If you're a racing aficionado, Auto Club Revolution should be on your radar. This free-to-play simulation racer has high aspirations for delivering one of the most complete and robust packages next year.
From the minds at Eutechnyx, a developer with over 10 years of racing pedigree under its belt, ACR is one of the most in-depth and socially friendly racers I have had the chance to get behind the wheel of in quite some time.
Auto Club Revolution (PC)
Being free to play, ACR knows it needs to be easily accessible to succeed. The design philosophy ushers in its simplicity by using a highly intuitive browser-based hub that handles every aspect of the game, up until the actual race. Whether one wants to customize their latest ride, tweak their profile, or just chat with fellow players, everything is a simple click away on the ACR homepage.
The front page design has a very social-media vibe going for it. From here, most of the game's options can be quickly and painlessly accessed and also customized to a player's liking thanks to moveable widgets for optimal functionality. This homepage serves as the main information hub for racers. Updating your profile status (Facebook style), checking in on your friends latest achievements, or just reading about what's going on in the world of racing is all in one easy place that can be accessed any time from any computer.
Social aspects aside, ACR's browser interface also hosts the game's showroom and workshop. From here, purchasing new cars and customizing them, from paint and decal designs all the way to actual custom parts (not currently available), is only a few clicks away. I have to say, it's real nice to able to use a mouse to adjust and manipulate the game's currently available decals, giving my cars a swift personal touch. While it's not as detailed as Forza 4's insane decal options, being an online PC game allows Eutechnyx to constantly update these options.
Every car in ACR -- 40 manufacturers from BMW to Mazda have signed on -- is given a vehicle performance rating (VPR) to help distinguish it from the pack. While I was told that gearheads will be able to get more out of each car sooner than other players, each ride eventually tops out at a maximum VPR that players of all levels can reach. All cars are broken up in the typical racing game letter classes, with their stats covering top speed, handling, braking, cornering, and acceleration.
With the desired car selected and primed, the race hangout is where players will spend most of their time. The race hangout is host to all available lobbies and races that are currently ready to run. You can also check out opponents' rides and "favorite" pins (achievements for racing proficiencies) next to the room's chat window, on what is known as the "grid," prior to launching into any race.
Granted, everything I just talked about -- which really only lightly scratches the surface of ACR -- would be a waste of time to read if the actual game wasn't up to par. Once everything is good to go, a simple click of the big blue "race now" button will get the action started. Currently, the closed beta that I was privy to check out is only offering three tracks -- two fully licensed real-world tracks, F1 raceways Spa and Silverstone, and one fantasy course, LA River, which takes place down in the confined corridors of the Los Angeles County river basin.
Once one of these spectacular-looking tracks loads up, anyone who is familiar with simulation racers will be right at home. Playing ACR with a PC pad (keyboard and wheels are also supported) felt as natural and responsive as playing any console racer. It's a testament to Eutechnyx's strong console roots that the racing strikes an equal balance between simulation and accessibility. While all three available tracks are more on the beginning to intermediate side, never did the game feel overly punishing for the players like me who drive with their pedal to the metal.
Eutechnyx has put a lot of effort into making ACR as beautiful as it is polished. The technical level of entry is not too high -- helping open the doors to a wider PC gaming audience -- but at the same time, if you have the rig, everything from the cars to the racing environments pops with a clean and vibrant look. I prefer to race from a first-person view, which in ACR's case shows off the games impressive speed, but racing from a behind-the-car view highlights all the games subtle and realistic visual flares.
Since ACR is an online, free-to-play racing game built with community in mind, there is unfortunately no AI to race. You can always take any ride out on a time trial, but if the community is asleep, you're not left with much of a competitive option. At the moment, the game supports races with up to eight players -- elimination style races are planned for the open beta early next year -- and from what I can tell, latency issues are nonexistent.
My only real gripes at the moment are that the game doesn't support damage -- I assume this is due to ACR's amount of licensing -- and that there is currently no cockpit view for any racer. Luckily, the latter will be resolved in part because of the level of interactivity Eutechnyx has with the automotive industry. The first of hopefully many cars to support a detailed interior view will be the new prototype for the BMW series 1-M. One other promising aspect of ACR's design and commitment to the car industry is the plan to strike deals with different manufacturers to bring new and exciting cars to the game before they hit showroom floors.
As ACR is still in closed beta, many of the game's promises are just that: promises. Still, Eutechnyx's combination of a console experience, free-to-play pricing, and addictive social media mentality should keep racing fans from waving that yellow flag anytime soon.