Features Driving into E3 2012

Features

Martin Bigg

Writer

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It’s that special time of year again where all the big boys gather to deliver an onslaught of high profile game announcements and unwittingly create cringe-worthy giant enemy crab memes for the internet to ridicule. It can of course only be E3, and it can often be pivotal chance for racing game enthusiasts to learn about the year’s most hotly-anticipated driving games whilst discovering new ones.

E3 hasn’t even begun, and yet we’ve already been treated to a barrage of info on some of the most anticipated racing releases of the year, so we’re eager to find out what else is in-store for racing game fans throughout the week as the E3 conferences commence. Here’s a rundown of what we know so far, what we can expect to see and what we’d like to see from E3 2012 in the world of racing games:

Forza Horizon


Developed by the newly formed team at Playground Games in Leamington Spa, Forza Horizon has been an almighty tease, playing an alluring game of hard to get. Pitched as an open world spin-off to Turn 10’s simulation masterpiece Forza Motorsport, we’ve had barely a scrap of information to go on since its announcement back in March, with just a brief teaser trailer comprised entirely of live action footage and one tantalising screenshot to nibble on.

That was until only today however, as a slew of screenshots and tasty details were spilled by German site Forza Life. We now know the location will be set in Colorado, that Forza 4’s physics will be in place and hot spots such as paint shops and dealerships will be readily available – head over to today’s news post for further details.

Indeed, while Forza Horizon is quite clearly a drastic departure from Forza Motorsport’s established track racing formula, visually it’s already looking on par – so far only the SRT Viper GTS and Ford GT have been confirmed to be in the car list from the screenshots, but both have been rendered with the same exquisite detail the series is renowned for.

With this level of detail, we doubt that Forza Horizon will have anywhere near the insane amount of cars found in Forza Horizon (probably around 100 – 200 at most, but that’s speculation on our part), but you have to remember that the agring hardware of the Xbox 360 will be constantly rendering an expansive open world environment rather than one race track at a time.

With this in mind, if Forza Horizon looks anywhere near as good in-game as it does from the screenshots, then Playground Games have done a remarkable job of stretching the hardware to its limits, particularly when the 360 is approaching the tail end of its life cycle. From the lavish lighting effects, and supreme detail to the sheer scale shown in the overhead canyon shots of Colorado, Forza Horizon’s environments look every bit as impressive as the car models, an area where the likes of Test Drive: Unlimited 2 ultimately stumbled. Whether or not the draw distance and frame rate will suffer as a result remains to be seen – hopefully we will soon find out when we finally see it in motion next week.

All in all, Forza Horizon looks set to be a happy marriage between the exuberant graphics and dream car list of Turn 10’s flagship Forza franchise and Test Drive: Unlimited’s exotic locales and free roaming MMO driving experience. At this point we’re reaching our rev limiter in anticipation to find out more about such an audacious-sounding project.

Expect it to be a central part of Microsoft’s conference on Monday June 4th packed with info and some in-game demonstrations, particularly as Forza Motorsport 4 was considerably underplayed last year. Forza Horizon is also likely to be playable on the show floor, in which case we will endeavour to deliver as much hands-on footage as we can.

Need for Speed Most Wanted
If there’s one racing game franchise you can count on to screech its way into E3 in a cloud of attention-grabbing tyre smoke, it’s the unstoppable Need for Speed. Last year was certainly no exception, as the reveal of The Run caused an influx of intrigue with its polarising scenes that saw protagonist Jack racing out of the car on-foot rather than behind the wheel.

So what about this year’s entry? Why hello Criterion, we’ve been expecting you…

Since Hot Pursuit successfully brought the series back on track in 2010, Criterion have been far too tight-lipped for our liking. But as much as we’re pining for a new Burnout game from the talented British developer, the evidence kept pointing to them developing a new Need for Speed. Job listings, retail leaks and even an early E3 schedule were to blame for unearthing their secret, but we now know that next week will see the unveiling of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, a series reboot of the original game of the same name from 2005.

Apart from the promotional screenshot posted below, we have little to go on at this point other than the fact that a Vita port is seemingly in the works and the possibility that, like Forza Horizon, Most Wanted will also be an open world driving game. This would make sense to us since the original Most Wanted also incorporated free roaming and it seems like a natural evolution from Criterion’s last project, Hot Pursuit.

So, it seems we could be looking at a Need for Speed that fuses the gritty police chases and licensed exotica car porn from Hot Pursuit with the unparalleled freedom of Burnout Paradise’s open world topped with Criterion’s unrivalled talent for turning cars into scrap metal, which sounds like a deliciously rousing recipe.

