Deathgrip’s take on podracing keeps you riding the line between hyper-speed victory and dying in a fiery explosion

Was it a good idea for The Phantom Menace to include a lengthy subplot about our heroes gambling on a child to win a space Grand Prix? It was not. Did the visual spectacle of podracing blow our tiny ’90s brains regardless? Of course it did. 

What a concept: basically just tethering a little cockpit to two jet engines and sending it off careening at 600mph around a ludicrously dangerous course. And as proved by 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: Racer, it’s perfect fodder for a videogame. 

Enter: Deathgrip, an upcoming sci-fi racer shown off at the PC Gaming Show, that embraces that spirit of ridiculous speed and even more ridiculous mortality rates. 

As soon as I hop into my first race and see the vehicle designs and windy canyon race course, the Star Was inspiration is clear. But I don’t have to get far round the track to realise there’s something much more clever here than just a riff on a movie action scene. 

Deathgrip is all about pushing the limits. There’s an inherent risk-reward in cranking your speed up to max and hoping you can weave around those dangerous corners regardless, sure, but the game goes further than that. The thrusters you can activate to boost your speed also heat up your engines—run them too long and you’ll enter an overheat state that rapidly damages your vehicle. You can repair on the move, but the sci-fi juice you use to do it needs time to recharge once spent. The result is that your structural integrity is just another resource to burn for more speed. 

(Image credit: Reclaim Interactive)

There’s no point playing it safe if it means getting left behind, but blasting around at low health is dangerous, even more so if you misjudge your dashboard meters—easy to do at high speed—and run out of repairs to offset your overheating. Kaboom.

The other thing that makes gambling your health a tense proposition is the fact that every racer is packing. Each vehicle can load up with two guns—machine guns, rocket launchers, shotguns, all that good stuff. If that thruster boost can get you ahead of the competition, great. What if it doesn’t get you far enough ahead to be out of range of a suddenly very threatening salvo? 

All together, these systems tip Deathgrip over into being more than just a very fast racer—it’s a game that really plays with the idea of speed. You’re always being tempted to push things further and further, craving just one more boost to get you past the guy in front, no matter the risk. The only way to win is to be forever hanging on by the seat of your pants.

One thing I’ve found is lacking a little in my time with the game so far is personality. The original podracers of Star Wars were a motley crew of weird and wonderful aliens, each driving their own distinctive craft equipped with wacky sci-fi gadgets. Deathgrip’s racers and vehicles do feel pretty bland by comparison, and the fairly generic guns feel like a missed opportunity for hijinks. 

But maybe Deathgrip is just too focused on its racing to worry too much about what its drivers look like at this stage, and that core element is really shaping up well, feeling as deliciously dangerous as a deathsport should. Check it out for yourself by trying the free demo on Steam now ahead of its upcoming Early Access release.

(Image credit: Reclaim Interactive)

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