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What exactly is a racing game, and why would you want to play one? It seems obvious; a racing game is one in which you, well, race. And in a nutshell, that is what a racing game is all about. You want to beat the opposition and leave them coughing in your dust.
Racing games cover such a broad spectrum of ideas. You can race on land or water, in the air, or space. The vehicles can be real, fantasy, or self-build. The racing game can be super realistic or arcade silly. You can only win by demonstrating superb skill and reflexes or by blasting the opposition out of the way with a range of outlandish weapons. Racing games come in all shapes and sizes.
Grand Theft Auto is not a racing game. Racing features as an action, something for the characters to do. A racing game is all about racing. There’s no strong narrative, turn up, drive, and try to win.
Although you can race most vehicles, most racing games concentrate on cars. They tap into our love of motor racing – formula 1, indie, and stock cars.
Racing Game Types
These racing games attempt to recreate the experience of driving a high-powered car in a race. At their most technical, you can expect the vehicle to behave as it will in the real-world. You must slow down as you enter the corners or risk spinning off and breaking the car.
As the driver, you will be expected to not only drive the car but to pay attention to the state of your tires and the amount of fuel you have available. The game may build in pitstops.
If you are not an experienced racing car driver, then you can still enjoy the racing game. Like the bumpers in a bowling alley, these games often provide some help by way of more relaxed settings. The type of support available will cover:
Traction control. Traction control helps to allow a car to accelerate smoothly on tricky surfaces by stopping wheel spin and automatically applying the brakes as needed.
Anti-lock brakes. This system stops the wheels from locking and sending the car skidding when you apply the brakes.
Steering assistance. This support promotes consistent driving and eliminates oversteer. If you oversteer, the car’s rear end will spin out and be unstable.
Damage resistance. Realistic gameplay means that clipping another car or hitting a wall will cause damage. That damage may be enough to put you out of the game. Think of damage resistance as being like training wheels on a bike. Once you have built your skills, you can remove them.
Automatic gear changes. The game will probably ask you to choose between manual and automatic. This option divides the players’ opinion on the benefit of controlling your gear changes. Your decision will depend on how much control you like to have over the car.
Arcade Racing Games
All video games have their roots in the arcades and gaming machines. Graphics were simple, and you had to pay by the turn. A gaming machine in your house was an impossible dream then.
Now an arcade game is a term used to describe a racing game that is low on realism but high on fun. The laws of physics don’t apply in an arcade-style racer. You can somersault the car and carry on regardless. The machines can be wild and exotic. You can blast the opposition out of the way with a grenade launcher. These racing games are fun to play with friends and family with straightforward controls and plenty of actions.
Kart Racing Games
If you want to get into Formula One racing, then traditionally, you begin with go-karts. Both Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton started their racing careers that way. The controls are more straightforward, the handling is basic but builds skill, and they are fun to drive.
Kart racing games have simplified driving with some quirky racetracks and the possibility of offensive weapons. These straightforward racing games are fun to drive. The games feature cartoon characters and obstacles on the track. They are a subsection of racing games. You can get a kart simulator racing game that is designed to give you a realistic feeling of driving a go-kart, but that is a go-kart racing sim.
Boat Racing Games
These racing games feature boats as the vehicle. Typically speed boats as those are the type used in competitions. The range of boat racing games is not as extensive as car racing games.
Plane Racing Games
Air racing in fast planes is incredibly dangerous and not a sport that many people can access. There are one or two racing games that feature aircraft – Plane Crazy for Windows and PlayStation, for example. It is an arcade-style game and does not feature realistic flight simulation.
Space Racing Games
The popularity of Star Wars films means that you can play a space racing game or two. The vehicles tend to handle like fast racing cars but above the ground like low flying aircraft.
How Do You Choose the Best Racing Game?
The best racing game for you will depend on what you enjoy playing.
The first step is to identify if your game is suitable for your gaming rig and controls. If you are a console player, will the game be playable on your console? If you like to play on the PC, then is the game configured for your operating system?
How many options for modes of play does the game give you? You may prefer to hone your driving skills as a solo player, but if you have friends, round for the evening, you might like to compete together. Alternatively, you might want to take on the world in online championships.
If you like to play with a steering wheel and foot pedals for that authentic experience, then to avoid disappointment, check that the game will support these controllers.
