What We Look for in Racing Games

There’s no set formula that racing games have to follow in order to become a critical and commercial success. However, there are a few factors which tie together the biggest franchises that are around at the moment.

To help any budding developers out there, here are eight of the key characteristics that define highly successful racing games today.


From Gran Turismo to Project CARS, games which attempt to simulate the real experience of competitive motorsport have been popular for decades. And when it comes to driving simulators, attention to detail is at the top of the agenda.

Minutely-tuned physics engines are the name of the game, not only for titles that take everything from engine performance to tyre traction and wind resistance into account but also for the more outlandish, arcade-style racers out there. For example, games which feature destructible vehicles and environments, such as the long-running Burnout series, are realistic in their own special ways. And in fact, there are many simulators which feature licensed vehicles that steer clear of showing damage because manufacturers are hesitant to allow it in the first place.

Open World Design

Giving players the freedom to choose how they experience the game, rather than forcing them through a specific path of progression, is something that a number of racing titles have attempted to deliver. The most significant and successful of the bunch is Forza Horizon, the spin-off series that parallels the slightly more rigid main Forza franchise.

Soon to enter its fourth iteration, this open-world driving game is not bound by the same limitations as its stablemates. It manages to achieve this while still maintaining a high level of visual polish, rather than suffering from the drawbacks that other free roaming games can exhibit.

This ethos of openness is also found in a range of free-to-play titles available in browser, such as Scrap Metal 3 and Madalin Stunt Cars. When playing Madalin Stunt Cars you’re able to take on any of the crazy obstacles that are littered about each map, without having to adhere to a set path. It also mirrors the multiplayer features of the Forza Horizon series, which improves the options for competitive play.

A Sense of Speed

This is something that not every racing game can deliver, but the very best of the bunch will be able to give you a pulse-pounding sense that you really are whizzing past scenery at hundreds of miles an hour.

This is particularly apparent in the less realistic games in the genre, such as Trackmania and WipeOut. When tracks can take any shape and there’s no need to adhere to the limitations of current engine technology, developers can let their creativity take over and showcase incredible spectacles of speed.

There are a few examples that meet the expectation of immense acceleration without having to veer away from actual vehicles and tracks, including superbike racer RIDE and virtual reality-supporting titles like Assetto Corsa. In fact, VR headsets have opened up a whole new world of immersive racing, putting you in the driving seat like never before and giving that sense of speed that all petrol heads crave.

Online Play

Although having a multiplayer mode isn’t essential for every modern game, it’s definitely something that racing titles simply have to bring to the table if they want to stand a chance of competing with the big boys.

The Forza Horizon series is another good example in this respect, because it’s not just aimed at pitting players against everyone else, but about emphasising the importance of co-operation. It took the development team until the third iteration to actually add co-op multiplayer capabilities, but the wait was worthwhile and friends can now enjoy teaming up rather than purely competing when they play together.

Track Variety

It’s not enough for modern racing games to plough all of their efforts into creating realistic cars without also offering an excellent selection of tracks for players to test out and master over time. For simulator,s the focus obviously has to be on recreating real-world race courses in pixel-perfect detail, while arcade racers need to embrace variety in a different way, with jaw-dropping courses set across a range of different terrain types and scenic backdrops helping to keep players interested hour after hour.

The best racing games are committed to providing an impressive globe-trotting experience in their roster of tracks. While some stick to a specific country, it’s vital that they explore different locales within a given region to avoid getting stale too quickly. Failing that, impressive weather systems such as those encountered in games like Drive Club will ensure that tracks feel fresh after repeated play-throughs.


Downloadable content packs serve a dual purpose in the world of racing games; they keep the community of players interested in a title long after its release, while also allowing developers to generate revenue over time and ensure there’s an audience for any potential sequels further down the line.

Turning back to the Forza franchise is sensible here, since it consistently keeps people hooked thanks to the drip-feeding of DLC packs each month. Of course with over 450 cars rumoured for the latest version,  those who don’t feel like paying for added extras will hardly be short changed in terms of the content they have available. The fact that many top selling racing games also offer free DLC is something to be admired.

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