Baja: Edge of Control HD is Spectacularly Broken [Updated]

There’s been a lot of animosity directed at THQ Nordic from the motocross gaming community, but I’ve never gotten to experience first-hand the justification for it until this morning. I was really hoping to spend a large portion of the day playing Baja: Edge of Control HD as I have no problem listing it as one of my favorite Xbox 360 racers, and could not wait to play a remastered rendition on modern hardware – but after purchasing the game twice, and requesting a refund once, I’m left pretty disgusted at the kind of bullshit THQ Nordic have pulled here. To put it plain and simple, Baja: Edge of Control HD should not have been released, as there are pretty mind-blowing controller problems across multiple platforms.

Initially, I purchased the game on Steam, as it’s about eight dollars cheaper than the PlayStation 4 version for unexplained reasons. The game honestly isn’t a very big download, I think I recall seeing it somewhere between four and eight gigabytes, meaning it was ready for consumption in around seven minutes. This may sound pitiful by today’s standards, but the actual game itself is quite good; with over 170 vehicles split between ten classes, and upwards of one hundred tracks in both circuit and point to point format, Baja as a complete package back in the day was a pretty exciting niche offering provided you could get over the atrocious graphics – hence the point of the HD version in the first place.

My own personal hype train was derailed when I discovered that on the Steam version, the external controller config applet doesn’t actually work. By default, keyboard keys are mapped to all of the buttons on the Xbox 360 controller, obviously so you can bust out a controller and reconfigure everything to your desired layout – which 99% of the time you’re just going to mirror the stock layout and just ensure all the respective axis’ are correct. Here is where things get absolutely insane – the applet crashes upon trying to do so. You know, the basic process of clicking on “Throttle” and pressing R2 to map that button as your gas pedal? Crashes the applet. One hundred percent serious here.

So obviously that means no wheel support either, as while there’s indeed a tab you can click to configure your racing wheel prior to launching the game, and graphically it is a nice applet, again rebinding crashes the thing. Playing Edge of Control HD on the PC right now consists of pressing the “O” key as your throttle, and using the arrow keys to turn.

With little activity in the forums to give me faith that this would be fixed, I promptly requested a refund for the game on Steam, and purchased the allegedly superior PS4 version, which a whole bunch of YouTube gaming channels have been demonstrating for THQ Nordic over the past little bit leading up to the game’s launch. I figured that maybe Sony would hold these guys to a higher standard, and I could have faith that both a standard DualShock 4, as well as a Logitech G29, would work out of the box. I wasn’t expecting a great driving experience – this is a weird quasi-simulator, with detailed mechanical failures yet a larger than life driving model – but as I mentioned before, I loved this game back in the day and was jacked that the graphics are no longer a blurry mess, so whatever, in my opinion they fixed the game’s biggest problem and I’d have a cool sorta-casual off-road game in my library.

The Logitech G29 works, only if by the definition of “works”, do you split hairs and have an impromptu debate over what is considered “working.” I can turn the wheel from left to right, and it indeed goes the full nine hundred degrees. I can rev the engine by pushing the throttle. I can also push in the clutch and rev the engine from a standstill. The brake pedal, however, is stuck at one hundred percent input no matter what you do. It is almost impossible to leave the starting line unless you constantly mash the clutch and throttle in succession. If not, the truck hangs on the starting line at 2300 RPM and slides sideways. This game is $39.99 on the PlayStation Store.

 

If, by some act of god the brake pedal doesn’t stick – about 50% of the time for me – other issues arise when you do get moving. The change camera button has been mapped to the PS4 Share button, and the share functionality overrides the ability to change the camera, so if you drive with a wheel, you’re stuck in chase view. There isn’t even a way to change it in the options. The wheel sensitivity slider also warrants no change, meaning a lot of the vehicles in the game require gigantic steering inputs just to take gentle corners.

