The best racing games on PC. That’s a broad term that actually holds a huge range of different experiences within it. At one end of the gamut are hardcore racing simulators with such precise handling models and advanced physics that real racing drivers use them in their training for the track. At the other lies Driver: San Francisco, a game about a comatose detective hopping between people’s minds. How many other genres can make that claim?
When putting together our recommendations, we favour newer iterations of realism-focused sims and games with official licenses because new counts for a lot in those areas. However, there’s plenty of room for older titles with a more timeless quality, and some classics that deserve recognition for their contribution to furthering the genre. Just as long as they’re a) still playable and b) still fun to drive.
This list also tries to strike a balance between high-fidelity racing sims, “sim-lite” racing games that balance realism with approachability, and action-oriented arcade racers. And if you want to add extra realism into each one, here are the best steering wheels for PC.
For more tip-offs from us about the very finest experiences in PC gaming, check out our round ups of the best strategy games on PC, best free PC games, the best FPS games on PC, and the best puzzle games on PC.
Forza Motorsport 7
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Turn 10 Studios
In our review of Forza Motorsport 7, James calls it “so vast and all-encompassing that not only can I turn it into a stupid game about vans, I can also make it a game about conquering my van obsession and finally learning how to drive cool sports cars.” It’s one of the most all-encompassing vehicle-lovers sandboxes, capable of providing for those who just want to go fast in shiny metal cages, simulation die-hards, and everyone in-between.
The addition of dynamic weather effects transforms the typical race from a technical route memorization test to an impromptu puddle-dodging marathon in low visibility. Night tracks slowly transition to dawn, sunlight filling out pitch black darkness while Forza looks and plays better than ever. It’s weighed down by an awful progression system too dependent on a hackneyed loot box system, but as the first mainline Forza on PC, Motorsport 7 is malleable enough to absorb the shock of a few speed bumps.
Project CARS 2
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
This is the racing sim that attempts to do it all: ice racing on studded tires around Swedish snowdrifts. Karting in the Scottish highlands. Rallycross within Hockenheim’s infield section, mud splattering across everything and everyone. LMP1s hurtling through Imola, Indycars defying gravity at Daytona Speedway – and when you really get bored, Honda Civics trying to make it up Eau Rouge without stalling.
More miraculous than the sheer breadth of content in Slightly Mad’s sim sequel is the fact they pull it all off. Loose surface racing feels just as convincing as hitting the track in a road-legal car, and the fidelity it conveys to your hands as you try to bully a car into the apex with its force feedback support is best-in-class stuff. Several racing drivers across numerous disciplines acted as consultants during development, and it really does show. A strong eSports scene is now solidified around Project CARS 2, and such is the depth of simulation that for young aspiring drivers, this might well be a fitting substitute for time on track.
Dirt Rally 2
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Codemasters
The first Dirt Rally was a revelation when it arrived in 2015, departing from the snapback caps and energy drink ads that erstwhile came to define the Dirt series and renewing its focus on the staggering challenge of – well, just keeping a car on the track of a rally course. Dirt Rally 2 does that too, and its’ better at it in every way.
Rallying is an incredibly high-skill discipline, and Codemasters don’t ask any less of you than a real 4WD WRC vehicle would. At least, that’s how it feels – in truth none of us have firsthand experience of how it feels to fling a Citroen through Finland’s dirt roads as quickly as Sebastien Ogier can do it, nor will we ever. But the transfer of weight in Dirt Rally’s cars, the feeling of raw power while the wheels scrabble for traction under you, feel utterly convincing.
Forza Horizon 4
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10
In Phil’s review of Forza Horizon 4, he’s still smitten with the excellent, adaptable vehicle handling: “The racing remains peerless. It’s a perfect blend of forgiving arcade handling with an obsessive attention to detail that ensures each car feels just different enough. It’s not aiming to be a perfect simulation, but the weight, speed and torque of each vehicle give it a personality beyond class and category.”
With significantly better performance on lesser hardware than Horizon 3, more intuitive and social multiplayer features, and an ever-changing map that shifts to a new season every week, Forza Horizon 4 manages to improve on a near perfect arcade racing game. It’s not for simulation fanatics, but for anyone with a passing interest in cars and/or driving them off of mountains, Horizon 4 is a must-play.
Release date: 2008 | Developer: iRacing Motorsport Simulations
With its regular online racing leagues and meticulous car and track modelling, iRacing is as close to real racing as you can get on the PC.
That also means iRacing is something you need to work up to. It has no meaningful single-player component and, with its subscription fees and live tournament scheduling, it requires significant investment. Oh, and a force feedback wheel is quite literally required here – that’s not us saying the gamepad support is poor. The game just won’t let you race unless you have a wheel.
