never meaning no harm
June 5, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What is the best auto racing simulation? I currently have no gaming equipment.

After reading this comment, I decided to hone my driving skills with a simulator. Thing is, I have no equipment other than a mac laptop. In a way this is a bonus because I am not tied into any particular solution.

What I want: the most realistic competitive driving experience I can get. I don't care if I need a PC, a PSx, a Wii or ?? The only real reason I would really buy a gaming system, or a PC, would be for this. A great selection of real tracks would also be excellent, I plan to drive competitively on some midwestern circuits, and the preparation would be very helpful. Autocross and rally or rallycross tracks would be nice.

I plan to buy a specialized seat, a force feedback wheel, and a big TV.

So, what is the best driving simulator not taking tracks into account, and what is the best one if you want a wide array of real tracks? Availability of an online gaming experience would be an appreciated extra.

thanks in advance for what I know will be good advice.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Grand Torismo is fun and it has an enormous selection of cars, and real tracks. A lot of the PC simulators are F1 only, I think. The only problem is there's no GT5 out for the PS3 yet. (there is a 'prolog' out though)

I don't know about games on the X-box.
posted by delmoi at 10:03 AM on June 5, 2009

Gran Turismo is probably the benchmark for racing simulators. GT5 Prologue is currently out for the PS3. The main drawback of it is that it only has a limited number of cars and tracks, compared to other sims. The full version of GT5 is being worked on, but it's not likely to be out until next year at the earliest. You can get GT4 for the PS2 in the meanwhile. While the graphics are comparatively poor, the driving aspects are still great and it has tons of tracks and cars in it. A used copy of GT4 and a used PS2 would cost you well under $100. Or you can find a backward-compatible PS3 and play GT4 on it and have the option to buy GT5 Prologue (and GT5 when it comes out). That's the set-up I have.

Logitech has a very good selection of force-feedback wheels for the PS2/PS3 (their wheels are cross-compatible, I believe). I have a Logitech wheel mounted on a metal frame.

Microsoft has a similar sim for the Xbox360 called Forza. Forza 2 is out for the 360 right now, and they just announced Forza 3. The force-feedback wheel selection for the 360 is more limited than for the PS3 though, I believe.

The Wii has no driving sims that I'm aware of.

Not sure what the state of sims on PCs (OS X or Windows) is.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2009

Grand Prix Legends! Sure it's 15 years old and most of the '60s era tracks it meticulously simulates are gone or reconfigured, but if you can beat Jimmy Clark during a race, you probably would have beaten him that day, too.
posted by hwyengr at 10:10 AM on June 5, 2009

Forza Motorsport 2 for the xbox 360.

It has loads of cars and real tracks.
It has realistic damage modeling.
You can race everything from a VW beetle to indy cars.
It tracks vehicle telemetry in real time (which be can examined during replays).
It supports force feedback - playing with a forcefeedback wheel is a trip.
If you have multiple xboxes, it will even run the same game through (I think) three
of them on 3 separate tvs, one with front view, the others with window views.
It's got plenty of online options.

Oh, and if you get tired of driving, you can hire people to race for you.

Forza 3 is also on the horizon.
posted by jaded at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2009

One more thing: looks like GT5, when it comes out, will have rally tracks, as it has a license for the WRC (as well as NASCAR).
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:13 AM on June 5, 2009

One more one more thing: GT4 does not have online play. GT5 Prologue does, and presumably GT5 will as well.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2009

Gran Turismo is the strongest, most realistic "commercially available" racing simulator. It's a PlayStation exclusive series that prides itself on being extremely true to life (detail on the real-world tracks and the vehicles, plus the actual driving experience).

One of the hardest challenges (for me) was the marathon races. 6-8 hour, 100+ lap races were completely new and foreign to me in video games.

From the official website, the GT people list an "Featured Partner" racing wheel by Logitech.

FWIW - I'm not a HUGE racing gamer, but do follow video games in general. Good luck!

On preview - most of what EatenByAGrue said ... :P
posted by steeb2er at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2009

Also, since you're interested in the driving sim as practice for real-life racing, you might be interested in this. Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear compared driving a Honda NSX on GT4 with actually driving a NSX in real life.

You should check the track listing for the games you're considering to see if any have the actual courses you want to race on.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2009

Response by poster: The one simulator that I found to have my local track was the one mentioned in the blue Rfactor, and it seems pretty good. But there are probably other ones out there I haven't even thought of. If rfactor is otherwise inferior to Gran Turismo, i'd rather have the more realistic engine than a track I want to drive, I think. Thoughts?
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2009

I haev to disagree with most of the posters. The physics presented in every Grand Turismo game I've played are entirely fake. Forza does a much better job in this regard. There are much better comp simulators as well. Cant comment on GT5 or Forza 3.
posted by stratastar at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2009

Grand Prix Legends. It models the '67 F1 season. Best physics model of any simulator. The cars had no downforce and hard tires (one set would last all weekend!) so driving them is quite a handful. And that's why it's so fun. The game has been graphically updated to modern standards, there's millions of tracks, telemetry programs, online communities, etc. etc. etc.

