So, having finished Life is Strange last week, and not wanting to start anything major until I’d finally tracked down a copy of Uncharted 4 (because, Brazil), I figured I’d take a crack at Table Top Racing: World Tour. My quest to get my hands on Nathan Drake’s latest adventure turned out to be about as quest-ey and convoluted as an actual Nathan Drake Adventure, but, in the end TTR: WT turned out to be quite the time filler – and in a totally good way.
As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of racing games, but a while ago I got a review copy of Table Top Racing for the PS Vita, and I thoroughly enjoyed Playrise Digital’s blending of the Micro Machines and Mario Kart ethos and aesthetic. Anyways, given Table Top Racing: World Tour is FREE on PS+ this month, I figured I didn’t have much to lose and – as it turned out – quite a bit to gain……
One of the things I liked about the handheld TTR game was that it fit perfectly with the pick-up-and-put-down nature of the Vita, and I wasn’t initially convinced a PS4 version would be the kind of game that I’d happily sit in front of the TV and play continuously. After giving it a “quick” try however, and realising four hours later that I was still giving it a quick try, that little theory of mine appears to have been a bit of a daft one. Like, ‘The Earth is flat, here be dragons… ‘ levels of daft. See, even though TTR: WT is perfectly playable in short bursts, and even though individual races and challenges take only a few minutes to play, the whole package is hugely, ridonkulously addictive.
Table Top Racing: World Tour’s genius is precisely that you can just fly through it, or you can get sucked in and try to ace everything the game has to offer. There are three modes, Campaign/Career, Challenges and Multiplayer and each of them is designed with a distinct ‘minutes to learn, hours to master’ flavour, which means you can get as little – or as much – out of the game as you’d like. Without intending to, I found myself in the “I’ll just have one more shot at 3-starring this event” zone, which quickly progressed to a “I might as well try and 3-star every event” mentality.
Given racing games are not usually my thing, and given that I’m usually pretty rubbish at them (the two things probably being related), I was actually pleasantly surprised that I could be arsed with all of that, and I think a lot of this had to do with the game’s design. I’ll come to that again in a minute, but for now, let’s just say me playing a racing game without lobbing my controller across the room in frustration = rare and credit worthy achievement on the part of a developer.
In Campaign/Career, you’ll be taken through the various elements and variations of Table Top Racing, needing to achieve a certain number of stars to unlock first more events, before eventually unlocking the end of championship race-off. There’s a reasonable degree of variation here, and you’ll need to hone a slightly distinct set of skills for each one. Sure, a lot of it will be built on a foundation of ‘driving really fast and shit’, but – for example – driving really fast and shit in an elimination race requires a slightly different strategy to that needed for a combat race. Likewise, if you’ve begun to dominate combat races through judicious (and merciless) use of the various pick-ups/weapons on offer, you’ll find yourself having to hone your driving skills for the “pure” races when these aren’t available. In ‘pursuit’ mode, you’ll be tasked with chasing down a car further ahead on the track, and you’ll need to meticulously and consistently shave seconds off each lap through a combination of knowing where you can do so, and where using any boosts you pick up will be best utilised. A similar technique will be essential for the “Hot lap” element (wherein you have 90 seconds to post your best lap time) and also with the complete x laps in the best possible time mode – where there’s little margin for error, so consistency becomes a huge factor too. Finally, there’s “Drift” mode to get the hang of, and in this little beauty you’ll need to skid your way to a high score, and tracks you’ve spent ages shaving seconds off with tight turns and excellent handling will become a whole different challenge as you look to maximise and maintain drift combos.
As you progress through your career, you’ll unlock the different classes of cars, and each time you do, you’ll be able to go back to previous events and championships with your new, better vehicle, meaning there’s a nice feeling of progress in the career mode – and I liked that I could spend my coins (earned in-game, not via micro-transactions) on a decent car and upgrades, before going back and finally getting three stars on events I’d previously struggled with.
