Is it appropriate for a site about gaming to publish a review about a racing simulation? Since the birth of PC games, simulations have branched off from the general gaming community, providing intensely detailed experiences, sans the fantastical control elements of most video games. Racing simulators practically define hardcore, with insane amounts of control parameters that would have many gamers in a tizzy. Race 07, SimBin’s sequel to Race 06, isn’t exactly what most gamers would call fun. It’s grueling, immensely detailed, and fairly ugly. However, from the standpoint of providing an accurate racing simulation, Race 07 delivers.
Anyone who has honed all of their artificial driving skills on Burnout, Need for Speed, or Mario Kart: give up. Just don’t even try this. Race 07 is the most detailed driving simulator I personally have ever played, and I was raised on Formula One sims. Braking systems, tire ratios, weight, basically everything and the kitchen sink can be tweaked and toggled to find a good driving model for the player. Each car and setting feels unique, but all of them are equally hard to drive. A nice racing wheel is recommended, because playing Race 07 with a keyboard or controller is practically impossible. This is by no means a knock against the game; the fact that it requires a realistic input just goes to show how meticulous the design is.
As well as the WTCC car variants, this year’s game features Formula 3000 cars, which are an entirely different beast than the closed-wheel stock cars. While most of the vehicles can be nudged around a corner in a powerslide, losing grip in an F3000 car is basically a game over. The little devils are so fast and twitchy, it’s possible to smash into a wall before making down the first straightaway. The damage modeling and technical failure simulations make small errors count far more than they would in any other game, too. Casual gamers will probably be driven to rage within their first five minutes of gameplay. While the options exist to dumb the game down, doing so destroys the entire point of it. Race 07 sets a new bar for realism, and while it may be infuriating, it should be pure joy for anyone who really knows what it’s like to make a turn at 150MPH. Simulation nuts, especially those with an internet connection (online play supported!) and a nice racing wheel, will squeeze plenty out of Race’s 300 or so cars and 17 tracks (32, counting adjusted versions). However, if they’ve also spent lots of money beefing up their computer, they may be disappointed.
Unfortunately, as solid as the game design is, the graphics engine is nowhere near as impressive. While the cars look nice, the damage modeling looks bizarre, with complete parts falling off, instead of deformation. Tracks and environments are downright ugly, with bland textures decorating the tarmac and grass. Smaller details are also lacking; crowds are simple and unmoving sprites, and tire walls are blocky and static. While it’s hard to notice when zipping around at 200MPH or so, it’s still a bit disappointing, considering all of the beautiful racing games we have seen in recent months. At least there are a few subtle effects that impress; watching your tires turn slightly green after diving into the grass is nice, and the reflections off of the cars is also nice to look at.
The sound design is equally as anemic as the visual presentation. While the catchy menu theme song is exciting, no other music appears in the game. This isn’t uncommon for racing games, because they usually rely on the cacophony of engines and brakes to set the tone during a drive. Race 07’s engine sounds are nice, but brake squeals and physical contact hits sound… weird. It’s as if they were compressed with a piece of 1995 software. The sound is there, but they sound wishy washy. Everything seems to have been recorded with a slightly less than desirable bitrate. While it’s fine to overlook the graphics in order to provide a more realistic driving experience, the same excuse is a bit hard to stretch over the ugly sound design as well.
Finally, Race 07 is only playable over the ever-controversial Steam digital distribution program. While some gamers tolerate it, or at least ignore it, others have hellish experiences with it. On the two gaming-spec computers I tested it on, Race 07 took a noticeably long time to install and boot up. I dread to think how long it would take to install if I hadn’t had the disc version handy; Steam’s download speeds are less than satisfactory in my personal experience. However, my experience is not law, and if you have had no problems with the service, than getting and running Race 07 should be no problem.
For hardcore racing nuts, Race 07 is probably equal to a second coming. It’s detailed, intense, has multiple racing league licenses, and features racing both online and off. However, gamers who are used to having their disbelief suspended for a bit while their Ferrari does 250MPH down a city street and drifts perfectly around the block are in for a bit of an ass-kicking. The difficulty level in 07 is brutal, and will most likely destroy anyone looking to play with anything less than an extra hundred dollars worth of racing wheel. It’s totally worth the experience for all of the racing simulator fans out there. However, due to the unimpressive nature of the presentation, this is not a piece of software worth looking into if you don’t have the equipment or the guts to try.