I love Hot Lap League (review)
Hot Lap League is fantastic. It’s hard, it’s fun, and when you nail that one turn you’ve been struggling with, it feels incredible.
First thing first though: Hot Lap League is not quite a racing game. Every race is a time trial (hence “hot lap”) where you’re trying to make it across the finish line as fast as possible. You do race alongside a ghost car, but that car is only there for motivation. Your opponent is very much the track itself.
I’ve raced and replayed every track multiple times, and it always delivers something different. The very first time, it’s all about working through the devious twists, turns, jumps and loops just to make it across the finish line. Then, technique comes in: “if I start the powerslide a little earlier, I can go around both those turns in one drift“, or “I can go through this S-bend without touching the steering at all“. And then, the need for speed takes over. This has me replaying and restarting tracks over and over in attempt to shave off 0.1 of a second.
Hot Lap League sometimes feels like three games in one, where you choose how far down the rabbit hole you go:
At first it’s reminiscent of a puzzle game, while you work out how to get to the end without crashing or flying off the track.
It evolves into route optimisation, as you learn the track and start to anticipate turns and drifts to set gold medal times.
And then, it becomes a speedrunner’s wet dream. Because you see, the gold medal was only the beginning. Now you’re going up against the world record and boy some of those people are crazy fast.
For a game that can get so precise, the controls are surprisingly simple. You can steer left and right or brake, while the car accelerates automatically. This might sound limiting at first, but leaves a lot of room for technical skill and nuance. Tight turns slow you down, but if you tap the brake you enter a powerslide which lets you drift around corners quickly.
Choosing when to enter a turn or to start a powerslide make a huge difference to your speed and overall lap time. In fact, learning how your car reacts to the smallest of inputs is the entire core of the game. I think that adding acceleration into the mix would overcomplicate things, and only take away from the experience.
The track is your enemy
You don’t have to be a superstar perfectionist to enjoy the game. While the track is your enemy, the ghost you’re racing against is your friend. No matter your speed or skill level, the ghost opponent is very carefully chosen to be only slightly faster than your personal best.
There’s nothing fun about being smoked so hard that you never see the other racer, but that doesn’t happen here. Whether the ghost is the medal time for a track, or another player’s lap; they’re always close by to create an enticing back-and-forth. Sure they overtook you on this corner, but you can get through the next turn faster, and if you drift just right, you might finish ever so slightly faster! While reflecting on the social features of the game, which I’ll get to in a moment, the ghost kept coming up as the thing that keeps me playing. There are names I recognise and even have little rivalries with!
I also highly recommend that you turn on racing lines and powerslide indicators in the settings. With these on, the ghosts go from being opponents, to a helpful guide on how they approached the track.
Live Service Racing
I’m usually cautious around live service games with social aspects, because I don’t really play single player games to be social. Fortunately, Hot Lap League has implemented the ghosts in a way that enhances the game. Unfortunately, it also results in the thing I like least: you can’t play offline.
Lap times are uploaded and verified immediately, and other players’ ghosts are downloaded constantly. It’s blazingly fast when it works, even on the worst internet connection you can imagine (my download speed is currently measured in kb/s), but if at any point you can’t access the internet… you can’t play.
Hot Lap League is a live service game in its early stages, which is often a warning sign to me. How many examples are there of games that don’t get the players they need and quietly peter out into oblivion? Except I can’t help but get excited.
Hot Lap League currently has two areas with 80 tracks between them, and an enticing “Coming Soon” banner. Each zone comes with a set of tracks divided into easy, medium, hard and expert, but also new cars and unlockable customisation options for those cars. If there’s more to come, then I can’t wait.
And look, you can’t ignore the fact that this is a paid game. It’s only going to increase in value as they add more and more content.
Pimp my ride (for a price)
Being a live-service game though, means that Hot Lap League does have extra in-app purchases: gold. Before you stop reading though, they’re exclusively used for visual changes to your car. Which is a huge relief, given that the core of the game is all about your skill in maneuvering through each track.
Gold is given out for finishing daily tasks (things like “drift 3km”) and competing in the daily race event. The higher you place, he more gold you get. You don’t get a ton of gold, but it’s a steady trickle. I also noted that some decals, patterns and colours are locked behind progression. You can only unlock these by getting a certain number of gold medals, for example.
Pretty much the only thing I’m disappointed by is that gold is also used to unlock different car models. Again, these are only visual and have no impact on gameplay, but of course I want them! I’d love to see a car locked behind a certain number of medals, but there isn’t one… yet.
I’ll echo the first line of this review: Hot Lap League is absolutely fantastic. It sets out with the lofty goal of a console-quality racing experience on mobile and I think it succeeds. It’s gorgeous, has an absolutely banging soundtrack and feels amazing to play. Which is hardly surprising, given the pedigree of the team, who were responsible for some Need for Speed games and Real Racing 3.
Every track is just the right bite-sized length to fall into the “one more try” rabbit-hole. I’ve had a lot of fun trying to one-up myself and the other players on the leaderboard and I highly recommend it. There are a few small things that irk me, but I forgive them for just how uncompromisingly good the main gameplay is.
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Hot Lap League is available on iOS and Google Play. See download links on the main game page.