As much as I love flight simulation, it is not always easy to like the newest and best FS version. The main reason for me is the unwillingness to keep up with hardware requirements. Sometimes it gets so frustrating that I take a break from the newest flightsim and go back to the older version, or look at other kinds of sims I think I might be interested in.
Obviously car sims are one such choice, and for many a flight simmer they offer something similar to a fantasy flight. They offer the opportunity to drive cars that are beyond the means of an average driver, at speeds that are far above what most of us would achieve on a regular highway. In addition, the car sims provide an opportunity to take risks you are not going to take in your own car even if it is a super-car.
However, since most of us grown-ups drive cars, and not too many of us fly 747’s, car sims seemingly have a broader user base that can compare the sim to the actual experience. The problem starts when the car sim comes with only the cars that a few can drive, so the comparison between the real and fictional is only in the mind of the player i.e. simmer.
How many car sims simulate cars that have 60HP engines and front wheel drive? OK, cars are more powerful these days so how about 115HP, 150HP or even 260HP? Not too many offer that. It is in that range that most road cars we all drive fit. And, like it or not, most cars today are front wheel drive.
In the end, that is why so many car sims simulate supercars and super-tuned cars that behave like their real counterparts. I don’t know how, since I have not driven a Ferrari or Lamborghini, yet. Nevertheless, if there are any of you owners out there who would like to let me have a go and compare your baby to a car sim, I will gladly take you up on that offer.
What is my point? We don’t have many choices in flight sims these days. But when it comes to car driving games/sims there seems to be a plethora of choices. In my opinion, the MS version of the flight sim offers a good simulation of what is happening when I fly a single engine Cessna or a Piper in real life.
Car games/sims, on the other hand, are different. Get a sim in which the only choices are $500,000 cars that are running against other super-cars that are bouncing off the walls and you might be amused, but it will not hold a simmer's attention for long. Racing sims that simulate particular racing series are a bit different. There you might have better dynamics, and the competition could get exciting. However, most racing sims come with cars that most of us will never touch.
So, how about a game, err sim, that offers something most of us can relate to? Live for Speed is one such offering. Not to worry though, for you supercar fans - Live for Speed (LFS) also offers exotic beasts as well.
Installation and Documentation
The product comes to you as a free download. You will be in a demo mode and you’ll have a choice of one car and three tracks. The demo is unlimited in time and allows you to experience most aspects of the game without crippling it. Once you like what you see, you can purchase the license which unlocks the additional cars, tracks, and a neat little object/autocross editor.
The whole process is automated and almost instantaneous, and the game comes with three licenses so you don’t have to worry about reinstalling when you buy a new component or a system. Even more, the authors provide you with additional licenses each week in case you really have installed and uninstalled that much.
Installation is straightforward and simple. Unzip and run, and that is it. As far as documentation goes, there is the online Wiki manual so you will need to be connected to the internet if you want to use it. Many aspects of the game are well documented there and most information is well organized and is easily accessible. In addition, the manual provides you with active links to the LFS community which includes the forums, racing leagues and all sorts of stats and setups on line.
This sim was envisioned primarily as a multiplayer racing sim, but it works well without an active internet connection, and you can drive/race against AI cars or just practice by yourself. More on that later.
Kicking the Tires
My first impression of the sim was not all that great. While the opening menu and choices are self explanatory and simple enough to dive right in, I was disappointed when I saw that the cars offered were not brand name cars. For example, there were no Alfa Romeo's or Honda's or even the Ford's. None.
Instead, you have names such as UF1000 or XF GTI. What? And this is supposed to be a sim? But then I looked at the specs of the cars. For example, the UF1000 not only looks like the classic Mini, but its engine and the drive-train specs, as well as the weight, are almost identical to the first car I owned many years ago. I will tell you about driving it, but first let me go through some of the options and menus available.
On the opening screen you have to decide what type of driving will you do. The choices start with Training, which explains some basic racing maneuvers such as accelerating and stopping, to passing and entering corners. It is done well enough for your eight year old to have fun, and for you to stay with it for a while if you don’t think too highly of your driving skills.
The next two options are Multiplayer and Single Player. In multiplayer you can compete against real people over the internet or LAN. The multiplayer options are similar to FS, as you can host or join a game - and this is when it gets interesting. If you fly on VATSIM, there are pretty strict rules in order to keep the simulation as real as possible within limitations of the FS. In this game, the racers all race under pretty similar strict rules and driving like a maniac and hitting cars is frowned upon, and rightfully so. Since the game was designed with real multiplayer simulation in mind, there are even licenses you are granted based on your experiences and driving skills.
The next screen in the multiplayer option displays a list of games and servers in progress, but most are by invitation and you will have to have a password to join. The best way to start is to log on to the main website and follow their links to the forums and racing leagues to find out about which level is right for you. One of the neatest features here is that you don’t have to pay to play, since the demo mode also works and you race with other unlicensed drivers on the courses provided in the demo.
