Antigraviator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As Future Racers go, Antigraviator is an interesting, but slightly flawed one. It’s trying something different, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t really change that it doesn’t, entirely at least, work well.

I would like to apologise for being good enough at Future Racing games that this is the only mid-pack screenshot I have.

So, it’s a Future Racer, so there’s gravity hovercraft wot go fast, a lot of tracks in varying locales in tournaments of increasing difficulty, a boost start (Gotten by holding accelerate just as 2 vanishes and 1 is about to count), and… No context for any of this. Nope, this is a racing tournament, just a racing tournament, and that’s all good, with no in-game lore. Interesting move.

But, make no mistake, the tracks are very pretty. Even in the first tourney, you go from a “standard” city setting, to racing over the ocean, through a canyon system, and in orbit. It’s lush, and it’s fast, and it’s here we start to see this minimalist future racing game fight with itself, design wise.

It’s fast, and there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of blind jumps and turns, sometimes quite hard ones, sometimes in quick succession. But don’t worry, because only grievous collisions slow you down more than a tadge, and, unless you’ve gone for a low armour craft (more on that later), getting blown up by anything short of leaving the track (an instant explosion if you don’t land on the track, followed, in most cases, by respawn and loss of all speed you’ve built up) is quite tough. Okay, cool, these design decisions appear to have cancelled each other out for an alright, if odd baseline. But then we hit the Deathmatch mode of races, and they’re longer, and harder to lose, precisely because you have so much armour (and so do some of the other racers.) So, how do you blow people up?

Well, instead of weapon pickups, you have, at pre-determined points of the track, traps. Some are near-certain killers (like the reverse controls/magnet trap) , some are, basically, weapons (the missile), and the rest vary between fitting and slightly silly, deadly and slowing. Most require someone to be in front of you to trigger, give you a temporary immunity that usually gets you through the trap yourself, and have the good feature of telling you whether they caught somebody.

The first time playing, it goes straight to the mandatory tutorial. Not sure how I feel about that.

Unfortunately, they also require you and the other racer to be in a specific set of ranges to trigger, which conflicts, somewhat, with the other main mechanic, boost energy. See, going fast by collecting boost cylinders, and then boosting with the up arrow (2 cylinders per boost, and you can chain them pretty quickly) means that, funnily enough, you can end up first very quickly, so most of these traps… No longer mean much to you, especially if you stay far ahead enough that traps mean nothing. Even if, due to the fact the AI racers are fairly good, you’re not in first, you’re going quickly enough that, by the time the icon on the back of your ship lights up to show a trap has gone off, by the time it tells you a trap is ready, and by the time you look away from your real visual focal point of the track ahead of the ship (because you’re going very fast) … You miss your chance. The better a racer you are, the less you get to see or use a feature.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t have good answers for alternatives beyond the traditional, and I can also see why the traditional is being turned down here: It democratises things, to an extent, as the traps are track dependent, not based on loadout, or pre-genned track items, or a semi-random weapon pickup. The higher armour definitely helps ensure you can keep your speed (mostly) in track design that just wouldn’t work if, for example, wall and other ship collisions seriously hurt you, so the developers can use all those blind, sharp corners and jumps that normally, I would be crying hatred for, from the word go… Indeed, the final track of the second tournament, Michael’s Bay, earns my ire for being more hostile than the tracks bracketing it on either side, a solid and frustrating difficulty spike in a game otherwise able to mitigate that.

Finally, we get to the customisation options, and my greatest mystification. Scaling costs, I somewhat understand, but they’re applied inconsistently. Non-body parts, for example, don’t have nearly the steep cost rises that the two other body types (one tankier, one the “hard mode” craft that’s supremely fast, but has far inferior handling and shields), and… The colour schemes?

Accessibility note: The cost of the item should not be below the stat bar, and should be bigger than it is. The cost is 100,000.

No, really… The final colour scheme costs almost as much as the hard mode body part, and each colour scheme is more expensive than the last, because… I genuinely couldn’t tell you. I have no answer here, and it both confuses and annoys.

