With New Year celebrations already a distant memory and 2016 gathering momentum into its second week, RaceDepartment have taken the opportunity to have a look back at some of the key changes in the sim racing landscape during 2015, and have a sneaky look forward to what we already know we can expect in the coming months ahead. A busy 2015 saw several new titles hit the digital shelves over the course of the year with the popular release of DiRT Rally and (the slightly less successful) Formula One 2015 from Codemasters. ProjectCARS from Slightly Mad Studios (SMS) made its long awaited debut after months of development behind the scenes and Brazilian developers Reiza Studios launched a hugely impressive Indigogo Crowdfunding campaign to fund enhanced developments to their Game StockCar Extreme title, leading to a Q1 2016 release of the revamped version of the game titled Automobilista Motorsport Simulator. Several existing titles made considerable strides over the course of the year bringing new functionality and content, hosting major online tournaments featuring real world professional drivers, recreating the legendary Nordschleife in millimetre perfect precision and brining the McLaren Honda Formula One racecar in more detail than has ever been attempted before. 2015 was very much a good year for the sim racing enthusiast and with more of the same expected in the next 12 months, has it ever been a better time to be part of this niche community of frustrated racing drivers? Unfortunately as is usually the case when software development is involved 2015 also brought its fair share of disappointments and underachievement’s, strange decisions and just downright bizarre ranting’s and ravings from people who really should know better… Below we take a brief look at each of the key titles available in 2015 and discuss how their year progressed. Assetto Corsa – Kunos Simulazioni Branded the ultimate driving simulator, 2015 was a big year for the Italian developers with major updates to the core game code and tyre model bringing vastly improved game performance and more robust multiplayer functionality alongside 3 highly successful DLC car and track pack releases. Labeled as DLC 'Dream Packs' Kunos have brought 32 new car models from a range of popular manufacturers to the game and a range of highly detailed laserscanned circuits including amongst others the legendary Nordschleife in Germany and more recently the popular Brands Hatch Grand Prix track in England. Kunos also announced they would be bringing the popular title to consoles in 2016, pitching the game in direct competiton with PC rival Project CARS and the dominant Forza Motorsport and Grand Tourismo series of games. 2015 Overall Score: 8 / 10 - Impressive in year improvement and new content but still missing those key features. DiRT Rally - Codemasters You would be hard pressed to look any further than Codemasters latest rally title release when handing out awards for surprise of the year in 2015 after their sock Early Access of DiRT Rally on windows PC hit our screens back in April. Harking back to the early Colin McRae Rally vibe of serious rally simulation, DiRT Rally provides fans an authentic experience of driving a wide range of iconic rally cars spanning from the early 1960's right the way forward to the 2016 spec Hyundai WRC challenger. With constant updates adding new cars, locations, features and functionality Codemasters have done a remarkable job building on an already solid base to create something that can potentially dominate the sim rally scene in the coming years. With the popular addition of Pikes Peak Hillclimb and an official FIA World RallyCross expansion, DiRT Rally quite literally appeared from nowhere and proved to the world that Codemasters still know how to make seriously good racing games. Already easily seeing off the competition provided by a weak WRC 5 release, 2016 sees the arrival of Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo to challenge DiRT Rally's crown as off road king. If what we have seen already is anything to go by, SLRE will have to go a long way to beat this premium rally title. 2015 Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 - Just the ticket to finally retire the ageing (but still wonderful) Richard Burns Rally F1 2015 - Codemasters Maybe, just maybe one of the major disappointments of the year was the latest installment to the Codemasters Formula One game franchise. After several seasons producing FIFA style reissues of basically the same game in different colour schemes, F1 2015 was pitched as a whole new take on the game and was to be based on a "brand new game engine, built from the ground up for the latest consoles and PCs allows players to experience FORMULA 1™ in unprecedented detail" alongside "a naturally authentic purely physics-based handling model". Released on the 21st July F1 2015 hit the shelves much earlier than previous editions of the title and unfortunately this showed with a very much unfinished, under optimised product that rendered the game practically unplayable to many who bought early into its lifecycle. With features included in previous versions such as career mode and the safetycar curiously missing with little or no communication from the developers about why these decisions were taken for the new game many people (myself included) found a very poorly thought out and thoroughly broken game in their Steam Library back in July, which actually was a real shame as once you found a way around the many issues and niggles and overcame the low frame rates the actual base of the game does seem reasonably strong, and the FFB is very much improved over earlier versions of the F1 series. After many many patches F1 2015 still very much fails to deliver in my opinion but the groundwork (and experience gained) could very well prove a solid foundation to build upon for the team at Codemasters and hopefully F1 2016 proves to be a vast improvement on the series to date. It needs to be if they are to continue producing these games in todays marketplace. 