Over the years driving games have been getting closer to the real thing, as graphics have improved and handling has become increasingly accurate.
Some are so close to reality when paired with a steering wheel and race seat, that professional racers turned to gaming in place of real race events during the 2020 lockdowns. It means race fans are really spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a game, whether they prefer F1 to rallying, or street racing to karts.
There’s also a decision to be made about whether to go all-in with a simulation experience or opt for a more arcade-style racer. It’s been two years since we last tested driving games and many developers have released new titles in their respective series. So, with Christmas fast approaching, we’ve rated the latest games on the market, to help you make the right decision. 
We loaded up the games and put them through their paces one by one. We graded them in several key areas: driving dynamics, graphics, sound, range of cars and tracks, while we rewarded games with bonus points if they accurately replicated a real race series. When it came down to the crunch though, we placed the emphasis on fun – after all, you want to buy a game that keeps you coming back for more.
On the top step of the virtual podium is Forza Horizon 5, which has raised the bar for racing games in 2021. For anyone wanting a true-life grand prix experience, then F1 2021 is as good as it gets, while Gran Turismo Sport is still a worthwhile buy even though it’s now an older title.
The newest game (it was only launched in November), is also the best. That’s perhaps no surprise since Forza Horizon 4 was a previous test winner. FH5 raises the bar for racing games – it’s a wide-reaching open-world game set in Mexico that works as well as it looks.  
It manages to combine fun and ease of play with accurate handling depending on the car and surface. There’s an ever-expanding roster of 500-plus vehicles of every description and multiple race modes and challenges to choose from, plus you can create your own events. It’s simply the best racing title on the market.
The F1 race series has progressively improved over the past few years, managing to keep up with rule changes without making the game too complex for the casual racer. 
In F1 2021, you don’t just have the option to play the official race calendar against the real-life grid, but you can now play in a new career story mode, while the popular mode to create your own team returns. Both of these, along with off-track R&D and facility development, add longevity to the game, while the ability to fine-tune difficulty means you can continue to challenge yourself. A must for F1 fans. 
While the world waits for Gran Turismo 7, slated for release in early 2022, we’ll have to make do with 2017’s Gran Turismo Sport. Despite being nearly five years old, it still holds its own. 
GT Sport remains a top game, with great graphics and tracks. The cars on offer seem endless, too – and have been made even better with regular updates since launch. Other improvements in patches include more varied weather conditions and changes to driving dynamics. The livery editor offers hours of fun for creative fans, too. Still worth buying, but we’re looking forward to GT7.
Dirt 5 is related to the excellent sim-focused Dirt Rally 2.0 in name alone. The racing is fast-paced across sand, ice, snow, dirt and tarmac with vehicles including traditional rally cars, rock bouncers, and buggies. You can play with friends or online, but while it’s a lot of fun, the handling dynamics offer little variation, making it feel a little repetitive.
WRC 10 is a faithful recreation of the official championship and has the added bonus of iconic vehicles from the sport’s past. There’s a well fleshed out career mode, where you work your way up to the big leagues. For hardcore rally fans it’s a truer representation of the sport than Dirt 5, although Dirt Rally 2.0 is the better driving experience. 
The latest instalment of the series was highly anticipated following Project CARS 2, which was one of the best sim racers out there. However, Project CARS 3 is an arcade racer, moving closer to old school Need for Speed games for handling and competition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not what we were expecting.
GRID is like Project CARS 3 and focuses on arcade-style driving with drifting and ambitious overtakes rewarded. The graphics are a match for anything else, but the track selection lets GRID down, and while there’s a decent mix of cars, the game can feel a bit repetitive. That feeling is carried over to the career mode, which is devoid of emotion or storyline.
Looking for gift ideas for a car-loving loved one? Check out our Christmas gift guide.
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