The LFS racing community is broad and very international, and there are many options available to the user once you get involved. For more information on that you should definitely go to the main LFS site and start from there. The whole learning experience can be intoxicating to someone who, like me, spends most of their time focusing on MSFS. It could get overwhelming as well, so that brings us to the option of just going with the single player.
In the Single player mode you will race against computer controlled opponents and you can set the level at which the AI will perform - from Newbie to Pro with several steps in between. One interesting thing I saw on the forum, is that the developer mentioned that AI can improve their lap times several seconds during the course of the race. This makes it more intelligent than artificial. On the other hand, the AI in this version are not smart enough to qualify, so you have to set up your grid position as you think it should be.
Also interesting to note, is that unlike in the online experience where the drivers have to conduct themselves and race aggressively but safely, the AI don’t care much about spinning you out or cutting you off. They also do it among themselves and the first laps are usually quite wild with cars spinning and even flying around. A bit overdone, in my opinion, but as the race progresses, AI cars improve not only their lap times but also their on-track manners.
You can setup as many as twenty opponents or as few as none, and you can choose each opponent's car class as well, so every AI can be a different type of car. Tip. If you do that, put the faster cars behind you and enjoy the show as they all try to pass the inferior class in front.
Hot Lapping is the next option on the main menu and it does record and validate your fast laps as you are trying to improve your best time around the track. The LFS World site provides a list of all records and is a convenient way to upload your best effort, which is then displayed for all to see. The best part is that you can download other Hot Laps from the charts and watch and enjoy how others are doing in the same car on the same track. Some folks are really good, and I suspect they have way to much time on their hands, but this is coming from a person who has two kids and a full time job so not much time is left to play on the computer.
However, practice makes perfect and I find myself in Hot Lapping mode most of the times I played this game. Now, if I can just figure out how to shave off those 4 seconds… Another cool feature is that in Hot Lapping, your laps are deemed invalid if you put more then two wheels off the track or hit an object, so there is no cheating here.
The Options entry on the menu allows you to change things such as your view position inside the cockpit, I mean car, which comes in very useful when running on TH2GO or in any other wide screen situation. In addition, you can adjust instruments, head latency, player and AI names, screen resolutions and slew of other useful settings. Once you select your mode you are ready to select a car and a track and off you go…
As mentioned earlier, you will not find any brand name cars in the game with the exception of BMW F1. The rest are all imaginary and come with such names as UF GTR, FZ50, LX4, LX6 etc. They look good and represent typical front or rear wheel drive cars you might see on the roads. Their specifications vary from the not-so-powerful UF1000, to the more exotic types represented in GT series. When you look closely at each car you can see elements of your typical Japanese, European, and American cars.
This game is not about the names of the cars though. When you read the specifications of these cars, they have more or less similar engine/drive layout as well as similar horsepower, to what you would find in the cars that Honda, VW or any other manufacturer might offer for real. I have also read that those who have the skills, can model their own makes in G-Max but so far I have only found skins (i.e. liveries for you FS types).
Inside the game, you can make your own skin and add it to your car, but more importantly, you can adjust your car’s various settings. There are even freeware programs that allow you to tinker with engine size and power, and the best place to find out about that are in the forums. The LFS models tire degradation and heating well. If, for example, you make adjustments to your suspension, this will affect the tire wear as well.
There is a very useful option of showing the forces on each wheel so you can adjust, test real-time, and re-adjust to your heart’s content. In addition, you can model down force, drag, tire type, and variety of suspension details in search for those precious seconds. In the end, if you are not the tinkering type, each car comes adjusted for the track and you can download many other setups from the net as well.
One thing this version does not model quite well is the damage your car would suffer in a collision with another car or object. It does show visually some changes to the car, but the impact has to be quite significant. Moreover, the handling of the car will be affected if you hit another car or a tire, but again you have to hit it pretty hard before you can feel the difference.
How does it drive? Well, this is where this game shines in my opinion. I have found three or four models in the game that are quite similar to the cars I have owned in the past and present. Then I just drove them around the track, slowly at first, then faster to get the feel of how these cars felt in comparison to what I have driven in the real world.
Not being the patient one, I just picked the first car and decided to do a test run with my son's racing wheel and pedal setup. The computer I tested it on is also not state of the art, and I expected all kinds of issues as well. Then as I went into my first corner semi-gently, the long lost memories of driving a silver Mini resurfaced and I was hooked instantly.
Not only the fact that it felt good and looked smooth on the screen, but it reminded me of the typical quirks and characteristics of the real car I drove some twenty three years ago. The handling of this UF1000 model was so real that I could predict exactly what the car would do at each speed and in each corner, and the sim reacted perfectly. Well not really, twenty three years is a long time to remember, but to the best of my recollection this is how the real Mini used to handle. Consequently, I could care less if the authors named it UF1000 or whatever - this, to me, was my perfect Mini.
Knowing quite well how some of us simmers are not easily convinced, and that some will rightfully question my memory going back to the 20th Century, I decided to pick something more powerful with which I had more recent experience. This time I opted for XF GTI which is your typical hatchback with a front wheel drive and 115Hp front engine. Faster than a Mini, and in the class of the original VW GTI and all the other cars that adopted the concept. Here again you can feel the front wheel drive understeer as you enter the corner and some torque steer when you mash the pedal while the wheels are not pointed straight. I don’t ever remember driving a computer game that modeled the front wheel drive so well- hmm…probably because I have not played one.