But for a certain class of sim racing fan, there is nothing that compares. The very best iRacing players often compete in real motorsport too, and make a career out of eSports sim racing. And having first released now over a decade ago in 2008, it’s consistently stayed astride with the latest simulators each year. Quite an achievement.
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Codemasters
What Codemasters manage to achieve with their fully licensed F1 series is more than just a simulation of the car behaviour and each track’s characteristics. It’s a chance to place yourself in the racing boots of a motorsport superstar and engage in rivalries, contract negotiations, car development plans and race strategy. You might look at it as an RPG in which you happen to be a racing driver. And in which the throttle pedal replaces the +4 sword of tired RPG-isms.
As a result of these efforts to immerse you in an F1 driver’s life, every victory feels that bit more meaningful and every failure harder to swallow, because you’ve built a narrative around those events and invested in their outcome. None of that would work if the fundamental car behaviour wasn’t so engaging, mind you. Although it’s more forgiving than iRacing or rFactor 2, for example, it sells the twitchiness and fearsome downforce levels of a modern Formula One car brilliantly.
Assetto Corsa Competizione
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Kunos Simulazioni
To be brutally honest, the sim racing world probably wasn’t on the edge of its seat for an officially licensed game of the Blancpain World Endurance series. As motorsport licenses go it’s a bit on the niche side, but as it turns out it was just what the Assetto Corsa franchise needed.
Kunos Simulazioni’s 2014 game had a lot going for it, including a handling model to rival the very best and excellent wheel support, but there wasn’t much singleplayer structure. As for polish, forget about it. What this license gives its successor is an inviting championship structure with different vehicle categories and highly scalable endurance racing across treasured circuits like Paul Ricard, Spa Francorchamps and Circuit de Catalunya. The handling is better than ever through a good force feedback wheel, and it nails the day/night cycles – a must for an endurance racing sim, really.
Release date: 2020 | Developer: Ubisoft Nadeo
Almost a decade after the release of Trackmania 2, Ubisoft Nadeo debuted its semi-reboot of series with Trackmania 2020. The new game features some significant graphical upgrades, but the real treat is the addition of daily featured tracks, new track pieces like ice, and improved checkpointing. Most importantly, it’s a fresh start for Trackmania detached from Nadeo’s strange Maniaplanet platform.
But don’t worry, Trackmania is still incredibly weird. I’ve already played tons of nonsensical tracks that require pinpoint timing, endless repetition, and a little bit of luck. Nadeo is also taking a more hands-on approach to post-release content by releasing new tracks made by the studio on a seasonal basis. If you’re a lapsed fan or new to the series, this is where you want to be.
Release date: September 2018 |Developer: Milestone
Two wheels might be considered blasphemy in some corners of the racing community, but for all those willing to divide the usual wheelbase by half, Milestone’s licensed MotoGP sim offers quite a rush.
Motorcycle racing is inherently exciting – the lean angles, suicidal overtakes and acceleration rates just make for a great spectator sport. And Italian superbike specialists Milestone really nail that feeling of terror and bravery of being on a factory MotoGP bike. The Codemasters F1 games are obviously a big inspiration, to put it politely, but the upshot for anyone playing it is a layer of career simulation on top of the racing. Work your way up through slower categories, build a reputation, and hold out for that big team ride.
Release date: 2012 | Developer: Image Space Incorporated
rFactor will probably always feel rough around the edges, but it’s the heir to one one of the PC’s great racing games and one of the most impressive modding communities in the world. rFactor 2, like its predecessor, just keeps growing even years after launch as new car and track packs come out across all kinds of different series. It’s not a cheap habit, but it will please serious racers.
That’s only half the story, though. The sheer volume of user-created mods is enormous, and while the focus is on Formula One throughout the years those with an itch to be scratched in DTM, WTCC, GT racing and other open wheelers will be satiated too.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Release date: 2010 | Developer: 2010
Hot Pursuit is a driving game frozen in a particularly special time for arcade racers. The purest essence of Need for Speed before the series went all open-world, it delivers exactly what the title promises, in race after race, with no downtime. Enjoy the simple life as you aim a European exotic down a stretch of hauntingly beautiful Pacific coast highway with a train of police cars following in your wake.
It’s aged like an oak-smoked A-lister too. The roadside textures and car poly counts might not be able to compete directly with the latest releases, but the overall aesthetic in Hot Pursuit still looks luxurious. And above all, fast.
My Summer Car
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Amistech Games
At least half your time in My Summer Car is spent outside of a car. In fact, it’s as much a car mechanic game and a simulator of being a teenage layabout in 1990s rural Finland as a racing game per se. It makes its way on this list, however, because for anyone with a passing interest in cars it’s an essential experience.
It all begins with a note from your parents telling you to rebuild the junked car in your garage. From there you construct a driveable, moddable vehicle down to the most minute nuts and bolts, teaching you exactly what an exhaust manifold looks like and what happens when it rattles loose along a lakeside single lane road at 70mph. Car ownership has never felt more satisfying and personal in driving games than in this slightly janky but beautifully esoteric builder-meets-racer.
