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It’s been a while since we’ve seen a high profile top-down racing game make its way onto Steam – there’s a few seemingly lower budget efforts that pop up every Steam sale or so, but not much to really point at and definitively say “Yes, that one, that’s the one everyone should know about.” Hoping to remedy that particular conundrum is VooFoo Studios’ Mantis Burn Racing, a 3D top-down racer currently available through Steam Early Access.

Mantis Burn Racing has three gameplay modes – Career, Single Race and Online Race. Career Mode sees you traversing a branching path lined with races and special missions, unlocking special races by completing all the events that surround them on the pathway, much like Sonic and All Stars Racing: Transformed. The race types include standard three-lap races, Accumulation races where the first to a certain number of points wins, Knockout events where whoever’s in last place gets eliminated at the end of each lap, Time Trials, multi-track league races and many more. Every race has three challenges associated with it, and completing these challenges will earn you “Gears” that allow you to take certain locked routes towards certain car upgrades and progress to the next Career Mode “Season” once you get towards the end of each path.

Single Race Mode lets you customise an event to your liking and bring up to four friends along for the ride in split-screen local multiplayer, whereas Online Mode allows you to create a lobby for up to eight players and take on a race using the same breadth of options as Single Race. Unfortunately I was unable to get into any online races during my time with the game, but the functionality is present nonetheless.

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Mantis Burn Racing’s controls are simplistic but well implemented – the controller’s triggers accelerate and brake your car whilst the left analogue stick steers. Particularly tight turns will make your car begin to drift, and managing to pull off a long, unbroken drift or getting a lot of airtime by launching off a ramp will contribute towards your car’s boost gauge. Driving your vehicle feels very good indeed, with appropriately arcade-y handling and each vehicle weight class – more on that later – bringing a different play style to the table.

The opponent racer AI works well enough – once the difficulty began to ramp up I began to have fewer and fewer races where I found myself quite far in front with little hope of the AI catching up, and once you break into the Pro class races – where opponents will use shortcuts a lot more regularly – the AI can be quite a challenge. We’re not talking older Mario Kart levels of rubberbanding luckily, but just enough to keep things interesting when you think you’ll never lose the lead.

Once you’ve earned a few gears and completed some races it’s always a good idea to pop back to the Garage, where you can outfit your unlocked vehicles with a variety of upgrades, including those that improve your boost, acceleration, top speed and so on.

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You can also buy vehicles (from a current selection of six) provided you have both the credits and the player rank required to purchase them. Different vehicles have noticeably different play styles – as you might imagine the Renegade car you start off with is a fairly decent all-rounder, while the light dune buggy Duster vehicle has great acceleration, doesn’t lose too much speed hitting the ground after a jump and easily pulls off tight drifts at the cost of a lower top speed overall and the heavy, thick-set Maverick is slow to accelerate but has a surprisingly good top speed and can blast through certain obstacles to open up shortcuts.

Mantis Burn Racing gets a lot of use out of the relatively few distinct locations currently available (those being Sand Town and New Shangri-La, a desert area and a city respectively) by having a great number of different tracks within those locations – for example, Sand Town plays host to The Mine, a twisting track that invites a lot of drifting and the smooth beginner course Summit whilst New Shangri-La brings a lot of very tightly cornered urban courses like Metropolis as well as the lengthy and unconventional Storm Drain.

From a visual perspective Mantis Burn Racing does a very good job representing everything it needs to and more. The vehicles are well modeled and pack a fair bit of detail into their Micro Machine-esque forms while the environments in particular are very well realized indeed. Sand Town was a particular highlight with its breadth of very detailed rock formations sprinkled with desert fauna as well as its occasional venture into small, arid cityscapes, while New Shangri-La provides a similarly detailed nighttime city environment filled with omnipresent streetlamps, neon lights and twisting, illuminated roads.

A lot of work clearly went into making sure the brief snippets of theming you’ll briefly catch sight of lining the road are that little bit more detailed than you might expect too. One of my favourite examples of this was a mansion, complete with a fancy garden, that you drift around at one point during one of the tracks in Sand Town.

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If I had one nitpick about the visuals, it would be that while everything is very well executed technically, the game could do with some slightly more vibrant colours at times to keep things interesting as there’s a few lengthy straights and sections in some of Sand Town’s tracks that can get a little monotonous to look at, but aside from that there’s not a great deal to complain about.

Overall, Mantis Burn Racing is a very well executed top-down racing game that fans of the genre will most likely love. If I was being particularly picky I would say that the early game could use some more immediately intense races to get players gripped a little quicker, but things definitely heat up once you get further into Career Mode and start to upgrade your cars. If you’ve got a tenner to spare and a yearning for a good top-down racer, Mantis Burn Racing may very well be a game to check out. Good luck to VooFoo Studios with the rest of the Early Access phase!

Mantis Burn Racing is available on Steam Early Access.

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