About a decade ago, racing games seemed to be a genre on their way out – arcade racers like Blur and Split/Second weren’t selling, great studios were closing, and even mainstream series like Need for Speed were struggling to get the attention they once had. Outside of a Mario Kart or a Gran Turismo, it seemed the days of the big-ticket racing game, and the genre as an exciting mass-market draw was over.
Happily for racing fans, things now look much better. Forza Horizon made driving games cool again, indie studios have resurrected the joys of the 90s-style arcade racer, the PC simulation racing scene is more competitive than it’s ever been, and Codemasters has ridden a successful stint on the Formula One license to an incredible $1.2 billion acquisition by EA, which shows just how highly racing games are valued now.
Here we present our picks of the best racing games to play right now – primarily modern because this genre tends to improve with technology, but with a classic or two that has stood the test of time thrown in. As usual, we’re focusing on games that are easy to find and play on current hardware. To break things up a bit, we’ve divided our list four sub-genres: open-world racing games that combine racing and exploration over a large map; arcade racing games which are all about immediacy and fun, and less about realism; motorsport games based on licensed real-world sports; and sim racing games which concentrate on the authenticity of the driving experience.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered:
It’s easy to overlook the fact that the Need for Speed games was among the finest on the market for a short time while Criterion was in charge, given the series’ subsequent decline. This remaster only serves to confirm the notion that Hot Pursuit was the series’ pinnacle, with its gritty fighting and wide-open highways. With bated breath, we anticipate Criterion’s return to the helm.
Burnout Paradise Remastered:
Even before it took over Need for Speed from Electronic Arts, Criterion developed the renowned arcade racing series Burnout, which reinvented the graceful boosting and drifting of 90s classics like Ridge Racer and Daytona as a gritty, hard-hitting sport for the 2000s. Burnout Paradise, released in 2008, was even more of a pioneer, including an open-world environment and a gameplay structure that was entirely up to interpretation. It’s hardly surprising that a game this avant-garde ages so gracefully in this beautiful re-creation. To make things even better, please remaster Burnouts 2, 3, and 4.
Dangerous Driving 2:
Three Fields Entertainment, the team behind the critically acclaimed 2019 game Dangerous Driving, is now hard at work on a sequel. In early previews, new game types and improved visuals were shown to the media, but the developers vow there will be much more to come. The game will be available on all major consoles, including the Nintendo Switch, for the first time.
The game was initially scheduled to debut in late 2020. However, the effect of the worldwide epidemic has meant the game should now arrive somewhere in 2021. The first Dangerous Driving game received acclaim for its arcade flair and drew parallels to the famous Burnout series. With this new title, perhaps Three Fields can create something even more significant.
Project Cars Go:
An offshoot of the well-known Project Cars series, this mobile game attempts to bring the sim racing atmosphere to a broader audience. Three years is a long time for mobile racing games to be developed, so perhaps this implies that the game will be much more immersive and feature-rich.
Teasers for the game’s development suggest it will include a strong focus on personalization, as well as a wide range of racing types, such as World Tour and Time Trials. The game will be available for purchase on March 23rd, but you can pre-order it right now. The app works with both Android and iOS devices.
Gran Turismo 7:
Playstation’s flagship racing title is getting another installment expected to release in the latter half of 2021. There’s a tremendous buzz surrounding this game, and for a good reason: the trailers so far indicate that this will be the most technically accomplished and gorgeous Gran Turismo game ever.
The game is scheduled to debut on PS5, but there’s no news on whether a PS4 version will be available. With the anticipated upgrades in visuals and crazy levels of detailing, it may well be that the last-gen system won’t be able to run this monster of a game. Either way, many fans will be awaiting a firm release date with bated breath.
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown:
It isn’t easy to overstate how influential the Test Drive racing games have been in the evolution of video racing games. When Test Drive Unlimited initially came out in 2006, it was the first game of its type. To open-world racing games fans, news of a new TDU title is a huge deal.
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown, developed by Kylotonn Games, was officially announced in July 2020, five years after Atari went bankrupt. Only a 30-second teaser trailer has been released, so very little is known about the game. However, as with previous racing games, a 1:1 recreation of a real-life location will serve as the game’s setting. As it’s very early in the development process, there’s no word on when it will be available. However, the release of Solar Crown is a long time in the making for many enthusiasts.