Racing at high speed seems like a pretty bonkers idea on its own. How about doing that non-stop for an entire day? And doing so with multiple other races happening at once on the same track at the same time?
Pfft, what a stupid idea. It’ll never take off.
Fortunately, take off it did, and ever since the first running of the race in 1923 the Le Mans 24 Hours has been one of the most popular motor races in the world. And given the race is regarded alongside the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 in terms of prestige, it’s no surprise that the 24 Heures Du Mans has made it into quite a few videogames down the years. I mean, the ability to pause mid-race and go get some crisps is a power many drivers in the real race would love to have. As well as, you know, the whole restart-the-race-if-you-crash thing.
Anyway, here are five games that allow players to tackle a full-length version of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
1. Race Driver: GRID
Very timely given the recent announcement of a new entry in this franchise coming September 2019, Codemasters’ long-standing TOCA/Race Driver franchise made the jump onto PS3 and Xbox360 in style with the first GRID game. And the Grand Prix of Endurance was included for the first time, both as a standalone race and woven neatly into career mode; at the end of each in-game season, the player receives offers from several race teams to drive at Le Mans as a way of finishing each season with a bang – hopefully not literally.
All of this is very cool. Except for one problem.
Pitstops literally do not exist in the GRID universe.
It should come as no surprise to learn that yes, pitstops are a thing in the real Le Mans – magic fuel and tires that never run out have yet to be designed, nor have cybernetically-enhanced drivers who never get tired or need a toilet break. But pitstops just aren’t a thing in this game, to the point that pit lanes are physically walled off.
Should you want to go for a full-length Le Mans in this game, the experience would be quite interesting. I guess you could pretend driver changes involve a driver running onto the track and performing a GTA-style carjacking.
Unlike GRID, iRacing does indeed have pitstops. It also has a very neat function where multiple drivers can share one car from different places and connections, meaning everyone on your team doesn’t have to be all huddled around the same PC monitor in your room. Also, this being iRacing, you get some of the most realistic physics, car models and track renderings in all of gaming.
However, these do come with some caveats.
iRacing’s subscription and content costs can be eye-watering on their own, never mind the amount of hours needed to earn a high enough iRating to be able to run top-level races like Le Mans. And with the game being online-only, you run each race at the behest of fellow human players – only some of whom might be professional racing drivers, and equally could be trolls, griefers and/or prone to brain farts at 200mph that end your race on the spot.
Oh, and online means the all important pause-to-get-crisps factor is lost. Shame. Still a great game though, and the emotions and drama of the real event translate very well here.
3. Gran Turismo 4 & 5
Technically two games up next, but who’s counting?
Me. That’s who.
Anyway, Gran Turismo 4 was where the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic made its debut. And given the previous longest endurance races in Gran Turismo history were maximum two hours long, this was quite the jump; in the same way going from a kid’s pedal bike to Marc Marquez’s MotoGP Honda would be ‘quite the jump’.
Thanks to the B-Spec feature in GT4, it was possible to jump out and let an AI drone take control of your car for a while when you fancied a rest – or just wanted to get the race done quicker, since B-Spec also included a switch to speed up the in-game time, leaving you free to eat as many crisps as you wanted.
However, there were drawbacks. Pitstops were in the game, but with no way to save mid-race, Le Mans would either have to be completed in one go or players would have to run the gauntlet of leaving their PS2 on overnight and hoping no-one nudged the power button by mistake. A megre six cars per race also didn’t help – going hours without even seeing another car is hardly going to convince players to drop an entire day of playtime into one race.
Fortunately, GT5 fixed these by including – praise various Gods! – the ability to save your game mid-race in the pits, as well as expanded grids from 6 to 16 cars. Much better. Coupled with Polyphony Digital’s excellent attention to detail and huge roster of dream cars, this is definitely one of the most fun editions of the Grand Prix of Endurance to feature in any game.
4. Project CARS 2
For current-gen players, Project CARS 2 is probably the best bet out there for a realistic, atmospheric Le Mans experience. The La Sarthe circuit presented in the game is absolutely impeccable, and also includes a classic 1970s version of the track. The car selection to tackle the race with is fantastic, especially since the release of the Spirit of Le Mans DLC pack. And the game’s selection of options and atmospheric effects – particularly at night and in various weather conditions – is ridiculously immersive.
…you’re waiting for the ‘but’, aren’t you.
And there isn’t one.
Wait no, there totally is.
Firstly, it didn’t learn any lessons from Gran Turismo 4, and the ability to save mid-race in the pits is mysteriously absent. Secondly, the PCARS games have always been maddeningly inconsistent with technical glitches and bugs; on more than one occasion I’ve been slapped with a penalty for cutting the track whilst driving down the middle of a straight road. Thirdly and most infuriatingly; the AI drivers have less than zero chill. Dealing with cars 30 laps down banging fenders and sending it at every corner is smash-your-controller levels of frustrating, especially at the end of a long endurance race.
Thankfully, there ‘is’ an option to turn off critical damage, which means no matter how much damage your car takes in a race, it can’t be eliminated from the race altogether – just take longer to fix in the pits. Trust me, you will want this on if you plan to run a long-distance race in this game.
5. Le Mans 24 Hours (Test Drive: Le Mans)
No, really? The game literally named Le Mans 24 Hours allows you to drive the Le Mans 24 Hours race? Color me shocked.
There are two markedly different versions of this game; the PS1, Dreamcast and PC version released in 1999 was developed by Eutechnyx (yes, they of Ride to Hell: Retribution fame) with the updated PS2 version being handled by Infogrames Melbourne House and released in 2002. Unfortunately, the Eutechnyx version in particular hasn’t aged very well in twenty years – the La Sarthe circuit featured in the game is massively truncated (damn those PS1 processor limits) and the AI driving has PCARS 2 beat for levels of pants-on-head stupidity. However, both games are notable for being very ahead of their time in some aspects, including the ability to save in the pits mid-race.
Yes, that’s right – the feature only implemented in 2010’s Gran Turismo 5 and still not present in 2017’s Project CARS 2 was in a game from the previous millennium. Let THAT sink in.
Both featured unique rosters of cars, full multi-class racing, packed grids of up to 24 cars in the PS2 version, and full day-to-night transitions and changeable weather conditions. Today these games are charming if rough around the edges – back at the turn of the millennium, they were downright mind-blowing.
Got any other games to mention? Drop them in the comments below and let’s chat – I’m sure there are games I haven’t even heard of yet that represent the 24 Heures Du Mans experience.
Meantime, remember to stay hydrated all race long, and take regular breaks. To get crisps.