Category Archives: 31 Racing Game Greats

Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition (2013)

We made it!  After 31 great racing games, the countdown has come to a close, with Codemasters’ F1 2013: Classic Edition closing a list of games spanning a period covering  the Amiga 500 to just before the launch of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 last year.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, because I’ve had a blast digging through my gaming past!

Xbox360_F12013If I’ve learnt anything over the almost four years of this blog, it’s that people don’t like reading about Formula One.  Sorry, that’s probably not going to stop, but I’ll keep this short: F1 2013: Classic Edition is the best game based on the sport ever made.  It is a slavish recreation of the sport, that not only gave you the keys to the modern cars and drivers, but allows you to live some of the greatest and most memorable moments across the long and storied history of Formula One spanning over 60 years.

And it had some great scenarios, all harvested from the era I grew up watching in the 1980’s and 1990’s, driving the cars driven by legends such as Nigel Mansell such as the iconic Williams FW14 around the tracks that no longer host the sport.  While the ommission of Adelaide’s street track, which was home of the Australian Grand Prix until 1995, was disappointing, it was this welcome trip down memory lane that made F1 2013 a pretty special experience.

I’ve written before about how important the personalities and rivalries are to the sport – something that games have yet to really capitalise on – but Codemasters took the first step in the right direction with F1 2013 by looking off the track for what would make their games more compelling. But change is needed, and while I was over the moon to take the reigns of  this years newly super-charged V6  powered field in F1 2014 and while the racing was as top-notch as its ever been, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by ommission of its predecessor’s classic content.  It may not be enough to stop me at the cash register, but as an idiot that will buy the game through hell or high water, finding new ways to tickle that nostalgic itch would make handing over $70 a lot easier to stomach.

 That’s all folks!  Thanks for joining me on this trip through some of the best racing games ever made.  Feel free to check back through the countdown by following the links below.  Think I missed something? Be sure to share your views and opinions with us in the comments section!

#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

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #2 Forza Horizon (2012)

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!

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Forza Horizon 2, huh?  It’s pretty great.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think the Xbox One exclusive is a breathtakingly good open-world racer, and one that is odds on to be my favourite game of 2014.  And while the scope of the game was greatly extended with its next-gen debut, the basic facets that make it such a joy to play were set down in 2012 with the studio and series’ debut on the Xbox 360.  In short, even though now it has the shadow of a bigger and prettier sequel, the original Forza Horizon is no slouch.

I loved the first game, spending nights after work for weeks on end racing around stunning representation of the State of Colorado, United States.  In 2013  I wrote that:

Forza Horizon is a big game and you’ll need to dedicate a significant proportion of time if you want to see everything Horizon Racing Festival has to offer. And that’s great because when the rubber hits the road, the racing is for the most part excellent. Underpinned by an accessible but deep driving model, you’ll find yourself moving from race to race absolutely oblivious to the passage of time in the real world.  The progression of the game encourages long play sessions as you earn points in order to level up  in pursuit of earning wristbands and climbing your way up the popularity ladder opening new, often faster, events in the process.  It is a simple premise that keeps you going through the game and moving up from the slower hatchback racers to the ultimate in super car rides, a progression that is more than worth the time you invest on the track.

It’d be remiss of me to try and make a case that case that Forza Horizon is better than its greatly expanded sequel.  It’s quite simply not.  But together, the games make a pretty clear case that Playground Games is a developer with not only pedigree but also vision.  With the United States in the first game, and Southern Europe in the second, the world is their oyster for any future sequels, with plenty of scope to expand to other continents.  Africa, New Zealand, Australia, who knows where we’ll be racing – and while that it a rather superficial way of looking at things, trivialising the years of planning and hard work that go into making these works of art, providing they continue to refine the experience, I can’t see any reason not to think a Forza Horizon 3 based on the same foundations of its predecessors would be anything less than brilliant.  And rather selfishly, the sooner I get more Forza Horizon, the better.

#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 #F1 2013: Classic Edition

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed (2012)

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!

SASRTBoxI can hear the cries now.  “What!  No Mario Kart?!  Why?”.

Look, I love Mario Kart as much as the next guy.  Its combination of fast racing, its whimsical take on racing, and its beautifully crafted Nintendo fan-service, have made it into the enduring household name that it is.  I’ve played ’em all, and have enjoyed almost every minute of it.  Blue Shells and aggressive rubber-banding aside, it’s the perfect go-to game to boot up on a hot summer day, sitting under the AC, enjoying an ice cold beveragini, glad you’re not outside sweating balls.  And many a great time was had doing just that with Mario and friends.

