Revisiting the glory days of Top Gear through a racing game sounds like an exciting prospect. To a degree, this is what Original Fire Games has set out to achieve with its latest DLC – Top Gear: The Stig Challenge.
The first example of paid additional content for the title sees the player take on five brand-new lap time challenges. All of these take place at Dunsford Aerodrome (commonly known as the Top Gear Test Track), but not as you have seen it before…
Each course is littered with obstacles, from ramps to wrecking balls, halfpipes to minefields. These layouts have all been designed to both frustrate and reward.
First off, frustration. I found myself struggling to come to terms with the new techniques required, primarily the rotations at the edge of each halfpipe found near the end of the Skate Park challenge. Multiple crashes and a bruised ego later, I began to come to terms with the speed and angle required.
Then comes the reward. Simply completing one clean lap of each course is a satisfying challenge, so once you begin to find those extra seconds and tidy up your landings, endorphins flow. It’s at this point you realize you are still about six light-years off the pace in comparison to the better players, and that in itself, is what makes these challenges tick.
It’s simple fun, with the extra elements and new skills required to create an entirely fresh learning curve for players who are already used to Circuit Superstars‘ format. Plus, the competitive nature of online leaderboards always makes it hard to put down the controller.
It’s also worth noting that the cars used in each of these challenges rotate on a regular basis, meaning something new is always around the corner.
Some of these events do feel a little more dynamic than others. The Autocross Challenge feels a little basic. Feeling more like a realistic autocross event, this is a little underwhelming in comparison to the other more outlandish challenges. Ah, yes. Ramps, bombs and caravans falling from the sky are what really put smiles on faces, making the ‘Dog Agility Course’ and ‘Destroying a Car’ levels stand out.
The fifth and final entry is far more straightforward. Just one lap of the regular circuit, no obstacles other than the ever-looming Hammerhead tyre stacks. There is a twist, however, as this challenge sees you behind the wheel of a Reliant Robin-style three-wheeler. Crikey.
Do any of you remember the episode in which Richard Hammond and James May attempted to fire one into space? That inevitable spectacular explosion may have ended the life of that particular Robin, but it now lives on eternally thanks to this DLC. It’s not just consigned to the test track though….
Yes, the aptly named ‘Rocket’ can be used in regular game modes too. The racing is as chaotic as you might expect: lots of sparks, lots of crashes and too many opportunities to sabotage your own chances by spinning the car. It’s certainly a tricky beast to master and one which will have you appreciating four wheels more than ever before.
As well as a new Thunder Point club layout (essentially an elongated tri-oval), a final notable addition has to be the caravan mode.
Tick this box in the advanced settings menu, and whatever understated, professional-looking race was about to take place will now descend into utter carnage. The racing requires an entirely different outlook, it’s not about how well you hit your apices or how you tame the inevitable snaking. Close your eyes, nail the throttle and send it.
Okay, so it’s more nuanced than that, but not much. I found that most time was spent trying to free myself from the AI’s grasp and avoid jackknifing. Another fun alternative way of spending an afternoon, although it does lack a bit of the satisfaction associated with nailing a good lap in a normal event. The fun here is the racing, not the driving.
A fresh change of pace from the regular Circuit Superstars experience, providing laughs and rest bite. Think of it like a Gran Turismo 4 coffee break. I can really see the caravan and reliant racing being at its best in an online environment, but it’s not going to take anything away from the original hook of the game.
Circuit Superstars uses an arcade-style and cute aesthetic to give it a playful feel, yet its roots remain in the more serious side of racing once you begin to peel away the layers. Top Gear: The Stig Challenge offers an experience that is as facetious as the visuals would suggest, but with the quality and detail we have come to expect from this game.