2015 Overall Score: 4.5 / 10 - Must try harder. iRacing.com iRacing release fairly major build updates on a regular basis and 2015 was no exception to the rule. With Nordschleife and the 2015 McLaren Honda arguably the biggest content inclusion during the year, the real big news of 2015 had to be the first pass at implementing a dynamic track surface model feature similar to the one found in ISI's rFactor 2. The idea is that the location of every car on the track is tracked and communicated back to the race server which then aggregates all of that data into cells laid-out on the racing surface and sends it back to each driver in the session. This means the rubber from the tyres is being put into the track and the rubber is being torn or rolled into marbles that are strewn onto the track surface! Such things as sun position also affect how the track heats and cools during a session... this was a major breakthrough for iRacing and helped move the sim into new, exciting territory. Sadly as all new things tend to do this presented a bit of an issue when first released as racers could take advantage of a weather exploit and run in hot, and therefor faster, conditions than others in the same server. This was quickly rectified by the developers and is no longer an issue in the sim. Yet another tyre model (or two) found itself released during the year and has gone quite some way to improving the feel of the cars in game, coupled with the dynamic track surface you can actually now much more feel the tyre loading through the wheel and the car moving around under aggressive inputs far more than in previous versions. Still by far and away the premium online choice for sim racers, iR had a great 2015 and will be looking to continue this trend into the new year. 2015 Overall Score: 8 / 10 - Continual improvements include the essential inclusion of dynamic track surface continue to keep the premier online race sim towards the top of the grid Project CARS - Slightly Mad Studios Released to the public after an incredibly long period in development funded by an innovative crowdfunding campaign allowing users early access and development input into the games early stages, Project CARS launched in 2015 amidst a sea of hype and fanfare only to spectacularly fall flat on its face almost immediately. Shipped with a heap of game breaking bugs and glitches many users were left utterly disillusioned that a game with such development support could be released so thoroughly broken on its opening day. SMS worked tirelessly for the next few months bringing out a series of patches aimed at resolving these issues (some worked, others brought yet more problems). SMS really didn't do themselves any favours with their general refusal to acknowledge many of the games issues and compounded fan frustration with some interesting and often utterly ridiculous interaction with the racing community. Towards the end of the year things started to look much better for the game and now it is possible to see the makings of a solid racing title, but many of the bugs still remain and with pCARS2 already underway it seems like this game will go down in history as promising so much but just failing to live up to the (often high) expectations. Still a decent title in its own right, it just leaves a bitter taste that pCARS should/could of been so much more. 2015 Overall Score: 5 / 10 - Loads of hype with little to actually shout about. Decent game once you dig down past all the fanfare. RaceRoom Racing Experience - Sector3 Studios Sector3 Studios have continued a big drive to bring their 'free to play' simulator RaceRoom Racing Experience up to the standards of its marketplace rivals in 2015. Already well regarded for its genre leading sounds and array of officially licensed real world racing series, much work has taken place to bring the simulator more towards a realistic racing experience and overall package for fans to enjoy. 2015 saw the much needed release of Alpha multiplayer functionality and online multiclass racing as well as enhanced tyre and physics improvements developed in conjunction with real world drivers from series like the German DTM Championship and ADAC GT Masters. Continual optimisations and new content are being steadily released for R3E over the past 12 months and progress has been impressive since the begining of the year, however Sector3 must bring more essential features to the table in 2016 and simplify the often confusing payment process to ensure continual growth and support in the years ahead. 