Sunday, February 15, 2009

Always Connected: Racing Games


Always Connected is a series of posts about online gameplay with today's post taking a look at my time with some racing games.

Last week I took a look at my time playing both Gears of War games online and detailed how I was disappointed in the community that surrounds the two games for generally being disrespectful and inconsiderate of you as a player. Whenever I compare that experience with the other games I have played online, specifically the various racing games, I always find myself confused and curious as to why they have been so different.

It's not always different though as bad multiplayer sessions can happen in any game. Naturally it depends on who you end up versing, something that you have no control over when using a game's matchmaking system. The racing games that come to mind when I think about my bad racing experiences are the Project Gotham Racing series. I have been playing the series online for as long as it has been offered, beginning with Project Gotham Racing 2 and finishing with the last game to be released Project Gotham Racing 4.

I can't say I am surprised when I think about the bad times I have had with the game, because the more Arcade nature of the handling system and racing means that it is easier to be an idiot and crash into people on the track, with no repercussions to penalise the players who do it. Braking for corners can result in eager players behind you smashing into you to use you as their brake, with the end result seeing you slamming into the wall while they pass for the position and carry on to do it to the next unlucky person. Racing side-by-side with someone may see them purposefully swerve into you with the aim to make you spin out. Hell, some people even drive around the track the wrong way with the sole intention to slam head-on into whoever they see first. Like Gears of War before it, it's disappointing but you have to expect it with any game really. I won't deny that across all the racing games I have played online, the PGR series has been the most prolific with bad multiplayer sessions but despite that I still firmly believe that it is one of the most fun games I have ever had the pleasure of playing against other people. With perhaps a touch of irony, I would argue that the reason is again because of the more Arcade-like nature that the game has allowing it to be more accessible to a wide variety of players with different levels of skill. Car damage is cosmetic, it doesn't affect the performance of the vehicle at all and means that if a player was to crash they wouldn't suffer too badly in a race and may only lose a few positions rather than be forced to retire. This is a good thing because it means less players get frustrated if they aren't doing so well and have a desire to press on due to the unpredictability that comes with racing. Combine that with the reward of Kudos (points) for pulling off daring maneuvers like power-sliding around the corners and getting up on two-wheels and you just have a damn fun racing game.


Another racing game I have played online heaps is Forza Motorsport 2. With it being a simulation game and therefore a more serious racer, I was expecting it to be another game where players act like fools, only worse due to the game featuring damage that can affect your car's performance to a point where a snail would be moving faster or that I would be forced to retire. Much to my surprise I found the game was fantastic to play online with the community surrounding it being open to all levels of skill and more importantly being respectful of other drivers. Apologies were offered over the in-game chat if someone caused an accident unintentionally; people helped out with car setups if players were struggling; offered tips for people who couldn't take a particular corner right and it was just generally warm and welcoming. Now I'm no slouch when it comes to racing games and didn't need the help being offered but I still observed it happening and was definitely impressed. Of course there were still some races that weren't as fun as they could be which is again due to the nature of being matched up with randoms, but my time with Forza 2 was very pleasant. I even met a group of people who I'm now friends with in the game who also happened to be on par with my skill level, something that made it even more fun for me as the racing was close, competitive and a real blast to participate in. To put it simply, there is nothing like sharing a common interest (cars, racing) with a group of people who are also on the same page as you and who are happy to race just to have a race. I can only hope that other people that are into racing games can find a similar experience to share because it has certainly influenced my opinion of playing games online.

Moving onto some other racing games, the Burnout franchise has been another great series to play online although I can't really offer any comments about playing it with anonymous people because I have only played with friends. Each of the three games that offer online play in the series (Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Revenge and Burnout Paradise) have been great fun to play online and each offer a different experience. The recent Midnight Club: Los Angeles is also quite fun to play online with it reminding me of an old favourite, Test Drive Unlimited. Both games allow you to just simply cruise around their locations (LA for Midnight Club, Oahu for TDU) and as you would expect that can be fun when chilling with your mates.

As you can see my time playing various racing games online has been a positive one both with friends and people I don't know. It's nice to be able to say that because anonymous people are unpredictable and I can only hope that the positive experiences continue to happen in the future. Whether it is Arcade games like Project Gotham Racing or Burnout, or a more serious racer such as Forza 2, it is nice to be able to fire up a racing game and enjoy some races online. Simbin's first console game Race Pro is next on my agenda and it comes out next week. Here's hoping that playing it online is also something I end up enjoying.

3 comments:

Jorge Albor said...

I am curious if you think the reason people were generally nicer while playing Forza Motorsport 2 was because it was a more complex and serious endeavor. What I mean is, do you think the barrier of entry was high enough to deter casual racers who are more likely to enjoy griefing other players? DO you think racing games have a certain culture surrounding them and do you think these games foster different in-game cultures?

Also, I just picked up Burnout Paradise, and the open-world nature of online play fits perfectly.

Steven O'Dell said...

Jorge, I think you're right about Forza 2 and that it would (or does) put people off. I can only assume here but I would imagine that a lot of people would play the game for an hour or so, be reasonably bad at it and realise that it wasn't what they expected it to be, then turn it off and never play again. So yes, I would say that generally speaking the online community would only be comprised of those who are actually willing to engage with the harder (for lack of a better word) style of racing.

To answer your other questions, I do believe that the type of game (or genre) does indeed influence and define a game's particular culture. Do racing games have a certain culture though? Well to be honest I'm not entirely sure, because it would have to be analysed with a broader view that incorporates culture/s surrounding Motorsport in real life and the games based on these real life races, then compared with or against the racing games that don't feature these categories. Good questions, I'm now thinking about a whole host of things when before I just looked at it in a game-by-game basis. Who knows, these thoughts may even inspire more blog posts so if they do, thank you for that. ;)

As for Burnout, I hope you love it man. I certainly do.

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