Since it’s recently had a permanent price reduction, I thought I’d take the plunge on Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing. It’s on the arcade end of the simcade experience of sim racing and you’ll need to be comfortable going round in circles as this is an oval focused product.
Spring Car Racing is all offroad, dirt ovals. There are a couple of tracks that do have some right turns too but they are few and far between. Each oval is different though with gradients, banking, length and bumps in the dirt and so each oval feels unique. That’s quite a challenge when you consider they are either 2, 3 or 4 corners in length! Sadly during races, the track doesn’t deform as the MXGP games do so what you have on lap 1 is what you have throughout the race.
Career mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. It has three tiers of cars, each one more powerful than the last. Entering races lets you earn cash through various heat races to set the grid for the finale, assuming you make it that far. Points don’t just mean championship positions, they also mean prize money. if you crash into others or the barriers you’ll cause damage and if you overrev your engine or steer heavily into corners rather than blend the throttle and steering a little, you’ll get wear on the tyres and suspension too. These parts require cash to repair to give you the best version of your car you have right now. Each part is upgradeable too. Extra cash can be earned by completing challenges for certain position finishes too.
This lends career mode to a certain grind. Grind for finishes in the top 10 or top 5 early on, save the cash, upgrade the car to get more of a winning chance and perhaps mount a championship challenge. You can do this in a single season per tier if you like – it just depends on what difficulty you’ve chosen. The harder difficulties make the AI cars faster but also increases the damage too. It makes the grind longer but it is still fun to zone out.
The cars themselves handle like they are constantly drifting. The top tier winged beasts need to be feather throttled at almost all times through corners whilst the slowest cars are more about cutting the corner short where possible. All three tiers feel noticeably different and fun in their own way. Set up changes are available but I largely didn’t need to dive into the set-up screen very often unless the oval had massive straight or very tight corners. It’s more about hanging onto the edge of the grip levels and keeping the speed up than being clean. The game is very easy to pick up and understand but it does lack that personality that makes you want to come back for years to come.
Online worked well and is still populated some 18 months after launch. I was impressed that it was lag-free although there isn’t a ton of incentive to join in online. You can have up to 25 cars racing online and there’s an online leaderboard which is quite difficult to both discover and understand what informs the ranking. Tournaments are also on a weekly rotation and come down to a single race time trial. Split-screen works nicely offline and I’m grateful for the addition. All the multiplayer formats have a weird tournament scoring system though which scores everyone who raced in that lobby over time but ignores any AI involvement. Then if you leave the lobby, it’s as if you never existed at all.
There’s one other thing I’d mention. Just six months after this game was released Tony Stewart then released a stock car sequel. It’s offroad racing again but with some different vehicles. It features all the same tracks as this game and feels like a Milestone-esque lift and drop. You may want to check that game out instead if you prefer bumper cars. It does also feel like since both games use about 75% of the same source material, it was probably a more just decision to make the second game just DLC, not a full-priced new title. It smells a bit like a cash cow being milked…
That bitterness aside, this is light-hearted fun entertainment. It doesn’t have any strategy or big goals to become a game you’ll sink thousands of hours into but for its small cult niche in the racing world, it does perfectly fine.
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