Some genres have far less room for innovation than others, and both sports and racing games can often find themselves getting caught up in chasing after a semblance of accuracy, leaning on licenses and the real world for more than just inspiration.
Racing games of recent years have definitely hewn more towards the simulation side of racing than the excesses of arcade racers, and its led to some truly excellent games, from Codemasters’ return to their roots with Dirt Rally, to replicating the feel of a race weekend in F1 2016, or the purist simulation approach of Assetto Corsa. Of course, there’s always a place for the sheer arcade brilliance of Trackmania Turbo, but some of the best racing games of recent times have straddled the divide between simulation and arcade.
Forza Horizon 3
The original Forza Horizon set out its stall as the brash, extreme sports-loving sibling to Turn 10’s meticulous Forza Motorsport, and while the mainline series remains an unequivocal highlight of the simulation racing genre, Horizon, now in it’s third outing, can probably carry the flag as the most entertaining driving experience of this generation.
Playground Games’ have worked tirelessly to evolve their own handling model so that no matter which of the 300+ cars you’re careening across the Australian countryside in, they each feel unique, lively, and just down right fun. That Southern Hemisphere setting also provides plenty of opportunity for a range of landscapes to speed across, from gorgeous sandy beaches through to palm tree-laden cityscapes.
It’s just so well put together, with breathtaking visuals, perfectly tuned handling, and a range of steadily unlocking challenges and races that will keep you engaged for many, many hours. Despite all of the different tasks, it’s so easy to find yourself simply driving from one side of the map to the other, or taking the time to hunt for decrepit classics hidden in barns, and it’s in these quieter moments that Horizon 3 really shines. Now, with the addition of the Blizzard Mountain DLC it’s become even more expansive, and if you’ve got the display technology for it, it will output a stunning HDR picture to boot.
Runners up in alphabetical order:
- Assetto Corsa
- Dirt Rally
- F1 2016
- Trackmania Turbo
It’s all too easy to dismiss sports games out of hand as not making big enough steps forward from one year to the next, yet developers are always looking and planning for those improvements. It could be a new game engine, a complete overhaul of ball physics, new AI, or simply getting one step closer to how the sport looks on TV, there’s always something.
Then there’s also the brand new entries from left field. RIGS isn’t just the PlayStation VR’s premier shooter, it’s also given all the trappings of a sports game, with league tables, baying crowds and futuristic takes on sports. Touchdown might be a variation on Capture the Flag, but it’s only one or two steps removed from being American Football or Rugby with guns and giant mechs.
With the transition to the Frostbit Engine, FIFA 17 was a major undertaking for one of the biggest and longest running sports franchises, but the game went beyond that with the addition of a story mode in the form of The Journey. While other sports titles have had story modes within them, namely 2K’s NBA series and EA’s own Fight Night Champion, it’s FIFA’s that has managed to meld together a proper narrative with a smoother light RPG experience for increasing Alex Hunter’s attributes.
The Journey may only last one season but it manages to build up relationships between Hunter, his family, friends, and rivals, as well as give a glimpse as to what a young footballer may experience when signing for a big club. Partner that with FIFA’s Ultimate Team, which still has no real rival, the rest of its online modes like Seasons, as well as some very good play on the pitch, and you get the best sports package released this year.
Runners up in alphabetical order:
- Madden NFL 17
- Pro Evolution Soccer 17
- RIGS: Mechanized Combat League