There are a lot of racing games on their way, perhaps too many for those of us planning to splash out on a next-gen console soon. So which of them are shaping up to be worthy of your attention? I endured the queues and hardware crashes of the Eurogamer Expo to tear around various racetracks to bring you my impressions of five of the most anticipated racers of the future on both existing and next generation platforms.
Forza Motorsport 5 (Xbox One)
After passing the real-life McLaren P1 -Forza 5’s flagship car- numerous times over the course of the Eurogamer Expo, I eventually gave in an joined the queue to see how it handled in the game, as chance are I wasn’t getting my hands on the real thing anytime soon.
It was worth the wait. As a late convert to the Forza series after Forza 4 ended up beating Gran Turismo 5 to the checkered flag by a few cars’ lengths, I was always keen to see what lied ahead.
This was a nervous anticipation though. You see, I have no plans of picking up an Xbox One around launch; I’ve already made up my mind that PS4 is going to be my first console of next gen. Forza 5 has ensured I’ll be keeping a close watch though. It's easily the best racer of the show.
Waiting for the race to load, I was shown just how good-looking the game is with lots of loving sweeping shots and close ups of the McLaren, pushing the detail far beyond the last game. It would seem Turn 10 have hit the ground running on the next-gen consoles without an awkward transition as we've seen in the past with much-loved series like Pro Evo Soccer and of course, Gran Turismo.
Once the race was underway, the enjoyment was instant. Forza once again effortlessly nails that middle ground for handling between arcade and simulation. There are of course settings to lean more towards simulation should you fancy a sterner challenge.
The in-car views are exceptionally detailed and when combined with the optional on-track racing line you really feel immersed into the action. I opt for a distant camera in most racers, but Forza makes me feel right at home inside the car.
This was also the first time I got my hands on the new Xbone pad, which felt comfortable if not spectacular. It's hard to make a judgement with less than five minutes with it to be honest. But I did get to experience the new motorised triggers.
These unique vibrations were most notable when I went over the rumble strips at the side of the track, as that side of the pad would send intense, rapid vibrations through the trigger. The further over you get, the more intensely they’ll buzz. This is especially useful for the in-car view where you can't see your contact points on the road.
I'll be looking for some options to dial down the vibrations though. It's a little uncomfortable and could cause pins and needles over an extended session. I like the idea though and can see potential in the controller's leading new feature. I'm a little jealous the PS4 pad doesn't have it too. Oh, well, it's got a trackpad...
Gran Turismo 6 (PS3)
Regrettably given a stand of TV screens right next to the Forza 5 booth, GT6 was always going to struggle to draw a crowd at the Eurogamer Expo. However, keen to be able to look my PS3 in the eye when I got home after having an absolute blast with Forza, I thought I had better see how the old champ was getting on these days. My first lap was a messy affair; still distracted by thoughts of the game I’d just finished playing 15 yards away, I could barely keep the car on the track.
However, I returned later on that day, determined to give the game another chance. After all, I’d had some great times with the series, surely it wasn’t about to let Forza hoard all the silverware this season?
Admittedly, I had to tone down some of the simulation settings, as it had been a while since I'd played GT5 and I thought I had better try to spend more time on the actual track instead of the Sandpits of Shame.
As I found that sweet spot between difficulty and fun though, I started to remember why Gran Turismo is a special breed of racer. With even that drop on Laguna Seca not able to throw me out of my line (boy did that section used to haunt me on GT3). Like Forza, GT6 is best enjoyed with the in-car view. Hell, with GT, it's often the only way to get a proper sensation of speed.
Not to be outdone by the Xbone’s fancy new controller, vibration signals have been tweaked for the existing PS3 pad with a shuddering effect when you smash on the brakes coming into a corner. It builds up in intensity, giving a feeling of huge weight coming in from behind, as you’d experience if heavily breaking on the road for real. Nice work Polyphony.
Graphically the game holds us surprisingly well against its Xbone rival. Cars aren't as shiny, but they still look great. The background and advertising boards looked a little rough though. There was also some slight horizontal screen tearing in the distance, but I expect this to be ironed out by the December release.
With next-gen arriving before GT6, I was wondering why Sony is bothering. But after playing the game, it makes sense for the millions of PS3 owners out there who won't be getting a PS4 straight away. And let me put it this way; I'm looking forward to this one considerably more than DriveClub.
