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The best way to play 10 classic racing games

There are some undisputed classics in the racing genre, yet you can’t play them all on a PS5 or Xbox Series X. You can play them on PC via emulation, of course, but even that can cause trouble for some of these titles and it’s legally dodgy too. So this article looks at 10 of the greatest racing games of all time, takes which release is the best version and then informs you of the best machine to play it on. The best, after all, deserves the best. Let’s go.

Sega Rally Championship (1995)

Sega’s classic arcade title remains one of the finest racers of all time despite being more than a quarter of a century old. Outside the realms of fantasy, where you can source an actual Model 2 arcade cabinet, there are two conversions that catch the eye.

The first is the Japanese-only PS2 version. While it’s necessary to both import it and find a modded or Japanese PS2 that can play import games, it does deliver a very solid replica of the arcade game – at a lovely 60fps too. However, steering wheel support is poor and it’s limited to just the arcade game modes.

So, your best bet is still – amazingly – the Sega Saturn conversion. Play it on a real Saturn through a decent HDMI upscaler (these babies need their own article but you can get a serviceable one quite cheaply on Amazon or eBay) and the bright colours still pop on a modern TV. Use Game Mode to get input lag down and it’s perfectly playable. This version is also great with the Saturn Arcade Racer steering wheel, even though it doesn’t have pedals.

While a PC port of this version exists, it’s notoriously difficult to get it to run well (or at all) on anything, and arguably looks worse cleaned up. The Saturn version is still one of the best racers ever made, so get on it.

Ridge Racer: Type 4

Namco’s racing opus sees you hurtling towards the then-new millennium, but in reality, the 20 years that followed has done nothing for this game’s visuals. I don’t mean that they’ve aged badly – far from it, in fact. Instead, it’s how they’re displayed that is the problem.

Playing the game on a PS3 or PS2 via a HDTV just doesn’t look good at all, with too-dark shadows and weird artefacts around the trees if you enable texture smoothing. Then there’s the PlayStation Classic Mini’s version, which introduces slowdown and other glitches, plus the razor-sharp image of HDMI does nothing for the game’s extensive use of dithering, your screen looking in danger of Garry Kasparov popping out of the car window and checkmating you into next week.

So your best bet is to use a PSP or PS Vita and buy the game from the on-device store (you can’t buy games for these consoles any other way these days, sadly), for which you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully crisp and responsive game that’s pleasantly miniaturised with all the gameplay and analogue steering intact. The 32-bit visuals still look lovely when viewed on such a screen like that of the PSP Go, and it’s always reassuring to know you’re carrying such a great racer in your pocket.

Daytona USA

Another Sega coin-op, this game really does seem to get better with age. Thankfully the days of having to put up with 15fps in a letterboxed display on Saturn are long gone. And while the Dreamcast conversion has its charms, there’s one clear choice for plating this one today: An Xbox One X or Series X playing the Xbox 360 version.

That’s right – Daytona USA HD is an astonishingly awesome conversion of the arcade game code, which means the colours are right, the exquisite and deep handling model feels right, and it even has the, er… ‘unique’ arcade soundtrack intact. There is however, one problem.

While an Xbox One X will upscale the game to 4K, and use its crazy-good anti-aliasing on all the polygons to make it look awesome (and supersample it all too if you’re playing at 1080p which is just as yummy), you can’t buy the game on the Xbox One store. It makes no sense. You can’t even buy it via the Microsoft website.

So for some unknown reason, you need to hook up a real Xbox 360, navigate to the store, buy the game on your account and then load that account on your Xbox One X or Series X. Then it’s all there, running on Microsoft’s own Xbox 360 emulation, but better than the dear old 360 itself could ever manage. It’s a lot of effort, but my goodness the result is worth it.

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec

Gran Turismo 3

Some still maintain that Gran Turismo 3 is the best in the entire series, but it’s difficult to get into it when you plug it into your HDTV because the low resolution of the PS2’s output makes everything look shimmery and dull. You can play the game on a PS3 if your PS3 is an early model that supports PS2 backwards compatibility.

But that software emulation remains imperfect with occasional moments of lag, and you don’t get the amazing pressure sensitive buttons of the DualShock 2 which were showcased so beautifully in Polyphony’s flagship racer. The game also looks rubbish stretched to fit a widescreen TV.

So I’m afraid the best way to play Gran Turismo 3 is still (unbelievably) through a standard definition CRT TV using a real PS2 with a genuine DualShock 2 controller – or better yet one of Logitech’s early Force Feedback wheels.

It’s a lot of hassle to go to to play something that should have been bettered four times over by now, but for some it’s the only way to do. Or, of course, you could wait for Gran Turismo 7 which should contain a lot of GT3’s content if Yamauchi’s hints are anything to go by.

Super Monaco GP

Does anyone even remember what Super Monaco GP is any more? Presumably lacking the licence for the track name, Sega’s gone very quiet about this game’s existence for a long while now. While the original Monaco GP did show up on the Sega Classic Collection on PS2 (along with some shockers of supposed modern-day updates for other games), it’s the pseudo sprite-scaling first-person action of the Mega Drive original that offers the best gameplay today.

The Ayrton Senna-endorsed sequel is also great, the original feels slightly faster and has a real romantic idealism about Grand Prix racing that just isn’t present in modern sims like F1 2020, great though they are. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to recommend the Mega CD version.

Instead, it is the original Mega Drive/Genesis cartridge. But I am going to suggest it’s actually best played on a Sega Nomad. Yes, alright I know that really is crazy talk, but hear me out. This handheld Genesis –a Mega Drive equivalent was never released in Europe – is very pricey, but for some reason Super Monaco GP is one of the best games you can play on it.

