Getting Started with Virtual Racing – Part 1: Racing Games for Beginners

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Everybody has to start somewhere, or somehow. Each individual sim racer will have different answers on what their first racing game is. Some go as far back as DOS-based games in the 1990s while others start from popular arcade titles at their local amusement centers. Nowadays with consoles and gaming PCs becoming widespread, there is a variety of racing games players can choose from. Say you are a casual racing gamer who is interested into trying out simulation racing, and a common question you might as is: What are the good titles for beginners?

First of all, it comes down to what gaming system you currently have. Sim racing games are available on both PC and Consoles today, and with consoles becoming as powerful as gaming grade PCs, some titles are capable of simulating motor racing with realistic physics, weather, various motorsport rules and more. Most racing games available on PC are also made available on console, and there are some that are exclusive for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. (As of writing, there are no exclusive racing games yet for the newer PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles).

Best Games for PC

If you have a PC, there are a plethora of sim racing games to choose from. Iracing, rFactor 2, to name a few are some of the examples that are as real as it gets, however, these are tailored to more experienced sim racers, particularly iRacing which does not have any driving assists apart from shifting aids depending on the player's preference or equipment.

There are 3 racing titles for beginners on PC which are well suited for beginners, namely Assetto Corsa, the Project CARS series, and RaceRoom Racing Experience.

Assetto Corsa is regarded as one of the most realistic sim racing games. It is also both expansive thanks to plenty of free mods made for and by its community, but more importantly easy to navigate for beginners. It has many racing modes including a career mode where drivers start off with low-powered cars, but players are also free to go straight into their favorite race cars and tracks on practice or quick race modes. Assetto Corsa not only has individual driving assists which players can tweak, it also has three presets of driving assists players can choose from: Gamer, Intermediate, and Pro. This makes Assetto Corsa very much ideal for beginners.

The Project CARS series on the other hand is more suited for players who want a Pick Up & Play experience. Project CARS 2 in particular provides a complete racing experience featuring tire and fuel wear, a decent damage model, dynamic daylight and weather changes, an enhanced “LiveTrack” system where continuous rain will cause the track to have puddles or a drying line would appear when the rain stops. It also features seasonal weather including snow. Project CARS 3 on the other hand removed the elements of tire and fuel wear (hence no pitstops) and instead focusing on a more arcadey racing experience, with a more simplified handling compared to its predecessor. Both games feature a career mode players can complete, and a wide variety of cars to choose from ranging from road cars to Le Mans Prototypes and Formula cars. Project CARS 3 implements a “Gran Turismo” style progression where players purchase cars and can upgrade them for higher level races, whereas Project CARS 2 has all the cars unlocked and ready to go, but no upgrades can be done. Although the Project CARS series does not beat Assetto Corsa in terms of Physics, it is among the easiest to get started and play right away even on a gamepad with little to no need for adjustments on the control options.

Lastly, there is RaceRoom Racing Experience which is free to download on Steam. The free download comes with 5 tracks and 12 race cars to choose from, although some leaderboard challenges provide free access to premium cars and tracks for a period of time. Raceroom’s physics matches that of Assetto Corsa, and it also has driving assist presets: Novice, Amateur and Get Real. Leaderboard challenges also help beginners to learn better on tackling racing lines as one can use another player’s entry as a ghost and both their racing lines and braking points will be displayed on the screen. As it is a free download available on Steam, this makes Raceroom ideal for those who would like to try out sim racing with little to no spending.

Best games on Console

Many PC racing titles are also available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The Project CARS and F1 series of games from Codemasters are developed on all three platforms and provide a fun experience to its fans. Although for most PlayStation owners, the Gran Turismo series is considered the king in this platform.

The latest release, Gran Turismo Sport, was developed for the PlayStation 4, but it is also playable on the newer PlayStation 5 thanks to backward compatibility support. Although Gran Turismo Sport has more emphasis on multiplayer racing through its “Sport” mode, it also features a single player campaign mode with the first few missions introducing the player to the basics of acceleration, braking, cornering and racecraft before transitioning to various objective based challenges. Aside from its campaign mode, it also has a Circuit Experience mode where players can learn the tracks using selected cars. By default, Gran Turismo Sport has driver assists enabled which can be turned off by more experienced and competitive players. GT Sport’s driving model is well optimized for both gaming wheels and the standard PlayStation gamepad, players do not go out of control easily even if they make wild movements with the car (unless all driving assists are turned off). This makes GT an ideal game for sim racing beginners on the PlayStation platform. As for those with one of Xbox line of consoles, the Forza Motorsport series serves as the platform’s flagship racing game. Similar to the Gran Turismo Series, it features a huge line up of cars to collect, a campaign mode, and a standard set of driving assists including 3 different steering modes: Assisted, Normal and Simulation. The Xbox platform however has seen more variety in racing games with the Project CARS series and F1 titles also considered good choices for the casual gamer.

These are some of the best racing games on different platforms that are well suited to beginners. Driving assists and easy to navigate user interfaces are essential for beginners with little to no background in virtual racing. Above all else, having fun while learning the fundamentals of racing is the key.

But what if one already has a game in mind to begin with but does not have a computer system or console yet? This will be covered in part 2 of this series.

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