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.

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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.

Sequel to The Crew Announced, But Does Anyone Care?

It started out as an ambitious project to re-capture the hidden magic of Test Drive Unlimited, but the end result was a run-of-the-mill open world racer with no compelling elements, and we’ve now learned through a message board post of all things that this sub-par package has somehow warranted a sequel. Though nobody will place a gun to your head and force you to buy The Crew 2 when it inevitably lands on store shelves for both major console gaming platforms and UbiSoft’s own uPlay service, it’s mere existence is the prime example of developers who refuse to see video games as interactive pieces of art, instead building an uninspiring experience designed solely to tick boxes of key features and distract customers from their own mundane personal lives for a few hours during the course of every evening.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am obviously not too thrilled about The Crew 2’s existence, but it has nothing to do with blind hate for a product I don’t entirely understand; I feel UbiSoft and Ivory Tower simply aren’t capable of making The Crew as an idea for a video game, into something you’ll be racing home after work to play for hours on end. I’d prefer for them not to waste everyone’s time with a second go.

Open-world driving games, when done right, can be fantastic. Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Rockstar’s Midnight Club Series blew the doors wide open on the sub-genre with stellar releases that allowed you to explore large environments at your own free will, with other developers scurrying around to try and attain some slice of the proverbial pie thanks to just how well gamers had responded to these all-around great offerings.

But there was a science behind the reason Midnight Club and Need for Speed had succeeded in a market dominated by Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Mario Kart; the driving model was something that could be understood and practiced to perfection by dedicated players, the customization – even now – was unprecedented, the environments were memorable despite their comparatively smaller size due to technological limitations, and the background narrative was just that – a loose story that sort of tied it all together, but wasn’t something the player even needed to pay attention to. That is your formula for a successful open world driving game, and it’s why the offshoot Forza Horizon was able to come out swinging in 2012 and immediately establish itself as one of the greats; Turn 10 paid close attention to the groundwork laid by Need for Speed and Midnight Club, while putting their own spin on it.

Ivory Tower failed to do any of this with The Crew, essentially embarking on one poor design choice after another that indicated the team hadn’t even bothered to understand why people might be drawn open world driving games in the first place. The driving model was often described as floaty and vague by wheel and pad users alike, meaning the core gameplay was something users “put up with” as opposed to learning and mastering, and that’s kind of important when your video game is all about cross-country marathons behind the wheel. Customization and progression had been intertwined with incessantly grinding for experience points – something that driving game enthusiasts have never taken kindly to in the history of the genre – while the giant map made it impossible for the team to ensure every square mile served a purpose; long, empty highways connected select areas of interest. And though there was at least some attempt at a generic Fast & Furious rip-off narrative, the story was just so over-the-top , intrusive, and forced that it worked against the game itself; you wanted it to go away so you could focus on other areas in The Crew, and UbiSoft kept throwing it at you.

It’s just a package that indicated UbiSoft needed a token open world driving game on their roster of products and just sort of shit something out. What’s even more surprising, is that UbiSoft Reflections were once behind the stellar Driver series of the late 1990’s, as well as the phenomenal Stuntman for the PlayStation 2; both entities known quite well for their stellar vehicle physics, so a regression between then and now is quite strange.

It didn’t help that the PlayStation 4 version of The Crew failed to support Logitech’s G29 racing wheel, considering racing games are universally much better experiences when under the command of a traditional car control input method and third party wheels are skyrocketing in popularity. The bugs and shoddy servers also threw a curveball into the mix; for a game that boasted tons of seamless online integration, UbiSoft struggled to ensure a smooth experience for gamers – something that should have been priority numero uno for a game of this scope.

But in my opinion, the most prominent display of UbiSoft’s lack of dedication to ensuring The Crew would be a successful venture, was in their stunning lack of creativity. The game’s first expansion pack,Wild Run, straight up copied the theme of Forza Horizon with a fictional automotive festival taking place in the middle of a vast rural area, while the second, Calling All Units, lifted police pursuit weapons from the 2010 reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Furthermore, The Crew continues to make use of UbiSoft’s obsessive tendency to place objective towers within the game world as a means of unlocking new tasks or events. This sort of makes sense within the context of a third person adventure game such Assassins Creed, but the fact that it has been shamelessly copy & pasted into a racing game of all things when it clearly does not pertain to the subject matter in the slightest is pure laziness.

