When a game puts “made by one developer” and “developed over the course of three years” on their title screen, it can feel like you’re being begged to lower your expectations. Be kind, this was made with toilet rolls and sticky-back plastic.
But while we understand the reason, it doesn’t stop the unholy ugliness getting in the way of our enjoyment, as well as leaving us with the feeling that it could easily have been improved. Take the menus: you’re navigating them with a musty old Windows mouse-cursor, when it would have taken an afternoon to make them navigable with a gamepad. Your initial roster of cars are all white, with colour being unlocked after a race or two, and a race is preceded by an overview of the race track that’s the size of a postage stamp, even on bigger tellies. The Race Factory may only be one dev, but there’s almost a determination to make it look like a box of cardboard scraps put out for recycling.
If The Race Factory understood its own limitations and kept things bold and simple, it would have made a chunk of difference. Instead, it overloads the menus with options, scattered about the screen in an illogical fashion, and scanning your slow and dodgy mouse cursor over them feels like you’ve got in the Delorean and reversed to roughly 1996.
The flip of this feedback is that The Race Factory does have an awful lot of levers to pull and dials to twiddle. It’s clearly looking to emphasise the ‘Factory’ of the title, and it comes very close to being a kind of ‘Race ‘Em Up Construction Kit’. From the main menu, you can choose to ‘Create & Share’ tracks from a shallow pool of pieces, but with plenty of ways of enlarging, flipping and rotating them. Terrain can be switched for a number of different options, and you can choose to make a longer form race or a circuit. It’s a toolkit that’s as unwieldy as it is adaptable, and there is the ability to make and save some strong tracks for local multiplayer. There isn’t a way to share them online, but that was always going to be a big leap for a game like this.
Equally adaptable are the Custom Event options. Opt to play these single races rather than the Championships, and you are given far more rope to create the race you want. Seven mutators can apply things like slipstreaming, rubber-banding and tyre wear, while you can make all sorts of changes to AI difficulties, time of day, weather, weapons and game modes. It’s a feast for a fiddler, and beats most other racing games for the sheer amount you can change. As long as you don’t mind putting in the time to optimise – some saved presets would have been welcome here – then you can actually get the racing experience you and your mates are looking for.
Away from all the menus is the racing itself, and it’s about as precise and demanding as they come. Much like other top-down arcade racers, the emphasis is on drifting, as you anticipate the corners well before they happen. That drift is more exaggerated than most, so when you stack on a high average speed, a huge punishment for failure – dropping off the track leaves you traveling at a snail’s pace – and very little rubber-banding on the Championship levels, it can mean that The Race Factory is a tough old parent. You are clinging to the track as much as you can, hoping that nothing will shunt you onto the gravel and into an irredeemable position.
And things will shunt you off course. The Race Factory has weapons, and they’re liberally used. If you are anywhere near the centre of the pack, you’re going to get bullied, riddled with mines from the front, seismic pulses from the middle of the pack, and green-shell like missiles from the rear. Making it worse, the enemies literally do not miss: their AI is such that we never saw a missile fail to miss a target. And they cheat. Mines would slip through enemies, only to crash into us.
When the punishment for being hit is so overbearing, it can get to be something of a pain. One weapon inverts your controls, and before you know it, you are in the dirt with a significant gap to make up. A single pulse wave can wipe out four or five drivers, leaving them no chance of winning the race. Rarely does the power of weapons benefit you: enemies won’t hit your mines, and they will nail you at every attempt. You begin to bemoan the unfairness of it all.
It all becomes less problematic in multiplayer, of course. The Race Factory lets you bring four local players into the fun, and – as mentioned – you can fiddle with settings to your heart’s content, making a course that suits you all. There are still nits to pick, as going off course feels just as frustrating (and lonely) as it is in single player, but if you can approximate a level-playing-field by having friends that are as good as you, or tinker with options until they suit you, then the chaos affects everyone equally. The Race Factory can be a sporadically fun, hopelessly ugly experience.
And so to the final caveat. Unusually for a £4.19 game, The Race Factory does not have achievements. It shouldn’t matter, it really shouldn’t, but it could have helped to soften the difficulty a little bit. If the carrot of an achievement was waiting for you, it would be worth persisting.
The Race Factory is fugly, there’s no doubting that. It doesn’t even try to make up for its bad looks by being friendly; the racing here is punishing and precise, with a single mistake costing you the race. But, behind the grumpy demeanor is a deep racing game with plenty of options, a track constructor, and some multiplayer thrills. For a lone developer, that’s an impressive achievement.
Ultimately, it’s possible to find enjoyment with the ungainly The Race Factory, but my gosh do you have to work for it.
You can buy The Race Factory from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S