Choice of Vehicles
The type of vehicle you choose to drive or pilot will determine the game you select. Most racing games feature cars, and when we talk about racing games, we generally picture road tracks. Few games allow you to race planes, spaceships, and speedboats. If those are the vehicles you are looking for, your choice will be restricted.
There is a racing game to cater to every preference of motor vehicle. In the world of racing games, no car is beyond your reach. If you like vintage cars, boy racers, or even a van, there is a game that features your favorite drive.
Realism vs. Crazy Fun
If you want the authentic experience of driving a car, then you will opt for a realistic racing sim. If you’re going to crash around a track, avoiding obstacles, beating your friends, and if you can’t beat them blasting them to bits, then you want an arcade-style game.
The available games cover all styles of driving and gameplay. The more realistic games will simulate weather conditions and their impact on your race. You will get the opportunity to try out racetracks from across the globe.
Depending on the racing game, you play as the driver (first-person) with access to all the controls and information, or you pilot the car (third-person perspective). In some games, having an overview of where the vehicle is close to others is essential. In other games, all the enjoyment comes from being in the driving seat. The game you choose will depend on your personal preferences.
What Equipment Do You Need?
Racing games can play on the PC, consoles, and mobile devices. Now VR headsets are becoming more affordable; many games support this option. If you are passionate about motorsports and may one day wish to try out for the esports, then you will want to invest in a steering wheel and pedals. These are expensive but will improve how you interact with the cars on the track. A set of these will be considerably less costly than going out racing in the physical world.
Racing games are ancient. We still play them today – remember snakes and ladders? The winning and beating someone is the backbone of most of the games we like to play.
The first video racing games pitted two players against each other to pilot spaceships through obstacles to win the race. The same year (1973) saw the first simple car racing games. The genre continues in popularity to the present day with continual improvements as technology develops. Each decade brings advances. The ‘80s brought background music, the ’90s saw 3D graphics, and after 2000 we see realistic graphics and games featuring real-world details in open-world formats.
From 2D to 3D to photorealism, the racing game goes from strength to strength.
Virtual reality (VR) racing games are already here, but they are likely to find more players as the equipment becomes standard gaming set up. Racing sims are ideally suited to the VR format as racing drivers typically wear helmets to race.
Although gameplay takes place in a virtual world, players are always seeking the most authentic and real experience possible – outside of racing the car on a circuit. Motion simulators are now available at the cost of an expensive car. These allow the player to experience the physical sensations as the car corners and accelerates. Not affordable for the average player, but in time all prices fall. In the future, racing games will be closer to reality.
It takes a lot of drive, determination, luck, and cash, as well as skill to take part in real motor racing. The big motor races, such as F1, are now running esports championship races in parallel to their physical sports. And the prize money is not insignificant.
The advantages of esports are that more people can take part; the races are more exciting because there is no risk of death and injury in a crash. The real cars are horrendously expensive to build and fix – the virtual ride is a bargain.
The esports competitions feature all the popular motorsports, from Formula 1 to NASCAR. You could be a contender with open online races to qualify for the championships.
Most motor racing esports require the proficient use of a steering wheel and pedals. That set up can be expensive, but Forza Racing Championships insists that all contestants must use the standard Xbox One controller.
In the future, there may be a cross over from driving in the esports and driving in the physical team. The esports racing circuit is being run with the same professionalism as the physical races and is receiving a lot of media coverage.
Benefits from Playing Racing Games
Improved Mental Health
Racing games improve our mental health in many ways. They provide a stress-relieving break from our busy lives. Taking a virtual trip out in a car provides many of the benefits of taking a trip out to see somewhere new. The added advantage is that you do not have to contend with traffic jams and congestion. The release of stress by playing intense racing games allows the brain to get its stress reaction into perspective. The racing game gives you an outlet for that potentially damaging flight or fight response.
The ability to concentrate is a learned skill that improves with practice. Racing games bombard your brain with a lot of information. You learn to sort and focus. It is a useful skill that you can apply in any situation.
Memory is also a learned function of the brain. Interactive 3D games mimic real-life situations. You need to remember the track, where that sharp corner is and that obstacle. Practicing memory skills unconsciously during a racing game improves your capacity to recall information in other situations.
