It’s been an excellent decade for racing games, with familiar franchises and brash newcomers alike offering incredible cars, breathtaking beauty, and fierce competition in equal measures. From the sprawling countryside of Britain to the tight corners of Monaco, these are our favourite racing titles since 2010. Buckle up.
Forza Horizon 4
(Playground Games, Xbox One, PC)
In a year full of astonishing games, Forza Horizon 4 deserves its spot as one of 2018’s very best releases, and absolutely earns its place as one of the best racing games of the decade. This should come as no surprise to fans of the series – Forza Horizon has proved itself time and time again as one of the best racers available for Xbox One, with a gorgeous open world and an unbeatable selection of cars that make it a compelling choice for petrolheads.
Forza Horizon 4, however, took things up a gear, offering up a shared, lovingly created open world Britain with changing seasons, where lakes freeze over in winter and the weather is as unpredictable as it is in the actual UK. Jam-packed with incredible features and sights to see, the game maintains the lofty gameplay standards of its predecessors while delivering one of the best-looking racers of all time. The sheer amount of things to do in Forza Horizon 4 would be enough to recommend it, but really, this is close to vehicular perfection – and we’ll never look at the British countryside the same way.
Mario Kart 8
(Nintendo, Wii U, Switch)
Few games have completely owned a genre quite like Nintendo owns kart racing. Mario Kart has never faced any real competition, and those games that have tried (Crash Team Racing, Sonic Team Racing) it’s blown away with a well-aimed green shell. Despite this, Nintendo still keep innovating. Mario Kart 7 on 3DS added wings to the mix, while its sequel added HD graphics and, what else, anti-gravity sections, letting you loop the loop and leave banana skins on the wall. The Nintendo Switch re-release, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, then fixed any niggling issues by bringing back proper arena maps for battle mode, leaving us with the best couch multiplayer racing game since the 1990s. We’ll leave you to decide whether we mean Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64.
(Codemasters, PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One)
It’s fair to say rally games lost their way for a bit in the early 2010s. With the sad end of the Colin McRae Rally brand, Codemasters drifted towards more arcade-style games under the DiRT and Grid names – until an excellent course correction in 2015 with DiRT Rally, which took the series back to its authentic routes. This game is as joyous as it is unforgiving, a sim that, when everything clicks into place, is as exhilarating and authentic in equal measure, with stages over a dozen kilometres in length to master in cars stretching from the 1960s to the present day.
But DiRT Rally was (and is) not remarkable purely as a rally game – as good as it is. It stands out as one of the best racing games of the decade for the way Codemasters re-invented how sims are released. Motorheads like to tweak and iterate their rides, and the same is true of sim racers: Codemasters’ slow-cook launch of DiRT Rally in early release on PC, with an endless stream of updates, allowed fans to feedback on what they loved and did not in a way that a one-shot release as a boxed game on consoles could never allow.
(Slightly Mad Studios, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
A surprise hit back when it landed in 2015, crowdfunded Project CARS’ success became distinctly unsurprising once you actually played Slightly Mad’s brilliantly tight racer. Offering fewer frills, Project CARS delivered where it counts: realistic tyre wear and damage, a straightforward career mode, full race weekends and, most importantly, challenging races with AI counterparts.
To paint it as an unpolished experience would be misleading, however. Project CARS looked great, was regularly patched by Slightly Mad to ensure its idiosyncrasies were ironed out and handled like a dream. Its follow-up built on the foundations laid by its predecessor and is an excellent racer in its own right, but Project CARS belongs on this list for introducing a brand-new racing franchise to be reckoned with. For people who love racing and little besides, Project CARS was a gift.
(505 Games, PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Italian artisanal craft is renowned the world over, from its fashion houses to its sports car makers, and developers Kunos Simulazioni are the sim software equivalent. If Forza is what a huge team with Microsoft’s big budget money can come up with, Assetto Corsa is a labour of love, crafted by a small team of petrolheads who love racing so much that their studio is above a racetrack. Their passion alone has taken a small PC game to consoles, spawned a sequel and allowed racing fans to tweak and throw classic cars around legendary tracks like Silverstone, the Red Bull Ring and Laguna Seca. Nab the right gear and you can even immerse yourself by playing in VR, or checking out one of the many mods from a thriving online community. This isn’t a game you play to win or complete, it’s one you play to savour.
