It takes a big set of balls to hit up PRC.net with a complimentary Steam Code to test out your new indie racer, but the team over at Vae Victis felt ready to take on that challenge over the Easter long weekend. With only one previous title to their credit – the poorly received Victory: Age of Racing from many years ago – and not much in the way of overall credentials, the least I could do for these guys was give their new game the full PRC shakedown as a twisted welcome gift to the world of sim racing. After all, if it holds up to even one aspect of our ridiculously high standards, it means they’re doing something right. So before we even dive into this miniature review, everyone here needs to stop and thank these guys for sticking their necks out there and risking public humiliation to generate publicity for their game.
As the email states, Racecraft is the newest title from the Vae Victis team; a lighthearted Formula Faux racer running on the Kunos Simulazioni netKar Pro physics engine, and fueled by the procedural generation of fictional Grand Prix circuits inspired by Herman Tilke. If you’re lost in the abundance of buzzwords and obvious marketing lingo, I’ll clear it up for you: set a few parameters, and the game spits out a completely unique track for you to drive on, all powered by a pretty robust physics engine that many sim racers past and present seem to like.
The game is still deep into Steam’s Early Access program, so as a result there’s not a lot to see, do, or in this case, review, but those eager to try it out for themselves can grab the title right now for $22 CDN. Currently, you can generate a track, save tracks, run solo laps by yourself, or compete against a lone bot. There isn’t much of a game here to evaluate, so this piece will be split into two sections: Technology, and Driving.
So the definitive feature in Racecraft, something each article is going to obsess over as this game gathers an increasing amount of traction throughout the coming months, is the ability for each racer to input a set of basic parameters and have the game generate a track to their liking. As you can see in the screenshot above, you’re given extremely rudimentary options such as the length, difficulty, and time of day, and mashing the Change Track button spits out a totally random layout. Thankfully, there aren’t any load times associated with this, so you can hammer on the button like a kid playing Super Smash Bros. and play the waiting game until you receive something that looks cool. Based on what your parameters have been set at, the game will either give you a giant rectangle, or an impressive knockoff of a modern Herman Tilke creation – effectively making the game as simple or as difficult as you want it to be. The longest course the game will spit out at you usually ends up turning a 90 second lap (comparable to F1), and if you turn the difficulty of the track down a few notches, you’ll get circuits comparable to Indy Car layouts in America. Everything else is total bitch mode, though I guess that will serve to ease the newcomers into this title.
What impressed me the most about Racecraft during the two hours I spent messing with it – again, there’s not a lot to do right now – is how well the procedural generation of tracks worked. The entire game serves to live and die by this innovative new feature, and to my surprise, even though it’s only been on the shelves of Early Access for three weeks, this part of the game works even better than advertised. Like, on a technological level, I have no idea how Vae Victis sat down and built all the algorithms for this shit, but the semi-finished product 100% works as intended. I’m not trying to shill or get on the good side of these guys or anything; Racecraft was building me some fucking awesome tracks for what’s little more than a tech demo at the moment.
The first track I was satisfied with, was a combination of Austin and Mills Metropark from rFactor, a layout that managed to cram a bit of everything people hate about modern F1 into a mere 90 seconds – but it worked. The second monstrosity gave me this high speed blend of Paul Ricard and Bahrain, which threw a ridiculously fast set of third gear corners into Sector 2 before diving into a segment inspired by temporary street circuits of the 1980’s. This game was literally doing a better job of building Herman Tilke circuits than the man himself; an impressive feat for a long list of 0’s and 1’s. Unfortunately, glitches meant I’ve lost a few addicting layouts to the executable file fucking up, but for a developer team that’s come from literally nothing, it was mind-blowing to see something like this work as well as it did in the early stages of development.
However, each track is either Imola or Paul Ricard when it comes to the aesthetic details, meaning many early adopters who go on a few too many Racecraft binge nights will quickly grow tired of the surrounding scenery.
