Sony needs a first-party arcade racer to rival Forza Horizon

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MotorStorm. ModNation Racers. DriveClub. Sony used to have an array of arcade racers in its first-party PlayStation line-up. But these glory days are in the rear-view mirror.

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Gran Turismo is of course the PlayStation’s premier racing franchise, with GT7 racing onto PS4 and PS5 in just over a month. Without a doubt, GT7 will be one of this year’s best-selling racing games. But while GT caters to the simulation/simcade crowd, Sony doesn’t have a single arcade racer in its first-party lineup to rival Forza Horizon. This needs to change.

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Where did Sony’s first-party arcade racers go?

There was a time when Sony’s first-party lineup was saturated with revered arcade racers. MotorStorm, for example, was one of the PS3’s leading UK launch titles in 2007. At the time, its spectacular crashes, detailed car models, and realistic mud splatter effects showed off the PS3’s prowess. 

Developed by Evolution Studios, MotorStorm’s mayhem-filled off-road racing made it a huge hit. Thanks to a variety of vehicle types from bikes to big rigs, to ATVs and rally cars, the multi-class races were fun and gloriously chaotic. There was an element of strategy too, with tracks featuring multiple paths suitable for different vehicle types.

Before MotorStorm, Evolution was known for its work on the PlayStation-exclusive WRC games. Evolution became a first-party studio in 2007, so Sony was clearly confident in the team’s ability to craft excellent arcade racers.  

Motorstorm art
MotorStorm's mayhem-filled off-road racing showed off the power of the PS3

A sequel to MotorStorm followed in 2008 with Pacific Rift. For many, Pacific Rift represents the pinnacle of the franchise. The setting moved from desert canyons to an exotic island, with tracks set in dense jungles and flaming volcanoes. Pacific Rift also added four-player split-screen as well as a new boost mechanic in which driving through water cooled your boost down.

The third mainline game in the series, MotorStorm Apocalypse was set in an urban city hit by a devastating earthquake. With crumbling buildings creating new track routes, the impressive environmental destruction looked like something out of a Roland Emmerich movie.

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Unfortunately, Apocalypse was delayed after an earthquake rocked Japan in March 2011. It suffered poor sales as a result and was cancelled outright in Japan.

The failure of MotorStorm Apocalypse was just the start of a rapid arcade racer decline in the early 2010s. Sony briefly dipped its toes into the kart racing genre in 2012 with ModNation Racers to take on Mario Kart.

Despite being praised for its creative customisation tools, sales of ModNation Racers fell below expectations. The same year, Split/Second and the beloved Blur crashed and burned, resulting in the closure of Black Rock Studios and Bizarre Creations.

However, the recent success of Forza Horizon 5 shows there’s still an appetite for big-budget arcade racers – and Sony needs to capitalise on this.

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Sony tried to revive vehicular combat games with Destruction AllStars, but the game was a bit of a car crash

More recently, Sony tried to revive vehicular combat games with Destruction AllStars. But the PlayStation 5-exclusive wasn’t the smash hit Sony was hoping for, with lukewarm reviews and a rapidly declining player base.

Improvements made in the recent update will hopefully breathe new life into Destruction AllStars and reignite the player base. But there are other dormant arcade racing franchises Sony should bring back.    

Twisted Metal and MotorStorm could make a comeback – but what about DriveClub?

Recent rumours suggest Sony wants to reboot MotorStorm for a new generation. There are also whispers that Sony’s first-party studio Firesprite is working on a Twisted Metal PS5 game to coincide with the live-action TV show.  

Neither of these titles would be a direct rival to Forza Horizon, however. But Sony is sitting on a franchise that could be a formidable foe to Forza Horizon: DriveClub.

With its breathtakingly beautiful graphics and online club racing, there was a lot of hype surrounding the announcement of DriveClub. Originally planned as a PS4 launch title, DriveClub released in 2014 after several delays. But the launch was a disaster.

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DriveClub is still arguably one of the best-looking racing games ever made

Server issues plagued the game for months. For an online-focused racer, this was catastrophic. After DriveClub's dreadful launch, Evolution Studios was shut by Sony in 2016. Former Evolution staff went on to work at Codemasters and form a new Codemasters Evo team to develop OnRush. Sadly, the misunderstood arcade driving game sold poorly, leading to layoffs.

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DriveClub’s approachable yet authentic car handling provided a more accessible experience than Gran Turismo, drawing comparisons to Project Gotham Racing. Eight years on, DriveClub's visuals are still jaw-droppingly stunning – you still won’t find better weather effects in any other console racer.

An open-world DriveClub sequel could be Sony’s answer to Forza Horizon. But with former DriveClub director Paul Rustchynsky now working at Avalanche Studios and Sony haunted by the disastrous launch, DriveClub 2 is unlikely to happen.

Should Gran Turismo go open world?

But what about an open-world version of Gran Turismo? Given how long Gran Turismo games take to develop, it’s hard to see Sony justify splitting Polyphony’s resources to make a spin-off.

The series is also synonymous with realism (there’s a reason it has the tagline “the real driving simulator”), so an arcade-style spin-off would be risky. But Sony has taken risks with the Gran Turismo brand in the past.

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An open-world spin-off would plug the gap between mainline Gran Turismo games

In the early 2000s, Gran Turismo Concept 2002 Tokyo-Geneva embraced the weird and wonderful world of concept cars. More recently, Gran Turismo Sport lacked a traditional single-player campaign, prioritising online multiplayer racing and eSports events instead.

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Just as the Horizon games do for Forza Motorsport, GT spin-offs would plug the gaps between the mainline GT games and bring casual players to the franchise. If Sony can replicate the success of Forza Horizon with an open-world Gran Turismo, it’s a risk worth taking.