The driving genre is a wild card as both arcade and simulators dominate this genre. At any given time an arcade racer and sweep the industry away or a top, not simulator can take over later in the year. The racing genre is one of the most competitive out there.
Fun. That’s this year’s main word for the racing genre. Wreckfest came out on top by not only delivering the goods that racing fans want such as superb visuals, great physics, and well-made cars, but the game doesn’t’ take itself seriously and is pure fun. Smash, crash, and blast your way through opponents on and off the track. Can’t get more fun than that in this genre.
Most people think of Excite Bike on the NES when they were the word Excite with Nintendo, but a truck series? It intrigued people and had the potential to be as addictive as Excite Bike all those years ago. Being a launch title on the Wii, just like Excite Bike was for NES, it had a lot of hardcore Nintendo fans excited. Insane speeds, jumps, stunts, smashing? Was this Excite Bike evolved for the next generation?
The short answer is no, and the long answer is God, no, but it does have some good merits. While not really resembling anything Excite Bike-related, not even a track editor, it has its name and name only. Excite Truck pits generic monster trucks against each other and equally generic tracks turboing and drifting around corners to rack up as many stars as you can. This includes jumping through rings, morphing terrain, and getting invincibility power-ups. Sounds exciting, and it is quite thrilling, but it’s all flash and no substance.
The entire game is controlled with just the Wii remote on its side and you steer by turning the remote. The controls right off the bat are way too sensitive and this is especially noticeable once you are going at mach speeds and on cars that don’t have a high grip rating. I crashed into trees and went off course numerous times, but thankfully if you mash the 2 buttons fast enough you can hop back on track with a boost. Another underlying issue is the track design isn’t built for these insane speeds. It’s like they finished building the tracks and then decided to make the cars faster. A lot of times I would be a top speed-boosting through jumps only to jump farther than the turn or overshoot things. When you’re going this fast you shouldn’t have to hold back on the boost, it defeats the purpose. I’m not going to strategically manage my boost as most arcade games don’t do this. It feels like they were trying to make the player compensate for their mistake by letting you go too fast.
The speed and squirreling of the cars lead to missed pick-up items such as the terrain morphs (they add a jump in front of your or lower you down to the water to cool your boost meter) or the invincibility pick up are too small to hit when going at insane speeds. It just feels so unbalanced and not playtested enough. I constantly missed these things unless I slowed down to a crawl, and thankfully the AI is brain dead and incredibly easy as even in my worst races I still made first. There’s just too much to do in this game on the track at these speeds. I don’t want to do 360s in the air, I don’t want to morph the terrain. I want well-built, memorable tracks with insane jumps and better physics.
This leads me to more problems. The lack of content and just the overall meh feeling of everything. The tracks are some of the most generic I have ever seen. Just random turns and jumps with dirt and trees splattered around. I can’t tell one track from the next, and the visuals are so bad (even for Wii standards) that you won’t care. Awful aliasing and flat textures are just everywhere. Outside of the 25 races in the main event, there are challenges that have you racing through gates or flying through rings. Not very exciting honestly. After the first cup was finished I saw all there was that this game offered and it wasn’t much. This is one of the most generic and plain racers on the Wii and it shouldn’t carry the Excite name at all.
Overall, Excite Truck is a game with an awesome sense of speed, and after about 10 races it all wears off. Horrible track design, generic presentation, lack of content, and just too much speed for tracks not designed for it. I never felt completely in control of a race or my car no matter how good I was at it. A track editor would have been nice to make better ones than the developers provided, and there’s no online play. At best, it’s a filler launch title that I would have been mad to pay $50 for. It’s just like eating a small bag of potato chips. It’s fun during the 10 minutes it takes to eat them then you toss the bag and forget all about it.
This was a decent year for racers as the two behemoths went toe-to-toe for the first time in years. Racers from nearly every series came out this year, but somehow didn’t quite make the splash we had hoped.
