Written By Simon Cole Ever since the advent of the home computer people have wanted to emulate the high octane world of motorsport. Early titles were simplistic affairs, with the player forlornly attempting to manoeuvre unresponsive sprites left and right on rudimentary scrolling tracks – no doubt using a cumbersome Kempston joystick. Towards the end of the 8-bit era programmers were able to start making full use of the technology at their disposal. Games began to become ever more sophisticated with titles such as Turbo Esprit and Geoff Crammond’s Stunt Car Racing proving to be epochal games in the genre. The rise in popularity and ever increasing power of home consoles meant that racing games not only became more complex, but also branched off into numerous sub-genres. Nintendo popularised the playful karting game with its riotous Super Mario Kart. Sony’s PlayStation, meanwhile, gave the world the seminal Gran Turismo series. The IP ushering in a new wave of racers that showcased advanced handling physics and highly realistic car models. As 2010 rapidly approaches fans of racing games have never had it so good. Below are five of the best console racers on the market. It’s not supposed to be a definitive list and no doubt a few may be cause for debate. However, there’s definitely something for everyone and hopefully will serve as a good starting point for those new to this enduring genre. Project Gotham Racing 4 Xbox 360 PGR4 is the latest game in the popular Project Gotham Racing franchise; a series whose roots can be traced back to the Sega Dreamcast title, Metropolis Street Racer. As with earlier games in the series races take place on the streets of various cities from around the world. PGR4 offers both arcade and career modes in which there are a number of race configurations; ranging from out and out races and time trials to the unique Kudos challenges. Kudos points are earned for extravagant driving and players will find that these challenges add an extra dimension to the racing action. PGR4’s greatest strength is the exceptional handling models, with the handling striking a perfect balance between sim and arcade racer. The responsive handling makes finding that perfect lap a real joy. For this reason 360 owners should seek out PGR4 as soon as possible. Race Driver: GRID PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Codemasters have a strong pedigree in the racing genre stretching back to the much loved TOCA games on the PS One. This pedigree is reaffirmed in their multi platform arcade racer GRID, which attempts successfully to cover a number of motor racing disciplines. GRID serves up a veritable four wheeled banquet; racing touring cars and single seaters in Europe; wrestling V8 muscle cars and demolition derby racers in the States; and heading to Japan for drift racing and Pro Touge tournaments. The metaphorical pudding is a truncated version of the Le Mans 24hr – complete with day and night cycle – that takes place at the end of each “season” in the game’s Career Mode. Handling-wise the game is unashamedly in the arcade camp. Cars can be thrown into corners and used to, rather unsportingly, nudge opponents out of the way. The game also uses a handy rewind function which allows players to have another bite of the cherry should they make a mess of things on the track. Sim fans might balk at the relatively simplistic handling of the cars, but there is no doubt that GRID’s forte is its excitement packed races. Races are never without incident and the AI impressive, making this a title that will entertain many racing fans. Mario Kart DS Nintendo DS/DSi The handheld iteration of the popular Nintendo franchise is probably closer to the spirit of the original SNES classic than its big brother on Wii. Detractors point out that in Nintendo’s attempts to evolve the series it has lost sight of what made the original so good. The accusatory finger points firmly at the Wii game’s unbalanced magic items, overly wide tracks and needless vehicular additions. The handheld version, whether by design or limited by technical constraints, stays closer to the original Mario Kart blueprint. The handling is tight and responsive and the controls simple - as they should be in any good Mario Kart game. Tracks are expansive but tight enough to encourage the player to search for the racing line. This quality made the original game so compulsive in Time Trial mode and the same applies here. As well as a generous selection of new tracks the developers have kindly included a “Classic” mode which serves as a greatest hits of Mario Kart; revisiting some of the most popular tracks in the series’ history. And yes, that includes tracks from the hallowed original. Mario Kart DS is easily best racer on the DS and vies with the Sony PSP’s WipEout Pure for title of premier handheld racer on the market. Midnight Club: Los Angeles PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Like Bizarre Creations’ PGR and Criterion’s Burnout Series, Midnight Club sits within the popular street racing subgenre. However, unlike its peers Midnight Club focuses more on car customisation and the illegal nature of the sport – races can quickly turn into not only a race against opponents but also a race to escape pursuing police officers. MC:LA’s strengths lie in the exceptional vehicle customisation options, colourful recreation of Los Angeles and sheer number of races. Vehicle handling is nippy and responsive, which makes drifting and handbrake turns a true joy. It must also be pointed out that the game features one of the more successful cockpit views employed in a videogame. Midnight Club: LA has a lot to offer those who are fans of Pimp My Ride or Max Power and those jaded by the Burnout series. One final word of warning though, this game gets extremely difficult in its latter stages! Forza Motorsport 2 Xbox 360 The first Forza was released on the original Xbox back in 2005 as a direct competitor to Sony’s Gran Turismo IP. With the non-appearance of Gran Turismo 5 the 2007 sequel has had a clear run at being the must have driving sim for console owners. Like the Gran Turismo series Forza’s appeal lies in the game’s advanced handling physics, and the ability to tune and customise any of the cars in the player’s garage. The selection of cars is admittedly modest in comparison to Sony’s opus. However, the developers have kept fans happy with a number of dlc packs since the game’s release. What sets Forza 2 apart from its rival is the ability to create custom paint schemes for your cars and trade your work in the online auction house. This has become a community in itself with a group of dedicated players making ever more intricate and sophisticated designs. One criticism that can be levelled at Forza is that the experience can be a somewhat dry one, with it lacking the high jinx of more arcade influenced racers such as GRID. However, games like Forza and Gran Turismo are about mastering the car and track rather than the AI opponents. Only time will tell if Gran Turismo 5 can reclaim its crown as king of the sims. GT5 Prologue was underwhelming and with Forza 3 only a few days away it most certainly has its work cut out. The new Forza of course means that this title will be available at a cut price. Therefore, this game is heartily recommended to those gamers either on a budget or those who want to test the water before paying full price.