Top 10 Open World Racing Games - Fun and Unique

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

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-09-25 11:59:09

Open-world games are almost as old as gaming, as 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 rare, and most aren't very good. Thus, if this was a top 20 list, it would have plenty of half-decent titles near the bottom. Luckily, all these top ten games are excellent, as they often moved the genre forward. Yet, we'll rank them based on their current playability rather than 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
Best way to play it today: Carmageddon Max Pack (GoG version)
Best elements: Unique ways to win the race, dark humor
Contemporary rating: 6/10
Also check out: Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now
Game info

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 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 unlikely since 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.

9. Midtown Madness (1999)

Everything about Midtown Madness looked so fresh
Best way to play it today: PC (With a custom Windows 10 patch)
Best elements: Fun missions, excellent atmosphere
Contemporary rating: 6/10
Also check out: Midtown Madness 2, Midtown Madness 3
Game info

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, although you can't hit them like in Carmageddon. You can also 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 challenging, as you compete against time and rivals while avoiding police and other vehicles. Learning the map is essential, as, in some races, you can 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 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.

8. Crazy Taxi (1999)

Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi is the one you need to play
Best way to play it today: On a modern PC via redream Dreamcast emulator
Best elements: Music, addictive gameplay, city design
Contemporary rating: 7/10
Also check out: Crazy Taxi 2, Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller
Game info

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 some insane moves to survive. 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 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.

7. Test Drive Unlimited (2006)

Test Drive Unlimited is still alive thanks to some excellent mods
Best way to play it today: Modern PC with Platinum Mod
Best elements: The map size, activities beyond driving
Contemporary rating: 7/10
Also check out: Test Drive Unlimited 2
Game info

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 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 many advantages over other open-world racing titles. One of the things it does much better, even than the Forza Horizon series, is 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 visit the local dealership. Oh, and acquiring a vehicle is challenging, as it takes time to earn the necessary cash. Combined, this makes you appreciate every car you add to your collection. Also, check if you have enough room in your garage! We wish the controls are better, as mixing simulation and arcade elements doesn't feel perfect. Let's hope that Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown will do much better!

6. The Crew Motorfest (2023)

Can developers fix some of these issues?
Best way to play it today: On a modern PC
Best elements: Diverse map, excellent choice of vehicles
Contemporary rating: 7/10
Also check out: The Crew 2
Game info

The Crew series never caught fire like Ubisoft had hoped it would. The first two games let us drive across the scaled-down map of the United States, which is too exciting to ignore. However, this was too much for the developers, as the world felt empty and ugly. Thus, for Motorfest they decided to focus on a much smaller location, taking us to O'ahu island. While Ivory Tower was behind the original Test Drive Unlimited, this was still a surprise! Obviously, this means that the map is much smaller this time. In fact, it's not even a 1:1 recreation. However, it is still bigger than the world in any Forza Horizon game!

Mentioning Forza is more relevant than ever, as Motorfest is hugely inspired by it. While you can still drive planes and boats, the focus is obviously on cars. With over 600 vehicles, you'll have many ways to explore the location. While a few brands like Alfa Romeo are missing, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Bugatti are all present. Still, the customization options are as extensive as in the Forza Horizon series. Luckily, the environment is diverse, with plenty of things to do. The presentation is also polished and compares well to its greatest rival. Thus, the graphics are excellent, and the sound quality is fantastic. It seems that the series is finally on the right track, and with further updates and expansions, it may even improve on our list!

5. Burnout Paradise Remastered (2020)

Thankfully, Burnout Paradise Remastered brings some graphical improvements
Best way to play it today: Burnout Paradise Remastered on PC
Best elements: Sense of speed, multiplayer
Contemporary rating: 7/10
Also check out: Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Revenge, Burnout Legends, Burnout Dominator
Game info

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 moved 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 incredibly fast gameplay from previous releases. 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 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.

4. Need For Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered (2020)

Being a police officer never was so fun!
Best way to play it today: Modern PC or PS5/Xbox Series X
Best elements: Brilliant controls, excellent world design
Contemporary rating: 8/10
Also check out: Need for Speed Rivals, Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)
Game info

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 (160 km) 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, you also have to worry about overaggressive cops who'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 to distract you from racing. However, that simplicity only helps it stand out today.

3. Midnight Club Los Angeles Complete Edition (2008)

Try the game on PS3 and Xbox 360 emulators on PC, as they support 60 fps unlocking
Best way to play it today: Xenia emulator on PC, with 60 fps unlocked
Best elements: The size of the city, fun special abilities
Contemporary rating: 8/10
Also check out: Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix
Game info

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 is a much better experience. It gave us real cars, three open-world cities, and authentic 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 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. 

2. Driver: San Francisco (2011)

Driver: San Francisco needs to make a comeback!
Best way to play it today: Modern PC
Best elements: Story, shifting into other cars, handling
Contemporary rating: 9/10
Also check out: Driver, Driver 2
Game info

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, it dramatically assists the gameplay here. 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, so you need a physical copy to play it. While gamers petitioned for its comeback, Ubisoft probably isn't keen on that because it would need to license close to 150 vehicles.

1. Forza Horizon 5 (2021)

Forza Horizon 5 is a stunning experience, especially if you have a monster PC!
Best way to play it today: Modern PC
Best elements: Gorgeous map, brilliant choice of cars
Contemporary rating: 9/10
Also check out: All previous Forza Horizon games
Game info

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 among the best Xbox Series games, and you need to get it now!

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: archive



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Zeith Says:

Midnight Club Los Angeles emulation has improved a lot - try both Xenia and RCPS 3 and see which one works for you. Both demand strong hardware for 60 fps - on original consoles, the game is locked to 30 fps, with drops.

July 10 at 02:03:21 PM

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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