Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Feature – Paint By Numbers: The Racer

A Guest Article by Jambo

To be successful, every console needs a great racer. Sony has Gran Turismo, Microsoft has Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing while Nintendo… well, let’s move on, shall we? It’s not just the 1st and 2nd party developers either, there are of course the multiplatform titles such as the Burnouts and the Need For Speeds which always seem to sell well and achieve more than moderate success. Anyway, intro aside, here’s what to expect from your typical racer…

1. The Racing Type

There are generally two main types of the genre outside of the obvious two-wheel/four-wheel: the Arcade game and the Simulator game (or, as some prefer, the street racer and the track racer). The Sim games are likely to be very popular, even though everyone secretly finds their difficulty (aka "realism") makes them unplayable. As a rule, Sim games include a ‘Garage’ in which to store your ‘fly wheels’ and make modifications to your vehicle. Most gamers will simply choose to try out different colours, add nitro options, place a huge spoiler on the back and try to make comical shapes out of the selection of self-design stickers available.

The second type is arguably more adored. Although Sims sell well, it is normally the Arcade racers that last longer. Triumphs of this type include both the Outrun and Burnout series. The arcade racer prefers not to place its head so far up its own backside that it needs a glass stomach to see out of, and instead offers innovation and above all: fun. Take the aforementioned Burnout series for example. A conventional Sim, such as Forza Motorsport, will reward the player for safe driving and maintaining a good driving line around the track. Burnout, on the other hand, rewards the player for causing huge pile-ups and forcing opposing drivers off the road in spectacular (slow-mo) fashion. As if that wasn’t enough they even felt the need to include a ‘Crash Mode’ to make the difference between the two types clear!

2. The Girls

Your typical mainstream racer will most likely try to entice you to purchase the game with pictures of scantily clad women adorning the box. The industry standard ‘Racing Babe’ has blond hair, wears hot pants and seems incapable of getting her bottom out of the way of photographs (especially when it comes to shooting the box art). The in-game role of this poor women is to calmly stand in front of a number of loud-engined vehicles and shoot a gun to signal the start of the race and then stand perfectly still as said vehicles proceed to go from nought to sixty merely inches past her. And her name doesn’t even get mentioned throughout the entire game! Talk about unsung heroes…

3. The Tracks

The Sim racer will pride itself on the true-to-life realism of the courses. Frequently used locations in Sim games are Edinburgh, Monte Carlo, Paris and London. The courses will often have surplus trees, one or two buildings and maybe a jump (if the developers are feeling audacious). This is in direct contrast to the mandatory dark grey streets of the Arcade racer, with the only light coming from the neon signs of seedy bars and clubs. The Arcade racer may use real locations but the developers will modify them slightly to allow for explosions and the lark (refer to Midtown Madness 3 for further research).

4. The Cars

Once again, the Sim will try to prove its worth by getting the official rights to use real cars such as Ferraris, Audis, Lamborghinis and Nissans, with the fan-favourite being a tie between the Nissan Skyline and the Enzo Ferrari. Of course, the downside to getting these official rights usually means that the cars can receive no damage in-game, leading to an criminally unrealistic experience in a genre that is supposed to be a simulator. The Arcade racer, on the other hand, will use its own brand of cars (sometimes only changing a letter in existing car manufacturers to create a new brand such as ‘Nossan’ or ‘Yotota’). By the end of the race your car will habitually only be recognisable by its license plate, and even then that has normally been lost somewhere by the second hair-pin.

5. The Racing

Again, the Sim is easily distinguishable from its Arcade cousin. A Sim type race is a straight forward tactical race to the finish line. The Arcade racer prefers to explore a different route by allowing the driver to destroy other vehicles or use items readily available on the track to give you an advantage. There will be countless occasions where you will be metres away from the finishing line only to be taken out by a well placed rocket. You are then forced to grudgingly sit in your chair and take the mocking from your smug friend like a man.

6. The AI

The artificial intelligence in racing games normally follows these basic rules:
1. No matter how well you race another vehicle will always be on your tail, ready to overtake the very moment you fractionally misjudge a corner.
2. As soon as you purchase/win a new car there will always be a driver with a better one that you will have to race.

7. The Soundtrack

Both types of racer tend to suffer here. The developers of Arcade racers believe that the gamer wants to listen to bland pop-punk and lyrically mundane hip-hop beats (I’m looking directly at you EA). The bands signed are usually ones that had huge one hit wonders then fell from grace. Alien Ant Farm, Ms. Dynamite and Feeder immediately spring to mind.


Overall, the generic Racing game experience can be duplicated by placing an issue of Top Gear magazine, some paint, a ridiculously large spoiler and an old copy of Maxim in a blender on high setting. However, once every blue moon an innovative racer emerges out of relative obscurity offering diverse gameplay and sublime modes as it sits proudly atop the gaming charts for all to see. Be it Sim or Arcade, the gamer doesn’t really mind, so long as it has plenty of leg room and hasn’t done too much mileage, they’ll be happy.

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