Looking back on the period of time prior to the launch of Project CARS, I think the main reason I personally never bought into the insurmountable hype surrounding Slightly Mad Studios’ crowdfunded racer was because the game did little to distinguish itself from an already established racing sim. Landing on Steam in October of 2007, and seeing a console release on the Xbox 360 in the form of Race Pro, Race 07: The WTCC Game was an extremely competent and polished jack-of-all trades racing sim that succeeded in its attempts to condense all of your sim racing needs into one single experience. Created by the group that spawned the one-two punch of GTR 2 and GT Legends, Race 07 was not only an adequate and affordable introduction into the world of sim racing for curious PC gamers, but a highly detailed and sophisticated hardcore racing simulator that met the needs of die-hard virtual motorsports enthusiasts. Flawlessly integrating multiple layers of accessibility into Race 07 was a stunning accomplishment for SimBin during the very different sim racing landscape of the pre-Obama days, and their near-perfect execution of the title made the Project CARS disaster an even tougher pill to swallow. In theory, video games are supposed to get better as technology improves.
In reality, the games got worse.
Project CARS was an abysmal attempt to re-make a Race 07-like game for next generation consoles. The lack of any real quality assurance testing forced Slightly Mad Studios to constantly churn out post-release patches in an effort to fix a never-ending list of bugs, glitches, and exploits, turning the once highly anticipated racing sim into the butt of many jokes on various sim racing message boards. Assetto Corsa also tried to improve on the jack-of-all trades recipe that made Race 07 so successful, yet after graduating Steam’s Early Access program fell victim to a misguided development trajectory once Kunos Simulazioni set their sights on the console crowd. Lastly, the team at SimBin went through a restructuring phase and re-branded themselves as Sector 3 studios, yet the forced reliance on micro-transactions by their overlords at RaceRoom stunted the growth of RaceRoom Racing Experience.
Many sim racers bought Race 07. Many sim racers played Race 07. The game indeed enjoyed a successful lifespan, featuring several official expansion packs released by SimBin, a healthy third party modification community, and countless online leagues using the title as a competitive platform. However, after hundreds of hours and obvious advances in gaming technology, sim racers wanted to move on from Race 07. And when they did, games like Project CARS, Assetto Corsa, and RaceRoom Racing Experience served not as ambassadors for the new generation of racing sims, but harsh reminders that the glory days of sim racing are now firmly in the past.
In a disappointing display of how backwards the sim racing genre has become as we enter 2016, Race 07 is still objectively the best racing sim you can purchase for the PC. Boasting a list of features that modern sim developers call customers “losers” and “entitled” for requesting, as well as a fundamentally sound driving model that uses every last line of code in the isiMotor engine that powers it, Race 07 and its multitude of expansion packs are more relevant than they’ve ever been. No longer just one of many racing sims populating the market in 2007, Race 07 is a blueprint that the current crop of developers creating realistic driving games for the PC should have been following since day one.
Releasing a few years after the rFactor craze allowed Race 07 to gain immediate traction within the sim community. With the control options, graphics settings, and even the modding aspect retaining all the fundamental features of a sim powered by the isiMotor engine, stepping into Race 07 is no different than getting into a title like Stock Car Extreme. You’ve done it before. The familiarity allows your average sim racer to jump into the game and feel comfortable with the multitude of options and configuration settings, in some cases copying exact values from their rFactor install into Race 07 without any substantial tweaking needed. It’s nice to fire up a game and essentially be able to port my wheel setup across one game into another, down to the button assignments, as it means I can spend more time on the track, and less time browsing the forums looking for answers. With Race 07 running on a very common racing sim engine, my Catalyst Control Center graphics profile can simply be copied from Stock Car Extreme into the new Race 07 profile. For this review, I was able to re-configure my profile from the ground up, and get on the track to run a few test laps at Brands Hatch in less than five minutes.
The lack of configuration bullshit that plagues titles like Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, or rFactor extends past the initial configuration. I’m not fucking around with finding the latest version of the RealFeel or Track Map plugins, nor am I scrolling through the Player.INI file to make all of my preferred cockpit view and FPS tweaks. I don’t have to download a mod just for wet weather racing. I don’t have to download a specific version of SweetFX to make the game look like the preview screenshots, nor am I hunting for a memory patch to make the game compatible with modern hardware. I’m not messing with apps and dragging the various elements of my HUD around, nor am I digging through forum threads to learn about what each FFB configuration slider does. Hell, I even have a rudimentary crew chief barking at me through the in-car radio. Out of the box, Race 07 doesn’t want me to waste a few nights browsing sim racing message boards for supplementary information. Race 07 wants me to race.
