After much careful deliberation and a pinch of shouting, here's TG's definitive list of all-time great videogames
This 1991 top down racing game has a career mode that, we’d venture, hasn’t been surpassed in racing games since. In addition to racking up your championship points, against such legendary drivers as ‘Ayrton Sendup’ and ‘Crashard Banger’, you also have to busy yourself badgering your sponsor for more funding, avoiding the attention of environmental activists and rolling the solicitors of wealthy relatives for extra dough. It’s like Derek Trotter, the motor racing years.
What’s more in the very lightly sanctioned world of Super Cars II, if your driving skills aren’t quite up to scratch, simply bolt some homing missiles onto the front of your thinly veiled Alfa Romeo SZ and point them at the car in front’s exhaust pipe. No matter how much ordnance you pack, you will still have to contend with the precision jumps, blind tunnels and unstoppable freight trains that pepper the various circuits, though. Perhaps Formula One could learn a thing or two?
Before Sega Rally came along, this was as realistic as arcade rally games got. World Rally opted for a top-down view but benefited massively from a main sprite that was digitised directly from photos of a Toyota Celica GT-Four. Or at least photos of a scale model of a Toyota Celica GT-Four, it’s difficult to tell at this resolution.
World Rally also had some fantastically throaty digitised audio samples for the engine and when you dropped your pound coin into the machine you were treated to exactly the same start-up sound that Carlos Sainz Snr would have heard at the start of a day at the office. When everything else in the bowling alley was pumping out bleeps and bloops, this was a pretty big deal.
The cabinet only had a single pedal, the accelerator, but frankly that’s all that was required to initiate the biggest slides this side of a Floridian water park. Your little toybox Celica whistled around increasingly rapid-fire sequences of chicanes, hairpins and, the rally car’s natural enemy: big piles of logs.
Ask any ‘80s child what they wanted to be when they grew up and chances are they’d say ‘racing driver’ followed by ‘spy’. This top-down arcade classic combined the world’s two most glamourous vocations into one, becoming an instant classic in the process. The aim was simple: weave through oblivious commuters and take out the bad guys using oil slicks, smoke screens and good old bullets, all to a pared-down, looping soundtrack of the Blues Brothers’ Peter Gunn theme tune. Great stuff.
Earning legendary status among both arcade racing fans and apostrophe placement pedants (though for very different reasons), the Cruis’n series made a triumphant return in 2017 with Cruis’n Blast. Taking 90s arcade racing sensibilities, applying modern graphical technology and slathering the whole lot in more neon lights than a Las Vegas casino, Blast is a barely restrained thrill ride the likes of which we haven’t seen for decades. Also there are dinosaurs, because of course there are.
Debuting initially in amusement arcades in 2017, it’s more recently been ported to the Nintendo Switch meaning you no longer need to pump pound coins into the game to keep playing and can rub doorhandles with three of your mates in split screen. No violation of trade descriptions here, it’s literally a blast.
‘So the car’s sort of like a hot-rod, but the tracks are all like roller coasters, and when you fire the turbo it looks like you’re pushing a barbecue down a hill.’ Now, we weren’t there, but that’s pretty much how we imagine racing game legend Geoff ‘Grand Prix’ Crammond pitched this far-out effort to publishers Microprose. Luckily, sly old Geoff made the whole thing 3D and so not only was Stunt Car Racer a great game but, this being the late ‘80s, he somehow managed to escape being burnt as a witch.
Sometime in the late ‘90s, being the bad guy suddenly became gaming’s bag in a massive way. Alongside Grand Theft Auto, this was one of the games that made it happen, pitching you as a fearless getaway driver pulled right from a ‘70s heist movie.
For some, though, the storyline-driven missions were just a sideshow, with the real draw being the opportunity to – for the first time – tear through faithful-ish 3D renderings of New York, LA, San Francisco and Miami. Wallowy suspension, errant hubcaps and alley-ways that were liberally cluttered with destructible boxes made this the definitive Hollywood car chase simulator.