Forza Horizon 4
It doesn’t really get much better than Forza, and somehow, the game seems to just improve year after year and avoid the dreaded sequelitis. The visuals are out of this world, the game is actually fun, and the amount of cars to drive is insane. Throw that into an over the top open world and you can’t go wrong
While I’ve played the arcade original, there were many Spy Hunter games released when I grew up and all of them were terrible. This version is no exception as somehow it doesn’t translate to 3D very well.
With the power of the Vita, and being a launch title, I figured Spy Hunter could finally be done right, but boy was I wrong. The game starts out by taking a photo of you for your license and throwing you out onto the street with four weapons. Each weapon is assigned to a face button and I started out with a flashbang, flamethrower, machine gun, and shocker. As I drove along I was ambushed by generic-looking cars that rammed me, some that dumped explosive barrels, and some that had machine guns. The action itself was quite dull with little going for it as the game already looks extremely ugly and boring.
Even with new upgrades and morphing into a boat things did not get any more interesting. Driving the car feels like sliding on ice and crashes are uninteresting. For a game that is supposed to be so high octane, it doesn’t feel that way at all. The story is also pointless and pretty stupid as there are no established characters or reasons as to why you are doing anything in the game.
If only the game looked better and felt more polished I feel it could have been something. As it is, this feels like a beta or an incomplete game. Physics is awful, the weapons seem cool but the results are uninteresting, and then when you repeat this a dozen times it’s enough to make your brain melt. I can’t recommend this game even to hardcore racing or action fans. This isn’t even worth a bargain bin purchase because there are other bargain bin games worth buying instead.
Gameloft and I don’t really get along. They used to release good Java mobile games back in the day, but after smartphones took off they released nothing but free-to-play or pay-to-win garbage. Sadly, this leaked over into handhelds a few times and the Vita was no exception. Injection is a dumbed-down port of Asphalt 6: Adrenaline for mobile phones. A mobile game directly ported to a handheld isn’t the best of ideas and this game proves why.
With all of the pay-to-win aspects taken out of Asphalt, this is a rare opportunity to see how the game would play if all microtransactions and other cancer-riddled stuff is stripped out. On the surface, it’s a reasonably accessible and playable racing game with licensed cars, more like a low-budget PS2 title. The tracks are boring but work, with boost icons and jumps. The purpose of the game is to boost your way through the track as much as you can and take shortcuts. Once you fill your boost meter you can go into Adrenaline mode which allows you to easily knock cars off the road Burnout style and zoom ahead. I found the cars all pretty much handle the same, drifting is awful, and the whole game feels stiff and poorly made.
That’s not to say there’s zero fun in the game, it does work and is a nice mindless racer for fans of the series or anyone wanting a bargain bin racer on the Vita. Gameloft is not a genius when it comes to handhelds as they don’t work like mobile phones. Outside of career mode, you can race with other people (no one was even playing during launch don’t worry) and there are typical event types to participate in such as elimination, time trial, and various others that have been done to death.
Injection is ugly, stiff, boring, and a slightly upgraded port of a mobile game that was already over a year old before the Vita was released. If you exhausted all your other racing options on Vita then go for this dead last.
This was a decent year for racers as the two behemoths went toe-to-toe for the first time in years. Racers from nearly every series came out this year, but somehow didn’t quite make the splash we had hoped.
Forza Motorsport 7
The best racer is all about passion for the sport, and that’s whether it’s an arcade or simulator racer. Forza 7 put so much love and time into their cars, tracks, physics, and graphics that you almost felt it pass through the controller and into you. While all the runner-ups were well made and fun, you just didn’t quite feel the passion that Turn 10 has for motorsports.
The racing simulator has always been a tough one to win. Lately, the series has somewhat died with Gran Turismo underperforming since the fourth entry and losing the crown. Games like Dirt, Project Cars, and various other indie PC titles have taken over for the most part. Forza has been the new champion for quite a while and Forza 5 takes the genre to a whole new level of quality and love. This is the best racing sim I have ever played and that’s coming from a die-hard Gran Turismo fan.
