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Mantis Burn Racing PC Review

One of the cool things about indie developers is that they seem to be able to resurrect some of the genres that had a thriving life back in the mid 90s. Just thinking off the top of my head for top-down/isometric racers, the last ones I played was Motorstorm: RC and Wrecked: Revenge Revisited, both titles that came out in 2012. That is virtually four years ago. It seems both semi-simulation and arcade racing from the standard behind the car/cockpit are the ways racing games are built nowadays. Birmingham based VooFoo Studios wants us to remember those stupendously fun racers from our youth (if you are around 30 years old, give or take a few years) by creating Mantis Burn Racing, a racer from a studio that has been making digital takes on pub/board games, such as pool, chess and backgammon, but don’t let that fool you.

Mantis Burn Racing ignores the use of pick-ups or weapons, going instead for a focus on pure driving skill. It has a simple control scheme that only uses triggers to control acceleration and braking, then a face button to use the vehicle’s boosting ability, which is restocked by doing skills, such as jumping and drifting. There is also the use of shoulder buttons to control the camera types for better viewpoints of the track. While controls are a low barrier of entry, the game itself can eventually become tough, but thankfully, the controls are tight and the racing is nippy once the top end vehicles come into play. It’s incredibly easy to get the hang of swinging the car around hairpins, due to the vehicle’s floaty grip that helps with drifting. The controls are near perfect that most mistakes are down to your poor driving.

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It’s good that Mantis Burn Racing doesn’t remove weapons and then forgets about the variety a racing game should include. Throughout the large career mode that spans over three difficulties and seven seasons, you will be taking part in not just standard racing, but also sprints, overtake challenges, time attack, accumulator (score point event where being closer to first ranks up points faster), mini championships, and last man eliminations, with all events being able to host up to seven computer controlled racers.

Gears are earned depending on how well you perform, with a total of six up for grabs per event. Half of them can be gained by simply coming first, but the other half required challenges to be met, forcing that extra bit of demand from the player, especially on the harder settings towards the back end of the career where earning a lot of gears becomes mandatory to unlocking the final events of the season. At that point, the game’s attitude is for you to be able to win, win, win, otherwise it’s replaying events until enough gears have been acquired. These challenges are filled with an assortment of tasks, such as smashing objects, drifting a total distance before the race finishes, total air time, total boost time, beating a lap time or even coming first without the use of boost. The inclusion of additional tasks to overcome give a reason to return to past events, but also keeps the racing interesting for anyone who wants to maximise the game’s single player content.

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Cash and experience points are earned during racing and for winning. XP is used as a way to earn new cars or upgrades. To completely beat the career mode, you need to purchase each of the three car types in all three difficulties, as some events are tailored to them. Car types are based on weight – light, medium and heavy, with each one looking and handling as you would expect – those heavy cars sure give off Motorstorm vibes and are perfect for ramming into lighter vehicles.

Sadly, while Mantis Burn Racing does wonders in offering creative race types and challenges across its career, the tracks have seemingly got the short end of the stick. There are only two locations in the game. One is called Sand Town, a setting that, unsurprisingly, is set with a lot of sand and dusty towns, where cars will be blasting across hot dunes. The other setting is called New Shangri-la, a tarmac focused city that offers fantastic grip. While it does its best to offer a few routes throughout these themes – and the track designs are great to race around – it got to the point where I was a little fed up seeing the same two themes repeated, to the point they began to blend into one and the same.

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The top-down view makes for some perfect multiplayer racing, and I would argue that Mantis Burn Racing is at its best against human opposition, either be with its four player split-screen for some local madness or online. Taking the game online means players have access to the full arsenal of eight competitors across any of the game’s tracks or race modes, but be prepared for having issues finding full rooms. It’s not the game’s fault, it just seems there isn’t an active community for the PC version’s online play. As it currently stands on PC as I write this, there are 16 people online. It’s issues like these when I think having the ability to cross over with PS4 users – like Rocket League – is a much needed feature in smaller titles that might not have the attention from the masses.

Having an isometric view has always been an handicap for being able to display amazing visuals that stand out against all other genres. While Mantis Burn Racing won’t be near the top on any graphical showcase awards this year, the artists have taken care in representing the environment with plenty of high quality texture work and modelling. This makes it even more of a disappointment that there isn’t more of a mixture with the environment, as I can imagine seeing jungles or icy locations look rather splendid with the detail in the texture work demonstrated here. Most presentation outside of racing is functional, but I can’t help feel that it lacks character, due to the use of a basic, cheap UI design. The camera view does mean Mantis Burn Racing can work on a huge selection of PCs without the need of an enthusiast graphics card. On the other hand, the soundtrack hasn’t received the same polish as the visuals. The music is lifeless and forgettable, with nothing in its selection that would begin to get your blood pumping, plus, the environments sound empty and dead, with the sound of the cars taking up any audio heard.

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In the end, Mantis Burn Racing manages to bring effortless controls and a superb handling model, while being an enjoyable skill-focused racer that gets by just fine with its lack of funky weaponry that often features in these top-down racers. Mantis Burn Racing inhabits an area of gaming that is rather mundane in its selection, and while it’s not the greatest racing game to come out this year, and its online suffers from a lack of players, it’s a solidly made top-down racer with a lengthy career mode and fun multiplayer that I can recommend it for for people who enjoy this now currently niche part of the genre.

7 out of 10