Tips on How to Play Racing and Driving Video Games

Information on car handling, race types, and more

Hand holding video game control playing racing game on tv


Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

Racing games have been around for decades, but the genre has changed quite a lot since the days of Pole Position and Out Run. If you're looking to improve your driving skills, here are some basic tips you can apply the next time you get behind the digital steering wheel.

Games Have Changed, But the Concept Is the Same

Screenshot from Need For Speed: Undercover

As technology has advanced, it's introduced true-to-life graphics, exceptional gameplay physics, and a much more realistic batch of racing games. These days, there are hundreds of variables to consider while trying to gain the advantage, but one thing has remained the same — make it to the finish line first or beat the clock to win. This applies to almost any racer you get your hands on, with the notable exception of some combat racing games like Mario Kart and Twisted Metal.

While crossing the finish line first is almost always the solution to winning in a race, newer games can also grade drivers on other factors like style, car performance, and overall racing tactics.

Knowing How to Handle Your Car Is the Key to Victory

Screenshot from Forza Horizon 4
 Microsoft Game Studios

Becoming familiar with your racing game's controls is key to achieving victory. The different consoles on the market today have similar, yet slightly different controllers. To make matters worse, there are no set standards on what button or trigger should perform what action (gas, brake, boost, steer, etc.). Additionally, each game offers its own unique set of options, so knowing them and tweaking them to your advantage is a must. The easiest way to get acquainted with the controller setup is to practice in-game. If there are options for changing your controller layout, set it to something you're comfortable with.

Control Is Important, So Use a Comfortable Controller

PlayStation DualShock4 Controller
The PlayStation DualShock4 Controller. Pixabay

Every gamer is different. Some have small hands, while others have big hands. Some prefer the directional pad, while others prefer the analog stick. Some prefer to ditch standard controllers and use a racing wheel. The only person that knows what controller is best for you is you. Each console comes with a standard controller, but there are also many third-party console accessories available, including controllers. Perhaps one of them fits your needs better than Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo's offerings. Try different controllers while at a friend's house, at an electronics retailer, or in a video game store like GameStop.

Know the Type of Racing Game You're Playing

Screenshot from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

There is a huge difference between arcade racing games and simulation racing games. The biggest — and probably the most obvious — is that an arcade-style racing game will play more freely, while a simulation racing game is much more structured.

Most racing titles fall under one of the above-listed sub-genres, but there are many that contain elements of both, as well as gameplay mechanics from other types of racing games. For example, Electronic Arts' Need For Speed series is considered an arcade racer, but it also has elements of the street racing game genre.

The importance of this is two-fold. First, it shows how racing games are evolving. Second, it serves as a prime example of the range of gameplay types available in just one video game.

Racing Lines — Keep Them Clean and Tight

Screenshot from Gran Turismo 6

A racing line is basically the ideal route to take while driving on a track and it includes such tactics as cutting corners and veering to the left slightly before a right turn so you can maintain higher speeds. You can learn these tactics as you play and become familiar with the various courses, tracks, and routes.

Drifting Can Help — But It Can Also Be a Major Slow-Down

Screenshot from Forza Horizon 4
 Microsoft Game Studios

Sliding the rear end of your vehicle around a corner is considered drifting, and while it may get you around that upcoming turn a bit easier, it should be used sparingly. Some games will award you in some fashion for drifting, and taking a corner at 140 MPH is fun, but it will ultimately slow you down.

Proper Braking Actually Delivers Higher Speeds

Screenshot from Asphalt 8

Brakes are meant to slow you down, but if used properly they can help you reach higher speeds through curves and corners. Most racing games have two types of brakes: a standard brake and an e-brake. Using the e-brake during a fairly hard turn results in drifting and slows you down. instead, use the standard brakes when taking moderate corners, no brakes when taking light curves, and use the e-brake only when you find you're going too fast to complete the turn without smacking into something. When braking, throttle your brakes like you would in a real-world situation. Holding the brake down fully for a short amount of time will only slow you down. Proper braking in racing games gives you more control and allows you to hit the racing lines dead on.

Drafting Other Racers Increases Speed Over Straight Areas

Screenshot from Forza Motorsport 6
 Microsoft Game Studios

Not every game supports drafting (following another car closely to gain speed using their trailing wind), but if your're playing a game that does support it you should use it whenever possible. It's like free gas. The whole objective of a good draft is to get as close to the upcoming car as possible. You will gain speed by doing this, and as you near the rear end of the vehicle, pass it and head on to the next victim.