Here Are YOUR Picks for the Best Racing Game Franchises of All Time


Last week, we asked you to tell us your favorite racing game franchise. It had to be a series, no one-offs, and for purposes of this particular poll we excluded kart and futuristic racing games. We did decide to let realistic racing sims and arcade-style racers co-exist in the poll, and we were curious to see what people leaned toward given the option. Here are the results.

#10 – Rush

Rush the Rock

The mid-90’s was no doubt arcade racing’s heyday, and among the crowded, oversized cabinets that lined arcades was the over-the-top Rush series. Beginning with the first installment – San Franciso Rush: Extreme Racing – the series made a name for itself with its gravity-defying jumps and variety of intricate shortcuts. It was followed up by pseudo-sequel Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition, and later the true follow-up Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA. The series then went futuristic with 2049 and open-world with L.A. Rush, but there was nothing quite like that first trio of Rush games.

#9 – Sega Rally

Sega Rally Championship

While a case can definitely be made for Namco’s Ridge Racer being the top overall arcade racing series of all time, no company owned the genre quite like Sega did. There was a reason why so many arcades – even to this day – were willing to devote such a huge chunk of their limited floor space to one of those four-player Daytona USA behemoths: Sega racing games are just magical. But while most people either go to Daytona or Out Run when making the case of Sega’s four-wheeled greatness, Sega Rally should not be overlooked with its bouncy mud-slinging action and that stellar Saturn port of the first game rivaling anything on the PlayStation at the time.

#8 – Cruis’n

Cruis'n USA

The Cruis’n games weren’t the deepest in the world, but they looked phenomenal for the time and the way they recreated real world cities using actual photos as texture maps was unlike most racing games of the time (or most games, period). The game began as a United States-focused affair but eventually went worldwide with Cruis’n World and even to the planet Mars in Cruis’n Exotica. The series never had the strongest home presence – due in no small part to it being far too graphically intensive for any home system of the time – and by the time home console tech had caught up to it, gamers had left Cruis’n behind. But if you are ever in a Wal-Mart or truck stop or some other place that has a few random arcade machines set up, one of them is inevitably a Cruis’n game, and you should give it a spin – you’ll be surprised at how much fun it still is.

#7 – Ridge Racer

RR Vita

Ridge Racer is unique in that it debuted during the arcade racing game peak and was one of the genre’s shining stars, but also thrived through the decline of arcades and into the arcade racing genre’s new home on consoles, also being the cream of the crop there, too. The PlayStation owes a lot to Ridge Racer, from being one of the system’s biggest showpieces on launch day to showing what the aging console was still capable of with the impossibly gorgeous Ridge Racer Type 4. And not only that, but for nearly a decade it was expected that a new console would launch with a new Ridge Racer game, and they were almost always one of a launch’s bright spots in terms of both visuals and overall fun. Namco took a few missteps in trying to keep RR relevant in subsequent years, and that coinciding with arcade racing’s overall decline in popularity has meant the end of RR‘s prominence. But it still remains arguably the best arcade racing game series of all time, especially of the ones not made by Sega.

#6 – Out Run


It made me smile to see such a retro-esque franchise score so highly on the list, especially once you see what games took the top 5 slots. People clearly have a deep and long-running love for Out Run, beginning with its novel shaking steering wheel cabinet and continuing through some of its more recent installments/remakes. Sega has wisely chosen never to try and completely reinvent Out Run as an open-world game or tuner culture game or a futuristic racing game or any of that nonsense. It has kept its classic spirit intact, all about racing from point A to point B on branching tropical-themed courses with the music track of your choice. Sometimes there is a reason why a game worked in the first place and there’s no reason to overhaul it through the years except to make it look and sound a bit more like its current contemporaries, and that’s exactly the route that Out Run has taken and why it’s still so beloved against more advanced, complicated fare.

#5 – Colin McRae Rally/Dirt

Colin McRae 3

I’ll admit that the high placement of this one surprised me a bit. But we do have a worldwide readership (which I love) and both Colin McRae and World Rally Championship Racing in general are much more popular in other parts of the world than they happen to be here (although F1 racing, another decidedly non-American phenomenon, didn’t even come close to finding a spot on this list). The Colin McRae games did for rally racing what Gran Turismo did for “regular” racing and brought it to a new level of hyper-realism that was previously unseen – and impossible – in video games. And clearly, rally racing fans wanted it that way, as the series has gone on to have 9 installments (though the three most recent Dirt games don’t carry McRae’s name following his death in 2007). There are only a select few franchises – racing or otherwise – that have been able to carry on with consistent releases for nearly 20 years, so clearly these games are doing something right.