What makes this strange, is that I can plug my Logitech G29 into my PlayStation 3, boot up the original Edge of Control, and it works flawlessly. The sensitivity is better, the button mapping allows you to change the camera, and the brake pedal does not stick. The problem I have in doing so, is that the PlayStation 3 rendition was dogshit in comparison to the superior Xbox 360 version due to mammoth framerate troubles, which is why a remaster of this title was justified in the first place. Furious? Absolutely. When it comes to old games receiving a high definition upgrade, a reasonable outcome is to discover that it just ain’t like it used to be, or that the nostalgia goggles are almost blinding to a game’s faulty mechanics. But with Baja: Edge of Control HD, sometimes I can’t even get off the starting line when trying the title on multiple platforms. The PC version’s controller config tool crashes upon trying to rebind anything, and the PS4 version features incomplete wheel support.

Can you play with a standard DualShock 4? Well, yes. The problem arises in just how long some of Baja’s marquee events happen to be. While you can indeed slug it out in five lap circuit races that are on-par with what you’d expect from a traditional off-road racer, the enjoyable part of Baja comes in tacking the ultra-long point to point stages chained together to make up the sanctioned SCORE 250, 500, or 1000 mile races. If you’d like to drive for upwards of two hours with a gamepad, by all means be my guest, but I sure as hell don’t.

This is really just the start of the game’s fundamental problems. Occasionally, collision detection gets disabled during a race, resulting in pretty comical moments where you can just drive through the field at your own free will as seen below. In other situations, the game’s dashboard camera generates a giant black artifact across the screen, making it impossible to drive in anything other than chase view. Split screen racing with a friend causes the game to lose all sound until you restart the application. The original game did not have these problems; for the most part it was a solid, albeit highly obscure trophy truck racer.

The motocross gaming community have had similar problems dealing with THQ Nordic, but due to the popularity of an older title – MX vs. ATV Reflex – they’ve for the most part been able to avoid this kind of ineptitude by merely playing a different game. For those of us who loved Baja, and there were a lot of us, we don’t really have a choice here – we really needed the remastered version to be 100% functional. Right now, it’s not.

Advertisements

World of Speed is Risen

So this is probably not the news you were hoping for on the day of the solar eclipse, but it certainly fits the theme of “strange shit happening” nonetheless. Originally conceived as a lighthearted, free-to-play alternative to Project CARS –  appearing to use numerous assets from Slightly Mad Studios’ previous workWorld of Speed fell into development hell after the release of the company’s flagship racing simulator; news outlets (aside from us) remaining totally silent on what exactly had happened to the game. Though it certainly wasn’t something that would captivate hardcore simulator fans, the free-to-play racer promised to bring a visually striking title to the homes of those in geographic regions where purchasing a fully-priced title isn’t always an economically friendly option, so there were actually a lot of people looking forward to this game. However, months upon months of radio silence on behalf of the developers frustrated those who became emotionally invested in the upcoming title title; most jumping ship in exchange for greener pastures, and in some cases reverse engineering Need for Speed World or Motor City Online for a similar experience – despite Electronic Arts taking both games offline.

Saber Interactive, a company who have recently found moderate success with both indie off-roading simulation SpinTires, as well as the alternate sports title NBA Playgroundsa throwback to the gameplay of arcade classic NBA Jam – are listed as the developers behind this project on Steam, meaning that when World of Speed inevitably does make it into the hands of the general public, the number of eyes on the title, as well as those who give it a whirl out of curiosity, will be significantly higher than what was initially projected several years ago. Saber, along with publishing company Mad Dog, have done a great job in particular marketing NBA Playgrounds to all the correct online voices – those with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube – so at the very least there’s a shot the initial size of the online community will actually be quite large, and in turn this means the game’s social and competitive features – elements woven into the core experience of the game – will be ripe with activity. Regardless of how neutered the handling model may be compared to traditional simulators, there will at least be an abundance of people to jump in a lobby and race with; the same cannot be said about the aforementioned hardcore sims.

And as you can probably guess by the header image, we won’t actually have to wait long for World of Speed to be more than a piece of trivia. The title recently appeared on Steam’s Early Access platform with an estimated release date of August 2017, so despite Saber running into some problems with the projected launch – which was probably intended for today – we’re going to enter a period of time where World of Speed is a legitimate product you can play, and not some obscure disappearing act akin to Grand Raid Off-Road that only a few people remember.

