Many years have passed since the days of Off-Road, Skidmarks and Micro Machines and while we don’t see many, there’s still a lot of love for the top down racer.
Many people look at top-down racing as a retro genre. The simple approach of viewing the action from a distance rather than behind the wheel or car seems to have faded away over the last few decades, where it was once the mainstay apprach for racing titles. The early 90’s was packed full of top-down and isometric racing titles but since the release of the next-generation consoles, there’s only been a handful of titles and niether have really captured the minds of your everyday gamers.
Onwards to Mantis Burn Racing, which makes the odd choice of using a title we barely understand (Mantis Burn) and then slapping good old ‘racing’ at the end, just in case we where uncertain.
First things first is the all important first impressions, anyone who’s seen a few screenshots or a trailer will agree that Mantis Burn looks great. Actually I’ll happily go as far as saying that it looks absolutely incredible, especially in full motion and certainly among the best looking top-down racers to date, Jumping into the game and from the title screen, the focus shifts smoothly over to display a selection of cars with the small menu top left. with plenty of information around the screen such as best scores, recent winners and challenges.
While the actual menu is on the small side, it’s kept nice and simple with a choice between career, local race, online race, garage and my game. My game, houses settings, stats and credits, while garage let’s you view, change and ugrade your vehicles. Local and Onlin race are self-explanatory and give you the same options for setting up a set event, sadly there’s no co-op career or championship leagues. Sprint, Race and Endurance are simple 2, 3 and 5 lap races. While knockout eliminates last place after each lap, Accumulator is won by remaining in the lead longest and Overtake is a race to be the first to complete 5 over-takes.
The final two modes are time-trial and hot-lap which are a straight sprint to get the fastest lap either overall or in a set time limit.
On to Career and this is where the bread and butter of the game is, There’s 7 seasons in total and each season is split up into a variety of events, the first you’ll come across has 9 race’s covering race’s time trials, Knockout and an accumulator, there’s also 2 mini-leagues, making the race count 12 race’s in total. Once you’ve won a few race’s you’ll start to rack up gears, with a set ammount required to unlock the final league which progresses you to the next season.
With 3 seasons in Rookie, and then another 3 in Pro before the final Veteran season, you’ll find there’s more than enough to keep you racing.
The most important thing though is how it feels, and that’s where Mantis Burn really excells because in two areas imparticular, it really does shine.
Firstly the feeling of the game, menu’s are smooth and seemless, but that’s not a patch on the actual racing, with the view twisting around as you skid round a corner, there’s some initial disorientation, but after a few races you’ll soon be taking corners to perfection.
Early levels don’t feel super fast, but progress and place a few of the unlocked upgrades into your vehicle and by the time you hit the pro seasons, you’ll soon be feeling the speed and this just adds to the feeling of accomplishment everytime you take a corner to perfection, skidding sideways at full speed.
The second area where Mantis Burn really catches your attention is how balanced the game feels, while there’s certainly a little rubber-banding in play, it’s barely noticeable thanks to a simple risk and reward system. If you play it safe round every corner, you’ll struggle to finish first every race, taking the corners faster might be risky, but it will help you gain a few metres on your opposition, push it too far, and you’ll catch your vehicle on the edge, and while some fences can be broken through allowing you to shave seconds off your lap, hitting a rock comes with a thump as you’re slowed to a halt giving your opponents a major advantage.
Mixing safety with risk not only feels rewarding, but it all plays very well, and while it never feels too tough, thanks to the pain of losing more than a few seconds if you crash, there’s always a challenge.
One perfect example was my first time-trial, after cruising to victory on the race before, I anticipated an easy ride, first lap wasn’t bad, but after clipping a bad corner I missed the target on the second time around, the third lap was much better, only a few small errors, but enough successful riss to make up for it, and I beat the target time, by a whopping 0.03 seconds.
Keep progressing, unlocking upgrades, and choose what sort of aprroach you wish to take, wether it’s a faster, harder to control vehicle, or a slower vehcile which corners far better, there’s a great balance and allowing people to select their ugrades means you’re not restricted to your current vehicles base stats.
With every event you complete there’s 6 gears to unlock depending on your performance, and these go towards levelling up your RPG -like pogression as well as unlocking your progress through the season, There’s also G (coins) which accumulate after a few races and these can be used to buy other vehicles.
Initially I stuck with one before finding myself forced to buy a buggy, and then a truck, but the more you play the more you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice. There’s certainly plenty to keep the single player entertained and enough in multiplayer for when you have a few friends over, although online is much preferred due to the difficulty of a half or quarter screen,