Open world games, and specifically open-world racing games, hold a special place in the hearts of many gamers. The freedom to drive any car of your choice – and most importantly drive them anywhere – makes these free-roam racing games addictive and very satisfying to play.
The 9 best open world racing games are:
- Forza Horizon 5
- Forza Horizon 4
- The Crew 2
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered
- Need for Speed Heat
- Burnout Paradise Remastered
- Test Drive Unlimited 2
- Forza Horizon 3
- The Crew
The games listed above are all excellent in their own ways, but below we’ll go over the pros and cons of each of them so you can make the right choice when picking your next open world racer. But first, let’s discuss what you should look for in a good open-world racing game.
What To Look For In A Good Open World Racing Game
Vast Explorable Map
One of the main features of a good open-world racing game is the very large map that the player can explore with little to no limitations. Usually, the bigger the world, the harder it is to make sure the environment feels ‘lived in’ and realistic. However, for a racing game, you often don’t need to feel like anyone lives in the houses or apartments you’re driving past at 190 mph!
How The Game Looks
That makes how the game looks overall more important. You want to feel like the world has had care and attention put into it at the granular level, but more important is how your surroundings appear when you’re driving on the limit. Beautiful scenery is something many of the games on our list absolutely nail, and it goes a long way to making an open world racing game so fun to play.
Variety Of Cars
A wide selection of cars to choose from is vital. Having a massive, beautifully designed map is great, but you need to be able to roam it at your leisure in any car you want. The best open world racing games balance the variety of cars with things like attention to detail on the designs, along with the level of customization you have at your fingertips.
Customizing the paint job or upgrading components in your favorite car in the game is important for its replayability and your enjoyment in general. The best open world sim racing games allow you to fine-tune your cars in many ways, while still allowing you to just change the paint colors if you don’t have time to mess around with engine mappings and gear ratios.
As you’ll spend most of your time driving around towns, cities, and wide-open areas, you want to be sure you have a good time doing it. A large factor to consider is therefore what you’ll be listening to. While some may opt to listen to the dulcet tones of whatever vehicle they’re racing in, others may prefer some music in the background.
This makes the soundtrack of open world racing games more important than it perhaps is in other sim racing titles, where focused, distraction-free driving is vital. The soundtrack is often a defining feature of any game, but for open world racers, it can be even more important. I even associate many of the games below with specific songs, so when I hear them I instantly want to pick it back up!
The final thing to consider when choosing an open world racing game is how accessible it is. You want the game to be easy enough to pick up and enjoy, but challenging enough that you keep coming back for more. There’s definitely a balance to strike, but the games below all do a good job of this.
Other aspects of accessibility include things like equipment compatibility. You may want to be able to play the game with a wheel and pedals for example, and not all racing games offer this compatibility. It’s therefore best to check for this before you hit the buy button if immersion with a sim racing rig is key for you.
KEY POINTS• Look for a game with a vast, well designed map
• The variety of cars is key to providing hours of enjoyment
• The level of customization is also important, as is the challenge the game offers
The 9 Best Open World Racing Games
1. Forza Horizon 5
Released: 2021 | Platforms: Xbox/PC | Developers: Playground Games
Why You Should Buy: The best open world racing game on the market
Forza Horizon 5 tops our list of the best open world racing games for many reasons, but starting with arguably the most obvious is that it’s a huge, beautiful open world racer from a company with a history of making huge, beautiful open world racing games. Playground Games’ Horizon series features a few more times on this list – and for good reason.
Beautiful Open World Map
The fifth instalment in the series takes place in Mexico. The way the developers have emulated the Mexican landscape is exceptional, and you’ll find plenty of variety throughout the world to explore. From city streets to open deserts, and from ancient ruins to beachside highways, Forza Horizon 5 has so much to offer.
What makes the various environments so special is the way they’ve each been designed. A lot of attention to detail combined with the powerful graphics engines modern games take advantage of allows for a truly incredible all-round experience. The lighting effects and the epic draw distance mean you can really immerse yourself in this game.