#4 – Need for Speed

Hot Pursuit 2

It’s amazing to think that the NFS series was first debuted as a 3DO title – with a rather terrible name, it seemed at the time – and has gone on to be among the biggest-selling video game franchises of all time, with numbers comparable to Mario, Tetris and The Sims. Much of that has to be due to the series’ ability to constantly reinvent itself, from its cops-and-robbers Hot Pursuit games, its tuner culture-influenced Underground games, its action movie-inspired The Run, and other variants that it cycles in and out as the series goes on to keep from any one style ever feeling too stale. The NFS games have also straddled the line brilliantly between never being too over-the-top arcadey, but never feeling restrictively realistic, meaning that fans of almost any style of racing games can find something to like. In terms of lifetime sales, its closest competitor – Gran Turismo – has sold less than half of its total units, meaning that the title of “Best-selling racing franchise of all time” isn’t one the NFS series is likely to lose anytime soon, or ever.

#3 – Forza Motorsport

Forza 4

It seems that in the last decade or so, gamer tastes have moved away from the sillier, more over-the-top style of arcade racers and more towards racing sims, and Microsoft’s “Gran Turismo killer” Forza has benefited greatly from that. Obviously whether you prefer Forza to GT depends largely on what system you own, but even for owners of multiple consoles, Forza has definitely taken a serious chunk out of GT‘s once impenetrable hold over the racing sim genre – especially as there have been five core Forza games and two open-world style Forza Horizon games in the amount of time that Gran Turismo has only managed four core entries (and by most accounts, Forza 6 is going to beat GT7 to market by a sizable margin). Not that amount of releases is the only edge Forza has – but it certainly hasn’t hurt. And while Sony has tried unsuccessfully to topple Halo with its good – but not better – Killzone series, Microsoft has been able to successfully launch a viable competitor to Gran Turismo, one of Sony’s crown jewels, a feat that they deserve a lot of credit for.

#2 – Burnout

Burnout 3

Criterion Games was mostly known for its widely-used Renderware engine when it released Burnout, a great-looking but ultimately unremarkable racing game. The series made more of an “impact” with the much-improved Burnout 2, but it wasn’t until the masterpiece that is Burnout 3: Takedown entered the race that gamers really stood up and took notice of the new kid on the racing block. With its blinding speed, addictive takedown-based gameplay, and devastatingly beautiful crashes, Burnout 3 was the racing game that everyone wanted to be. It’s kind of a Mega Man 2 vs Mega Man 3 thing whether you prefer Burnout 3 to Burnout 4, but like that classic Capcom match-up there’s really no wrong answer as those are two of the best racing games of all time. Burnout Paradise was a bit divisive when it was first released, with its go-anywhere open-world structure and races that all took place within the same overall city map, but most people who stuck with it eventually came around and found that it earned its place among the best of the Burnout games and played it for months and months to come. With Criterion now tasked with making Need for Speed games it is likely that Burnout is done, but as long as its spirit lives on in those games, I don’t care what the title screen says.

#1 – Gran Turismo


It’s hard to imagine now, but when Gran Turismo was first announced promising 11 tracks and hundreds of cars, people couldn’t even wrap their minds around those numbers. But that wasn’t even the half of it – playing the game and seeing its OCD-level attention to detail, both in the car models themselves and the way they handled, meant that the racing game genre was never going to be the same again. People who love Gran Turismo LOVE Gran Turismo – so much so that they were willing to pay $40 for a glorified demo of Gran Turismo 4. Sure, there’s a bit of a gap between releases sometimes, but when each GT game has so much to sink your teeth into, it’s hard to complain when you’ll likely still be playing the last release even if it has been 5 years since you bought it. While I don’t like that GT‘s immense popularity is likely part of the reason for the demise of simpler arcade-style racing games, it’s hard not to be impressed by what Gran Turismo has brought to the genre and be in awe at what the future holds for the series as technology grows ever more impressive and makes so much more detail and precision possible. And besides, you guys picked it as your #1 series, and it wasn’t by a particularly close margin, so clearly the change in racing games that GT has heralded is what racing game fans ultimately wanted.

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