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Racing video games offer an escape from the drudgery of the slow-moving traffic and other road hazards we are subjected to in real life. And over the years, this genre has evolved to give us various different sub-genres depending on how you like to drive.

Not all driving games are created equal and like with any art, someone breaks the rules and creates something new every once in a while. So what are the most important racing titles in the history of video games?

Road Fighter

Back in 1984, video game giant Konami developed Road Fighter, probably the first racing game most of us got hooked on. Played from a top-down perspective, Road Fighter had you controlling a little red car by steering it left and right on a highway, trying to get to the finish line before you run out of fuel. There were other cars on the road, little fuel power-ups, obstacles and oil-spills to avoid; and if you did everything well enough, Superman would fly by the screen!

Out Run

In 1986, Sega released what is perhaps the most landmark title in racing video games: Out Run. Get into a Ferrari Testarossa and start driving on the highway, making it to each checkpoint to keep continuing your run — in essence, it was a never-ending game. The cool part was that every once in a while, you came to a fork in the road, where one would be easy and the other difficult, so you could choose how to challenge yourself and earn points. Oh yeah, and Out Run also introduced an element which the Grand Theft Auto series would run wild with: radio stations. The game became a massive hit and swept every award, and still finds a soft spot in the aged hearts of gamers everywhere.

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Super Mario Kart

Mario is one of the most beloved video game characters of all time and Nintendo made sure it launched several games with him. One of the best Mario spin-offs Mario Gets Around - 4 Best Mario Spinoff Franchises [MUO Gaming] Mario Gets Around - 4 Best Mario Spinoff Franchises [MUO Gaming] Besides the platformers that Mario is known for, there are a ton of spinoffs that feature the famous plumber's name and face attached to them. Almost all of the franchises with Mario's name are of... Read More is Super Mario Kart, released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo. It was also the first multiplayer racing title where you could challenge your friends in an arcade race, throwing bananas at them to make them spin and collect coins and power-ups to speed up your vehicle. Super Mario Kart, in many ways, set the benchmark for what racing games in the future would be judged on.

Need For Speed 2: Special Edition

The Need For Speed (NFS) franchise first started in 1992 but it was NFS2 that really made it a household name. Available for PC and PlayStation, this game gave the player a choice of some fantastic real-world cars like a McLaren F1 or a Jaguar XJ220 to drive around seven courses, each with its own challenges. The graphics were the big winner for NFS2 though; they look dated now, but at that time, it was as good as a game has ever looked, especially since the race circuits had unprecedented detail in level design.

Trackmania

To play a great racing game, you need to pay for it, right? Nadeo doesn’t believe so and the developer shook up the gaming world in 2003 with the launch of one of the best free online racing games MUO Games - The Best Free Online Racing Games MUO Games - The Best Free Online Racing Games Read More . Trackmania has a fantastic physics engine that rewards sticking to the right racing line and accelerating/decelarting at the right time like you would in the real world. But it ties this to an arcade game where your car goes into crazy loops, flips around, flies through the air, and does other antics to make it to the finish line first. It’s best played online in the huge multiplayer arenas which are still crowded with players, even though the game is over a decade old.

NFS Most Wanted

After The Fast And The Furious released, racing video games sought to develop on the bad boy image of street racing. And no game did this better than NFS Most Wanted in 2005, which not only had a great campaign for you to upgrade your car and become the best underground racer, but also put cops on your tail whom you had to try and ditch (and sometimes even lead on long chases to finish your campaign objectives). Do note that this is the older version of Most Wanted, but Electronic Arts also launched a new NFS: Most Wanted in 2012. You might want to pair it with a great racing wheel, and here’s what you need to know to buy one What You Need To Know Before Buying A PC Or Console Racing Wheel What You Need To Know Before Buying A PC Or Console Racing Wheel Spending $100 will net you a bargain basement model and the best wheels sell for more than $500. You’re going to want to know what you’re buying before you lay down that much dough. Here's... Read More .

Forza Motorsport

While NFS took arcade racing to the next level with Most Wanted, the simulation world saw a new king emerge in 2005: Forza Motorsport. It delivered an unprecedented level of realism to racing games by letting you play with realistic representations of top-end car models and adding one new element: real damage. If you bang your car into a barrier, your car’s handling or speed was affected accordingly. Since then, Forza has launched several sequels, including Forza Motorsport 5, which is one of the best launch titles for Xbox One What Are The Best Launch Titles For Xbox One? What Are The Best Launch Titles For Xbox One? How do you choose a game? The fact is, it's not easy. That's not because the releases are so good, but because there pickings are actually pretty slim. Still, if you are will to look,... Read More .

Burnout Paradise

Burnout Paradise is an open-world racer, changing the pattern from the usual campaign mode to letting the player choose how they want to upgrade. With several great gameplay modes, fantastic graphics, and a brilliant soundtrack, it’s no surprise it got rave reviews from every critic out there. And oh, those slow-motion sequences when you crash are just delicious!

Gran Turismo 5

If you like realism in your racing games, it doesn’t get any better than Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3. It won every racing game award out there and had the rare pedigree of getting kudos from both game and automobile journalists. The developers at Polyphony Digital heavily researched each car and made sure it performs and sounds on-screen exactly like it does in real life. And to top it off, they recreated real-world tracks like the famous Nurburgring in Germany and the Suzuka Circuit in Japan. As far as simulation racing games go, GT5 is the cream of the crop. If this is your scene but you don’t have a PlayStation, there are some hardcore racing simulators on the PC 4 Of The Most Hardcore Racing Simulators You Can Play On PC Right Now 4 Of The Most Hardcore Racing Simulators You Can Play On PC Right Now On console, gamers will find a few fairly hardcore racing simulators like Forza and Gran Turismo, but over on the PC is where the truly crazy racing games dwell. Read More too.