However, lest that seem too easy, that’s an option that’s not available in CHALLENGE mode, where you’ll have to use a specific car to achieve a specific thing. Once you’ve attained the requisite XP, and purchased a particular car, certain challenges will become accessible and – for me at least – this is where Table Top Racing: World Tour became super addictive, and where there’s a surprising degree of depth to the seemingly simple game. When faced with having to do a particular challenge with a particular car there’s nowhere to hide, and you can’t just use your best car to nail your objective, so you’ll have to a) git gud, b) use some lateral thinking or, c) figure out a combination of both. In terms of b and c, TTR: WT has some surprises up its sleeve.
For example, I was (reeeeeaaaally) struggling on a particular pursuit challenge, and as far as I could tell, I was doing everything I possibly could – I’d nailed all turns, shaved seconds off my time with all available short-cuts, and was getting the most I could out of the car I’d been given – but I still seemed to be nowhere near where I needed to be. At one point, in abject frustration, I randomly fired off the missiles I’d picked-up (admittedly, that should have been my first clue, but I’m not the sharpest tool in the box) and BOOM, I hit an oil can which suddenly opened a mahoosive hidden short-cut that allowed me to change up my whole strategy. After another couple of attempts perfecting the new route, I’d finally done what I’d initially thought impossible. What’s more, having discovered this I went back to other challenges I was struggling with and, lo and behold, it turned out there was a plethora of such things, and I was suddenly re-evaluating my strategy to take them into account. Sure, when you know about them they seem obvious, but I genuinely liked that feeling of finding them, and of having stuck at something long enough to figure it out.
This – in essence – is why Table Top Racing: World Tour really grabbed me, despite my general dislike of “racing games”. Challenges, races and competitions have a learning curve, but there’s an admirable blending of practice and lateral thinking needed to crack them. In races and challenges where I was just missing out on three stars I felt like I was sooooo close to it, and wanted to put in that one performance necessary to finally crack it. And even when things seemed impossible, they weren’t, it was just that I’d not quite figured everything out. Even a particular “Drift” challenge that I’d initially greeted with a ‘what the actual fuck – how’s that even nearly possible!?’ was finally completed with patience, practice and a slice of luck/thinking outside the box.
Finally, there’s also an added element of fun to be had in MULTIPLAYER mode, and now, even though I have just about wrapped up everything the game has to offer the solo player, I find myself frequently itching for a cheeky hour or so online. For a game that’s free, and decidedly Indie, the online architecture is pleasingly simple and robust. You can join public races quickly and easily, and you can host races yourself – either publicly or, if you have friends with the game, privately. I mean, it’s not perfect and I have experienced a bit of lag/teleporting opponents, but fairly rarely. The biggest problem I’ve found is that other players have a tendency to quit races when they’re losing, and that is really, really frustrating given it’ll cost you your win and the spoils of victory. I’d very much like to see this fixed, particularly because it was a reasonably foreseeable issue, and because it can be really fucking unpleasant if you’re winning. That said, however, the online element is – in general – a fun and enjoyable addition to Table Top Racing: World Tour, providing yet another set of challenges and opportunities.
In general, Table Top Racing: World Tour is, I think, a fun little game, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I got out of it. Sure, it’s not an epic game that you’ll spend months playing, but it’s perfectly a enjoyable and absorbing way to spend a (fair) few hours. With the Multiplayer, particularly if your friends have the game, there’s a degree of extension to that, and if I had friends, I expect I could spend hours in there peppering them with ice blocks and homing missiles. If you’re a fan – or connoisseur – of racing games, this will likely seem limited in terms of tracks, vehicles and velocity, but if you’re the kind of person who just like the casual, fun nature of micro machines and Mario Kart type games, this might well be right up your street.
Indeed, the simplicity of the gameplay, and its lack of convoluted mechanics is, in my opinion, one of its greatest assets, and I loved that I could get to grips with it all with relative ease and have a lot of fun with it. Sure, there aren’t hundreds of tracks, or cars, or extended racing championships, but there’s enough of the first two to keep it interesting and the variation in events more than makes up for the game’s relative brevity. At times, it’s genuinely lovely to look at, it’s eminently payable, and above all else, it’s a lot of fun. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give Table Top Racing: World Tour is that – even after I’d finally tracked down Uncharted 4, a game I’ve been waiting ages to play – I’m still finding myself having a quick go on it – you know, to get my fingers warmed up and that!
Also, I mentioned it was free on PS+ in May, right!?