All of these little details add up to a racing game that was designed by a team that not only fail to understand what makes an open world racer fun, they are unable to polish the product so key elements work as they should, and shamelessly rip ideas from other teams and shoe-horn in repetitive elements from in-house franchises, regardless of how well those gameplay design choices will benefit the end user experience.

So with The Crew 2  confirmed, it’s hard to be even the least bit excited at what the sequel might bring to the table. UbiSoft were simply not interested in creating a good driving game with the first iteration in the franchise, clearly neglecting to research what constitutes as an enjoyable open world racing game in favor of shitting out a hodgepodge of ideas and design choices that actively worked against each other. This is not the result of impending deadlines and rushed segments of development, but a team actively making poor choice after poor choice when it comes to the creative vision of the game, and it’s a problem that can’t be rectified overnight. Unless there is a drastic re-construction of The Crew’s fundamental makeup, you can write off The Crew 2 before we even see it in action.

When Development Goes Awry: The Seven Biggest Mistakes Made by Racing Game Developers

Racing games are a fairly unique genre of interactive entertainment, as while there’s no formal “recipe” as to what constitutes a great experience, it’s sort of expected that all developers make an effort to include as many features, functionalities, and content seen in the games that came before it. And sometimes, the developers in charge of said projects we’re all told to treat as demigods across various sim racing message boards are anything but; merely pretentious artists trying to shoehorn their own wacky ideas into pieces of software that don’t always benefit from creativity in obscure places, or cutting corners in ways that will fail to accomplish anything aside from pissing off the fanbase. When this situation arises, often times it leads to a complete clusterfuck of angry customers questioning how and why certain decisions are made.

Game development is not for the weak; a sub-par product will unleash a tidal wave of criticism unlike anything actors or musicians will have to deal with, but in select instances, this overwhelming display of harsh criticism is one hundred percent justified. When developers eschew from the traditional formula and still charge full price for their creation, it can unleash a shitstorm of epic proportions.

After the explosion of Halo’s popularity on Microsoft’s original Xbox, and the industry’s increasing reliance on “Call of Duty numbers” – Blockbuster games attempting to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, sometimes as the expense of alienating hardcore fans – developers began really thinking outside of the box when it came to driving games, believing they too could have a piece of the pie by deviating from the unwritten standard formula of driving games in pursuit of a wider audience, or finding ways to extract more money from existing customers. Codemasters gave otherwise avid motorsport fans the ability to rewind time in 2007’s Race Driver: Grid, no longer requiring users to actually get good at the game, instead providing them with a literal do-over button so newcomers wouldn’t feel intimidated by an experience they probably wouldn’t care about to begin with. It was seen as sacrilegious, but thankfully could be disabled for an extra cash bonus in Career mode. Other elements, such as the ability to whip out Mommy’s credit card and unlock new cars and parts in Need for Speed: Pro Street prior to naturally attaining them via in-game progression, still exist to this day.

Small potatoes? It sure seemed that way at the time, until it was revealed that Electronic Arts had secured exclusive rights to the world-renowned Porsche brand, causing headaches for virtually every other racing game developer. Forza Motorsport suddenly shipped with matchmaking features instead of custom lobbies. The beloved Colin McRae series received a facelift infused with energy drinks, fireworks, and a flock of drivers most rally fans recognized as freestyle BMX riders, not talented professional race car drivers. Things got really weird in the genre for a while, and many felt as if the developers they once relied on to push out fantastic race car games, had all fallen off the map.

Some franchises saw these years as a temporary rough patch before restoring their former glory, while others were the subject of virtual public lashings, alienating fans and putting the future of the series into question. Today, we’re going to list the absolute lowest of the low; moments in the history of racing games where development had clearly gone awry, and bizarre, counter-intuitive ideas and gameplay mechanics that surfaced during late-night brainstorming sessions somehow made their way into the final product, nearly crippling the end user experience and/or pissing off legions of fans.

Low-hanging fruit will not be addressed in this list, so the 2015 reboot of Need for Speed requiring an online connection just to play through the single player campaign is exempt from our discussion. The deal between Porsche and Electronic Arts also doesn’t count, as both Forza and Kunos Simulazioni found ways to work around the exclusivity, with the existence of Ruf in other games serving as an acceptable band-aid for the German brand’s omission.

These are the seven worst ideas in the history of racing games.

