The 2010s were a decade of new-generation consoles and ever more powerful computers, as games edged closer and closer to photorealism and file sizes that necessitated over-the-air downloads and disc installs. In the car gaming world, Forza came into its own, Need For Speed put out a great, then died, then was reborn and the sim racing genre began to reach its full potential.
The 11 best racing games of the 2010s | FOS Future Lab
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
But first, the reimagination of a classic which, ten years on, was itself reimagined. Well, remastered. I of course talk of 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, a classic cops versus supercars arcade racer in the style of the classic Hot Pursuit titles. The latest greatest supercars with some incredible sound design and gorgeous visuals paired with classically fun gameplay and a general focus on the fun of the experience. A masterclass in how cars should handle on games, it was not. But even the Forza generation forgave it, such that its popularity warranted a tenth-anniversary remaster. I bought it immediately and have no regrets. Side note, Hot Pursuit is also responsible for the greatest game trailer ever made, involving a car chase up an alpine pass between a Lamborghini Murcielago and a Pagani Zonda. For real. The best bit? That trailer didn’t even oversell the game. Also, the actual in-game trailer was epic as well.
Forza Motorsport 4
Back in the day it was rare for a Forza game to be a bit lacklustre. Such was the quality of Forza Motorsport 2 and Forza Motorsport 4. Forza Motorsport 3, while at worst perfectly serviceable, gets the cold shoulder. FM4 however, was a masterpiece. A spectacular car list, the introduction of Forzavista, a jump in graphical quality few thought possible, the to-be-expected excellent physics and so much more made Forza Motorsport 4 an instant classic in the franchise. It certainly made for boots that the next-gen entry, Forza Motorsport 5, failed spectacularly to fill. Truthfully, the franchise is yet to best it ten years on, though 6 was a very good effort and 7 is improving consistently. All that said, Turn 10 hasn’t delayed all the usual two-yearly releases for no reason… A major revamp is underway, praise be…
Read our list of the eight best racing games of the 2000s.
Test Drive Unlimited 2
*Sigh*. Test Drive Unlimited 2 was, by comparison to the first, genuinely not a great game. But the concept remained so revolutionary and this sequel tried so hard, with new features, that it deserves a mention. Working convertible roof mechanisms, indicators, headlights, the ability to ride along with a mate and walk around their garages, the casino(!), the addition of Ibiza – it was all great. But the experience was tainted by dodgy driving physics, slightly shonky graphics and very unstable online connectivity. TDU2 was a great game in theory and in concept but the execution was poor. Still, it stuck in people’s minds enough to warrant a third-party re-release in 2021 and the continuation of the franchise officially with TDU: Solar Crown in a year or more. We’re counting down the days until that one drops...
After seven years and four Motorsport releases, Turn 10 and the Forza franchise took on an independent studio in the UK called Playground Games for a unique project. Forza Horizon delivered a lot of what TDU couldn’t – deliciously crisp graphics and sim-lite physics. A car list to die for and the rusty red tones of Red Rock in Colorado made for a compelling take on the free-roam genre, with the narrative of a car and music festival thrown in. Those familiar with TDU wished for more map size and more lifestyle from the sequels but they never delivered. We reckon the original Horizon is still the best, though 3 gets a shout out for having an incredible array of Aussie cars, being set in Australia, while Horizon 4 gets a mention for the strength of its car list overall. Though the fact the game has far outlived the usual two-year cycle of a Forza game probably helps...
Do you agree with the titles on our list of the nine best racing games of all time?
The Crew, The Crew 2
From the ashes of Test Drive: Unlimited 2 and the collapse of associated companies, came the establishment of a studio named Ivory Tower. They began work immediately on an open-world racer not unlike Test Drive but minus the lifestyle bits, with some added Need For Speed cringe-tier story, set in the USA. Ubisoft picked up the project and hey presto, 2014’s ‘The Crew’ was born. Ignoring the dodgy cops and racers story, it was a soulful road trip game featuring a range of superb cars to rack up miles in around America and her many points of interest with eight of your friends. I put 10,000 miles on my Corvette ZR1 alongside a friend in his Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 as we immersed ourselves in what is an enormous map, densely populated with as many spectacular sights to see, as there are great driving roads.
