If you’re a fan of racing games or just a general petrol head, you’re currently spoilt for choice right now. In 2020 there are some great games on PC, PS4 and Xbox – and they cater for every audience too: there’s iRacing for the hardcore racers, Need For Speed for those who prefer arcade handling – and lots in between.
We’ve rounded up the best racing games you can buy right now, looking at everything from graphics, handling and how easy they are to play with a controller. Most of these games are multi-format, too, so you’ll be able to play them whatever machine you have.
1. Gran Turismo Sport
GT Sport is the latest instalment of Sony’s flagship racer, and in many ways, it doesn’t stray too far from the classic Gran Turismo formula. The graphics are incredible – especially if you’re using a PS4 Pro with a 4K HDR TV – and there’s an impressive list of cars and tracks. In fact, developers Polyphony Digital have released fresh, downloadable content every month – though that’s slowed as development for Gran Turismo 7 ramps up.
However, GT Sport trims many of the offline modes and challenges we’re used to seeing in Gran Turismo, and replaces them with a robust – though sometimes flawed – online mode. Weekly races and time trials with different conditions will keep you coming back, and if you get really good, there’s even an FIA-approved GT Sport championship to enter.
Handling-wise, GT Sport parks itself in an interesting space between the arcade and sim world. With assists on, it’s possible to play it with a controller – but you’ll need a wheel and assists off to get the fastest times. That’s when things get a little more interesting.
There are more realistic and arguably better-looking games out there, but in 2020 GT Sport is still a must for those with a PS4.
2. F1 2019
If you want to emulate last year’s Formula One championship in any way, you’ll need to get F1 2019. Just like the sport itself, the F1 game has been about incremental progress for the last few years, but that still means this year's game is the best yet.
Fire it up on the PS4, Xbox One or PC and you’ll be presented with the same slick visuals you’ll see on Sky F1’s broadcasts – along with all the F1 and F1 teams, drivers and tracks from the 2019 season. Those who regularly watch F1 will find the voices familiar, too.
This year’s game also sees an expanded garage of classic F1 cars – so you can sample the different eras of the sport or feel the rate of technological development.
F1 2019 tries to scratch your Formula One itch the best it can, and in a way it succeeds. Alongside the accurate presentation and good graphics, many fans will particularly enjoy an improved career mode: It thrusts you into the world of F1, forces you to work your way up the ranks and also sees you playing a role in the development of your car. Get it all right, and you can achieve Lewis Hamilton-levels of successes.
Like GT Sport, F1 2019 caters for all skill levels and those with a controller or a racing wheel setup. It’s easy to play with both, though you’ll want to take all the assists off for more of a challenge.
iRacing has been around for years, but the Coronavirus pandemic has brought it to the attention of more motorsport fans and gamers than ever. Simply put, it’s PC-only racing sim that requires a powerful PC, fast internet connection and racing wheel – as well as a decent amount of cash.
Unlike some of the games here, iRacing doesn’t have a tonne of official licenses – but what it does have, it does extremely well. Cars are painstakingly recreated and combined with laser-scanned tracks and cutting-edge tyre models – and the result is the next best thing to a multi-million-pound simulator. Real drivers prefer iRacing, and you’re probably going to find it very hard.
It costs a fair amount, too: it requires a monthly subscription to play, and if you want more cars and tracks than those provided at the start, you’ll need to pay around $15 a go to get them. But they are at the same high level of detail as everything else.
A strict matchmaking process and high entry cost mean online racing is great, however.
4. Need for Speed Heat
Does everything above sound a little bit too... serious? If so, the arcade, neon-soaked stylings of Need for Speed: Heat could be more your style.
Just like previous games from the series, NFS Heat focuses on illegal street racing with a heavy dose of modding and drifting culture; and this is the best installment in a while.
Heat puts the spotlight back on outrageous rides and epic-chases from the law. There are 127 cars to choose from, from brands you’d expect such as Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin – but Heat’s garage also features some cult classics such as the Volvo 240 and BMW E30. Whatever car you pick, it’s possible to customize your ride to within an inch of its life, with everything from vinyl wraps the exhaust note of a car customizable by the driver.
5. Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 centers on an action-packed festival, with activities and races scattered in the surrounding area. Think something between the Cannonball run and Glastonbury and you’re pretty much there.
Like Gran Turismo Sport, Forza inhabits an area between arcade and realism, so it works well with a pad or racing wheel. A wheel is always best, but trigger-specific feedback on the Xbox One controller means it’s even possible to get an idea of grip levels when you’re braking or accelerating.
Cars can be modified in both looks and performance, and the selection to choose from is impressive – but in some ways the environment is the star of the show in Forza Horizon 4. Playground games has accurately captured the Cotswolds in all their glory, and captured the seasons, too. Sometimes you’ll be battling for the lead under heavy rain and copper trees, and at other times you’ll enjoy full grip under the beating sun.
Forza Horizon 4 is a worthy game to sink time into, but it’s still easy to dip in and out casually.
6. Assetto Corsa Competizione
F1 might be the pinnacle of sport, but the GT endurance class is where you’ll find some of the best racing. Porsches, Ferraris and Aston Martins race wheel-to-wheel, all with different sounds and characters – and small collisions aren’t necessarily race-ending events. Overall, it’s got all the action and variety you’d want – and the races are much longer, too.
The Blancpain GT is one of the most popular GT championships, and now Kunos Simulazioni has made the game equivalent.
If you played Assetto Corsa, you’ll already know how realistic and accurate the handling is – only this time you’ve got more to contend with. Just like real GT racing, the weather, time and tyre management play a key role in Competizione; adapting your driving style to the conditions and planning your strategy is just as important as driving fast.
And it looks good, too: On a high-end PC, the transitions between night and day are spectacular, and rain droplets are rendered in stunning detail.
On console? You’ll be glad to know ACC is coming to the PS4 and Xbox One later this year, though how much is retained from the PC version remains to be seen.