Hands-on with Stampede: Racing Royale, your next multiplayer obsession

60-player online kart racing, with a battle-royale-style knock out system. Count us in.
Hands-on with Stampede: Racing Royale, your next multiplayer obsession

During the 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 lockdown periods, I spent an inordinate amount of time playing Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout with a friend. It’s the post-Tango Ice Blast sugar rush of video games.

But, racing games are where my main interest lies, and as soon as the likes of Forza Horizon 5 and Gran Turismo 7 were released, I deleted the StoryBots interpretation of It’s a Knockout.

However, imagine my delight when I heard about Stampede: Racing Royale which promises to be a cross between Takeshi’s Castle and go-karting.

Upon booting a very early build – the game still has a long way ahead of it, with a limited playtest starting this week, Early Access on PC later this year ahead of a console version – I was immediately struck by the sparking visuals and bright colours.

In some ways, the main menu (resplendent in bright yellow icons at the top and your current, customised, character ready to race) reminded me of Sony’s Destruction All Stars and the wacky wheel options – from melons to cookie dough – of Rocket League’s myriad of optional appendages.

But for something this early in development, the graphical prowess is gobsmacking.

As we load a race event, which is against AI-powered bots only for now ahead of the official playtest, you can see your rivals lining up on the grid, their outlandish creations in full view. A neat way of enticing you to up your style game, and whatever form additional DLC will eventually take, the optional items will never affect performance.

Stampede 01

This model is now de rigueur for a free-to-play multiplayer title, especially combined with XP, levels and some form of pass system, all of which are planned for Stampede in some form or another. Mercifully, there are no plans for gargantuan ‘founders pack’ tiers like Disney Speedstorm. Phew.

Still, not to get bogged down in visuals and shiny trinkets, what we tested the first game from the embryonic Sumo Leamington for was to see if it can possibly take on the might of established accessible multiplayer titles.

On first evidence, all the ingredients are there.

Setting aside the battle royale format for a minute, there’s been a deluge of racers of this ilk in the past year, from the aforementioned Disney effort to Smurts Karts and even Nickelodeon Kart Racers 3, and how a game drivers is a key differentiator.

Stampede 06

As it stands, and the team is open to feedback, boost is replenished by drifting through corners, which is as simple as hitting one button. There’s even a slipstream effect. The smooth handling, so far, is what could set Stampede apart from its contemporaries.

Just as well, as the racing is suitably frenetic, to the point of working out where your kart is at times is a challenge.

That’s because you line up against 59 rivals – a planet-sized grid. Some of the venues snake upside down, take you across large jumps and have multiple routes. In order to keep some sort of semblance, the tracks we’ve seen so far are wider than most equivalent karting titles. There are still bottlenecks, however, but when that happens, it feels deliberate.

Which is just like, well Fall Guys. That twice I’ve mentioned Mediatonic’s genre-definer, but Stampede is unabashed in its inspiration. It doesn’t hide from it, instead it fully embraces the references.

Each event is broken down into three rounds, with the bottom 20 players eliminated after each round. Win the third, then take home the chocolates.

Stampede 02

Races can vary in length based on track layout and there’s also a battle mode where simply hitting opponents with six items – from bombs to boost and even a machine gun – within an area earns points. The more points, the greater your chance of making it through the next round.

Interestingly, when playing outside of a race, the handling model is tweaked to be more precise at lower speeds, and, unlike in a race, items can be stacked.

Nearly 600 words in, and I’ve not mentioned another trope – Mario Kart. Ah yes, well, now I have.

Certainly, the bombastic battles are reminiscent of my youth spent on Mario Kart 64, but amped up a notch. The racing though – nothing like Nintendo’s default Switch game.

Stampede Racing Royale

No, this is far more wild, like the plumber’s younger, looser, long-lost cousin. The one in the family that stays up until the early hours of the morning at an EDM nightclub in Shoreditch.

It’s not hard to picture this being a runaway success, provided the console versions are close to the launch of the non-Early Access release and the network systems underneath the skin can handle 60-players reliably. Cross-platform play would be a dream. Based on the early promise, however, the odds are in favour of this fresh-faced hybrid-working team pulling it off.

Stampede: Racing Royale’s initial PC playtest runs between 27th-31st July 2023

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