At least it was the perfect go-to game until 2012, when Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed took its place.  British workhorse, Sumo Digital, seems to be the kind of studio that you can throw anything at and they’ll make a meal of it, and no moreso than in the racing genre where they have proven their chops time and time again, with solid game after solid game.  From their work on the Playstation Portable port of Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, to Codemasters’ first go at the Formula 1 license with F1 2009, the good people at Sumo have always impressed with plenty of first-rate titles to their name.  Arguably though, their best work has been on Sega’s answer to Mario Kart, with the first game laying a solid foundation for the brilliance of Transformed.

Solid or not, the real golden ticket inside Transformed‘s gem of a package it its fan-service, its nostalgia, and its balls to the wall approach to paying respect to Sega.   Strangely, while i was never much of a Sega lad growing up, I found its treatment of the company’s long and storied history more reverent than Nintendo’s efforts ever have been, digging deep into the well of nostalgia and perfectly capturing the look and feel of Sega games past.  Sure, Sonic is a great mascot, but I was more excited to see the the bucket-hat wearing bloke from Crazy Taxi, and the Dwarf chap from Golden Axe making an appearance.  It may be fan-service, but as far as video games paying due respect to the brands that old farts like me remember reading about in Mean Machines Magazine goes, Sumo Digital absolutely hit the nail squarely on the noggin.

I reviewed the game last year, after playing through both the Wii U and the Playstation Vita versions in their entirety, concluding that while they were rock-solid kart racers, they were best looked at as magnificent trips down memory lane.  And that’s not a criticism because, well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  And I don’t know if you heard, but kart racers as a genre are still mighty fun, and Transformed right now stands as the best in its class.

Should I have included Mario Kart instead?  Let me know in the comments!

#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

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #4 Shift 2: Unleashed (2011)

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!

I’m sure most publishers would kill to have a versatile brand name like Need for Speed within its stables.  To think it launched in the same year the Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm single was playing on Radios, Paul Keating was still Prime Minister of Australia, and Allan Border was still captaining Australia’s cricket team, is testament to the brand’s strength.  It’s easy to be at odds with EA’s treatment of the brand at times, but its equally as easy to recognise that as a pillar of the racing game genre, its been magnificent more than it’s been mediocre.  It’s been the gift that keeps on giving, and EA’s willingness to ‘relaunch’ it whenever they feel its getting a bit stale, has made it the enduring franchise its hard not to be in awe of.

The launch of Need for Speed: Shift represented probably the most radical departure from what the game has been known for, veering toward a more realistic take on racing, with a pretty overt aim to create the most immersive racing game around.  “You are the driver” urged the taglines and publicity material.  I’m not sure anyone could have believed how close to accurate that would be.

To put it plainly developer Slightly Mad made a game that felt like you were in the driver’s seat, with the game’s camera planted firmly on his or her helmet capturing every movement of their head, for better and for worse. And playing Shift in cockpit view was the only way to experience the game.  Feeling what its like speeding at 300 km/h as the game’s depth of field trickery was exhilarating, and seeing first hand the kinds of  G-force a driver experiences in every turn, every crash, and every spin out, was a sight to behold.  It took a big exhaust pipe to go after the big boys of the simulation genre (using that term loosely), but Shift signaled EA’s willingness to approach the genre and their brand differently, a move that paid out in spades.  Shift may not have majorly disrupted the order of things, but I’m sure it had people sitting around the table at Turn 10 and Polyphony Digital with a whiteboard, a few pots of tea and coffee and some gourmet sandwiches, thinking about how they could learn from EA’s racer.

Need for Speed: Shift was a great but not perfect game in 2010, and while Shift 2: Unleashed wasn’t a far sight different from its predecessor released a couple of years before, it dropped the first game’s bare bones career mode for a more guided and personal rise through the ranks, taking you from an almost amateur driver of sorts, to the top of the race driver pile as FIA GT1 champion.  Well, top of the pile if you don’t consider open-wheel racing like Formula One, at least.  I’m not the kind of guy that begs and pleads for a meaningful career in a racing game, but Shift 2‘s certainly got its hooks into me, and saw me through the cold Canberra winter.

The Shift series wasn’t the best racing game on the market, but it sure as hell came close to being the best racing experience on the market.  It was a hard sell for EA, by the time Shift 2: Unleashed hit the market was well and truly saturated, with Forza Motorsport entering its third entry of the generation and Gran Turismo 5 still well and truly in rotation for most Playstation 3 owners.  But developer Slightly Mad carved out its own identity among the crowd, creating an experience that just could not be had anywhere else. And in a lot of ways, that’s kind of become Need for Speed‘s calling card.

#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

 

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)

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!

