There's still life in the racing genre yet, as this year proved, but we saw well established franchises taking risks with spinoffs in new directions. The likes of DiRT and Forza took on new challenges to try, particularly in the case of the latter, to blow the restrictive pigeonholes of "arcade" and "simulation" wide open. Criterion re-emerged once again at the head of EA's premier racing series to deliver a typically frenetic and engaging experience, and there were a fair few titles to please the more casual racing fans, with F1 Race Stars, LBPK, and SEGA's fantastic Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed delivering karting goodness towards the end of the year.
Start your engines please...
NB. Click on the thumbnails for price comparisons and the game's title for the relevant review where available.
Still furiously addictive, still wholly engrossing, this year's F1 underlined the need for an overhaul to the career mode, but in providing a superb tutorial and expanding a few of the game modes, Codemasters proved that their still the finest exponents of the Formula One experience.
orza Horizon is what you'd get if you crossed a Sunday afternoon drive with Project Gotham Racing. At its best, Forza Horizon approaches being one of the purest embodiments of the sense of wellbeing that driving can instil - be that from the thrill or the serenity of being behind the wheel - that gaming has produced. Ever. Just bring your own soundtrack to the party.
United Front Games teamed up with Media Molecule to give PS3 fans something we'd secretly been craving for some time. Sackboy's racer might not quite have been mechanically perfect when it came to the art racing itself, but the sheer magnitude of the creation suite and the simple joys of tearing it up as Sackboy and chums gave us plenty to rejoice in and return to time and time again.
The cheapest of the Vita's launch titles turned out to be one of the most enjoyable. A fantastic retro-flavoured racer with some wonderfully futuristic elements, MotorStorm RC proved that Sony's handheld could carry off sub-£5 games with aplomb, and pointed towards some very interesting cross-platform opportunities to come.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Combining the fun and frivolity of Burnout with the slightly more discerning reflection of reality that the Need For Speed name brings with it, Criterion served up another huge playground and a truly impressive range of vehicles to muck about in this year, combined with a fantastic UI that ensured we never had to abandon the merriment for a second, and a multiplayer component that was built for party fun, both locally and online.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
With no Mario Kart out this year, and LBPK proving a little disappointing for some, SEGA stepped up to the plate to deliver some anarchic karting fun this year, building upon the success of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, and giving it the Diddy Kong treatment. Taking to the skies and diving onto the waterways, SASRT produced a thoroughly engrossing party racing title that served up some fine SEGA fan service too.
The Vita played home to a number of utterly cracking racers this year, not least WipEout 2048, which brought the blistering speed for which SCE Liverpool had been renowned to Sony's shiny new handheld. Dazzling visuals, a great sense of progrossion, more vehicles than before, and a wealth of online modes meant that WipEout became a firm favourite for Vita racers.
No game captured the spirit of simply driving for fun as much as Forza Horizon did this year. There's a case to be made that Need For Speed: Most Wanted served up the best sandbox, and a greater sense of immediate fun, but Forza Horizon was the game we kept coming back to, long after Criterion's racer had gone back on the shelf. The impressive handling models, and the level of detail that went into each car were staggering, the simple joy of freewheeling around Colorado reassured us that when it comes to pleasing petrolheads, few franchises do it better than Forza. Playground and Turn 10 tried to disguise it with a dubious framework, a poor story, and a divisive soundtrack, but nothing could get in the way of a core driving and racing experience that we could turn to for adrenaline rushes, outlandish challenges, grudge-match tussles, and yet also the relaxing easyness of enjoying a damn fine car and the open road.