Should Mainstream Gaming Sites Give Up Covering Racing Games?

Late last night, I stumbled across the above compilation of quotes from various gaming sites who were tasked with giving a critical shakedown to Codemasters’ excellent surprise 2015 release, DiRT Rally – a no-nonsense rally simulator which made zero effort to appeal to the mainstream gaming audience. Developed by a passionate group of off-road racing fans based out of the United Kingdom, and drawing inspiration from SCI’s Richard Burns Rally rather than treating the software as one giant advert for energy drinks and sneakers, the gaming press struggled to get a handle on what DiRT Rally had to offer, with several review sites blatantly copying each other’s articles by deeming it to be the Dark Souls of racing games due to its alleged relentless difficulty.

We’ve known for a while now that the social justice warriors and agenda-pushing man-children churning out articles for major gaming sites on a weekly basis typically struggle with skill-based video games, but the collection of DiRT Rally reviews on display above really drills home how prevalent this problem is, as least when it relates to racing games in particular. Mainstream reviewers are having such a difficult time coming to grips with modern racing games, they’re basically just regurgitating critical pieces from one primary source and adding bits and pieces of their own commentary to pass it off as theirs, most likely in an effort to hide that they were unable to become proficient with the game, and therefore couldn’t properly evaluate the software.

So my question today is, with it becoming increasingly apparent that major outlets lack the driving skills necessary to properly inform their audience about each new release: should mainstream gaming sites give up on covering racing games altogether?

I’ve owned DiRT Rally since it first launched in the spring of 2015, and have watched the package develop from just three environments and a handful of cars, into a multi-platform release that saw the game repackaged and reconfigured for Sony’s PlayStation VR headset. Throughout my 64 hours of play on the PC version alone, as well as my time spent mucking about with the PS4 rendition for a giggle (above), not once will you see me saying DiRT Rally is a difficult racing game. Listen to your pacenotes, drive at 80% attack, and keep the car balanced – this means not sliding dead sideways in sixth gear at a third gear corner – and it’s fairly easy to complete a stage with no damage to your vehicle whatsoever. Yes, some of the Group B cars are a bit sketchy, and the highest difficulty level requires you to maintain a moderately quick pace throughout the stages in order to attain a podium finish, but unless you’re stuck in 2002 and mindlessly throwing the car at each bend as if you’re playing V-Rally, DiRT Rally is hardly the nightmare the big journalists imply it to be.

In fact, while the mainstream outlets are claiming DiRT Rally to be the automotive version of a notoriously difficult Action/RPG series, those who actually play DiRT Rally have complained the cars have too much grip, and the AI is too easy. I still appreciate the game for what it is, but even our own readers have discovered the cars generate so much downforce and sideforce, you can curve them like a baseball in mid-air.

This major discrepancy between the big gaming sites making DiRT Rally out to be one of the hardest racing games ever released, versus actual racing game fans believing it to be too easy, raises a pretty substantial red flag when it comes to how these games are viewed and consumed by the general public. Like it or not, sites such as RaceDepartment, VirtualR, TeamVVV, InsideSimRacing, and, well, ourselves, don’t have a lot of viewers compared to GamesRadar, GameSpot, IGN, and Kotaku. Regardless of how the niche sim racing sites critically assess a video game, developers and publishers both know that it’s how the title is received on the major outlets that matters, because that’s where the most eyes are. So if these outlets are absurdly incompetent at breaking down the game in the first place, you’re looking at an entire sub-ecosystem that can be rocked because John Smith’s only knowledge of racing games dates back to Mario Kart: Double Dash, and he certainly hasn’t had much practice since then.

Incentives, bonuses, and long-term deals for developers are determined not by what John Sabol of InsideSimRacing thinks of a racing simulator, but the aggregate score on Metacritic – and when those aggregate scores are determined in part by people who can’t complete a lap at speed; either regurgitating other’s opinions or just flat out roasting the game because they suck, an entire developer is at the whim of people who basically didn’t even give the game an honest review. This almost happened with Sega’s Football Manager series, when an American sports fan who didn’t know the subgenre of management games was a thing that a lot of people enjoyed, blasted what is now one of the most popular games ever on Steam.

