E3 2006 Racing Round-Up

What we know, what we don't know about all the biggest racing games at E3 2006.

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By Brian Ekberg || Design: Randall Montanari - Posted on Thursday May 25th, 2006

t this year's E3 2006 the execs at Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were concerned with rolling out brand-new intellectual properties and "leveraging existing licenses in the next generation." And while that stuff is all well and good, all we really cared about was the racing games. Okay, well it's not all we cared about, but it was definitely up there. Luckily all of the big three had big racing announcements at this year's show, and that should make for an exciting year ahead for fans of games where things go really, really fast. The following is a handy, all-in-one guide to each of the big racing titles announced and/or shown at E3 2006.

Before we get to the games, however, it's worth noting that a number of new driving wheels were announced at E3 2006 from some of the biggest hardware manufacturers in the business. Logitech introduced its G25 Racing Wheel, complete with six-speed gated shifter and 900-degree steering. While the $299 price tag puts this wheel only in the reach of racers with deep pockets, luckily there look to be a few cheaper options. Thrustmaster's Rallye GT Pro Force Feedback model will include a sequential shift system, five progressive axes, and, of course, force feedback support. Not to be outdone, Microsoft announced a new wheel of their own, the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel, specifically designed for the upcoming release of Forza Motorsport 2. Wireless functionality, rumble and force feedback support, and a price tag under $100. Sounds good to us.

Now, enough about the hardware, let's talk games. Gentlemen, start your engines!

Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Platform: PS3

Formula One, rally cars, classic cars, and motorcycles. Gran Turismo HD was the most well-rounded racer of the bunch.

What We Know:
Last seen at E3 2005 under the working title of Vision Gran Turismo, the newly renamed Gran Turismo HD was one of the centerpieces of the Sony PlayStation 3 press conference. Sony trotted out Polyphony Digital head and GT series creator Kazunori Yamauchi to take everyone through a game that was running in full 1080p (which is nice) but also was completely composed of assets from Gran Turismo 4 (which is not so nice). Because of that, everything was very crisp and clear looking; but the substantial visual upgrades we were hoping for were nowhere to be found. Yamauchi said the PD team is also working closely on online capabilities for the next game, which is good news, as it was notably absent from GT4.

What We Don't Know:
A final release date, for one, though Yamauchi-san said fans could expect GT HD to be released after the PS3 launch, on roughly the same timetable that Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec followed the release of the PS2. In other words, it will be done when it's done. We also can't wait to see what PD has in store in terms of online play, and whether or not the game's stagnant artificial intelligence will make the leap into the next generation along with the rest of the game.

Extra Lap:
It looks like Polyphony Digital's Tourist Trophy was an experiment of sorts, proving that, yes, motorcycles did belong in a GT game. As a result, the E3 demo version of Gran Turismo HD featured not only road, rally, and open-wheel racers, but a few two-wheeled rides as well.

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360

Microsoft is busting out the sequel to Forza in time for the 2006 holidays.

What We Know:
Not to be outdone by Sony's racing sim unveiling, Microsoft announced Forza 2 for the Xbox 360, the sequel to their popular 2005 racing game for the original Xbox. In terms of quantity of content, Forza should be a modest upgrade from the original, with 300 cars and 60 tracks (a mixture of real and fictional tracks), one of which we know will be Sebring. Better yet, Microsoft is planning on releasing a wireless rumble- and force feedback-enabled wheel specifically designed for the game, which should arrive in stores for under $100. With even more customization and online features than the original, the future is looking bright for Forza 2.

What We Don't Know:
Microsoft repeatedly said the game is due for release this holiday season, so why wasn't a playable version shown at E3 either during the press conference or behind closed doors at the Microsoft booth? The optimist's take is that Team Forza couldn't be bothered with creating an E3 demo, when they're working feverishly to make that holiday release date for the full game. Regardless, the sooner we see this game up and running, the better.

Extra Lap:
When Microsoft rolled out the announcement of its Xbox Live Anywhere functionality, Forza 2 was the centerpiece. How the service will work with the racing game isn't perfectly clear yet, but the idea of swapping setups, paint jobs, and, most importantly, points between our 360, PC, and cell phones is tantalizing, to say the least.

