Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Will First Place Be Decided?

In the past few weeks I have been asked a question by quite a few people including my girlfriend, my cousin and a few online friends. When my girlfriend asked it I thought nothing of it and happily answered it to the best of my ability. When my cousin asked it a few days later, I again answered it with the answer I thought was correct. When I got asked it a few more times by some people online, I begun to question my own answer and then realised that I actually have no idea what my answer is. Basically, consistently being asked this question saw me realise that I hadn't actually decided on an answer. So what's the question?

What is my favourite racing game of all time?

Now if we were to be more precise and say, ask what my favourite Arcade racing game would be well then the answer to the question would probably be rather easy. Same thing applies to the Simulation racing genre as well, it wouldn't be too hard I don't think to answer the question. However, include the entire racing genre (which would then include Arcade, Simulation and Fictional racing titles) and the more I think about it the harder it seems to be for me to choose a particular game and nominate it as my favourite. I mean, I have played so many fantastic racing games over the years across all sub-genres and naturally having so many wonderful experiences makes it hard to just choose one. I do plan on doing so though so I can answer such a question again if it ever pops up in the future (and perhaps I will also do it for other genres) so that means it's time to make a list! A list of games from three sub-genres (Arcade, Simulation and Fictional) that I had an absolute blast playing and that I feel are best examples of their particular sub-genre.

F-Zero GX

This was my introduction to the F-Zero franchise so naturally I hold it close to my heart and regard it as my favourite game from the franchise. However even if it wasn't the first game I played, I dare say it would still be my favourite of the franchise. Only one word comes to mind when I think of this game and that is perfect. Why perfect? Well it just seems to be as such; the track design, sense of speed, character choice and perhaps most importantly, the difficulty curve are all perfectly balanced as far as I'm concerned. It's quick and easy to get into but it also happens to be one of (if not the) hardest racing games I have ever played. The desire to master this game gets stronger with every race and while normally such a challenging game would become frustrating to the point of it never being played again, F-Zero GX was just different. Sure it annoyed me when I failed a race or mission but that constant failure only drove the desire and dedication to beat it even further. I did manage it eventually too and it is one of my most proudest gaming achievements to date. Add in a beautiful looking game and some really awesome tunes from the soundtrack and like I said, perfect is the only word that seems to come to mind.

Mario Kart DS/Mario Kart Super Circuit

There was always going to be a Mario Kart game on this list but when I think about it I just can't choose just one. So instead, I nominate both handheld versions as being the best but for different reasons. I won't go into those reasons (subject for another day) but both games have provided me with endless hours of entertainment. Mario Kart is perhaps the best pick up and play racing game around and no race will ever be the same. Most people go for Super Mario Kart (SNES) or Mario Kart 64 (N64) as their best Mario Kart game and a few years ago I would have agreed with them but after experiencing a portable Mario Kart I don't think the console versions will ever match them anymore. They will be fun of course but for me I feel that Mario Kart is the sort of game that is perfect for handheld gaming. Perhaps I'll elaborate on why I feel this way in the near future, but for now the handheld versions remain my pick of the franchise.

Burnout 2: Point Of Impact

Ah my beloved Burnout franchise. I love each and every installment and don't expect that to change any time soon. I love the fact that every couple of versions or so Criterion change things up and completely reinvent the series to make it fresh, unique and yet ever so familiar at the same time. I can't think of any other franchise that does that (regularly anyway). Anyway while I also hold Burnout 3: Takedown (the majority's pick as best Burnout game from what I can gather) and the recent Burnout Paradise in very high regard my favourite Burnout game is still Burnout 2. To me it was the exact definition of what Burnout was; fast and crazy racing through a variety of very well designed tracks that had you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It also introduced Crash mode which was absolutely awesome fun and took advantage of the destruction engine perfectly. I still play this game regularly and it still looks absolutely gorgeous too. This is what Arcade racing is about.

