About a decade ago, racing games seemed to be a genre on their way out - arcade racers like Blur and Split/Second weren't selling, great studios were closing and even mainstream series like Need for Speed were struggling to get the attention they once had. Outside of a Mario Kart or a Gran Turismo, it seemed the days of the big-ticket racing game, and of the genre as an exciting mass-market draw, were over.
Happily for racing fans, things now look much better. Forza Horizon made driving games cool again, indie studios have resurrected the joys of the 90s-style arcade racer, the PC simulation racing scene is more competitive than it's ever been, and Codemasters has ridden a successful stint on the Formula One licence all the way to an incredible $1.2 billion acquisition by EA, which shows just how highly racing games are valued now.
Here we present our picks of the best racing games to play right now - mostly modern, because this is a genre that tends to improve with technology, but with a classic or two that has stood the test of time thrown in. As usual, we're focusing on games that are easy to find and play on current hardware. To break things up a bit, we've divided out list four sub-genres: open-world racing games that combine racing and exploration over a large map; arcade racing games which are all about immediacy and fun, and less about realism; motorsport games based on licensed real-world sports; and sim racing games which concentrate on the authenticity of the driving experience.
THE BEST OPEN-WORLD RACING GAMES
Forza Horizon 5
Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
It started out as a spin-off from the Forza Motorsport circuit-racing series, but Forza Horizon has now become the main event: a beautiful, uplifting series of racing games for everyone set across huge, real-world-inspired maps. Horizon 5 - which also features in our lists of best Game Pass games and best Xbox Series X/S games - brings the formula to Mexico in another loving package that includes the sprawling campaign, knockabout multiplayer, moreish car collection and festival good vibes we expect from Horizon games. Horizon 5 doesn't introduce much that's new (beyond the excellent co-op mode, Horizon Tour) but refines everything that the previous game did, and has a much better campaign structure for sorting through the ridiculous amount of stuff to do. The visuals are absolutely spectacular, too.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered
PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
Given that the series would soon return to its familiar slump, it's easy to forget that, for a brief period with Criterion at the reins, the Need for Speed games served up some of the best driving experiences around. Hot Pursuit's crunchy combat and wide-open roads drilled into everything that makes Need for Speed great, and this remaster only reinforces the impression that this was a high watermark for the series. We await Criterion's fresh stint at the helm with baited breath.
Burnout Paradise Remastered
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Before Criterion took over Need for Speed, it created the legendary arcade racing series Burnout, which took the elegant boosting and drifting of 90s classics like Ridge Racer and Daytona and reframed them for the 00s as a grimy contact sport - all screen shake, sideswipes and twisted metal. 2008's Burnout Paradise was even more of a trailblazer, with its open-world map and completely open gameplay framework. It's not surprising that such a daringly modern game should age so well, as it has in this lovely remaster. (Now remaster Burnouts 2 and 3 as well please!)
THE BEST ARCADE RACING GAMES
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
You can gather a few friends and play any Mario Kart game, right back to the 1992 Super Nintendo original, and be guaranteed a good time. Every game in the series boasts refined arcade handling, tricksy courses, a lovable cast of characters and a capricious cruel streak that can turn any race on its head. No wonder these are the best-selling racing games ever. The latest, Mario Kart 8 - the Deluxe version of which features in our list of the best Switch games - might be the best Mario Kart since the very first, with superb local and online multiplayer, a rewarding solo game, deep customisation, luscious visuals and a banging live-band soundtrack. The ongoing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC support that comes via the unexpected but welcome Course Packs only make this all the more essential.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Crash Team Racing is what happens when a bandwagon-jumping, off-brand cover version of a supposedly inimitable hit - Mario Kart, of course - is made by one of the most talented studios in the world, Naughty Dog. It doesn't deviate far from the source material at all, but it gets everything exactly right, and the end result is hugely entertaining. All the same things can be said of this faultless, better-than-you-remember-it remake by Beenox. If you're not playing on Switch, or if you just love Crash, Nitro-Fueled can't be beat for local multiplayer fun.
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Some modern arcade racers can be a little too betrothed to their iconic predecessors, and while, yes, Inertial Drift does take several leaves out of Ridge Racer Type 4's book, it emerges as entirely its own thing. Thank the unique twin-stick drift mechanic for that, one that takes the slightest acclimatisation - but once you've got your head and your fingers around it, there's nothing quite like it.
Want to read more? See our full Inertial Drift review.
Art of Rally
PC, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
There are plenty of retro racers around that play like cover versions of past classics, but Art of Rally is something a bit more subtle and original than that. It pays tribute to the golden age of rallying with its toylike, unlicensed car designs, and to a lost era of racing games like Micro Machines with its unusual top-down camera. It's definitely an aesthetic, and a very stylish one at that. But what makes the game so fun is the surprisingly deep handling model that makes it a better recreation of the sport than you have any right to expect. Originally launched on PC, but now available on Xbox and Switch.
Want to read more? See our full Art of Rally review.
PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
This wonderful banger-racer - which, just like Art of Rally, boasts many iconic and completely unlicensed cars (shhh, don't tell the manufacturers) - channels the classic Destruction Derby, as well as the fondly remembered Flatout. That's not surprising, as it's by the original Flatout studio Bugbear. It's a simple formula, but has everything that you need: old cars with weighty, wallowing handling that lurch and smash and lunch each other's bodywork convincingly thanks to a brilliant physics engine. Simple pleasures.
