It’s important, I think, to be grateful for what you’ve got, and as a fan of racing games I can say with some conviction it’s rarely been any better than it has right now. The current crisis that saw garages shuttered at racing tracks across the world put the spotlight on sims as drivers looked to get their kicks in the virtual space, and showed us what a fine crop there currently is: there’s iRacing, looking as strong as it ever has in its 12 year history, with rFactor 2 finally taking shape as a proper contender too, while console players recently got a chance to sample the delights of Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa Competizione – and looking beyond that, on console you’re spoilt for choice, with F1 going from strength to strength while off-roaders get not just Dirt Rally but also Kylotonn’s equally excellent WRC series. What a time to be alive, frankly.
“But!” I hear you ask, “what about the arcade racers?” Well, my friend, have patience and perhaps put a few pennies aside, because they’re coming. And they’re coming very, very soon.
Next week is set to be one of the most remarkable for the genre since Blur and Split/Second famously clashed at release (and infamously crashed and burned soon after, but I’m hopeful that won’t be the case here), with two of the very best arcade racers I’ve played in the last decade going head-to-head. Hotshot Racing is first up, the hotly-awaited spin on early 90s arcade classics from Lucky Mountain Games releasing on September 10th. A day later and the lesser-known but no less fantastic Inertial Drift from Level 91 and PQube comes out, the game drawing inspiration from late 90s racers and with more than a few twists of its own.
I’m not yet in a position to give a final verdict on either – that privilege comes early next week in both cases – but I can tell you I’ve already racked up a dozen hours in each, lost in reverie to the thrills of a genre many of us had thought lost. Hotshot Racing’s appeal is as bold as its Sega-saturated palette – it’s a colourful homage to the likes of Scud Race and Virtua Racing – but still it’s surprised me with its knockabout action that’s more in keeping with British arcade racers than the classics from Japan. The detailing here is sublime – all those hours in and I’m still catching little bits of business nestled in the scenery – and the drifting, most importantly, feels spot on. It’s quick to pull you in and has enough depth to keep you going for hours on end, which is exactly what you want from a decent arcade racer.
Inertial Drift’s trickier to pin down, though it’s just as fascinating in its own way. Here we have, in what I’m fairly sure is a first, a twin-stick racing game, where you steer with the left stick while controlling the angle of your drift with the right stick. It might sound confusing – and there’s the briefest acclimatisation period required, which you can get over right now if you want by checking out the free demo on Steam – before it all clicks into place, and Inertial Drift establishes itself as something very special indeed.
There are heavy echoes of other arcade racers here – you’ll see more than a touch of Ridge Racer Type 4 in the red brakelight trails, as well as in the insistent rhythms of the soundtrack – yet it emerges as entirely its own thing, with a surprisingly expansive game built around that core drift mechanic – one that’s challenging but always welcoming, in another trait at the core of the arcade racer’s appeal. It is, in short, bloody brilliant, and I’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite between the two when it comes to release next week. Which is why I probably won’t, and will simply insist you end up investing in both – or at the very least keep them in the back of your mind, so that next time you hear someone saying that the arcade racer is dead, you can point them in the direction of these two outstanding examples of the art. Oh man, which reminds me – art of rally is out in the next few months too. See? We’ve rarely had it better.