Saturday, 29 August 2020

Simple Guide to Racing Games

If you are looking for a new racing game, but aren't sure which one to go for, here is a simple guide to the different style of games on offer.

Arcade Style Racing Games

These type of games are for people just looking for a casual and fun experience that doesn't require too much knowledge of how real cars handle or their setup. The racing is generally very forgiving making for a fun game. They are mainly designed for use with a gamepad and appear on most consoles as well as PC, but most will offer hardware wheel support too. Popular titles in this genre are:

  • Gran Turismo
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Trackmania Turbo
  • Need for Speed
  • FlatOut 2
  • F1 2020 (or any other year)
  • GRID Autosport
  • Project Cars 3

Racing Simulators

These racing games are aimed at the more serious sim-racing enthusiast. Generally, you will need a wheel and pedal setup to get the most out of them as they are designed for a more realistic driving experience. The cars will be more difficult to drive and you may have to play around with the car's setup to get the best out of it. The racing will also be more difficult and you will need more practice to become competitive. Most will offer the option to control the AI difficulty level so you can adjust it for your needs. The quality of the AI will vary from game to game. 

Opinions are generally divided on which title offers the best driving experience. It's very much a subjective area and everyone has a different opinion, so unless you can try each one first, you aren't going to know which one will suit you the most. They also vary quite a bit in terms of included content as some of these titles can get very expensive if you want to expand the game with paid-for downloadable content (DLC), so that is something else to take into account when browsing this type of game. Also check out mod support as this can add significantly to the content of the game. Mods can vary wildly in terms of quality compared to official content though, so it may depend on what you are looking for. Current popular titles are:

  • Assetto Corsa
  • Project Cars 2
  • rFactor 2
  • Automobilista 2
  • RaceRoom
  • Assetto Corsa Competizione

Online Racing

If you're tired of hot-lapping and racing against an AI that drives nothing like a real person, then online racing is for you. The thrill of racing online against other real drivers is above and beyond what you will experience offline versus an AI opponent and requires you to learn how to race properly (and legally).

Most of the games listed above will offer some kind of online racing, but the kind of random opponent racing on offer will be of poor quality with lots of wrecking as people generally don't care what happens in the race (hence the very low numbers). I do not recommend using these (except maybe with friends) as it will put you off online racing for life. A much better option is to either join an organised league racing, or use an organised online racing system.

League racing is where a fixed number or drivers enter series of races lasting a fixed number of weeks. These can be fun, but suffers from a lot of dropouts (when drivers realise they can't compete) and if you enjoy different types of racing you will need to find a league for each one. Finding a good league can be a challenge in itself. Leagues also die frequently and you then have to go looking for another one.

A better option is to use an organised online racing system. These offer lots of different racing series from a central hub. The user numbers, frequency of the races, and type of races on offer depends on the system. There are three main systems on offer:

iRacing is a subscription based service that specialises in online racing and uses it's own game engine. The company are descended from Papyrus who created the Nascar, IndyCar and Grand Prix Legends series of games during the 1990's and early 2000's. It offers organised online racing with full ranking system, safety rating system and licencing system. It has the highest user base by far of around 60000+ active subscribers so you will never be short of a race. Ratings based splits ensure you are always racing against drivers of a similar skill level. Races run either every hour or every two hours in over 60 different official racing series 24/7. It has servers based in the USA, Europe and Australia and so the racing is truly global - everyone races together no matter what continent you are on. As well as the official series there are lots of user created series (league racing). The service is online only. That is, you don't buy iRacing, you just subscribe/unsubscribe to the service in a similar way to Netflix. There is no offline game, but it is easily the best online racing system around. If you can afford it, this is where you want to be.

Sim Racing System is a free alternative. Unlike iRacing it doesn't use it's own racing game engine, but it supports a few different external games: Assetto Corsa, RaceRoom, rFactor 2, Project Cars 2 and Automobilista. The user numbers are far lower than iRacing and it can be clunky and difficult to use. The races are also much less frequent with far less series on offer. However, it is free.

World Sim Series is also free and offers a slightly better interface to online racing than Sim Racing System. However, it only supports Assetto Corsa so you will need this game to use it. Again the user numbers and frequency of racing will be much lower than iRacing. As of today, there are four racing series on offer.

Assetto Corsa Competizione does offer a small amount of organised online racing with player rankings. But again, it's not a great effort with no safety rating system or race control and the online population is low. Generally a missed opportunity with this title to encroach on iRacing's online dominance.