Wave Race: Blue Storm

Some might be surprised if they read this and saw Wave Race being included but I'm happy to include it. It provided a different take on the genre which I'm always welcome to and it was definitely awesome to hoon around on a Jet-Ski while jumping over waves and weaving in and out of those buoys. It helped of course that the water effects were lovely to look at and the music wasn't half bad either. Some would argue that the original on the N64 was the better game and I can certainly see why they choose it, but for me Blue Storm was the better game as it included everything that made the original awesome and added a few more things to make a better overall experience. Out of all the franchises that could be released on the Wii, I really hope Wave Race sees a return.

Gran Turismo 4

The Gran Turismo franchise was also guaranteed to be on this list. The original showed me what was possible with racing games in gaming and provided an experience I had been craving for ages before it was released: that of being able to drive any car of my choice around a circuit and have the experience feel as close to the real thing as possible. It's obvious that games won't completely mimic what it is like to drive a car around a track, but Gran Turismo is certainly close enough for me. As the franchise continued on we saw new tracks that became classics, more cars and of course graphical upgrades as well and all were awesome additions. The franchise has also taught me a lot about cars, from who makes what (although I knew most of that already) to manufacturer's histories to what certain car parts do. The fact that a game can teach me things and provide a fun experience is fantastic as far as I am concerned and I'll always admire and appreciate the perfectionism that Polyphony aim for with this franchise. I nominate GT4 as my favourite from the franchise because I feel it is the most complete version yet. I dare say that Gran Turismo 5 (when I finally get a PS3 and when that finally releases) will take that crown though.

Forza 2

The other simulation franchise close to my heart, Forza again provided another take on an experience I love so much: the ability to drive cars of my choice on a race track. Forza introduced what I feel to be a much better tyre based physics system than Gran Turismo and as such, it was quite the different experience as a result. Forza 2 improved on that physics system dramatically and because of this reason alone I feel that Forza 2 is the best simulation racing game I have played to date. Gran Turismo 5 could beat it, Forza 3 could beat it - I don't know and I don't care at the moment. Forza 2 is where it is at for me at the moment and I still play it regularly a year on from its release. It might not have the best graphics around or the biggest choice in cars or tracks, but that is irrelevant to me. I mean come on, I can sit here lapping the same track for 100 laps and not even notice...

Project Gotham Racing 2 and 4

Arcade crossed with Simulation crossed with style = one unique but massively fun racing game. I absolutely love this franchise and feel that each installment has been brilliant. If I had to choose a title as the best my choice would be with PGR 2 as I feel it had the best of everything. The best cities and therefore track design, the best cars, the best difficulty curve (PGR 2 is still the hardest game to obtain those Platinums in as far as I am concerned and is also one of the hardest racing games I have played so far) and also perhaps the best online play of the series as well. I still fire it up to race around Sydney, Mexico and the other cities and I still have a blast each and every time. PGR 4 gets included in this segment though because it is pretty much on par with PGR 2 for me. It may not have the best of everything like PGR 2 does, but what PGR 4 has provided is the same sort of fun that PGR 2 did and that's why it is included. Plus it had a fantastic weather system which also happened to look beautiful. I've talked about how I feel about weather and games in another post and its inclusion in PGR 4 was a welcome one.

Note: PGR 2 also had weather.

Test Drive Unlimited

Not really a racing game and more of a driving game, Test Drive Unlimited is included purely because it again provided an experience that I was craving for a long time. The chance to hop into any car I wanted and just go for a cruise. Whether it be cruising in a city or out in the countryside, it didn't matter to me as long as I got to go cruising. The fact that TDU had both because it was set on the Hawaii island of Oahu was just the icing on the cake as far as I was concerned. It had some flaws and wasn't as gorgeous as other racing games on the market but who cares? I certainly don't because I was (and still am) too busy just enjoying the fact that I can just drive.

There, the racing games I feel are my favourite out of all the ones I have played so far. As is evident by the fact I had to include more than one title in some instances, it was extremely hard choosing between titles to form this list. Some were obvious standouts while others took quite some thought before I could decide. Now I get an even harder task as I decide on what I think is my favourite racing game of all time. Excuse me while I figure it out and once I do, I will reveal the answer here.

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