I got my copy early (already completed the game), and so have already had quite a comprehensive look at the whole experience. This is most definitely not a simulator! I doubt many thought it was, but better to just clarify anyway. The difficulty falls into 3 categories in the form of driving aids which can be set at anytime during gameplay from the options menu. On the default middle setting the cars will still require some skill and getting used to, but as you start out with the slowest vehicles, you're eased in gently. One thing that will definitely annoy people at first, and probably scare a few away, is that you're required to ease the accelator and breaks in gently otherwise the car will just spin. For a quasi, pseudo sim driving game this might come as a surprise to some folk as the difficulty will probably be harder that most people expected. Having said that, you can just set the driving difficulty to easy which basically completely removes the need for learning this skill. Herein lies the first major problem. The game is a fully dynmaic single player/multiplayer experience. There's no option or menu to join multiplayer, you're just always in it. On the rare occassion you want to duel or challenge a random person you've met racing around the island, then there's no restrictions on what aids or cars you can use. So in short, you basically have to use the easiest setting or you'll get destroyed by the competition. If you change the settings yourself then the playing field becomes equal again, but it drastically simplifies the game and makes it way less fun to play (in my opinion). If you weren't wanting a challenge you'll be happy about this, but I was wanting to commit to an online multiplayer experience that would offer a real challenge (frustration with losing included).
Leading on from this is another problem. The games cars are divided into 3 main categories. Classic, Asphalt and Offroad. Then divided into further categories depending on the vehicles power. In any particular class there only seems to be one 'correct' car to use. On the highest level A1 that includes all the worlds fastest and greatest supercars (basically what you're going to be wanting to play on as soon as possible) there's unanimously only one car to rule them all. The Bugatti Veyron. Cool car, but if you're wanting to play competively (or want a chance of winning in otherwords) then you're going to be forced to use this car (maybe the Koenigsegg as well) which gets a little repetitive.
There's 2 islands you can freeroam and teleport to certain locations/events, however you have to have driven to that place at least once before. There's two races which entail driving around the entire island. If I'm recalling correctly the lap distance for the first island is about 93 miles, and the second island is about 130 miles. So they're big. So far I'm hearing a lot of people lament on the graphics. In response, I'd say, what else can you expect. With a racing area this big and with no loading then obviously concessions are going to have to be made to how pretty it looks. It's getting compared to GTA IV a lot, which is somewhat flattering when you think about it, as the play areas in this game are larger! My critism of this though, is that although the pop in or draw distance isn't bad, it does hamper your ability to play when you're traversing road at 200mph+ at which point it does become an issue and I've often felt I was crashing sometimes due to not being able to properly see ahead.
To get back to the de facto nature of the game; were people playing this as the developers had intended then I'm sure it'd be a better experience, but as it is, I've found it disapointing so far. For one thing, nobody seems to want to race when I've challenged them in freeroam (and I'm using equal or even lesser vehicles so they have the advantage). Furthermore, nobody seems to want to play in ranked matches. I've not played a single ranked match yet and I've tried a lot of times! On both islands! The islands are full when I'm doing this, so it's just a matter of people not wanting to. This is a problem of giving people too much choice; the community just gets too divided up and then nothing seems to happen. I suspect this is largerly in part due to the social MMO free roam nature of the game that has changed from the original. Think playstation Home and you've basically got it in a nutshell. Hell, some of the character assets look as if they've been ported over they look so similar. Your opinion of this will entirely depend on how much you like Home, but you can Shop for clothes, buy real estate, get a haircut, plastic surgery, gamble in casinos (DLC providing), etc. You'll love this game if you like playstation Home, but if like me this sounds lame to you then it can easily be avoided. Problem is, nobody else seems to be avoiding it, so you're left with a game that should at its core be a driving game, but instead ends up as some fairly boring social gathering experience. To finish with this I'll say I set up a club and invited friends, etc but for some reason it's not being showing as there's server issues (people can still connect though). I should also mention that the lag of other users playing can have a horrendous overall effect on the island. On the minor end of the scale you'll teleport to locations on the map to challenge other racers, etc, but when you get there you'll see nothing for 20-30seconds until they've loaded in. If you're trying to catch someone driving down a highway at 100+ mph then you'll find it can end up being a chore trying to find them before they've moved. In the worst case scenario, however, it can lag so bad that all the surrounding NPC (non player character) cars jerk about and seemingly telport every 5 meteres. There's also no option to mute individual player mics and you'll often encounter extremely loud, obnoxious tweens blaring rubbish music in the background. There's an option to disable player interractions from the menu 'entirely' but your modem seems to keep responding with the game client. This is evident when you go into clothes shops, etc and still find people yapping on mic even though you've set all player interractions to off in the menus.
Final note - This game has a bunch of day 1 DLC and will most definitely continue to have more in the future. If you want to play this game in multiplayer (and getting back to the Veyron issue) just accept that you're going to be forced to buy it as there's already a DLC car up that can't be aquired in game that's better than everyting else. As a side note, when you've bought a DLC car you don't automatically get it, you still have to pay ingame. In the case of the Veyron Super Sport (best car in the game I was talking about) it'll cost you nearly 3 million. One last thing (yes, I know this is draggin :|), the game has dynamic weather and day cycles. Very cool and adds to driving skill as you have to adapt to changing conditions. However, when you're playing single player challenges this is still in effect! This is funny as you can pause the game and your car can still be mid air but you'll still see seagulls fly by and the weather change even though it's still paused! To get to the real point - You're given times to beat in challenges that always remain the same! I've started the challenge in daylight with the sun shining and clear roads, but then it'll start pouring down with rain and this will obviously effect lap times. You can finish the races too and observe AI competitor times and they don't change! If you're in an underpowered car and the odds are against you to begin with then this can be annoying.