Team Racing League, from Gamious (Lines, Turmoil), is a single-screen racer with a twist: only one member of a team has to cross the finish line for the victory.
Co-operative racing games, or racing games with co-operative modes, have come and gone before now—from Trackmania to Forza’s Cat & Mouse mode— but I think Team Racing League is probably the first game entirely dedicated to the effort, and it does it with an interesting visual style: a low-poly take on the retired industry-staple of birds-eye view racers. Think Super Sprint or, well, any of the several hundred clones of it which followed it (I have fond memories of a free one included with the Klik & Play game creator suite).
Team Racing League revolves around teams of 3 vs 3 (other set-ups are available) each imparted with the simple goal of being the first to get a player over the finish line. This means that two of the three team members can—and should—run interference. Interference in TRL translates to setting things aflame, moving and activating blockades, and creating barriers. Players can also team up to amplify their speed, or double up on the flamethrower effects.
Basically, there’s a lot of chaos which can be wrought, even by teams who aren’t communicating or… well, working as a team.
What I mean by that is that the game inherently works best when flexible players play the game. If all six people play the game as a race then that’s fine, if all six play it to destroy each other then — well, that’s less alright as there’s still the racing win condition — I’m sure they can have plenty of fun doing that.
The game does, however, run best when the teams work together covering both disciplines of play. A single racer with the other two running distraction is easily the optimum state for tense play. The two harassers combing to build a force-field, or moving around a level’s 3/4 blockade tiles — squares which instantly stop anyone who hits them once they’ve been turned by a team. The blockades are interesting, as each player can pick them up while they’re inactive, and drop them with a single button press. Once dropped they’re turned to the colour of the team who had picked them up. In this state they will bring anyone of the other team to a halt should they touch it, while friendlies can still pass over them (there’s a similar principle for the force-field). The work around for this is either: (1) burn them with your jets, or (2) wait for a time out.
With the portable blockades it becomes easy for a team to grind the opposing racer to a halt, if you’re the team caught behind them then all of a sudden one of your harassers might find themselves spending their time trying to simply clear the track for your racer.
Add into this the fact that many of the game’s current (these impressions were based off a pre-launch build) maps include jumps and ramps and there’s plenty of places to drop the tiles, or sit your car, if you want to disrupt racers.
There’s even pitfalls; broken fences on sharp corners, or areas without railings what-so-ever. If you slide over (or get barged over) either of these then you’ll be massively set back – but sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself to drop the speed when you’re raising hell to secure a lead.
At time of playing the game had six maps, three desert and three mountainous, with decent variety. Three woodland maps were included in the ghost-mode but unplayable, and more are meant to be coming after launch. There was variety enough in those levels, with rope-bridges and chasms mixed through the levels — they were, despite this, pretty unremarkable in themselves. More interactive elements, or even moving elements of the map (oil pumps in the desert, logging machinery moving in the woodlands, etc) would have definitely improved the game’s aesthetics.
Aesthetics, then, are probably the weakest point of the game. While definitely not essential —especially not when it comes to games with tight controls and a perfect mechanics execution which could really be a hit at parties or conventions as Team Racing League has— the game lacks memorable visuals and audio. A cheering crowd, moving map elements, and multiple (cosmetic only) options for vehicles would have really enhanced the game. Think about the difference between Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars and it’s sequel Rocket League —if you’ve played both— it’s exactly those things, brighter maps, noisier crowds, more neon and jets and whooshing.
Thankfully then, as I alluded, the game itself (after half-a-dozen matches at least) feels refined and responsive, and so opportunity remains for this sort of thing to be implemented in future.