Simulators: fun factor

Last week I gave a brief overview of the major simulator software platforms. While all of them have merit, some are more fun than others and some are better training tools than others. This week I’m going to talk about entertainment.

Most driving games/sims are fun, but I get the most enjoyment when the graphics, sound, and feel make me forget that I’m at a desk and immerse me in a virtual world where I can practically smell the tire smoke. The big loser here is the original rFactor. Every time I launch it, its age smacks me in the face. From the in-your-face intro video to the utilitarian interface to the ho-hum force feedback, I’m reminded how far simracing has come in recent years. Automobilista shares a lot of the same code base and presentation but somehow looks and performs so much better.

On the other end of the spectrum is Project CARS. Some would argue that the visuals are a little too good, meaning that reality isn’t quite so bright and glossy. So what. The game is gorgeous and playable. If you want to convince yourself of this, try taking a drive on their California Highway track, which is inspired by Route 1 in California. I’ve driven this in real life, and it sucks because it’s an endless train of cars going 15 mph. However, in the game, it’s just you and 107 corners spread over 12.83 miles. Virtual driving doesn’t get much better than this, especially in an open top car. Want a small challenge? Do a time trial in the Formula Rookie and see if you can beat my 7:52.096 (follow the link to the online database). But make sure you turn off ALL of the assists. pCARS lets you have steering assist, brake assist, ABS, traction control, stability control, no vehicle damage, automatic transmission, automatic clutch, and driving line. A Formula Rookie shouldn’t have anything. As you watch the video below, you may cringe at the shifts (I do). I’m new to pCARS and don’t have their clutch timing figured out 100%.

I’m mostly an asphalt driver, but when I picked up DiRT Rally I became a huge fan of dirt, gravel, snow, and everything in between. The locations in DiRT Rally are amazing. Summer in Finland, Winter in Sweden, dreary rainy days in Wales, sunbaked afternoons in Greece… just freaking amazing. And the rally style of driving opened up a whole new experience for me. The Baumholder stages in Germany are mostly asphalt, so I found myself right at home there, and on some stages I have set some top 10 times in the world. But the slippery stuff is still challenging for me to optimize (translation: I suck at snow). In the last year, I’ve spent more time in DiRT Rally than all other sims combined. For me, it’s got the highest fun factor. My favorite is the individual rally stages, but the rally cross races offer some exciting wheel-to-wheel and fender-to-fender action over some twisty courses with mixed surfaces. The video below was captured via iPhone so not the greatest quality.

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