Eight Great Racing Games That Will Make You Feel Old

Forza who? Grand Theft what? Bow down to the pioneers that made driving simulators such effective time-suckers.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


POLE POSITION (1982) — The bread-and-butter racing game, and one that now demands, but rarely gets, respect. Graphics were primitive and opponents spaced awkwardly throughout the track, but the game did teach you the importance of holding a race line and the dark art of dodging puddles at Fuji. An oscillating engine hum and low burble of the rumble strips was the only soundtrack needed. No distractions, no gangsters sticking you up in the pits. Pole Position was pure, 8-bit bliss.


IVAN “IRONMAN” STEWART’S SUPER OFF ROAD (1989) — Few games could stand up the stadium-style truck racing in Ivan Stewart’s Super Off Road. The upright arcade version featured three-abreast steering wheels and pedals that placed competitors side-by-side. Even for the era, the game was surprisingly accurate with its depiction of off-roading articulation. Throwing and elbow or two at your opponent mid-corner was fair play. After all, rubbin’ is racin’.


F355 CHALLENGE (1999) — Although Sega’s one-make Ferrari racing game was available on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, the real thrills were found in the arcade. Not only did gamers find headrest-mounted speakers and three adjacent screens for optimal driver vision, they also were treated to F1-style paddle shifters or a gated manual transmission with a clutch, the better to tease goosebump-inducing mechanical howls from an F355. The steering wheel even communicated feedback while cornering. Some arcades still carry the game—a testament to the quality of the gameplay as well as the hardware.


COLIN MCRAE RALLY (1998) — Named for the Scottish rally kingpin, this one gave players a taste of the most iconic World Rally Championship cars of the 1998 season, including McRae’s own Subaru Impreza WRC (and a few scrappy Ford Escorts). The graphics were sophisticated for the era, although the eight stages were not accurate to their real-life equivalents. An in-game navigator provided authentic rally guidance for the course ahead: “5 right into 4 hairpin left, square right.” Even by today’s standards, Colin McRae Rally remains one of the more entertaining—and technical—racing games developed.


AUTO MODELLISTA (2002) — Here was a different sort of racing simulator, combining comic-book visual elements with cult tuner cars. The Capcom-produced game was proudly Japanese, boasting several mountainous sections, called touge, Tokyo road courses and the famed Suzuka Circuit. Players also got a plethora of tuning and styling upgrades. Despite the game’s embrace of the unconventional, it was also faulted for its cars’ handling characteristics. For gamers who appreciated the reprieve from the seriousness of other driving simulators, however, Auto Modellista hit a sweet spot.


CRUIS’N WORLD (1996) — Anyone who loves Cruis’n World for its realism should get their brains scanned. The game represented a day off from the forward development of racing graphics. Yet by literally making a day’s play out of driving, the heir to Cruis’n USA ruled by not taking itself seriously. It was a riot. Jumps sprouted from the ground at random, car crashes sent competitors skyward and all cars had four-speed transmissions, regardless of their real-life specifications. Few things mimicked the panic of a dwindling clock and a safety point that’s too far ahead. But there was no mistaking the euphoria of making it through and continuing gameplay. “Checkpoint!”


NEED FOR SPEED: HIGH STAKES (1999) — With its heady waft of wealth and indifference to the law, High Stakes was the driving simulator that pitted sports cars against both the police and other racers simultaneously. The car list was visual ecstasy for fans of supercars from the Nineties. Especially skilled drivers were even able to unlock virtual editions of the McLaren F1 GTR and Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. High Stakes provided the adrenaline rush with a hi-NRG soundtrack and groundbreaking damage modeling. If players sought good karma, it even allowed them to play as police and pursue the no-goodniks. Righteous.


DRIVER (1999) — Who could forget John Tanner, the undercover cop committed to busting organized crime in his sweet muscle cars? Driver had the grit of early Seventies New York crime cinema and the flair of a James Bond flick. Although the graphics and handling characteristics felt a bit laggy, the game was satisfying for players who wanted to add a crime-solving element to their virtual driving experience. Powerslides were paramount, and the console controller had a trick throttle option that guaranteed burnouts under hard acceleration.

