Never let it be said that there’s an absence of racing games that don’t take themselves seriously, I’ve now covered four very different driving games over the past few weeks and this one is probably the most unique of the lot. You see, whilst it looks like the bastard child of PS2 games Auto Modellista and Need for Speed Underground, it literally drives like nothing else I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a hell of a lot of racing games over the years.
The core concept here is that developers, Level 91 Entertainment, have created what can only be dubbed as a twin-stick racer. Sure, you can do that in GT Sport, by mapping the accelerator and brake to the right stick rather than the triggers, but that games designed for a wheel, this does things differently. You can still steer with the left stick, but the cars turning circle would have an eighteen-wheeler laughing, using that method is a one-way ticket to understeering into every single barrier. This is where the right stick comes into play, but pushing it left or right, the back end of your car swings out, taking you round the corner. It sounds simple, but it’s a real head scrambler at first, nearly up there with SKATE’s Flickit control system the first time you played that.
But it clicks, and quickly too and its helped by an excellent Ridge Racer Type 4 style story mode in which you play Edward in his little hatchback learning the ropes of being a street racer, be it full on one-on-one races, “style” events where you earn points for holding the longest drifts possible, or Initial D inspired point-to-point races, there’s a bit of everything, and each one tries to teach you a new way to approach the game, especially as the circuits get tricker. So initially you can get by with throwing your car at a corner, using the right stick to slide it round, but soon you need to start adjusting your car’s position on the road using the left stick to control the front wheels. From there you’re introduced to managing the throttle and then braking mid-corner which brings the front end tighter to the turn and lets the back end be a little more violent, allowing for quick changes of direction.
There’s more to play through too, not just the story mode, you have options have entering pre-set challenges, a Grand Prix mode over five races, an old-skool Arcade mode and even race online, taking all the skills you’ve been shown previously and trying to master them, and you really will want to master them, because when everything clicks and your threading your brightly coloured car through the ribbon-like road, brake lights leaving trails in the night, the electro soundtrack pulsing, you feel like Level 91 have captured all of their influences in a bottle, applied some mind-bending alchemy and brought something truly fresh and rewarding to play.
That’s not to say it’s for everyone, the presentation will no doubt put some off, the characters feel a little one dimensional, there are no licensed cars (which I honestly do not care about) and some players will give the game a try, find themselves hitting the walls too often and not give it the time needed for it to sink in. However, patience isn’t really needed, I wouldn’t say I mastered it, but within an hour of first booting it up, I wasn’t even thinking of the controls any more, only noticing how my inputs were affecting what my car was doing and the kinetic reward that goes with that.