Given Criterion’s track record, we’re confident that Most Wanted won’t disappoint, although part of us still think it’s a shame that Burnout has been left untouched since Burnout Paradise in favour of the more commercially-successful Need for Speed.

As for features we’d like to see? Well, we’re hoping some form of car modification will make it into the final feature list as this hasn’t been a major part of Need for Speed’s street racing spin-offs since, well, the last Most Wanted game.

An in-game demonstration has already been confirmed for EA’s press conference, so expect to learn exactly what Criterion have been up to for the last few years on Monday June 4th.

GRiD 2

As much as I adore the DiRT series, there’s always been one question lingering in my mind: where on earth is its sister franchise GRiD?

It’s a question that’s often been asked by long-time fans of Codies, and one that has been consistently met with silence. With the mud-happy Colin McRae Rally series catering for rally fans, the reliable TOCA series was never far away to balance things out with straight-up touring car racing.

A similar pattern was seemingly about to happen in the current console generation, too. Colin McRae Rally became the all-encompassing off-road racing DiRT series we know today and TOCA: Race Driver was renamed to Race Driver: GRiD. Both titles were released just a year apart of each other – fast forward 5 years later, and the ratio of DiRT and GRiD games currently stands at 4:1.

Taking on the formidable F1 license was probably a factor, but it’s now been 4 years since the original GRiD game. Fear not, however: we know that GRiD 2 exists and is in production from developer CVs and interviews, hinting at an E3 reveal. The time therefore seems right for Codemasters to get back on the track.

With Codemasters now rebranded as Codemasters Racing as a result of their reigning reputation in the genre, the belated sequel will surely have all the graphical bells and whistles from the renowned ECO engine that has powered the DiRT series, so we’re expecting a significant graphical overhaul. We’re also hoping the handling will be tightened up, as playing the original GRiD feels not too dissimilar to the floaty arcade physics found in the arcade spin-off DiRT Showdown.

Perhaps most of all, though, we want GRiD to revert back to its roots and deliver a pure, sophisticated racing experience akin to the original TOCA games devoid of any Americanised Ken Block garnish the DiRT series has found itself attached to. But considering DiRT 4 has been confirmed to be in development as the focused rally simulation fans have been pining for, we have a feeling GRiD 2 could follow the same path to coincide with DiRT 4, releasing alongside each other just like the original games in the series.

Asking for a reprise of the BTCC is probably a big ask, though.

F1 2012

Codemasters’ takeover of the F1 license was certainly a gamble, but one that has definitely paid off. F1 2010 and last year’s F1 2011 successfully put F1’s image in video games back on the map after an extended hiatus thanks to Codemasters’ mastery in the racing genre, and as F1’s televised coverage has become more increasingly more extensive this year, expectations for the latest annual game release are higher than ever.

Aside from the usual updates of rules and regulations, the new young driver test was first advertised as one of the new flagship features, which act as a series of tutorials as you work your way up to earn a drive for a team in the 2012 championship.

To us, this sounds like Codemasters are trying to make the “Live the life” side of the F1 games more immersive, as they were somewhat lacking in previous iterations. Of course, what really matters to us is the core racing experience, but the screenshots released this week show early signs of encouragement, as the new 2012 cars have been modelled with an even greater level of detail.

The authenticity is therefore in place, so the real question is how will it handle on the track? We hope to have the answer soon, as the new Austin Grand Prix Circuit is said to be playable on the E3 show floor.

Don’t forget there’s also the new browser-based game F1 Online: The Game which left us suitably impressed during our studio visit last month. Codemasters are certainly keeping themselves busy.

Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing Transformed

Starring a colourful cast of mascot SEGA characters including Sonic, Dr. Eggman and Super Monkey Ball, with courses based on familiar locations from previous SEGA games such as Green Hill, Transformed will feature exhilarating kart racing with a twist: as the name suggests, vehicles will have the ability to transform into a variety of vehicles such as boats and planes, thus making races more unpredictable. Plus it simply sounds terrifically good fun.

It’s also being helmed by former Bizarre Creations and Project Gotham designer Gareth Wilson, who reckons that racing games need next generation hardware to evolve. The karting genre is in dire need of some reinvigoration, so it’s encouraging to see a designer of significant pedigree take it upon themselves to inject some innovation.

As arcade kart racers go, we’re optimistic about this one based on the strength of the original All Stars Racing and Gareth’s passion for the racing genre. It’s already been confirmed to be part of SEGA’s E3 line-up, so expect more coverage soon.

LittleBigPlanet Karting


Sony’s insufferably cute bundle of joy Sackboy is the latest Mascot game character to star in their very own karting spin-off. Developed in collaboration with LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule by United Front Games, who previously released the under-appreciated ModNation Racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting aims to take the “Create, Play, Share” philosophy that made LittleBigPlanet such a hit for Sony and seamlessly apply it to a racing game.

