Over the past few weeks, I’ve put together opinion pieces ranking the Forza series of games, and I have also in the past talked about the greatness of Need for Speed as a franchise. So, this got me thinking: what are the best racing games out there, to fulfil your every driving dream? The more I turned this over in my mind, the more it became clear to me that I was trying to compare apples and oranges. You see, there are two distinct styles of racing game: the simulation type, where tweaking tyre pressure to shave a tenth of a second off your lap time makes lots of sense, and the arcade style where you can be found pulling off outrageous handbrake turns and getting style points for it; games in which you don’t care how much pressure is in your tyres as long as the neon under the chassis is working.
So, in this article I’m going to embrace the sillier side of the racing games – the arcade racers, the anything goes side of the genre. So here, in no particular order, I’d like to list my seven favourite arcade-styled racing games/franchises. So start your engines and let’s peel out of here!
Forza Horizon is pretty much a shoe-in for this list, taking as it does a great looking set of motors, a great looking landscape, and then mixing the two with a dash of arcade goodness to create brilliant racing games.
It’s fair to say that I don’t really think that Playground Games have made any missteps with this series; every game has been worth playing, every game has brought a different challenge, and every game has been very different to the one that preceded it.
From zooming around America, via Italy and Australia, to finally driving the mean streets of Great Britain, I feel like I’ve been on holiday without leaving the couch. Of the games I’ve played, I have to let Forza Horizon 4 edge it, as it is by far the biggest game to play, the map features roads and places that I have actually visited, like Edinburgh Castle for instance, AND we get to drive on the correct side of the road, always a massive bonus.
With the expansions also bringing a huge amount of extra content, especially the LEGO Speed Champions, I have to say that Forza Horizon 4 is pretty much the only driving game that you actually NEED to have in your life. It’s a consistently popular choice for when the team get together, with our fine editor in particular being a massive fan of the game. However, he isn’t above barging you off the track in order to win, so just be warned…
Horizon Chase Turbo
Another game, another use of the word “Horizon”, but the experience couldn’t really be any more different.
As I said when I reviewed Horizon Chase Turbo back in December 2018, this is a love letter to the glory days of the 1990s. Back in the day I remember a friend who had a Commodore Amiga, while I was still using the old Megadrive that was kicking around our house. Anyway, one of his games was Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 and despite looking to my modern eyes like a dog’s dinner, it was, in its day, the most exciting racing game ever. It was fast, it was furious; it didn’t feature NOS or neon – it was just a fast game that was hard to play. The sense of speed was brilliant.
And it’s this sense of speed, this sense of joyfulness, that Horizon Chase Turbo recreates so perfectly. From the slightly boxy looking cars with made up names despite being recognisable, to the faint stripes on the road that add to the sense of careering headlong into every blind bend, to the joy of hitting the boost and screaming around bends sideways, fully crossed up and an inch away from disaster… you never feel so alive as when you know that you are taking liberties with a game, but you manage to get away with it.
Horizon Chase Turbo is great fun, and a real blast from the past that thoroughly deserves its place on this list.
Split/Second, when it launched, was a super interesting proposition. The story mode followed the exploits of a bunch of people taking part in a reality TV show, racing for glory and, of course, for money.
But what made the gameplay interesting, and just that little bit different from the rest of the arcade racing genre, was the concept of Power Plays. As you tore around the tracks, performing stunts, such as jumps, and actioning clean racing skills, such as drifting and drafting, your Power Play meter was filled, with three possible levels it could go to.
Triggering a Power Play had different effects, depending on how far the bar had charged before you used it. These would range from simple explosions, which could trigger shockwaves, all the way up to ensuring that dams would breach and buildings would explode, opening up shortcuts to utilise.
And of course, it’s not just us that can trigger these Power Plays; the other competitors in the race could do so as well. Having a building dropped on your head when you’re winning is never funny. Choosing when to use these Power Plays, whether it was better to wait for the more powerful Plays to charge or use a less powerful attack, but much more regularly, added a level of strategy to the gameplay. It was this which made Split/Second pretty interesting to play.
Add in a multiplayer mode that also worked well, and what you had here was an all action, all adrenaline-fuelled racer that was straight out of the top drawer of arcade racing games.
