As many of you that listen to the podcast or have spent time gaming with me will know that I’m an avid driving game fan. The obsession goes way back to the beginning of my gaming life. I’ve played many different games on many different consoles and have found that there’s a huge difference in what I think are good and bad games. This is especially true when I’ve discussed it with friends. I thought that it would be interesting to discuss a few of the games that I count in my personal favorites of the driving genre.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a list of the top racing games on all consoles. This is a personal list of one’s that rate highly for me. Some of these aren’t perfect, in fact a some will have some pretty impressive flaws I’m sure but I’m looking for the games that got me engaged and attached. Which ones had that special something that made me want to come back time and time again, for a couple of these games that even means playing over different decades.
Need For Speed Underground
Released November 2003
Fast and the Furious in video game form. Pick a stock car from a range of mostly mundane daily drivers and race to win cash to modify and upgrade its performance and style. Body kits, spoilers, carbon fibre and neon lights. Build your car the way you want then take it to the streets and race anyone that thinks they can keep up. Compete to rule the streets as the fasted and most respected driver out there with the most sought after collection of insanely modified machines.
A smooth and really entertaining arcade racer that stepped away from the usual games in the Need for Speed franchise and created its own sub franchise. The sequel NFSU2 was a nice continuation of the style of game which continued with NFS Carbon and then onto NFS Most Wanted but adding more of a criminal underground story. NFS Underground had a good range of cars that were readily seen on the streets and at first seem very ordinary to the point of being dull but once you started to change their looks with body kit parts and performance upgrades then that little Peugeot 106 or that first gen Ford focus then it became a whole different story as the street destroying machine starts to emerge
Handling was pretty impressive for a PS2 game and so was the graphics. Neon lights shone bright in the nighttime street settings. The soundtrack is one of the major plus points though with a hiphop/street vibe range of music that showed off just how good the PlayStation 2 was at not only providing an immersive and detailed game but also at pushing it over the edge with video, music and sound effect details.
Gran Turismo 5
Released November 2010
This was always going to be an obvious one here. I’m a huge Gran Turismo fan. I’ve collected all the games and even managed to get my hands on a few collector pieces. With so many games in the Gran Turismo franchise it was hard to pin down to which one should make the list. GT1 started it all and hooked me into the Gran Turismo style of games but I think I have to say GT5 had the biggest addiction. As with others in the series, there’s a whole host of cars, old, new, odd, rare and fast. Customizing and tuning is fun and makes a difference in speed, handling, braking and performance. All this is great but we had seen it before. What made the difference for me was online racing. Being able to go up against competitors from all around the world and see who was fasted made a huge difference. I really loved setting up events and more so our gamer nights. Making tracks in the track editor to use for the events and then seeing friends and community members come along and join in a good fun racing session just made the game so much more.
Yes it has to be said that the online wasn’t perfect, just to get I to a friends race involved a stupidly long code being typed in and faffing about but once you got the hang of it then it wasn’t too bad. GT6 improved on the online experience but it was an improvement rather than a new way of playing. I did find it somewhat funny that GT5 was re boxed and resold a few times over with the GT5 XL edition and the GT5 Academy Edition and lets not forget the Gran Turismo demo favorite that is GT5 Prologue but that just adds to the collectors fun for me.
Stunt Car Racer
Now this one goes all the way back to the Commodore 64. I loved this game so much for the simple fact that it was nuts. It was also one of those old school games that were as hard as nuts to get right. No easy modes or hand holding here. The idea is to race around a track that built like a roller coaster. Insanely banked curves, zig zags, huge height gains along with massive drops and let’s not forget the loop the loop sections. You had to control your speed very carefully as even over throttling a little at the top of a hump could make you leave the track and come crashing to the ground or worse still, missing the track and falling below where the game would more often than not glitch out and you would end up falling forever. Steering was tricky as well as the keyboard wasn’t the most responsive control mechanism and the joysticks weren’t much better. Over steering could put you into a tank slapper of a spin that would see you slipping and sliding uncontrollably till you fell off the track. There were no bumpers or sides to these tracks, it was stay on or be gone.
