If you are a true blue car guy, you might have played the classic games like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed, Midnight Club. At least one of these three, for sure. If you’re among that lucky bunch who got to push a certain blue Calsonic liveried Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R at Silverstone circuit in Gran Turismo, chances are you are already into sim racing. But what about the rest of the people who grew up putting flame decals on their Peugeot 209 GTi and spinner wheels and suicide doors and neon underglows? Obviously, that crowd now knows that cars do not, and I mean DO NOT drive like they did in the Need for Speed games. But at the same time, they may not want the ultra-realistic handling of the hardcore sim racers like iRacing or RFactor2. Even if you don’t have a gaming wheel, there are games which offer sufficient realism with, believe it or not, a keyboard or gamepad. Here is my list of fun, some old, some new, middle ground between sim and arcade games (simcade, if you will) that will help you transition from the drifty NOS induced love for cars to a more mature, realistic virtual scene.
1. GRID 2019
Now the first GRID game came out way back in 2008 and created quite a stir among arcade gaming crowd. It presented more realistic handling while featuring a lot of real world tracks, although lacking detail. Smoke characteristics were great, only second to Need for Speed’s ProStreet. And frankly, I preferred the latter more than the GRID for its larger, more diverse car list. Thinking about it more, the ProStreet was the Need For Speed franchise’s first stab at more realistic simcade racing. And it worked for quite a lot of people, including me. I loved how you could build cars for different disciplines like drag, drift, grip, speed etc. and customization levels far surpassed that of the GRID’s. Codemasters did update the first installment with a sequel but that wasn’t much of an improvement.
In 2019 though, the studio released GRID 2019. This game has much better visuals, handling is miles ahead of the last two and it even manages to simulate how differently a car handles when the heavens open up. If you turn off all the assists (as you should) you can feel lift off oversteer in a FF car or even the rear stepping out of your Corvette GT3 racer. Although these effects can be a handful to counter with a keyboard or a gamepad, the fact that a game that leans more towards arcade racer even includes these, is noteworthy.
2. Dirt 3
Don’t fancy the tarmac much? Do you like going sideways into a ‘hairpin, right’, with your left tyres digging into the dirt while the right wheels scrabble for grip and try to keep you on track from the ditch you’re about to crash into because you were 5 km/h too fast? Fret not, rally nerds, Codemasters has got you covered here as well. Of course there are better, more realistic Dirt games out there but none is quite this fun. Keep all the assists on, and you’ll lap stages faster than Sebastian Loeb. But if you really want to challenge yourself without worrying that if you don’t get the Scandinavian flick timed right, you may not finish the stage at all, Dirt is very forgiving in that regard. Even with all assists off, cars handle the dirt beautifully, and yet, once it rains the tracks become increasingly difficult to finish even, let alone master them. And for added bonus, you get to drive a selection of crazy Gymkhana cars, from Ken Block’s Fiesta to a Hayabusa motor swapped 1970s Mini.
3. Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed
Okay, back to the tarmac. This, in my books is one of the best Need for Speed titles. To develop this, EA went to Slightly Mad Studios, who did a mind blowing job of bridging the gap between arcade and sim. This game featured all real life tracks, extremely well detailed cars, with the option to upgrade them quite extensively, I must add. One of the very few games where you can shoehorn the Lexus LFA’s glorious N/A 4.8L V10 into your IS-F executive saloon for that ultimate sleeper look. The tracks were quite well detailed and the AI opponents, unlike every other game, weren’t afraid of pushing you off the track if you got in their way, even if it earned them time penalties later. It had license from FIA to feature all the GT series race cars, with special championships for each class. Also it featured my favourite feature, which was carried over into Project Cars 2, the Helmet cam. It redefined driver’s POV by placing your view directly inside the helmet. As you approached a turn, the camera would move slightly to look into the turn and focus on the track while blurring out the dashboard and steering in front of you, just like you’d turn your head while driving. Also, Formula Drift legend Vaughn Gittin Jr is your race chief, constantly guiding you on the radio. This is the game that got me addicted to trying (and failing by almost a minute) to lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a Zonda R faster than the real world time. It even made me shell out money for a cheap gaming wheel.
