Racing Games: Arcade Racers Versus Racing Simulators

To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to spot the different between racing simulators and arcade racing games.

Both games involve race cars, tracks, and trying to beat the other guy in getting to the finish line (and if he happens to run into a barrier and blow up, that’s fine too). While the world of racing games may operate on that simple premise, arcade racers and racing sims take it in drastically different directions.

One focuses more on accessibility and executing tricks that defy the laws of physics; the other gears itself (ba dum tsss) more toward serious motorheads and is all about obeying the laws of physics.

Arcade racers are the racing games more commonly known to the general gaming public; most gamers have at least heard of if not spent a few hours playing titles like Need for Speed and Trackmania. In sharp contrast to their racing simulator cousins, arcade racers tend to focus on simplified controls and and unrealistically simplified physics.

Cars tend to accelerate immediately and stop on a dime. Rarely, if ever, do these games give players the option to pick a manual transmission. Of course, most arcade racers also bestow angelic aerodynamics upon their vehicles so as to more effectively go through jumps. A lot of racers also emphasize plowing through obstacles like boxes, barriers… and cows (cough*Carmageddon*cough).

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Arcade racers are easy for motorheads and “serious” racing fans to turn their noses at, but just because the games have exaggerated physics or simplicity doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. Arcade racers are more about spectacle than realism; they allow players to live out those fantasies of flying through the air in a sports car or feeling like a professional driver without being bogged down by all that serious stuff like inertia, tire pressure, and dampening.

Players who are interested in arcade racers should check out the Trackmania 2 series on PC, as well as many of the other big-name arcade racers populating gaming storefronts these days.

In stark contrast to an arcade racer, a racing simulator is all about getting as close to the real thing as possible. Vehicles handle very differently in a racing sim than they do an arcade or stunt racer; they have to gradually accelerate, they suffer damage far easier, and executing a turn isn’t as simple as pressing the brake button and slamming on the joystick. Any racing sim worth its salt incorporates real-world physics as realistically as possible.

In the interest of providing that sense of realism, most racing simulators also give their players a wide range of customization options. Sure, arcade racers usually let players pick a paint job, but racing sims let players get deep under the hood to fine-tune dampening, brakes, suspension, tire pressure, tire temperature, and a host of other functions.

This is why racing simulators tend to be more popular among motorheads and hardcore racing fans than arcade racers: to them, the fun is just as much in the details of what they’re driving as what they can do with it.

Anyone in the market for a racing simulator should try out the recently released Project CARS 2. The title carries on its predecessor’s strict attention to realistic physics but allows players to customize all of their vehicle’s core systems.

Plus, the game does a good job explaining what each car function actually does, so arcade racing fans looking to deepen their experience or racers new to the scene needn’t be intimidated by the bristling array of customization options. Assetto Corsa is another big-name racing sim on the market, but the title has been marred by constant reports of inconsistent physics and weird handling. Better to start with a Project CARS game.

At the end of the day, both genres of racing games are fun. Arcade racers offer a digital stuntman’s experience of high-flying jumps and visceral invulnerability, while racing simulators are probably the closest thing players can get to being in an actual super car.

Despite their different gameplay styles, both subgenres have united racing fans into one of video gaming’s oldest communities, one that’s an absolute blast to be a part of.

Just don’t crash into a barrier. It makes for spectacular post-game footage but that mark on the driving record is never fun. Hopefully racing sims never nail down simulating crash injuries.

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