Listen, we are there with you. Your favorite car is sitting in the driveway or garage or unused storage unit, or maybe you moved to greener pastures to help you through these uncertain times. All you want is to take a few laps or races to get your high-speed fix, but the reality of the situation is that that is not going to happen anytime soon.
You've mastered Forza Motorsport, you've mastered Gran Turismo, but you can't scratch that itch yet. Do you need anything else. Something more challenging, something more realistic and maybe, just maybe, something with online races that last beyond the first corner.
What you need is a suitable racing simulator. I've already told you, now you will need some games. Here are my five selections of titles to help you relax in this brave new world.
I'm starting with the game that will be more familiar to console gamers, and not just because it's also available on consoles. Assetto Corsa offers almost the same polish and appeal as high-end console-based racers, including top-notch cinemas, auto history lessons, and a garage mode where you can eat your next ride. There's even a respectable single player career mode.
All that will make this game easy to learn for those new to the world of PC simulation racing, but even more welcoming is the game's core physics engine. Light and fun, Assetto Corsa is a driving game that encourages you to push yourself a little harder. Go ahead, launch your car on that curb, let the tail of your GT3 car kick in that high-speed turn, you have everything under control.
Assetto Corsa also has some useful force feedback options that make it easier to get an idea of driving a car without any feeling. This is likely to be your biggest challenge to catch up on a PC. But, when the time comes to be really real, you will have to step up.
Project Cars 2
Project Cars 2 can also be found on modern consoles, so it also offers all the polish and presentation you would expect, including a lightweight but solid offline race mode. The selection of cars and tracks here is huge, especially if you opt for the season pass and the many car packages that come with it.
Like Assetto Corsa, the physics engine here is on the accommodating side. Cars are fun and responsive, but I confess I always struggle to connect with them. Everything feels almost the same, which is a problem given the wide variety of cars here, from two-stroke karts to four-wheel drive rally beasts.
If this is the last variety of machines talking to you, then you want to move on to the next game on the list.
Dirt Rally 2.0
The Codemasters Dirt Rally franchise can trace its lineage back to the Colin McRae games of the mid-'90s, a franchise that was more than critical to the setup.. But the series has evolved and matured since then to the point of knocking on the door of the territory of the hardcore simulator.
The physics here is still accessible enough to be entertaining for novices, and the many offline race modes give you plenty of ways to work through the car's selection of historical and modern rally machines. Along the way, you'll learn some low-grip, real-world driving skills that could help you in the real world once the real world opens up again.
rFactor and I are going far, far behind. The original game was released in 2005, but its core physics engine powered previous iconic sims, such as F1 Challenge 2002. Back then, I had to resort to user-created mods and online ad-hoc leagues. Now with rFactor 2, everything is made a lot easier thanks to an extensive (and still growing) collection of licensed cars and tracks, not to mention some of the most competitive online racing series.
Of all the games I've listed so far, rFactor 2 is where things start to get serious. You don't have half a dozen offline career modes to work or a complex offline licensing system to unlock cars. You get a menu where you choose your track, your car and then you will compete. Yes, you can certainly race offline and the artificially intelligent opposition will give you a good challenge, but like most race simulators, the real competition is online, including heavyweights like Max Verstappen.
rFactor 2 is the least game-like in the group so far and has relatively simple graphics compared to the previous three, but it has it where it counts, boy. It is a really cool sim.
This is the racing simulator that is getting the most buzz right now, and for good reason. Launched in 2008, iRacing is an indirect spin-off from Papyrus Design Group, creators of some of the greatest racing sims of all time: Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, Grand Prix Legends, and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.
However, iRacing is a different beast. You can almost think of it as an MMO racing simulator. Instead of buying a game and maybe paying more for some cars and tracks, here you are paying a monthly or annual fee for access to the service, and so paying extra for cars and tracks. How much? iRacing starts at $ 13 a month, dropping to $ 199 for two years of access, but right now it's all half price for new members.
For that, you get access to world-class vehicle physics, more tracks, and laser-scanned cars. However, the real draw is online competition, with an endless selection of series covering everything from late model oval races to Formula 1 to even stadium trucks.
Of all the titles I've discussed here, iRacing is the one that feels most like a job. Moving up the ranks will take a lot of practice and dedication. But it is here where you will find the most direct path to professionals. If you have the time and money and really want to see how it compares to the best in the world, this is where it should be.