If you're a fan of racing games, 2017 is shaping up to be a vintage year. Over the coming nine months, DiRT 4, Need for Speed 2017, WipEout: Omega Collection, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, MX3GP, Gravel, Moto GP 17, F1 2017, and TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge are all scheduled for release. Each game is interesting in its own right, but what I want to talk about today are the three biggest racers of them all: Gran Turismo Sport, Forza Motorsport 7, and Project CARS 2.
This trio of marquee titles represents the very best of the genre, and each promises to deliver some of the greatest racing yet seen. But how will they stack up against one another? Let's take a look.
Gran Turismo Sport
It's been almost three and a half years since we last saw a Gran Turismo game – the prior-generation GT6 was launched back in December of 2013. Since then, developer Polyphony have been working away on a sequel, which was originally slated for a holiday 2016 launch, but got pushed back until this year. At this point, a firm release date still hasn’t been set for the title, but with two rounds of closed beta testing under its belt, and an open beta coming "soon", hopes are high that we'll see the latest edition of the Gran Turismo series sometime over the summer.
What makes this particular iteration interesting is that it's been built from the ground up specifically for the PS4, and contains no legacy code or car models – unlike previous Gran Turismo games. When I spoke to him at E3 last year, Polyphony boss Kazunori Yamauchi said, "You can think of GT1-6 as the first age or first era of Gran Turismo. From this title on you can actually call it a brand new era because of the level of innovation and level of technology that's going into it."
Because the series is essentially starting afresh, Gran Turismo Sport's volume of content is relatively modest this time out: The game features around 140 cars, and 19 tracks with 27 different variations. That's definitely a huge step down from the almost 1200 cars, and 33 tracks with 71 different layouts included in GT6, but on the positive side, all cars are photo-realistic, "super premium" models that look absolutely outstanding.
While its content feels a little lean when stacked up against the other two games in this comparison, Gran Turismo Sport nevertheless sounds like it's going to pack some quality racing. The game will feature 117 offline, single-player events and challenges, as well as a comprehensive training mode that will enable players to learn the ins and outs of competitive driving, from the basics such as braking and cornering to advanced racing etiquette. As they progress, players will be rated on their performance and behavior, so that when they graduate to online racing, they'll be accurately matched with drivers of a similar temperament and skill level. It's an interesting concept, and I'm keen to see how well it'll work in practice.
Online racing will be an important aspect of Gran Turismo Sport, and Sport Mode will enable players to watch the very best racers as they battle it out in the game's two inaugural FIA-endorsed championships. These contests will be hosted on weekends, and broadcast live with commentary.
Other notable game features include a livery editor, and "Scapes", a photo mode that enables players to take pictures of cars in more than 1000 different 3D rendered settings based on real-life locations from around the world. Each Scape contains both light and spatial information that the player can toy with as they set up their shot, and the results promise to be quite spectacular, if the pictures shown on the official Gran Turismo website are anything to go by.
Verdict: I've played several demos of Gran Turismo Sport over the past six months, and it's looking absolutely stunning – especially on PS4 Pro. I have no doubt that the finished game will be a cutting-edge showcase of both Sony's consoles' technical prowess. That said, there are definitely questions to be asked about Gran Turismo Sport's rather lean roster of cars and tracks. Hopefully the game's 100-plus events, race training mode, and robust-sounding online offering will deliver a satisfying and long-lasting racing experience.
Forza Motorsport 7
Although the latest edition of Turn 10's flagship racer hasn't been officially unveiled as of yet, it's a surefire bet that Forza Motorsport 7 will arrive this coming Fall. The Forza Motorsport series has been a once-every-two-years calendar fixture since its inception in 2005, so it'd be a real turn-up for the books were the game not to see the light of day in 2017.
With no information to go on, I can only speculate what the seventh game in the series will feature, but it's fairly safe to assume that the vast majority of the 460 cars, and 26 tracks with around 100 variations included in Forza Motorsport 6 will be repurposed for the upcoming edition of the game. Add to that potential additions from last year's Forza Horizon 3, and that could mean anything up to 500 cars as a baseline number – and that's before any brand new vehicles are included. Even conservatively speaking, that could result in around 600 cars for the final version of the game, with perhaps 30-or-so tracks, with well over 100 variations. That would certainly make Forza Motorsport 7 the biggest and most comprehensive racer available – and the largest entry in the series yet in terms of pure content.
