Top 10 Racing Games Of The Generation

by Matthew Kato on Jul 25, 2014 at 11:03 AM

The last generation of home consoles introduced a number of important steps for racing titles, from deep online play to breathtaking visuals, propelling the genre forward in the past 10 or so years. Here's our list of the best racers the last generation had to offer.

Note: This list encompasses titles on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii. PC and handheld titles were not considered.

10. Excitebots

Racing with motion controls isn't usually a good time, but Monster Games' second Wii racing title, Excitebots, excelled at using the controller to its advantage. You raced and performed tricks to earn stars, and the environments were littered with ways to collect them, such as attacking opponents, getting air, or even doing things like kicking a football through the uprights. The game also had online and offline multiplayer as well as a clutch of minigames. It's usually hard to divide players' focus between racing and other on-track gameplay like performing tricks, but Excitebots merged the two with a healthy dose of fun.
(Read our full review)

9. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

This game improved upon its kart racing predecessor by adding different vehicle types you can transform into (cars, boats, and planes), which opened up the Sega-themed tracks and expanded upon the normal kart formula. Genre variety is also added through a rider upgrade system and a mission path that lets you pick your way forward. Kart racing may be a racing sub-genre, but that doesn't mean you have to always conform to the mold.
(Read our full review)

8. Dirt 3

Codemasters' Dirt series is an all-terrain offshoot of the Grid series, and for two iterations it didn't rise above this simple conceit. The third entry, however, introduced Gymkhana – showboating driving events that focus more on your ability to crunch the e-brake and drift the car into tight confines more than taking a corner perfectly. Combine this with a focus on Rally racing (the series' ancestor was Colin McCrae racing, after all), and Dirt 3 revealed an exciting focus for the series' future.
(Read our full review)

7. Grid

Grid came out in 2008 and was an all-encompassing racer that was good at offering a little bit of everything. Featuring different racing series, a handling model that was neither too casual nor too sim, and a career progression featuring sponsorship objectives and teammates, Grid showed that there was more to being a professional racer than sims like Gran Turismo or having to trade in street racing cliches like Need for Speed. The game also introduced Flashbacks, which are now a staple of the racing genre.

6. Burnout Revenge

Before Criterion became known for creating open worlds filled with racing opportunities, it destroyed a lot of cars. Burnout Revenge's World Tour mode blended spark-filled high-speed races of twisted metal with classic intersection set-pieces staged for creating maximum damage. Whether ramming oncoming traffic into rivals or scoring a Revenge Takedown, the game created a whole new kind of aggressive driving. Burnout Revenge originally came out on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but the Xbox 360 version featured 10 more Crash sites, improved graphics, and added online features such as the ability to share clips.
(Look up our review in the review archive) 

[Up Next: See who wins the battle of the sims: Gran Turismo 5 or Forza Motorsport 4!]

5. Test Drive Unlimited 2

A lot of the racing games on this list are about the innate hell-bent desire to come in first. Test Drive Unlimited 2 also has gasoline flowing through its veins, but it embraces other aspects of life. The game's Discovery category of XP rewarded pursuits such as finding new roads in its islands of Oahu and Ibiza or uncovering abandoned vehicles in the environment. Lifestyle features like owning houses, buying clothes, and gambling tried to make the game more of a full world rather than just a map filled with races. Test Drive Unlimited 2 was riddled with bugs and the driving wasn't the greatest, but it offered a different kind of racing experience that was a welcome diversion.
(Read our full review)

4. Gran Turismo 5

The road to Gran Turismo 5 was long and torturous, but it was worth it in the end. GT 5 featured the most cars and tracks of the series, and it the infusion of special events like NASCAR, kart, and rally racing events broke up the normally monotonous career progression. The game also included a course creator and damage for the first time. All of these additions amplified what has always been the series' cornerstones: great handling and amazing graphics. The Gran Turismo franchise may never be as big as it was on the PlayStation 2, but GT 5 showed that developer Polyphony Digital had lost none of its racing chops. 
(Read our full review)

3. Burnout Paradise

Burnout Paradise, despite bearing the Burnout moniker, was when the series switched from its damage-happy philosophy to open-world racing that erased the demarcation between offline and online racing. Cruising the streets of the varied environments of Paradise City presented a wealth of options. Starting a race, setting a speed record for the street you're on, or even causing damage to other cars via the game's replacement for Crash Mode – Showtime mode – was seamless. Paradise also introduced EasyDrive, which helped you jump into online races on the spot. The fluidity of the game's structure was backed up by the freedom to explore the environment and be rewarded with billboards to smash, shortcuts, or jumps to launch off of. Criterion supported the game with updates that included dynamic weather, motorcycles, new modes, and more. These are in the Ultimate Box edition in 2009, which also fixed some of our original gripes with the game.
(Look up our review in the review archive)

2. Need for Speed: Rivals

For a short time, Criterion took over the Need for Speed franchise before passing it to Ghost Games, which also got help and talent from the Burnout developer. Rivals took NFS: Hot Pursuit's [2012] aggression-fueled cops and racers format (filled with gadgets like EMP blasts and stun shocks) and added the AllDrive mechanic that brought online racers into your world for co-op and chaos alike. Online players are free to race through and even influence each others' worlds, whether that's completing co-op challenges or switching sides and chasing each other thanks to the split Cops and Racers career paths. Everything is fluid and fun in Rivals as players' experiences and races intersect. Add on top of this the risk/reward of having to bank the Speed points, and Rivals takes the streets of Redview County by storm.
(Read our full review)

1. Forza Motorsport 4

Forza developer Turn 10 Studios has not only become Microsoft's answer to Sony's Gran Turismo series, but a franchise that has pushed the boundaries of the sim-racing sub-genre itself. Forza 4 represents not only a high-water mark for the last generation, but the structure of its career mode remains unmatched even by Forza 5 on Xbox One. Instead of the boring, linear car crawl of previous sim racers, Forza 4 presents you with race choices centered around the car you're in. This makes your progression feel more tailored and encourages you to buy the cars you want rather than the ones you need simply because you need a certain kind of car to get through the next race, for instance. The mode's structure also cuts down on track replication. Forza 4 delivers on the track with solid handling and a wealth of events to race in, and Xbox Live facilitates a robust online mode complete with car clubs, fun modes like Cat and Mouse, rival challenges, and more. There's more to any racing game than cars on a track, and Forza 4 proves that nailing the genre requires all the right elements to fall into place.
(Read our full review)

For our lists so far detailing the best of the last generation, check out these and come back all this month for more.
Top 25 PlayStation 3 Games
Top 25 Wii Games
Developer Top 5 Lists
Trends That Defined a Console Generation
Our Top 25 List Snubs
Top 10 RPGs