Available Now on: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox (Xbox version tested)
I grew up in the 80s, which was an absolutely magical golden age for arcades. Everything felt new and exciting – because it was – and you’d find machines absolutely everywhere in the UK; video rental shops, chip shops, shopping centres and even newsagents would often have a machine or two tucked away in a corner. To find the really exciting stuff, though, usually meant a trip to the seaside – where you’d often find multiple, enormous arcades stuffed to the brim with the latest and most impressive arcade machines to have currently emerged.
It’s in the arcade that I was first exposed to titles such as After Burner, Space Harrier, Hang On and Out Run that were beautifully colourful, wonderfully playable and addictive games – often using fancy machines for extra immersion and wow factor. These games – using Sega’s Super Scaler technology – flung ridiculous numbers of huge sprites into your face to deliver the sensation of speed that was genuinely jaw dropping back in the 80s. The aforementioned Out Run, with Sega blue skies and racing action across a variety of backdrops, along with a stunning soundtrack, was hugely influential and iconic – and though it’s far from the only example of this kind of sprite-based racer, it’s probably the most fondly remembered.
Slipstream is a glorious throwback to the super scaler era and the many racing games that followed in Out Run’s wake; though we’ve seen titles such as the wonderful Horizon Chase Turbo bring a more Top Gear/Top Racer-focused homage and Hotshot Racing take on a deliberately low-poly, Virtua Racing-esque sheen, Slipstream really feels like a lost sequel to Out Run itself.
And it’s so very, very smooth. Shifting at a very impressive, very solid 60fps with many more sprites hurtling towards you than you would have had back in the 80s, it’s a genuinely lovely game from a visual point of view; it’s absolutely glorious in motion, in a way that screenshots simply cannot convey. This wouldn’t matter if the racing itself wasn’t great – but there are no worries on that front either.
One thing that was a bit of a culture shock was the drifting mechanic, which is absolutely essential to master if you want to do well at the game’s various modes. It does give the game a steeper learning curve than you may be expecting from what looks like a racer that’d have arcade-style immediacy; once you’ve got a grip on that, however, it adds a much more satisfying layer to what could have been an experience that was too simplistic by today’s standards. The learning curve is exacerbated by sudden corners that can arrive a bit too quickly for my liking – but just like the drifting, this feels like a step on the learning curve that can be overcome; in this case, by memorising track layouts to anticipate the change in direction. Though not ideal, it is manageable once you’ve got to grips with the game.
Note that it is possible to set drifting to automatic, which does help to ease you into the game’s unique mechanics – and a helpful, comprehensive tutorial does arm you with everything you need to get going with – and do well at – the game.
Another element that sets Slipstream apart is the titular turbo function – keeping yourself lined up behind another car quickly fills up the word ‘slipstream’, giving you a burst of speed that’s incredibly helpful; managing your position to maximise this speed bonus is essential.
Cheeky rivals deliver trash talk as they pass you; it’s very satisfying to beat them.
There’s a variety of modes, with Grand Tour being a highlight – this takes you through multiple routes, with choices of which way to go at the end of each route (a la Out Run) and rivals to defeat along the way. A harsh time limit keeps the pulse pounding and ensures that you won’t see anywhere near all there is to see for some time. Splitscreen for two to four players adds something that many games these days miss out on – and this alone brings such value to the game, it’s a wonder that it’s priced so generously, quite frankly.
The lovely synth retro soundtrack is superb too; a fine complement to the 80s-style pixel art and colour schemes. It’s not a soundtrack that you’ll memorise away from the game, but it’s a great fit for the action during play.
Slipstream is an excellent homage to a bygone era. Older gamers who grew up playing sprite-based racing games should feel right at home here, though a few of the mechanics give Slipstream a learning curve does detract a little from the arcade immediacy that this type of racer is expected to have. With plenty of single players modes and up to four player local multiplayer, Slipstream is great value for money – as long as players are willing to learn its intricacies.
Many thanks to Blitworks Games for providing me with a Slipstream code for review purposes.
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