There aren’t many racing titles that tackle hill climb events… and it could only be Gran Turismo 6 that I remember actually having a dedicated spot for it (at the Goodwood circuit). Maybe it’s because by their nature they’re short, relatively simple and not that well known outside hardcore fans that they don’t make it into a category on their own. Yet it’s not an event type that often appears in more prolific and sprawling games either. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make for an interesting game though, especially if you’re into time trials and quick bursts of action. Classic Racers Elite is an attempt to bring this smaller scale racing format to our PCs and consoles and show us what it’s all about. It’s just a shame that it’s done on such a low budget.
In real life Hill Climb events are a relatively accessible and affordable introduction to budding race drivers, with you simply needing to apply for a competition license and have a road car, safety clothing and a crash helmet. With those you can enter local events and try your hand at zipping along a short course in the fastest time possible. Even cheaper than that is buying a game like Classic Racers Elite and reducing some of the risk of injury by staying in your living room. It’s a simple title with little in the way of flare and pizzazz that wants to put you in homages to 1960’s road and racing cars and task you with going flat out. It is that basic – pick an event, pick a car, race. There’s no tutorial, no instructions, not even an intro movie, just pure expectation of you putting your foot to the floor and not crashing out. With 12 championships, 4 car classes and around 50 track variants, there looks to be a lot to go at on the surface, though don’t be fooled when most events have a target time of under 90 seconds.
The goal is to make it from start to finish quicker than the target time, and these are not overly generous when you first start out. Mainly that’s down to getting used to the handling and the format of the tracks in Classic Racers Elite, though equally the game wants to challenge your skills. With a feel more like rallying than circuit racing, yet without pace notes and a co-driver, you hurtle along looking out for which direction the track is turning and where arrows on hay bales are pointing, jamming on the brakes and stamping the throttle where appropriate to try and wring every second of time out of the vehicle. It does feel pretty good to be fair when you blast across the line with only fractions of a second to spare – clearly that’s the intent – and when you don’t make it you’re very likely to just retry given the quick loading and lack of heavy time commitment. With each championship there are several cars to pick from and with moderately similar performance across them you can almost decide which to use purely on the way they look.
How do the fictional cars tackle the tracks though, and is this a good recreation of a hill climb event? Well… they all handle very similarly, even across the classes, with twitchy steering and exceptionally responsive braking and acceleration. They’re good fun to fling around corners and quite forgiving when it comes to nearly spinning out, so you can not worry too much about nailing the lines and keeping a fine balance on the traction. With only you taking part in each race against an arbitrary time there’s little in the way of competition, so how you find it becomes more about your enjoyment of time trials, and seeing where you are on online leaderboards vs. your friends or against other platforms. Whilst the asking price of £25 is quite high for what Classic Racers Elite offers, it’s not a deal breaker, though you will find the content flying past quicker than you’d like because a) they are short courses, and b) it’s definitely got a “1 more go” feel with the fast turnaround.
In terms of looks and sound, it’s never going to win any awards, though props go to the car designs and how they’re nicely familiar without infringing on copyrights. Once the action starts though you’re driving through sparse environments and past repetitive assets which bizarrely tax the Unity engine enough that there’s constant screentear across the middle of your view. It’s not a great showing if I’m honest, and easily the biggest drawback to the whole game. Whilst there’s something distinct about Classic Racers Elite with the formula not being pervasive across bigger budget titles, it doesn’t really do enough to justify its own asking price, and the graphical performance coupled with a short run time means it’s not going to win people over easily. It’s far from a bad game, it’s just the standard in racers is exceptional currently that it can’t compete. Given it’s on last gen hardware, you can pick up a copy of GT Sport for £10 less, and I’d probably recommend spending your money on that instead.
A PS4 review copy of Classic Racers Elite was provided by Funbox Media’s PR team, and the game is out now on PC, PlayStation and Switch for around £25.
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