Another year is wrapping up. We’re mere hours away from 2019, and thus, we’re looking back on what the last 12 months have given us in the gaming world.
2018 was a year more about evolution than revolution. It may not have had the back-to-back(-to-back) big-name releases of yesteryear, but it nonetheless had a little something for everyone.
We saw a handful of titles receive consistent support and improvements over the months. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: our favorite genre is ideally suited to this approach, and we were all too happy to have new content and features to play with.
Alongside the old guard, there was another large slate of racing games for us to get our paws on. While it didn’t have the madcap, big-name release slate of 2017’s autumn season, 2018 did have a packed September schedule.
Just as in previous years, not every release could be a gem. In the racing game mine, there were a handful of diamonds amidst the rocks.
We’re doing things a little differently this time around. Instead of recapping each month, we’re going to look at a few broad themes from 2018. Here’s what stood out in the last 364 days:
The Continued Evolution of Sim Racers
As the entire gaming industry grapples with the idea of the games-as-a-service (GAAS) approach, sim racing is arguably the best genre to utilize it. As if to prove the point, iRacing has been going strong for around a decade by now. The venerable PC service has amassed quite a pile of new content in 2018, both free and paid. March brought LMP1 prototypes, June a Porsche 911 RSR and Subaru rally car, and this month kicked off with a free Tsukuba circuit.
What is new territory for the GAAS model is console land. Leading the charge in 2018 was Polyphony Digital with its constant expansion of Gran Turismo Sport. Shortly after launch, the Japanese developer promised 50 cars by the end of March 2018, a self-made goal it duly hit when the time came. There was no word on whether players could expect that cadence to continue… but continue it has.
Outside of one month (June), new cars and/or tracks have shown up in GT Sport roughly every four weeks. In fact, 103 cars have arrived since launch, all for free — an average of one every four days. A handful of these have been incredibly hard to get a hold of in-game due to 20,000,000 credit price tags. For February’s 1.11 update alone, it would take almost 25 hours of racing — and that’s if you follow our money-making guide!
Polyphony introduced another method to get a hold of the cheaper cars in the game, however. In July, the PS Store officially introduced microtransactions to the game. It was a surprise to be sure — prior to release, Kazunori Yamauchi said GT Sport wouldn’t feature microtransactions — but it offers an alternative method to players looking to pick up specific cars.
Looking past cars, the PD team also introduced seven new locations to the track roster. Six were real-world locations (one of which, Circuit de Catalunya, was new to the series), and one was a wholly fictional creation. As many fans initially predicted, Polyphony also expanded the layout lineup for most of the fantasy circuits the game launched with as well.
The other big evolution story this year was Forza Motorsport 7. The franchise has slowly become sort of like the modern-day equivalent of what classic Gran Turismo games were: a massive car encyclopedia. But after a somewhat rocky launch, with more small hiccups than the 2015’s FM6, and sister title Horizon 3 pulling in massive player numbers, the shine dulled a bit on Turn 10’s big racer.
That didn’t get past the team. No, instead Turn 10 buckled down and has delivered substantial tweaks and improvements to the whole package each and every month.
Once the Car Pass delivered for its sixth month, a seventh pack showed up as a free extra, featuring the McLaren 720S, Ferrari 812, and more. Almost every month has featured a free car or two, like Porsche’s famous “Pink Pig”, or the iconic Skyline Super Silhouette.
All three titles — plus PC stalwarts like RaceRoom — look set to continue their paths of improvement in 2019.
Old Names Return — To Varying Levels of Success
Nevermind the existing titles: 2018 saw familiar faces make their way back into the fold too.
In the case of Burnout Paradise Remastered, it was arguably a little too familiar. We couldn’t help but feel that the graphical update was pretty minimal in our review, but thankfully, the bones were all still intact. A decade later, it’s still a hilariously fun arcade racer.
Two-wheel enthusiasts were positively spoiled for choice in 2018. Things kicked off with TT Isle of Man. It wasn’t just a name either: players would have to tame the eponymous course in its entirety. MotoGP 18 arrived a few months later in June, focusing on the professional motorcycle racing world. And then, just last month, Ride 3 popped up with well over 200 bikes to ogle, customize, and race.
French developer Kylotonn skipped the WRC show for 2018 and instead revived a classic franchise: V-Rally. In September, V-Rally 4 arrived to middling reviews (58% on Metacritic). No doubt hobbling the game’s success was the sheer strength of the genre on consoles. Well, except the Switch: it will soon arrive on Nintendo’s hybrid system, where it faces another 2018 mid-packer in the form of Gear.Club Unlimited 2.
We just reviewed GCU2 a few days ago. Our impression? “Still not the Switch racer you’re looking for.” Ouch.
