For top car enthusiasts there were more car video games in 2011 than ever before. The year proved itself to be a fantastic year to pick up a console (or a top notch PC) and get a driving game that suited personal preference.
From the serious and hardcore driving simulators to the fun and crazy racing games, here is my pick of car-related video games of 2011.
Although a lot of people didn’t seem to get along with this game I am comfortably saying that this title was my favourite car game of 2011. Sure it stole the plot from Life On Mars a little bit and has some ridiculously difficult missions but other than that it introduced a brand new gaming mechanic to a genre that can be a bit dull from time to time.
Having the ability to “shift” between cars at any given time felt like something right out of the freeway scene in the Matrix Reloaded, and the recreation of San Francisco has to be one of the best open worlds I have ever seen created.
The shift aspect of the game means you are constantly on the move, even when you crash the car you can quickly shift into another vehicle without worrying about having to reverse. In missions where you have to race against others you can simply shift into a lorry further up the road and either park in the middle of the road or take on the car head on. The possibilities for winning races and passing missions really make the game feel fresh and unique.
On the opposite side of the gaming fence, Forza 4 provides more of a serious simulation but one that is equally as fun to play. Gamers can get behind the wheel of over 500 cars and customise every part of the vehicle in order to perfect the performance of the car on the track. The great thing about Forza is that if your favourite car of all time is the Fiat 500 or the DeLorean, you can spend money on that vehicle to completely rip the insides out to make it able to compete with the likes of faster cars in separate racing categories.
The other aspect of this game that really stands it out from the crowd is that it is one of the first games to seamlessly use an Xbox 360 controller (or steering wheel) whilst using Kinect. Players can use the wheel or controller to control the car but using their heads can look left or right with Kinect which is particularly useful on harder difficulty levels on the tougher corners of some tracks.
Using Kinect, players can also take a deeper look into some of the cars in the game, opening doors, looking at the engine and even sitting in the driving seat and starting the engine.
Love him or hate him, Jeremy Clarkson gives some fantastic information on some of the cars in the game and Turn 10 Studios partnered with the BBC and Top Gear to bring the test track at Dunsfold as well as some unique multiplayer experiences, including car football!
The Run returned Black Box to the helm of the Need For Speed franchise, and they have been behind the majority of the NFS games over the last ten years, but were not involved when the series revolutionised itself with newer titles like Shift and Hot Pursuit. Although a lot of fans felt that The Run was a step backwards for the franchise, it is still a game well worth playing thanks to the beautiful locations and the use of the Frostbite 2.0 engine (seen first in Battlefield 3).
The race is on to see if the player can get from San Francisco to New York before the other participants of the underground street race. Gamers not only have to battle races on busy city streets but also races that take place in The Rockies and Yosemite National Park; some of the events are a real battle against the terrain as much as the competition!
The one part of this game that disappoints is the inclusion of sections of the game that happen outside of the car, a first for the Need For Speed franchise. It might not be that bad but all of these sections are quick time events (perhaps the most pointless invention in the history of gaming) and whilst included to help tell the story, they fail to impress.
Although technically Shift 2 is a Need For Speed game, EA wanted to create a serious franchise that could compete with Forza and Gran Turismo so thought the game would do better for hardcore fans without the NFS title!
Although this game is far from competing with both of the former in terms of number of vehicles present and tracks available, it does have some of the best crash physics seen in a serious car game. The inclusion of the helmet camera also stood this title out from the crowd as the view was from the point of view of the driver's eyes rather than the front seat. This meant that when turning corners your view adjusted accordingly, making the game feel rather more immersive than a lot of racing games (even without a steering wheel).
Codemasters did a fantastic job with F1 2010, making Formula One games a pleasure to spend time with again.(After a few dreadful attempts at creating the sport in a game were made previously). Not only did they include everything that fans expected (rules, drivers, teams and tracks) but Codemasters made sure they put time and effort into making sure that weather effects make a difference to the game (forcing a pit-stop to change tyres) and making the player feel like they are behind the wheel of one of the most powerful cars on the planet (especially if he/she steering wheel with force feedback).
Although the 2011 edition was much of the same, Codemasters listened to feedback from fans and made improvements to AI behaviour and handling of the cars themselves. The biggest thing that fans asked for was the inclusion of the safety car, and gamers will now be pleasantly surprised to find this in the game as long as they are playing races that are 20% of real race distance or longer. Red flags were also included, as were specific rule changes for the 2011 season like KERS and DRS.
Fans of the 2010 edition will love the updated 2011 version of the game.
Although LA Noire isn’t a car game in its own right, a lot of the gameplay involves driving around a 1940s LA, which is why the game is included in the list. Team Bondi did a fantastic job with the game (especially the brand new technology in the facial tracking) but the cars of the game really did feel like they were vehicles from the 40s. The driving felt clunky like a 40s car should but didn’t feel inaccessible, the balance was perfect and from an automotive junkie’s point of view, Team Bondi should be commended.
The chase sequences also feel incredibly authentic of the time with the jump from car chases to on foot chase sequences playing as would be expected.
Of course I couldn’t include every racing game to come out in 2011 and others include Dirt 3 and Test Drive Unlimited 2.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anderoo/