1973. That’s the year we realised we could use the power of computer processing to race things against other things. The first was Space Race the second arcade game published by Atari (the first was Pong). It was released in July, 1973 and featured a pair of space ships racing through a cloud of dandruff flecks masquerading as meteors. Shaped like what you’d get if you gave a four-year-old a pointed stick and two-and-a-half seconds to draw a rocket, Space Race’s jagged interstellar shuttles nonetheless kickstarted a love affair with piloting virtual vehicles through some form of 2D- or 3D-space faster than the jerk next to you.
I distinctly remember some amazing periods (1998’s Gran Turismo/Colin McRae Rally/Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit three-hit combo is a memorable one) I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time to be a racing game fan than right now.
Check out what racing devs the world over are warming up in the garage right now, in no particular order.
F1 2013: Classic Edition will feature the above ’80s content plus an extra cluster of ’90s content. Imola (former host of the San Marino GP) and Estoril (former host of the Portuguese GP) will be included, plus another batch of drivers and cars (like Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, and Eddie Irvine).
No Senna, unfortunately, but Codemasters has announced Niki Lauda’s 1976 Ferrari 312 T2 will also be available to all players who sign up on RaceNet. Oh, and F1 Classics is introduced by renowned broadcaster Murray Walker.
Forza 5 brings the tremendously accomplished and well-rounded Forza 4 snarling onto far more portent hardware, so expect a lot of what you already love, only with drastically improved fidelity. In terms of additions, Australia’s legendary Mount Panorama Circuit (Bathurst) and Belgium’s renowned Spa-Francorchamps will finally debut, along with open-wheeled cars for the first time in the series. Autovista mode returns as Forzavista, but now every car will be able to be fully explored.
Also, all three UK Top Gear hosts are involved.
Beating genre legend Gran Turismo to the next generation consoles, Forza 5 is definitely a warning shot across the Polyphony Digital’s bow. Hopefully it’ll trigger a high octane arms race that’ll result in some amazing racing sims on both Xbox One and PS4.
Gran Turismo 6 is set to boast 33 tracks with 71 layouts (including the return of Apricot Hill plus the addition of Brands Hatch, the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb course, and possibly Bathurst). It’s also coming with 1200 cars, a new rendering engine promising graphics that’ll push the PS3 to the very edge of the envelope, and a refined interface. It’ll also feature a radically different Course Maker that’ll allow players to lay down track in an area of 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres (meaning, if it were a country, its size would wedge it somewhere between Lebanon and Puerto Rico).
In the absence of anything better and with Codemasters seemingly disinterested in getting back into the WRC space, Milestone’s WRC titles have always felt like games a rally fan would want to like more than he or she ultimately will.
Ideally WRC 4 will address these concerns because, until somebody resurrects the sadly departed Richard Burns, it does seem like this is as good as we’re going to get.
Failing that, people are still modding the greatest rally game ever made.
FlatOut 3 may have laid a steaming, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-esque cable across the previous trinity of top notch predecessors, but don’t let that fact subvert any enthusiasm for Next Car Game; Bugbear didn’t develop FlatOut 3.
As such, Next Car Game is a spiritual successor to Bugbear’s work on FlatOut, FlatOut 2 and FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, and will combine the insanity of Bugbear’s trio of FlatOut games with the car-building of 1989’s Street Rod and the tactical destruction of classic PSone Reflections racer Destruction Derby.
Finnish law prevents the team from using Kickstarter to bolster the project’s funding, so the team is relying on pre-orders to dictate the scale of Next Car Game for now. In the meantime, we’re considering a Kickstarter of our own to refund every copy of FlatOut 3 sold and delete its very existence from this dimension.
Slightly Mad Studios has been quietly courting revheads for some time with regular, impossibly beautiful videos and cluster after cluster of near photo-realistic screenshots.
Built primarily for hardcore racing sim fans, Project CARS will let players steer themselves through a career that begins in karts before heading to the discipline of their choice, whether that’s touring cars, GT, open-wheelers, or more. You’ll also be able to play co-op with a friend as teammates and/or co-drivers.
Project CARS' advanced physics and lighting (the game will boast dynamic time of day effects for each track, plus localised weather) will obviously peak on PC, but the game is also set to hit PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U at this stage.
Engineered around social racing, DriveClub is certainly in capable hands. Evolution’s robust history with both the former WRC games and the MotorStorm series leaves me confident DriveClub will likely hit the right notes.
We’ve had exotics on the open-road and import tuners on rain-slick streets. We’ve had a hard-nosed circuit racer and a linear, action-driving adventure.
We’ve had Black Box in charge, then Slightly Mad Studios has had a dabble. Then we’re told Criterion is to be the new caretaker of the series, but that turns out to be bunk; the series has now shifted to Ghost (along with a chunk of Criterion’s staff).
Is NFS the reason there hasn’t been a new Burnout game in five years? Perhaps. Is NFS the reason no other developers are allowed to feature Porsches in their racing games? Yep.
And yet, there is something exciting about Need for Speed Rivals. It’s headed to next-generation machines, meaning the series has a chance for a fresh start. Ferrari has officially returned to the franchise too, for the first time in over a decade (Ferraris featured as DLC in 2009's Shift as Xbox 360-exclusive DLC but haven’t been properly present since 2002’s fan-favourite Hot Pursuit 2).
Sticking with the cops versus racers concept that Criterion successfully re-injected the series with in 2010’s Hot Pursuit remake, I’m hopeful Ghost can deliver something deserving of the NFS nameplate.
Developed by Italian studio Kunos Simulazioni Assetto Corsa is all about maximum realism. It a good thing Kunos is literally based inside the well-known Vallelunga international racing circuit.
It’s also all about mods. Well aware of both their own limitations when it comes to scale and the amazing talent of some members of the sim racing community, the team at Kunos have been sure to design Assetto Corsa as a “modular simulation system that allows players to express themselves at their best by creating the mods they desire.”
Point is, if you can’t find your favourite car or track you’ll be able to make it yourself. Or, let someone else make it.
Probably the latter.
BeamNG Drive, for now, is basically a giant playset that allows you to experiment with just how much punishment cars can take. BeamNG’s amazing soft-body physics are what makes this all possible.
As a father I live in moderate fear that one day I’ll get home to find my son smashing all my beloved childhood die-cast cars with a hammer just to see them break. Watching the destructive ballet of BeamNG Drive I’m fairly confident this is the game that’ll help me prevent this from happening.
The 14 people who’ve bought a Wii U to date should be very excited.
I kid. Try the veal.
The Crew is an open-world racing game set across the entire United States. It’s somewhat smaller than the real thing but, in terms of video games, it’s absolutely enormous. At top speed, sticking to just the main roads, it’ll reportedly take around 90 minutes to make your way from one side of the map to the other. In addition, The Crew will feature a version of New York City that's slightly bigger than Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City – and that’s just one of 16 cities set to be in the game.