My first racing simulator was Gran Turismo for PS1. It taught me about cars, and how to drive them, but it also taught me patience and how exciting it was to finish 100 laps in one sitting and win a million credit prize pool. It taught me to be a perfectionist and go for nothing but the gold. I have played many racing sims since that day in 1998 and haven’t found one like it since. My first Forza game was Forza 3 as I didn’t have an Xbox during the first two outings. I was happily playing Gran Turismo 3 and struggling with GT4. Forza 3 was okay to me and the same was with Forza4. Nothing really stood out and both entries felt the same. Fast forward several years later and Forza 5 blew me out of the water.
It’s not just the fidelity of Forza 5 on Xbox One, but the love and care that went into each car. This is the most realistic racing game I have ever even touched with perfectly modeled engines, being able to get into the cars, open the trunk, look at the dashboard, etc. It’s an exhilarating feeling and gets you giddy to actually start racing. Forza 5 has hundreds of cars to buy and I found myself buying a good 30 before I called it quits (more on why later). After getting into my first car I was astonished at how smooth the controls were, how easy the menus were to navigate, and how I was quickly advancing through each series.
Before entering each series, Top Gear hosts talk about that series and the famous cars within. It’s wonderful to watch, listen, and learn as cars are fascinating to me and I love the history behind them. Once I got into my first car I was scared I had to tune it. Thankfully you can completely forgo this tedious chore and just have the game auto-tune your car to the required class limit. I never once had to step foot into the tuning section of the game which is fine with me as I feel this can be a chore if not done correctly. Some purists may get upset about this feature but it allows millions of other racing fans to be able to enjoy the game who otherwise wouldn’t.
Once I got on the track I felt like I was driving in heaven. The cars were handled so realistically and smoothly; with the best racing controls I can ever remember. Gone are the kudos system of previous games and instead there’s more of a regular race here where you just earn credits. There are unlimited rewinds for crashes which are a blessing as I get tired of restarting races because I screwed up. Purists may also hate this, but it’s a welcome addition to racing sims as of late. You also only need to get into third place to get gold which seems like blasphemy but once you play you will realize that you don’t always need it first. I get tired of the racing sim grind of always needing first and this is a nice change of pace. Of course, higher difficulties require you to get gold so don’t worry too much.
Once I finished a series I could complete extra races which range from 8-10 extra. Honestly, these become a chore as there’re less than 12 tracks in the game. Repetition sets in before you finish the first league of races because you want gold all across the board. Earning XP for each manufacturer gives you more credit bonuses at the end of each race so you can buy cars faster. If you do these extra races in each series you won’t ever have to worry about not having enough credits to buy cars. I was always able to buy exactly what I wanted and it was a nice change of pace from the racing sim grind.
Forza has been known for community input and in Forza 5 this includes liveries which are always awesome to put on your car. There are endless possibilities as Forza 5 has a huge tool to create your own looks on your car. It’s deep and nearly endless when it comes to what you can create, but it’s very daunting and requires dozens of hours of practice and an artist’s touch to create the best. If they are good enough you can even sell them on the marketplace which is interesting. When you buy a new car the top liveries are usually listed and I always found something to make my car stand out and look awesome.
Outside of Forza Vista (viewing the cars in real-time), Top Gear narrations, and driving each track there’s nothing really left to the game. There’s enough here to keep you busy for dozens of hours, but the track fatigue sets in fast, and I got bored with the game after about 20 hours. I wanted to trudge on but the series started to feel the same after a while and I could NOT pay attention to driving tracks so I would space out for 7 minutes just to come back and flip through menus to space out again. That’s usually not a good thing which had me coming back several hours a day to force myself to play once a month.
Forza 5 looks fantastic, in fact, it’s still one of the best-looking games to date despite being on a console, but there’s just not enough content to justify spending 50+ hours to perfect every event. There are plenty of cars, but none of that matters if there’re not enough tracks to play on. There aren’t even DLC tracks which is a real shame. My only other gripe is that after you turn off so many assists to make the game more challenging you hit a wall. Either it’s too easy or way too hard. I turned off just enough assists to get some extra credit bonuses, but then I started upping the difficulty and turning more stuff off and it became a chore after that. Every car spun out of control and was terrible to drive unless I went and fine-tuned each car for no assists. This starts teetering into unfun territory for someone who just wants a realistic racing game without the chores tacked on.
