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 a game that is an dynamic as Criterion Games’ take on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, it feels a bit strange to say that it feels like the work of an expert choreographer. It is a stunning technical showpiece that proved the studio as masters of their craft, that simply had to be seen to be believed. Conceptually it was a proven concept, and one that Electronic Arts knew was appealing, but even while working within a well-worn theme and gameplay, the talented people in Guildford managed to inject their own personality into the game, and truly make the long-in-the-tooth series their own.
It’s no surprise that Hot Pursuit has those perfect car chase moments, speeding down the highway away from high-powered cop cars or in pursuit of exotic supercars, but the canvas created by the house that Burnout built to paint those amazing moments on is the perfect backdrop for those “you wouldn’t believe” moments. Lightning strikes at the opportune time, illuminating the wet road as the red and blue reflection from police lights draw ever closer to your battered up super car, getting your adrenaline pumping for the skirmish that will follow. All the while your opponents are splayed across the road as their tyres burst on top of road spikes, as you fly past at very high speed, procession of cop cars in tow.
The mental snapshots the game affords players are works of art, perfectly framed moments that capture the thrill and unlikely beauty of a high speed crashes or a near miss timed to the millisecond. It is a testament to the artistry and design that a game that never stops to take a breath is also one that I have an almost mental photo album of, filled with memories of the beautiful scenery or watching a storm slowly roll in over a breathtaking of mountains and hills. And that’s not to take away from the racing – which is easily best in class. But its Criterion Games’ pitch perfect execution that makes it feel like more than the sum of its part, like an Ornette Coleman record that manages to create order and beauty amongst what seems like chaos. The idea high powered and violent car chases isn’t high art, but the masterpiece Criterion put together gets mighty close to making it so.
#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