Driving games take realism to new heights

Car Culture Motorsport

Driving games have been around for decades, and have always been popular. They allow us to pretend we are a Formula One driver racing around Monaco, or participate in some virtual Cannonball Run on public roads in a selection of supercars. Whether it’s arcade-style action or simulator-style challenge, driving games have always been a great form of entertainment.

The continuing development of computing power has meant that video games have improved massively over the last few decades. I remember playing Test Drive by Accolade (on a Commodore 64, no less) in the late 1980s and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. To be fair, I was about 12 at the time. Track down some footage of its graphics these days and it looks cartoonish.

The latest generation of driving games is bringing unprecedented realism and levels of detail previously considered unimaginable, and the latest games being released in the run-up to Christmas are pushing the limits of current computing power to their limits. Titles like Project Cars 2, F1 2017, Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport have all taken significant steps forward over their predecessors, with amazing visuals and enhanced gameplay to better replicate the handling characteristics of real cars. The effect is so powerful that it can cause significant motion sickness in players (more of which below).

Car manufacturers are no longer simply involved through licencing their models’ likeness for use in the game. Game developers will spend months working with designers, engineers and test drivers at car companies to make sure that the virtual cars behave in the exact same way as their real cars in any situation. Professional racing drivers spend many hours playing the game to provide feedback to developers about the tiniest nuances of both cars and tracks.

Project Cars 2

The original Project Cars game of 2015 was an unexpected hit. Funded by crowdsourcing, sponsored by racing fans who wanted a properly hardcore driving simulation, Project Cars seemed like it was only ever going to have niche appeal for those who spend a lot of time on driving games. But the finished product was so good, it immediately became a serious rival to established series like Sony’s Gran Turismo and Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport.

That success made a sequel almost inevitable. But unlike many second-edition games, which often fail to match the experience of the original, Project Cars 2 seems to have improved every single area and taken some major leaps forward.

Improvements to visuals and sound are to be expected, even though the new game is designed to run on the same systems (Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC) as the original. But considerable attention has been paid to physics modelling for important areas like tyre and weather behaviour, which massively improve the feeling of realism compared to real-world driving. The majority of the tracks have also been laser scanned for millimetric accuracy.

The number of configurations for different races is staggering. If you would like to recreate the Le Mans 24 Hours, run over the full race distance in real time with both day and night periods, different weather patterns, representative grids and AI opponents, then you can (although the inability to save your progress mid-race is annoying, especially in a longer event). If you’d rather pitch an Indycar against a go-kart and a rallycross car on the old Monza banking in a blizzard at night, you can do that too.

At a recent preview event at Brands Hatch, we got to experience the rather surreal experience of driving a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in a virtual race, while the real version of the exact same car (including all the same decals) was out racing around the real circuit in a British GT championship event at the same time.

Project Cars 2 hits shelves next week (September 22) for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PCs. We hope to have a full review of the game, and a back-to-back comparison with the original, very soon.

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F1 Racing 2017

Over the years, Formula One video games have been rather hit and miss. There have been some absolute gems, like the Microprose Grand Prix series developed by the legendary Geoff Crammond, but also some very ordinary adaptations as well. Licencing restrictions have also traditionally been very restrictive, limiting the ability to get too carried away with drivers changing teams or swapping sponsors, etc.

Since 2010, British studio Codemasters has had the rights to be the official game of F1. Its first effort, called (unsurprisingly) F1 2010, was well received, but since then it has been a mixed bag with many of the following years’ games offering little to no real improvement. A novel ‘classic’ section was added in 2013, but was very limited and disappeared again the following year.

2016’s game was a step forward for driving dynamics, and F1 2017 looks to have taken another step in terms of gameplay options. And to much celebration, a historic F1 section is back, bigger and better than last time. Rather than being a separate add-on as in 2013, this time around the classic section has been integrated better with the main career section. We are yet to spend more than a few minutes with F1 2017, but hope to spend some time with it soon to produce a full review.

F1 2017 is on sale now for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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Gran Turismo Sport

The original Gran Turismo from 1997 was a landmark title in driving game history, offering a range of cars and tracks that were vastly larger than any previous effort. And it wasn’t simply a matter or quantity over quantity, as the driving dynamics were also leagues ahead of traditional driving game fare.

Every sequel since has expanded on the previous version, with the biggest drawback being that it was a series developed by Sony – and therefore only available on Sony Playstation consoles. If you played your games on a Microsoft Xbox or PC, then bad luck. But the games have been so good that many Playstation consoles were sold just so gamers could play the latest instalment of Gran Turismo.

The latest game, Gran Turismo Sport, is the first in the series for the Playstation 4 console. Its arrival has been much delayed, which is surprising since Sony launched the PS4 nearly four years ago. In that time, rivals like Project Cars and Assetto Corsa have raised the bar for console driving simulators, so expectations are high that Sony will deliver a stunning new game to wrest GT‘s hard-earned crown back again.

Gran Turismo Sport launches on 18 October 2017 for Playstation 4.

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Forza Motorsport 7

The Forza Motorsport series is Microsoft’s answer to the Gran Turismo family, and the recent editions have certainly been the equal of GT. The Forza brand has also spawned a more open-world series called Forza Horizon. Like Gran Turismo, the Forza titles are owned by the same company that makes the console, so Forza fans will need an Xbox or a PC rather than a PS4.

Forza Motorsport 7 is the latest instalment in the series, and has been developed alongside Microsoft’s latest update to the Xbox, the Xbox One X. Very little information has been released so far, other than that the game will feature more than 700 cars and 200 circuit configurations across 30 locations. Like Project Cars 2, it will feature dynamic weather that can change dramatically throughout a race.

October 3 is launch day for Forza Motorsport 7, for Xbox One and PC systems.

Driving games are so realistic they can make you car sick

As video game graphics have got better and better, combined with larger TVs, more and more people are finding that they suffer from motion sickness when playing them.

I often find this when playing a new game for the first few times; as I am looking around the screen to work out what’s going on and sussing out the right buttons on the controller, I start feeling nauseous. It’s a very common problem, and it’s very unpleasant. It’s the same sensation as being car sick or seasick, caused by your eyes, ears and brain being unable to agree what’s happening.

The good news is that you should eventually adapt to it. It’s important to stop playing as soon as you start feeling unwell – trying to push on through does not work and you will start to feel quite sick. We will be publishing an article on motion sickness shortly with more tips.

Which of the above games are you most looking forward to and why? Let us know in the comments below…

Stuart Masson

Stuart is the Editor of The Car Expert, which he founded in 2011, and our new sister site The Van Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the car industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

2 Comments

  1. GT Sport launches today! Bought my copy, just need to kick the family out of the house so I can get started…

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Let us know what you think of it – it’s rather different to previous instalments of the franchise.

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