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 are often seen as a benchmark for game graphics. From meticulously modeled cars, to breath-taking environments and ultra-realistic weather effects, racing games have supplied us with plenty of graphical goodness over the years. 2016 was no exception, although some developers struggled to strike a balance between visual fidelity and an all-important smooth frame rate.
Codemasters often set the standard when it comes to racing game graphics. Released for the first time on console last year, DiRT Rally is a rare example of a racing game that runs at a solid 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One, but this came at a cost: you could tell that environmental detail had been downgraded from the PC version to maintain a silky-smooth frame rate. It was F1 2016 that really showed what Codemasters could do, however. Running on the new current-gen EGO engine, the lighting effects looked stunning, but it was the wet weather effects that set it apart.
We had high hopes for Assetto Corsa’s belated arrival on console, and while the car models didn’t disappoint, a series of graphical blemishes marred its otherwise gleaming bodywork – the less said about the distracting screen tearing, the better.
Indie racing games also deserve some honourable mentions. Absolute Drift: Zen Edition’s minimalist art style makes it the driving game equivalent of Mirrors Edge from a visual standpoint, while top-down racer Mantis Burn Racing remains the only racing game that can run in native 4K resolution to justify your PS4 Pro purchase. The WipeOut-inspired futuristic racer RedOut also deserves to be commended for its creative art style and an Alan-approved frame rate of 60fps.
Winner: Forza Horizon 3
Playground Games’ latest open world extravaganza Forza Horizon 3 is by far and away the best-looking racing game of 2016, and arguably this generation so far. Every car is meticulously modelled inside and out, but it's the stunning scenery where you can see the abundant passion that that's been poured into the picture perfect visuals . Playground Games went to extraordinary lengths to authentically recreate Australia in all its glory: the team spent several months on location taking photos and capturing video to make sure every drop of detail was spot on. Even the skies are authentically Australian because the team painstakingly recorded the skyline on location to use in the game. Now that’s dedication.
The diversity of Forza Horizon 3’s open world environment is dazzling, from vibrant rainforests and city streets, to the dusty deserts of the Australian outback. The detail on display is astonishing, the draw distances are jaw-dropping and the lighting and shadow effects are astonishingly realistic. Forza Horizon 3 may not run at 60fps, but all this eye candy runs at a buttery smooth frame rate, which is no mean feat considering the staggering scale of the open world environment it has to contend with. As you can tell, we can't praise Forza Horizon 3's breathtakingly-beautiful graphics enough. It’s particularly impressive when you consider that the the Xbox One is often seen as underpowered compared to the PS4. Forza Horizon 3 must surely be straining the hardware way beyond its limits – it’s a true technical marvel.
And just when you thought Forza Horizon 3 couldn’t possibly look any more fetching, it supports colour-enhancing HDR, while PC owners can run the game in glorious 4K resolution, providing you have a powerful enough machine. The potential for what Playground Games can achieve with the extra horsepower of Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio console boggles the mind.
Do you agree with our winner? Let us know in the comments below.