2015 Overall Score: 8 / 10 - Impressive progression over the year but still missing those final features to bring it to the level it needs to grow. rFactor 2 - Image Space Incorporated In comparison to its sim racing rivals rFactor 2 has arguably come the furthest in 2015 with an incredible number of improvements, enhancements, features and content finding its way to the sim alongside increasing modder confidence leading to more and more high quality independent mods being made available. With noticeably better graphics introduced via a new shader system earlier in the year (the title still has some way to go to match Project CARS levels of graphical excellence) perhaps the biggest change occurred with the release of their StockCar content and ruleset aimed at reproducing the complicated set of Oval racing rules and regulations. rF2 continues to lead the way with some comprehensive features such as dynamic 'Real Road', support for multiclass endurance racing, dynamic weather and a hugely complicated 'CPM' tyre model show why rF2 continues the trends sent with its little brother rFactor and proves the closest consumer players can get to driving a real racing car in their own homes. 2015 Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 - Exceptional growth and improvements over the year mark out rFactor 2 as clearly the major player in sim racing. Stock Car Extreme - Reiza Studios 2015 / early 2016 marks the end of the development cycle for this classic racing simulator from Brazilian developers Reiza Studios. Based firmly on Image Space Incorporated's rFactor 1 gMotor engine, during 2015 Reiza secured a licence to fully develop the engine negating the need to add code via plugins and theoretically giving Reiza free reign to develop the still highly capable engine in whatever direction the studio wish. With a brand new next generation title slated for 2017 release, Reiza embarked upon a highly successful crowdfunding campaign to bring funds into the team to allow final development enhancements to GSCE before eventually retiring updates to focus on the new title. Such was the success of the campaign and so extensive are the enhancements that the studio have now decided to re release GSCE under the Automobilista Motorsport Simulator (AMS) title as a new standalone game, free to previous GSCE owners with a copy registered on Steam. 2015 was a great year for the studio bringing plenty of new and improved content and features far too vast to get into in this section, and with updated AMS release due early 2016 then it appears that this little developer has a very bright future indeed. 2015 Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 - One final big push before retirement, Reiza Studios continue to work wonders with an older piece of software before progressing to the new title. Alongside the stella lineup of sims available now or coming soon, the genre has had many other flashpoints and moments of interest throughout the year, some of which we have attempted to briefly summarise below. Other Highlights / Lowlights: Slightly Mad Studios head Ian Bell goes.... slightly mad Despite the huge hype surrounding a title that was in production for over 4 years and boasting over 80,000 paying customers acting as beta testers, crowdfunded racing game Project CARS launched with an incredible number of ridiculous game breaking bugs and issues that constantly failed to be repaired or improved despite numerous patches to the title during its early post release life. With mounting criticism of the game across a number of forums, including SMS's own site, SMS Head of Studio Ian Bell went a little overboard in protecting his product even going as far as outright banning users that voiced criticism towards the title not just from the WMD member forums, the but post-release forum intended for fans of the game! One user even has his previously closed thread reopened so Bell can post this fine example of the English language: "Shut up you idiot" Classic. Actually I really feel sorry for the guys over at SMS, and Ian Bell in particular as some of the abuse from the community did go too far at times and slightly over the top with some of the reactions. However to see and hear some of what was said (such as the above example) in a day an age where you have to actively press a button to post something after you type it makes me chuckle a little if I'm totally honest... Reiza Crowdfunding supasses $100,000 mark Reiza Studios Indiegogo 'Simracing Bonanza' campaign ended on the 2nd December 2015 after raising an incedible $107,545 across 1713 backers. With the cash influx provided by the successful campaign the Brazilian studio have been (or are in the process of) implementing Graphics & audio enhancements, physics developments including tyre damage/realistic drivetrain modelling/ enhanced FFB, an all new hi-res UI design + HUD system customized for each car type, support for long distance races, automatic steering ratio adjustment + support for more controller inputs & newer hardware and a custom championship tool as well as new content in the form of the SuperV8 Series, Mitsubishi Lancer Cup, Copa Montana, Formula V10, Mitsubishi Evo X, V8 Supertrucks , Renault Fluence & Honda Civic Marcas additions, F3 Brazil, community voted bonus car (Porsche Cup) and track, Foz do Iguaçu, Velo Cittá and the modern Montreal street circuit in Canada. In fact the upgrades to the game have become so huge that the team have decided to rebrand the re-launch the sim as a totally new standalone title! An all round good news story! RaceDepartment Touring Car League (RDTCC) returns with a bang! Returning for a ninth season of tin top action, the 