7/5/98 - The situation in the sim world has changed dramatically since I last updated this page (see below). I now believe that racing sims on Windows 95, using the Direct X platform, can be superb, and indeed several of the new generation of sims running in this environment clearly outpace the older, DOS-based generation (including my longtime favorite, IndyCar Racing 2).
Remarkably, the best racing game currently available (until the release of the incredible Grand Prix Legends later this summer), in my humble opinion, doesn't even run on the PC. It's called Grand Turismo, and it's for the Sony Playstation. This game is so good, it motivated me, formerly a snob of the "I don't play game consoles" variety, to buy a Playstation and a Mad Catz wheel and pedal unit. Read Randy Magruder's excellent review at Digital Sportspage for details. Like him, I believe this game is destined to become a classic.
Also since last December, Microsoft and Terminal Reality redeemed themselves somewhat in my eyes (after the disastrous CART Precision Racing), by releasing Monster Truck Madness 2, which is a very good game, if not quite a simulation. MTM2 features the best online racing implementation this side of NROS, and has decent physics and a very good overall game design. It also has some excellent and innovative weather effects - and a sense of humor. Read Randy Magruder's review for details; I agree with just about everything he says.
Recently, Intense Entertainment Interactive released a bike racing sim called Castrol Honda Superbike, which it touts as having the most realistic physics of any bike sim to date. That may be true, but I found its physics to be distinctly lacking in some respects, and I found it rather lackluster in a number of other ways as well. It does have beautiful graphics, but I believe most of its tracks are fantasy tracks. Although I bought the game, it has seen very little play on my computer. Read a detailed and generally favorable review at Online Gaming Review. There is a demo available at IEI's site, so you can try it for yourself, but make sure you have a 3Dfx card and at least a P-200.
Also recently released are two drag racing sims, a Baja game, and some new current-era Formula One sims, including an update of Psygnosis F1 called F1: Championship Edition, which is said to be considerably better than the original. I tried the demo (10 mb), however, and, while it was better than the dreadful original F1, it didn't light my fire. Check The Adrenaline Vault for a preview. In the works are a Trans Am sim and a sports car sim of some type. I have no further details on these at this time, but check rec.autos.simulators for up-to-the-minute news.
12/7/97 - There are a number of exciting new sims due to be released in the near future.
Papyrus' SODA, an off-road racing sim that includes a ground-breaking track editor, is available now; as I write this, a copy sits on my dining room table waiting for me to try it out. Oh boy! Reviews of the SODA demo have been generally favorable, although Direct X/Windows 95 do impose some performance penalties on frame rate.
New! Read my new review of this fantastic sim!
Papyrus' Grand Prix Legends, a simulation of the 1967 Formula One season, is due out sometime in 1998, and promises to be the best racing sim ever. Can you imagine racing Dan Gurney in an Eagle at the old, magnificent Spa, or dicing with Jim Clark in a Lotus 49 at Silverstone without chicanes? Or trying to stay with Jackie Ickx at the 14-mile Nurburgring? Pant, pant. See my Grand Prix Legends page for more comments and some links.
Microsoft recently released the Gold demo of its CART Precision Racing, to mixed reviews. While many PC sim racers love its graphics and action, experienced sim racers seem to be finding the vehicle dynamics model somewhat lacking, and the computer-driven competition cars are awful. However, it is said to be a gas for networked play with your friends; it supports up to 8 players via LAN or the internet. Early reports on the Gold released version indicate that few, if any, of the problems in the demo have been fixed in the final version, and some new problems have been introduced. See John Wallace's excellent review and other comments from sim racers; more details as they are available.
Two new current-era Formula One sims are due out soon, Starting Grid from Visiware and F1 Racing Simulation from Ubisoft, who also developed the fantasy racing game called Pod. Demos of F1RS have gotten good reviews by experienced sim-racers, while Starting Grid has been rated as fair. Both provide native support for 3D cards (F1RS supports 3Dfx, while Starting Grid supports Rendition) and support for other 3D cards through DirectX. F1RS will support up to four players in network mode, or two via modem, while Starting Grid will support only two players, via modem.
Some other recent releases, including Psygnosis F1 and Bethesda X-Car have proven to be disappointments to hard-core sim racers.
All of the above sims are enhanced to use 3D video cards, and are written for Direct X, which means you will have to run them under Windows 95. I believe that GP Legends, X-Car, and Starting Grid will also run under DOS, which, in my experience, is infinitely preferable, although it limits your selection of 3D cards to those supported by the sims you like.