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Speedway Racing Review


At some point, we’d love someone to explain the joys of speedway and NASCAR to us. It must be there: too many people love NASCAR for it not to have a glimmer of excitement. And we’re cricket fans, so we know about loving a sport that others stare at with bewilderment. We guess that it’s about finding your tribe, the sound and smell of the cars, and the hot dogs and burgers. But that’s a finger in the air.

It doesn’t make us the ideal people to review Speedway Racing. But we’re also huge fans of glorious 90’s racers. Stick us in front of Daytona Racing, Outrun or SEGA Rally and we’ll dissolve into a mush of nostalgia and excitement. Speedway Racing, at least with a squint, looks like that golden era of racing, so we’re there at the front of the grid screaming “Riiiiiiiidge Raaaacer!”. 

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Speedway Racing breaks the first rule of those games by having rather boring menus. We know, we know, it’s not important. But there was such an opportunity for arcade-style interfaces, some throbbing midi music, and a hyperactive American voice actor shouting the menu options when you choose them: “GAME SETTINGS!”. Woo, yeah! Unfortunately, it looks more like an entry form for your bank details. 

There are, at least, quite a few options to pick from. Arcade is a no-nonsense leap into your choice of track with your choice of car. Championship scoops up the three ‘eastern’ tracks to make one cup and the three ‘western’ tracks to make another, and then tallies up your placings with a podium. Time Trial rids the course of any opponents whatsoever and stands with a stopwatch, timing your three best laps, while Multiplayer also boots out opponents and lets you play split-screen with up to three friends. 

For a budget racer that’s not too bad. And we’ve played enough 90’s racers to know that six courses, with a substantial number of cars to choose from, isn’t bad either. Four-player splitscreen is a bonus too (it’s something that we’d assume is table-stakes, but plenty of games don’t bother), although we would have preferred CPU players being included. 

Jumping into a choice of course, the dominoes start falling one by one. Speedway Racing, at least to our tastes, can’t decide whether it wants to be realistic or something that you’d find with an elaborate chassis in the corner of an arcade. That’s a criticism that stretches to both the presentation and the gameplay. If Speedway Racing went one way or the other, to arcade or simulation, it might have shone, but – appropriately for a speedway game – it just ploughs straight ahead regardless.

Speedway Racing looks fine, we suppose. Play it through a thin curtain and it might even look great. But if you focus on details, everything is sharp edges and flat textures. It can’t convey the shuddering power of NASCAR or speedway. It’s too static, and while the audio does a decent job of suggesting the torque and roar of the cars themselves, the animations can’t push it over that realism line. 

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If it’s aiming for an arcade-feel, as the Arcade game mode implies, then it falls way short. It’s just not fun or playful enough. The cars and arenas are too drab, and we kept hankering for the day-glo punch-in-the-face of a Daytona.

We’ve seen racers recover from their poor presentation by being incredibly fun to drive on the sticks. It happens. But Speedway Racing is not that game. It is, by turns, incredibly monotonous with only flashes of fun, supremely unfair, and borderline broken. 

Each course is, as you would expect from the sport, an oval circuit. The bends might be slightly more elevated, slightly more prolonged, and the straights might range from being stumpy or long, but they are all – effectively – the same (NASCAR fans are probably rolling their eyes right now). In a better game, that wouldn’t be a problem, as the thrill of passing nineteen other racers would be in the foreground. But here, it’s a problem.

Speedway Racing is at its best when more cars are on the screen. The opening moments where, for odd reasons, you have about five times the acceleration of everyone else, feel good – mostly because you’re weaving through opponents like you’re making a basket. The threat of being nicked or shoved is there, and you can emerge into fifth or thereabouts without really having made any maneuvers. 

But things go downhill. In auto or manual, taking corners feels terrible. Pumping the brakes gives you a drift, but that drift is so stop-start and unreliable that you can’t count on it. The cars feel like milk carts loaded with bricks, so you’re wrestling the car round and trying to avoid other cars as you go.

There’s also the constant threat of spinning out for no reason whatsoever. Speedway Racing has some invisible bar, hidden well away from the HUD, that determines whether you are overdoing it on a corner. So, on occasion, Speedway Racing sends you spinning out, mainly because it doesn’t like your face. Manhandling the car into a good position and then finding yourself spinning through 360 degrees is enough to make you sit quietly in the room for a bit with the lights off. 

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Sudden and inexplicable failure is a running theme, and – once again – Speedway Racing can’t decide whether it’s shooting for arcade or sim. Merely graze a car, and there’s a chance that you will start swinging about the track like you’re pulling ollies. Dink a wall, and almost all of your speed will be sapped from you. You’re effectively starting from 0 mph, and suddenly you’re prey for the cars behind you. They will bash into you (a handy traffic monitor does alleviate this a tad), causing you to spin further, and when the dust settles, you are at the back of the pack. There’s a respawn on L3, but we could barely get it to work. 

On bigger tracks, like Seattle, we had something close to fun. The straights are long and straight, the turns are prolonged and shallow. Speedway Racing knows it has issues, so it gives you control of cars that are much faster than your opponents. You can make up for all the spins and crashes with a well-timed overtake. It’s possible to enjoy Seattle. We like Seattle. 

But almost everywhere else, Speedway Racing is a grim and joyless drive. It plops itself in the middle of arcade and simulation, but takes the worst from both worlds: it takes the punishing, exacting controls from a sim, and the shallowness of an arcade game. 

For years, we’ve struggled to see what makes NASCAR so special. Speedway Racing definitely hasn’t arrived with any solutions. If anything, it’s given us such a bad taste that we won’t be making the attempt to try again in a while.

You can buy Speedway Racing from the Xbox Store

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At some point, we’d love someone to explain the joys of speedway and NASCAR to us. It must be there: too many people love NASCAR for it not to have a glimmer of excitement. And we’re cricket fans, so we know about loving a...Speedway Racing Review
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