Eliot Earle on SimBin’s freely-available Volvo game: Now you, too, can be a tweed-wearing English Professor at a semi-respected minor college
Volvo have done what BMW did a year or so ago—released their very own free game featuring their latest and greatest, a shiny NEW concept car, and some old buckets that were not-quite laser-scanned from the nearest mall. SimBin made the actual game though—just like the BMW one (though, actually, that was the ‘other’ SimBin, but you know what I’m saying). So, as you can guess, it’s pretty much rFactor—I mean “GTLR2 Racing Newt”, or whatever it is they make these days.
To say the game is uninspiring would be to do an injustice to the lack of passion with which Volvo lovers around the world view their cars. The game is partly what you’d expect, and partly much, much less. But, one should also add that this is a perfect synthesis between form and content: One would be astonished to find glitz on a Volvo product, and SimBin—no doubt aware of this—have created the perfect game that instantly makes you feel what it is that Volvo owners around the world feel on a daily basis: Acute boredom.
Still, enough of my wanton opining for now—more of that later. What do you actually get for your $0? The website proudly boasts:
Two tracks: Gothenburg Eco Drive Arena in Göteborg, Sweden, and Chayaka, outside Kiev in the Ukraine (no, I’m being serious, actually). Some of the cars, meanwhile, include: the C30, S60, S40, 850, 240 Turbo, and the highlight of the game: the NEW S60 Concept Car in race and regular configurations.
The Middle Bit
And here’s my own list of the features in the game, as you won’t find on the website:
What it has: Some Volvos; two tracks I’ve never heard of; Time-Trial mode; Race Mode; Online Competition.
What it doesn’t have: Any kind of damage modelling or effect on handling; weather; hills; a sane interface.
Obviously, the NEW S60 Concept Car—which comes in standard and race flavours—is going to be the best of the lot. I mean, what would the point be if you released a marketing ploy like this if not to show off how fantastic the concept car is going to be when they get round to making it and sending it forth into the heady world of Touring Car racing?
Volvo, never a group to be bogged down by conventional wisdom, have decided to ensure that the concept version is less tuned than the S40, and is slower, whilst also handling oddly. A concept car allied to a brilliant concept: Brilliant all round then!
Handling oddly, though, is something that rear-wheel drive old buckets do. The Force-Feedback seems to be trying to pull the wheel in two directions at once, making for a very strange and not entirely pleasant experience.
The proper S40 is a dream though. That’s more like what you’d expect from a racing game. It’s fast, it pumps you up, and makes you actually want to attack the track, or a friend in a similar car, with proper anger. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this was the car that they made the game for, and everything else was a bit of an afterthought. An afterthought almost certainly had in the pub after a few shandies (or whatever it is that Volvo owners drink) too many.
The S60 and C30 are basically the same car with slightly different gearing, as far as I could make out.
What really strikes me as odd, though, amidst this ocean of oddness, is that all the cars are front or rear wheel drive. Now, I don’t know if that’s a limitation imposed by the Touring Car Championships they run them in, but I would have expected an AWD model at least: I mean, when I think of Volvo, I think of cars built like tanks that drive off all four wheels at once … well that, and a street in North London where I once lived for a while.
I must confess to having developed a bit of a liking for the Chayaka circuit. Perhaps it’s just the sound of it as it rolls off my lips— Chayaka—it’s like an ancient war-cry from a long-forgotten tribe of cannibal-pygmies, isn’t it? Chayaka! Even though it’s completely flat (as in nuclear-annihilation flat), Chayaka has some nice fast bits with some tricky corners. I’d very much like to see this track make an appearance in a proper race sim.
The lack of weather and damage, meanwhile, isn’t really all that surprising in a racing game. You’d expect more in a current, or next-generation racing sim, but that’s clearly not what this game is about, which is a pity, really, because it feels as if it’s almost so very nearly there when you’re sitting in the S40 and hurling it round the track. And you so want it to be. I feel that careful driving should be rewarded: someone who doesn’t crash every lap should have more of a car to race with at the end of the race.
The graphics and sounds are what you would expect: lovely. The game looks good, and the individual sounds of the cars—with the notable exception of the concept S60—are interestingly different and exceedingly well put together.
But the interface … oh lord, what were they thinking?
In the options screen, sliders don’t. You get an up and down button at each end, and a nice percentage number in the middle, but nothing to grab and drag when you’re not fine-tuning.
When you are heading off to your game play session of choice—in my case the time-trials for this game—you start off with telling it what you want to play, then where you want to play it, then what you want to play it in. Oh, and then who you want to pretend to be. Maybe I’m just used to the rFactor way of doing things, but it seems like a lot of menus you have to click through just to get where you want to go.
There are no car setup options either. You drive what you’re given. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely … a thing. I know there are some people out there who don’t like to have to bother with setting up their cars for every track they race at—Volvo owners, that is—and with only two to choose from, maybe it’s not important. But I also know that, as there are about as many different ways of getting a car around a track as there are sim-racers, some of us like to have that little bit of control over how the car handles to make up for our differences.
The amount of advertising in the game is about as heavy handed and constantly in your face as what you get in the cinema when you go and see your average young person’s Hollywood blockbuster. I know advertising is the entire point of the game, but really – having to click 5 buttons to get through it all just to leave the game from the main menu is excessive.
If you’re the kind of person who skips through a review to the end just to read the conclusion, then I say this to you: this is the best racing simulation ever written, and you should go get it now and stop playing everything else.
Another Bit On The End
I honestly can’t imagine why Volvo paid SimBin to make this game. However, I am glad they did. The models are great, the S40 would be fine in a proper sim, the tracks are nicely done, and the sounds are splendid. It’s a nice enough game, and I’m sure there’re plenty of Volvo-loving kids out there who will derive a lot of enjoyment from it.
I can’t give it a score though, as I don’t think it’s worthy of being called a racing simulation.