By all accounts, 2020 will go down as a bumper year for the racing video game genre. From F1 2020 to Ride 4 and WRC 9, there was something for all tastes. Indie darlings Hotshot Racing, art of rally and Inertial Drift added colour, while continual updates to simulation stalwarts kept those with their race-face enabled occupied. During various Covid-19 lockdowns, esports switched on the wider motorsport fraternity and opened up sim-racing to new audiences.
You see, it wasn’t all bad news after all!
While 2021 can only get better from a macro viewpoint, 2020 is a tough act to follow when it comes to virtual racing. Thankfully, there’s plenty on the horizon to be excited about. Next-gen hardware has breathed new life into the console market, and with that will come cut-throat competition and new opportunities for developers. Meanwhile, the sim-oriented simulation communities will look to build on the momentum gained. Streaming platforms will vie for market relevance through price wars and service improvements.
Here is what I am most looking forward to this year – in no particular order – and why you should stay tuned to Traxion throughout the next twelve months.
Gran Turismo 7
A big one, this, as it has been eight long years since the last numbered Gran Turismo game. GT7 was revealed during the PlayStation 5 launch event in June last year, and seen as the franchise has sold well over 80 million copies so far, expectations are high. This is especially true because the initial trailer showcased what looked like on-track gameplay, lots of beautiful cars and the return of the fabled Trial Mountain circuit.
Critically, the footage contained glimpses of the main game hub, which hinted at a more in-depth single-player career than the esports-focussed Gran Turismo Sport. If GT7 takes the online prowess of Sport and combines it with updated visuals, more tracks, more cars and an enthralling career, Sony could be on to a winner. Here’s hoping for a 2021 release.
A next-gen F1 game
My, (oh, my), what a pickle! F1 2020 introduced a stellar MyTeam career mode that breathed new life into a somewhat ageing game. Codemasters’ Ego Game Technology Engine is not getting any younger. With next-generation PC and console hardware now here, what will the Birmingham-based studio do next?
It could be a cross-generational game that stretches existing tech, or could there be an all-new game engine? What about using a third-party source? Will the company’s purchase by EA mean a potential last-minute shift to the Frostbite Engine bag of tricks?
I can’t wait to see F1 sing on the new hardware, so whatever the decision, fingers crossed for a step-change.
A next-gen MotoGP game
Much the same challenges facing the next F1 game exist for the official-sanctioned MotoGP game this year too. Well, apart from being acquired by a publishing giant. I suspect developer Milestone will take the evolutionary route as opposed to revolution. It’s other yearly motorcycle franchises, MXGP and Monster Energy Supercross, are on both the previous and next-gen consoles. The studio’s switch to Unreal Engine three years ago has paid dividends.
One area for specific improvement is the online performance, progression and options available – all of which are a little behind the pace on MotoGP 20, something that we hope can be built upon if the championship wants to take esports seriously.
Need for Speed by Criterion Games
Sad news. Ghost Games is no more. Well, kind of. The creator of recent Need for Speed games has been downsized and re-branded as EA Gothenburg, therefore it will no longer develop new Need for Speed games. The next, as-yet-unnamed, Need for Speed will be developed by Criterion Games instead.
Having recently dipped back into to a previous NfS Criterion Games creation – Hot Pursuit Remastered – this could be the team to take the game in a new direction. Only a very brief snippet of two cars sat stationary has been revealed so far, but it was during a segment of an EA presentation talking up the possibilities of the next-gen consoles, so there’s every chance this next game in this 27-year-old story will be one to look forward to.
Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 4
The fourth instalment of the Monster Energy Supercross series will be the first on the next-gen hardware, promising slicker visuals thanks to 60 fps, the latest roster of riders and, crucially, an all-new career mode that features a rider skill tree and fierce rivalries.
The MES series has garnered a loyal, if still niche, audience of late, thanks to its brash stadium-based off-road motorcycle racing. In 2021, expect an iterative update over 2020’s Supercross 3, that also includes four-player co-op and track editor refinements. Let’s hope it appeases the fanbase upon release this month.
