Racing games have come a long way since their inception in the early ’90s. The rush of adrenaline that players get from racing through the asphalt at lightning-fast speeds is the biggest draw in this genre of video games.
While most games in the genre tend to feel the same, barring different track and vehicle selections, some titles stand apart from the rest. This is either due to their world design, gameplay systems or some really unique mechanics that make the thrill of speeding through checkpoints even more exciting.
Here are five of the best racing games in the last decade that have truly revolutionized the racing genre of video games.
Note: This article is subjective and reflects the author’s opinions.
Mario Kart 8, Need for Speed Heat and 3 other amazing racing games of the last decade
1) Forza Horizon 4
The Forza series has established itself as one of the top-tier racing simulations out there.
The Forza Motorsport games are an outstanding simulation experience. They give players a huge selection of cars from manufacturers around the globe and a truly unique and fun driving experience. However, the series’ offshoot Horizon titles are what brought the franchise into mainstream recognition.
The Forza Horizon titles take the series’ comprehensible list of cars and its signature driving experience and introduce it to a fun and engaging open-world setting. While the Motorsport games are essentially meant for hardcore racing enthusiasts, Horizon titles are much more open and beginner friendly.
2018’s Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best titles in the series. Combining aspects from every previous Horizon title, the fourth mainline entry in the series gives players the greatest open-world driving experience to date. Players can easily sink hundreds of hours in just cruising through the intricately detailed and gorgeous map of Great Britain.
Much like the previous titles in the series, Forza Horizon 4 gives players a plethora of content to delve into besides the usual races, such as Speed Zones, Danger Signs, Speed Traps and more.
The game also features a game mode called Eliminator, which is essentially battle royale but with cars. As absurd as it may sound, the Eliminator game mode is one of the best and most innovative implementations of the battle royale formula.
Players can also seamlessly hop into multiplayer game modes either solo or with their friends in convoy. Forza Horizon 4 also features a dynamic weather system, giving players a fresh driving experience every other week by opening shortcuts and areas of the map that were previously inaccessible.
Additionally, the game features a massive roster of cars for players to choose from, with the developers adding new ones with every other update. The performance and visual customization system offer even more options for players to fine-tune their rides.
Forza Horizon 4 easily takes the top spot in the open-world racing landscape, with its extensive suite of driving options, huge list of cars and a gorgeous and immaculately detailed open world.
2) Mario Kart 8
Super Mario might not be as synonymous with racing as it is with platforming. However, the iconic Italian plumber’s spinoff racing series, Mario Kart, is among some of the best arcade racing experiences in gaming.
The most recent entry, Mario Kart 8, is the best the series has ever seen. The title was originally released on Wii U in 2014 and was ported over to the Nintendo Switch in 2019.
Although it is a technical marvel on Wii U, with crisp visuals and engaging gameplay, Mario Kart 8 truly shines on the Switch. The game sports the series’ easy-to-pick-up kart-racing experience while maintaining a rock-solid 60fps performance on the Nintendo Switch.
Mario Kart 8 is one of the best party and family games, featuring a robust suite of tracks to race on and various characters from Super Mario as well as Nintendo’s other well-known franchises.
Watching beloved characters like Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Peach and even Link race each other using their 200cc karts on some of the most spectacular arcade tracks in gaming is truly gratifying.
3) GT Sport
GT Sport might not be the greatest simulation experience in Polyphony Digital’s long-running series, but it is still one of the best simulation-racing titles out there.
Gran Turismo games are known for their realistic driving physics and meticulously detailed tracks that are one-on-one recreations of some of the most beloved racing circuits in the world.
Initially, GT Sport received a lot of flak for its lack of single-player content and a pretty limited list of cars. It was a way to nudge players towards the game’s online aspects, which were heavily inspired by real-life motorsport.
However, over the years, the title has received a multitude of updates that introduced many of the features fans requested for. These include a robust single-player career mode and new cars, including the new Vision GT versions of some iconic automobiles. Other quality-of-life additions were also added to bring the game closer to the authentic Gran Turismo experience.
With an intuitive handling model, breathtaking visuals and a host of game modes for both solo and online gameplay, GT Sport is the pinnacle of simulation experiences on PlayStation consoles.
4) Need for Speed Heat
The Need for Speed franchise has mostly been a hit or a miss in the last few years. After the excellent open-world arcade titles, 2010’s Hot Pursuit and 2013’s Rivals, the series largely failed to establish a foothold in the racing landscape.
Developer Ghost Games tried to reboot the franchise and brought some excellent additions. However, their first two entries in the new generation of NFS titles failed to resonate with the players.
2017’s Need for Speed Payback was one of the lowest-rated titles due to its poor implementation of the series’ iconic cop pursuits and an atrocious performance upgrade system for cars.
With their next title, Need for Speed Heat, Ghost Games gave their all to create the best NFS experience for players. They wanted it to embody the core tenets of the franchise while also including the best parts of the developer’s previous projects.
Need for Speed Heat is the culmination of all the best parts of the franchise, from a robust selection of cars and fun races to in-depth visual and performance customization. The game also sees the return of proper cop chases.
Although the story is very by-the-book and cliche, featuring some of the corniest dialogs in gaming, Need for Speed Heat still retains the fun and energetic attitude of some of the best NFS narratives. The story is broken into several arcs, with each segment having its own set of races for players to complete in order to receive a unique reward.
The game also has a sense of progression that is often missing from most modern racing titles. Starting with a slow and sluggish car like the Nissan 240SX and slowly making way for cars like the Aventador or Ferrari FXX-K is a truly gratifying experience.
5) Assetto Corsa
Assetto Corsa is not everyone’s cup of tea because of its overreliance on simulation driving rather than the usual arcade-like experience, which is much more newcomer friendly. However, due to the game’s meticulous attention to detail in its simulation aspect and handling system, it has become one of the best titles for hardcore racing fans.
Like any other racing simulation title, Assetto Corsa nails the fundamentals of driving before focusing on other aspects. The game recommends the use of a proper setup to truly enjoy the depth of racing. However, it is completely playable using a control or even a keyboard and mouse.
The physics model in Assetto Corsa takes a little getting used to as the cars might feel a bit too slippery on asphalt. However, with a little practice and time, players can easily come to terms with its complex handling model.
Assetto Corsa is easily one of the best simulation titles out there, with an in-depth handling model and a wide selection of iconic tracks to race on.