Realism can play a major part when deciding which racing simulator to go for. Some games on the market put a focus on fun, which is great if that is what you’re looking for. But if you want a racing sim that emulates the real thing, there are some standout options available too.
The 6 most realistic racing simulators are:
All of these are fun to play, but their main selling point is the realism that they offer to gamers. If you have a good sim racing setup, these are the games to go for if you are looking for a true-to-life experience. But what is it that makes these games so realistic?
What Aspects Make A Racing Sim Realistic?
One of the major things to consider when choosing a realistic racing sim are the driving physics. These vary wildly from game to game, and they are what will determine whether or not your car realistically responds to your inputs. Cars in real life are heavy, and they can also move in quite predictable ways.
If the sim racing game you are playing seems to throw the cars around a lot, or makes them behave in unpredictable manners, it won’t feel very realistic. The most realistic racing sims out there are the ones that match real-life driving physics very accurately, and this is usually one of the first things that more experienced sim racers look for in a good racing game.
Although a lot of the controls can be optimized in-game for the racing rig that you are using, some of the other options that the game offers are more important in terms of realism. Sure, customization may be important for some players, as they want to be able to have more control over the way their car looks and drives. However, some other options play a bigger part.
Budget racing sims usually don’t have things like tire wear or fuel consumption built-in. These are just 2 of the myriad important factors that drivers in the real world have to pay close attention to at all times. Racers go through multiple sets of tires each race, and so if the game doesn’t give you the option to enable that factor then it loses a lot of realism.
The same thing applies to the options that concern the car before you race. Things like brake balance and weight distribution can have massive effects on lap times, so allowing you to alter these to your preferred sim racing settings helps to add even more realism to the experience.
Cars And Tracks
Next up we have the actual cars and tracks available in the game. Some games have massive selections of hundreds of cars available to use, and some have very few. The actual number is not as important as the quality and accuracy of the representation of the real thing. Thus, if you want realism, you have to pay attention to how the cars in the game look and feel.
Most sims use licensed models of real cars, so the way that the cars look doesn’t vary too much between games. More importantly is the way that the cars drive, and this is where there can be a lot of variance. Having access to 700 different models from 50 manufacturers is no use if each car feels the same as the next one, and if their stats are all over the place.
The tracks also have to be accurate representations of the real thing, and this has become easier to create in recent years with laser scanning. This allows sim racers to use tracks that have had every inch of their real-life counterpart scanned, letting you feel every bump in the road and change in camber that you would if you were driving along the track in real life.
The same reasoning applies from before: it is pointless to give racers hundreds of tracks if they do not properly represent the real thing. For full realism, you need to be able to feel when you are driving down or uphill, and you need to be able to judge curbs and cambers as if you were in a real car in order to nail that fastest lap. For full realism, laser-scanned tracks are essential.
The way the cars and tracks feel is obviously important, but so is the way they look. Graphics are not as important as the driving physics or the in-game options, but for a sim to feel realistic, the graphics have to be up to a certain standard. As technology advances, so does the quality of the graphics within games.
With that said, some of the racing simulators on this list are more than just a few years old, and yet they still provide racers with a very realistic racing experience. Thus, although graphics are important, the feel of sim racing is more important than the look if you are going for the realism factor.
Platform: PC | Released: March 2013
Physics And Features
At the top of our list is rFactor 2. It is the preferred racing simulator for test-driving teams across the world, and this is mainly due to its advanced vehicle physics and a wide array of customization. Although the game was released in 2013, it still steals the show in terms of realism and is the one to go for if you are looking for the most lifelike racing experience.
The game is popular partly due to its low cost, but also due to the amount of work that has gone into its vehicle physics. Engineers and test drivers use rFactor as it is the closest representation of real-life aerodynamics and other physical behaviors as they use real-life data to match it as close as possible.
In terms of tire wear alone, rFactor 2 takes into account more data points than any other sim on the market. These include tire tread, heat transfer, and even visual deformations. This proves vital for training purposes, as racers of other games can easily overdrive their car and cause more wear in real life than they did in the game. With rFactor, they match it so well that this doesn’t happen.
Although rFactor 2 doesn’t use laser scanning for all of its tracks, they are still highly accurate. However, they do use one very advanced piece of technology that they call Real Road. This involves rubber from tires being laid onto the track surface in real-time, meaning the track surface changes dynamically as you race.
This means you have to adapt your driving style throughout the race as the track surface changes, as you would in real life. They also use weather effects such as wind and rain, which work alongside the dynamic rubber build-up. All of these effects combine to create a truly dynamic track that changes as you race, which is hard to come by in other racing sims.
Other nice features of rFactor 2 that make it that bit more realistic include the advanced AI, which is very customizable in order to make your virtual opponents perform like real racing drivers. Although the graphics of the game are not on par with some more modern simulators, they are still good enough to provide realism through visible damage and a beautiful day-night cycle.
