Full disclosure: the last time I was excited to play a racing game was around Fall of 2004, when Criterion's Burnout 3: Takedown hit shelves. It was the most interesting car related console experience I'd had at the time. It was cathartic in its white knuckle intensity and its heavy focus on destruction, but it also put racing in a context outside of just sitting me behind a wheel and blazing around a track. It transcended being just a racing game, and became something more cerebral. The closest I've ever felt to that since was my time with Arctic Hazard's Trackday Manager.
Racing game fans will find themselves in a familiar position after clicking through the opening screens of the game: staring at a shiny, new car in the middle of a well lit garage. Aggro-alt rock eases the culture shock of diving into one of the garage's many tabs and menus, where you can spend enormous amounts of time customizing what seems like every possible feature a car can have. I'm still wondering if I missed the car caddie feature. Maybe it'll be DLC down the line?
I largely ignored the customization features before my first few races. I didn't see a point in spending money on things when I wasn't entirely sure how any of it would make me better. Instead, I jumped headlong into the quick match queue. After a waiting period, I was slotted into a 12 lap race with a mixture of AI and live human players and was pretty jarred when I realized I wasn't in the driver's seat. Instead of doing the driving, Trackday Manager tasks you will telling the driver what to do.
The racing manager sub genre isn't exactly new, but Trackday Manager is my first foray into it, and man is it fascinating.
Instead of actively pushing down a throttle button and steering your way around a winding track, an AI driver does all of the actual driving. You, instead, cover the more managerial and strategic decisions, from what sort of tires your car should have on, to when the driver should make a pit stop. How your driver reacts to others on the road is largely your call as well. When gaining on a car, you can tell your driver to tail it and draft your opponents around the map. You can tell them to make aggressive maneuvers to overtake oncoming opponents or block cars attempting to pass you. It's quite a ballet of order giving - one that is incredibly difficult to really master, but shows itself to be more and more necessary for successful laps the more you play.
My fatal mistake early on is that I leaned on these actions a bit too much. Possibly out of some subconscious need to be more active in a game from a genre that I normally associated with constant activity, I would babysit my driver and over micromanage. I'd be sending him so many orders - overtake this guy left... no, no right... wait, use your K.E.R.S. boost... just overload!! - that he would really just be doing a lot of nothing. Trackday Manager recognizes that this sort of racing is more marathon than sprint, and I wanted to do whatever I could to jump from 16th to 1st - but that is never going to happen in one lap.
You'll find that you will have better races when you get less hands on. Let your driver navigate himself around the map, and use your commands as he approaches situations, not to get him into situations. It was a tough lesson for me to learn, but I went from being consistently last, to being competitively 11th-12th. I can dig that.
This tends to also mean that your performance is heavily dependent of your car's loadout, since much of the process involves the game's code figuring out what your numbers are worth compared to everyone else's. So, I would eventually slink back in to the garage and engage with the many things to buy and equip. The ten modification slots can be daunting, as the difference between one part over another in the same slot can be so minuscule that it's hard to understand the impact on your cars performance as a whole. Like everything else in this game, though, time and practice reveal the secrets, and suddenly you'll be well aware of the process involved in making the ultimate racing machine.
Outside of tricking your car with parts and paint, you can also dabble in the sponsorship system. After picking one from a set of lists, you can make attempts to court a sponsor into a contract with you. You make initial contact by phone or email, then you can spend money sending them gifts and giving them access. The more you spend on presents like dinner with the CEO, the more likely they'll be interested in signing a contract with you. Scoring a contract means you get bonus money per race, as well as more bonuses when you place well.
Even if you don't play racing games, you should kick the tires of Trackday Simulator. It's such a different take on the genre that even non-enthusiasts can find a valuable experience in it. Grab it on Steam, and let us know what you think on Twitter and Facebook. Hit up the Official Trackday Manager Wiki and help spread the secrets of this unique racing experience with everyone!
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.