I’m sat here rolling my eyes and groaning at my own short-sightedness. Of course a game like Auto Club Revolution exists, it makes perfect sense. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it sooner and I can’t believe I hadn’t played it sooner.
It’s everything that works about a free-to-play MMO like World of Tanks, but translated into a racing experience: lots of cars, lots of tracks, lots of bumper bashing and lots of time spent in the garage, installing engine upgrades or painting your car a horrid lime green. And that’s what we all want, right?
Just like all the best MMOs, the concepts behind it are so simple: race, score credits and experience, spend your credits and experience on upgrading your cars (bolting on better suspension, increasing engine capacity) or buying new ones. Then, repeat this process until you have a more metal monsters than the most pampered rock star. Every time you race, you’re matched up with players using similarly ranked cars, though if you’d prefer to play time trials by yourself, then you can choose to make sure the clock is your only opponent.
Now, how many cars would you like at your disposal? Fifty-five? Done, and that’s from family cars like the Ford Focus to racing machines like the McLaren F1. How many tracks do you fancy? How about twenty-five to start you off, though all that’s with the promise of regular updates to the game, with developer Eutechnyx adding new updates and improvements about every two weeks (and they've just rolled out their newest car, the BMW Z4 sDrive35is).
Naturally, your wallet is the key to unlocking more cars and more upgrades much faster than you would otherwise, letting you buy new vehicles outright or, if you prefer, giving you a healthy boost to your credit and experience earnings. Similarly, there’s a whole host of car customisation options, from paint jobs to decals, and some of the best of these can only be unlocked with real world cash. We MMOers love our vanity items and there’s surely nothing better than making sure your opponents know exactly who it was who just rammed them off the road.
More about the customisation and all the options behind ACR in a moment, but first I want to talk a little about how it feels to drive, because it feels pretty damn good. ACR is easy to begins playing, and not just because it starts you off in low-tier family cars that prove quite docile on the track. While it has support for joypads and, of course, your big fat wheel-and-pedal peripherals, the game handles well with just the keyboard and beginners will appreciate a handful of driving aids that provide things like auto-breaking and a visible racing line. ACR is responsive and, as you start to upgrade your cars and begin trying other vehicles, you’ll notice a very real difference in their performance.
The 25 tracks that you can leave your tyre marks across are a mix of both real, recognisable courses and tracks designed just for the game. The latter are more likely to be street racing scenarios, and the inclusion of some custom-made tutorial tracks is welcome, as these give a more gentle introduction.
While the tracks and cars may not be stunning, may not quite push the envelope, this is still a good-looking game, and developers Eutechnyx have used their own in-house technology to create some extremely attractive landscapes and cars that are almost sexual in how sleek they are. It’s no surprise to learn that Eutechnyx have plenty of experience when it comes to developing racing games for both the PC and consoles, with a history that includes titles like The Fast and the Furious, NASCAR The Game and Big Mutha Truckers.
What’s also very clear is that, for all the upgrade options that are available, Eutechnyx have made a game that’s all about accessibility. It’s still forgiving to drive and, no matter how many times you scrape the barriers on a corner, you’re not going to ruin your car and you’re not going to hamper your performance. This isn’t a game where you end a race to find your car is little more than a heap of scrap metal in your garage. No, ACR is quick and it’s easy, though it’s not too easy and, naturally, the real challenge is going to come from the other racers.
While you can jump into races according to your car’s rating, a value between 1 and 999 thats based on its class and its upgrades, you can also throw such matchmaking to the wind and put your own races together, allowing or barring players according to car class, rating, or even what driving aids they like to play with. If you don’t fancy a time trial or a straight-up race, there’s also the option to plump for an eliminator mode, where the last car on each lap is taken out of the race.
All the organisation, account management, car tweaking and game setup isn’t handled in the client itself, but instead in your browser, in a similar way to server browsing in Battlefield 3. Unless you actually want to take to the track, you can access the rest of the game’s features wherever you can browse the net. That includes getting on with your latest paint job, keeping up with your Auto Club or checking which of the multitude of achievements you’re going to unlock next.
Petrolheads and stats fans could get quite lost on the website too, as there’s plenty to look at between races, and it’s here that you might consider forming one of the titular Auto Clubs, the game’s equivalent of guilds, which allow players to share experiences and bonuses between one another. It’s also worth keeping an eye open to see which cars are are on rental offer, as many otherwise locked cars can be taken out for a spin this way.
What I like most about ACR is how easy it is to grasp and to play, as well as how expandable a game it is. Racing fans are already used to unlocking cars as they progress through a game anyway, but now they have a game that will constantly grow, that will keep offering them new cars to try. There’s also the chance to really make your mark here, probably more so than in most other MMOs, as the possibilities for car customisation are only limited by your imagination and already there players are producing some fantastic liveries.
Auto Club Revolution is racing made easy, made free and easy, and it could well become a permanent and very prominent fixture on the MMO landscape. You should consider taking a test drive today.