Lots Of Variety And Customization
On top of the massive map and beautiful gameplay is a huge selection of more than 500 vehicles. You’ll be able to find classics from yesteryear, along with some of the most exciting cars of the last few years. Some of these cars you can earn by racing and exploring, and others you’ll be able to buy and sell through auctions. There are of course also the barn finds as well.
With all of these vehicles comes a plethora of customization options. From the various tune-ups to the vast selection of cosmetic changes you can make to your cars, there is near limitless customization to keep you occupied in Forza Horizon 5. All of this customization can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but if you don’t want it all, you can still just enjoy the cars as they are.
Because Forza Horizon 5 is so vast, this idea of taking just what you want when you want it is definitely a plus for more casual players, and it applies to the gameplay as well as the customization. There are lots of different game modes to try. First, there is a fairly non-linear story, with some cutscenes in between, which is great for getting to grips with the game.
Then there are lots of multiplayer game modes to challenge your friends with, or even team up with them in the coop modes. There are various types of races that will help you rack up credits to buy cars, and you’ll of course earn XP as well. However, if you just want to explore the world, you can do that at your own pace at any time – a sign of a true open world racing game.
Fun With A Controller Or A Wheel
The racing itself is very much arcade style. Don’t expect racing simulator physics here, but you can use various wheels and pedals with the game if you do prefer the more immersive option. This can be an extremely enjoyable way to play, but you can have just as much fun on a controller too. No matter how you choose to play, Forza Horizon 5 will give you endless hours of open world fun.
- Beautifully designed, massive open world
- Lots of cars and game modes to choose from
- Plenty of customization
- Can be a little overwhelming at first
- Not the most expansive soundtrack
- Xbox and PC exclusive
2. Forza Horizon 4
Released: 2018 | Platforms: Xbox/PC | Developers: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Why You Should Buy: Massive open world, UK-based map with a focus on fun
Forza Horizon 4 pretty much improves on all aspects of the previous game (later on this list) but it’s just edged out by its own successor. The games’ graphics are incredible, and the lighting and shading are excellent, and both help immerse you in the open world. The open world itself is huge and beautiful in its setting of picturesque Britain.
Wonderfully Designed Map
Horizon 4 also has changing seasons and each one looks as beautiful as the next. These influence gameplay in a fun way, meaning you can take on the open road under the summer sun one day, and the next be sliding around snow-covered fields and iced over lakes.
The game is focused on freedom and most traffic has been removed and replaced by other players in the shared online world. This makes the world feel more real and lively, and it also means there are always people around to race. There are plenty of online racing modes, along with a ‘story’ mode that allows you to take the game at your own pace.
The world in which you race and explore has lots of elevation, and the winding narrow roads of Britain are a refreshing change from many other racing titles out there. Drifts are easy to pull off and speed is truly impressive in the supercars.
A Huge Range Of Cars To Collect And Customize
The sheer number of cars you can choose from is huge – coming in at more than 450. So, you will always find a car to suit your playstyle. You unlock these by progressing in the game and through buying them with the credits you accumulate taking on the various races and challenges across the map.
The car customization allows you to pretty much adjust everything that you could possibly want to. The difficulty in handling your car is at the perfect middle ground. It’s not too hard or easy to control the cars and it doesn’t take long to get used to the handling model. However, Horizon 4 does have a few flaws that, while not dealbreakers, are worth being aware of.
Slow To Get Going
The game is quite slow to get going, mainly because the goal is for it to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. The tutorials can seem unnecessary for instance, explaining that you need to do a jump to get jump points and drift to get drift points, yet it does not explain the economy of the game or how online features work.
However, once you get past the initial races and out into the open world, these problems all fade away. Racing with a full sim racing setup feels great and to some it’s the right way to play, but if you don’t have a full racing sim setup that’s okay too, as using a controller feels just as natural. Regardless of how you play, FH4 is a truly unique racing experience set in a beautiful game world.