Reacting to stimulus improves co-ordination. You see and interpret the situation and respond to it. You can significantly improve your co-ordination if you play racing games with a steering wheel and foot pedals.
Racing Games as Training Aids
When a racing game has realistic and accurate visuals of a real-world racetrack, then it is helpful for a professional driver to practice in the racing sim. Professional pilots use flight sims to become familiar with new airports, and racing drivers are following this trend of using game visuals to become familiar with real tracks.
An excellent racing game provides a close to the real-world experience of how a racing car will drive around the track corners. The professional driver can safely experiment with speed and approach. They can learn the lay of the land without damaging man or machine.
In the winter season, when no real racing is taking place, realistic sims allow drivers to stay race sharp and to reinforce their memories of specific track landmarks.
Racing games cover a wide variety of types and styles, we have reviewed some games for you to consider. We’ve looked at realistic racing sims, fun arcade-style games, and a couple of boats and space racers. You can find a racing game you will enjoy playing.
Best Five Realistic Racing Games
You can play this on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or a PC.
This racing game appeals to the fans of Formula One. There is a little a narrative plot; you race through a few Formula Two games before reaching the big league. There is excellent attention to detail, and the game does its best to give you as authentic an experience as possible. If you hit a curb, it will be a problem, and there is excellent weather modeling on the tracks.
There are 21 circuits and a range of cars from the old classics to the newest racing models. You can play against the games AI as a single-player or play the game online against other people.
You can only play this game on PlayStation 4. You can play as a single-player or join an online multiplayer game. You can use a VR headset. You have different styles of racing from standard races to marathons. You can use a gamepad or a steering wheel. The online games run professionally with good organization and structure. There are daily events, and drivers’ behavior counts as well as winning races.
If playing offline, then you play in arcade mode against the game AI. This game has now settled into a vehicle for online racing in line with its status as an esports.
There are 17 locations, and if you include reverse tracks, there are 40 racetracks. Six of those tracks display real-world venues. Three of the tracks are rally tracks that you can race in reverse. This racing game does not include real weather conditions. There are custom options for cars. The available cars date from 2009 with one old classic car – the 1987 Quattro.
Forza Horizon 4
This racing game is only available for Xbox. It is an open-world racing game and in common with many other racing games, is now best played online as a multiplayer. You can still play it offline, but the best features are online.
The new feature in this game is the seasons and the weather. When you log in, you will experience the weather appropriate to that week. Every day there are challenges to complete and a live online event every hour. There are many cars, different race types. You choose to join up with other players. At that point, collisions can cause damage. You can cruise around by yourself and see the other players as ghosts that cannot collide with you.
This game scenery is realistic and shows the cities and countryside of Britain.
DiRT Rally 2.0
This racing game plays on the PC (Windows, macOS, and Linux), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The race type is rallying.
You get an excellent choice of 40 cars covering every decade from the 1960s forward. You have a choice of ten colors to paint your vehicle in your preferred style. The physics model is built to give you that authentic rally experience. Each car handles according to its age and capabilities. Make a mistake in driving and controlling the vehicles, and you will receive punishing damage or end up in a ditch. The track is subject to wear and tear, and you will have to contend with that if you are not the front runner.
You can race in six different environments and on eight official rallycross tracks. You can play online in daily challenges or offline against the game AI. You can control the game with standard controls or a steering wheel. The game will run with a VR headset.
Project Cars 2
You can play on Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. There is no cross-platform support between Xbox and PlayStation for this game. (Xbox players play Xbox players; PlayStation players can only play PlayStation players.)
There is a vast range of cars (189) to choose from and an extensive range of tracks (140) to race. You race online on a live racetrack – subject to seasonal weather conditions. Throughout a racing weekend, virtual rubber will adhere to the track making driving conditions trickier as the weekend racing continues. The game is optimized to allow you to participate as an esports player.
Best Five Arcade-Style Racing Games
You can play the remastered version on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. You can play the original version on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 as well as Windows.
Burnout Paradise is the latest in a whole series of games. You race in an open world, offline or online. There are other games to play online, including a standard “cops and robbers” game mode. Your game history stays on your game driver’s license. You can access over 150 vehicles from the junkyard – included are some bikes for a change of pace. The aim is to drive fast and win or to crash spectacularly. Both outcomes earn points.