2015 running of the RDTCC attracted huge grids across 2 servers in the fight to become RaceDepartment TouringCar Champion using Reiza Studios Copa Petrobras de Marcas touring cars. Oscar Hardwick dominated proceedings in the Magenta Warriors Ford Focus with 3 wins and 7 podiums to secure a well deservered title against a field of stong drivers from around the globe with 5th Dimension Smile Power Racing wrapping up the teams championship honours. High quality streaming of the live racing treated fans to many clean hard fought opening races at each of the 6 rounds and provided spectacular on track action. Perhaps the disapointment of the season was the number of incidents and mistakes during the reverse grid second race, something drivers will be keen to avoid next season when the RDTCC tackles the brutal Aussie V8 car! Shout out goes to the drivers in server 2 that have behaved like true gentlemen all season round, with high commitment and very clean driving displayed throught the season. Those interested can find highlights and information on the RDTCC section of the forum. The Nordschleife gets LaserScanned!!... 4 times! It very much seems that 2015 was the year of the 'Green Hell' in sim racing circles. Having had to endure a wide variety of different digital representations of the circuit (some good, some less so) 2015 finally marked the time when fully fledged bona fida laser scanned goodness came to our screens in all its many corners and silly names glory...the Nordschleife got created and released laser scanned.... across 4 different sims!! (5 if you count the AC rip downloadable for rF2 ). With iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS and RaceRoom (soon tm) all boasting a version of the Green Hell, race fans really have been spoilt for choice on where to enjoy this monster circuit online. Many many many sim drivers love this massive track so 2015 was definitely a good year to go Nords driving without going all the way to Germany and risking your own car ... 2016 and beyond.... Its only the second week in 2016 and already fans have plenty to be excited about in the coming racing year. On January 6th Oculus opened up pre orders for the first consumer unit of their game changing Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset, setting their website alight with users clammering to have the opportunity to be one of the first owners of this newly updated consumer unit. Many current generation racing sims support VR gaming to some degree and I would expect in the next few years this type of visual solution will become the sim racer option of choice and largely retire triple screen setups across the world. Towards the end of 2015 Black Delta released a number of images and short clips of their new Kart Racing simulator due to hit the stores in the first few months of 2016. KartKraft is being pitched as a serious attempt to accurately simulate kart racing on a home PC. With impressive graphics curtesy of the Unreal 3 engine and licence to reproduce many top name real world tracks and karts, KartKraft has made a very promising start and looks set to be one to watch out for during the year. Keep an eye out at RaceDepartment in the coming weeks as we sit down and have a chat with the guys and girls at Black Delta to discuss KartKraft. Launching a new edition every year to the Formula One games franchise, in 2015 Codemasters promised a totally new and improved gaming experience with their latest F1 game release using their new under the hood graphics engine and improved force feedback characteristics. Perhaps proving to be one of the biggest disappointments in the year F1 2015 has (still is) beset by a number of problems and major bugs and performance issues. The studio have promised to take on board the community feedback to this title and with another years' experience with the new game engine promise the 2016 edition to be a significant step forward for the franchise. Time will tell if this is the start of something good or just the same old marketing lines rolled out every year. Formula One has suffered on track these last few seasons but deserves a better virtual representation than has been provided so far. Meanwhile back in the land of Kuno Simulazioni, 2015 was a big year for the studio as preparations began to bring their award winning title Assetto Corsa to consoles during 2016. No doubt spured on by the successful release of Project CARS across PC and console, Kunos announced mid 2015 that Assetto Corsa will be available to purchase for XBOX One and Playstation 4 during 2016. Fear not fans of realism, Kunos have confirmed in their lengthy New Years message that the game will not be "dumbed down" to appeal to a wider audience and console owners should be able to enjoy a broadly similar experience to their PC counterparts upon release. Also contained in the same message an early indication of intent from the studio with a promise of at least an additional 40 cars and several new laserscanned race tracks ranging from the A1 Ring in Austria right through to historic versions of classic tracks like Silverstone in England and Monza in Italy. Licences have been agreed with premium manufacturer Maserati and rumours continue to do the rounds of a possible 50's era Grand Prix car coming to the sim.... personally looking forward to that one a great deal indeed... Automobilista Motorsport Simulator is due to be one of the first "new" titles