Recent talk of Project Cars got me thinking about how different the video game industry is now compared to how it used to be. Despite only being in it's alpha stages, I'm already ready to throw my money at the game, just because true honest to god racing sims are so few and far between these days.
But it didn't used to be that way. After the massive success of the Gran Turismo franchise, racing sims seemed like a guaranteed way sell some games. Everybody had to take their shot at making a "Gran Turismo" like game. A few of those games turned out to be good.
The following is a list of games i've played in my 31 years of loving racing sims that have surprised me in one way or another. Most of them featured physics engines ahead of their time. Now, some of these games may not stand up to the test of time, but it's still fun to go back in time and take a peek at all the games that gave me little glimmers of hope about what the future would have in store for me.
1. Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed
Believe it or not, there was a time when Need For Speed games weren't entirely silly and unrealistic. Need for speed 1 was the most realistic driving game of it's day and despite becoming a bit arcadey in the 2nd 3rd and 4th iterations, Porsche Unleashed was a return to sim style gameplay. This game was notable for being the first game that I'd played other than Gran Turismo that featured weight transfer and its effect on grip under braking and acceleration.
The last time I played this game was 2006 and it still held up then.
Published in 2000 for PS1 and Windows
Cool features: Very nice list of classic Porsches, lots of mechanical customization, plenty of point to point tracks, fully modeled interiors.
2. Tokyo Extreme Racer Zero
There are a lot of Tokyo Extreme Racer games and they're all kind of similar. Honestly this is the only game on the list that had kind of subpar physics for the day. However this game still featured some really cool things to bring the realism factor up a bit. First of all, the game took place on the highways of Tokyo, where real, actual people street race huge HP monsters in the middle of the night. It was also technically an open world racing game, though the player is constricted to several highway loops. Despite the restriction, the map is enormous. Mainly however, this game gets credit for having a HUGE car list that faithfully reproduces all sorts of awesome JDM cars, all without any licensing. Is that a MKIII RX-7? Not according to the game. In the game it's named simply the "Type-FD3S." Yes, they named every car after it's chassis code. Brilliant.
Published in 2001 for PS2
Cool features: Body kits that made you go faster, realistic straightline speed, a unique life bar battle system, included a documentary about street racing in Tokyo.
OK, we're finally getting down to the stuff you've probably either never heard of or ignored. Enthusia was a full on Konami branded attempt at a Gran Turismo clone. And boy was this game panned by the press at the time. It featured neither the car count nor the smoothness of career progression that gran turismo boasted. It also had far inferior tuning, that did little beyond make the car superficially faster. However the "worst" part was a totally unforgiving physics engine. The main problem it seems to me, stems from the cars having a poor sense of straight ahead, often leaving drivers careening back and forth between the walls all down the straightaway. My solution was to get better. And use a wheel. The game comes alive with a wheel. It's the most "Holy crap, this game actually has an insanely good physics engine" i've ever experienced.
I last played this game about a year ago. It kinda holds up, but it's physics have since been surpassed by things like Fourza.
Published in 2005 for PS2
Cool Features: Decent car list, good enough physics for drifting, batshit insane intro movie complete with engrish.
4. Corvette Evolution GT
This super obscure game featured about 35 cars, two of which were Corvettes. This game was more notable for its competent physics engine than for anything else. With its name and presumed budget, it would have every excuse to be absolutely horrible. However it was actually a halfway decent racing sim that featured an interesting RPG-like system for the players' driver. XP went towards making your guy better, which would subtlety improve your car control. Ok not that simmy, but the physics themselves were a better representation of driving than 90 percent of the games on the market at the time.
Published in 2006 for PS2 and PC
Cool features: one of the first rewind features in a racing game, the ability to make opponents nervous by driving behind them, slick menus.
5. Battle Gear 4
Ok so calling this one a "sim" might be a bit of a stretch. Basically the Battle Gear series was a series of sit down arcade cabinets that were a more realistic alternative to the Initial D series of games. I've played battle gear 2-4 and I would characterize all as being shockingly simmy for an actual arcade cabinet. Corners must be slowed down for, weight transfer must be accounted for and drifts must be carefully modulated. Oh sure every car FWD, AWD or RWD will throw its rear end out under braking, but get back on the gas and FWD cars pull out of it as they would, AWD do as they should and RWD cars get more sideways as they should. I just pretend that all the cars have huge rear anti-roll bars causing all kinds of oversteer.
Published in the mid 2000s
Cool features: Lots of JDM cars, cool mountain pass courses, body kits, savegame cards, Japanese PS2 release if you can find it....
6. Baja: The Edge of Control
Much like Enthusia, this game was panned by the press at its release. Also much like Enthusia, the driving is incredibly unforgiving. This is magnified by the fact that the game starts players off in the slowest cars, modified VW Baja bugs. The thing is, despite being the slowest cars in the game, the Baja bugs are also one of the most difficult cars to drive, what with their rear engine configuration and limited suspension travel. Baja: the Edge of Control was all about the suspension physics, the heart of the game was dealing with putting power to the ground with the rear tires going all over the place. This is truly an underrated game for anyone who like this type of thing. The graphics kind of blow, the menus and stuff kind of suck, but they did a good job of modeling offroad suspension. And for me that was enough to make it worth a lot of my time.
I last played this about a year ago and it holds up.
Published in 2008 For PS3 and Xbox 360
Cool features: Supsension movement, lots of veriety of backgrounds and races, some incredibly long courses.