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?
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!
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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!