Hotshot Racing Review – Low-Poly, High-Fidelity Arcade Racing At Its Best
Remember arcade racing games where you just pick a track, pick a car and go, go, go? As games get graphically more realistic and racing as a genre gets more niche, the current crop these days are heavily skewed toward realistic, if not simulation-esque, car racing rather than simple, arcade fun.
And this is where Hotshot Racing aims to be. Lucky Mountain Games and Sumo Nottingham are positioning this game as pure, no-frills arcade racing like it was in the ’90s. And they successfully did that, to a fault.
What strikes immediately about Hotshot Racing is its aesthetic choice. It’s that low-poly, non-textured look in the veins of classics like Virtua Racing. But that low-poly look is now in crisp 1080p (and up to 4K) resolution at 60 fps.
It’s definitely hitting some of that nostalgia notes, but for those who never grew with games that look like this, let me assure you that the low-poly look is still high-fidelity.
Each track is littered with little details, from the background mountains and sea in the distance to the busy town. The four locales in Hotshot Racing are vibrant in colour and teeming with life. Spectators pepper the bleaches on the starting grid, with a few watching around other parts of the courses. And few cranes for the marshals and cameramen can be seen too.
Each locale has recognisable landmarks that you can take a glance once in a while when you’re not busy drifting around corners or blocking other cars for position. They look immaculate and respects a sense of place- from lively casinos to… dinosaurs. Tracks of the same location uses a shared set of roads so you’ll see familiar landmarks.
It’s a visual treat. On PC the game could even run on integrated CPU graphics and hit that 60fps mark somewhat consistently. And you can expect to see 60fps on the console versions too.
There’s an amazing sense of speed, from the speed lines on the edge of the screen to blur effects when you hit that boost button. The game offers a cockpit view too, which is an interesting addition- but the sense of speed in the car is a bit lacking compared to other options.
The 32 cars look amazing as well. They are all fantasy models, though petrolheads can clearly figure out which real racing car they are all inspired from. The developers must be fans of endurance racing.
On the audio side, Hotshot Racing delivers too, though not perfect. The ever-present announcer nails his role well. You get different reads of the same lines, so it’s not as repetitious. He’s also got a decent range tonally too.
The eight selectable drivers are also voiced, and some of the voice actors really genuinely enjoyed their time recording those lines, it seems. You can feel the earnestness of a few of them delivering quipped some cheesy one-liner. I can’t help but chuckle whenever the Jamaican runner-turned-driver Marcus screams “This is how life’s supposed to be! Blurry!” when you hit the boost, and the heavy motion blur effects kick in.
The problem I have is that the audio mix could have been better. Granted, you can set the volume for the sound effects, music and voices on a separate slider. But on default, the different audio are fighting for your attention. The driver quips can get drowned by the music. Ambience noise from the environments are way too loud. The very satisfying exhaust blow for every gear shift doesn’t really pop as the dynamic music blares on loud. It’s a bit of a mess, but not a dealbreaker.
Also, the music may not be my cup of tea, but it’s certainly well-produced. If you love synths, electric guitars with a mix of chiptunes sprinkled in your racing game soundtrack, it does the job. And it has dynamic triggers too- like a more frantic version plays when you hit the final lap. Cool touches all-round.
Hotshot Racing is as pure as arcade racing gets. The developers manage to tick just about any box of features (and quirks) you’d expect to see from an arcade racing game from the ’90s.
To give you an idea what I mean, this is some of the more obscure things in that assumed checkbox that Hotshot Racing ticks:
- The title screen has the announcer shouts out the game title
- A rotating diorama of the track when you are selecting them
- Tracks are “mirrored” instead of “reverse”
- Selecting a menu button has the announcer says the option you selected
- You can select automatic and manual transmission after each car select
- Races have a time limit and you must pass checkpoints in time
- The announcer screams “Time Extended!” occasionally after passing checkpoints
- If timer hits 0, the engine stops, but if the car can still cross the checkpoint before it’s game over, you’re back in the race
It really does evoke that nostalgia of arcade racers well. But it’s not that excessive. You don’t get a “game over” screen or have to enter initials.
Brake To Drift, Boost To Win
But back on topic. What do I mean by “pure”? In this case, Hotshot Racing adheres strictly to what you’d expect of an arcade racer: simple to learn controls that are hard to master, a drift mechanic that’ll make you astoundingly faster once you master it, and rubber-band AI.
All you need to know when racing is hit the gas, don’t let go, tap the brakes and slide through those corners as smoothly as you can with the steering. Yes, it uses brake-to-drift like the Burnout series or the recent Need For Speed games, and it works perfectly as intended.
Drifting and following the back of another car to catch their slipstream (drafting) gains you boost meter, and when it fills a segmented chunk, you can use it for that extra speed (and heavy blur).
It’s as simple as that. Drifts builds boost, so you’re rewarded for making powerslides. But be careful as hitting the walls will deduct boost meter. So you need to perfect that art of drifting or be punished for your mistakes.
This is where Hotshot Racing shines. The sensation of speed and the satisfaction of pulling a gnarly drift through a tunnel that curves to exit out with a boost is second to none. It’s what you imagined how a great arcade racer plays. It’s satisfying. It’s perfect.
Impressive AI, No-So-Good Difficulty Spike
But what makes Hotshot Racing stands out more is that it has competent AI that will challenge you. The AI, like most arcade games, will rubber-band to match your speed. If you’ve taken the lead, a few seconds later at least two opponents will zoom close within striking distance to overtake you. They might even use a cheeky boost and make the pass.
