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The retro racing games that sit strongest in our memories · RaceFans

However you feel about the state of modern racing games, chances are there are plenty of games from history that you fondly remember putting in countless laps on back in the day.

So forget F1 23 and ignore iRacing for a moment – here are the four racing games from long, long ago that RaceFans writers remember the fondest.

Crammond’s classic

I still have my boxed copy of Geoff Crammond’s Formula One Grand Prix, the size of a small cereal packet with four floppy discs and a manual rattling around inside. When I popped the first disc in my Amiga A500 Plus, after a minute or two of clicking and whirring you were greeted by a MIDI rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. What better introduction could a child of the eighties want from an F1 game?

The first Grand Prix game broke ground for simracing

Most racing games I’d played until that point had been sprite based, with flat images giving an unconvincing representation of driving. F1 GP, with its 3D cars, was a revelation.

It goes without saying they were staggeringly basic renderings by modern standards. The game also lacked an F1 licence, so the first few minutes were spent faithfully copying the correct team and driver names from the 1991 season poster on my wall, replacing McPherson with McLaren and Carlos Sanchez with Ayrton Senna.

That done, I spent hours losing myself in a recreation of F1 which was the most faithful you could experience at the time. I learned the track layouts and discovered the joy of jumping on the throttle as early as I could after braking as late as I dared.

It was clear a tremendous amount of thought had gone into creating a game which was both satisfying for experienced players but also gave novices everything they needed to learn how to play it. Many of the driver aids we expect to find in modern games, including braking, steering and racing line assistance, could each be toggled in-game with a single keypress.

It was also a remarkably open game for its time, permitting you to move back and forward throughout the field to check on the progress of your computer-controlled rivals.

Later editions followed which brought leaps forward in graphics and adapted to F1’s ever-changing rules. There is much to commend GP2 and its successors, but the original represented such leap forward in racing game technology it will always have a special place in my affections.

Keith Collantine

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The original off-road icon

Growing up I wasn’t allowed a video console, which at the time was very annoying, but with age realised was probably the right call for someone like me who gets easily caught up with such concepts.

We were however allowed to play on the family PC in my dad’s old study. That PC had three games. Encarta 95, Doom and Colin McRae.

Colin McRae Rally brought stage rallying to consoles

Don’t ask me about the year because I have no idea, but I loved that game. I would assume it was either the 1998 or ‘2.0’ edition. At the time my dad had specifically bought a second-hand steering wheel to really get the full experience. In the game, you would play with a blue and yellow Subaru Impreza or a red and white Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV. I’m sure there were others but they are the two that stuck out for me.

Although the rallies themselves were named the same as the real events, I’m pretty sure all of the stages were fictional but I didn’t care. My particular favourite was racing in the snow or rain because the graphics would change accordingly. I remember I was blown away by the various camera positions too. My favourite was either from inside the car overlooking the bonnet or a wide shot, so you could see faint tyre marks. Looking at YouTube videos now, graphics have moved on considerably.

There was also McRae’s co-driver, Nicky Grist, telling you where to go with an arrow on the screen pointing the right direction. He would occasionally congratulate you for good work. I’m not sure who he was congratulating because I was terrible at the game and didn’t have the attention span to improve.

I did however spend some of the time pretending I was going to work or to the supermarket and practised my parallel parking, which I’m not sure was the intention of the game.

To this day, I am still terrible at most video games I try out. But I am excellent at parallel parking.

Claire Cottingham

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Defying gravity

Racing games grounded in reality shaped my love of car culture and motorsports. I wouldn’t have become an avid fan of the JGTC/Super GT without playing Gran Turismo. The McLaren F1 wouldn’t have become my dream supercar without Need for Speed. Officially licensed games and simulations helped me follow and engage with Formula 1, NASCAR, and others when I couldn’t watch it on TV all the time.

I’ll be honest, however: Growing up, I had the most fun playing futuristic racing games. In the golden age of this subgenre from the 1990s to the early 2000s, these games were a captivating blend of science fiction and fantasy. From F-Zero, to Rollcage, Extreme G, Jet Moto, and countless other one-off games and franchises – it was always fascinating to me to see how each game would depict the future of motorsport. It helped that many of them were genuinely enjoyable to play, of course.

wipEout was a gEm of the ninEties

But of all these series, Wipeout – the futuristic racing series developed by Psygnosis (later, Sony Studio Liverpool) was the one that I loved the most.

