rFactor offers racing enthusiasts the best and most expandable PC game yet. At least, that's the big sell. Having tried out the underwhelming trial download last year, there were mixed feelings when the boxed version appeared, spattered with awards.
First impressions didn't help. While there's no doubt the title's open architecture offers enormous potential in terms of modding, tweaking and customisation, Sony offered a slicker interface and more realistic-looking graphics on the PlayStation a decade ago.
However, the frame rates are relentlessly high and you're not waiting for more than a few seconds before the game loads and you're straight in the driving seat.
Sadly, it's a rather disappointing drive first time out. Why do my pit crew look like refugees from a Mega Drive game? Why are newbie-friendly driver aids unavailable on most servers? Why are the cars not deformable?
Shouldn't slamming your car into the armco at 100mph or more do a bit more than illuminate the 'service due' lamp on the dashboard? A sideways glance at DiRT or Need For Speed and you'll wonder if you haven't mistakenly bought something for your mobile phone.
But look past the 20th century visuals, and the joys of multiplayer and near-limitless expansion do make it all rather alluring. rFactor's raison d'Ítre is to provide a working framework from which the online community can hang new race tracks, physics models, customised cars, updated sounds, and indeed anything they like.
There are DTM mods, American LeMans mods, Champ Car mods, and Aussie V8 Supercar mods. And while there's an obligatory single-player mode, complete with obligatory daft AI players who drive nothing like real people, network or internet play is where rFactor comes into its own.
The netcode seems remarkably solid, with none of the annoying lag that makes opponent cars pop in and out of view. You now have no excuses when humiliated by some ten-year-old who's been allowed a quick game before bedtime.
If you fancy a go yourself, you're allowed to tweak every possible aspect of your car, from paint schemes to its mechanics and the intricacies of aero handling, and anything you design can be added to the online 'pool'.
Tracks require more work, but the ones provided are nicely varied and the range of layouts will require a mix of driver skills. The only downside is that they merely allude to real-life places and appear to be based largely on the designer's imagination rather than on reality.
Should you buy it? At £25: hell yes. True, it doesn't have the lustrous shine of long-established race titles such as GTR nor the homespun apple-pie charm of the Need for Speed games, and it lacks the sort of jaw-dropping graphics and sounds that first-person gamers now take for granted.
But the ease with which cars can be driven by the uninitiated is commendable, and the scope for modding should also attract many a Lewis Hamilton wannabe - or at least, someone who wants to be his mechanic.
So although rFactor looks like a step back in time, the intangible 'feel' of things is spot-on and everything you see around you has the potential to become something entirely different. You just need to download it or cook it yourself. It's essentially Garry's Mod for cars.
Beauty beneath the bonnet
- Fun to drive
- Should appeal to all skill levels
- Immensely moddable
- Looks a bit crude
- Cars not deformable
- AI has blonde moments