In the end, with the odder exceptions aside, Antigraviator is actually fun. It manages to be fun despite its design decisions fighting each other like design decisions were a cage match. Its online play has rankings, but remains fun, and the quick race mode means, unless you want to buy from the somewhat limited part set, you don’t have to engage with the tournament structure, just… To have a good time. Doesn’t change the fact it confuses me greatly, but it does make recommending it for what it is slightly easier. Worth a go to see something different being done in Future Racing, a genre that, amusingly enough, has been highly resistant to formula changes.

Spaaaaace. <3

The Mad Welshman likes walls, so he’s glad he’s been given so much leeway to grind against them in racing.

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BallisticNG (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £3.99 (Soundtrack £5.19)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.94

Those who’ve been keeping track of my future racing endeavours may have noted that I’d had my eye on BallisticNG for quite some time, but, for one reason or another, I’d never actually gotten round to a review. So you can perhaps imagine my surprise when, after a break, I’d taken a look at this Wipeout fangame, and found… A lot of polish. The game’s come a long way from its early roots.

Yup, this is a fitting opening. The only way is indeed up… 😀

So, yes, BallisticNG is a future racing game heavily inspired by the earlier Wipeout games (1, 2097/XL, and 3) , and the usual rules apply: Several craft, each with their own quirks, pros, and cons (such as the Scorpio, which steers awfully, but goes like brown things flung from a stick), undertaking tournaments at various speed classes, with time trials, races (with and without weapons), survival mode (where you speed up regardless, and merely control steering), airbraking for harder turns, and a low poly aesthetic. To say this is extremely my jam on many levels is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic’s a bit damp” , and, funnily enough, this led to a lot of early criticism from me during the Early Access process, mostly to do with track design and time trial times.

Thankfully, that critique, and that of other folks, seems to have been taken on board, and the track design and difficulty curve is quite pleasant. A low pressure series of tutorials, the easier tracks in various modes… It handles pretty well. In fact, a nice touch I’ve not seen elsewhere is arranging tournaments, not by difficulty class overall, but by track groupings, so the introduction to each track is on the easier speed classes. The higher speed classes are as twitchy and nightmarish as you’d expect (Spectre and above requiring good track memorisation), and the lower speed classes feel fair, yet frisky. Good!

A beautiful place to live, ruined only by the noise of AG racers certain times of the year…

Aesthetically, the game is very much on point, with a variety of environments, craft, and tunes, all feeling good and looking fine. Add in some modding ability, with the power to import craft, create track layouts, and the like, and, honestly? There’s not a lot I can say that’s more than a niggle on the negative side, such as the base sound balance needing work.

BallisticNG, it seems, has finally achieved its potential. One set of updates before release. And that actually makes me somewhat happy.

Fly me to the moon, and let me raaaace among the space debri- ah, wait, doesn’t scan quite the same. The sentiment’s there, though!

I mean, if I wasn’t after some of the moaning I did, there’d be no pleasing me… Ehehe.

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Cologne (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Cologne is an interesting idea: A tunnel racer, where the races determine sovereign ownership of planets. Okay, not a bad way to go about things, tunnel racers are relatively rare, and there’s a potentially interesting universe.

Many worlds, many tubes to race through to conquer them peacefully.

There are, however, several problems, all of which add up. Some are quality of life stuff: Yes, I would like to see my controls in the options menu, and, heaven forfend, maybe even change them. I would (BEEP) like to (BEEP BEEP) turn off that (BEEP BEEP) godawful alert (BEEP) noise for the (BEEP BEEP) fuel and coolant levels being low, a (BEEP BEEP DAMMIT) common occurrence until you level up your fuel meters (or collect enough fuel to shut it up for a good five or ten seconds), and remember that you have to manually apply coolant. What kind of race are we running, in any case, where nobody has enough fuel or coolant to finish the race? Baffling. Similarly baffling is the jump, which very briefly goes straight up. I’ve mostly opted to avoid jump loops as best I can, because the timing is pretty tight.

I’d like to skip the tutorials on first load, if at all possible, and definitely skip seeing the entire track every single time. Oh, and turn off the shattered glass effect when I’m damaged, that would be good too.

