Written by: Rik

Date posted: September 19, 2004

Note – like some of our other ‘brief history’ features, this was written some time ago, before many of the games mentioned here were revisited and reviewed for the site. I think it still serves a purpose – to provide a brief overview of the genre – but though it’s been updated a couple of times since the original date of publication, it could probably still do with an overhaul. Until that happens, though, we’ve got the feature as it was, with this disclaimer pasted at the top.

Update: For something more recent (and slightly more thorough), we do now have a brief history dedicated to the Need for Speed series.



Outrun is the racing game everyone wants to play. Offering players the opportunity to race across America in 80s dream machine, the Ferrari Testarossa, it is a smash hit in the arcades, but doesn’t translate well to the home computer.

If you fancy giving it a go now, fire up MAME32 (or pick up a copy of 2006 sequel Coast 2 Coast).



Due to the limitations of the technology available, racing games are never fully realised on home machines. Spectrum, Amiga and Megadrive owners are united in enduring a steady stream of sub-standard arcade conversions like Roadblasters, Overlander, WEC Le Mans and Turbo Outrun. On the PC, the Test Drive  games provide an altogether more satisfying experience, simulating illegal road-races in Ferraris and Porsches that necessitate avoiding other traffic as well as the police. Geoff Crammond’s Stunt Car Racer (pictured) is the first game to successfully use polygons without sacrificing speed.



With 16-bit computers now firmly established, software began to improve. On the ST and Amiga, aside from a port of Test Drive 2, Toyota Celica GT Rally impresses with its realistic co-driver and weather effects, while the split-screen racing of Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge proves a hit with reviewers and public alike. 4D Sports: Driving (pictured) makes an appearance on PC and Amiga while Test Drive 3 takes the series into ‘full’ 3D, albeit not altogether successfully (ie it’s rubbish).



Geoff Crammond returns with the first successful ‘simulation’ racer, Formula One Grand Prix. Offering more than other games of its ilk, some reviewers are reluctant to recommend it on the basis that it might be too complex for most gamers, instead preferring the ‘F1-lite’ approach of Lankhor’s Vroom. Nevertheless, it is deservedly a massive hit. Also in this year, Crazy Cars 3 (pictured) wins many fans with its story-based career mode, which involved prize money, car upgrades, and betting on the outcome of races.



The eagerly-awaited Super Nintendo finally arrives and brings with it the lightening fast futuristic racer F-Zero (pictured) and the awesome Super Mario Kart. The former is fun, the latter is an all-time classic, especially in multiplayer. They both make arcade racers on the PC look very silly indeed.

Stoo: on the simulation side of the genre, for the PC there is Car and Driver, an early offering from the wonderful Looking Glass Studios.



Ridge Racer appears in the arcades and radically alters our perception of racing games. It looks fabulous, it plays like a dream, and if you were really lucky you might get to sit in a real-life car (er, a Mazda) while you played.

It even puts Sega’s Virtua Racing in the shade, although the successful port of the latter to the Megadrive (pictured) finally gives owners of Sega’s console a half-decent racer.



The 3DO arrives to moderate fanfare, although it’s thin on the ground as far as decent games are concerned. One notable exception is The Need for Speed (pictured), a slick update of the Test Drive template. On PC, the focus is more on motorsport and simulation. Papyrus produce IndyCar Racing, easily superseding F1GP in terms of looks and certainly its equal in terms of gameplay. In the arcades, Sega strikes back against Ridge Racer with Daytona USA, a super-fast Nascar game with jaw-dropping graphics.



The major console players bring out the big guns. Ridge Racer is a launch title for the Playstation, while Daytona USA is ported to the Saturn. However, both are overshadowed by more original titles like the smash ’em up Destruction Derby, and hyper-cool hover-racer Wipeout (pictured). With the 3DO now effectively defunct, its best games are converted to the PC, including The Need for Speed. With a Pentium in every home (well, almost), PC racers started to benefit, with Ridge Racer clone Screamer proving more than a match for the glut of console conversions finding their way onto PC this year. In the arcades, Sega Rally is the latest title to wow the legions of narrow faced, slack-jawed youths.



The Saturn finally gets a version of Sega Rally, which is pretty good, but easily matched by the new generation of PC racers. Screamer 2 knocks it into a cocked hat, while Network Q RAC Rally offers some more authentic action. However, the real excitement is reserved for the long-awaited Formula One Grand Prix 2, which fulfils expectations despite looking rather dated. The Playstation, however, has its own Formula One game, entitled, er, Formula One, which looks pretty sharp and even has Murray Walker doing the commentary.

Wipeout 2097 (pictured) also appears around Christmas time and sends console reviewers into a frenzy (i.e. it’s not bad). PC owners know they’ll get conversions of both soon enough, and focus their jealousy on those happily playing Super Mario Kart 64.