If you want 'most realistic' in terms of driving physics, race-craft, etc. then it's definitely GPL.
posted by imaswinger at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2009

Best answer: I've never played Forza, so I can't comment on stratastar's assertions regarding it, but this wikipedia page might be useful for comparing various sims, including rFactor (but neither GT nor Forza appear to be included).
posted by EatenByAGrue at 10:52 AM on June 5, 2009

Best answer: The best, most realistic racing simulators (and one of the most fun) are the ones I mentioned. Having had several professional drivers race on RFactor and Forza motorsport and also having driven the exact same cars on the exact same circuits in real life, those two are the most effective and the most comparable. Realistic is not really possible at present, and you're only going to get comparable as a best result.

RFactor even has relatively accurate changes in terms of settings - We set up a mapping test for several settings to try for a known and established baseline set-up from the car we race and the RFactor version. I converted our set up to the game and we tried some step balance changes to see how well it reacted to see if it was actually useful for ballpark baseline set-ups for brand new tracks to us. While the results were not all that encouraging (rear anti roll bar changes were.... kind of odd) the gear ratios were actually consistently bang on the money. Startlingly so. Shift points for all the gears were matching the various landmarks on the track in both instances.

Gran Tourismo is a very good game. It is also relatively realistic until the car starts to slide, at which point (as noted) some of the physics involved in how the car recovers and regains grip are suspect, to say the least. Really good fun, but suspect. Gran Tourismo with a decent set of controls (especialy GT5 seems worth looking into and getting used to GT4 before it is released may be worth doing).

While the current best are RFactor (PC) and Forza (XBox), the rate of improvement of GT through the series leads me to suspect that the next iteration may well be extremely capable and may address the shortcoming it currently has. The disadvantage is that you can't 'train' on it as easily, because it is a game, but maybe that will change also. Forza is possibly the most accessible and fun for the rest of normal racing game usage, I do think that setting up with respect to accommodating GT5 when it comes out may be worth considering. I haven't seen Forza 3, however, so there is the eternal quandary there.

Beware anyone saying that any one package is more realistic than another unless they have, like us, tried professional racing drivers in the simulated and real environments. Most of the answers on this page are purely opinion. I mean, Grand Prix legends is a great game, but.... seriously, it's not in the same league as the current crop. A lot of people's ideas of how racing cars should feel are based on supposition.

Also: Force feedback is absolutely essential. The more components in your set up that have that, the more realistic it will be.
posted by Brockles at 11:23 AM on June 5, 2009

Can't comment on any other series except for Gran Turismo (which I love, and at which I'm a complete amateur) - but I highly, highly, highly recommend the Logitech G25.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2009

Oh, I completely forgot iRacing. We've looked at that a little, but not in any detail. It's supposed to be good, but I've not got any first hand experience of it. I've only seen a demonstration, but in one of those hydraulic/electric boxes that try and create the forces. While those things are a nice idea, they are much, much harder to get right than the simulation of the driving itself because the accelerations are so hard to replicate without massively powerful and fast acting struts/supports.

It was pretty hard to work out how good it was from that, actually, as it was distracting watching how badly the physical movement matched the action. Also, none of us got a chance to drive it.
posted by Brockles at 11:30 AM on June 5, 2009

The problem with Gran Turismo up 'til now has been that there has been no damage modeling in any of the past iterations (supposedly fixed in GT5), meaning your car just bumps off of other cars even if they're at a dead stop and you hit them going 95 mph. The AI racers in Gran Turismo have been an issue for some as well, in the past the computer controlled opponents would simply follow their racing line and not react to you at all. No idea if this has been fixed in GT5.
posted by mattholomew at 12:32 PM on June 5, 2009

The AI racers in Gran Turismo have been an issue for some as well, in the past the computer controlled opponents would simply follow their racing line and not react to you at all. No idea if this has been fixed in GT5.

It has.
posted by martinrebas at 1:09 PM on June 5, 2009

If you plan to use it as a trainer, you almost have to go with a PC game, as you're much more likely to have your local tracks thanks to the modding community. rFactor seems to be the best bet currently, but check around to see which game has your local tracks. While console games can be pretty great, you're limited to the major tracks.

FWIW, I did this in the past to help train myself for unfamiliar tracks, and my biggest problem was that I couldn't find a game that had my race car model (Spec Miata). But at least it gave me a good look at various tracks I'd never seen in person, so I knew the basic track layout before I got there, if not the particular braking points, etc.

YouTube is also great for getting an advance look at a track, but of course you get no actual driving practice.

Also, I highly recommend doing as much auto-crossing and open track days as you can before going wheel to wheel. It's cheap practice, and it'll help you get familiar with setting up the car, figuring out your tow rig, etc., so you can focus more on the actual racing when the time comes.

FWIW, I race SCCA, but I think NASA has a much better system for introducing new drivers to racing. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to chat more.

your car just bumps off of other cars even if they're at a dead stop and you hit them going 95 mph

When you get to the "S" class, you start getting time penalties for ramming other cars -- well, it cuts your power for a number of seconds, depending on the severity of the hit. It's not a proper damage model, but it does force you to race clean, for the most part. although the "penalty" doesn't really hurt you in very slow corners where you're off-power anyhow, mwuhahaha....!
posted by LordSludge at 6:16 PM on June 8, 2009

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