If you’ve got a need for speed, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re looking for high-octane sci-fi racing straight out of your favorite anime or something a bit more grounded, today we’re looking at some of the best racing games ever made. And luckily for us, there are quite a few all-time great racing titles to choose from.
Racing translates to the video game medium surprisingly well. After all, moving at unsafe velocities around irregular tracks in an attempt to complete a circuit before anyone else does is textbook fun game design. It’s also a lot easier to convince yourself to move at high speeds around hairpin turns when the consequences for crashing are getting a worse finish instead of, you know, going to the hospital.
Whether you’re a fan of hardcore driving simulators that get everything from tire traction to road texture down perfectly or you’re just looking for an arcade-style racer, this article is for you. Consider this a formal invitation to start your engines, get on the starting line, and race around the track to prove that you can go the distance. Here are the best racing games ever made.
Wipeout was Sony’s answer to the Nintendo franchise F-Zero. A high-speed, sci-fi world populated with shiny futuristic hovercars and gleaming cityscapes made Wipeout look unique among its peers. The blistering speeds the high-end vehicles could reach were enough to make even the most seasoned racing game players look away for a moment to get their bearings.
“This game can cause motion sickness” isn’t usually glowing praise, but Wipeout’s slick gameplay and white-knuckle action put it in a class of its own. It’s really the only franchise out there that directly competes with F-Zero, making it a unique game for fans of this brand of deep-space racing.
The second entry in the series, titled Wipeout 2097 in Europe and Wipeout XL everywhere else, took things to a new level. It featured a very cutting-edge soundtrack full of then-popular bands and upped the speed to previously-unthinkable levels. If you ever want to experience what the year 1997 felt like for PlayStation owners, just pop on the second Wipeout game and go for a spin around the coolest tracks this side of Orion’s Belt.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
The Need for Speed series was many gamers’ entry title for the racing genre. The massively-popular EA franchise took a while to find its voice, though. Some entries, like the fan-favorite Hot Pursuit, focused on police chases and sports cars. The side series, Underground, was much more focused on “tuner” culture, featuring much more affordable vehicles being pushed to their limits with aftermarket upgrades.
Most Wanted found a genius way to marry the two halves of the franchise and created something truly unique. More than its predecessors, Most Wanted succeeded in creating a genuine bond between the players and their vehicles. If you’ve ever played this title, you can likely remember every aspect of the way your eye-catching blue-and-white BMW E46 M3 GTR behaved on the road.
Most Wanted is far from a simulation racer, though. It’s an arcade-style game that focuses more on style than on perfectly replicating the feel of a real sports car on the road. But that makes it accessible to a wide variety of players, and it likely helped convince several players to get into the genre to begin with. And, for those looking for simulations, there are plenty of options out there to scratch that itch.
Nintendo long ago abandoned the excellent F-Zero franchise, which is something fans never let them forget. It might be easier to let it go if the handful of entries in the short-lived sci-fi racing series weren’t so fantastic. The final outing in the ill-fated franchise, F-Zero GX, was one of the most visually-impressive games released on the GameCube and set a new bar for the series.
GX takes everything from the N64 title, X, and pushes it over the top. Where X was fast, GX was breathtaking. Where X was difficult, GX was downright brutal. GX also featured more tracks, more pilots, more game modes, and a bolder style that made it feel like the start of something truly groundbreaking. Fans continue to clamor for an HD remake of the title to this day.
Sadly, F-Zero only lives on in retro game compilations and through the presence of the iconic Captain Falcon in the crossover fighting game Super Smash Bros. Were it not for Smash, many young gamers might have never heard of F-Zero, which is a shame. There’s really nothing else out there like the fast-paced, mind-bending courses, and groove-inducing music found in the iconic Nintendo series.
Forza Horizon 3
Microsoft’s Forza series has been around for over 20 years now. Xbox players looking for a (somewhat) realistic racing game don’t have too many options. Thankfully, Forza games rule. Forza Horizon 3 takes the crown as the best among the best, though, thanks to its robust selection of cars from nearly every part of the industry. If you’ve ever wanted to race a $20,000 sedan around the track, Horizon 3 is your game.
Horizon 3 lets players lose in “Surfer’s Paradise,” a fictional Australian town that offers a perfect slice of various Australian terrain features. It plays like a “greatest hits” of Australia, featuring picturesque beaches, rugged desserts, and breathtaking grasslands.
The Horizon series largely succeeds because of its blend of several gaming palettes. It’s equal parts realistic racer, long-haul cruising simulator, and digital tourism ticket all in one. For Xbox players, there’s no finer choice for a real-deal racer.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
You can’t go to a college rec center without seeing a group of kids huddled together playing Mario Kart. The Nintendo Switch has been mind-bogglingly popular, thanks largely to Mario Kart. The arcade racing title is easy to pick up and play in a way that other racers can’t imitate. The Nintendo magic of the experience is that, despite this simplicity, there’s a really robust racing game hiding under the surface with Kart.
The eighth entry in the long-running series actually hit the Wii U in 2014. The Deluxe re-release on the Switch is a port of that title, dressed up with all the DLC courses from the Wii U original. Recently, Nintendo gave the game a new lease on life by introducing a massive Booster Course Pass expansion that doubled the number of tracks available in the game.
Fans of the long-running franchise might need to wait a while before a hypothetical Mario Kart 9 hits shelves. But that’s okay because MK8 is still one of the best games ever made, so getting more tracks for the existing title isn’t going to upset anyone.
Gran Tourismo 3: A-Spec
Gran Tourismo is the biggest name in simulation racers (unless you’re talking about full-scale simulation tools like iRacer, but that’s another story). The series started as a PlayStation exclusive back in the 1990s, and it’s remained one of Sony’s killer apps in the intervening 20-something years.
The Gran Tourismo franchise is renowned for its photorealistic graphics, a wide variety of cars, and white-knuckle, realistic racing mechanics. If you’re a fan of Formula 1 or NASCAR racing and you want to play a game that replicates that feeling, Gran Tourismo is perfect for you.
Perhaps the best entry in the series is the third, A-Spec. The 2001 PlayStation 2 exclusive features a massive soundtrack, a respectable selection of cars, and a truly staggering number of options. While its predecessor, GT2, and its sequel, GT4, each offered a wider selection of vehicles, GT3 happened to land at the precise right time to make it a huge game for the racing genre.
Burnout 3: Takedown
The Burnout franchise is far from realistic. One of the series’ defining features, in fact, is that it has some of the most outrageous car crash physics of any video game ever made. The third entry in the franchise, Takedown, took these renowned crash physics to the next level and even made them the main attraction of several game modes. The renowned “Road Rage” mode even gives you a high score based on how many other cars you can wreck!
While Burnout 3 won’t prepare you for the next Formula 1 circuit, it’s an absolute blast to play. It’s more on the arcadey side, but that’s a good thing when it’s this fun to play. There’s something ineffable about the pure joy of zooming narrowly around oncoming traffic before slamming an opponent off the track and surging to the front of the pack in this buttery-smooth racing game.
The game is also delightfully tactile. The vehicles feel heavy and brutal, swinging around like wrecking balls before coursing into position for the race. Even the sound design sells this “heavy” design ethos, with gear shifts and sharp turns causing dopamine-surge sound effects. While many games have tried to replicate Burnout 3’s addictive crash-centric gameplay, few have ever created a racing game that’s quite this brutal, satisfying, and skill-testing all at once.