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Genre fatigue - Where now for driving games?

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Most Wanted is about as good as street racing games get, but where else can the racing genre go?

Most Wanted is about as good as street racing games get, but where else can the racing genre go?

Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a well-made and entertaining street racing game.

Sure, it isn't perfect. For an open-world game, the playing area feels a little small, and the races seem to loop around the same handful of streets, but what there is offers a good variety of racing styles, from broad, straight freeways to tight and fiddly back alleys. The driving physics feel great, but the world's geometry is a little dodgy, with more than a few weird collisions with invisible objects or sudden plummets through the ground.

The car selection also feels a little pokey - while the hundred-plus vehicles we get in a Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport title might have spoiled us a little, Most Wanted's thirty or so seems a little slim, and the inclusion of some four wheel drives and pick-up trucks feels like wasted space. Worse still is the music selection, which got repetitive so quickly that I disabled in-game music within a few hours of beginning play.

Overall, though, this is a very solid street racing title from Criterion, whose Burnout series - especially Burnout Paradise - positioned them as kings of that subgenre. Still, the mention of Burnout Paradise is timely, as it could be argued that Most Wanted does very little that the earlier game did not. Some critics have even labelled Most Wanted "Burnout Paradise 2".

All of this got me thinking: how much life is left in the racing genre, really? The Need for Speed series has already started repeating itself - Most Wanted is of course a remake/reboot of the game of the same name from 2005, and Criterion's first title in the Need for Speed franchise was Hot Pursuit in 2010, a remake/reboot of Hot Pursuit 1 & 2 in 1998 and 2002 respectively.

While the new Most Wanted definitely feels good to play and features beautifully detailed cars and a gorgeously rendered realistic city (if perhaps a little small) in terms of game structure, there is pretty much nothing new going on.

Electronic Arts and Criterion have been touting this idea of becoming the "most wanted" illegal street racer in the city, taking out rival drivers until you are number one. In practice, though, it is just like any other racing league. You earn points in events or through activities in the open world, and when you accrue enough points you earn the right to challenge one of the city's most wanted drivers and steal their vehicle. In practical terms, it is effectively identical to any other ladder ranking system.

I don't want to detract from the quality of Most Wanted - Criterion has definitely done a great job on it - but it makes me wonder just how many ideas are left in the genre. How much longer can driving games of all sorts keep introducing new features and gameplay?

Perhaps more than any other genre, driving and racing seem to be the most in danger of simply running out of ideas. Dress them up however you like - set them in a science fiction fantasy world or a dark post-apocalyptic future, place them on closed tracks or in an open world - but in the end you're always just working your way up a ladder, earning new vehicles and improving the ones you already have.

Now, I'd like to hear from you, readers. Am I totally off the mark here? Do you think racing games have a bright and diverse future ahead of them, or do you share my worry that it's a genre in danger of terminal stagnation? Please share your thoughts below.

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

35 comments so far

  • I think driving games still have a place - but they need to be more differentiated to capture a broader market. Personally, I would never play a 'realistic' racer, but I will jump at some of the crazier kinds of games (especially with split screen).

    I loved Split/Second, and adored most of the Wipeout and Rollcage games, and I will buy new versions of those like a shot if they ever emerge.

    Commenter
    adamsmith
    Date and time
    November 13, 2012, 8:18AM
    • Hmmmm, an interesting topic. I have been a long time fan of racing games. I love the Gran Tourismo series and have enjoyed every iteration except for the latest. I found GT5 boring after about 10 hours of game play. I have even been thinking about getting a 360 just for Forza! I have, however, never been a fan of arcade style racing games like your Need For Speeds etc... The one exception to this would be Burnout, I loved all of the Burnout games for the sense of speed and exhilaration.

      As long as "racing simulation" games like Forza and GT are being made I will still buy them and enjoy them. As long as is doesn't take another 10 years to make a game that has less content than the last one, you get one more chance Polyphony...

      Commenter
      Dr Charlesworth
      Location
      gnomesgrove.blogspot.com
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 8:34AM
      • Needs moar downhill dorifto! xD

        Yes I know Carbon was the cheap knock off of Most Wanted but I still get a perverse satisfaction of overtaking and beating the Touge stages w/ my reliable Mazda 3 XD (I'd pick the 86 but it sadly was not there!)

