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Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care

500x_top-gear-guys.jpg

Hear me out. All naysayers against games like Forza, Gran Turismo and the like need to give them another chance. I've been spending a lot of time with a very special TV show called Top Gear and inspired by that I went out and bought Need For Speed: Shift and played Gran Turismo 5 for a few hours, just a day after spending time knee deep in Burnout: Paradise. The results were interesting.

I'm a diehard Burnout fan, and have been for years. Most fans of the Arcade Racing genre are there for the speed, the crashes, the rush of flying through any corner in practically any car or using weapons and other chicanery to flummox the opposition. It's a way of things that stays away from the slow-in, fast-out turns and fine tuning of the Realistic Racing genre. I'd say Arcade Racing is for fighters. And if that's the case then Realistic Racing, most absolutely, is for lovers.

This is where Top Gear came into play. I started to watch the show on a whim, one rainy Netflix afternoon and was instantly hooked. The interplay between the hosts (Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond) turns a show about cars, into a show about three men's love for cars and the result is TV programming dipped in gold. I've always enjoyed driving, but I never knew much about cars per se and Top Gear opened my mind. With Wikipedia open next to me, Top Gear indoctrinated me. It made me want to learn more about this world of motoring, and that meant using my only lens: video games.

Need For Speed: Shift is available over Games On Demand on the Xbox, so I nabbed a demo. After my thorough schooling with Top Gear, I was ready.

Need For Speed Shift Cockpit View

Shift throws you into the cockpit view with reckless abandon. I wasn't ready at all for the inertial forces that I was immediately wrestling with in a car that was far above my abilities. I bumper-car'd around the track at first, but with some smoothing out I found footing and was off. I won the race and was immediately hooked. There was a deep thrill in timing corners, using my brakes and downshifting wisely to overtake and slingshot past other racers. It was the same kind of feeling that kept my wits razor sharp in games like Outrun Online Arcade, but formed and pressed into something different. Shift pushed me to focus on seven things at once, but the pay off was exactly proportional. After winning a race in Shift you feel like you've just written on a book on racing. After the race I could change the kits, finely tune things like spoiler and splitter angle, gear ratios...things I am only beginning to understand in the real world are at my fingertips.

I switched to Gran Turismo 5. My car of choice was naturally a Mini Cooper, Chili Red. My opponent John chose a Lotus Elise 111. I was absolutely tortured as he destroyed me on the straights, but I paced him in the corners. It was exhilarating. We switched off to the Indy Oval, and both drove the Zonda F. After readjusting to the controls I was just about as proficient in Gran Turismo as in Shift...but there was less romance in Gran Turismo. If it's a lover, it's the rough one.

Pagani Zonda R

Gran Turismo presents itself with clean lines and piano jazz. Compared to the in your face race team boss of Need For Speed, the slow pace of Gran Turismo's menu will remind you of a hotel lobby, instead of pit-side seats. It also has more relaxed modes: B-Spec (where you give commands to an AI driver from the pit) was unlike anything I'd ever played in a racing game, and I could race old, slow cars and even go-karts! Shift's got game modes, but Gran Turismo's 1,000+ cars, plethora of tracks and options completely dwarf the more focused presentation of Shift.

There is no game like Gran Turismo, and it owns the Car Simulation genre. But that spark, that special something that keeps you on the edge of your seat is missing. It's a simulation, but it's hardly a Racing Simulation. It lacks car damage, and there is very little sense of speed. I topped 200mph in the Zonda and it felt like I was riding on silk. Shift will blur your vision, go black and white, tunnel vision more when you go careening into barriers and other cars. Miss your line and the hood of your car will bend, snap and fly off. I took out the brake lights of a car in front of me, I scuffed my window. It felt like I was right there, trading paint and eeking out victories by the skin of my teeth.

The marriage of visceral feedback with a dazzling array of customization makes Shift feel more pertinent, more like I'm right there than Gran Turismo 5. Anyone who want to graduate (yes, graduate) from the world of Arcade to Realistic Racing should check out Need For Speed: Shift. The increased difficulty, the customization, and the time spent mastering the new set of concerns...It's worth the effort.

Now pardon me. I've a racing wheel to buy.

12 Comments

blackboy said:

Sorry, no. Comparing arcade and simulation games is like comparing arcade and simulation games. (Sorry for the tautology, but I want to make a point here.) The two can, should, and do exist in their own rights, for their own merits, and with their own flaws and merits.

Realism doesn't make something better. Difficulty doesn't make something better. I've played both (types of) racing games, and a realistic experience is not what I'm after. I have zero desire to drive fast cars. I like blowing shit up, crashing into shit, and being rewarded for that.

Fantasy is not something to "graduate" from. It's escapism. You may find that you want more realism, that doesn't make your desires any more valid than someone who wants fantasy.

