Out-and-out simulators don’t really have detailed career modes with non-linear paths, vehicle upgrades and collectable trinkets. I’m thinking the perfunctory career in Assetto Corsa Competizione or AI racing restricted to certain vehicles in iRacing.
Well, that similar ethos applies to Circuit Superstars. There’s still public and private online racing, computer-controlled rivals on any circuit with any vehicles, asphalt and dirt racing plus a series of Grand Prix championships. You can even earn new livery designs and tinker in a scheme editor.
But vehicle upgrades, setups, a ranking system or an overall goal are all notable by their absence. Managerial modes, branching maps or hidden collectables? No chance.
It may look cutesy, but you can forget power-ups too. This isn’t even close to being a Mario Kart competitor – which, as it turns out, is a positive.
What you have with Circuit Superstars is racing, distilled. No fripperies, just the bare essentials that make motorsport so captivating.
With that comes a steep learning curve. The game uses a red heart icon to illustrate your vehicle’s damage level, which is rather apt. You will fall in love with the game’s top-down cartoon-like visuals at first, then fall out of love with the acute difficulty, then eventually, after much perseverance, fall head over heels again. It’s akin to the plot within a £5 romance novel from WH Smiths.
Make no mistake, this is a simulator, and simulators need to be taken seriously.
The on-track action is the main priority here, as it should be with any great racing title. You need to learn each circuit, finding the optimum racing line, shaving tenths each lap. You must also form a bond with each vehicle too.
There are not hundreds to choose from, 12 in total, but each is wildly different. There’s everything from beginner hot hatches, to classic 1960s Grand Prix cars, rallycross beasts and GT racers. Heck, there’s even truck racing.
The handling characteristics vary wildly between the cars, with weight transfer management and braking points key to success. So too is the overall vehicle size. Some of the tracks are tight, so overtaking in a lorry, for example, needs to be precise.
In longer races, damage, tyre wear and fuel consumption need to be monitored. 12-lap races will usually mean a trip to the pit lane is required. When you do turn off the main circuit, you’ll see pit crews for each entrant waiting for their driver before it’s up to you to perfectly align within your box. The squad then jumps to work, switching tyres, re-fuelling and raising the vehicle.
It’s quite simply one of the charming pit animations you’ll ever see – but like the rest of the game, a charming façade for some serious pit strategies, especially when racing online.
Circuit Superstars may have been ‘released’ recently, but it’s been in Early Access on PC since March. In this time, it has amassed a hardcore community, devoted to online races and a burgeoning esports scene. Having such a devoted fanbase early on means you need to have your wits about you if winning is an objective.
I tried for hours to get close to a Minardi Simsport – who races with a keyboard – leaderboard time to no avail. But don’t be put off by the gap to the top times. Embrace the challenge.
You see, with the Grand Prix section simply including 12 sets of four events, with various race lengths and with five difficulty options, it’s the weekly leaderboard challenges and online racing that carry you through the rest of the experience. Trying to achieve that first online pole position or undercutting a rival on race strategy suddenly becomes the main target.
Having said that, I still would like a deeper single-player experience. The game is only £14.99/$19.99 and was created by just six people, so my expectations are not lofty. This is clearly the result of a passionate and skilful team, so you could take it as a compliment that I’d like to see more of it.
There are a few strange decisions that provide mild irritation, however. During a four-race Grand Prix season, you cannot stop after the first round and then jump back in from where you left off next time. You either do all four races in a row or restart the whole championship.
Similarly, when competing in a Weekly time trial event, you cannot see your leaderboard position when on track. Instead, you must quit to the main menu, then re-enter that game mode, and only then find your updated ranking.
There have been times in my experience where the contact with rivals online has been a little awry, taps resulting in exaggerated responses as if the touch detection needs refining.
I appreciated, and grew to enjoy, the stylised simulator nature of the gameplay and the methodology of keeping the racing pure. But I don’t think adding brake marker boards or the option of a visual racing line guide would detract from the experience if there were selectable for the first few races. I’m concerned that players may give up after one race without some form of optional guidance.
Once you are up to speed, one fun free DLC addition is a Top Gear Time Attack, whereby you try to beat lap times set by motorsport personalities around the popular TV show’s circuit. While I didn’t beat Romain Grosjean’s best effort, I did enjoy several hours trying to reach the top.
This perfectly encapsulates the appeal of Circuit Superstars. Trying over, and over, and over, to find the very best lap time. Fighting in unique vehicles, around varied tracks, for the podium positions. The thrill of success after several failures. Not for the trepidatious, this is a unique experience that showcases the very essence of motor racing – the competition.
Circuit Superstars is available right now for PC and Xbox One, with PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions coming soon.
|Developer||Original Fire Games|
|Release date||12th October 2021|
|Available platforms||PC (Steam) and Xbox One – PS4 and Nintendo Switch to follow|
|Best played with||Keyboard (if you’re hardcore enough)|
Full disclosure: We purchased this game for review purposes. Here is our review policy.