Of course, you could argue this is more or less exactly what ModNation Racers tried to achieve, albeit with less personality, and it’s no coincidence that this is coming from the same developers – ModNations didn’t sell all that well, so you can’t blame them for trying to apply the same formula to a bigger franchise.

LittleBigPlanet aims to differentiate itself from the late ModNation Racers however, offering a comprehensive creative suite of tools that allow you to craft levels with an astonishing level of flexibility. Those who spent hours creating wacky levels in LittleBigPlanet will feel right at home: characters can be endlessly customised, tracks have a distinctively home-made feel to them in the spirit of the LittleBigPlanet world and advanced options will be available to tinker with the event types, weapons and powerups. Even the racing AI can be endlessly tweaked.

LittleBigPlanet Karting has already been confirmed to feature in Sony’s E3 press conference, where the multiplayer will reportedly be unveiled, along with demonstrations of the single player campaign and “additional non-racing modes that are unique to LBP Karting”.

WRC 3

Let’s be honest, WRC 2 was something of a disappointment. With its below-par graphics, woolly handling and a lack of evolution from the first game, fans were left disappointed by what has become the only game series to fully embrace the sport. Compared to Evolution’s successful run of WRC titles in the last generation, it was hard not to feel that Milestone’s attempt was languishing behind the competition.

For WRC 3, Milestone seem to taken critical feedback on board. For a start, WRC 3 will run on an entirely new in-house graphics engine known as Spikeengine, which was demonstrated in some early work in progress screenshots that showcased new lighting and particle effects. Already, the graphics look markedly improved from that of WRC 2.

An advanced career mode is also said to be on the cards, along with improved crowd effects and rebuilt stages replete with cinematic introductions. WRC 3 will also appear be released on PlayStation Vita, making it the first time the series has appeared on a handheld device.

Sadly that’s all we know about WRC 3 for now, so hopefully Milestone will use E3 as an opportunity to generate some interest and release some more details. After all, the least they could do is provide us with a screenshot that features an actual car.

We’re unsure if WRC 3 will be available at the E3 show floor, but will certainly keep our eyes peeled.

Project Gotham Racing 5

We sorely miss Bizarre’s beloved Project Gotham series so we want this to be true, but alas it’s only a rumour for now.

Bizarre Creations is sadly no more, but rumours have been circulating about a possible comeback title being developed ready to launch for the Xbox 720, just as the original Project Gotham Racing did for the Xbox and Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox 360.

Microsoft have repeatedly downplayed the possibility of announcing the new Xbox console at this year’s E3 however, so we’ll have to see if this turns out to be the case. If the new Xbox isn’t announced at this year’s E3 then the chances are we won’t hear anything about PGR5 until next year’s E3 where the new generation of consoles will surely be announced.

Rumour also has it that Turn 10 now hold the keys to the Project Gotham Racing franchise. Sounds like an interesting proposition indeed, since Project Gotham Racing was always an accessible arcade racer in contrast to Forza’s penchant for realism, so it would be interesting to see their take on it.

Gran Turismo 6

Think about it. Much to the dismay of Sony, Forza Motorsport has stolen the limelight from Gran Turismo – even I’ll admit to being completely converted since Forza Motorsport 4, and I was always a religious follower of Gran Turismo. Turn 10 have players absolutely hooked, and are still supporting their baby to this day. In all honesty, Forza’s regular helping of meaty car DLC puts Gran Turismo’s table scraps to shame.

Sony therefore need to recapture interest somehow, and E3 provides the perfect opportunity to hint at a new Gran Turismo. Just a small hint to reassure us that the granddaddy hasn’t been asleep all this time would be enough.

Developer CVs have already confirmed that GT6 is currently in development and the team were also recently caught scanning the Bathurst circuit for a future sequel, so we know it’s coming at some point down the line.

GT6 is most likely at least a couple of years away yet, but if it’s being released for current generation hardware then it hopefully won’t be another arduous repeat of GT5’s embarrassingly long wait time. After all, GT5 took as long as it did to make it to the showroom because Polyphony had to build the engine from scratch, whereas GT6 will build itself from the established engine much like GT2 and GT4 did with their predecessors. Time will tell.

And that’s it for our round-up of what racing game fans can hopefully expect from E3 2012. Forza Horizon and Need for Speed: Most Wanted are the clear front runners in the E3 2012 race, but it seems as though we could have a few more surprises in-store. Naturally we will providing full coverage as events unfold throughout E3 next week.

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