GeneRally 2 is a top-down racer built on the foundation of early noughties indie success GeneRally. The original’s simplistic controls and intuitive handling quickly made it a cult hit among the emerging online esports community, with a superlative track editor to keep the racing experience fresh.
Its sequel aims to deliver similar simplistic racing thrills but with updated visuals, physics and more advanced features. The track editor also remains, with Steam Workshop support promised from the get-go, allowing players to download and share custom-built circuits at the click of a button.
To clarify; the build we used for this review was missing one or two key features which should be available once the game hits Early Access on the 30th of May. These include the addition of an all-electric Extreme E-style buggy vehicle; AI car damage and AI pitstops; a fully functional AI racing line tool in the Editor and the aforementioned track editor.
GeneRally’s sequel nearly never happened, after a failed $20,000 Kickstarter in 2014. However, the project was always under construction in the background and publicly re-emerged last year under the stewardship of Curious Chicken Games and studio head James Burgess.
We sampled the game’s demo back in February and were enthused by its straightforward focus and weight handling, although understandably there was very little content to play with.
And it’s a similar story with this Steam Early Access version, as at first glance content is thin on the ground. There are just four cars: Rally, General, Formula and Classic, but each with very different characteristics.
The Rally car has four-wheel-drive and is best suited to off-road racing; the General is a vintage rear-driven Formula car with a lot of power; the Classic is a front-wheel drive historic Mini clone and the Formula is a super-quick single-seater with lashings of downforce.
The Classic and Rally cars are obvious starting points for those unfamiliar with GeneRally. The Classic can pretty much be used at full throttle around all but the tightest of corners and offers a gentle introduction to the game’s driving mechanics.
There are only a few buttons to memorise: left and right dabs on your gamepad steer your car; the left and right triggers are its brakes and throttle respectively. There’s a reset button for when you get stuck in the scenery and that’s it – GeneRally 2 is phenomenally easy to pick up and play.
At the moment, you can only choose to race offline with up to seven customisable AI cars, choosing the tracks to race on and the race length. You can also enable fuel usage, tyre wear and damage, but it seems a tad unfair as these features haven’t yet been implemented for your AI opponents.
If you choose to race solo you’ll go up against your ghost delta. This is a solid black avatar of your best lap and it can’t be switched off, making it less of a training tool and more of a distracting annoyance.
And practise is something you’ll require, as the game’s handling model is tricky to master – especially with the faster General and Formula cars. But with many tracks offering sub-10 second laptimes, you can cram a lot of circuit knowledge into a short space of time.
The quickest way to negotiate corners is to adjust your speed beforehand, pick your turn-in point and wheel some lock on. Making mid-corner adjustments saps speed and upsets the attitude of your car, but some vehicles – the Rally car especially – react better to aggressive sliding.
This stems from the game’s physics model which aims to accurately represent various drivetrains, meaning trailbraking into a turn will work better with the front-wheel-drive Classic than it would for the racy rear-wheel-drive Formula car.
Not only are the cars more complex than meets the eye, but so too are the tracks. GeneRally 2 has just 10 tracks currently, supplemented by four classic circuits from the original game. Naturally, the track roster will be boosted exponentially by Steam Workshop functionality, which is a relief.
The tracks themselves are colourful and characterful, with snow, dirt and asphalt surfaces. However, each track is shown in its entirety on-screen at all times; which is good for local multiplayer racing on smaller circuits but it’s tricky to see your car’s orientation on the larger tracks.
And some elements of course design get in the way of the action too, with larger track assets blocking your view. If there was a way of making trackside objects invisible as your car approaches this would be a tidier solution – top-down racing rival Circuit Superstars does a great job in this respect.
Another criticism is that it’s difficult to see elevation changes. Occasionally I found I was launching into a corner at high-speed, confident the car would stick but then surprised when it seemingly accelerates towards the barriers because of an un-seen crest.
The cars are very susceptible to spearing out of control whenever the ground rises or dips, causing no-end of frustration on initial tries. And this effect is exacerbated when the view is zoomed out. A choice of camera angles may help in this situation but will move the game further away from the spirit of the original.
This makes practise key: you need to learn every inch of a track to feel sure the car will do what you want when you want. For the majority of the time, it’s a real pleasure to chuck your car around and enjoy its weighty handling but from my initial testing, the Formula car is the least tactile of the bunch.
If you optimistically barrel into a corner it doesn’t shed speed while turning, simply sliding off into the boonies at a rate of knots. The effect is less pronounced in the other cars simply because they’re slower but it makes taming the Formula car a real test of skill. It also encourages players into driving more tidily; carrying momentum trumps flamboyance.
Interestingly, Curious Chicken Games abandoned plans for a majorly reworked physics model, opting instead for a system which provided consistent feedback to players. As a result, returning GeneRally players will feel the sequel has a lot in common with its predecessor.
New course of action
For many GeneRally 2 players, the core focus will be on the game’s Track Editor. Although more assets and options are promised for the full release of the game, there are enough objects to keep any budding Hermann Tilke occupied.
GeneRally 2’s Track Editor is ridiculously easy to use too, with a few simple mouse clicks separating you from a blank canvas and a colourfully rich environment (my attempt falls well short of this, however).
Is it worth it?
GeneRally 2’s release to Steam Early Access is an insight into what we can expect from the full game. What we’ve got here is a challenging, entertaining and simple racing game with a few neat features. Cars are rewarding to drive and the user interface is clear and concise. Everything just works and there are zero fripperies.
Although more vanilla content (such as new cars) will be on the way with a full release, there’s not a huge amount to do offline other than run the same four cars around the same 14 tracks against AI (although the customisable AI and championships work extremely well).
These are flaws that should be somewhat solved by the addition of online multiplayer and Steam Workshop support at a later date, however. And with an install size measuring under 200 MB, it’s a great game to keep on your hard drive to dip in and out of if you have a spare few minutes.
The fully zoomed-out view is also an issue when racing in larger environments, as not only is it difficult to see the trajectory of your vehicle but it’s also a pain to interpret the topography of the road ahead. The way vehicles throw a hissy fit if you dare to turn while on an upward or downward slope could also do with some revisions.
GeneRally 2 release date
GeneRally 2 will be released to Steam Early Access on the 30th of May 2023 at 11 am BST, priced at 14,99 EUR / 14.99 USD / 12.99 GBP and is now available to Wishlist. It’s a little pricey given the lack of content, but if you enjoy old-school arcade racing games GeneRally 2 will fit nicely within your Steam library.
Are you looking forward to getting your top-down arcade racing fix with GeneRally 2? Let us know in the comments below.
|Curious Chicken Games
|30th May 2023 (Steam Early Access)
|Best played with