I loved the cockpit view with the engine out front with the air intakes rumbling away and the roll cage around the screen that would see cracks, holes and damage move along its length as you crashed until eventually you wrecked your ride. There was just something about this game that kept me coming back for more. Compared to today’s games it’s slow, unresponsive and graphically there’s obviously no comparison but all that aside, to this day I still fire up the Commodore 64 and play this game for nostalgia and ultimately to put that child like smile on my face that games should be able to do.
Released June 2005
Now here’s an interesting game that I haven’t heard many people talk about too much. A mix of racing, car modification, upgrading and team/race management that for its time had something different to offer. Race in a series of races as usual and then hire new drivers to race with you in your car’s and you can dictate how they race. Do they hold back and keep from damaging the car that you ultimately own but run the risk of being overtaken, or push to hold their position on track or even push hard and sometime recklessly to gain positions for the win. The more aggressive the driving style, the quicker they would become tired behind the wheel and make mistakes which meant wrecking into a wall and damaging the car and probably loosing you the race. Risk vs reward in perfect harmony.
You could choose to race with 2 team mates and manage the race while attempting to win yourself or you could sit back and let 3 members of your team race for glory and more importantly, prize money. I loved the idea of managing a team and seeing the drivers racing style come out and deciding which driver suited which car and would you really trust your new highly modified super car to the driver that wrecked in the last race. The added aspect to this which made things really interesting was the ability to make wagers on the races. You could bet an amount of money on the race so you would have more invested in the event rather than just who would come first. If that wasn’t enough just betting cash then you could also lay down pink slips. For those that don’t know, the pink slip is the title to your car. So you were literally betting your car against your opponent. Win and walk away with not only your car but your opponents car. Loose and you would have to walk away literally as you just lost your wheels.
I spent ages playing this on the PlayStation 2. Getting the right team members together and the right cars with the right upgrades. This was a firm fixture in my console for a long time. There was a sequel also on the PS2 called Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights which while a very competent game, didn’t quite have the feel of the original.
Sega Rally Championship
This a simple one. What’s not to love about Sega Rally. I loved the arcade version, I loved the console version on any console. It’s that simple. A friend and I actually walked miles one night just to go to a local (it was called local but really wasn’t) arcade to play Sega Rally and the walked miles back. It was worth it. The look, the feel,the sounds, it all adds up to a great racing game. Single player pit you against the clock trying to make it to the checkpoints as fast as you can which was fine on the home version but the arcade version just wanted you to miss out by mere seconds so you loaded more money hoping to make it this time and you did this willingly. Sega Rally Championship came out on a whole host of different consoles and as with any successful title, spawned equals, clones and is now a popular game to emulate. The ultimate experience was always playing 2 player head to head in the arcade racing seats, switching to manual gearbox and slamming that gear stick from gear to gear with a heavy clunk each time. Overstearing through the corners to take up as much track as possible so your opponent couldn’t take over. It was sheer driving heaven. If I could own 1 arcade machine a day someday I hope I will, then this would be it. There was something that felt right about how this game played. The choice of cars although small were perfect. I absolutely loved the Castrol Toyota Celeca and the amount of people who argued as to which was better, the Celeca or the Delta Integrale was crazy. The arcade gear stick as I mentioned combined with the heavy pedals just made it feel amazing yet was still easy enough to feel competitive in. If you haven’t for some reason played this then you are missing out. Track it down and play. It’s the epitome of classic 90’s era racing games.