In this instance, there was justified outrage because it was clear the writer did not understand the purpose of the software, but in the case of a racing game, we’re at the point where legitimate issues might slip under the rug entirely undetected, or people needlessly slam the game for being difficult. In this case, publishers, who are merely looking for a tangible review score to determine whether to keep the team around for a sequel or unrelated second project, might otherwise chase away talented teams who built a compelling product – the guy reviewing it just happened to be an assclown.

The best example of this happening in the world of racing games would be Rainbow Studios’ excellent off-road racer, Baja: Edge of Control. Packing a dizzying array of classes, environments, and race types onto a single disc, reviewers instead slammed the title for being “maddeningly difficult” and “unforgiving.” Thanks to an abundance of reviews that were basically unwilling to even give the game a shot, or writers that had trouble keeping their truck pointed in a straight line, Edge of Control sits at an average score of 61 (or 65 depending on the platform) on Metacritic, when it’s actually a hidden gem. Rather than progress into the uncharted realm of desert racing, THQ promptly went back to making motocross games that relied on a heavy dose of DLC until the company ran into financial trouble a few years later.

We are lucky that Baja: Edge of Control will see a high definition remaster for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but it’s just that – a quick remaster that I suspect will receive the same critical lashing as the original did, for the very same reasons, and restart the cycle anew. Publishers see the scores that Edge of Control reeled in from mainstream sites, think “wow, obscure off-road truck games aren’t worth the risk”, and encourage developers to push out yet another generic arcade racer.

And that’s a shame, because unique ideas are what push the genre forward – Gran Turismo’s existence is the direct result of Polyphony Digital telling Sony to go fuck themselves after Sony had said that a realistic racing game wouldn’t sell, and that kart racers were in style. That endeavor may have been possible back then, but with the astronomical costs of video game development in 2017, if a publisher isn’t willing to play ball because reviews from people who don’t even like racing games trashed a similar product, you’re shit out of luck.

1 - pCars Review.jpg

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Kotaku’s review of Project CARS. During a time when Kotaku was an insanely popular gaming outlet – before their unfortunate run-in with Hulk Hogan and subsequent legal troubles – Luke Plunkett published a review of Project CARS in which he gave the game a fairly glowing review while completely ignoring the setup adjustments screen of the racing simulator, basically laughing off that he didn’t know what any of it meant, but hey, it’s in there, so good on the developers, right?

In reality, sim racing communities – the very people Project CARS had been built for and with the help of – were set ablaze with criticisms of Project CARS, as users had found out that bizarre aerodynamic, tire compound, and camber settings generated massive on-track advantages that for a period of time turned the world of competitive online racing completely upside down. While the game continued to receive highly positive reviews from mainstream critics who were ignoring a fairly large portion of the game altogether – the tweaking and adjusting of your race car – those who did know their way around the garage menu were discovering all sorts of fun stuff to exploit.

I’m not saying borked setup adjustments would warrant a massive 50-point drop in the title’s overall score from Kotaku, but if reviewers are laughing off entire parts of the game, and customers are eventually discovering that this overlooked area is affecting the game’s online ecosystem in a pretty prominent way, should publishers really be taking scores like Plunkett’s into account as well, even if they’re positive?

The solution, at least in my mind, is pretty simple. Thanks to the internet being what it is today – where any Tom, Dick, or Harry can start a website – you now have a shitload of independent entities that specialize in just one genre of video game. For sim racing alone, there’s like six or seven publications that all have their own flashy homepage and YouTube channel, not to mention an endless stream of guys willing to meticulously analyze these games far beyond what mainstream critics are capable of doing because they lack that sort of borderline-obsessive interest in the subject matter. Sorry to break it to you, not everybody likes race cars.

So when a “hardcore” title comes across the horizon, as DiRT 4, F1 2017, or Project CARS 2 will later this year, instead of getting a guy who literally has no idea how to configure his wheel to review the game – where he’s more likely to slap an 8 out of 10 on it and regurgitate what his buddy at another website said – outsource the review to one of the independent websites who specialize in these types of games. Call them Guest Critics, and say off the bat “we don’t have anyone on the staff who can display any sort of racing game prowess, so we got Alan B. of the dedicated race car game site Team VVV to give our readers the best possible shakedown of the game, so you can make an informed decision.”

