As a category, racing games are more diverse than you might think. Hardcore racing sims can be a great way to familiarize yourself with a new race track, test your skills against digital and real players and, for many of us, are the closest we'll get to testing the limits of rare and exotic cars. Meanwhile, arcade racers place more emphasis on fun, style, accessibility and the feeling of speed rather than a strictly accurate depiction of racing reality. Even the subcategories have subcategories; off-road driving games, for example, range from high-speed rally racers to wacky demolition derbies to super-slow truck and hauling sims.
This list is by no means exhaustive, rather it's a collection of just the best driving and racing games for the Xbox family of consoles that I've personally played and enjoyed. I've played all of these games on the , but all of them are playable on any Xbox One generation console. They should also be compatible with the upcoming and next-generation machines, where many of them may even receive graphic and performance improvements.
Forza Horizon 4 isn't your average racing game where you go around tracks, three laps at a time. It's a massive, open-world love letter to car culture that's jam packed with things to do and see with hundreds of in-game events, races and experiences.
In addition to circuit and point-to-point races, you can participate in high-speed showcase races against trains, planes or hovercraft. Between races you can explore the open world recreation of Great Britain or just explore each car's almost fetishistic attention to detail in the Autovista vehicle viewer mode. Start a supercar delivery service, delve into the livery designer or just spend hours hunting for rare barn finds. Want to buy a castle to house your massive vehicle collection? Okay. How about jumping a life-sized Lego Speed Champions car over a ravine? Sure, why not?
With over 450 cars to customize and modify, hundreds of miles of road and trail courses, and a large online community, if you pick up just one racing title for the Xbox, this should be it.
Players looking for a more serious racing sim should look to the more mature member of the Forza franchise. Where Horizon focuses on car culture and, at times, cartoonish street driving, Motorsport is all about real circuit racing on real tracks from around the world. Forza Motorsport 7 is an older title, launching in 2017, and a next-generation sequel is in the works for the new Xbox Series S and Series X consoles, but with an unbelievable 700 cars to drive, modify and customize and 30 tracks each with multiple configurations, the Xbox One's premier racing franchise still manages to feel very fresh.
With just 70 race-ready rides in its stable, Grid may not have as the sheer volume of cars that Forza Motorsport boasts, but it does boast a few unique features that are sure to grab the attention of players looking for an alternative including AI teammates that you can ask for help blocking or attacking opponents and a "Nemesis" system that adds personality to the competition by giving you AI-powered rivals that will stop at nothing to put you in their rearview (or, occasionally, into a wall). Plus, I think that Grid simply looks better than Forza 7.
It's not the newest title in Codemasters' F1 franchise, but F1 2019 is still an excellent and, I believe, accurate representation of what it's like to pilot a Formula 1 race car in the heat of battle. Perhaps more interesting is its representation of off-track activities. Choose your responses carefully during post-race interviews; what you say affects how your team and fellow drivers treat you on track and in the pits. Meanwhile, the game blends an AI-driven "rivals" system (similar to Grid's "nemesis") so masterfully with its strong narrative that you may find yourself taking your rival's trackside snips and on-track slights, very personally.
CHECKPOINT! While looking for an Xbox alternative to Mario Kart, I stumbled across relative newcomer Hotshot Racing. Blending blocky, retro Virtua Racing-style graphics and snappy, approachable arcade racing, this game has quickly become one of my favorites. Drift and boost your way onto the podium, unlocking customizations for a colorful cast of characters and homage vehicles along the way. Hotshot Racing still doesn't quite scratch the party-friendly itch that Mario Kart does, but it's streets ahead of most casual racers I've played recently.
Dirt 4 is one of the best rally racing sims I've ever played. As you progress through the first few hours, the game teaches you the basics of driving in the dirt, how to interpret your digital co-driver's navigator calls (which you'll need, because there's no minimap) and the basics of managing a racing team. It's almost as much a teaching tool as it is an enjoyable and rewarding game.
The curiously named sequel Dirt Rally 2.0 certainly looks better with its newer engine and 4K graphics, but its simplified structure also just sort of drops the player into the deep end without really taking the time to orient them. This is especially challenging for those unfamiliar with navigation notes and calls. If "Left 6 closing into 4, 200 over bumps, right 2 don't cut" makes absolutely no sense to you, prepare to be frustrated by Dirt Rally 2.0's first few races or consider getting acquainted with the older title first.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat at a glacial pace: SnowRunner, the latest in the Spintires series, is sort of the anti-racing game. Players take control of an assortment of unlockable 4x4 SUVs, heavy equipment and big rig trucks to crawl, haul and tow their way through the dirt trails, deep mud and icy snow of the game's brutally rural maps. Precise wheel placement, a slow and steady pace and, occasionally, liberal usage of a winch matter more than speed. This isn't a game for everyone; spending up to a real-time hour hauling lumber up a mountain can be absolutely maddening if you fail, but it's unbelievably satisfying to get the job done.
Normally, opponents crashing into me during a race is the bane of my existence. In Wreckfest, on the other hand, putting your opponent into a wall or spinning them out of a corner is par for the course, encouraged even. This demolition derby title pits drivers piloting all sorts of beaters -- from muscle cars to panel vans to riding lawn mowers (yes, freaking lawn mowers) -- against one another on a variety of dirt and tarmac tracks. Players can choose to be a bruiser or, with surprisingly good driving physics, rely on skill and nimbleness to be the last man standing.
Players who prefer their crashes a bit more high-speed and stylized should consider Burnout Paradise Remastered, an older arcade racer game that's gotten a new coat of paint for the Xbox One. Here, winning means "taking down" the competition with gratuitous collisions and crashes.
Comparison of best racing games for Xbox
|Best racing game overall||Forza Horizon 4||$60|
|Best circuit racing game||Forza Motorsport 7||$40|
|Best racing simulator||Grid||$50|
|Best Formula racing game||F1 2019||$50|
|Best arcade racer||Hotshot Racing||$20|
|Best rally racing game||Dirt 4||$20|
|Best off-road simulator||SnowRunner||$50|
|Best demolition derby game||Wreckfest||$30|
Whether you're looking to sharpen your skill or just relax and enjoy the ride, there's a little something for every kind of racing fan and automotive enthusiast to enjoy. As I mentioned, this is by no means an exhaustive list and, with the next-generation of consoles just around the corner, I expect to rediscover enhanced versions of my favorites as well as a few new additions to this list. Have fun and drive safely... or drive recklessly; they're just games after all.