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii

Excite Truck--it's like Excite Bike but with trucks; and the wholly original Wii controller to steer.

What We Know:
For an off-road racer, Excite Truck's got the whole speed thing down. This Wii-only arcade racer just might have been the fastest thing going at E3 2006. Of course, that fine sense of speed wasn't offset a bit by the game's unique controls, which, as you might expect from a Wii game, are different than practically anything you've played before. Instead of controlling things with a joystick, you hold the Wii controller sideways and steer left and right, almost as if you were turning a real steering wheel. It's fun, it's unique, and it also is pretty sensitive, as we found ourselves careening off the main path after steering too hard on more than one occasion.

What We Don't Know:
Bottom line: Will the game's quirky (and more than a bit touchy) control mechanics help it or hurt it?

Extra Lap:
That old arcade racing stable--catch-up AI--is in full effect in Excite Truck. No matter how far we strayed off path (including one full-speed hurdle into the trees from which it took us roughly 20 seconds to recover from), we were never out of the race completely.

Publisher: SCEE
Developer: Evolution Studios
Platform: PS3

Of course MotorStorm didn't look like this, but it was a lot of fun.

What We Know:
Well first off, we know it doesn't look nearly as good as the trailer from E3 2005 would have had you believe. Not much of a surprise there. Secondly, and more importantly, it was playable in the Sony booth--which is more than we can say for Killzone for the PlayStation 3. A typical MotorStorm race is a filthy affair, with multiple vehicle types such as trucks, buggies, and motorcycles battling it out for muddy supremacy. Lap after lap the track will evolve, or rather devolve--bridges will be destroyed, muddy grooves will be worn into the ground, and so on--and you'll need to change your path accordingly. It looks like muddy good fun, and we can't wait to see more.

What We Don't Know:
If the overall drab sense of speed will carry over from the E3 demo into the final product. We're not expecting an F1 game here, of course, but at some points, MotorStorm felt a little too stuck in the mud for its own good.

Extra Lap:
The PS3 controller's rumble feature has been replaced with the much-hyped motion-sensing features, and games like MotorStorm or the rally aspects of Gran Turismo HD seem to have suffered the most. It's amazing how attuned we've come to the rumbling controller in our hand--especially when tackling bumpy off-road tracks--it's too bad we won't be feeling it in PS3 games.

Publisher: SCEE
Developer: Liverpool Studios
Platform: PS3, PS2, PSP

Take a good look Americans, as this is the closest most of us will get to Formula One 06.

What We Know:
First of all, we know that the odds of this one coming stateside are about as likely as Christijan Albers winning the F1 2006 world championship. Okay, enough obscure F1 jokes, let's get to the real thing. The E3 demo of Formula One 06 was certainly one of the better-looking PlayStation 3 racing games on the show floor; outshining the Gran Turismo 4-assets of GT HD by a pretty wide margin. Though the game only featured the Monza circuit, we were impressed with the multiple camera views, the gorgeous shading and lighting effects (especially when zipping under the trees after the Lesmo curve), the 22-player online support, and the pinpoint controls, which all left us excited for more.

What We Don't Know:
Who we have to pay off to get this game released in the States. Of course, thanks to the PS3 going region-free with games, we'll be perfectly happy to import this one.

Extra Lap:
The PSP wing-mirror feature--which will let you use your PSP as a rearview mirror in the game--was pretty cool feature for F1 06, but also pretty specific. We're curious to see how this feature will fit into other PS3/PSP games.

Publisher: Atari
Developer: Eden Studios
Platform: Xbox 360, PC, PS2, PSP

Sports cars and a tropical locale look to mesh nicely in Test Drive Unlimited.