        Commenter
        RocK_M
        Location
        I want chinese take-away!
        Date and time
        November 13, 2012, 8:44AM
        • I like a couple of racing games but there has been no reason for me to upgrade from Forza 3. Until someone actually innovates in a meaningful way then what is the point in me paying cor a new game when the old one does the exact same thing.

          Speaking of the exact same thing is there anyone that has picked up COD BLOPS II and is enjoying it?

          Commenter
          Blahzy
          Date and time
          November 13, 2012, 8:59AM
          • I haven't bouht a racing game since Carmageddon on the PC and Sega Rally on the original PS. Unless you count Driver: SF which is still in my "to-play" pile. I like the concept of the detailed car sim GT-style, but I know it just won't hold my interest long enough to justify the purchase. The racing component is always just a slightly different shade of the same thing to me, in a way that other genres aren't (and I include FPS in that). I know plenty of people who feel the same way about FPS games though, so I guess it varies person to person.

            Commenter
            azzski
            Date and time
            November 13, 2012, 9:23AM
            • Not that I disagree with any points here, but if you take a look at the FPS market (in particular the best selling series in that genre) it seems like consumers are often content with a new iteration simply having slightly prettier graphics.

              Commenter
              Joe
              Location
              To your right
              Date and time
              November 13, 2012, 9:39AM
              • I think driving games are like sports games... I don't see them going away like point and click adventures or side scrolling shooters did, but the evolution of the genre will be refinements in graphics, sounds, controls etc. rather than an extreme revolution. In reality, there isn't much that you can do anyway.

                Personally, I prefer the more arcade style of racing like Burnout Paradise, but I suspect as long as studios continue to develop quality titles for both the Forza/Turismo realism style as well as the arcade style racers, there'll still be a market.

                Commenter
                Swordfactor
                Date and time
                November 13, 2012, 9:39AM
                • Point and click adventure games will never die! They will live forever in the hearts and minds of old people like me!

                  Commenter
                  Dr Charlesworth
                  Location
                  gnomesgrove.blogspot.com
                  Date and time
                  November 13, 2012, 10:00AM
              • I was a mad fan of Gran Turismo on the PS1/PS2 and was a fan of Forza 2 and 3, but when I bought Forza 4, I played for about 2 hours and got bored. I've really lost interest in racing games and even though I'm still a fan of F1, I just won't buy another racing game. (Maybe if NFS:U2 was rebooted accurately I might be interested but I don't think so).

                I think the racing genre needs to rest for a few years and wait for a time to reproduce games that are actually fun and enjoyable without so much of a 'collection' grind.

                Commenter
                Joka
                Date and time
                November 13, 2012, 9:39AM
                • Driving games I would like to see:

                  A rally game that allows for offline multiplayer world championship runs. Haven't seen this since CMR 2 and WRC way back when. For some reason they only allow single stage or single rally.

                  A re-imagining of stuntman, that isn't ridiculously hard. Fantastic idea, but it was infuriatingly difficult. I love the idea of a stunt driving game that focuses on pulling off specific tricks and with the advances in physics engines, it should be pretty possible to make some astounding looking tricks without requiring super precise timing and positioning (even if that's what's required in real life).

                  Moar drift. I admit any ideas I have here are undercooked. But the drift courses from the original NFS Underground were heaps of fun and I think you could get pretty creative with the idea to make something fully featured and focused on drifting.

                  Road Rash/Outlander. I loved the idea of Outlander, where you were surviving a post-apocalyptic future by driving and scavenging for supplies. I also loved Road Rash because racing and belting other racers with clubs and chains was delightful. Mash the two up with an RPG style progression from starting with an old beater and moving up to a menacing death machine.

                  Moar Destruction Derby. If you have a PS2, try to get a copy of Driven to Destruction. Best Derby game I've ever played.

                  Top down racers aka Death Rally & Vangers.

                  I could go on but I'm running out of space...

                  Commenter
                  Lucid Fugue
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  November 13, 2012, 9:49AM

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