The whole package feels as if SimBin were allowed to crack open the isiMotor engine and inject as much as they possibly could into to ensure a smooth gameplay experience. If this development approach sounds eerily familiar, that’s because the concept behind Race 07 is also the same concept which powered RaceRoom Racing Experience, NASCAR 09, and the upcoming Automobilista – pay Image Space Incorporated a hefty amount of money to go to town on their pride and joy. It is strange to see sim racers celebrating a developer like Reiza Studios purchasing the ability to modify the isiMotor engine, when they’re something like the fifth developer to do so, and the process has been around for about a decade.
Despite being a racing sim that predominantly focuses on the World Touring Car Championship, Race 07 is much more than just a touring car game. The track list appears to concentrate solely on the worldwide journey of the world’s premiere touring car series, but due to the instability of the yearly WTCC calendar, every major European racing facility pops up at least once, leading to an extremely varied track roster. Iconic locations such as Monza and Brands Hatch compliment the truly odd-ball inclusions such as Marrakech and Macau, all of which are recreated to fairly decent standards. While Portimao obviously pales in comparison to the superior version found in RaceRoom Racing Experience, tracks such as Road America, Zolder, and Imola feature a surprising amount of detail for a game that should instead be making your eyes bleed.
But Race 07 becomes much more than a touring car game upon the purchase of the several official expansion packs, usually available as a complete package for no more than $20 on CD key sites. Adding everything from amateur open wheel cars to an Assetto Corsa-like selection of production sports cars into Race 07, the highlight of these packs is without question the GTR Evolution bundle. Featuring three distinct classes of GT-spec sports cars, as well as the Nurburgring Nordschleife, the expansion pack is the closest SimBin has ever come to releasing a sequel to the critically acclaimed GTR 2. Even though it lacks entries from both Ferrari and Porsche due to licensing constraints, GTR Evolution was the original “Dream Pack DLC,” before Kunos Simulazioni were even a blip on the radar. Basically, this is what made people rush out and buy Race 07 if they hadn’t already.
What’s important to note about Race 07, is the abundance of full classes as opposed to one or two cars from each racing series. This is not Assetto Corsa, where only Ayrton Senna’s Lotus 98T appears from the 1986 Formula One season. This is not Project CARS, where only a handful of GT2 cars have made the cut. You’re receiving full WTCC seasons, full STCC seasons, a huge selection of GT cars from all three sub-classes, and even a full fictional Formula One grid where each car performs in a slightly different manner. The trend of modern sim developers offering a pinch of cars from each major racing discipline is a concept that doesn’t exist in Race 07; the diverse roster of vehicles in each class is one of the game’s strong points, allowing brand loyalty and genuine rivalries to develop.
Adding to the exceptional variety of official content is the vast array of quality third party mods available for Race 07. With rFactor being the more popular game between the two isiMotor sims, a lot of the junk mods quickly churned out by private leagues or communities made their way into the rFactor mod databases, whereas only the quality mods received an official conversion into Race 07. Digging through the TrippTeam archives and even NoGripRacing, the ratio of hits compared to misses when scoping out Race 07 mods is a lot more acceptable than it is for a title like rFactor, and it becomes significantly easier to amass a selection of quality mods in a shorter time frame.
The highlight of the third party mod selection for Race 07 is undoubtedly the conversions of stock content from both GTR 2 and GT Legends, as virtually nothing has been lost in translation from the two previous SimBin games of which the content has been ripped from. As the content has been built by SimBin themselves, and there’s a ton of different cars to pick from over three distinct eras of both GT and Touring Car racing, you’re left with two killer unofficial expansion packs that make use of the modern-ish technology powering Race 07. It’s nice to play with these cars in a sim that doesn’t feel too dated or suffer from obvious technological setbacks.
