The previous generation of console systems was chuck full of racing games, but the selection on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is still noticeably limited. So I took a gander to find the top choices for those in search of high-speed thrills on the latest gear.
All these games are stunning to watch, offer great driving online and off, and have plenty of speed. That said, some games definitely do it better than others.
’NEED FOR SPEED: RIVALS’
The Need for Speed series has been around a long time—since the early ‘90s—and evolved to be the premiere street racing experience. Well, street racing as imagined by Michael Bay or an over-excited 12-year-old boy (maybe both). With its absurdly dramatic narrative and dialogue and blissfully insane disregard for anything regarding actual physics, these games are pure entertainment with virtually no mental investment.
In Rivals, they’ve returned to the same sweet spot as the genius Need for Speed: Most Wanted before it: pitting cops versus ne'er-do-well street racers. The game alternates between storylines for cops and racers, allowing you to switch whenever, across a giant open urban sprawl full of challenges and cars to acquire. The game is gorgeous, of course, but the sense of speed and freedom, along with a decided focus on destructive driving make Rivals an unmitigated, if absurd joy to play.
Gran Turismo, Sony’s long-running iron grip on racing simulations (the uppity word to describe a game that attempts to emulate real-world driving in a game), is nowhere in sight on the PlayStation 4, so they clearly felt the need to get something out there. The result is Driveclub, a socially-centric racer that skirts the line between serious track racing and the more simplified handling of Need for Speed.
The game was quite the mess when it first released, but has been mostly patched up since then. Now, it provides an all around fine racing experience with the added ability to join and form “clubs” with other players. So, you’ll have pals to chum around with on the game’s many and frequently exotic tracks. The problem with Driveclub is that while the game does everything well enough, it seldom shows off any actual personality. Driveclub feels like a game meant to fill a gap, not to forcefully burst forth and make a space for itself.
If every other driving game on the planet (for console systems anyway) is too dumbed down, easy, and unrealistic for you, Project Cars is the answer. In fact, no other game comes close to creating a blisteringly realistic and complex racing simulator. While you can tone down the extreme level of difficulty and almost play it like any other racer, that’s missing the point. Project Cars actually takes gas consumption, brake and tire wear, and a myriad of other minutia into account. Where other racing games let you smash into the sidelines and competing cars like a pinball-infused destruction derby with little (if any) penalty, here even a minor infraction will send you careening out of control.
There’s simply nothing like Project Cars, and that’s both the glory of it and the problem. Novice players will be lost trying to manage the thoroughly unforgiving handling of the vast array of cars. Project Cars is brilliantly bold, but catered to those who spent $300 for a steering wheel and want something that will crush it. The game is also stunningly gorgeous, even by the standards of other current racers. Project Cars demands commitment to succeed in a way few video games do, but for those up to the task, this is simply the most realistic racing game on the market.
Take Need for Speed Rivals’ open world, strip out the superfluous fluff, plot, and cop battles, and focus entirely on the joy of driving and you’ve got Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2. It’s a beautiful and playable driving festival that worships automotive speed. With a thoroughly deep racing world that smoothly incorporates both online and offline play, Horizon 2 is a game you could spend months just bumping around in.
The array of challenges and cars to drive is impressive and the huge world offers an incredible variety of track styles. Like all Forza games, Horizon 2 embodies the spirit of racing without bothering itself too much with the actuality of it. The driving feels great, but it’s far from being realistic. And that’s ok, because the game nails down a near perfect mélange of variety, beauty, and the casual fun of virtual racing.
’FORZA MOTORSPORT 6’
The Forza series began life as Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s Gran Turismo, but outdid the PlayStation flagship racer about three games ago. While there have been hiccups along the way (especially with the multiplayer), the series has just been getting better. Forza 6, however, is a revelation.
Forza 6 caters to the unbridled obsession of traditional racing, with an intense series of races and vehicles spread out over real-world tracks modeled obsessively to be true-to-life. Yet, unlike Project Cars, Forza is only interested in providing the ideal of racing, not the actual brutal truth of it. The driving in Forza 6 just feels right. It feels like what we imagine racing to be: powerful, sexy, and superhumanly fast. The game manages to seem just realistic enough to complete the illusion, even if it really isn’t. Forza 6’s level of graphic realism is an outstanding statement to the power of the Xbox One as well. Only Project Cars comes close and both frequently look nearly indistinguishable from a live televised broadcast.
Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.
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