I love racing games. I love games with a real sense of speed, the feeling of rubber forced down onto tarmac, the knowledge that the slightest twitch or lapse in concentration could send you spinning off the road in a second. But my love seems to be a bit different to other people’s because the thing is, more than anything, I love driving in a straight line.
This can probably be traced back to the first racing game I remember ever playing: Vrooooooommmmm! (I swear, this is the name I knew it by – it seems the reality is altogether more prosaic).
(image via Lemon Amiga)
Like pretty much all my games back then, my copy of Vrooooooommmmm! came via my friend Graeme, whose brother had copied it from one of his friends, who had copied it from someone else etc. etc. (because back then we were all dirty thieving bastards). And like so many of our games, Vrooooooommmmm! came with a trainer, letting you toggle all sorts of options to make the game easier. Of those options, there was only ever one I cared about – the option that removed all the corners from the circuits, turning them into bizarre Möbius strips where you repeatedly passed the start line without ever changing direction. I spent hours on those corner-less roads, fire button held down, making only the slightest of adjustments to avoid the painfully slow computer cars. Neeowmmm! Neeowmmm! Neeowmmm! Fun times.
For obvious reasons I guess, I’ve never found another game that really let me indulge in my passion for corner-less racing games, but recently I have found something that comes close.
Fuel is, in so many ways, a flawed game. A vast (seriously, it’s enormous) open world which never lets you get out of your car and instead tries to force you to take part in tedious races full of obstacles, huge vertical drops should you make a mistake, and relentless, fiddly corners. But. That ‘open world’ bit’s the key. Because in Fuel’s world there are motorways. Motorways that go for miles without the slightest hint of a corner. And when they do finally, grudgingly concede that maybe it’s time to change direction, they do so in long, graceful curves that don’t require you to slow down in the slightest.
The stroke of genius to Fuel’s motorways is that every now and then the tarmac’s relentless forward march is broken up. Not with a clumsily placed broken down lorry, or an infuriating hair-pin bend, but with a ramp. A ramp that, thanks to the arrow-straight road and lack of obstacles, you get to take at full speed. Every time I hit one of these I revert to my 9-year old Amiga-playing self, uttering wheeeee! in a high-pitched voice.
The one downside to Fuel’s endless straight roads is the game’s dogmatic dedication to (basically) realistic physics. It doesn’t take long to hit your car’s maximum speed on these roads, and driving at a constant speed just isn’t that exciting. If I ever make a driving game it will have no such restriction. No corners, no maximum speed. Just endless acceleration. And when you hit one of those ramps, at a high enough speed, your car will fly so high, it’ll go into orbit. That’s how you make a racing game. It’s not about cornering, or traction. It’s not about tramping round a circuit in a better time than the other drivers. It’s about going so fast the world turns into a blur and the slightest bump rockets you off into outer space.