Regardless of platform, whether it be on one of the consoles or PC, racing games have always proven incredibly popular. Developers have been churning them out for decades now (the first true racing game – Gran Trak 10 – was released all the way back in 1974), and gamers have been more than happy to lap them up!
There are a select few titles, however, which in our opinion stand head and shoulders above the rest of the racing games out there. And so, without further ado, here are the best racing games ever created.
When it comes to racing games, for many people Gran Turismo is the unquestioned daddy. This will be particularly true for PlayStation die-hards, with Gran Turismo having become one of the console’s longest-running and most celebrated franchises.
There have been six main releases so far (two per PlayStation), with Gran Turismo Sport – the series’ PS4 debut – expected later in 2017. Every entry has pushed the hardware of its generation to the very limit, with graphics that – at the time – appeared stunningly photo-realistic to players. This level of realism has also always been carried over into the gameplay, with GT’s driving intended to feel as close to life as it possibly can.
If we had to pick out one particular entry, we’d opt for Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. It’s the highest-selling version, it enjoyed universally excellent reviews, and there was a buzz of genuine excitement when it was released; it was one of those games that everyone simply had to have. Arguably more than any entry before or since, it ushered in a new era of gaming technology, wowing everybody with what it managed to squeeze out of the PlayStation 2 at an early stage of the console’s cycle.
Gran Turismo has proved phenomenally popular with PlayStation owners around the world, having shifted well over 55 million copies from its major releases alone (they’ve also released a number of mini-editions, the most notable of which was Gran Turismo 5 Prologue). With sales figures like that, and a fantastic reputation, we can hopefully look forward to Gran Turismo games for years to come.
Bring on Gran Turismo Sport!
There’s only one racing game that can genuinely compete with Gran Turismo for the realistic driving game crown. That, of course, is Forza.
Forza versus Gran Turismo has been one of the great gaming rivalries of recent times. This is partly due to their similar gameplay approaches, but another massive part of it, of course, is the role they play in the so-called “console wars”. Forza hasn’t been around nearly as long as Gran Turismo (its first release came in 2005), but it’s been the unquestioned flagbearer for X-Box racing games in that time, and has definitely challenged (some would say surpassed) the old king.
The first few entries in the Forza series were fairly standard, serious racing games, albeit ones which were phenomenally well-realized. Starting in 2012, however, they began developing a sister-series: Forza Horizon.
The Horizon games have given the series a massive injection of fun, and have taken the Forza brand to new heights. Rather than being restricted to racing round and round tracks, gamers were given an open world to explore, zooming around a hefty chunk of Colorado with the ‘Horizon Festival’ being the centre-point.
Needless to say, the risks that Microsoft Studios have taken with the Forza brand have more than paid off, and have helped to separate them from the more buttoned-up approach that Sony Interactive Entertainment adopted with GT. Forza Motorsport 7 is scheduled for release in October 2017, and should be another worthy entry into this consistently excellent series.
If Gran Turismo and Forza are the flagbearers for Sony and Microsoft, each representing the characteristics of their respective publishers, then there’s no doubting Mario Kart does exactly the same for Nintendo. The Mario Kart games really are Nintendo through and through, with simple fun always being at the front and centre of their approach, over and above any cares for realism.
Mario Kart is the oldest of the series we’ve looked at so far, with the first release coming all the way back in 1992. They certainly haven’t over-exploited the series’ popularity, however, having only brought out nine games in total (if we include Mario Kart 8 Deluxe).
In terms of its popularity, and its general cultural status, Mario Kart is probably a bigger brand than either GT or Forza. From the mushrooms, to the banana peels, to the green and red shells, Mario Kart’s irresistible, innovative and charming features have been burnt on to our collective consciousness.
Again, this is far from being a realistic racing game. If pure entertainment is the priority, however, then Mario Kart – with its ludicrous power-ups, unashamed rubber-banding and joyous multiplayer – has an argument for being the best racing game ever created.
If there’s one game that can challenge Mario Kart for the title of “most fun racing game”, it’s Burnout Paradise.
The Burnout series had already been popular for years. Its frantic, ridiculously fast-paced action, and decision to essentially reward players for crashing instead of punishing them, definitely scratched an itch for console gamers who wanted a fun, arcade-y racing game, but couldn’t play Mario Kart. Burnout Paradise was the fifth entry into the series, coming seven years after the original Burnout, but undoubtedly took the franchise to a whole new level.
This was primarily thanks to Criterion Games’ decision to move the action into an open-world setting; in this case, Paradise City. Suddenly, racing became just another thing you did, when you weren’t simply cruising around, or setting new records on a stretch of road as part of the ‘Burning Route’ feature. When you did race, there were no more prescribed routes you had to take; it was up to you to find the quickest way from point A to point B. Paradise City was simply a great place to be, whether you were racing or not.
It’s a tragedy, in gaming terms, that the Burnout franchise seems to be at risk of extinction. The last entry came out back in 2011, and there are currently no plans for a new one. Come on, Criterion; Burnout is too brilliant to go to waste!
Here we have another storied and long-running franchise. Back in the early days of the PlayStation, the Colin McRae Rally games were worthy challengers to Gran Turismo, in terms of both popularity and gameplay execution. Following McRae’s tragic death in 2007, the series began to move in a more populist direction, dropping the focus on serious, WRC-centric rallying and instead putting a greater emphasis on simply having fun. The ‘Dirt’ name was adopted, and the series has since gone to new heights.
Dirt 4 might be the most recent entry in the series, but for our money Dirt Rally was the true pinnacle. It was absolutely packed with features, in terms of cars, tracks (all of which were excellent) and modes. They also absolutely nailed the most important thing of all: the driving mechanics. There aren’t many feelings more satisfying in any racing game than the one you get in Dirt Rally, when you execute a perfect, full-speed power-slide around a long corner.
For our money, few racing games have ever found the balance between realism and sheer entertainment that Codemasters have managed with Dirt Rally. The series may have moved away from its simulation roots, but these are still games of which the sorely-missed Colin McRae would surely be proud.
So, there you have it: for our money, the best racing games ever created. Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands of racing games out there, so if we missed out your favourite then please don’t hesitate to let us know!