Our final category this year is none other than the Racing genre and the nominees are…
Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Slightly Mad’s unique brand of action simulation is still a little rough around the edges, but it still manages to impress. The amazing cockpit view from the first game made it over as is, while the new Elite handling model, which stripped away all assists, made for some thrilling and challenging gameplay. The addition of deep tuning and upgrade options and night racing, plus the option to race in 35 different real world and fictional locations gave Shift 2 a lot of variety and replay value. It wasn’t quite EA’s answer to Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but it surely stood out as one of the better racing titles of 2011.
Test Drive Unlimited 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Tropical racing FTW!
Test Drive Unlimited 2 is one of the most underrated games of 2011. The sheer amount of content it offers, the lovingly created islands of Oahu and Ibiza, the great selection of cars, and the freedom to drive them both on and off-road, made it a sheer joy to play. Racing is only part of the TDU2 experience, and while the race events were the dev team’s chance to put you in some amazing handpicked locations around the massive game world, the most memorable moments will invariably be the ones when you’re just driving around exploring the unknown. There’s no shortage of distractions along the way, from car dealerships, to sight-seeing, to investing in real estate, but TDU2 is all about the journey, and few games have made just driving around aimlessly this much fun.
Nail’d (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Ooh, I can see my house from here
We wouldn’t be surprised, if you haven’t even heard of Nail’d. It received no pre-release hype, whatsoever, but the simple fact that is was developed by Techland, the makers of better known games like Call of Juarez and Dead Island, piqued our interest. And we’re glad we gave it a shot, because it is the most surprisingly mental racing game we’ve played since Burnout 3. Take the big air, over-the-top off road racing from Pure, infuse the insane sense of speed from Burnout, and multiply the craziness by ten, and you might get an idea of what Nail’d is about. It was quite short on content, but watch your ATV jump over jet planes and hot air balloons hundreds of feet in the air once, and all will be forgiven.
Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)
See you at the finish line
After the utterly brilliant Forza Motorsport 2, the subsequent games have sought incremental improvements to the solid base rather than making too many drastic changes. Forza 4 added a revamped World Tour career mode, and supplemented it with an additional mode dynamically populated with events based your car collection and the events you’ve played in the World Tour. There wasn’t a big increase in the number of cars or tracks, but the new graphics and lighting engine turned an otherwise average looking series into a stunner. And as always, customization and multiplayer options were plentiful. Forza 4 didn’t put a foot wrong, and the only reason it didn’t win best racing game honours was Turn 10’s safe approach to the franchise. For their third Xbox 360 game, we expected night racing and weather effects, neither of which was available.
And the winner is…
Dirt 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Codemasters are making a habit of this – churning out near-flawless racing titles every year. Dirt 2 was a great game, but it veered too much into circuit racing and stunt driving territory for our liking. Dirt 3, however, brought the focus back on to rally, while still retaining the other game modes, and introducing the scoring-based, Gymkhana stunt mode. So there’s a nice balance, and this balance is also reflected in the car selection, which now includes a selection of iconic rally cars from over the decades. As with all Codies games, the lighting and weather effects in Dirt 3 look stunning thanks to the EGO 2 engine. The surprise package of Dirt 3 was its multiplayer, featuring addictive online variants of capture-the-flag and tag. Dirt 3 was the complete package, offering something for every racing game fan, and it’s quite easily our Racing Game of the Year.
And in first place we have…
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