Which choices are the best racing games on PC? Racing games have a deep and storied history on the platform, dating back to the ’80s, possibly even earlier. Classic’s from Midtown Madness to Need For Speed are out there to discover, but what about the best racing games on PC you can play today? We tackle that question in our list, whether you’re a veteran gearhead, or looking for a smooth Sunday drive.
Listed you’ll find hardcore sims like the challenging Dirt Rally, but also offbeat choices like the criminally underrated Driver: San Francisco—a satisfying driving game with a weird body-hopping system. We play fast and loose with the definition of ‘racing game’ here. If it’s got wheels, it’s fair game. But you’ll find these games have one thing in common: they will offer a great driving experience, and they’ll feel great when you’re behind the wheel.
If you want to take your driving simulation experience to the next level, check out our handy list of the best steering wheels for PC.
Forza Horizon 5
With Phil’s review of Forza Horizon 5, he zooms in on the level of refinement that’s taken place in the Forza series. No sweeping changes have been made in the newest entry in the series, but a meticulous level of craftsmanship is on display. The Playground team has spent countless hours polishing the hoods of 500 cars until they gleam, and the same is true of the environments in the new setting: Mexico.
The seasonal playlist is present and prominent from the beginning, forming the heart of the gameplay. You’ll find yourself taking on unexpected challenges, and utilizing your entire stable of cars in pursuit of new rare additions, as Phil put it: “We’ve had plenty of looter shooters, but Forza Horizon is slowly turning into the first looter racer.”
Dirt Rally 2
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 it’s 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 Motorsport 7
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
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.
Codemasters’ F1 series has offered comparable depth in its career mode for a few years now, but creating and managing your own team really does make a difference to the emotional attachment you’ll feel. From press interview answers to choosing the right teammate, you’re responsible for your results to the point where you can clearly trace any failure back to a poor decision that you made.
While there are moments of genuine edge-of-your-bucket-seat excitement in F1 2020 as your rival exits the pits right beside you into Turn 1, there are also countless regulations to follow and necessary management of components’ lifespan that makes F1 a far more cerebral racing game than some of its peers.
This is a brilliant, great-looking F1 sim and just keeps getting deeper the more you look into it. It’s very familiar, certainly, and still lacks the quality of car damage it had 10 years ago. It could also use a little more flair and personality in its presentation. But you’d need to have a massive chip on your shoulder not to say that F1 2020 is magnificent. It’s simply a superb game.