RACE Injection Review

RACE Injection Review Screen 1

The Race series has been around for quiet sometime now, so you may be wondering what relevance it has to prompt a review from a modern-day stand-point. Well, aside from it getting an aptly named ‘injection’ of a more contemporary line up of cars on offer, it is also still supporting a vibrant network of dedicated players.

Race 07, the game that is the foundation of this pack of add-ons, may be hardly the only option of games past with a community of hardcover – but few true sim games are available that are so accessible. The entry fee to join in with Race 07 at time of writing is under £3 to download, with the injection pack with additional cars in a variety of classes pricing up at around £8 (which includes Race 07). Also it does not require a souped up PC in order to run it. In fact, most modern desktops and laptops will have a surplus of power to handle it, regardless of whether or not it is a gaming unit..

Perhaps it is this accessibility coupled with its flexibility (in terms of car classes and customisation) that constitutes its use even among some of the most dedicated sim racer fans. Petrol heads who watch dedicated motoring channels may have even spotted this game being used for televised race leagues. Although the grid for the televised league is currently swelling with dedicated racers, driving ‘unofficially’ in special events etc. is still possible, as the members seem very welcoming for drivers of all levels (the only proviso seems to be acquiring a headset and having the relevant add-ons for the specific events).

Okay, so I have not mentioned the actual game itself yet, but all of this framing may help you to understand that this game may be one of the best ways to ease yourself (or someone you are trying to convert) into the realms of realistic sim racing. With such a low entry fee, minimal system requirements and a welcoming community it is hard to argue otherwise. One counter argument to the Race series being so accessible is its steep learning curve. It is possible to start off slow, if you utilise a variety of driving aids such as ABS, traction control, stability control and an automatic gearbox for example. This is highly recommended for rookie racers as you may have guessed, but probably more so than ever if you have never played a true sim game before. I decided to jump in at the deep end, not only because I have played many sim racers before, but also because I realised early on that most online lobbies used the pro settings, which is basically every assist turned off except for the clutch is engaged for you when changing gears.

Now I like a challenge, but it was almost like being a complete rookie all over again after I had first fired up the engine. Jumping in a Seat Leon World Touring Car for a blast around Brands Hatch I was ready for an hour or two of practice before joining in with some special events with the dedicated leagues I mentioned earlier. In reality my driving technique just was not up to scratch to even mix it up with the easiest A.I players when I didn’t have the aid of assists to keep me from embarrassing myself. Scrubbing speed before a corner without ABS proved difficult with the comparatively heavy touring car’s bulk, with plenty of realistic understeer to accompany my ‘safe’ choice of a front-wheel-drive vehicle, reducing my exit speed as a result.

The varying gradient and surfaces of the track also add to the difficulty level and is one of the things that this game recreates beautifully for such a dated offering. When I was attacking the rumble strips with my usual vigor, the tyres would slip from underneath me and id struggle to control the slide. If you’re not careful you can even flip the car on the more angular rumble strips and bends, much to my delight, even if it is at my own expense. It is much more effective to just clip the rumble strips rather than straddle them in particularly tight corners. Switching to a rear wheel drive touring car, in the form of a BMW 3 series, to try to combat the understeer issues had an even worse effects on my driving style. Not realising I was shifting down the gearbox too eagerly before a corner resulted in a sliding back-end before I even began to take the corner – with the use of a controller rather than a wheel – correcting the resulting slide before exiting the bend proved more troublesome than usual even for a moderately talented sim racer.

I felt as though I might have had a bit more success with the rear wheel drive touring cars with a quality steering wheel, but getting the basics right in a more comfortable front wheel drive and putting up with a little too much understeer is advisable until you literally get to grips with it all. This difficulty through realism is where the game truly shines and may justify the many, many hours of dedication to perfecting you driving style it may require. The assists will allow mediocre racers to get involved (although there are no modern-day ‘rewind’ or ‘flashbacks’ here, so be warned) but fighting through any frustration to slowly master this game with the minimum of assists is where the satisfaction lies.

RACE Injection Review Screen 2

Although it must have been one of the most realistic offerings of its time and also steadily receives updated content its visuals are far from jaw-dropping. The cars are accurately represented with a variety of liveries but do not expect to see the sun glistening off the paint work or dirt caking the tyres when you roll over the grass after taking a corner a tad to ambitiously. It may be a bit unfair to say that it reminded me a little of the original Toca Touring Car Championship, a game ten years its senior, but it really does. This is partly due to the dated graphics, but also with its charming ability to truly emerse you despite clearly not looking like the real thing.

