"Mantis Burn Racing": A Pure Top-Down Arcade Racer

I'm going to start off by saying that no, there's no meaning behind the title of the game. It's literally just the name of the game's engine, a custom engine built from the ground up by the developers at VooFoo Studios.

So, Mantis Burn Racing. An indie racing game that I've been following since its days in Early Access. This is one that proves there's actually potential in the Early Access system, as long as the game's devs are actually sticking with their project. Valve needs to come up with some kind of enforcement that makes sure devs follow through on their projects. But that's another thread.

So why do I call this a "pure" arcade racer? Simple: No weapons, no damage modelling, just drive. This isn't some hardcore true-to-life simulator, so just let yourself go and realize that this game is just a simple and fun arcade racer without the Mario Kart RNG bull$#!+. It's just straight up racing, with a few minor twists in some of the event types.

They recently released a pair of DLC packs for the game, one free and one paid. The free expansion "Snowbound" adds four new tracks in a new winter environment where traction is hard to find due to the ice and snow; while the paid expansion "Elite Pack" gives you access to a fourth class of vehicle that are all ducted fan hover machines that are faster than anything else in the game, and comes with a Career season dedicated to them.

So the base game comes standard with nine vehicles and eight tracks. You've got a desert environment and a city environment, though it doesn't seem like the transitions from dirt to pavement really effect handling that much. Again, it's an arcade racer, so don't take it too seriously. The nine vehicles in the base game come in three classes of escalating performance and three sizes that determine the handling style.

Light vehicles are nimble little buggies with loose, drifty handling and strong acceleration but poor top speeds; they also tend to be the best at taking hard landings from jumps. Medium vehicles are sports cars with more stable handling than the lightweight buggies, but they tend to be the worst at taking big jumps; their speed and acceleration are average for their class. Heavy vehicles are large trucks that are very difficult to slide and have poor acceleration, but they have the best top speeds. The vehicles come in Rookie, Pro and Veteran tiers(plus the DLC Elite class) with each tier being faster than the last.

Vehicles have five performance statistics that are shown, each with its own effect. Speed and Acceleration are pretty simple, representing how fast your vehicle can go and how quickly it gets up to speed. Grip is how well your vehicle's tires grip the track surface; this one can actually hurt you, as you want to drift your vehicle to generate Boost, but most Light vehicles can already drift very well despite their high Grip ratings, so be careful. Suspension determines how much speed is lost when you take a hard landing from a big jump; the higher the rating, the less speed is lost, so Lights are your best choice of vehicle if you know a track has a lot of airtime. Boost just simply determines how easily your vehicle generates Boost and how long the Boost lasts for.

The game features an Upgrade system, where you get upgrades that effect each of the vehicle's five stats differently. Engine upgrades increase top speed, but can have negative effects on your vehicle's Grip. Gearbox upgrades improve Acceleration but can reduce your top speed. Tire upgrades improve your vehicle's Grip but can reduce your acceleration. Suspension and Boost upgrades have no downsides, with the former simply reducing speed lost from big jump landings, and the latter making it easier to generate Boost and make your Boost last longer.

So I've been talking about Boost. MBR has a simple system: drift your car, take big jumps, draft behind rivals and overtake them to generate Boost. When your Boost is full, you can fire it off for a big surge in speed, perfect for powering past a difficult rival. However, you'll need to take note of what kind of vehicle you're driving: Lights generate Boost very easily from drifting, so they can use it often, and their speed drops back down quickly which encourages you to use it often; Mediums take a bit more effort to drift and take a bit longer to slow back down, meaning you'll use it less often and need to be more careful when you fire it off; and Heavies require the most effort to get into a slide and take a good while to slow back down, requiring you to know what's ahead of you well in advance of using your Boost.

The game's modes feature most of the regular staples of racing games along with a few unique modes: standard circuit racing in three different lengths(Sprint is two laps, Race is three laps and Endurance is five), Knockout(last place after each lap is eliminated), Hot Lap(post the fastest single lap against a field of rivals all trying to do the same), Time Trial(just race against the clock to post the fastest lap time), Overtake(get past a certain number of traffic vehicles faster than anyone else), Accumulator(cover distance to earn points, but you earn more for being ahead of the other drivers), Time Out(drive as far as you can, hitting checkpoints to extend your time; but colliding with other vehicles or the walls reduce your allowed time) and Spotlight(stay in the light to stay in the race; last driver standing wins). They all play well.

The tracks are all fun to drive. The game steadily eases you in to some of the more technical tracks that you'll encounter later in the Career mode. The Career mode is actually quite extensive, as the Rookie, Pro and Veteran vehicle classes each get three full Seasons in Career mode, and each new Season seems to be longer than the last. The game has an EXP system, but it really only exists to hold access of the faster Pro and Veteran vehicles until you've got experience playing the game; it also gives you Upgrades to fit to your vehicles every so often.

Vehicles have a fixed number of Slots for upgrades, and when they're all full you can "Level Up" your vehicle to gain additional slots to work with. Each vehicle can be upgraded to Level 3, at which point you can fill out its remaining Upgrade slots in order to gain the ability to increase the effects of the Upgrades you've fitted; originally, upgrades only came in two levels, with X2 Upgrades counting as two upgrades in one slot, but this has been updated and expanded so that Upgrades can come in values up to X5.

The weakest part of the game is definitely the soundtrack. The songs for the tracks "Summit" and "Caves" are good, but the rest are generally pretty mediocre; though that said, I've listened to some of the music for some of the tracks in the "Snowbound" environment and they're actually pretty good. I'll need more time to judge them fairly.

Lastly, the controls. I use a wired 360 controller, which the game supports. Sadly, there's no option to rebind anything. However, the controls are laid out well. There's no handbrake, but the throttle and brake are on the right and left triggers respectively, while the A button activates your Boost when it's full. Steering is on the Left Stick, and the Right Bumper changes the camera mode. Currently, there are only four camera modes: "Standard" which is the default camera, "Dynamic" which makes the camera move around more, "Static" which sets the camera at a fixed angle instead of following your vehicle's rotation, and "Tight" which I prefer because it more closely tracks your vehicle and is closer to the action.

For its $15USD price tag, I'd say it's worth it if you're a fan of arcade racers, especially if you'd rather do without the Mario Kart-style RNG bull$#!+. The "Elite Pack" only costs $3USD and adds the amazing Elite class hover vehicles, which I've had a ton of fun with, so I'd say to get that as well if you're enjoying the game. The "Snowbound" pack is free and adds two additional Seasons to the Career mode as well as four new tracks in a whole new environment, so there's no reason not to grab it if you're buying MBR. In all, this is a good purchase and worth every penny.

 

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