve fixed it, or if they have, it hasn’t been on every car. Just for a giggle, I dropped the rear wing to the minimum value of my McLaren 12c before an online GT3 event of Silverstone, primarily to see how much I could get away with considering Silvestone features three very long high speed sections where low downforce would greatly benefit your car’s performance. I also ran the qualifying session with a full load of fuel, because I was so incomprehensibly lazy, I couldn’t be bothered with creating a separate qualifying setup.
Rather than the rear end trying to loop around on most corners of the circuit, the 12c I’d chosen was fairly neutral with a tad bit of understeer if I got the throttle application point wrong. And not only was I murdering people in the high speed sections, nobody else in the session stood a chance when it came to the overall lap times. The current leaderboard record holder, Thomas Schmidt, was over a second off pace. Keep in mind, I was also running a full tank of fuel, whereas Tomas was noticeably faster in qualifying than he was in practice – indicating he devised a proper sprint trim setup. I ran just two laps in qualifying, and parked it for the rest of the twenty minute session.
Personally, I would prefer if Sector 3 released a hotfix that locked the rear wing setting for all GT3 cars at a uniform value, as your average person isn’t going to discover the low downforce exploit, therefore spending countless laps trying to fine tune the rear wing setting when they simply don’t need to. In order to level the playing field and make online races at least somewhat competitive for the time being, the rear wing should be a fixed value until Sector 3 can figure out what’s causing this problem. I love winning races by a large margin, but it’s a lot more fun when it relies on driver skill rather than discovering something in the garage area that most wouldn’t consider. And it would be really shitty if this was still around with skill points on the line, or whatever Sector 3 are planning to do with their organized online racing structure.
There are other little niggles, as well. The online server browser has been redesigned as well, though it’s not without its problems. Visually it’s a step up from the primarily text-based format, but there’s no option to permanently hide restricted servers by default, meaning you’re forced to click the button every single time you enter the multiplayer screen. And though there’s a nice picture detailing each circuit being used in the lobby, the cars available are now written in a smaller font. Look, I don’t care that the name of the room is FERAL CIRCUS, I want to know which classes of cars I can drive. That’s the important part. Don’t hide it off to the side.
Like I said, it’s a very underwhelming update for RaceRoom Racing Experience that fails to fix the important stuff, while adding a circuit that all the other games already have, and a feature that should have been in there from the start. I’m not happy that the low downforce garbage is still present – as it compromises the level playing field – and it’s lame how replays still fail to include drivers who disconnect prematurely, especially as this is a relatively new glitch that wasn’t present in the past. Stuff like this just makes me extremely skeptical that Sector 3 can pull off releasing an online racing service intended to directly compete with iRacing. You’ve got to walk before you can run, and they’re still struggling with the walking part.
EDIT: Now since a lot of you have been rightfully asking about the artificial intelligence improvements Sector 3 have bundled with the latest build, the least I can do is talk about them for a bit, as many use this title for their go-to single player racing experience (no pun intended). According to the patch notes, Sector 3 have attempted to breath new life into the AI by giving them a basic set of dynamic behavior traits, and on paper what they’ve tried to introduce sounds fairly impressive. No longer are the AI running on rails at a set pace, they’re generally aware that they’re driving a high performance race car in a competitive environment, against other drivers trying with the same common goal – win the race. That’s a good thing for owners of R3E.
- Introduced “Stress factor” for AI. AI’s can now be pushed into making mistakes when under pressure. Likelihood of those mistakes increases from being chased and from collisions.
- Improved AI awareness of opponents on their sides.
- When two AI’s are side by side reaching a braking point, one will brake 3% earlier and the other 2% later, depending on longitudinal position and relative speeds
The bad thing is, these new lines of code don’t produce the results we’re all looking for on the race track. In short, while the additional logic implementations look nice in a forum post outlining what you can expect from the January 25th update, the AI basically ram into each other at a rate that makes racing offline exceptionally frustrating. As you can see in the shot above, one AI car is straight up turning into another only a hundred feet or so after the start finish line. It’s a pain in the ass to navigate through, because they never seem to let up.
I’m racing on an AI strength of 117, and the computer opponents are basically trying to kill each other at any given moment. Here at the Slovakia ring, you can see two sets of cars playing chicken with one another; the group on the right side playing bumper cars with each other before we’ve even made it to the first corner. It’s utterly silly to watch in motion, and it almost always results in a cluster of cars slamming into one another. Don’t get me wrong, I love trading paint with people online, but it’s all contextual. This isn’t something you do right at the drop of the green flag – it’s the result of several minutes fighting for position, and yet in R3E’s single player component, the AI drives like we’re in Destruction Derby from the moment the lights go out.
The quality of racing varies greatly from track to track, so while some of you may be lucky to find yourself enjoying an acceptable battle against the AI, some tracks are borderline useless. Sonoma Raceway and the Slovakia Ring produce some phenomenal clusters throughout lap one, while the brand new Silverstone Raceway fares much better, aside from AI cars randomly applying the brake pedal long after any significant event has occurred in front of them. It’s very Assetto Corsa-ish in that the AI sometimes piss themselves for no identifiable reason, and you can make up a few spots here or there due to their sheer incompetence.
Portimao, one of my favorite tracks in R3E, is sadly a complete clusterfuck when racing against a field of bots. AI cars occupying the inside line going into turn one routinely misjudge the turn-in point on corner entry, notice they’ve made a mistake, counter-steer to bail themselves out, and shoot across the track into oncoming cars whom are going much faster than they are. I’ve tried to capture the moment of impact in the shot below, but it’s to the point where multiple cars are causing a wreck, one after the other. The silver Mustang took out the SLS, and the blue Z4 took out the black Camaro.
As I kept restarting the race to see what else would happen, it was basically just a matter of watching the same three or four AI cars plow into each other with reckless abandon, sometimes in places that nobody should possibly place their car entering turn one at Portimao. I mean, seriously, these guys are a solid thirty feet away from the proper racing line.
I would love to say that the artificial intelligence in this game is a massive step forward with Sector 3’s upgrades to their behavior, but I can’t. Yes, there are some tracks where the AI are partially tolerable aside from micro-braking. Venture past that, and they have no problem playing bumper cars with one another. Sure, if you only drive one or two tracks in the game, and they happen to be locations not adversely affected by the changes in AI driver logic, your experience will most certainly vary. However, in about thirty minutes of mucking around within R3E’s single player mode, all I saw was carnage. In Automobilista – a simulator inspired by the same underlying engine – I can deal with the odd AI car or two nudging each other out of the way, but R3E jacks things up to eleven. It’s an all-out battlefield, and very rarely does their aggressiveness make sense given each on-track situation.
Back to the drawing board.