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown
The Test Drive series holds a special place for many people, whether it was the original Test Drive on the Amiga in 1987 or the first test Drive Unlimited during the formative years of the Xbox 360. Things, however, have been quiet for some time and the superlative Forza Horizon 4 seems to have taken its place as the default open-world driving game.
Now though, publisher Nacon and developer Kylotonn are set to revive this classic title with a new release using the game engine developed for the WRC series. Let’s hope this reboot goes better than the developer’s last, V-Rally 4…
More motorcycle games can only be a good thing. Italian developer Milestone has the market cornered with the Monster Energy Supercross, MotoGP and MXGP titles. It also creates the predominately road-bike based Ride series, and it’s here where RiMS Racing is set to provide some competition at last.
Apart from the initial teaser show during publisher Nacon’s Connect steam, which didn’t show any gameplay, all we know is that this new game is by a fresh team called RaceWard Studio based in Milan and is tentatively pencilled in for a summer 2021 release.
An all-new NASCAR game
Say goodbye to NASCAR Heat. Hello, something new. 2020’s NASCAR Heat 5 was the last time the ‘Heat’ name will be used, but more importantly, 2021 heralds a fresh start for the popular officially-licence series as it will be different from the ground up.
That means a significant change in vehicle physics, as the game moves away from the foundations originally laid by 704Games using the Unity development platform. The current video game incarnation of NASCAR has found a solid esports audience with events such as its Winter Heat series – now let’s look forward to all-new car handling that matches the online competency.
Much like this year’s F1 and MotoGP games, a new WRC release is not yet confirmed for 2021. But, being a yearly licenced motorsport game, I’d bet my house on a new one coming around September time (Covid-19 pending, of course).
WRC 9 was a breakthrough release for the developer Kylotonn, who made massive strides with the vehicle handling – arguably the most important feature of a racing game. Alongside this, the next-gen console versions added enhanced visuals, super-fast loading times and buttery-smooth frame rates.
The single-player career mode, however, was virtually identical in both WRC 8 and 9. Hopefully, 2021 is the year this is addressed.
The Dakar remains one of the most gruelling forms of motorsport. Competitors use cars, trucks, quad bikes or motorcycles to traverse rocky paths, vast open trails and deep sand dunes across 14 days.
Consequently, the variation of terrain and vehicle types makes for not only a diverse game but a challenging one to create. Since the last game in the series, Dakar 18, was let down by a myriad of idiosyncrasies, there have been many changes behind the scenes.
Developer Bigmoon Entertainment has been purchased by Saber Interactive and has stated that Dakar 21 will feature a new physics engine. Put two and two together, with Saber also owning the Mud/SnowRunner series, and we could have our answer. Maybe we are getting five instead of four, but one to keep an eye on.
Not much is known about the supposed reboot for the Forza Motorsport series so far. The initial reveal trailer showcased pretty cars in a pit area, but the on-track action didn’t look like gameplay, more like target footage. Once again developed by Turn 10 Studios, while the Forza Horizon games have gone from strength to strength in recent times, the more serious ‘Motorsport’ releases seem to have run out of gas.
I hope that on-track handling is the primary focus this time around, while innovations in the online space to better help credible esports competitions happen will be a requirement in this day and age. If this ultimately means a 2022 launch, then so be it.
Plenty more too…
If the games discussed above weren’t enough already, just consider that 2021 will also see the loveable arcade-racer Circuit Superstars, which mixes top-down arcade fun with realistic driving physics. Vehicular combat will take a leap into the next-gen with PS5 exclusive Destruction AllStars.
Back in 2020, Dangerous Driving 2 was announced, but since then radio silence about the spiritual Burnout successor. Similarly, sim-racer GTR3 has long been revealed but is currently missing in action. Maybe this year we will hear more?
Finally, games that are already released will receive a deluge of support, updates and additional content. iRacing and rFactor 2 will no doubt see their communities continue to prosper, while Assetto Corsa Competizione is due the addition of a British GT pack. BeamNG.drive may finally come out of early access with the addition of a career mode, Codemasters has promised several updates for DIRT 5, Forza Horizon 4 continues to receive seasonal updates and seven years since early access, Wreckfest continues apace.
As racing game fans, we’ve never had it better.