Obviously, any delay due to issues discovered in quality assurance testing is worrisome, but given the overall positive reception both SpinTires and NBA Playgrounds have received during their time on the market, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Saber are unable to iron out what needs to be fixed in time for the release of World of Speed. At the same time, it also brings into question what has happened to Lauda Interactive, the company that was last said to be working on World of Speed. In October of 2016, the company – run by Niki Lauda’s son – was said to be entering the world of eSports with a multi-platform World of Speed release, though visiting the same address in present day leads to a completely blank website.

Regardless, you’ll be able to play World of Speed very soon, and with a decent group of folks behind it after years spent in development hell, there’s a chance it might not be too terrible for those in a desperate search to find a successor for Need for Speed World.

Reader Submission #143 – Disappointment Championship USA

We don’t talk much about arcade games here on PRC, but given there really is no underlying theme to the website aside from “virtual cars”, anything and everything is up for discussion if you so choose to notify us about it. Today’s Reader Submission comes from longtime contributor FMecha, who has arrived to notify us that the newest iteration of Daytona USA – yes, they’re still making these – has not resonated well with critics and fans alike, offering a very rushed, lackluster experience that eschews series traditions and caters to a very different crowd, all while repackaging old content as “new.”

It’s a disappointing fall for Daytona USA, as the series was once a critically acclaimed staple of arcades around the world for several years in the 1990’s, offering many a glimpse of what hardcore sim racing would be like from the comfort of their own custom battle stations many years later. But is this decline really all that upsetting? Or is it just a fairly natural result of a consumer base growing largely uninterested in public arcade cabinets?

Hey PRC, FMecha here. It’s been a pretty substantial amount of time since I’ve sent in a reader submission, but I’ve finally found another topic worth covering.

This time, I’m writing about Daytona Championship USA.Developed by the London-based Sega Amusements team rather than the original AM2 team, the game generated hype among the arcade racer fandom everywhere, to the point it was originally touted as the third numbered title in the series. Ultimately, however, the “3” was dropped from the game’s title – for the right reasons.

The first evident aspect the fans noticed, one which will disappoint every single one of them, is the game’s gear shift choice. Instead of the traditional 4-gear H-pattern configuration previous Daytona USA games once used, as well as the SCUD and Sega Rally machines, the game opts for a more simplistic low/high configuration. That means no more drift tricks using the manual transmission that advanced Daytona USA veterans are used to. Second, the fans figured out that the “new” tracks are just simply re-skinned and mirrored versions of the original layouts. Furthermore, the new tracks also use recycled soundtracks – evident in the Lakeside (mirrored Advanced) course, where it uses the song from Daytona USA 2001’s Rin Rin Rink course. Talk about effort, or lack thereof.

Reportedly, a podcast from Arcade Heroes stated the game was mainly created because the spare parts for the original, Model 2 hardware-based Daytona, released in 1994 – still in service by many arcades – are running out, sounding like a cash-grab for both operators and players alike. I mean, Sega Racing Classic, and exact remaster of the original game sans title, released in 2009, already exists, and it has the original AM2 team involved… so…

Meanwhile, Sega Japan have something else which, while does show more effort on their end, also makes you ask where Polyphony Digital’s Super GT License went; apparently the license has changed hands, and is the basis for Sega’s upcoming World Driver Championship.

I think the bigger issue at hand here is the role arcade cabinets are currently playing in the overall video game industry. Developers are understandably going to half-ass new variants these machines (and the accompanying software), as we no longer have massive, ultra-popular arcade centers in every single strip mall across North America. Obviously I understand these games are pretty huge in Japan considering vidya is more of a social outing over there than it is over here – where we sit in isolation injecting dangerously unhealthy levels of Mountain Dew directly into our bloodstream – but with that drastic reduction in popularity across an entire continent, comes a significant lack of need to go above and beyond in regards to the play-ability of these games. So the option of half-assing it certainly exists.