The tracks also seem accurately recreated, even with gradients and specific safety measures / run off areas in the appropriate areas. However, even at the highest resolution pop-up in the not-so-far horizon will occur on even the smallest of tracks and the dated textures of the surfaces mean your concentration has to be at its highest when learning a new circuit. If you have never driven the course before you may have no clue of which direction you will be turning next as the visuals in the far distance don’t give you as much indication as it really ought to. Breaking too hard or sliding will leave skid marks on the track and flying into the gravel during an embarrassing misjudgment will throw up a cloud of dust, but this is all things we have come to expect from a racer and have become much richer and convincing over the years.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the visuals are laughable, because even today the game has a humble charm and almost amplifies how strong the gameplay must be for its continued use in an ever-increasing sim racer market. The Race series does a little better in the sound department. Team radio info is limited, but a welcome addition giving you basic information such as damaging your car and corner-cutting warnings… not that I would ever dream of doing either!

Engine notes among the different classes of vehicle during heavy revs or just during their overrun seem convincing enough, even if there is nothing audibly going to blow you away by today’s standards. However, a great choice by the games creators Simbin was to have no option of music while racing. This not only creates a more realistic experience, but it also means that you notice more of the sounds subtlety such as convincing turbo whirs, rumble strip shudders and even little stones bouncing off the front of your car when drafting or tail-gating the racer in front (although admittedly there are no visual cues for this). The only areas where the sound falls short is that you will need to download a teamspeak add-on for free if you want to use a headset while racing online and sometimes when someone is overtaking you, it is not easy to tell which side they are passing from sound alone. This is something we perhaps take for granted from the more polished racers and although it may seem a little picky, it can be a little troublesome to try to stay on top of where nearby cars are situated when using the cockpit view.

I have already covered some areas of realism when describing the difficult learning curve, but there are many other aspects of simulation that can shadow even some of the latest offerings of racing games. There may be too many to mention here, but worth mentioning is the manually engaged window-wipers and headlights, a finite amount of visor tear-offs in vehicles that expose your helmet to the elements and realistic point-of-view visual cues suggesting body-roll and g-force where appropriate. You may also have to learn the hard way regarding false-starts and engaging the speed-limiter before you enter the pits. Furthermore, returning to the garage once you have already been placed on the grid while online racing means you cant return to the race, even during stand-by time while the grid fills up.

Before starting a session precise alterations can be made to your cars set up, even the exact psi of your tyres and gallons / laps of fuel can be adjusted. There is no tuning of cars within the game, but this also helps keep races fair and means a less-restrictive lobby for online participation. It is probably also worth mentioning that there is no ranking system in this game and there is no attempt to match people of similar ability with one another. This does result in people joining an online game just to plow into you for no reason, but this is a rare occurance (at least in racing game terms), for the most part the racers seem well spirited. However, there will be a large variation of the talent on offer within each game.

In order for a game to fill up before a race starts either a practice session or qualifying session is compulsory for any game within the lobby, although players can vote for the next session to commence. There is also a choice of customisations when hosting a game, mostly concerning allowed assists, but also whether there is a two race format and whether or not the first race begins with a rolling start (the second race is always a standing start).

Standing starts can be reasonably difficult, especially in the more powerful cars on offer as you can be disqualified for moving off before the lights go out and you could spin out if you leave changing up from first too late. Furthermore, if you spin out during a race you may stall the engine, which means that it helps to have a button on the keyboard mapped for the starter if there is not room for it on your controller. All of this might seem a little like overkill and can exclude beginners from a taste of any kind of early success when playing online. However, it all adds to its realism, charm and even helps delude you further into the fantasy of taking part in a race day / weekend.

The only significant let down in the realism realm (other than dated graphics) is the lack of warnings or penalties for causing incidents, although I am yet to experience a game that can get this aspect completely right. The game will warn you about corner cutting and to move over when cars are lapping you or setting a qualifying lap on your out-lap with a stop and go penalty being the reprimand if you are particularly naughty. But illegal overtakes or race incidents mostly go unpunished, although I can appreciate this is difficult to code into a game. Most notably if someone leaves the game their position is not logged (as ‘did not finish’ for example) and it is essentially as if they were never there. This means you could be beating a cluster of cars, but when they all leave this looks as though you have been in last place the whole time.