Is that really so hard?

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53 thoughts on “Should Mainstream Gaming Sites Give Up Covering Racing Games?

  1. I would definitely say yes, but I already ignore racing game reviews (pretty much all games, for that matter) on mainstream gaming sites anyway.

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    1. Yep – you can ignore 95% of the AAA Game reviews on major sites – most of them are bough reviews – ie. free keys, special events, additional goodies, etc.
      You can only count sofar on user reviews (but be aware that sometimes some user reviews are fake or made by marketing!)

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  2. Ian Bell is already countering the bad publicity and reviews that his second ass child know as Project Cars 2 will receive. I’am starting to think he was on our Lord and Savior Emperor Trump’s campaign team. well played Ian, well played.

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    1. I called Ian Bell to comment on this, he said that he has no time right now cuz he’s fucking two (barely legal) Chinese hookers on the Jacuzzi, in his luxury condo in Singapore.

      I’ll report back ASAP!

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  3. Great idea – you should pitch it to IGN et al. and see what happens. Same thing applies to flight sims (our closest living relative). Thing is, does the target market for AC, AMS or rF2 actually consult a bunch of pansies like Kotaku before buying one of these sims?

    I hate to say it, but the only game on the horizon that aspires to a wider audience is PCARS2. PC1 had that vision as well, and I’d argue it succeeded in creating a superficially nice racing game, but was (and is) a bug-ridden and highly uneven mess when it came to anything beyond the archetypal “5 laps against 70% AI” that occupies approximately 99.5% of what mainstream gamers do with these titles.

    For those cretins, the mainstream review sites are doing a fine job already: Seeing these games through the lens of their typical customer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Although I think offloading niche game reviews to those more familiar with the genre might be a good idea, I agree that the current general gaming site review paradigm may well meet the needs of its readership. Moreover, I’m not sure how helpful, for example, Sev’s excellent Forza Horizon review would be, for non-enthusiasts.

      Does the casual racing gamer really care about unrealistic, or even competition killing, setups?

      Probably not.

      From the little anecdotal evidence I’m aware of, casual racing gamers (not the best description perhaps) generally enjoy Project Cars, and don’t find enthusiast complaints relevant. They’re not bothered by lackluster, or even incompetent AI, and probably aren’t even aware of its shortcomings.

      AC’s sparse career mode and save game bugs are likely a much bigger issue, and if general gaming site reviews reflect this dichotomy, they’re doing an acceptable job.

      Could they do better? Perhaps.

      But do they really need to?

      PRC, RD, and my own research provides me all the information I need, and from my admittedly uninformed perspective, general gaming sites appear to offer the same for their readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The way racing games are shunted to the side – being crammed together as “racing/sports” was awkward in that otherwise-still-terrible awards show, and yet nobody seemed to bat an eye at it – we’re both lucky and horribly unlucky that they get any coverage. Usually, bigger places will have someone on staff to specialize in sports games and give those the detailed coverage they need, but racing games are seen as approachable and basic enough that they’re skimmed over. It’s a shame.

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    1. This has been a historic problem with real auto racing as well.

      People generally think: ” I drive all the time. I bet I could drive a race car pretty good.”

      They don’t realize that driving a fully-prepped car at race pace is essentially impossible without spending a lot of time practicing and working up to it. To them, driving is a mundane chore that everyone and anyone can do, and competition driving is different only in the fact that you go a bit faster.

      My proof that everyone *thinks* they can drive? All those videos of Mustangs spinning out as they leave their local Cars and Coffee.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, you hear this all the time. I have a co-worker who used to continually mock my interest in motorsport with the usual nonsense like “what’s so impressive about it? want to drive fast, put your foot down. easy.”

        Eventually I persuaded them to hit the local kart track with me. 7 seconds slower. on a 32 second lap. in shitty rental karts. gg.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I took a friend of mine who was similarly unimpressed with the concept of competition driving to COTA in Austin and introduced him to trail braking. I almost felt bad afterward.