What We Know:
Test Drive Unlimited doesn't suffer from a lack of ambition, that's for sure. Not only is it the first console driving MMOG, but also TDU is taking the "realism" thing to new extremes, at least when it comes to the drivable game environment. Developers spent months re-creating a painstaking virtual version of the Hawaiian island of Oahu as the setting for this driving game, which looks to pit speed freaks from all over the planet against one another. Having played the game, we can tell you that the tropical paradise is an amazing sight to behold on the Xbox 360. And it's not just gorgeous--the island also packs in plenty of variety for drivers to enjoy, from straight-ahead urban action as you speed through the streets of Honolulu to the snaking switchbacks near Diamond Head. Whether you choose to pilot a tricked-out exotic sports car or a suped-up motorcycle, TDU will certainly keep you busy.

What We Don't Know:
Though TDU is an MMOG by technical standards, the relatively limited nature of the races (the game will support a maximum of eight players in instanced race events) might be a letdown for folks hoping for huge numbers of racers clogging up the main Oahu thoroughfares. On the other hand, who likes traffic?

Extra Lap:
The virtual Oahu you'll be speeding across in TDU will feature approximately 1,000 miles of drivable roads. While not all of the smaller roads are represented, there's a good chance that if you've ever been on vacation to the island, you'll find something you recognize in the game.

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Climax
Platform: Xbox 360

THQ is preparing for the final plunge before MotoGP 06 hits store shelves.

What We Know:
We've written a lot about the MotoGP's series debut on the Xbox 360 several times now, and we're just as excited about the game now as we were when we caught it at this year's Game Developers Conference. Highlights include 16-player support, three new circuits to race on (including the long-awaited debut of Laguna Seca), and some of the best-looking graphics to be found in racing games on the Xbox 360.

What We Don't Know:
Hopefully the final version of the game will play a bit smoother online than the demo available on Xbox Live Marketplace will; however, with the game this close to release, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from it. All we're wondering now is how long it's going to take for us to unlock all the game's Xbox Live achievement points.

Extra Lap:

In addition to the standard MotoGP bikes featured in the Grand Prix series, MotoGP 06 will also feature tricked-out two-wheelers known as streetfighters--essentially, customized street bikes that often look radically different than more-traditional motorcycles.

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega Driving Studio
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

What We Know:
Another version of Sega's hugely popular arcade rally series is always welcome news. The series has skipped a console generation (last seen in the states with Sega Rally 2 for Dreamcast; a Japan-only Sega Rally 2006 was released last year) but is set to make a triumphant return with Sega Rally Revo on the PlayStation 3. From the brief demo of the game we saw at E3, the team doesn't seem to be straying too far from the series' tried-and-tested arcade rallying roots. Multiple-car setups will let you fit your car's performance to the track but, because conditions will likely change within a race, it will be all about compromise in order to ensure your lap times are quick.

What We Don't Know:
Because the E3 demo focused mostly on the graphical quality of the cars and tracks themselves--and they do look great--we don't really know much about how the overall game will play out beyond the basics. We're especially curious to hear about the eight-player online multiplayer, especially since Sony has been relatively mum about its online plans.

Extra Lap:
The deformable terrain in Sega Rally will play a big role in each race. As ruts and grooves are cut into the muddy corners, you can use them to gain extra grip on each successive lap.

Publisher: 10tacle Studios
Developer: SimBin
Platform: PC

Expect to do a lot of this during your first few laps with GTR 2.

What We Know:
The 10tacle folks are back with the cure for what ails the hardcore racing community: a sequel to the critically acclaimed PC game GTR FIA Racing. This time, the team is hoping to pull in a few more fans from the more casual set, however, with a driving school feature that will help those new to the GTR scene deal with the high-end performance and realistic physics that is the series' hallmark. The game will support up to 64 cars on the track in the single-player game, while a whopping 32 racers will be able to duke it out online. Also, improved damage modeling and weather effects round out a game that is promising to be one of the more realistic speed fixes released this year.

What We Don't Know:
We refuse to believe that hardcore PC racing is dead, but we're wondering how the casual set will take to this notoriously challenging series, especially since it's probably going to require a pretty hefty PC rig to get it to run.

Extra Lap:
The original GTR is heading to the Xbox 360 next year, which could potentially open up a whole new crop of fans to this underappreciated series.

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