Yep, we’re being totally serious here. Never mind the fact the engine sounds like digital flatulence, never mind the boozy handling, never mind the fact that they probably only called it Night Driver because black was the only colour they could make the background – if it wasn’t for games like this leading the way, we’d never have had Forza or Gran Turismo. We’ll conveniently overlook the fact that the car wasn’t even part of the on-screen display, but rather a plastic overlay fitted to the inside of the cabinet – after all, Night Driver is older than Star Wars.
The fact that this was released in the same year as the all-conquering Super Mario Kart could go some way to explaining why this racer slipped by relatively unnoticed. The vehicle variety was one of the game’s strongest points, with hovercraft, tanks and monster trucks all handling noticeably differently. The weapons were similarly satisfying, with rockets, oil slicks and mines at your disposal to turn foes into smouldering piles of debris. It also packed in a killer soundtrack, as the name suggests.
Ah, how times have changed. While modern releases have us pilfering cars from old ladies and launching them off bridges into helicopters full of kittens, back in the ‘80s games came complete with a sense of social responsibility. None more so than this arcade classic, which saw you assume the role of officer Tony Gibson, a noble cop in a Porsche 928 who loves nothing more than pursuing nefarious characters through 16-bit metropolitan landscapes and ramming into them until their vehicles burst into flames. Truly wholesome stuff.
That’s right – not even the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time was immune to the lure of a tasty endorsement deal, but at least Senna chose a strong game to attach himself to. While nobody can realistically expect a faithful F1 sim from a 16-bit cartridge, ASSMGP2 stuffed in plenty of realistic features that put it ahead of the pack, like slipstreaming and speed variations on hills. You could also, if you fancied, celebrate your victory by running over the chap with the chequered flag, who would be launched into the lower stratosphere still valiantly waving the thing. That’s commitment to your profession right there.
What the hell happened to all the British touring car games? This particular series grew up to become Race Driver: Grid, so we’ll let it off, but it’s a gap that really ought to have been filled by now. Most likely it’s down to the sport’s lack of international appeal, which is fair enough, although quite why gamers in France, for example, wouldn’t relish the unique opportunity to sling a Vauxhall Vectra around Thruxton or Donington Park, we really don’t know. That said, we’d probably never play a game based on racing hollowed-out baguettes around the Eiffel Tower, either.
From the moment Grand Theft Auto 3 introduced the world to the hitherto unexperienced joy of launching a family saloon off the top of a multi-storey car park, ‘open-world’ became the new primary objective of just about every game developer in the land. TDU made more of the free-roaming concept than most, dropping you on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu with loads and loads of expensive sports cars. The single-player game was fun enough, but it was the always-connected multiplayer mode (in which you could challenge any passing chump to a race) that made this a bona fide weekend waster.
If you vaguely remember a small-scale riot taking place at your local arcade sometime in 1989, chances are it was something to do with the release of this preposterously ambitious stunt sim. One of the first games ever to feature a polygon-based 3D environment, Hard Drivin’ also boasted a number of pioneering touches for the racer genre, including action replays, a clutch gearbox (yep, this was an arcade game that you could actually stall) airborne physics and off-road shortcuts.
It also featured a box-body truck performing a full loop-the-loop. A dramatic feat you would usually discover, to your fiery dismay, as you were already half way around said loop-the-loop. All this in a game released the year before the internet was invented.
The next time you’re shooting a horror movie and you need a character to weep realistic tears of blood, just sit them down for a half-hour session with this dazzlingly fast-paced racer. Unquestionably the best-looking of the PlayStation’s launch titles, this retina-troubling treat shunned wheels altogether, plonking you instead in the driver’s seat of anti-gravity hovercraft thingy in the year 2052. We can only hope the game represents an accurate projection of the future of motorsport – floating F1 cars that fire rockets would be sweet.