A worthy filler for the Test Drive void it was and the 2018 sequel ‘The Crew 2’ even more so, with the addition of racing cars, boats, planes, a massively expanded car list and improved physics with more customisability, with which to enjoy them. The Crew games are, like the TDU entries before them, a lesson for the Forza Horizon devs in how sim-lite physics and photorealistic graphics aren’t the be-all-end-all in an open-world game, especially at the expense of replay value.
In 2014 Kunos Simulazione’s Assetto Corsa delivered what would come to be known as one of the best sim racers of all time. No one knew it at the time though, given how thin the game was on release. With console releases, extensive DLC and for PC players, a whole world of spectacular mods, this user-driven sim racer remains a benchmark for sim rig driving physics to shame Forza and even Project Cars. Spectacular sounds and stunning locations top it off. You can even line up for a tourist lap at the Nürburgring in the famous car park, surrounded by Porsche 911 GT3 RSs. Throw a layer of grease on the Nordschleife and a cloudy sky in there and its peak authenticity… Best of all, on consoles, the Ultimate Edition can be bought for a bargain, featuring all the DLC. We just wouldn’t recommend it if you’re limited to a controller, though – best to stick with Forza or Gran Turismo...
Need For Speed (2015)
The Need For Speed franchise, powerful as it was in the driving game-scape, had its low points. One of those low points arguably began with the release of circuit-cade racer Pro Street in 2007 and has been near-on consistent ever since, minus 2010’s Hot Pursuit and… 2015’s Need For Speed reboot. The latter was a big step-change for the franchise, with a new developer and a new vision, after the first year fallow for the title since 2001.
The street racing narrative was back, with a new list of cars to buy, race and modify in Ventura Bay, a fictional Los Angelis-esque city. It brought in celebrities from the car world as characters, including Porsche-phile Magnus Walker, hooligan driver Ken Block and RWB mastermind Akira Nakai. As NFS so often did in generations gone by, this new game tapped into street car culture at its core, with contemporary and bleeding-edge modifications to satisfy rabid car enthusiasts and modders. Like the old Carbon entries, it wasn’t all about mod-friendly cars, with a healthy dose of exotics too. You had a five-car garage for your variety of car tastes. Mine featured a Lamborghini Diablo GT, a Corvette Z06, a Camaro Z28, a wide-body Subaru BRZ and a Nissan Silvia S15 drift car. That, dear gamer readers, is variety. That I remember what I had in my garage six years on perhaps speaks best to the impression the game left.
The game, while it had its flaws, was the breath of fresh air the franchise needed but its legacy is tainted by sequels that didn’t move the game on. Still, we remember NFS 2015 fondly.
Project Cars 2
Project Cars tried to do what Assetto Corsa did but with a more general console audience, especially with the 2017 release of Project Cars 2. It sacrificed none of the focus on physics and racing in its graduation to a more mainstream title but added a raft of road cars to appeal to the Forza audience. It was genuinely challenging and for keen drivers who use a wheel, was genuinely useful in developing driving skills.
The ace in the hole for this game, however, was how it catered to fans of historic motorsport. Group C, Group 5 special production, Group 5 sports prototypes, 3.0-litre sports prototypes, historic F1 – all of it, represented in faithfully-recreated glory, drivable on period versions of tracks like Silverstone, Monza and even old Spa. For those whose memories of Group C consist of grainy TV set recordings from the ‘80s, it was a revelation. With the skills you build up with practice, the level of reward for a succession of tumbling lap times around Spa is unparalleled. All good things come to an end, however. Project Cars 3 took it far more mainstream, catering further to the Forza audience. As such, PC2 retains a faithful more hardcore audience, us included.
