Micro Machines invented a genre: top-down party racing. It was based on the likes of Super Sprint, but its fantastically themed tables required ultra-fast reflexes to navigate, making it a sensational test of speed and skill.
Super Off Road
Another game-changer, this isometric racer was the first racing game to feature earnings that could be spent on upgrades or extra nitro boosts for your truck. Super Off Road supported up to three human players at once, and eight indoor off-road tracks plagued with obstacles.
Grand Prix Legends
Often cited by those “in the know” as one of the most realistic racing games ever made, Grand Prix Legends simulated the 1967 Formula One season with accurate tracks (including the Nürburgring and Monaco) and vehicles. It was also bloody hard – more demanding than driving a real car, in fact.
Road Rash II
1993, Mega Drive
A street-racing motorcycle game in which you brawled with your fellow racers, tried to evade the police and upgraded your bike using prize money, Road Rash II became an instant classic – and almost 20 years later EA is yet to deliver a sequel worthy of the name, damn their eyes.
Sega’s racer didn’t pit you against other drivers – instead, Crazy Taxi challenged you to make mad bank and extend the clock by picking up customers and delivering them as quickly as possible to their destination in the open world city setting, full of hazards and shortcuts.
Stunt Car Racer
An early 3D racing game – in fact it had some of the most advanced graphics yet seen on a home computer at launch – Stunt Car Racer had you tear around elevated rollercoaster-style tracks with huge jumps and gaps. Fall off or hit a wall and you damage your car, with too much forcing you out of a race immediately
A PS3 launch title, MotorStorm is a balls-out off-road racer featuring a wide variety of vehicles tearing around muddy Southwestern US landscapes. Tracks are riven with jumps, hazards, obstacles and alternative routes, and vehicles can be destroyed if collisions are serious enough or the engine is overheated by too much nitro boosting.
Debuting in arcades, Ridge Racer came to prominence on the original PlayStation, where its cutting edge visuals and sound showed off the new console’s potential. Featuring both races and time trials, the game rewarded players who took the time to learn the racing lines of each of its tracks.
Forza Motorsport 2
2007, Xbox 360
This ultra-realistic simulation is the Xbox 360’s answer to Gran Turismo. Featuring 349 cars, all of which are highly tweakable in both performance and looks, as well as a healthy supply of tracks both real and fictional, it (or at least one of the Forza series) is viewed as a must have for any car-fancying Xbox owner.
Project Gotham Racing 2
PGR2 features a system called Kudos by which you gain points by showing off your “1337” driving skills: a perfectly pulled-off power slide around a corner, say, or overtaking an opponent in style. These points are then used to unlock new cars. Loads of tracks (based in real cities) and challenges also helped to make it more than just another street racing game.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Risk equals reward in Burnout 3 – you obtain Boost (nitro, basically) by doing stupidly dangerous stuff like driving on the wrong side of the road, near misses with opponents, jumps and the like. Boost is then used to smash – or “Takedown” – other cars. A classy and suitably fired up soundtrack from the likes of The Ramones and Ash enhances the mentalness no end.
Sega Rally was a milestone in the arcade racing genre because it added different road surfaces with different friction properties, giving players the most realistic-feeling rally game that had ever been made. It was also beautifully simple, with only three cars (all real world) and four tracks – one of which is only unlocked if you finished the championship in first place. It also features one of the best-loved Game Over screens in gaming history:
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Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec
The first Gran Turismo game for the PS2 and one of the best-selling titles of all time, this is a full-blooded racing sim with a huge variety of cars, courses and challenges. In order to achieve the desired 100 percent completion ratio, you’ll have to compete in everything from short time trials to hours-long endurance events.
Possibly the world’s best-loved arcade racer (who among us hasn’t wanted to sit in a miniature Ferrari Testarossa at some point in time?), OutRun is a third-person road racer where you struggle against the clock, driving through checkpoints to award yourself more seconds. With alternative routes – the right hand lane always offering the greater challenge – and beautiful (for its day) scaled sprite graphics, it spawned several sequels.
Super Mario Kart
Boasting a cast of well-loved Mario characters, simple yet perfectly designed tracks and some devilish weapons and power-ups, few games have fuelled as many sibling punch-ups and beery late nights lit by nothing more than the glow from a CRT telly. Super Mario Kart is a Nintendo classic and not just one of the greatest driving games ever – it's one of the greatest games full stop.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
OK, so driving is just one aspect of the GTA games – but it’s a big one, and you’ll be spending more time cruising the boulevards of this neon-lit 1980s faux Miami in a vehicle than you will footslogging. Owing much to its stellar soundtrack, Vice City evoked the era of pastel suits, cocaine-driven insanity and consumerism gone wild with dazzling panache.
The world’s most popular coin-op game in 1983, Pole Position’s scaling sprite graphics, inclusion of a qualifying lap and remodelling of the actual Fuji Racetrack made it seem far ahead of its time.
Colin McRae: Dirt
The sixth game in Codemasters’ Colin McRae series, Dirt is strongly influenced by Sega Rally. It’s far more complex, however, with 46 cars and a far greater number of events and tracks. Cars can also be damaged, and in a multi-race event will have to be repaired between races. The benchmark for rally games.
1984, Commodore 64
Much like Pole Position, Pitstop II is an early Formula One sim, featuring six real-life tracks and the need to keep an eye on fuel and tyres – which are replenished by taking, well, a pitstop. It was also the first 3D racing game to offer a split-screen multiplayer mode, letting you leave your mates in the dust.
Need for Speed: Underground
Featuring a narrative-driven career mode and a focus on illegal street-racing and customisation culture, Need for Speed: Underground is pretty much The Fast and the Furious: The Game. Learning to drift successfully is the key to achieving success in most races (and it’s tough), but you can also try your hand at drag racing, which requires a slightly different set of skills.
If you like crashing your car as much as driving it well, chances are this was your favourite game. Sure, you could race as normal, but the Wreckin’ Racing and Destruction Derby modes were much more enjoyable, allowing you to rack up points by wrecking your rivals’ rides.
Super Monaco GP
1991, Mega Drive
Another Formula One arcade-style game, the first-person Super Monaco GP featured a 16-race season mode, with replica tracks and several teams and drivers, each based on their real-life counterparts. The idea is to progress to the top team (Madonna/McLaren) and win two championships in a row.
Clearly inspired by James Bond’s various tooled-up motors, Spy Hunter was a top-down vertical scroller that put you behind the wheel of a heavily armed sports car, leaving you to destroy enemy vehicles by shooting them or forcing them off the road using oil slicks or ramming. You could even transform into a speedboat for brief periods.
Putting you in the stringback driving gloves of an undercover cop working as a “wheelman” for a crime syndicate, Driver feels a lot like a GTA game with the on-foot sections removed and the free-roaming replaced with a linear mission structure. The driving physics are fantastic, the four open world cities (Miami, San Francisco, LA and New York) are huge, and you can replay your missions from a variety of cool camera angles.
1994, Mega Drive
One of the first polygonal 3D games on the Mega Drive (the cartridge featured an on-board processor to provide the power needed!) Sega’s Formula One cost a whopping £70 on release – but people went mental for its incredible visuals and sense of immersion.
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