Top 5 Most Immersive Racing Games

As a huge fan of racing games, I like it when I feel immersed in what I play. I like to feel like I am the one racing, that the opposition are trying to cut me off, and not a digitally rendered racing car. There are a few games that, in my experience, nailed immersion so well that they should be recognized for their achievements. I’ve selected what I feel are the five most immersive racing games ever created.

Before Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft came into existence, there was Rock n’ Roll Racing. Today, the idea of Blizzard Entertainment making a racing game sounds laughable, but they did it in 1993. Of course, this was no ordinary racing game. Rock n’ Roll Racing was set on alien worlds, and the racers were aliens and monsters. So how could a game like this, which doesn’t even seem to carry much humanity in it, possibly be immersive? For starters, the soundtrack was stunning for it’s time. Midi renditions of Paranoid by Black Sabbath and other heavy rock and/or metal songs populate the soundtrack for this game. In 1993, this was simply awesome and was the next best thing to having the real recordings. The gameplay was pretty great as well, and I felt immersed by it simply because the racing felt truly personal. In a lot of weapon-themed racers (such as Wipeout), the in-race combat doesn’t feel authentic and only serves one purpose – to frustrate you. In Rock n’ Roll Racing, it felt different. The guy in second blasting at you? It felt personal. Add in a primitive career mode, which was rare at the time, and you have a good racer from 1993. It may not be much today, but back in the Super Nintendo’s early days this game was something special.

In recent years, Need for Speed has forced us to pretend that we are convicts, cool dudes from the ghetto, or whatever else their protagonists are now. This was a colossal mistake by Electronic Arts when they tried to force coherent storylines in each Need for Speed. It began in Underground and only got worse. By the time Need for Speed Undercover rolled around, I wouldn’t touch the series with a ten foot pole. You see, the key mistake that Electronic Arts made was not giving their racing games some basic storylines, no. What they did wrong was plunk us into the lives of daring street racing punks who, well, are nothing like us. There was just no connection, and I couldn’t get into the games as a result. SHIFT changed this by making you the main character in the story mode, which was essentially just a career mode. It was very refreshing, and it made me feel like I was really part of the game. There is some good voice over work in the game that only enhances the experience as well. Electronic Arts did a fine job with SHIFT by making the player the main character rather than having us follow the exploits of Biff Dangerous or Slugger McRoadkill. However, Electronic Arts failed to capture one thing that a few other games pulled off wonderfully. They failed to make the games “speak” to us.

Codemasters, on the other hand, have become masters of making racing games speak to us as if they are our friends or colleagues. Upon starting up GRID for the first time, players are instructed to create their profile, which includes choosing your full name, alias, and country flag. The game will use these to communicate to you. If you named yourself Bob, then you will probably hear the following during races: That was a great pass, Bob! GRID recognizes a few dozen male and female names, so there’s a good chance that the game will be able to call you by something. If your name isn’t one that the game knows, you can always give yourself a nickname that suits you. How does this sound? You’re on the last lap, Dump Truck. Yeah, I don’t know what to make of the nicknames, but the fact that GRID speaks directly to you and addresses you by name adds heaps of immersion to the game. On top of that, the career mode has you building up your own racing team by purchasing cars, designing liveries, signing sponsors, and so forth. There’s quite a bit to do in the career mode, and you’ll be guided by the voice of a female narrator of sorts who also addresses you by name. It’s pretty cool, and I was surprised by how much a game calling me by my name can help the immersion.

DiRT 2 is another Codemasters game, and it took everything immersive about GRID and refined it. The profile set-up is exactly the same as before, and you’ll hear your name a lot. What pumps the immersion up a lot in DiRT 2 is the pre-race menu system. The game itself is presented as a full career mode. As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into your travel trailer which is rendered in full 3D. From in here, you can select race events, check relationships with other drivers, and purchase DLC. When you exist your trailer, you can check out your purchased vehicles, go racing, and tweak the game’s options. It adds a lot of personality to the game, which is really fantastic. Immersion takes another huge leap up during race events when rival drivers will call you out by name. If you perform well after a race, they’ll always compliment you on your performance. Travis Pastrana serves as the game’s menu narrator, and he calls out to you a lot. In my case, I heard “Hey Dan!” a lot. You can also form friendships with most of the drivers in the game, which you can take advantage of in team events and such. DiRT 2 has a pretty good system, and is definitely Codemasters’ best at the moment.