4. Forza Motorsport 7
The 7th game in this famous franchise is the latest till date, releasing in 2017. Forza always makes it a point to include the latest supercars for its cover and this is no exception. A silver Porsche 911 GT2RS with the Weissach package adorns the cover and is a small hint at how well detailed all of its 700 cars are. Yes, SEVEN HUNDRED CARS. The list is so varied that you’re bound to be spoilt for choice. Be it racing against a 3 wheeled Reliant (Mr Bean’s nemesis’s car) in your 1968 Mini around the Hockenheimring or fighting for the podium in a Formula E car or even NASCAR, Forza has got something for everyone. Customisation options are plenty, allowing for crazy engine swaps and you’re unlikely to get bored of the game, even after months. The handling of most cars is spot on, though compared to the next entries on this list, it lacks crucial feedback. In other words, most cars handle predictably, making this game more approachable to a wider audience but that has made its cars a bit ‘wooden’ to drive. Also, do keep in mind, this is a huge game and requires a lot of space (over 200GB on a PC).
5. Asetto Corsa
Now these next two entries on this list are bordering on full-on sims, if not already, as considered by many. But I believe these are essential stepping stones into preparing you for the more hardcore sims out there. And suffice to say, the online community can get pretty wild in those. Asetto Corsa from the Italian studio Kunos Simulazioni might even be considered a love letter to Italian motoring, with cars from other manufacturers sprinkled over. You’ve got Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani among others and just when you think you’ve mastered a 458 Italia around Spa, why not try your hand at a Stage 2 458 with more power. And also, switch off all assists, for fun.
Cars here are so immaculately detailed because they are laser scanned models of the real deal. And so are most of the tracks. And just when you think the 178 cars included in the game aren’t enough for you, the game has a vast online modding community. You can find Time Attack beasts, 80s and 90s Formula 1 cars and pretty much anything else you can imagine, even tracks. And the best part of this game has to be the realistic handling. Once you can make the 812 Superfast do a perfect drift around Silverstone’s corners, the satisfaction you’ll get is unparalleled. What makes this game sweeter is that it supports VR. And if you can afford peripherals, a good gaming wheel is the best investment. Logitech’s G29 is perfect for beginners and pros alike, with amazing response and feedback from its dual helical geared motors. It even has hand-stitched perforated leather with brushed aluminium paddle shifters that’ll put a lot of actual production cars to shame. Asetto Corsa has predefined feedback settings specifically for this wheel, which makes the combo quite irresistible.
6. Project Cars 2
Another game from Slightly Mad Studios, only this time they did it independently. This is the second instalment in the franchise and is a big step up from the previous one. What I particularly like is how responsive the cars feel when compared to Forza Motorsport. Almost all of the cars here are race cars, including some very serious Le Mans racers from manufacturers you might have never heard of.
The graphics here are far better than Asetto Corsa and the track detail, is again on another league, due to all of them being perfect laser scanned versions of the real ones. Car detail is brilliant and the sound design is spot on. Handling is very mature and you’re very likely to lock up the wheels under braking when the tyres aren’t up to temperature. Tyre wear and real time fuel consumption (like in Asetto Corsa) means you may need to pit during a long race. And it does get tiring during a long race. It includes motorsport presets like Endurance, GT, Open Wheeled, NASCAR etc, each extremely customisable to suit your style.
Dynamically changing weather and time means it’s hard to maintain pace in a race and your opponent’s driving line will leave tyre marbles on the other parts of the track, which will cause your tyres to lose grip. Puddles will form in places on the track during a rainy race and you’re more than likely to aquaplane and spin out in the middle of the track. And this is one of the few games where you can recreate a full 24 hour Le Mans race, complete with customisable weather profiles and real life time progression. But it’s extensive environmental detail and brilliant skies will be reason enough for you to try out this game. It features a more refined version of the Helmet Cam seen in Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed and if you have a multi-screen setup with a good gaming wheel, this game is a real treat. When a game’s development is helped by real racing drivers, including Ben Collins otherwise known (not known?) formerly as ‘The Stig’, you can bet the racing characteristics will be spot on.
So there, that’s my list of some of the games car nerds and more importantly, people interested in racing should definitely check out. For those who don’t have a PC or a console to play all these games, fret not! Android has got you covered on that. Real Racing 3 continues to be the best sim racer available for smartphones, hands down. The level of detail on the tracks and cars is just unbelievable for an android game. Its diverse list of everyday hot hatches to hardcore ultra-exclusive race cars like the Ferrari FXX-K will surely keep you hooked on to your phone all day. On second thoughts, that might not be a good idea after all.