The racing genre often sees developers picking one of two options, either aiming to be as fun as possible or going down the authentic route so that the game is realistic. iRacing is an extreme example of this. As a racing simulator, it has taken the task of replicating real world racing in video game form extremely seriously. The question is whether iRacing has managed to remain enjoyable while also being so grounded simulating real life.
As you would expect from a title that bills itself more as a simulator than a game, the actual driving has been designed so that it is as authentic as possible at all times. The end result of this is that driving around any track in iRacing is incredibly difficult.
The lack of driver aids and the necessity of using a steering wheel and pedals means that you have to concentrate on absolutely everything you do. Otherwise, you are going to end up in a wall or stuck in a gravel trap. Most players will have to spend at least a couple of hours getting to grips with the different cars before you take them out on track, and finishing first is something only talented racers will likely achieve.
Whereas races in other games often descend into chaos, with players ramming other drivers off the road and taking a liberal approach to rules, official competitions within iRacing are managed by a proper group. FIRST is a sanctioning body that aims to ensure that the laws are followed correctly by all racers and will pay down penalties on those who do not respect them. It is an effective way to manage such a large number of users and keep the racing fair. Knowing that your driving is being monitored also introduces some genuine nervousness to proceedings.
Tracks and Cars
Outside of the actual act of driving, the most important aspects of a racing game are without a doubt the selection of tracks and cars available to players. It is important above all else that there is plenty of variety, but also that everything has been modeled as accurately as possible. After all, iRacing is supposed to be an authentic simulator experience, so accuracy is vital. In this case, the developers have managed to do both of these things effectively.
Including different configurations, there are more than 230 tracks available in iRacing across some 80 individual circuits. There are also more than 80 vehicles, all purpose built racers modeled after real life cars from the world of motorsport. Access to most of these comes at a price, however, as only a select few are included in the basic membership option. In addition to getting access to the game, a membership grants access to 20 cars and 21 tracks.
The rest of the tracks and car have to be bought separately. These generally cost in the region of $12, meaning getting your hands on everything in the game can become very expensive indeed. It is a shame that so much content is locked behind such a paywall, although the free offerings are definitely varied. There’s a good mix of famous racing circuits along with less well-known tracks and a wide range of different vehicle types, so you can still enjoy a lot of what iRacing has to offer. But, don’t expect to be able to access everything just because you have subscribed.
Speaking of the tracks and the vehicles, each of them have been painstakingly recreated digitally for use in iRacing. The team behind the game have utilized LIDAR, a type of laser scanning, to make their portrayal of circuits and cars as detailed and accurate as possible. The amount of work that has gone into them is clear to see. Consequently, the level of detail of everything is quite staggering.
Circuits such as Daytona, Indianapolis, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Monza, and the Nürburgring are identical to their real life counterparts. Similarly, the individual cars all resemble models you would see at official races around the world, and each looks superb. These excellent visual representation of the tracks and cars make iRacing feel like a genuine simulator rather than just a game. As such, you simply trust the developers with getting every little thing correct when it comes to translating real racing to the digital world.
Day and Night Cycle
This is topped off with a newly introduced dynamic day and night cycle. This feature does not just change the way the game looks, but also affects gameplay. A setting sun might cause blinding light in certain corners, while the coming of the night will signal temperature drops that will change the amount of grip your tires produce. Besides, racing at these different times provides some beautiful visuals as the amount of light shifts.
When it comes to the audio, iRacing lags behind some of its competitors in the simulator market. It is obvious that most of the work and resources for this title went into getting the cars and circuits right. Yet, that is to the detriment of the sound. The general sense of awe you get from seeing a race unfold in person is not replicated here, and the game suffers somewhat because of it.
Although iRacing is without a doubt the most accurate recreation of real world racing you are able to play today, it can feel sparse at times. The fact you have to pay for extra content and the lack of features such as rain or dynamic weather contributes to this. Add to that the difficult nature of completing just one lap and it becomes an impossible game to recommend to anyone but a serious fan of racing who is willing to invest a lot of time into improving their skills. This is surely not a game for those looking to have some carefree fun.