2017 was a wonderful year for racing games. We had Forza Motorsport 7, Gran Turismo Sport, and Project CARS 2 back then, all released just weeks away from one another. There was also DiRT 4 launched a bit earlier and Need for Speed: Payback a bit later (if anyone wishes to remember it), as well as decent annual installments in F1, WRC, MotoGP, and other series. Truly busy – and fun – time it was.
However, the genre seemed to fall asleep afterward. We had major releases but they were scattered, e.g. Forza Horizon 4 (2018) and FH5 (2021), DiRT Rally 2.0 (2019), Project CARS 3 (2020), GRID Legends (2022), Gran Turismo 7 (2022), or NFS Heat (2019) and Unbound (2022).
Perhaps one could ask: wasn’t 2022 comparable to 2017 with three new installments in such revered series as GRID, Need for Speed and (especially) Gran Turismo? Well, in theory it could be comparable. In reality, however, none of these games brought enough grandeur to warrant calling that time a new golden era for racers (although I must admit that with each monthly update GT7 is one little step closer to becoming a game worth its name).
2023, on the other hand, has every chance to be considered the best year in the racing games genre… if not ever, then at least the best in many, many years. There are four main and a bunch of smaller reasons to be sure of it. Let me introduce them.
Forza Motorsport, published by Xbox Game Studios.
Six years… Can you believe it? It’s almost six years since the last Forza Motorsport was released. That’s really extraordinary for a first-party series that saw very regular releases from the very beginning, with a new game being launched every two years (or even annually, if you add Forza Horizon to the mix).
When you consider that, it’s easy to understand why expectations for this title – as well as hype – are huge. Moreover, the new Forza Motorsport is posed to be the first truly “next-gen” racing game, built exclusively for PC and Xbox Series X (but also Xbox Series S…).
Turn 10 Studios promises not only a new level of graphical fidelity but also physics simulation more advanced than anywhere else (at least based on the frequency of updates for tires behavior per second). It seems that Forza Motorsport abandons the old ways of trying to be Gran Turismo and makes steps towards Project CARS, with a bigger focus on professional racing than driving “everyday commuters.”
Perhaps you’ve heard about this game launching with only 500 cars and 20 tracks and felt disappointed. That’s true, the content is modest when compared to Forza Motorsport 7, but this is only the beginning of a long road ahead for the game.
Turn 10 Studios clearly envisioned this title as a platform (or service, if you prefer), perhaps somewhat similar to Microsoft Flight Simulator, meant to last and continuously evolve for many years to come. And judging by what’s happening to Forza Horizon 5 recently, I can’t wait to see where this approach can take Forza Motorsport.
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown, published by Nacon.
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown
If there is any racing game that Forza Horizon should feel respect for – or even be afraid of – it’s Test Drive Unlimited. Playground Games could sleep peacefully until now, as the last installment in this cult series was released before Forza Horizon was even born. But it changes this year.
Of course, Solar Crown is not going to reclaim the throne by simply asking for respect for elders. Developers from KT Racing need to prove that TDU is still worthy of the sandbox racing games crown. And let’s be honest: this is going to be one hell of a challenge for them.
Don’t expect a company such as Nacon to pose a threat to Microsoft in terms of production values, abundance of content, or graphical fidelity. However, KT Racing could beat Playground Games on fields such as immersion, realism and vibe.
And even if Test Drive Unlimited can’t be a formidable rival for Forza Horizon, then it should be at least a tempting alternative. A game that doesn’t try to please everyone (casuals and kids included) and let you have simple fun with throwing hypercars from the top of a volcano, but rather wants to immerse you into a stylish world of luxury and speed.
I’m sure I’ll swap FH5’s Mexico for Solar Crown’s Hong Kong for some time. Now, if only KT Racing and Nacon were so kind as to finally show us at least a gameplay trailer of their game…
The Crew Motorfest, published by Ubisoft.
The Crew Motorfest
Two sandbox racing games from major publishers released in one year is something that doesn’t happen every day. Actually, it happens only when Ubisoft schedules the launch of another The Crew. The first game showed up only a couple of months after Forza Horizon 2, the second was released not long before FH4 and now the third is going to accompany Test Drive Unlimited.
I said “the third The Crew game.” So is it The Crew 3? Not really. Rumors suggest that Motorfest is coming as early as September, while Ivory Tower doesn’t seem eager to pull the plug from TC2, so I’d consider this game a spin-off. Full-priced and offering a plethora of content, but a spin-off nonetheless.
Ubisoft is clearly going after Forza Horizon this time. Every second of the only trailer released so far and every scrap of information is telling us exactly that. Well, just think about the title alone for a moment.
