Mantis Burn Racing Review – PS4/PC

Back in the days of Voodoo and Diamond3D video cards, and 3DFX daughter boards there was this little car combat game called Death Rally; a top-down racing game with car combat that totally dominated my gaming life during the end of 1996. Mantis Burn Racing reminds me so much of that game (minus the combat elements) that the flood of memories washing over me the first couple of hours had me feeling 20 years younger. Everything from the top-down perspective to the slippery controls and Super Sprint arcade racing action is so retro, which only makes the juxtaposition with the photo-realistic textures and 4K presentation that much more impressive.

Mantis Burn Racing offers numerous ways to play ranging from quick races to a lengthy career mode that slowly turns into a repetitive grind if you try to marathon the game for longer than two hours at a time. There are also multiplayer modes for both four-player local split-screen and up to eight players online, but good luck finding anyone playing on either system.

We recently had the chance to review Mantis Burn Racing on both the PC and the PS4 Pro. Both formats offered us the luxury of full 4K resolution graphics, but the PS4 Pro seemed to offer slightly better controls and the extra splash of HDR fidelity missing on the PC. The PC countered back with snappy load times versus the 60+ second waits to start (or restart) a race on the PS4. Other than that, expect a near-identical look and feel to this arcade racer.

My biggest beef with the game is the lack of variety. With only two environments and only four tracks per environments you will have seen everything this game has to offer within the first few hours, and given the length of the three massive multi-event seasons, even reversing the tracks won’t be enough to shake the dread of Deja vu midway through season 2. This game is in desperate need of new tracks.

Where the game doesn’t lack in variety is in ways to play. There are 8 challenging modes including typical events like Time Trial and Knockout, as well as skill-based events like Accumulator and Overtake, and the game offers fresh weekly challenges for those daring enough to attempt them. Some of these are very difficult.  There are also multi-race championships scattered about the seasons.

Neither system seems to have anyone playing online, so the multiplayer is a bust – at least for the weeks I played leading up to this review. The local split-screen mode is a blast if you have friends over, but the career mode is pretty much the core component of the entire package.

Despite a lack of visual and track variety there is a fairly robust car upgrade system in place that allows you to earn various parts by advancing through the career earning XP. As your career meter moves to the right you’ll unlock parts and new cars (which must still be purchased), and you can visit the garage between races to install those parts to improve your vehicle’s performance. Cars come equipped with limited upgrade slots, but you can level-up the cars to add more slots to allow for more upgrades to keep them competitive with the AI racers in each event.

The level of difficulty is a smooth upward tick but you never know just how competitive you are (or aren’t) until you try a race. If you lose spectacularly then it’s usually time for an upgrade or perhaps a different car, while some races require a different class of car like a sprint buggy or off-road truck. Owning multiple vehicles gets more strategic when you have to choose which car gets your inventory of upgrade parts.  There are only six cars in total and parts cannot be reassigned once installed.

Each race rewards you with a possible six stars and each season is checkpointed with a fixed total before you are allowed to advance, which gives the game a bit of added replay value if you don’t earn all the stars on your first try. There are stars for winning the race and then bonus stars for achieving certain objective like finishing under a certain time, or beating a lap time or drifting a certain distance or not using your nitro boost. Most of the time it’s possible to earn all the stars on a single race, but some objectives contradict each other forcing you to repeat an event.

The graphics are really good with photo-realistic textures and ultra-high 4K resolutions that are almost too good for the type of game this is. There are several camera views to choose from but they are all from high above giving the game a very slot-racer-like feel. The cars are so tiny and the while the environments are all rendered in 3D, the perspective fits somewhere between 2D and isometric. The music is excellent but the sounds and engine noises are simple and slowly turn annoying.

Mantis Burn Racing has some fantastic controls…once you get used to them, but even after you do there are certain nuances like traction, turbo and drift that are always in a state of flux based on your upgrades. But once you start nailing those epic drifts (which actually fuel your boost) there is no denying the thrill of the race, and the competitive AI really has you fighting for each and every checkered flag.

There is a 4-star game lurking somewhere within Mantis Burn Racing but it’s being held back by only 3 stars worth of variety. It wasn’t before I started season 2 that I realized there was nothing more to look forward to other than more repetitive grinding to upgrade the cars I had or purchase new and better cars just to stay competitive with the rising AI of the competition.   I’m all for track familiarity, but this is overkill. Halfway through season two I knew every shortcut and couldn’t shave another micro-second off my lap time, so the challenge was gone.

The developers have promised future content updates – some free and some paid. Honestly, for the $15 initial price there had better be more free than paid DLC on the horizon because right now this game in its current state is slightly overpriced. More tracks and more cars are greatly needed before I can completely recommend this game, but for now, if you are looking for a challenging arcade racer for the PC or PS4, and especially if you want to show off some great 4K visuals, then Mantis Burn Racing is an addictive solution when consumed in small doses.

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