The fuzzy, tiny screen makes up for the jagged visuals and the rivalry system is still among the best in any racing game. A pure challenge, wonderfully enjoyable and likely to make you dig out 1980s/90s race videos on YouTube.

Virtua Racing

This is the most obvious one on the list because we’ve recently seen the game converted to Nintendo Switch with better-than-arcade visuals, even though it’s running the actual arcade code. With HD resolution and a doubled frame-rate (except incidental animations like flat-shaded polygonal coconuts falling from the trees at 30fps), this is an incredible achievement from the wizard conversion kings at M2.

The game is the template from which virtually every modern 3D racer was born, with changeable viewpoints, massive crashes and gorgeous analogue steering, which you’ll need to turn on as it’s inexplicably set to digital by default. This comes after so many years of almost-but-not-quite ports, from Mega Drive/Genesis to 32X, to Saturn to PS2.

But none have either the handling or sheer brazen awesomeness of the arcade title. If only Nintendo Switch had steering wheel support. No matter. Whether on a massive TV or in handheld mode, Virtua Racing is the absolute business on Switch.

Race Driver: GRID

The recent reworking of GRID for modern machines fell short of the standard set by the 2008 original in almost every area bar graphical fidelity. But that’s OK, because the original was so forward-thinking, it’s still a great-looking game today.

For the only time in this feature, however, I’m afraid it’s not the console versions that’s going to get my recommendation. Modern PCs can run this game with all of its settings up at maximum and with insane resolutions and all with silky-smooth frame-rates.

But if console is your only way to go, then it has to be the Xbox 360 version. It runs smoother than the PS3 version and looks better too. It’s a pity the EGO engine was still being optimised because the game can get choppy when a sudden collision needs to be processed, but no matter. This is still one of the deepest, most spectacular and rewarding racers you can buy.

It also works with Xbox 360 steering wheels too, though it’s not the easiest game to control like a sim. The simulation is apparently so approximate that the cars’ brakes are actually just the in-game wind being turned up really hard on their bonnets. I swear a Codemasters employee told me this. But anyway, fantastic racer, best played on Xbox 360 or a compatible PC.

OutRun 2

The best way to play any version of OutRun 2 is OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast on the original Xbox. The irony here is that copies of this game were at one stage worth almost nothing. Back in 2009, You could play OutRun 2 Online HD on Xbox 360 or PS3, or play some form of the game on anything from a PSP to your kitchen toaster. But then what happened?

Sega’s Ferrari license expired, which meant that the game had to be taken down from the Xbox 360 and PS3 stores. It never came back. And so now anyone wanting to enjoy this magnificent driving game needs to hunt backwards through previous releases to get their fix of blue sky gaming.

The very best of these is the half-sequel on the original Xbox, which has twice the tracks of the original OutRun 2 thanks to the SP arcade release being included in full. The PSP version’s miraculous but choppy (surely Sumo Digital expected the higher processor speed to be unlocked for existing games not just new ones while they developed it), and PS2’s version was compromised in fidelity to make it run properly.

So the original Xbox is the best way to play OutRun 2 in any form you can still easily buy. And yes, it does work on an Xbox 360 if you install the compatibility patch. While it takes an age to load and the sound effects can get stuck in a loop until you reset the game, it’s still a joy to play it through HDMI. So OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast on Xbox played through an Xbox 360 is your best bet today. Madness.

Burnout Paradise

Burnout Paradise Remastered

It’s a marmite game, but there’s no denying Burnout Paradise set the template for every open-world racing game and has rarely been surpassed in any of the areas that count. It’s ridiculously fast, runs at 60fps on everything and has a superb soundtrack. Oh yes, and it’s utterly spectacular.

Thankfully, the original versions have aged incredibly well thanks to the clean art style and silky-smooth framerate. But we’ve also had remastered versions that are playable on all the current consoles – including Nintendo Switch – complete with all of the best-in-class DLC that saw an entire extra island added to the already large and detailed game. But where’s the best way to play it?

Well, there’s an argument for purity and vanilla Paradise as it runs off a PS3 disc has its appeal. The game is a little better on PS3 over Xbox 360 – a rarity at the time, but indicative of Criterion’s close relationship with Sony and its hardware. But for the full experience, it’s got to be Burnout Paradise Remastered on Xbox Series X or PS5.

Gorgeous 4K resolution, teeny tiny load times and achievements to unlock. There’s no need to seek out old copies of this one – modernity will suffice quite nicely, thank you very much.

Road Rash

Road Rash

This is a tricky one because the ultimate Road Rash experience is different depending on which era you came to it. There’s an argument for the 3DO version, which also plays very well on the original PlayStation (less so on Sega Saturn). There’s also a big argument for trying the Sega Game Gear conversion which has absolutely no right to deliver the same pseudo-3D environment as its 16-bit bigger brother, and it’s still a stellar game even crushed down into 8-bit.

Even Amiga’s conversion has its merits, despite it being noticeably slower. But the Road Rash that most people will remember fondly is Road Rash II. Offering a new weapon, split-screen two-player mode and fallible cops over its predecessor, the Mega Drive/Genesis sequel to the original game is pure.

But what happy coincidence that Road Rash II is the entry chosen for the recently-released Mega Drive/Genesis Classic Mini. With HDMI output and save states (so you don’t have to fiddle about with screenshots or worse paper – ugh! – for saving passwords), the Classic Mini’s version is superb. It could have done with a boosted frame rate for modernity’s sake, but not only does it look clear and crisp, unlike the PSP EA Replay conversion, it’s also got the original cat wail sound track. It’ll make a fantastic gift for anyone – pick one up.

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