          I think he just about bent the metal on my passenger side floorboard as he tried to “brake” into every turn with his foot.

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          1. That or “motor guys” who scuff at the thought of having less than 500whp. Needless to say, they tend to quiet down and lose a bit of color after a lap… in a 100whp car.

            Track driving, at least at actual proper pace, is quite something when you have no idea about it. Sometimes even watching trackside some guys get cold feet.

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            1. It’s the braking that gets them! They always think I’m going to wait too long to start braking. I tried to explain how, if I were to brake like in a street car (long braking zone, moderate pressure), then I’d burn up the brakes in a single lap because they’d never get enough “off time” to cool. On track, your braking has to be short, sharp and (by street standards) violent. Like my dad said: “Just get it over with!” 😉

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      2. That’s agonizingly true. A lot of the excitement can come from that feeling of “I could do this”, but too often, people just wildly underestimate how majorly different it is from the daily drive.

        Heck, it even happens between motorsports now. I’ll admit I underestimated stuff like Formula Drift until seeing it in action. It’s a far cry from that guy with the 370Z in my apartment block who likes to show off.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Eurogamer tends to use a guy who knows racing games to review sims. That’s not to say that the Dark Souls quite won’t be used, as it’s an easy one to run off.

    That said, getting an expert in the genre to review them could make the review overly negative (if there’s issues only a sim racer would detect) or not really for the general gaming public, which a lot of the non sim specific sites write for.

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  6. If you ever think racing sims have dumbed down and lost features over the years, you should check out what happened to flight sims.

    We haven’t had a dynamic campaign since 1999 (Falcon 4). I still have to play a (massively modded) version of F4 if I want a proper non-scripted campaign.

    I fucking hate mainstream gaming. It’s nearly killed my hobby.

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  7. Why would they want some sim nerd reviewing for mainstream customers? To the average Jo it is hard, what is the relevance that you a sim geek finds it easy? You wan’t a better review then find an appropriate reviewer through a different media outlet.

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  8. The kind of London-office dwelling hipster beard wearing mega twats who write these reviews are the same bellends that post chase-cam videos of PCars on YouTube and complain the car feels twitchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel like Austin has a good point here, but it’s not necessarily the *main* point.

    As a sim racer, I totally disregard what mainstream sites have to say about sims – they are clueless and, if sim devs set out to please mainstream sites, the software they produced would no longer be deserving of being called a sim.

    As far as what I think the real issue is, I believe it’s the fact that us sim racers really have no place to turn for objective reviews within our little corner of the gaming world. You’ve got clueless mainstream sites on one hand, and then biased shills on the other. PRC, while in my opinion imperfect, is as close as we have to a truly objective source that’s gonna call em as they see em (which is why I’m a daily visitor here). My main complaints about PRC are that (1) there have been a few instances where they’ve let the narrative get in the way of the facts and (2) that they are very anecdotal in nature (they mostly call out issues on a one-off basis – I would love to see an outlet that does a more formulaic review of each sim/major update/dlc release).

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  10. James is saying to read independant news!! Haha 😁 why do You think people came before You were bought by SMS!? RIP PRC, RIP SMS, You Just made the best analyse of your own site. You Can close the door James, your are not That source of info anymore.

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      1. I am now here Just to aware reader That This blog is not independant. But it was and people coule not have followed all the story behind PRC.

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      2. Why would we leave when things are just getting juicy? The site has lost what little credibility it once had, so it makes it even more hilarious than before watching Austin try and defend it in the comments. Should everyone who didn’t vote for Trump have shut their mouths once he got voted in?

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  11. If you were in the market to buy a real classic racing car, you wouldn’t go to a car supermarket and ask for their opinion of the Ford Fiesta before you bought it would you?

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  12. The cost of creating simulations outside of an automotive industry environment necessitates the need for mainstream approval. I’m sure many of the main physics guys at SMS, ISI et al could find work with better pay in the automotive industry. But the salary difference is probably made up in job satisfaction.

