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Racing in 2011: What’s Next After GT5?

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Posted by: Steve Haske

For a lot of hardcore fans of the racing genre, Gran Turismo represents the ultimate virtual driving experience. But after six years of starts, stops and teases, when GT5 finally crossed the retail release finish line, it arguably left some players disappointed over how behind-the-times the game felt in certain ways—while on numerous levels there’s no denying GT5’s quality as a top-notch product, the absence of, say, full damage modeling on all cars in a 2010 racer is a noticeable omission. So, what happens next for the racing genre? Will GT5 simply become eclipsed by the next big title? Or does its position as leader of the pack, warts and all, seem simply unmatchable for the foreseeable future? Read on…

Best of Both Worlds? 2010 had a nice balance of arcade style racers and more hardcore simulations, a trend that looks to continue throughout the new year—if there’s a common design theme of many of the new titles coming out this year, blending skill and accessibility. Perhaps the game that best captures this idea is Eden Games’ Test Drive Unlimited 2, due out in next month. The game, much like the original, is basically an automotive MMO, where you take to the streets and countrysides of exotic locales (in this case Ibiza, as well as a destination in Hawaii), participating in driving events and competitions, collecting cars and interacting with other players. Physics have been much improved from the sluggish feel of the original TDU, allowing players a better challenge with more realistic handling. Best of all? The developers have designed their sequel with an intent to reward players for basically playing however they want, whether that entails just going for a drive through the games close-to-2000 mile spread, joyriding with friends online or just hanging out in one of your carefully cultivated mansions. You can even admire cars you’ve bought from TDU2’s fully licensed automotive collection in your garage.

Not content with their newly released Hot Pursuit reboot, EA is also readying Shift 2: Unleashed for a late March release. Following in the footsteps of the 2009 original, Shift 2 looks to further blur the line between arcade racer and sim, keeping the less-arcadey physics as well as the XP system. The big new feature here (aside from a complete graphical overhaul) is a realistic new helmet-cam, which should push the intensity of the original’s trademark shaky-cam cockpit crashes to new heights. While Shift 2 is retaining its simulation-style feel, the helmet-cam and a general sense of dizzying speed should help the game feel far faster, more stylized and more dangerous than a sim like Gran Turismo has been able to in the past—and working with just 130 cars, the dev team is really making sure every inch of damage modeling and specific performance tuning is properly handled.

Activision’s recent acquisition of the NASCAR license from EA is shaping up in a similar vein, with developer Eutechnyx taking the role from EA Tiburon. NASCAR 2011 lets players choose between playing as themselves or from a wide roster of famous NASCAR drivers in competitions over 22 courses. You’ll be able to make your way through the 2010 schedule when the game hits late March, with the 2011 season following later (a la Capcom’s MotoGP series), gaining or losing fan support along the way or just making your way up the game’s career mode from rookie to the pro circuit. Online races host up to sixteen players, and the sim elements of the game can be dialed down for a more arcade-friendly experience.

Serious Anticipation Though many would argue that now that GT5 is finally out there won’t be a serious simulation contender again this console generation, that isn’t keeping the competition at bay. Turn 10 Studios, the developer of Microsoft’s would-be GT-killer Forza, certainly aren’t going to wait that long to release the next iteration of their flagship series. Though few details have been released thus far on Forza Motorsport 4, it has been revealed that it will have Kinect support, though how that affects the meat of the game is still unknown. (The Kinect-controlled tech demo Turn 10 showed off at E3—which let you walk around a virtual car, touching it for information and then controlling the steering while it auto accelerated through a race—was somewhat questionable). The dev team has also confirmed that regular controls will be a part of the game, though, and that Top Gear content is also making a return. Unfortunately Turn 10 has been tight-lipped about what else to expect from Forza 4, but as long as they don’t focus too heavily on Kinect “racing,” this should still be one to watch for sometime this Fall.

Even more scare is the information on the new GTR sim from Swedish developer SimBin. As a company that have always prided themselves on creating games with cars that are “easy to drive, hard to master,” SimBin is promising the tentatively-named GTR 2011 will be something of a return to form for the uniquely-styled simulation series, which began life with 2005’s GTR - FIA GT. This generally PC-only series has only had two console outings, and it’s up in the air whether or not this new installment will be seen on anything else. However, the developers are promising a host of online features and a “comprehensive” DLC line-up alongside their series trademark brand of simulation. With no other details to speak of, the jury is still out until the game is released sometime this year.

Racing Special Also notable in 2011’s releases is the somewhat random mix of more niche-leaning titles coming out. One of these types is rally, thankfully that means Codemasters’ DiRT series is coming back for a third round. New to DiRT 3 are increased weather effects, different lighting conditions and, finally, snow. Improvements to DiRT 2’s already stellar physics and handling make the new cars—which represent rally’s storied heritage from the 1960s to present day—handle more responsively (you can also tweak them more) while making your way through 100-plus courses on hand here. Though much of the game is going to be focusing more on traditional rally racing, X-Games events are also making a comeback (though with a far less “extreme” aesthetic than DiRT’s previous iteration), as well as gymkhana, the narrow-corridor stunt obstacle event Ken Block is known for.

On the other hand, the WRC has a game of it’s own coming out in WRC FIA World Rally Championship. While it doesn’t carry the same visual or stylistic oomph as DiRT, the dev team behind WRC are working to craft a purer and more “authentic” rally experience, with more sim-focused handling and physics and a greater emphasis on progression through the WRC’s season—you won’t see any rewind mechanics here. With only 13 courses to choose from, it sounds like Black Bean Games is taking the Shift 2 approach here; whether or not it pans out remains to be seen.

A little more drastic is Motorstorm Apocalypse, the newest in Sony’s arcade racing series due out this April. Unlike previous installments, this one takes a cue from Split/Second with tracks that literally come to pieces as you’re driving through them, offering an appropriately apocalyptic feel while playing. The dynamically changing obstacles and paths are also augmented (with the right equipment) with flying bits of debris, smoke and other elements adding to the chaos with full 3D support. (Speaking of 3D, racing fans picking up the 3DS this year can expect both Ridge Racer 3D as well as the latest in Ubisoft’s Asphalt series at launch, as well as a new Mario Kart allegedly due out later this year.) Finally, for fans of two-wheeled racers, MotoGP 2010/11 returns for another season, complete with an overhauled engine, better physics and balance between feather-light and more concentrated handling. Even in the wake of GT5, it seems that 2011 will have something to suit just about everyone’s racing preferences. Now, if we could just get a new Burnout…

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