Not a TV talent show for aspiring pirates (Arr Factor? Like The X Factor? Never mind), but in fact one of the most painstakingly crafted (and tragically overlooked) racing simulations of all time. A PC-only release didn’t do much for the game’s image, but the fact that the developers had previously produced both official F1 games and simulators for the military meant that its technical detail was unprecedented, lending an instinctive feel to car physics and handling. Despite the transferrable skills, though, good luck trying to pass off an eight-hour session as ‘productive’.
The stroke of genius, though, was creating the game as a platform for fans to introduce their own cars and circuits. Cue a zillion gloriously unofficial recreations of every racing series from contemporary Formula One to 1980s rallycross. It was (and remains) a simulation all-you-can-eat buffet where the plate’s your PC hard drive.
While it could never hope to dethrone Mario Kart 64 in the multiplayer stakes, DKR’s brilliantly innovative single-player adventure mode was a friendless gamer’s dream come true. There were hovercraft and planes to master as well as karts, and boss battles to break up the rounds of rocket-flinging, powersliding chaos.
And if you were lucky enough to have three mates and enough of those bafflingly claw-shaped N64 controllers, the variety of vehicles made a refreshing multiplayer change from flinging friendship-ruining red shells at each other around Luigi Circuit.
Born in an age when racing games were becoming steadily more sophisticated, Destruction Derby offset a wave of sensible simulations with a welcome blast of vehicular anarchy straight out of Wimbledon dog track.
Sure, all the circuits were entirely flat and there were only two game modes to get stuck into (we don’t believe anyone actually bothered with the solo time trial, therefore refuse to acknowledge it) but from the moment we felt that first massive crunch of metal in the arena-based derby and watched black smoke billowing out of a hobbled rival, we were hooked. If only they’d put some caravans in it.
Spend too long thinking about how they ever managed to get a game this good-looking into a device the size of a KitKat and you’re liable to turn your head inside out, so our advice is to simply download, kick back and enjoy the best handheld racing game ever made. Built on the Gran Turismo/Forza model of buying cars and entering events (enabling you to buy even more cars), the latest version features a ton of real-world tracks including Silverstone and Brands Hatch, which are best navigated using accelerometer-based steering. Prepare for some odd looks when playing on public transport as you lean into Paddock Hill Bend and also directly into the neighbouring passenger’s personal space.
The next time you’re at the breakfast table and someone starts making ramps out of breadboards and pots of jam, don’t panic – chances are they just spent too much time in their formative years playing this ace top-down racer based on the supremely swallowable model cars.
As well as building on the original Micro Machines with the addition of hovercraft and helicopter races, this sequel also kicked things up a notch in the multiplayer department thanks to a custom Mega Drive game cartridge that featured two extra joypad ports built in, helping you more easily inflict your obnoxious post-race victory dance on three mates instead of just one.
While it never achieved the mainstream success of the Colin McRae series, Richard Burns Rally was beloved among rally purists for its authentic, challenging off-road handling. This is a game that gently encouraged you to graduate from its exacting in-game rally school before you ventured out onto the special stages to roll your Subaru Impreza into a ball.
There’s a dedicated fanbase still playing and adding to the game, but it’s the fundamental brilliance of the physics model that ensures that it remains well worth a look roughly two decades after release. What’s more with Richard Burns himself sadly no longer with us, the option to pit yourself against ghost car times set by the man himself feels strangely poignant these days.
While its predecessor was solid, Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 was quite simply – and we appreciate we’re sticking our necks out a tad here – the finest arcade racer ever committed to floppy disk. Lap-based racing was done away with in favour of seven point-to-point stages, each set in wildly different environments that noticeably altered the handling of the game’s Elans and Esprits. By far the highlight was the motorway course, which saw you pelting through pitch-black tunnels and under the trailers of flatbed trucks, prompting a brilliantly rubbish-sounding ‘yee-haw!’ sound effect. The only thing missing from the first game was the ever-present shot of two mechanics working on the car as you raced, which is about as accurate a representation of 90s Lotus ownership as we’ve ever seen.
