This article originally appeared in PC Gamer UK issue 242.
Competition is surprisingly sparse in the free-to-play racing category. Trackmania: Nations Forever and Need for Speed World stand out as key players, but there's a new contender brrm-ing for their glory. With a detailed driving model and huge amounts of customisation, Victory is already a few car lengths ahead of the pack.
The game is set in a future in which everyone has become reliant on robotic transport, and the technological advance has sent the big car corps crashing out of business. The sport of racing swiftly followed, but a group of drivers have banded together to bring back the art of going fast. As one of those drivers, you get to create your own car from scratch and battle for supremacy online across 15 tracks, with many more to come as developers Vae Victis update the game.
The five-minute races take two or three laps around each circuit, which are divided up into FIRST LOOK Bringing serious simulation to free-to-play racing. three themed zones. English countryside tracks offer tight, technical turns and tricky elevation changes, Arctic tracks thrive on straightline speed and rust-coloured industrial tracks offer a balance of both. Holding down the acceleration button and torpedoing every corner at maximum speed will get you nowhere. Smashing the chequered flag ahead of your competitors on these tracks will require some finesse. There's a serious racing engine under Victory's slick, accessible chassis.
Accurately modelled suspension, car weight, car tuning, vast customisation options and slipstream mechanics combine to offer a convincing semblance of real racing. Victory's driving won't stand up to the expert eyes of the most discerning racing sim vets, but it's not trying to. It's designed to introduce casual racing fans to the world of braking zones and racing lines without sending them careening into a wall of frustration.
To achieve this Vae Victis started with a complex driving model and added layers of racing assist programs to create an introductory casual mode that will appeal to newcomers. At low levels, subtle degrees of cornering and braking assistance will kick in for tough turns if the player is coming in too fast. Lessons learned at this level will be invaluable in Victory's semipro and pro difficulty tiers – and hopefully in life. Remember: corners are bendy.
With every race, you'll earn experience and a wad of in-game currency to spend on your car. Impatient racers might prefer to splurge some real-world cash instead: at the moment, every car part and item can be bought with both kinds of currency. As you zoom towards the level 60 cap you'll transition through three difficulty levels, and those driving assists will gradually disappear. At the highest level, you'll be wrestling rowdy supercars with no help at all, against other humans with similarly horsepowered beasts. Vae Victis aim to add AI racers after the game's launch, but it'll be staunchly PvP on release: the difficulty levels existing to segregate racers into similarly skilled packs.
It's not just the racing that changes as you move up the ranks. The cars change completely. Every car in Victory is made by players. A detailed vehicle creation suite lets you combine a selection of a dozen or so nose cones, central chassis sections and rear ends to form a sleek base template. A gratuitous selection of decals, colours, patterns and finishes can then be pasted directly onto the vehicle's surface to create something incredible. Or hideous.
The style of the available parts changes from tier to tier. Body parts available at levels 1-20 all riff on classic designs from the golden age of motor racing, when cars tended to explode more often than they crossed the finish line. Narrow bodies, exposed engines and great big grilles dominate early races, but before long you'll find yourself lining up alongside experimental early Formula 1 designs from the 1970s and 1980s. At the highest level, cars resemble modern F1 vehicles, but with a futuristic twist. Arching nose-cones and liquid finishes lend a space age feel to Victory's fastest racers.
The vast array of customisation options will ensure that each car is unique. Vae Victis hope that the urge to keep tweaking and improving these cars will keep players coming back, but for the most part these chassis options will be purely cosmetic, so you'll be able to tinker away without losing your racing edge.
Performance customisation can be applied with a separate selection of upgrades that can be slotted into 12 open spaces on each car. These can be bought in the item shop or earned through races, provide engine performance boosts, better grip, improve acceleration and other racing improvements.
The developers have big plans for extra tracks and racing modes after launch, including a NASCAR-style oval race and larger grids to support more players, but for now the rich vehicle creator and 15 starting tracks should be plenty to be going on with.