Need for Speed has had a great comeback over the last few years and Most Wanted seems to have topped it. Being a remake of 2005’s excellent Most Wanted; this version is a whole new beast. The streamlined menus, AutoLog, the massive amount of real-world cars, and the huge world to drive in are something to get excited about.
My favorite feature has to be the new navigation menu. Being able to select races, customize your car, and jump to various cards with just the D-pad is great. There’s not even a need for a map. Select the race you want and it will put the GPS line on your mini-map. Want to drive a different car? 3 D-pad clicks and you’re there. This just seems nearly revolutionary for the racing genre as they have been plagued with nasty menus for years. Outside of the menu are the excellent racing moments and various types of races to do.
Sprints, circuits, fastest speed, and losing the cops the fastest; are just a few types of races in Most Wanted. The whole goal is to find all the jump areas where cars are hidden throughout the entire world. Win first in each race for each car and you will win part upgrades to make your car faster and better to drive. Some parts are better for certain areas like offroad but will slow you down on the asphalt. There are also various parts to help the cops like re-inflating tires if you hit a spike strip or a stronger chassis for ramming through roadblocks. Like previous Need for Speed games (and any Criterion racer), you can take down vehicles for more points to work your way to the number one most wanted.
A fun feature here (and it threw me for a loop) was having to take down a most wanted car to win their car. Sure you can beat them in a race, but what about taking them down? It adds a greater challenge, but if you miss them you can always summon the car back via the navigation menu. It’s not hard to work your way up to the top if you try to get first in every race. Even long after you beat the most wanted vehicle you can earn parts and find every hidden vehicle in the city.
If that’s not enough try AutoLog recommended objectives or try to find and hit every billboard in the game. There’s a lot to do in this game, and even though it can feel repetitive after a while there’s just a great sense of accomplishment from getting first in every race. Let’s talk about graphics. Most Wanted is one of the best-looking games on Vita period. The sense of speed is great and the controls are amazing. It doesn’t look like the game took much of a hit from being downgraded graphically, but was hand-tailored to the system. The game even sounds great and I spent hours just racing around completing races without ever getting bored. Is there anything bad about Most Wanted? Mainly how repetitive the races can get overall, but the variety of cars keeps this played down a bit. Crashing every 5 seconds can get annoying, but that’s expected. Most Wanted is a must-have racer for any system you can own it on.
Codemasters have been leading the way for racing simulation since DiRT came out. They were well known for the TOCA Race Driver and Colin McRae series (which later became DiRT). GRID was a great circuit racing simulator that featured high-speed machines that weren’t seen in DiRT. Think of GRID as DiRT’s asphalt cousin. It had a lot of great features and modes and that continues in GRID 2, but gone are the simulation type controls and feel. GRID 2 takes a more arcade approach which is both good and bad for the series.
You start out with low-end cars like the Ford Focus, a few muscle cars like the Mustang and Camaro, and even a couple of Subaru’s thrown in. You won’t start with the fast stuff right away. The goal of the game is to get WSR racing known worldwide and by earning respect in different regions of the world. You will travel from the US, Europe, UAE, and Asia. Racing games aren’t really well known for stories so let’s skip that part. Once you start racing you will immediately notice one thing: the cockpit view is gone. This is a real shame because DiRT was one of the first games to implement this during the beginning of the current generation of consoles. You are forced into the 3rd person view or the hood view which kind of sucks, but once you realize this is an arcade-feeling racer you won’t mind so much. You can drift easily into turns like an arcade racer and the sense of speed is great. There’s no turning your vehicles or upgrading them with parts, sure you can customize the looks, but that’s about it.
