The keyboard may not lend itself to the racing genre very well, but those who can deal with the keys (or have a compatible controller) will find a solid racing game in rFactor. For any console-based race fans, it's in the mould of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport in that it's a simulator and not an arcade game. While this focus will delight hardcore petrol-heads, it may be an overwhelming and intimidating experience for the newbie PC racers.
After installation, you'll be tasked with creating a profile that acts as your racing persona. With this done, you're free to jump straight into the action. Competitive races against the AI are there for you to get straight into, either in a one-off race or in a career-style format, but you can take it slow in testing if you're trying to learn a new track. You also have a lot of scope to tailor the control scheme to your preference; you can assign every action to whatever key you wish, or to a compatible control pad if you prefer. If you're feeling competitive, you can take the game online and compete in LAN races. If you can find a good race with a good connection and a couple of players, then you'll find rFactor's greatest strength.
Talking about rFactor's game modes and control settings is fine, but the intense focus on driving simulation is the thing that will sell the game to you, or scare you away. Anyone comfortable with arcade racers will have a tough time adapting. You've got a lot more to worry about here than just accelerating, steering, and braking. Various settings allow you to configure whether your car takes damage when it crashes, whether you want stability control on, and a myriad of other options on aspects such as tires and fuel that will be intimidating to some. It's a lot to take in, and some gamers will find themselves suffering from information overload as they speed their way around the track.
The simulation persists all the more when you brave the actual racing. Don't expect to power-slide around corners in speeds excess of 100mph and don't be surprised if your car spins out if you carelessly shake the wheel, which makes the gameplay very satisfying for racing fanatics. They'll appreciate the challenge and authenticity, although those not so acquainted with the wheel may need to ease themselves into the game at a slower pace.
As such, it would be unfair to hold rFactor's lack of accessibility against it as it has clearly set out to be a in-depth simulation. It does what it sets out to do, but those who don't demand flawless simulation are better served looking elsewhere.
Visually, the game holds up rather nicely. The quality of your PC (obviously) effects how nice it will look, but even on an average set-up, the cars should look sharp and the race-tracks beautiful. Whether F1 or sports cars are your style, they'll look great either way. It's pleasing that the sound effects are on a par with the brilliant visuals. Sound might not be the criteria which you judge the purchase of a racing game against, but the engines sound great and the screeching of your tires as you lose control on a corner are quite fantastic.
To reinforce its excellent simulation gameplay, rFactor has strong online community support and the potential for users to create their own mods. Gamers can save and edit replays of their best moments, and if you have the skills, you can cook up some nice content of your own. These features definitely give the game an extra kick in terms of lasting appeal.
Ultimately, rFactor is a great racing game. It does its job as a simulator well and will have hardcore racing fans smiling from ear to ear. Online racing and community support, along with impressive audiovisuals, only serve to strengthen the experience. The bottom line is that anyone interested in the ins-and-outs of cars will find something to enjoy in rFactor, but everyone else may walk away feeling a little overwhelmed.
People who downloaded rFactor have also downloaded:
Richard Burns Rally, GTR 2: FIA GT Racing Game, GT Legends, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Rallisport Challenge, Race: The Official WTCC Game, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, Rally Trophy
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