By the same token, discounting realistic experiences because they lack the "fun" of arcade games is just as misguided; it just happens less often.

Perhaps I've misunderstood the point, and focused a bit too much on the word "graduate". Perhaps it was just a poor word choice. I doubt it, I get the impression that, from the tone of the article, the realistic driving games offer a decidedly better experience, and once understood, there's little reason to "go back" to the "lesser" experience of arcade style games. I'll do one better, I'll offer a revision that I think makes the opinion a little more accepting:

"Anyone who want[s] to move on from the world of Arcade to Realistic Racing should check out Need For Speed: Shift."
/rant

Henshin A Go Joe said:

I should clarify...

When I wrote the article the intention was not to imply realistic racing games are better in any way than other racing games. I was hoping to encourage people who enjoyed arcade games like Burnout to try games like Shift, because the core experience (speed, winning races, excitement) is all there in realistic games, just in a different way.

Now, graduating from a game like Burnout to a game like Shift is moving from "Stop, Go, Go Faster" to "Stop, Shift Up, Handbrake, Shift Down, Go, Shop, Tune, Decorate..." It's certainly more complicated, but I found I still got the same experience when thinking about 7 things as I did thinking about 3. All it took was spending some time with some of the unfamiliar language and racing concepts.

So if you haven't given a game like Gran Turismo 5 or Need For Speed Shift a try recently, give'em another shot. You may be surprised.

Shin Gallon said:

The only 3 racing series I've ever had fun playing are F-Zero, Wipeout and Burnout (especially 3, after that they started to go to crap because they dropped the Crash Mode). And Motorstorm was okay, but I'm glad it came with my PS3 because I wouldn't have bought it otherwise...
I can appreciate Gran Turismo for being technically impressive, and for being an amazing simulator, but I don't have fun with it. I never have. It's just either too frustrating or too boring, there's no middle ground for me. And I've never enjoyed any of the Need for Speed games, really.
Honestly I only REALLY get into racing games if they involve hovercraft 300 years in the future. F-Zero for the Gamecube is one of my all time favorite games. I just wish the newer consoles would let me use my beloved NegCon controller that I used to play Wipeout XL with back in the day...

Twyst said:

There is an episode where Jeremy plays one of the two, Forza of Gran Turismo, and then races on the actual track, and compares the experience, noting what was the same and what was different, and if playing the game made him more prepared for the track or not.

Joe said:

Now that's something I've always wanted to do! Play the game then go out and race the track. Do you happen to know which episode?

mittens said:

Regarding blackboy's comments, I can see how your interpretation would be valid but not the sole reasonable interpretation; and "move on" still sounds like advancement. Perhaps "move away"? Perhaps nobody cares after a first round? Come to PAX East, and we'll test that.

Either way, thanks for this article Henshin, I forwarded it to my tech support team at work--who are racin' freaks and adore Top Gear, but are unfortunately hetero (they say they were born that way). I've been talking up GG for two years here, and this helped!

Nexus said:

I hate Jeremy Clarkson.
I really don't have anything else to add.

brickpollitt said:

What the hell is Gaygamer doing giving any space or time to those bigot, racist, homophobic c*nts from Top Gear

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgABbHPdwH4

Doug rich said:

The only point that video made to me is that tepid comedy is tepid. OMG a bad tv show staffed with assholes, who do we call!?!?

Really enjoyed the article, tho. Vroom vroom n stuff!

brickpollitt said:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2007/may/21/isjeremyclarksonatrigoted

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/bbc-accused-of-institutionalised-homophobia-468079.html
Un

The point is gaygamer promoting homophopic shows, not that the TV show is shit.

You apologetic twat

That tepid enough for ya.

Jonny Nobody said:

^ Think someone might need to get there irony and juxtaposition receptors checked...

Doug rich said:

Hey brick, thanks for calling me a twat! You sound super reasonable.

Me and my twat are real sorry you got so upset! You know what always cools my twat down when it gets cranky? Watching a refreshing episode of that Top Gears thing. Vroom Vroom!

XD

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Doug rich on Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care: Hey brick, thanks for calling me a twat! You sound super reasonable. Me and my twat are real sorry you...

Jonny Nobody on Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care: ^ Think someone might need to get there irony and juxtaposition receptors checked......

brickpollitt on Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2007/may/21/isjeremyclarksonatrigoted http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/bbc-accused-of-institutionalised-homophobia-468079.html Un The point is gaygamer promoting homophopic shows, not that the TV show is shit. You apologetic twat...

Doug rich on Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care: The only point that video made to me is that tepid comedy is tepid. OMG a bad tv show staffed...

brickpollitt on Realistic Racing Games And Why You Should Care: What the hell is Gaygamer doing giving any space or time to those bigot, racist, homophobic c*nts from Top Gear...

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