Top down racers were all the rage when I was growing up, Micro Machines being the pinnacle of genre, and then it all went a bit quiet when hardware was able to render in proper 3D. Jump on a (fair) few years and whilst there hasn’t been a resurgence, there have been more quick-fix, party-type racing games, with Mantis Burn Racing from VooFoo Studios being the latest. In the week that PSVR is launching and due to herald a revolution in gaming (if you believe the press), having an older style of game grace our digital stores might seem at odds with the march of progress, though what really matters is the gameplay under the hood and the studio has always delivered on that.
If you’ve played any type of top down racing game before, you’ll be instantly familiar with what’s on offer from Mantis Burn Racing. Motorstorm RC sprung to mind when I booted the game up because of the catchy menu music, the swift progression through the screens, and the substance of the racing on track. Picking from one of three vehicle classes – light, medium and heavy, all with distinct traits – you’re plonked on a track with varying amounts of opponents and have to race from start to finish as quickly as possible… not that you do anything different in a racing game. With the camera positioned high above and slightly behind, almost like a helicopter view, you draft, drift and drive around twisty desert courses and angular city tracks using basic accelerate, brake and boost controls. The simplicity of the handling is the hallmark of this genre, where braking points and racing lines play second fiddle to slinging the car into a corner and watching it throw up plumes of dust as it drifts past the apex, and fills the boost meter ready for the next straight. Anyone can pick up and play this, but there’s more to master than meets the eye.
Each successful race rewards XP and currency which both contribute towards upgrading your vehicle of choice. There’s no customisation to mess around with (outside the colour of the car and boost trail), there’s no complicated tuning, it’s all just simple and efficient. XP increases your rank which unlocks parts that can then added to an available slot on the car; fill all the empty slots and you can pay to upgrade the car further and add more slots. Parts are preset and come as suspension, gearbox, engine, tires and boost, and there’s no right or wrong way to add them. Once they’re in the inventory it’s a simple case of choosing where to put them. If you want to keep the light class of cars with the same power but give them more grip, then you’d focus on only upgrading tires and suspension. Equally, the heavy class needs some help with acceleration and top speed. The selection of parts, when and where you put them, and what level you take the vehicle to, is entirely your choice. However, racing through the career mode will force those choices to be made or very quickly you’ll get left in the dust of your rivals.
Over the course of seven seasons in the career mode, you’ll race in two different locales on eight tracks (plus the reverse options), all under a variety of game modes. Standard race, sprint race, endurance, knockout and accumulator feature as some of the events available; and there are challenges to meet with each event that bolster the XP system too. Branching paths through the career tree and the ability to focus on specific vehicle types means that progression is pretty fluid, with advancing usually a case of picking which events you prefer – though completionists will be aiming for ticking all the boxes. There’s nothing revolutionary in the structure of the game, but there are some nice touches like bonus parts unlocking for tackling certain events, and being able to repeat events without a major XP hit, which comes in very handy when you’re in a time trial and determined to try and top the global leaderboard. There’s definitely a “one more go” vibe coming from Mantis Burn Racing, if only it didn’t drop the player straight back to the menu after each event, meaning a reload is needed to get back to the action. Hardly a major problem given the load times are quite short, but seamless retries would have been a nice-to-have.
Multiplayer is part and parcel of this particular type of game, and Mantis Burn Racing gives active and passive modes online and a splitscreen offline option. Active is the standard race against humans based on the preset conditions, which is all very easy to setup but very tricky to see how to actually get people into a game. Each time I tried joining a public lobby I was left with only the option to start a new session, which then always left me sat waiting for people to join. I gave up in the end, but I imagine it’s quite good fun. Passive online is in the form of a weekly challenge, with launch week’s being seeing how far you can drive in 8 minutes, and the global leaders displayed proudly on the main menu screen. Splitscreen is decent fun too, though I’d avoid Shareplay on PS4 to do this, the lag made it virtually undrivable. If you’ve got four people in the same room though, definitely give it a try.
Mantis Burn Racing sets out to be a top down racer that moves away from the cartoon elements seen in others, but still maintain the handling and fun whilst adding in a career that you won’t crack through in an hour or so. There’s a lot to keep you occupied in single player if you don’t mind re-racing the same eight tracks over and over, and all of your unlocks and progress carry over to the multiplayer games, so you’ve incentive to play both concurrently instead of just rinsing one or the other. It’s a refined and very playable game that delivers on what you’d expect from VooFoo, and if you’ve a few friends to fight against for fastest laps, then it could have quite a bit of longevity too.
A review copy on PS4 of Mantis Burn Racing was provided by VooFoo Studios PR team, and the game is out now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.