    Game development is/has been quite simple. Sell or die. Only recently have independent developers been able to flourish with digital distribution platforms. Even considering this most successful indie devs make simple games which cost considerably less than a Racing Sim.

    Kunos sold their company for this reason. SMS had to croudsource their first game and compromise the final product to make it acceptable for a mainstream audience so they could make a sequel. ISI decided to try (and if there marketing is to be believed successfully) sell their software to the automotive industry.

    Until hardcore Racing Sims have a large enough fan base to stand on their own Sim developers will have to submit their games to mainstream gaming reviewers. The question is not should mainstream sites review niche products but rather how producers of niche products can sustain profitability so they don’t have to submit the products to mainstream sites for review

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, run another article on how shit AC is on console, how the devs keep lying, and how the arse lickers on their forum all get giddy and on first name terms when Lord Kuntos can be arsed to address his customer base. I’d actually read that.

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      1. You’re worse than any of people you talk about. I’d first reconsider your attitude instead of blaming others. You’ll be happier.

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  13. Mainstream magazines do reviews for mainstream audience. Why should they give up or should not be allowed to do reviews? Magazine reviews have at least the same eligibility to do racing game and sim reviews as private blogs. If a mainstream magazin doesn´t fit your taste of reviewing a game, don´t read it. Why does a mainstream magazin even does a review of a sim or racing game? Because these racing sims also want to be a game, being released on mainstream gaming platforms. So they HAVE TO face these reviews for a mainstream audience.

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    1. >Why should they give up or should not be allowed to do reviews?
      That’s simracers’ “NORMIES GET OUT REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” mentality at work.

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  14. You guys who are saying “just decide for yourself if it’s good” are missing the point. He’s not talking about sim racers getting their info from mainstream sites. We all know that IGN reviewing a sim won’t sway our stance. He’s talking about *publishers* looking at mainstream news sites.
    When publishers look at a game and they’re deciding at whether it’s worth the risk to take on the project, they go back to all of the mainstream sites and see if they generally do well or not. If a publisher looks at the mainstream media and sees that racing sims are considered difficult and inaccessible by the average gamer, then the publisher might not want to work with a developer on a sim racing title. Similarly, if the publisher sees that arcade racers do well, then they’ll work with developers that do arcade games instead.
    We’re not talking about the effect of mainstream media on sim racing sales, we’re talking about the effect on sim racing development and production.
    Publishers don’t care about simulation fidelity and accurate tire models. They care about the “Call of Duty” effect and want a game that sells 1 million copies in the first 30 days so that they can get their money back out of the project and into a different game as quickly as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. BTW, Dirt Rally was being called “the Dark Souls of racing games” long before there were any reviews out by the very people playing it. It’s something that’s been around pretty much since the day one it was released in EA.

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    1. He didn’t like how pcgamers reviewed pcars, now he’s using austin to manipulate public opinion in regard to those review pieces and anything related to pcars. I bet red bull air racing game is the greatest thing. Soon will see a hope article for that f2p world of cars or something. pcars2=nfs:shift 4.

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  16. BAJA EDGE OF CONTROL FTW. FUCKING FANTASTIC GAME FOR ENTHUSIASTS AND POSSIBLY EVEN FOR MOTORSTORM FANS WANTING SOMETHING MORE SIM LIKE. It’s a gem alright!

    Apologies for caps lock but thanks for refreshing my mind about that game, after playing through it on PS3 years back, I couldn’t believe how badly it was received at the time. I thought the reviewers were all bonkers myself and yes I did believe they must be as bad at racing games as a 5 year old! As for the game’s critiques, the ones I have, truthfully, Yes there are bad frame drops in 4player local(but cmon, that’s a feature that’s practically unheard of these days!) and some frame drops in career but you can’t ignore how raw of a racing experience and detailed the game actually is. Great Sim with great visual/mechanical damage, wear of clutch tyres, suspension, cooling etc. Fun racer, competent AI, Honestly such a shame THQ practically got brankrupt because of the fucking reception. We live in a cruel world.

    Honestly I’d still be playing Baja Edge of Control on my PS3 if it weren’t for some of the frame drops.

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