The seemingly unstoppable expansion of eSports has brought the worlds of real life sport and console gaming closer than ever. Basketball has the NBA2K league, soccer has FIFA and the motor racing has recently launched the New Balance eSports series. Even in sports that have yet to really embrace competitive gaming, there are some great console experiences out there, with cricket, American football and even UFC being well served.
Yet one of the most popular sports of them all, and one that would seem to be ideally suited to the virtual experience seems to be lagging behind. Thousands of horse racing fans in Australia and further afield are taking full advantage of the digital age to stream races and bet on the outcome. But what about those who want to ride a Derby winner from the comfort of their homes?
First released in 2003 for the Playstation, G1 Jockey is probably the best-known racing game. It went through four iterations, the last of which came out in 2007, so it is certainly not cutting edge by today’s standards. The most compelling aspect to the game is the career mode, in which you can really get into the life of a jockey. But for all that, the game mechanics are not spectacular, and today, this is a game that shows its age.
If you like sport management games, then Starters Orders could be right up your street. If you prefer arcade action, on the other hand, keep on walking. Available on PC only, this is one for the purists. The latest version, Starters Orders 7 was released in 2017 to generally positive reviews. The level of detail is incredible, with historical data, full lineage of hundreds of horses and the possibility to breed your own winners.
Melbourne Cup Challenge
This Australia-focused racing game hit the shelves in 2006, and is available for PlayStation, Xbox or PC. The local focus makes this one something of a curiosity – although in Europe, it was sold under the name Frankie Dettori Racing. This lacks the polish of a big-budget studio, but the game physics are pleasing and the game itself is surprisingly addictive. The animation was developed by Weta Digital, the company behind some of the remarkable effects in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Released in 2011, Champion Jockey attempted to bring the relative success of G1 Jockey to the Xbox 360. The game certainly achieves that, and both the sim aspects and the racing itself are fine as far as they go. Nevertheless, this feels like what it is – a 15 years old game that has been given a makeover.
Still awaiting the ultimate game
Each of the above games has its plus points, but if you are looking for the horse racing equivalent of FIFA 19, it simply doesn’t exist. The frustrating thing is it would be so easy to develop. Last year, UK broadcaster ITV ran the virtual Grand National. This is the sort of game we are waiting for, and it could be replicated for racecourses across the globe. Let’s hope an enterprising developer will sit up and take notice.