When I was handed Street Heat (Steam, $7.99 in Early Access) to play and told what it was, I have to say my interest was piqued as a person who enjoyed many of the early arcade and NES racing games like Super Off Road, R.C. Pro Am and Super Sprint. This game is inspired by the type of gameplay of the aforementioned titles, with a stylish and unique aesthetic. When I finished downloading, I was rather excited to play, and my expectations were kind of high – after all, those games which inspired Street Heat are classics in my mind.
The premise is simple: You have up to four human or CPU drivers steering cars around a course with a top down perspective on a single screen. Like the games on which it is based, the cars control from their perspective (not by pushing in the direction you want to go). Unlike other such games though, the mechanics only require that you cross each checkpoint and then the finish line- You can actually hit them in any order, so there’s no “wrong way” as long as you do those things, and this allows for some unique track designs.
While the courses, visuals, and the music themselves are all well executed (Astalo Games certainly called significant attention to the music, to be sure), the problems began once I started really playing it. First, the controls are, for lack of a good word, extremely difficult. While the control layout itself is fine, the problem is the cars handle like squirrels on ice skates – You find yourself repeatedly tapping the gas and brake buttons- if you hold down the gas, you will find yourself crashing off the course no matter how hard you try to steer, as you will slide around like crazy. Not being able to press the gas for more than half a second at a time in order to not crash into walls or fall off the course made the game extremely frustrating. It took me many attempts (and restarting the match every time I crashed because I didn’t want to wait for the race to finish, which is only truly an option for Local play) to even complete a single course without crashing out. Every time I did finish, I was dead last, and this was against “easy” CPU opponents that basically never made a bad mistake except for occasionally crashing at a train crossing. After about an hour of crashing out of most races and always losing the ones where I didn’t, I gave up. After all, if I couldn’t win against “easy” CPUs, what hope would I have?
Street Heat has the core gameplay of classic top-down racers down pat. If they can smooth out the controls and improve some of the game mechanics, this game could be a blast. Other ways to make the game more fun would be to bring the game closer to Off Road or Super Sprint by having speed boosts or other items (i.e. repair wrenches) to pick up on the track. Currently, the only special thing that can appear on the courses is oil slicks. Instead of a crash forcing you to sit out the entire race, have the player respawn after a short delay. They may finish last, but at least they can keep playing – it is not fun to sit and watch an entire race and get no points on top of that. I want to see more tracks like “Oneway” and “Roundabout” which were easily my favorites for their unique design (and comparatively lower risk of crashing on). Further, I would like to see more options or modes. A single-player Career mode and being able to set the number of races or number of points to win for a session would be great.
This game is in Early Access and has received some updates since I first started playing. If Astalo Games keeps working on this, they may yet capture that classic top-down racer feel, but it’s not quite there yet. I would suggest following it though – given some time and further development, this game has a lot of potential.
Review copy provided by Astalo Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.