- Fully immersive, beautiful open world with lots to do
- Hundreds of cars with fairly realistic handling
- Plenty of unique game mechanics
- The tutorial system isn’t the best
- The in-game economy can be frustrating
- You can’t control the seasons
3. The Crew 2
Released: 2018 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC/Google Stadia | Developers: Ubisoft, Ivory Tower
Why You Should Buy: Huge map of a scaled down USA with lots of realistic cars
The Crew 2 is an ambitious sequel to its predecessor (later in our list) with an even larger but more realistic map of the USA to explore. As well as much improved graphics, the game offers other vehicles to choose from when exploring, such as boats, planes, off-road cars, and motorcycles.
Unique Gameplay Mechanics
The Crew 2 gives you the unique ability to switch vehicles on the fly, which gives way to special moments like traveling 200 mph on the highway and transforming into a plane, then flying over the sea only to drop down in a racing boat. You’re first exposed to this aspect of the game in the rather cringeworthy story mode – but the map and the racing makes up for this!
After choosing your character model, which unfortunately doesn’t look very good no matter how you mess around with it, you are immediately thrown into a showcase where you get to use all of the available types of vehicles.
While I like that it wastes no time in showing you how things work in The Crew 2, the lack of a proper tutorial may leave some players who are new to racing games a bit confused. However, The Crew 2 is a quick game to get to grips with, and you’ll find yourself exploring the west coast or the southern states with ease in no time.
The Fame And Upgrade System
The game features a fame rating that levels up as you win more races and become more popular. You can then spend the points you receive, from levelling up and winning races, on new vehicles or upgrading your car. When you win a race or get a podium-worthy position, upgrades for your vehicle will appear in front of your car and you can collect these by simply driving over them.
You’ll come across a lot of these – and we mean a lot. Unfortunately, this means it can not only get a little confusing as to what they are all for, but once you realize upgrading your car is just a case of selecting the option with the bigger number, it becomes a bit repetitive and boring. However, customization aside, the car selection is quite impressive.
Lots To Choose From
There are more than 400 unique vehicles to choose from, across motorcycles, cars, boats and even airplanes. While this means there aren’t quite as many cars on offer as there are in some of the other games on this list, there are still plenty to keep you occupied. Plus, the boats and planes can be a lot of fun too.
The open world itself is absolutely massive and genuinely beautiful to look at. The map is a scaled down version of the United States, and it’s really quite impressive. While the focus is definitely on the scale and the landscapes, this does mean the cities and towns can feel less lived in than other games out there.
One problem with such a vast world involves the environmental hazards. For instance, a large metal directional sign can be crashed into and removed as if it wasn’t there, but if you crash into a small chair or tiny bench it stops you in your tracks as if you just crashed into a brick wall. This is very frustrating, but it’s not unique to The Crew 2.
Incredibly Fun To Roam Around In
The handling model here is by no means the best or the most realistic, but it’s still very playable. It doesn’t feel quite as natural with a wheel and pedal setup as the Forza Horizon games, but it’s still immensely fun to play on a controller. There’s nothing quite like a road trip from coast to coast in your favorite supercar, or a trip through Manhattan in a dune buggy!
It should be noted that the game is online-only, but there are lots of different types of races you can take part in, from drifting challenges to straight up drag races. This means there’s a lot of variety to keep you occupied. The Crew 2 also has one of the best photo modes I have seen in any game. All of this adds up to a unique, entertaining experience.
- Immense world & immersive feel
- Variety of customization options
- Excellent photo mode
- Poor driving physics
- Online only
- Not the biggest car selection
4. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered
Released: 2020 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC/Nintendo Switch | Developers: Criterion Games, Stellar Entertainment
Why You Should Buy: An excellent remaster of a classic open world pursuit game
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is one of the games that defines many a childhood, with one of the most beautiful game worlds of its time paired with some excellent gameplay. The 2020 remaster does it justice, by keeping the core of the game intact while bringing the graphics up to speed with its contemporaries in the space.
A Remaster Of A Classic
The original game remains much as it was back in 2010, with the focus of the gameplay being exaggerated car chases between street racers and cops, with some spike strips and EMPs thrown in there for good measure. This makes for a really unique gameplay experience, where you can choose to take on the cops as a racer, or try and take down those attempting to escape in a souped-up cop car.
