Preview by Mike Channell
RaceRoom is car expert Simbin's business on the side – allowing patrons of its venues, including 'rooms' in Dubai and at the Nurburgring, to jump into racing seats and play at being a racing driver.
But while the obscure branding might not stir the loins, the concept might. RaceRoom Racing Experience is designed to offer free-to-play sim racing of the kind of quality that exceeds anything else on the market, boxed or not. The first step is a new engine for Simbin, something that has been overdue for a good four years. Nobody doubted the Swedish developer's uncanny knack for subtle yet drivable reproductions of a wide range of cars, but when you're wading through angular scenery, plastered with muddy textures and drizzled with flat lighting, it's difficult to feel exhilarated.
The crisp screens decorating these pages certainly don't scream 'free to play' in the same way that rival game SimRaceway's faintly shabby aesthetic does and it's evidence that Simbin's tech has finally caught up with their talent. Beyond the visuals, which translate handily to the printed page, we have to rely on Creative Director Diego Sartori to reel off a list of other ways that the engine will impress. “Its new Audio Engine supports 7.1 sound systems and features a brand new effects layer that enables more audio effects to be played at the same time and with higher definition,” Sartori begins. “Our new network engine improves on prediction code, latency issues and runs with a higher update rate, not to mention that we have reworked the collision system for better precision and collision detection. The physics engine has been reworked in order to improve the tyre model, and driving dynamics of the game plus improvements to the collision detection system for improved damage detection as well as collisions in general.”
While not as immediately striking as the graphical leap, it's this laundry list of technical improvements that will have sim fans most excited. Audio, particularly when racing from the cockpit, is as important for immersion as those shiny visuals, improved net code means fewer first corner cartwheels and in racing games, where the rubber is the sole point of contact between car and road, an improved tyre model means every element feels that bit more legit.
Simbin are keen that you'll feel the full force of those physics updates even if you refuse to part with a penny. Rather than palming you off with a modest, road-legal hatchback, the free offering is the slick-tyred and speed-bump-averse Aquila CR1 Sports GT, which takes its inspiration from Le Mans-style prototype racers. Rest assured, this V8-powered, fibreglass manapult will give you more than enough opportunity to terrify yourself.
If you're in search of a fresh challenge, micro-transactions will allow you to bulk up your garage with vehicles that span both decades and a wide range of racing classes, including prototypes, GTs and touring cars. Confirmed models include the race-spec mutation of the McLaren Mercedes SLR, the GT version of the Audi R8 sports car and, somewhat hauntingly, a BMW 134 powered by a Formula One spec Judd V8 engine that killed its driver in July of last year. I hope its inclusion is designed as a tribute to talented German hillclimb racer Georg Plasa, rather than for the purposes of dramatic reconstruction.
Your stomping ground, at least initially, is a fictional RaceRoom Raceway, an undulating mountain-side track that bears a passing resemblance to Argentina's Portero de los Funes circuit. It certainly looks the part, but it seems that if you want to pound real-life asphalt you'll have to open your wallet. Still, the goal is to offer some of the more obscure but exciting circuits that have otherwise been overlooked in racing sims. “With regards to how we select tracks, this is always a tough one to be honest, some famous tracks are famous more by their history then the actual qualities of the track and with that in mind our approach to track selection has been to find tracks that delivered interesting racing and interesting laps,” Sartori elaborated. “In the end we have what I think is a nice selection of known and lesser known officially licensed tracks.” Expect Australia's rollercoaster-like Bathurst circuit to make an appearance, along with the swooping, beach-front Zandvoort track in Holland and at least 'a few' narrow, treacherous hillclimb courses.
The glue that holds the entire thing together will be a social and stat-tracking system that keeps tabs on both your solo and multiplayer endeavours and serves up challenges and competitions. In an attempt to blend real-life motorsport with its digital equivalent, car manufacturers will have Facebook-inspired pages within the portal, so racers can pledge their allegiance and keep up to date with developments in the automotive world.
It might not be GTR3, but with the same technology, a community that unifies real and virtual motorsport fans and the opportunity to hand-pick your favourite cars and tracks, it's potentially even more exciting. There's definitely room for both in our lives.