The genre of racing games is one stacked with titles ranging from huge AAA titles to small independent releases, and truly has something for everyone, regardless of taste or talent. With several new racing titles set for release this quarter, we cover the age old debate of simulation vs arcade, and the more recent surge of sim-cade titles, delicately treading the line between the two.
When people think to arcade racers they tend to steer completely away from any notion of the real world, with gaming giants such as Mario Kart, iconic titles such as Ridge Racer, or the destructive carnage of the Burnout franchise. However arcade racers can often have their hearts set within a more realistic setting, while still maintaining the arcade mentality. Rockstar’s Midnight Club franchise, while we haven’t heard much since game’s last outing; Midnight Club: Los Angeles back in 2008, the game made for a great arcade racer, pitting real cars in a somewhat realistic setting, but with a handling model and abilities that set the game firmly into the arcade genre.
For me though, the quintessential arcade racing franchise will always be Need for Speed. It can be argued that Mario Kart is the bigger name, but for me Mario Kart is an arcade racer for everyone. Need for Speed is an arcade racer for car enthusiasts.
Joining the franchise playing Need for Speed: Underground in a cabinet at the local bowling alley, from that moment for me, Need for Speed has been a byword for great, arcade fun, and stupid amounts of customisation. We’ll just forget that everything between Undercover and the last iteration, Need for Speed 2015 ever happened. It’s best for everyone.
While the franchise has delved into sim-cade with the Shift titles; even Pro Street, which first abandoned the street racing the franchise was famous for, the franchise remained firmly in the arcade genre. Offering big customisation, hugely accessible racing, and in the hugely popular Need for Speed Most wanted, (a copy of which will still set you back 15 on Xbox 360) the ability to completely tear apart an entire police department. There’s just something about screaming through a road-block at 200mph in a stupidly over-modified Lamborghini that screams fun. Just not on public roads kids…. that’s illegal.
On the other end of the spectrum lies simulation, games focused on bringing as realistic an experience as possible. Industry heavyweights such as iRacing, the massive multiplayer sim racing experience, and RFactor 2, the current title used by the VEC and VLMS championships, as well as McLaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer event are hugely popular titles. Alongside these are the more recently released sims, Assetto Corsa and Project Cars (who’s sequel is due for release this year) which have both brought sim racing to the console market (previously, sim racing has been very much a PC Affair) and have faced varying degrees of praise and critique.
The point here is not to sit and compare which sim is better and why. We would be here for a month of Sundays and even then I’d be burned at the stake by the die hard fans of every other sim I didn’t say was best. Each sim excels in its own area, and let’s leave it there. The real point of note however is that the heavy levels of visual customisation present in arcade titles is gone, in favour of tuning setups, real world race cars, and laser scanned tracks. The priorities have changed. While most sims allow for modded content and custom liveries, the in-game elements are gone.
The focus, while still trying to provide an enjoyable experience, as any form of digital media should, is upon bringing the most realistic experience possible to the player. While most of us can’t afford even a lap inside of a top-level race car, sim racers allow us to step inside our favourite car from almost any series we can imagine, and take to the grid. We can even take to dirt stages in sims like Dirt Rally, which provide us with the closest experience to wrapping a car around a tree possible without the months in hospital after. Result!
With sim-racers bringing us the closest thing to being sat on the grid and Le Mans, and arcade racers bringing mental customisation in fun-focused accessible packages, where does sim-cade lie? Well for those who haven’t guessed, smack bang in the middle. This does sit as quite a grey area, as some of these titles are often grouped under sim-cade due to somewhat lacklustre physics, immersive elements (such as pit stops, racing flags) or their settings.
Games such as Forza Horizon 3 bring us real world cars in an open world setting, with physics that don’t dip into arcade, but also have enough forgiveness and ease to keep them firmly out of the simulation category. The mainstay of the Forza Franchise, Forza Motorsport, sits much closer to simulation, bringing in race cars and tracks, as well as detailed tuning, but still keeps that level of accessibility and physics that keeps it out of the hardcore sim scene.
Over on the PlayStation, Gran Turismo is very much the same. That is not to say that neither of them have any simulation credibility, both are well regarded series that have been pivotal to the development of racing games as a genre, and even feature their own racing leagues. Some racers will even drop these games into the sim category. But for me these games just don’t offer that level of immersion and physics modelling that makes a sim.
And this is by no means a comprehensive list of racing titles and their places. The most recent offerings from Codemasters, Dirt 4, which brings Rally to the masses and keeps the more hardcore fan happy with two separate physics/handling models, and the newly released F1 2017 title, which offers F1 fans a fantastic career mode and classic cars, all have something to offer. These games sub-genre’s concrete, either. Just like music, it’s a topic for debate. But hopefully this will shed some light on the difference between games within one of the broadest genres in gaming today. From old-school classics to new-blood heavyweights, there’s truly something for everyone who wants to get behind the wheel.