Fans of arcade-style racing games should probably steer clear of Leadfoot, but dedicated racing fans will find in it a serious challenge and an opportunity to exhibit their finely honed driving skills.
The developers at Ratbag are best known for producing fast-paced, realistic driving games, as with their budget-priced Dirt Track Racing series. Ratbag's Leadfoot continues in this tradition: It's an inexpensive game that features a highly realistic physics engine and a wealth of options to keep even the most ardent automotive fan happy. However, this emphasis on realism may come at the cost of entertainment value for some players, as both novices and even expert drivers alike will find that Leadfoot can be a frustrating experience because of the game's high difficulty level. Most of this difficulty comes from Leadfoot's steep learning curve and punishing computer drivers. Leadfoot's multiplayer mode also seems unpolished, making it difficult to set up a race against less formidable human opponents. Even so, Leadfoot should appeal to serious driving enthusiasts, including fans of Ratbag's previous driving games.
Leadfoot offers all of the standard features of a driving game. The quick-race mode lets you jump into a vehicle, select a track, and start a race right away. This mode works well for practicing against computer opponents and for getting a feel for Leadfoot's difficult career mode. In the career mode, you have to buy a bare-bones sport truck or stadium-lite car, either of which you can eventually upgrade with better parts or an entirely new vehicle, assuming you can win races and earn enough money to do so. The number of customization options in Leadfoot's career mode is staggering, as nearly every aspect of vehicle performance--including wheels, suspension, and drive train--can be tweaked and manipulated through a series of suboptions. You can even select from different color schemes to change your car's outside appearance. If you're not well versed in automotive terminology, then most of these options probably aren't going be very appealing, and adjusting them might have a detrimental effect on your driving. But if you're serious about driving, you'll have fun making adjustments to all the cars. Another good feature in the career mode is that you can gain support from sponsors and thus make a little more money, but again, you need to exhibit solid driving skills before any of the sponsors will offer contracts.
Once you're actually in a race, it quickly becomes apparent that Leadfoot demands considerable time and effort from you to become even an adequate driver--more so than in a typical driving game. Not only do you need to learn the basic techniques required, but you also have to perfect them before you can win any of the major races. For example, learning to powerslide is a crucial driving skill, but the fact that computer opponents are constantly beating you in the turns--even when you're making quick slides--reveals that you have to time your breaking and acceleration very precisely to stay in the pack. You'll find that even when you mimic the computer drivers' moves, they'll always seem to get a slight speed boost and still come out ahead of you.
While the physics in Leadfoot seem very realistic, they can make playing the game very difficult, as collisions with other cars or walls can cause your vehicle to get thrown about wildly--and recovery from such collisions isn't easy. The unpredictable nature of collisions in Leadfoot makes it tough to adopt a strategy for being an aggressive driver, which is another skill that's necessary to win races.
Visually, Leadfoot does enough to create an acceptable driving environment, but it lacks some of the visual flair that's found in other recent driving games. Textures on cars and on surrounding objects appear muddy and washed out. Trackside detail is also disappointing, as you'll find only a few cardboard-cutout people lining the tracks, along with some support vehicles. The stadiums are impressive, but the crowd that populates them is flat, giving the game a rather stale look. The car models are similar in that the cars themselves are modeled quite well, but the drivers inside look very plain.
Leadfoot's learning curve is steep, and it takes a while before your driving skills will reach a point that you can actually win races and progress through the career mode at a steady pace. Even on the easiest settings, it's still very difficult to place well in a race. If the computer opponents prove too difficult, Leadfoot does have multiplayer racing that's supported by game server utilities, but there are still some bugs associated with joining games. It's also disappointing that there's hardly any music in the game, and having only the sound of tires on dirt as well as the constant growl of engines can start to wear on you after a while. Fans of arcade-style racing games should probably steer clear of Leadfoot, but dedicated racing fans will find in it a serious challenge and an opportunity to exhibit their finely honed driving skills.