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From humble beginnings with Atari's Space Race and Taito's Astro Race, the racing genre has captured our video game imaginations since the early '70s. Game developers striving to produce the best 8-bit graphics they could muster must marvel at the photorealistic tracks and extraordinary graphics that we have today.
We can always depend on the genre to be at the forefront of peripheral technology and physics engines, and I can't wait for the developers for the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus to combine, at last, the graphics capabilities of the best simulation racing titles with the ingenuity of virtual reality headsets. But before we shift gears toward the future, let's pull into the rest stop and peer back at the winding road that has taken us this far along.
Here is GameRevolution's Top 10 racing games of all-time.
Ah, the memories. No other jetski-racing game has been able to capture the same exhilaration over the water, and this is a Nintendo 64 title when polygonal graphics were just beginning to emerge as the norm. Released on November 1, 1996, Wave Race 64 features various courses with different weather conditions and challenges players to maneuver around buoys to maintain power. Its graphics and controls are commendable given the time and its sales of 1.95 million copies in the United States made it a very surprising hit.
(I almost gave this honorable mention to Crazy Taxi, but alas...)
10. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer (PSX)
Star Wars titles have a history of being hit or miss. Mostly misses. Granted, our expectations are always high given the legacy of the Star Wars name. Luckily, out of the blue (from Tatooine) came Star Wars Episode I: Racer, a pod-racer that still remains as the best sci-fi racing game of all-time according to the Guinness Worlds Records in 2011. Getting through the Amateur, Semipro, Galactic, and Invitational classes was a thrill across the Star Wars planets of Oovo IV, Ando Prime, and Baroonda. That many of the actors of the movie lent their voices to the game made it that much sweeter.
9. DiRT 3 (X360, PS3)
I couldn't care less about any drift racing titles. They were far too technical for me at the time, when most of my attention was drawn to the likes of Burnout and Test Drive Unlimited. But DiRT 3 changed all of that. Arriving without the Colin McRae tag, the title had a solid mixture of rally racing and an awesome gymkhana mode that had me spinning around poles and smashing through yellow bricks for days.
8. Out Run (Arcade)
One of game designer Yu Suzuki's seminal works, Out Run, was inspired by his love of Ferraris. Though it looked like many other racers out there, it was the nonlinearity of the driving paths (plus the choice of one of three songs) that made the title original and highly replayable. It was like a couple's ultimate high-speed drive through the luxurious countryside. Thank goodness for no oncoming traffic, huh?
7. Need for Speed Underground 2 (PS2)
The Need for Speed still remains today as one of strongest, most sustainable franchises in the racing genre, and many count Need for Speed Underground 2 as the best of the lot. The ability to just explore the city, seeing how your fine-tuning performed on a car outside of mere racing, solidified the open-world racing concept. The extent of the gameplay, length, customization, and side-missions were breathtaking at the time, turning the open-world racer into a legitimate genre.
6. Hang-on (Arcade)
Yu Suzuki appears for a second time on this list, and deservedly so. Sega's Hang-on released in July 1985 (the month and year I was born, by the way) as that game with that giant motorcycle if you've forgotten the name. I'm sure there had to have been some injuries when the game asks you to lean left or right and literally hang on to the motorcycle to turn. But those people are just learning the hard way. If only racing games in the arcade were still this awesome...
5. Burnout 3: Takedown (PS2)
We could populate this entire list with Burnout titles if we wanted. The sense of speed, the reckless abandon of the drifting, the revenge of taking out a player who just wrecked you two minutes ago (as you pass laughing maniacally)—the Burnout franchise cranks the volume to 11 and Burnout 3: Takedown nails that down completely. Even though it's for the PS2, I still take the time to blow the dust off the game and pop it in for pure, unadulterated racing nostalgia.
4. Forza Motorsport 4 (X360)
You know that Forza Motorsport was bound to end up on this list somewhere. Developed by Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios, it began as a response to the Sony's exclusive Gran Turismo series and now has surpassed its competition in terms of reaching the next generation of consoles. If this trend goes on for much longer, this simulation series with its signature rewind feature and photorealistic graphics will unequivocally dominate the genre. Forza Motorsport 5 might not be representing the franchise on this list, in part because of its shortcomings being a launch title for the Xbox One, but be assured that Forza Motorsport 6 might just be the next-gen Forza we're been looking for.
3. Pole Position (Arcade)
Time for respect. Without Namco's Pole Position released in November 1982, the entire racing genre might not have been as popular as it now and as popular as it was in arcades then. The high-end cockpit cabinet had an accelerator, brake pedal, a gear shifter, and a steering wheel, all of which contributed to it becoming the high-grossing arcade game of that year. If we consider the word "best" to mean the most influential, then this is it. It established the basis for all racing games to follow and remains one of the most recognizable arcade titles in the classic era regardless of genre.
2. Super Mario Kart (SNES)
This is the game that started my love for racing games, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the same. It may not care about simulation, well, anything. But the thrill of crossing the finish line first, after firing red turtle shells at the obnoxious AI, zipping on every arrow, and taking shortcuts with the feather and mushroom, could not be beat. Seven main installments later with Mario Kart 8, and the franchise still receives well-earned perfect marks (from us at least). Besides, if we didn't, Luigi will stare at us, a death from which no one can escape.
1. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PS2)
The quintessential Gran Turismo. The quintessential racing game.
Still ranked as the second-most sold title for the PlayStation 2 right behind Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is pure simulation racing. With challenging license tests, endurance races, and rally racing, it equally tests all elements of turning, tuning, and both short-term and long-term racing strategy. Even with some of its omissions, when it comes to controls, handling, and attention to detail, Gran Turismo 3 remains the benchmark for all simulation racing games to follow.