Sim Racing Games: the Best and Most Realistic Simulators

porsche 911 rsr in sim racing game: iracing

Since we usually focus on elements of sim racing such as gaming hardware, setup tutorials, and how-to guides here at SIMRACINGCOCKPIT.com, I thought it would make a nice change of pace to discuss some of the best sim racing games for any driver looking to expand their experience beyond their usual sim platform.

Today, we’re handing over to our guest star, Ross McGregor to take a closer look.

Asetto Corsa Competitzione - one of our top sim racing games
Assetto Corsa Competizione
Featured Sim Racing Games:
  • Assetto Corsa
  • Assetto Corsa Competizione
  • Automobilista 2
  • BeamNG.drive
  • EA SPORTS WRC
  • F1 23
  • Forza Motorsport (2023)
  • Gran Turismo 7
  • iRacing
  • Le Mans Ultimate
  • rFactor 2
  • RaceRoom Racing Experience
  • Automobilista 2

Assetto Corsa

Since its release in 2014, a hugely passionate community of sim racing fans has taken Assetto Corsa to its collective hearts, making it perhaps the most popular ‘serious’ sim ever.

Developer Kunos Simulazioni combines believable driving physics with attractive visuals to create an immersive racing experience, signing key licensing deals with Ferrari and Porsche to help bring some truly iconic cars to its vehicle roster.

With 178 cars and 19 tracks, there’s no shortage of combinations to enjoy, with VR compatibility enhancing the experience further.

Mclaren P1 - Assetto Corsa Mod
Mclaren P1 – Assetto Corsa Mod

However, AC’s modding capabilities keep it relevant ten years on; name a car or track and someone has likely created it in AC (although mods are only available for the PC version and not on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S).

The most important mods, however, relate to how the game looks, bringing the game’s graphics up to current standards.

One of the best Assetto Corsa Mods - the Formula Hybrid 2023
One of the best Assetto Corsa Mods – the Formula Hybrid 2023

Mods like Sol, the Custom Shaders Pack and Pure variously introduce day/night cycles, dynamic weather and jaw-dropping effects, while Content Manager offers a handy way to consolidate everything into one, easy-to-use package.

Thanks to its popularity with road, dirt and drifting communities, AC has a plethora of written and video tutorials to help newcomers get up and running with mods too. Therefore, in many ways, AC is the perfect gateway into the sim racing scene.

Although its driving physics perhaps lack the fidelity of rFactor 2, AC captures so much of the essence of sim racing that it should be part of any racing enthusiast’s library.

Assetto Corsa Competizione

After its full release in 2019. Assetto Corsa Competizione was a surprise hit for Kunos Simulazioni, especially after its success with Assetto Corsa.

Based on the Blancpain Endurance Series (now known as GT World Challenge Europe) for GT3 racecars, ACC is an officially licensed game that moved away from using Kunos’ proprietary game engine towards Unreal Engine. This stepped up the visual presentation of the game but also made it far more resource-intensive.

The way it looks is secondary to the overall driving experience, however, with genre-leading sound design and believable physics immersing the player in the hot seat of a trick GT3 car.

A guide to Assetto Corsa Competizione’s v1.8 Cinema HUD photo mode (read my article here)

DLC packs have bumped the laser scanned track list up to 25, including perhaps the best-ever version of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, while the range of cars – although limited to SRO-sanctioned series – includes GT2, GT3, GT4, TCX and single-make series vehicles like the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup and Ferrari Challenge.

With a fairly limited single-player experience, ACC players mostly find their kicks online, with the official SRO Esports series impressively blurring the line between real and virtual motorsports thanks to its slick presentation and fierce competition.

ACC FERRARI 296 MONZA POLE LAP | SRO ESPORTS SPRINT – Tinko van der Velde

As the SRO-run GT World Challenge has covered the globe with its championships, the popularity of GT3 racing and ACC has skyrocketed. As such, once Assetto Corsa Evo is released it will be interesting to see whether ACC will continue to be developed.

Read the setup guide to Assetto Corsa Competizione here.

Automobilista 2

Trying to build on the success of  2016’s Automobilista was always going to be a tough task for Brazilian developer Reiza Studios.

The PC-only title was effectively a heavily improved version of Image Space Incorporated’s rFactor but with more single-player content, more officially licensed series (including Brazilian Stock Car V8s and Formula 3 Brasil) and a greater variety of tracks (including Brazilian gems like Campo Grande and more familiar British tracks such as Oulton Park and Snetterton).

Caterhams in AMS2
Caterhams in AMS2

However, its driving physics were second to none, which is unfortunately where its sequel, Automobilista 2, falls down.