The crashes will result in either a driveaway (four wheels and an entire chassis) or a wreck. You will have to wait for a reset if you wreck your car. You choose your racetrack through streets and open countryside and aim for a destination, leaving destruction in your wake. You crash through barriers, make impossible stuntman jumps and ram the other cars out of the way. The visuals are dated, but it is a fun arcade-style crazy driving game with a great soundtrack.
You can play this popular Go-Kart racing game on any Nintendo system. There are a whole series of games, and each has added features. Mario Kart Tour is the latest in the series.
If you want to play a fun arcade racing car, alone or with others, any of the Mario Kart games will fit the bill. You can race underwater, lay traps for other drivers, and a host of other fun and silly activities. Remember, when you are playing it is not paranoia, all the players are out to spoil your race. Some games are for mobile, some for consoles, and some for Gameboys. But it is a Nintendo game and only available for those devices.
If you have an Xbox and you want to play a game like Mario Kart, then look out for Beach Buggy Racing or OnRush. Both these kart racing games have similar styles to Mario Kart.
This racing game is an unashamed arcade style. You can play it on Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Arcade.
You have a choice of four different locations, and there is an option for a two-player co-operative mode as well as standard competition play. There are four different types of vehicles, each with their unique handling styles. There are 200 courses ready for you to race, but you can also build your custom track. The ranking system for online games will give you your local and world position. The game is fast and addictive. If you took that turn on two wheels and didn’t crash, could you be that microsecond faster and move up the rankings?
You can play this game on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows. This racing game has a combat element. The simplified tracks showcase real-world cities. You can play with three others in a local network or online in games with 20 drivers. All the cars are real-world models, but driving is arcade-style. You race and take out your other drivers with a range of James Bond-style weapons, including a handy missile launcher.
Sadly, there are no updates as the developer is no more; it is a fast-paced fun to play and well worth playing alone or with friends.
Need for Speed
You can play this racing game on any device. The complete list of platforms is 3DO, Android, Windows Mobile, Arcade, DOS, Game Boy Advance, iOS, Kindle Fire, MacOS X, Microsoft Windows, Mobile Game, MS-DOS, all Nintendo, Sega Saturn, OS X, both Wii consoles, all Xbox consoles and Zeebo.
This street racing game can be played alone, with a local network or online. You can expect to be pursued by the police and to indulge in some drift racing. The cars range from the exotic to the mundane. You can tweak the car’s performance and upgrade the engine. All in the name of getting that extra speed to beat everyone else. The car’s performance is arcade-style, so don’t try to drive like this on the roads but do try the game.
Best Non-car Racing Games
Excite Truck is only available on a Wii. If you have a Wii and you fancy driving your monster truck through a variety of stunts while getting some exercise, then this is the game for you. Mainly a single-player game, but there is the option for two players to compete against each other.
If you haven’t got a Wii but want to race some monster trucks, then there are a few apps that will let you have a go – Monster Truck Ultimate Racing is free for Apple.
On PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you can play FIA European Truck Racing Championship. You can drive 45 trucks and 14 circuits with many single-player and multiplayer options. This racing sim has some challenging and exciting races.
Racing boat sims are thin on the ground. Speedboat Challenge on Xbox One allows you to take part in races set amongst some incredible landscapes like the Fiords in Norway. It’s a straight racing game that tries to give you the best experience of speedboat racing.
If you have a PlayStation console, then you can try Power Boat Racing. You can race with your choice of 12 different boat types. The water physics is as real as possible; you will find realistic racing on the water to be more challenging than land.
Racing is a recognizable feature of the Star Wars series. If you think you can beat Skywalker, then head for Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. You can play on Windows, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, Mac OS, and Dreamcast. The game copies the film, and you can play alone or with others.
There are some other space racing games – Antigraviator (Windows) and Wipeout (PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, MS-DOS, and Windows). Wipeout HD Fury will play on Xbox One.
These racing games model futuristic vehicles that defy gravity and allow you to fly at speed in the air through terrifying racetracks.
You find some elements of racing in some flight simulator games or air combat games. If you want to play an air racing game, then the best choice is the Red Bull Air Race. You can play it on mobile and now on a PC.