More than sim and arcade – subgenres of virtual racing

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Digital racing is more than just simulation or arcade. These subgenres might hold some interesting games for you.
Photo credit: DRIFT21 on Steam

The world of virtual racing games shimmers in countless different facets. Some might divide it into simulations for the esports scene, arcade games for leisure and challenges and lastly simcades for a little bit of both worlds. While this distinction is not wrong, it overlooks a lot of smaller categories forming subgenres beyond the frontiers of "realistic" and "unrealistic" racing. The following genres can often be found on both the esports and casual side and have some interesting releases for you in store.


Open World



One of the most demanding releases in the virtual racing world belongs in this category. Designing an entire open world with numerous cars to explore it in is a huge effort for any developer – and there is a lot of room for sloppiness. However, there are more than enough titles showing that it's possible to immerse players in their very own open world experience.

In light of recent announcements, this category of course has to be opened with Forza Horizon 5. The Forza franchise is without a doubt the perfect example of open world racing games done right – its newest addition will prove this anew, taking drivers onto a large Mexican map as they have already explored the UK and Australia in previous releases.

A different and more action-packed approach to the open world genre is incorporated by games from the Need for Speed or even Grand Theft Auto franchises. Both Hot Pursuit and GTA V focus on a huge map to explore. Contrary to the Forza Horizon series, however, players engage in races with the police more often than in friendly contests with other players.




Kart Racing



From fleeing the police in a street race, let's dive right into a less serious genre of racing games. Your usual kart racer is a colourful, flashy ride and mostly designed for having fun with friends – and these games are fantastic for that. The obvious representative being of course Mario Kart, other titles like Nickelodeon Kart Racers have also earned their place in this list. If you're not yet sure what to make of the rising star on the kart racer scene, be sure to check out our review of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix.

The world of kart racers is an entire galaxy. Franchises like Sonic, Kirby and Little Big Planet have long since established their respective iterations. Besides that, there are a few promising indie releases: All Star Fruit Racing representing the wilder side of them.




Rallying



Yes, there is the DIRT series, which would be the first example to come to mind for rallying. And rightfully so! With its roots lying all the way back at Colin McRae Rally in 1998, this pioneer franchise has never ceased to excite fans all the way to Dirt 5 in 2020. With the new feature Playgrounds, Codemasters gave this one an especially interesting twist to the well-established rally genre.

All credit to the DIRT games, but there are still other mentionable rally franchises out there. One of these is for example Dakar. Honouring the annual transnational Dakar Rally, a corresponding game came out in 2018. All according to the real-life event, players are sent to explore either Peru, Bolivia or Argentina in five different vehicle classes. While already a few years old, this game is a promising underdog that hasn't received as much attention as it might deserve.




Drift Racing



Drift racing games are sometimes hard to categorise, as they also cross the borders between other genres. Many drivers from the virtual drifting community love playing sims like Assetto Corsa or even Gran Turismo, as their physics are quite accurate and depict drifting mechanics accordingly. Other games, like RDS from 2019 are designed especially for drifting. The recently launched DRIFT21 falls in the same category, but adds customisation options to create ideal drift cars.

Drift racers can sometimes fully overlap with fun and arcade titles. An example for this is the last year's trend of retro racers becoming more popular. New releases like Inertial Drift for example aim to pay homage to the retro drifting community and its roots in the Japanese Touge races. For a fresh approach to drifting mechanics and high-quality aesthetics, they are definitely worth a try.




Oval Racing



Dedicated oval racing games are hard to come by on the market, yet some titles deserve to be put under that category. iRacing, for example, offers one of the most convincing oval racing experiences there are in simulations. As the official eNASCAR game, it is not a surprise that virtual racers deem it their go-to title for ovals. Some drivers might put the legendary NASCAR franchise next in line. Not without reason, as NASCAR Heat 5 from 2020 is a worthy cross-console alternative for its PC-based sibling iRacing.

Aside from these two, rFactor is the next best place to beat your opponents on the oval course. While rF 2 does receive criticism for its scarce online playability and opponents' AI, it still holds its player base for a reason and deserves to be recognised in its genre.




Motorcycle Racing



Naturally, enthusiasm for four-wheelers is widely spread among virtual racers. However, some racing connoisseurs recognise that half as many wheels can produce just as much fun. It's for those racers that franchises like MotoGP or MXGP are made. Both of these lean more towards the simulation side of racing games, MotoGP 21 being the most current release for regular bike racing and MXGP 20 covering for rally and off-road fans of the scene. The third in line, Ride 4, combines the two types of racing with countless customisation options for both bike and racer. Complementing the top four motorcycle sims would be TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2 – one for the most experienced bikers aiming for perfect lap times.

Motorcycle racers are also a domain that easily crosses the lines between simulation and arcade. The most well-known example for this is Trials Rising, a bike racing game that puts racers onto a linear course of obstacles they have to overcome. This one is especially fun when played with friends, battling to overcome flamethrowers and other vicious hurdles faster than your opponents. A slightly less "friendly", but not less funny arcade game in this genre is Road Redemption. This, again, is a lot more fun with your friends – just make sure you're still cool after you threw them off the skyscraper a couple of times.




Which type or racing games do you enjoy most? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!
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