Top 10 Open-World Racing Games That Remain Fun and Unique

Tags: #openworld ,   #ForzaHorizon5 ,   #NeedForSpeed ,   #videogames ,   #Gaming

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-03-20 06:00:08

Open-world games are almost as old as gaming itself, and they have always been immensely popular. However, these titles mainly belong to action and RPG genres, like the Legend of Zelda series or Cyberpunk 2077. Yet, open-world racing games remain pretty rare, and most of them aren't very good. To be honest, if this was a top 20 list, it would have plenty of half-decent titles at the bottom. Luckily, all these top ten games that made it here are excellent, as they often moved the genre forward. Yet, we'll rank them based on their current playability and not their historical value. Also, we won't list action games with some racing elements, like the GTA series. Finally, we'll pick only a single game in the franchise but mention others if they are worth playing.

10. Carmageddon (1997)

The graphics are dated, but the gameplay remains unique and fun

The original Carmageddon is one of the most controversial games ever, as it was censored or banned in some countries. While in 1997 we already had tons of Mortal Kombat games, Carmageddon encouraged you to run over people. Yet, the title received rave reviews as it was by far the most impressive open-world racing game by that point. Furthermore, it was so graphically advanced that the announced PlayStation version was abandoned. The less we say about the N64 edition, the better! Accordingly, even PC gamers needed high-end hardware to run this title properly.

The world of Carmageddon is surprisingly colorful for such a post-apocalyptic environment, but it's also very diverse. Also, the game is pretty unique as you don't have to finish first to win the race. Instead, you can eliminate all your opponents or kill every pedestrian! Yet, this latter option is pretty unlikely, as they are scattered all over the map. From today's perspective, controls may seem all over the place, but the game still has a unique appeal and is playable on modern PCs.

Also check out: Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now

9. Midtown Madness (1999)

Everything about Midtown Madness looked so fresh

In 1999, everyone was so excited about Midtown Madness! Instead of roaming through fictional environments, this title takes us to the streets of Chicago! The developers created a pretty accurate version of the city, although it lacks the home of the Chicago Bulls. Even better, there's plenty of traffic and pedestrians on the streets, even though you can't hit them like in Carmageddon. If you want to, you can just drive around like a maniac, but know that local police will do anything to stop you! Alternatively, cruise around the city and even follow the traffic lights.

The game is pretty challenging, as you compete against time and rivals while avoiding police and the other vehicles. Learning the map is essential, as, in some races, you have the freedom to pass the checkpoints in any order. The race variety is impressive, and not only because of the environment size. The game also combines weather with the time of the day, which all affects handling and visibility. Also, during the late hours, there's almost no traffic, as it should be! Thanks to its setting combined with fun and unique gameplay, Midtown Madness still deserves your time. 

Also check out: Midtown Madness 2, Midtown Madness 3

8. The Crew 2 (2018)

Cruising in The Crew 2 is something you need to try

Ubisoft's The Crew looked like the spiritual sequel to the Test Drive Unlimited series, making every similar title obsolete. The idea of driving all over the map of the United States felt way too exciting to be ignored! Yet, the world felt empty and ugly, with omnipresent microtransactions. Well, the developers never felt discouraged, so they gave it another go in 2018. While we are still in the United States, this version has so much more to offer! Three years was enough for the designers to add more details and make the cities like New York bigger. Yet, a lot of famous locations are still missing.

Of course, the sheer size of the map means you'll need a lot of time to check everything. Unfortunately, there's not much to do while exploring but to take a few photos and collect random upgrades. The Crew 2 is an arcade title with solid controls, but the RPG elements are clunky and often kill the challenge. Finally, unlike the Forza Horizon series, you'll need to grind a lot to get some of the best vehicles. Since its release, the game received many major updates and now has an impressive vehicle library and the most diverse races we've ever seen. Plus, you can also drive boats and planes, sometimes during the same event! People either hate The Crew 2 or call it their favorite racing game so try the demo first!

Also check out: Test Drive Unlimited games, of course!