Gran Turismo 6
(Polyphony Digital, PlayStation 3)
‘Sometimes less is more’ is clearly an idiom Polyphony Digital are uncomfortable with when it comes to flagship racing series, Gran Turismo. Leaving no wheel unturned, GT has always been an absolute feast for driving fans who dine on detail – with 2013’s Gran Turismo 6, in particular, offering a veritable buffet of cars, features and experiences that leave most racing sims in the dust.
Barring minor tweaks, GT’s gameplay and handling has remained steadfast through the series’ many instalments – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but GT6 offered a breadth of content barely seen before. With 120 extra vehicles (taking the tally up to almost 1200), a slew of new tracks (including real-life favourites Silverstone and Brands Hatch), and the ability to race in a variety of different categories – from NASCAR, to ice, to everything in between – GT6 marks the work of developers who know that, in some cases, more is more. And it’s all the better for it.
Forza Motorsport 7
(Turn 10 Studios, Xbox One, PC)
Much was made of Forza Motorsport 7’s relationship with the Xbox One X, and how the game’s incredible scale and looks would showcase the full force of Microsoft’s latest powerhouse. And with good reason: far from a fresh lick of paint, Forza Motorsport 7 runs at 60 frames per-second in native 4K with full HDR, meaning that those rolling dynamic weather systems and subsequent effects and breath-taking scenery really were awe-inducing. However, even better news was that the game was stunning – in every sense – regardless of what you played it on.
With a staggeringly comprehensive car list, featuring much-loved favourites and cult curios alike, astonishing level of detail on both the vehicles and environments, and enough tracks to have you racing until the wheels fall off, Forza Motorsport 7 proved to be so much more than a pretty face. Also, those much-touted dynamic weather systems really do make a difference to each race, with the game capable of challenging even the most experience of racing fans. As an overall package, Forza Motorsport 7 is hard to beat, and is easily one of the best racers of the decade.
(Codemasters, PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Truth be told, you could pick any official F1 game of this generation and get the same general gameplay. That sounds less like a backhanded compliment than a straight up slap, but it’s simply because developers Codemasters mastered the handling and feel of F1 years ago, with a series of driving aids you can scale up or down to suit your difficulty level. What is there to add apart from new drivers and cars every year?
Actually, as it turns out, a story mode, which sees you take on the role of an apprentice F2 driver and work your way up to the big time. That, and a finely tuned competitive multiplayer element parked front and centre in the game menu, make F1 2019 not just the best F1 game so far, but one of the best racing games of the decade, period.
The Crew 2
(Ubisoft, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia)
It’s simple. If you want open world racing verisimilitude, you go for Forza Horizon. If you want open world racing with cars and bikes and planes and boats and monster trucks, you go for The Crew 2. Ubisoft condensed a whole continent worth of Americana into one big map for you to travel across however you see fit, a sort of four-wheeled answer to the mountain range of its snow sim Steep. It’s designed to play with mates, and while you’ll find fewer still logged on 18 months after launch, the sheer number of challenges, from rally raids to drifting competitions means you’ll have a blast whether going up against the AI or your online buddies. It’s also probably one of the best games to launch on the Google Stadia streaming service on day one – pick up a pad and your Android phone or Chromebook and start playing wherever.
Gran Turismo Sport
(Polyphony Digital, PlayStation 4)
Arriving four years after the monolithic success that was Gran Turismo 6, fan expectation for the first in the series to hit PS4 was high. As the series was accustomed to doing, Gran Turismo Sport saw these expectations and hurdled over them, delivering more detail, cars and fierce competition to prove that seven instalments in, GT was only just getting started.
Perhaps the most notable addition was Sport mode, replacing the previous entries A-Spec. Sport mode essentially made online competition even fiercer, pitting drivers of a similar skill level against each other online, with a new Advanced Matchmaking System ensuring a more even playing field than before. It was also this upping in competition that made GT Sport a key player in the growth of racing as an esport, and while its incredible looks and impeccable attention to detail were already hallmarks of the series, it was here that GT Sport carved out its name as one of the best, most exciting racers around.