Burnout Revenge introduces “Traffic Checking”

The most anticipated racing game of 2005, Burnout Revenge was poised to set the world on fire. With a reinvigorated art style that promised a darker, grittier, in-your-face arcade racer compared to the bright, lively world of predecessor, a rocking soundtrack that still holds up to this day, and a development budget dictated by the mighty Electronic Arts – who at that point could do no wrong when it came to racing and sports games – many were chomping at the bit to tear off the plastic.

A game that proudly declared “Revenge is for Losers” on the back of the box, the last remaining element the Burnout series could have used to push it over the top – attitude – had finally been inserted into the mix. Burnout 3: Takedown was an absurdly difficult game, offering instant death around every bend and one of the most rewarding arcade racing experience of our time for those who master it, but the pop-punk production created a bit of a weird design contrast. We were told Revenge would exponentially increase the psychotic on-track activity, and compliment the action with an equally dark artistic theme.

Upon finally throwing the CD into the disc drive, we instead found out Criterion had made the game significantly easier. The trademark Burnout gameplay of racing through busy metropolitan areas at breakneck speeds to acquire boost still remained, as did the highly visceral crashes and accompanying car damage, but we quickly learned the playing field would be tilted in the player’s favor. Unlike the previous three iterations of the franchise, which sent you on a white-knuckle high-speed slalom through rush hour traffic, players could now slam into vehicles traveling in the same direction, using them as gigantic impromptu pinballs to destroy opponents.

This created a situation where you could merely sit in one lane for the entire duration of the race, mindlessly slam into traffic cars, and just sort of waltz your way to victory; AI cars unable to endure an endless stream of taxi cabs being flung at them. The whole draw and challenge of the Burnout series – lightning-fast battles through dense traffic – had been removed. No longer a dance between victory and death, Burnout became boring, with further complaints surrounding the game’s lack of a single race mode littering message boards at the time of release. Unless you managed to snag an Xbox 360 copy of the game, once you completed campaign mode, that was it.

FFB Calibration.jpgSlightly Mad Studios turn Force Feedback Configuration into literal rocket science

An entire novel could be written about the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of the original Project CARS, beginning life as a rogue crowdfunded campaign supported by a massive portion of the sim racing community before being quickly rushed out the door thanks to pressure from key investors and an impending schedule of heavy hitters that could easily steal its thunder in the fall. A visually stunning yet deeply flawed mass-market re-imaging of Race 07 for current generation consoles, Project CARS split the sim community in half; for some it was exactly what they were looking for out of a racing game, while others simply could not stop running into game-breaking glitches and elements that desperately needed more polish. Igniting a fanboy war that still rages on to this day, merely bringing up Slightly Mad Studios and/or Project CARS is asking for a message board brawl guaranteed to last several days.

Despite an abundance of supporters defending the title and aggressively lashing out against their rivals, those infuriated with the end product after years of hype scored a key point when stories of the game’s claustrophobic force feedback configuration menu began to circulate. Featuring no less than three pages of sliders and in-game written explanations that only the developers themselves understood, supporters were forced to write their own guides and upload their own presets for the PC version – as well as start a dedicated webpage for console owners – just for users to figure out how to make their plastic steering wheel rattle a certain way. Already facing an enormous wave of criticism for the unfinished nature of the game, many including myself pointed to the confusing and unnecessarily complicated force feedback menu as the proverbial cherry on top.

Though this entire section of configuration screens can be avoided – as I felt the Classic force feedback preset was more than adequate from what I wanted out of my toy steering wheel – the screens directly contradicted the studio’s mantra of by sim racers, for sim racers. Project CARS was supposed to be a game created with the direct help of the community, and no sim racing community would have openly asked for the most complicated force feedback screen in the history of sim racing, so it raised several questions about what was happening behind closed doors, and why the game was allowed to ship in such a questionable state.

Assetto Corsa fails to include Custom Lobbies on Consoles

A heavily discussed topic here at PRC.net, hardcore simulation nerds unable to shell out big bucks for a dedicated gaming PC were jacked to hear Assetto Corsa would be landing on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, especially after many online leagues in Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 6 were running into several issues with their software of choice and putting their championships on temporary hiatus, believing their organizations would be able to adopt Assetto Corsa as their new league platform and continue where they left off. While rumors circled that the team might end up shipping a broken mess of a game lacking key features and functionality console users were accustomed to, in the weeks leading up to launch, Kunos Simulazioni openly dismissed these rumors promised the console rendition of Assetto Corsa would be nearly identical to its PC counterpart.

