Race On Preview [PC]
While the console gaming world may be focusing its attention on the Forza vs Gran Turismo 5 debate – which, by the way, is completely academic until they are both actually released – PC gamers are due another hardcore racing sim next month in the form of Race On. Like its predecessor Race 07, Race On features a number of racing disciplines, with a focus on the Swedish and world touring car challenges. The main selling point of Race On, however, is its developer SimBin. A veteran of the GTR series, the Swedish dev knows a thing or two about racing simulation. And from our time with Race On, it’s clear SimBin hasn’t lost its touch.For those new to SimBin’s work, don’t expect a visually stunning racer with 500 cars and a bitching soundtrack from Race On. This is a game dedicated to replicating the professional race driver experience and, as such, you won’t find much variation in game modes. SimBin keeps it simple by offering a choice of a single event, a full championship, practice and time trial modes. Should you choose an event or championship, you’ll be given the choice to take part in all of the standard race stages: practice, qualifying and race although you can skip any stage if you desire. Not that we’d advise it, of course – you’re going to need the practice lap to get a feel for each track, especially as there’s no minimap on display while racing. Instead you’re given turn arrows as you approach a corner, which come in one of three colours (red, blue and green) to indicate the severity of the corner. Handy though these arrows are, you’ll soon find that you can’t really rely on them as they frequently appear just a fraction of a second too late meaning you’ll overshoot the corner. Race On actually requires you to memorise the track, just as real drivers do, or at least follow the lead of your competitors. While this may feel initially jarring if you’ve come to Race On from Forza or Need for Speed: Shift (as I had) – it’s no less satisfying.And just as the game doesn’t do you many favours in the HUD, the handling is equally as hardcore. SimBin has long been praised for its excellent driving models and, once again, Race On manages to feel authentic, if at times punishingly so. Like in all good simulation racers, the key to success in Race On is timing and feel. Not only do you need to know exactly when is the right time to brake and accelerate, you’ll need to make sure you do so gradually and develop a feel for the car. Slamming on the brakes as you approach a corner will simply cause your wheels to lock up, while putting on the power too early on the way out of a corner will cause your car to spin out. Smooth, steady driving will make sure you succeed in Race On and, although the game features a number of realism/assist settings, even when you’ve got them all turned on Race On is a lot more demanding than many racers on the market. It’s not simply about the driving, of course, you’ll also need to keep an eye on the condition of your car. Collide with opponents and there’s a good chance you’ll damage your car which can result in a yellow flag (no overtaking permitted for the duration of the sector) and may force you into the pits. Pit discipline also plays a big part in your race and you can be disqualified if you fail to change tyres in the available pit window, as I found out to my peril on a number of occasions. You’ll even have to contend with weather this time around which not only affects visibility, it can have handling implications too.One thing that’s clear from just a brief period with Race On is that it feels unmistakeably like a SimBin product. The presentation is a little grotty and the visuals are just about serviceable (although look dated in comparison to recent racers) but, once again, the gameplay feels fiercely authentic and the cars handle realistically. There is a marked difference between cars like the Formula 3000 rockets and big, heavy American muscle cars, which are new to the Race series. It seems as if SimBin will continue in its own fine simulation tradition with Race On and we’re looking forward to getting our hands on the full game. In the meantime we recommend you get yourself a wheel and pedal setup (the only way to play real simulation racers) and check out the demo.