Can you tell how well I’m doing here? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not a 3.

It’s unfortunate, really… There’s the kernel of a simple, possibly quite addictive tunnel racer in here, but it’s bafflingly undermined at every turn by its design decisions. When even racing on Easy tracks is an exercise in frustration, the world building isn’t really used to any great degree, and when common quality of life features are just plain missing, it’s extremely hard to find the niceness beyond “Well, it’s a good core idea.” Oh, wait, the pacifist element: You’ve no weapons, and are relying on skill. That’s something I like, but alas, it just isn’t enough.

Cologne, unfortunately, gets no recommendation here at TMW. Which is a shame, because I do like my Future Racing games.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

So many worlds, so little time.

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GRIP (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.2.6

Ahhh, GRIP. A spiritual successor to Rollcage with much promise, but it does seem to make the oddest mis-steps sometimes. Nonetheless, I will begin by saying that the GRIP team are slowly, but surely, pushing the game to better heights, and I highly respect the fact that they aren’t going to be taking the game out of Early Access until they’re sure it’s good enough. Even with critics like me pushing, and occasionally moaning and bitching.

Pleasure, thy name is a missile up the jacksie of the racer in front.

Needless to say, there is going to be some moaning and bitching. But less than there was, and in different areas. So let’s start off with what’s good, and what’s improved.

Aesthetically, apart from something I’m going to touch on a little later, GRIP is good. Gritty industrial elements counterpoint well with pretty vistas, blend well into the landscapes they’re built on (Except where it’s obvious they’re the paving over of said landscapes with ugly metal), and similarly, the soundtrack is pumping, industrial, and decidedly cool. The various GRIP vehicles stilll have character, despite the constraint that they have to be boxy, and their wheels big enough to fit the main motif of the game (They have high downforce, so it doesn’t matter which way up they are) , and that the steering becomes less responsive the faster you go, so slowing down is important is good. Similarly, the new weapons appear cool, and my previous complaints about the blue-shell nature of the Assassin missile appear to have been dealt with somewhat. The AI appears to be somewhat less vicious, and this, too, is good (I spent all of the last session on Hard, and felt like I was earning my podium place without feeling cheated on all of the tracks I was familiar with.)

Atoll is *very* lovely, as is the wont of a sandy beach…

So far, so good. Equally good, it’s still early days, and the devs do have a quick response to considered critique. Cool. Now for what is currently less good, or needs some work. Starting with the dramacam, and signposting. Essentially, a bit of colourblind support, or making signage and the path more clear, would be very helpful in the WIP tracks, as the game has now started putting in tracks with some devilish features, and more attention to the signposting thereof would be very helpful indeed. Features like uphill to downhill U-turns, and quite sharp ones too on Atoll, or the 90 degree turn with little warning and no rails on the fittingly named Acrophobia track. Combining with this was the drama cam, which, when I have a sharp impact, or I’m moving very slowly, decides not to focus on where I’m going, but… Well, this screenshot from Atoll is emblematic of the sort of thing I have to deal with, and I will also add the disclaimer that, most of the time, it works, and adds all sorts of dutch angles and funtimes that make the experience quite visceral, working well when I suddenly have to flip between track elements. Finally, the Primer is quite intrusive, and I find myself heavily disagreeing with the decision that either the game pauses, or heavily slows down (while still requiring control) every time it wants to take up the screen to tell me what to do… Especially as, if I’m not quick enough, it’ll do it again until I’ve done the arbitrary goal that, in 90% of the Primer, is “Use this basic weapon on somebody” if I’m not quick enough to do so.

…Alas, it is also one of the places where DramaCam hampered me more than pleasured me. Yes, I am aware the beach is pretty… But the way forward is IN FRONT OF ME.

Overall, though, GRIP definitely looks like it’s improving, the addition of multiplayer is nice (Still in testing, and the game, as with all WIP content, politely informs me is WIP both in menu and game, and, in the case of Multiplayer, embargoed until it’s more polished. Which is perfectly fine), and I feel a lot better about recommending this to future racing fans who still want some wheels.