Aside from crippling performance and artificial intelligence issues that made the game unplayable for a period of weeks, sim racers were horrified to discover that Kunos Simulazioni did not include any sort of custom lobby option in Assetto Corsa for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Racers were instead corralled into public rooms they had no control over – the vehicles and locations pre-determined by Kunos, sometimes omitting popular pieces of content altogether – forced to compete against random drivers.

Why might this be an issue, you might ask?

Leagues and private racing communities exist because the average online gamer in a public lobby knows jack shit about clean, competitive driving in a hardcore racing simulator. Unable to filter out little kids, trolls, and talentless hacks, online racing in Assetto Corsa reportedly became a cesspool of idiocy and frustration, with most owners opting to outright return the game, or take it out of their gaming rotation indefinitely. Leagues which planned to use Assetto Corsa as their new platform promptly went back to their previous game of choice, while those that stuck around eventually grew tired of the car selection and made their way to the official forums to demand more vehicles and tracks to be thrown into the rotation. Most of the time, Kunos refused to adhere to these demands for several weeks at a time, leading to situations where entire downloadable content packs would be released, only to be inaccessible in online events for those who were content with open lobby races.

When asked why custom lobbies did not make their way into the retail release, 505 Games responded with a generic “our priority is to release a stable game” statement.

No shit your priority should be to release a stable game. This is EVERY developer’s priority!

Those who voiced their frustrations on the official Assetto Corsa forum were promptly attacked by hordes of PC version owners for buying the objectively inferior version of the product, acting as if the console release was a sick joke played on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners, which long-time Assetto Corsa forum members were made aware of in advance. Console owners were also locked out of viewing certain PC-oriented forum sections, as if Kunos were actively trying to prevent console owners from discovering their version of the game was a half-assed cash grab to secure financial stability for the company. As of this writing, Kunos have still failed to implement custom lobbies into the game, a whopping nine months after release. Fanboys continue to demand frustrated console version owners to “be patient”, as if waiting nine months for a developer to add in a feature seen in all console driving games dating back to 2001 is a completely normal, rational thing to do.

rFactor 2 Requires a Season Pass for Online Play

Though this has since been rectified, there’s a reason rFactor 2 remained in stasis for several years, an obscure sequel failing to achieve even a tenth of the recognition as its older brother. While the original rFactor was a flexible modding paradise, helping to launch the careers of talented indie teams such as Reiza Studios while providing a killer, be-all end-all for online road racing, rFactor 2 was a disaster before the game exited the open beta stage. A poor selection of content, dated graphics, and woeful optimization saw one guinea pig from each online community purchase the title out of curiosity, only to run back to their respective gaming cliques and instruct their friends to stay well away from the pinnacle of eternal science projects.

Part of the reason so many sim racers refused to touch rFactor 2 with a ten foot pole was due to Image Space Incorporated willing to implement a Season Pass concept when it came to the game’s online servers.

At the time, EA Sports had devised a clever strategy to make money off of used game sales, which they felt had been biting into potential profits considering how many people were picking up Madden and FIFA second-hand with each passing year. EA Sports locked the online capabilities of each title behind a paywall for about fifteen dollars, though all new games would come bundled with a code on the back of the game manual allowing the first owner of the game to access online components for free. Upon returning the title to GameStop, and another individual purchasing the same exact game disc, EA Sports would eventually receive about $15 from that second purchase when the user inevitably wanted to play online against their friends.

It was a genius move by Electronic Arts, but considering you can’t walk into GameStop and see an entire shelf littered with second-hand rFactor 2 boxes, it didn’t make much sense in the context of a hardcore racing simulator that didn’t even offer a traditional boxed copy. Furthermore, those who did take a leap of faith and purchased the online subscription for rFactor 2 (offered in two formats; yearly and lifetime), discovered their cash merely went towards accessing the same server browser screen they once could open as part of the vanilla rFactor experience, although this time it was full of completely empty servers because not many were willing to adopt rFactor 2 as their software of choice. There was no online stat tracking, no populated dedicated servers, and no organized races like you’d see on iRacing – ISI charged extra to access a screen that you could previously enter and use as part of the base game.

