Musclecar Online review - Could do with a lick of paint and an oil change
Gamers of a certain vintage will remember the heyday of the isometric racers, with the success of Micro Machines spawning countless copies. Now in 2015 we get Musclecar Online.
Rating: 6/10; PC/Mac; Psychic Software
A retro rival has been going on for years now, with developers more likely to aim for 8-bit graphics than the polished sheen that’s becoming increasingly easy to achieve. The probable reason is gameplay and narrative re-taking their place as keys to a good game, though not necessarily both at the same time. Top down racers can be ridiculously good fun, with ridiculously addictive gameplay.
Psychic Software have form for creating something special out of a low-budget look and feel, with post-apocalyptic turn-based MMO Darkwind delivering a game quite unlike anything else out there.
The innovation in Musclecar Online comes in the form of a racetrack that changes on a daily basis, with players given 24hrs to get into the rankings. It’s a nice idea and with most of the tracks user-generated with the built-in track editor, there’s a different map every day.
You don't race real-time competitors, but against ghost-laps of other players and yourself. This is effective to a point, but misses out on the thrill of fender-grinding face-offs.
The key to the old top-down racers was always the gameplay. Unfortunately, Musclecar Online misses the mark here and making issues in other areas unforgivable.
Breaking is done with the same button as reverse, but without a noticeable pause, you can too often find yourself going the wrong way, which is when sticky keys can ruin everything. Try accelerating without completely lifting off reverse and you’ll continue reversing. Combined with collisions that feel a bit too rectangular in their reactions, there was definitely a dampening of fun.
Although there is a nice range of inspired-by cars to choose from, including some cool paint-jobs, you’ll be hard pushed to notice them on the track as the graphics leave a lot to be desired. Tracks are boring, as are the surrounding landscape. To a certain extent this can be excused by the nature of the user-generated tracks, but steps could have been taken to add some variety.
I went in to this with a retro charm mindset, but the more I played, the more I felt jaded by the experience.
At €5.99 on Steam, the game is affordable in the grand scheme of things, but in a world where you can get premium games on your phone for less, I’d expect more.
The real determining factor behind enjoying Musclecar Online is the tracks. Even with complaints about the feel of the controls, I still had fun racing around a track for a time, but then I found more and more of the tracks to be samey and I lost interest.
I may have played during a particularly poor series of tracks, but I had little interest in repeating each track until I was challenging the daily times, impacting on my involvement in the community.
Musclecar Online is fun, perhaps not yet €5.99 of fun, but it lacks the creativity and interest generated by Psychic Software’s previous Darkwind: War on Wheels.
Musclecar Online is available now from steampowered.com