Given that this game is a remaster, it does lack some of the features modern open world racing games are known for. There’s no real upgrade or customization system, and there isn’t much of a progression system where you need to earn seemingly infinite credits to unlock a seemingly infinite range of cars. It’s just pure and simple racing.
A Truly Unique Experience
You won’t see official support for steering wheels and other peripherals, but you may still be able to use certain wheels without issue. The soundtrack in this game, while now slightly outdated, was impressive for its time. This, paired with an amazing looking game world with updated graphics, makes for one of the most enjoyable open world racing experiences around.
- A beautiful remaster of a classic
- Unique cops vs racers gameplay
- It’s just lots of fun to play!
- It does lack some modern racing game features
- The graphics are still lackluster compared to modern games
- The map and gameplay are somewhat limited compared to others on this list
5. Need For Speed: Heat
Released: 2019 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC | Developers: Ghost Games
Why You Should Buy: Beautiful, fast-paced open world racing game
The Need for Speed series has been quite poor as of late (aside from the above remaster), but NFS Heat is an excellent open-world racing game and it’s clear that they have learned from their mistakes.
There are 2 main types of races that you can take part in: Day racing and Night racing. Day racing takes place on clearly laid out tracks, but where the game really shines is when racing at night.
Beautiful Day And Night Racing
Night racing in NFS Heat is portrayed through illegal street races while under pursuit from the cops. The rush you get while narrowly avoiding arrest from the police while traveling at more than 150 mph on busy streets is unmatched by many games out there. Day and night feel very different from each other, and the neon night lights whizzing past you really give you a sense of speed.
There’s a great sense of speed in this game regardless of whether you take on the day or night races, as there has been in all games in the NFS series. As it’s a cops vs racers type of game, much like the Hot Pursuit remaster, you can expect to do a lot of crashing into other cars. If you want a peaceful racing experience, this one is not for you!
The Open World Itself
The open world in which you drive – Palm City – looks beautiful. Unfortunately, the world can seem very empty, featuring little to no non-player characters (NPCs). You could argue that, as it’s a racing game, it doesn’t need to have NPCs. However, this will largely depend on how much value you put on the ‘lived-in’ aspect of an open world. For us, it’s a shame, but not a dealbreaker.
The team behind NFS nailed it with the upgrade system in this game. It is certainly a viable option to use only one car throughout the whole game and simply upgrade it throughout your playthrough, without losing out on the fun factor or the ability to win races. Upgrades genuinely matter in this game and aren’t just an excuse for a lack of other unique features.
The Upgrade System Matters
Customization is vast and detailed in this game and it’s not surprising as the NFS series has (usually) always been great in the customization department, so if you are the type of person that likes to make your car really feel like your own then you’ll be right at home with NFS Heat.
The game definitely doesn’t provide the most realistic simulator available, but it certainly is one of the most fun racing games to play around with. Even if you aren’t normally into arcade racing games I would still recommend giving this one a try!
- Variety of customization options
- Beautiful and large open world
- Unique game mechanics & great upgrade system
- Lack of NPCs makes the game feel empty
- Not very realistic
- Lacking in the graphics department
6. Burnout Paradise Remastered
Released: 2018 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC/Nintendo Switch | Developers: Criterion Games, Stellar Entertainment
Why You Should Buy: A brilliant remaster of an open world racer with lots of fun things to do
Up next is another remaster of a classic. Burnout is an iconic racing game series offering the player an exciting and octane-filled experience. Burnout Paradise is hailed by many as one of the most iconic and entertaining games to have ever been made, and it’s definitely a fan-favorite in the racing space.
A Comprehensive Remaster
The remastered version offers all the bells and whistles of the original, but with more intuitive controls, better graphics, and all the available downloadable content (DLC) that was made for the original game. This means you’re not just getting a reskin of an old game – it’s a true remaster.