At their very best, Wipeout games blended bleeding-edge visual fidelity with an unmatched sensation of speed, paired with complex anti-gravity physics engines which were challenging enough to learn, even harder to master – especially in the more advanced speed classes – but oh, so satisfying once tamed. The circuits of the future were challenging and spectacular, as were the spaceship-styled hovercraft capable of exceeding the sound barrier in some of the later instalments. Only the monolithic Mario Kart franchise has so seamlessly woven traditional racing with weapons-based combat over multiple installments.

Every game in the series, even the weaker ones, can consistently boast memorable, pulse-pounding EDM soundtracks composed either in-house from the likes of Tim Wright, or from some of the world’s most prolific acts in the genre. And buried within each game’s manual, writers Damon Fairclough and Robert Foxx would flesh out the lore behind each game – the constructors, the people, and more. It would always depict a future of motorsport that was often brutal, grim, and cynical – and yet, in some ways, hopeful and aspirational.

Wipeout HD for the PlayStation 3 was easily the most complete game of the franchise with the addition of accessible online multiplayer, taking elements from the portable-only Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse and bringing them to a wider audience in a polished package. In the view of those who grew up with the original PlayStation trilogy, Wipeout 2097 and Wip3out (particularly the European-exclusive Wip3out Special Edition) represented the peak of the series, games which were groundbreaking in their time and remain memorable today.

But while the original Wipeout from 1995 was substantially limited and bare-bones compared to what would come after it, it was the one I am most fond of emotionally from the first time I played it at seven years old. Picking it up and playing it nearly 30 years on from its release is always gratifying, and it never takes long to rediscover the fine art of carving through the corners and jumps of each circuit.

Years after, Studio Liverpool has shuttered and this golden age of future racers has been extinguished, and the world of Wipeout has become speculative fiction rather than a prediction of the future, it is no less a formative influence on my life as a whole.

RJ O’Connell

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“You’re right there, Murray”

There have been over 70 officially licensed Formula 1 racing games in history. None of them successfully captured the soul of the sport better than Formula 1 ’97 on the PlayStation and PC.

Formula 1 ’97 brilliantly captured that TV feel

The sequel to, according to reports from the time, the PSX’s best-selling game of 1996 in the UK, F1 ’97 took everything that made the original game great – graphics, handling, authentic TV presentation and Murray Walker commentary – and simply did it better. Cars were an utter joy to drive on a controller and even better with analogue sticks. This was no simulation compared to the likes of Grand Prix 2, but no other console F1 game better translated the feeling of downforce until perhaps Formula One 2006 on the PS2, nine years later.

Each of the 11 cars from the 1997 season featured unique models of around 1,200 pixels – triple those of the previous game – with unique engine notes for each manufacturer. The iconic block yellow TV graphics are included throughout gameplay, with the broadcast immersion only enhanced by Murray Walker and Martin Brundle on commentary. Naturally, Murray delivers his lines flawlessly with all of his infectious enthusiasm, whether it’s giving race order updates, offering informative titbits about the oval shape of the Jordan’s air intake or exclaiming disbelief at the player driving the wrong way around the circuit.

AI was hardly anything to write home about, but honestly even modern racing games like Gran Turismo 7 can’t boast far superior CPU opponents than a game more than two decades old. A surprisingly sophisticated damage system and random failures added remarkable depth to racing, with a dynamic weather system that was better than any other on console at the time.

But it was the details that made F1 ’97 such a fun racer to replay time and time again. It was the cockpit view where grime and dirt would build up over a race, requiring you to clean the visor with a press of the Triangle button. It was the ability to rename drivers to either put yourself in the cockpit or add Jacques Villeneuve – AKA ‘Williams Numberone’ – into the game. It was the ‘Sunob’ bonus track, the mirrored tracks from the 1995 season, Edialeda and Adia IT, and the 1950s cars at Silverstone, complete with black and white filter. It was the incredible orchestral rock soundtrack with each tune named after an iconic circuit on the calendar. It was the entirely separate ‘arcade’ mode, that offered a whole other way to enjoy the game.

No other F1 console game has ever stirred the emotions the same way as Formula 1 ’97. One of the best F1 games of all time? You’re right there, Murray.

Will Wood

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