A look back at some of the best racers of the year.
The thrill of competition, the rush of high speed, the satisfaction of a hard-earned victory- the racing genre captures and combines some of the best things we love to see in a video game, and 2020 was a solid year for racers. With several games tackling different subsets of the genre and appealing to various crowds, and many of them actually managing to stick the landing, there was no shortage of good racers to dive into this year, and here, we’re going to highlight what we feel were the best ones. In this feature, we’ll be listing what are our nominees for the best racing game category, before disclosing GamingBolt’s winner.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
Codemasters have long been the masters of the rally racing simulation space, particularly with their DiRT series, but with DiRT 5, they decided to do something little different. Choosing to let DiRT Rally be the subseries to carry that hardboiled style of authenticity forward, with DiRT 5, they went in a much more explosive and arcade-y style than they have with a DiRT game in some time- and the results were excellent. From its meaty career mode to its excellent track creator and editor, from its bombastic weather mechanics to the sheer blissful drivability of its vehicles, DiRT 5 is a game that excels on many fronts. If this indeed is the two-pronged future the DiRT series is headed in, we can’t wait for it to take its next steps forward.
TT ISLE OF MAN 2
With the first TT Isle of Man, developers Kylotonn successfully delivered a solid, if uneven, racing simulation game for bike enthusiasts. With its sequel earlier this year, they did what any developer should ideally do with a sequel- build on the strengths of their first outing. TT Isle of Man 2 once again captures the speed and the thrill of the sport with near-perfection. It’s a game that makes smart and iterative improvements in a number of areas that all combine to deliver a decidedly better and more balanced experience. Sure, it still feels like it’s at odds with itself at times, in terms of its tone and its drive for authenticity, while the game has no shortage of technical issues- but it’s a solid sequel that spells exciting things for the series’ future.
With most major developers and publishers in the industry having almost entirely stopped making attempts to develop new, high-budget games in the arcade racing genre and instead focus on sims, it has fallen to smaller devs and indies to pick up the slack where the former is concerned. By and large, they’ve done a solid job, and Level 91 Entertainment’s Inertial Drift is yet another example of that. It’s a rare example of a game that is built on a unique and exciting concept, and actually manages to do justice to it with good execution. With a focus completely on drifting, a sense of speed that is unmatched in most other games of its kind, tight controls, and a highly stylized visual style, Inertial Drift is, without reservations, one of the best racers we’ve played in recent years.
NEED FOR SPEED: HOT PURSUIT REMASTERED
Though the Need for Speed franchise has had its ups and downs in recent years, many would argue that it put out some of its best games under Criterion’s stewardship. Arguably the best game in the series over the last decade or so got a remaster this year, and though Hot Pursuit Remastered isn’t particularly impressive as, well, a remaster, more than anything else it demonstrates the timelessness of this classic. High speed thrills, tons of visual spectacle, exciting chases, and more come together in a racer that adopts a back-to-the-basics approach that we hardly see in AAA racing games anymore. Criterion are back in charge of Need for Speed now, and if they can put out anything that even comes close to Hot Pursuit in terms of quality, there’s going to be quite a lot to look forward to.
ART OF RALLY
Art of Rally is a game that’s slipped under the radar of most people this year. But while its seemingly low-budget style might seem off-putting to some at first glance, it’s actually what made this one of the most compelling racing games of the year. Its striking visual aesthetic helps it stand out right off the bat, while it uses its top-down perspective to deliver racing that is simultaneously simplistic, challenging, and all-around engaging. Best of all is how meditative the game feels, thanks to not only its aforementioned visuals, but also its excellent soundtrack. All in all, Art of Rally is truly a hidden gem.
Italian developers Milestone’s love for bikes and motorcycle racing sims is well-known to most who follow this subset of games, and they are, by far, one of the most prolific studios in the industry. MotoGP 20 was of multiple games they’ve released in 2020, and also one of their more impressive outings in recent years. It builds on its predecessor’s depth with new systems and features, it strikes a more rewarding balance between being approachable and being authentic, and it adds more bells and whistles on top to bring about a marked improvement in presentation. It’s not the most revolutionary sequel, but games of this kind often tend to be iterative- and if that’s what you expect going in, you’re in for a good time.
Automobilista 2 wasn’t the most high profile release in the racing genre this year – far from it – so you might be forgiven for not knowing what it is. But if you have been lucky enough to play the game, you’ll agree that it’s one that deserves far, far more attention. It’s a game that racing sim purists owe it to themselves to try out, whether that’s because of its excellent visuals, its tight driving mechanics, its authentic physics engine, a good collection of classic vehicles, or any number of other strengths. Automobilista 2 still has room for improvement, especially where content is concerned, but even in its current state, it’s easy to recommend to enthusiasts.
