The open world racing game genre has been going strong for over fifteen years. Here are some of the best and most significant products of that decade and a half.
Photo credit: BeamNG
With the release of Forza Horizon 5 rapidly approaching the… well… the horizon, many players will be diving into what will likely be one of the most fleshed-out and advanced open world racing games ever made. However, while the Forza Horizon series is probably the most well known franchise in the open world racing genre, there are other games and series which have carried the torch before it, and some which continue to do so to this day. As such, we thought we would compile a list of just a few of the greatest open world racing games and franchises of all time, in no particular order.
The Crew, and its more well known sequel The Crew 2, is a game which offers a vast open world within which players can drive, sail or fly to their heart’s content. The initial game in the series, which was released late in 2014, boasted a significant roster of over 120 vehicles and a plethora of missions for players to sink their teeth, or perhaps their tyres, into. A large free-roam map of the United States was the setting, though some of the map lacked flavour.
Later, in 2018, came The Crew 2, which followed directly in its predecessor’s footsteps, also features a large open world which is a scaled down representation of the entire US. The sequel learned from some of the mistakes of The Crew, and as such it has benefitted from a generally warmer reception. It’s not an all out racing simulator by any means, but it’s not a totally arcade experience either.
Test Drive Unlimited
All the way back in 2006, Test Drive Unlimited was one of the groundbreakers in the genre of open world racing titles. Available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2, the game offered players the opportunity to explore the Hawaiian island of O’ahu in a plethora of supercars.
At the time of the game’s release, its open-endedness and exploratory nature drew rather unlikely comparisons to games such as World of Warcraft. The freedom that players could experience in the game was somewhat revolutionary at the time, and positive reviews reflected this.
The sequel, Test Drive Unlimited 2, was not so well received. Bugs and glitches were a primary concern, as was a general lack of direction for the game. By 2011, simply being an open world experience was no longer enough to carry the title to positive reviews as it had done in 2006. However, compliments about the game’s overall atmosphere still remained. Whether this will be the case for upcoming 2022 release Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown, we will have to wait to find out.
Grand Theft Auto
This is a bit of a weird one. GTA is many things, and while it’s not a racing game above all else, it does still feature a good deal of driving and racing in its core gameplay. As such, it just about squeezes its way onto our list.
For the two people in the whole world who don’t already know: GTA V takes players to a fictionalised version of Los Angeles in the US, called Los Santos in game. The cars are renamed to avoid licensing issues, and to bring an aspect of the satire and parody that the series is so known for.
The map is expansive and remarkably detailed, probably more so than almost any other open world game – despite the game now being twelve years old. Driving and racing around this large map can reveal all kinds of interesting easter eggs, secrets and landscapes to the player.
This German-developed title is one of the hidden gems among racing simulators. Realistic handling and force feedback ensure an accurate and rewarding driving experience. The crash physics, for which the game initially found its fame, are very detailed and a wide array of available mods for cars, maps and scenarios keep the game fresh.
When it comes to the open world aspect of the game, every map is an open world of its own. There is a free-roam mode which allows players to explore every nook and cranny of whatever location they find themselves in, be it an ancient European town or the expansive American countryside.
Need for Speed
If you ask someone who doesn’t know much about esports racing to name a racing game, they will more than likely come up with ‘Need for Speed’. The franchise is legendary, and has been around for a long time. In that time, there have been several open world Need for Speed games which have been released.
First among these was the 2008 release Need for Speed: Undercover. While it ushered in an era of open world NfS games, Undercover itself was rather sub-par for a number of reasons. Most recently, Need for Speed Heat, which debuted in 2019, also makes use of an open world for players to sink their teeth into.
Like with Grand Theft Auto, Need for Speed Heat creates a fictionalised version of a real place, in this instance Miami. The geography of the map is somewhat diverse, but the lack of an organic day-night cycle as was present in 2017’s Need for Speed Payback is a bit of a shame. Heat is the, wait for it, twenty-fourth game in the Need for Speed series and was made to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise.
These are just some of our favourite open world racers, what are yours? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!