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What’s New in Racing Games from E3 2017

The state of racing sims and arcade racers in 2017

For gearheads drowning in crossover SUVs, kiddie haulers, rising debt, and the relentless push toward an eco-friendly future hostile to internal combustion, realistic racing simulators and high-octane racing games have remained a reliable frustration outlet.

The genre expands every year, filling in the gaps made by new systems, processing power advancements, and virtual reality. It’s hard to keep up with the new releases, so we went to E3 2017 to take stock of what’s new in the racing genre.

Forza Motorsports 7

If we had to pick a headliner, it’d be Forza Motorsports 7. Ever since the launch of the Forza Horizon franchise back in 2012, Forza has split its name between the simulation, race circuit focus of Motorsport and the free roaming, arcade-y Horizon nameplate. Following Forza Motorsport 6 (FM6) from late 2015, FM7 is the newest race sim powerhouse from Turn 10 Studios.

It’s what you would expect from a FM evolution – more cars, better graphics, sharper AI, more weather effects. We spent some time with the E3 demo, and we’re pleased report it’s as pretty to look at as previous installments.

Three race options were offered in the demo – a stint in the new, unreleased 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS, some time in a racing semi-truck, and some laps in a Nissan GT-R GT3 car. We skipped the Nissan, but made sure to cut a few laps in the Porsche and semi-truck.

The Porsche GT2 RS was placed in a field of like-minded supercars, and took place on a fabricated circuit located in the sand-swept outskirts of Dubai. The sun was bright, casting a harsh light on the rocky environment, while sand intruded on the track in wispy clouds, obscuring our view for brief moments.

Dynamically, fans who have progressed through previous FM titles will feel right at home. I used my regular difficulty settings and was impressed at how the mechanics felt historically similar to other Forza titles while showing improvements to car control finesse and the dreaded wobble recovery.

The 700-strong car selection looks as varied as ever, especially from behind the wheel of the aforementioned racing semi-truck. The game engine did a wonderful job of making the truck feel every bit as big as it is, requiring a great deal more steering effort than the mercurial Porsche.

So, the news is good, Forza faithful. Clear your schedule for October 3rd of this year, when Forza Motorsport 7 drops for the Xbox One, Windows 10, and the all-new Xbox One X.

Gran Turismo Sport

The next installment in the popular Gran Turismo franchise will land in fall of this year. Gran Turismo Sport has received a large share of attention following the title’s announcement in late 2015, when series creator Kazunori Yamauchi categorized Sport as the first title to be considered in the second generation of the Gran Turismo series.

Like the earlier GT “prologue” titles, this might not be considered by some to be a full title release, but developer Polyphony Digital promises Sport will have more content than previous stopgap GT games.

Following the standard racing game formula, Sport offers different game modes, the three in this case being “Campaign,” “Sports,” and “Arcade.” Along with regular online racing, Polyphony Digital worked with the FIA to certify top-level GT drivers, allowing certain parameters of GT gametime to count toward a real racing license.

Our time was limited to one lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a McLaren 675LT, but unlike Forza, I had access to a full fixed racing wheel and pedal setup. On-track, the McLaren displayed the same realistic handling dynamics that GT has long considered its hallmark.

The 675LT turned out to be the perfect blend of performance and usability for our limited seat time. Coming from a background filled with hours invested into Forza, the learning curve for GTS wasn’t so drastically different, especially when you compare Gran Turismo 5 and Forza Motorsports 4, the last time I extensively played a GT title.

Like FM7, visuals take the center stage. The line between crappy live footage and in-game footage continues to blur, especially with minutia detail inside and out each car. Sound is much improved over past games as well and, for the first time in GT history, Porsche joins the long roster of cars available.

Gran Turismo Sport launches later this year for the Playstation 4.

Project Cars 2

Much to the chagrin of Forza and GT fans alike, Project Cars from Developer Bandai Namco is well on its way to establishing itself as one of the more serious racing sims available. The second release, Project Cars 2, only increases the visibility of the new franchise.

Like the other two titles, PC2 puts the player behind the wheel of some of the fastest and most desirable cars imaginable. Realism is at a forefront of the game’s list of goals, and to some effect, it’s as realistic as GT could ever hope to be. The game incorporates VR support and night/day transitions, which separates it from titles that have moved away from time-lapse scenarios.

McLaren is one of the title sponsors for PC2, so the demos on-hand put us in the driver’s seat of a new McLaren 720S. Compared to GT Sport and FM7, the learning curve was much, much higher and I found myself bashing into walls with much greater frequency. Inputs through the steering wheel and pedal set-up were much more immediate than the other games and recovery after unsettling the car was harder than anything I experienced before.

Don’t think of this as a bad thing – there’s a place in the market for hardcore simulators that still manage to be glossy and graphically sharp. We’ve got high hopes for the Project Cars franchise, and the sequel looks as though it picks up right where the first one left off.

Get in line for the Project Cars 2 release on September 22.

F1 2017

Like Madden, the NBA 2K series, and FIFA, developer Codemaster’s F1 2017 is this year’s episode of the F1 series. New for 2017 is the team management feature, allowing players to determine the direction of their Formula 1 team, including ordering parts, car upgrades, and improving pit stop times.

Alongside this, expect better graphics, classic Formula 1 cars, a handful of new tracks, and revised driving mechanics.

Look for the release of F1 2017 on August 25.

Need for Speed Payback

Following the reboot of the Need for Speed series in 2015 with the eponymous release, a grittier, more pop-culture-focused NFS moves into 2017 with Payback. Like the previous game, Payback focuses on a character driven story over driving realism, taking place on public roads and putting the player inside heavily modified cars in place of race cars. According to Creative Director William Ho, the new NFS will be a “playable action movie.”

Going by the trailer, this NFS looks more story driven than ever, allowing the player to participate in heists, desert chases, and police pursuits.

Need for Speed Payback hits retail shelves on November 10 later this year.

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