The original PlayStation and Ridge Racer; the Xbox 360 and Project Gotham Racing 3; F-Zero and the Super Nintendo. Can you really say a new wave of hardware has truly arrived without a big ticket racing game to herald the launch?
With big first party racing games absent from the launch line-ups of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Series S and X consoles, you might well think that’s the case at the dawn of the ninth generation of video game consoles. The reality, though, is that there’s never been such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to picking a racer for your new machine.
There are a handful of sprightly new contenders, some gently spruced-up old favourites as well as some thoroughbred racers that can finally live up to their potential on the new generation. So whether it’s a full-throttle, brake-pedal-be-damned arcade racer you’re after or a hard-edged, detail rich sim, here’s a rundown of the very best racing games for you to play on PlayStation 5 or Series S/X.
Dirt 5 – good old-fashioned not-so-clean arcade fun
Codemasters’ latest new direction for its off-road series was the racing game for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X upon their launch, and despite being a more humble thing than your typical Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo this still provides an effective showcase for the new generation: 120fps action is available on both platforms, should you have the set-up for it, with the PlayStation 5 making the most of the exquisite DualSense controller to provide an unprecedented amount of feedback, while on the new Xbox consoles you’ll be able to make the most of Variable Refresh Rate too.
Look beyond the tech, though, and you’ve got a hugely enjoyable arcade racer cast more in the image of MotorStorm than the older Colin McRae series – as you might expect, given the lineage of Codemasters’ Cheshire studio. You can see that same heritage in a game that’s frequently gorgeous and certainly knows how to pull off a storm-infused spectacle like Driveclub before it. It’s a bright, brash and breezy thing – the perfect accompaniment to a next-gen launch.
Assetto Corsa Competizione – one of the PC’s very best sims, and now console racing’s very best too
On PC, Kunos Simulazioni GT3-focussed sim is now up there with rFactor 2 and iRacing as one of the very best available, but on a console, the case for it hasn’t been quite so clear-cut. When it came out on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One last year, Assetto Corsa Competizione struggled somewhat. This was perhaps unsurprisingly, seeing as it was trying to squeeze a state of the art simulator onto hardware that was beginning to show its age. The power of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, though, has been nothing less than transformative.
There’s no bespoke next-gen upgrade here, but thanks to backwards compatibility and the enhanced power of the new consoles, this may as well be a completely different game, and what once struggled to maintain 30fps now sticks to an uninterrupted 60fps on PS5, with the Xbox Series X coming in not too far behind.
It’s enough to make you really appreciate what’s been achieved with the handling model here, the thunder and flexibility of modern GT racing captured as well as it’s ever been in a video game since the almighty GTR2. There’s a healthy debate to be had whether Assetto Corsa Competizione, iRacing or rFactor 2 are the best options for PC sim racers looking for authenticity. On console, though, and with most of the problems of the launch versions ironed out by the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, Competizione is out in a class of its own.
WRC 9 – serious-minded off-roading gets a seriously impressive next-gen makeover
WRC 9 is another incredible simulation that didn’t quite live up to its potential on the last generation of consoles, but a next-gen upgrade for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X from Kylotonn has the game flying like one of the new breed of turbo-charged beasts over the improbable leaps of one of Finland’s stages. It is hugely impressive.
Not that WRC 9 was a slouch, of course. In a short space of time, the French developer has put its own imprint on the series, crafting a hard-edged rallying sim that can now go comfortably toe-to-toe with Codemasters’ ever-brilliant DiRT Rally series. The handling’s exquisite, doing justice to the mad machines that are the centrepiece of the sadly underappreciated real-life series, and if there’s any one area where Kylotonn’s take on the discipline truly excels it’s the stages – rich with detail and variety, they’re pretty much as good as it gets.
And of course, in this most peculiar of years, it means we’re able to sample the sadly cancelled return of the Safari Rally, with its wide-open brushland linking together some seriously trying terrain and the steep switchbacks of Rally Japan. To witness them at a solid 60fps at 4K on the top tier next-gen machines is something else – add to that the excellent addition of DualSense feedback for the PlayStation 5 version and this should probably be your first stop on that particular platform if you’re looking for a racing game to christen your console.
Forza Horizon 4 – the Xbox One’s jewel in the crown shines even brighter on Series S/X
What is there to say about Forza Horizon 4 that’s not already been said? The high point from a series that’s gone from strength to strength, invoking memories of all-time greats such as Project Gotham Racing while cultivating a strong personality of its own, it’s the all-singing, all-dancing open-world racer. Amazingly, it’s only gotten better after launch, with the release of the enjoyably off-the-wall Lego Speed Champions expansion, effective Top Gear-themed additions and – most importantly of all – the belated addition of my beloved mk3 Supra into the game as the Toyota licence was finally folded in. This is an expansive thing.
And on Xbox Series S/X, it’s one of the first games to enjoy a proper next-gen upgrade courtesy of port specialists Panic Button. Seeing Forza Horizon 4’s lush British countryside at a locked 4K60 is impressive; even more so is dipping into this huge open world again and realising just how much automotive joy has been crammed into this game, catering to every taste from those who just want a slam a hot hatch down to the ground and hit the streets to those who want to potter about in an Austin Healey. What a phenomenal game.
Gran Turismo Sport – an expansive racer that’s more enjoyable than ever on PlayStation 5
The wait for next-gen Gran Turismo proper might be a while yet – Gran Turismo 7’s release date is currently unknown so don’t get your hopes up – but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some well-polished automotive pleasures on your PlayStation 5 right now. There’s no next-gen update as such for Gran Turismo Sport, but play it on your new console and you’ll enjoy the benefit of that super-quick SSD all-but eliminating loading times, allowing you to indulge in one of the series’ best entries to date.
At this point in Gran Turismo Sport’s life, it’s become quite a broad thing, too. From slim beginnings, there’s now a wealth of content, with new tracks being folded in (including the brilliant Goodwood) and new cars too (such as Toyota’s recently-released homologation special the GR Yaris). How will Gran Turismo 7 build upon that foundation? I’m not entirely sure, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying one of the most eclectic driving games around.
If you’re interesting in what racing games should be coming out this year, check out out Ultimate Racing Game 2021 Preview. Let us know what games you’re enjoying by dropping us a comment, or by speaking with us on social media.