A memorable racing title is built on four pillars: a satisfying sense of speed; graphics that sell the car motion and construct an enjoyable game world; tight controls; and excellent sound effects and cruising music. It doesn’t matter if the genre is arcade, sim, or kart; if a racing game masters those elements, it’ll go down in the annals as one of the greats. The question is, which PC games qualify? Our list sorts the few winner’s-circle games from the many runners up.
Start Your Engines
There are is a full field of games in the race. At the time of this writing, Steam has more than 18 pages devoted to competitive driving (that’s not factoring in racing games from other game stores). Granted, some of the listed titles most certainly are not racing games. For example, Rocket League features wheeled vehicles literally speeding toward a goal, but it is unquestionably a sports game (anyone who says otherwise is lying and is not your friend). Likewise, EmergeNYC, a simulation game in which you jump into the shoes of the NYPD, FDNY, or EMS and attempt to save lives, is not a racing game.
A racing game is a title that puts you in control of a vehicle as you attempt to outrun the competition to place first at the finish line. That’s our definition, and we think it’s pretty reasonable.
Pedal to the Metal
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably got the need for speed. Fortunately, we do, too. The PCMag pit crew loves a good racing game, so we have several recommended titles that you should try. Admittedly, our tastes lean deep into the arcade and kart side of things. We’re expanding the field with upcoming reviews that explore hardcore racing simulations, such as Assetto Corsa Competizione, Automobilista, and Project Cars 2. Look for those soon.
Burnout Paradise Remastered
Burnout Paradise, originally released in 2008 for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, is one of Criterion’s best games, so it only makes sense that Burnout Paradise Remastered is even better.
On top of some welcome graphics enhancements, PC players get to experience the previously console-only Big Surf Island and all its potential for stunts and havoc. Paradise City’s map is as enjoyable as ever, too, whether you are just driving around or completing the many available events.
Although some of the original game’s pain points remain (an annoying crash cam, some menu quirks), none are severe enough to seriously detract from the title’s satisfying vehicle handling, expansive map, and many unlockables.
Forza Horizon 4
In 2018, Forza Horizon 4 appeared on PC just two years after its excellent predecessor, which made some people question the necessity of the series every-other-year schedule. Yet, Developer Playground Games touted that the open-world racer’s new features would make the purchase worthwhile. The company was 100 percent correct.
With Forza Horizon 4, the thrilling racing-and-music festival formula expands with new vehicles, fresh and addictive solo and multiplayer modes, and seasonal effects. The changing weather patterns are easily the game’s best aspect, as they alter how you approach driving. For example, the scenic lake that you whiz by during the spring, summer, and fall may freeze over in the winter, allowing you to drive over it as an alternate route. Likewise, spring’s rain muddies courses, making cornering a chore. The seasons shift every week, so you aren’t stuck in one for too long.
Factor in the new performance-enhancing Skills, gorgeous UK-based environments, returning Barn Finds, well-curated soundtrack, and Forza Horizon 4 stands as one of the best racing games to appear on PC in recent years.
Horizon Chase Turbo
These days, it’s easy to adopt a cynical stance toward anything laced with nostalgia, because there are so many pop culture properties mining the past for a quick buck. Somehow, someway, Horizon Chase Turbo, despite its throwback aesthetic, has charm enough to prevent it from being lumped into that hack class.
Horizon Chase Turbo is a simple game that focuses on boosting, weaving between rivals’ vehicles, and a unique gameplay angle: collecting gas canisters so that you don’t run out of fuel. That said, the Aquiris Game Studio-published racing game’s main hook is its visuals.
Horizon Chase Turbo is a gorgeous game, though, admittedly, one that may not be instantly recognized as such due to a flat, polygon-heavy art style that recalls 1990’s racing games (but without jaggies, clipping, and other era-specific visual flaws). The graphics dance between pastel colors and cool, neon highlights depending on if you’re driving at daytime or nighttime, respectively.
Insanely cool to look at and just as fun to play, Horizon Chase Turbo is a PC racing game essential.