Well, this is quite the departure for VooFoo Studios, the developer responsible for the likes of Pure Pool, Hustle Kings, and Pure Hold'em. Mantis Burn Racing is, as the title suggests, a racing game, but it's a rare example of a top-down arcade racer. This sub-genre has obviously seen better days, and with the prestigious Micro Machines nowhere to be found, many studios have attempted to bring this type of racer back, to varying degrees of success. Does this rough and tumble racer make the podium, or does it fall behind?
The answer is, unfortunately, not that straightforward. You are introduced to Mantis Burn Racing's surprisingly lengthy Career Mode by a nameless mechanic. He acts as your tutorial, and brings you up to speed regarding the game's structure. There's no story to worry about here – this is a pure top-down racer with almost no frills.
There are no weapons or pick-ups to worry about, either. This is all about the racing, the lap times, and the leaderboards. The career is split into seven seasons – three Rookie, three Pro, and one Veteran – and each consists of several events. These can be anything from straight-up races to overtake challenges, and coming first earns you gears. Gears are required to unlock the final event in each season so that you can progress, and there are secondary objectives for each race that'll earn you extra gears if you can pull them off. For example, winning the race without using boost, or drifting a certain number of metres over the duration. Striving for these extra gears is fun and tests your skills, and you'll need to go for them later on to move your career forward.
You also earn XP as you race and level up, which unlocks better cars for you to purchase and stat-boosting upgrades for you to assign. There are three vehicle classes, and three vehicles in each class: one Rookie, one Pro, and one Veteran, for use in the respective seasons. The classes are the typical light and nippy, medium and balanced, and heavy and lumbering, with each controlling differently and suited to different events. The upgrades can be applied to any car in any order, allowing you to modify them to your tastes. Filling a car's upgrade slots allows you to level it up, providing you with yet more slots. It's an interesting system that gives you the freedom to soup up your favourites as you see fit.
All these RPG-like systems wouldn't mean much unless the racing itself wasn't up to scratch, and thankfully, on the track is where Mantis Burn Racing finds its feet. The controls are very simple, and the racing feels perfectly fast and fluid. It doesn't take long before you're able to fling your car around hairpins without even thinking about it, and there's a certain physicality and heft to the vehicles that makes races feel very tactile. The first season or two feel very easy, but the challenge eventually catches up with you, and the later stages of the career make for some nail-bitingly close races.
It is a shame, however, that the locations you're racing through aren't that interesting. There are two environments with a fair number of tracks each – a dusty, off-road area and an on-road cityscape. They're different enough from each other, and actually look pretty good with plenty of environmental detail. Unfortunately, by the time you're half way through the career, you'll be getting bored of seeing the same locations over and over again.
The soundtrack, too, is a weak point. The music is repetitive, dull, and ultimately forgettable. The presentation in general feels a little lacklustre, with a UI that's functional but rudimentary and graphics that, while relatively decent, are quite dull. Performance meanwhile is perfect in single player and online, but split screen brings up some noticeable slow-down.
We know it sounds like we're being down on Mantis Burn Racing, but it should be made clear that the fundamentals here are spot on. The racing itself is fun and fast-paced, and the upgrading system works well to keep you coming back for a good few hours. It's just unfortunate that pretty much everything else doesn't quite measure up. The music, the environments, and the presentation all fall behind, which is a shame, as VooFoo Studios has the foundations of a strong top-down racer. With updates, the game could blossom into something more interesting, but as of right now, its decent gameplay just about overtakes its shortcomings.
Wonder if the 4k will enhance the visual experience. Its unlikely to make any difference to the music but Digital Foundry said the visuals looked quite impressive at 4k.
The game's visuals are distinctive too - two separate areas are included in the game: an industrial cityscape and a detail-rich rocky environment, though some stages merge the two. The more natural environments are where Mantis Burn Racing's visual really shine - light, shadow, intricate detail and a substantial post-process pipeline combine to produce a great look, with lighting values and indeed textures taken from photography and baked in at a high resolution. It's here where you get your value from the native 4K framebuffer.
The game's based on a forward renderer which also helps in getting this game to run at 60fps in ultra HD, and in terms of visual features, we're told it's identical to both the base PS4 version and indeed the PC game. All of the more expensive visual effects make the jump across to PlayStation 4 Pro, including an impressive depth of field effect that emphasises distance and is particularly effective as background detail drops away as the circuit gains altitude.
@BAMozzy The graphics aren't bad, they just lack personality, and with only two locations, it quickly becomes samey. It did for me, anyway. Pro won't change that, but I've no doubt that it'll run Mantis Burn Racing flawlessly.
This makes me long for a 4K Death Rally even more!
@Quintumply I noticed an F1 topdown racer a few days ago in a similar vein and was really tempted to pick it up. That seemed to have loads of locations.
@themcnoisy That must've totally passed me by, otherwise I'd definitely have given it a look. It's good to know that there are devs out there trying to bring this sub-genre back! I really hope that someone can produce something to match the greatness of Micro Machines or Mashed. Mantis Burn Racing comes close - maybe updates can inject some life into it
...Why do all of these games begin with M?
Looks a bit boring, to be honest.
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