Need for Speed
Need for Speed is a long and storied franchise, with its roots way back in the same era as the one that Horizon Chase Turbo was writing the love letter to. There have been so many games in the series that it’s hard to remember them all, each and every one taking a different approach to the racing action.
It is a series that works up from the poor games (take a bow, The Run) to the ill judged attempts at the sim crown with the Unleashed series, to the sublime games that culminate in the creme de la creme – Most Wanted. You see, Most Wanted had everything that you could ever want from an arcade racer: a story that kind of made sense, a bad guy/rival that you could really hate (I was so happy when Razor got his comeuppance) and more high performance cars than you could shake a stick at.
It was helped by the motors too. The hero car, the BMW M3, was not as good as the Lamborghini that you could win off one of the earlier rivals, in my opinion, but it was still a lot of fun to drive. However the main focus and entertainment came from provoking the police, then leading them on a merry dance through the city, before losing them and making your escape. As the levels of the chases increased, the Police stepped up their responses; trying to escape from choppers and through roadblocks got very interesting indeed!
Of course, I can’t fail to mention the Underground games, as these were extremely influential to the gaming tastes of many; creating a proper chavtastic Vauxhall Corsa is still a proud moment.
Trackmania Turbo takes the arcade racing game rule book, tosses it away, and then reverses over it for good measure.
The tracks are absolutely insane, the speed on display is truly ridiculous, and more than once I had my jaw dropped by the sheer outrageousness of the game. Drifting round a corner at some ridiculous angle, torturing the tyres, and then having to get the car gathered up into a straight line for a massive jump or loop just made this a driving experience that was like no other – at least not until the Hot Wheels expansion for Forza Horizon 3.
So, the main pillars of the arcade racing genre – namely speed, spectacle and silliness – are all here; all turned up to 11. With a track editor to play around with, to create your own tracks in case the ones that the developers have put in are not silly enough, this is the complete package. I honestly haven’t played a faster game since I was a pro at Burnout 2, chaining boosts together almost infinitely.
If you want a game to test the reflexes, with only a slight chance of eye bleedage, Trackmania Turbo is the game for you.
As I stated in my review of Inertial Drift on Xbox One, this takes the already highly hooliganistic pursuit of drifting, and turns it on its head by introducing the Drift Stick.
Using the right stick to drift, while still using the left stick to either make the drift more pronounced or less severe by countersteering is a concept that is hard to explain – but it is one that is so intuitive to use it just has to be right.
Within seconds of starting the tutorial, you’ll be hooning round an entire course sideways, only lifting off to transition perfectly through a tight section of track. Add in cool retro/futuristic graphics, with a cel-shaded look (I can’t be the only one that remembers Auto Modellista on the PS2, can I?), and Inertial Drift looks great too.
The sheer exuberance of the gameplay here is the real hook, urging you to keep playing in order to unlock all the cars. You’ll then be trying to master all the vehicles that feel so different to each other, and then will keep on trying to complete the Grand Prix and Challenges.
Grinding (in both senses of the word) never felt so good.
With a little more love for the online section of Inertial Drift, this could well be a contender for “most fun had with clothes on” – full stop!
Looking like the love child of Daytona and the aforementioned Horizon Chase Turbo, Hotshot Racing is another that is strong enough to make it onto my list.
This is another retro looking game, with chunky car graphics, but with an all too modern turn of speed. Its like those guys that pay for an old E-Type Jag, but then replace the brakes and suspension to make it up to date, without spoiling the classic looks.
Hotshot Racing takes the inspiration from games like Burnout, where drifting and generally hooning about builds boost, which can be used to make you faster, which causes you to drift more and… well, you get the picture.
And as much fun as the single player modes are, the online is even better, with numerous options to try out. On top of standard racing, the Cops and Robbers is a good laugh, trying to turn everyone into a cop before the race is over, and there’s even the chance to drive as fast and as far as you can without crashing or being crashed into, lest your car explodes. Imagine having to drift a corner with your car already on fire, in order to get the boost you need to reach the next checkpoint – I’m sweating just thinking about it…
So, these are my top 7 arcade racing games. Have I got my list bang on? Have I missed an obvious game out? What is your favourite arcade racer and why? Let us know in the comments!