A steering wheel and pedals can be expensive, and sometimes we just want to relax on the couch with a controller in hand. Some games are exceptional on a controller, but others can be less optimized, so it’s best to get an idea of the best sim racing games out there to play on controller.
The 7 best sim racing games to play on controller are:
- Assetto Corsa Competizione
- Gran Turismo 7
- F1 2022
- Forza Horizon 5
- RaceRoom Racing Experience
- Dirt Rally 2.0
- Project Cars 2
This list has something for everyone, whether you’re a hardcore sim racer or just want to relax with a simcade title. Read on below for a more in-depth look at each one and some important things to consider before you pick one to play.
Can You Play Sim Racing Games On A Controller?
You can play sim racing games on a controller, but you would have a much more immersive and competitive experience when using a racing wheel and pedals. Unlike a keyboard, the triggers on a controller can give you analog acceleration and braking, which is incredibly important in a sim racing game.
For some sim racing games that take a more arcade-like approach, such as Forza Horizon 5, a controller might actually be better than using a wheel. This is because the car physics aren’t going to be the most realistic, and so playing with a wheel can actually feel worse than using a controller.
You Do Get Some Feedback
With the current gen consoles and even some select PC titles, the game can make your left and right trigger vibrate to indicate tire grip and terrain change. Of course, this won’t be as detailed as the force feedback delivered from a wheel, but it’s good to know that feedback isn’t totally absent if you plan on using a controller.
The DualSense controller for the PS5 for example has extremely good feedback delivery. It features haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that offer resistance. This can be especially useful when braking so you can avoid lock-ups and can give you an idea of your tire grip levels. This controller can even be used on PC too, so it’s not just PlayStation sim racers that benefit!
But there are of course plenty of other controllers out there that are ideal for sim racing, ranging from the standard Xbox controller to options from Thrustmaster and Logitech. However, the best controllers for sim racing are whichever ones you find most comfortable to use, as you don’t need many fancy features to enjoy playing a racing game with one.
Can You Play Sim Racing Games On A Controller On PC?
You can play sim racing games on a controller on PC, and it’s no different than playing on a console. As long as your controller is recognized by your PC, you can play sim racing games with a controller. Xbox controllers are natively supported on PC, but other controllers may not be.
If you plan on playing your sim racing games through Steam, then a PlayStation controller will usually work perfectly with no issues. But if you plan on playing a sim racing game through other means on PC, you may have to look at third-party software that can emulate an Xbox controller in order for your DualSense controller to work.
Generally, if you plan on using a PlayStation product on Microsoft’s OS, expect to take a few extra steps to make it work. The Xbox Elite controller is a great choice if you plan on racing on PC with a controller. It’s natively compatible and has some unique features we’ll cover at the end of the article that make it shine over the competition.
KEY POINTS• You can definitely enjoy sim racing using a controller
• Some games will work better with a controller than others
• You don’t need a specific controller to get the most out of sim racing games
• However, some controllers will offer a better experience
The 7 Best Sim Racing Games To Play On Controller
1. Assetto Corsa Competizione
Released: 2018 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: KUNOS-Simulazioni Srl
Assetto Corsa Competizione is a very realistic sim racing game with life-like graphics and an impressive dynamic weather system that transforms the game as you play. While it was primarily designed for hardcore sim racing enthusiasts with racing wheels and pedals, it can be played with a controller pretty comfortably.
Getting The Settings Right
It takes some fiddling around in the controller settings in-game to make it feel right, but when you get it all together, it makes for a truly enjoyable racing experience. Once you have your settings dialed in, the game can be comfortably played with a controller as long as you have good throttle and brake control.
As this is a sim racing title committed to realism, the experience is of course better on a wheel and pedals, but you can have fun playing this on a controller and even be competitive if you get used to the way the vehicles handle on a controller. An Xbox controller will be ideal on PC as it is natively supported, but if you run it through steam, a PlayStation controller will work just fine.
Assetto Corsa Competizione has several game modes to keep you entertained, such as career, championship, and free play mode. The multiplayer is fun and while it may be tough at the start on a controller, once the ranked matchmaking system kicks in, you will face other racers of similar skill, some of which will certainly be on a controller too.
Overall, Assetto Corsa Competizione is the best racing simulator for controller players. While not as realistic in terms of the driving physics as something like iRacing, ACC is probably the most accessible game that falls into the simulator camp, as opposed to being an arcade or simcade racing game.
- Impressive dynamic weather system
- Realistic graphics
- Ranked matchmaking
- Default controller settings aren’t great
2. Gran Turismo 7
Released: 2022 | Platforms: PlayStation | Developers: Polyphony Digital
Gran Turismo 7 is a PlayStation exclusive with incredible graphics, a detailed dynamic weather and track conditions system, and a very addictive gameplay loop. As this is a PlayStation exclusive, it’s no surprise that this game plays perfectly well with a controller. The vehicles handle differently from one another and controlling the cars is easy, but mastering them is difficult.