While it’s a remaster, the graphics don’t look quite like current-gen racing games out today, but they certainly look beautiful compared to the decade-old original Burnout Paradise. The game definitely can’t compete with the likes of Forza Horizon 4 or 5, and even The Crew 2. However, it’s still a fairly immersive world, considering it was originally made back in 2008.
One thing about the series of Burnout games that may throw off new players is the lack of track boundaries when racing. It’s easy to lose track of where you’re meant to be going if you don’t pay attention to the race. While this may make things more difficult at first, eventually you get used to it and realize that the lack of track boundaries makes the world feel more real while exploring.
The way you purchase new vehicles in-game is unique compared to other racing games out there today. Vehicles that you may want will be driving out in the game world and you will have to take the car out by crashing into it. This then takes the car to a junkyard and a mechanic will repair it for a fee.
After it is repaired, it’s now yours and you can ride around in your new favorite car until you see another one you like the look of on the streets. This is truly different to the credit or other currency systems of the games on this list, and most games out there today. This can make Burnout Paradise Remastered a great choice for those looking to change things up.
The Paradise city game world is immense, lively, and there is always something happening or something to do. Unfortunately, if a realistic racing simulator is what you’re looking for you’ll need to look elsewhere. Burnout Paradise Remastered is certainly an arcade racer more than a super realistic simulator – but that doesn’t mean it’s not extremely fun!
The soundtrack of the game is fantastic, including famous artists such as Guns n’ Roses and Faith No More. The soundtrack may be a bit more dated than it was when it was originally released, but there are some great classics to choose from while racing. All in all, this remaster is really impressive, and whether you played the original or not, it’s worth picking it up if you can.
- Large open world
- Fun and engaging gameplay
- Comes with all available DLC
- Graphics aren’t great
- Not very realistic
- Customization is lacking
7. Test Drive Unlimited 2
Released: 2011 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC | Developers: Eden Games
Why You Should Buy: A truly unique gameplay experience that goes beyond just racing
While its graphics are dated compared to games being made nowadays, many racing game enthusiasts will still mention this game when listing out their favorite open-world racing games, and for many good reasons. Test Drive Unlimited 2 has great driving mechanics and a wide variety of more than 90 different vehicles for you to choose from.
More Than Just A Racing Game
Not only is this an open-world racing game, but it’s also a lifestyle game, allowing you to purchase property with a garage to store your vehicles and make your showroom. Buying a new vehicle in the game is quite immersive as you need to first go to a dealership and look the vehicle over in and out.
The open world the game lets you explore is vast and lively, and there is always something interesting happening around you. The world looks beautiful, and the car models look fantastic, but the player models look quite poor, even when compared to other games released in the same year.
Great Sound Design
The sound design of the vehicles is great and all the cars sound beefy and powerful, but the voice acting of the NPCs is about as bad as most racing games’ voice acting. While this does date the game slightly, those looking to play this game are probably doing so to either revisit their own fond memories or to see what it’s like for themselves, and so it won’t be a gamechanger.
The game starts you off on the island of Ibiza with one (relatively) unimpressive car and a small bit of cash, and you must work your way up through the ranks by completing multiplayer races, gaining fame and wealth, eventually buying properties to store your luxury vehicles.
Definitely Worth A Shot
When Test Drive Unlimited 2 first came out, the game was a bit of a mess riddled with glitches and bugs. The online multiplayer barely worked, and finding a multiplayer race was very rare. Luckily those issues were mostly fixed and what we have now is a super fun open world racing game that will always be one of my favorites and is definitely worth your time if you’ve never played it.
- Decent selection of vehicles
- Unique gameplay & good sound design
- A fun open world to explore
- Graphics are quite dated
- Awful voice acting
8. Forza Horizon 3
Released: 2016 | Platforms: Xbox/PC | Developers: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Why You Should Buy: Massive open world with lots of vehicles to choose from and customize
Forza horizon 3 ticks all the boxes for car enthusiasts and casual racers, and the scale of the open world itself is huge. This is the third Forza Horizon game to feature on this list, and while it’s the oldest of the 3 it’s still a great game to pick up if you’ve never tried it before. While it’s a little dated now, there is still plenty to love about FH3.
