Back in 1974, Gran Trak had us steering a white blob through a course made of dots. Today, you are more likely to be driving photo-realistic vehicles through beautifully lit landscapes, tweaking engines, suspension and all manner of options to gain an advantage.
But in reality the concept of the driving video game hasn’t changed that much. It’s usually a race, against the clock or other players. It’s exciting and easy to understand, which is partly why driving games remain successful, but it’s also about experiencing a car you might never drive, in a place you might never visit. Older games are easily forgotten as newer technology comes along to sweep them away, but here are 10 that deserve a place in our memories.
Pole Position (arcades, 1982)
A classic arcade game, Pole Position featured a cockpit-style cabinet with a steering wheel, gear stick and pedals. It looks basic today – a simply drawn car on a grey track that winds through a featureless green landscape – but was hugely influential and helped to establish racing video games.
MicroProse Formula One Grand Prix (Amiga, Atari ST, PC, 1991)
Defence engineer turned game designer Geoff Crammond created this series, one of the first realistic racing simulations. Drivers could tune gear ratios and wing settings and the car's handling would be affected by tyre wear, poor braking and bad cornering. The tracks were accurate enough that racing fans would know their way around.
DiRT Rally 2.0 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, 2019)
Formula One games sometimes seem to depend more on qualifying and tuning than actual racing. That's not the case in rally games, where it can sometimes be a challenge just to keep the car on the road. With real-world Rallycross circuits and cars from the 1960s to the present, DiRT is comprehensive. Full engine tuning and Pirelli tyres are among the – sometimes daunting – range of options.
Out Run (arcades, 1986)
Another arcade classic, Out Run features a bright red Ferrari tearing down assorted highways to reach a checkpoint before time expires. The threat of a crash was constant, particularly because there was other traffic to overtake and the undulating highway often concealed approaching obstacles.
The Need for Speed (3DO, PC, PS1, Sega Saturn, 1994)
The Need for Speed's oncoming traffic created a tense racer in which one wrong move could cause a crash or start a police chase. Racing the game's realistic supercars in split screen mode against a friend was particularly nerve-wracking. The series is still on the road, 26 years later, and has even spawned a film adaptation.
Burnout 3: Takedown (PS2, Xbox, 2004)
The Burnout series put players on streets and highways filled with traffic and rewarded especially dangerous driving with bonuses. One of the game's most entertaining challenges was the crash mode, where the object was to cause a multi-vehicle collision with the largest amount of monetary damage.
Midtown Madness 2 (PC, 2000)
Not well-remembered, but Microsoft's Midtown Madness 2 was notable for its realistic approximations of London and San Francisco. Players who were familiar with either city could use local knowledge to find their way around. The arcade racing style was fun, too.
Mario Kart Wii (Wii, 2008)
Nintendo's long-running go-kart racing series – with 14 instalments to date – is a perfect party game, with players encouraged to sabotage their rivals using weapons and traps and gain a sneaky advantage by finding shortcuts. This edition came with an accessory that turned the Wii's motion controller into a steering wheel.
Desert Bus (never released, 1995)
Intended to be part of Smoke and Mirrors, a video game designed by magicians Penn & Teller, Desert Bus requires players to drive a bus on the eight-hour journey from Tucson to Las Vegas, in real time. The game cannot be paused either. Perhaps mercifully for players, the publisher went out of business before the game could be released.