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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: BlitWorks
Developer: ansdor
Release Date: Dec. 13, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Slipstream'

by Cody Medellin on April 17, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Slipstream is an arcade-style racing game inspired by the spirit of the early '90s, with drifting mechanics and exotic tracks.

OutRun is a classic racing game. Yu Suzuki's seminal arcade game for Sega still featured the same basic ideas of another classic racing game, Namco's Pole Position, but added enough flair to make it something that was often imitated back then and remains memorable today. We've seen several modern indie games try to emulate this arcade game's mechanics and vibe. In 2018, Slipstream from solo developer ansdor did just that on the PC. More than five years later, the game has finally arrived on the PS5.

For those who aren't familiar with the style of gameplay adopted by classic racing games, Slipstream plays out more like a checkpoint racer with a countdown timer. There are other cars on the same course, but your main focus is to reach the end of the track and get on to the next one before time runs out. The cars on each track exist as a hindrance rather than opponents; they never drive faster than you, but the track needs mastering, since each one has lots of wide curves. There are no arrows to warn you of when the turn appears, so you'll be looking to the environment to provide some clues.

All of that sounds familiar if you're versed in the gameplay of the original OutRun, but there are two elements in particular in Slipstream that indicate it was inspired by OutRun 2 as well. The first is in the titular slipstream mechanic, which is also known as drafting. You have to drive behind a car long enough to get a speed boost without hitting said car or any other obstacle along the way. The other mechanic the game heavily relies on is drifting, which is the act of turning your car sideways on a turn while also maintaining your speed. Mastery of these mechanics, especially the latter, is necessary for victory; it's nearly impossible  to complete a leg of the race without utilizing one of those two elements.

No matter how much experience you may have had with drifting in other games, the drifting in Slipstream requires a very high amount of precision. If you miss on anything, such as the time needed to brake or when to start tilting the stick, your results can range from not drifting enough to maintain speed to slowly veering off course into obstacles that make you flip over. This takes a ton of practice to master, and it will likely entice some players to devote a good chunk of time to mastering the skill before they can finish the courses. For those who don't want to or lack the skill or time to devote to drift mastery, the game has an automatic option that enables you to perform the perfect drift, as long as you keep on the gas and steer correctly.

Slipstream does feature one mechanic that isn't in any of the OutRun games: rewind. At any time, you can hold down the Triangle button to rewind the game by five seconds so you can hopefully fix any mistakes. The five-second limit can be broken up into pieces, so you can rewind for two seconds and save the other three seconds for another rewind opportunity if you quickly mess up again. If you wait for a few seconds after performing a rewind or if you use up all five seconds, though, you will be forced to wait for a cooldown timer before you can perform a rewind again.

The gameplay is solid. The sense of speed is very nice, and the controls emulate the feeling of arcade racing well, whether you go with the more difficult Manual Drifting option or the Automatic Drifting option. The tracks are numerous, and there are only a few that feel like they're color palette swaps. The cars you can choose for your run vary in their stats, so there are plenty of options to change the experience enough that it'll take you a while before you see and experience everything, modes notwithstanding. The only knock against the gameplay — if you can call it that — is that the experience is still influenced by the arcades, so don't expect it to go for a lengthy amount of time, like most modern racing games.

When it comes to modes, Slipstream has quite a number of them. Multiplayer is a split-screen experience for up to four players locally on four of the six total modes. The lack of online play may be disappointing to some, but when you consider how long a race can last, it not so bad that it's missing. There are online leaderboards, which is a nice feature. Single Race allows you to choose how many laps and opposing racers you want present on any of the game's 20 tracks. Meanwhile, Time Trials is a simple three-lap race with no opposition, so you're going for the fastest lap and fastest overall time for that session.

Battle Royale can be considered a very long mode if you set up your options to the max. It is more of an elimination-style race, as you go from track to track and the slowest person is eliminated at the end of each leg. Considering that you can have up to 16 opponents per match, it can take upwards of 30 minutes to complete a session if long tracks are randomly chosen.

Grand Tour is the mode that perhaps most resembles OutRun. You always start in the same track, but the end of each leg provides a branching path, so unless you deliberately choose the same path over and over again, each run can be very different. The mode also adds rivals, which seem important but end up just window dressing. The parody characters you encounter in each track always taunt you and say something when you initiate a rewind or one of you reaches the end of the course. There's no penalty for losing against them, and there's no bonus for defeating them, so their presence is nice but inconsequential.

Cannonball is an interesting mode, since it plays like a combination of the game's other modes. You can customize the numbers of racers, track density, number of tracks, which tracks you race in, and you can turn on or off the Rivals feature. Finally, there's the Grand Prix, which is the closest thing to a campaign. You can select which cup you'll race in, and that determines the five tracks you'll be on. Points are earned depending on your placement on each track, but the interesting option lies with your choice of cars. Choosing the stock configuration means that you can race with each car's initial stats, but you can also go for a customized approach, where your car is at a base level and your winnings can be invested into whichever stat you want. It runs the risk of you creating a completely imbalanced car for the upcoming course, and it can doom you, but considering how short each cup is, the drawback isn't that bad.

The presentation is good but has some minor issues. Graphically, Slipstream nails the classic arcade look but with a more expanded color palette. Everything is drawn well and animates nicely, but the mimicking of the OutRun superscalar effect is what really sells the game. The use of cloned elements to create one long, curved piece remains awesome to look at, whether or not you're nostalgic for it. The only complaint is with the rivals, as their large portraits over their cars can be distracting if they're behind you; it doesn't become transparent and blocks your view. As for the sound, your main effect is the soundtrack, and it emulates the synthwave midi style of the arcades of the times. While some will complain that you only get one track playing and it never loops, that was also the case with OutRun, and the ability to pause the game and change that is a nice touch — provided you can get over the fact that unpausing the game immediately throws you into the action instead of preparing you with a countdown timer.

Even though it is rather late on arriving to the PS5 compared to other platforms, Slipstream makes for a good arcade racing experience. The drifting mechanics take some time to master, but options to tone down the difficulty and drift precision ensure that everyone can make some progress. The presentation is excellent for the most part, and the number of racing modes means that the game has built-in longevity. As a game to play in short bursts, Slipstream is a fun time.

Score: 8.0/10

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