Racing games are the most egregious example of what might be called the EA playbook: throw money at development and push the graphic bar higher and higher to crowd out less well capitalized competitors, while rarely, if ever, actually innovating on a gameplay basis. Video clips from racing games under development are a staple of demonstrations at industry shows, because they show off the most rarified and advanced techniques -- the reflective glint off a highly-polished hood, the physics of crumpling on impact, a level of detail and polish that produces a sense of marvel that we've gone from Pong to here in a single generation.
And yet the whole enterprise is so curiously soulless; we're buying new car models and new tracks, but it's all the same old same old, utterly uncreative games that huge teams of developers are laboring over time and time again to eke out a tiny incremental improvement in glitz. I have no doubt people make careers out of nothing more than specializing in building better road textures.
Trust Simon Read (creator also of New Star Soccer) to turn the paradigm on its head.
New Star Grand Prix is a 2-D overhead racing game, something like an updated Micro Machines (which, by the way, you can play in a Java NES emulator here). You sure do not play this game for the graphics.
The game contains all the teams, drivers, and tracks of the 2009 Grand Prix season, and a wide variety of cars to drive. The focus is the campaign game mode, where you spend time practicing on a new track and then competing in a race. Planning pit stops (along, of course, with interface mastery) is the key to success, but in addition you need to spend time working on your relationship with your pit crew, your team mates, and so on -- as well as relaxing with friends at times, lest your in-race performance suffer. In other words, there's a life-sim aspect to the game as well, as there is in New Star Soccer.
Or, of course, you can just enter a quick race and play the race game without the campaign aspect.
In other words, New Star Grand Prix makes the driver, and the racing season, the focus of the game, not the cars in themselves.
Compete on the basis of actual design innovation rather than throwing millions into graphic polish? What a concept. Not likely to catch on, of course.