With biking games soaring in popularity during the 16-bit era, a strong USP was essential for anyone hoping to get noticed. Road Rash’s was simple: violence. Instead of perfecting the art of knee-down cornering and off the line acceleration, the key to success was a perfectly timed thump to the face of your rival. As well as club-wielding bikers with threatening names like Biff, Hammer and, um, Lester, players also had to worry about dawdling hatchbacks, unyielding trees and foolhardy cops, who were also fair game for a mid-race wallop. Grizzled veterans of the first console wars will remember that it’s exactly the sort of thing that gave the Mega Drive its edgy reputation in the early 90s.
The first proper Formula 1 simulator worth bothering with. While its predecessor was one of the first racing games to pioneer 3D graphics, it was the addition of an official FIA licence and 16 faithfully modelled tracks that saw GP2 quickly amass a cult following. Physics wizard Geoff Crammond managed to coax convincing handling from PCs that are a fraction as powerful as a modern mobile phone and, thanks to brand new 3D texture mapping, cars were plastered with sponsorship just like the real thing.
Part of the fun was its groundbreaking damage system, which saw some unhinged players (not us, obviously) pelt round at full speed in the wrong direction in an attempt to make all four wheels fall off (they never did).
Making bus journeys through central London feel even duller than ever, PGR3’s street circuits remain some of the best – and best-looking – we’ve ever clattered our way through. As well as the English capital, Tokyo, New York and Las Vegas are also represented, and there’s the Nürburgring if you prefer crashing into tyre barriers rather than skyscrapers.
Theres no trundling around in a Honda Civic for hours before you get your hands on the good stuff either; the car catalogue is populated exclusively by vehicles that have top speeds over 155mph.
As with its predecessors, though, sheer velocity isn’t everything. The game’s sticking power is down to its system of ‘Kudos’ points, which rewards players for drifting, slip-streaming and basically being a massive show-off.
Ferrying impatient idiots from A to B is nobody’s idea of fun, which is why ‘Sensible Taxi’ never made it off the drawing board. Here, however, passenger satisfaction was a secondary goal, behind making gnarly jumps and seeking out nifty shortcuts. In addition to the classic arcade mode, the console version also featured a selection of bizarre mini-games, including one in which you and your cab became the ball in a giant game of bowling.
It’ll stick most in the memory, though, for the colourful graphics, bouncy punk soundtrack from The Offspring and Bad Religion and the fact that your fares happily splashed out on a cab on a 90 second journey to KFC and Pizza Hut. What are they made of, money?
Hey, wake yourself from the micro-nap induced by reading this game’s name. R3E as we’ll call it (in deference to your continued consciousness) is a monstrously underrated racing sim. Entirely free to download, you simply pick and choose what and where you want to race from an ever-expanding a la carte menu of purchasable cars and tracks.
The usual crop of GT3 racers are present and correct but there’s a bunch of fascinating stuff in there that you can’t drive anywhere else. Particular favourites include modern World Touring cars, lesser spotted Group 5 atom smashers and, in a brilliantly hipsterish move, the entire, officially licensed field of the 1992 DTM championship. Not to go all ‘artisanal coffee works’, but you haven’t lived until you’ve rubbed doorhandles with Keke Rosberg’s Merc 190E around a laser-scanned replica of the Nordschleife.
It’s difficult to explain the transformative effect that virtual reality has on a racing game, but we’re going to have a crack at it regardless. Rather than looking at a flat representation of a cockpit on your television, or even a three dimensional one on a 3D telly, virtual reality places your head inside that cockpit. It’s some sci-fi stuff, make no mistake, and the closest most of us will get to booting a Pagani Huayra off the line.
