An Homage to the Past - The Sega Dreamcast
By James Smith -- Staff Writer
Any top 10 list is bound to leave many reeling. Invariably someoneís favorite will get left of the list. Heck, I even grimace when I see some top 10 lists covering movies or music. But that wonít stop me from putting together my own top 10 list for my all-time favorite racing games. The only restrictions for this list are that they have to be a console game (come on, we all know Grand Prix Legends on the PC is the catís meow) and they have to be in my current game library. The games range from arcade to simulations and were all responsible for me spending too much time in front of the television at one point or another.
10. Vanishing Point (DC)
A fantastic arcade game that featured many licensed vehicles. The Dreamcast version gets the nod over the PSX version due to the online component of the game. The track designs are much better than youíll find in other arcade racers. The early handling was a bit sloppy, but as you progressed through the game and picked up additional cars, the handling tightened and the game blossomed. This racer had some of the nastiest AI youíll ever find. I recently played this one after a few years on the shelf and was left with a smile on my face.
9. IndyCar Series (PS2)
There have been excellent racing games over the years, but unfortunately IRL and CART have always been plagued with poorly produced games covering their series. Not so in 2003 as IndyCar Series made its way to the PS2 and Xbox. IRLís highly competitive racing is replicated perfectly in this game. The only disappointment is the lack of support for steering wheels. If you want a fast racer with cars that handle like their on rails, this is the one to get.
8. Supercross Circuit (PSX)
This one was a huge surprise to me when it came out. 989 Sports has had a sordid history. Most of their sports titles have ended up on a long list of turkeys. Not so with Supercross Circuit. This title recreates the stadium supercross series with the perfect blend of arcade and simulation elements. The AI, though limited in field size, reacts realistically and helps this game excel. Quality motorcycle games are hard to find. This is one of them.
7. Metropolis Street Racer (DC)
You could argue that either sequel (PGR or PGR2) belongs on this list ahead of MSR, but this one started the series off. First, the graphics were unlike anything ever seen before. The realism really put you in each locale. The city streets in London, Tokyo, and San Francisco lend themselves to some incredible course layouts. Next, the list of cars was diverse and featured unique handling. But the bottom line is the radically different emphasis. Winning wasnít the main thing Ė winning with style was. The Kudos system was revolutionary and made up for some horrendous frame rates at times as well as the rubberband AI.
6. Colin McRae Rally 2.0 (PSX)
The Colin McRae series has given race fans a fairly realistic rally game for years. McRae 2.0 was more refined than the original and gets the nod in this list. The point-to-point racing against the clock creates some white knuckles moments. The damage system is exceptional and requires some repair strategy during service stages. If you want a departure from traditional rally racing, the arcade mode provides multi-car racing against quality AI opponents.
5. Moto GP (Xbox Live version)
I was addicted to Moto GP on the Xbox as it was. It and its sequel are probably the best superbike style game youíll find with realistic handling, large fields, and decent track selection. However, once I got the initial Xbox Live kit, a whole new world opened up. This game really introduced me to extensive online racing on a console. Sure the Dreamcast had a few online racing games, but Moto GP redefined online console racing.
4. Need for Speed 3 Hot Pursuit (PSX)
NFS3 is probably my favorite arcade racer of all time. This game has it all starting with some incredible track designs. Some courses take several minutes to complete a lap and along the way push the graphical limits of the PSX. Using some cheat codes to open up hidden tracks is an added bonus. It also has an impressive lineup of licensed cars, each with unique handling. And of course there are the game modes. Outrunning the law is balls out fun. Racing against the AI was challenging and always has my heart beating at an accelerated rate. A true classic.
3. NASCAR Heat 2002 (PS2)
This title may be a surprise to many. How can a NASCAR title rank in the top 3? Well, Heat is the most realistic racing game Iíve played on a console. Car setups are detailed, and you can track subtle changes in camber, tire pressure, and more by monitoring the tire temperatures (inside, middle, and outside of each tire). You know what to expect with track design. Being a licensed NASCAR game, you get most of the Winston Cup tracks. What truly sets this game apart from the rest is the best AI around and jaw-dropping handling. The AI is tough. At Bristol I have to set up a single driver for several laps just for a simple pass in the corner. Compare this with the EA series where passing several cars on the straight is common. Heatís AI feels like I am in a race against human opponents. Coupled with the Logitech force feedback wheel, this game is a slice of heaven. The force feedback is so realistic that if you suffer some suspension damage the you have to constant fight the wheel to hold a straight line. The only negative is that the game doesnít feature the full 43 car grid. For that you need to go to the Xbox version (which handles exceptionally well with the standard controller by the way), but the Logitech wheel/PS2 combination puts this one over the top.
2. F355 Challenge (DC)
It could be argued that no other racing game affected me as much as F355 on the Dreamcast. I first saw this game in an arcade in Buffalo while on a business trip. I was hooked the moment it ate my first dollar. Once it came to the Dreamcast I was on it constantly. While the AI is somewhat drone like, the graphics, sound, track selection, and handling are second to none. In fact, the sound was so intoxicating to me that I decided I either had to buy the arcade cabinet or find a real Ferrari to drive. I must tell you that thereís no sweeter sound than the exhaust from a carbureted 8 cylinder Ferrari engine. Iíve still driven more miles in F355 than I have on my own 308. And anytime I see a F355 arcade cabinet I toss my quarters in for a quick spin. Driving well in this game puts a smile on my face and leaves me satisfied for hours.
1. Gran Turismo (PSX)
Yeah we know the AI in the Gran Turismo series is the pits. Those 5 AI cars drive around like Ichabod Crane, blindly ramming you from behind and never deviating from their lines. Yet you canít deny the impact GT has had on consoles. Every racing title post-GT has been compared to GT. Part of this is due to fairly realistic physics, track design that is second to none, a vehicle library that will make even Jay Leno envious, and tuning and cat setup options that will leave your head spinning. I still remember my first night with Gran Turismo. I was awake into the wee hours of the morning playing this new and wonderful title with racing at many different levels. Fans of racing games should appreciate what Gran Turismo did for the console world. The quality of racing games now can be traced back to the impressive effort Sony achieved with Gran Turismo.
Just so you know I havenít forgotten about some other incredible racing titles over the years, on my honorable mentions list Iíve included the likes of
Daytona USA (Saturn)
F-Zero X (N64)
Tokyo Xtreme Racer (DC)
Test Drive Le Mans (DC)
Rallisport Challenge (Xbox)
World of Outlaws Sprint Car Racing (PS2)
Monaco GP 2 (DC)
Gran Turismo 2 (PSX) and Gran Turismo 3 (PS2)
Project Gotham Racing (Xbox) and Project Gotham Racing 2 (Xbox)
Sega Rally Championship (Saturn)
Crazy Taxi (DC)
Burnout 2 (PS2)
Midnight Club (PS2)
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (PS2)
Ridge Racer V (PS2)
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero (PS2) and Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 (PS2)
San Francisco Rush 2049 (DC)
Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing (PSX)
Ridge Racer Type 4 (PSX)
TOCA 2 Touring Car Challenge (PSX)
Pro Race Driver (Xbox)
Star Wars Episode 1 Racer (N64)
World Driver Championship (N64)