The Art of the Drive: Are Racing Games Back?
Racing games come in many flavours, some are simulations, some are semi-realistic, and some are arcade racers and not realistic at all. But have we seen a resurgence of racing games? With DiRT: Rally, Project Cars, Forza Horizon 2, and Mario Kart 8 we have the 3 main types of racing game: off-road and on-road simulation, semi-realistic racing, and arcade games. They are all excellent, and they are all the top of their game.
Racing Games of the Past Few Years Have Been Average at Best.
DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 took the simulation and threw it out to the door, favoring easy control over skill.
The F1 games have been steadily decreasing in quality. Grid (formerly TOCA Race Driver) started off promising. Then Grid 2 happened, which took everything that was good about the series and removed it. Grid 2 wasn't a badly made game, but it was a bad Grid game. Grid: Autosport gives me hope for the future of that series.
Even the Forza series, Forza 5 launched with fewer tracks and cars than the 3rd game in the series, and the others were sold as DLC. Forza 4 didn't do much to elevate the series, and it looked like it was going stagnant. The spin-off, Horizon. was weirdly a better game, and Horizon 2 is great fun.
You don't need top of the line cars to have fun driving.
The PS2/1 Era Was the Golden Age for Racing Games
We saw some of the greats around this time time, with Richard Burns Rally the Vrally series, Colin McRae Rally (which turned into Colin McRae DiRT, and later the DiRT series), the original Forza games, and Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. It was one hell of a time to be a racing game fan. Then driving games, like Driver (for the PS1), allows us to drive around a city. I haven't gotten the same feeling of freedom in a driving game since Forza Horizon.
Driver had 'stars', just like GTA but focused on driving.
Where are we now?
There have been recent games, like DiRT: Rally and Project Cars, that I believe are bringing back the racing genre. But why these two in particular?
Rally games have been splitting into general off-roading games with the DiRT series, but DiRT: Rally has taken up the mantle of Richard Burns Rally.
So far, it's doing an amazing job. Driving feels scary (but is a lot of fun). This is what driving games used to be: they took skill, positioning, listening, and determination. In more recent games, you often only need to apply the handbrake to do a killer powerslide. But doing the same thing in DiRT: Rally is far more satisfying. It makes you feel like a driving god.
Imagine this: You hear about a right 1 while barreling down the side of a mountain in Greece. This fills you with a sense of dread, but only for a split second. You gently apply brakes and line up to sling-shot around the corner. Every time you do this, you feel unstoppable. But you missed the one pace note that was most important: "don't cut". You very quickly stop, and with an earth-shattering screech you grind to a halt on your roof. And you kick yourself for not listening harder.
Project Cars is much the same, except it's on-road.
Instead of the car feeling loose and sliding around, it sticks to the road. You cannot simply fling the car around a corner. Everything needs to be clinical and precise, planned within milliseconds and executed to perfection. Now it sounds like I'm talking about the Arma series... right, back to racing.
Project Cars makes you the driver of a real car with wheels. You are driving an open-wheeled Ariel Atom around the track of Monaco, and upon seeing one of the famous tight bends you start braking. You start to turn, but you lock up. You loosen your grip on the brake. Though you've managed to regain control, you've missed the apex. You re-focus, re-calculate, and push on.
Nailing the next corner, you take the perfect like and regain your composure... always thinking about the next 3 corners. Planning, positioning, and ticking each corner off as you go. You complete a lap, but there is no rest for the wicked. You now have to snake your way up a hill, constantly managing your speed. You continue, slowly getting faster around the track, taking more risks. You are in a car, a car with an engine, pedals, wheels, and a gear box. You ARE driving.
Recreate the best moments of F1, if you are skillful enough.
Driving is (becoming) amazing again!
As you may be able to tell, I am a big fan of both these games. They both make you feel like you are actually driving. You are not simply steering, you are the car. Man and machine are one.
Both the above games always throw something new at you, often something you want to do. A new approach to a corner, trying a new car, playing against a different person online. You always want to push the boundaries.
This is what being a racing driver must be like, so no wonder they love their jobs. It's exhilarating. Let's just hope this trend continues, and we see many more true driving games in the future.
That isn't to say I don't like arcade racers, Split/Second and Mario Kart (especially Double Dash) are amazing as well!