As your introduction to the world of strapping a screen an inch or so from your corneas, DriveClub VR is perfect. It has 80 meticulously detailed cars, drift-happy handling and whisks you off to such exotic locations as India, Norway and, erm, Scotland. Back to the Future 2’s utopian vision of the future might have lied to us about the hoverboards and flying cars, but DriveClub VR might well be the next best thing.
While it may have been a little light on variety (players were limited to the titular car only) this early Dreamcast title, converted from the popular arcade machine, delivered an impressive level of realism for consoles. Eager to do the car justice, designer Yu Suzuki (of Out Run fame) imported performance data from his own F355, meaning anyone incapable of keeping the rear end in check in the game probably shouldn’t rush out to spend £80,000 on a real one.
It was also the first game of the 3D era to include Fiorano – Ferrari’s Maranello test track – and boasted driver aids that would allow rank beginners to compete alongside experienced racing game fans in the linked up multiplayer mode. Or as we like to call them ‘excuses for when you’re beaten by a total novice’.
Less of a game, more a subscription-based driver training tool, iRacing boasts some of the most complex physics calculations outside of NASA HQ. If you’re quick in iRacing, chances are if you stepped into a real racing car you’d be up to speed almost immediately. Which is phenomenally depressing if you aren’t quick in iRacing.
While the subscription model makes it more expensive than everything else on this list short of an arcade cabinet, iRacing is still far cheaper than buying and maintaining a racing car and you’re guaranteed decent competition thanks to a harsh-but-fair penalty system and a host of professional racing drivers who rely on it to keep themselves sharp.
Plus, nothing goes in the sim unless it’s modelled to the millimetre, so although the car selection would fit on the back of a beermat and there’s a distinct bias towards American oval racing, the level of quality is consistent across the whole lot. If you can’t stomach the total financial ruin that’s a common by-product of a real motorsport career, this is probably the next best thing.
Formula One is at the level of popularity these days that Codemasters could habitually fart out a reskinned version of last year’s game and happily hoover up what’s left in Drive To Survive fans’ bank accounts once the Netflix subscription comes out. Instead, the F1 games get incrementally better every year, turning even the most dry elements of the sport into engaging gameplay.
Arguably the series’ biggest triumph, though, is offering up an involving, progressive handling model that plays into the real-life importance of being on the correct tyre compound at the correct time. Being a colossal nerd has never felt quite this exhilarating. Well, not since they started releasing Star Wars movies again.
Pitched somewhere between the punishing realism of Gran Turismo and the arcadey kicks of Need For Speed, the Grid games could so easily have turned out as an ill-fitting mish-mash of wonky physics and frustrating controls. Instead, the original was one of the most well-balanced and visually spectacular racers for years, with its nifty Flashback feature (which let you rewind time to the moment just before you churlishly charged into that hairpin at 120mph) quickly adopted as a genre standard.
Guaranteed you have never seen a car chase like the ones in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. We’re not sure where Seacrest County Police Department gets its funding, but turning one of the 5 Pagani Zonda Cinques in the world into a police car, complete with siren and light bar, suggests it’s some sort of justice-crazed billionaire. Has anyone checked in on Bruce Wayne recently?
Built by the people behind Burnout, Hot Pursuit has to be one of the only street racing themed games where playing as the cops is even more satisfying than the crims. Calling in choppers to deploy spike strips down the road and immobilising perps with EMP blasts are just some of the entirely proportionate responses to traffic violations available to officers on Seacrest County’s sweeping highways.
Follow-up Most Wanted was a more urban, cat and mouse affair, and lacked the sheer synapse-fizzing velocity and Hollywood drama of this game, leaving Hot Pursuit fossilised in amber as the absolute peak of the Need for Speed series.
With the Project CARS series quietly imploding after a more arcade-tuned third game disappointed its fan base, Automobilista 2 has recently taken up the mantle using much of the same underlying technology. Built by a tiny team in Brazil who couldn’t be punching more above their weight than if they had just knocked out Mike Tyson, the game makes the Project CARS graphical engine sing, with immersive time-of-day and weather effects and tactile cars that are just begging to be hustled.