7. Crazy Taxi (1999)

Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi is the one you need to play

Sega is the king of arcade racers, and in 1999, everybody loved playing Crazy Taxi. In this title, you choose one of the four cab drivers and their cars and run around the city, picking customers. Since there's a strict time limit, you'll need to make some insane moves to survive for as long as you can. In that sense, there's no story here or the ending. Instead, your only goal is to reach the top of the leaderboard. Of course, like a real taxi driver, you have to learn the map of the environment based on San Francisco to be successful. There's everything here, from the busy midtown to parks, beaches, and posh neighborhoods.

For an arcade title with simplistic controls, Crazy Taxi is incredibly deep. Some advanced techniques are necessary for fast acceleration, increased speed, or stopping in a spot. The console port for the mighty Dreamcast added another city and also some fun mini-games. While this gave the game a longer life span, it was still meant for playing in short sessions. Like Midtown Madness, the game also has two sequels, which are similar but still fun. However, the original is the best, with its beautiful design and The Offspring/Bad Religion soundtrack. The Dreamcast version remains superior, as other revisions have technical problems or lack licensed music.

Also check out: Crazy Taxi 2, Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller

6. Test Drive Unlimited (2006)

Test Drive Unlimited is still alive thanks to some excellent mods

The Test Drive series had a massive drop in quality during the nineties, to the point that everyone stopped caring. Yet in 2006, Eden Games took charge, promising the best open-world racing experience so far. The developers incorporated the whole O'ahu island (Hawaii), scaling it down only slightly. This means that there are hundreds of miles of roads to race on and explore. Plus, Test Drive Unlimited still has so many advantages over other open-world racing titles. One of the things it does much better even than the Forza Horizon series is the immersion.

It all starts at the airport, where you pick your character, followed by landing on O'ahu and choosing your first car and house. Also, to buy a car, you need to discover and then visit the local dealership. Oh, and acquiring a vehicle isn't easy, as it takes time to earn the necessary cash. When combined, this makes you appreciate every car you add to your collection. Also, check if you have enough room in your garage! We just wish the controls are better, as mixing simulation and arcade elements don't feel perfect. Let's hope that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will do much better!

Also check out: Test Drive Unlimited 2

5. Burnout Paradise Remastered (2020)

Thankfully, Burnout Paradise Remastered brings some graphical improvements

We loved the Burnout series, especially Burnout 3, which has gorgeous tracks. However, while the next few games were also fun, they started to look the same. To break the cycle, the developers decided to move the franchise into the open-world with Burnout Paradise. This urban setting lets you do the wildest stunts as you are encouraged to explore it. Also, the game gives you so much freedom to choose your next event and even configure its aspects. This remastered version adds all the post-release content and even slightly improves graphics.

Burnout Paradise keeps the gameplay from previous releases, which is incredibly fast. The goal here is to drive like a madman as it earns you a boost and to eliminate your opponents while avoiding traffic. The only thing we sorely miss are the beautiful environments from previous games. Burnout Paradise simply lacks variety as we can't go outside the city. Yet, this is still an excellent title with fun multiplayer and maybe too much green hue filter.

Also check out: Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Revenge, Burnout Legends, Burnout Dominator

4. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered (2020)

Being a police officer never was so fun!

As the Burnout series was put on hold, Criterion Games moved to the Need for Speed series. This is a reboot of the original Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, which is still among the best games in the series. Hot Pursuit takes us to the fictional Seacrest County with over 100 miles of road, quadrupling what was in Burnout Paradise. Furthermore, the setting is way more diverse, combining the beauty of Colorado, Southern California, and Arizona. Yet, as the gameplay is so fast, you won't have much time to look around. In a sense, this feels like a Burnout game that's just a tad more realistic. 

Yet, here you also have to worry about overaggressive cops that'll do just about anything to stop you. However, you can also be the law and try to end all illegal racing. Both campaigns are enjoyable, and you can easily switch between the two. The remastered version integrates every DLC and adds cross-platform multiplayer, which is still a rarity. While the graphics are only slightly improved, we still enjoy the looks. There's no upgrade system or anything else that would distract you from racing, and that simplicity only helps it stand out today.

