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Our top picks for the best racing games are all about fulfilling the fantasy of burning rubber and tearing up the blacktop. These picks range from hardcore simulations like Project Cars to more action-oriented titles like Need for Speed: Payback. You don't need a fancy setup to enjoy any of these titles and lend themselves well to controller-based setups, forgoing the need for expensive and cumbersome steering wheel setups.
We fully expect each entry in this list to include an extensive garage of incredible and incredibly expensive cars to choose from. But we'll also be comparing customization options, community creations, and the prevalence of additional paid content. While the overall driving experience is obviously paramount for these titles, the bottom line is how fun each game is and whether they translate the visceral connection of where the rubber meets the road.
Read on to see our list of the best car racing games.
Project CARS is by far the most realistic of PS4 racing games on the list due to the intricate development behind creating the game to replicate real life. Project CARS stands for Community Assisted Racing Simulator, where development came with a team that guided, tested and approved various choices to fine-tune the game, so it's as true-to-life as possible.
Project CARS first starts you off by making a unique driver that takes on various tiers (difficulties) and driving different cars (from F1 vehicles to sports cars) as you compete against other AI drivers for titles and trophies. The game has over 74 drivable cars with over 30 unique locations and 110 different courses (23 of them are real, closed circuits, coastlines and highways). To add to its realism, the game has a dynamic time of day, weather system and deep tuning for cars along with a pit stop functionality during races.
Cars 3: Driven to Win isn’t just a racing game but sticks true to the movie it’s based on with a cast of familiar characters and settings. The best PlayStation 4 racing game on the list for kids takes it easy on the intensity and gives an overall fun challenge that’s simple to pick up and play, even for adults.
Cars 3: Driven to Win has you jumping, drifting, and turbo boosting as you play on over 20 tracks with one of 23 characters such as Lighting McQueen, Cruz Ramirez and Tow Mater. The game features six different modes such as Battle Race, which uses various pickup weapons, and Playground mode, where players can go racing, perform challenges or just cruise around to get used to the controls.
There are multiple difficulty options, so depending on your kids and their familiarity with racing games, they can change up the settings to match their experience.
TrackMania Turbo is all about wildness, where players race at top speeds and go through multiple obstacles, timing when to drift and flying over vertical ramps. The PS4 racing game has one of the most intense and wild gameplay styles on the list and is full of features such as split screen multiplayer and custom course creation where you can build your own zany tracks.
In its campaign mode, TrackMania Turbo challenges players with over 200 different tracks where they compete again ghost racers in order to beat various time records to get gold medals. The frantic and fast racer has players drift into tight winding turns, weave through multiple obstacles and launch off of huge ramps with a large depth of field so they can anticipate it all at over 400 mph. There’s a multiplayer offline mode with split screen, so you can play with four other players, but if you want more intense gameplay, the online multiplayer gives you a chance to race against 100 other players all at the same time.
The jaw-dropping visuals, epic sound design and tight controls make DriveClub the most realistic looking PS4 car racing game on the list. DriveClub is the type of game where you can race real-life cars such as Aston Martins, BMWs and Ferraris in the rain and see the reflection of the environment on the wet road as you hit the accelerator and hear your blazing engine roar.
DriveClub first starts you off by either joining a club (or making your own) where you’ll team up with other drivers to achieve missions and tasks for in-game currency that helps you unlock special items and equipment. There are three different modes, including multiplayer, single events and tour (which has over 224 different types of race challenges such as drifting and competing against tough AI).
There are over 114 different cars and 20 bikes that players get to unlock and choose from, all of which are modeled to the smallest details of their real-life equivalent.
F1 2017 feels like you’re actually watching a Formula One race in action; players jump into the cockpit of a Formula One car and relive the 2017 Formula One Season with over 20 circuits, 20 drivers and 10 teams competing over the season. In-game commentary from David Croft and Anthony Davidson adds that extra sense of realism that gives players a more authentic feel for the real thing.
In F1 2017, players select one of five teams with 12 classic cars in a team management mode where they can compete in 20 modern and classic championships with real-life circuits, including Suzuka Circuit and Silverstone Circuit. As players complete each track, they are given the chance to research and develop car parts that can be used to enhance their vehicle, all while facing the challenge of upkeep with wearing engine components and gearboxes.
Online multiplayer builds on a progression system where players compete for rewards and race against up to 20 different other people with similar stats as themselves, giving it a balanced gameplay with numerous chances of neck and neck matches.
Like starring as the main lead in an action movie, Need for Speed Payback has you engaged in a riveting plot as you hijack vehicles, smash into enemy cars and then watch them tumble and spark in slow motion. It’s one of the only PS4 racing games that require you to outrun the police, drive into oncoming traffic and cause as much damage as possible.
Need for Speed Payback is set in an open world environment and includes three playable characters with different skill sets that work together and are assigned a mission to steal a rare car. Players are given a vehicle that they can endlessly tune-up for performance and style, giving it a sense of ownership by spending the in-game currency they get through completing missions. There’s always a call to action in Need for Speed Payback where players can jump right into events, missions and high-speed pursuits with an overall cinematic experience where anything can happen.
DiRT 4 — the off-road racer with an appropriate name — is for the rougher racing game players where powerful cars go against the hazards of the environment (in the snow, forests and mud). In DiRT 4, players start off their career by creating their own custom character with their name, appearance, age and choice of leaderboards. The game offers two modes: a gamer mode (“just here for fun”) and simulation (“I’m here to be challenged”), giving players two different experiences that ultimately change the dynamic, and making it suitable for both casual and serious players.
DiRT 4 doesn’t wait and throws you on a track immediately, giving you a thorough tutorial to navigate the roads ahead in five different locations: Australia, Spain, Sweden, Wales and Michigan. DiRT 4 is ultimately one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging racing games on the list if you’re able to follow directions and carefully execute proper driving skills by adapting to an ever-changing turbulent environment.
Age level - Most racing games have different difficulty levels, but that doesn’t mean they are appropriate for all ages. For younger players, more cartoonish gameplay with less violence may be a better fit, while older players may appreciate more realistic scenes with hijacking and rougher courses.
Graphics - For serious gamers, great graphics are clutch. Some games feature realistic rain falling from the sky, and you can even see your surroundings reflected on the slick road as you drive. Combine those jaw-dropping graphics with accurate sound and you’ll have a game that’s as close as you can get to actually driving.
Variability - How many times can you race the same course? Look for a game that has as much variability as possible so you never get tired of playing. Take into account the number of drivable cars (some have 75 or more!), characters or driver options, locations, and unique courses per location there are in each game.