Need For Speed Pro Street
Released: November 2007
A petrol heads dream game. This game has almost everything I could want from a driving title. A good range of cars with some truly classic ones including a personal favourite of mine, the Ford Escort Cosworth. A game with real risk and reward. You can buy and upgrade cars to make them amazingly fast and race worthy but you also pay for damage so don’t rev the hell out of that engine on the start grid, be careful not to bang into someone as you overtake them and if you overcook a corner and wreck your car against the barrier then keep your fingers crossed it’s not serious be case if it’s a write off then that’s it all over for that car unless you’re lucky enough to have a write off repair token. A game where making the trade-off between stability and speed makes a real difference. Add to all that the driving styles you take part in. Race, drift, drag and speed runs, gives you plenty of opportunities to tweak your car’s with performance parts and tune it to your style. The graphics aren’t perfect for my taste, they seem to have used a colour palette more suited to a cartoon style game with bold colours and graffiti art everywhere but this doesn’t detract from the core racing game that is amazingly solid. This was also an interesting game as it came out at a time where it crossed console generations with it being released on both the PlayStation 2 as well as the PlayStation 3. To be fair though it came out on pretty much anything else possible as well, EA made sure that they got NFS Pro Steeet into as many hands as possible.
Super Mario Kart
(Super Nintendo – Super Famicom)
Who can say that they wouldn’t put this on their list. It’s not my traditional racing game. There’s no licensed cars but there is Mario, Bowser, koopa troopers and many more in go karts throwing bananas and shells at each other. As the consoles moved on so did the sequels but the original on the Super Nintendo will always be the best in my eyes. I can’t begin to think of the amount of nail-biting races I’ve had with friends on rainbow road as we attempt to knock each other off the track with all manor of devious techniques and weapons. It was also the Mario Kart franchise that brought us the ultimate revenge weapon, feared by all for its imense power and destructive ability. The infamous blue shell. The weapon that strikes fear into more gamers than any other in gaming history. Super Mario Kart was a staple in almost everyone i knew’s collection back when it was released and even to this day, retro collectors for the Super Nintendo also covert this game leading it to command rather a high retail price considering just how many are out there. I mean its by no means a rare game but its sheer popularity commands its price. It is an addictive game though and you get hours upon hours of gameplay fun. Its the kind of game that comes out at parties or gaming sessions with friends. It’s hard to say any more about Mario kart that hasn’t been said already but it easily takes its rightful place in my list. In fact I may just go and play some right now.
Now with any game genre there are highs and lows. There are those games that become classics overnight and those that are best left to the forgotten depths of time. Racing games are no different. There have been more than a couple of games that failed in their destiny.
One such game is part of a franchise that I pride in my retro collection. Ford Racing on the Playstation 1 was a complete failure. Graphically, sound design and playability All fell far short of the mark. Even with graphics back on the PS2 being far more blocky than we like to remember, Ford Racing was a mess. Listened cars that barely looked like their real life counterparts, you couldn’t tell if you were driving a Ford or a brick. Handling felt like a brick too, sometimes a brick on ice! Navigating round a track was tricky as the track was a level surface and with the developers not adding any referable points for the corners or a slight incline to the camera angle, you had real trouble knowing where you braking areas or corners were. Even though I love the Ford Racing and Ford franchise games, there is no way is can defend that game. When it was released, magazines and critics were scoring it 1/10, defiantly a failed game.
Moving on from the retro market and into the current generation of games we have Need For Speed (2015). Again, I’m a fan of the NFS games, in fact there are more than one of them in this piece but this iteration of Need For Speed falls very short of what was wanted and expected. Using the Frostbite engine really made NFS2015 look amazing, the cars look impressive and exactly like their real life counterparts. Sound effects are also pretty
impressive although are few bugs do cause the sound to fail from time to time. The problem is that firstly it’s are that it’s all set at night. This makes it feel as though they used night settings to hide lack of draw distances or other such short comings of the game. Secondly, it’s always wet. The cars handle pretty poorly at the best of times but wet conditions are just terrible. The worst thing is a complete lack of imagination or originality. The game is boring. There’s no other way to put it. The live action cut scenes are woefully acted and quickly forgotten. The challenges are poorly thought out and hugely repetitive. This was a game I was really looking forward to and was even part of the beta program. How very let down I was by NFS2015. Hopefully they will learn their lessons and bring another great NFS iteration next time but I’m now more sceptical than optimistic. It seems that it doesn’t matter how old or new the game is or how accomplished the developers are, it still runs the risk of being a failure due to basic mistakes. With the ever-growing emergence of indie titles, so too comes the indie racing games. Some of these have potential to be great games.