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010/XBOX360/ENG/DEMO/RegionFree)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

Image: Eurogamer.net

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #6 Dirt 2 (2009)

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!

Dirt2BoxartIt’s hard to believe that Dirt 2 turned five this year.  I don’t tend to recognise how many years its been since the release of my favourite games, but Dirt 2 is different.  Even when it was released I can remember Melbourne’s seasons passing, with Codemasters’ off-road masterpiece always sitting in the Playstation 3 ready for the next race.  Time passes more quickly than i’d like, and the realisation that a game I still consider new is half a decade old, is a terrifying thought.  The fact that it still every bit as good as it was back then is slightly more terrifying, because despite numerous shots at the title – including from Codemasters itself with the game’s follow up – Dirt 2 still stands at the top of the dusty mountain as king of its genre.

It was so great that it was just too easy to lose hours, even days to.  I’d start playing with the intention of playing a race or two early in the morning, and before I knew it, my stomach was rumbling after a Vegemite Sandwich, and the afternoon sun was peering in through the gaps in the blinds.  It was the kind of game that never gave you a reason to stop, offering enough in the way of variety to keep things fresh, and always dangling the carrot of a new car of livery just out of reach to make you want to keep going.  To say its more than just a racer would be overstating it, but as far as racing games go, it’s one of the more friendly  and welcoming out there, due in no small part to Codemasters’ clever in-world menus, which has become a Codemasters Racing trademark since.

But one thing that was introduced in Dirt 2 and didn’t stick around was the EXTREME WITH AN X attitude that was bleeding out of every one of the game’s orifices.  It was all “dude” this, and “bro” that, with Travis Pastrana and Ken Block taking on the role as spiritual guides, egging you on to your next victory.  It was certainly jarring, but while the Americanisation of the series rubbed some people up the wrong way, I didn’t find it quite so intrusive, even if I’d prefer to be spoken to in my native tongue.  I guess “She’ll be right mate, no bloody worries, have another crack” doesn’t have quite the same worldwide appeal.

There’s not much to say about playing Dirt 2 other than it was a fine-tuned racing game that seemingly built upon everything Codemasters had learnt from making racing games for the past 20 years.  The physics was amazing, the presentation top-notch, and its carefully designed options for both tuning and gameplay made it easy for it to get its hooks into anyone regardless of their racing game experience.  From a tyres on road perspective, there is not a better all-round experience than Dirt 2, period.

But i’ll be honest, the game really won me over the moment it let me put a minion bobblehead from the woefully underrated Overlord, on my virtual dash.

#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

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Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles (2008)

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!

MCLA_coverBy Jove I played a hell of a lot of Midnight Club: Los Angeles. For a game that came out in mid-2008, it is truly a testament to how much I enjoyed Rockstar Games’ open-world racer that I was still playing it pretty heavily to keep myself awake during the rather inconveniently time-zoned 2010 FIFA World Cup.  Checking my achievements, its even more telling that the last achievement I got for the game was in December last year.

Perhaps even more important though, is I was able to look past the incessant underground racing ‘tude and American college-boy sass, despite the game trying its absolute hardest to do make me do otherwise.

To put it plainly, Midnight Club: Los Angeles is an open world game, built around an unbelievable racing game.  While being able to cruise around a city that I can only guess resembles Los Angeles is great, it plays only a bit role, with the jostle between heavily tuned and ‘hotted-up’ cars taking centre stage.

Not to take away from the artistry that went into creating the world, because the city truly is a beautiful playground, with a stunning day-night cycle, and some incredible scenery that is almost worthy of an in-game bus tour.  But while its visually stunning, its no more than a backdrop for some tense street races, as you barrel through alley ways and buildings in the city, tear up the steep and windy hills of the rich and famous in Beverly Hills, and weave your way through traffic to edge your nose ahead of your smack-talking opponents.  Who, by the way, are some of the hardest computer-controlled opponents I’ve ever come across.

Oddly, although the races are tense and winning will come less often than you’re used to, I found Midnight Club: Los Angeles‘ pace oddly relaxing.  For me, racing games aren’t relaxing experiences, perching myself on the edge of the lounge and grip with controller to within an inch of its life.  So it was a strange experience having a racing game that I could just lay down, relax, have a few races and, for all intents and purposes, wind-down before bed.

I may never step back into Rockstar Games’ rendition of Los Angeles, but there is something about the game that is a constant pull telling me to put it in for just one race. Which more often than not is where the rather impressive Playstation Portable Midnight Club: Los Angeles Remix comes in.  Okay, maybe just one more race.

Play Midnight Club, or perhaps you have another favourite open-world racer? 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

Midnight Club LA screen

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