NASCAR HEAT 5
NASCAR Heat has been a pretty inconsistent franchise in the past, but it has, to its credits, made some improvements in recent years. NASCAR Heat 5 continues that trajectory. The game feel here has improved noticeably over the previous game, the sheer number of cars and tracks on offer is hard not to be impressed by, and the game also makes some important quality-of-life improvements. The distinct lack of innovation and the underwhelming visuals and presentation are still disappointing, but hopefully, the next NASCAR Heat game will try and address those issues to deliver a more well-rounded experience.
PROJECT CARS 3
After delivering two pure, unadulterated simulation experiences with the original two Project CARS games, Slightly Mad Studios veered into new lanes with the third installment in the series, offering an experience that instead tries to offer more of a balance between an arcade style of racing and the pure simulation the series is known for. The results certainly divided fans, but viewed on its own merits, there’s little doubt that Project CARS 3 is a really good racer. There’s a ton of content, the driving controls like a dream, the production qualities are top notch, and there’s an impressive level of customization on offer. Is it the true-blooded Project CARS successor many may have wanted? Perhaps not- but it’s still a damn fine game.
The anti-grav racing space has been depressingly silent in the absence of F-Zero and WipEout, but even though those two megatons have sort of disappeared off the face of the planet, several indies have stepped up to fill the vacuum. R8 Games’ Pacer is another such game, and though it cannot stand toe-to-toe with the aforementioned genre giants, it’s more than good enough to whet your appetite for now. It’s got that sense of speed and solid track design that is so crucial in games like this, while a wide range of customization options and a consistent rush of adrenaline are also peppered on top to make for a solid if uneven experience.
To anyone who has little more than a passing, casual interest in racing games, Codemasters’ F1 series can seem quite daunting, what with its uncompromising focus on authenticity and realism. And surely, that’s a fair criticism for the series for a certain sect of the audience- but then again, the very point of these games is to deliver the most grounded and realistic simulation experience they possible can, and F1 2020 does that masterfully. The fundamentals here are as strong as ever, but thanks to upgrades and improvements both big and small, they shine even brighter than in previous years- which is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself.
Credit where credit is due- developers Kylotonn definitely struggled with their handling of the WRC license for a while there, but as time has gone on, their efforts have progressively grown more impressive. With each new entry, they have been making notable improvements, and WRC 9 not only continues to do that, it delivers what is easily the developer’s most well-rounded package to date. It’s got really well designed tracks, the driving is more mechanically solid and satisfying than ever, the visuals have been polished to a great degree, and its content offerings are hard not to be pleased with. As opposed to its predecessor, it’s an iterative upgrade rather than a major leap forward, but several improvements come together to make WRC 9 the best WRC game in years.
If nothing else, Hotshot Racing deserves points for uniqueness, and how it boldly breaks from the genericism and traditional approach that so many racing games take these days. But as good as its low-poly visual style is, there is thankfully a lot more to like here as well. Hotshot Racing is a classic old-school experience that will surely appeal to anyone who yearns for the simplistic high-speed racers of the good old days, and it constantly tickles your nostalgia bone. It does lean on that strength a bit too heavily at times – often at the expense of other things – but its pros easily outweigh its cons.
MARIO KART LIVE: HOME CIRCUIT
Speaking of uniqueness- who would have expected that Nintendo would release a new Mario Kart game for the Switch this year, and that it would be… whatever the heck Mario Kart Live is? One of several games released in quick succession to celebrate Mario’s 35th anniversary, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit isn’t the next mainline game in the series we’ve all been waiting for, but it’s still a solid stopgap, one that offers something not a lot of other racers do. It combines actual RC karts with AR gaming in a way that is unique on paper, and actually really well executed in practice- and that combination in and of itself deserves a lot of props.
We spoke earlier about how prolific of a developer Milestone is, and that, combined with the fact that they’re quite consistent with their output as far as quality means that it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see two of their games being mentioned here. 2018’s RIDE 3 was an impressive game, and a solid improvement over its predecessor, and the very same can be said about RIDE 4 as well. Absolutely brimming with customization options and driveable bikes and with a solid selection of modes and tracks to dive into, RIDE 4 is certainly not lacking in content, while several small but smart improvements and some larger ones also work to make this a much more fleshed-out experience than its predecessor. It may not be a game for everyone, but for those who have an interest in the motorsport, RIDE 4 is irresistible.
If there’s one annual franchise that keeps on improving upon itself year over year and hardly seems to take any wrong steps, it has to be F1. Every year, Codemasters put out a new F1 game that seems like the pinnacle of its genre, but time and again they keep touching even greater heights. F1 2020 is, in no vague terms, a stellar game. It improves upon its already excellent predecessor in several meaningful ways, thanks to a combination of iterative upgrades and major new additions, while its production qualities have honestly never been more impressive either. Like with every F1 game, it’s hard to imagine how Codemasters will top F1 2020 with their next game- but as is the case almost every year, we wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to do just that once again.