While your opponents in the single-player game are no idiots and will try to ram you off clifftops, take swipes at you and frequently screw themselves up at the most inconvenient moments in a hail of shattered metal, there’s no substitute for utterly ruthless, risk-taking humans doing everything in their power to stop you from winning.
You can learn every inch of the course and practice as hard as you like beforehand, but once a race against other players begins, there’s really no way of telling what’s going to happen. Some races descend into all-out demolition derbies as players gang up on weaker drivers only to turn against each other a few seconds later, while others are fairly clean (well, apart from the gallons of mud being sloshed around everywhere) as the majority of drivers decide to rely on their own magic behind the wheel rather than muscle. Ultimately it’s a combination of brains, brawn and sheer luck that sees you across the finish line first in one piece, and there’s no guarantee how the chips will fall.
This slightly random element is a true leveler, which is good news for those who’ve never ventured online for fear of being completely outclassed straight away or sneered at by veterans for being a so-called “newbie.” We’ve seen races - hell, we’ve even had it happen to us - where the leader goes through most of a course trouble-free only to become complacent, come into misfortune on the last corner and end up at the back of the pack. It’s such a fine, frustrating line between glory and the humiliation of spirit-crushing failure that listening to the obscene banter and players verbally abusing themselves over voice chat is just as entertaining as watching a race. We highly recommend you invest in a headset - you won’t regret it.