My rear-view mirror’s washed out in red as the sirens wail from behind, struggling to be heard over the snarl of the V8 engine. The sensible thing would be to pull over and face the music, but sense took out a restraining order on me a long time ago. I take the only recourse left and floor the pedal, aiming to put some distance between me and the persistent folk on my tail. It’s then that I see the roadblock at the crossroads up ahead, and throw the automobile into a hard right handbrake turn, fishtailing perilously and barely avoiding the obstruction as I screech past. The cars behind aren’t as fortunate, as is testified by the booming crunch of metal on metal seconds later. As for me, it was just another day, and another death defying escape.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m either one of the dumbest columnists ever for putting down inconvenient confessions in print, or I get more than a little involved in my racing games. Not hard to understand, since it’s fair to say that humanity has an obsession with speed.
Thinking back, I realise it’s been a while since I first gave racing games a shot. As far as I can remember, my first experience was with titles like Enduro for the Atari 2600, then later tasting the thrill of the cop chase with Test Drive, progressing to beating lumps out of other racers with Road Rash on the Sega Genesis, and eventually getting behind the virtual wheel of a few select supercars in The Need for Speed (the Diablo reigned supreme in that one, if you could keep it under control). While I still enjoy racing sessions with Burnout, Blur and NFS: Most Wanted, I haven’t yet ventured into the pit with the hardcore driving enthusiasts, who can brag about exploits in gruelling simulators like iRacing and rFactor. While I did enjoy NFS: Shift, Slightly Mad Studios’ contribution to the long-running franchise, I was just about competent at it, and hearing the stories that other sims were even more punishing did enough to scare me off.
To really get the best out of those titles, there has to be more commitment from the player, starting with your hardware. While it may do the job for a limited arcade racer, the keyboard is no input device for anyone who’s serious about racing games. At the very least, you need a gamepad with analog sticks and triggers, so you can have more control over the steering, throttle and brakes. Ideally, you’d go for a reliable racing wheel (paddle shifters, 900 degrees of rotation, the works) to give you even more precise control over your driving. And when these simulators are concerned, you’re going to need that kind of control.
So some day, when I’m feeling up to the challenge, I might just splurge on that kind of setup and invest some time in bettering myself at proper racing sims. But in the meantime, arcade racers are a quick fix for a speed junkie.