10. Forza Motorsport 7 (2017)
If they ever invented racing game Top Trumps, Forza Motorsport 7 would be the all-conquering card you’d covertly sneak into your own hand when you were shuffling the deck. You simply can’t argue with the numbers in FM7 – over 800 cars from 99 manufacturers and 30 circuits on which to stretch their legs. If your favourites aren’t in here, have you checked you’re not into horse racing instead?
As befitting of a game with a production budget that would match the GDP of a small country, Forza 7 is also visually stunning. This semi-sim pushes current top-end Xbox hardware to its absolute limits with its silky 60 frames per second motion and crisp 4K visuals. It’s like a spa weekend for your eyeballs.
9. Blur (2010)
An ill-fated attempt to mix Mario Kart with Project Gotham Racing, Blur was bought by approximately three people. But those three people will have been treated to one of the most exhilarating and underappreciated multiplayer racers of all time.
Blur took real cars and real locations, but then crammed them full of Mario Kart-inspired power-ups and more neon lighting than an 80s themed nightclub. The result was a game that had two major sources of satisfaction: legitimately rewarding handling and the air-punching joy of clattering your mate with the game’s legally distinct equivalent of a red shell. It shouldn’t have worked but it absolutely did, like the chocolate covered pretzel of racing games.
Unlike that particular delicacy, it was also unashamedly British, so more traditional racing game locations like downtown San Francisco and Tokyo were joined by the chicken shop lined streets of Shoreditch and the beach front in Brighton. The only thing missing was torrential, unending rain.
8. Rocket League (2015)
Ernest Hemingway is famously quoted as saying that there are only three sports, bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering and that the rest are “merely games”. We’d be curious to know what old Ernie would have made of Rocket League, which is a bit like his beloved motor sport but instead combines kerosene-powered cars, a giant football and literal explosions when you score. Not enough dead bulls for him, probably.
We’ll confess, Rocket League is a driving game in only the very loosest sense of the word, in that you’ll spend a good proportion of your time airborne, but we’re claiming this brilliant multiplayer sports game as our own regardless. As we’ve established many a time on TG TV, football is infinitely better with the addition of wheels, not least because we’ve never had a goal disallowed by VAR in Rocket League…
7. Need For Speed Hot Pursuit (2010)
While UK coppers are busy cutting about in BMW 3 Series Tourings, the fictional police force in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit’s Seacrest County spend their time agonising over whether to pick the Carrera GT, the Zonda Cinque or the Reventón. Presumably while the perp is busy getting away.
Still, chasing them down again as the fuzz was the most fun part of Hot Pursuit, with each improbably expensive ‘cruiser’ loaded with with spike strips, EMPs and deployable roadblocks. The racers, meanwhile, have additional boost and a defensive jammer, making for a perfectly balanced police chase.
This all played out on the beautiful, sweeping roads of an open world and blended Need for Speed’s garage full of licensed exotica with Burnout’s face distorting speed and crunching takedowns. Just don’t think too hard about where 5-0 are getting the money for all this. Or how you fit a light bar to a Carrera GT, for that matter.
6. F1 2019 (2019)
While in the end this year’s F1 championship served up some brilliant races, the official game dishes them up every time you hit the start button. F1 2019 might be the culmination of years of incremental improvements but that’s exactly the reason why it’s also one of the best racing games around.
The witchcraft at its heart is the fact that somehow F1 2019 manages to translate all the baffling nerdery of top level motorsport into meaningful, understandable gameplay. This means you can juggle tyre strategies, pit windows and hybrid boost levels without feeling like you’re taking an Applied Engineering exam. It’s also got some of the smartest, raciest AI in any game, which means every Grand Prix plays out like an end of season highlight reel. The only difference being, Lewis Hamilton might not actually win for once.
