Let's start off with something that I sometimes mention at the end of a review, the price: £4.99, this is worth considering, and although I didn’t pay for the game it can help to put all my comments into perspective. Of course, if a game at this price isn't an impulse purchase then I think you need a pocket money raise, a financial adviser or a better paid job, or maybe you should just sell your Xbox?
Anyhoo, Formula Retro Racing is exactly what it says; Single-Seat Formula 1-esque cars on a variety of circuits with very retro graphics. So retro are they that they put me in mind of a of mixture of games from the '90s; presentation-wise it was 1993 PlayStation icon Ridge Racer, while visually 1991 Amiga classic Geoff Crammond's Formula One Grand Prix came to mind, maybe a soupçon of underrated 1994 SNES racer Stunt Race FX… Yep, I'm that old.
Sadly, vague visual impressions of the good times are where the similarities end, the rose-tinted specs smashed and abysmal 1994 Atari Jaguar game Chequered Flag came to mind. While FRR runs at a very smooth rate on a Series X, your anticipated arcade racing fun is immediately shat on by some of the maddest, psychotic AI I've ever seen in a racing game – seriously, these lunatic opponents make Max Verstappen's defensive weaving look submissive, and Pastor Maldonado look like a funeral procession driver! I’ve seen less aggression in GTA Online races and games like Twisted Metal!
The problems don't start or end with the AI though; the physics, like so many other racing games, are, for some reason, wildly unbalanced in favour of the AI cars, so the slightest touch from one of them will most likely send you barrelling into the nearest wall. If this isn't bad enough the mad men who designed the game also included a damage gauge, which can fill up with ONE heavy collision, resulting in your car exploding into its (relatively few) component parts! At this point 3–6 cars will undoubtedly sail past as you respawn, flashing indignantly (this usually means you’re invincible for a few moments, but you're not) until the next kamikaze driver hits you – which won't be long, unless of course you're dead last.
Having said all that, I won my first race in the Arcade mode despite being rammed into a wall by a Verstapponaldo, which stopped me dead. In this game most Arcade races are 8 laps long (it depends on the length of the track) so I had time to recover. After that things swiftly got less forgiving, with any mistake or kamikaze attack on the next few tracks meaning you have absolutely no chance of winning the race or even placing in the first 3, which are the only places that get awarded points.
Now I'm not sure who did the QA testing in this game and decided "yep, this is perfect, THIS is what gamers want", but they're either ninja pro gamers who are completely out of touch with reality and therefore shouldn't be QA testers, or profoundly mad, or non-existent – if I were a betting man I'd favour the latter.
But I persisted, oh how I persisted, not believing a colourful, cheerful-looking game like this could be so flippin’ nasty. Amazingly, as well as a damage gauge, the game has an aerodynamic tow (slipstream, draft whatever you want to a call it) effect that is very strong, and doesn't take effect until you're quite close to the car in front, meaning it's extremely, frustratingly easy to shoot straight up the arse end of the weaving nutbag's car that you're trying to pass cleanly. In case you haven't been paying attention, what I'm trying to say is, FFR is not an easy game. I found it remarkable that you can actually make it harder if you want, the settings run from 'Beginner' through 'Advanced' to 'Expert' mode, which only seems to make the brakes worse, so that you have to brake earlier for slow corners which means the AI psychos can pass easily, or more likely just ram straight into you.
The sound is as basic as you'd expect, with the engines sounding a bit like my nose hair trimmer and collisions sounding like someone hitting a plastic bucket with a wooden spoon. The music is probably the high point of the game, with a few catchy up-tempo tunes that sound great, but only great if you like your choonz to come straight out of the 8 or 16-bit era.
Tracks include City Loop, Ocean View, GP Circuit, Monte Carlo (which is actually a pretty good rendition of the actual Monaco GP circuit), Speed Oval, Desert, Forest and Mountain.
There's no split screen 2-player or online racing to play with a friend, housemate or lucky relative, although if you like/love them why you'd want to do that to them I don't know. I couldn't help thinking "why the f..heck am I playing this” when I have 2 Forzas, an Asseto Corsa and F1 2021 installed on my SSD. I love to recommend indie games but only when they're good or just fun, and this is neither - I played this way longer to review it than I would have if I’d blown my own fiver on it. Even if you’re a retroholic, why would you buy this when you can probably pick up one of the older Need For Speeds or Burnouts for the same money? Formula Retro Racing is the polar opposite of what I was expecting; which was a fun, easy racing game that I'd return to for a quick blast every now and then. I won't be returning to Formula Retro anytime soon – nah, make that ever.