Competition is, of course, what it's all about. All the sophisticated car set-ups and physics in the world won't help if the computer AI racers are simple, mindless drones. Not to worry - the GTR computer racers are very good. They will do their best to pass you without wrecking you, and will also drive defensively when you're trying to pass them. They do, however, expect you to be at least somewhat competent. Brake too heavily at the end of a long, fast straight with a faster driver behind you and you will probably get rear-ended. This is as it should be. There is an expectation when racing that the guy in front of you is not going to park in the corner. Once you reach the skill level where you can race side by side with the other cars, GTR begins to demonstrate why it deserves the title of best racing sim ever, bar none. It is quite possible to swap positions with another car in turn after turn, often times going through turns two wide. The other car will give you racing room, and you will be expected to return the sportsmanship. Normal racing strategies such as late braking will work exactly as expected. Brake too soon, or get off line, and you can expect to be passed. The concentration required in close racing like this is unbelievable. One momentary distraction is enough to at best cause you to lose a position, and at worst put you off the track into the gravel.
That said, no matter how good the computer competitors are there is nothing like racing against other humans. For this, GTR offers a strong online multiplayer mode. Online multiplayer racing is only as good as the facility for finding races and racers, however, so SimBin has created RaceMore. This web site coordinates league racing, club racing, race events, and tracks hot lap times for the autocrossing crowd. The site is just getting started, but should help any racer looking for an online challenge to find something suitable.
At this point, you may be becoming a little intimidated. After all, all of these features are designed to make the whole thing much harder. This is a mistake developers have made before: tailoring a product to the hard-core racer can, and will, greatly reduce the market for the product. Fortunately, SimBin realizes this and has addressed it in two ways: fully configurable, highly granular difficulty settings, and the inclusion of an Arcade mode. The arcade mode offers a quick, get-in-the-car and drive mode, although even in this mode there is still quite a challenge involved in learning to race well. The difficulty settings allow customization of car behavior, various "helper" settings, and control over the capabilities of the computer opponents. For example, we've found that we are competitive with the computer drivers ability set to 95%, their aggression level set to "real," and the car configured to allow low anti-lock brakes and high traction control. With the granularity of the difficulty settings, anyone should be able to find a comfort level. This level of control over the difficulty of the game allows a novice racer to get started and progress up the difficulty scale as more experience is gained.
Now, a few words about graphics and sound. Actually, a single word would suffice: awesome! Full 3D cockpit interiors, distinct sounds sampled from each of the real-world cars, and detailed track modeling are all there. Leave a trail of skid marks into a turn? They'll still be there next time you go by. Lose control and hit the gravel trap? You'll hear the pebbles banging against the bottom and sides of the car as you emerge from the big cloud of dust. Downshift heavily into a turn? You'll hear the backfire from the engine. You'll also see the backfires from the cars in front of you. Transmission whine as you work your way up through the gears? Yep. It's all there. You'll want to really crank the speakers for this one! For a real treat, load up the night race at Spa. Headlights, taillights, lighting effects as you pass under the overhead lights - they're all in there. If you have the hardware to support unlimited graphics, you can even see the trees swaying in the breeze. For those of us with less capable machines, though, all of this is configurable.
Those with a bit more budget will also want to consider a good wheel and pedals set-up (we used the Logitech Momo Force Feedback wheel and were extremely satisfied with the level of control and the realistic force feedback effects) and possibly a TrackIR setup. The TrackIR with the new Vertex upgrade enables you to look around at the interior of the car, look to your sides to see if there are other cars in close proximity, and look to the apex of the turns simply by moving your head, just as you would in a real car. SimBin has built in support for the TrackIR, even going so far as to allow the mapping of a keyboard or controller button to the centering function. This is nice, considering that you will likely need to re-center the TrackIR during a long race, and reaching for the default F12 button to do so is a distraction you can do without. For those that don't want to spring for the TrackIR, SimBin has added a configuration setting that will turn the drivers eyes in the direction of steering input. Other head movement settings allow the driver to customize how much head movement results from G forces or bumps in the track.
So, what's next for SimBin? How do they improve on what is arguably the best racing sim ever? Concentrating on enhancements to the graphics and physics is likely to offer very little return as they have already reached the pinnacle of these aspects. So, this leaves expansion into other types of racing. Already available via their web site is a free download that will allow oval racing for those that don't like right turns. They have also announced the next title in what hopefully will be a long chain of new sims: GT Legends. This title will offer up 90+ cars from the glory days of GT racing. Mustangs, Coopers, Porsches, Corvettes, BMWs, and many other famous cars from the 60's, 70's and 80's will be available. I've always held out hope that a company like SimBin would deliver on what I consider to be the holy grail of racing sims: a full-blown SCCA simulator. Will it happen? I don't know, but I sure hope so. That would be the game that would replace GTR as the one game I would take with me if I were to be marooned on the planet Mars.
Realistic car performance, strong and competitive computer-driven racing opponents, and stunning graphics are all hallmarks of SimBinâ€™s amazing new racing simulator, GTR FIA GT Racing.
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