I saw a trailer for Mantis Burn Racing a while ago and it looked like great fun. The trailer was raucous, load, there was rock music, exciting and fast paced racing. I tried the game at Eurogamer recently, among the hustle and bustle of the show floor, it stood out as a great looking game with exciting racing, drifting around tight corners and sweeping bends. Something has happened to the final release, it has that great handling but everything else feels a bit depressing.
Mantis Burn Racing is a top down racing game. The closest comparator is probably either Micro Machines or the more recent Motorstorm RC. There aren’t very many types of these sorts of games around really – thankfully the key component of Mantis Burn is really good.
Controls are really simple – right trigger to accelerate, left to brake. You won’t really need to do too much braking however as easing off the gas is enough to slow you and help drift – a fundamental part of Mantis Burn Racing. This actually comes really quickly and you soon find yourself zipping around turns tighter and tighter, getting just right the required about of drift. The cars feel light enough to do this but not too heavy – a perfect balance. Different cars are available all with a different weight and ease of drifting. The weight element is more of an influencing on individual car statistics (such as speed etc) but heavier vehicles have the ability to open up shortcuts on tracks which then can be used for all cars.
Outside of the track action though and you begin to feel that all of the dots aren’t quite joining up. The track environments are fine, they look nice enough but do feel like they are missing a bit of personality. You have a desert track for example, a city track location etc. – day and night variations help a bit but all of the colours just feel a bit washed out. This is the same of the cars, selecting your colours vary from washed out red, pale blue, faded grey – the crisp and smooth visuals are a bit let down by choice of colour palette.
The graphics themselves are nice, textures are good and cars look fine – and it certainly is smooth. 60 frames solid (with also the option to run 60 fps and full 4K on PS Pro) is great, but the default is that the track rotates on the screen as you go around it. I very quickly felt very sick and had to lock the view down (thankfully this is an option) before doing much more.
Mantis Burn Racing boasts a 20 hour single player career mode with RPG elements. The RPG component involves levelling up your car and adding elements affecting the base stats – for example, at level one your car may have three upgrade slots which can be filled all with engine upgrades to improve speed. At level two, you may have five slots which you may elect a mixture of engine and boost improvements. Over the career you will get more cars and each will have a unique set of stats to you. This is a cool feature. Sadly, the 20 hour career mode is a slog of single races, time trials or hotlap events with nothing really stitching them together. A number of stars must be reached before progressing by completing individual challenges in each race (drift for a total of 10 seconds, destroy three barriers etc.) which adds some element to this, but given the RPG upgrade nature, 20 hours of varying disconnected events feels soulless.
Saying that – what else would you want from a racing game? At heart it is all about the racing and the racing here is great, so perhaps it comes down to mood and perspective. Narratives in these types of games can be hit or miss, and Mantis Burn’s focus on the key component is welcomed. Perhaps then it’s the bells and whistles which contribute to the drudge through the campaign.
I’ve mentioned the colour palette already, but the audio is a culprit here. Engine noise from the cars are low and faded as well, in fact if you turn the music off you can barely hear them – they are only as noisy are the ambient effects from the world, such as wind blowing, water falling. And you will want to turn the music off – gone is the exciting, brash rock and roll of the trailers (or the bustle of the videogame exhibition) and instead is a dreary, home-brewed mush of instruments. It’s really horrible and covers the whole game in sadness from once you boot it up through to the gameplay. As much as audio can add to the experience, it feels like everything surrounding the excitement of the great racing here is trying its best to bring you down and make you not enjoy it.
Multiplayer is present here, either four player locally via split screen or eight player online. Online sadly does not benefit from matchmaking and you will need to find a lobby and hope that everyone readies up. Unfortunately at best I could only ever find two lobbies (both with two people in them) so can’t attest to how well the netcode holds up. It does seem like there aren’t a lot of people playing so far, although it’s early days, and perhaps cross play with PC can be added in which will help the userbase.
It’s such a shame that something so much fun can be surrounding in such a depressing environment. My suggestion would be to fire up Mantis Burn Racing, mute the game, up the contrast on your tv and turn on some really heavy rock music to enjoy what is at heart, a fantastic racing experience.
Reviewed on PS4