One more race, now I can get a new car. One more race, now I can upgrade that new car to win more races. Sound familiar? This gameplay cycle is one of the main draws of modern racing games and why so many continue playing, to unlock more stuff to win more races. This is the essence of a CaRPG.
A CaRPG is a role-playing game with a type of progression where your interaction with the in-game world is by a vehicle. These types of games can be open-world or track-based, and feature racing as the primary means of earning currency, which leads to new parts, areas, or vehicles to control.
Below we’ll explore what defines a CaRPG and which are the best CaRPGs available. Although CaRPG seems like a newer term, it has its roots in some of the earliest racing games on a home console. Most of the critically acclaimed racing titles of the past 30 years can be categorized as CaRPGs.
What separates a CaRPG from other driving games is a sense of progression where the driving force behind the game is to improve your car to win more races. This makes them different from many sim racing games where you select your car and play through the races without upgrading.
You win races to get money to improve your car. Once you’ve improved your car, you then try and win more races to get money to buy cars to win even more races. The constant dopamine hits that accompany this are what keep people playing. Series such as Forza Horizon and Gran Turismo have been perfecting the formula for years and are some of the top driving games, let alone CaRPGs, available.
What separates a CaRPG from traditional RPGs is the use of a vehicle as the main means of progression or interacting with the game world. While there are still things such as story and leveling up that are found in RPGs, most of those games don’t feature cars as the main means of story progression.
The main point of a CaRPG is to unlock more cars or better parts for your car by winning races or completing activities, to further fund what you, the player, would like to do in game. Most driving games in this style start you off with a small sum or a small, underpowered car and task you with being the world champion or having the most extensive collection of cars.
Whichever type of CaRPG you connect with, they all have one thing in common: cars! Lots and lots of different cars, and often other vehicles, that you can buy and improve so you can win more races.
Some examples of CaRPGs are games that focus on an individual story like Need For Speed or allow you to make your own story like Gran Turismo. Midnight Club also has an individual story arc while games like Forza Horizon and Test Drive: Unlimited focus on collecting cars.
All of these types of games feature a story or career mode, though some may call it another name like ‘simulation mode” in Gran Turismo, or “free-roam” in the open world games like The Crew. Many also feature harder races locked behind owning specific types of cars or having completed certain challenges in order to progress through the game.
Some may feature a story mode with well-defined plot points related to beating certain elite racers, like Need For Speed typically does, or completing certain events akin to Forza Motorsport. There’s something very satisfying about setting a goal for yourself when you sit down to play and then achieve that goal, which few things can compare to.
What Was The First CaRPG?
Final Lap Twin for the PCEngine in 1989 was the first game to combine driving with role-playing game elements. This game featured upgrades you could make to your car to make it faster or handle better and was truly ahead of its time.
Gran Turismo has brought the CaRPG genre to the masses beginning on the PlayStation 1 in 1997 and continues to refine the formula on next gen (PS5, PS4 and PC) platforms with the latest release in March of 2022. Featuring hundreds of cars and 35 real-life tracks with some of the most impressive graphics and complex systems,there’s a lot to love about this all-time must have series.
Forza Horizon has enjoyed 5 titles since its launch as an offshoot of the more serious Forza Motorsport series during the Xbox 360 era. The most recent came out in November of 2021 and is set in Mexico. Blending large open maps set in many locations around the globe with hundreds of cars and various challenges and tournaments can really melt your free time!
GRID Legends launched February of 2022. It has you start as an up-and-coming driver for a new racing team and follows through to being the champion via a documentary styled narrative. Grid Legends is the fifth entry in this series, which began back in 2008.
This series started as Colin McCrae’s DiRT and has bloomed into 2 separate lines. DiRT and DiRT Rally. The most recent numbered edition of DiRT is DiRT 5 (2020), which is focused more on arcade-like rally-cross racing.
DiRT Rally 2.0 is a simulation rally game series where you travel all over the world and drive cars ranging from a 1960s Alfa Romeo to the cutting edge of modern rally technology. DiRT Rally 2.0 was released in February 2019 to very high praise from fans and critics alike.
The Need For Speed franchise has had lasting success and a loyal fanbase since the original release in 1994 on the 3DO. With over 26 installments spanning 28 years as of writing, there is a lot of variety to these arcade style games,but all of them from the past 20 years feature elements of CaRPGs. The most recent new Need For Speed title is Heat and launched in November 2019.
The Crew came on the scene to great fanfare when it was released in December of 2014. Featuring a map boasting a scaled down United States and various vehicle types, this game can be exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to engaging CaRPGs. The newest release is The Crew 2, which launched in June of 2018, and takes what made the first game great and improves on it.
Featuring more simulation-esque, track-based racing, with hundreds of cars available,Forza Motorsport 7 released in 2017 and is phenomenal at what it does. Beginning on the original Xbox console in 2005, it has enjoyed success on Xbox consoles, with a new release anticipated for late 2022.
Midnight Club was a pioneer in open world racing games, and one of the most influential street racing game series on the PlayStation 2. Inspired by the Japanese street racing scene, these games originally featured import style cars and had the player start in a taxi. They enjoyed success from the following releases with the last being Midnight Club: LA for the PlayStation in October of 2009.
CaRPGs combine racing with role-playing elements of earning rewards to unlock upgrades, new cars or areas. It’s a term that covers games dating back to 1989. Between Gran Turismo entries and the Forza Horizon series, there are lots of CaRPGs on the market.