For that reason alone, I can understand why Daytona Championship USA captures none of the magic that turned the original titles into a worldwide phenomenon, and as you mentioned, is more of a formality to (quite successfully) bait those currently maintaining old machines, into upgrading to the newer model in what’s essentially a cost-cutting measure. It’s honestly not a bad business decision considering good fucking luck if your original Daytona USA machine gets trashed due to somebody’s drunken rampage or obsessive usage from a local, but of course the trade-off is that it shits on what was a pretty outstanding legacy via underwhelming software.

Arcade racers are not a particular forte of mine; the biggest arcade spot in the city – West Edmonton Mall’s Playdium – was turned into a concert/lounge just as I got to the age where going out and spending money on vidya was a viable pastime, so sadly I cannot connect with the appeal of coin-op machines. I think though, with the reduction in popularity of these machines, at least in North America, a reduction in expectations should also come with it. Arcade machines were popular in the late 80’s and early 1990’s because they offered an experience that home consoles and computers simply couldn’t match, which was part of the allure of going to the arcade in the first place. With that disparity now inverted, it’s a bit foolish to believe arcade cabinets will still somehow offer an experience worth paying for – at least to those who don’t already visit arcades for social outings.

So for that reason, I think that while it’s shitty a once-historic franchise has fallen pretty far off the map, this seems to be a pretty natural chain of events.

 

BAJA: Edge of Control HD Set for August Release, PC Version Rumored

While most gamers will have their eyes focused on the remastered version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which drops today after previously being an Infinite Warfare bundle exclusive for several months, there’s a remaster of a different sorts turning heads within the sim racing community. A 4K re-release of BAJA: Edge of Control, 2XL’s criminally underrated classic, was announced earlier this year for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but only now have we gotten word of a release date from THQ Nordic. According to an international GameStop website, the desert racing quasi-sim will be in our hands on August 29th, bringing some much-needed variety to the console gaming landscape which has seen nothing but arcade racers and car collecting simulators since their introduction to the market in late 2013.

Built solely for fans of SCORE International Off-Road racing events, and making virtually no attempts to ease outsiders into the experience, Edge of Control was the previous console generation’s equivalent to Richard Burns Rally. Though the game certainly won’t be for everybody, as desert truck racing is a discipline confined to just a small portion of the western United States, it will be nice to have a break from the yearly tarmac-focused titles that are pushed out like clockwork. It’s also probably the smartest move THQ Nordic could have made from a financial standpoint; the renewed interest in hardcore simulators thanks to DiRT Rally and Project CARS being pushed into the spotlight could see Edge of Control perform moderately well in the market, compared to when it first launched amidst the Call of Duty craze during the fall of 2008 and was promptly ignored for a virtual trip to the Pacific Theater.

Along with the alleged release date being leaked through GameStop, there are also hints that THQ Nordic plan to bring the game to the PC as well. Baja’s own Wikipedia page states that Edge of Control: HD will also be arriving on the Windows 10 operating system, with Amazon pages also listing the yet-to-be-announced Microsoft Windows variant at $29.99. This could be a game-changer for Edge of Control’s lifespan, as while the vanilla game is hard to find fault with, pad-friendly design choices such as the lack of cockpit view and the ability to control your vehicle’s trajectory could be ironed out by dedicated modders in pursuit of an even more demanding gameplay experience, resulting in the pinnacle of trophy truck simulators.

All eyes will be on THQ Nordic for this release, as while Baja: Edge of Control was a cult classic universally adored by everyone who dared to stray from the Call of Duty craze for just a moment – and it’ll be certainly hard to mess up – the team haven’t exactly been on good terms with their core audience. MX vs. ATV Supercross, Nordic’s first major release (and subsequent remaster for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC), was seen as a total dud by the motocross gaming community due to poor framerate and lousy overall riding physics, causing many to abandon the team’s efforts in favor of Milestone’s MXGP 3. If Nordic can avoid these previous problems with Edge of Control HD, we’ll be looking at a stellar off-road racer with fantastic pick up and play multiplayer capabilities, but if the same remastering flaws found in Supercross surface once again, it’ll be time to ask some serious questions about what’s going on at THQ Nordic.

