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.
Best track selection
Racing games allow us to live out our fantasies of driving on picturesque roads and the world’s most iconic race tracks. 2016 gave us plenty of variety, from traditional track racers, to rallying and sprawling open world environments.
Assetto Corsa sets itself apart with its meticulously laser-scanned tracks. The accuracy of this process makes old favourites like Silverstone and Brands Hatch feel fresh again. Every corner is 100% accurate and every surface bump is just as jarring it is in real life – negotiating the Nurburgring Noschelife has never been so nerve-racking. Iconic circuits such as Monza are welcome, which is even available in its vintage 1966 form without a chicane, as are some of the more obscure Italian circuits you don't see in racing games very often. It’s a shame, then, that Assetto Corsa only features tracks set in Europe: many iconic circuits like Laguna Seca are sorely missing. The lack of diversity is disappointing.
Forza Horizon 3’s vast open world recreation of Australia offers a huge variety of racing experiences, from the dusty off-road trails in the outback, to circuit races set in city streets. Sadly, it isn't quite the sum of its parts: there aren’t enough memorable driving roads, and many of the twisty off-road tracks would have been better suited to tarmac.
Of course, you can’t beat officially licensed racing games for track content. F1 2016’s track selection can’t be faulted, featuring every iconic circuit in the Formula One calendar including the new Baku street circuit. Likewise, WRC 6’s track selection is similarily comprehensive: all 14 locations of the official WRC are represented which is no mean feat, including the debut of the Rally China, while existing stages are noticabely improved with narrower roads and denser trackside foilage.
Ride 2 also surprised us with its wonderful variety of tracks. One of our chief complaints about the original game was its lackluster track selection, but the sequel more than made up for this shortcoming. Joining Ride’s existing fictional tracks are challenging road circuits, including the narrow country roads of the daunting Northwest 200 which added some much-needed intensity to the game.
Some of the track designs in RedOut also dazzle, with environments ranging from jungles, deserts, snow and an erupting volcano. Ultimately, it could do with more locations, but the innovative SSLR challenges, which magically morph you between different stages in real time, warrant a special mention.
It’s also impossible not to mention TrackMania Turbo: the extreme twists, jumps and loops of the many tracks in the campaign define the game, and there’s a terrific track editor allowing you to create your own courses or sample some crazy community creations.
Winner: Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO
Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO is a criminally underrated rally game. It's a shame, because it means that many won't have experienced the ambitious authenticity Milestone has achieved in its superb special stages, which sets it apart from other rally games. Spread across eight locations and 64 stages, Milestone recreated 300km of real roads using a combination of videos and GPS data collated by Loeb himself. The result is the most realistic special stages in any rally game.
Compared to other rally games which feature fictional stages that are unrealistically short, wide and devoid of obstacles, Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO’s stages are long and technical, narrow, and filled with trackside trees and other environmental hazards to catch you out. The twisty Italian rally of San Remo is barely wider than your car, and unlike other rally games it’s rare to find a stage that’s over in under five minutes, with many lasting up to 10 minutes. The courses are fiendishly challenging as a result, but ultimately rewarding as your driving skills are put to the test.
There’s a lot of variety too, with additional rallycross and hillclimb courses bolstering the package, including the iconic Pikes Peak which offers 12 miles of pure peril. Admittedly, the range of locations pales in comparison to the official WRC games, but the realism of Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO’s stages puts it in a different league altogether. Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO has its flaws, but it remains a very underrated game that rally enthusiasts should experience, and its trecherous tracks are a testament to that.
Do you agree with our winner? Let us know in the comments below.