With a great year of gaming coming to an end, its time to take a look back at some of the most noteworthy games of 2008. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be covering all the games that caught our attention this year.
We kick things off with the racing games genre. 2008 has undoubtedly been the best year for racing game fans in this console generation. And how could it not be; new offerings from some of the best known racing game franchises, including Gran Turismo and Burnout, hit stores this year. Here’s our pick of the best racing games of 2008:
There are few better ways to start a gaming year than with a new Burnout game. Hitting stores in January, Paradise was Criterion’s most risky Burnout game yet, with its open-world environment, a much-criticised compass navigation system, and the inability to restart races in progress. But while the game released to a mixed response, Criterion won gamers over with amazing post-release support by way of downloadable content. In the subsequent months, day and night cycles and two-wheelers were included in the game via free downloadable updates, making it feel like an entirely new game.
Gran Turismo 5: Prologue
There are racing games, then there are sim-racing games, and then there is Gran Turismo. While many may argue that Forza Motorsport 2 on the Xbox 360 and GTR on the PC offer a more hardcore sim-racing experience, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue remains in a class of its own. With awe-inspiring visuals, improved AI, slick presentation, a distinct jazz soundtrack, and solid car handling, GT5 Prologue has all the ingredients that make the franchise what it is today. And with the Nurburgring track and vehicular damage set to be added to the game via downloadable updates, GT5 Prologue has everything needed to tide us over until the full version hits sometime this decade.
After releasing DiRT last year, Codemasters lived up to their reputation as one of the finest developers of racing games with GRID in 2008, a revamp of their Race Driver series. An arcade racer at the core with just enough in it to make you think twice before throwing your car around a corner at full throttle, GRID struck a fine balance, appealing to a broad audience in the process. Few games have managed to make drifting as much fun as GRID did without making you feel like the game was doing everything for you. GRID also improved on DiRT’s damage modeling, adding a new dimension to its intense street and circuit races.
Brought to us by Blackrock Studio, the trusted name behind the ATV Offroad Fury and older MotoGP games, Pure is unadulterated fun on four wheels. Moving away from their sim roots, Blackrock have taken an all-out arcade approach with Pure by focusing on big air and insane over-the-top tricks. Pure was also one of the most beautiful racing games we’ve seen this year, with rich, diverse environments and track design conducive to some ridiculously big jumps. Unfortunately, Pure released at a time when there was a glut of great new games and it probably got lost in the crowd. It was, however, a great start to what is hopefully a thriving and long-running franchise.
The much delayed next-gen debut of WipEout, one of the flagship franchises on the PlayStation platform, finally released this year, and it delivered everything it promised. With silky smooth 60 fps visuals in full high-def glory, WipEout HD sets the benchmark for visual quality in downloadable titles. With nimble controls and mind-numbing sense of speed, it delivered everything gamers have loved about the series over the years at a great price, making WipEout’s PlayStation 3 debut well worth the wait.
While the Xbox has Forza Motorsport and the PlayStation has Gran Turismo, the PC has GTR. And it may not get the same N4G coverage as its console counterparts, but in many ways, it outperforms them on the track. GTR Evolution, like all prior games in the series, is purely about physics and AI; everything else is secondary. As a result, you won’t find industry-standard visual quality and production value. You also won’t have hundreds of cars to unlock and buy. But what it does, it does exceedingly well, and this game is a must for any sim racing fan worth his salt.
Midnight Club Los Angeles
Midnight Club has always been overshadowed by the more mainstream arcade racers such as Burnout, Need for Speed and PGR. But after getting everyone’s attention with the stellar Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, Rockstar delivered a solid follow up this year with Midnight Club: Los Angeles. With its near accurate representation of LA, a hassle-free GPS system, tight and responsive controls, and unparalleled customisation options, MCLA stands out in a year full of great racing games as one of the best.
MotorStorm Pacific Rift
Evolution raised the bar in nearly every aspect to make MotorStorm Pacific Rift a fitting follow-up to its successful PS3 launch title. Ditching the browns of the deserts and canyons, Pacific Rift moved to a tropical island complete with rivers of lava, lush forests, big jumps, and water bodies to deliver a fresher gaming experience whilst maintaining its core gameplay. Winding tracks, a more strategic implementation of the boost feature and tighter controls ensured that Pacific Rift provided a more engaging racing experience than its predecessor. And the monster trucks didn’t hurt either (unless you were under them).
After going through this impressive list, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s no way 2009 can top this. But think again. If all goes well, we might well see Gran Turismo 5, Forza Motorsport 3 (or PGR5), Codemasters’ new F1 game, Codemasters’ MMO racer Fuel, DiRT 2 and a Need for Speed game that doesn’t suck in 2009. So while the chequered flag drops on 2008, here’s looking forward to another great year of racing games in 2009.