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Drive It Like You Stole It (In Video Games, At Least)

A car used to be just a car, at least in video games.

In the earliest days of coin-ops, game creators focused more on making the game fully functional and less on the appearance of your ride. Driving games were less about specific brands and more about making sure the player either stayed on the road, or crashed impressively when they didn’t.

Ah, the Good Old Days

Atari’s Pole Position, for instance, put extra touches into the sounds of engines revving, but didn’t include any particular model of race car – it had four wheels, it went fast, and was noisy, so good enough.

Sega’s Outrun allowed players to customize the music and the type of track, but you were always stuck with a red convertible. Perhaps, as Sega told us, it was a generic but flashy-looking ride known as a TX-1 Formula 1 Racer. Or, as Ferrari maintained in court, it looked too close to a Testarossa to be a coincidence, noted

The game was fun, sure, especially the sit-down version. But with only a “high” and “low” shift, you never quite got the sense you were actually test-driving an actual, um, “TX-1.”

Virtual Reality

But let’s take a warp zone to present day, when game developers have the technology – and car companies have the money – to include actual auto brands in their games. This makes the game more realistic for players, and builds loyalty for future car shoppers.

Electronic Arts, for instance, went to great lengths to include cars in its latest version of SimCity game. And not just any car, the Nissan Leaf. Even better, the game doesn’t just let your Sim take the Leaf for a spin around town, but you can take it to electrical charging stations.

image of new Nissan Leaf by Peoria Nissan

If you build at least five stations in your city, a wave of environmentally secure happiness will be created for everyone to enjoy. This collaboration also lets players grow their happiness and monitor electricity usage from the chargers.

Test the Best, Sort Of

Here are two other classic opportunities in video games where you can test an actual brand:

Gran Turismo: This series of games for the PlayStation allow you to try out high-performance cars, from Dodge Challengers to BMWs, in a racing track situation. It’s up to version 6 as of 2013, and with each version there are improvements to game play and environment. For instance, GT5 introduces weather so you can see how your car performs in rain or snow, and also has 3D points of view. Players can customize their cars, including color and accessories. Even the rims.

Live For Speed: This game doesn’t even call itself a game – it’s a multiplayer driving simulator that allows players to try different cars and tracks. Players compete in the LFS world. The free level lets you try one track and a GTI, a GT or a Formula BMW, and upgrading your account to higher levels gives access to more of each, including stock cars and even a Mini. You get six cars at Level 1 and 11 at Level 2.


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