I am not the biggest fan of racing games and certainly don’t have much interest in any real-life racing events. I like some of the weird games in the genre and do have a fondness for the old school stuff. Slipstream caught my interest because it hearkened back to retro racing games and the aesthetic of ’90s gaming in general. If that’s your cup of tea, then Slipstream comes highly recommended.
Inspired by the likes of Outrun and Initial D, Slipstream is a high-speed racing with a behind-the-car view. You get to pick between 5 sexy cars with different stats determining its speed, acceleration, and handling, and then take on various different game modes.
The core mechanics of Slipstream are straightforward and very pure. The game heavily relies on drifting, with courses having many curves that will be tricky to do well while going at average speeds of 250 kilometers per hour. You can learn the layout of the tracks if you want, but you can usually predict upcoming turns by paying attention to the scenery ahead of you or the behavior of other cars. Drifting is satisfying to pull off once you get used to it and find a level of handling that appeals to you. It also clicks well with the game’s second mechanic, which is the titular slipstream.
By driving behind another car you catch their slipstream and, after a few seconds of maintaining it, gain a massive boost in speed that stays with you so long as you keep behind another driver. Other racing games have this feature as well, but Slipstream truly perfects it and makes it a core part of the game. It feels so great to catch a slipstream in a curve and just zoom from car to car to keep it going as you watch your position in the race go up. You build up some amazing speed and it can also help you get back in the race after crashing into a wall after a failed drift.
This is Outrun in a modern coat of paint, with tighter curves and quadruple the speed.
Helping the game stand out is its kick-ass synthwave soundtrack and the vibrant visuals that set each level apart. Whether its a moody cemetery, a country road, tropical beaches, or outer space, each course feels unique and full of character. The music is some of the best I have heard in a long time and really gets me in the mood to drive fast and recklessly. There is no digital download available from Steam, but the OST is on Bandcamp.
People who watched me play the game did remark that the scenery is very repetitive. This is less obvious as you are driving along it, but there is, indeed, a lot of recycling of the same few sprites. While not the most visually pleasing solution, this does make each stage more predictable and allows you to better focus on how the game’s sprites curve, which is a necessity for preempting when you should start a drift.
The game’s various modes are all fun to play and offer a different experience. The Grand Prix is the most prominent feature and has you take on 5 races that earn you money with which to upgrade your car between rounds. There are 4 cups in total and it’s a great way to get the hang off each stage in the game. There are also standalone races and time trials that consume less time.
There is also a Grand Tour where you race through various courses and can decide between branching paths, Cannonball where you can customize the length of the session and tweak other options like traffic, and Battle Royal, where the racer in last place drops out after each course. These modes are also unique in that they feature colorful rival characters that taunt you while racing and lend the game some personaltiy. There are a bunch of references and familiar faces in there, so spot how many of them you can recognize.
I grew to adore Slipstream, but it does have some mild shortcomings. The completion percentage is a bit opaque and doesn’t always seem to register certain conditions and it’s a bit cheap how every other racer gains a massive boost of speed to give them a headstart on you, especially early in the Grand Prix where your starting vehicle could be outperfomed by a Volkswagen Beetle. It’s also a shame that other drivers always do perfect laps. They never veer off the track or crash, they never bump into each other, you can’t even get them to crash by ramming into them. Some chaos there would have been nice.
Still, I recommend Slipstream to anybody with even the mildest interest in racing games. Even if you only ever played Mario Kart, this game is so simplistic and easy to get into, yet gives so much back to the player. It’s a stylish, high-speed game and its preposterously cheap even outside of sales.