Racing games have been popular since the beginning of gaming as a pastime or interest. This isn’t something that will ever change as the ever-changing nature of hardware and consoles means they will always be examples of how far systems can be pushed. However, they come in many different styles. Battle racers, Arcade or Simulations, most gamers will try a racing game at some point, even if it’s not really their thing. Then there are players like me, that live for the next iteration of their favourite racing franchise.
Here we have 5 of the best (in no particular order) from the last few years. All of which are worth a lap or two. Note to reader, most of the below games are good in any of their numbered sequels, the ones listed are purely a personal choice.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Released first for the Wii U and then later to the gaming masses on the Switch in the Deluxe version. The game continues to sell well even though it was released in 2014. The most recent version is a blast to play and offers a refinement of the battle style racing that’s always been on offer. As well as a new selection of characters to race as the game also featured anti-gravity racing, meaning that part of the tracks can take you up walls or ceilings. Ever since Mario Kart 64, Wario will always be my main man. But 8 does feature one of the bigger rosters in the franchise’s history for players to chose from.
Even for the 4 people who bought a Wii U, it’s worth double-dipping. As on Switch, there are a lot of changes to the disappointing battle mode. It’s worth mentioning that the art style in all of the Mario Kart games is timeless and this it’s the type of game that will always look good.
Since its original launch on the SNES very few games have been able to offer a better multiplayer experience. Even now in 2021 this still rings true. Aside from the strange promotional DLC with Mercedes and being a bit of a nightmare to play online, the game is a great way to enjoy a night in with family or friends.
Forza Motorsport 7
For its first few games, Forza was very much chasing the bumper of Grand Turismo. With Motorsport 7 it managed to close this gap and for me, just ease past it. Considering it came out in 2017, the game’s performance is outstanding, featuring 4K, HDR and 60 FPS (on Xbox One X). Loads of cars and tracks to try out and more were later offered as DLC (this did take the price of the game a bit high).
A quick trip back to this now shows that it was ahead of its time and I can see myself spending some time trying to perfect a few courses and build my car collection further. Although it’s a sim racer, the game is approachable to most players, with the settings being able to change the play from realistic sim to something closer to arcade racer. If arcade is what you are after, check out Forza’s little brother, more on that later. Not everyone loves it, and I don’t want to see the card system return but it’s the best the Motorsport series has offered so far.
Unfortunately, the game reaches its end of life status (removed from online storefronts) on the 15th of September 2021, but you can pick it up cheap till it disappears due to licence issues.
Gran Turismo 4
My age may have influenced my decision here, and most fans of the series may have a different choice. It’s also a good way of measuring the high quality of the games. All of the titles have their own merits. GT4 had soooo many cars (listed as over 700) alongside some great tracks from previous games and real-life locations. Considering it was still running on PS2, the graphics were a big jump in quality from GT3. This game still looks great with a little bit of upscaling, and the physics system stands the test of time. Cars feel weighty and different depending on age or style. The massive car list is a little wasted as many of the cars will be of little use in the career mode. Please don’t let that stop the fun throwing them around some corners.
It was praised by many for being as close to real-life as you could get, but Top Gear proved this not to be the case in a real-world vs digital speed race featuring the awesome Raceway Laguna Seca and Honda NSX-R/ Acura NSX.
With host Jeremy Clarkston being unable to match the time he had earlier set with a controller. This is put down to a lack of fear while playing a driving game compared to doing it for real. There is only so much that a force feedback wheel can add to a game. The only real disappointment here is the lack of online multiplayer, something that the wonderful world of emulation has looked to fix. Do a bit of googling and you’ll find out what I mean.
Forza Horizon 3
I spent a lifetime deciding on whether to note 3 or 4 here and in the end, the amazing backdrop of Australia just won out. All of the Horizon games are fantastic to look at, but the introduction race in number 3 featuring the Lamborghini Centenario is one of my favourite gaming moments of all time. The sense of speed and colour is insane and sets the tone well for what’s to come. The Horizon Festival is a strange mix of car meet come music festival but is just a big excuse for players to get behind the wheel of a huge number of different cars for races and challenges. The Centenario is the type of car that a lot of petrol heads won’t ever get a chance to see in real life, let alone drive and Horizon 3 lets you live out these kinds of dreams.
If that’s not your style you can stay stock and tear it up in an original Mini Cooper at the beach or smash through the forest in a 4×4. The story might be a little hammy at times, but who came here for the story?
This is arcade racing at its very best and features one of the best handling models available. This makes it easy to pick up for newcomers and Horizon vets alike. With the launch of number 5 in the series coming in later this year and looking like it’ll raise the bar even higher, there has never been a better time to give this another go.
Need for Speed Underground 2
I noted earlier that the games in this list could be subbed out for different entries in their series but with Need for Speed, this might not be the case. Although there have been highs, a few games have failed to hit the heights EA experienced between 2003 and 2005. Most fans are eager to see a return to what was on offer in either Underground or Most Wanted (2003 and not 2012). Underground 2 was prime tuner car racing culture that had become more mainstream since The Fast and The Furious in 2001. The first game had the right idea with night-time races covered in neon and its sequel was a case of more of everything.
The customisation on each car was unseen for its time, and you could even install a sound system in the boot of your vehicle that would never really been seen outside of the upgrade garage.
However, fans love it, the street racing was fun and the handling was great with tuner cars handling very differently from muscle cars. The drift racing was a personal favourite, easy to start but hard to master. With EA seemingly giving fans the remakes or revisits they want recently (Skate, Mass Effect and Dead Space), maybe this could be next to be announced.
Honourable mentions: Dirt Rally, Grid (CodeMasters make great racing games). Wreckfest is also a hell of a lot of fun!