Mantis Burn Racing: review

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Artwork such as the above, which is pushed to the forefront of marketing for Mantis Burn Racing, is somewhat misleading. If a picture like that is the first you see of the game, you’ll probably be expecting something along the lines of Motorstorm or maybe even Forza Horizon 3. It is however a top-down racer that gives the appearance of racing RC cars, the sort of game that was much more common 15 years or so ago. Many people have fond memories of many hours spent playing the best of these games, such as the legendary Micro Machines or perhaps Mashed; but MBR fails to understand what made these games so popular.

The fundamentals are basic, but sound. Vehicles are split into three weight categories, and all three weights have vehicles in the three classes (Rookie, Pro, and Veteran). Each class has its own offline tournament, made up of different race types. There’s the traditional first-past-the-post circuit race, with other highlights including a knockout mode where the person in last place is eliminated each lap until one racer remains, an overtake mode where the first to overtake the set number of opponents wins, and ‘Accumulator’ – where everybody slowly builds up points, but the higher your current position, the faster your points counter runs.

The poisoned chalice that this game drinks deeply from is the quest for realism. This isn’t a hyper-realistic racer – obviously – but the handling and general gameplay mechanics seek to ape much more modern racers which, in turn, stick much more closely to how real vehicles act than most old 8 and 16 bit titles ever did. The relatively small selection of vehicles here are all entirely fictional, but the way drifting for example works is closer to a third or first person racer. That’s not a bad thing by itself, especially as you can’t spin out. Fumbling a drift, turn, or jump by smashing into a wall is also as disastrous as it would be in any other modern racer, instantly killing your speed and losing you precious seconds. This certainly works to the game’s advantage, with skill being properly rewarded and mistakes punished appropriately.

Well, the trees are kind of pretty.

Well, the trees are kind of pretty.

Winning races and fulfilling objectives rewards you with ‘gears’ (similar to Mario’s level-unlocking requirement with stars), and credits. Credits feed into another idea taken from more modern racers; upgrades. Each vehicle can be upgraded to a maximum level 3, and each level allows you to add a bunch of upgrades that you unlock through the tournaments. If you hit a race where you’re left sulkily watching most of the AI leave you far behind, you’ll probably find that upgrading your car suddenly makes things a whole lot easier. When playing against human opponents, having a more souped-up vehicle doesn’t necessarily guarantee victory; but it certainly gives you a significant advantage.

Where the decision to align MBR more closely to realism and modern gaming really stings, though, is in the cars and tracks themselves. Cars have a boost meter that’s charged up through drifts, destruction and jumps – but that’s as far as any fantasy element goes. There are no weapons and, while that’s no criticism alone, it’s one drop of many that form a puddle of sadness. Variety is the watchword here, in that there isn’t really any. All vehicles across the classes look suspiciously similar but, much worse than that, the tracks are dull and disappointing.

Forget all about Micro Machines’ tabletops, pool tables, kitchens et al. Tracks are set across a grand total of two environments, both of which are prosaic and unremarkable. Circuits take place either in a rocky desert-style environment, or a cold and lifeless city. Some circuits have shortcuts that require quick reactions and reward you with a few valuable seconds off your lap time, the twists and turns are fair yet sometimes demanding, there are bumps and jumps, but… it never really rises above ‘adequate’ in either appearance or feel. Even worse, a combination of poor shading and visual design means some tracks have brief sections difficult to see properly (this will be worse on some TVs and monitors than others). Even when lighting isn’t an issue, it’s not always clear which objects you can break through and which will rudely bring you to a halt, and some sections of trackside seem to offer a shortcut but in fact see you smash into an invisible wall. You get round all the above by learning the tracks, but the question is: should you have to?

There's an odd green tinge to the night-time city tracks.

There’s an odd green tinge to the night-time city tracks.

MBR is undeniably at its best when playing against other people. There’s an offline splitscreen mode for up to four players, so big kudos for that, and this fact alone will tempt many to make a purchase. There’s online play for up to eight people too, but – even though we held off until after release to write the review for this very reason – the servers are pretty bare. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a game, but getting a race going with more than three or four people is extremely difficult (though bear in mind we can only speak for the Xbox One version). Races with just two people are common. No matter how many people are playing though, racing against somebody of equal skill is good fun. Positions can be swapped several times in sixty seconds thanks to imperfectly taken corners, well-timed uses of the boost, and rude-word-inducing crashes.

This might be worth a shot if you’re looking for an alternative to the legion of behind-the-wheel racers, especially if (like us) you mourn the almost complete lack of offline multiplayer. The higher class vehicles can offer a decent lick of speed, too. If you’re looking for the new Micro Machines, though… keep looking.

critical score 6

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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