Feature: The History Of The Car Racing Game

It goes without saying that we all wish to unleash our inner speed demon every now and again! Nonetheless, doing this on public roads is frowned-upon/illegal. In my opinion, one way to overcome this, and get your daily turbo—injected fix is to indulge in the odd racing car game.

However, the racing car game has a heritage that has seen its fair share of highs and lows; so I thought it would be useful to provide you with an abridged history of the racing game genre. On our journey through time and space, we will visit the simplistic origins of the racing game, as well as the ‘blink and you’d swear it was real’ photo-realistic racers that we know and love.

The Inception of the Racing Game

Space Race screenshot

Once upon a time, in 1973, Atari blessed us all with the arrival of Space Race. This racing game consisted of two players racing towards the top of a black and white screen. The object of the game was simple, avoid any asteroids that flew on to your screen; if you reached the top of the screen, you won a point. However, if your ship was hit by an asteroid, you would tumble back to the bottom of the screen. Compared to the type of racing games that we are now accustomed to, this may seem a bit primitive. However, Space Race truly was an innovative and pioneering racing game, which was highly coveted by arcade-goers across the globe.

The Eighties

Pole Position screenshot

In the 80s, the racing games were as big and as brash as the hairstyles of that era; it was also when the genre began to flourish. When it was first released, Pole Position was met with open-mouthed astonishment; it was the first racing game to be based upon actual racing, and it was the first to include a voice clip. To further add to the realism of the title, you had to complete driving lessons in order to qualify for races, which then gave you the opportunity to participate in Grand Prix races. As soon as it hit the shelves, gamers were hooked and they couldn’t get enough.

Outrun screenshot

In contrast, Outrun, Sega’s classic racing car game provided thrills and spills as opposed to realistic simulation. The premise of the game was to race a Ferrari Testarossa across various stages, whilst reaching various designated checkpoints within a certain time limit. The emphasis of Outrun was on pure adrenaline, you had to speed, skid, slide, and drift your way to success; winning the admiration of your female companion in the process. As an added bonus, you were afforded the choice of three different soundtracks to listen to (Radio 4 wasn’t one of them).

The Nineties

Gran Turismo screenshot

The evolution of racing games in the 90s saw the racing car game gene leave the arcades and leap into the living room. Providing many-a-source of arguments with family and friends was Super Mario Kart! The game was originally released in 1992 by Nintendo, and was one of the first racing games to use recognisable characters from a successful franchise. The USP of the game was that you had a myriad of collectible-weapons to attack your fellow racers during the race, including lightning bolts, tortoise shells, banana skins, invincibility stars and mushrooms, which ensured that this game will be remembered through the ages.

Kick-starting the demand for realism, was the ground breaking Gran Turismo, which was released in 1997 for the Sony PlayStation. It was seen as one of Sony’s flagship titles and was reported to have been in development for over 5 years. Now in its fifth incarnation, Gran Turismo still holds the accolade of being the most realistic racing car game that the gaming world has ever known, which could partly be due to the game having more licensed tracks and cars than you could shake a stick at.

Present day

Forza Motorsport screenshot

Microsoft tried to steal the crown of Gran Turismo by releasing Forza Motorsport for the Xbox in 2005. In attempt to usurp the realism of Gran Turismo, each one of the licensed cars in the game featured the exact levels of acceleration, speed, and manoeuvrability of its real-life equivalent. If that wasn’t enough, you were also able to fully modify and alter each car to the nines; the game also allowed you to change your car so that it best suited your individual driving style.

The One that Time Forgot

Big Rigs You're Winner screenshot

Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing has earned itself a permanent place on every ‘worst game ever’ list from now until forever. The game featured massively uninspiring gameplay and shockingly bad landscapes; the game was supposed to give you the chance to live the life of an illegal hauler, but the game didn’t even have any police opponents for you to run from! The physics of the game fail to adhere to the actual laws of physics; there isn’t even the slightest bit of collision detection. My personal ‘so bad it’s actually funny’ moment is the complete disregard for English grammar; as the screenshot above shows, the phrase ‘You’re winner’ sounds like something you would read from a Nigerian Prince promising to share his vast wealth with you.

If you don’t believe me, watch this:

What’s In Store for the Future

Auto Club Revolution screenshot

As racing car games have continued to evolve, the cost of owning them has also continued to sky-rocket. Nowadays, new-release titles retail for around £40 -£50; combined with eye-watering hardware costs, driving a virtual car is now almost as expensive as driving a real one.

However, there is one way for you to avoid breaking into your piggy bank in order to buy each new racing game that hits the shelves; free online racing games, such as Auto Club Revolution allow you to race licensed cars on licensed tracks. These online racing car games provide depth and realism comparable to that of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo. The best part is that you can you’re your fully kitted-out vehicle online against an endless stream of other online racers. In my opinion, having limitless customisation options and downloadable content means that the trend for online racing games is bound to flourish in 2013; I for one can’t wait to go for a virtual spin!

Author: Guest Post

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