Top-down racers seem to be enjoying something of a revival on portable platforms at the moment but itâ€™s been a while since someoneâ€™s done the whole thing justice on big and proper consoles. The delicious Mashed and Mashed: Fully Loaded on PS2 and Xbox 1 showed that this particular type of racer still has acres of life left in it, and so itâ€™s good to see a developer come up with something that ticks all the right boxes from playability to visuals.
Scrap Metal might not be the most imaginatively titled game in the stratosphere, but developers Slick Entertainment have produced a highly polished racer reminiscent of some of the greats you wouldâ€™ve found in arcades in the late 80s / early 90s. Any readers who can remember the triple-steering-wheel madness of Championship Super Sprint or the dirt-dashingly-fantastic Ivan Ironman Stewartâ€™s Off Road Racer will be on familiar ground with Scrap Metal.
The player first chooses a control method (this can be adjusted later on if you find your chosen controls too fiddly) and then youâ€™re instantly launched into a short set of tutorials to get you used to the gameplay. I opted for the rather peculiar but quite functional â€œleft stick to steer, accelerate and control directionâ€ method, which sounds bonkers in theory but works beautifully in practice. Weapons and Nitros are tied to your shoulder buttons, and youâ€™ll use both liberally during the course of a game.
You start off with a rather mediocre VW Beetle clone when you begin the proper career mode, and as you work your way through the initial challenges youâ€™ll start to â€œscrapâ€ and win other playerâ€™s cars. This is vital to your progress in the game, as each car offers a little bit more power, perhaps heavier armour or another advantage. Luckily you can store 4 cars on your garage forecourt so you can quickly chop and change between them to suit the type of race youâ€™re about to enter.
Races come in several categories from a straight-out Supersprint-like lap race, to more complicated Destruction Derby arenas, where the last car limping around the track is declared the outright winner. Each time you grab a podium place in a race, youâ€™ll be awarded bonus credits that can be spent on upgrades to your car.
Everything from speed, to handling, to armour can be improved and itâ€™s quite possible to turn an old clunker into a mean machine if you spend your credits wisely.
The sheer variety of challenges in each race area is what sets Scrap Metal a cut above the rest. Mixing up the types of races ensures that you constantly change cars and tactics to try and get a better placing. From time to time, â€œbossâ€ races will pit you against the cream of the crop, and winning these can not only net you a fantastically powerful car to use in future races, but will also pile up your credits ensuring youâ€™ve got plenty of loot to spend on pimping your ride.
The various race areas come in different themes from sinister amusement parks to more traditional derby-style figure of 8 loops. There are even escort races where youâ€™re tasked with protecting a friend or ally from other racers for the duration of a few laps. Itâ€™s great to see a developer thinking beyond just providing a straight-out racing game, maximising the potential of the genre.
Of course, like Mashed and others before it, the real fun happens in the gameâ€™s various multiplayer modes. Most of the race types from single player are held over but in addition youâ€™ll also get more specific challenges and races to pit your skills against other live and local players.
Modes like â€œking of the hillâ€ and â€œdestructionâ€ are instant classics but one mode, â€œSurvivorâ€ is fantastic. Basically the game throws just about everything at you and your friends as you try to complete laps while under attack by police cars, choppers and trackside weaponry.
Multiplayer modes are limited to four players but without constantly harking back to Mashed, that game also allowed the same number of players and was one of the best multiplayer games on the last generation of consoles, so Scrap Metal certainly doesnâ€™t suffer because of it.
Triumphant players who complete all of the single player career races will be awarded a cool little radio controlled Scrap Metal car for their Avatar to play with so thereâ€™s even more incentive to finish all the races. If you never make it that far youâ€™ll still get a Scrap Metal T Shirt for your Avatar anyway. Itâ€™s nice to see stuff like that appearing more and more in Xbox Live Arcade games. Itâ€™s just a pity you rarely see them in higher-profile releases.
So far the Xbox Live Arcade has treated us to some stunning games this year, and Scrap Metal is no exception. Tons of fun in single and multiplayer, and beautifully put together (thereâ€™s even a 3D Anaglyph mode if youâ€™re the sort of person who can stand to play 3D games without developing a blinding headache). 1200 points well spent indeed.