Friday, 18 November 2011

Racecar Is Racecar Backwards

I had initially intended to focus one of my Forces of Geek column posts on driving games...

...then it occurred to me that I know next to nothing about actual driving games and posted one anyway!

Sure, I know racing games, classic kart stuff and a handful of arcade titles like Daytona but thanks to things like Gran Turismo and Forza, I've been put off.

Last week, a few of my favourite Road Warriors and I indulged ourselves with a non stop 5 hour Mad Max Marathon.

We watched the entirety of all three films, back to back! However, half way through Mad Max 2 with its plethora of leather trousers, bad hair styles, sand (so much sand!) and...a small feral child...we trailed off and began discussing our favourite racing games.

Naturally, my sole input was largely GTA, Mario Kart and Micro Machines and that got me thinking, how are these games so very different from what die hard racing game enthusiasts would call racing games?

It's contemporary lap-based gameplay that I avoid.

These titles are ultimately repetitive and have a singular objective: win the race. Yes, you get to customise your vehicle and pimp your ride in a way that Xzibit and his crew would be proud of. But, where do you go from there? ...Win more races. Talk about boring.

I'm sure multiplayer is a bit more fun but when you play the same courses enough times, if there isn't a random element or some fun weapon based carnage involved, it becomes pretty dull pretty quickly. That's why I love racing games with a sense of fun. My absolute favourite has to be Mario Kart 64 (having also owned Mario Kart Wii, I love that too!) because not only do you play as characters from the Mushroom Kingdom but the tracks are colourful, creative and accompanied by a suitably fitting nostalgic soundtrack.

The weapons really aid the gameplay too, if you're in last place you're gifted with the most powerful weapons (sometimes I'd intentionally fall behind to 12th place just so I got a Bullet Bill then mow down my opponents!).

The weapons give everyone a fair advantage so it's easier to catch up and be competitive rather than continue your lap, depressed that someone has already out lapped you, knowing you'll never be able to catch up like in Gran Turismo (if you're like me, anyway).

Destruction Derby and Carmageddon are a few other titles that I have fond memories of too - so much carnage!  

Destruction Derby went on to spawn the highly successful Driver series but I've not played enough Driver to fully appreciate it and since the latest one involves some 'out of body' stuff, I doubt I will any time soon. However, crashing cars for multiple points was so much fun and it was only recently I discovered it was based on a real thing...Demolition Derby! I loved smashing cars up and wrecking everything in sight but the fact people actually do this surprises me. Stunt doubles I understand, it requires a great deal of expertise and bravery, but for sport?!

It's like being in a bumper car but your car gets wrecked for real. But I digress.

Carmageddon was more for those of us who enjoyed not only wasting cars, but killing those pesky pedestrians in our way.

Whilst in development the game was going to have a Mad Max license but this got dropped before the release and the pun-tastic title of Carmageddon was born! The sequel was called Carmageddon II: Carpocalpse Now (somehow, the hilarity it ensued is much less now, but back when I was a teen...this was freakin' funny). The game was naturally criticised heavily for it's violence but this only promoted higher sales and a wealth of similar titles.

There are other racing games I enjoy, such as Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 and Micro Machines - so the genre isn't completely lost on me. However, there was the option in most of these games to see how fast you can make a lap and test your ability on a number of tracks. I used to play Micro Machines on single player trying to beat my best lap all the time.

So why do I dislike lap-based gameplay when Micro Machines is literally just that?

My thoughts? Fun. The cars were diddy, the tracks were varied and often hilar

ious, striving for creativity over realism. I mean, the levels were so well thought out and I loved their themes. Anyone that's played it is bound to remember the snooker table level - possibly the single most frustrating lap - it was so difficult!

Yet, I remember it fondly because it was different. There was enough single player content too, something I feel a lot of racing games lack.

Just thinking about the game makes me pine for it!

I also remember playing Burnout for a bit but mostly for the wanton destruction and chaos I was able to cause. It's that kind of unrealistic gameplay that I love. Gaming is such an escape for me, a cathartic activity, if you will. Driving around in what is essentially a large squiggly line at high speeds is not something I do in real life; granted gaming allows me to do a great many things I cannot in real life but I just don't enjoy it. I find it dull and headache inducing. Especially when game developers try to escape the wheeled restrictions and go for something futuristic. Some of the worst culprits include Wipeout on the PS1, F-Zero GX for the Game Cube and any incarnation of George Lucas pushing pod racing games on us, insisting we WILL like them...*shakes fist to the air* Get out of here, Lucas!

After ten minutes playing one of these games, my head pounds like a subwoofer and my eyes sting and stream!

Needless to say, these kind of games are promptly traded in. If I could just have spent some time to take in the scenery like in the GTA games for example, then perhaps I'd have enjoyed these titles more. Speaking of GTA, I have a tendancy to fail any lap-based mini-games in the series too. Whenever games involve objectives that are vehicle based, I end up getting nervous and secretly pray that one of the AI characters will drive for me - ah, L.A. Noire. No one in the real world discriminates against non-drivers so why should I feel so pressured to drive in a game!?

Maybe there's more to it.. maybe the reason I dislike lap-based gameplay isn't as simple as fun...perhaps it boils down to the fact that I have no clue how to drive.

I don't drive. I've never had a lesson in my life. I couldn't tell you what engine fluid looks like...I'm not entirely sure engine fluid is a thing...are there multiple fluids? Whatever. Sure, I know how to wash a car and possibly at a stretch, wax one (thanks, Mr Miyagi!) but ultimately I have no interest in cars.

But as various other genres start offering a driving mode or workable vehicles, I feel I should prep any multiplayer games with an opening speech that goes something like, "Look, guys, just letting you know, if there's a car or something in this, I won't drive it. So if you hear someone shouting I CAN'T DRIVE, before getting out as the car and all its passengers explode, don't boot's not my fault."

Either that or just get better.

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