Driving games have been at the forefront of the video games industry since gaming consoles were invented – in 1974 Atari designed what is often regarded as the first ever driving video game: an arcade cabinet featuring a steering wheel and pedals, in which the player raced against the clock on a simple dot pattern resembling a racetrack.
The industry has come leaps and bounds since then, and simple racing games have evolved into games with fleshed-out storylines and characters, customisable content, and multiplayer and online options. In no particular order, we have rounded up some of the best driving games of all time.
Need for Speed Underground 2
Electronic Arts. Published on PC, GameCube, PS2, Xbox
Arguably one of the most-loved racing franchises of all time, Need For Speed Underground 2 took the gaming industry by storm upon its release in 2004. Carrying the story on from its predecessor, the game sees the player rise through the ranks of the Bayview street racing leagues, working their way towards becoming the best Underground racer in the city.
The title caused excitement by being the first in the series to feature open-world gameplay: the player receives calls and text messages hinting where certain races are, adding a touch of realism. EA truly upped the game with the seemingly endless customization combinations, giving the players the ability to change the car’s bumpers, spoilers, hoods, hydraulics and more, as well as the opportunity to tune certain aspects of the car, such as the suspension and the shock absorbers to give their racing abilities an edge.
The game was met with positive reviews and has sold around 11 million copies in total – a true classic and a turning point in racing games.
Midnight Club Three
Rockstar Games. Published on PS2, Xbox, PSP
The third instalment in the Midnight Club series, and the first in the series to feature licenced vehicles such as the Chevrolet Impala, Volkswagen Golf R32, and Dodge Neon SRT-4, Midnight Club Three takes players on a journey through three major American cities, all chosen for their connections with the automotive industry. The game starts in San Diego, known for its influence on street racing culture, progresses to Atlanta, credited for its pioneering of auto customisation, and ends in Detroit, the birthplace of the American automotive industry.
Famous for its 99-song playlist featuring names such as Jimmy Eat World, 50 Cent, Pitbull, Nine Inch Nails and Kasabian among others, the game also offers the player the option of racing on a motorcycle as well as a car. Players also have the opportunity to create their own races, adding that extra flair of creativity on top of customising the vehicles.
As far as arcade racer games go, this has got to be amongst the best.
Forza Motorsport 7
Microsoft. Published on PC, Xbox One
If you’re playing racing games purely for the thrill of the race, Forza Motorsport 7 is the game for you. Featuring over 700 different cars, dynamic weather, and customisable drivers, this title gives you everything you could possibly need from a racing game. The visual flair Microsoft delivers with this game is almost unmatched, a really nice addition to the dynamic weather option.
The game won Best Racing Game at four different award ceremonies and was nominated for Xbox Game of the Year when it was released in 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment in the Motorsport franchise, which is due to be released this year – we’re looking forward to how they manage to top it.
Gran Turismo 5
Sony. Published on PlayStation 3
In 2010 the Gran Turismo franchise changed the game, so to speak, with their fifth main instalment, and tenth overall. This title allows you to race online against 15 other players in real-time, as well as offering a whopping 1089 different vehicles to choose from, including giant names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, as well as race car prototypes such as the Jaguar XJ13. It also included electric and hybrid vehicles, and classic cars, meaning no matter the player’s personal preferences, there’s something for everyone.
The game also includes recreations of famous tracks from all over the world, such as the Dunsfold Aerodrome (the Top Gear test track), the Daytona International Speedway, and the Suzuka Circuit. These details make it the perfect game for car and racing enthusiasts, as well as realistic driving physics.
The title is the second-bestselling PlayStation 3 game of all time, selling nearly 12 million copies worldwide.
Crash Team Racing
Sony. Published on PlayStation
Taking it back to before the millennium, this list wouldn’t be complete without a childhood favourite. Crash Team Racing follows the anthropomorphic eastern barred bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot, and his legion of friends in a race against Nitros Oxide, an evil scientist, in order to save the Earth from destruction.
Okay, so Crash Team Racing doesn’t have the realism that Gran Turismo or Forza offers, but still makes the list based on pure fun. Players can use power-ups and weapons to outsmart their opponents, such as ‘Wumpa Fruit’ which increases the speed of the player’s cart.
The game was remastered in 2019, which means you don’t have to dig out your original PlayStation if you fancy a fun-filled nostalgia session.
505 Games. Published on PC, PS4, Xbox One
The stand-out point of Assetto Corsa is realism – the detailed physics and tyre simulation are as close to driving a race car as you can get in the comfort of your own home. Laser-scanning technology has recreated racetracks down to the asphalt patterns to provide the most lifelike game possible. The game allows you to race your way by choosing drift or drag, hot lap or special events.
The game features several different tracks, some of which with different layouts – you can race on four different variations of the Silverstone Circuit: GP, International, National, and 1967. The game was designed to support extensive modifications, so you can browse an ever-growing mods library to play the game your way.
Disney Interactive Studios. Published on PC, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360
If the standard racing simulator isn’t quite enough for you, Split/Second ups the ante by combining street racing with stunts and explosions. The player takes part in a fictional reality TV series where the participants race for money and fame – but watch out for explosives dropped from helicopters and exploding oil tankers.
Players are encouraged to partake in crazy stunts: the more you fill your ‘power-play’ meter, the more you unlock and can do. With a multiplayer and survival mode, there are plenty of ways to play this explosive adrenaline pumper.
Art Of Rally
Funselektor Labs. Published on PC. PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series One/X/S, Switch
Art of Rally stands out on this list down to its beautiful, playful art style. In a world where Group B was never discontinued, take your rally car on a fast-paced yet oddly relaxing cruise through gorgeous landscapes from all over the world. Don’t be fooled by its cutesy graphics, mind, as all the aspects of a serious racing game such as grip, weight and handling are very much present, and very well done.
You can play in career mode or free roam, and you can discover new areas and races as the game progresses. Art Of Rally is a refreshing take on the racing genre; and a love letter to vintage rally driving.
Codemasters. Published on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
The latest instalment from the Colin McRae Rally and Dirt series, DIRT 5 takes things off-road with this exhilarating thrill fest. Race through all four seasons and all-weather kinds, all over the world: visit Brazil, South Africa, Norway, Morocco, Nepal, Italy, Greece, China, and New York City to name a few.
In career mode, take on Bruno Durand (voiced by voice-acting royalty Nolan North) in numerous championships, or race your friends in four-person split-screen mode. PlayStation Official Magazine named it the 5th best game on the PS5 – and we can see why.
Published on PS3, XBOX 360, Xbox One
Finishing this list strong with what some critics have called ‘one of the greatest video games ever made’, Burnout Paradise is an open-world racing game set in the fictional world of ‘Paradise City’, where players compete in different races and participate online. The open-world environment allows players to progress at their own pace, which makes a refreshing change.
Keep count of all your statistics on your driving licence, be reckless with ‘crash mode’, and unlock new cars with each completed event. The game has undergone serious changes since its initial release in 2008 – it had also been remastered for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Origin, so no matter your console of choice, there's a copy of Burnout Paradise for everyone.
Have you got a favourite racing game we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!