Computer games are probably the nearest most of us are going to get to being behind the wheel of proper performance cars. They're never going to be as good as the real thing, but they've have come on leaps and bounds since the days of the earliest, most primitive simulations.
We’ve collected some of our favourite driving games from over the years. What are yours?
Pole Position (Atari, Arcade, 1982)
One of the granddaddies of them all, Pole Position challenged the driver to set a lap time around the Fuji racetrack, before taking part in a race against other cars. It was also one of the first games to feature product placement.
Chequered Flag (Psion Software, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, 1983)
This was one of the earliest examples of a first-person racer, in which the gamer saw the game through the ‘eyes’ of the driver in the cockpit. Believe it or not, it was considered pretty hi-tech stuff at the time. Unfortunately, Sinclair's zany personal mobility device, the C5, wasn’t available to drive in the game. Shame, that.
Out Run (Sega, Arcade, 1986)
This Sega arcade classic featured the driver, along with a comely blonde passenger, tearing up the roads in a car which resembled a Ferrari Testarossa. It was notable for being a game less about racing, but more about driving and also had a soundtrack which could best be described as ‘boss’. A belated sequel arrived in 2003, featuring a Ferrari F50.
Ridge Racer (Namco, Arcade, Playstation, 1993)
This arcade game, later ported to the Playstation, didn’t feature official licensed cars, but it did allow the driver to get up to all sorts of lairy ‘drift’ action.
Sega Rally Championship (Sega, Arcade, Sega Saturn, PC, 1995)
This makes the list purely just because it gave the player the opportunity to hop behind the wheel of a Lancia Delta Integrale. Luckily, the version on Sega Rally was a lot more durable than its notoriously brittle roadgoing counterpart.
Gran Turismo (Polyphonic Digital, Playstation, 1997)
The one which changed it all. Unlike racing games of previous years, Gran Turismo required gamers to ‘buy’ and win cars. The player would start off with enough funds to buy only clapped-out old chuggers, but could then tune them up to win contests and buy more desirable machines. Rather than effete European supercars, the focus was on boxy Japanese monsters like the Subaru Impreza and the Nissan Skyline GT-R – the latter of which it was possible to wring 900bhp out of. You could mess around with minutiae like gear ratios and suspension settings to your heart’s content, too. Mind you, it wasn’t that realistic – you could happily stack it into a barrier at 200mph with no damage to your car. It’s current incarnation, Gran Turismo 5, is presently the benchmark against which all others driving sims are judged.
Colin McRae Rally (Codemasters, Playstation, PC, 1997)
This featured input from the late rally champion himself, and was a watershed moment in off-road realism. It was also fiendishly difficult to master. McRae’s world-beating Subaru Impreza featured on the cover, but you could also select a bevy of late 90s rally animals, including the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV (pictured) too.
TOCA British Touring Car Championship (Codemasters, Playstation, PC, 1997)
Based on the same engine as the Colin McRae series, this touring car simulation might well have been even more tricky to master. It featured all the tracks on the British Touring Car circuit, and perfectly captured the bonnet-to-bumper chaos of the competition it was based on.
Project Gotham Racing, 2001 (Bizzaare Creations, Xbox, 2001)
This game went down a similar route to Gran Turismo in as much that it allowed you to amass an impressive garage of cult motors, but the difference here was that players didn’t have to necessarily win races to advance. Instead ‘Kudos’ points were awarded for pulling off impressive moves and so forth. Back in 2001, it set several new benchmarks for complexty and realism.
Forza Motorsport (Turn 10 Studios, Xbox, 2005)
This sim allowed the driver to drive and modify over 231 cars, from a Honda Civic to a McLaren F1 GTR. Notably, it also allowed physical damage modelling, an unusual inclusion considering the presence of official, licensed cars. The fourth in the series is due this year.