The 20 Best Racing Video Games Of All Time

Feb 6, 2020

Category: Entertainment

Video games, as we know them, have really only been around for a few decades, with the earliest examples barely qualifying as video games according to modern standards. However, in that time, hundreds of thousands of titles have been released. Go into your average superstore store — like Target or Walmart — and you’ll likely find an entire section of the store dedicated to video games, consoles, peripherals, and more — and they represent only a tiny fraction of the more recent game releases.

One of the best parts of gaming, besides the sheer volume of options, is that there are game types that are great for just about any kind of gamer. If you want something to tease your brain, there are puzzle games. If you’re into big-budget cinematic action, there are games so beautiful and big that they’re often better than watching movies. If you want to immerse yourself in a multitude of strange and unusual worlds, there are virtual reality titles. But the genre that concerns us today is one that, as car lovers, is very close to our hearts. Of course, we’re talking about the 20 best racing video games of all time. The following titles and franchises are perfect for all you speed demons out there — whether you’re a modern-day auto enthusiast or an old-school arcade fiend.

Burnout

With its first release dating back to 2001, Burnout was developed by Criterion Games with the express intention of illustrating what the brand’s RenderWare game engine was capable of. However, it wasn’t until the franchise’s acquisition by EA in 2004 that the series really came into its own. Combining fast-paced racing with combative elements, these games rewarded players with speed boosts for taking out their opponents through aggressive driving and ramming their enemies off the track and/or into the rest of the traffic on the courses — which added a competitive element not found in many other franchises. The highlight of this series and the first to integrate open-world elements into it was Burnout Paradise, which was later remastered and re-released in 2018. In fact, its success eventually resulted in EA tapping Criterion to develop an entry for another franchise on this list, Need for Speed.

Original Release: 2001
Latest Release: 2018
No. of Entries: 8

Crash Team Racing

With the massive commercial and critical success of Nintendo’s Mario Kart 64, it was only a matter of time before Sony had a similar title made for their first home gaming console. And while Crash Team Racing was nowhere near as popular as Mario Kart, it was actually a pretty spectacular game and even had some features that exceeded those of its rival franchise. Including a similarly colorful cast of characters taken from the Crash Bandicoot universe, this quirky go-kart racing game — called CTR for short — would develop a cult following and near-legendary status amongst Sony loyalists. In fact, it was recently remastered and re-released for 2019 under the moniker Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled with updated graphics, mechanics, and some new additions — like online competitive pay and some cosmetic customization.

Original Release: 1999
Latest Release: 2019
No. of Entries: 2

Crazy Taxi

The first offering on our list that doesn’t quite fit into the traditional definition of a “racing game,” Crazy Taxi first came to prominence as an arcade title that operated on a race-against-the-clock premise, where players would ferry customers around a semi-open course. The original release, which came out in 1999, could only be played on arcade cabinets, however, it was ported to the Dreamcast home console shortly thereafter in the year 2000, once Sega realized what a hit they had on their hands. Since that time, this esoteric racer has seen six other sequels on varying platforms — including the Game Boy Advance — and it has even elicited a non-racing mobile business management sim called Crazy Taxi Idle Tycoon (akin to the similarly-named RollerCoaster Tycoon). Of course, our hearts rest with the primary racing titles of this particular franchise.

Original Release: 1999
Latest Release: 2017
No. of Entries: 7

Cruis’n

For many a ’90s kid, our first introduction to the entire racing genre of video games can be traced back to a single franchise popularized in arcades and pizza parlors around the United States. The original entry in that franchise, Cruis’n USA, was released by Midway in 1994 but was ported to the Nintendo 64 in 1996, just a couple of months after the home console was released. One of the most memorable and unique things about the original was that it offered two ways to play: either players could pick from individual tracks or they could choose a mode that put them in sequential order — with the game starting on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and ending in Washington DC. Later titles followed a similar, albeit less linear format and even led to a spin-off version of the game that takes place in the world of The Fast and The Furious. The series hasn’t held up extremely well over time, but the simple mechanics and friendly learning curve do allow for enjoyment on all levels of play.

