Kicking off the week with a fairly large Reader Submission, PRC.net reader Ben C. has put our obsessive ramblings regarding older titles to the test. We’ve long said that racing games from a generation ago are superior to what’s currently available on the market, and feel that the genre itself is in a state of decline, but very rarely has anyone put in the time to validate our claims as legitimate.
Thankfully, Ben has stepped up to the plate, taking a look at not one but two titles thanks to the freeware Dolphin Nintendo GameCube emulator, allowing him to travel back in time and experience where we’ve come from.
I’ve read many articles on here and discussion elsewhere about how the racing genre is in a rut. PC releases are perpetually unfinished, over-shilled garbage (Project CARS, Assetto Corsa) with cut-and-run financing (Project CARS again, Stock Car Extreme) or straight up archaic pricing systems that make no sense (R3E, rFactor 2). Consoles don’t fare any better. Gran Turismo is so glacial that it’s behind the times when it comes out and once great staples like Ridge Racer have withered away. Even Dirt has to come out on Steam’s Early Access program to find out if anyone wants it at all.
The new Need for Speed was disappointing, with a handling model that meant you could never guarantee where or what your car was going to do, either snap oversteer at the slightest touch, or flat out refusing to corner at all. Coupled with the joke rubber-band AI and totally pointless always-online, this instead leaves me investing my time into Codemasters and Turn 10 games. These games aren’t perfect either, but for my casual simcade interests, they are the best of a shit bunch.
Two things have happened recently that have shown me just how bad things are.
First, I was browsing through PRC and came across your Dirt to Daytona article. Not being from America, I have no reverence or love for NASCAR, but grabbed the Gamecube version to emulate on Dolphin to see what the fuss is about. It seems pretty good fun, and I like that it really doesn’t give a shit about you doing well or not; you really aren’t a special snowflake and the game doesn’t come to a halt if you don’t win.
Second, I saw FailRace’s videos comparing Need for Speed 2015 with 2004’s Underground 2.
I don’t remember if I played it back in the day or not, but after watching it I saw that a 10 year old game has better handling, deeper customization (both visually and tuning-wise) and way more to do than its current iteration. So I grabbed the GameCube version to emulate and holy shit, it really is that much better, despite the inherent jankiness of running it through an emulator.
What the fuck is going on?
Games are supposed to have gotten better, not worse. Was there really a “golden age” of racing games in the early 2000’s, or is it just that Call of Duty has taken the casual market by storm, so the market dwindles and developers need to dumb down their games further and further to get that elusive “mass appeal”?
Anyways, keep up the good work.
I think I’ve said this previously when responding to a different Reader Submission, but once Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Halo took the world by storm in 2007 and generated such enormous profits on par with Hollywood movies, everyone within the industry took notice and attempted to revamp their business strategies in an effort to get a piece of the pie. Nobody wanted to just sit down for a few years and make a sweet racing game anymore, because you could only go so far with a niche title like Dirt to Daytona.
Coupled with the rising costs of developing modern video games, on the console side of things this lead to several different companies crunching numbers and pushing out the same game, year after year, as a safe way to earn X amount of money and keep the franchise afloat.
To demonstrate what I mean, let’s look at how many times we’ve become the most notorious street racer since 2008:
- Burnout: Paradise
- Midnight Club: Los Angeles
- Test Drive Unlimited
- Test Drive Unlimited 2
- The Crew
- Need for Speed: Undercover
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2010
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012
- Need for Speed: Rivals
- Need for Speed 2015
- Forza Horizon
- Forza Horizon 2
We’ve been sold the same generic open-world street racing title twelve fucking times, and almost all of these titles were somewhat successful financially. On the console side of things, innovation has essentially stopped, because the raw marketplace data shows a company can literally keep releasing the same game as everyone else, and enough people will buy it to warrant yet another one.
Need for Speed 2015 didn’t have to be good, or even acceptable. Enough people bought it simply because it’s Need for Speed and you can rice out your car, that any legitimate criticism has no impact on the success of the game. The sad reality is that you can’t stop the average customer from lowering their expectations and putting up with these shitty games. What you can do is hope that the next big racing game is a complete abomination comparable to the most recent Batman game, forcing people to wake up and demand something better. Of course, intentionally wishing for an upcoming game to suck is kind of counterproductive to what it means to be a gamer, but we’ll need a Sim City-like meltdown to force console developers like EA to get their shit together.
We almost had one with Project CARS, but enough websites were paid off and enough financial backers sang the gospel of Ian Bell to cushion the blow.
On the PC side of things, it’s a slightly different mentality. The quest for sales numbers aren’t fueling these games; it’s almost as if each developer instead agreed to participate in a perpetual science project, and the result is not one or two but five unfinished games.
- Assetto Corsa
- Project CARS
- RaceRoom Racing Experience
- rFactor 2
- Stock Car Extreme
[Insert One of the Five Games Above Here] has a random assortment of cars and tracks that don’t fit into any one specific category, as well as a continuous stream of physics, tire model, and overall game updates intended to bring the game closer to reality. All of the games listed above are no more than physics sandboxes with rudimentary auto racing functionality. That’s not cool. Of course, the individuals working on these games aren’t dumb, and do everything they can to push the reality of five unfinished modern racing sims under the rug.
Developers willingly create Stockholm Syndrome-like effects to intentionally downplay what their racing sim lacks. Weekly blogs and/or livestreams outline how small the team is, and how they don’t have enough resources to finish their game. These postings subliminally imply you should feel bad for the insurmountable odds the developer is up against with their perpetual science project, the equivalent of a Taco Bell manager telling you the cashier messed up your order because her boyfriend broke up with her the previous night. Blame is shifted onto the publisher for awful pricing models or DLC packs, as if knowing the developers are good guys somehow makes the ridiculous cost of games like R3E an easier pill to swallow. Community members are routinely recruited to be beta testers and welcomed aboard as extended family members, leading these testers feeling obligated to downplay flaws the rest of the community has found.
Mention how Assetto Corsa doesn’t let you pick the color of your car online, and fifty fanboys show up on PRC out of the blue to say absurd shit like “features are just to fill a list in a racing sim.” Point out that RaceRoom has a downright retarded pricing model, and a handful of people arrive to channel their inner Billy Mays and explain the complicated content discount system. Draw attention to Project CARS being a literal pile of garbage on release, and administrators from popular sim racing sites paid by Slightly Mad Studios will bend over backwards to explain why you’re wrong.
For every legitimate point you bring up about a racing sim, ten other forum users show up to call you a crazed hater with an irrational vendetta. None of these games will get better anytime soon, because legitimate criticism is swept under the rug by aggressive fanboys. Ten fanboys praising the game against one guy saying something isn’t right, developers are going to take the easy way out and listen to the blind praise.