Golden Lap hands-on: A beguiling ’70s managerial throwback

John Munro
We have been hands-on with the early demo version of Funselektor’s third entry into the racing game market, Golden Lap
Golden Lap team-mate rivalry

Despite maintaining the quirky, minimalist, aesthetic qualities of its predecessor art of rally, this new management title from the same developers – in collaboration with Strelka Games – provides an entirely different form of gameplay.

Inspired by the likes of Motorsport Manager, Golden Lap goes against the grain, differentiated through a simplified and streamlined retro experience. You are in control of a 1970s racing team, competing in a series that clearly draws inspiration from the world of Formula 1. Ezzolini is an Italian outfit, draped in red with a history of success and a passionate fan base… Sound familiar?

That ’70s DNA is woven throughout, both visually and within the gameplay itself. Yes, there are mullets galore, but lap time gaps between various teams and drivers are talked about in seconds, not tenths.

Reliability issues and crashes are inevitable, and sometimes, certain drivers will turn up for a race hungover, lose performance as a result, or even die following an accident. These were different times… This era provides the perfect canvas for Funselektor’s trademark playfulness.

That’s not to say there haven’t been ‘tweaks’ to that retro format to spice up the strategic decision-making. Soft, medium and hard variants of dry weather tyres are available throughout a race (as well as intermediates and wets), creating a familiar variety of potential pitstop strategies for 21st-century single-seater fans.

Golden Lap tyre options

Refuelling isn’t a thing here, just like the ’70s, but managing drivers’ fuel usage is an important tactical tool for the player. We also see a modern points system, with 25 for a win and a bonus ‘golden lap’ point for the fastest time.

When someone stacks it into the ribbon of metaphorical catch-fencing, a full-course yellow comes into play, acting much like a virtual safety car. 

The pretty, yet minimal, visual concept seems to carry over to the gameplay too. Nothing is overly complicated and you aren’t left with that all-too-common feeling of being overwhelmed in your opening races. It’s the usual mixture of conservation versus attack, risk versus reward, team versus individual.

As a player, you balance all of these things, mostly, through a limited set of parameters that are quick to get the hang of. On a scale of one to three, how hard do you want to push the tyres, and how much fuel do you want to burn?   

Golden Lap strategy options

Playing the long game and the short game both resulted in equal measures of success and failure in my short demo experience. It’s not about ‘knowing’ the best strategy and using this every time, it’s about adapting and taking chances.

I have had races where every opponent stopped twice, nobody crashed and the weather stayed dry, then other races where opponents stopped anywhere between two and five times, rain came and went, cars crashed and yellow flags were as common as swearwords from James Hunt.

Outside of the races, finding the best setup is a mini-game during the qualifying session; a blend of calculated probability and pure luck… Something I always enjoy.

Golden Lap crash

The car development is all about decision-making and determining relative importance, again framed in a simplified and clean manner. We aren’t working with millions of dollars and complex development trees. It’s generally single digit figures, sets of threes, and fantasy league-style prioritizing.

I am looking forward to seeing how things play out over a full career mode upon release. Despite this being an easy game to pick up and play without a stressful learning process that might otherwise put some off, I do hope that things don’t become too simple, too quickly.

This is based on a small slice of the game, and the dynamic variables on and off track are more than enough already to keep me engaged, but I do hope that more surprises are still in store long into the career mode.

For those on PC, a Steam demo for Golden Lap is available for a limited time as part of Steam Next Fest. A release date is not yet confirmed.

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