Despite only playing Prologue, I am placing this mammoth at the top spot. Gran Turismo 5 never addresses you by name or tries to make you believe that you are behind the wheel, but these are all very positive points surprisingly/ Gran Turismo 5 has an absolutely perfect engine for racing, and the game plays silky smooth. The racing in the game is what is undoubtedly the most immersive I’ve ever experienced. GT5 blows every other racing game out of the water with it’s fantastic handling, intense racing, and stunning graphics. You really have to fight the cars in order to make them work the way you want, which is just fantastic as there isn’t even a single shred of arcade racing in this game. The stunning visuals help immersion along nicely, as some locations look so amazing that, at the high speeds you are usually driving at, they will pretty much look photo realistic. The lighting on the London street circuit looks absolutely awesome, and the panaromic mountain view at the Eiger Nordwand is pretty much the best looking landscape I have ever seen in a video game. The racing in Gran Turismo is where it’s truly at, and is proof that Polyphony Digital doesn’t need any gimmicks such as voice actors calling you out by name in order to make their games immersive. No, Polyphony relies solely on good, solid racing. Gran Turismo has always been famous for having fantastic racing, but the fifth game undoubtedly takes the cake as the king of racing. In terms of immersion, no racing experience can even come close to this behemoth.

Honourable Mention: ModNation Racers
It’s game driven by community-made content. How can you not be immersed when you play with a character you created who is driving a vehicle you also created…. on a track that you created as well? Now if only the game didn’t have hour long load times, which I’ve found to be huge immersion breakers sine they allow you to take full bathroom breaks while the game loads.

Return to August 2010 Articles

ModNation Racers (Review)

“United Front Games annihilates Mario Kart even before the race begins.”

Around this time last year is when I first heard about ModNation Racers and the plethora of customization tools that it would provide. As someone who loves racing games, as well customization in games period, I was really stoked.

I waited many months for anything playable to surface. It wasn’t until December 2009 that I obtained a beta key in a Gamespot giveaway and was able to check out what ModNation Racers had to offer first hand. It may have only been a limited test product of the full game, but I couldn’t help but feel very unimpressed with ModNation Racers after spending a few days with the exclusive beta. Controls felt strange, customizing content was all locked away except a few pieces (making it feel more like a demo) and loading times were far too long. Worst of all, it felt very amateurish. When time eventually ran out and the beta period expired, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Is that what I waited all that time for? Is this all that ModNation Racers is?”

The answer? No.

Despite not being too content with the beta gameplay, I still knew that I was going to buy ModNation Racers because I told myself that the full game would surely be better. So, a day after the game’s release last week, I picked it up at my local EB Games. Was purchasing ModNation Racers a good investment, or was it the worst gaming mistake that I’ve made this year? I can safely say that it’s the former. ModNation Racers is good. Really good.

After waiting through two minutes of splash screens and such, and then enduring a five minute install that came to 3.2 gigabytes, I was thrown directly into a race which served as the first event in the game’s career mode. This seemed like a page straight out of GRID’s book, since it did the same thing. A grizzled old “southern” voice talks to you over the radio too, just like GRID. While the similarities between the two games end there, I do feel like GRID was the inspiration for ModNation Racers’ opening race.

After clearing the race, you’re immediately taken to the Modspot, which is a virtual environment that houses all of the games features. Aside from just driving to and accessing the game’s features in the Modspot, players can also practice their cornering and drifting as well as chat with fellow players either by voice chat or controller (via the ingame keyboard). The Modspot has a lot of neat little things around it. There is a “coming soon” preview window, which I believe will show off future DLC, as well as the top three karts and mods, whcih are proudly represented on their own podiums. From the Modspot, players can access career mode, singleplayer races, local multiplayer (which includes online splitscreen support), online races, and the creation studio. Most of these choices are pretty standard with the exception of the creation studio.

