The quest for realism in driving games got a boost in Sega’s 1981 simulator, Turbo.
Shifting the action into a new perspective, Turbo put players closer to a first-person view, complete with a horizon and vanishing points. The view was actually seen from a fixed chase cam above and behind your car, but the experience was as close as 1981 technology got to the real thing.
Unlike most racing games, Turbo wasn’t about reaching checkpoints or finishing laps – it was about being the fastest car on the street. If you wanted to continue playing once time ran out, your car had to pass at least 30 of its competitors.
Naturally, this got tougher as the levels went on, forcing you to pass at night, in the snow, around bends and on narrower roads.
And to cap it off, some foolhardy ambulance driver decided that the quickest path to the hospital was along your race course, forcing you to dodge as the siren-blasting vehicle passed from behind.
Along with its pseudo-3-D graphics, Turbo chased realism with its controls and display. The steering wheel and two-speed (low/high) shifter gave a genuine feel, and Turbo sweetened the pot with non-functional but attractive oil and temperature gauges and a working tachometer on the sit-down cabinet.
The result was a behind-the-wheel experience that was unlike any other game of its time.
Turbo was an unqualified hit, but its place at the head of the driving game pack was soon taken by the even more popular Pole Position in 1982.
Sega reclaimed the driving crown in 1986 with Turbo Out Run, and later simulators like Virtua Racing and Daytona USA took the genre to new heights of realism, but for many, the future of realistic driving games began with this often-forgotten racer.