The gameplay loop is enjoyable, as you do races, get money, unlock cars, and then upgrade those cars. The vehicle upgrading and the RPG-like map is a unique approach and makes the simple act of menu navigation a little bit interesting.
The gameplay loop, while fairly simplistic, is very enjoyable and is why you’ll find yourself coming back to this title again and again. The graphics are arguably superior to ACC’s and environments, especially those that surround the actual tracks, look stunning. Reflections especially stand out as some of the best in sim racing.
This game also plays really well with a wheel and pedal set, so if you do plan to make the jump up to some dedicated sim racing hardware in the future, this could be the ideal starting point. Overall, for PlayStation players, this is one of the best sim racing games you can play on controller.
- Stunning dynamic weather system
- Addictive gameplay loop
- Plays really well with a controller even on default settings
- Not as realistic as some other sim racing games
- PlayStation exclusive
3. F1 2022
Released: 2022 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Codemasters
The brand new F1 2022 fixes many of the issues that people had with the controller experience on F1 2021. Cars handle really well, but a great deal of skill is necessary to keep the car on the track if you plan on having the assists turned off while playing on controller. Overall, if you’re an F1 fan, this is the game for you!
The Game Modes
Unlike F1 2021, there is no story mode to be found but you could argue that this is a good thing, as it means the team was able to prioritize their attention on the multiplayer and graphics. The graphics themselves are stunning and the tracks look authentic. The multiplayer features a beginner-friendly mode which is perfect for new players that want to learn the ropes without too much pressure.
Collisions are disabled in this beginner-friendly mode, allowing you to comfortably learn and get used to how the vehicles handle. However, you can of course play the career mode, either as just a driver, or with the now regular My Team game mode, where you manage your own Formula 1 team.
How Does It Feel To Play?
The cars handle well on a controller, but as we have mentioned it becomes quite difficult with the assists turned off. With assists turned on, the game can be comfortably played with a controller right off the bat and you can actually be fairly competitive!
- Excellent graphics
- Detailed and realistic gameplay mechanics
- Plays well on controller
- Handling can be difficult on controller with assists off
4. Forza Horizon 5
Released: 2021 | Platforms: PC / Xbox | Developers: Playground Games / Xbox Game Studios
Forza Horizon 5 is an open-world racing game featuring races from a variety of different motorsports, including rally racing, road racing, and supercars. The open world is a fictional representation of Mexico, offering stunning environments and a unique backdrop for a Forza game.
How Does It Feel On Controller?
As this is more of an arcade title,the handling on controller is near perfect and the game generally feels better on a controller than on a racing wheel with pedals. Each vehicle handles differently, and their level of difficulty depends entirely on how you as the player upgrade and tune each car.
While playing Forza Horizon 5 on default settings, I found no issues whatsoever with controlling the cars and any instances of understeer or oversteer could easily be rectified by tuning the differentials in the detailed tuning and upgrade menu. Each component of the cars can be upgraded to suit your play style, and transmissions and even drive trains can be completely swapped out.
You share the open world with other players and will often be challenged to a head-to-head race by those you meet on the road. The community aspect of the game and the impressive accessibility of the game itself are really what shine the most. If you want a relaxing racing game on a controller without stressing out too much about strategies and damage mechanics, Forza Horizon 5 is a great choice.
- Plays exceptionally well on controller
- Detailed open world with lots to do
- Comprehensive upgrade and tuning system
- Not realistic driving physics
- Not available on PlayStation
5. RaceRoom Racing Experience
Released: 2013 | Platforms: PC | Developers: Sector3 Studios / KW Studios
RaceRoom is a very realistic sim racing game available on PC completely free of charge. Extra content like cars and tracks does cost money, but a generous amount of content is offered for free. Overall, it’s a good choice for those on a budget that want to dip their toes into the world of sim racing.
Old But Gold
For a game released in 2013, the graphics are quite good. The physics however are outstanding considering it’s free, and the races feel very realistic. The experience on a controller is excellent and there is a controller profile that you can select that is very comfortable to use, and it’s a great foundation to work from.
It may take you some time to find a configuration that suits you and your play style, but it’s worth putting the time into it. There are regular daily ranked races available for you to take part in with other players as well as a weekly ranked event that requires you to be a certain rank to enter.
This ranked multiplayer ensures there is always something to work towards and the racing never feels pointless. These races are very realistic and similar to how iRacing conducts their ranked races. If you want a free sim racing game that plays well on controller, this is the one to choose!
- Free to play
- Comes with a decent controller preset
- Ranked matchmaking
- Extra cars and tracks cost real money
- Graphics aren’t great
6. Dirt Rally 2.0
Released: 2019 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Codemasters
Dirt Rally 2.0 is one of the best rally sims currently on the market. Graphically the game looks stunning and arguably looks better than the newer (but more arcade-style) Dirt 5. Dirt Rally 2.0 hits a perfect middle ground that can satisfy both hardcore sim racing enthusiasts and casual arcade racers alike.
