There was a common theme amongst game publishers last week at E3: many of them were announcing new racing games. In fact, every E3 press conference highlighted some upcoming racer. I spent time with every big new racing game at the show, and walked away with impressions of each. With so many options available, which E3 racer is right for you?
Forza Motorsport 5
Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios are looking to usher in the Xbox One with the most advanced Forza yet. Running in 1080p and 60fps, they appear to be on the verge of reaching that daunting goal with Forza Motorsport 5.
Part of the way that Forza achieves realism is by taking away the pristine presentation of the cars themselves. "To make something perfect, you have to make it imperfect," said Turn 10 lead designer, Bill Giese. "And that led us to build a physically-based material system for our game. With physically-based materials, you can apply material to any object in our game and it will take it and reflect light like it would in the real world." An example of this principle is seen in every car's three layers of paint--base coat, metal flake, and clear coat.
Car enthusiasts will love Forza's car library, but will also love the opportunity to explore each one. Forza 4's Autovista mode has returned (now redubbed Forza Vista) and will allow gearheads to tour each and every one of Forza 5's vehicles, as opposed to the four vehicles available in the series' previous installment.
Forza will also take full advantage of the Xbox One's Cloud capabilities. The game will keep track of every single player preference. Selecting certain cars will lead to recommendations of similar vehicles. Likewise, certain paint jobs and designs will prompt for similar designs on other vehicles. The Cloud usage will also extend to racing action, as the player's patterns will be measured at all times and in all game modes, whether it be career, online, or split-screen. Players can then be represented by their new Drivatar, who will continue to gain points for them long after the game has been shut off.
With Turn 10 putting so much detail into their vehicles (including F1 and IndyCars), it'll likely be the go-to-game for car buffs. Forza's attention to detail is truly worth of the Skywalker Sound score it features.
Recommended for: Hardcore car enthusiasts; players who want to compete against their friends, even when they're away
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Gran Turismo 6
Polyphony is not content to rest on their laurels with Gran Turismo 6, as Polyphony is bringing out whole new physics and graphics engines. GT fans will be happy to know that these changes lead to a more realistic driving experience.
Even without next-gen horsepower, this PS3 title manages to remain true to its simulation form. The new physics engine mainly applies to a car's behavior, particularly around the tires. Tires now behave independently, meaning that a single tire can potentially lose traction and throw the rest of the car out of whack, as a result. Meanwhile, the new graphics engine will render backgrounds in new ways, more accurately depicting stage backgrounds and offering better lighting.
Of course, more realism can also mean more frustration. I found myself slamming head-first into walls at several points by failing to take turns correctly. While that's attributable to user error, it's also a stark reminder that GT6 is definitely for the hardcore crowd and won't welcome newcomers with open arms.
Gran Turismo 6 is about as good a racing simulator that you'll find, thanks to its new engines. Also, over 1200 cars, 17 new tracks, and 70 layouts is definitely nothing to sneeze at.
Recommended for: those craving realism in their races; racing game experts; PS3 owners that aren't looking to make the jump to next-gen right away
As a stark contrast to Gran Turismo 6, Evolution Studios' DriveClub attempts to be accommodating to drivers of all skill levels. With its namesake feature, groups of friends can get together and compete with rival drive clubs for supremacy, with everyone contributing in one way or another.
Expert drivers can go the traditional route of winning races and defeating opponents. However, I'm far from an expert driver. Fortunately, I could help the club out through added RPG elements and mini-challenges. For example, there was a straightaway, where I was tasked with trying to get a higher average speed than a randomly-selected rival. Completing the challenge would reward me with "fame points" that would help boost my drive club's reputation, with other challenges including cornering and drifting. Challenges will drop in mid-race, but special challenges will also be available every hour for any drive club members, regardless of skill level.
"The mentality of traditional racing games is that if you're first in the track, you're the head honcho," said Evolution senior designer Ben Gouldstone. "But the way that DriveClub works is that no matter how good you are, you contribute, you earn fame, and you help your club progress."