How did gaming change? Have a look at the 11 best racing games of the 1990s.
Gran Turismo Sport
Sometimes Kazunori Yamauchi can be his own worst enemy, letting his own obsession with the moving target of perfection get in the way of a game ever getting released at all. In times gone by it’s resulted in heavily-delayed Gran Turismo titles releasing to a frosty reception, with wonderment across the board about what the Polyphony eggheads had been up to all this time.
Gran Turismo Sport being something between a more compact interim title and a full main entry, didn’t suffer as such, streamlining in certain areas but retaining a full-bodied more-than-a-demo feel. Unlike previous entries which featured bewilderingly extensive single-player campaigns, GT Sport was built around a focus on competition, particularly online, with the FIA heavily involved in yearly series on the game.
There’s a refreshing sense of focus to GT Sport. The quality and detail you expect from a GT title comes in Sport without the excess fluff and fog to distract from the real fun of the game. It actually ditched dynamic weather systems from GT5 and 6 even though the graphics and physics themselves improved thanks to the PlayStation 4’s increased performance capability. Lessons learned and applied, we hope, to Gran Turismo 7.
Sport launched with far fewer cars than one might expect of a GT title, with just 168 on day one compared to the usual four-figure number but all were done extremely well. That number also increased quickly, to over 300 within two years of launching. GT Sport was also the first Gran Turismo to feature Porsches, following the exclusive licencing deal with EA Games finally expiring.
For avid fans of the recently rejuvenated franchise, the 2018, 2019 and especially 2020 editions of the official F1 games may outrank 2017. Indeed, we’re also breaking our own rule that the yearly official releases that are the motorsport equivalent of Fifa wouldn’t necessarily get a spot. F1 2017 gets a pass, on both counts. Why? It shirked the rinse and repeat trend of yearly releases for a significant step-change in quality, expansion of appeal and successful increase of sophistication. The handling gained a more natural feel, while added details included the R&D tree, as well as engine and gearbox wear.
Perhaps obviously, though, for us, it’s the classics that close the deal. Fans of historic F1 were treated to 12 cars spanning 22 years between 1988 and 2010. These started from Senna’s legendary McLaren MP4/4, through Mansell’s 1992 championship-winning Williams, Schumacher’s monstrous 2002 and 2004 Ferraris, Hamilton’s 2008 McLaren to Vettel’s winning 2010 Red Bull, with a number of other titans in between.
If you love F1 games, read our list of the 10 best F1 games of all time.
Dirt Rally 2.0
Our final entry came late in the decade. Dirt Rally 2.0 builds on the successes of the original, to create what has been described as Codemasters’ finest ever driving game. Tall praise indeed but not unwarranted. It’s a veritable masterclass in making a rally game, not just for that year’s season, but for rallying enthusiasts in general, representing the history of the sport in near totality. The car list is stellar, comprised of 50 spanning six decades. Couple that with world-class driving physics, sophisticated environments with stage degradation, a team management system and much, much more and you get a left-of-field successor worthy of the Colin McRae lineage. If you’re even slightly hankering for a rallying game, Dirt Rally 2.0 will more than scratch the itch. It’s easily the rallying game of the decade and one of the finest driving games out there.
So that’s our list of the best driving games of the 2010s. If we’re calling this the fourth true decade of proper driving games, you’ll forgive us for missing out one or two of literally hundreds of titles released in the last ten years on a wide variety of platforms. Even now, concluding this, the Mudrunner and Snowrunner games spring to mind, for the off-roading enthusiasts among you. Regardless, we think our selections are very much in our lane of motoring, so we’re happy with the list. Let us know about the games you think were worthy of inclusion, or whether we’re just downright wrong about something, in the comments…
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Which racing game of the 2010s is your favourite?
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