Last week, RaceDepartment posed a very interesting question to the racing simulator community, one which generated some genuinely intriguing responses that from an outsider’s standpoint would leave a lot of potential customers scratching their heads. Asking readers to reveal their personal picks for the all-around worst car to ever land in a modern auto racing simulator, the topic promptly exploded overnight; more than 120 replies all sought to convey a variety of thoughts and feelings on what virtual race cars needed to be avoided at all costs. To my surprise, the topic did not descend into mindless shit-slinging or fanboy wars between rival simulators as you’d expect – most users contributed to the discussion in a very modest fashion – but as the topic progressed, I began to notice an underlying story line that if publicized, could turn the genre on its head.
Away from the abrasive confines of PRC, iRacing and rFactor 2 are regarded by an overwhelming majority of the community as the two most accurate racing simulators on the market today; the pinnacle of what the genre has achieved since Gran Turismo and Papyrus became household names in the mid 1990’s.
Regardless of how each individual developer claims to strive for accuracy when it comes to perfecting their respective racing simulators, what we can agree on is that Image Space Incorporated, as well as iRacing, have spent decades refining their software to the point where the general buzz around either title usually consists of mentioning an abundance of real world auto racing teams align themselves with one group or the other. rFactor 2 fanboys will kick and scream that Formula One and World Sportscar teams use rFactor software both as a training tool for their drivers, as well as an in-house simulator to test new cars and potential setup changes, while iRacing members will be quick to link you to a testimonials page featuring an overwhelming amount of American race car drivers claiming to be so enamored by the accuracy of the online racing service, they constantly use it to brush up on their driving skills.
As an outsider just getting into sim racing after growing tired with mass-market console titles, this kind of marketing combined with very promising ground level buzz makes the choice seem pretty obvious for those looking to buy their first simulator – iRacing and rFactor 2 are supposedly so far ahead of the competition, real drivers are flocking to either title en mass because they’re just that realistic, that refined, and that authentic.
Responses to RaceDepartment’s recent thread may have something to say about that; the two genre-defining simulators are actually a bit of a mess away from the carefully crafted marketing hype, full of cars that are of such a poor quality, it’s difficult to comprehend how these games are so widely praised by the community to begin with.
Let’s start with ISI/Studio 397’s rFactor 2, which has been on the market since 2013. Several users note the Historic Stock Car, the Karts, the Renault Megane Trophy, the Formula 2, the GT3-spec Chevrolet Camaro, and even the Skip Barber are not just underwhelming cars when compared to the rest of the vehicle roster, they are deemed to be some of the most unrealistic, inaccurate cars ever created for a racing simulator. If you go onto the rFactor 2 Steam Forums, or even the official Studio 397 message board, you will see people praising this game to the highest of heavens, going on and on about a tire model so complex and so advanced, historians will deem this to be the most groundbreaking and innovative piece of software ever developed. Some will even berate you for daring to mention you enjoy other games, simply because rFactor 2’s physics are supposedly so perfect, you’re somehow less of a sim racer if you choose to ignore that portion of the software in pursuit of a more well-rounded simulator experience elsewhere.
And yet, here are a cluster of seven different sim racers saying a handful of cars in the game are complete trash and should be avoided at all costs. Answer me this: if the game is every bit as advanced as its reputation makes it out to be, why would anyone dare to label some of the default content in the game as “the worst sim car of all time?” It’s not like these people are all dog-piling on one specific car that ISI announced later down the road had been created by a group of rookie staff members just learning how to insert content into the game – no, there’s a pretty diverse range of cars mentioned, all from different periods in rFactor 2’s lifespan, that are deemed to be the worst cars the genre has to offer.
How is it that a game held in such high regard by a significant portion of the community is at the same time being nominated several times over for including cars so preposterously bad, they are being mentioned in a “worst sim car of all time” questionnaire? Everywhere you go, from Steam to Reddit, people claim that rFactor 2 is an objectively fantastic racing simulator that doesn’t receive enough credit for what it accomplishes, but yet we now know of six cars in the game to outright avoid because they’re so absurdly bad.
How does that work?
Next, let’s talk about iRacing. Launching in 2008, iRacing has grown into a worldwide phenomenon within the spectrum of racing games over the last decade, a “final solution” of sorts to console gamers who have grown tired of chaotic public lobbies, or hobbyist PC sim racers seeking the ultimate online racing challenge. While racing simulators are a bit of an obscure video game genre as a whole, restricted to hardcore nerds who willingly drop hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on plastic steering wheels, iRacing as a brand is fucking everywhere – with PC Gamer calling it the best racing game of all time, iRacing liveries constantly popping up in American oval racing, and even top level NASCAR commentators occasionally name-dropping the software during live events. So you’d think with all of this hype, publicity, brand recognition, and the most important factor – money – fueling this operation, the quality of the software itself would mirror the enormous exposure it has received, right?
You are mistaken.
An abundance of users on RaceDepartment are in some cases nominating every single car available in iRacing as “the worst, most inaccurate car ever to be released for a commercial simulator.” This isn’t just the crazy ramblings of one guy with a vendetta against the company, either – you have several people from all over the world, road racing fans, oval fans, dirt fans, armchair sim racers, guys who have raced in real life, all saying the entire game is horrible. I think I counted five alone whose responses were just “iRacing.” Full stop.
Just consider what is being said here; after all of this laser-scanning stuff, the aggressive marketing, the testimonials from real drivers claiming they all practice on the software 24/7, the elaborate developer diaries, the numerous tire model revisions both old and new, former NASCAR engineers lending a hand with the physics side of things, and the bizarre cost that can quickly eat into the wallet of anyone who isn’t financially responsible, you have several people going onto a public forum and saying “the whole game is trash and drives nothing like a real car.” This is supposedly the pinnacle of sim racing, the reason people are spending thousands on full motion rigs, triple monitor setups, and toy wheels that can eclipse the cost of an amateur race car.
And that’s before we pick apart specific comments left by users such as Akra, who notes “the Spec Racer Ford was clearly broken and undriveable on day one, and as usual it was defended by the iRacing hardcore as being the most realistic thing known to man. Turns out it was broken, and patched too.”
How can it be that the biggest, most prolific sim racing entity in gaming today, is being discussed by users away from the official forums as so unrealistic, every single vehicle in the game could qualify as the worst sim car of all time? Again, one guy with a post history of nothing but slamming iRacing, that can be written off as someone with a vendetta and a bit too much time on his hands. However, multiple sim racers all saying the same thing, with some even coming out to openly talk about how iRacers will crucify you for daring to mention that a car within the game isn’t very good, that’s cause for concern.
So what’s going on here? Two of the most prolific, well-known simulators are being blasted by sim racers for totally inaccurate cars that behave nowhere close to their real life counter parts. How does that work, and an even better question, why is nobody raising awareness about this? Here you’ve got two companies that openly advertise their products as being so accurate that real-world racing teams are lining up to use them, yet everyday customers (who make up 99% of the audience) remain totally unconvinced, writing things like “the Mazda MX-5 drives like a psychotic ice cube” on third party message boards.
Is sim racing as we know it just a giant smoke and mirrors show, held together by idiotic fanboys who throw money at anything and everything to live out their failed race car-driving dreams, while those critical of the software are pushed aside and dismissed as irrational haters pushing a garbage rhetoric?