Scotch Corner – Lights Out!

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 19th July 2020.


Assetto Corsa Competizione (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £34.99)

THERE are two types of racing game — ones that allow everyone to get revved up and enjoy the thrill and then there are the full-on, hardcore sim sensations.  Assetto Corsa Competizione thrives on being a badass sim that will test the very best.  It is the dreamchild of Italian studio Kunos Simulazioni and has been going through the gears on PC for a few years, but now has jumped over to consoles.  In some ways it has made a rod for its own back because it will always be compared to the PC version.  Some thrive on that pressure.  Others don’t fare so well.  The first note of interest is that the game has the official licence for the GT World Challenge Sprint and Endurance cups which includes the Total 24 Hours of Spa.  Although the developers could probably have done without the series changing sponsor this year from Blancpain to AWS, seeing as they had done the cars with the Swiss watch firm on the windscreen decals.

GT is a type of racing that hasn’t been in the gaming spotlight as the focus has been on, arguably, the glitzier types of motorsport.  That will thrill many racing gamers eager for a new challenge, but others may be upset because it means a few of the staple Assetto Corsa classes and tracks have been left in the garage.  The GT World Challenge move offers a gaming opportunity for action-packed racing on a more level playing field.  Which leads us to the next point of interest.  Porting Competizione has not been a success.  Something seems to have gone wrong in the engine.  Yes, you get the likes of night racing, dynamic weather and AI that wants to battle and not just ram you off the road.  However, the but is a big BUT.  The biggest issue right now is that this sim has a serious misfire.  It starts to crack because it runs an unlocked 30fps so it yo-yos about a lot.  That is a painful experience and that pain is amplified in the menus.  Another bugbear is that using a controller in cockpit view is a surreal trip.  The hands on the wheel go all over the shop at the lightest touch of the stick.  It’s extremely off-putting because you are aiming for the perfect apex in a corner and, all of a sudden, your driver breaks out the jazz hands.  And good luck hooking your wheel up — that is a real hit-and-miss affair.  We built a rocket and put a man on the moon with more ease than it was to get our wheel connected at first.

So SPOILER ALERT: check whether your wheel is “truly” compatible.  The next “joy” is the keyboard level of buttons.  You can map for a greater racing vibe or, more likely, forget all about them.  What you won’t forget is that this is a full-on racing sim.  It will take time to master and even more time before you get results.  There is no hand-holding.  You will visit more crash barriers than is healthy.  That will put some people off and inspire others.  There is a good selection of legendary tracks from Laguna Seca to Brands Hatch and Monza, and the cars include horsepower monsters from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin each with their own driving challenges.  But, boy, do they sound good.  A healthy career mode is backed up with customisable special events, but the multiplayer is a bit light just now on options although that could change soon.  Competizione is at its best with a wheel and pedals — you can feel the feedback.  There is a thrill to be had if you can overlook the technical issues.  We hope patches can sort them out because this is a solid sim.  But will anyone but hardcore racers fire it up?

Score: 3/5

In The Pits

LEE Mather knows his way round a virtual F1 paddock.  The Codemasters game director has been with the F1 series for 12 years, but he admitted the latest in the franchise suffered a difficult birth.  The team had to get creative as they developed the game during lockdown and had no real-world racing to inspire them.  But Lee reckoned the team thrived on adversity and produced a game that deserved to be in the franchise.  He said:

“The impact was relatively negligible.  We did not have the luxury of being able to assess the performance order of the season before the game launched.  However, we were able to take data from pre-season testing.  We looked at how things ended in 2019 and discussed how we thought the season would start with the technical team at Formula 1.  We’ll be looking to update team performance post-launch, as we have in previous years.  The biggest change has been mobilising everyone to work from home.  We started planning relatively early for that eventuality, so thankfully, the disruption was minimal.  We gave ourselves a couple of weeks to assess if it was going to impact on our ability to deliver the game and committed to our street date.  The team has done a truly fantastic job this year, not just because of the current circumstances, but due to the sheer scale of the title.”

A knock-on effect of the pandemic was that the game features races that will never happen — and Lee believes the “what-if” factor that is a real boost for gamers.  He said:

“There have been times over the last 10 years where that’s almost happened, although for very different reasons.  We’ve always thought it would make the game unique for that season, but, ultimately, we’d all rather enjoy the races.  I was set to attend the race at Zandvoort.  The game follows the proposed 2020 season.  We have added a new feature which will allow the player to customise the length of their seasons — 10, 16 and the full 22-race options.”

