PaddlUp's quintessential catalogue of driving games
Our recent journey into the realms of nostalgia brought driving games to the forefront of our minds and posed the question, what are the best driving games ever produced? Emphasis is placed on plurality here, as each title brings something different to the party and rarely is it the case that one driving game can deliver everything that an individual is looking for.
That being said, we have compiled a catalogue from the past few decades ranging from sprawling free roam masterpieces to ultra-realistic simulation software. So make yourselves comfortable, fasten your seat belt, and get ready for a trip back through multiple generations of consoles to the furthest reaches of the virtual expanse.
Need For Speed: Underground 2 (2004)
*Riders on the storm intensifies*
Let's be honest, you knew this one was bound to make an appearance at some point so we thought we'd get it in early. Need For Speed: Underground 2 (NFSU2) is a Playstation 2 classic that many remember, not only for its fantastic soundtrack but also for its vast array of customisation options.
NFSU2 redefined the arcade racer in the mid-2000s with its vast map catering to almost any style of driving although it isn't available in its entirety from the word go; progressing through the campaign is the only way to unlock each of the map's unique areas, offering everything from near-endless drag strips to technical mountain passes, NFSU2 has it all. Couple this with a number of different competition types like circuit, drag and drift and that leaves you with a recipe for an instant classic.
With huge portions of the online community calling for a remaster of late, the popularity of this street-racing classic shows no signs of slowing down.
Race Driver: Grid (2008)
From the moment you boot up Race Driver: Grid on your Xbox 360 – or Playstation 3, there's no judgement here – you are hurled into a fast-paced, adrenaline-filled tutorial with absolutely no stabilisers in sight, and from there you are quickly enveloped in the career of a racing driver making their way through the ranks.
Arguably Codemasters' finest work, Grid carved out something of its own genre with an enjoyable blend of arcade and simulation themes running through its veins. Not only that, but at the time this title introduced some truly innovative and exciting features that quickly made an impression on fans. As one of the early adopters of the 'rewind' feature, many gamers may have experienced it initially whilst playing Grid. Customisable in-game audio was another welcome addition allowing players to select a name or nickname for their driver coach/race engineer to address them as while racing.
Several follow-up Race Driver: Grid titles have been released over the years, all of which have landed just shy of the mark that the original hit so successfully and precisely.
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (2001)
Now, this was a tricky one. So many of Gran Turismo's projects could have featured in this list but ultimately, nostalgia has reigned supreme in the decision-making process for which GT eventually made the cut.
It's hard to believe in the current climate of ever-improving video game graphics, but at the time Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec was a graphical revelation. The in-game physics, vehicle sounds and huge selection of around 185 cars thrust this game into the fore as one of, if not the most advanced racing title of the era.
GT3's infamously challenging licence tests added an extra element to the experience instead of just all-out racing along with some frankly, ludicrously lengthy endurance races to boot.
Even to this day, the opening to Feeder's Just a Day has the ability to transport you back to Tokyo Route 246 at the wheel of a Toyota Castrol TOM'S SUPRA '00.
Forza Horizon 3 (2016)
Playground Games' free roam spin-off of the Forza franchise really hit its stride with the third instalment of the Horizon series and the ninth edition overall. In-game, the player is able to traverse a fictional version of Australia's bustling urban areas and wide-open outback in as calm or exuberant a fashion as takes your fancy.
Horizon 3's sheer depth and breadth of landscapes is arguably its greatest achievement; picturesque beaches, sprawling cities, wine country and dense forest areas, take your pick! These impressive settings are the perfect backdrop for a game boasting a sensational blend of open-world exploration and a range of racing competitions, not to mention the extensive car customisation that we'd come to expect from Forza.
Once again, an exceptional soundtrack is made available through a selection of radio stations. More often than not, it seemed rude to not to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes in your car of choice whilst listening to the likes of The 1975, Blink 182, White Lies and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Assetto Corsa Competizione (2018)
If you are serious about ultra-realistic simulation titles, and we are at PaddlUp, then Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC) is the perfect racing game for you.
Building on the incredibly successful Assetto Crosa base game, ACC narrows the player's field of view to simply GT cars while simultaneously expanding the opportunities for advanced car set-ups and focusing on real-world motorsport aspects such as strategy, pit stops and tyre/fuel management. Opponent AI also enjoyed a dramatic increase in both realism and difficulty adjustment options.
ACC takes inspiration from real-world series such as the Blancpain GT Series and so, the selection of cars and tracks is somewhat limited, but that's the name of the game. This title is designed around the die hard racing fan, looking for the ultimate experience in GT racing realism.
SEGA Rally (1995)
We couldn't not feature a rally title in our modest compilation, so naturally, we chose the undisputed king of all virtual off-road experiences, SEGA Rally as discussed in our recent interview with Shmee150.
Best known for its lengthy residency in the world's arcade venues, this title encapsulated the previously inaccessible world of rally and made it accessible to the general public at the price of a few coins per turn.
The arcade phenomenon was then ported to game consoles and received similar acclaim in subsequent years, selling over 1.2 million units. At the end of the day, who can't help but get excited about going sideways in a Lancia Delta or Toyota Celica in extremely pixelated period liveries?
Mario Kart DS (2005)
Mario Kart DS is, in our minds, the ultimate expression of the motorsport exploits of everyone's favourite Italian plumber, as Mario and his cast of unlikely racing driver pals made their long-awaited return to a handheld console.
Dry Bones and R.O.B. made their kart-racing debuts on the DS while there were also some welcome item additions of the Blooper and Bullet Bill, which are now undisputed staples of the series. Similarly, this was the first Mario Kart title to feature classic tracks from older games which have now been included in each subsequent game.
Despite the latest attempts to improve the recipe in the shape of Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the DS offering still stands tall amongst the greats of the franchise.
Formula One 99 (1999)
As is the case with many annual sports gaming titles such as FIFA or Madden NFL, Formula 1 has, more often than not, come under scrutiny for releasing what is essentially the same product year in, year out. At the turn of the century, however, we were still marvelling at the fact that we could drive Formula 1 cars around the circuits they raced on in any capacity so there first world problems were less of an issue.
With a full complement of drivers and circuits to choose from and Murray Walker's iconic commentary ringing through your ears, you could very easily get lost in what at the time seemed a realistic representation of the Formula 1 World Championship.
The graphics may be somewhat lacking by today's standards but with the option of two player, quick race and grand prix in 1999, Formula 1 99 was certainly a memorable instalment.
PaddlUp team picks
Gran Turismo Sport (2017)
Chosen by one of our consignment team for its set-up options when adjusting the car and its sense of realism. The latest instalment of the ever-popular franchise held its own against long-standing favourites of previous generations.
OutRun made our team's list as a result of the star car featured in the game, a Ferrari Testarossa. This 1980s classic became an instant hit in arcades, bringing driving games to the masses as well as a subsequent release on home consoles.
TOCA Race Driver 2 (2004)
A worthy predecessor of the aforementioned Race Driver: Grid, TOCA Race Driver 2 was chosen by this writer largely based on nostalgia. Having put enough hours into this title to prompt the purchase of a second copy, as the first became overly worn over time, this game was an unforgiving 'driving simulator' that was ahead of its time.
Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004)
This game is so popular that it was the title of choice for not one but two of our team. Need for Speed: Underground 2's range of cars and customisation options, and of course that incredible soundtrack was enough to be chosen as a favourite driving game of all time, twice!