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Car lovers don't agree with the phrase "Point A to Point B," so it stands to reason that if they are looking for the best virtual driving experience, they need a game that knows getting to the finish line isn't everything.
And the genre has evolved significantly. It's no longer just about jamming on the gas when the countdown reaches zero. The new generation of gaming adds a realistic polish and control while paying close attention to details like suspension and power-to-weight ratios.
With the holidays approaching, here are the best virtual driving experiences.
Gran Turismo 6
Platform: PlayStation 3
Gran Turismo 6 is the gold standard. The highly successful PlayStation 3 franchise, from Polyphony Digital, focuses heavily on simulation. From Abarth to Pagani, your real and dream cars are here to drive on classic tracks, from Silverstone to the Nurburgring. Don't fancy a Ferrari right away, though. You start with nothing in the game's career mode, and only winning earns you money to buy better cars. Wins must be fairly clean and the game can be unforgiving. You can augment and tune your car down to the finest details to gain that winning edge.
For the not-so-hardcore, the arcade modes and coffee break challenges offer a fun escape. For example, there's a challenge to see how many traffic cones you can knock over. For the real enthusiast, the game works wonderfully with Logitech's G27 Racing Wheel accessory. The authenticity of turning resistance and gear switching come alive. However, it costs $300 and you'll need a sturdy table to attach it to.
Forza Horizon 2
Platform: Xbox 360/Xbox One
Though Forza Horizon 2 is available for the 360, the Xbox One offers superior visuals and A.I. The Xbox One controller also provides greater feedback. Forza Horizon 2 is an open-world racer, meaning there's a lot more than just selecting races. This particular open-world? Southern France and Northern Italy. The scenic vistas, the feeling of driving through a sun-kissed countryside – it's all there, and you don't even have to race.
Forza racing isn't slap-happy, wreck-your-car mindlessness, but it is much more lenient than Gran Turismo. For instance, a "Rewind" mode jumps you back a few seconds in time, allowing you to redo that bad corner. Unlike other games, you will drive a Ferrari within the first hour. Experience and money are easily won, bringing that Aston Martin One-77 within reach. You can challenge virtual versions of your friends as they drive alongside you. You can spend that money in the garage, buying parts to help engine output, weight, grip and a lot more.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Driveclub is a visual joyride. No open-world or stories here. You work your way through the tour mode, starting small – literally, the first events are hot hatches. The key to tour progression is gaining stars by completing goals in each race, which usually include finishing in the top 3. The real fun is in face-offs, portions of the track with top speed or drifting challenges. These earn players experience points and unlock more cars.
The emphasis here is on clean racing. Cut a corner, nudge an opponent or go off-track for too long and the game penalizes you. The eponymous "Driveclub" refers to a team of you and your friends, which can pool points to advance you further. It should be noted that the game has had serious online connectivity problems, and the company continues to work on the issues.
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
This series is not like any of the others here. The goal is to be the best F1 car driver and the standards are brutally tough. Expect punishment. There are no easy turns or crashes you can recover from. The game is intended for Formula One aficionados, the people that know the real-life teams and can tell the difference between KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and DRS (drag reduction system).
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