Original Release: 1994
Latest Release: 2017
No. of Entries: 6

Diddy Kong Racing

While Mario Kart is largely considered the best go-kart racing video game franchise of all time, there is also an argument to be made that Diddy Kong Racing, released back in 1997, was actually superior to Mario Kart 64 in several ways. For starters, it offered a trio of racing vehicle styles — karts, hovercraft, and planes — but it also had a more engaging single-player campaign mode and some more unique gaming mechanics (like the ability to upgrade weapons). In fact, the only thing Diddy Kong didn’t have on its primary rival was probably character recognition. Unfortunately, though the franchise was slated to have a follow-up on the GameCube for 2004, the project was scrapped entirely — with only leaked footage ever making it in front of the public. Still, in spite of the curious cancellation, the first and only entry in the series is still touted as one of the best racers ever.

Original Release: 1997
Latest Release: N/A
No. of Entries: 1

Dirt

Formerly known as Colin McRae Rally, the Dirt series actually dates back to 1998 — although it wasn’t quite in the mainstream until the more recent entries. It’s not that the earlier games weren’t worthy of recognition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You see, they actually contracted with Colin McRae — a World Rally Championship driver — for extensive amounts of technical support to ensure the games were as realistic and accurate as possible. Its jump in popularity, however, seems to be more coincidental than connected to the naming conventions. And that’s because one of the series’ most popular modes, gymkhana, also happened to be added to the first entry sans the McRae name. Dirt 3 sought to capitalize on the popularity of stunt driving (ala Ken Block) and it ended up paying off in a major way. The mode has since been dropped in more recent entries, but this series remains one of the best representations of rally car racing in video games.

Original Release: 1998
Latest Release: 2019
No. of Entries: 13

F-Zero

A playable character and fan-favorite from the Smash Bros. game series, Captain Falcon’s origins actually trace back to a 1990 racing game called F-Zero. And while the futuristic racing title is pretty dated now and hasn’t held up well to age, it was actually pretty revolutionary for its time. That’s because this game was the first to use a technique called “Mode 7 Scrolling,” which allowed the developers to simulate a 3D environment in a 2D space. In fact, it’s the same technology that was later implemented in Super Mario Kart, the first game in that legendary series. Unfortunately for F-Zero, the first entry ended up being the shining star of the franchise and, while Nintendo kept trying to capitalize on this stylized high-speed thriller, none of the later entries could quite stand up to the original. Still, it can’t be ignored that the series is both iconic and very important to the history of racing video games.

Original Release: 1990
Latest Release: 2004
No. of Entries: 10

F1

Of all the types of racing games on this list, there have been — by far and large — more Formula One games than any other. However, for our purposes, we’ll be focused on the officially-licensed series developed by Codemasters starting in 2010 — the same one that started with Psygnosis’ 1996 title, Formula 1. In similar fashion to franchises like Madden or MLB The Show, Formula One is probably the closest thing to a yearly game release in the world of racing games. And that makes it difficult to pinpoint one specific highlight, as each entry boasts minor improvements over the previous games. That being the case, it could definitely be reasonably argued that 2019’s F1 is the best of all time from just about any point of view. It offers remarkably in-depth gameplay, a tremendous amount of authenticity, and graphics that are second only to real life. If you’re a fan of the fast-paced world of Formula One as popularized by the likes of Senna, Schumacher, Lauda, and their contemporaries, this is not a series to pass up.

Original Release: 2010 (1996)
Latest Release: 2019
No. of Entries: 14

Forza Horizon

Forza is such a formidable force in the world of racing video games that it actually takes up two spots on our list — and it very much deserves both of them. The first, perhaps obviously, is reserved for Forza Horizon. Originally released in 2012, this series introduced an element of gaming that had seen a huge boom in popularity but had yet to be implemented in any racing game, that being open-world mechanics. The original took place at a fictional festival set in Colorado, but subsequent entries have let players explore the likes of Southern France and Northern Italy, Australia, and (most recently) the United Kingdom. Pair that unmatched level of freedom to a gargantuan amount of in-game content, more cars than anyone could hope to ever drive in real life, unique expansions (including one themed around Hot Wheels), and more and it’s pretty easy to see why this sub-series has earned its own spot on this list.

Original Release: 2012
Latest Release: 2018
No. of Entries: 4

Forza Motorsport

Ask a random sample of racing video game enthusiasts what they think the greatest franchise in the genre is and you’re almost definitely going to hear “Forza” uttered. That is unless you’re asking PlayStation loyalists, as Forza is — much to the chagrin of PS4 gamers everywhere — an Xbox/Microsoft exclusive. In fact, if it wasn’t for that somewhat major drawback, this might be considered the across-the-board best racing series of all time. Still, even for Sony fanboys, it’s simple to see the value of Forza and its many, many entries. The very first release boasted a whopping 231 cars, 35 tracks (both real and fictional), an incredible amount of realism (both in regards to graphics and gameplay), and plenty of ways to stay busy. And that’s only gotten better with each subsequent release. If you’re a racing enthusiast who owns a Microsoft console and you don’t own at least one Forza game, well you’re probably not actually a racing enthusiast.