Using a version of Slightly Mad Studios’ MADNESS engine (as used in Project CARS 2), AMS 2 features a robust enough handling model but, it lacks the cutting-edge tactility of its top-tier sim rivals.

On the other hand, AMS 2 looks incredible – especially in VR – and its sheer variety of cars and tracks makes it an excellent platform to showcase sim racing to your friends.

AMS2

Super Trucks, touring cars, Group C prototypes, historic single-seaters, rallycross and up-to-date Formula 1-style machinery are all present and correct, with dynamic weather and day-to-night transitions supplying all the eye candy you’ll ever need.

And the track roster isn’t bad either, with famous venues such as Le Mans, Daytona, the Nordschleife and Spa-Francorchamps all represented, with more DLC and physics improvements promised for future updates.

It’s an excellent package overall, but a little more work is required to bring the driving experience up to scratch. You wouldn’t bet against the talented team at Reiza nailing it.

Read our guide to AMS2 here.

BeamNG.drive

BeamNG.drive arrived as a Steam Early Access title way back in 2015, providing realistic handling and a genre-leading soft body physics model that allows players to destroy their vehicles in elaborate ways.

Although its development team is small, BeamNG has more regular players on Steam than many of the sims covered on this site, with a burgeoning mod scene allowing numerous new vehicles, environments and Scenarios.

A Volvo being punished in BeamNG

There’s even a multiplayer mod available, allowing friends to hilariously crash into each other online (although your experience will likely be unstable or even game-breaking).

The gameplay is largely freeform, with a short single-player career mode (a more comprehensive career mode is accessible but limited) complemented by a variety of zany, separate Scenarios.

BeamNG’s lineup of default cars includes road cars, supercars, dune buggies, trucks and three-wheelers, with diverse landscapes to explore including a re-creation of the Johnson Valley off-road racing hub in California.

Getting airtime in BeamNG
Get BeamNG on Steam here.

It’s fun to explore the game’s various maps, with most of BeamNG’s vehicles feeling intuitive to drive. Some of the game’s off-road vehicles feel a little unsteady, however, especially when it comes to tackling steep slopes.

Using the game’s World Editor, players can also set up elaborate stunts to rival those created by their favourite online personalities, providing almost endless possibilities.

If you enjoy driving with no particular goal in mind, BeamNG is the game for you.

Read our guide to BeamNG Drive here.

EA SPORTS WRC

EA SPORTS WRC is the follow-up to the immensely successful DiRT Rally 2.0, and has allowed EA and Codemasters to jump from Codies’ proprietary Ego game engine to Unreal Engine. This allowed the team to create longer and more varied rally stages, with some even approaching a sweat-inducing 40 km in length.

SIM RACER – RALLY DRIVER – The Jon Armstrong Story

However, this comes at a cost, with frequent framerate drops and choppy game performance afflicting much of the community.  Frequent updates have helped alleviate much of these issues, so what we’re left with is a very competent rally sim (if your graphics work ok!), with all the bells and whistles that come with an official WRC licence.

A Historic Opel in EA WRC

This allows players to drive on iconic rallies like Monte Carlo, Finland and the Safari Rally, as well as get behind the wheel of Rally1 and Rally2 machinery.

There’s a wide range of customisability and a deep career mode too, but extra DLC cars and rallies are sadly absent at this stage. The ‘Moments’ mode adds a nice bit of nostalgia while satisfying the hunger of esports hot-lappers eager to be top of the leaderboards.

EA WRC

WRC’s physics are by and large lifted from DR 2.0, so hustling a car between hedges at 100mph is as satisfying as ever.

Does it feel as intuitive as a modded version of Richard Burns Rally? Possibly not, but it’s fun nonetheless and its sound design and presentation are far superior. WRC’s controller compatibility is also a boon, allowing players to use obscure handbrake peripherals to their heart’s content.

EA Sports WRC

And, to appease the hardcore rally fraternity further, WRC is set to receive a VR update by May 2024, although just on PC.

F1 23

Codemasters and EA’s F1 23 is an uber-popular simulation of all things Formula 1.

Presentation and accessibility-wise, F1 23 looks the part, and it can be enjoyed just as much using a direct drive wheelbase as it can with a gamepad.

Image source

Its career mode is enjoyably engaging, forcing players to think strategically in terms of developing their car to be the fastest on the grid and the presence of the supporting Formula 2 class is another nice touch. There’s still no sign of Formula 3 or F1 Academy, though.

