The Thrill of Futuristic Driving Games, Past and Present

Everyone likes winning races, and video games about driving remain one the most enduring and popular gaming genres. Mind you, though they’re popular they’ve had difficulty selling particularly well recently. Perhaps this is because even though they’re accessible by anyone of any age, there’s a perception that one driving game is pretty much the same as any other. In the quest to make driving games that stand out from the crowd, we’ve seen games that add obstacles, weapons and countless other gimmicks into the mix. But perhaps one of the smartest moves has been to create games which take us to the race tracks of the future.
After all, real world motorsport is operating at pretty much the same speeds it has been for decades now, mere tenths of a second being shaved off lap times by millions of pounds spent in wind-tunnels and laboratories. Set a race on another world, or give the entire field anti-gravity abilities and you don’t have to worry yourself about the boredom of realism. A new life of doubled speeds awaits you on the off-world colonies, and here are some of our favourites:

The F-Zero Series

Think speed in the 16-bit era, and many people may think first of SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog, originator of 90s mascot “’tude” and the super-quick platformer. But on some level, the blue hedgehog was a marketing ploy designed in response to the Super Nintendo’s greater graphical capability, demonstrated by one launch game in particular. F-Zero instantly made the Mega Drive’s racing games look dated with a super-high frame rate and the pseudo three dimensional “Mode 7” effect (later used in Mario Kart).

New F-Zero games followed with each subsequent hardware generation. The N64’s version (F-Zero X) was perhaps as much an illustration of the console’s weaknesses as its strengths: whilst featuring super-slick 60 frames per second rendering and some fantastic tracks, it suffered from blurry textures and a lack of visual fidelity – a common problem with the system. The Gamecube saw the far more visually accomplished F-Zero GX, whilst the contemporary handheld (Gameboy Advance) saw three different versions (Maximum Velocity, GP Legend and Climax).

Since 2005, the series has been noticeably absent from Nintendo’s offering, with no versions on the Wii or DS and still no word on Wii U and 3DS releases. By way of explanation, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has stated that he was unsatisfied with the results of outsourcing the series to developers outside of Nintendo – implying that any future F-Zero game would have to fit into the developer’s own in-house schedule. Others may point to Nintendo’s disinterest in pushing graphical hardware as another factor in the lack of an F-Zero game: any new entry simply wouldn’t be as impressive.

The Wipeout Series

The loss of Sony’s Liverpool studio in August was a not insignificant event. The WipeOut developers were once known as the amusingly difficult to pronounce Psygnosis, a hugely innovative team who created some fantastic breakout hits in the 80s and 90s. Sadly, the success of WipeOut seems to have been something of a curse in the long run: since their acquisition by Sony, they’ve been compelled to create WipeOut and Formula One licensed titles, and not a lot else. Signs that this wasn’t a perfect arrangement perhaps became clear when they lost the F1 license to British rivals Codemasters. But after the HD (PS3) and 2048 (PS Vita) iterations of WipeOut, Sony decided to shutter the studio. A real shame.

Why was WipeOut significant? 1.5 million sales helped, but the game was – as F-Zero had been – a system seller that defined the direction of the Playstation brand. Marketing focused on the soundtrack, putting Playstations in popular nightclubs and attempting to sell clubware to the mid-nineties techno crowd. But as a game, WipeOut was still a technical marvel, that proved the immersive qualities of 3D worlds with sheer speed. Gone, but most definitely not forgotten.

Star Wars: Episode One Racer

Apart from the small detail of the Star Wars universe taking part “a long time ago”, the series is still ‘futuristic’ and this tie-in racing title has an equal amount in common with futuristic racers. Based on one of the better sequences in the largely poorly received  Star Wars prequel movie, players race in ‘pod racers’ – essentially rocket-propelled jet-engined sleds – around courses on planets in the Star Wars universe. Whilst in the same ultra-high speed, anti-gravity mode of both F-Zero and Wipeout, the Star Wars license lends the visuals a grimy, industrial look that is actually rather distinct: there are fewer magenta-coloured metropolises and more deserts, wastelands to race on, and the vehicles themselves are ramshackle.

Definitely one of the best ever uses of a movie licenses, the game impressively went on to spawn a sequel a couple of years after the movie’s release (PS2 title Racer Revenge). SEGA also developed a version for the arcade with an elaborate replica of Anakin Skywalker’s pod racer for the player to sit in.

Split Second: Velocity

Recalling the theme of British racing game developers who’ve sadly gone under, Split Second was a racing game with a bunch of neat ideas that sadly became the last game that Brighton-based Black Rock Studio created before closure in 2011. Strictly speaking, Split Second isn’t as clearly a futuristic racing game as the preceding games on this list: it’s about fictional high-performance sports cars in a modern setting.

Still, the concept of a high-budget reality television show in which racers must dodge explosions, crashing planes and all kinds of destructive events isn’t exactly ripped from today’s headlines. Though never explicitly said, there’s a sort of near-future dystopia happening here. But the important thing is that this is a high-speed, high-thrills game in which the ‘power-ups’ are largely massive explosions which change the circuit.


Now for something a little different: racing games are seemingly going through a rough patch, and if you’re looking for futuristic racers the future looks a little on the bleak side. Arguably though, the entire gaming industry is finding that it has to adapt to changing consumer habits: more people using smartphones and tablets, for instance, or a social element that is important in how people experience many new games.
ModNation Racers is a good example of how the social element has already found its way into the games we play, and the team behind this are already working on creating the similar LittleBigPlanet Karting.
Another revolution happening in game development is the creation of small developers working on new games in the open, taking feature suggestions and gauging interest as development proceeds. The most famous example would be Minecraft – a game that achieved over a million sales despite not having left a ‘finished’ state. Now in racing terms, a new developer called Nakama Studios is attempting to achieve similar success with its new game, Trackverse, a racing game currently in ‘alpha’ with an emphasis on user-created content.

Currently featuring futuristic vehicles and themes for sci-fi and post apocalyptic theme parks (and four others), this is a game with a lot of potential – not just as a futuristic racing games, but as a game that brings together all kinds of racing styles into a single game.

Steph Wood is a huge gamer working at a Skoda Leasing company, regularly writing on both entertainment and automotive topics.

1 comment:

  1. "I like very much Online Games,Driving Games.more than you want Driving Games