Going for a drive is a therapeutic activity for many of us, so why can’t the same be true of its virtual counterpart? The following 10 video games may be about racing — or at least, driving — but they offer value beyond the element of competition alone. From classics to more modern examples, they’re well worth booting up anytime you want to to unwind and live out your greatest driving fantasies. Let’s go!
The thing about Ridge Racer, like most games on this list, is that it can be hard, but it’s really up to you to determine how punishing you want your experience to be. No matter which game in the series you pick, the theme is drifting through gorgeous circuits set on public roads that typically start in the city and ascend to the mountains. Personally if chilling is the aim, I’d recommend Ridge Racer Type 4 every time — the soundtrack, visuals and handling just meld to deliver an intangibly perfect vibe, and so long as you steer clear of racing for the cash-strapped Dig Racing Team, you shouldn’t have too difficult a time making your way through the dramatic story mode.
How to play it now: Ridge Racer Type 4 and Ridge Racers 2 are available for PS5 and PS4 through Sony’s PlayStation Plus Premium subscription.
Art of Rally
Art of Rally is paradoxically one of those games that is astonishingly difficult, but has such a carefree, refreshing philosophy about itself that it ultimately lowers your blood pressure in the end. I’ve never been able to really make heads or tails of its handling model, but I’ve also never given it enough time. This is an experience that truly rewards practice and commitment, and once you’re in the zone it’s pure driving joy. Just like in real rallying, your ultimate rival in Art of Rally is yourself, and the clock. Set everything else out of your mind and find that flow.
How to play it now: Art of Rally is on practically every platform, be it PlayStation, Xbox, Switch or PC (via Steam, Epic and GOG, no less).
If we’re talking about recent experiences, for my money nothing touches Driveclub, the multiplayer-focused first-party PS4 racer than hit the scene in 2013 and regretfully never received a successor. Sure, Driveclub is half the game it was then now that its servers are down. But still there’s nothing stopping you from snagging a physical copy and coasting through Lytton, Hurrungane, Nakasendo or The Kyle by yourself, which was always secretly the best thing about Driveclub. It’ll make you feel like you’re in a car ad, or one of those many episodes of Top Gear scoping out the world’s greatest driving roads. Turn on the dynamic weather and time-of-day change, fire up your favorite driving playlist on Spotify and enjoy some of the greatest track design the genre has or will ever see.
How to play it now: Sadly, Driveclub and all of its downloadable content vanished from Sony’s digital storefront in 2020. However, if you didn’t manage to buy it off the PlayStation Store before then, physical copies are still out there and can be played on PS4 or a PS5 equipped with a disc drive.
Again, Wipeout can be very hard — just ask anyone who’s good enough to both get to and win at its Phantom speed class, or set records in Zone mode. But much like Ridge Racer, it’s the vibes that makes this anti-gravity racer of the PlayStation’s golden era so addictive. Mix pulse-pounding electronic music with avant-garde graphic and visual design — courtesy of The Designers’ Republic in the series’ early years — and a physics model with a satisfying smoothness and heft to it, and you’ll understand why this game set the entirety of the United Kingdom on fire in the late-’90s. For me it’s got to be 1999's Wipeout 3, but there’s an easier way to get into Wipeout today...
How to play it now: And that would be the Omega Collection, a rerelease of two games: Wipeout HD on the PS3 and Wipeout 2048 on the PS Vita. It runs on both PS5 and PS4, and you can still buy it digitally today.
We recently discussed Slow Roads on this very website, and it’s the easiest game to play out of all 10 here. There’s no objective to this one — just drive through a minimalist, procedurally generated world, in any season, weather or time of day you like, for as long as you like. Or, let the game drive for you, and enjoy the sights as a passenger.
How to play it now: Just go to slowroads.io on a desktop PC. That’s it!
Mudrunner and Snowrunner
If your idea of unwinding at the wheel also involves getting mired in muck and grime, then you’ll want to give Mudrunner or Snowrunner a try. You’re going nowhere fast in these games, where your objective is to lug cargo through challenging terrain where paved roads are few and far between. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there, as long as you eventually do. It’s also an experience best had with friends, who can tow you out of sticky situations. Which they’ll have to do a lot.
How to play it now: Mudrunner and Snowrunner are on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC, via Steam.
Test Drive Unlimited
Test Drive Unlimited will soon return eventually, in the form of Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown. While we wait, it’s a great time to revisit the franchise’s first installment, which released to Xbox 360, PS2 and PSP in 2006 and pretty much wrote the blueprint for Forza Horizon. TDU was about racing nice cars in one of the nicest places in the world, Oahu. The island was rendered in full scale and you were able to go anywhere. The game got a sequel in 2011 called Test Drive Unlimited 2, but the heavy narrative component left that installment feeling considerably less laid-back than the original.
How to play it now: Both Test Drive Unlimited and its sequel have been delisted for ages, though they were released physically across consoles and PC more than a decade ago.
Tokyo Xtreme Racer
Genki’s Tokyo Xtreme Racer can be confusing and, especially in the late-game stages, maddening. But no franchise has ever captured that sense of cruising down a highway late at night quite like it, and though I’ve never attempted as much on Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway, I imagine it would feel basically like these games. So long as you’re behind the wheel of the proper late-’90s JDM hero, of course.
How to play it now: Tokyo Xtreme Racer hasn’t been active in decades, though between the first two games on Dreamcast; Zero, 3 and the Drift touge series on PS2; and Import Tuner Challenge on Xbox 360, there are a number of physical releases to look out for at a retro game shop near you. My personal favorite is TXR2.
If you ever wanted to play Initial D as a video game (and especially if you lived in North America, where the Initial D games were never sold), Capcom’s Auto Modellista has long been pretty much the closest you’ve ever been able to get, visually speaking. Auto Modellista released in 2003 across all contemporary consoles at the time. Though it was beloved for its cel-shaded motif, which has aged fantastically, it was panned for its handling. I’m the one weirdo who actually enjoys the feather-light, slidey nature of the game’s physics, and because no racing title before or since offers a world quite like it, I tend to return to Auto Modellista with some regularity just for the beauty of it all. It’s also maybe the easiest racing game ever made, so if the handling doesn’t make your blood boil, nothing probably will.
How to play it now: Go find a copy. Auto Modellista released for PS2, Xbox and GameCube.
Finally, we come to OutRun: the grandfather of all racing games that ever sought to capture the joy and spirit of driving moreso than the thrill of competition. Whether you’re old enough to have some nostalgia for the sprite-scaling original back in 1986 or discovered the series with its rebirth as OutRun 2 in the aughts, Yu Suzuki’s classic has always been about touring the world’s most beautiful places at high speed, as blaring tunes meld with the unmistakable note of a Maranello-built V12 and your best friend rides shotgun.
How to play it now: In terms of current releases, Sega Ages Out Run, redeveloped with painstaking detail for Nintendo Switch by M2, is available on the Nintendo eShop for but $8. Otherwise, you can track down a copy of OutRun 2 for Xbox, OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast for Xbox, PS2 and PSP, or scope out a home conversion of the arcade original for even older platforms.
Hope you enjoyed this list, and turn to one of these games next time you’re in the need for a healing virtual drive. Be sure to list your favorites that we didn’t mention in the comments!