If it's an arcade racer you're after, how about one plucked from today's actual arcades? Yes such things do exist, and some studios have been a constant on the scene - like Raw Thrills, headed up by Robotron inventor and all-round legend Eugene Jarvis. Cruis'n Blast has all the exubernace of an 80s arcade classic combined with some eye-searing 90s gaudiness for a combination that's deliciously playable. The Switch port's fairly handy, too. Arcade perfect? Perhaps, but there's also an argument that Cruis'n Blast is arcade racing perfected in its own madcap way.
Wipeout Omega Collection
This lush package is currently the best way to play the iconic, futuristic PlayStation racing series - the original ultra-fast anti-grav racer, and still the best, even if the PS3 and Vita entries remastered here (HD, Fury and 2048) are not quite of the blistering calibre of the original PlayStation games from the mid-90s. They are still gloriously slick, fast and beautiful, retaining the clean and cool sci-fi aesthetic that has always set the series apart from its brasher competitors.
SEGA AGES Out Run
We usually favour recent releases over retro classics in our best-of lists, but a handful of oldies play as fresh now as they ever did, and that goes for this blast of summer breeze from 1986. Sega's stone-cold classic of free-wheeling road racing is available on Switch in this lovely version by the remaster artists at M2 - although, if you still have a 3DS, it's even better on that machine, with the stereoscopic visuals. It's just you against the clock, the traffic and a branching route, drifting forever in a topless Testarossa. Bliss. (It's a crying shame, though, that OutRun 2 and its superb mid-00s console versions are no longer available.)
Want to read more? Find out why OutRun is still the pinnacle of driving games.
THE BEST SIM RACING GAMES
Dirt Rally 2.0
PC, PS4, Xbox One
With all due respect to the excellent WRC 9, Dirt Rally 2.0 is the best off-road driving simulation around. In fact, it's probably the best there has ever been. While it may not be a perfectly rounded package, its handling model is second-to-none and the driving experience is as purely gripping as anything else in any of these categories. It's hard, and best experienced with a good wheel, but for communicating the sheer thrill and challenge of a car and a course, there's nothing better.
Gran Turismo 7
After the stopgap of Gran Turismo Sport - the term stopgap seeming a mite unkind to the PS4-exclusive, seeing how effective a foundation it provided - Gran Turismo 7 feels every inch the mainline entry, with the restoration of the campaign, the reintroduciton of the world map and plenty more besides. There are well-documented troubles, too, with the economy at launch being particularly miserly and not helped by the unwelcome inclusion of some grim microtransactions, but Polyphony Digital has addressed some of the concerns, with more fixes on the way. The road ahead looks plenty promising.
Even if you're new to sims, you'll probably know a little about iRacing: that it's expensive, time consuming, tough. It is also, if you allow it, an all-encompassing take on some of the very best aspects of motorsport. Work your way through the ranks and earn a slot in a team endurance event and you'll be witness to all the camaraderie, excitement - and, yes, crushing disappointment - of the real thing. There's no doubt that some aspects of iRacing are getting a little long in the tooth - and there are certainly better-looking sims out there - but with all those years of experience since the service rolled out well over ten years ago comes a competence that you can't find elsewhere.
Want to read more? Find out what makes iRacing the ultimate driving sim.
Assetto Corsa / Assetto Corsa Competizione
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Kunos Simulazioni offers up two very different experiences - though they're both so good we've cheated and included both. The original Assetto Corsa might be getting a little long in the tooth, but with a handful of the right mods it can still be the best pure driving game on PC, while Competizione - after a handful of welcome updates - now offers a purebred racing experience that's the measure of iRacing. When it comes to GT racing - perhaps the healthiest and most diverse form of motorsport right now - it's pretty much peerless.
There's still the sense that rFactor 2 has yet to reach its potential, and that it might be some time until it properly does so - Motorsport Games' acquisition of developer Studio 397 combined with mouthwatering licences such as BTCC and WEC suggests there's plenty to get excited about in the future. For now, though, and for all its little faults, there's no denying the authenticity of rFactor 2's handling, serving up a simulation model like no other. If you've any interest in pretend race cars, you at least need to take this one out for a spin.
Want to read more? Find out how rFactor 2 hosted the Le Mans 24 Hours Virtual in 2020.
THE BEST MOTORSPORT GAMES
PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Stadia
Some old problems persist, and a handful of new ones crop up in what's still an occasionally lumpy package, but none of that can hold back this year's F1 game as being the best yet. An all-new story mode, riffing heavily off the overstated drama of Netflix's Drive to Survive, works surprisingly well, and it's matched by decent next-gen versions and a few welcome nips and tucks to the existing racing. The AI puts up a decent fight, there's a whole season's worth of racing and it all looks impressively authentic - and given we're enjoying a season for the ages in F1 right now, it's fitting that the official game is up there with Geoff Crammond's 90s efforts in being some of the best takes on the sport to date.
TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Some other games have attempted to replicate the madness and majesty of the Isle of Man's 37.73 mile long road course - who can forget riding on the back of a sheep in Sega's characterful if clumsy 90s arcade effort? - but none have lent into it with quite the sense of purpose of Ride on the Edge. KT Racing smoothed out some of the bumps for this sequel, while importantly staying true to the bumps and bends of the course itself, making for a racing experience that stands alone and manages to do justice to the great event.
PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
Milestone's official motorbike series doesn't exactly stride from strength to strength, but it's a dependable take on one of the most exciting motorsports in the world. This year's model has all the official riders and tracks, as you'd expect, and is bolstered by the entertaining arrival of a new single-player mode that wraps your action up in documentary-style cutscenes. Yes, it's a lot like Drive to Survive - or Unlimited, as MotoGP's own take on the format is called - but it's also a lot like the slightly older pairing of Faster and Fastest, with the director of both Mark Neale working on MotoGP 22's own take.