With January being as dry as a desert, we begin our reflection with a February that brought us a pleasant surprise in Ride 2. Milestone S.r.l. are no strangers to bike racing games with 23 of them being made in just 18 years, three of which were made in 2017 alone. They’ve been known to produce questionable products in an attempt to cash in on their niche monopoly but, on this occasion, things were a little different. Ride 2 was a fine start to the racing year offering hundreds of bikes, a nice variety of tracks coupled with stunning visuals.
March had just one racer for us to play in the form of F-Zero Inspired Fast RMX. There were differences though. One, it was based on the Nintendo franchise you’ve probably never cared about, Fast. Two, it’s infinitely worse than any F-Zero ever made. Still, it wouldn’t be a long wait for Switch owners to get an incredible driving experience. All it took was a familiar Italian plumber showing up once again.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may very well have just been a remastered version of the original Wii U game but no one seemed to mind. David Jenkins, writing for the Metro, described it as the “definitive version of one of the greatest multiplayer games ever,” and there’s not much more praise I can give than that. ATV Renegades and Full Throttle Remastered also made their debuts, performing adequately in their given fields.
As for May there wasn’t too much to play but Aksys Games brought us Drive Girls, an anime, transformers, racing, fighting and visual novel mix-up that should have been one of the weird yet wonderful indie Japanese titles we always see. Unfortunately, it was actually a contender for one of the worst games made for the entirety of 2017 with its peak review on Metacritic hitting the staggering heights of a 45/100. Still, it was a different game entirely that crushed my hopes and dreams.
Micro Machines World Series. Oh dear, oh dear. I grew up adoring this little arcade racing series. It had so much charm and I know many people who would consider this a childhood classic. When they announced a reboot in January for what was originally a March release, a slight delay pushed it back to June but I didn’t mind. It was worth the wait. So, when Codemasters launched the competitive focused, online only title we ended up with that featured literally no campaign mode, disappointed doesn’t even begin to explain my feelings. Codemasters’ other game, DiRT 4 was a different story though. It brought off road action to levels never seen before setting the standard for future rally racing simulators. It was a much-needed improvement over DiRT Rally that hardly featured online racing of any sort.
Skipping forward to August and Codemasters were at it again, this time with the release of F1 2017, the latest in their annually released Formula 1 series. It was okay and did much of what you’d expect but I was left feeling underwhelmed due to its non-existent innovation. The F1 games could have so much potential if they tried things like classic tracks and circuits not driven in the regular F1 season. Just imagine diving down Laguna Seca’s corkscrew in a car that generates three times its own weight in downforce. It’s a literal gravity hack and throwing that through one of the world’s steepest corners would be extremely fun. It wasn’t to be though and what we got was just another F1 game.
September, usually a hotspot for AAA racing games was a little quieter than expected with only Project CARS 2 appearing onto the scene. Smaller budget titles including NASCAR Heat 2 and Baja: Edge of Control also released to mixed reviews. Project CARS 2’s launch did not disappoint though. It was always going to be the main talking point of the month with critics falling in love with it, me included. Whilst you can’t avoid noticing some performance issues across all platforms, what sold it to me was simple. It did what a sequel should do. Take the best bits of the original, keep them in and then add new and interesting features for the player to enjoy. Specifically, its sheer depth of content is possibly the best we’ve seen since the legendary PS2-era Gran Turismo titles. 180 cars, 9 disciplines, 29 motorsport series and, perhaps most impressive of all, 60 track locations! No, not 60 track variations. 60 unique locations, many of which feature several layouts and all of which feature complete weather control and support for all four seasons. Finally, throw in the addition of rallycross and what you’ve got here is a serious racing game of the year candidate. Scrap that, a complete game of the year candidate.
October would bring its main opposition in Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport. Whilst I’ve enjoyed my time on both titles a fair bit, neither live up to Project CARS 2’s level. Forza has come a long way since its clunky launch but still feels like a game that isn’t interested in doing more than it always has. Arguably, Forza has been living in its own shadow for years now with Forza Motorsport 4 being widely recognised as one of the greatest racing games of all time. Recent titles have not been bad, Forza 7 no exception to that, but the lack of innovation makes them a harder sell every year. As for GT Sport, that’s just a mess. Why they went for a hardcore racing esports focused simulation I’ll never know. If this was supposed to give the likes of Project CARS and iRacing something to worry about, it’s a laughable failure. Polyphony Digital should have stuck with what they’re good at and made an in depth single player, car collection title instead. Trying to redefine Gran Turismo after 20 years was a bad mistake.
No article would be complete without highlighting how EA managed to commit yet another anti-consumer act. Need For Speed Payback launched cluttered with microtransactions and loot boxes. Of course it did though right? It’s an EA game after all. Perhaps I could overlook this if the game itself was good but it’s really wasn’t. The driving feels like a cheap imitation of Burnout, the dialogue is painful to listen to and the once brilliant NFS upgrade system is now reliant on real life spending. You want a good Need For Speed? Go and pick up the original Most Wanted or Carbon.
With that we have summed up the year in racing. Was it good? Was it bad? Honest answer, it was pretty good. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Project CARS 2 and Ride 2 highlight 2017 although the questionable design choices of GT Sport and NFS Payback hold it back from being a truly special 12 months. The biggest omission of all is that we’ve gone yet another year without a new Burnout game. It’s almost been a decade now guys. If EA don’t give me a 10 year anniversary edition of Burnout Paradise then I’m going to lose my sanity. Oh and EA, please don’t put microtransactions in it. Pretty please?