Then I switched to something that should have been more closely related to the best handling car I ever owned, the Mazda RX8. I am not sure if it is the game or the real Mazda, but the game left me cold on this one. Too much oversteer, poor traction and a handful all the way. Maybe a lesser rear wheel drive car feels that way, but in this game, there was nothing that would handle as easy and forgiving as its real world counterpart. To be fair, the game does not claim to represent any particular car model, hence another reason for fictional names.
Finally, I picked a car that resembles very closely a car that I drive currently, as far as its front engine layout, front wheel drive and similar horsepower goes. The XF GTR is very similar to my Mazda speed 3 (or Mazda MPS in Europe). The handling is sharp yet you always know you are in an overpowered front wheel drive car. The suspension is probably much stiffer in the game as this is the track version, but overall the impression is quite real. No scientific proof or data to offer, but the game just feels right.
The other cars that I drove in the game are all unique in their simulation of real driving, yet I keep coming back to my favorite front wheel drive models.
Interior and exterior views
Most cars have a generic panel that is sufficiently informative and easy on the frames. Not too much to see there except for the tach, speedometer and few other gauges that are shared on almost all the models except for the Formula type racers. What is nice about the interior is that it is functional, adjustable, and gives you enough info that won’t keep your eyes constantly looking down when you should be focused on the road ahead.
You can choose to display the steering wheel, driver and wheel, or nothing except the gauges. Anyone should be happy with what is shown. One custom view option allows you to fully adjust your seat, left and right, up and down, as well as forward and backward, so most players will be pleased in that area.
If you are more of the gamer type, you can put your camera outside and behind the car, but somehow that view is not something I found interesting. In addition, you can also view your car from the roadside TV cameras, and that is useful for replays, not for driving.
Another interesting view is a helicopter view, which is fixed above your car and again is better used in replays for analysis. You can view your corner entry and exit, as well as how good you are in carrying the speed through the apex.
The sounds in car are done right. If you don’t like the volume of tire squeal you can adjust it as well, but the engines sound great and if you set your options to blip the throttle when downshifting, you will be immersed without being overwhelmed. You can also set different volumes for wind noise and in-car music, although who cares about music when the engine noise is so sweet.
Just like with the cars, the tracks are fictional and range from city courses to typical road racing tracks, a drag strip, and one oval track. Some locations are quite exotic, as they are located on the coast of an ocean or within the city limits with high rise buildings gracing the view. I believe the city location is supposed to be in London, and the coastal track in Jamaica. The only oval track is located in Japan.
In addition, some tracks have a rally cross setup within the track. This is a mixture of the road course and rally, with some dirt thrown in for fun. Another type of track that is included is autocross, where the drivers set their best times running between cones on a closed parking lot.
The demo only comes with one road racing track, Blackwood, which also includes a rally cross track and an empty parking lot. In the full version , you get the autocross editor which you can use to setup different layouts and have some fun between the cones and the barriers. Autocross can also be habit forming, just like scenery design in FS, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I initially installed the game on the P4 2.8 Ghz. with 128Mb video card and while running alone or on the open track. The sim was so smooth that I wanted to giggle. But throw in a lot of AI cars and go to a more demanding location, such as the city, and things will slow down a bit. Included in the game is the FPS counter which can be positioned or turned off so it will be easier for players to adjust their display options. The game is not demanding on system resources and will run acceptably, even on an older system.
When I first saw LFS earlier this year, I thought this was a new game. It turns out the game has been out in the world since 2005, and there is a steady improvement schedule in which the authors have added new versions with more content. Currently the full version is called S2 Alpha, and with each new revision, this sim gets better.
It also seems, by looking at message boards and lap record times, that the game has been far more popular in Europe and around the world than in the USA and Canada. Perhaps it is the absence of brand name cars or lack of popularity of road racing here, but I can tell you that we in North America have been missing out on a great deal of fun. Now that FeelThere has gotten involved, we might see more exposure and a greater following on this side of the pond.
This sim is outstanding as far as car racing sims go, even without your typical chase or be chased scenarios or big car manufacturers involvement. It has enough depth to keep you glued behind your steering wheel (which is a must for any serious car or racing fan), and offers a variety of challenges that even in the single player mode can put a serious ding in the time you spend flying or doing other things with your PC.
This review barely touches on some of the aspects of this game, but even if you are remotely interested in car sims, then you ought to give it a try. Remember, you get to try it for free and be the judge for yourself. If, on the other hand, you are looking for explosions, car pieces that fly around, and police cars chasing you - then this is definitely not for you. Since racing in the single player mode is already a blast, I am looking forward to perfecting my skills and competing online with others in the simulating environment which truly differentiates this sim from the other more well known choices.
What I Like About Live For Speed
What I Don't Like About Live For Speed
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