It’s not easy to figure out which PC racing games are the best. So many things go into racing games. It’s not just about good graphics and tense sound design, though both are important. It’s also about making you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat, with your eyes strained as the asphalt whips by at 240kph. A good racing game feels right, from practising your timing to make a perfect gear shift to letting the back end go for a beautiful drift.
Don’t ask, “How could you forget about Grand Prix Legends! Where is Geoff Crammond?!” When Steam or GOG releases versions of those games, we’ll be the first ones in line to play them again… and find that they haven’t changed as much as we had hoped. So, if you just want to jump in and start the engine of a great racing game, whether it’s a complex simulation or an arcade thrill ride, we’ve got some fast-paced PC racing games for you.
FORZA HORIZON 5
The latest open-world arcade racer from Playground Games leaves the British Isles behind and heads to Mexico. Forza Horizon 5’s map is 50 percent bigger than Horizon 4’s map of the UK, and it has open desert roads, small towns in Mexico, and beautiful canyons. In Horizon 5, you have to deal with storms that can whip up fierce winds at any time. This is an improvement on the previous games, which had beautiful seasonal effects that brought the environment to life.
Aside from the weather, not much has changed, but that’s not a bad thing because Playground Games has really mastered the racing game format. You can take part in traditional races, co-op campaigns, stunt jumps, seasonal championships, and endurance tests in a variety of fast and stylish vehicles, from modified dune buggies and pick-up trucks to one-of-a-kind hypercars.
There’s a lot to keep you coming back. Every week, the game’s seasons change, and with them come new events that you can complete to earn points you can use to buy special cars. Check out our full thoughts on Forza Horizon 5 PC in our review.
DIRT RALLY 2
Dirty Rally 2.0 is not the right racing game for you if you don’t know your pacenotes from your driveshafts. Try Dirt 4 instead if you just want to drive from point A to point B a little faster than you would normally be able to on your daily commute. In Rally 2.0, your co-driver will give you lots of instructions, numbers, and directions. If you can’t handle the different terrains and tight turns, you’ll hit a tree before you know it.
As you’ll see in our review of Dirt Rally 2.0 for PC, the game is very hardcore. Unlike more casual racing games, you will often fail here, and even the smallest mistake will be punished harshly. When loud crashes happen, it feels like a flashbang just went off on your head. And if you get stuck behind the pack, the road surface will get worse, making it hard to even drive in a straight line. But if you know what you’re doing, Dirt Rally 2.0 is one of the best PC games that comes close to this difficult sport.
You’ll crash a lot, just like we did in our Dirt Rally 2.0 reviews. This time, Codemasters’ driving game doesn’t come with a tutorial, so you’ll have to learn from your many trips to the hospital. The procedural track-making system, “Your Stage,” is also not as good as it was in previous games. Instead, each race is carefully made by hand, and fans are encouraged to remember every bad turn and twist. That’s the only way to master Dirt Rally 2.0, and if you don’t buy into its single-mindedness, you’ll end up in last place.
Shift 2 might be the game that strikes the best balance between being realistic and being easy to play. Not only does the car handle in a dangerous but capable way, but it also always thinks about what players need to do their best. Shift 2 doesn’t force you to look out over the hood or pay for TrackIR so you can turn your head. Instead, it has a dynamic view that changes subtly based on what’s going on.
As you approach a gentle right turn, your view changes and your driver avatar looks right into the corner’s apex. For a sharper turn, your view swings a bit more so you can see where you’re going, but it doesn’t feel at all disorienting. It seems right.
Even the depth-of-field shows how thoughtful they are. This is an effect that has been used a lot, but Shift 2 uses it to draw your attention to where it should be. When someone is fast on your tail, things that are farther away get a little blurrier, but your mirrors get very clear. As you move through heavy traffic, your cockpit becomes less clear while the cars around you get clearer. Even though it sounds like a gimmick, it feels just like driving a car in real life. Shift 2 tries very hard to show how fun and satisfying it is to drive fast, and it does a great job of it.
PROJECT CARS 2
You may have noticed that real cars don’t often cartwheel into the ditch when you try to steer and speed up at the same time. In fact, they are pretty good at going around corners. It’s almost as if an engineer thought about the problem when they made them. Even though the performance cars in Project Cars 2 are more likely to bite back, they turn even better. We’ve done it a few times: drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini around the track, and you’ll probably have more fun than time to worry about the lack of a rewind button in real life.
This is known to Slightly Mad. They seem to be just as annoyed that driving simulation games tend to make difficulty feel like driving on a slab of melting ice at a 45-degree angle with tyres that don’t grip. So here, even if you give the car a lot of gas, it will still go around the corners. Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a virtual Scalextric set. You can still make mistakes, and traction is far from perfect. But, most importantly, you don’t quickly crash into the nearest trackside wall if you make a mistake (at least if you play with a wheel; pad control is still a little too sensitive). The result is a game that feels a lot more like real driving, and our Project Cars 2 PC review will tell you that it’s great.
The studio has also made a lot of other changes to this sequel. There are now more types of cars to choose from, and the career mode feels less random without losing the freedom of choice that made the first game so appealing. You can even race against a half-decent AI if you don’t like the back and forth of online play. But the most impressive update is the game’s amazing weather system. It takes into account a crazy number of factors about the physical properties of materials and surfaces, water pooling and running off, and more to give the best weather effects and wet weather driving we’ve ever seen in a racing game. So, it was a pretty successful sequel, and even better, the people who made it are making a Fast & Furious game.
It’s a lot of fun to drive safely and follow all the rules, but sometimes you just need to let off some steam. Wreckfest has a lot of different game modes, including the well-known demolition derby. You also drive on a track and try to finish first, but the most important thing you have to do is avoid getting hit by other cars.