Publisher: Blackbird Software
Reviewed on PC (Steam)
The Bottom Line: Though it looks the part, this top-down racer struggles to stand out among its peers in a crowded genre.
Having spent many childhood summer vacations playing classics like RC Pro-Am and Super Off Road, I’m no stranger to the top-down racing genre. So when AV-Racer, with its vibrant colors and CRT-filtered graphics, came to my attention I was eager to check it out. But while AV-Racer is mechanically sound and gets out to an early lead, it ultimately doesn’t have the endurance to stay at the front of the pack.
Right from the get-go, AV-Racer makes a positive impression. Snappy music accompanies an attractive menu that presents single race, career, and split-screen multiplayer options. Select single race, and you’ll be whooshed off to the speedway, where a handful of CPU-controlled competitors await. Cars in AV-Racer are a bit slow off the line, but once they reach racing speeds their handling is responsive – assuming you are comfortable with so-called tank controls. I love this kind of control scheme when it’s implemented well, as it is here. Your mileage may vary, but if you embrace your inner tank commander (or zombie hunter) you should warm up to it quickly enough.
Speeding into Walls
As I participated in my first few races, my confidence and driving skills gradually developed, with my lap times decreasing with each loop around the track. Cool jazz fusion pumped through my speakers, persistent skid marks gradually marred the once pristine asphalt, and my controller rumbled gently as I accelerated, braked, and whipped around corners. The only thing missing was the smell of burnt rubber. In short, I was having a good time.
Were this just a demo, I could’ve stopped there and walked away with a very positive impression. Unfortunately, however, this is not just a demo – it’s ostensibly a full game with a career mode, and over the course of my career the game’s issues, both big and small, became harder to overlook.
The cracks started to show when I smashed into a wall and had to shift into reverse. Acceleration in AV-Racer is often slow, and when you throw your car into reverse this sluggishness intensifies. Losing all accumulated speed after a crash is penalty enough. Reverse should help the player get back in the action quickly, but instead it feels like an extra punishment.
I also found that car-on-car collisions often create unnatural reactions, with sideswipes causing vehicles to shoot like bullets in unexpected directions. This effect becomes more prominent as you unlock faster classes of cars, which zip along at higher speeds that further expose quirks of the game’s physics. While handling is generally nimble, the speedier cars handle less like ground-bound vehicles and more like hovercraft out of F-Zero or Wipeout.
Track design is another problematic area. Tracks lack adequate signposting for turns, forcing the player to either memorize the tracks or constantly keep one eye on the minimap. Additionally, a few of the tracks have sharp zigzagging sections that are cumbersome to navigate. Though they would perhaps be appropriate in a rally racer, these groupings of tight corners feel out of place here. Steering a super-fast F1 car around long chains of hairpins simply isn’t very fun.
Any Color You Want, As Long As It’s Black
The above issues, even when taken together, aren’t deal breakers. Every game has quirks, after all. But while great games tend to have strong, engaging systems that make it easy to ignore subjective flaws, blemishes in lesser games don’t have anywhere to hide.
What ultimately drags down AV-Racer, then? It’s a basic lack of variety. The most glaring example of this is the song that plays while you race. It’s a good song, but it’s the only song, and by the time you’ve completed career mode you’ll have had your fill of it. The racetracks are also somewhat monotonous – they have different shapes, yes, but otherwise do little to differentiate themselves from one another. Finally, although there are five classes of cars, they all handle similarly. Furthermore, all CPU opponents always drive the exact same car as the player. Greater vehicle variety, even if the changes were primarily cosmetic, would diversify the player’s experience.
Although the game isn’t in early access, development is still ongoing, and I’m curious to see what additional content, if any, developer Wassimulator will add. More race rewards, such as car parts and upgrades, could provide a smoother sense of progression and keep the player more engaged. Moreover, I wish the game would lean harder into its arcade side. Powerups, weapons, turbo boosts, oil slicks, and other arcadey features could inject more fun into the proceedings.
As a tech demo for a bespoke game engine, AV-Racer is a clear success. Wassimulator has built a strong framework that features functional AI racers and excellent rumble support. For that, I give him great credit. As a game competing against other games for my attention, however, AV-Racer comes up a bit short of receiving my recommendation. Despite its mostly solid fundamentals, the game just did not have enough content or variety to keep me engaged.