Ahead of Their Time

Can a good idea surface at the wrong time? That’s the question I’m looking to answer today. The most enjoyable part of going back and playing through older racing titles from two, three, even four console generations ago, is being able to appreciate how developers obviously knew the technology wasn’t quite ready for photo-realistic visual effects, so as a compromise they were forced to pump their software full of features in an effort to keep people coming back, day after day, week after week, and eventually release after release. NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup certainly didn’t boast the advanced lighting techniques seen in today’s NASCAR Heat Evolution, but what Chase for the Cup lacked in visual fidelity, it made up for with  a robust set of features that gave gamers a reason to keep playing.

When we speak of games that were ahead of their time in terms of either visuals or gameplay mechanics, it’s very easy to rattle off names like Grand Prix Legends or Formula One ’97 as definitive moments in the history of racing games; offering a distinct then versus now paradigm shift in the landscape, marking a very direct milestone when all other developers on the scene need to be aware that anything less than these pieces of software wouldn’t cut it. I, however, don’t enjoy taking a look at these milestones that have since been ingrained into sim racing lore; I feel it’s low hanging fruit to celebrate what has already been celebrated several times over. Instead, I’d like to take a trip through five games that were ahead of their time, but don’t receive proper credit for what they managed to accomplish on inferior hardware, or before others had refined their ideas & concepts and somehow made them better.

Shox (EA Sports Big, 2002)

We start our journey with a very peculiar arcade racer most have never heard of, let alone played to completion. At the beginning of the 2000’s, right when Sony’s PlayStation 2 first hit the market, Electronic Arts quickly found themselves in a predicament they still have yet to completely solve; sports games were simply getting too complicated for their own good, with the likes of Madden, FIFA, and their NBA Live series all featuring a very difficult set of controls and gameplay mechanics for the waves of young children and casual gamers with a PlayStation 2 to master.

To ease this audience into their hardcore lineup, Electronic Arts came up with the EA Sports Big brand; serving as a loud, obnoxious, lighthearted off-shoot of their already established titles while retaining the core engine and basic controls seen in the more difficult games – NBA Live, FIFA, and Madden turned into NBA Street, FIFA Street, and NFL Street respectively, while Freekstyle explored the larger-than-life personalities of freestyle motocross, and a little snowboarding game by the name of SSX skyrocketed into the spotlight, warranting several sequels.

While almost everything under the EA Sports Big brand sold absurdly well and received rave reviews from gamers and critics alike, lost in the madness of EA Big’s lightning-quick rise to prominence was a rallycross game by the name of Shox.

Structurally, Shox is this weird hybrid between Sega Rally Revo and DiRT 2, offering a very liberal take on rallycross racing over a variety of modern and historic car classes in exotic locations. Like DiRT 2, players start with otherwise unexciting cars, and earn money through various events and championships to progress into faster cars, which obviously cost a bit more. The game also offers a cash incentive and temporary speed boost for running a certain pace over a highlighted sector of the track, a mix of DiRT 2’s Domination game mode, and Formula One’s DRS zones. So a lot of the ideas found in Shox eventually made their way into racing titles almost an entire decade later. And like Sega Rally Revo, the driving physics sat profoundly on the arcade side of the spectrum, never making much sense from a realism standpoint, but offering something you can sit down and get good at as you play through the game’s campaign mode.

Not only is Shox a fundamentally sound game, Electronic Arts were also in a position to acquire licenses from all major car manufacturers, and as a result the car list in Shox is surprisingly robust, with no major players missing in the lineup – allowing Porsche, Lancia, and Audi all to play ball within the same piece of software.