If players opt to continue career mode instead of checking out the other features of the game, they be presented with more races and a storyline that unfolds through cutscenes. Career mode is very user friendly as it allows you select any previous race that you’ve unlocked so that you can try to collect all tokens on the tracks (tokens ingame currency for buying customization pieces) or attempt to meet the objectives, which unlock goodies if you complete them, for each race. Some races will just ask you to do simple things like “take every shortcut on the circuit” or “don’t hit any walls for one lap” and aren’t very difficult to attain, but they quickly get harder. Regarding the difficulty of career mode, it’s fairly extreme. Ask anyone what they think of the career mode in ModNation Racers, and they will probably give you a pretty mean look. This is because career mode holds your hand for the first few events, but then immediately throws challenges and races at you which, for some reason, seem to believe that you’re a seasoned pro at ModNation Racers. I can recall a few “near rage quits” that I had, which I wish I could say for some of the players who I’ve spoken to on GameFAQs and such. Everybody seems to be frustrated by career mode, and rightfully so. It gets hard too quickly. I have not completed it yet myself, and thinking about how challenging the final races will be really worries me.

Singleplayer racing offers you exactly what you would expect, quick race and time trial. Quick race is nothing more than a singleplayer race set up the way you want, and this is something we’re all familiar with these days. Time trial is just your standard relaxed game mode that has you doing as many laps as you want around any given track to try and set new best laps.

I haven’t had a chance to try the local multiplayer yet, but it looks quite good. Local multiplayer involves split screen racing between two to four players with or without AI bots. One feature that sounds particular nice about the local multiplayer is the ability to play online as well. This means that you and your friends can all play on the same screen and in the same room, but be playing online against other people. This is a feature that we haven’t seen much in Playstation 3 games, which is surprising considering that the Wii takes advantage of this feature nicely.

Speaking of online races, there are a few different race types available. Casual races allow you to play custom races with your own race settings and are just for fun, meaning there are no rewards for winning. If you are looking to show off your skill, then there are XP races availble to you. From what I have been able to tell, these races are only on the game’s original tracks. Since competing in XP races inproves your online standing, this makes sense since racing custom tracks in XP races would introduce a few unfair aspects to the game. My only complaint with the online racing is that XP races are fairly easy to get into, but casual races are quite hard to start up. I was in a casual race lobby for nearly ten minutes before somebody else joined. I was away from the PS3 when they joined though, and they managed to steal the host seat from me through a veto vote. They then changed the track to their own custom made one, so I promptly left the lobby. It is also worth nothing that I experienced zero lag so far online. ModNation Racers seems to be incredibly stable.

The creation studio is the meat of the game. Here, players can cash in tokens for new customization pieces, upload and download user content, and make their own karts, mods, and tracks.To give an indication of how good the creation studio is, I’ve downloaded recerations of Mario and Luigi’s karts from Mario Kart, Mr. Bean’s car, and even a Jurassic Park jeep that, yes, has the actual Jurassic Park logo on the sides. For mods, I’ve downloaded Bender, Bugs Bunny, Stitch, Super Mario, and even a moogle. They all look strikingly like the original copyrighted characters that they are based on, which is very impressive. I neglected to base my kart and mod on existing material and instead just made a Formula 1-esque car and driver, complete with self-placed sponsor logos and everything.

The track creator is the best part of the creation studio. Here, the sky is very nearly the limits. Making your own track has never been easier, as all you have to do is drive around a track-laying steamroller sort of device which controls the direction and altitude of the race track. Your track can be shaped however you want it, allowing you to recreate existing real life circuits or make your own dream courses. I like to do a bit of both. I’ve made a few tracks so far, my favourite original track being a long circuit that starts in the desert before sweeping into a seaside shady jungle and then back into a populated area of the desert. My favourite track that I’ve made though happens to be High Speed Ring, a track featured in the Gran Turismo series. It started out rough, having incorrect placement of props and a very bumpy road, but after smoothing out both of these details, I can safely say that I have a very nice recreation of the Gran Turismo circuit. Making your own tracks really is a blast, and is probably the most entertaining part of the game. The only racing game that does a similar thing which I enjoy is Trackmania United Forever, which is absolutely blown away by ModNation Racers in every way imaginable. This is truly the best game in terms of editors available on the PS3.

Now, it’s about time that I talk about the gameplay. While kart controls in the beta were awkward at best, the final game has silky smooth controls. They may take a few races to get used to, but once you get used to them you’ll feel very at home. If you find yourself unhappy with the controls, you can tweak your handling and drifting, and your acceleration and top speed. There is a catch though, as increasing your handling or drifting will decrease the other, and the same applies between acceleration and top speed. This is a nice feature, straying away from kart specific characteristics of Mario Kart and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

ModNation Racers decides to be unlike the competition with drifting as well. Drifting is done simply by holding X. After holding the button for nearly ten seconds, you will get a speed increase and leave a trail of flames. This lasts until you stop drifting, which should give you an idea of just how effective the drifting can be in this game. Drifting may not be as easy as it was in All-Stars Racing, but ModNation certainly defeats Mario Kart in this area.

