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Racing games aren’t for everyone. Car enthusiasts may clutch their $100 force-feedback wireless steering wheels in anticipation of Gran Turismo 5, but most others think these people are just spinning their wheels. In the absence of narrative and varied objectives, what remains to appeal to the average player?

There’s quite a lot, actually. If you haven’t been following racing games in recent years, then you’ll be surprised at just how varied and downright fun some of the genre’s latest offerings are. Best of all, racing games are constantly borrowing from some of your favorite franchises and genres, giving players of all persuasions more and more reasons to slip on a nice pair of racing gloves. Pokeracing, driving to maim, and a racing game with clowns and cream pies all await you after the jump.

Forza 3: Wait, cars are too big to fit in Pokeballs! Ugliest Car Ever The designation of Forza 3 as a racing simulator is likely to scare off a handful of potential players. The term “simulation” brings with it that ugly connotation of “difficult” and “impenetrably complex.” For some, it may even engender feelings of boredom. You drive an hour to work everyday; why would you want to splay out on the couch only to get into yet another realistic driver’s seat? The beauty of Forza 3 lies in its ability to tailor the difficulty to each individual gamer, essentially giving the player the power to make the game into a variety of different experiences. This is far from the basic scaling opponents’ skill seen in so many other games; myriad difficulty options are available that have a far more profound effect on what the experience is like for the player. These include everything from the level to which your car will become damaged to the driver assistance systems that are enabled on the cars that you drive. You can select how much the driving line tells you (that is, whether it shows you exactly where to brake, turn, and accelerate, whether it simply tells you when to brake, or whether it is present at all), and you can even opt to rewind the race if you do something stupid.

Frustration becomes nearly a non-issue. Skill level is not a barrier but simply a benchmark used to determine how you will play the game, and how the game will help you have the most enjoyable experience possible. But what of that “experience?” I will concede that there’s only so much enjoyment that can be squeezed out of a 640-horsepower Lamborghini Reventón screaming across the same tracks that appear in all racing sims. Luckily, the driving isn’t where the experience ends in Forza 3. In essence, Forza 3 is the game that you would get if you could mount and ride Pokemon. So much about this game is centered on progression and collection, both of yourself as a driver and the cars that you acquire. A primary draw is the constant upgrading you can do to your car, which is handled in a couple of different ways. Firstly, you and your cars gain experience.

Yes, that same XP that pervades every RPG and that has found its way into nearly every modern game genre. If you use a car, it will gain experience. If you earn enough XP, you’ll gain a level. Gaining levels gives you the ability to purchase upgrades for your cars at lower prices. Which leads us to the real meat: the upgrading system. Just as Pikachu evolves into Raichu, your shitty Ford Focus can evolve into a… well, still a Ford Focus, but one that doesn’t feel like it’s custom made for the opening scene in Office Space.

A new engine begets more horsepower, new tires beget better grip, and painting a cock on the side of your car begets 100,000 credits in the auction house. I meant a rooster, of course. E for Everyone and all of that. The incredible amount of customization will give completionists an aneurysm or two; while the marketers of Pokemon may say that you “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”, Forza 3 seems to let out a nefarious chuckle and say “I dare you to catch ‘em all.” Users submit new car designs to the auction house each day, and while most of them seem inspired by sexual deviance and drunken regurgitation, the spirit of collection will compel you to buy, buy, buy.

Then there’s the new career mode that treats a series of events as a “season” that offers different races based on the cars that you own, ensuring that you’ll never feel like you’re following the same tired progression of races that so many other driving games follow. The result of all of this? Forza 3 is a racing game that does everything in its power to give you some fantastic driving that’s enveloped by some of the best elements of other genres. Maybe the next entry in the series will add some annoying characters and save points!

Burnout Paradise: Racing Meets World. Sorry, no Topanga. burnout paradise Did you know that you can actually drive motor vehicles on blackened areas of the Earth that aren’t designated as “tracks?” No finish line; no checkered flag. Crazy, right? There’s a whole world out there just waiting for you to drive in. OK, so maybe other open-world games have taught you this fact. Grand Theft Auto showed us the joy of misappropriating vehicles for the slaughter of innocents, but only a select few games have given us the opportunity to take part in legitimate races in a world designed for racing.