The game’s content is plumbed from decades of motorsport history, allowing you to dip into bygone eras of Formula One, vintage tin-tops or contemporary GT racing. What’s more, with its roots in Brazilian motorsport, in addition to the usual suspects there are a bunch of cars and circuits from the studio’s home nation that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Like, for example, a mid-engined V8-powered Toyota Corolla. That’d certainly liven up the school run.
Still the best current rally sim, Dirt Rally 2.0 now combines all the new routes from this sequel and the brilliant stages from the original Dirt Rally, into the most complete rally game ever made. The spirit of the old McRae games is still evident, but this is very much a simulator, demanding absolute focus as you hare through the stages mere millimetres from becoming neatly bisected by a fir tree.
It might be lacking the more modern WRC vehicles that are the preserve of the official titles, but we’ve always maintained that entering a high-speed argument with an ornery Group B Metro 6R4 is far more fun anyway. The most fun you can have with your bobblehat on.
Before this came along, gamers had two options when navigating corners: you could either clatter off the barriers and earn yourself a smoking engine, or gingerly tap the brake and swear while everyone else overtook you. And while we’re not saying Ridge Racer invented drifting, this was certainly the first time it worked – and felt – as good as it should. It’s also a product of an era where arcade racers whisked us past sandy beaches, gleaming metropolises and unnecessarily massive suspension bridges.
It’s a game that’s since been superseded in every way imaginable, of course, but we still remember playing it and, during a single tyre-thrashing drift, having enough time to think that things couldn’t possibly get any better.
It might have been the Forza game that prompted a soul-searching reboot of the Motorsport strand of the franchise, but to dismiss Forza Motorsport 7 entirely would be to do it a disservice. The game somehow offers up both quantity and quality, with around 700 expertly curated cars modelled in painstaking detail. Dynamic weather conditions, which is a fancy way of saying sudden rain showers, were introduced in this edition and only add to the undeniable spectacle of a Forza race.
Splashed across a 4K telly and serving up a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, FM7 is truly a visual feast and it’s only a few lingering quirks in its handling model, particularly if you’re playing on a proper sim setup, that keep it from entering the upper echelons of this list. If it drove as good as it looked, it’d be even higher.
Feeling like a spiritual successor to landmark sim GTR2, Assetto Corsa Competizione took all the hard-won lessons from the first Assetto Corsa game and applied them with a laser-focus to the real-life GT World Challenge championship. And laser is right, because one of the key features was that every single track in the game was modelled with kit liberated from a science lab, for accuracy down to the square inch.
Even if you have no interest in real-life GT3 racing, it’s undeniably thrilling to dice in a field full of aggressively aeroed Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Astons in near photo-realistic detail. And while you’d have had to take out a second mortgage to fund the PC hardware required to run this visually stunning game at launch, it’s since arrived on consoles as well.
In spite of publisher Atari’s claims of “unbelievable driving realism”, as F1 simulations go, playing this arcade classic is about as realistic as violently jerking your head from side to side in front of a hair dryer. Even so, Pole Position remains a true pioneer – it was the first racing game to include a qualifying session and the first to feature a real world circuit in Japan’s Fuji Raceway.
Its smooth, fast pseudo 3D graphics propelled it to the title of highest-grossing arcade game in 1983 and it even spawned a Saturday morning cartoon that bore literally zero resemblance to the game beyond its title. But don’t get us wrong, there was some F1 authenticity – just check out the trackside ads for fags and fizzy drinks brands. Enjoy, kids!
After the more multiplayer focused GT Sport, the impending arrival of Gran Turismo 7 and its single player GT Mode was anticipated like the racing game equivalent of the Second Coming. On arrival, the game was hobbled with a hugely prescriptive series of campaign challenges and an economy that made ever owning a 1970 Porsche 917K racing car almost as unrealistic as it is in real life.
