It's a pretty widely accepted fact that video games provide an escape. We play to escape the real world and experience places that are at times alien and at other times not unlike our own. However, there seems to be a sharp difference of opinion over just how realistic this escape should be. Some fans hope for video games that get closer and closer to realism, while others prefer something a bit more arcadey and over-the-top. Last week, we took a look at the sports genre and the pros and cons of arcade vs. simulator. This week we'll examine these two sides of the racing genre.
First of all, arcade racing games are fun. There's no way around that fact. Encompassing everything from Mario Kart to Project Gotham Racing to WipEout, it's an extremely diversified sub-genre. Racing simulators, by comparison, are limited to a few variations of road, circuit, or rally racing. In an arcade racer, travelling to an alien planet and racing at 400 kilometers per hour upside-down while drinking an orange soda can be considered a routine experience. Pitting an opponent (and, in some cases, completely destroying them) is usually perfectly legal. It's even encouraged. This is not true of sims. You can't use turtle shells in Gran Turismo 5 or a sub-machine gun in Forza 4. Ramming another car will even get you an authentic penalty in F1 2011.
Driving like a madman is also encouraged in arcade racers. Think about it: have you ever sat down to discuss the finer points of cornering in Extreme G? Of course you haven't. How about the intricacies of throttle/brake balance in F-Zero? Not likely. The most complicated decision you're ever bothered with in an arcade racing game is what color your jet ski should be. This means that anyone who's inclined to play any of the many arcade racing games can do so without earning a bachelor's degree in quantum physics. That's not to say that these games aren't technical or don't require any skill, of course; there are even leaderboards for Mario Kart games now, indicating there is some room for a professional approach to arcade racing games.
It's not all good, though. Arcade racing games have almost limitless potential for mediocrity. An overly dry presentation for a simulator is almost expected and slightly more excusable as a result. Generally speaking, racing sims are made by teams with enough experience to know how to present a game. Arcade racers, on the other hand, might end up being pieced together by a slightly less experienced team, resulting in a stewing pot of bad gameplay gimmicks and poor design choices.
Simulators are a different breed entirely. Absolute realism is the ultimate goal, and everything else, including ease of use, takes a back seat. As a result, the fans of these games usually end up being the rabid, irritable, demanding—I'm sorry, "passionate"—types you'd meet on an Internet message board. They're usually concerned with the camber of corner three at Spa and whether it's properly represented in their game of choice.
Regardless, if you're able to immerse yourself in the experience, the racing simulator can be as viable an escape as an arcade racer. Why is that? Well, let's assume you're a gamer who's also a car lover that fancies red Italian cars—the Ferrari 458 Italia, to be specific. MSRP will be around $225,000. Adding in options could easily push the price up to $250,000. If you happen to purchase one of the 458s that isn't prone to spontaneously combusting, you might just be able to enjoy a track day or two before you need to change the ridiculously expensive tires. This, of course, goes without mentioning that supercars are extremely temperamental to begin with, which is easily glossed over. I mean, have you seen a 458 Italia?
If you have a proper racing sim, though, you don't have to worry about the inconveniences of supercar ownership. Pay a one-time fee in the case of console games and most PC games and you have access to some of the greatest vehicles ever imagined, with none of the headaches attached. That goes without even mentioning the mortal danger tied to motorsport either. What a good simulator does, then, is replicate all of the good bits associated with owning a supercar—or, for that matter, your favorite car—without any of the drama. It'll also allow you to travel to some of the most storied race tracks in existence without buying a plane ticket.
So which is better?
Chances are that if you don't care much about realism and are much more into having fun than motorsport, you'll side with the arcade racing game. It's not a bad choice either. It's one of the widest-ranging sub-genres around with some truly amazing titles. However, if you're even remotely familiar with who Ayrton Senna is and where to find Imola, chances are you'll fancy a simulator.
Personally, I'd side with simulators. That's not to say that I don't enjoy F-Zero as much as I enjoy F1, but I just prefer running laps at the 'Ring and powersliding in Kenya to tossing turtle shells and banana peels. But that's just me.
Date: January 18, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*