What About Bikes?

The collection here deals exclusively with car racing games, but the world of motorbike video games have also had some fantastic titles over the years, from ExciteBike to SBK X and MotorStorm. If you’re a biking nut, we’d love to hear a similar list of important motorcycle racing games from you in the comments below!

  1. Carruthers43
    June 3, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I could see this as a list of your favourite racing games, and all of them are good games, but important? not many of these are. Gran Trak 10, Night Driver, the original Gran Turismo, Colin Macrae Rally, Sega Rally, Pole Position, Ridge Racer (the first 3d game to have textured polygons), Daytona, the first 3DO Need for Speed, all had much more impact on the racing genre, and that's just from memory with two minutes thought. Sorry........

  2. Suleiman
    May 23, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    it is me again and this is 1st time that i respond to a posting twice, so bare with me :)

    @Giovanni Garinian mentioned La Midnight Club, i totally agree. The physics is awesome and when it comes to that aspect , no one beats the boyz at Rockstar Games. For those of us who are GTA V junkies we really enjoy driving the endless choices of cars in the game. The physics is so real and precise and the camera control with the right stick (ps3) while going on top speed is an endless joy.

    I always wonder that why Rockstar Games do not want to take car racing game seriously although they got all that takes to become the lord of car racing game company. I wish they make another La Midnight Club but this time with the driver having the ability to jump out of the car and get another car...u feelin' me ? :)

    ps: don't forget to tune in to E3 2014, it will run on June 10 and 11 and i hope we will see new , fun racing car games.

  3. Giovanni Garinian
    May 23, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    TEST DRIVE 5 for PSX was my all-time favourite, with the best soundtrack of all.

    Yet to mention TWISTED METAL franchise, VIGILANTE 8 (this was like Twisted Metal but far better in a lot of aspects),

    DRIVER, YOU'RE THE WHEELMAN, another jewel, before SCARFACE or GRAND THEFT AUTO. No guns (or yes? but mostly you're driving), but incredible history about a man that has to make driving jobs not so legal for a living, stunning graphics, physics, great soundtrack, video clips, and awesome collisions and a big immersive open world in not remember what city of USA.

    Yes, i loved BURNOUT PARADISE and played countless hours GRAN TURISMO 2, although it was somewhat boring or tedious, but remarkable the technical skill you need to deive succesfully those cars. The music of GRAN TURISMO 2 was very nice, just after TEST DRIVE 5.

    Let's mention also NFS5: PORSCHE CHALLENGE, also with selective car damage and very good driving simulator. I also enjoyed a lot NFS:UNDERGROUND 2, that i believe it released before MOST WANTED. I also liked NFS:CARBON but it was more of the same thing.

    Another very good title of the Fast and and Furious type was MIDNIGHT CLUB for XBOX. Let's say speed! Precision driving! Adrenaline! You cant crash more than 2 or 3 times or you lose the race at last place. Better not to crash, but it's night races and a lot of traffic and urban obstacles.

    Ehm, a classic? RAD RACER for NES.

    Bla bla, i don't remember another remarkable.

  4. Qkhan
    May 23, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Awesome list! Burnout FTW!

  5. Ashwin D
    May 23, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Nice List ! Include Colin McRae Dirt , that has one of most realistic physics engines in the genre.

  6. Nikola
    May 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    TOCA suite ;)

  7. Tina S
    May 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    I used to play Lotus The Ultimate Challenge. The game was boring, but I loved the music, which kept me playing for hours.

  8. Howard B
    May 22, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    "...accelerating/decelarting..." Whaaaa???

  9. ap
    May 22, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    rock n roll racing

  10. cnavigator
    May 22, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Where is SEGA Rally Championship?

  11. Suleiman
    May 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Oh come on! seriousely come on!! how dare you fail misrably to mention N64 Top Gear Rally!!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EeyvA8LIRM

    It is not only you, most people tend to miss Top Gear Rally when they do their reviews about retro car games.

    I am a gamer and racing is my numbero uno. Top gear rally gave us choices to play, introduced us to new features and on top of all it was all about "video game" racing aka it was all about having fun. I don't care if the game is too close to reality, actually if it is too real , I am out. The game had simple rules: start last and try to beat all 19 cars and finish 1st. It sound easy but it was not. The musics, the tracks , the game textures and game play made that game my number one racing game so far.....i have its emulated virsion on my phone right now.....you thought i was joking ,right :)
    Grand Tourismo, not for me; NFS Rivals for PS4, not good. So far the best racing games i ever played and really really enjoyed them to the max are N64 Top Gear Rally 1 , NFS Drift 1 and last but nor least Out Run, the game that out run our pockets at the arcade joints back in the days when we were poor and dependent lol Why these game? because they were arcade or arcade like games, not real but extreemly fun and they got me in trouble with my old folks and now with the wify :)

    Thanks for this review, i had fun reading it and it sent me to the sweet memory lanes of yesteryears.

  12. Jakub K
    May 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    And what about Test Drive or Stunts? Especially Stunts - in 1992 revolutionary concept. I would change it instead of Mario Kart.

  13. Tod Underhill
    May 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Um, hello? Where's Pole Position from 1982!?! This list fails from the very fact it wasn't included. It was arguably the game that started them all.

  14. Clay
    May 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    You are missing the old days of NASCAR racing from Papyrus and Gran Prix Legends from Sierra.

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