The driving game genre, or more specifically the simulation-leaning, track-based racer, used to be major console fare. It was rare to find a gamer who didn’t at least dabble in improving their lap times by learning the corners. And while it rarely bothers the top-ten titles of the year anymore, that doesn’t seem to have deterred anyone from releasing retail titles for an increasingly niche genre.
Today we saw Project Cars 2 pull away from the starting line with considerably less pace than its predecessor managed at retail. Recently, we’ve also seen Dirt 4 do middling business, F1 2017 is holding its ground at least, while WRC 7 is coming this week and I doubt will set the charts alight. And all those will be tailgated into retail by both Forza Motorsport 7 and GT Sport.
That’s six titles over the space of a few months and it’s hard to think of any other genre, without a single top ten ranked game last year, that has had so many representatives on console in so short a period of time. While many appeal to arguably different segments of racing fans, there’s also plenty of crossover – and it’s harder to differentiate driving games (based on real world cars and physics) compared to say first-person shooters or role playing titles.
"Strangely, the average gamer’s love affair with the driving game seemed to ebb away at exactly the same time that Top Gear was soaring to its greatest heights."
It may well be that the others are all suffering due to the upcoming release of those final two titles. Both Sony and Microsoft are using their new driving flagships in time-honoured fashion, as technical showcases for new hardware; with Forza waving the 4K flag for the Xbox One X, while GT Sport looks to make the most of both PS4 Pro and PS VR.
However, if even these driving goliaths, with the full support of their platform holders, don’t find top gear then might it be time to scale back our expectations, and for the industry to scale back the sheer quantity of titles, in order reduce the congestion in the genre.
Driving, of course, or rather off course, is still with us – being a mainstay of both open-world action titles and a regular part of more scripted games as well – that’s everything from Battlegrounds to Uncharted.It just seems that driving games have struggled to engage beyond their devotees to the same extent that other genres have over the last few years.
Strangely, the average gamer’s love affair with the driving game seemed to ebb away at exactly the same time that Top Gear was soaring to its greatest heights. So it’s certainly not that we’ve lost our passion for ludicrous cars, and arguably the environmental concerns that regulate such vehicles make them more, not less, attractive to their core audience.
The one driving game to make the UK Top 10 last year was Forza Horizon 3 – a game whose road-trip aesthetic, married with ludicrous challenges, most apes the Top Gear model. So there’s still a future for one of gaming’s most venerable genres, it just has to learn to bend with the wind if it’s to challenge at the top of the charts.