One day, they reorganized the last arcade I went to.
I went there every Friday. It was attached to a cinema.
The House of the Dead was my game: I had every high score on the list, even when the gun broke.
This arcade went through phases.
At first, it was driven by families and birthday parties. People thought of it as a ‘cooler’ Chuck E. Cheese’s.
When that business began to die off, they pivoted focus to bringing in bigger, stranger arcade cabinets.
Anytime one of the new cabinets came in, I dove into them.
I became most proficient in DDR and Flash Beats as secondary games.
I only played F355 Challenge once.
F355 was designed by Yu Suzuki and released in 1999.
It released in different cabinets, but the true nature of the game emerged purest in its largest iteration.
The game had three screens powered by four NAOMI units: one for each screen, one to link them.
The center screen was the windshield, the two outer screens were the side windows.
It had a realistic H-Shifter and three pedals.
It was considered by many to be the most accurate racing simulation possible at that time.
This arcade managed to pull in the large cabinet.
One day, I came in and everything was moved to make space for F355.
The owner made sure it was visible to everyone.
It was intimidating: Large. Complex. Dark.
It took $4.00 each play.
When I decided to jump in, I didn’t know if I would have fun with it or not.
Getting into the cab felt like you were attending some adult cocktail party full of glances and covered mouths.
The cab had curtains to keep other people away.
When it came time to drive, the formality didn’t dissipate.
This was a cold, raw simulation.
It was confusing and awkward.
In a place where you were primed for hot, fast action: F355 felt muted.
It felt empty. It was boring.
I only played F355 one time.
I moved on.
Coming from Yu Suzuki, F355 was a disappointment.
Suzuki proved himself as an auteur of immersive action games throughout his career.
F355 possessed none of the excitement his games typically exploded with.
F355 interpreted attention to detail as love.
This trend of equating detail and adoration began with Gran Turismo.
When the first game released in 1998 (one year before F355), the entire gaming community was floored.
It was a sign that we were now on the cusp of significant technologies, that the world had begun to blur.
Gran Turismo was a technological achievement.
Gran Turismo was a crowning achievement for the racing genre then.
Gran Turismo was also the end.
Before GT and F355, the genre was dominated by arcade racers.
They mainly used cars and driving as filters of action and momentum.
A few months before GT, EA released Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.
I played NFSIII for a year.
Hot Pursuit wasn’t about accuracy or simulation, it was about capturing the thrill of slamming on the accelerator.
It was about laughing at the police as you ram them into a guard rail.
It was about the daydreams people have while stuck in traffic or pulled over on the side of the road, glaring at the officer in the rear-view.
NFSIII was about rediscovering that time you rode your bike down the longest hill you had ever seen and wondering whether you trust yourself to hit the brakes at the right time.
It was wild and honest and young: The original face of racing.
Where Hot Pursuit was about aggression and fantasy, where GT was about simulation, R4 was about finesse and exploration.
Vehicles in R4 fell under two general classes: Drift or Grip.
It came down to what you, as the player, wanted.
Drift cars were ‘loose’ and allowed you to powerslide with a slight tap to the brake.
Grip cars were tighter and powersliding was done by balancing brake and gas.
R4 was about style.
Everything from the car selection, to the tracks, to the driving, to the UI: It was all about style.
R4 was about Japan and its love of motorsport.
It asked: ‘What would you like to do? Who do you want to be?’ and let the player run free.
This balance between racing games didn’t last.
Gran Turismo’s dominance in the racing genre went unchallenged for its next four iterations.
It wasn’t until Forza Motorsport appeared in 2005 that GT had any real competition in racing simulation.
Need For Speed kept pushing more aggression, especially after Burnout‘s success with its emphasis on heavy, hard crashes.
This led to Criterion being tasked with developing the latest entries into the NFS franchise, making the last few entries the most aggressive in the history of the series.
Ridge Racer became a parody of itself.
What was once a series defined by a Japanese love of motorsport and style is now flailing in a sea of strange experiments and half-finished ideas.
Ridge Racer’s latest entry, Ridge Racer Unbounded, was never even released in Japan.
It is in this environment that Driveclub released.
It is in this toxic mess the racing genre has become that Driveclub tries to reclaim the identity of the middle and the vast expanse of the margins.
Driveclub has not been well-received.
Most gaming media outlets share similar sentiments that Driveclub has no soul or passion or heat.
Driveclub is compared to Gran Turismo, Forza, NFS and is found to come up short.
And I have never seen the media so inept.
Gran Turismo destroyed the diversity of the racing landscape.
Like some hegemonic amoeba, it devoured the imagination.
It devoured subtlety.
To compete, racing games now either had to be pure math or pure rage.
Either a game competes in the same arena (Forza) or it rejects everything and creates a new paradigm (NFS).
Ridge Racer tried and failed to find some sort of synthesis and has lost its identity in the process.
There is no longer any proper lens through which Driveclub is accurately interpreted.
There is no longer a language for it.
Driveclub is a classic arcade racer.
It has inherited the best traits of R4, NFSIII, and GT.
Driveclub is about finessing through powerslides, healthy aggression, and maintaining driving lines.
Driveclub is about rediscovering the fun and beauty of driving.
The tracks are stunning and inspiring.
The races are exhilarating and frustrating.
Though Driveclub’s greatest success is that it gives the player the space to approach the game how they would like.
It has shown itself to be more malleable than any other racing game ever made.
It can be a simple simulation or an intricate arcade game.
How the player chooses to drive influences its tone.
Drifting on turns and the sheer force of momentum on straightaways is incredible and fricative.
Drafting, precision cornering, and avoiding collisions are fulfilling in ways that Gran Turismo and Forza never were.
It incorporates objective and points-based elements from Project Gotham Racing so that it isn’t just about winning races.
Driveclub is more than a racing game, it is a driving game.
Its focus isn’t just on competition and winning, it’s about appreciating the art of driving.
Driveclub is like sitting at the Musee d’Orsay in the early morning, drinking coffee, and letting your vision blur the steam and the painting in front of you.
It is a warm experience coalescing and exploring the mastery of the past.
It is a confident game.
It has none of the insecurity with which Gran Turismo protects its cars.
It feels no need to subvert the racing genre by making it more extreme.
While Driveclub is currently suffering from technical issues, it has more than enough potential to become one of the best racing games out right now.
Driveclub is what the gaming community and the racing genre needed: A step back. A reexamination and rediscovery of a love that has slipped further and further into schizophrenia.
I missed the world Driveclub emerged from.
I missed its warmth.
And it feels strange going back now, realizing how much has been forgotten.
But while remembrance can be embarrassing, it is liberating, even if its language has been lost…
Even if its value is ignored.