Yet with a recipe that would later find success in both DiRT 2 and Sega Rally Revo (to an extent), the game didn’t explode in the manner that SSX and NBA Street were able to under the EA Big brand. The reality is that Shox was released when the majority of PlayStation 2 owners had no idea rallycross as a sport existed, and the big rally games we all know and love – mainly the Colin McRae Rally series, RalliSport Challenge 2, and Richard Burns Rally – hadn’t been released yet either. There was simply no market at all for this game, as it would be seven more years before the outrageous rallycross stuff would catch on among racing game enthusiasts.

Mario Andretti Racing (EA Sports, 1994)

Another Electronic Arts product makes the list, this time for pioneering an entire career mode a decade ahead of schedule. Released for the last of the sixteen bit home gaming consoles, the racing sim bearing Mario Andretti’s namesake was just like every other racer from the previous two console generations; a generic 2D cockpit view with a basic ribbon of tarmac in front of the player that only vaguely represented the track it was supposed to depict. I know Dustin will shit on me for daring to say this game was objectively bad in some fashion, but I don’t think anyone can deny racing games from the early 1990’s just weren’t a smart investment in general from a consumer standpoint; the technology wasn’t ready for replicating what it’s like to drive a race car from the comfort of your own home, and a few more years were needed until something like NASCAR Racing by Papyrus could be executed on more than just high-end PC’s of the time.

But for what the technology failed to replicate in the on-track experience, EA Sports made damn sure there was at least a game built around Mario Andretti Racing for the Sega Genesis. Pushed out on store shelves at a time when IndyCar’s popularity in America was at an all-time high, EA Sports allowed users to progress from wingless USAC Sprint Cars – which was the proving grounds for many drivers of the early 1990’s – into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and eventually the 1994 PPG IndyCar World Series, complete with financial management and car upgrades. The driving experience obviously left a lot to be desired, but there was a purpose and progression not seen in other racing games at the time – and this was important, as every racer looked and drove the same.

An entire decade later, what we first saw in Mario Andretti Racing has now been carried across a wide variety of racing games, from mass market console releases, to obscure Brazilian simulators. Virtually all modern racing simulators now ship with a vast array of cars that allow gamers to start in comparatively simple entry level vehicles, before moving up at their own discretion into world championship rides that are far too much car for most sim racers to handle. The precise career mode featured in Mario Andretti Racing – a journey from dirt ovals into top level stock cars – was also yanked by Monster Games and placed into NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube, sprint cars being replaced with the much slower, newbie-friendly street stock class of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, though the equipment upgrading element still remained. EA Sports would also draw inspiration from Mario Andretti Racing a year later, shipping NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup with four of NASCAR’s most prominent classes, and a set of modern production cars from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge for good measure.

What held Mario Andretti Racing back, as mentioned above, was the technology. Racing games on eight and sixteen bit consoles just didn’t work, though the ideas pioneered by Electronic Arts in 1994 are seen as almost mandatory within the simulator genre as of today. Developers almost refuse to ship single-series games unless there’s a major auto racing series license on the table, instead offering a smorgasbord of content and as many tracks as the licensing budget will allow, with any NASCAR game that fails to include the Xfinity and Camping World support series instantly being panned by NASCAR fans for failing to do so.

Hot Wheels Crash (Prolific Publishing, 1999)

If the Nintendo 64 was the quintessential 1990’s gaming console, Hot Wheels were the quintessential 1990’s children’s toy. A match made in heaven, Mattel rightfully predicted video games would be the next big thing as family computers became more and more commonplace, and spent a few years during the final portion of everybody’s favorite awkward decade giving the Hot Wheels license to basically everyone who asked, leading to a whole bunch of quirky video games bearing the iconic die-cast car namesake. Some of them, such as Turbo Racing or Stunt Track Driver, went on to become legendary pieces of software that basically every kid with an interest in Hot Wheels owned a copy of, while others like Custom Car Designer confused the absolute shit out of children by featuring no racing whatsoever.

To understand just how deep Hot Wheels were willing to dive into the depths of obscure video game developers in an effort to get their brand out on store shelves in some kind of electronic format, look no further than Prolific Publishing, a team from the late 1990’s who specialized in shovelware and – as Wikipedia statesmarine engineering. On paper, this is an astronomically disastrous combination, and it’s hard to imagine these guys were even the least bit capable of building a functioning racing game.

