Whether you’re a serious car aficionado or simply want a temporary escape from today’s troubling headlines, racing games can serve as a highly gratifying virtual getaway.
Regardless of your skill level and desired platform, today’s racers amp up the immersion with near photorealistic graphics and sound effects, optional accessories to grip the action, and multiplayer maps to vie for the finish line with or against friends online.
From lighthearted arcade racers to detailed simulations, here are a few good driving games that let you (safely) live out your driving fantasies.
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Not including the 2017 offshoot (Gran Turismo Sport), PlayStation gamers have been waiting for this long-awaited sequel for nine years.
Developed by Japan’s Polyphony Digital and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, “Gran Turismo 7” once again lets you engage in white-knuckle races across several of the world’s most respected racing tracks – from Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos) in Brazil to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County, California. (and several fictitious courses, too).
Climb into more than 420 authentically recreated supercars, each with unique handling, with several modes including GT Campaign, Arcade and Driving School, or the deeper GT Simulation Mode, which lets you buy, tune, race and sell your way through a rewarding single-player campaign (as you unlock new cars and challenges).
The multiplayer GT Sport Mode (PS+ account required) challenges you to take on other human opponents from around the world.
With support for 4K resolution and 60 frames per second smoothness, the PS5 version offers better graphics and faster frame rates over the PS4, along with amazing haptics on the DualSense controllers that add more immersion and realism.
Xbox and Windows PC gamers, on the other hand, can hop into the driver’s seat of “Forza Horizon 5,” to take command of many hundreds of customizable cars and other vehicles, and race through an open-world Mexico – from historic cities and vast deserts to sun-kissed beaches and ancient ruins.
Younger or less experienced players might first tackle some solo modes, and race against the game’s artificial intelligence, but it won’t be long until you’re tempted to race against others over the Internet, and with cross-platform support between PC and Xbox users. Speaking of multiplayer, new to the franchise is Horizon Arcade, a collection of minigames strewn across the map.
Developed by Playground Games and published by Xbox Game Studios, you can also take on several challenges, such as the “On Top of the World” Treasure Hunt Challenge or taking good photos in “Through the Looking Glass.”
While $59 on its own, Forza Horizon 5 is also part of Xbox Game Pass, an $9.99/month subscription service that lets you play more than 100 high-quality games on Xbox or a Windows PC, or $14.99/month for an “Ultimate” plan (both platforms).
A lot more arcade-like than a deep racing simulation, Nintendo’s “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit” lets you race a Mario Kart through your own home with augmented reality (AR) technology. Use the Nintendo Switch system to control your kart and watch as it reacts to what’s happening in the game, as you boost and drift to victory.
You can place virtual gates and objects to customize the courses, then see them come to life with different in-game environments, like jungles and snowscapes, and obstacles such as Piranha Plants.
Great idea, and appropriate for players of all ages.
Also available for Nintendo Switch is “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — Booster Course Pass“, a collection of 48 remastered courses that will roll out throughout 2022 and 2023, available as downloadable content (DLC) for the popular Mario Kart 8 Deluxe game ($59).
The courses include Tokyo Blur and Paris Promenade (pulled from the Mario Kart Tour mobile game), along with fan favorites like N64 Choco Mountain and Wii Coconut Mall, playable on Nintendo Switch for the first time.
This DLC is included in a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack Membership ($49.99/year), which grants you access to classic Nintendo 64 games (with newly added online play) and retro SEGA Genesis games, plus select DLC content, such as “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass”, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise”, and “Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion”.
Mobile games, too
All revved up but with no game console to play on? There are a few games also available for smartphones and tablets.
Available from Eden Games, “Gear.Club: Stradale” (available through Apple Arcade for $4.99 per month) takes place in Italy – mostly in the beautiful Tuscany region – and lets you buy, upgrade and race supercars from many of the world’s top automotive brands, including Porsche, Bugatti, McLaren, Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Nissan and Bentley.
Along with solo matches to sharpen your skills, you can compete against friends in various races, engage in special events (taking place daily, weekly and monthly), take part in worldwide competitions and work your way up the global leaderboard of best players.
And while a couple of years old, Gameloft’s gorgeous “Asphalt 9: Legends” is available for Apple and Android devices (and hey, Windows PC, too). This is a “freemium” game, which means there is no cost to start playing but there are optional in-game purchases.
Across more than a dozen real-world locations, you can collect, customize and race more than 150 vehicles (from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini) and complete in more than 900 solo career events or live 8-player races.
Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. And get tech news, tips and insights weekly by subscribing to the Talking Tech newsletter.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.