Little Racers Street Review: Top-Down, Bottom-Up
If you race it, chances are that I’m going to try to review it. That includes the recent release of Little Racers Street, former an Xbox Live Indie Game that was ported over to PC on Steam. I haven’t had the best of luck with top-down racing games but maybe this will be the one to change things for me. Maybe…
Like many other racing games, Little Racer Street doesn’t have a story but it does have a progression system, of sorts. Races are divided up into five classes, E through A, E being the slowest. As you race, you earn ranking points based on your performance. Presumably the end goal is to become the #1 ranked street racer in the world.
Unlike the similar-ish Real World Racing, the only events to partake in are races rather than weird gimmick events. The idea is to be the first across the finish line. There are plenty of tracks to do so on with two cities worth of streets to race and an advertised 120 different course layouts. They’re randomly selected for racing in the Career Mode which keeps you on your toes and doesn’t allow you to spam those few courses that you always win on.
Apart from the Career Mode, where you’ll spend most of your time, there are a few other game modes to sink your time into. There’s the Daily Challenge mode in which you try to set the fast lap against everyone else over a different track each day. You can also try your standard quick race, time trial and multiplayer modes.
The driving does take a little getting used to. Each of the classes handles differently with the speed and tail-happiness increasing from E to A. It’s quite a different experience as you go from one extreme to the other. Driving an A-class car and slinging it through the corner is very different than the smooth inputs required by the E and D Classes to keep momentum and speed up.
Perhaps the oddest design choice in the game is the fact that it seems like the game only accepts two inputs at the same time. For example, when you are accelerating and using turbo, you can’t turn. When you are turning and accelerating, you aren’t able to use turbo. I don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t be able to but I’m not a game designer so it must make sense to someone.
In addition to the dozens of cars, there is an upgrade system for cars in LRS. Each upgrade increases a car’s overall performance rating and that determines a car’s class. You can upgrade a car in speed, turning, grip and nitro accumulation rate but all you’ll ever really need to do is upgrade the speed.
That’s because the handling and AI physics in this game are a pitfall. The AI cars are basically like tanks. They can barge into you and slam you out of the way but you can’t repay them in kind. They also have the ability to plow into walls on turns and bounce off without losing much speed. At the start of each race, you’ll quickly find yourself at the back of the pack unless you are smart about car positioning because the AI flies into the corner with no regard for hitting the invisible wall at the side of the track (denoted by a painted white line at the track’s edge), crash into you and bounce off ahead of you.
And that becomes a problem because passing becomes more difficult as you go up the ranks. There’s no catch-up logic which would make passing difficult enough if the roads weren’t a bit too narrow to execute a pass on the straights which renders nitro useless. As you move up in classes, the ability to catch up by driving clean is reduced which makes your car’s turning and grip stats less important. That’s why I said that speed was the only properly important attribute for your car.
Visuals are another up and down spot. The lighting and environment effects are absolutely spectacular. At night, the roads are illuminated by street lights and car headlights. You car see the light off the luminous blue barriers on the road. Wet weather racing includes reflections on the road and spray off the cars. The environment sounds are great too and I wouldn’t expect the sounds of a fountain to even be included in the game. These are things that $60 games struggle with and Little Racers Street did amazingly.
Apart from those environment and lighting effects, the graphics and audio aren’t going to set the world on fire. I think that the soundtrack might consist of three or four songs. The engines aren’t particularly memorable. The general world graphics aren’t particularly special when you separate out things like lighting and running water and weather effects. That being said, did I mention the environment and lighting effects are pretty cool?
LRS comes with five different camera angles and I haven’t found one that I particularly like. The overhead and isometric cameras have issues where it’s hard to see your car in the field, the road is obstructed by buildings and it’s hard to see where the track goes next (there is no turn indicator option). The two chase cameras make me nauseous though I was a lot faster with the low-angle chase camera. I went fastest on a Daily Challenge by six-tenths thanks to it.
My biggest issue with the look of the game was the HUD. I just found it absolutely massive for the style of game that Milkstone Studios made. On your TV though the Xbox 360, it might work. On a laptop screen, it doesn’t work out too well. Considering it’s a top-down game, available screen space is important so you can see where you’re going.
Let’s do a little side-by-side comparison to illustrate my point. On the left is Little Race Street and Gran Turismo 6 is on the right.
The fact that GT6 is a triple-A game is not relevant to this discussion. Any game of any budget can have any HUD design. GT6 fills up the edges but leaves the middle of the screen bare since that’s where you need to be looking. Even the sides are fairly transparent so apexes, track edges and other cars aren’t greatly obstructed while still directing your view straight ahead.
LRS, on the other hand, brings the HUD in from the edges which obstructs your view. Your eyes are locked inside a very small square at the centre of the screen. There were more than a few occasions when I found the apex of the next turn hidden behind the speedometer or, ironically, the mini-map. The HUD didn’t always get in the way but it happened often enough to warrant mention here.
I even went so far as to do an overlay comparison of the two HUDs. LRS is the red outline while Gran Turismo 6’s view is covered by the blue. I even helped out LRS by cutting out GT6’s live running order on the right side of the screen. I’d much prefer that Milkstone look into a more minimalist HUD design for their next racing game. Seeing the track is sort of critical in a racing game.
Speaking of display issues, I don’t know why Milkstone bothered with the luminous blue arrows on the ground to point you in the right direction when you might get half-a-second notice of an upcoming turn. With the obstructive HUD and top-down view, a little heads up on corners goes a long way to making the racing experience better.
While the actual racing of Little Racer Street is good compared to the similar Real World Racing, it’s held back by some odd design decisions. While I have my little gripes about the driving, those are things you adapt to in every racing game because the driving is always different.
Where LRS falls apart the most is not letting you see or know where you’re going. While the numerous tracks is usually a good thing, it doesn’t provide you an opportunity to learn the tracks. You just hope you can vaguely learn the sequence during the race without costing yourself a chance at the win.
On the plus side is that this game is only $8. Compared to Real World Racing for nearly twice as much, it certainly got that value for money proposition going for it. At least there are a few more things going for it than that.
Little Racers Street was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X, Linux and Xbox 360. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC spec and whether you actually need to see where you’re driving.