The reason GT7 is on this list, as opposed to the one we hand our therapist every week, is that in spite of all this it remains a Gran Turismo game: enormously engaging to drive, lavishly detailed and charmingly idiosyncratic. What’s more, recent fixes to the economy and a new option to sell your cars, which should almost certainly have been there in the first place, have made getting hold of that Porsche now just ‘highly unlikely’, rather than ‘nigh on impossible’. That’s progress, right?
Despite its developer being a relatively new kid on the block when the game released in 2014, Italian-built simulator Assetto Corsa somehow snagged the coveted licenses to include Ferrari, Lamborghini and, later, Porsche.
AC is still far smaller in scope than behemoths like Forza and Gran Turismo but its physics engine, which dishes out driveable oversteer with a carbon-fibre ladle, means that every lap is a gloriously physical, characterful hustle. You know a game has gotten things right when you don’t even make it to the race itself because you spent hours hot-lapping in practice only to discover it’s 3am on a Tuesday morning. And you started on Sunday night.
Top Gear already established many years ago that the best way to improve upon the beautiful game was to swap out the overpaid, primadonna players with humble, unpretentious cars. It is literally impossible for a car to dive on the ground and roll around clutching its thigh because cars don’t have thighs. Rocket League simply takes that formula to its logical conclusion by adding a dash of kerosene to the cocktail.
Rocket League is a fiendishly addictive online arcade game in which chunky, rocket-powered buggies compete to punt a huge football into the opposing team’s goal. Simple in theory but there’s a whole world of deft flicks, well-timed volleys and flagrant goal hanging to master. What? A goal’s a goal.
As anyone who played Michael Owen’s World League Soccer on the N64 will tell you, mixing sports stars with video games rarely yields fantastic results. The one great exception is the Colin McRae series, which transplanted the gravel-spraying joy of rallying into your living room. It was here that a generation of 90s kids awakened their latent love of excessive oversteer.
The eight international courses set a good difficulty curve, the cars started shiny and became caked in Welsh mud, and, thanks to the technical advice of the late Scot, the handling was spot-on, meaning that when you launched your Subaru Impreza off a dirty hill at 120mph it felt every bit as good as it should. That is very, very good.
Nowadays with Assetto Corsa Competizione and its regular seasonal updates, we’re used to a GT racing championship getting the same all-encompassing treatment as F1 gets in its own games. But it also happened for two glorious, fleeting years in the mid 2000s with the GTR games. GTR 2 in particular was a revelation, fettling a handling model that showed enormous potential in the first game into the most authentic and demanding racing experience around. There’s a reason why there’s still a rabid fan base holed up playing this game today.
What’s more, the game’s garage was populated by cars from the full-fat era of GT racing, where Ferrari 550 Maranellos diced with Maserati MC12s in the GT1 class and where a cross-eyed Morgan Aero 8 GTN was still an acceptable steed for an assault on the Spa 24 hours.
The Spa 24, incidentally, is where all the game’s numerous systems come together in concert, multi-class racing plus dynamic time-of-day and weather make the enduro a real occasion, even if you compress the whole thing into just 24 minutes. Technically uncompromising PC sim racing at its very best.
The game that set a new standard in multiplayer arcade racing and the only reason anyone went to a suburban bowling alley in the 1990s. Both the cars and tracks were works of fiction – there definitely isn’t a real racetrack that boasts a giant Sonic the Hedgehog carved into a cliff face as one of its features – but brutal force-feedback steering, challenging drifting mechanics and benchmark-smashing graphics meant absolutely none of this mattered.
Sitting inches from a vision-filling Daytona USA arcade screen was nothing short of spectacular and knocked every other racing game at the time into a cocked crash helmet, particularly if you managed to find eight people for a full multiplayer race. Best of all, though, coming first on the hardest of the three circuits meant you automatically became a fully qualified NASCAR driver. It’s true (it’s not, obviously).