It took five years and a change in developer to completely eradicate this bogus move. Had Image Space Incorporated not moved rFactor 2 to Valve’s Steam platform and offered discount after discount as an incentive for curious sim racers to at least give rFactor 2 a shot, we’d be talking about this game in the past tense.

Codemasters remove Cockpit View from Grid 2

While I began this countdown by implying Codemasters implementing the rewind functionality into Race Driver: Grid was a bad development call, the reality is that the rest of the game was a phenomenal simplistic take on the world of motorsports; just enough reality had been injected into a largely fictional world to provide something for everyone; the artificial intelligence put up a captivating fight against the player car – meaning experienced sim racers put off by the exaggerated driving model could at least be entertained by challenging duels, while the lighthearted team management aspect gave everybody an incentive to play through a large chunk of the game to see what would await at the very top. However, as waves of Codemasters fans grew excited over a surely impending sequel, they were instead given multiple off-road games, a licensed Formula One series, and a spin-off title centered around fireworks, crashing, and nitro boost.

Grid 2 was obviously stuck in development hell for an extended period of time, but upon the game’s inevitable reveal in the fall of 2012, most wished it would have remained behind closed doors for good. One of the first bits of information relating to Grid 2 revolved around the game’s omission of cockpit view, with Codemasters promising a casualized “action driving” experience. This obviously didn’t sit well with the target audience, as what idiot releases a racing game in the modern gaming era without an in-car camera, though what Codemasters did next shocked a lot of people.

Codemasters attempted to justify the removal of cockpit view by claiming only 5% of their fanbase used the traditional in-car vantage point, which led to pretty much all of us wondering what the hell they were smoking because this was the most retarded thing a racing game developer could say at that exact point in time. Supposedly, their own telemetry data had told them so few of their customers were making use of the in-car view that it wouldn’t be worth the extra development time to create for every car, but message board discussions quickly pointed to a different explanation; the new iteration of the Codemasters EGO engine, first seen in 2012’s DiRT Showdown, did not included standard high-detail cockpit view functionality. Not only had Codemasters totally lost the plot, many believed they were openly lying to their customers and saving face for accidentally failing to encode dedicated support for cockpit view into their new game engine.

As predicted, the sudden paradigm shift and loss of focus spread to other, more prominent areas of the game; Grid 2 tanked hard, and Codemasters recycled the assets in just under a year for Grid: Autosport, which sold even less despite being the objectively better product and bringing cockpit camera back into the mix.

Need for Speed partners with Michael Bay

Enlisting the help of Criterion Games saw Need for Speed return to the forefront in 2010 after several dismal years experimenting with radical changes in direction, though the revival of the Hot Pursuit name and the use of the Burnout engine did little in the long run to prevent the ship from sinking; a once-storied franchise was clearly on its way out. However, while Need for Speed was dropping cylinders left and right, Electronic Arts as a company was literally rolling in cash, and as a bizarre attempt to re-invent their flagship arcade racing franchise for a fifth time, award-winning movie director Michael Bay was brought on as a design consultant for what would become Need for Speed: The Run, released in the fall of 2011.

Playing through The Run a few weeks ago, a task that can be completed from start to finish in a matter of about three hours, there are two distinct elements working against each other from the time you start the application, until the precise moment you exit the game for the final time and delete the pirated Mr. DJ copy from your hard drive. Remove one of those elements completely – and you can obviously guess which one from the subtitle of this section – and it’s easy to see the potential this game had.

On paper, The Run is an extremely cool concept. Bringing the point-to-point stages of the very first Need for Speed into the 21st century, The Run is essentially a cannonball run simulator with a spectacular list of cars only Electronic Arts would be able to afford the licenses to. There’s something hilarious yet completely awesome about ripping through the gorgeous Yosemite national park in a 2011 BMW GT3 entry; your avatar stopping every so often to pump his own gas at a Shell station while a small crowd gathers, confused yet awestruck at what is unfolding in front of them. Blasting past traffic at 300 km/h on a rural North Dakota road as a summer storm lurks over the horizon and gradually approaches with each passing stage, hauling ass out of Las Vegas and into a pitch black desert, or dueling with rivals on the Chicago freeway – which actually feels as expansive and bland as a suburban freeway would – there are moments in The Run that are just flat-out cool, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But then the narrative elements take over. You aren’t a nameless, faceless driver trying to win races, earn cash, and customize your unique library of cars. You’re some asshole named Jack, the girl that locked you in the friendzone you thinks it’s funny to call you on Skype while you’re three wide for the lead, and the mob is after you because… reasons… Just as you’re starting to have fun with the raw driving element and take in the sights of the United States as seen through the Frostbyte engine, suddenly you’re subjected to on-foot quick time events that quite frankly have no place in any racing game, or being anally ravaged by a group of Porsche SUV’s scripted to destroy you – which turn into private helicopters later in the campaign. There are“boss characters”, but they’re in your rear-view mirror almost as quickly as you’re introduced to them, one asshole is constantly trying to get you killed – but we never find out why – and the final stage in the game is one long scripted sequence continuously wrestling control away from you.