There is a lot of charm in this game. The visuals are quite nice for a cartoony kart racer, and the hyperactive music fits in beautifully. Sound effects are also surprisingly decent, which also includes the silly voice acting in career mode. All in all, the overall package is fantastic. There is, however, one aspect of the game that is unacceptable. I am speaking of the long load times. Even after the mandatory install, you will be facing 30-60 second loading screens. Add up how many times the game will load when you play and you’ll realize that you’re missing several minutes of time that you could have spent playing rather than watching loading screens. Load times are even significantly longer than they were in the beta, which astounds me. I’ve been told that United Front Games is supposedly going to fix this issue, which should really be in their best interests. The problem with the frequent load screens is that when you’re not sitting in one part of the game for long and are instead going from menu to menu, feature to feature, you will be hit with countless loading screens which will set you back several minutes. Considering the fact that two loading screens alone will make you lose more than a minute of play time says something, and it confuses me that ModNation Racers was released with these long load times.

Despite the fact that the load times are a little bit on the ridiculous side, ModNation Racers is still a fantastic game. If you enjoy racing games or customization tools, then you really do owe it to yourself to try this game out. ModNation Racers tears the competition apart on merit alone.

Final Score


Initial impressions of “ModNation Loaders”

WARNING: You have stumbled upon one of my “rant” pages for a game. My rants are intentionally critical. If you want my honest opinion of a game, please read the reviews I write.

So I decided to lay down sixty bucks for ModNation Loaders yesterday. This seemed like a very fair price for a new game, since my local EB Games usually charges me thirty percent more for new games. At $80 for some games, I may as well just donate one of my kidneys to them.

I decided to purchase ModNation Loaders because I was dim witted enough to opt into the terribly restricted beta several months ago. It was a somewhat pleasurable experience, and I really took a liking to designing my own tracks. The retail version of ModNation Loaders obviously features many more options when it comes to track building. In fact, the retail version is so crammed full of content that it is rather intimidating! It is all there right in front of me, but I cannot decide what I want to do – ever. It’s like taking a fat kid who loves candy and leaving him in the grocery store overnight, he’s going to be so overwhelmed by all of the choices available to him that he’s likely to become so overstimulated that he will have a heart attack and die before he even starts his way down the cookie aisle. The feeling is similar to games such as Oblivion thrusting you into an open world environment with no direction or pressing goals. I didn’t really have any set ideas or plans, so I just dicked around mostly.

Making your own mod (or “character” if you want to use terms that normal people use) is even more daunting. You see, United Front Games felt that they would look really clever by giving you approximately only a dozen pieces of eyewear for your mods to wear, while they chucked in what felt like HUNDREDS of different eyes. What is the point of having so many of them! Most people are just going to cover them up anyway, so why is ModNation Loaders so skimpy on eyewear? It doesn’t make any sense! Most of the eyes are ridiculous anyway. The most interesting ones (read: three or four) are at the top of the list anyway.

The kart creation system is pretty fun. It isn’t nearly as daunting as the mod maker and is more intuitive. The only problem I have noticed is that, if you’re anything like me, most of your karts will either look “just okay” or, more frequently, like horrible vehicular abominations pooped out of Optimus Prime’s shiny metal ass. I wanted to make a drag racer with a seafoam-esque paint design, but instead ended up with a monstrosity that looked like it was attacked by a vicious horde of kindergarten toddlers with severe ADHD and a love for vomit inducing shades of green and blue paint.

Anyway, by this point one could probably wonder why I am calling the game ModNation Loaders instead of what United Front Games chose to call it. It’s quite simple, really. This game has one of the most innovative features I have ever encountered in a video game. ModNation Loaders throws so many long loading screens in your face that you begin to forget that they even hinder your play time. I fill most of my loading times with hateful rants directed at the length of each loading screen. To be truthful, the amount of time it takes to do ANYTHING in ModNation Loaders is completely unacceptable. The game has a mandatory 3.2 gigabyte install when you first boot the game up, and then proceeds to take thirty seconds to a full minute to load anything. Considering the size of the install and how frequently these lengthy loading screens appear on my television, I’m just completely shocked that a current generation game performs in the same way that games did over ten years ago on the original Playstation. Every game available on the PS3 can be likened to a hare, while ModNation Loaders is a tortoise.

