I'm not necessarily a gear-head automobile fanatic, but when not working on a strategy guide I'm usually playing a racing game. I like racing against the clock as much as I like racing head-to-head, and I can get into a game that strives for simultion-quality presentation and controls as well as one that favors the outlandish. As long as it's fun, I don't care what it is. Cars, boats, hovercraft, tricycles, anything.
What I do mind, however, is developers who mistake unfair rules for increased difficulty. I've played several games lately where the hardest difficulty setting doesn't actually include increased driver intelligence, but rather ridiculously constraining sets of rules that only apply to the player. For example, in one recently-released game players can drift around the course to earn turbo boost. The final events in the game, however, forbid the use of turbo -- for the player. All of the other a.i.-controlled cars can use it though. There's nothing like tearing down the finishing stretch at top speed and watch helplessly as three cars boost right past you.
In another racing game that features lots of weaponry and destruction, the final event pits the player against an army of competitors in a two-lap race around a lengthy street course. The player not only is unable to use the handy "rewind" feature they've grown accustomed to, but the player is only given 1 life. Wreck the car and it's game over. Unfortunately, the competition has more lives than a cat and no matter how many times you destroy their rides, they respawn and keep coming at you. They just gradually whittle your armor down until stray spittle from a passersby's sneeze causes your car to explode into a million pieces.
This is just lazy game design.
Yes, these rules constraints are still winnable and they do indeed make it harder, but is the goal to challenge the player or frustrate him? Rules such as these place as much emphasis on getting lucky as they do being good. That's understandable at the early levels of a game when the player can't be expected to be that good yet, but at the end? The end of the game should be one about displaying your mastery against the developers' best and most sophisticated artificial-intelligence. And it should be hard and require perfection on the part of the player. That's what makes the eventual success such a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, when the developers opt for cheapness instead of excellence, that sense of triumph doesn't ever come. Instead, one of relief rules the day and rather than playing again and trying to win with a faster time or higher score or just with more style, the eject button is hit before the player can finish sighing and the game gets placed on the shelf alongside the other dust collectors.
Sure, the developers already have our $50 at this point in the process and likely don't care how long we play the game. But they will when we don't buy the sequel. They will indeed care.