All of these features combine to make rFactor 2 our pick for the most realistic racing simulator on the market.
- Very realistic driving physics
- Advanced tire wear and dynamic track surfaces
- Built-in customizability for enhanced realism with community-created mods
- Not the most advanced graphics
- Limited to Windows platform
Platform: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Released: December 2014 (PC) / August 2016 (Console)
Runner up in our list of the most realistic racing simulators is Assetto Corsa. This game was initially released in 2014 but was later released on consoles in 2016, bringing the game to a wider market. Like rFactor 2, it puts a focus on realism and also has built-in customization and modability on steam.
Laser Scanning And Customization
Assetto Corsa gets many aspects of realism down very well, and one of these areas is with the laser-scanned tracks that are available to racers. This allows gamers to enjoy every bump and change in the road surface for the ultimate in track realism, and there are also plenty of tracks to choose from.
The game also offers an extensive selection of customization options within the car setup menu. Racers can choose custom tire pressures, gear ratios, and suspension settings along with a mix of other factors that will impact how their car performs on the track. The sheer range of customization options reflects the volume of variables that are considered in real-life racing.
The customization extends to what the racer sees in the heads-up display (HUD), with plenty of built-in apps available to give racers a realistic view of the cockpit of a real car. They go even further, allowing custom apps to be created and implemented using the coding language of Python. This gives racers near-unlimited scope to create an extremely realistic view of the car’s interior.
Driving Physics And Compatibility
The physics of Assetto Corsa is praised by many, but there is no doubt that they are not quite as good as those on rFactor 2. The game also doesn’t feature dynamic weather and day-night cycles, which can be a bit disappointing but is not the end of the world. The customizability of the game more than makes up for the lack of rain and snow.
The compatibility of Assetto Corsa with a good racing rig also helps to set it apart from the competition in terms of realism. The game supports full 900-degree rotation of your wheel with excellent accuracy, so you can see your precise wheel movements being emulated in the cockpit in front of you. It also works extremely well with 3-pedal setups, making clutch control very lifelike.
The ability of Assetto Corsa to combine top-notch graphics and 1:1 steering and pedal animations with hyper-realistic in-game customization makes it a strong contender for one of the most realistic racing sims available.
- Fully customizable for extensive realism through mods
- Great graphics combined with plenty of tracks and cars
- Wide array of options with lifelike implications
- Driving physics are slightly less accurate than rFactor 2
- AI lacks some realism
Platform: PC | Released: August 2008 (regularly updated)
iRacing is a stalwart in the sim racing world, having been released more than a decade ago and having received plenty of updates since then. The game puts a lot of focus on several realistic aspects of the racing experience, such as the regulations of racing events and it even limits drivers to using only the cockpit view when competing in competitions.
In terms of realism, the main aspect that iRacing focuses on is competitive racing itself. The game uses a subscription service, alongside a season that is divided into four 12-week sessions. In these sessions, racers can compete in qualifying, time trials, and full-on races in their bid to progress up the license ladder.
This realism continues into the racing code that iRacing implements in its competitions. This creates a super-realistic racing environment where the actual progression through the series of the game is highly representative of the kind of standards that would be expected of racers of different levels in real life.
Realistic Tracks And Cars
Aside from the competitive aspect of racing, iRacing also does a good job of creating realistic tracks for its racers. It uses LIDAR scanning technology to recreate the finer details of the in-game tracks, making the driving experience feel that bit more realistic. The game also offers support for VR headsets, meaning you can experience these tracks on another level of realism.
The iRacing team also uses real racing cars to create their digital models and uses laser scanning among other data collection techniques to provide highly accurate models of the cars in the game. This, paired with the laser-scanned tracks, makes the game look about as real as it gets in terms of a racing simulator.
Dynamic Day-Night Cycles
iRacing also implements dynamic day-night cycles for extra realism, which affects the driver’s visibility. This also affects the temperature of the car and the track, which can have dynamic effects on the racing surface and the tires throughout several laps of a race.
iRacing puts a strong focus on the competitive aspect of racing, which makes this racing simulator great for those that are interested in competing virtually in as close a manner to that of real life as possible.
- Very realistic in-game competitions
- Laser scanned tracks and cars for a realistic look and feel
- VR support for enhanced realism
- Paid subscription, with few cars and tracks included
- Smaller racing community than other sims
Platform: PC / PlayStation / Xbox | Released: September 2017
In fourth place we have Project Cars 2, which is another multi-platform racing sim, making it available to a wider audience of sim racers. The game has lots of tracks and cars to offer, and it is compatible with plenty of racing setups. The game is newer than some of the others on this list, meaning it also offers a superior visual experience to most racing sims.