So they didn’t.

Hot Wheels Crash features no driving whatsoever; the game instead tasks you with launching a vehicle at a destructible environment in an effort to cause as much damage as possible from what begins a single car accident; though people have obviously found the optimal route through the game over the past fifteen years, at the time it was a pretty unique concept to put some sort of strategy behind a car crash. Of course, if you’ve gotten this far into the description of Hot Wheels Crash, you’ve already started to figure out where you might have played this before. The iconic crash mode found in Criterion’s Burnout series was not their creation, but merely a different development team bringing the idea pioneered by Hot Wheels Crash into an era of gaming where the level of destruction originally on the drawing board in 1999 was technologically feasible. Clearly, we couldn’t achieve this level of deformation, lighting, and special effects in a virtual environment with Windows 98 being the dominant operating system.

But what Hot Wheels Crash has shown, is that it’s important for developers to branch out and explore the diverse back catalog of racing games as much as possible, as a genius idea that could give the franchise new life may be lurking inside Hot Wheels shovelware of all places. Burnout was already regarded as an extremely competent arcade racer upon release of the debut game in the franchise, but crash mode pushed it into the spotlight, giving Criterion the exposure and critical acclaim needed to eventually partner with Electronic Arts and produce one of the greatest arcade racers ever conceived… as well as a couple of not-quite-perfect entries later on down the line.

RaceCraft (Vae Victis, 2016)

How does a game released in 2016 land on this list? Easy; the genre moves that bloody fast. Originally pushing out Victory: The Age of Racing in 2013 to lukewarm reviews and a sparse player base, the Italians at Vae Victis went back to the drawing board armed with little else than the stellar netKar Pro engine created by fellow countrymen Kunos Simulazioni, and hell-bent on creating an innovative racing game that would ensure they were able to grab a foothold in what is a very demanding and aggressive community. With seemingly every facet of the motorsports world covered by multiple different simulation developers, Vae Victis went full-on avant garde and created a piece of software that was more of a technology showcase than a racing game people would want to play.

The result of their efforts was RaceCraft, a procedurally generated open wheel simulator in which tracks were automatically composed by the software itself, only asking users to adjust a few sliders before churning out a complete racing circuit across a multitude of environments. I was lucky enough to be handed a beta key by Vae Victis themselves, and to be completely honest, the game wasn’t all that bad. The netKar Pro engine performed well, the fictional Formula car available in the game was far more aesthetically pleasing than anything we’ve seen in Bernie’s Bash over the past several years, and it drove relatively well for a simcade title that looked to reel in gamers from multiple landscapes. I had fun with RaceCraft, but the problem was that it isn’t a very good shared experience.

Part of this issue lies within the subject matter itself; when people sit down and want to invest themselves in open wheel racing, most of the time they want the official Formula One experience – or at least something close to it; part of the fun comes in taking Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to the very same Monaco Grand Prix circuit they watched on Sunday, and mastering the very iconic corners that served to punish the real world drivers, lap after lap. By comparison, RaceCraft gave you generic cars on tracks you’d never seen before, and wouldn’t see again unless you’d save them to the game’s archive. People already struggle with learning Circuit of the America’s or Silverstone’s new-ish layout; they would rather put time into learning and mastering those circuits – as they’ll appear in several other racing games – than constantly being handed a completely new race track.

However, those who tried RaceCraft out of curiosity – myself included – agreed that the technology powering it was impressive, and maybe it would be of a better use in a motorsports discipline where it was impossible for developers to create tracks by hand due to the enormous amount of time needed to do so. I specifically recall stating in my preview of RaceCraft that I would rather see procedural track generation in a rally game, as it would allow for extremely long, unpredictable stages and greatly increase the lifespan of the title, as we wouldn’t be memorizing stages anytime soon – a common complaint of all rally games to date. A year after RaceCraft’s release, and the primary selling point of  DiRT 4 is procedural stage generation.

