Choosing the best racing games, F1, rally and driving sims: Buyer’s Guide review

Bring you up to speed with the world of virtual driving
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Racing games are all about going really fast - virtually, that is. Which is quite therapeutic when, in the real world, even if you own a Ferrari, you probably spend half of your time on the road travelling at less than 20mph, stuck in the latest set of roadworks to spring up or the rush-hour snarl. IT Reviews has some high-octane diversions you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

Broadly, there are two types of racing games – realistic simulations, and those with an arcade bent. However, the lines between the two have become increasingly blurred, as often even full-on simulations have a number of driving aids which can be turned on to make the experience relatively undemanding.

The quest for realism… well, almost
Take DiRT 3, for example, one of the more popular recent driving games which encompasses rally, rallycross (half asphalt, half dirt) and gymkhana, stunt driving with spins, drifts and jumps. With every driving aid turned on, it’s very easy to control your car, but with them all turned off a true expert is needed at the wheel. Codemasters’ effort is a superb all-round driving sim with a full online mode that does a good line in entertaining multiplayer ‘party’ games.

If Formula One is your bag, then F1 2010 is where you should be headed. Sumptuous visuals generate a superb sense of speed, and the wet weather effects are hugely realistic. Top that off with an in-depth career mode, and this is an accomplished and serious racer – yet has a range of skill levels that will appeal to everyone.

F1 2010
F1 2010 is the place to go for realistic Formula One driving action.

Proper petrol-heads should take Atari’s Race Pro for a spin. It offers very realistic car handling and physics (although even here, switching all the driving aids on still turns it into an arcade racer). Serious amateur racing drivers should check out the likes of rFactor and iRacing, which are essentially full online racing leagues with different vehicle classes and suchlike. Only true semi-pros need apply for the mock racing seasons hosted here.

Naturally, we couldn’t talk about racing games without mentioning the two big console franchises, Forza and Gran Turismo, exclusive to the Xbox and PS3 respectively. Both Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5 are thrilling race games and come highly recommended, despite something of a lack of polish to the latter. Shift 2 Unleashed, the latest instalment in the Need for Speed series, is also worth a pit-stop, all of these games delivering a decent dollop of realism as well as a substantial challenge.

Online multiplayer driving games
Massively multiplayer online racing has come to the fore of late, although the efforts on this front are pretty rough around the edges in terms of their implementation and success. Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a typical example, and a great concept in principle, yet with frequent disconnects and bugs, it can often be immensely irritating.

Arcade action
If crashing is more important to you than racing, then definitely check out EA’s Burnout series, which features much high-impact action. Blur is a little bit different and more destructive, a high-octane arcade racer which lets you fire weapons at your opponents. Why overtake when you can obliterate?

Blur mixes up high-octane racing thrills with an arcade-style shoot-out.

Of course, racing isn’t just about cars – if you fancy tootling about in go-karts, then Mario Kart has long been an arcade classic perfect for casual racing fans of any age. Furthermore, there are games which are pure simulations of driving a bus, lorry, train or other vehicles. Be warned, though, if you’ve a penchant for double-deckers, Avanquest’s Bus Simulator is utterly pants. Trainz Railway Simulator is a good example of an enjoyable budget game for the rail enthusiast.

One final note on racing games: they’re best played with a steering wheel, if you have the money to spare, and a suitable place to set the peripheral up. A joypad also works fine, although there have also been experiments in racing motion control. Joy Ride for Xbox Kinect allows your hands to grasp and turn an imaginary steering wheel. Unfortunately, cornering like this is rather inaccurate, and you’ve no control over braking and accelerating (save for a turbo-boost feature).