Car-themed games have been popular in the video game industry since game consoles became popular in the late nineties. Whether the focus is to become a street racer, a taxi driver or even play a cartoon car, you’re never starved for choice in this video game genre.
In the mid-2000s, the craze for these games peaked as PlayStation came out with title after title of car-themed masterpieces: Need for Speed Underground, Grand Turismo, Forza and Midnight Club were released.
While today there is a decline in car games being released, they certainly haven’t stopped. Thanks to the popularity of sports like NASCAR and Formula One, the hype for motor games hasn’t died down. It is a cycle in the video game industry that when something becomes trendy, they will make a came out of it. Animation games were all the rage in the nineties and in the 2000s remaking movies into games became like second nature.
Taking it back to the eighties though, game themes weren’t always concurrent with what was popular. One genre of gaming that did boom during this time was casino games. Not on console, but the popularity of gambling and its immortalisation in movies made specific types of gambling mainstream. The 1980s saw the implementation of video poker machines into Vegas casinos which consequently made the demand for video poker games skyrocket. In the same way, popular culture and movies influenced the drive for car-themed games.
To narrow it down, this article will rank 5 of the automotive video games of all time.
1. Need for Speed: Underground 2, (2004)
The Need for Speed franchise is commercially successful across all video game consoles. For its amazing cars and storyline, Need for Speed Underground 2 takes our number one spot.
As of 2023, the game has sold around 11 million copies, and the franchise has sold over 150 million copies worldwide. NFSU’s premise is simple: you fix up cars for street races. The game has many customization options and cars for you to try.
The new game setting of Bayview is beautiful and resembles a city brimming with nightlife and obviously, illegal street racing. Because it takes place right after the events of the first game when your player beats a character named Eddie and his street racing gang, the storyline flows seamlessly. The plot is gritty and after your Nissan Skyline GTR is crashed into by a scary unidentified man, you must earn your reputation in the new city to build the ultimate street racing car.
NFSU is the first game in the series to feature an open world that adds layers to the game’s driving mechanics. Drag racing, Underground Racing League racing and outruns dominate NFSU’s gameplay. In Outrun, players can challenge specific opponent cars to races. NFSU is never boring, there are hours of gameplay and is a credit to the game developers.
2. Gran Turismo 4, (2004)
Hailed by many as the ultimate racing simulation game, Gran Turismo 4 outshines the rest in the series.
The game’s cover is the simplest if not the most memorable compared with the other GT games. The white background with the simple logo and the 2005 White Ford GT on the front is crisp and clean. Gran Turismo has some of the best driving physics out there. In 2004, it received many positive reviews regarding graphics, driving abilities and the cars that are available in-game.
700 cars exist in-game with customisation options without limits. A multitude of races and real-life tracks can be seen in the race selection menu. Most importantly, players can choose whether to play arcade or simulation mode which personalise their racing experience.
3. Mario Kart Nintendo (all video games)
The series wouldn’t be complete without including the Mario Kart Nintendo franchise on the list. Firstly, Mario Kart is beloved by Nintendo gamers everywhere and has sold millions of copies of
its games, and we couldn’t pick just one! It consistently tops the video games selling chart and for vehicle lovers, it combines the art of racing skillfully with a range of quirky drivers.
Popular characters brothers Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser and more all have their distinct looks and personalities with cars that fit them perfectly. Tracks in Mario Kart are wacky and exaggerated to suit players of all ages. It’s like racing without the seriousness, and just the fun of beating your friends or slowing them down with track collectables that enhance your character’s racing experience.
4. Rocket League, (2015)
Rocket League is one of the newer titles to hit our list and for good reason with millions of sales and active players worldwide. Controlling rocket-fuelled cars, players kick around a football using their vehicles. For competitive and casual gamers, Rocket League incorporates skill-based gameplay through wall shots, aerial kicks and more that engage them.
While driving isn’t the main focus, the customisable options for players’ cards for speed, colours skins and decals make it playable for everyone.
5. The Italian Job, (2001)
The Italian Job could arguably be one of the best automotive films of all time, but we’d argue the game is pretty thrilling. Conducting a heist via a traffic jam, the Italian Job follows the original plot of the 1969 film. Movie buffs in particular feel sentimental when playing this game as it has been honed as an accurate adaptation from its source material.
Gameplay is also varied with heists, missions and the ability to race around London when a player pleases. You also play in 3 real-life locations in London, Turin and the Swiss Alps, which feature in the movie.
The vehicle choices are limited to eight options, but who could say no to driving the iconic Mini Cooper?