Original Release: 2005
Latest Release: 2017
No. of Entries: 7

Gran Turismo

The Coca-Cola to Forza’s Pepsi, Gran Turismo is Sony’s long-running exclusive racing simulator and actually represents PlayStation’s highest-selling franchise of all time. Granted, a part of that can be credited to the fact that it’s going on 23-years strong and boasts a whopping seven main entries and eight spin-offs. But it also has to be recognized that just about every entry in the series has been met with both critical acclaim and financial success. One of the greatest points of appeal for this franchise is its near-unmatched realism, owed largely to its spectacular graphics, a physics system based on real-world driving experiences, and a bevy of seemingly small details that make a huge difference to the end product — including in-game engine sounds based on real recordings. Just to give you an idea of exactly how detailed the in-game designs truly are, allow us to inform you that the premium car models from Gran Turismo 5 were created using a whopping 500,000 polygons — and that was back in 2010. A more realistic console-based driving sim, there is not.

Original Release: 1997
Latest Release: 2017
No. of Entries: 7

Grand Theft Auto

Admittedly, we’re fudging the numbers a bit by putting Grand Theft Auto on this list, as it’s not a traditional racing game by any stretch — even though fast-paced driving is absolutely deeply-ingrained in the series. However, it also can’t be ignored just how much of an impact this series has had on the world of video games, especially when it comes to racing games. Furthermore, the later entries — especially GTA Online — focus heavily on their racing sub-modes. In fact, there’s still new racing-focused content coming out for the online game to this day, despite the fact that it was originally released in 2013. That kind of longevity and staying power is unheard of in such a fast-paced and ever-advancing world and it deserves recognition as a result. Sure, GTA wasn’t intended to be a racing game, but it does appear to have morphed into one over time. And the fact that it’s racing sub-modes are better than a fairly wide array of actual racing games is altogether impressive.

Original Release: 1997
Latest Release: 2013
No. of Entries: 7

Mario Kart

The crown jewel of cartoony go-kart video games, no racing games “best of” list would be complete without at least a mention of Mario Kart. This series is such a powerhouse, in fact, that four of its entries have settled into the top-25 best-selling Nintendo games of all time. In fact, of the 617.31 million Mario games sold up to this point, Mario Kart sales represent a whopping 136.43 million of them. And that doesn’t just happen by accident. Since its initial release back in 1992, Mario Kart represents some of the most polished, fun, inclusive, and clever gameplay of any video game franchise, bar none. It’s approachable for all ages and skills, has a relatively low learning curve but a very high skill ceiling, and its a dependable go-to game whether you want to play alone, with friends, or online against strangers.

Original Release: 1992
Latest Release: 2019
No. of Entries: 14

Need For Speed

With a whopping 24 different releases to its name, Need For Speed is second only to F1 in regards to the sheer volume of games. The difference: all of the NFS games (post-1991) were developed under the Electronic Arts umbrella. And while that’s not a guarantee of success, it does appear that EA has found a winning formula, as this fast-paced racing series is one of the most successful of all time — boasting over 150 million copies sold. For reference, that’s more than Mario Kart by nearly 15 million. In fact, this series is so successful it was actually turned into a fairly watchable movie starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame — which is more than can be said for most video game movies. One of the biggest things that can likely be credited with the franchise’s success is variety; while most of the titles share some basic functionality, they vary widely in tone, in-game behaviors, focus, and more. And that means they stay fresh for longer.

Original Release: 1994
Latest Release: 2019
No. of Entries: 24

Out Run

There are two things that are important to know about Sega’s Out Run — which began life as an arcade-only title before inevitably and eventually being ported to a number of other systems. First, it’s the oldest game on our list by a fairly wide margin, with cabinets hitting arcades as far back as September of 1986. Second, it’s also Sega’s most successful arcade game of the 1980s. There are a few reasons this game is so impressive for its time. For starters, the graphics were absolutely spectacular — aided by the inclusion of Ferrari’s Testarossa as the vehicle you pilot. Second, it was managed with a small team of ten, helmed by now-legend Yu Suzuki (who ended up doing much of the work himself), and produced over the course of just ten months. Finally, it had some impressive replay value, as it actually afforded players up to five different ending destinations depending on their path. Mash those all together and it’s simple to see why this ’80s masterpiece is still talked about with reverence today.