5. Dirt Rally 2.0 (2019)
Dirt Rally 2.0 might not be able to compete with the budget of your Forzas and your Gran Turismos, but what it does do is perfect the art of offroad handling in a way we’ve never experienced before. Whether you’re dancing a modern R5 machine through a sequence of fast sweepers or muscling a Group B monster around a narrow mountain hairpin, Dirt Rally 2.0 is absolutely convincing, to the point where we now insist on having pace notes read to us during the morning commute, wear a bobble hat to bed and have changed our name by deed poll to Juha.
Drop a bit more change on the DLC and Dirt Rally 2.0 offers remastered versions of the stages from the first game in the series, making it a complete rally package. Which incidentally is what people have started calling us too, only in slightly ruder terms.
4. Assetto Corsa (2014)
Assetto Corsa has become so much a part of the simracing furniture, it’s difficult to remember a time before it existed. Like all great racing sims, AC nailed the fundamental handling first and foremost and then set about adding cars and tracks to taste. While there’s plenty of racing machinery sitting on slick tyres in there, such is the nuance of the physics model the game’s actually rarely better than when you’re slithering around in an E30 BMW M3 on far less grippy road rubber. We’ve never been more keen to have less grip in a racing game.
By the time the Ultimate Edition of the game swung around there were over 170 vehicles to sample and one of the first laser-scanned versions of the Nordschleife to test them on. Now if we can just prise ourselves from the cockpit of that E30 M3…
3. GT Sport (2017)
When GT Sport launched with a limited car list and only a vestigal single player mode back in late 2017, everyone questioned whether Gran Turismo series creator Kazunori Yamauchi had finally lost his touch. It turns out, though, it was his way of gently forcing players towards an online racing ecosystem that took real motorsport as its inspiration. Then once everyone was indoctrinated into the cult of daily online races, he went and added more cars and a career mode too, the wag.
As it stands, GT Sport is the pinnacle of console simulators and Gran Turismo 7 in all but name, with a handling model that’s intuitive and convincing and a structure that borrows the best bits from real life racing. The car list is also expanding, for free, on a month by month basis and new circuits pop up from time to time too. If you ever fell out of love with Gran Turismo, it’s time to grab some flowers (from the petrol station, natch) and rekindle that romance.
2. Mario Kart 8 (2014)
As racing icons go, Mario doesn’t exactly fit the mould. He’s not an athletic, precision sportsperson who lives entirely on a diet of chicken and brown rice. Nor are his overalls plastered with sponsor logos. Though admittedly he does at least have a Nigel Mansell moustache for added downforce.
In spite of the Italian plumber’s questionable credentials, Mario Kart offers up some of the best racing action around, it’s just that rather than on a Sunday afternoon it usually happens after closing time at the local pub in the idyllic setting of the Circuit de Dave’s Living Room. The game’s winning formula has been often imitated but never bettered and in particular Mario Kart 8’s swooping, vertiginous circuits are surprisingly spectacular for a game whose engines top out at 200cc. Plus the more recent Nintendo Switch version, which allows you to pop out the controllers for instant two player battles, means you can claim Mario Kart bragging rights anywhere you like. On the bus, in the park, under the table during overly long family dinners…
1. Forza Horizon 4 (2018)
Here it is then, our pick for the best driving game of the decade and the one that most accurately captures our love of cars. The Horizon series forcibly injected fun back into the Forza franchise back in 2012, taking the series’ comprehensive car list and giving you an open world sandbox to enjoy them in. Forza Horizon 4 was that intoxicating cocktail refined, but also introduced seasonal weather transitions and was set in a compressed, greatest hits of the British countryside. It’s basically like tearing across the intro to Emmerdale in a McLaren Senna.
Most importantly, while it features real cars it doesn’t spend time wringing its hands over being realistic. Instead it’s the sort of automotive adventures that you fantasise about but would never be able to achieve in real life because dry stone walls are actually remarkably solid and landing a 1000ft jump in a Bugatti Chiron would launch a very expensive pair of front shocks into a low earth orbit. But if there’s one thing this entire list proves, it’s that reality is overrated anyway…