Ubisoft and Ivory Tower came back with The Crew 2 this past summer too. We called it the feel-good hit of the summer when we tried the beta, as there was a lot of (admittedly silly) charm in the early stages of the game. Unfortunately, the full title was missing out on some key features, including, rather bizarrely, some that its predecessor had from day one. To its credit, the game has constantly evolved in the six months since, and even thrown in cool new metal like the reborn TVR Griffith. It faced some seriously tough competition come September, though. More on that later.
The team formerly known as Evolution Studios returned for its racer-but-not-a-racer Onrush. We appreciated the creativity in our review, but it didn’t seem to resonate with gamers. Sadly, news broke that Codemasters had laid off part of the team, not even two months after release. Luckily, Paul “Rushy” Rustchynsky landed on his feet at Slightly Mad Studios, which should have quite a lot to show sim racers in 2019.
Forza Horizon 4 and F1 2018 Lead the New Release Pack
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for our favorite genre this year. Two titles in particular were bright new releases, and they covered very different ground.
Up first was Codemasters’ yearly F1 title. Featuring all of the cars, drivers, teams, and tracks of the current season, F1 2018 also packed in classic material in the form of 20 race cars from the ’70s through to more modern metal. Being set around a single discipline, the game felt authentic in a way few other racing titles possibly could. New features like media interviews and year-end rule changes may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but they showcased how many roles are really necessary for a modern F1 driver and team.
Befitting a title about the world’s most popular motorsport, F1 2018 also found the right balance between realism and approachability. Like the best racing games, it worked just as well with a fancy, four-digit rig setup as a standard controller. We enjoyed F1 2018 so much, we said it “might just be the best racing game you can buy this generation” in our review.
Over on the other side of the spectrum, Playground Games had a “homecoming” for Forza Horizon 4. The UK-based developer used its own Greatest Hits version of Great Britain as the setting for the game. It also doubled-down with plenty of local metal as part of the huge 500+ car list.
Playground expanded on the Blueprint feature (which allows players to create and share their own unique races) a month after release with the addition of the Route Creator. With an intuitive driving model, players could now build their own laps or point-to-point dashes. It only increased the sandbox feeling of the game — something further bolstered with this month’s Fortune Island expansion. If you’re having trouble finding the treasure, we’ve got the help you need.
It isn’t a perfect game — there are issues with the limited multiplayer features — but Forza Horizon 4 did so many things so well at release that we called it an exemplary racing game in our review. It scored our highest rating since introducing our star-based system last year. It seems players have taken to it as well: Microsoft announced over two million players had visited Great Britain in the first week.
Esports, Esports Everywhere!
More so than any previous year, 2018 was the big one for racing game esports. Nearly every title, on every platform, had some manner of competition.
Also in February, we watched the fastest Canadian GT Sport players compete for thousands of dollars in prizes. As an unofficial precursor to the then-upcoming FIA Championship, it was an exciting taste of what was to come…
NASCAR took a multi-pronged approach to esports in 2018. During the summer it announced the iRacing-powered Ignite series, focusing on youth talent. Later on in the year, when NASCAR Heat 3 arrived on store shelves, it did so with its own esport championship in tow. This too had thousands in prizes — including a cool half-million if the winner was also good at predicting race results.
The Forza crew once again held the Forza Racing Championship, this time with $250,000 in total prize money. Players competed over two seasons, with live events happening in Seattle, Mexico City, and London. It wasn’t the only show in town this year, though. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) announced Forza Motorsport 7 as the platform for its official Le Mans Esport Series, with $160,000 in prizes of its own. Meanwhile, the Special Olympics included esports for the first time, selecting FM7 for the racing portion.
In the real-world, F1 tops the charts in terms of global viewership. It shouldn’t be surprising that was the case with its 2018 Esports Championship, then. Now in its second year, the series was impressive in its maturity, and for how close it hewed to the real thing. Every team — well, except Ferrari, because Ferrari — took part in a driver draft, hand-picking the gamers that would compete for $200,000. In a hard-fought final day of battle, Brendon Leigh mirrored Lewis Hamilton, clinching a repeat victory for the Mercedes squad.
Of course, we have to end on the big note: the GT Sport FIA Championship. We were able to go along for the ride throughout the finals. In Madrid, in front of hundreds of people in a custom-built stadium, we cheered on the European finalists. Our man Jordan even deemed it the best Gran Turismo event of all time (of all time!). For the Americas Finals, we headed to Sin City. We talked with Igor Fraga, the modest Brazilian who came in and utterly dominated the event. As the final coincided with both Halloween and SEMA, to call it wild would be an understatement.
Yet nothing could’ve prepared us for the World Final, held in Monaco. The city, the weather, the camaraderie of over 60 drivers all converging from across the globe to put faces to usernames for the first time and/or add the next chapter to friendships spanning years. It was truly an epic experience. Even better, the action itself was genuinely exciting. To get a full sense of the whole show, we implore you to check out all of our exhaustive coverage.
Looking Forward to 2019
With all of that, is it any wonder we’re excited for what’s in store for next year? We’ll have more on that over the coming days. Have a safe and happy New Years Eve, and see you on the track!