Vroom vroom.

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Formula Fusion (Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Future Racing, it seems, is firmly back. And it’s international. Even without the mechanical and visual polish that Formula Fusion shows, it’s to the game’s credit that one of the better teams in the game is not American, or Australian, or British… It’s from the Middle East. Galaxy racing, from the Jazirat Al’Arab (the Arabian Peninsula.)

Despite some odd notes, I can’t help but like the backstory here. Go, Galaxy Racing!

It is then, perhaps a shame that the game’s still a bit of a resource hog, doesn’t explain its powerups all too clearly, and has some later tracks that make even a hardcore Future Racing fan like me reach for the airbrakes. Both of them.

Formula Fusion, by R8 Games, is, in its way, very traditional Future Racing: There’s a campaign, which unlocks tracks in the rest of the game, there are different craft with different strengths and weaknesses (In the areas of Engine (speed), Handling, Anti-Gravity (Not fully explained, but it seems to deal with pitch adaptation and air control), and Defense), weapons and defensive systems, and other unlocks through in-game currency.

It’s actually quite interesting to note how R8 have meddled with the formula, because, on the whole, it’s an improvement. By winning currency in game, you can unlock modifiers for your craft, tuning it to your liking (I like to turn as much as I can as high as I can), adding variation to your weaponry, and unlocking tracks without necessarily having to play through campaign mode. Similarly, within the races themselves, while familiar features abound (Speed boost pads, weapon and shield energy pickups, airbrake turning, and the necessity of good pitch control on faster speed classes), combat is mostly de-emphasised, and some of the nastiest kit a racer can deploy with their weapon charge is actually on the defensive end. One in particular that sticks out is the Flashbang, which, when deployed against you, obscures your vision of the track for just a second, maybe two… But even on the slowest speed class, this can lead to hitting a wall, another racer, or missing a vital speed boost pad. Weapons also need to be charged with weapon pickups, and you get very few uses of a weapon unless you’re actively looking to power up your weapons… In which case you’re missing those vital boost pads. Which you can hit two of at once. And each one you get charges a turbo boost itself.

Yes, the boost pads are angled *up* . No, that doesn’t mean anything… Most of the time. 😛

Visually and aurally, the game is a distinct pleasure, with some great tunes, solid sound effects, clear visuals (especially when motion blur gets turned off), and, as with the early Wipeout games, The Designers Republic give the UX, advertisements, and team logos (among other things) their signature, highly recognisable flair. The game is mostly clear, interface wise, but this, alas, is a good segue into some of the bad points of Formula Fusion.

See, for all its good points, for all that the tournament does allow you to mostly get through without playing the more difficult tracks, the more difficult tracks are very difficult indeed. For all that Atlas Torres is a high octane track, with lots of lovely airtime that pleases my black little heart, it’s also a track that you first encounter on the FF3000 circuit, aka “The third highest speed class in the game, and no god-damn joke” , and it is also a track with an absolutely silly amount of hard turns. As in “Airbrake now, or forever explode in the sky” hard. The cards for improving various craft elements, as well, seem to imply some extra effect, but if there’s any beyond improving, for example, the handling in reality, it’s somewhat difficult to tell. Similarly, despite the “Boost charged” voice clip, you can, in fact, use your boost at any time, it’s just it’s best if you wait until it’s fully charged. Finally, the game is a bit of a resource hog, to the point where even my moderately beefy system needs a run up to get reasonable loading times and silky smooth framerate, rather than a somewhat painful startup and the occasional stutter.

Back of the starting grid? Just means you cry more when I pass you, suckers.

Still, if you want to see some solid Future Racing with the emphasis more on the racing end of things (While still having enough “combat” to please your average combat racer), then you definitely can’t go far wrong with Formula Fusion. R8 has quite obviously learned some lessons from their past projects (Yes, the Wipeout games), and, flaws aside, it’s definitely worth the price they’re asking if you can run it.

The Mad Welshman is happy so many folks love Anti-Gravity racing. It brings folks from all walks of life, and walls on all walks of life, together!

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