It’s not often you get a game to review but you end up evaluating two. So proved the situation with Formula Retro Racing: World Tour, the ambitious and often-beguiling sequel to the underrated Formula Retro Racing–a franchise debut I loved so much, it landed in my top-ten must-play indie list of 2020.
Formula Retro Racing: World Tour hopes to write yet another love letter to 90s racing games, but just a week ahead of its launch, it was unbalanced, inconsistent, and frankly unfinished. Sure, it had its charms, but this long-awaited follow-up felt rushed and a bit broken. Two days before launch? A vast swathe of tweaks and changes made for an entirely new experience.
Any game reviewer worth their salt will tell you that updates prior to launch are pretty common, and you regularly get told to expect a day-one patch to fix known problems. Still, even now, with many genuine improvements bringing many elements of Formula Retro Racing: World Tour up to code, problems persist.
Still, if any developer will fix them–and fix them VERY fast–it’s Formula Retro Racing creator Repixel8. If you loved the first game, or simply want your retro fix, you should absolutely give World Tour a chance; its lingering issues will be fixed in days or hours, never mind months or weeks, because lead dev Andrew Jeffreys listens to feedback and gets things done.
The Formula Retro Racing: World Tour, er, formula is simple: it’s the same again, with a new car class and a boatload of new circuits. Inspired by iconic cities and landscapes of the world, Formula Retro Racing’s beauty continues to shine through the way it captures anything from the Colosseum and Tokyo Tower to the winding valleys of Wales and delightfully lo-fi takes on Las Vegas’ Fremont Street. Every new corner can elicit another smile, and you’re never let down by a beautifully consistent 60fps frame rate.
Circuits are varied and challenging, whether you’re taking on the opening Montreal course–clearly inspired by the real-life Circuit Gilles Villeneuve–or the frankly mind-boggling San Francisco course, easily the most ambitious and janky hill-strewn racetrack with a very clear nod to Lombard Street, which has its own weird charisma, even if you regularly see your car exploding because you can’t see where you’re going on downhill sections.
That said, it’s all about understanding your car’s limits. The tried-and-tested F1/Indy-style cars are back, joined by a few new body styles inspired by Le Mans. However, Formula Retro Racing: World Tour still feels fundamentally designed around them, because its all-new car class appears to be underdeveloped to the point of often feeling like an afterthought.
Enter the drift cars: easily the most ridiculous arcade racing car you’ll try in years, for better and worse. Once you go above 60mph in one of these bad boys, they handle like slightly more graceful shopping carts. You only need to attempt a minor adjustment to your straight line to screech and skid like Bambi on ice. Weirdly glorious.
However, they soon become Formula Retro Racing: World Tour’s most enjoyable option. Once you understand their wicked ways, flying around corners and avoiding world-ending crashes with your 19-strong cohort of fellow racers is a delight, especially when you realise that all but around five corners in the game require active braking; you can just ease off the gas to hit the perfect turn. It’s less driving, more dancing.
Sadly, due to a lack of technical balance, drift cars are simply not an option for certain circuits, especially on Expert difficulty. It’s especially egregious in bowl races, where the only way to win in a drift car is to literally drive on the grass. You’d think this’d be a problem for any car, but curiously, turf only slows down Indy-inspired speedster class vehicles. Meanwhile, other courses, notably the overly long and shockingly dull Snowdonia Drift, see you barely finishing in 8th in a drift car because it’s literally impossible to catch up to your fellow drivers.
A lot of adjustments are necessary to improve the overall experience of Formula Retro Racing: World Tour. Aside from car class-related problems, some Expert-difficulty tracks still have unfair timers between checkpoints, while crash mechanics can often see you restarting a race seconds into an attempt, ploughing into a wall due to no fault of your own. On a base level, despite its many updates, World Tour still doesn’t arise from its slumber when restarting your console on Xbox, forcing a hard reset.
Some things can’t really be improved, too. The bowl races, even with forensic adjustments, are truly dull and procedural; real “win once, never again” stopgaps. Its music is way too repetitive, especially if you have the nerve to do an Eliminator for 30 laps; you’ll be in a straightjacket after ten.
Formula Retro Racing: World Tour could’ve done with another month or so in the testing stage. Still, it’s only a victim of its own aspirations, and in the indie scene, it’s important to remember that this can be understandable, frustrating, and commendable in equal measure.
World Tour aimed a little too high and took its eye off the bottom line, but one thing’s for sure: Repixel8 will refine and improve this game, and you can all but guarantee that it’ll be another experience well worth those retro-demanding dollars. It might not be a must-buy right now, but if this is your bag, it’s a definite must-try.
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