With the success of F1 2010, Gran Turismo 5 and Shift 2: Unleashed the racing genre has once again returned to its rightful place as one of the most popular genres in all of gaming, but we can’t help but feel that recent releases which purport to be simulation-based are still careering wide of the mark.
Racing games in general are increasingly ignoring key aspects of modern motorsport and have been doing so for a while now. What follows are the seven most important features which racing sims really need to get right:
1. Carnival Atmosphere -
Anyone who has ever been to a real-life motorsport event knows that they are a far cry from the dry experiences depicted in games such as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. Thousands of fans surround the track in big stands and any grassland adjacent to the circuit, anyone can wander the pits during certain times of the day and there’s usually an electric atmosphere with fairground rides and bars often lining the circuit. Only one game has ever got this aspect right and that was Colin McRae: DiRT 2, but it seems as though Codemasters has abandoned this aspect completely for the rally series sequel. It’s a big a shame as communicating just how popular these events are really adds an emotional gravitas to the action on track.
2. Tyre Degradation -
Despite boasts from Turn 10 whenever a new Forza emerges, no developer has nailed the complicated dynamics involved with rubber negotiating tarmac for multiple miles at a time. The nuances of tyres breaking apart and the effects this has on a vehicle’s handling, let alone the rubber marbles which form off line, hasn’t been dealt with properly in any game. This is why simulated race experiences get increasingly dull as you add more laps onto the race distance, because the continuous fight against tyre degradation isn’t really there and it can be exhilarating to see racers in-front get slower and slower as their performance falls off. This really is the holy grail of simulated racing and any developer which properly nails this aspect would deserve plenty of plaudits.
3. Crashes -
A lot of racing games focus on this aspect and even though many leaps have been made over the previous years, there still isn’t an engine which can properly emulate cars crashing into each other. Many titles deal with licensed cars so perhaps that’s why certain vehicles don’t disintegrate on impact as they do in the real-world, but there’s also the added complication of racing cars being composed of hundreds of different components and having them break apart realistically would involve a lot of dedication and development time. Still there are a lot of racers which use the same boxed-based damage approach which has been present in the genre since Papyrus’ days and nothing breaks immersion quicker than when you graze a wall at over 100mph and have only some minor scratches on the bodywork to show for it.
4. Marshals and Safety Cars -
While physical car damage is being paid attention to in racing games, there is one factor which has been ignored for years and that’s the removal of stricken cars by marshals and the potential of a safety car having to be deployed. This aspect has been an increasingly common occurrence in most racing disciplines as safety standards have risen over the years, yet no racing game in this era has attempted to emulate it. Criminally Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 4 was the last racing simulation to include direct marshal involvement, when they pushed cars to the barriers and cranes would lift the wrecked vehicles away to safety. Why nobody has seen fit to build on this functionality since 2002 is beyond us.
5. Gravel Traps -
No racing game has ever properly emulated the dangers of a gravel trap. The popular safety measure which is designed to reduce car speed before it hits the tire barrier or stop it entirely has ended many a driver’s race, often by cars getting stuck. Yet in most games you can simply drive out of these traps, which are usually a few inches deep with nary a worry about damage or performance. Not exactly true to the source material.
6. Driver Personality -
Race drivers aren’t anywhere near are boring as many games would suggest, these aren’t charitable individuals who will let you through if you have a run on them before a corner. We’ve been to many events where fans have cheered when certain drivers have had troubles or when others have risen up the rankings, so why emulate have this aspect in simulation racing too? There are heroes and villains on the track, it’s about time racing games made the most of them. Titles such as Forza Motorsport 2 and FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage attempted to improve this aspect with competitors that have definable personalities, but much more needs to be done.
7. Mechanical Failures -
Managing any kind of problem with your car is an occurrence every driver needs to deal with at one time or another. Random mechanical failures seem to have disappeared from a lot of racing games and even though it is frustrating to be penalised for issues out of your control, it is nonetheless an important aspect of motorsport. Just because it’s unfair doesn’t mean it has to be annoying. Seeing our car’s engine smoke before it finally blew as we toured around Monaco in Grand Prix 2 is a memory which sticks with us to this day, as it was a genuinely exciting moment and the disappointment truly sold us on the race experience.
Obviously some of these features would only make the hardcore racing fans happy, but if certain developers are as passionate about motor racing as they say they are, they’d do well to make their most dedicated fans satisfied.
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