When I was a wee lad, I remember tearing around the backyard on my Transformers big wheel, pulling the e-brake at high speeds to pitch the back end out around corners, only to blindly scream through the next section with reckless abandon. These are the games that totally captured that feeling of raw power and flat-out gleeful fun of burning rubber and going fast.
By Brad Iger
The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.
When Nintendo Entertainment System hit the scene back in 1985, there were two games you had to have: Super Mario Bros. (duh, and it came with the system) and Excitebike.
Excitebike dropped you into the ruthless world of high-speed motocross racing, complete with dastardly cheap moves which could cause competitors to crash end over end, motors which would overheat by design, and – most importantly, a level editor, so you could setup an endless sequence of those turbo arrows followed by huge jumps. That intro song will be forever burned into my memory, and I kind of like that.
9. Test Drive III
Ahh, Test Drive. Many an hour in elementary school computer lab was misspent barreling down the highway in this game’s pixilated supercars instead of doing homework.
Besides the awesome-factor of the high speed police chases in “real” rendered exotic sports cars like the Lamborghini Diablo, the game’s elaborate anti-piracy decoder-wheel thing was pretty neat, and the ghetto work-around of photocopying each wheel and tacking them together added to the charm.
8. Forza 2 Motorsport
In the racing games genre, there will always be a segment of games which are considered to be for hardcore racing fans only. Until Forza, the only game franchise that really stood out as a series that sought to really appeal to this segment was the Gran Turismo series.
But for Microsoft, this was a problem, because the Gran Turismo series has always been a Playstation exclusive. So they responded with a GT of their own, the Forza Motorsport series, a hardcore racing title with a massive host of real tracks, licensed cars, and seemingly endless modification options.
Though Forza has traditionally aired on the side of arcadey-ness at times when Gran Turismo might’ve stood fast with unrelenting (and often frustrating) simulator-type physics, Forza 2 has two clear advantages in the current-gen battle:
Stunts! You were so badass! I could get into a Porsche 962 IMSA race car, floor it, take a corner at high speed, and suddenly… start spiraling up into the stratosphere for no reason at all! Stunts featured a great track editor, awesome cars, and it fit on one 3.5 disc. But the most important factor, the one which takes Stunts to a whole ‘nother level is that the game is laden with wacky physics bugs which seemed to pop up when you really pushed the cars to their limits.
Sharp turns at full speed could cause you to get sucked into an invisible hurricane, landing a jump wrong could land you on an invisible mega-trampoline which would send your car thousands of feet into the air, at which point you could get up, make a sandwich, and come back just in time to see your car explode upon finally hitting the ground. The possibilities were endless, and hilarious.
6. Wave Race 64
What Excitebike was to the NES, Wave Race 64 was to the Nintendo 64. Who knew jet ski racing was so friggin’ addictive? Wave Race also seemed to have an element of unpredictability due to the swells in the water and how they affected the jet skis, especially when trying to jump over obstacles and time your tricks.
Add to that the gauntlet of buoys you had to navigate through, ramps made from pieces of pirate ships, and varying weather conditions, it suddenly becomes very clear why this game was such a standout on the N64.
5. RC Pro AM
Honestly, is there anything more gratifying than smearing your opponent across the guardrails in the final straightaway to take the win in an RC Pro AM race? This was some serious heart-pounding-in-yer-chest level intensity. RC Pro AM utilized drifting as a means of taking corners before anyone even had a buzzword for it.
And the upgrades! Maxing out those performance meters and racking up trophies was all good and fine… but the first time you saw one of your opponents skidding along and that sweet-ass buggy, you knew it had to be yours, no matter how many retries it took. Okay, I need to play RC Pro AM right now.
4. Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road
Sure, they ported Super Off Road to numerous consoles over the years, but I think you all know what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the 3-wheeled, gas pedal on the floor standup arcade machine.
The key to Super Off Road was mastering two main skills – knowing the precise time to hit the nitros for maximum thrust, and, more importantly, knowing exactly how long to whip that steering wheel around and when to suddenly lock it into place to perform a perfectly awesome turn. Man, with the number of quarters I poured into that machine, I could’ve just bought one of those things outright.
3. Burnout 3: Takedown
The genius behind Burnout is simple: what is it about racing that keeps everyone watching? Well duh, it’s the element of danger – the potential for spectacular crashes. So why not make a game that rewards awesome crashing instead of punishing it? The result is Burnout, where players are encouraged to drive aggressively, behave like an automotive misanthrope, and embrace the visceral beauty of four-wheeled carnage.
Burnout 3: Takedown, in particular, is really where it all came together for the series. Not only did it showcase a fully realized Crash Mode, but the emphasis on “takedowns” (smashing into opponents and causing them to crash during the race) really ratcheted up the intensity factor. It also created a more level playing field, since a successful takedown would give you a full boost meter and the possibility of going all the way from the back of the pack to win the race.
Modes like Road Rage, where the only goal is to smash as many opponents to pieces as possible, makes for great stress relief after a long urban commute. And slow motion replays of Crash Mode exploits will never cease to entertain. Exploding big rigs really do it for me.
2. Super Mario Kart
It’s easy to disregard the Mario Kart series as nothing but a passing distraction in the pantheon of racing titles. But Mario Kart’s charm is in its simplicity. Think of it as the 3D grandson of RC Pro Am. It’s a racing title that truly anyone can just pick up and play, and it really shines when you dive into the multiplayer modes, and as any racer worth its salt should.
Aside from traditional 4-player racing modes, Mario Kart included the now-famed Battle Mode which put you and up to 3 friends in a Thunderdome-style arena with weapons strewn about with which you could take out peeps with the fury of… banana peels.
Battle Mode was so addictive that I would play it until my arms would no longer support the weight of the controller.
1. Gran Turismo 4
Probably not a total shocker, but you have to give credit where credit is due. When Polyphony Digital set out to create a racing game, they decided to point their sights directly at the hardcore racing fans. The result was a game (and subsequently, a series) which emphasized realism as the paramount feature (nevermind the lack of damage modeling).
Nearly all the cars in GT games have real-life counterparts and the driving mechanics of each car is based upon driving impressions from the real thing. And the cars react to driver input based on real world physics. The result is that Gran Turismo, and GT4 in particular, provides the closest, most accurate experience most of us will ever get of driving a million-dollar supercar like the Ferrari Enzo or a Pangani Zonda.
Now let’s talk content. Looking for a comprehensive racing experience? GT4 contains over 700 cars, each with its own unique driving characteristics, and the vast majority of those cars are infinitely tunable as well. There are also 51 tracks, and that includes everything from Laguna Seca to the grand daddy of them all, the grueling 13-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife raceway in Germany.
People go back and forth about whether the game is an accurate depiction of driving and these cars drive in real life. I think Jeremy Clarkson, host of the BBC motor show Top Gear is probably the most qualified man on the planet to make the call, since he’s driven just about everything with four wheels:
…they’ve even managed to accurately reflect the differences between a Mercedes SL 600 and the Mercedes SL 55, which is hard enough to do in real life. There’s more, too. If you take a banked curve in the Bentley Le Mans car flat out, you’ll be fine. If you back off, even a little bit, you lose the aerodynamic grip and end up spinning. That’s how it is. This game would only be more real if a big spike shot out of the screen and skewered your head every time you crashed.
And that’s why it’s the greatest racing game of all time.