The advent of 3D acceleration means lots of good-looking racers. The first of these is Pod, a futuristic effort that boasts a bewildering array of lighting effects and is the nearest thing we have to Wipeout on the PC until Wipeout 2097 finally makes its way across later in the year. Screamer 2 is also spruced up and given a re-release as Screamer Rally. Codemasters’ TOCA Touring Cars (pictured), while not the best looking of the new generation, is a worthy simulation, and Need for Speed 2 is a bit rubbish.

Elsewhere, many succumb to the dubious charms of ‘shock racer’ Carmageddon. Fun for a while, but with essentially limited appeal, it receives scandalously high marks in some circles. Although not technically a racer, it, along with Grand Theft Auto (which also appeared this year) arguably paved the way for free-roaming driving titles such as Midtown Madness.



Carmageddon 2 appears and the world goes mad again, but elsewhere things are looking more promising. Formula One 97 (pictured) gets a PC outing, and while superficially impressive it doesn’t measure up to Ubisoft’s F1 Racing Simulation or the new game from Papyrus, Grand Prix Legends. In the ‘pretty but shallow’ section we have Kalisto’s Ultim@te Race Pro and Motorhead from Gremlin, both boasting LAN support and some impressive flashing colours.

Colin McRae Rally appears on PSX and PC and sets the new standard for rally games, Motocross Madness becomes the first decent motorbike game, and the third Need For Speed game isn’t bad either. However, 1998 was most notable for the benchmark racing title, Gran Turismo. While catering for those wanting a quick 15-minute blast the real beauty of the game was the career mode, offering an almost bewildering amount of depth.



While PSX owners rave about Driver, PC owners shrug when it fails to measure up to Microsoft’s Midtown Madness. Both feature a fully working city, but Midtown‘s lack of a clichéd 70s plot keeps the emphasis on racing, allowing for more freedom and more fun. Codemasters’ TOCA 2 improves on the original, especially in the graphics department, although it remains an uneasy balance of arcade game and sim. The Dreamcast appears and gives the world Sega Rally 2 (also ported to the PC) which is largely ignored.

EA apply their FIFA mentality to the Need For Speed series, with Road Challenge (pictured) being almost inseparable from last year’s Hot Pursuit.



Gran Turismo 2 and Colin McRae Rally 2.0 squeeze a bit more life out of the PSX. The latter is converted to PC and, despite competition in the form of Rally Masters and Rally Championship, easily beats them to the top of the rallying tree. Midtown Madness 2 and Formula One Grand Prix 3 arrive to moderate acclaim, although in truth they offer little more than their predecessors.

EA release another Need for Speed game, Porsche 2000. It’s actually a significant improvement over their last two efforts, but unfortunately, no-one buys it. To make up for this sales shortfall, EA acquire the F1 license and immediately put it to use, releasing the not-bad F1 2000 and the slightly better F1 Championship Season 2000.

Le Mans 24 Hours offers serial loners the opportunity to simulate the full-length race. Those who prefer a slightly shorter challenge seem to enjoy the game, however. On Dreamcast, Metropolis Street Racer hogs the attention of console-heads, but Vanishing Point (also on PSOne, pictured) is another worthy racer.



Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is released on PS2 and the world applauds, although not as loudly as it thought it would. Essentially a flashier version of GT2 (with not as many cars) it is nevertheless the premier racing game.

On the PC, EA’s F1 2001 surpasses Grand Prix 3 as the top F1 game and Colin McRae 2.0 is belatedly challenged by the superb Rally Championship Xtreme (pictured) from Actualize.



EA resurrect the Need for Speed series with Need For Speed:Hot Pursuit 2 (pictured), which takes the series even further from reality by featuring police helicopters dropping exploding barrels in their attempts to stop you. For some reason separate versions are released for PS2 and PC, with the latter inevitably proving inferior.

Further sequels include Colin McRae 3, Grand Prix 4 and F1 2002, while Sony “do a FIFA” by releasing a “special edition” of Gran Turismo, GT Concept: Tokyo 2002, which actually has less to offer than the original. Burnout 2: Point of Impact impresses many, building successfully on the original’s “go faster by driving irresponsibly” premise. Auto Modellista‘s cel-shaded graphics turn a few heads, but sadly it drives like a wet fish. The TOCA series gets a revamp, with TOCA: Race Driver offering a story-based career mode (with cut-scenes and everything).



Need for Speed takes to the streets in Need For Speed: Underground, while Rockstar produce a worthy rival in Midnight Club 2 (pictured). EA’s effort has an impressive visual sheen but is let down by iffy handling and unnaturally solid roadside objects. MC2, meanwhile, is a little rought around the edges but offers a more satisfying drive.

Elsewhere, a couple of old SNES racers get a new lick of paint for the Gamecube: F-Zero GX and Mario Kart: Double Dash are both reasonably well-received.



Driver 3 is finally released, but sadly it feels unfinished and fails to match the likes of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for auto-based crime fun.

While the console world settles down to wait for Gran Turismo 4 (with some even prepared to pay £25 for a cut-down version – GT4: Prologue), PC gamers experience a breath of fresh air in the form of Trackmania (pic).