The big question is what will be the major headline features of the game this time around? Forza Motorsport 6 introduced wet weather and night driving, but neither is dynamic. Perhaps that might change for this year? With Gran Turismo Sport offering the chance to drive at different times of the day, and Project CARS 2 featuring transitional day-to-night cycles and fully dynamic weather, Forza Motorsport 7 seems to be bringing up the rear when it comes to changeable conditions, so it'd definitely be a good move for the series to step up to dynamic weather and lighting.
Something else I'm hoping to see this time out is some innovation in the career mode. I've got no complaints in terms of the amount of races on offer, but Forza Motorsports' career mode can sometimes feel a little dry and lacking in terms of progression and reward. The addition of Forza Motorsport 6's Showcase events and Stories of Motorsports helped add some variety and interest to the proceedings, and it would be great to see more of those kinds of objective-oriented challenges incorporated into Forza Motorsport 7.
Verdict: Now in its third evolution of this generation, the Forza series is looking like the one to beat. The game will likely pack an extraordinary amount of cars that by even conservative estimates will be double that of both its competitors combined. Add to that its impressive roster of tracks, along with usual features like photo mode, auction house, car livery customization, and Rivals and League modes, and you'll have the biggest racing game since Gran Turismo 6. The only concern is what additional features will Forza Motorsport 7 incorporate to help keep its racing experience feeling fresh – so that it doesn't just feel like a retread of the prior game with more content.
Project CARS 2
With an estimated release date of "Septemberish", Project CARS 2 is shaping up very nicely in terms of its features, and is looking like it'll provide some serious competition for the racing genre's heaviest-hitters.
When I reviewed it back in 2015, I lauded the original Project CARS' sheer variety of racing. Although the game features a moderate amount of cars – around 125 – developer Slightly Mad Studios curated the selection of vehicles really well to encompass a very broad roster of racing disciplines, from Karts through Historical to Le Mans Prototypes. Project CARS 2 builds on that base by upping the car list to more than 170, and adds Rallycross, IndyCar, and Oval racing to the choice of activities on offer.
The game also promises, "the largest track roster ever seen on console," with an impressive 50 different locations confirmed so far, and more to come. Like the car list, the selection is exceptionally varied, ranging from world famous circuits through street tracks to dirt and ice courses. When you combine that with the game's fully dynamic, seasonal weather, and adjustable time of day and night, you have almost every kind of racing condition catered for.
An aspect of Project CARS that I really like is its career mode. Nothing in the game is locked, so that players are able to engage in whatever discipline they desire, whether that's Touring Car racing, driving open-wheel cars, or competing in Le Mans LMP1. Each career path offers a comprehensive set of championships, and feels very fleshed-out, delivering plenty for racing fans to get their teeth into. Hopefully Project CARS 2 will follow the same format – with its broader range of competitive options, and sheer volume of tracks, that should mean an even more in-depth experience.
Online racing in the original game was a little weak, but it sounds like Slightly Mad Studios is making efforts to address that for the sequel. As well as having in-built esports components, Project CARS 2 will enable players to create and administrate their own Online Championships – league-format contests "consisting of sequential rounds, each with individually-set sessions, format, duration, conditions, and location." That certainly sounds like an intriguing feature, and if it's as good as it sounds could well give rise to a really active online racing community.
Something I did criticize the original Project CARS for was that it was rather difficult to drive some of its vehicles with a control pad. Apparently, this was a common complaint, and developer Slightly Mad Studios says that the upcoming edition of the game will feature more intuitive and better-tuned gamepad controls that should make the game a little easier to get to grips with. That's certainly good news for those who don't have the luxury of a high-end steering wheel to play with.
Verdict: Project CARS 2's strength is that it enables players to drive at any time of the day or night, in a variety of seasonal weather conditions, and on several different kinds of surfaces. Not only that, but the game features an impressively broad roster of racing disciplines, from Karts to IndyCar, making it perhaps the most comprehensive and potentially interesting driving game here. Assuming it delivers on the technical front, Project CARS 2 could well be the surprise racer of the year.