Codemasters and EA’s F1 23
Codemasters and EA’s F1 2023

Sure, Codemasters’ F1 games have only changed incrementally over the years, but it’s a robust enough experience despite the presence of rough edges like an aged version of Spa-Francorchamps.

F1 23 also forms the basis of the relaunched F1 Esports Series (renamed F1 Sim Racing), allowing the game’s fanbase a window into the extreme performance levels of the professionals.

Forza Motorsport (2023)

Turn 10 Studios’ reboot of the Forza Motorsport franchise started on shaky ground when released in late 2023, as slightly ropey car models were combined with an overly frustrating career mode.

Beautifully rendered engine bay

Recently, however, the US-based studio has addressed Forza’s career mode issues, while graphics problems are confined to just a portion of its vehicle roster. For the most part, though, Forza is a good-looking game, with bombastic weather and audio effects.

If Gran Turismo 7 is a subtle and free-flowing sim racing ballet, Forza is like a Metallica concert in your living room, with James Hetfield screaming in your face. It’s intense.

Historic action

Arguably, Forza is more enjoyable to control with a gamepad, while you’re always guaranteed to find someone to race against owing to its presence on Game Pass. Its multiplayer is its real strength, with the single-player career becoming a bit of a grind after a while.

Porsche Mission R

However, Forza receives regular updates featuring new cars and tracks (new circuits are free, which is a huge bonus), and provides an instant hit of racing action – as you’d expect from a console-focused racer. Are the driving physics as realistic as those in rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa Competizione? No, but it’s still fun without being completely unforgiving.

Install Forza 2023 on Steam here.

Gran Turismo 7

Forza Motorsport’s biggest rival is still arguably the more rewarding console driving experience. With photo-realistic graphics and the best photo mode in gaming, Gran Turismo 7 is deservedly the go-to racing game for beginners and experts alike.

The physics make sense, albeit without the granular nuances of some PC-only sims, and the sounds have improved immeasurably from GT6 and GT Sport (there’s still work to do here to close the gap on Forza, however).

Gran Turismo 7 – GTWS Manufacturers Cup – 2023/24 Exhibition Series – Season 2 – Round 1

GT7’s Sport mode continues to keep the series’ fan base occupied daily, with new races added every week: from beginner-focused sprints to advanced-focused endurance events that often take advantage of the game’s clever dynamic weather system.

Much like Forza, GT7 receives regular content updates, but everything is free. Players are normally gifted three new cars every month but tracks have been few and far between.

Despite this, GT7 has an impressive lineup of circuits which includes the likes of the Nordschleife, Le Mans, Daytona, Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta, with a breadth of cars and car classes to race.

If you have a PlayStation 5 then this is a must-buy. It’s even available on the PlayStation 4, but the graphics are naturally less crisp. The PS5 version is also compatible with the PS VR2 headset, bringing an incredibly immersive racing experience to your living room.

iRacing

Co-founded by John Henry of the Fenway Sports Group and Dave Kaemmer, iRacing has offered genre-leading multiplayer matchmaking since its inception in 2008.

Kaemmer is a sim racing legend thanks to his work on titles such as Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season and Grand Prix Legends, which were all rightly lauded for their superior handling models.

BMW Motorsport at Daytona (source)

iRacing’s physics are more divisive, however, with many players being turned off by its ‘knife edge’ feeling of grip and creaking suspension model. With over 100,000 subscribers, there’s no doubt that iRacing has plenty of fans out there, and looking at the sim’s lineup of available cars and tracks that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Everything from modern single-seaters to World of Outlaws Sprint Cars are present and correct, with the Tempest wet weather system – activated in March 2024 – adding a new edge to gameplay.

iRacing: Onboard at Silverstone

iRacing’s driver and safety ratings help sort players into races with similarly skilled opponents, ensuring races are as clean and fair as possible, with servers generally being reliable.

However, one thing to consider with iRacing is its cost. With new cars and tracks costing $11.99 and $14.99 respectively, racers need to be committed to making the most of it, especially as you’ll also be subject to a monthly subscription charge (this is mitigated by taking advantage of the service’s Black Friday deals, however).

iRacing’s visuals are showing their age too, with simpler car models in comparison to most of its rivals, but features like Tempest, AI racing and a hilariously over-the-top damage model keep it relevant and entertaining for the majority of users.

Le Mans Ultimate

The latest sim on the block, Le Mans Ultimate is Studio 397 and Motorsport Games’ officially-licensed game of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Stunning Toyota image in Le Mans Ultimate
Stunning Toyota from LeMans Ultimate

LMU has all the cars and tracks of the 2023 season in its initial Early Access build but lacks single-player championships, VR and its much-vaunted asynchronous multiplayer mode (among other important features).