Also check out: Need for Speed Rivals, Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)

3. Midnight Club Los Angeles Complete Edition (2008)

Midnight Club: Los Angeles is backward compatible on Xbox Series consoles

After the Midtown Madness trilogy, the same developers created its spiritual sequel, the Midnight Club series. While the first two games are solid, the third one is a much better experience. It gave us real cars, three open-world cities, and some genuinely innovative controls. Finally, in 2008 we got the fourth title which takes us to the City of Angels. While that feels like a downgrade, Los Angeles is bigger than San Diego, Detroit, and Atlanta combined in Midnight Club 3. Later, the game added South Central Los Angeles for free, making the map even more impressive. This is also the only Midnight Club title featuring the day-to-night cycle and dynamic weather.

While you can freely explore the metropolis, you also have an insane number of races to use special abilities. For example, you can slow down the time or run through traffic without losing any speed. Although you have only 50 vehicles to collect, the game has excellent customization options to keep you playing. The good news is that this title is backward compatible with the Xbox Series consoles, although it's not enhanced. Finally, if you only have the regular version, the system will download the Complete Edition, adding every DLC content. 

Also check: Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix

2. Driver: San Francisco (2011)

Driver: San Francisco needs to make a comeback!

After the disastrous Driver 3 (2004), the Driver series struggled for a while. Yet, in 2011 it came back in a rather unique form. While the story in most open-world racing games is forgettable, here it dramatically assists the gameplay. As the main character dreams in a coma, he can shift into another car on the fly! While the game isn't as crazy fast as Burnout, it still has arcade handling and boosting. Yet, the controls are very satisfying as every vehicle feels different. 

The shifting ability is brilliantly incorporated into story missions, and you can use it as much as you want to. The ability is also available in multiplayer, although in limited form. As for the city, it's vast and gorgeous, with some familiar landmarks. Unfortunately, this title isn't available in digital form anymore, so you need a physical copy to play it. While gamers petitioned for its comeback in some form, Ubisoft probably isn't keen on that because it would need to license close to 150 vehicles.

Also check: Driver, Driver 2

1. Forza Horizon 5 (2021)

Forza Horizon 5 is a stunning experience, especially if you have a monster PC!

While this series started as an experiment near the end of Xbox 360's lifespan, it soon overshadowed its parent, Forza Motorsport. Every sequel continued improving, with Forza Horizon 5 being the absolute pinnacle. This title takes us to Mexico and offers the most diverse open-world in racing games. This means you'll discover urban environments, deep forests, deserts, swamps, and even snow mountains pretty close to each other. Yet, while the map is around 50% bigger than in Forza Horizon 4, there's nothing generic about it. There's no procedural content here, and we even got a pretty accurate rendition of Guanajuato city.

Just driving around in Forza Horizon 5 is immensely satisfying as you have so many optional activities, like smashing bonus boards or testing your drifting skills. Plus, there are over 500 cars even before the DLCs kick in. Most importantly, the gameplay is fantastic, as you can make it absurdly easy or difficult. Whatever you do, you'll be rewarded with tons of cars and cash to buy houses, more vehicles, or do some tune-ups. However, in multiplayer races, all bets are off, as you'll have to perform to the best of your abilities. With so much content and excellent graphics, Forza Horizon 5 is one of the best Xbox Series games, and you need to get it now!

Also check: All previous Forza Horizon games

Open World games have traveled the long road to get where they are now, but there's still so much room for improvement. While we all want bigger maps and more content, it always comes down to how fun the gameplay is. That's why we'll always rank something like Crazy Taxi over a massive but dull Fuel. While it's hard to think that Forza Horizon will lose its throne anytime soon, we hope that other upcoming titles will be the worthy alternative.

Are there some open-world racing games missing from our top ten list? What are some of your favorites in the genre?

Cover photo: Drakonian/Wallpaper Abyss



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Zeith Says:

As for the Midnight Club - avoid PS3 version as it suffers from slowdowns. Xbox 360 looks a bit better and runs visible better.

November 23 at 04:01:46 PM

WoggyJ Says:

Test Drive Unlimited was a revelation for me, although it didn't look great and was very demanding on my PC. I have high hopes for the next installment.

July 29 at 09:36:40 AM

Lowry Says:

Luckily I have Driver: San Francisco on my Ubisoft account. I loved this game and I completed it in 2011, but I could do it again

June 24 at 12:45:37 PM

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