From the familiar dedicated circuit races, to immersive open world cities, driving games offer some of the most varied and entertaining gaming experiences available. But how far have they come in the last few decades? From crude pixels to fully rendered 3D, here are some of the most influential driving games to ever grace our screens!
Mario Kart (1992 – Present)
Arguably responsible for ending friendships the world over, this monstrously addictive and highly competitive game is not only regarded as one of the best driving games in history, but perhaps one of the best games period.
The premise is simple enough, Mario and his menagerie of friends jump into go-karts and race around a variety of circuits while shooting at each other with an arsenal of turtle shells, lightning, bananas and ghosts. The game, which has enjoyed numerous incarnations for both hand-helds and consoles, has become something of a cult classic for gamers of all ages.
Though not realistic in any shape or form, the game is lauded for its playability and entertainment value. What’s more, the Mario Kart franchise is perhaps responsible for the myriad of “battle racing” games which followed it.
Every bowling alley and beach front arcade worth its salt had an Outrun game machine in it. In addition, this third-person racing game was also one of the first to offer players different routes to the end objective. The game itself is only infamous for the cheesy sound tracks which accompanied the gameplay.
And what was this objective? To drive ludicrously fast to the end of each stage within the allotted time limit and dodging oncoming traffic as you go. If the stage is successfully completed, the player can go left for an easier route or right for something a bit more challenging.
The game has been remade and re-released numerous times over the years, but Outrun: Coast2Coast has garnered something of a cult following, with the gameplay considered the speediest and the music the cheesiest.
Gran Turismo (1997 to Present)
Widely regarded as the godfather of modern racing games, Gran Turismo is praised for combining a superb physics engine with fully customisable cars and dynamic, robust racing.
Though the concept of allowing players to customise their vehicles had been experimented with in the 1980s in a pixelated classic known as Pit Stop, Gran Turismo implemented it superbly. Players choose from a range of real world vehicles from renowned manufacturers and effectively tune them to their own playing style; new vehicles and customisations could be unlocked when players beat certain courses and achieved time challenge objectives.
In addition to the cars, an immense amount of thought and time was put into the design of the tracks. Though arguably basic circuits, the graphics were well implemented and players could literally bounce off the walls, as each track had barriers along the sides, adding a whole new level to the racing dynamic.
If Gran Turismo is the godfather of circuit racing games, then the same can be said of Driver in relation to open world driving games. When driver was released in 1999 on the Play Station it heralded a massive leap forward in open ended gaming and arguably encouraged the later, 3D sandbox instalments of the mighty Grand Theft Auto.
The gameplay was largely built around car chases, heists and various stunts. The action took place in a number of iconic American cities, including New York and Miami and was reportedly inspired by infamous car chase movies, Bullit and The Driver.
Though the game has enjoyed a number of reiterations and sequels, the first is widely regarded as the best and is a firm favourite among the original Play Station generation of gamers.
Grand Theft Auto (GTA) (1997 to Present)
You can’t talk about driving games without mentioning the notorious GTA franchise. From car-jacking, to running gun battles with the police, the GTA series is known for its controversy and is uniformly hated by mothers the world over.
Ignoring the media attention, the GTA series of games is one of innovation and the games are amongst the highest grossing of all time. From a top down, pixelated perspective to fully rendered 3D, the development of video games can arguably be chartered via GTA.
Engaging gameplay with a compelling storyline, the world of GTA satirises our own and is frequently full of hyperbole and ludicrous larger than life characters.
When it comes to driving in real life, there is more to contend with than the police and other drivers; there’s motor insurance, licensing and fuel to think about…
Ultimately, what is possible in the world of gaming does not translate to real life, so sometimes it’s good to plug in the console and bomb around virtual streets and circuits to help let off some steam. Driving and the motor trade is a massive part of human culture, so it’s only fitting that it enjoys popularity in the virtual world as well as the physical.