This week, little-known indie racer RaceLeague entered Steam Early Access. Its promise of realistic physics, extensive damage modelling and the ability to create custom tracks sound like the ideal combination. The game is accessible, with enough coding horsepower under the bonnet to satisfy physics nerds too (people like me, essentially).
Although at first glance RaceLeague appears to be a colourful and simple take on motorsport, thanks to its advanced vehicle dynamics it’s anything but.
Other games to nail the ‘accessible but challenging’ formula include Circuit Superstars and Wreckfest. RaceLeague manages to bridge the gap between these titles: it has the weighty handling model of the former, with the chaotic racing and damage of the latter.
But RaceLeague has much more to offer and that’s why, to me, its full release is such an exciting prospect.
WHAT’S THE DAMAGE?
By now, you’ll likely have seen numerous YouTube videos showing off RaceLeague’s excellent damage model. Sure, it doesn’t have the detail of BeamNG.drive but it’s still pleasing to see in action. Convincing too.
Bumpers can be detached and hang off before departing permanently and tyres pop due to excessive wear. Another example of the believable damage model came when I was happily lapping away in Practice mode. I hit a kerb at high-speed and my suspension collapsed, sending me into the nearest deformable Armco barrier. Ooft.
That’s right, when you hit a barrier in-game, it bends out of shape, and it stays that way for the remainder of the session. Tyre barriers, on the other hand, explode like confetti when hit, tossing Dunlop radials asunder – very much like in the aforementioned Wreckfest.
These spare tyres (like my middle-aged paunch) also cause havoc as time wears on. If a tyre gets trapped underneath your car you’re essentially driving an out-of-control hovercraft.
However, at this stage of development, it feels like tyre wear is overdone. It won’t take long to reach zero per cent tyre life and the inevitable puncture, and there’s no way to turn it off or adjust wear intensity.
On an additional note, AI cars do not suffer cosmetic damage like the player’s car. Not surprising, but an important feature for future builds.
WIRED FOR SOUND (AND GRAPHICS)
As you can expect from a game developed by a single person (Jali Hautala), it lacks a certain amount of polish in the graphics and sounds department.
Employing the Unity game engine – as used by the likes of Fall Guys, NASCAR Heat 5 and the upcoming Kerbal Space Program 2 – RaceLeague looks tidy but lacks graphical flourishes such as depth-of-field effects.
At this Early Access stage, I also noticed some frame drops and frequent pop-ins. It’s frustrating because the draw distance is really quite short. Also, when you add AI cars into the mix the game slows down further.
It’s early days, so I don’t see these issues as worrying. Further optimisation should improve things as development continues. Sound updates are also incoming, and I feel this is a significant area requiring improvement. It sounds like there are missing files with the Formula car, for example, although the off-throttle pops and bangs are quite pleasing.
WE BUILT THIS CITY
One of the headline features of RaceLeague is undoubtedly its Track Builder mode. Here, you can build the track of your dreams, or replicate your favourite real-world circuit. For a single-person development team, the Track Builder is a massively powerful tool.
It can be a little confusing at times but to combat this Oversteer Studios has added a handy tutorial feature. It would be worth joining the game’s Discord server to receive further advice, however, as your creation can quickly spiral out of control.
It’s possible to construct the track surface, add buildings, vegetation, mountains, sea, tyre barriers as well as decide on the pit entry and exit points. Players can easily lose hours honing their creations in this mode alone.
Once happy with the finished product, it can be uploaded for other RaceLeague players around the world to sample. Naturally, you can also try other people’s tracks, and there is an impressive selection already available.
My contribution to the track depository is the nation-state of Traxion Island – a course situated off the tropical west coast of Fife. Featuring suspiciously conical-shaped mountains, a holiday villa and a bridge leading directly into the North Sea, it’s a dangerous (and frankly unfinished) circuit unsuitable for any kind of motorsport.
At least it’s not another Tilke-drome, eh?!
So, the main question is, how does RaceLeague feel to drive? Well, the physics are weighty and intuitive from the off. Although the developer claims wheel support is available, I could not get my Fanatec CSL Elite pedals to work.
My Fanatec CSL DD was recognised – and I managed a couple of laps like this using buttons to accelerate/brake – but I just could not get a steer (apologies) on the FFB. I honestly can’t wait to try the rallycross car with my Heusinkveld Sim Handbrake too, so I am awaiting further updates with bated breath.
I used both a PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360 controller in my tests, and both were easy to configure and with the correct speed sensitivity settings felt instinctive to use. I can tell there’s a decent handling model in RaceLeague, and once refined I believe it will be satisfying to master.
The game does not have an offline race mode yet per se, with practice sessions only possible. Up to 10 AI cars can be added to these, but I would advise against this considering the frame drops it entails. It depends on the robustness of your PC.
Online multiplayer racing is available, although I was unable to test this thoroughly due to a lack of servers. From what I’ve gleaned so far, however, is that online stability is at a decent level. Lag wasn’t an issue for me but I realise more testing is required.
I managed to get stuck in the scenery on one of the custom tracks used in a multiplayer race, which was a slight annoyance. It’s not the game’s fault, but the reset car feature should be available online as well as offline.
Now that RaceLeague is in Steam Early Access, Oversteer Studios has outlined a roadmap for the future. Eventually, the developer hopes to add more vehicles to join the rallycross, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup clone and Formula 3-based open-wheeler already in-game.
Also expected are more track props, wet weather, replays, camera adjustability, custom car skins and further game engine optimisations.
It’s an encouraging, if flawed, start, but RaceLeague is an indie racing title worth checking out in future. It may be best to wait for an update or two.