Sometimes it's good to blow off a little steam on your favourite racing sim game. Here's our list of the best available to buy and race right now
Ogling the listings on Classic & Performance Car is all well and good, but some of the beautiful machinery for sale can sometimes be just a touch out of financial reach for many of us.
Even if you can afford them, taking them on track will result in costs spiralling further out of control: consumables will need replacing, mechanical parts might fail, and of course there’s always the risk of denting something more tangible than your pride…
Fortunately, whether the aim is to get some practice in before a track event, or simply to blast around exotic locations in cars you’ll never be able to afford, there is almost certainly a perfect racing sim out there for you. We’ve taken a look some of our favourites.
8. Gran Turismo 6
It may be a little long in the tooth now – indeed, as a Playstation 3 title it's the only game here not available on either PC or one of the new-gen consoles – but Gran Turismo manages to strike a balance between realism and accessibility which other titles still aim to emulate.
Weight transfer and aerodynamic grip are brilliantly replicated on track, while gamers can compare and contrast minor handling nuances among the staggering choice of 1,200 cars. Classic tracks like Silverstone, Monza and the Nordschleife are all included, as are Gran Turismo classics like Special Stage Route 5, and exclusive courses like the Goodwood Hillclimb.
Gran Turismo Sport, which is set to include an FIA-endorsed sim-racing championship, is the next title due in the franchise. Expect a 2017 release. Or, if GT6 is anything to go by, any time within the next 10 years.
The latest in the Formula 1 franchise developed by Codemasters, F1 2015 allows gamers to experience the cars and circuits from the previous two Formula 1 seasons.
The changeable weather effects feel perfectly judged, and while the physics engine isn’t quite as edgy and challenging as its predecessors, F1 2015 manages to deliver plenty of feedback. Whether attacking the swimming pool section at Monaco or flowing through the Maggots/Becketts complex at Silverstone, the sensation of speed is fantastic, too.
Some might be left wanting more due to the missing depth of previous F1 games – it’s a little limited in terms of car choice and race modes compared to most of the other titles here – but who doesn’t want to try their hand in the fastest cars on the planet?
Unlike F1 2015, a lack of immersion is a criticism which could never be levelled at Assetto Corsa. The graphics are among the most beautiful here, and the handling feels so detailed and rewarding that even simple time trials can become utterly addictive.
The game is backed up by a widespread and active community, with many users developing their own mods – including new cars – to improve the range of choice for others. It’s hard to find a game which, in terms of pure handling realism and enjoyment, can top it.
The way the cars – be they stock cars, GT machinery or one of the wide range of single seaters – behave feels completely authentic. The steering deserves particular praise: the rate of response and the feedback it provides makes it among the most detailed setup on the market.
And then there’s the AI. More than any other sim racer here, computer opponents behave so naturally that you’ll start to wonder whether or not you’re playing online against human opponents. The bots alter their racing lines to defend their lead, they avoid collisions with other competitors and on occasion even make very human errors.
While Gran Turismo has a greater quantity of cars to choose from, it could be argued that its Xbox rival provides a greater variety. Forza Motorsport 6 has motorsports fans covered thanks to official tie-ins with the likes of IndyCar and Formula E, and classic enthusiasts are well catered-for too: whether you’d like to cock the inside-front wheel of a Lotus Cortina, enjoy the Busso soundtrack of an Alfa Romeo GTV6 or rekindle your Essex Boy days in a white Ford Fiesta XR2, Forza has them all.
They’re beautifully rendered, too, and running at 60fps, it’s easy to become distracted by the pretty graphics. Fortunately, the handling remains slightly more forgiving than some of the sim-based titles here, and a rewind function offers error-prone racers an almost instant chance to revise their over-ambitious braking point heading into The Chase at Mount Panorama.
Much like RFactor, iRacing majors on incredible realism for its thrills. And, just like RFactor, it is both endorsed and used by many professional outfits to train their drivers.
If you’re a casual gamer, there is little point in reading what we have to say about iRacing- it’s so full-on that this really isn’t the title for you. iRacing, more than any other here, can be considered a true simulator for those looking to hone their real-world driving skills.
Scrolling through the intro menus and setup screens might seem bewildering at first, and a wheel is an absolute must. Get beyond these minor hurdles, and whether you’re a trackday driver looking to brush up your technique or a fully-fledged pro making minute setup tweaks within the safety of your own home, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better title.
2. Project cars (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
One of the latest racing games to hit the shelves also turns out to be one of the very best. Project Cars blends stunning visuals with the ability to mix gameplay which can be either hugely accessible for the novice sim racer or challenging enough for the most experienced.
This is thanks to the game’s massive scope for tweaking settings and assists. While some other games sway between the ridiculously simple and the nigh-on impossible, Project Cars’ sliding scale to adjust AI difficulty ensures that every race can be a tense, closely-fought affair.
The handling feels great; the cars react to bumps and transfer weight from one axle to another very naturally, and the career mode offers a lifelike and engrossing progression from karting to Le Mans Prototypes – or anywhere in between. If motorsport of the tarmac variety is your thing, then Project Cars is hard to beat.
Striking a balance between realism and fun is something which so many mainstream racing sims struggle to achieve. More than any other tile on sale today, Dirt Rally gets it right.
Whether slithering a Mk2 Escort through a Finnish forest stage, or winding the latest Ford Fiesta WRC through some twisty Greek terrain, it feels incredibly authentic and utterly engrossing. In addition to traditional WRC-style stages, there’s a few RallyX tracks and the Pikes Peak Hillclimb thrown in for good measure.
We can pay it no higher compliment than to say it’s quite possibly the best rally sim – and indeed raging game in general – since Colin McRae Rally 2.0.
And if all that isn’t enough, you can drive a Peugeot 306 Maxi. Time to channel your inner Panizzi.