Vae Victis had the right idea in regards to bringing procedural generation to a racing simulator, they simply didn’t think things through apply it in a fashion that would be appropriate for the type of racing at hand. People want to memorize Formula One tracks and go sight-seeing in rally games where no two stages are the same, not the other way round.

GeneRally (Hannu & Jukka Räbinä, 2001)

Long before My Summer Car invaded sim racing forums with it’s unique brand of humor and surprisingly competent gameplay, those crazy Finnish bastards were blessing the community with a different kind of four-wheeled addiction.

A modders paradise featuring cars built from just forty polygons and tracks constructed with little more than Microsoft Paint and a built-in track editor, GeneRally is absolute freeware bliss. Full 3D physics that control superbly with an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 4 pad are complimented by adjustable fuel consumption & tire wear which allows users to accurately replicate many different brands of motorsport, a seemingly dynamic racing surface that acquires rubber over the course of an event, and a fixed isometric viewpoint that was a flashback to Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road and Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. There are some things GeneRally manages to do better than most modern racing simulators, an absolutely incredible feat considering this whole thing is completely free and came out sixteen years ago, receiving updates only when absolutely necessary.

Yes, there are several active mod communities and online leagues still going strong today, but the dark cloud surrounding GeneRally is akin to the metaphorical college football star who never declared himself eligible for the NFL draft; despite how great GeneRally is, the title could have been so much bigger and so much better if only it had come out a little later.

The first, and by far the most prominent problem with GeneRally, comes down to the game’s complete lack of online play. First released in 2001, the average internet connection quality and the relative inexperience in game development on the part of the Rabina brothers meant online play never seemed like it would need to be implemented into the software; kids were basically downloading this on shitty laptops or family computers and playing it with their friends on a clunky keyboard, one guy working the WASD key combination while another piloted their car with the arrow keys. However, as the modding community promptly exploded due to it’s simplicity, and online leagues that scored entrants by total race time against a field of AI cars drew upwards of fifty, maybe even one hundred participants, the underlying desire to have a field of six human cars grew stronger with each passing month. Unfortunately, this has never been rectified; GeneRally now boasts a literal library of add-on content – I would say the closest thing to a complete virtual encyclopedia of auto racing in 40 polygons – but we have been stuck racing five other AI cars for sixteen years.

With internet speed now measured in gigabytes, and gamers finding hacks to play Nintendo 64 emulators online with their friends, GeneRally could have been a smash hit had it been released on Steam with support for online racing.

And in being released on Steam in 2017, it would also help the title’s popularity, and therefore increase the number of people making content for the game. Previously, message boards for GeneRally used to be buried on the old RaceSimCentral forums, but once that website finally kicked the bucket for good, GeneRally turned into this highly obscure indie game that absolutely nobody knew about unless you’d heard about it via word-of-mouth from a friend of a friend. There are barely any videos on YouTube (which is understandable given the fixed vantage point, you can’t really see a lot), no mentions of it on major sim racing sites, and screenshots consist of links back to the GeneRally international forum. This isn’t BATRacer, where the team had paid for advertisements here and there which enticed people to give it a shot, ultimately leading to a revival in the popularity of Grand Prix Manager 2 and eventually Motorsport Manager – once RSC died, that was it.

So instead of GeneRally turning into this amazing indie racer that everyone’s playing and modding in their spare time because creating (and editing) content is so easy – a Minecraft for car guys, if you will – GeneRally’s reach was about ten percent of what it could have been. After the initial fanbase heard about it through RaceSimCentral, those were the people that stuck with it for the long haul.

This game had, and most certainly still has all the potential in the world to be an indie smash hit, but the problem was it came before Steam allowed people to go on impulse buying sprees and wind up discovering a game they’d never heard about until that day, before online play was so seamless it’s pretty much a required feature in modern video games, before SlapTrain could shout at the camera for 150,000 YouTube views, and before racing games received their gigantic boost in popularity from excellent releases such as the Forza Motorsport series. Because of this, it has sat in relative obscurity.

I guess good ideas really can come at the wrong time.