Once you get over this shock you will start noticing the variety of tracks and race types. Most are typical for a racing game and seen in many other Codemasters games like elimination, stand-offs, regular races, and time attacks. Nothing really special here, but it’s mixed up enough to keep you from getting bored. You can unlock new tracks and race types by earning fans, but honestly, the game isn’t all that hard. The AI is kind of all over the place so be prepared for the occasional frustrating race. You pick what kind of car you need based on an average setting like drift type or balanced type, there’s also grip type which tends to understeer a bit and isn’t so great for drifting.
At least the game looks amazing. The lighting effects are fantastic and the textures look great as well as the cars. The new smoke effects from Intel’s new 4th generation CPUs look great and the game even has a mode for laptops. Honestly, the game can look pretty nice even on low-end PCs, but when you turn the graphics settings to max the game shines and looks spectacular. There’s a good 10+ hours of gameplay here and the multiplayer is about average. I honestly don’t care for racing multiplayer but if you want it you will enjoy it plenty. There are a plethora of cars to choose and the more powerful ones start becoming available later on in the game.
Overall, GRID 2 is a solid fast-paced racing game with a great selection of cars to unlock. It looks really good, the cars handle nicely, and there’s a variety of tracks and race types. The only sad part is the simulation part of GRID got stripped away for a more approachable arcade-like style. This doesn’t really hurt the game, but hardcore fans of GRID or TOCA Race Driver may find this a turn-off.
I’m not much of a kart racing fan because the games tend to be too simple and easy, but Transformed really knocks it out of the park. The last Sonic kart racer was just okay, it had a slow pace and it just wasn’t designed very well. This game really surprised me with its excellent graphics and track design and character selection.
The obvious is Sega mascots such as Sonic, Amy, Shadow, Robotnik, Alex Kidd, and various others. While any of these guys outside of Sonic aren’t well known, it is nice to see them here. PC users get exclusive characters such as Football Manager (I know), Team Fortress, and Shogun (I know…I know). Not exactly amazing characters you would want in a kart racer, but oh well. When you start your first race you will immediately see how much better this game is. The handling is so much more fluid and the races just flow. What really sells the game are the tracks that change mid-race and are able to transform into flying and nautical vehicle. Each character has three different vehicles and it just feels great. They all handle differently so it makes you stay on your toes. The track design is amazing. There are hazards everywhere and the weapons are really cool. The tracks are featured from various games like Sonic’s Green Hill Zone, and Samba De Amigo’s crazy LSD track. These levels are fun, but I just wish there were more.
The weapons vary from iceballs, twisters, remote cars that explode, rockets, blowfish, and various other crazy weapons. You pick up the question mark capsules to find them, but you will find an All-Stars weapon that will make you really powerful and fast. Your car transforms and it just looks really cool. Along the way, you can pick up coins that are used in other modes’ load screens in a slot machine to acquire boosts and other items. I just found the game to be very pleasing to play, but not in a single player. Easy was too easy, and the medium was too hard, and hard was impossible. The AI is really bad, but people play kart racing games for the multiplayer anyway which is where all the fun is to be had in this game. Unlike the last game, PC gamers get online multiplayer.
The graphics are really nice with bright vibrant colors, great-looking textures, and some really amazing lighting effects. Of course, the PC gets the best treatment and it looks way better than the last game. As you play the game you will eventually find tracks that become your favorite and find which character you prefer. The dynamically changing tracks just add that much more fun to the game. Hitting speed boosts, finding weapons, and avoiding track hazards is so much fun and the sense of speed is incredible.
I just wish there was a bit more still, while there is more content than the last game, I feel something is just missing. Maybe if the AI wasn’t so bad the single-player would be more fun, but I found myself getting bored with it. The only reason to constantly come back is multiplayer. There is a licensed feature that allows you to add up to three stickers that you earned, but I felt this was completely useless and something put in for little kids. However, as it stands it doesn’t add anything significantly new to the genre or pushes it forward which is what it needs. While it may not reinvent the wheel it just makes it bigger and louder.