5 Greatest Classic Domestic-Focused Driving Games
The golden age of video games is filled with driving and racing simulators focused on imports and exotics, and given that the cutting edge of digital simulation originated in Japan, that makes total sense. Still, although they're outnumbered in the modern era by franchises that offer a full range of drivable vehicles from every auto-producing continent, there were a number of games out there that shone their spotlight primarily on domestic brands, with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all getting a chance to star on the small (or, by now, 52-inch LED) screen.
Let's take a quick look at some of the best domestic-focused driving video games of all time.
1. Midtown Madness
The first entry in the trio of games that would form the Midtown Madness universe was released in 1999. It took the then-unusual step of releasing players from the confines of a race track or carefully-delineated two-lane road and instead allowed them to explore the city of Chicago to their heart's desire.
Why Chicago? The developers had a deep love of the car chase insanity found in the Belushi/Aykroyd film "The Blues Brothers," and wanted to give gamers the chance to have the same kind of smash-up fun. By taking off the reigns, drivers could crash, speed and otherwise cause as much crazy chaos as they wanted to without having to worry about making checkpoints or lapping the competition (although if you wanted, there were specific modes that allowed you to test your skill against the clock and other cars).
Being set in the USA, the creators of Midnight Madness liberally sprinkled the game's virtual garage with American-made models. In fact, aside from a couple of Volkswagens and a single Ferrari, the entire fleet hailed from Detroit, including current and classic Mustangs (even one decked out in police livery), dually Ford pickups, Cadillac limousines, an Eldorado ETC, slab-sided Chevy delivery vans, the homegrown exoticness of the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 and, for some reason, a 1989 Geo Metro. Oh, and throw in a Freightliner 18-wheeler, too, at the opposite end of the size spectrum.
2. Crazy Taxi
The Sega Dreamcast might be long gone, but it's not forgotten by the legions of video game fans who helped make titles like Crazy Taxi transition from quarter-gulping arcade hit to million-copy-selling console title. Relying on a rag-tag collection of classic convertible Cadillacs and Chevys, Crazy Taxi asked players to deliver their fares from one part of the city to the other in as reckless and stunt-filled a manner as possible. Points for style and pure insanity were there for the taking, and the outside-the-box gameplay of this title helped it to conquer further consoles like the PS2 and the GameCube, while spawning a series of sequels that continue today.
3. NASCAR Racing
There's no shortage of NASCAR-related gaming titles out there, but the granddaddy of them all—and the one that introduced a brand-new fan base to the fun of stock car competition—was NASCAR Racing from Papyrus. Introduced in 1994, NASCAR Racing was aimed squarely at PC users, and it brought a surprising level of realism to the table thanks to the use of then-groundbreaking SVGA graphics, as well as the ability to play against up to 38 opponents over a network.
The game let you drive either a Ford Thunderbird, a Chevrolet Lumina or a Pontiac Grand Prix, just like your Winston Cup heroes. Other intriguing aspects of NASCAR Racing included multiple damage modes, early efforts at aerodynamic simulation, the ability to set up the car using various suspension, spoiler and drivetrain customizations and the use of actual sponsorship liveries rather than generic templates. Even tire temperatures had an impact on your vehicle's performance.
The current crop of NASCAR racing games can all tie their heritage back to this initial effort from Papyrus (with the rights transferring to EA a few years in to the new millennium).
4. Daytona USA
If you're a bit less serious about your stock car action, then might we suggest Daytona USA instead? A different kind of multiplayer stock car "simulator," Daytona USA took over arcades with its fun take on high-speed oval antics (as well as the opportunity to leave the established circuits behind and sample more exotic fantasy tracks). The soundtrack was unforgettable, the gameplay addictive and the graphics a revolution in polygon-based rendering—so much so that a number of follow-up games were based around the same digital engine. So what if the cars were more fiction than front-row at the real Daytona?
Driver took the open-world concept of both Midtown Madness and Crazy Taxi and added a plotline that weaved a near-cinematic story through each episode of driving shenanigans. For the purposes of our list, it also happened to feature a long list of classic American metal not just littering the streets of San Francisco, Miami, L.A. and New York, but also as playable vehicles.
This was no accident. The designers of the game (similar to the inspiration behind Midtown Madness) wanted to recreate the vibe of classic car chase movies like Bullitt, and that meant fun stuff like muscled-up Mustangs, Rancheros and Cutlasses, alongside more unusual digital fare like the Mercury Monterey, the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and the Dodge St. Regis (itself a forgotten TV police car star from the T.J. Hooker days).
There were eventually seven, count 'em, seven full sequels to Driver, including a somewhat weird speedboat version that came out for Android and iOS phones.