The lack of real-world racing also put the spotlight on virtual tracks and Codemasters attracted fans and newcomers to the eSports world.  Lee said:

“I believe the eSports events have done more than just help the game — they’ve helped the sport of F1 and the public.  With no sport to enjoy the Virtual Grands Prix have provided amazing entertainment.  The approach of using professional drivers and a smattering of celebrities made it a real spectacle.  It’s also really helped to bring awareness of how much fun and how competitive virtual racing is.  It feels to me that we’ve pushed the programme on at an accelerated rate during this time.  We had no doubt that it would be successful.  We know how popular our annual F1 Esports Series is.  Branching out how we did with the VGPs was always going to bring in a broader audience, which is fantastic for both the game and the sport.”

But there have been bumps in the road.  In the run-up to the game’s release McLaren ace Lando Norris helped to change the overtake button to make it more realistic.  Lee admitted:

“It’s these sorts of intricate details which we can only really find out from someone so close to the sport.  We’re grateful that the drivers are playing the game and are open to giving us feedback.”

So how close is the team to everyone in the paddock?  Lee added:

“I can’t go into too much detail, but during this period we’ve been having Zoom calls with some exciting members of the F1 paddock.  The level of feedback we’ve received not only on the 2019 game but also the 2020 beta, has been truly amazing.  It’s also been a bit of a special thing for me.  I’ve always been a massive F1 fan, so being able to chat with people so integral to the teams has been amazing.  Since we started developing the F1 titles, we’ve always found any driver and team feedback to be invaluable.  It’s often the fine details which they pick up on or things which we just wouldn’t know.”

This year’s game cover legend is Michael Schumacher following Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 2019.  Lee said:

“Content-wise I believe we’ve got a very strong offering this year.  Not only do we have four of the most iconic F1 cars — and not just because they were driven by, or were successful with Michael behind the wheel — we also have some very cool Schumacher-inspired vehicle skins and race suits plus a podium celebration and driver badge.”

The highlight of last year’s legends was reliving the rivalry between Senna and Prost, but Schumy is more of a tribute.  Lee joked:

“Did Michael have rivals?  Seriously though, this year Lewis Hamilton could become the second driver in F1 history to become a seven-time World Champion.  The other driver is Michael.  We wanted to honour Michael by creating a deluxe edition which focused on him and his career.”

F1 2020 (Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia, £54.99)

MOTORSPORT stalled on the grid as the world faced the Covid-19 pandemic.  Formula One began a new normal with back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring in Austria over the last two weekends before Hungary today.  Many real-world racers battled it out with gamers in eSports competitions — but racing gurus Codemasters have tried to bring us all a taste of the F1 world with the latest instalment in their hit series.  And there is a special treat, the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen have had to postpone their chances of racing at Hanoi in Vietnam and returning to Zandvoort in Holland because of the truncated season.  But gamers taking on the F1 2020 challenge can do virtual laps of the two circuits.  The new game looks to have fleshed out a lot of the ideas that were highlights of 2019’s game.  They have also added more tweaks aimed at giving fans a more rounded experience of driving and team management.  Yes, it’s Vettel, Hamilton and the rest who take to the track — but they wouldn’t get there without a solid team behind them.

The new My Team mode aims to teach you just how much a tenth of a second in the wind tunnel matters on that final corner at Silverstone.  The chance to fill the racing boots of a driver and the shiny brogues of the team owner opens up a new side to the game.  Most racing games see you sign for a team then battle to get a seat at a better team — this sees you start on the ground floor with a dream that will take time, patience and a lot of money.  You are going to be more AlphaTauri than Mercedes to start with, but there is a lot of fun to be had from picking your team’s colours, signing sponsors, getting an engine and finding a second driver and all while counting the pennies.  My Team is the real meat of F1 2020 — it’s not a won-and-your-done affair.  It’s all about investing now and watching it grow later.  The management side is a constant juggling act that will take time to get your head around.  There are only so many days in a season and if you spend too much time with one area of the team then the rest of them will notice and they will let you know.  Then you have the actual racing.  It is all the high standard you would expect from Codemasters.  It includes all the new teams and drivers and all those tracks.  You can also attack a more standard career mode if you want — like in the 2019 game.

You can start out in F2 and work your way up the ranks one win at a time.  However, in a different move, the developers have expanded the F2 season so you can now complete a full calendar.  And that’s all before you head online and dare to dip a toe into the world of eSports.  Given the growth of the eSports world and the depth of talent, it is a fair bet that the next world champion may just cut their racing teeth on this year’s game as a speed-kid phenomenon.  Other points to note: split screen is back.  It’s perfect for those couch grudge matches after watching a Sunday race, or you can team up and battle it for a one-two finish.  That said, that will probably start more grudge matches if couch “team orders” come into play.  F1 2020 picks up where last year’s game left off, but it has shaken off that prototype feeling.  It now feels more polished.  My Team is a huge addition to the series and is easily going to be the future of the game.  A few tweaks to accessibility have made this a winner for seasoned pros and casuals alike.  You’ll be racing to get on the grid and watch the lights go out and the action to start.

Score: 5/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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