For a while now, I have been searching for a racing game to satisfy what I recognise is probably an extreme niche these days. What I am looking for I can only describe as narrative.
Of course, I love Sim Racing. There are very few experiences in gaming that come with the immersion and emotion of being sat in a racing rig in VR online against other competitiors. If I am totally honest, I’ve probably only felt similar weight of emotion on Player Unknowns Battlegrounds not long after initial release. I’m not great at FPS games so my infrequent chicken dinners were especially fun. But I digress…
This evening, I decided to do something I have said I would not. Stream a retro game I have extremely fond memories of. This being TOCA Race Driver 3 for the Playstation 2. My reasoning for not wanting to play it was reasonably simple. With my now pretty vast experience of sim racing titles, spoilt with the equipment I get to use every day; I didn’t want to ruin those genuinely fond memories. Quite honestly, memories of simpler a simpler time in my life.
Once I had the game emulating well, it was like meeting an old friend for the first time in years. Of course it looked dated, but not shockingly so, for a 16 year old title in my opinion and sure physics have come on light years. But this game reignited the feeling of longing for something more from my gaming experience.
A few very valid counter arguments arose to my feeling. Those being that the rise of the internet has shifted focus to multiplayer and, frankly, look how far we have come. I agree with both points, in part.
The multiplayer experience we can enjoy with modern gaming is witchcraft. That I, here in England, May be able to race a chap in Australia. Insane. Also how far we have come in the 16 years since this game released. The graphics and physics are just worlds apart, it’s true. Though, TOCA still gave me what I’d call a fun experience this evening.
But while I agree we have gained much, we have also lost, too. I cannot be the only person that craves to care about a gaming experience. I want to feel like my choices matter and that there is a bigger picture. I can’t help feeling for all of the fun that can be had online racing, ultimately, it’s a somewhat hollow experience. Jumping from race to race with no real meaning behind it. While I type this, I realise my intent is extremely difficult to convey.
I guess I simply miss actual games in the racing genre.
When I look at titles like Dirt 5 or Forza that one may point to for a more relaxed experience – I wonder why things have to be outlandish and unrealistic in the extreme. Ok, they’re great at what they do. But this evening playing TOCA there was nothing silly and outlandish. It was a fun, accessable racing game with direction and cut scenes which made me giggle and the chat engage.
Why can’t we have a racing game that’s arcade and relaxed but not silly? indeed the soon to be released GRID Legends looks just the ticket until you see a small open wheeler getting smashed into by a racing truck. Why? Why can’t we have renault Clio cups vs, you know, clio cups. in a normal race? Why does everything have to be loud and bright and a combination of impossible combinations of vehicles and tracks? Why can’t we just have fun racing actual combinations but in a more relaxed setting?
I realise I sound old, really old.
One recent game that nearly did it for me was RIMS Racing. A superb, if totally buggy, game. It only has 8 motorcycles in the entire game, but the fun part, for me, was that every part has wear and tear and falling off makes parts wear even faster. So you have to balance speed with caution and ride it like you actually own it. It’s an amazing premise I hope gets built on. I cared.
I would love for that in a car game. Give me 10 total cars of similar performance, a nice selection of circuits and make me care about my car. Or, why not a full career mode, from karting upward. I know Project cars went at this – but it felt like a grind really quickly with how it was executed, for me. I can look at Ride 4 or any other racing game, really, where it’s just an endless stream of series with no real purpose except to race. No conciquence if you lose, crash or fall off apart from doing it again. I just want something deeper.
Sometimes I look at gaming, big picture. I see in FPS the Battle Royale subgenre is pretty stale. Before that Zombies were all the rage. At one point World of Warcraft was amazing, until it didn’t change.
While racing games have changed and improved in many areas, I think it’s also lost some of the simple joy a kid has when playing a game.