Slipstream: the beautiful agony of this gorgeous arcade racer

Slipstream is a beautiful game put together with a vast amount of not only love, but also a good sense of what made classic ’80s “vanishing point” racers so popular with gaming fans. It’s a game born from the Brazilian racing game development scene — a group of developers who grew up with titles like Kemco’s Top Gear on Super NES, and people who are passionate about their arcade racers.

Slipstream is also an agonising game to play, because for every ounce of love poured into it, there seems to be an equal or possibly greater degree of hatred for the player packed in, too. This is a game that puts up a serious fight if you want to actually enjoy yourself with it — and while games like it have their origins with quarter-munching arcade games that were monstrously difficult in order to extract more money from the player, there’s an argument to be made that Slipstream goes just a little too far, particularly with its most recent update from September 2021.

Slipstream

But let’s rewind a little — because despite its absolutely brutal difficulty level, Slipstream remains, nonetheless, a game that fans of arcade racers should check out, particularly as developer ansdor freely admits that the game’s new AI “isn’t exactly ideal yet” and as such “the difficulty may be a little unbalanced”. I’ll say.

Anyway. Back in 2016, ansdor launched a Kickstarter to develop Slipstream. Full disclosure: I threw $5 at it, because while the arcade racer has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, back in 2016 it was thought all but dead — and as such any attempts to resurrect it, regardless of whether they were by large or small developers, were a very welcome sight indeed.

It took two full years to come to fruition, since ansdor was largely working solo on the project and encountered a variety of personal and technical difficulties along the way, but it eventually arrived — and when it did, it presented an interesting melting pot of ideas that drew from both western and eastern arcade racers from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Slipstream

This is no straight OutRun clone; this is a game that also draws influences from the aforementioned Top Gear, its spiritual precursors in the Lotus Turbo Challenge series, Namco’s Ridge Racer and even OutRun’s sequels OutRun 2 and OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast.

At heart, Slipstream is, as previously noted, a “vanishing point” racer. For those too young to know about such things, what this means is that it doesn’t play in “true” 3D. Rather, instead of turning your car, pushing left and right causes you to move from side to side across a road which you’re constantly facing down. When you enter a corner, you’ll gradually be pushed towards the outside edge, so you’ll need to steer around it to counterbalance this effect.

Slipstream adds OutRun 2-style drifting to the mix, allowing you to take particularly tight corners at high speed and, as the name suggests, also incorporates a slipstreaming mechanic. Tailgate another car long enough to light up the word “slipstream” on screen and you’ll get a big speed boost, complete with manga-style speed lines; bump into anything, though, and you’ll lose a hefty amount of speed.

Slipstream

Herein lies the main difficulty with Slipstream at present: the fact that a single mistake will inevitably cost you a whole race, regardless of which game mode you’re playing.

In the OutRun-style Grand Tour mode, where you work through a series of stages, choosing one of two routes at the conclusion of each, crashing just a couple of times will leave you without enough time to reach then next stage. Meanwhile, in the Single Race, Grand Prix and Battle Royale modes, which are not time-limited, even just clipping a trackside obstacle will inevitably cause all your opponents to go sailing past you and disappear over the horizon, never to be seen again.

In an attempt to counterbalance this, ansdor’s most recent addition to Slipstream is a “rewind” mechanic, which allows you to rewind your race up to five seconds in order to try a troublesome corner or attempt to negotiate traffic again. This helps a little, but it doesn’t deal with the fundamental issue here: this is a game where most new players will probably not be able to clear even the supposedly easiest race without a considerable amount of practice — and a little bit of luck.

Slipstream

It’s frustrating, because Slipstream is so beautifully presented — particularly with its optional “pixel” visual filter, which makes the whole game look like a modern day Sega Super Scaler title — that you can’t help but want to enjoy it.

Slipstream seemingly wants to be liked and it wants to excite and thrill its players — but as soon as you get a little too close and present any sort of indication that you might want to get to know it a bit better, it gives you a solid punch right up the bracket and tells you to fuck off outta ‘ere, loser. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the biggest cockteases in the entire arcade racer genre — a subset of gaming known for drawing players in with its spectacular visuals and exhilarating speed.

But then, Slipstream’s story isn’t over just yet. The September 2021 update for the game was a complete rewrite of the whole thing, and the intention of ansdor and his new publisher is to bring the game to as-yet unspecified new platforms. Before that happens, ansdor is keen to iron out the issues the game has — with the difficulty being one of them — and then finally bid a fond farewell to this passion project once and for all.

Slipstream

“I feel like [Slipstream] is complete now,” ansdor writes on the most recent Steam update for the game. “It is the best I could do for this idea, this concept of a game. I’ve dedicated years of my life to this project, and it’s been a great experience. It surpassed by far all the goals I could have set for it in 2016 or 2018. But I don’t want Slipstream to vanish. The modding system will be my way of saying farewell to the project and passing the torch to the community.

“If there’s enough interest,” he continues, “maybe the community will keep it alive with new tracks and/or cars. And maybe I’ll come back to make some DLC package or expansion in the future, but for now I want to start a new project I’ve had in mind for a long time.”

Difficulty issues aside, Slipstream is a definite indication that you should keep an eye on what ansdor is up to next — which he’s yet to reveal in detail. But if you want to stay up to date with what he’s up to, you can follow him on Twitter right here — and give Slipstream a go for yourself right now via Steam.

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Pete Davison
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