Steel Racer absolutely nails the 90s retro aesthetic for racing games. I’ve loving called this era of racing game the motorway racer as every track looks like one long road snaking left and right. I love these kinds of games and have a soft spot for them today. They’re oddly zen when you are dodging cars and clinging on for grip but I can imagine newer gamers today might find their simplicity underwhelming.
Simplicity is the central theme across Steel Racer. You have 40 tracks to drive in 50 races to win the Steel Racer trophy. Whilst each track is different, they do start to feel quite similar as each bend falls into either a gentle sweep or a hard turn. Hard turns only really appear in the second half of the game and these require either a feather of throttle, a touch on the brakes or a sneaky wheel on the dirt. I’d say about 15% of all corners are hard turns which means the rest of the game is full throttle and its up to you to dance between the 19 other cars on track. Initially you do have a tiny top speed advantage but what will really help you out are nitros. You’ll start with a few and can pick up a few on the track too. Deploy, dodge and keep up your speed is what is required to win each race.
Winning or placing well in races earns cash and for each ten races there’s an upgrade shop that increases grip, top speed, acceleration or reduces weight. You’ll also be able to increase your starting nitro boosts which is handy and buy paint schemes too. My advice is buy nitros and the top speed upgrade as most other things felt barely noticeable. Indeed, I noticed very quickly that Steel Racer is all about making sure you deploy your nitro cleanly and not hit another car when boosting. There is little else to stop you winning. Scenery is drive through. You can’t hit a sign, crash into a tunnel wall – you just slow down a little and that usually means you end up back on the road again. Is it quicker to brake a bit? Yes, but often you’ll have enough in hand to just full steam throttle it around every corner and not care. Only on hard mode will you find any kind of challenge but even then, just avoid launching a nitro into the back of another car and you’ll be in front with a lap to go. As the handling is grippy and stable, you can often telegraph moves quite nicely and it is satisfying to drive round the outside of someone on a long bend. There are moments of greatness as you slalom your way through the racers on a nitro boost too. I did find the bumping physics when I did hit an opponent very inconsistent. Sometimes I’d stop, other times they would stop and if we hit vaguely side on it was anyone’s guess who’d be affected.
If you are looking for a calm, zen racer – like a beginners version of Horizon Chase Turbo – then Steel Racer will be a fantastic purchase. For me, the ease of the game meant that as I burned through the 50 races in just over 3 hours, my brain had switched off somewhat by the time I hit race 30. I was expecting something to happen to challenge me and it didn’t. Weather and ice didn’t affect handling. There is an inventory in the pause menu but you can’t carry anything. It screams for 2 player split screen and there isn’t any. However, the core mechanics are decent Steel Racer is certainly a game that hits the Top Gear vibe squarely and beautifully. Just expect an easy ride.
Review copy provided by developer. Out on the 20th June 2023 on Steam.
Fans of retro late 80's / early 90's racers will enjoy this entry level throwback. Others may find it a little too simplistic. Quite zen though.
Definitely looks the part with excellent retro visuals.
Great chiptune soundtrack.
40 tracks ensure things feel varied in each race.
Predictable handling makes it easy to pick up and play.
Aside from dodging the other racers, there is little other penalty to trouble you (e.g. you can drive through the scenery).
Very simple gameplay loop with zero variation in goals makes everything feel quite samey.
Your car upgrades barely make much of a difference.
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