However, it does have rFactor 2’s RaceControl multiplayer matchmaking system from the outset, as well as convincing car physics. Its graphics are also massively immersive, with a secret photo mode capable of producing incredible images.

Suitably for a simulation of endurance racing, LMU features a full day/night cycle and dynamic weather, making sunset sprints down Le Man’s Mulsanne straight a transcendental experience. Vehicle sounds are also largely excellent; a definite step above those found in rFactor 2.

Thanks to its Early Access status, LMU is available to purchase on Steam for a discounted rate (£24.99 as of the 10th of April 2024), which will increase as development progresses. If you can live without a few game modes for the moment then it should be a worthwhile purchase for any sportscar racing fan.

rFactor 2

Studio 397’s rFactor 2 covers the full gamut of touring car, open-wheel and sportscar racing, featuring officially licenced content from INDYCAR, the BTCC, Porsche, Caterham and Formula E, among others.

With perhaps the best-feeling car handling in the sim racing genre, rFactor 2 has seen a vast change in its fortunes since Studio 397 took over the reins from Image Space Incorporated.

BMW Cup in rFactor2

rFactor 2’s graphics have improved a lot, for example, perhaps even surpassing the likes of RaceRoom, iRacing and Assetto Corsa in the visuals department, and new car and track content has diversified the sim’s approach, even becoming the platform of choice for the well-supported Le Mans Virtual Series and its showpiece 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual event.

Speaking of which, the previous running of Le Mans highlighted one of rFactor 2’s big weaknesses: its online stability. Many users experience dropped connections, lag and server outages while racing in rFactor2, with many more subject to the sim’s various bugs, including force feedback issues with Fanatec wheelbases.

Team Redline at LeMans
Team Redline at LeMans

The online experience has improved in recent times, but it’s worth bearing in mind that getting rFactor 2 to run smoothly can be a challenging endeavour, with the UI equally tricky to negotiate.

If you can get it running smoothly, however, rFactor 2 is a hugely rewarding sim capable of producing the most immersive experiences in the genre.

Read our setup guide to rFactor2 here.

RaceRoom Racing Experience

KW Studios’ RaceRoom Racing Experience is nearly unique in the sim racing space due to its free-to-play status. There’s no monthly subscription either and players can even try content before they purchase it, ensuring RaceRoom has an edge over its competition.

RaceRoom

All of the sim’s content can also be picked up for around £50-60 when on sale, a figure that would only cover a few iRacing cars and tracks.

RaceRoom has several key official licences too, including for WTCR and DTM championships, with cars from GT3, GT4 and Formula 4 categories also represented. Sure, the free cars aren’t going to satisfy most petrolheads, but F1-grade tracks like Sepang and the Algarve International Circuit (Portimão) are available from the get-go.

RaceRoom has a modestly sized player base and several popular special events throughout the year, including the prestigious DTM Esports series and its €50,000 prize pool.

RaceRoom Spain Funny Cup WTCR Sponsored by simracingcockpit.com

RaceRoom’s sound design comes in for particular praise, with raucously accurate onboard and external exhaust notes, but, at 11 years old the sim is starting to show its age, with no dynamic weather or day/night transitions.

A new tyre model in late 2023 helped freshen the sim up a little, however, with regular content drops scheduled for 2024 and beyond.

Automobilista 2

The original Automobilista entry received a lot of praise for its phenomenal racing simulation but its successor, Automobilista 2 has upped the ante by providing sim racing enthusiasts with the perfect balance between simulation and realism.

AMS2 photography
AMS2 photography

Developed by Reiza Studios and released in 2020, Automobilista 2 is available for Microsoft Windows and Linux only and you can grab this one for just $12.99 on Steam.

Over the years, Automobilista 2 has received regular updates, and new content is added with each update.

In the latest update, Reiza Studios has added the Le Mans 24-hour race and it is arguably one of the finest Le Mans experiences that you’ll ever get from a sim racing game. Everything from dynamic weather changes to day and night transitions is quite phenomenal. And when you’re tired from all the driving, your AI counterparts can drive till the next stop.

rfactor2 photography

Automobilista 2 isn’t limited to Formula racing only, there are plenty of other tracks and cars to choose from. Some of the iconic vehicles include the Porsche 911 GT3, BMW M3 sports, and many more.

For a beginner, the Automobilista 2 is the best place to start as it features the best of all racing genres. The setup guide is coming soon!


Related articles:

Sim Racing Games: the Best and Most Realistic Simulators

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