Let’s talk about how the game actually plays, though. The actual controls are much different from every other kart racer, which is something that pisses me off to no end since every kart racer has it’s own unique control scheme. Why is it that every developer who makes a kart racer decides to be a bad boy rebel and give the game awkward controls? Mario Kart makes you wobble sticks around, Sonic’s recent kart racer may as well just be played using the shoulder buttons, and ModNation Loaders tries it’s absolutely damndest to make every single button on the controller have some kind of function. Why do this!! It’s a kart racer, simplicity is key! We do not need to use twenty fucking buttons! The only thing that is missing from ModNation Loaders’ disgustingly obese control scheme is a “press this knob to jerk off” button. It may as well be in there, since the controller does everything else that you can think of.

The way that your vehicles handle is also very different from Mario Kart and Sonic & Sega Allstars Racing. While the karts in those games behave very stiffly and have tight controls, ModNation Loaders’ karts behave like marbles on a flat glass surface. If you like overly sensitive steering that will see you almost spinning around to drive in the wrong direction when you’re simply trying to drive through a chicane. Perhaps it isn’t as bad as I make it sound, but the controls certainly are a step down from Mario Kart and Sonic & Sega.

There is a terrible lack of variety in terms of weapons. While other kart racers have plenty of power ups for you to pick up, ModNation Loaders has only four. They can all be upgraded into stronger versions of themselves by running over more item pods, so to the game’s credit, it does make you almost feel like there are twelve weapons in the game, which is similar to the way that David Blaine makes you believe that he actually has magic powers. To make matters worse, the initial weapons that you pick up before they are upgraded are, quite frankly, useless. They are meant to take out the opposition, but they can’t even do that right. One weapon that you pick up is a lightning bolt, which sounds like a clever way to annihilate the closest opponent. However, when I used the lightning bolt I found that it was nothing more than a little white turd that shot out five feet in front of my vehicle. Wow. Apparently the level one weapons in ModNation Loaders are as useless for taking out opponents as it is to buy a sloth to act as an attack dog for your home.

The lack of a real menu in the game bothers me. Rather than having a menu that allows you to quickly and effortlessly choose what it is that you wish to do, ModNation Loaders decides to again be a clever smartass by plunking the player down in a location called Modspot as soon as you boot up the game. The Modspot is a 3D environment that you have to physically drive around in. There are several buildings in the Modspot which act as hubs for the game’s features. Do you want to play a singleplayer race? Then you have to drive up to the building that has a “single player” tube sticking out of it and press the square button to access it. You have to do this for everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING. Make a track? Play career mode? Go online? Drive to the tube for each!

Fortunately there is a “wheel” menu that you can access by pressing the start button. As you can guess, it is shaped like a donut and has all of the game’s features on it that you can select using the analog stick. The problem with this wheel menu is that it does not behave like a wheel. The menu utilizes standard up, down, left, and right movements, and getting your cursor to certain icons on the wheel can be annoying as even the slightest accidental movement can have your cursor on the opposite side of the menu. Wonderful.

I have seen complaints of rubberbanding in ModNation Loaders. I can safely say that such accusations are false. As a kart racing veteran (also known as “man child”), I can say with complete confidence that if you’re good enough at the game, then you won’t have any problems and you should win. Don’t suck is basically what I am saying.

I can certainly bitch a lot about this game, but that doesn’t hold it back from being an amazing package and possibly even my choice for game of the year. While there are plenty of shortcomings, possibly due to United Front Games being new to this sort of game, there are also many things that ModNation Loaders does extremely well. The creation features may be so overwhelming that they will leave you wondering exactly what to do with them most of the time, but they are outstanding and very thorough for a console game. The racing itself can feel a little too twitchy at times and the weapons leave a lot to be desired, but overall it is a fast and fun experience that really is a true joy to experience on the proper circuits.

I can’t call this game bad by any stretch and I really recommend it to anyone who enjoys kart racers or game modification tools. The only flaw that works against the game would be the horrible loading times which can be a tad bit annoying to sit through, especially if you’re alone in the room. I can overlook this problem though, as the game itself is quite a lot of fun.

The full package is certainly a great deal better than the useless beta (which was basically just a very limited demo), and after I familiarize myself with the game completely I will write more thoughts on it.

Return to May 2010 Articles