What It’s Like To Play
The driving is intense and, when all assists are turned off, your co-driver is your lifeline. Racing on a controller feels great, and the default settings are perfectly fine, but you will likely want to adjust it to your liking. While using a wheel and pedals is far more immersive, pulling off perfect hairpin turns may be far easier to do with a controller for many players.
Dirt rally 2.0 is one of only a select few games that can play better on a controller in some areas than a wheel. The game does try to deliver feedback through the controller, but there’s only so much feedback that a controller can deliver.
Beginners may have a hard time coming from the previous Dirt games as they used to have in-depth tutorials. Dirt Rally 2.0 has nothing that comes close to those old tutorials, and it becomes a matter of learning on the job. Luckily, the cars behave as you’d expect, and getting the hang of things is more fun than frustrating!
- Plays great on a controller
- Satisfies both hardcore and casual sim racers
- Excellent graphics
- Not as beginner friendly as older titles
- Feedback through controller is poor
7. Project Cars 2
Released: 2017 | Platforms: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Developers: Slightly Mad Studios
After Project Cars 3 and its poor reception from fans of the series, criticized for making the franchise take a step back rather than innovate, fans flocked back to Project Cars 2 for its realism and its immense variety of vehicles and tracks. While not a true racing simulator, this is another good option for those that want more than just an arcade experience.
Plenty To Enjoy
Project cars 2 features three game modes: career, multiplayer, and free play. The career mode is surprisingly detailed and can simulate a career from go-karts up to Formula racing. There is also a variety of different motorsports available for you to play, but road racing and Formula seem to be the most fleshed out of the available modes.
The dynamic weather system featured in Project Cars 2, alongside the track conditions that change with the weather, creates realistic racing environments where careful strategic planning is necessary if you want to be successful.
Poor Default Settings
The relatively poor default controller settings seemingly have no thought put into them, and the lack of a “reset to default” button makes configuring the controller a bit of a nightmare at first. However, once you find a setup that works for you, the game opens up.
If you don’t mind having to adjust the controls now and then, Project Cars 2 does an excellent job at providing endless fun with the large variety of vehicles and tracks from different motorsport disciplines.
- Realistic physics and handling
- Huge variety of cars and tracks
- Excellent dynamic weather and track conditions system
- It can be tough to find the ideal controller settings for you
What Is The Best Controller To Use For Sim Racing?
The Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is the best controller to use for sim racing if you’re on PC or Xbox. It has plenty of buttons, and it’s highly customizable. It’s natively compatible with PC, and it features analog sticks with tension adjustment using a small tool that comes with the controller.
This controller is ideal for sim racing thanks to the paddles at the back, which you can use to emulate paddle shifters in a racecar. You can also customize the controller by swapping out the analog sticks and the D-pad.
If you lose the tool, it’s fairly easy to just stick your thumbnail in there or use a flathead screwdriver instead. The triggers have trigger stops, which are excellent for shooting games, but the grippy texture, smooth travel, and trigger vibration make it an excellent choice for racing games. There are 4 paddles on the back that are fully customizable as well.
These can act as your upshift and downshift buttons. These paddles make a nice tactile clicky sound when pressed and they are made from durable metal. The Xbox-style D-pad can also be swapped out for a more traditional 4-way D-pad if that’s preferred.
The sticks can be swapped out for longer sticks too for added control. All swappable components are magnetic in design, so pulling them off and putting them on only takes a second. The controller comes in a nice hard case and is very durable, so this is bound to last for many a sim racing session.
PS5 DualSense Controller
The PlayStation 5 DualSense controller is a good bit heavier than its predecessor, but it has a few unique features. It features immersive haptic feedback that can offer feedback in racing games far superior to the feedback delivered by the Xbox Elite Series controller.
This is the best choice for those racing on PlayStation, but it's also compatible with PC too. It features adaptive triggers and haptic feedback to offer a more immersive sim racing experience on controller.
The DualSense controller also features dynamic adaptive triggers, meaning they can offer varying levels of resistance. This is especially immersive in racing games. While an Xbox controller’s triggers on select titles may vibrate differently depending on your level of grip or whether your tires lock up, the DualSense adaptive triggers can offer resistance when you brake.
Focused On Immersion
This can make racing without ABS on a controller a far more appealing experience and it boosts the overall immersion ten-fold. These adaptive triggers, along with the impressive haptic feedback, provide real competitive advantages over those using standard controllers.
There are no paddles of any sort on the DualSense controller, so if you want to be able to use paddles for your gear shifters, go for the Xbox Elite controller. But if you want accurate and useful feedback and a more immersive racing experience, and are on PlayStation or PC, the DualSense controller may be for you.
The DualSense is not natively compatible on PC, but when playing through Steam, Steam will give you a DualSense controller config that works perfectly. For other games that aren’t playable through Steam, you may need to look at third-party software to get the DualSense controller working.
Playing sim racing games on controller is definitely possible, but there is a lot to be said for choosing the right controller and – of course – choosing the right game. You’ll likely feel most at home racing with a controller on Forza Horizon 5. But for a more realistic experience, Assetto Corsa Competizione is the game to choose.
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