The 5 Best Driving Games of all Time
5. OutRun (1986)
Video games, especially arcade titles, were on the rebound after a major flop in the early 1980’s nearly crippled the entire industry. So when Sega released this arcade racer with a moving cabinet, lush graphics, a killer soundtrack and epic racing action, the recovering video game business and the arcade-going public took notice in a huge way. The creator Yu Suzuki billed this game, not as a racing game, but as the ultimate driving game.
As the player, you controlled a man driving with his blonde girlfriend in the passenger seat. You drove a red Ferrari Testarossa convertible, but since Sega did not have a licensing agreement with Ferrari until the sequel, there was no reference to the vehicle really being a Ferrari. Other cars in the OutRun universe included; 1972 Volkswagen Beetles, 1971 Chevrolet Corvettes, 1985 Porsche 911 Turbos, and 1985 BMW 325Is.
The Gameplay was pretty straightforward. Players controlled the man in the red Ferrari through 5 checkpoints between 5 laps within a set time limit. Before each checkpoint there would be a fork in the road allowing you to choose one of two possible environments.
This game was the first arcade-style racer ever introduced. Duplicated thousands of times over it was responsible for some of the games I will be writing about in this article.
4. Driver (1999)
The person in the passenger seat next to you has just robbed a bank. Your hands tense as you press your right foot to the floor of the supercharged V8 rear wheel drive beast. You focus on the road ahead of you, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic as you narrowly miss the police barricade. You duck into an ancient abandoned warehouse, the flicker of red and blue lights bright ominously through the windows. You’ve eluded the 5-0, for now…
Inspired by the car chase movies of the sixties and seventies, you play as an undercover cop who is trying to infiltrate an organized crime syndicate. How far will you go?
The gameplay was pretty unique for its time. Basically the protagonists of the tale are the cars featured in it. The only time the driver is seen is in between missions during the cinematic cut-scenes. What you have is essentially ‘Grand Theft Auto’ style driving without all the running around shooting people. You drive, that’s it.
The only real downside, in my opinion, is the lack of licensed vehicles. Not a huge deal breaker because these cars are obviously modeled after real life muscle cars of the sixties and seventies. Whatever faults this game had were overshadowed by the incredible car action, epic police chases and fantastic sound effects. It had gamers everywhere foaming at the mouth for this title. (Despite its success, there was never a notable sequel made to this fantastic game. I’m sure a reboot of this franchise is right around the corner, at least I’m hoping so)
3. Need for Speed (1994)
Upon its release, it was clear that NFS pushed the envelope of what was possible in a driving game. First available for PC, with numerous sequels made for the console market, this game was truly groundbreaking. For instance, when most gamers out there were still playing F-Zero, (futuristic, yet low-fi) NFS treated players to realistic graphics and driving physics.
This game boasted a cast of some pretty cool licensed vehicles. The developers even worked with the automotive magazine, Road & Track to match vehicle behavior, including the sounds specific to each vehicle. The Porsche 911 Turbo sounded like a Porsche 911 Turbo. The Acura NSX shifting gears as it accelerated up the street sounded right to life and incredible.
Other than the realism of this title, a large part of the gameplay focused on eluding the authorities. It would become the major theme of subsequent games in the series. Maybe it’s the speed demon in me, but I have always loved games that allowed you to run from the police just as they’re writing the ticket. You could nearly hear the cop choking on the exhaust from your tail pipe. It was gorgeous.
This game had it all and certainly ushered in the era of the driving simulation. NFS games would become well-known for being some of the best out there. Much like Mario, the next NFS title is always right around the corner.
2. Mario Kart (1992)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. What? Mario Kart? Really? Bear with me, it will all become clear. Released by Nintendo in 1992 during the Golden Age of 16 bit consoles, nothing like it had ever been done before. You had access to a huge cast of adorable Nintendo characters who would race go-karts around various tracks inspired by the world of Super Mario Bros.
Really cool is that during the racing you would obtain power-ups that could really screw over your opponents. Luigi or Toad is the only thing stopping you from total victory? Throw a turtle shell at him and watch him spin out. Princess Peach is right behind you? Drop a banana peel and delight in the aftermath. Although you might be dead last going into the final lap, you could still pull off a first place end.
It was fantastic to see all these cuddly creatures shooting one another with projectiles while jockeying for the Golden Cup.
This game became an instant classic, with each game in the series becoming larger and better than the last. Mario Kart was a fantastic arcade racer with a malicious twist that was very addictive and satisfying to play.
1. Gran Turismo (1999)
The ultimate driving simulation would be the best way to describe this title. More than 150 licensed vehicles were featured by basically every car manufacturer on the planet. Car companies and vehicles I had never heard of were here. Cars like the Pagani Zonda and the Panoz Esperante became household names. It was a real educational experience playing this game. Not only did you buy and drive these vehicles, but you also fitted your pretties with upgrades to help give you the upper hand against your competitors.
The gameplay was hyper-realistic and tough to master. You had to buy specific licenses in order to buy and drive certain vehicles. But, progression through the game became highly rewarding. So much so that you didn’t mind racing the 24 Hour LeMans, which would really take about 2 hours to complete in real time.
When it came to writing this article, I knew instantly that this would have to take first place. For its time, it had an incredible amount of detail and polish. It set the bar so high that it is still the standard for which all racing simulations are judged. That’s fantastic for us gamers out there, because Grand Turismo helped influence some fantastic driving games like, Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing which had to be made to the same high standard as Turismo was.
(Side note to Sony – It’s been nearly 5 years since I was first promised Grand Turismo 5 on the Playstation 3. Every year it keeps getting pushed back. Come on Sony, release the game already or don’t release it at all. Quit dangling this carrot in front of our faces)
So, that’s my pick for the best racing games of all time. Is there a racing game out there that has had an affect on you? By all means, send me your input. Is there a game on my list you thought I was way off base with? Give me your best shot.