I absolutely adore racing games, I always have. But to me it's clear as day that a change has happened over the past few years. Arcade racing as a sub-genre has continued to falter, whereas simulation racing has excelled. This can even be seen in the expansion and growth of the sim-racing peripheral sector and competitive side of things, as people are figuring out that motorsport is the only sporting area that can accurately be represented as a video game. Sure FIFA sells a boatload of copies each year, but never has one of those games really put you in the shoes of an elite professional athlete in the same way that the F1 and WRC series can. The racing genre stands above the rest when it comes to immersion, and that's why I love it so much.
But before I carry on, let's set the record straight. There's a degree of crossover in what it is I'm talking about here, as not everything is black and white, but the general theme is that series like Need for Speed, Grid, and Burnout, true arcade racers with floaty car mechanics and unnatural speed sensations, are at a serious crossroads. These games fail to excel in the one area that the racing genre can stand above anything else in the sporting gaming space: immersion, and I strongly believe that the faltering success of each series sounds off an alarm bell that simply states 'adapt or die'.
The reason why I'm bringing this up is down to two things; EA axing a bunch of racing franchises late last year, and then the launch of Need for Speed Unbound. Talking about the former, I'm fine with Project Cars getting cut, but Dirt? Really...? Sure, Dirt 5 wasn't a great look and that's down to its more arcade focus if you ask me, but with EA and Codemasters now taking over the WRC licence from KT Racing, the time has come for a resurgence of Dirt, one that will put the rally franchise back on top, as it once was back in the day of Dirt Rally 2.0.
But no, Dirt is dead and Need for Speed lives. I appreciate that EA and Criterion are still attempting to return this series back to its former glory, but the problem is, Need for Speed will never be on top again, especially if it continues to exist as it does. Why would any person interested in racing games seek out a title that doesn't provide accurate racing gameplay and mechanics, and this is why it baffles me that these sorts of games continue to be shipped.
The video games of today are significantly more impressive than the ones of yesteryear, so why does the arcade racing sub-genre refuse to embrace the immense amounts of data and information that could allow developers to create accurate racing sensations. Take Forza Horizon for example. This is a series that is objectively an arcade racer, yet it has a driving feeling that can be so heavily customised to suit the player that it feels real when you're sat behind the wheel. And this is the same for the sim-racers of F1 and even the WRC games (although these do have their own demons). The point is, Forza Horizon has carved its name directly onto the forehead of the arcade racing scene ever since the series first debuted a decade ago, and since then continued to improve and improve, to where it is today - the undisputed king of the sub-genre. Need for Speed on the other hand is still stalling and failing to get into second gear, due to continuing to attempt to entice players with the same style of gameplay that started to lose its charm a few years before Forza Horizon even rocked up to the starting grid.
Now there is still a place for arcade racing, don't get me wrong. Kart racers are still adorable and fun, and series like Asphalt continue to excel on mobile devices thanks to the more limited hardware and control methods. But on current-gen consoles and PCs, devices with enough hardware and potential to provide accurate simulations, it should be commonplace to sit behind the wheel of a car, to feel the weight of the vehicle, the torque in the engine, the grip of the tires and the lack thereof when heading into a corner carrying too much speed. Quite frankly, I'm sick of these racing games where the best way to win is to simply smash your car into the railings defining the track limits, grinding around the edge of the course with your foot firmly pressed on the pedal, all to maintain the necessary speed and momentum to win the race.
Racing is brilliant because of its intricacies, the racing lines, the brake timings, the skill to shift gears quickly, and so on. Imagine if you booted up FIFA and the best way to win was to simply run over any opponent standing in front of you on your way to the goal, all because there were no penalties. That's essentially what arcade racing feels like these days. So it needs to adapt... or die. I'm not saying every racing game needs to be a hard simulated experience like Gran Turismo, but can we please leave behind these ancient racing systems and instead lean into something similar to how Forza Horizon feels? Because right now, it's hard for me to look at a new Need for Speed, or Grid, etc, without already immediately experiencing an overwhelming sense of prejudice and dread that it is doomed to fail.