It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!
For me Forza Motorsport 2 was where Microsoft’s consoles became the home of racing. The first game, released in the dying days of the Xbox, was an admirable but flawed attempt at capturing Gran Turismo’s crown, and while I played it it didn’t quite ‘gel’ with me. But I wasn’t ready to give up on the series, and so with no Playstation 3 version of Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo in sight, I hung all my 2007 racing game hopes on a cool little $10 preorder for the Collector’s edition Forza Motorsport 2. On 14 June 2007 I plonked the remaining cash on the table at my local JB Hi-Fi and took the rather hefty little package home.
Forza Motorsport 2 may have been nothing to write home about in the visuals department, sporting an incredibly utilitarian and rather sterile look, but it had it going on under the hood where it mattered. Turning off all of the assists would have your brakes locking up and tyres screeching if you entered a corner too quickly, and if you managed to enter the your entry speed right, your car fish-tailing if you accelerated too harshly out of corners. I know, I know, that’s part and parcel of the realistic racing games, and without all that I’d just be playing Daytona USA, but there was something about Forza Motorsport 2 that made it stand out from the crowd of racing games that had developed over the preceding years.
The tyre physics, for one, were quite simply the single biggest change to console racers, and a massive step forward from anything we’d seen before it. But the most important thing was that, and it is an intangible and nebulous thing in some ways, was how the fancy new physics touted by developer Turn 10 felt on the troad. It is the easiest thing to say and in some ways the biggest cop out when writing about games, that something just feels right, but there is no other way to describe the connection between controller and screen when playing the developer’s sophomore effort. It was the first real next-gen racing game and it was every bit as impressive as i’d have hoped.
I still remember going to work the next day and talking to a friend – who was staunchly anti-Microsoft and a big Gran Turismo fan- about it, trying to convince him just how great . “It sounds stupid” I said “but the controller makes you feel the tyres on the road”. He shrugged and laughed it as I raved like a rabid fan boy, but from where I was standing it was entirely true. Every day at lunch I regaled him with tales of miraculous comebacks, of perfect laps, and of my latest lovingly tuned hatch-turned-super car. And talking about it just got me more excited to go home and play it more, with the game’s set Time Trials absorbing more than a little bit of my time.
A few days later he came around and tried it for himself. “You were right”.
He never did buy an Xbox 360 and probably hasn’t touched the series since, but I’m convinced he was just one button click away from it. For me though, its been a mainstay of my racing game routine, bustling its way to the top of the pile through both its main series and the equally as brilliant Forza Horizon spin-off. The year 2007 solidified the Xbox 360’s place as force to be reckoned with by many, and it was games like Forza Motorsport 2 that pulled an imaginary switch in my brain that made me realise that, hey, this Xbox thing is serious and is here to stay. Turn 10 was established by Microsoft in 2001 to give it an Xbox game to rival Polyphony Digital’s money spinner, and by 2007, it was doing just that.
Do you prefer Forza Motorsport to Gran Turismo, or is Gran Turismo still your main jam? Maybe you like both! Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out past games in the 31 racing game greats countdown below!
#31: Stunt Car Racer #30: Badlands #29: RVF Honda #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #27: Nitro #26: Super Grand Prix #25 Super Cars II #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally #22 Wipeout 2097 #21 Micro Machines V3 #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0 #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 #14 F-Zero GX #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown #11 Ridge Racer #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2 #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles #6 Dirt 2 #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit #4 Shift 2: Unleashed #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed #2 Forza Horizon #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition