No, this is not a drill – we hope, anyway. The fine folks over at RaceDepartment have teamed up with the newest incarnation of SimBim Studios UK to help reveal their current project to the world of sim racing in front of the audience who would love to hear something like this the most. Set for a multi-platform release across the Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4 sometime in 2018, the long-awaited third entry in the hardcore sports car simulator franchise, GTR 3, is confirmed to be in development.
Initially announced as an Xbox 360 racing game during the spring of 2006 before quietly being cancelled, and then again as a purpose-built PC simulator in late 2011 prior to the underlying software drastically being re-branded into a free-to-play racer known as RaceRoom Racing Experience, Chris Speed of SimBin Studios UK claims the goal with GTR 3 is to push out a top level sports car experience that caters to both casual fans and hardcore sim racers, citing Codemasters’ excellent F1 2016 as inspiration for the project, but leaving sim racers largely in the dark regarding what they should expect on launch day. While we know the title will be powered by the Unreal 4 engine and feature an impressive boost in visual fidelity compared to Sector 3’s current work, key elements such as official series licenses, a potential roster of cars and tracks, or what progression elements the game may contain to keep people engaged have not been made public. All we know is that it will be a quasi-mass market simulator akin to what DiRT Rally or Assetto Corsa have been sold as.
To calm the fears of those who outright refuse to tolerate the intrusive micro-transactions seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience, Speed has confirmed GTR 3 will at the very least ship as a standalone product in the traditional sense, which does not require the use of funny money nor the acquisition of an extensive downloadable content platter to indulge in what GTR 3 will offer to sim racers; a throwback to the days of when video games were sold as complete products.
GTR 2, released in 2006 by a very different team operating under the name of SimBin Studios – currently flying as Slightly Mad Studios of Project CARS fame – was really the last complete racing simulator we were sold prior to certain trends within the industry locking even the most obscure developers in a stranglehold. Coming in just a year prior to the ridiculous downloadable content frenzy spearheaded by juggernaut console franchises, and long before simulators simply threw a random assortment of cars at the customer and said “entertain yourself”, GTR 2 marked the very end of sim racing’s golden age, where competent developers took aim at one specific series in particular, and busted their collective asses to build a highly accurate rendition of whatever they’d acquired the license to – no matter how unfamiliar it was to the general public. While not without its faults, GTR2 absolutely nailed every last element of the FIA GT Championship because SimBin as a developer were focused on creating the very best FIA GT experience possible – the quality of the title engrossing sim racers in a series most of them had never heard of prior to their purchase.
In an era where developers rush to acquire any licenses they possibly can, and spit out games that are merely physics sandboxes with semi-functional racing elements tacked on almost as an afterthought, it’s absolutely fantastic to see a sim racing developer return to a very focused and concrete theme behind their product. Part of Sector 3’s biggest struggle when working on RaceRoom Racing Experience for the PC is that different pieces of content pull them in different directions; sometimes they’re working on the modern DTM cars, other builds focus around the GT3 machinery, and sometimes Steam downloads an update and greets you with a surprise that a car you loved driving now resides in an entirely different class. A product such as GTR3 allows a company to sit down and say “let’s focus on building the best possible sports car game we can make with the technology we have available”, as opposed to being pulled in eight different directions by eight different pieces of content.
And not only have Sector 3 struggled with this problem; iRacing, Automobilista, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa all suffer from being a “jack of all trades” simulator, yet a master of none. Assetto Corsa features many modern Prototypes, but no Circuit de la Sarthe nor the ability to race at night. Project CARS features two different eras of stock car racing, but no ovals in sight. It’s really quite silly, and the impression I’ve gotten from the initial announcement is that GTR3 slaps this ideology straight in the face. As a result, I expect the overall quality and theme of the game will greatly benefit from a very centralized focus.
However, some sim racers are already claiming the sky to be falling, as Chris Speed’s description of a sports car simulator that appeals to both the hardcore crowd as well as a mass market audience have some sim racers believing this game will be neutered beyond recognition in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. I find this to be an exceptionally strange fear. GTR2’s way of appealing to casual racers was by creating a separate tutorial mode that taught the basics of driving a race car – something which everyone could use a bit of brushing up on every now and then – and lumping sets of driving aids into three distinct categories that could be toggled in a dedicated Realism menu to produce the driving experience of your choice. Most people of the hardcore obviously set this shit to Simulation and never touched it again, but lesser settings were definitely there and in no way sacrificed the integrity of the simulation in favor of the casual audience.
Hell, both NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, and even the almighty Grand Prix Legends, offered entire alternative physics models for people who found the ideal variant of the game far too difficult for what their preliminary set of skills could cope with, and those are two titles which most of the sim racing community agree to be the most difficult home simulators ever released to the general public. Did the arcade handling models see stuff like Grand Prix Legends tossed aside by sim racing snobs for not being hardcore enough? Nope.
I think a lot of people expected me to tear the GTR3 announcement apart, but in reality, this is the exact kind of game the sim racing genre needs – a throwback to a much better time. With Sector 3, Kunos Simulazioni, and even iRacing sitting around and churning out games that just sort of throw random cars and tracks at the user in a stale and uninspiring physics playground, it’ll be a nice change of pace to have a game on the market that really attempts to build an atmosphere and sense of identity around one core racing series that is reproduced to perfection. It sucks that we won’t see this game in a completed state until 2018 at the very earliest, but at least someone in the genre has finally smartened up and figured out that you can’t just keep endlessly fine-tuning your own sandbox simulator to try and compete with everyone else’s nearly-identical sandbox simulator.