Eight ways video games make driving more fun

A symbiosis has formed among road, track and game console—and it’s making us all happier behind the wheel.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


1. Touristenfahrten at the Nürburgring Nordschleife— Why content yourself with ripping through the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo when you can do it for real? Touristenfahrten is the very real opportunity for the public to try their hand at the circuit known as the Green Hell. While the Nürburgring has always been a mythical destination for race fans, its popularity boomed after the track’s debut in driving simulators (not that heightened interest has staved off bankruptcy. Sigh.). Touristenfahrten days are some of the track’s most popular attractions. Devotees can even rent specific track-prepped machines for their 20.8-kilometer adventure.

098575100_12251931212. Extreme Track Cars — Ask an eight-year-old gamer to style a track toy, and you’d get a hyper-minimalist, sinister machine with digital everything. Remove any semblance of creature comforts, push wheels hard to the corners and you’ve created this generation’s Caterham or Lotus 7. Cars like the KTM X-Bow even incorporate gaming-style lap timers. The only thing separating these cars from virtual reality is an Oculus Rift.


3. The Lap of Manhattan— In 2013, a driver initially known only as “Afroduck” shared a visual cocktail of blurry boulevards, reckless endangerment and a BMW Z4 on YouTube. In just over 24 minutes, Adam Tang whirred around Manhattan’s perimeter at an average speed of 66 mph, shattering a very much unofficial, and equally illegal, record time of 26:03. The video circled through the automotive community and Tang gained a reputation as a real-life Midnight Club racer. Although he was convicted of reckless driving, fined and sentenced to a year in jail, the Canada native fled northward, where he remains.


4. The Survival of Boutique Automakers— Sustaining a tiny, performance-oriented brand was once a near impossibility. Who would take a risk on an unproven artisan when names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren existed? The video game generation, however, proved a tremendous asset for niche manufacturers. British carmaker TVR saw success when they made the original Gran Turismo roster—if not enough to avoid falling into receivership. But today, names like Pagani, Koenigsegg, Wiesmann, GTA (pictured) and others survive and thrive, due in part to gamers and developers keeping these niche pleasure craft on wealthy enthusiasts’ short lists.


5. Driving as Escapism— Anyone who has fiddled with the Forza Horizon series understands that the exotic vistas, weirdly appealing music festivals and rare cars scratch a voyeuristic itch. Throw in barn finds, social online gameplay and a sandbox environment, and Turn 10 Studios has a heady brew in hand. It’s no coincidence that ads for cars like the Scion FR-S and Mazda MX-5 Miata have pitched driving as a meaningful endeavor. These machines, known somewhat paradoxically as driver’s cars, appeal directly to gamers who seek low-priced, non-virtual chariots.


6. Aftermarket Insanity— When the Need for Speed franchise took on street racing culture in the wake of the original Fast and the Furious film, the popularity of modding exploded. Bright neon underglow, vertical doors and spinning wheels were basic facets of Need for Speed: Underground. After the game’s debut and sequel, car culture went even more rabid for bodykits and spoilers. Functionality be damned, you could buy kits and aero parts for anything from the Mitsubishi Eclipse to the Dodge Caravan. Depending on whom you ask, this is the automotive yearbook page you skip. It’s just too embarrassing.


7. A Preponderance of Paddles— In the mid-Nineties, around the same time Ferrari was introducing them on the F355 sports car, the original Gran Turismo on Sony PlayStation was absolutely nailing paddle shifters. Before they were available on most mainstream cars, advanced gamers could enjoy the perfect blend of manual and sequential gearboxes from the comfort of their couch. As paddle shifters trickled down from sports cars to hot hatches, some games introduced handheld clutches to greatly enhance the gaming experience.


8. Ed Bolian’s Cross-Country Record— It’s a question ripped from the thoughts of any open-road gamer: How fast could I drive across the U.S.? In October 2013, the team of Ed Bolian, Dave Black and Dan Huang set this record on public roads, crossing the United States in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds. Although the average speed of the trek was 98 mph, the trio’s Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG topped 130 mph for over 90 minutes total, and 158 mph on several occasions. It’s a record that probably won’t—and shouldn’t—be broken any time soon.