Racing games have consistently been amongst the most-loved genres in PC gaming. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons they're also immensely popular with designers, resulting in a flood of games, many of which do not live up to the standards of the last generation of racers, much less modern competitors. Still, if one is a careful consumer, he or she can get the most mileage out of their computer racing games. This guide will offer so direction, letting you know what games have scored well with the critics and what games should be avoided at all costs.
Atari's arcade game Night Driver is generally considered the first driving video game, though the impulse was present in many driving and training simulations without clear racing objectives. However, Night Driver's racing was not competitive, as players just tried to drive as far as possible without crashing into various objects. The legendary Pole Position truly established the genre. Atari took the genre to new heights in 1989 with Hard Drivin', the first 3D racing game. Hard Drivin' predated the rest of the industry, which didn't make the move to 3D until the 90s. Many consider Virtua Driver the most important early 3D racing game, though it was released a full three years after Hard Drivin'.
It was until the late '90s that PC racing games offered more than just inferior hacks of arcade gameplay. Two pivotal 1999 releases led the charge, Midtown Madness and Driver. Midtown Madness allowed players to explore the city of Chicago in a relatively sandbox form. Driver was an early "mission-based" racing game, in which players went after, ran away from or raced AI characters in urban environments. Crazy Taxi brought the sandbox format back to the Arcades and spread the format to the masses. Combination adventure/driving games, like Grand Theft Auto III, owe a lot to these earlier games.
Racing games in the arcade usually make some combination of specifically designed hardware and software, often sitting on the border between simulation and game. Though there are indeed PC-compatible steering wheels for computer racing games, games are usually designed to play with a keyboard, entrenching them as firmly in the "PC gaming" camp.
Traditional Arcade-style Racing Games
Dozens of arcade-style racing games are released for the PC every, but very few truly live up to the arcade classics. While vehicles and in-game physics vary from game to game, these titles all have one thing in common: competitive racing against human or AI opponents.
Sandbox Racing, Combat Driving and other Car Games
Though most of the racing subgenres have been quiet on the PC front for the past few years, there have been a few notable exceptions. The popularity of Flatout may give rise to a whole new slew of destruction derby style games like TOCA's games are pushing the simulation envelope to the very edge, featuring incredibly deep gaming and fantastic physics.