Rubber-band AI is usually a dirty word, but in this case, it works. All the cars bunch up regularly, meaning that you can have intense races where any driver has a chance to win. Yes, it’s not just one AI driver that gets the designated “fastest car” and always be up front. They also battle each other too.
The rubber-band AI also gives you a chance to leapfrog them all easily when you have an advantage that is a stock of boost. You’ll only see the rubber-band being used more when you’re absolutely bossing the field. And that means you probably are ready to bump the difficulty from Normal to Hard.
My one problem with the game isn’t because of the rubber-band AI, but rather the difficulty curve. I’m currently trapped in limbo where Hard is too easy and Expert is a nightmare to beat. Which means I’m not having as much fun as I was learning the game in the first few hours when everyone is slow. Now I’m competent at the game, yet still embarrassingly slow.
I’m not asking for the game to be easier, in fact, I appreciate that the hardest difficulty, Expert, is for those that drive to the absolute perfection with no wall-bumping mistakes whatsoever. That’s in line with what arcade racers do. What I’m asking is for the curve to be more of incline from Hard to Expert, rather than a huge spike as it is now. Maybe another difficulty option in-between the two?
There’s no penalty for tapping (or sideswiping) another car, but the physics can get wonky at high speeds. I’ve seen cars unnaturally fly, or worse, slam head-on to the side walls. There’s no respawns here, so that’s a massive penalty if you have to reverse to get yourself going again.
Hotshot Racing’s list of cars and tracks are all unlocked from the get-go. There are four regions with four track layouts, 16 tracks in total not counting mirrored layouts (that’s 32). For cars, each of the eight driver has four distinct cars exclusive to them- so that’s 32. The cars themselves come in four flavours- good at acceleration, have good top speed, easy to drift, or fairly balanced.
There are things to unlock, and that comes from vehicle customisation. Each car has at least two options of visual parts you can change from bumpers to spoilers. Some of these need to be bought using the in-game money (earned for finishing a race) or unlocked by completing special tasks.
There’s a GP Mode, which is a four-race tournament you can enter. There’s a character-specific ending should you win any of the 12 championships on offer. It’s short, as you’d expect.
There is also a Time Trial mode, which is pure hotlapping against the clock and the online leaderboard. There’s also times set by staff members and YouTubers you can beat. So if you want to see how fast you are against the likes of Lucky Mountain Games founder Trevor Lay, AR12 Gaming or the sim racing shed boi himself Jimmy Broadbent, you can.
It’s not much, you’ll see most of the content under 10 hours, but there are other reasons to continue playing.
Cool Extra Modes
There are two other game modes that are more complex than at first glance: Cops And Robbers and Drive Or Explode. It is as self-described as the name implies, but there is some interesting depth to it.
For Cops And Robbers, two of the eight players get randomly selected to be the cops (complete with a cop car and cop attire for the driver). Cops need to take down robbers. Robbers- the remaining racers- race to each checkpoint and finish the race. If the robbers get taken out, they will be “deputized” and join the cops.
But it has layers. The winner is the driver with most earned “cash”. Robbers earn cash for reaching each checkpoint- first one gets a bigger pot and the amount decreases over time for the next subsequent robber to reach it. Cops get their cash by “deputising” a robber by taking them out- there’s a damage meter in this mode.
So there’s an extra layer at play here- you can be the top-earning robber and be the last one standing, but if a top cop nails you down before you finish the race, you lose. But if another cop with less cash gets the final blow you might get the W.
For Drive And Explode- everyone here drives to survive. You need to drive faster than the current speed threshold or your health ticks down. Each checkpoint everyone crosses, the speed limit gets higher, and the cars get faster, the music more frantic.
Even trickier, the first to hit the checkpoint will initiate a ticking time bomb countdown for the others- reach the checkpoint before the bomb explodes. Plus, just like Cops And Robbers, there’s a health meter, so you can hit others to end their race shorter, but health replenishes after each checkpoint
All the other game modes are relatively simple except for these two. And I’m not complaining, they are well thought-out and compelling. Not just a simple gimmick to add more stuff on the features list. And it works great online.
Speaking of which, Hotshot Racing lets you race online too. There’s a quick race option for matchmaking- both for casual and ranked play. You can also host your own lobbies and join others for up to eight players. Of my limited time with racing online, it works really well. Though I do worry if everyone will just be punting each other- again, the collision physics worry me a bit, it can lead to race-destroying hits- accidental or otherwise.
Hotshot Racing should be great with friends, as it supports up to four-player splitscreen too (with Steam Remote Play Together support on PC). And you can bring these four players online and match with four other players.
Hotshot Racing is what all I could ask for in a racing game. It feels that need for speed and drive for competition I have. The visuals are strong and it appeals to the car nerd in me.
But that difficulty spike is a bit of a bummer. But hey, I probably need to get good anyway and I’m not missing out on big content since all the cars and tracks are there from the get-go.
Hotshot Racing scratches that Burnout 2 itch for me. Arcade racers are rare these days, and this game reminded me how fun cars can be if we don’t care about realism once in a while.
Hotshot Racing is pure arcade racing at its best, to a fault. Everything you’d expect from an arcade racing game made in the ’90s is successfully recreated, even the weird, now-obsolete quirks of games from this era.
Having mulitplayer, both online and split-screen, is a great move too.
Hotshot Racing is the current torchbearer of the rare art of arcade racing games. It’s an exemplary showcase of the genre is at its best, and a new benchmark for arcade racers of the next generation to overtake.
Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by Curve Digital