The second half of this year has been unusually good for racing game releases. Along with the three games being reviewed here we have also had two need for speed games which have reinvigorated the series on their respective consoles. Moving from left-right on the above image we have decreased amounts of realism but that is not necessarily a bad thing in this genre. I have always found racing games difficult to play in multiplayer, I know I am above average but as soon as I go online I am in the bottom half of the results while finishing half a lap ahead of my friends therefore these three reviews will only focus on my thoughts of the single player as I have not seen a fair multiplayer experience on any of these games.
Forza Motorsport 3
I will start with the game that strives for a sense of realism. Forza 3 is the first Forza game I have played having only made the leap to Microsofts big black console in September. It strives to be a more accessible game that its main competitor Gran Turismo. I have more experience with Gran Turismo, I used to play that game a lot… until I realised that the result was solely down to choosing the correct car for a particular race and not your abilities as a whole. I found much the same thing to be the case in Forza as I picked a fast car (usually a Ferrari 360 Modena which is gorgeous) and came first or second in most races. That said, I did find that I had a lot of fun doing this, the controls were tight and while the braking pressure system was a little bizarre I did eventually get used to it. Added to that is the fact that the game is absolutely beautiful, sure it is not quite photorealistic with the cars having a very very slightly celshaded quality which makes them look better than if turn 10 had tried too hard. The tracks too are perfectly realised, I have never enjoyed driving Silverstone more than I did in this game.
That said my original criticism remains, this game can be best defined as a celebration of driving and of the cars we use to do it. The racing itself is relatively poor in comparison as is the career mode. I never felt like I needed to push the car when I was driving Silverstone I felt I was doing just that, tootling around on a track day or something and not going to an organised race meeting and putting the pedal to the metal. The career mode is also annoyingly dull. The basics are that it is split into seasons, each season has a main championship in which you partake but between those meetings you have smaller events that you take part in that let you pick between something involving your current car, a car you’ve never used or a track you have never driven. It is a nice idea but when a season takes so long and you largely visit the same tracks over and over with no absolute feel of racing it can get a little dull a little fast. That and until I played this game no menu screen had ever burned my retinas… Why of why did you have to make it so bloody bright white.
As a conclusion then, I enjoyed my time with Forza 3, it made me appreciate certain cars and tracks that I have never seen before, the graphics are beautiful the tracks perfectly created but that said the career mode drags too much, the menu screen is too bright and the brake button will give me RSI.
Graphics – 10
Overall – 8
Dirt 2 strives to make something with simulation elements fun for all. The old style Colin Mcrae games solely featured rally stages from the WRC but it appears that wasn’t bringing in big enough sales. What we have here then is a game that brings everything cool about rallying together and introduces camaraderie between the drivers based largely around the X Games and almost completely forgetting stage based rallying. The game falls down though because I do not know or care about the majority of these people. Dave Mirra telling me that I obviously didn’t mean to hit him means nothing to me… because I did in fact mean to hit him. In other words it is trying to immerse you into this relatively fictional overly buddy based world of rallying… it is trying to be too cool. This is evident from the overblown menus (granted they are interesting and flashy and don’t blind you like those of Forza) as well.
Presentational issues aside though what we have here is one of the best driving experiences I have had in a game. I have played a lot of driving games but I would rank this in the top two or three. The handling is near perfect, you can really throw the cars around and you feel in control. The racing is also very good with strong AI leading to some impressive battles for position. I did find the rally based events a little easy but I could just up the difficulty to increase the challenge. There are many types of events on a lot of different stages and tracks as well so while there will be repetition you don’t mind as it is rare. The tracks are also very well realised with some of the best graphics I have seen, the car models are also great and the whole feel of the game is brilliant. That said, I didn’t find any real incentive to try different cars, I quickly found one for each event type that I liked and was able to use that car for most of the game. This is very different to Forza 3 which forces you to try new things and in truth I prefer Forza’s way of doing it.
In conclusion there is not a lot that I can say against this game. Apart from trying too hard to be cool which is not a big complaint anyway as they are striving for sales and the lack of incentive to try new cars it is a very strong game. The handling, graphics and AI are all near the top of the industry for racing at the moment and it creates an immersive and above all fun experience for you and for friends. I also found the online community was less filled with muppets than some other games so well played Dirt2. If you want a pure stage to stage rally game then you should look elsewhere but if you instead want to have fun racing and rallying then this is a very very good game.
Graphics – 9
Overall – 9.5
I am a big F1 fan, I watched every race since Barcelona in 1998 and played every F1 game since the first playstation game (plus GP2 and GPM2 on PC). I know my sport. I have also been playing F1 06 almost constantly since it first came out. It certainly was not the best game ever made but it managed to immerse me into the world and was relatively low on annoyances and bugs. When Codemasters picked up the F1 licence and announced a wii version would be first out of the gates I was excited. Then I bought an Xbox 360 and my expectations of a racing game moved in terms of graphics at least (I still prefer playstation 2 car handling). That said I was still excited for what I hoped would be the best racing game on wii.
Instead what I have is my second favourite racing game on wii with very good graphics the latest tracks and cars. If that was the full story then I would be very happy. Unfortunately you actually have to control racing games. It is my second favourite wii racing game because excite trucks in my opinion is the only racing game worth my money on the system. The graphics are good… in that they make me feel like I am playing an F1 06 clone with updated cars and tracks on the wii. While the tracks may have been well realised you do not want to drive them… because… the handling breaks the frigging game. You have three handling options, the first is wii remote steering which actually works pretty darn well and is the best it has been in a game. It is probably the best way to experience this game as it gives you just enough control to enjoy but not enough to realise the poor handling generally. The nunchuk can all be plugged into the wii remote which leads to the daftest handling scheme ever and finally you can plug in the classic controller (which I have always found uncomfortable) that gives a traditional racing feel. My preference was for the classic controller. The problem was that the handling was way way to arcadey, the car seems to hover over the track and the handling just feels off. It also seems insanely easy, I got pole in my first race in the game… on hard… in a force india. I then promptly did averagely in the race culminating in an engine failure which put me at half speed, I pulled to the side of the track and tried to find a menu option that would let me retire. Everything I tried put me back to before the start of the race. Does this mean if you have a car failure you have to continue driving around until the laps have all past? The damage model is also broken in fact it is rather like the one in Forza whereby it would have been better if they had just taken it out of the game. Penalties are also ridiculously retarded, make any kind of mistake at the start, drive into the back of someone or be driven into and you immediately get a drive through penalty… y’know just like real life. Sound effects are also abysmal with the driving aids off pretty much the only thing you can hear over the tyres constantly screeching is your overly annoying man in the pits telling you to warm your tyres in the most bored voice possible.
It is possible I am looking at this game the wrong, maybe because it is on wii it is supposed to be played by eight year olds with their non game playing parents with both parties having all driver aids turned on and pretending to be Lewis Hamilton. I am sure in this case there is some fun to be had but in terms of F1 games I have experienced a lot and this is right near the bottom of the pile with EA’s ghastly F1 career challenge. I will keep it as its a good way for me to learn the new tracks and see the new cars but the odds of me ever leaving time trial mode again are very slim.
Graphics – 8
Gameplay – 3
Overall – 4
So there we have it three racing games, one excellent, one very good and one terrible. Bring on F1 10 on Xbox 360 I say… It might even spur them on to make a good wii version next year as well.