One of the most important ways that Project Cars takes realism to the next level is with its LiveTrack 3.0 feature. This is similar to rFactor2’s Real Road feature, and it allows for tracks to change dynamically with each lap. This means that rubber is laid on the track from the qualifying rounds all the way to the end of the main race.
The rubber being laid onto the surface will change the level of grip that drivers experience throughout a race. This is highly reflective of real life, and so requires drivers to actively alter their racing strategies as they would in reality. Braking, along with the dynamic weather cycle will also affect the track temperature, as they would in real life as well.
Laser Scanned Tracks
Project Cars 2 also uses laser scanning for most of its tracks, which we know adds a lot to the realistic feel of the driving experience. It also features many of the familiar customization options for the cars themselves, allowing you to alter a lot of the aspects that would prove to be vital in real racing as well.
Brilliant Cars And Great Sounds
The game has plenty of highly detailed cars to offer as well, and each one drives like the real thing. This means you will be able to feel the slightest difference between different models in the same class. They also look great too, and Project Cars 2 also sounds incredible. Engine noises and tire squeals sound just like they would on the real track, which makes it feel that bit more real.
Project Cars 2 has excellent customization built-in alongside a wide selection of tracks and cars. Visually and aurally brilliant, the game is an excellent sim for those that want the perfect balance between fun and extreme realism.
- Lots of highly accurate cars and tracks available
- Top-notch graphics and sound effects
- Realistic in-game options
- Slightly sub-par AI
- Some physics inconsistencies between cars
5. Gran Turismo 7
Platform: PlayStation | Released: March 2022
In fifth place, we have Gran Turismo 7 (GT7). This game is the latest release on our list and provides a very realistic game well balanced with fun and playability. It is probably the best game on our list for players of all experience levels and has plenty to offer in the realism department.
Realistic Competition And Customization
Starting with the competition aspect of the game, GT7 is supported by the FIA, which brings a lot of realism to the competitions within the game. There are regular races that are endorsed by the governing racing body, which imposes the same rules that would need to be followed on the real track. This makes GT7 a great game for those that like real competition.
GT7 is also another racing sim where an emphasis on customization is heavily felt. There are plenty of options to play around with before you race, from tire choice to weight distribution, and all of these culminate in a long list of realistic racing features brought in directly from the real world.
Looks And Sounds Great
The game also does very well to represent the sounds of real cars. The noises of the engines and exhausts are crisp and clear, while the tire squeals and gear shifts are also perfectly balanced. This pairs well with the modern graphics to make this 2022 release one of the best-sounding and best-looking sim racing games on the market.
Although GT7 looks, sounds, and feels great with a good sim racing rig, it does require you to have an internet connection to use the majority of its features. Although not too big an issue, those that don’t pay for PlayStation Network (PSN) will lose out, regardless of their strong internet connection. Although not an impact on the realism, it still makes it less appealing. But if you do have PSN, this is a game to try!
- Best for PS4 / PS5
- Strong video and audio
- Realistic competitions backed by the FIA
- Internet and PSN required for most of the game’s features
- Smaller track and car list than other sims
Platform: PC | Released: February 2013
Finally, we have RaceRoom, which is a free-to-play simulator, which makes it unique on this list. Although not as technologically advanced as many of the other games here, it is still one that puts a focus on realism more than a lot of other racing titles out there. First released in 2013, the game has seen several updates and it is a lesser-known title with a lot to offer.
Plenty Of Cars And Tracks
The game features 175+ cars from a wide range of classes, and they are all fully licensed. They are visually stunning, and the game also does a great job of representing the sounds of real cars. There are also 46 tracks from around the world, and although they are not all laser scanned, they are still good enough representations of the real thing to make the racing feel realistic.
The game also benefits in the realism aspect from its relatively modern beginnings. The graphics of the game present a truly lifelike playing experience that, when mixed with the excellent sound representations, sets it apart from a lot of expensive racing simulators that are currently on the market.
RaceRoom also features dynamic day cycles. This sets it apart from some of the big names in the sim racing space, and it also has native support for rain. This, combined with the high-quality graphics, makes the game look even better. Although it doesn’t feature the more advanced dynamic track surfaces like rFactor 2 and Project Cars 2, it still does well considering that it’s free-to-play.
Although the game is free, it doesn’t feel quite as realistic as the games above it on this list and so is placed at number 6. However, for those on a tight budget, RaceRoom is a great way to introduce yourself to the world of realistic sim racing.
- Free to play
- Lots of accurate cars and tracks to choose from
- Brilliant audio and graphics
- Not as much detail as the other games on the list
- Only available on one platform
There are lots of realistic racing sims to choose from, and some are better than others for different purposes. rFactor 2 steals the show with the amount of customization available. However, the other games on the list, and in particular Assetto Corsa, also do a really good job of reflecting what racing in real life is like.
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