to hit gamers in 2016 with a slated release date of Q1 on the Steam platform. As mentioned earlier in this article, Automobilista is the natural successor to the popular Game StockCar Extreme. Reiza have included so many enhancements to the sim since fully licencing the gMotor engine and securing over $100,000 via their crowdfunding campaign that they have decided to release an entirely new standalone game with all promised crowdfunding content included and substantial improvements to the game code and graphic output. An example of the visual differences between GSCE and AMS can be scene in this nice little graphic below showing the little Formula Vee open wheeler below: The "new" game will signal the end of development for GSCE going forwards, however fans of Reiza Studios will also have a yet to be titled next gen racing sim to be released probably during 2017. Swedish developers Sector3 Studios are the latest games developer to secure rights to produce a laserscanned version of the legendary German former Grand Prix venue of the Nordschliffe in Neuremburg. Know for producing high quality tracks for the RaceRoom Racing Experience title recent screenshots and video footage of the circuit indicate that release shouldn't be too far away. Other officially licenced known upcoming content in 2016 include the rapidly growing GT3 derived ADAC GT Masters series from 2015 and the 2015 installment of the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Additional content is sure to be previewed and released as the year progresses alongside a number of highly anticipated functionality features often requested by the sim racing community. With the surprise Early Access release of Codemasters DiRT Rally game somewhat kick starting the interest in all things sideways and dirty, former WRC series developers Milestone S.r.l are due to release their 9 time World Rally Champion backed Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo title to PC, XBOX ONE and PS4 in early 2016. Featuring a whole host of historically important rally cars from across the decades and plenty of attractive looking point to point stages and rally cross tracks, SLRE has quite a job on its hands to wrestle the off road crown from DiRT in 2016, however with support from the sports most successful driver and backed by an experienced team SLRE could quite possibly prove to be one of the standout titles in the marketplace come years end. 2016 will be a big year also for us right here at RaceDepartment with the running of several high profile leagues across a number of todays top simulation titles, not least of which will be the 10th running of the RaceDepartment Touring Car Championship (RDTCC) featuring the Reiza Studios created Aussie V8 Supercar and their new Automobilista software. Featuring high quality streaming of all the races and run by a group of experienced, dedicated and committed individuals RDTCC Season 10 should once again be one of the most prestigious championships to enter in the sim racing world. Also coming to RD this year will be a return to our Endurance roots and reliving the spirit of Le Mans with our RDLMS Season 7 due to utilise the rFactor 2 platform to host major long distance endurance events across a number of top tracks around the world. Again with high quality live race streams be sure to keep an eye out here at RaceDepartment for some high quality sim racing in the year ahead. For me 2015 was an outstanding year, loads of superb content was produced both by professional studios and by the whole wave of talented modders out there giving up their time and skills to produce unbelieveable content to share, for free, with the sim racing community. Its probably human nature but we as a whole often don't come forward enough and thank these talented guys and gals that produce such outstanding content for our favourite sim games. To all you modders out there reading this, thank you for all the hard work and great quality you put in to improving the sim racing experience for all of us. On a personal note, 2015 was something of a year of change for me when I took the plunge and jumped onto the staff here at RaceDepartment and its been a great journey to be part of so far Its quite remarkable when you go 'behind the scenes' to see such a bunch of highly motivated and committed guys aiming to bring interesting content and host exciting races for the wider sim community. Again its a privilege for me to be part of our little club and I'm excited to see what new and interesting things the guys can come up with in the following few months. I'm sure as the year progresses many more new and exciting things will come to light to delight, amuse, annoy and flabbergast us all in the sim racing community, however with all that's happened in sim racing recently, and all that's already known so early into 2016 I for one am under no doubt that now is the best time its ever been to be a part of this wonderful, crazy mixed up world of virtual motor racing from the comfort of your own home. Trust me, the next 12 months are going to be immense... Have a great 2016 people and, as always, I'll see you all at the track! Paul Jeffrey Do you think 2015 was a good year for the sim racer? Will 2016 be even better? What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? What sim either new or updated has most impressed you during the previous year? Let us know in the comment section below!