Unlike Skyrim (“get off, I’ve just levelled up!”), racing games are perfect for expos. The queues are never that long and you can have a quick blast on a couple of tracks, test out a few new cars and get an idea of how they’re shaping up. So here’s a look at some of the biggest racing games lining up on the console grid.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded
It's not hard to see what Eurogamer attendees thought of Ridge Racer: Unbounded with most people I saw playing it walking away mid-race. Having played the game at Gamescom I knew why. The devs have admitted the game is too hard, but that was after E3, why isn't an improved build on show yet? That's a complete world tour with this monster now. The cars handle like they're being crushed into the ground from above and the drift mechanic is completely broken, with same application either spinning you out or just wobbling the car a little. When drifting is required to build up boost to catch up 7th place, it's a joke. The best I saw anyone, myself included, finish was 3rd out of 8. The Ridge Racer series is supposed to be a class leader at drifting, this is just painful. The new destructible scenery is too random as to what will cause you to crash or not. Some targeted building can by blasted through with a full boost, but drifting powers boosting...well it's like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. But replace the chicken and the egg with a shite game and disinterested gamers. This needs a lot of work.
Mario Kart 7
At least Mario Kart can always be relied upon, even if Nintendo rarely deviate from the formula. Only single-player races were available, but they feel just right on the handheld. These original tracks are very drift friendly and featured new elements like underwater sections with slower handling, and big air jumps to take advantage of your carts glider attachment. When gliding you have full control of your descent and sideways movement. This is great for picking up coins or weapons; you can also opt to fly over troublesome corners below, although sometimes your landing area might be a tight fit, so there'll hopefully be plenty of scope for experimentation with your landing spots. Flying through the air is the only time I managed to spot any 3D depth effects, which is disappointing, but looking at the lack of essential titles on the 3DS, we’re sure owners won't be too bothered as long as there are plenty of tracks and cool multiplayer options.
The first WRC game from Milestone was an enjoyable drive in preparation for Dirt 3. Then Codemasters’ game turned up convinced it was a hybrid of a dirt-bike and a horse with painful gymkhana events and a repetitive track selection that was woefully uninspired compared to the majestic Dirt 2. This is good news for WRC2, as it will deliver an awesome 90 stages across 15 locations. In addition to the new rewind feature, the improved handbrake turns are a particularly enjoyable feature as you ease up on the power, apply the handbrake and then turn to really send the backend out before hammering the pedal down again. The graphics can't hold a flame to the Dirt series, but in terms of raw playability with handling models suited to arcade or simulation, this is looking like a contender for anyone wanting to get some dirt on their wheels instead of pissing around car parks like an over-sponsored joyriding pony.
PS3 fans may have noticed that 360 owners don't really mention missing Gran Turismo anymore. Well, that's because the Forza series has most definitely arrived as a genuine threat to Sony's ever-punctual brand. Forza 4 looks gorgeous, like fail-at spot-the-difference-with-GT5 gorgeous. The in-car models are richly rendered environments to enjoy spending time in. Not only do they look great, but I found handling the cars much easier this way as you get to see through your driver’s corner lusting eyes. After playing through the same mountain tracks a few times with a Cougar Eliminator muscle car and an Impreza I found the handling to be very much on the simulation route, as per the series standard. Like GT5, it's hard to class the handling as 'fun' but adjusting the driving aids can make thing more interesting. Once some more difficult races are available against some tougher AI, we'll be able to get a better idea of how the car setup options compare to GT5. Forza does at least have a rewind feature, which is handy for experimentation with cornering methods, although it rewinds in chunks of time instead of the to-the-second model we're used too from the Dirt series. Check out the demo for yourselves on October 3rd.
Need For Speed: The Run
This one is getting better. The desert highway track I played at Gamescom was a bore, but this new mountain track, complete with snow and avalanches was an action packed treat. Like many of the games I’ve already mentioned, The Run has a rewind feature, but with a difference as it’s more like a checkpoint system in an action game. For example if you’re dodging a series of boulders in the road and you wreck your car in the middle of them you’ll be reset to the start of that section, having to dodge the first few again before having a second attempt at the one that took you out. It’s unsettling at first, but then you realise it's not just trying to be cinematic with the action, it's taking elements from the action genre, making you beat a tough section rather than plonking you back on the track past the tricky bit with the usual patronising pat on the backside. Using rewinds will probably show up on your times in the Autolog, so it’ll become a matter of pride getting a clean run. The drifting is still a little reluctant, but we’re definitely putting the game back onto our ‘ones to watch’ list.