iRacing’s Futuristic Off-Road Racer ExoCross Comes Out Next Month. Here’s a Sneak Peek

ExoCross brings iRacing tech and quality to arcade racing—and the results are out of this world.
ExoCross screenshot.
iRacing

iRacing is the gold standard of sim racing, and for good reason. The service has cultivated a high-quality experience, from the technical side of its simulation, to the rendering of its cars and tracks, to—the game’s real ace in the hole—a like-minded community of players invested in racing as cleanly as possible. Over the last few years, iRacing has expanded into new motorsport niches and beyond the PC platform, with releases like World of Outlaws Dirt Racing, its forthcoming dedicated NASCAR title and, most surprisingly, a sci-fi take on rallycross, set on a distant planet. That last one’s called ExoCross, and it’s targeting a July 23 release for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC via Steam.

ExoCross is developed by Germany-based Orontes Games, which iRacing acquired in 2021, running on the studio’s proprietary engine with some enhancements brought over from the circuit-racing side of the business. iRacing Executive Vice President Steve Myers tells us that ExoCross utilizes the same tire and AI code, for example, which may sound surprising given that iRacing is something pros turn laps on when they’re not in real race cars, and ExoCross has more in common with old-school fantasy racers like Rollcage than any form of motorsport that has ever existed.

The thing about ExoCross, though, is that it comes across less like a nondescript arcade racer, and more like a simulation of an experience that isn’t yet possible in the real world. I liken it to Sony’s anti-gravity racing series Wipeout: Sure, we’ll probably never realize that kind of motorsport in many more lifetimes, but if technology did progress to a point where we could fling 10-ton spears at many hundreds of miles per hour several feet off the ground, it’d probably feel something like it does in that game.

ExoCross is considerably more grounded by comparison, however, involving wheeled, all-terrain vehicles powered by fuel-burning V8s kicking up space dust. The fourth-wall-obliterating conceit is that in the future, actual racing’s all but dead and sim racing is losing appeal, primarily because nobody still living had ever witnessed it before. The solution? Send remote-controlled ATVs to tear up the far reaches of the galaxy. Cute.

That’s really all the story you’ll get, but what little context there is plays out in the form of interstitials between championships in the Career Mode. These don’t accomplish much more than setting the stage, though they are reminiscent of the amazing, comic book-style illustrations from Jet Moto, for my fellow ’90s gamers out there.

As for what ExoCross is like to drive, things are shaping up quite nicely. The build I’ve been playing is still undergoing some final tweaks for wheel handling, but it plays perfectly on a controller. Again, this is no simulation, but aspects of the dynamics—weight transfer, the way throttle impacts oversteer on loose surfaces, and so on—feel natural and predictable, because they’re rooted in reality. That makes nailing drifts oh-so satisfying. Couple those sensations with solid track design mixing various surface types and multiple paths winding through neon-colored intergalactic flora, and ExoCross aces the fundamentals a game like this ought to. It figures to really come alive in multiplayer. Plus, it runs wonderfully. I’ve got it on Ultra settings across the board on my rig (Ryzen 7 5800X3D CPU, RTX 3070 GPU), and it’s still maxing out my monitor’s 165Hz refresh rate at 1440p.

If there’s one concern I have about ExoCross at the moment, it’s that I wish there was more of it. This game was in development under the title DRAG Outer Zones before iRacing bought Orontes, and at launch it’ll consist of four locales with four to five track configurations a piece, and three vehicles very much stratified into the “Beginner, Advanced, Expert” archetype of arcade racers from 30 years ago. As charming as that is, ExoCross is crying out for features like vehicle upgrading, or maybe some sort of strategic wrinkle to the racing itself, like Fast RMX’s color phasing. (In that game, you can go faster or gain access to certain portions of the track if you toggle from one “phase” to the other. It makes more sense when you see it in action.)

Hell, the expansion of the ExoCross universe itself could be really cool. The Jet Moto epiphany I mentioned earlier was exciting for me because that game had an exceptionally badass energy about it—these riders competing for different teams, all superheroes and villains in their own right, amid a background of shredding guitars. I hoped that’s what ExoCross was setting up for with its intro film, but Orontes isn’t tapping into the narrative potential, at least not yet. I know story isn’t exactly iRacing’s bag, but the physics are obviously sorted; it’s those other, more artful qualities of the experience that could really take things to the next level.

At the moment, you can change colors and numbers, but that’s really all the vehicle customization there is.

iRacing

Regardless, ExoCross is a promising start for iRacing’s ambitions beyond sim racing, and I’m happy it’s taken this step. It doesn’t matter how realistic a racing game is—the polish needs to be there, whether you’re aiming to replicate something or nothing at all. The team behind ExoCross appears to understand this. If this game’s scope is narrower to facilitate that quality, fair enough, but it has me even more excited for what iRacing and Orontes get up to in the future.

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