Once it comes time to finally get your ass on the track, Race 07 makes things incredibly easy on the end user. While setting up a race, every setting you could possibly desire for either a quick session or full championship is at your disposal, including the ability to reverse a portion of the grid, swap between multiple qualifying formats, and even allow for variable weather. While modern sim developers scoff at the fact that people want the ability to jump the start, follow around a pace car, or receive penalties for rough driving, and fanboys bend over backwards to make inane excuses for unfinished and/or buggy games, Race 07 allows you to customize your experience each and every time you hit the track. And more importantly, the options work as they’re supposed to. You can begin your time in Race 07 by taking street legal Dodge Vipers across the pacific to Macau and racing in a monsoon a la Project Gotham Racing 4, and an hour later be competing in a near perfect replication of a GT3 event at Hockenheim, all without exiting the game.
And turning competitive laps in Race 07 doesn’t require you to be a rocket scientist in the garage menu. To my surprise, the default setups the game ships with in both the vanilla content, as well as third party mods, are actually quite good. By default, the ride height is lowered to the minimum value, and the springs are as soft as they can go – a universal baseline setup in most isiMotor games. Being able to jump in a car, tweak only the steering lock, and immediately begin turning laps with a car that handled comfortably is something that more games need to look into doing. I know that learning how to build setups is a huge part of the fun that comes with diving head first into racing simulators, but at some point you have to realize that auto racing isn’t going on a Trans-Atlantic journey with a Boeing 747, and it’s okay if some of the fun comes out on the track itself.
But what sets Race 07 apart from many other modern sims, and actually makes this game still worth having installed and maintained, is the competent artificial intelligence. Now, I use the word “competent” because I’m not going to pretend they exhibit driving habits on par with the scholars seen in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, but compared to the AI behavior in Project CARS or Assetto Corsa… You can actually race these guys and have yourself a bit of fun. The AI cars put up a fight, are aware of your position, and more often than not provide legitimate competition.
In Assetto Corsa, taking screenshots of the artificial intelligence bugging the fuck out became a game unto itself – there’s no way something like this should have been released for public consumption. In Project CARS, my first race at the Nordschleife in a recent post-release version of the game with GT3 saw all AI cars spin and come to a complete stop in the Karussell at maximum difficulty, allowing me to win the race with ease. Finally, in RaceRoom Racing Experience, I was able to make an AI car lose control of all bowel movements upon pulling a sick crossover move at Sears Point. It’s disappointing to own three completely different racing sims, and have an entire portion of the game rendered useless by the same issues across each of them.
By comparison, Race 07 allowed me to string together a captivating series of offline races and practice sessions with AI drivers that made my time invested into the sim worthwhile. Originally, I took the 2011 FIA GT3 series to Okayama, a track many iRacers will be familiar with as one of the rookie layouts for the Spec Miata cup. Instead of walking away with the victory after consistently turning faster laps than the AI due to a bug in a certain sector of the course that saw the AI slow the fuck down for no reason at all, I was treated to a crazy three car battle for the lead. Meanwhile, rFactor 2 players have to watch a 10 minute tutorial just to get the AI configured in a way where they won’t shit themselves.
Afterwards, I started messing around with the GT Legends conversion mod, and basically spent an entire night running races at the short layout of Monza before moving to the Portimao circuit that I’ve grown accustomed to through RaceRoom Racing Experience. Instead of watching the AI struggle to make it around the track in cars that were no more technologically advanced than a bath tub on wheels, I was given several enjoyable battles with computer opponents who tried their best to put up a fight.
No matter what combination I tried, whether it be a flock of Audi R8’s at the Nordschleife, or DTM cars at the modern Imola layout, the computer opponents made it perfectly clear that I was not playing a re-skinned rFactor, but a game that wanted to hold my attention for the long haul. I never felt immediately compelled to jump online and search for human opponents, because unlike modern sims, the first half of the game hadn’t been rendered completely useless. Lengthy single events, and even an offline championship, suddenly seemed like a viable option.
So what, in particular, does Race 07 do right compared to all these other games you’re probably playing?
It starts with the list of content. Somehow, Race 07 expands on the selection of content seen in games like Assetto Corsa or Project CARS, making the backwards jump from modern sims into SimBin’s older offering an easy transition. Starting with the template of providing a mix of several different auto racing disciplines and street cars, Race 07 gives you more of the solid foundation upon which these games have been built. Assetto Corsa gives you an array of random street legal vehicles to select from, but Race 07 makes sure the street cars you can drive are desirable – you’re getting Dodge Chargers, Audi R8’s, and the elusive Koenigsegg CCX. Project CARS gives you a couple different touring cars from throughout the years, but SimBin has given you entire WTCC and STCC seasons – complete with the full calendar of tracks for your offline championship. An accurate Nordschleife has been all the rage over the past few months in the current sim racing landscape, and SimBin have thrown their own Nordschleife into the mix for good measure as part of the GTR Evolution expansion – though the textures are straight out of 2008. Yet despite the obvious reduction in texture resolution, downgrading to Race 07 from modern sims doesn’t feel like much of a downgrade, and in some aspects, you’re actually getting more content.