The story is just too intrusive; I dig the concept of ripping from San Francisco to New York in this lucrative illegal street race, because the track design is both extremely creative and exceptionally diverse, the car selection is phenomenal, and I guess the driving physics are sort of okay for what we’re doing. However, the game takes a total nose dive when your avatar is rolling around on the streets of Las Vegas, karate-kicking police officers because you pressed the X button at the right moment, or trying to smash out windows of an busted police cruiser that just so happens to be sitting in the path of an oncoming freight train. The actual gameplay of The Run is a really cool throwback to the very first Need for Speed, but it’s like you’ve given your little brother the remote control to the television, and at random points he keeps flipping television inputs to some shitty early 2000’s action movie just to fuck with you.

Unfortunately, with these non-driving narrative/action sequences so intertwined to the core experience, The Run turns into this bipolar mess of a video game; dragging down what could have been a genuinely intriguing concept into something you torrent, finish, and remove from your hard drive in a single sitting.

Total Team Control marks the end of EA’s NASCAR perfection

Long-time PRC.net readers have most likely grown sick of my love for the officially licensed NASCAR titles of the early 2000’s. A series so good, a majority of the developers were eventually sent to work on the Madden NFL franchise, the EA Sports NASCAR games were ahead of their time, offering tons of unlockable goodies, alternate liveries, immensely detailed career modes, driving schools, bonus tracks, and basically an entire second game’s worth of shit to explore on top of a pretty decent on-track experience that still eclipses anything released over the past decade. After NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup implemented the Craftsman Truck, Busch Grand National, and Featherlite Modified touring series into the game – allowing NASCAR fans to basically climb the ranks from local tracks to the big leagues – expectations were through the roof for NASCAR 06: Total Team Control. We had no idea how EA would manage to improve on what was basically a perfect NASCAR game.

The short answer is that they didn’t; Total Team Control was a distinct regression. At the forefront of the ’06 rendition were the heavily advertised teammate controls, which you can see at the bottom right of the screenshot inserted above. The right analog stick was now a mobile command center, allowing you to issue legitimate team orders to your on-track teammates – which was sort of banned in NASCAR after it was exploited to the extremes in 2013 – and was intended to create a dynamic racing environment in which there was actually a purpose to having teammates, whether it be in the game’s extensive career mode, or just in traditional single event play while competing as your favorite driver.

The biggest problem was that unlike the exact same functionality in Need for Speed: Carbon a year later, it didn’t actually work. You could ask your teammates to block for you, but it never appeared to warrant any defensive driving on their behalf. You could ask them to draft with you at tracks such as Daytona or Talladega, but they would always get held up by cars in their immediate vicinity, and you were better off scooting around them. You could demand for them to move out of the way upon approaching them, or follow you through the pack of cars into clean air, but again, they weren’t actually capable of doing so. Sometimes, the game would actually notify you that your teammate was currently unable to follow your instructions, kind of nullifying any perceived reliance on team orders to begin with. So there was basically this whole major feature in the game that just sort of occupied a quarter of the screen and wasn’t functional in the slightest.

What you could do with this feature, was use it to swap over to your teammates, and drive their cars for an unlimited period of time, allowing you to start the race as Dale Earnhardt Jr., warp over to Martin Truex Jr., crash into everybody, swap back to Dale Earnhardt Jr., and win the race uncontested. There were no penalties for doing so regardless of what mode you were playing, and tutorials subtly encouraged you to do this, turning NASCAR 06 into this bizarre out-of-body spiritual possession simulator akin to Driver: San Francisco. Keep in mind, this was the number one new feature fans were supposed to look forward to, and we’re not talking about a story driven arcade racer, but a major officially licensed release centering around America’s most popular auto racing series. People were fucking livid at the time of release, and within four years, Electronic Arts lost the NASCAR license due to continuously declining sales.

