Looking Back at 25 Years of Racing on the PlayStation

Gran Turismo 4 13 photos
Photo: Sony
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If you remember playing games on the original PlayStation, released exactly 25 years ago to the day, you are officially old. But it’s not all bad because you also got to play a lot of very cool racing titles over the years.
Yes, that’s right, PlayStation has been around for exactly a quarter-century and the thing is it was actually a hit from day one. On the very first day it launched, on December 3 1994, it sold 100,000 units in its native Japan - it was the first ever dedicated gaming console and even if this is no longer the case, in the meantime sales have surpassed the 100-million mark.

Over the years, the PlayStation has witnessed the evolution of all genres of games, but in this article we’re going to look back at the racing games that played an integral part in boosting its popularity. This will be a trip down memory lane, in a bid to remember some of the racing titles that helped make this console what it is today.

You can’t talk about PlayStation and racing games and not mention the Gran Turismo series. The first game in the series was launched in 1997 by Phonology Digital and up until now over 80 million copies have been sold, for PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4.

Gran Turismo 4
Photo: Sony
The game evolved quite dramatically over the generations, but even the first Gran Turismo was praised for what at the time was seen as sharp, cutting edge graphics and a very wide selection of cars (no fewer than 140), each of which had its own feel and required a different driving style. The game took five years to develop and it got rave reviews at the time - this positive reception also translated into a strong sales performance - in fact, it is still the highest-rated racing game ever, according to some outlets.

Subsequent Gran Turismo games took advantage of the increasing processing power of newer PlayStation generations, but the look, feel and serious nature of the first title was preserved throughout. But even if the first title in the series is an important game (because it started it all), it’s actually Gran Turismo 3 for the PlayStation 2 that is widely acknowledged as being the best in the series so far.

Another iconic PlayStation driving game experience has to be that provided by Colin McRae Rally 2, the second game in the series. Available for the original PlayStation, it was a considerably better game than the first Colin McRae Rally, and the review scores from back then prove it - to this day, it’s the rally game many look fondly back at for its good physics, decent graphics for the era and the various gameplay options that it offered (including split-screen multiplayer).

Gran Turismo 4
Photo: Sony
However, this was actually not the best rally game for the PlayStation. That distinction goes to Richard Burns Rally, launched in 2004 for the PlayStation 2. It was so good that some still play it to this day, thanks to graphics that (surprisingly) don’t look awful today, great driving physics and a strong community that has been built up behind it over the years.

Some say Richard Burns Rally has not been surpassed from a driving physics standpoint even by the latest and most advanced driving games, although this is somewhat debatable. But it still remains one of the best and most realistic driving experiences you can have on the PlayStation 2 (or any PlayStation for that matter).

If accurate, simulated driving physics weren’t your thing, and instead you preferred causing carnage and over the top crashes, then the Burnout series might be more up your street. The first game in the series, simply called Burnout, debuted in 2001 for the PlayStation 2 and it got good reviews, but it was by no means the best in the series.

Gran Turismo 4
Photo: Sony
One of the stars of the Burnout series is 2004’s Burnout:3 Takedown (also launched for the PlayStation 2) which, as its title suggests, encouraged an even more aggressive driving style and it now allowed players to slam their opponents in order to make them crash. This mechanic was retained through all subsequent titles in the series.

Burnout Revenge, launched in 2005 for the PS2, was also pretty good, but even though some reviewers rate it higher than 2008’s Burnout Paradise for the PS3, we say the latter is actually the better, more enjoyable game. Paradise was really good when it debuted and it proved so popular that a remastered and enhanced version of it was launched in 2018 for the PS4.

This look at racing games that made the PlayStation great wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Need for Speed series. The first NFS game arrived in 1994, but it wasn’t until 1996 that it was adapted and released for the PlayStation. At the time it received good marks from reviewers, but it didn’t really become the phenomenon we know today.

And the second installment, a better and more well rounded game, wasn’t the title that started the franchise’s road to superstardom. That game was actually 1998’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, launched on the PS1 - it came with great graphics by late 90s standards, and, more importantly, it added police chases for the first time; this has become a staple of the series, present in most subsequent games in the series.

Later iterations in the series moved the action into an open world city environment, and took a turn towards the world of underground street racing (and extensive car customization) - this has now also been incorporated into the core formula for the series; even the latest game, NFS Payback for the PlayStation 4, still has the traditional NFS ingredients: decent selection of cars, fun-oriented physics, police chases, illegal street racing and lots of options to upgrade and customize cars.
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