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    Circuit Superstars review

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    What is it? An isometric racer with genuine sim chops.
    Expect to pay $20/£15
    Release October 12
    Developer Original Fire Games
    Publisher Square Enix Collective
    Reviewed on i7 9700K, RTX 1080 TI, 16GB RAM
    Multiplayer? Up to 12 players
    Link Official site (opens in new tab)

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    In the time it takes to read this sentence, 17.3 game developers will try and fail to do what Circuit Superstars does: a mix of arcade and sim racing that feels enriched, not compromised, by both. Admittedly that was quite a long sentence. Still, the point stands.

    Every racing game press release since 1997 has promised a perfect blend of arcade accessibility and a depth of simulation that rewards continued effort with gradual mastery, and we’re right to react like dogs hearing a high-pitched noise when we see it because nobody actually pulls it off. Not really. Nobody but Vancouver-based Original Fire Games, releasing its debut under the Square Enix Collective indie initiative. 

    If you’re a veteran of many a cross-legged Micro Machines campaign from the 16-bit days or, to be honest, if you’ve simply seen a screenshot and clocked the isometric camera, you’ve got a handle on how it feels to drive. What isn’t evident until your first race is the sheer amount of subtlety baked into those adorable little vehicles. Going fast here is about picking out and committing to perfect racing lines, keeping all inputs smooth, and holding onto momentum like it’s a fistful of James May’s M&S Autograph blazer after he wanders a bit too close during a Grand Tour filming.

    (Image credit: Square Enix)

    Oddly enough, there’s no mid-series save function in offline races, so later series that feature five 10+ lap races must be taken on in one session. The community’s been asking for this feature for a while too, but their collective prayers have yet to be answered. It’s not like asking someone to drive a season of F1 2021 in one sitting, but it’s an inconvenience all the same.

    A real and formidable talent has emerged in Original Fire Games

    Without the usual career mode we’re used to from modern racers, the longform proposition here is beating increasingly ruthless AI in each series, mastering twelve distinct handling models in the process. With the naivety of a newborn babe, I selected the superstar AI difficulty for my debut in the Piccino Cup. I was lapped inside the first three minutes of my career. And it’s lucky for them they have such natural pace, because their racecraft leaves much to be desired. 

    They’re capable of making mistakes independent of your driving, creating pileups you can either exploit or get collected by. This is a good thing. But given their tank-like physical properties, those AI mistakes can also cost you vast, desperate handfuls of time and put paid to your victory bid in a single clang. Solo races are best viewed as a training aid for clean online conduct, then. 

    If you ask me, and you have, a real and formidable talent has emerged in Original Fire Games. Somehow, using some cute little cars, a camera perspective from the arcades of yesteryear and surprising sim touches, it makes all-out racing sims feel a bit like doing a tax return by comparison. 

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