The most passionate car enthusiasts have it in the blood. In fact, many will insist they have Valvoline racing oil coursing through their veins, and that was simply the way they were born. When you think about it, few of us can remember when we became interested in cars. We can usually cast our minds back to early childhood memories of helping Dad bleed the brakes by pumping the pedal on command, or being able to name the make and model of any passing vehicle almost as soon as we could talk.
Those childhood memories are almost certain to also involve every type of car game going, too, and for anyone born from the late 1960s onwards, that will include computer games of one type or another.
Not just for kids
Gaming is a strange thing. Thirty years ago, it was the domain of kids, just like hopscotch or hide and seek. Yet as the technology has evolved, so have the games and so have the gamers. These days, you don’t just see parents joining in with online games, there are whole sectors that are specifically aimed at the adult market. Casinos are the obvious example – online versions have sprung up all around the world, with the UK and particularly Scandinavia as global hubs. Online slots machines, or spilleautomater as they are called in Norway, are acquiring a global following. But while games like magic stars might be great for earning some bonus pounds, dollars or krone that you might be able to put towards your next automotive purchase, the true petrolhead will always gravitate back to those driving games.
The great news is that in the modern era, where gaming is as normal and accepted a leisure pursuit as watching TV, reading a book or changing a head gasket, we can all indulge in a virtual drive whenever we like, whether it is on smartphone, tablet or PC. Here, we take an affectionate look at some of the best and most pioneering driving games from down the years.
This 1980s classic was a staple of the arcades. Who can forget that Ferrari Testarossa Spider and the cheesy 80s soundtrack? One of the most ground-breaking aspects to the game was the ability to choose which route to take at each checkpoint, to explore different environments.
Part of the draw of the arcade version was the sit-in cabinet that provided the most realistic driving experience of its day. Versions were also released on the popular home computers of the era, such as the Atari, Sega Saturn and Commodore 64.
Super Mario Kart
From the sublime to the ridiculous? Perhaps, but no list of driving games can possibly leave out the madcap driving combat series of games that is still going strong after a quarter of a century. There have been plenty of iterations since the original version was released on the Super Nintendo, so choosing a best ever is a tricky proposition.
If pressed, Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Nintendo GameCube and Wii probably edges the rest. Weight classes were a clever idea, the courses are beautifully designed and the option to link two Game Cubes so that eight players can race is absolutely inspired. Fabulous for some juvenile fun over a few drinks.
Need for Speed
This is the granddaddy of so many modern driving games, including the Forza Horizon and Burnout series. Where Super Mario was all about cartoon fun, Need for Speed was built on realism. The first version was released in the early 90s, but it is 1999’s Need for Speed: High Stakes that goes down as the real classic. The E39 BMW M5 police cars are the stuff dreams are made of – at least, they were at the turn of the millennium. Best of all, you could actually play the game as the police, adding a whole new dimension.
This game was also ahead of its time in as much as it attracted a huge amount of online discussion and a community of home mods. Par for the course today, but something quite new in 1999.
Some say Gran Turismo heralded the step from mere game to driving simulator. Anyone who bought Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for their PS2 in 2001 would not have argued. Gamers will be amazed at just how well this game has aged – 17 years on, and it is still engaging and fantastically realistic. There were more than 200 cars, each of which was crafted in loving detail.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that it provided a better driving experience in a whole range of disciplines, including rallying, GT championships and touring cars that contemporary games that were dedicated solely to these specific genres. GT3 became the standard bearer by which all subsequent games would be judged.