zophar53's Blog

Posted on Jul 5th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Racing games, Driving games, Arcade racing

The series may not be about car racing anymore, but it still has insane stunts

With F9: The Fast Saga finally hitting theaters more than a year after the studio intended (thanks pandemic!), I've been boning up and re-watching the series in anticipation. It's no surprise, then, that racing games have been on my mind lately. I've loved racing games ever since the first time I played Pole Position in the arcade and on my old Vectrex. I dabbled in games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport over the years, but it wasn't long before I realized my favorite racing games were ones that completely defied the laws of physics. "Less braking and tuning, more power sliding and stunts" is my philosophy.

R.C. Pro-Am was probably the first game I ever played that veered more in that direction. At some point the game turned into a breakneck frenzy of speed boost pads and firing missiles at the people ahead of you, and it was probably the first time I had that tense, white-knuckled experience with a racer.

The boss racers in Battle Cars run the gamut from Mad Max post-apocalyptic to weird alien creatures

When the SNES era came around, most of the racing game hype focused on F-Zero and Super Mario Kart. Those are fantastic games, but there were a lot of other great racing games I found by looking off the beaten path. Battle Cars, for instance, was one I rented numerous times. Combining the futuristic look and feel of F-Zero with the combat elements of Mario Kart, each race took place on a different planet, and the goal was to beat each world's best racer. I never did finish the game, but like R.C. Pro-Am, the races kept getting harder and harder, and the alien boss racers kept getting more and more bizarre-looking. Taking advantage of the SNES' Mode 7 graphics, the gameplay was silky smooth for the time and the combat was really satisfying, especially when I managed to barely eke out a win against a particularly stubborn boss.

This is also when I discovered unique titles like Uniracers. Rather than a behind-the-car perspective, it took place in a colorful, 2D, side-view environment that kind of made it look like the inside of a circus tent, and the competitors were sentient unicycles. There was no combat, but plenty of speed, and doing tricks when jumping or flying off a ramp gave you bursts of speed. There was even a stunt mode where you had to do tricks in a half-pipe and reach a certain point goal, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater-style.

If memory serves, Uniracers eventually got pulled from shelves after Pixar took issue with the whole sentient unicycle thing

I never had a Sega CD, but one of my friends did, and that's when I discovered Road Avenger. This FMV game was basically an action movie car chase version of Dragon's Lair. It was all about memorization as you tried to match the quick-time event actions that popped up on the screen to avoid crashing into a semi or driving off the edge of a cliff. Like Dragon's Lair, I was never good enough at it to get very far, but the concept was so unique and cool to me that I couldn't stop trying. Now that I think about it, it's a bit surprising I never thought to look up a YouTube video of the full playthrough.

Even in the N64 era, I gravitated to more arcade-styled racers. San Francisco Rush had more alternate paths than I could shake a steering wheel at, and I found it so much fun to not just search for shortcuts, but then pull off the more intricate ones. And then there was Beetle Adventure Racing, which, on the surface doesn't sound all that great. But aside from the VW Beetle branding, the impressive graphics and smooth gameplay made it a joy to play. In addition, while it only had six tracks, those tracks were quite long and took place in fantastical environments with some pretty wacky obstacles. It may not hold up against fancy modern racers of today, but for the time, it was a true hidden gem.

The race through a castle was one of the more interesting tracks

The racing genre in the PlayStation era was so all over the place that it was difficult to keep up with everything. Sim racers, arcade racers, rally racers, jet bike racers, you name it; it didn't matter what style you preferred, one was guaranteed to find something they loved. Personally, I fell head over heels for Rumble Racing for the PS2. It played a bit like the Burnout games that would come years later, but it added combat elements like Mario Kart as well as a trick system. Once you were airborne, you had total control of the motion of your car with the L/R buttons and control sticks. Similar to what SSX had done for its snowboard trick system, you used these buttons to pull off rolls and flips in mid-air to gain boost, assuming you landed right-side-up when you came back down. It was totally unrealistic, but man was it a blast to play.

Slightly more realistic was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. This was my first Need for Speed game, and it was also the first racer I'd played with a police element. Like other racers I'd enjoyed over the years, the sense of speed was incredible, and trying to finish in first place while also straining to stay on the track while dodging police blockades, spike strips, and missiles fired from helicopters was the kind of adrenaline-fueled fun I thought of when I watched car chases in movies like The Blues Brothers and The Fast and the Furious. It really was the closest thing to a real life car chase I knew I would ever experience. In addition, there was a whole other campaign where you played the cop trying to bust those pesky street racers. Seeing police versions of cars like the Ford Mustang and Lamborghini Murcielago added an extra layer of cool. This is a game I'd love to go back to, but I'm not sure my reflexes would be up to it anymore.

In my opinion, this is still the best the NFS franchise has ever been

Speaking of movie car chases, games like Stuntman and Split/Second would eventually come along and specifically have movies as part of their plot. In Stuntman, you play as a stunt driver for several different big-budget films and have to execute the driving sequences in a very specific way. It basically took the formula of Road Avenger, but gave you total free form control of your car. Stuntman was a lot of fun, but it was maddeningly difficult. It became repetitive having to try the sequences over and over again before succeeding, and got frustrating pretty quickly.

Several years later, Split/Second would take a similar approach, to greater success. The racing in this game is heavily inspired by big budget films, but instead of the strict confines of a movie set, takes place in a fictional reality TV show. It ends up being a bit of a mix of demolition derby style competition and trying to race with flair, using the environment and short cuts to cause as much action set piece havoc as possible. Racing well builds up a power meter, which can be used to assist you in crashing through the pre-determined destruction sections of a track. By adding in a layer of strategy, it makes it a bit more rewarding when you're able to smash through an office building and see the building collapse as it's caught on "film."

"You know what would make our racing game even better? Explosions!" Yesssss

These are just a handful of the racing games I've enjoyed over the years that didn't get as much attention as the Burnouts and Forza Horizons of the gaming landscape. What do you like in a racing game? Is tuning every aspect of your car and following racing lines to a T your bread and butter? If so, what is it about those aspects that you enjoy? Are you like me and don't want to even think about the brake button unless it's being used to initiate a power slide? If that's your jam, what are some of your favorite games over the years that go "physics, what's that?"

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Good fun article.  I quickly tire of true sims like Gran Turismo and the standard Forza games.  Night Driver on the 2600, the original F-Zero, and the WipEout series were my originals.  I've finished most of the games in the DiRT series, and I'm a sucker for arcade Rally games.  Split/Second was fantastic.  We play Trackmania Turbo on occasion, and although it is more of a physics puzzle than a racer, I do enjoy the Trials games.  Horizon Chase Turbo is great for fans of the old Top Gear games.  Mantis Burn Racing is a great update of RC-Pro Am.

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