It’s always nice to see a new arcade racer appear on consoles. With simulation-based releases like DriveClub, Forza Horizon and Gran Turismo taking the limelight recently, it’s good to see a racer that tackles it from a different perspective. Mantis Burn Racing, from VooFoo Studios, is exactly one of those games, but is it any good? Let’s find out.
Mantis Burn Racing is an isometric/top-down arcade racer. When I first laid my eyes on this game I was intrigued. The game’s isometric/top-down viewing angle isn’t used enough in racers today. There has been a few arcade racers released in this current generation, but not many has had me excited as much as the potential of this one. Sadly though, this excitement wore off pretty sharpish once I dived deeper into the game.
If first impressions count, and they do, then Mantis Burn Racing doesn’t start off all too well. My first gripe with the game was that the whole presentation of this game could have done with some much needed spit and polish. For me, the user experience and the user interface of a game is just as important as the main game itself. Sadly, in Mantis Burn Racing, it feels like its presentation has jumped into the back seat, because you’re left with an interface that looks rather dated. It doesn’t really match the quality that’s found in the game’s main racing visuals. But first impressions aside, let’s dive into the main game…
This racer has you driving in a handful of different race modes. There are the traditional two, three and five lap ‘race to the finish line’ modes of Sprint, Race and Endurance, to Knockout – an elimination race mode – Time Trial and Hot Lap. There are also two different modes of interest here – Accumulator and Overtake. The first has you earning points by remaining in front of the field; the first to 10,000 points wins, whilst the Overtake mode plonks each racer on various sections of the track and the first to overtake 5 cars wins the race.
The game’s 8-player online mode is pretty much dead. I found finding a lobby of online petrol-headed players was an impossible task to find even one, and waiting in my own created game found no other players willing to take part. If you have some buddies and enough controllers you can take part in up to 4-player split screen local multiplayer, which can be good fun in any arcade racer.
The game’s Career mode is where it’s at though really. Your solo career path is laid out over a series of seven seasons, each with a branching (although quite linear) path of racing events of various difficulties and modes that you must complete in order to play the next event. Winning races and challenges gives you gears, and it’s these gears that allow you to progress throughout each season. Once enough gears are earned and a season is complete, you can then enter the next season with increased difficulty and modes, each gradually requiring you to level-up and upgrade your current vehicle or unlock and buy a new one directly.
From the very first vehicle you play, through to the game’s entire four-wheeled lineup, each vehicle is very disappointing to look at, hear the sound of and also play. Each different type of vehicle comes classed as a type of weight, from Light (buggy), Medium (sports car) and Heavy (truck). Other than the buggy, each weight of vehicle and their three class variants (Rookie, Pro and Veteran) all look like they’ve been lifted from a game in the 1990s. This is an arcade racer after all, so my first car should still be pretty exciting, to not only look at, but play too!
You would assume each weight of vehicle handles very differently between each other, but in practice the differences are so close in handling that across the various terrains, each vehicle slides about just as much as the other. They don’t give as much of a significant feel as they should do, and the difference gap between them becomes even narrower once you apply upgrades to them.
Upgrading each vehicle is required in Pro and Veteran races, to give you an edge over your opponents, and it is here where you’ll see a significant change to your vehicles handling, once you’ve spent your winning credits on engine, gearbox and boost upgrades to enhance its speed, acceleration, grip, suspension and boost attributes.
Just like the game’s interface, the sound has also been neglected too. This is apparent when you first come into the game’s menus. Each vehicle sits there, idle, their engine note sounding like a cheap sit down lawnmower or go kart. Once in a race it doesn’t get any better, as they buzz and hum their way about the track. If you were to close your eyes and listen, you’d think you’re playing a game of Micro Machines, with its toy cars, but you’re not. Even some triple-A games fail to get this right, so I shouldn’t be too harsh on the developers here, but none of the cars sound at all exciting to play. No matter what level of vehicle you upgrade to, the sound is the same, and the effects feel more like they are placeholder audio. Overall, it’s a massive disappointment when you compare it to the level of the game’s own world visuals, which are really good!
Each of three main locations are rendered beautifully. The game runs at a smooth 1080p resolution and it will look even better when played on the upcoming PlayStation Pro, thanks to the game’s 4K Pro compatibility. Sadly though, you’ll still be racing with the same very lack lustre vehicle classes on Sony’s beefed-up hardware!
Lots of work have been put into each track, with small shortcuts placed carefully here and there to give racers, and even AI opponents, a slight advantage during races. Each location differs from the other too, from dusty cliff-edge canyons, to rocky industrial wasteland and tarmaced harbour streets, with floating boats and lapping water effects. I found most tracks can have a few too many tight corners in them for me, and sadly even with reverse modes and day/night varieties per location, after a while, each of the track’s novelty soon wore off and I soon started to crave something different than the three or so main aesthetics of each different location.
There is a few hours of enjoyment in this game to warrant the £12.99 price tag, however if you’re seeking some online action against other racers, then you’re best off looking else where. As top-down racers go, this game came as a bit of a disappointment for me. Its developers should certainly reuse and explore a similar game, with the addition of weapon-based racing combat, wider selection of tracks and vehicles, and an improved interface. If you were lucky to get hold of Table Top Racing: World Tour as a free PSN+ game the other month, then you already have the best arcade action racer on PS4, for now, so I’d stick with that, or wait for a price drop.