Are there other titles and features I’ve forgotten? Probably. For every mainstream racing game that had mountains of spaghetti fall from its pockets in front a worldwide audience, there are ten others that have been lost to the sands of time, with bone-headed design choices chasing away all but the most rabid and apologetic of fanboys. However, the seven titles I’ve outlined above are what I feel are the most absurd displays of developer incompetence and poor decision making I’ve ever witnessed when just trying to hang out and enjoy an evening of virtual race cars.

Pray nobody tries to take it a step further.

Brick Rigs Impresses with Fine Details, Yet Still Needs Captivating Environments

Last fall, we here at PRC introduced you to an obscure indie title by the name of Brick Rigs by showering it with absurd levels of praise and dubbing it our Game of the Year for 2016, a label we’re still not completely willing to admit was a farce. Combining the open-ended sandbox gameplay experience of BeamNG or Rigs of Rods with an incredibly powerful and robust vehicle creation tool that was essentially Lego without the licensing, Brick Rigs was one of those games we all ended up buying as a bit of joke, only to sink exponentially more hours into the title than any of us could have possibly imagined. Though the premise of the game is centered around a popular children’s toy, and it will undoubtedly lead to several of our readers dishing out an abundance of creative insults towards us, Brick Rigs is certainly not a kid’s game by any means once you dive into the application – dull menus give way to an empty garage far too complex for anybody within Lego’s intended age group to master, and the underlying driving physics powering the whole thing punish you for building cars that aren’t structurally sound.

It’s basically an ingenious way for sim racers to unleash their inner Adrian Newey with an infinite bucket of the world-famous plastic building blocks, without the headache of ordering expensive sets online or digging around endlessly for that one piece, though you’ll have to get over the whole “I’m a grown man playing with Lego” thing first.

Since we last covered the game in the closing stages of 2016, Brick Rigs has received a steady stream of updates – which is pretty impressive when you consider it’s just one guy fronting the whole project, and at any given time Lego could step in and take legal action that quite frankly is long overdue. However, these routine updates to the game have been a bit of a double-edged sword; like Assetto Corsa, there’s been lots of work done under the hood to Brick Rigs, and a lot of steps taken to accommodate content creators – those who pepper the Steam Workshop with their custom cars – but in terms of the gameplay, Brick Rigs still remains largely the same as it was five months ago. So from someone who has invested 45 hours into the title, our custom Lego cars are the most detailed they’ve ever been, but driving them has become a bit of a bore.

When it comes to constructing either a custom monstrosity or something inspired by a real world design, players can now set gear ratios for their engine, determine suspension stiffness, or even add text-specific blocks – handy for recreating famous race cars, such as the Bentley Speed 8 I’ve taken a screenshot of above. The list of block materials have been both expanded and fleshed out to turn car building into a bit of a science, allowing players to lighten the car by using carbon fiber blocks for the chassis, or re-create the pigfat handling characteristics of a classic American saloon car by decking key body parts such as bumpers or wheels in chrome. More engines, wheels, wings, and other vehicle-specific bricks requested by the community have been added with each passing build, meaning the stuff appearing on the Steam Workshop from some of the prominent builders is nothing short of astounding. The game started out with pretty primitive designs, but now it’s not uncommon to sign on and discover a full fleet of supercars or historic race cars faithfully recreated by someone with far too much time on their hands.

Tire model updates have made playing this game with a DualShock 4 go from merely serviceable to fairly enjoyable over the course of just a few months, but the most recent physics implementation has turned a lot of heads and thrown some of the more elaborate creators a real curveball. We’ve all speculated that Brick Rigs had some kind of simplistic aerodynamic model built into the game – as certain cars had a tendency to blow over like a Le Mans prototype on the desert map when catching air – but the April 27th build has implemented a brand new aerodynamic simulation, complete with an optional visualization element that can be toggled on and off. Simply put, Brick Rigs now has a fully dynamic aero model on-par with that of X-Plane, which passes air over the cars and generates drag, downforce, and determines an aero center based on the external surfaces of your creation, all in real time. I don’t know what timeline we’re in anymore, but this is both awesome and ridiculously hilarious. Not only does Brick Rigs handle fairly well for a sandbox driving game, and the physics engine requires you to construct vehicles that are fundamentally sound from a mechanical design standpoint, the cars also have to be created with live airflow in mind.