Anyway, this is great news, as it means that Ivory Tower finally needs to fully revamp the physics and bring their awful, NFS-like driving much closer to something that one could maybe even call a simcade (as long as you forget about massive jumps or smashing through palm forests in hypercars). Or at least bring back what The Crew originally offered.
However, Ubisoft is going not only after Forza Horizon but also after Test Drive Unlimited. They chose Oahu island for Motorfest’s setting because they count on nostalgia to push us to pre-order the game (it was the location of TDU1 and TDU2 as well). And you know what? Despite my disappointment with The Crew 2, I could be convinced to do so. Ivory Tower just needs to prove to me that they found out the difference between FWD and RWD cars…
DiRT Rally 2.0, published by Codemasters.
It was supposed to be called DiRT Rally 3, but two momentous things happened since the release of the previous game in 2019: Codemasters was bought by Electronic Arts and Nacon lost the license for World Rally Championship in favor of Codemasters. That’s why DiRT Rally is no more – but only in name.
The new rally game wasn’t officially announced yet and we don’t know its title, but looking at Codemasters’ F1, I bet it’ll be something like WRC 23. And we’ve heard some interesting rumors about it already.
With the main feature supposedly being building your own rally cars from scratch, this could be a revolution for the rally sims (sub)genre. And if you want to drive real cars instead of fulfilling your fantasies, Codemasters have you covered, as rumors imply that the game features as many as 16 different classes of rally cars (I’m sure we’ll see content from DiRT Rally 2.0 return).
However, one question lingers: how realistic this new game will be? It needs to be more accessible than DiRT Rally, that’s for sure. But let’s hope that it means only adding tutorials and assists for newcomers rather than changing what made the predecessors such revered racers. After all, Nacon’s WRC fared pretty well being a fairly hard simcade game.
RIDE 5, published by Milestone.
Motorcycle enthusiasts could also be very happy about this year. They’re getting not one and not two, but three major releases from the biggest racing franchises focused on motorcycles.
In May, Nacon published the third installment in the TT Isle of Man series which recreates the most dangerous and craziest road bike race in the world. The game was transformed into a semi-sandbox, with a small open world on the eponymous Isle of Man giving players a refreshing sense of freedom.
In June, Milestone releases yet another MotoGP, with a renewed focus on the revamped career mode and more advanced simulation of weather, so that racing is going to get another strategic dimension.
And then, in August, Milestone strikes again with a new game from the most revered series in their catalog, called “Gran Turismo with motorcycles” by some. Yes, it’s RIDE 5. Only next-gen platforms are getting this installment so expect numerous improvements in simulation and graphics.
F1 23, published by Electronic Arts.
But wait, there is more!
Naturally, there are also other games planned for this year, some of them already released and some not yet announced (but rumored). Sticking to Milestone for one more paragraph, we can use Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 as an example, which is likely to be released this fall.
If you need a new arcade racing game, but don’t want to wait that long, you can play LEGO 2K Drive released in May. It’s fun, it’s creative and it’s… riddled with microtransactions, so be cautious. Or try Jected: Rivals instead which is available as a free-to-play title via Steam Early Access – it combines driving and flying.
Of course, there are also annual F1 games. We have Codemasters’ F1 23 on one hand, with returning story mode, two new circuits, and refined physics, as well as Frontier Developments’ F1 Manager 2023 which is the second entry in the series that started only last year. Although it’s more a strategy than a racing game.
And let’s not forget about the continuous development of older titles such as Automobilista 2, BeamNG.drive, or RaceRoom Racing Experience, which constantly evolve and grow bigger. You pay once (or you don’t, as in the case of RaceRoom – it’s F2P too) and you get virtually endless automotive entertainment. You don’t need to pay for DLCs (especially since BeamNG.drive doesn’t offer any) to have something new to try every now and then.
Rennsport, published by Competition Company.
If you think that it’s pure chance that so many renowned titles would be released in a single year (or even half of one year) and then we’re going to have to brace for more tedious years in this genre – you’re wrong. 2024 could be just as exciting as 2023, with Assetto Corsa 2 and Forza Horizon 6 on the… well, horizon (the latter wasn’t announced yet but it’s more than probable).
And then there’s a mysterious new racing title from Ian Bell – father of NFS: Shift and Project CARS – as well as Rennsport, an ambitious new challenger in the hardcore sim-racing field, built with Unreal Engine 5 and promising an unprecedented level of mod support. Need for Speed is going to show up again sooner or later too, you can count on it.
That’s actually more games than we need to fill entire days and weeks with digital driving and racing. Anyway, this is truly a wonderful time to be a player and a car enthusiast.
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com