Racing games can be tough old brutes at the best of times, and coming in ahead of the pack can often mean using more than your silky smooth driving skills and keeping to the racing line. First place is all about battling, barging, and sometimes smashing, your way to the front, ignoring the whimpers of your defeated opponents as you thrash your barely-hanging-together car over the finish line.
The best developers understand that getting the balance right between the difficulty of the track, how tough your AI opponents are is the difference between a dull walk in the park and a death defying battle for supremacy.
Over the years there have been plenty of challenges that have proven this, that have tested our mettle and forced us to dig deep into our reserves of grim determination. In a way, gaming is character building, and the character that these games are building is one of fanatic dedication to victory, refusal to quit, and the agonised patience of a control pad-crushing saint.
A lack of barred holds isn’t just about difficulty though, it’s also about your opponents actively trying to ram you off the road, about the crunch of metal on metal as you all pile in for the same corner, knowing all too well that only one of you is going to make it through alive. Or, you know, in the lead.
So, whether you’re the sort who quits at the first sign of trouble, or one of the fabled warriors of yore who refuse to quit until every gold star has been earned and every point accrued, here are some of gaming’s no holds barred racing challenges. If you’ve more to add, throw them carefully and concisely into the comments section at the end.
Videogames aren’t shy of courting controversy, but it’s not just modern digital renditions of super violence that have made the mainstream press sit up, cluck their tongues and point inaccurate fingers of self righteous blame in the direction of whatever game we’re slipped in our console’s disc drive recently.
Death Race, which was loosely based on Death Race 2000 was a driving game that saw you running over goblins. Said goblins would scream when you hit them, then turn into gravestones. Because of the game, 60 Minutes devoted an entire show to the affects of videogames on children’s psychology. Beyond that though, beating the game was a tough task, as the screen filled up with gravestones that would kill you if you hit them.
Crazy Taxi hails from a more innocent time, when skies were always blue, shirts were always Hawaiian, and pop punk was always playing on the radio. But behind its cheery, in your face exterior, beat an addictive heart that snared even the best of us. This was a game that dealt in compulsion, second shaving, and ridiculous drifts.
A true successor to Outrun, but with passenger pick up thrown into the mix, the ticking clock at the top of the screen became your worst enemy as you pushed pedal to the metal to try and get to the drop off point in time. You’d learn the short cuts, risk everything on insane overtaking moves and scream obscenities at anyone in ear shot when your time ran out feet away from the glowing goal of success.
In Motorstorm, you’re not just fighting against your opponents, you’re fighting against the shifting morass of the track under your wheels as well. Loud, brash, and with a cocky yet endearing swagger, MotorStorm is the bad boy of the racing world, and it knows it all too well.
Every lap causes changes to the track, be it ruts made from the wheels of the bigger vehicles (and when you’re driving a big rig, those are some pretty trench like ruts), or track side objects smashed into the path of oncoming vehicles by earlier crashes. Not only do you have to weave through the pack of preternaturally talented AI drivers, you have to avoid the mess you and they have made around the track as well. This is racing at its most nonchalant and deliciously muddy.
Multiplayer games nowadays are all about lag, shouting abuse at strangers and toggling your Nat settings. In the olden times though, they were about same room battles, accidentally nudging your friends and siblings at inopportune moments and not having a clue what Nat settings were.
The epitome of multiplayer Amiga gaming, Super Skidmarks let you join two Amiga 1200s together for eight player battles of monumental proportions. These were fights for supremacy, and all bets were off. If kicking your brother in the shin was the only way to win, then that was a legitimate strategy. Even if it meant he turned off the computer and swore he’d never play with you again.
You know with a name like Fatal Racing that things are going to get tough. In fact, if they didn’t, you’d probably take the shop back to whichever high street retailer you purchased it from and ask for a refund. Or just snap it in the face of the shop assistant who sold you it in defiance. Defiance.
Known as Whiplash in the USA, the game featured tracks made from loops, twisting jumps and all manner of other fiendish obstacles for you to navigate. Surprisingly realistic physics meant crashes were frequent, and damage catastrophic. Most of the AI drivers were named after famous sci-fi robots as well, which you just don’t get with licensed games. I’d like to see Lewis Hamilton driving around a loop-de-loop.
No, not a game about warty rock legend Lemmy’s band, but a million selling PSOne release that, for some reason, is all but forgotten now. Developed by DICE, who went on to be famous for some soldiering games, the game is a gritty, futuristic urban racer with a techno soundtrack and some gorgeous (for the time) graphics.
The handling was much harder to master than the majority of other arcade racers, and meant just staying on the track was a struggle to begin with. Once you mastered it though, the game became a canny cat and mouse battle as you duked it out with polished AI to try and become the best moodily lit racer in the world.