From high profile releases like Forza Horizon 3, the resurgence of rally games with DiRT Rally and the start of the console sim racing saturation with the long-awaited arrival of Assetto Corsa, 2016 was a transformative year for racing games. To celebrate, we’re hosting our first ever Team VVV Racing Game of the Year Awards (something we’ve been meaning to do for years) to recognise achievements in racing gaming, from best graphics and sound, to car lists, handling and indie titles, we’ve got everything covered.
Racing games have often left a lot to be desired in the audio department. Case in point: Gran Turismo has been ridiculed over the years for having cars that sound like vapid vacuum cleaners. It’s a shame, because hearing the sound of the bellowing engine begging for mercy when you floor it in a fast car is essential to the driving experience. Thankfully, things are starting to improve. Advances in recording technology has allowed developers to produce more authentic audio effects that immerses you into the cockpit convincingly than ever before.
In terms of engine sounds, it was hard to beat the authenticity in Assetto Corsa. The team at Kunos Simulazioni proved themselves to be very passionate petrolheads, going to great lengths to ensure that the sound of every supercar in the game was note perfect. Along with the realistic physics engine, the aggressive engine sounds in Assetto Corsa play a vital part in fulfilling your car fantasies: flooring it in a feisty, high-revving Ferrari 458 Italia certainly gets your heart raising.
The cars in the Forza series have always sounded sublime and noticeably more realistic than any Gran Turismo game Polyphony has ever churned out. Forza Horizon 3 didn't dsiappoint: from the whine of exotic supercars, to the growl of its imposing off-road vehicles, the sounds are spot on for the most part. It’s still not quite on par with some of the hardcore racing simulations that PC players are spoiled with (nothing has beaten the hair-raising sounds of Raceroom Racing Experience yet), but it’s not far off.
Ride 2 also pleasantly surprised us. Like Polyphony, Milestone has taken a lot of flack for its subpar sound design, but Ride 2 was a significant improvement. Bikes in previous Milestone games sounded flat and uninspired, but Ride 2 finally brought them to life, particularly with its smart use of surround sound. It’s baffling that Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO was released the same year with such appalling audio.
Winner: DiRT Rally
DiRT Rally is a masterclass in racing game sound design that puts its competitors to shame. Not only are the engine notes raw and raspy, just as they should be in a rampant rally car, the environmental effects add an extra layer of immersion that elevate it above every racing game released in 2016. Racing on loose surfaces, you can hear the gravel and stones smacking against the bodywork, while the realistic rattling of the interior constantly puts you on edge.
Then there's the comprehensive co-driver dialogue. Chief Designer Paul Coleman does rally co-driving in real life, so you know you can trust his commands with confidence to save you from ending up in the nearest ditch. Whereas other rally games cobble together pre-recorded commands resulting in robotic-sounding co-driver, Codemasters went the extra mile and recorded separate audio for each stage, resulting in a more natural-sounding co-driver sat next to you which heightens the immersion tenfold. For added authenticity, Coleman even recorded his vocal work with a mic whilst wearing a crash helmet to make the experience as convincing as possible.
You have to commend Codemasters for putting such painstaking effort into what some perceive as a specialist title. All this combines to make a fantastically visceral experience that sets the standard for rally games to follow.