Best driving games 2018: The racing sims you have to play this Christmas

Go racing on your games console this Christmas

For many motorsport fans, getting to experience the thrill of the track is confined to either the grandstands on race days or through video games while sat on the sofa.

The latter are now so advanced that many are more like simulators, while professional gaming, known as e-sports, has become a well-trodden path to the real-life grid. But developers also offer modes to keep every player entertained. 

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We’ve tested eight games to find out which one strikes the right balance between racing realism and fun for casual players, so you know what to spend your money on this Christmas.

How we tested them

We spent several hours in front of our TV (someone has to do it) and tested all the games on Xbox One, except Gran Turismo Sport, which is exclusive to PS4.

Each title was rated against its rivals in several key categories: gameplay, graphics, realism, track and vehicle selection, as well as accuracy if the game was recreating a specific real-life series.

Price, taken from a range of online retailers, was the final consideration, although it wasn’t a big factor.

Forza Horizon 4

Available for: Xbox One, PC
Price: Around £40
Rating: 5 stars

The newest game on test is also the best because its graphics are just beautiful. Forza Horizon 4 lets you drive in the open world, racing when you feel the urge and cruising around the stunning environment when you want to unwind. You can race, rally, drift and drag, or create your own event. It encourages multiplayer gaming, but you can enjoy it on your own. There’s an eclectic list of cars and it carries over Forza Motorsport 7’s driving dynamics, which are easy to follow and use.

Project Cars 2

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £25
Rating: 4.5 stars

In our last test of racing games, Project CARS came out on top, thanks to its incredible line-up of cars and on-track action. This follow-up is equally impressive. It offers everything from GT and rallycross to IndyCar racing on famous tracks around the world. What really makes Project CARS 2 stand out is the driving dynamics, its live weather simulation and track surface evolution, which combine for an immersive simulation that we absolutely love. The best for on-track action.

Gran Turismo Sport

Available on: PS4
Price: Around £20
Rating: 4.5 stars

Gran Turismo has long been the most popular PlayStation driving simulator since the original version was launched back in 1997 and set the bar for racing games. GT Sport, released last year, is the latest generation and is arguably the best yet. It looks incredible with impressive lighting and tracks. Since it went on sale, the game has received updates that have improved driving dynamics and offer new cars for variety. The livery editor provides hours of fun for creative motorsport fans.

F1 2018

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £40
Rating: 4 stars

The officially-licensed F1 game features all 20 drivers, 10 teams and 21 circuits from the real competition. Aside from the faithful recreation of the championship, the gameplay serves up a healthy dose of realism. Driving can be tweaked between arcade style and full simulation, depending on the kind of challenge you want. The in-depth career mode – which features R&D upgrades and media interaction – will keep you coming back for more, while there’s a string of classic cars for retro fans.

DiRT 4

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £20
Rating: 4 stars

We loved DiRT Rally, praising it as a return to the glory days of the old Colin McRae titles. The follow-up, DiRT 4, goes a step further and could just be the best rallying game ever produced. Gorgeous graphics, ultra-realistic sound and vastly enjoyable gameplay make this title a must for any fan of rallying. There’s a range of cars from every era (including rallycross), plus an endless list of stages, thanks to the revolutionary create-a-stage function that generates a fresh layout every time, so you’ll never get bored.

Forza Motorsport 7

Available on: Xbox One, PC
Price: Around £25
Rating: 4 stars

If you like your action on the track and are a long-time Forza fan, then Motorsport 7, released in 2017, is the way to go. There’s a huge roster of cars (over 700) and an equally impressive track list that means you won’t run out of new circuits to learn. The graphics are stunning and the career mode has a nice progression to keep you engaged. Earning in-game credits allows you to unlock faster, better and more exotic cars. Racing is fun and easy to pick up, but it does lack the realism of its direct rival, Project CARS 2.

Rocket League

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £16
Rating: 3.5 stars

Forget realistic gameplay, accurate driving physics and real-life tracks; Rocket League is unadulterated arcade fun that mixes racing with football. You race buggies around a field with a ball and try to score against your opponent. There aren’t that many games like this around any more, but if you’re playing against some friends or connected to the Internet, look no further than Rocket League for a quick blast of entertainment. Since our last test, this game has been made available for Xbox One, which further widens its appeal.

WRC 7

Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £25
Rating: 3.5 stars

The last version of the official rallying game, WRC 6, scored poorly in our previous test, but we’re pleased to report big leaps have been made for this generation. While the gameplay is less realistic than with direct rival DiRT 4, it still brings the fast-paced, mud-splattered action to life. The list of locations is impressive and stages are well made, but graphics could be more polished. Disappointingly, the officially-licensed teams, racers and tracks are now outdated and there are no historic cars from the eighties and nineties to take for a spin.

Also testedV-Rally 4

Available for: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
Price: Around £30
Rating: 3.5 stars

MX vs ATV: All Out

Available for: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Price: Around £30
Rating: 2.5 stars

Verdict

The beautiful graphics, range of cars and freedom give Forza Horizon a narrow victory. For action that’s confined to the track, look no further than Project CARS 2. However, Gran Turismo Sport is a worthy rival if you own a PS4.

Did your favourite game make our list? Let us know what you’ll be playing this Christmas in the comments below…

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