Within the last month, some amazing racing games have released. It’s been something of a micro-renaissance. These games — Wreckfest, Danger Zone 2 and Onrush — succeed because they avoid more serious-minded gear-grinding in favour of going fast and crashing loud.
While there’s joy to be had in examining a 1958 Aston Martin DBR1 up close in Forza Motorsport 7, these recent games aim for the platonic idea of cars many of us had as children. Fast, smashy and bright.
Wreckfest (PC, PS4, Xbox One) is the most grounded of the three, although that doesn’t mean it’s overly serious. It’s a standard normal racing game where you run laps, but the attitude is decidedly unprofessional. Its cars sway around corners and crunch against each other with dramatic results.
This is a game that respects cars as pieces of machinery but still embraces the fantasy of being a ringer at some strange, Truckasarus attraction. Tracks go from semi-pro, near Busch League raceways gleaming in the sunlight to dirty-arse run down tracks meant for go-karts.
Playing Wreckfest feels like stepping into the daydream of a young kid dragged to Loudon for qualifiers. Sure, the cars are big and scary. They have weight and spin out if you don’t respect them. But the spectacle is the draw, as is the risk of pile-ups with rival racers.
Wreckfest has the appearance of seriousness without any of the actual pretension.
A racing game can also give up all attempts at simulating reality. Onrush (PC, PS4, Xbox One) does that, dropping neon-painted cars into strange Mad Maxian race courses.
The game plays like a mescaline-fuelled Hot Wheels session but draws in the teamplay of online shooters. You never come in first place in Onrush. Instead, your team accrues points for nearly every action you perform. Stay in the lead? Get points? Knock someone off the course? Get even more points.
You zip around courses using different classes of cars that have special effects. Some are more likely to land on enemies after a jump, others leave behind extra boosts for teammates. My coworker Tim Rogers described the action as a feat where you exist “as loudly, beautifully and quickly as possible”.
Onrush is one of my favourite games of the year so far. It is a blur of particle effects and crunching drive shafts. The design, which stresses the experience of racing without any of the actual pressure, is brilliant. It is a leisure activity for Monster Fuel-addled degenerates, never slowing down for an instant. It is honestly itself, ever playful and encouraging.
Maybe you aren’t ready for Onrush’s Mountain Dew-snorting fun. Maybe you want something as playful but bite-sized. Danger Zone 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) fills the niche nicely.
This is a game with a pedigree. It was developed by Three Fields Entertainment, which was founded by many of the folks who worked on Burnout.
It takes that series’ popular crash mode — the goal of which is, shockingly, to crash stuff — and challenges the player to create as much carnage as possible in each level. Players need to drive to a “danger zone” where the crash happens and can knock other cars around on the journey. This grants them the ability to cause massive explosions that send cars tumbling. Damn, it feels great.
It’s hard to explain how something feels, but Danger Zone 2’s driving just feels right. Even at the most improbable of speeds, you always feel in control. Sure, you might hit a guardrail too hard from time to time, but it’s criminally easy to weave through the tightest of oncoming traffic.
If I have any complaint, it’s the moments where the game wrests control away from the player. It’s fun to barrel off ramps but frustrating to have basically no control when you trigger slow motion.
Danger Zone crashes also grant less control than Burnout. Those games gave the player more say over where their car tumbled and even pulled back the camera to show off the spectacle. Danger Zone 2 is somewhat stiff in those moments. Crash aftermaths are never as observable as you might expect.
However, the journey toward those moments is fast, and the moment of impact is always stunning.
The reality of owning a car is just as much air freshener and mechanic fees as it is the open road. These three games toss that aside.They are fast and capture all the wonder that made us fall in love with cars to begin with.