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Auto Club Revolution Preview

Auto Club Revolution is a free-to-play, online racing game that encourages social playing - an increasingly important facet of the genre. Designed by practised racing-game developers Eutechnyx, ACR is largely run through the browser, with a downloadable Race App that launches whenever you enter a race.

It blends elements of online social games - implementing chat boxes, suggesting friends, and encouraging multiplayer - with the slick visuals and sound mechanics of a console racer. The home page presents you with current featured cars for sale and the latest news and updates. Here you can see your progression towards the next rank, choose which car out of your collection you’d like to use, and jump into a quick race, either single or multiplayer.

The race modes are fairly limited: in multiplayer there’s ‘Eliminator’ and the far more popular ‘Quick Race’ - which acts as a standard race - and for single player you can either practice your corners and take new cars out for a test drive in a timetrial mode, or attempt to hone your overtaking skills by starting at the back of a grid in a race that pits you against AI-controlled opponents. The options may be slim, but additional modes often feel gimmicky anyway (take Forza Motorsport’s ‘Tag’, for example), and the customisation allowed when creating a race is quite generous, letting you can go as far as to mark a single car model as criteria for joining.

The ‘Race Hangout’ acts as a multiplayer lobby for those who either prefer not to quick race, or are yet to find themselves an auto club. Here you find ‘The Grid’, which shows all the racers in that particular hangout, their selected cars and their racing pins. You can ‘like’ their car, view their profile or send them a friend request. Dominating the other side of the page is a large chat-box that notifies everyone whenever a new race is created. It is all set up to encourage not only playing with friends, but also meeting and racing with new people. You can change your race hangout - there are some that cater for different languages to English - but there seems to be a select few that racers congregate at. This is fine, because it means that the chat is always buzzing, and that it’s rarely difficult to find a race.

The ‘Auto Clubs’ from the game’s title act as clans, where you can meet up with others and race together. You can only create your own once you’ve reached rank 20 (out of 40), but you can apply to join any you like, as long as you match the set criteria. Clubs have their own rank, which determines how many members they can accept. Once a member, you race to contribute to your club’s rank and ‘pot’ - an accumulator that takes points from races that each member participates in to reach a set target. If the target is met there is a payout of exp to each member, encouraging cooperative play.

With free-to-play games come microtransactions, and in Auto Club Revolution these are in the shape of ‘EBucks’. Prices range from £1.99, which gets you 300 EBucks, to £39.99 which gets you 7,250. Also available are starter packs, which throw in cars, decals and paint jobs for a little more. The most expensive car in the game is the Bugatti Veyron, available for just over £10. It might not seem a lot to get straight to the top, but exp is needed to unlock new classes of car available for purchase, meaning you can’t just pay to win and actually have to earn the right to own a Dodge Viper or a Koenigsegg Agera.

On the subject of brands: don’t think that the large social focus means that Auto Club Revolution skimps on the detail in customisation, or on the wealth of brand names available in the game. Across eight classes of car, 29 manufacturers have lent over 60 licensed models, from Bentley and Bugatti, to Jaguar and McLaren. In terms of setting, there are over ten locations with 25 tracks available. Silverstone and Indianapolis feature among other official tracks, but the custom-built maps, such as Lakeside Italia and inner-city Moscow, are just as impressive.

As well as adding your own style by adjusting the paint job and attaching decals, you can get right inside your car’s engine, adjusting gaskets, air filters, and all sorts of other parts. Each upgrade improves your car’s VPR - Auto Club Revolution’s rating system - but although the options are many, the variety still feels limited; there are many parts to be upgraded, but only a couple of upgrades for each part. This detracts from the sense of individuality about your own car when you realise that everyone who can afford it has paid for the same improvements. However, it does offer more depth to buying and owning a car in the game, and with a little more expansion could become an angle very much worth exploring.

The visuals all-round are decent and particularly striking when Auto Club’s status as a free-to-play online game is considered. The cars look great - as do the various settings - and the driving feels just as solid as any console racer I’ve played. That being said, the graphics will always fall shy of those being offered by next-gen titles such as PS4’s DriveClub. Also, Auto Club currently lacks a cockpit-view, when we already know that DriveClub is flaunting a real first-person perspective and is placing heavy emphasis on immersing the player into the role of the driver.

Where Auto Club Revolution will trump its console competition is in the social side of things. For friends lists, hangouts and chat boxes, a mouse and keyboard is far more favourable than the sluggish navigation provided by a controller. Community is also of huge importance, and Auto Club has a big headstart in that area. With over 300,000 players already clocked as using the open-beta version, the chats and hangouts are thriving. Next-gen competition remain many months from getting their feet off the ground.

It’s important to remember that Auto Club Revolution remains in its beta phase and some months away from a full launch. Updates are made every two weeks and there are many new features planned for the future. Take your car’s cosmetics page: at the moment all you can edit are the alloy wheels, but body kits and license plates (among others) are titled ‘coming soon’. Eutechnyx hope to extend the club competition - which currently stands at comparing stats and achievements - to actually setting challenges and racing auto clubs against one another. Custom team liveries are to be added, and player designed decals are soon to be tradeable.

All in all, Auto Club Revolution is a quickly expanding game with an already bustling community. The racing genre is beginning to shift focus, and by blending the essentials of console racing with an easy to use, sociable interface, Auto Club Revolution is at the head of that change. It has its inconsistencies, but promises much more in the future. It’s free, so why not give it a go?

Thom Whyte | 29th April, 2013

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