Despite starring supercars, insane track toys and monstrous custom jobs, racing games are actually a lot like buses. You spend ages waiting for them and suddenly a whole fleet turns up at once, regardless of what current-gen console or PC you own. This holiday season is going to be absolutely jam-packed with racers, simulations and driving games, all of which are crying out for your attention and jostling for grid position.
This might seem rather annoying at first glance, but look a little closer and you'll discover that they're all very different and offer a totally unique take on the genre. Whether you're all about finishing first or just in it for the raw thrill of driving itself, there's something here for you. So it's high time we gave you the lowdown on which game (or games) will most likely suit you best.
Or, perhaps more accurately, the showdown. Let's do this in release date order, though it turns out that we're starting very strong indeed....
Forza Horizon 2 | Out Now
Forza Horizon 2 is a superb driving game, and I've picked those words very carefully. Yes, there are loads of cars that are fairly awarded and boast loads of tuning options, not to mention a whole mess of races across a gorgeous open world, but Playground Games' latest is actually more about the simple act of driving.
"It's the thrill of sliding a 1969 Ferrari Dino around a perilous mountain road to The Marriage Of Figaro. The heart-stopping roar of your Lamborghini Diablo perfectly setting off the William Tell Overture as you cruise over a sun-baked hill, or getting air in a VW Camper Van during a midnight thunderstorm as fireworks explode in the distance. A thousand beautiful, personal, perfect automotive moments," I wrote in our Editor's Choice review. Gorgeous visuals, great scalable handling and beautiful scenery to match the cars make for a game that comes alive when you stop racing and start driving.
Mind you, those of us who crave the thrill of racing may find the open structure, cheeky shortcuts and emphasis on just roaming about for the fun of it to be distinctly inconvenient. For you competitive-minded types, there might be a better fit later in the list...
DriveClub | October 8th
Oh DriveClub. Oh dear. Evolution's PS4-exclusive racer has received a bit of a hiding here at Dealspwn over the last few months, due partly to its lack of unique features, relatively small number of cars and a disastrous re-reveal marketing campaign that raised more eyebrows than expectations.
However, the saying goes that the proof is in the pudding. So it's covered with custard. What a stupid expression. A more appropriate observation is that the proof will be in the playing, and this is where DriveClub can make up for its early pratfalls by hopefully being... awesome.
We already know that it's insanely pretty and Evolution Studios have exceptional racing chops. Driveclub focuses on track racing with a handling model that straddles arcade and simulation, designed to be fun to play while still feeling authentic, and promises some fun social functionality. So long as it delivers a solid and visually arresting racing experience, I daresay that this will be enough for many PS4 owners, especially since a large proportion of it will be completely and totally free.
So, if you have a PS4, you should obviously download it as soon as possible after launch and only pay out if you really enjoy it, keep playing the free version if that's enough for you or just delete it if it's not your cup of tea. No-brainer.
F1 2014 | October 17th
F1 2014 is... another F1 game. Surprise! As such you can expect much the same experience but with a range of authentic rule tweaks, cars and drivers, developed exclusively for last-gen consoles and PC rather than the big new dogs on gaming campus. I played a relatively early build last week, so can't speak for the final visuals, but I can report that the new ERS tweaks are a lot of fun and the expanded Scenario Mode is incredibly addictive.
Put simply, you already know whether you're getting this one, though newcomers will be pleased to know that rebalanced difficulty and a new driver assessment test should make this one of the most accessible games in the series to date.
The Crew | November 11th
As one of the most ambitious games we've seen in years, an open-world MMO driving experience in a 5000km² map shaped like the United States, with a deep plot and hundreds of varied challenges for multiple players, The Crew isn't going to just quietly cruise by. It's going to explode and burn brightly... one way or another! Say what you want, but I love it when big companies take bold creative risks like this rather than falling back on their laurels.
Having extensively played the Xbox One production build over the course of four hours, I reckon that The Crew is already fantastic fun when you get a group together and charge around the world causing havoc, racing each other, cooperating on takedown missions and generally just having a laugh while unlocking new parts and cars. Unfortunately I also have major concerns about the handling model and whether the storyline will actually add anything to the experience.
We'll find out soon enough. Either way, this is definitely a game worth getting excited about, but perhaps exercise some caution before putting any money down. At least they're "confident" that Uplay is up to the challenge.
Project CARS | November 21st
Last, but definitely not least, we come to the plucky British upstart. Project CARS is a track racer that's attempting to get all the details absolutely spot-on; not just by plugging in loads of raw engineering data and calling it a day (*sarcastic cough* Polyphony Digital), but getting a team of real racing drivers on board to make sure that every car and corner feels authentic.
The net result, from what I've played during a number of extensive preview sessions, is on course to be a resounding success on that front. The fact that Project CARS also happens to look absolutely bloody gorgeous certainly won't hurt either. You can watch our video interviews with the game's producer, professional driver Oli Webb and mug up on our latest preview for the details. Brendan will probably have more for you soon, too.
It's worth noting that the PC version might be the one to get if you've got a monstrous enough rig, seeing as you'll be able to wring even more graphical grunt out of the game compared to the console versions, including output to three 4K screens and even Oculus Rift on day one. Regardless, though, we can't wait to see if the last big racer of 2014 ends the year with a serious bang.