Original Release: 1986
Latest Release: 2003
No. of Entries: 6

Project CARS

Project CARS came into the scene in 2015, well after franchises like Gran Turismo and Forza were already well-established in the racing video game genre. And while the competition wasn’t exactly fierce in regards to how many options were available on the market, Project CARS still needed to differentiate itself from the two major players in order to be relevant and earn a fanbase. They did this in a couple of unique ways. For starters, this game franchise is not exclusive to any one system — meaning you could play it on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PCs. More importantly, however, it gave players more control over how they progressed in-game by allowing users full access to 74 vehicles and 110 tracks right out of the box. So it goes, that (along with excellent graphics and mechanics) was enough and the franchise got a second entry released in 2017 with more tracks, more cars, and more of everything else.

Original Release: 2015
Latest Release: 2017
No. of Entries: 2

Road Rash

The only motorcycle-focused racing game on our list, Road Rash is another that dates back to the beginnings of the video game craze. In fact, it was originally developed and released for the Sega Genesis home console before being ported to a multitude of other systems. It was similar in format to Sega’s ’80s masterpiece Out Run, in that it featured a 3rd-person down-the-road point of view. But it was different in that Road Rash added a combative element to the game, in which players and/or NPCs could strike opponents with punches, kicks, and even weapons like chains or clubs. By modern standards, Road Rash is fairly simplistic in its appearance and gameplay. But for its time, it was massively innovative and offered things people had never seen before. And it is remembered fondly by swarms of gamers that were around to see it in its heyday.

Original Release: 1991
Latest Release: 2000
No. of Entries: 6

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer

Despite its commercial success, owed largely to the overarching popularity of Star Wars as a whole, The Phantom Menace was widely critically panned and, even for die-hard fans, is considered one of the worst entries in the Star Wars franchise. However, there was one shining bright spot in the cinematic disaster: the fast-paced world of pod racing. As it turns out, the concept translated beautifully into a racing video game, which was aptly and perhaps obviously named Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. While the movie only showed a short few minutes of the fictional sport, this game allowed players to travel to a bevy of different planets in the Star Wars universe, including the track on Tatooine from the film, and race against all of the on-screen racers from the movie. And while the follow-up title, Racer Revenge, didn’t quite have the same spark, the first title remains one of the best unique racing and/or Star Wars games of all time.

Original Release: 1999
Latest Release: N/A
No. of Entries: 1

Stuntman

Stuntman and its subsequent follow-up were met with mixed reviews. At their worst, critics panned the games for being a bit too linear and, at times, far too difficult and frustrating. However, they were also widely praised for their innovation. You see, this was not a racing game in the more traditional sense, where you’d be pitted against a slew of other racers. Rather, it functioned as more of a time attack-style point-to-point racer where your goal was to make it from one end of a track to the other in a given period of time. The difference between this franchise and, say, Crazy Taxi, however, is that you were also tasked with performing a series of stunts during these point-to-point races — sometimes as though you were a driver on a big-budget action movie set and sometimes in large arenas ala monster truck rallies. While the two entries came and went without many folks remembering or caring about them, their uniqueness certainly deserves more recognition than it received.

Original Release: 2002
Latest Release: 2007
No. of Entries: 2

Trackmania

There are a lot of hyper-realistic racing simulators out there. Trackmania, however, is not one of them. Think of this franchise like the bright orange Hot Wheels track of the racing video game world. Its levels are often excessively vibrant, physics-defying, and all-out bonkers. Perhaps the biggest thing that this franchise has going for it can be narrowed down to two major points: drop-in/drop-out racing and track customization. You see, a lot of the purpose of this franchise is to allow players to get a quick jolt of fun without too much of an investment. The tracks are short enough to stay interesting through multiple runs, but there’s also a lot of variety if you want to play for longer. And if you’re really interested in pushing your limits, you can build your own race tracks and then race on them. You can also race on other people’s custom tracks, which makes for even more replayability. If you like racing and you’re not too concerned with realism, this is an exceptionally-fun franchise to check out.

Original Release: 2003
Latest Release: 2016
No. of Entries: 10

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