The 13 Most Iconic Car Video Games of All Time
Racing isn’t just about the physical world – the roar of the engine, the thrill of taking a hairpin turn and blowing past an opponent, those can be found in the virtual world as well. We’ve loved car video games since they first debuted decades ago, and that love affair is still going strong today. Whether you’re an old-school gamer and raced for the first time on an Atari, or you’re more into modern gaming platforms like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, there’s no doubt that you’ll recognize at least some of these awesome titles.
13. Spy Hunter
While it doesn’t sound like a racing game (and it was only nominally part of the genre), 1983’s Spy Hunter gave you a Z28 outfitted with machine guns and unlimited ammunition. It also included anti-air missiles, smokescreens and other tools of the spy trade. It debuted from Midway, a game maker renowned for the balance and quality of their creations, and remains a top-rated game from back in the day.
12. Pole Position
If you were a regular at the arcade, or later owned a console, there’s no doubt that you played Pole Position more than once. It featured almost 3D graphics, which were considered cutting edge at the time, and pitted your skills against other racers. It was one of the very first games to feature in-game advertising (which we didn’t mind at the time), as well as some actual segments of the Fuji racetrack.
In the early 1990s, it was F-Zero that we all loved to play. This futuristic racer let you power up your jet engines and fly across the screen. There were magnets, mines and other pitfalls that stood between you and victory, and the Super Jet boost was the holy grail for most of us, so we could plow through the course at near-light speeds.
10. Super Mario Kart
Debuting just a single year after F-Zero (1992), the first Mario Kart was a game changer (literally). If you look closely at the game, you’ll see the roots of many other popular games that would come down the line, including Forza and Gran Turismo.
9. Need for Speed
This was one of the first racing games to go for real world authenticity in a big way. Need for Speed let you drive a wide range of cars, including the ever-popular Ferrari. Races took place on city streets, and the game’s popularity ensured that it was ported to everything from consoles to PCs in a hurry. It eventually became one of the most popular franchises in the racing segment.
8. Daytona USA
Arcade regulars no doubt recall the Daytona USA game with its iconic seats, but it eventually made its way to consoles as well. It offered a wide range of track shapes and cars, and you could swap out parts and modify your racer with your winnings.
7. Twisted Metal
Who doesn’t remember this racing game that featured everything from taxicabs to big rigs and clown cars? Twisted Metal attempted to combine the thrill of the race with the destruction of a combat game, and managed to do it surprisingly well. It spawned a series, although none of the sequels managed to capture the popularity of the first one
6. Streets of Sim City
If you don’t recall this particular title, don’t worry. It came out back in 1997 for the PC only, and was based on the Sim City game, which was incredibly popular at the time. it let you build your city during the day, but take to the streets you’d paved at night, wreaking havoc and laying down rubber. It was also an interesting way to see your city up close and personal (and the car combat factor was also fun).
5. Gran Turismo
Debuting in 1998, the first game spawned a long-lived series that gave players access to an incredible 176 different cars and some of the most challenging tracks in the world. There was no car combat, no clown cars and no crime bosses, but Gran Turismo was one of the best realistic racing games ever to hit PlayStation.
4. Colin McRae Rally/DiRT
One of the few car games dedicated to rally racing, this title was released for the PC and PlayStation, and let players pit their skills against dirt, gravel and some of the toughest conditions possible. Notably, this series also incorporated some of the smoothest graphics and best music for the time, in addition to the solid racing experience.
3. Grand Theft Auto
It wouldn’t be possible to complete this list without at least a mention of the now-notorious Grand Theft Auto franchise. While all of the entries share a significant number of similarities, they’re all very playable, and give you the chance to get behind the wheel of a wide range of different vehicles (in addition to some less savory activities). Whether you love them or hate them, these games have become an indisputable force in the industry.
The Forza series was one of the first for Xbox that delivered stunning visuals, as well as access to an incredible range of racecars. Customization was the rule, and the damage modeling became legendary. It was also one of the first to enforce consequences for drivers, so they couldn’t just carom around the track without worrying about the damage it caused to their cars.
1. Assetto Corsa
Debuting in 2013, this is one the most recent titles to make this list. The game featured incredibly realistic graphics, and placed you on a laser-scanned simulation of some of the most challenging tracks on the planet. Not particularly popular with casual gamers, Assetto Corsa was (and remains) a favorite with gearheads and hardcore racing fans.
There you have them, some of the most legendary racing games ever to hit the arcade, PC or console. Car video games have been with us since the very beginning, and they’ll remain a core component of the gaming industry into the future, as well.