After choosing the world's best arcade racing games and the best party racing titles of all time, we're looking at the top ten sim-racing games.
Over the past few weeks, we've been shining a light onto some of our favourite games in the racing genre, in a series of articles known as Racing Dreams. We've tackled the top arcade racing games and the top party racing games, and now we're moving onto a more serious aspect of the genre, sim-racing. Here are what we believe are the top ten sim-racing games of all-time.
It was only the other day that Kartkraft finally rolled out in finished form after being in the "early access" stage for a couple of years. For those who really want to take part in the raw, clean and stripped down wonder of kart racing, there is no better option, and combined with the gorgeous graphics and brilliant physics, this is a winner.
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9. GP Legends
Long before Matt Sentell and Dave Kaemmer created iRacing, they created the legendary superb and iconic racing simulator Grand Prix Legends, which along with the likes of GTR 2 and GP4, brought the whole genre to where it is today. GP Legends was amazing for its time and I will never forget how much I was impressed with the force feedback portion of this game.
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Helsinki-based Sector 3 Studios are basically GTR 2 studio Simbin with another name, and for the past nine years they've been pretty much exclusively expanding, upgrading and refining their competitor to iRacing and Assetto Corsa: Raceroom Racing Experience, which is free to download and free-to-play. Raceroom was first released in 2013, which means that today, like several other games on this list, it looks really old- graphically speaking. However, that doesn't mean that the driving experience, the amount of realism on offer and the soundtrack don't stand out, because they do. Sector 3 has also just updated both the force feedback system and the tyre physics, making it even sharper, hence why I never hesitated putting it on this top list.
Many initiated sim-racers would most likely put Dave Kaemmer's style-setting sim giant in first place at this point, but despite the genre's best online rulebook and a racing league that beats everything in the genre, I've always had a hard time seeing the real brilliance in iRacing. Not only do I infrequently refer to it as IceRacing, due to the lack of grip in the developers' commonly discussed tyre physics model, which is the game's single biggest flaw. Stack this up with the vile 1998-looking presentation (including all the messy junk menus), the slightly bizarre price tag on all in-game content, and the fact that the yellow-hued graphics feel like they're rendered by a PlayStation 2. If you want to compete seriously online, take part in online-based cups and compete against the most high-profile pros, iRacing is always relevant, and often best in terms of dedication and commitment from the user base, but I'll never celebrate it like the rest of the collective sim-racing world does.
6. RFactor 2
The work of Studio 397 (now part of Motorsport Games) hasn't been easy since they took over the development and maintenance of Rfactor 2, from original creators Image Space Incorporated. For as much as I like the few refined parts of Rfactor 2, it's impossible to ignore the fact that for many years the game has been an unfinished patchwork of extremely variable quality. Ugly graphics and terrible presentation have been helped along by the sim-racing genre's best tyre physics, which still give the best sense of how a racing tyre under a racing car behaves on a racetrack.
5. Dirt Rally 2.0
There is often talk that Codemasters' sequel would be "arcadey", that it wouldn't be realistic enough, or "hard" enough. I see those kinds of arguments a bit everywhere on forums and among comments on initiated sim-racing channels. And nothing could basically be more wrong, if you ask me. The ultimate proof that this just isn't true, of course, is that we here at Gamereactor put former JWRC world champion and Global Rallycross champion Patrik Sandell in our sim-rig and had him tackle a Finnish circuit he raced on ten years ago, in an R5 Polo that he himself owns and races, today. Not only was Patrik clear that Codemasters had captured the driving feel, chassis dynamics, speed, differential power distribution and balance between peak power and pure acceleration in an exemplary fashion - he also set times that took him into the world elite (leaderboards) on his first three attempts, despite never having touched the game before on this occasion. If that weren't enough of a measure of how good this game is, there's also the superb soundtrack, brilliant graphics, good variety, plenty of cars and top-notch maps. The online racing bit is extremely limited, however, and Dirt Rally 2.0 lacks tracks, but it remains the best rally simulator of all time.
4. Assetto Corsa Competizione
The journey Kunos made with the highly-criticised Assetto Corsa Competizione detour is an almost uniquely fascinating one. For one, when they first rolled out an Unreal 4-based game in which nothing seemed to work nearly as well as it had for years in its predecessor, many swore that Kunos had lost its mind and was merely putting Competizione together to make a quick buck off gullible consumers with a big racing appetite. But just as Reiza revamped Automobilista 2 and turned adversity into success, Kunos has rebuilt and improved Competizione to the point where it's now one of the very best the genre has to offer. The graphics are superb, the physics brilliant, the force feedback likewise, as is the sound and the online racing itself. The VR support needs more love and the GT3 cars feel a tad lifeless in the front but despite this, ACC is our given fourth here on this list.
3. GTR 2
Swedish Simbin were not only ahead of their time, they were way ahead of themsleves when they released the sequel to their debut game in the autumn of 2006 and changed the world of sim-racing forever. GTR 2 managed to simulate the feel of real tyres better than any racing simulator previously released and combined with gorgeous graphics, phenomenal force feedback for its time, and plenty of thrilling and challenging GT3 cars, it defined what a modern sim of this kind should contain, and offer. GTR 2 is still great fun today, even if the graphics feel dated, and that says a lot about how well made it was, and is.
2. Automobilista 2
Like several other games on this list, Reiza Studios' bullish follow-up to the smash hit Automobilista didn't get off to a good start. The purchased Madness Engine from Project Cars studio Slightly Mad made a mess of things in terms of shock absorber physics, differential lock simulation and, most importantly, the feel of the tyres. The cars bounced around the tracks, the curbs caused catastrophic grip loss and the slip angle emulation worked poorly, at best. Many tried Automobilista 2 and gave up after a short while. I was one of them. But then Reiza got some breathing room, brought in additional funding and decided to overhaul every aspect of their maligned game in a 14GB giant patch that, against all odds, fixed just about everything that previously didn't work. The tyres felt much better, the shocks no longer made the cars bounce around the tracks and the differentials allowed for recovery from total loss of grip, rather than that "snappy oversteer" problem that existed before.
Automobilista 2 went from being a sniffle to one of the best the sim-racing genre has ever offered and today I would call it the single most immersive and realistic Formula/GT simulator in terms of pure driving feel. Reiza's 100% physical tyre model combined with wonderful speed feel, laser scanned tracks, loads of amazing cars, the genre's second best sound picture, the genre's best VR support by far, the genre's best graphics, best presentation, best motion-rig support and best force feedback make it a clear runner-up on this list.
1. Assetto Corsa
When a small group of 20 people in northern Italy decided to build their own game engine to build a racing simulator to compete with the genre giant iRacing, few people really believed they would succeed in their almost impossible suicide project. But against all odds, Kunos managed to turn the entire genre upside down, and in 2014 they pounded out a game that I personally consider to be the very best, of all time. Because Assetto Corsa basically succeeded at everything, all at once. The tyre physics were brilliant and despite almost eight years (!) having passed since the game was first released, it's still one of the best you'll find in the sim-racing world. The way it simulates tyre slip angle and gives the feeling of grip stretching in conjunction with how the tyres react to the friction between rubber and asphalt is fantastic, as is the sense of speed, weight and momentum. The graphics were also really good for their time, and since the game is open to all kinds of mods, fans have been improving the graphics continuously over the years, making Assetto Corsa with the right mods one of the genre's best-looking games, despite being first released in the spring of 2014.