DriveClub feels like a more equitable driving experience, which helps enhance the overall social experience. With friends of all skill levels able to contribute to their drive club in different ways, it should lead to some intense online rivalries.
Recommended for: groups of friends; less-skilled players that just want to play with their buddies
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Ubisoft's The Crew staggered me with its sheer size and scope. Feeling more like an MMO than a traditional racing game, Ivory Tower's next-gen title takes place across the entire continental United States.
It may not be created entirely to scale and only include the U.S.'s biggest cities, but that doesn't mean that The Crew's map isn't absurdly huge. A full coast-to-coast drive will take anywhere from two to three hours. For those looking to go from New York to Miami a little bit quicker, there are fast travel options available.
With every city behaving like an open world, players can start missions and fulfill objectives just about anywhere. Certain mission markers had me race against seven other opponents, tasking me with finishing in the top three. The race would take place in the midst of heavy traffic and around various types of terrain. A different mission had me hunt down a rogue vehicle and try to wreck him. While I wasn't able to check out the social aspect of The Crew in detail, I did notice an online co-op buddy helping me out with this particular mission.
What I didn't see was much mission variety. Aside from racing and wrecking cars, there wasn't a lot to do. There was plenty of space to do it in, though. DriveClub faithfully recreates many famous cities, right down to their weather patterns, such as rain-soaked Seattle and snow-covered Aspen.
Wherever you go, you'll want to be equipped for the ride. Fortunately, you can fully customize your vehicles, either in-game or through a second-screen tablet app. Further uses of the app were not specified.
Recommended for: Racers that want a giant sandbox
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Need For Speed: Rivals
Ghost Games takes over on the Need For Speed series with a whole new open world and a returning favorite feature--the wonderful world of law enforcement--in Need for Speed: Rivals. In addition to playing as a street racer, players will be able to play as the boys in blue.
Street racers (in cars like the returning Ferrari) must traverse the world tracking down other racers like them and challenging them to see who can burn rubber the best. Police must track down these racers and try to run them off the road or wreck them entirely to bring them to justice. Each side has their own set of tools, with racers able to use nitro boosts, while police use EMP's and spike strips. The game keeps track of both sides' progress via the leaderboards, keeping tabs on the rivalry between cops and street racing outlaws.
Playing as both sides is a blast, but I especially had fun playing as a cop. Frantically trying to keep up with the speedy racers, while trying to get in close enough range to wreck them was the most fun I had with a Need For Speed title in a while. Several aspects of the open world, like shortcuts and hiding places, make pursuits an entertaining challenge for both sides. What was troubling for me, however, was the seeming removal of outrageous crashes, a wonderful Criterion staple. I got in several wrecks and was treated to a crash cam, but at most, I saw my front fender fall off. The Burnout-caliber crashes look to be a thing of the past, which is to be expected after a studio changeover.
Still, I had a good time riding along with Johnny Law for a while and more than worth trying out.
Recommended for: high-speed pursuit fans; players wanting to race from a different perspective
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Mario Kart 8
Ok, so maybe it feels a little silly to throw this particular game into a breakdown of serious racers. But Mario Kart 8 proves to be every bit as entertaining an experience as the previous titles I discussed.
All semblance of simulation is thrown out the window when you realize that you have to increase your speed by collecting coins. However, that's not to say that there isn't strategy involved. With tracks now designed to take advantage of anti-gravity walls and ceilings, players must shift their focus towards finding the shortest path and (as always) using items effectively. New courses also accommodate for transforming karts, adding another dimension to the series beyond simply tossing shells.
With options for traditional or gyroscopic Game Pad controls available, Mario Kart 8 is easy for anyone to jump into. It doesn't feature real-world locations, complex physics engines, or hundreds of cars. Mario Kart is simply pure fun for anyone.
Recommended for: casual racers of all skill levels; Nintendo fans that don't own anything Microsoft or Sony