Having discovered that the games’ foundation series of World Touring Cars reasonably difficult for my driving style, I found that I had a lot greater success driving the Radicals and F3000 open cockpit cars. Understeer and body-roll is a more redundant issue than in the touring cars, so I took to racing these more often for greater results. I know it can be fun jostling for position and trading paint in speedy saloons and hatchbacks but I needed some wins under my belt. There is still a degree of difficulty in mastering the open cockpit cars, but as they are more grounded and have more downforce cornering agility is improved. However, these lightened mini-rockets have plentiful dollops of power to the rear wheels ready to be eagerly scooped up with a heavy helping of throttle.

It is important to use a controller with decent triggers or mid-range to top-end pedals if you want success here. Without traction control engaged, following a reasonably tight corner you have to ease the throttle as you ‘open her up’ in order to make your exit. Particularly before you know a course like the back of your hand, you may want to pick a gear higher than you may suspect you need for that corner, at least until you have mastered progressive acceleration. You shouldn’t change gears or apply throttle mid-corner unless it is particularly shallow as you will most likely spin out, similarly you shouldn’t risk shifting down the box too aggressively as the rear traction will punish you just as aggressively causing an unpredictable slide.

RACE Injection Review Screen 3

The best way to approach the cars in this game may seem pretty obvious, but it is best to start with something comparatively low in power and work your way up. The Radicals are a perfect example of this, with the 200 horsepower version being a great place to start, almost laughably easy to drive compared with the other cars on offer. However, get behind the wheel of a 250 horsepower version and this lightweight, high-revving two-seater requires a little more finesse with the throttle and a higher level of concentration all round, mostly due to the faster pace it provides. Believe me, an extra 50 horsepower makes a lot of difference in such a lightweight car with no traction control engaged so progressive increases are advised.

The F3000 cars handle in a similar manner, but they are not the only open-wheeled racer available, with an unlicensed and sneakily suspicious offering named Formula Race Room (which symbol is RR1). This is one formula that is surprisingly familiar, with ferociously high-revving engines, seven gears and a flappy-paddle gearshift being added to the mixture. With an unforgiving nature, punishing both quick driving (if untalented) and slow driving (as the machinery is designed to perform at a certain pace) you find yourself thinking ‘who needs licensing?’. However, there is no DRS or KERS to keep things extra spicy and there is arguably only 3 or 4 tracks that these Formula Race Rooms can be used as most of the other tracks are more suited to the likes of Touring Cars, Caterhams (additional pack required), and GT racers.

In fact while we are on the subject, this makes the addition of the awe-inspiring piece of automotive mayhem that is the Zonda R of limited use within the game too, with only the biggest of the tracks allowing you to open it up to anywhere near its full potential. There is also some muscular Cameros on offer, but these are confined to being useful only an oval track, which I would argue is only fun online during an almost packed or full grid.

The Caterhams were more difficult to drive than I first imagined and I found myself favoring the Radicals, which I have probably mentioned rather too often. However, the Caterhams’ smaller sizes with a similar power output may make them the most ideal for the one hill climb event within the Race Injected pack and it is an iconic marque worthy of its inclusion despite my clear preference to a certain other trackday toy. Even though certain classes are of limited use, it can be interesting to have two classes of car on track at the same time – meaning that much higher powered vehicles can be beaten by underdogs when races of attrition take place and it also increases the likelihood that the front-runners will have more to contend with when lapping the slower classes of cars further into the race.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is not always a possible within a sim racer to create these sorts of scenarios and it is refreshing to see some customisation. You may have noticed within all of this rather large review there is no mention of the story and as you may have guessed by now that there isn’t one. I find it hard to get engaged with stories within racing games, as they are usually unimaginative, cheesy and add very little to the experience. A little bit of career management or pre / post race presentation is usually a nice touch and is also absent from this Simbin title. It is a bit like Kimi Raikkonen in this respect, doing most of its talking with its performance on the track.

Other than online racing, time-attack mode and taking part in a single race event against the A.I. players all that remains is the Championship mode. You can either race in the World Touring Car Championship (from 2007, 2006 season is available as addition pack, 2010 cars are part of the pack but need to be raced as custom season) or create your own custom season where you can select which cars can compete, what tracks will be used along with the assists, rules and difficulty. You will be given a chance to set up your car before practice, qualifying and racing and shown a picture of a trophy and some words of congratulations when you win a race, event or championship … and that’s about it.

This is forgivable as its focus is aimed squarely at the gameplay and providing as realistic experience that the aging game engine can muster. It’s highly dated graphics, intense learning curve and limited potential regarding frequent use of the fastest cars on offer may put many off giving this title the dedication it demands. However, its entry fee, welcoming community and surprising charm make it worth a spin for anyone looking for an affordable racing sim that doesn’t thrash their processor or graphics card.

7

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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