Grand Prix 3
Release date: 2000 | Developer: Microprose
Venerated for decades and still playable in 2019, Grand Prix 3 was a turning point in racing games. Geoff Crammond’s MicroProse had already made waves with Formula One Grand Prix and Grand Prix 2 in the early ‘90s, but hardware limitations meant they could only push the simulation so far at the time. Grand Prix 3 was a new level of fidelity. It modelled things like tyre wear, wet weather grip, and tiny setup tweaks – things that games had only been able to approximate in the broadest manner previously. Simply put, it felt like sitting inside a Formula One car.
And to look back on today as a playable museum piece, it has the added incentive of capturing the sport at an especially exciting time, when legends like Schumacher and Hakkinen were battling for top spot and previous champions Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve struggled at the back of the pack. It’s also been modded to high heaven in the 19 years since it’s release, so with committed googling you can play through nearly two decades of F1 history.
RaceRoom Racing Experience
Release date: 2013 | Developer: Sector3 Studios
This is the descendant of SimBin’s once-mighty racing empire. Think of it as GTR Online: it’s the ruthlessly-authentic car sim you remember, but retooled for online free-to-play. The GT racing is beautifully modelled and captured through a good force feedback wheel, the online competition fierce and well-structured, and the catalog of cars and tracks deep enough to really specialise in a certain series thanks to that free-to-play model.
…Which is also its weakness. Once you get the cars on the track, it’s all terrific and familiar. But off-track, RaceRoom is all about selling you bits and pieces of the game. Pick a series you want to race, and immerse yourself in it. There’s more than enough to learn about vintage touring cars to occupy you for months, if not years, before you need to go dribbling over the in-game store menu again.
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Codemasters
Autosport is Codemasters’ easiest, most entry-level track racing game. The car handling is very forgiving, but with just enough fight in it to teach you the basics of corner-braking and throttle-control. Outside the car it does as deep as you’re up for, though. It’s got full-race weekends, typically strong opponent AI for Codemasters, and tons of variety in its racing formats.
Although the super-satisfying team management elements from previous Grid games are pared back here (who didn’t swell with pride when they finally got that B&O sponsorship in Grid 1?) it’s still a great point-of-entry for people curious about sim-style racing, and fun for more hardcore drivers who just want to relax.
Driver: San Francisco
Release date: 2011 | Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
With a retro-chic ‘70s vibe, one of the best soundtracks in games, and a truly original twist on the open world racer, Driver: San Francisco just radiates style and cool in a way that no other game on this list can match, despite its advancing years.
With the ability to “shift” between NPC cars at-will, Driver:SF is one of the only post-Paradise open-world racers to think of something fresh and new to do with the freedom of the open world. In truth the brilliance of its central idea does outweigh the feel of its handling, which aims for Need For Speed but doesn’t quite excite in the same way. It’s still rough and ready enough to power a brilliantly odd story and bring San Francisco to life, though.
Split / Second
Release date: 2010 | Developer: Black Rock Studio
Welcome to the Michael Bay Motorsports Hour, where fake sports cars will rocket through desolate, orange-filtered urban wastelands at blinding speed while drivers accumulate enough energy to trigger bomb-drops from overhead helicopters, vicious sweeps from out-of-control cranes, and even the odd explosion of an entire city block.
Nearly 10 years on, Split/Second remains the perfect chaser to a lot of open-world arcade racers: it’s laser-focused on absurd automotive chaos and increasingly improbable tableaus of bloodless mechanical carnage.
Burnout Paradise Remastered
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Criterion
Racing games aren’t often treated to remasters. The big franchises iterate so often that there rarely seems much point, but in the case of Burnout Paradise everybody was happy to see an exception to the rule. In 10 years, there’s been nothing quite like it.
And yet the original model still surpasses its imitators. It’s so much purer and more exciting than the games it inspired. It doesn’t have any licensed cars, so instead it features car-archetypes that crumple into gut-wrenchingly violent wrecks. Compare those to the fender-benders that wipe you out in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Criterion’s attempt at topping themselves and where you get the sense that just depicting a shattered headlight would have entailed hundreds of meetings with Lamborghini’s lawyers.
Paradise isn’t an online “social” experience. It’s not all about collectibles and unlocks. You get new cars, but they’re not the point of the game. It’s about driving around a city populated entirely by cars, listening to a drivetime DJ spin classic and pop rock tracks while you drive hell-for-leather through twisting city streets, mountain passes, and idyllic farmland. It’s violent, blindingly fast, and endlessly entertaining. It’s created the modern arcade racing genre, but the joke is on us, because all we’ve done ever since is try to get back to Paradise.
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