The Grand Theft Auto series gets a lot of stick for setting bad examples to motorists, but we’ve never had to navigate a placard-wielding mob to buy a Burnout game. Which is weird, really, given that the series’ attitude towards wanton destruction and general recklessness makes GTA look like Farmville.
The third game in the breakneck Burnout series was every bit the supersonically fast arcade racer the first two where. The difference came in the Takedowns of the title, with Burnout 3 the first to put aggression at the core of the gameplay. Full contact racing became a necessity for victory, with the game awarding racers vital extra nitro juice for ramming other racers off the road in cold-blooded vehicular homicide.
While we adore the vibrancy of Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico, the fact that Horizon 4 was set in our beloved Blighty means it remains our favourite of the series. The newly introduced seasonal changes were truly profound in Horizon 4, from bone-dry asphalt in summer to knee-deep snow in winter, and it captured the character of Britain perfectly, right down to the variable speed limit signs. Now that we see that written down, it doesn’t sound like a positive thing.
Horizon 4 might be our favourite because of its rose-tinted recreation of our fair isle, but the truth is, you could probably place either of the two most recent Forza Horizon games in this slot. They’re both crammed with activities, stuffed with desirable metal and the perfect spot to muck about with other petrolheads online. Very few games capture the spirit of the road trip quite like Horizon and unlike your last real world road trip, you’ll be doing this one in a McLaren Senna.
No real-time tyre degradation or dynamic weather systems here; just you, a generic red convertible (that definitely isn’t a chop-top Ferrari Testarossa, promise) with a sexy 16-bit blonde in the passenger seat and a near infinity of American freeway. All accompanied by some of the most infectious videogame music ever committed to silicon.
A fiendishly difficult game, despite the lack of proper corners, meaning anyone determined to complete it could expect to shell out a good £20 in shiny pound coins for the privilege. Although as far as we’re concerned, for a spot on the high scores board and 15 minutes with the best arcade racer of the ‘80s, that’s fine value.
There are racing games with pitch-perfect, individually recorded engine sounds, ones with brilliantly realistic renderings of the world’s best racetracks and ones with physics so life-like they’d get professor Stephen Hawking hot under the collar. Then there are racers that are just plain fun – a sub-section of gaming that Super Mario Kart has reigned over for nearly 25 years.
Aped endlessly since its release, rarely has an SMK pretender come close to recreating the gleeful anarchy of turning a race on its head with a well-timed power-up. Even Nintendo’s own generational follow-ups have failed to quite nail it; lobbing red shells at your mates will always be fun, but it’s something that’s always looked and felt best in the chunky sprites and limited palette of the 16-bit era. Dig the SNES out of your attic and you’ll see it’s just as gloriously entertaining today.
Having cut their teeth on Daytona USA, arcade-goers spent the mid-90s warming the bucket seats of this seminal slide-‘em-up. Both the Toyota Celica and the Lancia Delta handled with a balanced perfection that even Sega itself failed to improve upon and the masterfully balanced time limit for each stage made a flawless run a thing of precise power-sliding beauty.
Remember wrestling with the wheel as you chucked it round the hairpins? Remember the satisfying clunk of the plastic gear stick? Remember the whole of Megabowl crowding round as the timer ticked down on the secret final Lakeside stage? Because we do. Although we may have dreamt the last one.
The moment you got your hands on the first incarnation of Sony’s now-legendary series, you suddenly realised that everything that came before it was complete nonsense. While racing games had been about for years, Gran Turismo single-handedly launched the console racing simulation, a whole new genre that meant you had to actually occasionally use the brake and in which keeping the more powerful supercars out of the barriers was damn near impossible. Sure, it’s been built on and buffed up to crazily high standards with the latest sixth installment, but this remains the groundbreaker – the moment racing games grew up.
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These are the 50 best driving games of all time – Top Gear
After much careful deliberation and a pinch of shouting, here's TG's definitive list of all-time great videogames