A Guide on How to Play Racing and Driving Games

Hand holding video game control playing racing game on tv


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Racing games have been around for a long time, but a lot has changed since the first extremely popular racing game, Pole Position, was released in 1982 by Namco. If you were to go by the video game standards in 1982, Pole Position was groundbreaking, offering color graphics and the best game play seen in arcades. Those touted graphics, however, by today's standards, are extremely poor. But there are a couple of things that Pole Position introduced to the world of video games that are still included, namely the rear view racing style and qualifying pre-races.

While many of today's racing titles offer a rear view type of style, they are very much different from what was once known as the most successful racing video game (1983) in history. Having said that, we'll move on to the point as this is not a history lesson, but rather some of the basic tips and gameplay methods you can apply to become better at any racing game, regardless of the video game platform.

Games Have Changed, but the Concept is the Same

As technology has advanced, it has introduced true to life graphics, exceptional gameplay physics, and a much, much more realistic batch of racing games. In today's games, there are hundreds of variables to consider while trying to gain the advantage - but one thing has remained the same — make it to the finish line first, or beat the clock to win! This applies to almost any racer you get your hands on, with the notable exception of battle racers (racing games that have gameplay modes where weapons are used to defeat your opponent).

Making it to the finish line first is almost always the solution to winning in a race, whether your opponent is the computer, a real person, or the clock. But such is not the case all of the time, newer games have also implemented other factors, such as style, car performance, and overall racing tactics, such as sliding around corners or drifting. This is the most basic of racing guides we will have, so to keep it simple, we will focus mainly on general tips to help you make it to the checkered flag first and only touch on some of the other factors.

Knowing How to Handle Your Car Is the Key to Victory

It may seem like a no-brainer, but becoming familiar with the controls within the racing game you are playing is probably the most important aspect of becoming the best you can be. The different consoles on the market today have similar, but different controllers, and to make matters worse, there are no set standards on what button or trigger should perform what action (gas, brake, boost, steer, etc.). Additionally, each game offers its own unique set of options, so knowing them and tweaking them to your advantage is a must to get the gold medal.

The easiest way to become acquainted with the control setup is to read the game manual, and then play the game. If the game offers options in regards to changing the layout of the controller, be sure to choose, or set it at something you are comfortable or familiar with. To a point, console games have begun emulating previous titles with controller setups that gamers appeal to. A prime example of this is Project Gotham Racing (PGR) on the Xbox, a game that was released as a launch title when the Xbox was introduced to the video game market. Developer Bizarre Creations decided to use the right trigger as gas, the left trigger as a brake, and the 'A' button as an emergency brake (e-brake). Since then, most racing games on the Xbox console follow this format, but as with everything there are exceptions.

Control Is Important, So Use a Comfortable Controller

Every gamer is different; some have small hands while others have big hands, some prefer the directional pad while others prefer to use the analog stick, and some prefer to ditch standard controllers and use a racing wheel. The only person that knows what controller will be the best for you, is YOU. Each console comes with a standard controller, but there is a huge business in third party console accessories, including controllers. Chances are you can find one that fits your needs perfectly, it may just take some trial and error. Try different controllers while at a friend's house, or in a video game store. One thing we recommend is to not be too quick to say 'this will not work for me.' A lot of times it's simply a matter of 'getting used' to the controller. You may also be the type of gamer that either plays better or enjoys a racing game more when played with a racing wheel.

Know the Type of Racing Game You Are Playing

There is a huge difference between Arcade Racing games and Simulation Racing games. The biggest, and probably the most obvious, is that an arcade type racing game will play more freely; simulation racing and driving games are much more structured, and literally attempt to 'simulate' real racing and driving via game physics and variables for almost every part of the cars and environments.

Most racing games will fall under one of the above-listed sub-genres, but there are many racers that will have elements of both, as well as elements of other types of racing games. For example, Electronic Arts' Need For Speed series is considered an arcade racer, but since it also has elements of the street racing game type, namely the customization of the vehicles both in terms of performance and visual appeal, it cannot be simply called an Arcade Racer just because most of the racing is on open public streets. In addition, as the series has advanced, it has started to include limited elements of racing sims, very limited, but worth mentioning.

The importance of this is two-fold. First, it shows us how racing games are evolving; secondly, it serves as a prime example of the range of gameplay types available in just one title. If you have friends that game as well, you can ask them for suggestions, ask clerks at your local game store, or discuss what games you may enjoy in our forums.

The Finish Line: Drafting, Drifting, Braking, and Racing Lines

If there was one thing we would say is the most important at becoming a speed-master, it would be mastering the art of following the right racing lines. But as games are more complicated than getting from point A to point B there are actually four things we consider to be of the utmost importance.

Racing Lines: Keep Them Clean and Tight

A racing line is basically the ideal route to take and includes such tactics as cutting corners close and veering to the left slightly before a right turn so you can maintain higher speeds. Much of this will be learned as you play the game and become familiar with the various courses, tracks, and routes available on your way to the finish line; in addition, however, you will need to learn to draft (in many games), proper braking, and drifting.

Drifting Can Help — but Can Also Be a Major Slow-Down

Sliding the rear end of your vehicle around a corner is considered drifting, and while it may get you around that upcoming turn a bit easier, if your overall goal is speed, it should be used only when necessary. Some games will award you in some fashion for drifting, and let's face it, drifting around a corner at 140 MPH is fun, but ultimately it will slow you down. W suggest you use it sparingly and instead; use the proper braking method.

Proper Braking Actually Delivers Higher Speeds

Now you might think the above statement is bogus, as suspected, brakes are meant to slow you down, but if used properly the ultimate result is higher speeds through curves and corners. Most racing games have two types of brakes, a standard brake, and an e-brake. Use of the e-brake with a fairly hard turn will result in drifting and slow you down. instead, use the standard brakes when taking moderate corners, no brakes when taking light curves, and use the e-brake only when you find you are going too fast to complete a turn without smacking into a wall, rail, or another car. When braking, we recommend that you throttle your brakes, much like you may in a real-world situation, holding the brake down fully for any short amount of time will slow you down. In racing games, the effect of proper braking is having more control, allowing you to hit the racing lines dead on.

Drafting Other Racers Increases Speed Over Straight Areas

Not every game supports drafting (which is following another car closely to gain speed using their trailing wind), but for every game you play that does support it you would be wise to use it whenever possible, it's like free gas — and gas prices are mighty high these days. The whole objective to a good draft is to get as close to the upcoming car as possible, you will gain speed by doing so, and as you near the rear end of the vehicle, steer to pass it and head on to the next victim, and ultimately make it to the checkered flag first!

It's a Wrap! Now Hit the Track!

In a nutshell, these tips can be applied to almost any racing game on the market.