Burnout Paradise is one of those games. And the best part? It manages to retain many of the elements that make open-world games so appealing despite the fact that you can never leave the driver’s seat of your car. The first element is variety. Open-world games are known for the freedom that they give to the player. Want to climb to the city’s tallest building only to leap to your death? You can do that. Want to drive your car into a wall at one mile-per-hour for thirty minutes? Go nuts, you silly clown. Paradise is much like that, only with more flying glass and metal. Sure, you’re restricted to your vehicle, but your vehicle isn’t restricted to the ground; gravity is punched in the trousers as you send masses of metal flying off of parking structures, bridges, and hillsides.

And like other open world games, you have plenty of opportunity to piss around doing nothing for hours. This is made possible thanks to the game’s “collectibles,” which approach the level of Crackdown in their sheer number. For instance, there are 400 gates in the game that you can “smash” through. As soon as the game starts counting your smashes, you’ll forget that this is an utterly ridiculous thing to care about, just like getting that last agility orb in Crackdown, which I swear to Michael McConnohie I will find one day. But rest assured that there’s an actual game in here – in fact, there’s quite a lot of it. Racing is only half of what you’ll find in the game. So much of the game is related to battling your opponents where, like many other game genres, your opponents are an actual threat to you.

They won’t just try to drive faster than you, they will try to drive through you. If you know anything about the Burnout series, you know that it’s all about crashes. Paradise expands upon this focus by giving you more and more ways to crash. You can send your car tumbling through the air at any time with the game’s Showtime mode, and the varied events offer everything from head-to-head races to stunt runs. Basically, every possible car-related activity that human beings can conceive is possible in Burnout Paradise. Well, except for ghost riding the whip, but that’s what sequels are for!

Excitebots: Trick Racing: SUPER SANDWICH Super Sandwich I honestly don’t know that there are enough words in the English language to fully encompass what Excitebots: Trick Racing is. Hell, even the game’s title fails to accurately represent the game. I mean, racing? What’s that? It’s easy to forget that you’ve driving toward a finish line in Excitebots. Between the starting line and the checkered flag, you’ll be focused on everything but racing. Instead, you’ll be concerned with things like clowns, soccer balls, poker, and, yes, super sandwiches. To summarize: Excitebots is a racing game involving animal-themed robotic vehicle things that have magically sprouting prehensile limbs that allow the bots to take part in a variety of challenges spread strategically across tracks.

Some are pretty simple: latch onto a bar and spin yourself around, or drive head-first into a football as you try to split the uprights. Others are a bit more complex and far more ridiculous: collect all of the necessary ingredients to make a super sandwich, or toss a line into the water and reel in a great fish. And all of this happens as you battle other bots to reach the finish line first. The game’s greatest success is that it manages to feel very little like a racing game; the strange, rapid-fire mini-games will remind you of the WarioWare series, while the utter insanity of it all might be best compared to something like Namco’s Point Blank. The racing that’s there is solid enough; you can boost, knock your opponents about, and punch gravity in its already-tender nether regions as you pull off an 1800-degree flat spin. But it’s all infused with a special brand of insanity. So, now do you know what this game is about?

Yeah, neither do I. Anyway, the point of all of this isn’t to try to convince you that racing is fun. If you don’t like trying to drive wheeled things on tracks more quickly than other wheeled things, then none of the games above are going to inject the blood of a racer into your veins. However, if you’ve been scoffing at recent driving games because they’re all the same, then you owe it to the genre to take another look. There’s some ridiculous fun to be had on the roads less traveled.

  1. Grid was another incredible racing simulator, it featured the funnest racing physics I’ve ever played. Also being able to select from multiple professions of racing like drift battle, drift gp, downhill touge, open wheel, destruction derby, american muscle competitions, even freakin Le Mans is featured. No other racer felt as real as Grid, primarily due to how the campaign consists of you starting your own racing team, designing your teams car paint job, hiring drivers (as well as firing), earning sponsors, and working your way up to being the best racing team.

  2. I’ll definitely have to check that out; sounds great! I heard Dirt 2 was really impressive as well, but I haven’t had the chance to get my hands on that either.

  3. That was a good read Andrew, and DiRT 2 is one of the best racing games I’ve played to date. I wrote a Gamer Limit review for it last year.

  4. I had a blast playing Burnout Paradise, and I completely agree with you about those collectibles. You don’t even think you care about them until you realize that you drove halfway across the map on a binge of yellow smash gates and billboards!

  5. avatar cory

    i found a few pretty damn good games that never really made it to canada and the usa . battle gear, initial D, touge, are all decent examples of touge/drifting games.. i’m hoping they bring them to the usa and canada

    on topic though gt5 is going to be amazing any word on mountain passes being in the game?

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