Everybody who plays video games has a favorite genre. For many, it is the FPS (First-Person Shooter), where the player steps into the boots of a gun-toting soldier fighting for a particular objective (or maybe just satisfying a desire to pump bullets, or laser beams or whatever else, into myriad simulated targets). Another popular genre is the RPG (Role-Playing Game), where the player assumes the identity of one character in a story and thereby becomes a part of that story; some RPGs allow the player to step into the shoes of more than one character, in fact. Other popular genres include the RTS (Real-Time Strategy), Puzzles, the MMORPG (Massively Multiple Online RPG), and the combat/flight simulator.
While I enjoy many types of video games, I must say that the racing simulator is my personal favorite. For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed video games where I can pretend to be the driver of a racing car. From Pole Position to Super Monaco Grand Prix, all the way through to Geoff Crammond's great World Circuit/Grand Prix series of F1 simulators, EA Sports' F1 series, GTR2 and Race07 and GTR Evolution from SimBin, and finally the absolutely sublime rFactor from ISI, I have nurtured my inner racing driver (and lived a fantasy double life as well ) revving his engine up to the redline.
I own and occasionally play other racing games, especially for the PC, and find them less satisfying. Games like GRID and Atari's Test Drive: Unlimited just don't measure up to my personal standards. I guess I am prejudiced against so-called "arcade" racers (an ironic term, since both Pole Position and Super Monaco GP were iconic video arcade classics in their day), where the balance between "realism" and "fun factor" tilts much further towards accessibility for more players. In other words, arcade racers are less realistic and are further away from simulating reality, which puts a huge damper to my own personal enjoyment. I say the more realistic a racing game is, the better, since it is supposed to be more challenging.
I guess the concept of "challenging" ought to be redefined as well for the purpose of this discourse. I think it's clear that the art and craft of driving a real racing car is, in fact, very far removed from merely operating a motor vehicle down Main Street in Anytown, U.S.A. (or anywhere in the world, with the possible exception of Manila in the Philippines). Anyone who claims that driving a racing car, much less racing one, is easy is either insane or is drunk or absolutely full of horse manure. In any case, it's clear that you cannot believe such a person.
(These are probably the same yo-yos who insist that racing drivers are not athletes. I'd like to see these guys get into even a slow F1 car and have them drive a few laps around a circuit like Suzuka in Japan, or the Nordschleife in Germany. I bet more than a few of them will wrap the car around the guardrail within their first lap out of the pits... for sure all of them cannot even get within thirty seconds -- an eternity in racing -- of even the slowest professional's time.)
A great racing game does a beautiful job simulating all the various forces acting upon the racing car and the driver. These include gravity, friction, aerodynamics, as well as the effects of the road surface on a driver's vision (tiny bumps on the road ought to interfere with a driver's vision, at the very least - rFactor does a great job of simulating this, for one). My favorite racing games all feature the facility to adjust the racing car's settings to the requirements of the circuit. For example, a car's suspension setup is hugely influential on its handling characteristics; I guess I'm sensitive enough to detect changes in spring and anti-roll bar stiffness and bump and rebound damper settings. I can feel the difference between various differential lock settings and can feel which end of the car is sliding at what point in a given corner.
Test Drive: Unlimited, in contrast, feels less like a driving/racing game than it does a semi-independent tour of the islands of Hawaii.
In my opinion, challenges spice up all things in life. This includes video games; racing games, especially those that attempt to approach the reality of driving and racing such ultra-powerful and responsive machines on the world's most difficult tracks, are enjoyable to me because they are infinitely challenging. I may not be a Formula One Drivers' World Champion, but I can try to win the World Championship on rFactor or F1 Challenge using the latest mods. I don't always win the races, but it's always exciting.
Especially when you're strapped inside a McLaren-Mercedes...