When you think of a racing game, chances are you think of the big three: Gran Turismo, Forza, and Need for Speed. But some would argue these franchises have run out of fuel and are out of fresh ideas.
There are many unique racing IPs that challenge genre conventions. And yet these games often sell poorly, whether it’s due to bad release timing, a lack of marketing, or overly negative reviews.
We’ve already revealed the most overrated racing games, so now it’s time to look at the most underrated racing games that deserve more recognition.
GRID Legends is a great game released at the wrong time. For some reason, Codemasters and EA decided to release GRID Legends just one week before the juggernaut that is Gran Turismo 7, one of the most anticipated racing games in years. GRID Legends was always going to lose this race.
While GRID Legends received mostly positive reviews, player numbers were worryingly low on release, leaving the franchise’s future in doubt. It’s a shame because GRID Legends does a lot of things right.
The Nemesis AI makes for some exciting races, there’s a wonderful variety of racing disciplines to try, the career mode is comprehensive, and the hop-in multiplayer eliminates waiting times in online lobbies. Even the Driven to Glory story mode is enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously.
A solid arcade racer and a massive improvement over the underwhelming 2019 GRID reboot, GRID Legends is criminally underlooked.
No other racing game makes you feel like you’re in a Michael Bay movie like Split/Second: Velocity. In Split/Second, you race for a reality TV show with a twist: the environments are rigged with explosive traps called Power Plays, which you can trigger to take out opponents.
These range from jumbo jets crash landing on the track to crushing opponents with collapsing buildings. Not only do these explosive setpieces look spectacular and still impress today, but falling buildings change the layout of the circuit. Every lap is different as a result.
Like GRID Legends, the sales suffered because of bad timing. Split/Second was released just one week before Blur and ModNation Racers, two other arcade racers with bold ideas. It also probably didn’t help that Gran Turismo 5 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit were released the same year. either
While it was well-received by critics, Split/Second was a commercial failure and only sold 86,000 copies in the first ten days in the US.
This meant Split/Second sadly never got a sequel after developer Black Rock Studios was closed by Disney Interactive Studios in 2011, despite the first game ending on a cliffhanger hinting at a prequel set in the 1980s.
We’re hoping the IP will be revived one day – just imagine the scale of destruction a Split/Second sequel could deliver on the more powerful current-gen consoles.
Activision had high hopes for Blur. Prior to its release, the publisher boldly claimed Blur would “do for racing games what Call of Duty did for shooters,” with Blur set to continue Bizarre Creations’ success with the Project Gotham Racing series.
Blending real licensed cars with Mario Kart-style powerups, Blur was a unique concept. It was essentially Mario Kart for adults – something that has never been replicated in the racing genre.
Races in Blur were gloriously chaotic, with players attacking each other with bombs and mines in BMW M3s and Ford Broncos. The tracks were just as unique, too – we can’t think of any other racing game that lets you tear through Brighton Pier.
Neon-soaked visuals also gave Blur a unique, glossy visual style and the audio design was superb, with thundering engine and power-up sound effects that need to be heard on the loudest home theatre system possible.
Ultimately, Blur failed to find an audience. Creative Director Gareth Edwards later admitted the concept was too confusing for audiences, comparing Blur’s mix of real cars and over-the-top powerups to eating bacon with cornflakes. A Blur sequel was planned but scrapped after Bizarre Creations shut its doors permanently in 2011. Since then, leaked video footage has leaked online showing the Blur sequel that could have been.
With Sony seemingly reluctant to bring back WipEout, Redout is one of the best and underappreciated anti-gravity racing games in recent years. Developed by independent Italian studio 34BigThings, Redout landed on PC and consoles back in 2016 but doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
What set Redout apart was its unique control scheme. In Redout, the dual-stick controls allow you to control the steering, pitching, and strafing independently, giving precise control of your ship. Combine this with twisty tracks, a variety of game modes including Boss Races that linked circuits into one giant track, and an eye-melting sense of speed, and Redout is a tough but rewarding game to master.
It looks stunning too, with stylised visuals giving environments a distinctive art style, while the racing is accompanied by an excellent electronic soundtrack that suits the game’s fast pace perfectly. If you have the stomach for it, you can play Redout in VR on PC.
Unfortunately, Redout flew under most player's radars but has since gained a cult following. Let’s hope the series gets the recognition it deserves when Redout 2 lands on PC and consoles this month.
Driver: San Francisco
It’s easy to forget that Driver was one of the earliest open-world driving games. Before Grand Theft Auto III revolutionised open-world games, Driver let you freely roam around 3D recreations of Miami, San Francisco, LA, and New York in 1999. The sequel even let you get out the car, explore the city on foot, and steal cars a year before GTA III came out, pushing the original PlayStation to the limit.
With the bug-ridden Driv3r lambasted by critics and Parallel Lines written off as a GTA clone, the series saw a sharp decline in the 2000s. Fans feared Driver was dead until the series made a triumphant return with the release of Driver San Francisco in 2011. It took the series in a daring new direction, and there’s no other driving game like it.
Open worlds were nothing new in 2011, but Driver: San Francisco shook things up with its unique Shift mechanic. Once again, you played as undercover cop John Tanner, who ends up in a coma after an accident while in hot pursuit of crime lord Jericho. While in a coma, Tanner gains the ability to “shift” into other people’s bodies and take control of their cars.
It’s a bizarre concept but it worked, allowing players to teleport into cars instantly. This resulted in some fun scenarios. Struggling to catch up with the car you’re chasing? Teleport into a bus and smash into it head-on. Thanks to Shift, the mayhem never stops in online multiplayer matches.
On a technical level, Driver San Francisco shined, running at 60fps on PS3 and Xbox 360 – something not many games achieved in this era.
Sadly, Driver has remained dormant since San Francisco was released over ten years ago to lukewarm sales. Since then, fans have been begging for a sequel or even a San Francisco remaster on current-gen console. With a live-action TV show launching this year, we’re hopeful that Driver will get the sequel it deserves one day.