Out on the track, the game stands above other isiMotor games due to the extremely tangible edge of the tire model – something SimBin were able to do with total control of the isiMotor engine. Unlike rFactor or Stock Car Extreme, where throttle management is sometimes left to your own guesswork and experience, you can feel the outside rear tire skipping around under power as you exit a corner – and hold it there thanks to improved force feedback effects. In older cars (as well as the production vehicles), this makes it possible to really dance around with the car while still staying in complete control of your vehicle, and you can approach the limit of what your tires will allow with much more precision. Like Assetto Corsa, there is a pronounced understeer effect if you mess up your line, but the tire model refinements let you wheel the car to your advantage and dial the understeer out entirely. Objectively, the overall force feedback feeling isn’t better than RealFeel – it’s different – but the way the tires behave is one of those deals where you can tell this clearly isn’t just rFactor with a new coat of paint.
More pronounced brake fade was also an interesting curve ball I wasn’t quite ready for.
But the overall polish is where Race 07 comes together. Booting up the game and seeing this kind of package presented with slick menus, catchy music, and rarely any bugs is where Race 07 really comes through in the clutch. On paper, Race 07 and Project CARS are basically the same game. However, Race 07 actually works. Yeah, the graphics are clearly dated, but cars don’t explode into the air, wet tires aren’t faster in dry conditions, pit stops don’t attach four blown tires onto my car, the AI plays by the same set of rules and moral obligations as I do, and the force feedback menu makes sense. I can race against the cars I want to race against, save my setups based on each track, play in the rain while watching the AI cars struggle with a damp track in the same manner I am, and view replays without the wrong car models showing up. After the disastrous display of modern racing sims, the fact that Race 07 boots up and does what I ask it to is something I no longer take for granted. The chunk of time I usually expect to spend browsing forums looking for fixes or downloading mods just to get the base game up and running is instead spent on the track blasting around with a field of AI cars.
I can turn laps behind a pace car without developers calling me a loser for implying that this feature should still be in a racing simulator ten years later. I am not told that being able to jump the start before the lights go green will be in Race 08 – because that functionality is already in the game. My crew chief barking lap times at me and warning me of on-track incidents is not listed as some groundbreaking feature – it’s just sort of there and enabled by default. I don’t have to wait for a mod just to calculate points and run an offline championship – the game offers several official schedules, and let’s me build my own if I’m bored. I don’t have to purposely drive as if the AI are special needs children, imposing my own set of superficial challenges to pretend the game is halfway playable – they’re competent enough to blow me out of the water and rub fenders with me if I’m in their way.
Oh, and I can pick the color of my car when I go jump into an online race. That’s really cool.
It’s extremely gratifying to play a racing sim where I can sit down and focus on the actual racing. None of this bullshit where I’m sitting around on message boards waiting weeks or months for a future update to make the game playable, while attempting to kiss the asses of sim developers because they posted a blog thanking us for buying a couple DLC packs. Race 07 is still enjoyable in 2016, because it serves as the anti-thesis of all modern racing sims. Your time isn’t spent troubleshooting or searching for fixes to a bug or glitch that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. You boot up the executable, and you get right to racing, which is how it should be. How developers have strayed from such a solid template despite the superior technology available to develop something more captivating than Race 07 is beyond me.
Sim Racing isn’t supposed to be an eternal science fair to see which developer can put out the most tire model fixes in a year, or who can get away with labeling their game Version 8.0 without fans asking “what the fuck is this bullshit?” And yet, just under a month into 2016, that is the reality of this entire genre. Another tire model. Another batch of bugs. Another science project sets up shop in the gymnasium, with no completion date listed.
Race 07 is a game that should have been permanently placed on the shelf long ago; serving as little more than a reminder of where sim racing as a genre had been prior to the arrival of Sebastien Vettel. Instead, Race 07 has now transcended into an elder figure; an elder statesman that scoffs at the misguided projects sold as fully-priced racing sims in 2016.