In terms of vehicle design, the new aero model has blown the door wide open when it comes to creating something that’s competitive in a race-like format, as the aero model is pretty unforgiving at high speeds. Most of my time spent in Brick Rigs is dedicated to creating purpose built drag racing cars, and it’s insane to see how this has fundamentally changed the way you approach straight line events in Brick Rigs. You can’t just load up a chassis with as many thrusters that will fit as if you’re playing Garry’s Mod, nor can you rely on a minimum weight skeleton car; airflow will fuck your shit up six ways to Sunday, and the designs I found to work the best were basically real cars that I tried to copy as best I could with Lego blocks.

Early creations with the new build would routinely blow over as they eclipsed the 150 mph mark, and I found myself experimenting with wing contraptions and basic aero concepts – slamming the car and sealing off the nose to the ground – just to get the car to stay on all fours. Because the aero model appears to take into account the actual design of your car, bouncing off even the tiniest of exposed angles, you could easily spend several nights just testing different aero kits and configurations to re-direct air as efficiently as possible.

The problem is, all of this depth is kind of nullified once you exit the garage area and put your creations to the test. While I’m extremely lucky to be a fan of drag racing, and Brick Rigs includes a functioning tree with quarter mile elapsed time and speed readouts prominently displayed after each valid run (which is pretty much all you need for a drag racing simulator), other areas of the game are more or less non-existent. The three maps available when the game first launched are still the only three maps users can select from, with no word on whether custom map functionality will be supported.

Provided these maps were full of things to do, this wouldn’t be an issue, but where Brick Rigs stumbles is in providing three extremely lifeless maps to explore. The exterior circuit on the race track map is barely wide enough for a single car, meaning multiplayer racing against your friends – each in their own custom creation – is virtually impossible, while the majority of the desert map is taken up by mountainous regions no vehicle can traverse. The city environment allows content creators to take pretty screenshots, and each building can be destroyed by weaponry you equip to your vehicles, but as an environment there’s really nothing to see or do.

You can build race cars, but the only track you can race them on, isn’t much of a race track. You can build off-road trucks, but there’s not much off-roading to be done aside from one dirt strand in the desert map that takes all of about thirty seconds to explore for the first time. There’s a city to mess around in, but it’s a simple 6×6 grid of generic houses surrounded by an empty patch of grass. Aside from the drag strip, which at least offers a start light and basic timing functionality, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Brick Rigs once your vehicle has been built, regardless of whether you’re playing alone or in multiplayer.

Which is a shame, because the core portion of the game – the construction – is practically flawless, offering a powerful building block tool with intricate car setup adjustments that you now have to pay close attention to thanks to the shockingly detailed physics model. There’s no generic rallycross track to push the off-road cars to the limit. There’s no scenic mountain road a la Assetto Corsa’s Lake Louise to fuck around with the generic traffic cars and sports cars. There’s no Indianapolis or Daytona-like oval for players to try and construct a lightning-fast open wheel car to conquer, nor is there a proper road course that actually provides a decent arena for online racing.

And there’s also no wheel support. In a game which centers around not just building Lego cars, but driving them, and even has a complex aero model punishing you for putting a wing in the wrong place, wheel support is pretty much a must-have at this point. I’m not knocking the game’s physics, because to be honest I’ve gotten some of the cars pretty sideways on the desert map with my DualShock 4, but with the insane shit appearing on the Steam Workshop, we’re at the point where we really need the precision a wheel offers. Sure, the Volvo 240’s guys are putting up are certainly manageable with a pad, but we’re at the point where high-detailed modern Le Mans prototypes and Formula One cars are starting to pop up thanks to recent additions to the vanilla content, and I’d certainly like to drive them to the breaking point in a dedicated environment.

Provided the guy behind Brick Rigs can give us a bit more to do on the environment side of things, I think a lot of people here at PRC will go from ripping on us for showering this indie not-Lego game with praise as a joke of sorts, to understanding the sheer potential this game has as an alternative simulation platform. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a fucking Lego game, but the sheer level of detail packed into the building aspect, as well as the driving model, make this anything but child’s play. If we can get a few more maps thrown into the mix that are infinitely better designed than the current offerings, and possibly receive wheel support down the line, Brick Rigs has the potential to be the ultimate time waster for sim racers searching for a diversion between iRacing sessions – which isn’t that bad of an aspiration considering how small this project really is.