So that’s a bit of a mouthful, but given the plethora of video games out there, we want to make no mistakes on what this list is all about. With boredom levels peaking in the past few weeks from being stuck inside, I’ve had to think outside of the box, and that has led to blowing the dust off my old Playstation 1 and 2. Being a petrol-head racing games were always my go-to, and revisiting them was a tremendously fun trip down memory lane.
After a few hours I couldn’t help but think about how truly great some of these games were. The first two iterations of the Playstation console saw the heyday of the racing game. New studios and franchises were quite literally changing the game, and as a player I was constantly blown away by the innovations of each new game. That’s what this list is all about. Each of the following games can be called a true-classic, and I’ll always remember them fondly not only for the endless fun they gave, but also for the impact they had on the racing games of the future.
5. Test Drive: Unlimited (PS2, 2006)
The Test Drive franchise lived throughout the late 80’s and 90’s as a fun arcade racer which put you in exotic cars racing through equally exotic locations. It struggled through the 2000’s in finding a place amongst the increasingly detailed racers of the time, but came back for one last hurrah in a big way with Test Drive:Unlimited. Like no other game before or after it, TD:U is set in a huge open-world Island setting. The 1600km scale has literally never been matched in any game since. To put that in perspective, Grand Theft Auto V only features 127km of open world.
For 11 year old me, plugging-in my racing wheel, selecting the in-car view and driving around for hours on end was the closest thing I’d get to getting behind the wheel for real, and I really did spend hours doing just that.
4. Moto Racer (PS1, 1997)
Don’t think this list is for the deepest and most detailed games only. Some of the greatest racers of all time (including ones that will follow on this list) have been simple arcade racers. Arguably, these all have a motorbike game from 1997 by the name of Moto Racer to thank.
Throughout the 90’s, racing games belonged in the arcade, and many struggled to see how the racing experience could translate onto the console. Electronic Arts (EA) made this transition seamless and playing Moto Racer on Playstation felt exactly like you were in the arcade seat (only you didn’t have to insert a coin or two for every race). The graphics and sound were great, and multiplayer made it one of the first games that turned playing with friends and siblings into a party. Even though you were racing on 2 wheels and not 4, this will always go down as one of the greats.
3. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (PS2, 2002)
The Need For Speed franchise has been and likely will always be one of the heavyweights in the racing arena. From the early days of console racing, EA took what they learnt with games like Moto Racer and injected it into the NFS series, and this culminated in their first Playstation 2 release: Hot Pursuit 2. NFS had toyed with the concept of cops vs racers in earlier games such as the original Hot Pursuit and High Stakes, but with this installment they got it just right in a way that hasn’t really been seen since.
Being given the choice of outlaw or police added a whole new dimension, and the powers of the cops meant you could either enforce or avoid spike strips, barricades and even helicopters which dropped exploding barrels below. Us Aussies were also given a special treat thanks to the rare inclusion of some vehicles from down under in the forms of the Tickford TE50 and HSV GTO.
2. Burnout 3: Takedown (PS2, 2003)
EA proved lighting could strike twice, and a year later followed up the success of NFS: HP2 with a gem by the name of Burnout 3: Takedown. The Burnout series had been around since the early days of the PS2, and the first two installments were by no means failures, however with Takedown, EA finally perfected it’s mixture of arcade and demolition racing elements to create one of the truly great games of our time.
The driving physics pushed arcade racing to new levels, with boost and powersliding of extreme proportions. Being encouraged to crash and ‘takedown’ your opponents with race modes such as Road Rage and the Crash levels was yet another fresh and exciting approach which hadn’t really been seen before. Burnout had reached its peak, and future sequels only tried (and failed) to replicate the format of Takedown, instead of creating an identity of their own.
1. Gran Turismo 2 (PS1, 1999)
What other game other than one belonging to the Gran Turismo saga could top the list? Few will debate Gran Turismo’s place as the king of the console racing games, and each release continues to add more depth and realism than the previous. The original GT was an almost flawless arcade racer, but with GT2 came a shift of seismic proportions into something else completely. Marketed as a ‘driving simulator’, GT2 added incredible detail and depth to its graphics, car selection and career mode.
GT2 featured 620 cars and 27 tracks, ridiculously large numbers for any game, let alone one on the Playstation 1. Where most racing games would only require a day or so of non-stop racing to finish its career mode, GT2 would take substantially longer, setting the platform of GT games (most notably GT4) to come. While many have tried, no other racing game has been able to match the authenticity and complexity of the Gran Turismo series. Each instalment has taken these elements to new heights, and it was the release of GT2 which truly highlighted this for the first time.