Need for Speed: Rivals (PS4)
Played on the new PS4, this was easily the best-looking Need for Speed game to date. It’s also making an early bid for best-looking wet tarmac - take that, Watch Dogs! However, with just the one race on display, there wasn’t much time to get a feel for the game, especially seeing as the EA reps where struggling to get the demo build to run following a mandatory hard reboot after every race.
If you’ve played any of the recent NFS games though, you’ll find the handling largely similar. Cars stick to roads with the usual sense of heaviness that requires much encouragement to initiate a drift.
The demo split players between cops and racers with the latter having to race against each other while evading the heat. Playing as a cop trying to take down a few racers seemed like business as usual but with less favours available to call in from my fellow boys in blue. So, no roadblocks or choppers yet, but I did have a recharging EMP shot to try to stun the racers. It takes an age to lock-on, too long considering you need to concentrate on not hitting trees and fences too.
There are additional challenges on an on-screen checklist too, which add a little extra flavour to the events. Ones available during my chase included, slam three opponents, wreck a racer, drift for 30 seconds and earn 5000 SP.
On the track, alternative routes through the forest are fun shortcuts, although there’s usually a risk/reward factor to them. Often they’ll prove only to be a shortcut if you have the skill to avoid the obstacles. So, you’ll be facing tough mental battles with your own courage when choosing whether to take the risk. This could make for some super intense closing stages to a race when you need to pull out all the stops to make up some ground on the race leader.
Overall, Rivals is shaping up nicely, despite not really attempting anything new. It’s visually impressive, but that seems to be the only reason to invest in the next-gen version over current machines.
The Crew (format unclear)
The demo for Ubisoft’s The Crew, was using PS3/360 controllers rather than next-gen ones, so we're presuming it was running from a PC build, as the game isn't apparently coming to PS3 or 360.
The demo for The Crew (whatever format it was running on), was a bit of a mess to be honest. The frame rate was horrendous and the layout of the demo was more than a little haphazard, making it difficult to figure out what sort of racer the game is.
We know it's open world and the demo I played seemed to flick between American locations at will. I was able to try a couple of races through busy Miami streets along with a few freeform challenges by flashing lights at a competitor to start a chase/escape similar to the NFS games on the PS2.
Handling seems very heavy (think Driver with flat tires) and there was a confusing lack of a handbrake button (or was it broken?), with drifts needing to be encouraged via regular braking. Keep your fingers crossed for a few lightweight sports cars to spice things up here.
The demo concluded by yanking me into a final challenge with another player against an AI driver in a Hummer. We had to smash into it until its health bar emptied, but just catching up as it tore through the streets and terrorised beach goers proved to be a challenge. Slyly planning to cut off the hummer by taking diagonal routes seemed to be the best tactic, especially if it involved launching off a sand dune.
The game clearly needs a lot of work before its release next year. We'll be hoping the finished version runs much smoother as it seemed to be struggling in its current state. The varied missions could prove fun though as long as there's a bit more structure to finding them.
Still unsure what DriveClub was about amidst all the dev speak fluff of 'social' and 'connected' I was expecting something inbetween Gran Turismo and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Which is pretty much right, maybe.
Plonked into a timed tarmac circuit event I was tasked with clocking a top time while also scoring the most points. Car handling is a little tricky compared to other racers at the show, possibly a little over-sensitive, as the handling seemed very twitchy on straights and prone to spinning out on tighter turns. In fairness, this could have just been just been a tough car to handle. With a free stripped down version being available to PS Plus subscribers at launch though, you'll be free to try before you buy.
There were ghost cars to chase to keep track of the times, while various parts of the track were also littered with mini challenges for the scoring. These mainly involved nailing long, tight and smooth drifts or maintaining a high speed during a split. Hardly breaking the mould, but still an entertaining diversion during the races. It also gives you another chance to rack up some valuable XP points if you don't find yourself winning races that often. Once the game is live, there will be many of these social challenges for you to add your gurning mug to.
Times and scores were uploaded to an hourly leaderboard on a screen at the show after snapping people's faces with the new PS Eye camera. I managed to place the 9th best time and 5th best score of the hour. Not bad seeing as I span out twice.
So that’s my roundup of the upcoming racers I managed to get my hands on at the Eurogamer Expo 2013. How about you readers? Did you get down to London to try out any of them? What are you most excited about next? Or does the upcoming line-up leave you wanting something more arcadey like Burnout or a kart racer?