The best racing game you didn’t know you needed to play is currently out on the PS4. It hasn’t had one reveal trailer, no hype, nothing. What it does have is ten tracks, with elevated undulating street circuits, damage, online time trials, single races, a whole grand prix season, power ups, a whopping 162 upgradeable, customizable parts, and thrilling AI controlled competitors. It even has its own dedicated DLC add-on for just £7.
There is not a racing game like it on current-gen consoles. It takes place on a three dimensional race track that uses the vertical axis as well as the lateral, and many races are decided by a mere hundredth of a second.
You might think I’m talking about a stand-alone racing game, but I am in fact writing about a racing game that is based in the heart of a Japanese city called Karamucho.
So what game am I on about? Give up? I’m talking about one of the so called “mini” games in the game Judgment.
It’s drone racing!
(Below is some gameplay I recorded of the racing. The first three minutes show details of customization, but if you want to go straight to the racing, skip forward to the 3 minute mark.)
I have to admit, when I first saw and experienced the drone racing set-up in Judgment, I didn’t have high hopes of being that interested in it and thought it would be a passing throwaway fancy – something to do for five minutes when I was a bit bored.
However, I was wrong. I was surprised to find myself spending more and more time playing this “mini” game, instead of getting on with the main storyline adventure. Before playing I didn’t appreciate how different and exciting racing in a three dimensional street circuit series could actually be. Well let me tell you, it’s addictive, it’s challenging, but most importantly, it’s superb fun. The developers have clearly put a lot of thought into this “mini” game, as is evident from it being so well fleshed out. Allow me to elaborate.
You start off with a base model, but winning races and finding parts in the main game will allow you to upgrade your drone, with four different characteristics: speed, maneuverability, durability, and turbo launch speed. Some circuits require pure speed to win, at the cost of flight controllability. Victory in other more technical circuits will require more agility and less speed.
Add to this tactical aspect, and as a veteran of many car racing games, the real key to a good single player race is the computer controlled AI being realistic. Nothing is more boring in a racing game than having the AI drivers/pilots, either running away and uncatchable, or far too easy to pass the entire field and you win by a country mile. In the above video (3 minutes in), when the racing actually begins, you will see the races I take part in are sometimes decided by a whisker! Any person who enjoys the competition of racing, in any form, will surely enjoy finishes like that.
But it isn’t just the odd occasion it happens; it happens a lot. It’s unclear if the game has been programmed to not let pilots get too far away with a catch-up racing technique called “rubber banding”, but even if it is, it works very well and is not obvious, and results in exciting, thrilling, nail biting finishes.
The tracks themselves are also interesting. Albeit there are only actually five circuits, those five are also reversed to give you a total of ten places in which to race. However, even on the simplest of circuits, I found myself banking and turning in, with excellent handling characteristics and realistic flight controls, trying to clip the apex to shave tenths off my time to get an advantage over the other racers. Get it wrong though, and I would smash into walls or other objects, which would scrub off all my speed and the advantage I had built up, and the field catches up and overtakes. When you add this banking, turning, elevation or squeezing through doorways into buildings, on top of the racing, my heart is pounding with pure adrenaline each and every time.
Racing in a three dimensional field adds so much more tactical depth to the racing I didn’t know was there, so when you throw in the power-ups dotted around – which you have to fly through to activate – you soon find the cerebral part of the game comes into play. I’m just ahead of a drone, but low on health. Do I fly off the racing line to get that health pack power-up and let him pass, or bank on not taking any more damage, and try to stay out in front, all the while hoping I don’t hit anything else and end up out of the race? Oh, the delicious decisions the pilot has to make on the fly, literally!
The ONLY disappointment in this, is the lack of a real online multiplayer aspect. Having these races online with other pilots would have been out of this world. As it is, all you actually get with the online feature is the ability to download another player’s fastest ghost times that you have to try and beat.
However, one little in-game secret, and slight spoiler during one of the side missions of the main Judgment game, is that you get to weaponize your drone and do battle with an enemy drone…..
Battle Drones anyone?!!?!? Yes please!
Judgment, the game, is literally the game that keeps on giving. Drone racing is just one of 20 different mini-games available. In researching this piece, I asked some of my Judgment playing friends what mini games did they enjoy, and one of them told me he’s played the whole game for 40 hours so far, but ten of those hours have just been on two other mini-games I’ve not even mentioned here.
All this extra in game content on top of one of the most incredible detective stories of all time, and you have one heck of a package. Total Gaming writer Pete Keen, when reviewing Judgment, gave it a score of nine out of ten and wrote;
“It is certainly my favourite game so far of 2019, and a GOTY contender.”
With high praise such as that, it’s hard not to be even more impressed with what Ryu Go Gotoku studios have created.