Getting into Sim Racers - RaceRoom Racing Experience
The E1 Championship has been going on for the past few weeks, and while it's been exciting to watch the races, we were thinking to ourselves - would it be more exciting if we were the ones behind the wheel? Since we weren't hardcore racing game fans, we decided to give it a shot to see what makes this genre so appealing to millions of people worldwide.
Firstly, a disclaimer from the writer of this piece - I am terrible at racing games, let alone racing simulators. In the past, I have been engrossed in arcade racers like Need For Speed: Underground, Initial D, and the ever-popular Daytona USA. The only game I ever considered myself good at was Mario Kart on the NDS, and it has been aeons since I picked up a racing game seriously. For me trying out RaceRoom Racing Experience, it was a whole new world.
On the surface, racing games seem simple enough. You choose your car, your track, and you start racing. In that regard, RaceRoom does the job magnificently. There are no frills or difficult menus to navigate - starting a race can be done in a matter of clicks, which I appreciated. After all, if racing is what you want, this is what you get. There are plenty of options for you to go through to customize your controls and racing experience (that is another story), but if you're happy with default settings - it's easy peasy.
Visually, the game isn't breathtaking - understandable since it came out in 2013, and graphics have improved a lot since then. However, what it makes up for the lack of style is performance. Running the game at full HD, highest settings, I was able to get a consistent 144 fps, which I appreciated. After all, in these games, speed is everything. Not to say that it is a bad looking game - there's just nothing mind-blowing about it. There weren't any graphical issues and I didn't encounter any visual bugs. And while I haven't visited these race tracks in person, they look similar enough to photos and videos I've seen before.
Sonically, the game performs great - from the roar of the engine to the tyres on different surfaces and your gears changing - you'll be able to tell everything that is going on from sound alone. I can only assume that's what it sounds like behind the wheel of a real car when you're on a track (just that the real thing probably sounds way louder), but for what it's worth, I was very impressed. Never thought I would say that about a racing game!
RaceRoom's controls were top notch. I expected this because it was a simulation, but I didn't think they would be that tight. My experience with racing games in the past has always been me sliding all over the place or constantly over and/or under-steering. In this game, pressing left or right turned the car enough just enough for me - and I didn't even have to tweak my steering settings. Shifting gears was responsive, and so was braking. This didn't mean I was any better at racing than in other games, but it did make me feel that all mistakes were my own and not because of my car or the game's physics. I didn't have a steering wheel setup (which probably would have been more enjoyable) but playing the game with a keyboard or gamepad was fulfilling.
Customizability - from the amount of controls available, to all the ways you can tweak your vehicle's performance, this game has everything (I think) an enthusiast would want in a racing sim. There's so many settings to adjust, I don't even know where to begin. I stuck with the defaults for everything during my first playthrough. But speaking as someone from a hobby that's all about customizing (mechanical keyboards), I can see the appeal of such features in a game.
Bumps and Run-offs
I'm terrible at driving games (not so bad in real life), but this game has made me realize how bad I truly am. Would it be fair to call it the Dark Souls of racing games? Maybe, if you're as bad as me. And if this is what real-life racers have to go through without the safety net of knowing that this is virtual, playing this game has made me appreciate their skills even more.
You see, this game is a simulation, so cars are supposed to handle like how their physical counterparts do. Sure, we don't experience the g-forces against our bodies, the rumble of the vehicle, and all the other sensory experiences behind a real vehicle. But simulations are supposed to be as close as you can get. Granted, I don't drive cars at this speed (or even close to) during my daily commute, but if I ever did, I know I've probably done something very wrong to be in such a situation.
I tried starting the game with all assists off and manual transmission to give myself a truly immersive experience (fun fact, the racers in the E1 Championship have to disable all assistance for the tournament) - the game was hell. I found myself forgetting to shift up or down, not braking enough, crashing into walls, running myself out of the track, and making countless other mistakes.
I'm not ashamed to say: I quickly gave up on hard mode, switched to easy, and with all the help enabled, I could finally have fun in the game. Don't get me wrong, it was still a difficult game, but these 'training wheels' enabled me to drive my car around like a normal person.
However, if you intend on becoming better at the game, you can't rely on this assistance. The braking and transmission assist tends to slow you down more than necessary, so you tend to lose a lot of speed when taking corners and sharp turns. You'll need to be able to do all that on your own in the future if you want to set any records. Maybe I'll eventually become good enough at the game to turn up the realism, but for what it's worth this is how I'm having fun for now.
Free To Play?
A lot of games have been stigmatized for being free to play, and for a good reason (no thanks to unscrupulous game developers that have flooded the marketplace), and I am pleased to report that RaceRoom doesn't fall into that category. For a game this polished, it's amazing that they didn't charge any money upfront to it. Besides the occasional screen advertising offers, there's nothing predatory at work here.
RaceRoom might be almost 7-years-old at this point but it has a healthy-enough player base which makes it easy to find multiplayer servers to race in. If you're content with racing against AI or yourself, that's not even going to be an issue!
The base game gives you a handful of cars and five tracks with multiple layouts each. Additional cars and tracks will cost you 4-5 Euros, though you can buy packs of them as DLC content at a discounted price. For first-timers who know nothing about racing, I would say that this would be a good starting point to get into racing sims. If you're experienced and know what you want, you can easily buy what you need without breaking the bank. However, if you're someone who wants every piece of content for the game, it's not going to be cheap.
What started as an hour long-trial turned into many hours more of racing because it was so enjoyable. I never expected to have this much fun from a game branded as a simulator. You can be sure I'll be spending many more hours on the virtual racetracks. Who knows, maybe you'll see me in the next season of E1 Championship (I kid, I don't stand a chance).
With RaceRoom being the first racing simulation that I have ever played, I can safely say that other racing simulations will have a lot to live up to! The fact that the game is free-to-play, makes it even better. If you've been thinking of getting into racing games and want a title to try out, you've got nothing to lose. RaceRoom is available on Steam now.
And to answer the question we were asking ourselves at the beginning of the article - yes, racing is more exciting when you're behind the wheel. However, if you don't have the driving skills to match the vehicle you're handling, it's best to leave it to the pros and watch the action from afar.
Be sure to catch all the action of the E1 Championship, live on eGG Network, 17 December, at 10pm (+8 GMT)!