Plenty Of Fun Game Modes
There is lots to do in this installment’s open world (this time a fictional representation of Australia), as with the others on this list, and there are some unique game modes to have some fun with. The story mode in Horizon 3 features you as the festival boss, with the goal of the game being the expansion of your fanbase so that you can expand your festival and make it more successful.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is fantastic and very fluid. You’ll still find a decent number of people playing the game, and overall it feels like a polished and premium experience. It’s easy to tell that the developers had a lot of fun when designing the game to be as immersive as possible, with a focus on giving the player as much to do as they could.
Massive Selection Of Cars
The number of cars that you can choose from is immense and you are sure to find a car that suits you. Off-road driving in Horizon 3 is particularly fun and is one of the best aspects of the game. Your car’s handling changes depending on the texture of the surface you are driving on, and transferring from dirt to tarmac is about as jarring as you expect it to be.
If you purchased a vehicle that you no longer use anymore, the game lets you sell your vehicles in an auction house in-game, which is a quick and easy way to make some cash for a new car. Forza Horizon 3 also features a co-op campaign, which is a lot easier than trying to build your fanbase alone.
Luckily, your progress that you made with your friends can be transferred to your single player save which means you don’t need to repeat anything that you have already completed in the co-op campaign.
A Great Instalment In The Horizon Series
The PvP races feel great and the weather effects in the game are very dynamic, affecting your car’s handling just like they would in real life. Forza Horizon 3 is a great game, and if you’re unsure about the latest instalments in the series and want to get your hands on a cheaper option to test the waters, FH3 could be a good choice.
- Huge open world
- Large selection of cars with reasonably realistic handling
- Immersive feel & dynamic weather conditions
- Loading times can be lengthy
- The menu can be complicated at first
- Some cars are extremely expensive
9. The Crew
Released: 2014 | Platforms: PlayStation/Xbox/PC | Developers: Ubisoft, Ivory Tower
Why You Should Buy: A huge online racing experience with a large variety of cars
The Crew is a huge online-only racing game that above all else boasts an ambitious open world of extreme proportions. While not quite as expansive an attempt at a scaled down version of the US as we saw with The Crew 2, the huge map on offer here is still really impressive.
Car And Game Mode Selection
There is a wide range of vehicles to choose from and you can customize these cars to suit your tastes. As well as customizable appearances, components such as the tires, gearbox, and much more are all upgradeable and customizable. The Crew is a multiplayer-only game, so an internet connection is required to play, but there are lots of fun game modes to enjoy.
The storyline of the game does leave a lot to be desired. However, the tracks and environments in which the storyline takes you through are always changing and unique, and this makes up for the cliché plot. Traversing the land and going from one city to another captures the cross-country spirit perfectly, and you’ll have hours of fun simply exploring.
Decent Gameplay Experience
The driving mechanics feel solid and reliable, and it’s easy to get lost in the thrill of exploration. The map’s size does mean less attention was paid to the small details of the environment around you, and this can make some parts of the world seem a little lackluster. The AI can also be particularly annoying, and they often seem very overpowered.
Some of the sounds aren’t well-balanced, and the audio all-round is just lacking when compared to the more modern racing games on this list. However, bearing in mind this game was made in 2014, The Crew still offers a very enjoyable open world racing experience. If nothing else, it could be worth picking this game up before trying out its beefed-up successor.
- Huge open world
- Driving mechanics are decent with a wide variety of cars
- Fun game modes to try
- Sound design is poor
- The AI is quite poor
Forza Horizon 5 is the perfect choice for someone that wants an immersive driving experience through an immense and vibrant open world, with a large choice of cars and a great online community. However, its predecessor, Forza Horizon 4, is also a great choice.
If realism isn’t exactly what you are looking for then I recommend NFS Heat or even Burnout Paradise, as both are adrenaline-filled cocktails of open-world racing and stunts, with the goal of dealing as much damage as possible to your pursuers or opponents.