Driving games have long been popular with video game players - especially those who love watching the rubber meet the road. But they've become somewhat less common in recent months, as focus has shifted to other gaming genres such as first-person shooters, fantasy role-playing and action or arcade outings.
Cheerfully, plenty of current picks can keep the grandkids doing donuts through summer and beyond, while this holiday season promises to rev interest in the category back into high gear. Consider the following titles among current market frontrunners for 2012 and selections likeliest to lead the pack coming into 2013. All offer considerable miles to the gallon.
Forza Horizon - The next evolution of Microsoft's popular Xbox 360 franchise, the title's as much a love letter to auto enthusiasts as it is actual sprint to the finish line, with emphasis placed on slick showroom models, authentic physics and tight controls. Racing on paved tracks or tearing up dirt on open roads, players can drive and drift through a selection of high-impact challenges at stomach-clenching speeds, admiring the photorealistic scenery as they go. Loads of downloadable content also promises to extend the fun, ensuring your grandkids can grab more cars or tracks on-demand, and any birthday or holiday investments made won't soon go to waste.
DiRT 3 Complete Edition - Built to appeal to the off-road crowd, this action-oriented answer to stereotypical driving games puts a more extreme spin on rubber-burning thrills, letting you speed through photorealistic rain, snow and dirt. Available here in a value-priced set, bonuses include a dozen new tracks and cars, with options including grueling night races, and worldwide challenges scattered across Tokyo, Monaco and other exotic locales. Great graphics and slick sound effects complement the solo and multiplayer action, which even includes rally and freeform racing options.
LittleBigPlanet Karting - Part arcade-style racer (including animated power-ups like rockets, missiles and speed boosts), part world-building software toolkit for the PlayStation 3, owners can play solo, engage in online multiplayer action or even build their own tracks and game types. While purists may balk at the title's colorful cartoon antics, its whimsical approach should resonate with fans of the popular platform-hopping franchise from which it's derived, as will loads of goofy speech samples and mini-games. Offering ample replay value, endless downloadable add-ons and intuitive controls, kids of all ages should find it a perennial rainy day favorite.
Forza Motorsport 4 - Among the best racing games for Xbox 360, this realistically inclined spin on turn and burn antics places strong emphasis on audiovisuals and precision handling. Players will appreciate its sumptuous graphics, and the variety of game modes on offer, including features that let you take a close-up look at cars and how they hold up on the road. Offering access to a sizable number of high-end autos and enjoyable gaming options, it presents a moderately easy way to hop behind the dashboard, though the title's best reserved for experienced wheelmen.
PlayStation Vita Racing Games - Kids or grandkids who've picked up a PlayStation Vita portable gaming handheld have no shortage of high-speed selections. Options include Wipeout 2048 (sci-fi arcade racing), Ridge Racer (3D automotive action) and ModNation Racers (kart racing thrills for all ages). Looking ahead, new releases will also include Spy Hunter, a remake of the popular '80s car combat franchise, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, which challenges drivers to outrun the police.
Players interested in racing video games are also encouraged to check out:
- Ridge Racer Unbounded (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
- DiRT Showdown (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
- Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo 3DS)