Owning and maintaining a car is an absolute ball ache.
Road tax, insurance premiums, regular MOTs; it’s all almost too much to take. You just want to get out on the open road and go full throttle but even that’s not really allowed, is it?
Thankfully, incredible advances in gaming technology mean it’s now easier than ever to enjoy the best bits of being behind the wheel without any of the drawbacks.
Driving games have been around since the 1970s in their various forms. The graphics haven’t always lived up to the inventive gameplay but one thing has remained ever present: speed. From classics like Daytona USA through to established franchises like Gran Turismo – there are a ton of bloody brilliant driving games, past and present, that warrant celebration.
The great motoring minds over at carbuyer.co.uk evidently agree, which is why they have put together a list of the 15 best driving games known to man. So strap your seat belt on, turn on the ignition and get ready to rev things up with a countdown that stays in fifth gear all the way down.
Project Cars 2
Due to arrive on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, Project Cars 2 is already on course to be an absolute classic for the simple fact it allows gamers to get behind the wheel of several fully licensed iconic and beautifully rendered Porsches and Ferraris. A major step up from the original Project cars, the follow-up boasts some stunning visuals, a real-time race option and a wealth of rallycross options. Motoring heaven.
Forza Motorsport 7
The Gran Turismo franchise received a much-needed kick up the arse with the arrival of Forza Motorsport a few years back and the two have been neck and neck ever since. Forza Motorsport 7 is a triumph of modern driver-led gaming. Boasting an incredible level of realistic detail and variety, the franchise is also known for its dedicated online community of players who only add to the fun. It’s the Goldeneye of driving games.
Colin McRae Rally
It’s been more than a decade since Colin McRae passed away but his legacy lives on through his achievements as a rally driver and as the name associated with the biggest and best rally driving game franchise of all time. McRae’s games and success helped put the sport on the map, with the games perfectly showcasing the way cars behaved on different surfaces and the techniques required to master them. It was fast, frantic and bloody good fun. It set the bar for every rally game since.
Gran Turismo 2
Gran Turismo 2 had all the hallmarks of a great sequel: it was bigger and better in almost every conceivable way. Setting a new standard for graphics, the game was also one of the first to offer gamers an experience that mirrored the handling characteristics of several different cars. And there were a lot of different cars to test out and drive too – 650 in all. A rally option was also introduced while anyone who owned the two game discs will recall those “scratch and sniff” panels. What a time to be alive and gaming.
This Forza Motorsport sequel of sorts offered up something rarely seen before in the world of traditional driving games: an open world gaming environment. Drivers were no longer restricted to the confines of the track and instead invited to explore a wealth of new roads and locations, taking in beautifully rendered scenery and locations from the confines of cars like the Ferrari F40 or Koenigsegg CCX-R. For most people, this was and probably still is as close as they will get to the real thing. Bliss.
A staple of any amusement arcade worth its salt, Daytona USA arcade machines quite literally put you in the driver’s seat and, via a couple of connected machines, allowed you to race your mates. Many a week’s pocket money was burned through in the name of Daytona USA. A tricky beast to tame, once you got your head around the game’s NASCAR-style all-or-nothing steering, it was an absolute joy to behind.
Toyota Celica GT Rally
An underrated gem, the team behind Toyota Celica GT Rally took a different approach than most to driving games, with a sideways-style view, which was the result of the game’s programmers realising most rally cars don’t travel perpendicular to the course, so the view through the windscreen wasn’t always forwards. The game was one of the first to capture the feeling more commonly known as “drifting”. The co-driver’s pacenotes were a neat addition too. What it lacks in graphics in more than makes up for in creativity and inginuity.
Formula 1 ’97
Despite being some 20 years old, Formula 1 ’97 still stands up as an excellent F1 game and one that still feels incredibly authentic thanks to the careful attention to detail applied to both the graphics and gameplay. Whether it was the flies hitting your visor mid-drive, the presence of the legendary Murray Walker alongside Martin Brundle providing commentary or the fact that one false move on a wet circuit could end your championship hopes, nothing was missed. An astonishing feat even today.
This 1986 gem was part racing game part ode to the brilliance of Miami Vice, with the gamer cast in the role of the sharply dressed gentleman and open-top Ferrari Testarossa. Joined by a blonde haired female companion, the challenge was simple: drive as quickly as possible between checkpoints. There was obstacles along the way of course and crashes aplenty. The game also gave you the choice of moving on to an easier next stage or something a little more challenging. Of course, you always went for the latter.
Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit
While the first Need for Speed was a more technically-minded game, the sequels offered high speed fun alongside the opportunity for some boy racer-style car modification antics. This game had a bit of a story to it too; you were an undercover speedster, nabbing fellow drivers in a series of high-speed chances far more thrilling than anything that featured in the terrible big screen adaptation of the franchise, starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.
Dirty Rally took the blueprint laid out by Colin McRae and ran with it. Using real-world graphics and handling, this feels like a very authentic rally gaming experience, where the slightest mistake can send things seriously of course. It’s also a game that rewards players for putting the time in to learn how to handle the cars themselves and the various terrains and weather conditions. This is down and dirty driving at its best.
Assetto Corsa is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of driving games. Once you do discover it though, the chances are you will be hooked. Offering gamers an immersive online racing world, this is your chance to embark on that motorsport “career” you’ve always dreamed of, via an incredible online racing world full of fellow drivers along with an ever-expanding variety of cars and tracks, including several familiar real-life classics. It’s like taking a trip to the driving game equivalent of Westworld.
ToCa Touring Car Championship
Arriving at the peak of the British Touring Car Championship’s popularity, ToCa was another racing game ahead of its time in terms of offering a fun, if slightly frustrating, authentic driving experience. It was also an entirely British experience full of memorable tracks and turns like the famous Coram Curve at Snetterton as well as driveable cars like the Renault Laguna and Peugeot 406. Great fun.
The granddaddy of driving games, Pole Position arrived back in 1982 and was one of the first titles to highlight the fun and potential of driving-led computer games. It was surprisingly more realistic than you might have thought too – the Pole Position circuit was based on the real-life Fuji Speedway in Japan. It was an intelligent driving game too – you couldn’t just rely on high speed and quick reactions to get you through and there were qualifying laps before each and every race. What a game.
Grand Prix Legends
Grand Prix Legends was a celebration of all things motoring as much as an entertaining and realistic racing simulation. It took players back to the glory days of F1, with the game based on the 1967 Formula One racing season, complete with drivers, teams and, of course, cars Each car had its own unique feel too, from fuel consumption to weight distribution. Grand Prix Legends may have come out way back in 1998 but it lives on even today through an avid online following of fans and gamers that continue to make new carers and tracks for the game. Go and play it now.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.