Running on a powerplant created by Kunos Simulazioni almost a decade ago, the actual on-track portion in Racecraft is comparable to a title many sim racers might have forgotten about – Ferrari Virtual Academy. It may be difficult to demonstrate this in raw YouTube videos floating around, as the more hardcore guys haven’t bothered checking Racecraft out yet, but when you’re on the track, Racecraft is surprisingly competent. There are no canned turbocharger effects as seen in F1 2014 by Codemasters, nor does the car dart all over the road in a manner similar to Formula One: Championship Edition on the PS3. When running laps at speed, the car responds in a positive manner to everything that would traditionally work in a hardcore simulator – and that’s pretty cool for a game aimed at a completely different audience. Yes, the suspension is a bit softer, the tires a bit sticker, and the downforce may have been cranked up a tad, but the open wheel guys among us will be able to jump in this title and feel comfortable. I’d actually go as far as saying that Racecraft is basically the direction Codemasters F1 titles need to venture into – that’s what we’re dealing with here. Now it’s clearly not the pinnacle of realism, and the design of the car itself is a weird hybrid between a couple recent Formula One entries over the past five years, but the key thing is the cars in Racecraft are both fun to drive, and the act of driving them at speed feels familiar when compared to other sims.
The art style clearly isn’t grounded in reality, and by default icons reminiscent of a similar concept found in DriveClub litter the track – indicating suggested gearing and speed traps – but turning laps in Racecraft isn’t as horrid or unnerving as the imagery suggests. In fact, what’s currently available is actually quite good. Vae Victis have built a pretty competent arcade racer within the confines of an engine designed for a hardcore racing simulator – an impressive feat for an unknown developer. Unfortunately, as the game is still heavily entrenched in Steam’s Early Access program, there isn’t much to review or talk about beyond the two key components I’ve gone over. The procedural track generation works much better than expected – producing Herman Tilke inspired tracks far better than the man’s actual work, and turning hotlaps at maximum attack isn’t an exercise in exploiting physics oddities. For a tech demo, this is surprisingly competent
For everything Racecraft currently does right, the biggest knock I have against the title is not aimed at the technology or driving experience itself, but rather the subject matter.
Racing game fans, whether they’re the diehard sim racers reading PRC.net, or a casual crowd looking for a natural progression from Sonic All-Stars or Need for Speed, they want a game where they can sit down and memorize tracks in an effort to get better. The technology found in Racecraft actively discourages grinding out hundreds of practice laps – a key part of refining your driving skills – which will inevitably lead to a mess online when a new layout is thrown at people in each and every session. Yes, it keeps people on their toes and levels the playing field to a certain extent, but we’re talking an extremely small list of about 30 drivers who can handle learning a new track every twenty minutes. When it comes time to build a game around Racecraft, Vae Victis are limited in what they can do that won’t serve to frustrate people.
And because of how difficult it is for most people to learn a new race track, what’s going to happen is many Racecraft owners will spend a majority of the time with the game driving the first three tracks the game spits at them – invalidating a major selling point of the title. What’s the use of a track generator if you’re only going to use it the very first time you boot up the game?
Then you get to the driving physics. Quite frankly, it is disappointing that simcade physics as competent as these are found in an obscure indie title, while the cars in officially licensed Codemasters F1 titles are all sorts of broken once you begin exploring the garage options. You only have to look at F1 2015’s Metacritic rating to understand how much the work of Vae Victis and Kunos would benefit Codemasters.
Lastly, I feel the technology behind the game itself- the procedural generation of race tracks – could be put to better use. No matter how many fantastic circuits Racecraft churns out, nothing will ever replace Laguna Seca, Monza, Silverstone, or Spa. There’s a reason Gran Turismo increases the amount of real world tracks on the roster with each iteration, while continuing to removing fantasy layouts and offering a track editor as a mere diversion. Racers want real circuits. However, a practical application for this technology – which as I said works incredibly well already – would be in a discipline of auto racing where developers are simply never going to have enough man power to create something beautiful from scratch. V-Rally 2 included a custom stage creator, but unleashing the Vae Victis Procedural Track Generator in an off-road point-to-point environment could be a truly beautiful thing.
Only time will tell how Racecraft pans out, but at the moment I consider the game both a success and a failure. The two integral elements of the game currently work even better than advertised, but the technology powering the title’s main attraction would be significantly more useful in a different spectrum of auto racing.