The 5 Greatest Racing Games Ever Made

If you’ve ignored the genre, you might not think there’s all that much wiggle room when a developer sits down to design a racing game. You’d be hugely mistaken. Racing games may share a core set of ideas, but they come in all shapes and sizes, from realistic simulations to colorful power-up-filled kart racers. The games on this list run the gamut of the genre, but the one thing that ties them all together is their quality.

Below, you’ll find the five best racing games ever made. To compile the list, we surveyed all of the racing games listed on Metacritic with exceptional praise all around. For each game, we created a composite score that includes both critic and user ratings (e.g., a game with a 95 critic score and 9.3 user score would receive a 94 composite score). This should gives us the clearest picture of how well the games were received overall between the time of release and now.

5. Project Gotham Racing 2

Composite Metacritic score: 90

This Microsoft-published title came out in 2003 as an exclusive for the original Xbox. What sets it apart from all the other racers in the world is that you win races not just by finishing first, but also by racking up the most Kudos points. You do that by driving both skillfully and stylishly, which means doing things like drafting behind other cars and power-sliding around sharp corners. The only hitch is that bumping into things reduces your Kudos points. It’s no easy task to earn and maintain your points, but it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to do so. Project Gotham Racing 2 is also one of the early games to feature online multiplayer, thanks to the relatively new Xbox Live. All told, this was a heck of a racer in its time — and it still holds up today.

4. Mario Kart 8

Composite Metacritic score: 91

By the eighth installment of most video game series, you can almost sense the developers’ growing apathy. That is absolutely not the case with this incredible Wii U title released in 2014. Nintendo killed it with this one. Not only does the game look absurdly gorgeous, but every one of the levels screams innovation and fun. Better yet, Nintendo followed through with some of the best DLC it has ever released, including new stages, costumes, and even a new super-fast mode that will challenge even seasoned pros. If you have a Wii U, you should do yourself a favor and play Mario Kart 8.

3. Gran Turismo 2

Composite Metacritic score: 91

From the staggering list of over 500 real-life cars, to the incredible attention to detail in both visuals and handling, Gran Turismo 2 has it all. When it came to racing sims in 1999, you couldn’t do any better than this. Sure, the game was built on the rock-solid foundation of the original, but it made smart additions by vastly increasing the amount of content and challenges without losing anything that made the original so special. Despite all this sequel’s additions, the developers managed to streamline the entire game so it was still easy for newcomers to pick up and figure out. All of which is why Gran Turismo 2 is one of the best racing games ever made.

2. Burnout 3: Takedown

Composite Metacritic score: 91

There’s something special about a racing game that can pull in a wide audience of people who don’t typically play racing games. That’s exactly what Burnout 3: Takedown did. It’s a racing game for everyone, and it’s one of the best games on the PlayStation 2, period. The idea behind it is that you race at high speeds against other players (of course), but here’s the trick: You’re rewarded for running your opponents off the road. When you do, the game takes a moment to follow the crashing vehicle as it spins end over end through the air, smashing into rocks and rolling out as a heap of twisted metal. Causing wrecks is a glorious feeling, but you’re quickly pulled back to the edge-of-your-seat racing. Also, don’t forget to check out the highly addictive crash mode that rewards you for causing as much damage as possible.

1. Gran Turismo

Composite Metacritic score: 91.5

If you hadn’t noticed, Sony doesn’t mess around when it comes to its premier racing series. That initially became clear the moment the company published Gran Turismo, a game that looked and played better than just about anything else on the market when it launched in the U.S. in 1998.

This game was the result of five years of work for developer Polyphony Digital. Thankfully, the work paid off big time, with 140 cars that offered true-to-life handling, 11 race tracks, and incredibly tight controls. That, and it spawned a series that hasn’t produced a bad game in nearly 20 years. Did I mention that this installment is the best-selling PlayStation game of all time? So it has that going for it, too.

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