Formula Fusion (Early Access Review 2)

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

“It’s not like Wipeout!” appears to be quite a common cry for Formula Fusion, a game intended to be… Er… Not specifically like Wipeout, but using the Future Racing experience of a team mostly comprised of folks who did work on Wipeout.

So, naturally, I’m keeping the Wipeout references to a minimum, and judging the game on its own damn merits. And, surprising nobody, the game is by no means bad, even at this early stage of development. Let’s talk about what’s currently not so hot first, starting with the F2000 craft, and the upgrade system.

Much like racing nowadays, some teams just can't resist a really gaudy colour scheme... I LOVE IT.

Much like racing nowadays, some teams just can’t resist a really gaudy colour scheme… I LOVE IT.

Whenever people talk about an unresponsive craft, I’m pretty much assuming they mean the FF2000, which does indeed currently steer like gold plated neutronium bricks, while going at a fair clip providing you can actually steer the bloody thing. While I’m almost certain that upgrading its handling stat would allow it to at least steer like a particularly stubborn mule (Proven after writing this sentence), upgrading is currently on a system that’s either relying on multiplayer (I unfortunately wouldn’t know, as, much like many other Future Racing games, the servers are pretty much ghost towns), or on small money drops for each race (105 FusionBux per Gold medal, 55 for a silver, moving rapidly down to 5 for, er… Placing.), with increasing costs the more you wish to upgrade the craft. For example, to upgrade the F2000 to its full level of handling, I would need 6500 FusionBux. I had 35, increasing to 140 as I finished a race in Niagara Falls (Getting Gold, naturally.)

Which would get me 2 percent better handling. There are 6 upgrade bars per craft (Handling, Shield, Braking, Speed, Defensive, and Offensive.) Teams, by the way, appear to be for purely cosmetic and/or roleplay reasons at the present time (I’m Southern Star, the Australian/Oceania grouped team, mainly because I do love me dark craft with red piping. It’s the least ostentatious of the Team colours.) As such, upgrading the craft is a bit of a grind, and it’s uncertain how the planned research tree feature is going to help there.

Looks like a fish... Swims like a fish... Steers like a cow. (But upgradeable to the point where it steers alright, actually!)

Looks like a fish… Swims like a fish… Steers like a cow. (But upgradeable to the point where it steers alright, actually!)

Now, let’s move to a counterpoint: Yes, the FF2000 steers awfully. But the FF3000 is somewhat nippy, and I have a fully upgraded FF4000 (In handling, at least) that turns on a penny, so “unresponsive handling” is most definitely not an issue with Formula Fusion’s current build overall. It may not help that it’s very important to check controls, as the arrow keys control pitch and, more importantly, airbrakes for the left and right… Not steering. Steering is A and D, while accelerate is W, and… Well, we all know the S is meant to be for brakes, and I’m sure it works, but who the hell uses brakes, seriously?

Content wise, it’s true that there are only the craft classes (Customisation is mainly meant to be in upgrades and that research tree… Which isn’t implemented yet), and four tracks, out of what appears to be a planned eight (Manhattan, Niagara GP, Atlas Torres, and Trans Atol are all in, while Fiar Fury, Terminus, Sampa-V, and Midtown are not), but those tracks? Are well designed. Manhattan is a fairly good starter track; Niagara GP makes for a good speed track, with only one corner I can think of that requires airbrakes, and the skill being in keeping your boost going; Atlas Torres is the first track where you can, with a flick of your pitch controls, leave the track at least temporarily, and Trans Atol, formerly an explosive hell of airbrake chicanes and hard turns, is now a slightly more mellow, but still challenging industrial track. There are also weapons, of which you are allowed 2 at any one time (Changing them out between races via the Garage), one Offensive (missiles, plasma, the like), and Defensive (mines, EMP bursts, and the like.) As such, much like RedOut, the emphasis is very much on the racing over the combat, especially with the KERS Boost system, which rewards having full weapon energy with… A boost you can fire off around once every 30 seconds, by holding down both weapon keys.

Then again, anyone who thinks the weapons are thus less meaningful won’t have noticed that EMP bursts not only temporarily turn off your engines, they also drain your weapon energy. Good luck boosting now, bucko!

...Meanwhile, it is very important to note that yes, sick jumps are do-able in Formula Fusion.

…Meanwhile, it is very important to note that yes, sick jumps are do-able in Formula Fusion.

But, not counting the reverse versions, night versions, and the mysterious “Red Route” that can be glimpsed in Custom mode, the basic tracks are something like half done. The game is pretty, although it currently feels more sedate in terms of the impression of speed (The actual speed is okay), the music is fairly good, the controls are responsive… The only things currently letting it down are that upgrading the craft feels grindy at the present time, and the occasional crash (and I stress, this is occasional.) It has multiplayer (Although, as is often the case for future racing games and other niche-ish genres, finding a game without a bunch of friends who already have it is a matter of luck), it seems to be progressing nicely, and, from what I can gather, it’s been done in a sensible timeline for developing a game like this in the Unreal 4 engine.

Even though it’s not complete, what is there works, and, with the possible exception of the F2000 and Custom Race mode, works well. Props.

The Mad Welshman pondered. Wipeout 1 had… 3 craft, and eight tracks. Formula Fusion has proposed… 3 craft, and eight tracks. Naaaahhh, just a coincidence.

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RedOut (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £26.99
Where To Get It: Steam

There’s a fine line between challenging, and dickish design in Future Racing. And it depends upon a lot of factors, including handling, how responsive the controls are in the first place, track design, enemy AI… It’s a long list.

Sometimes, I scare myself. To be perfectly fair, the track helped scare me.

Sometimes, I scare myself. To be perfectly fair, the track helped scare me.

RedOut, I’m happy to say, definitely seems to be hitting the sweet spot for me where I’m earning my Gold medals, but not struggling for them. And good gosh, it feels good. It especially starts to feel good once you’ve got a feel for each vehicle. In fact, as the screenshot above shows, once you truly get a feel for a craft, it can get scary.

So, let’s get the bad out the way first… This is only just Future Racing newbie friendly. And I say that because, once it hits about the middle of the Class 2 events, the gloves really start to come off, and there are some bits of unclear track design. Looking at you, Abruzzo and your Tube of 50% Racer Survival Rate. Overall, though, despite speed filters, EMPs fuzzing up your view, all sorts of effects that serve to both pump up the adrenalin and make racing anything from the middle of Class 2 one long, extended cry of “OHHHHHSHIIIIIIIII-”, it’s fun, the difficulty curve isn’t too bad, and the AI rubberbands just enough that you can beat them with some moderate screwups, but you’re probably never going to lap them, and a major crash is going to set you back at least a couple of places… More usually 5 or 6.

Still, that aside, there is a lot to be said that’s positive about RedOut. The visual design is sumptuous, with high variation in the tracks (From Cairo’s deserts, to Alaska’s ice-floes, to Abruzzo’s forests), the craft (From the Sulha’s almost Pod-Racer like design, to the alien curves of the Asera, to the scrappy Jet-Junkers of Conqueror Technologies), and a UI that doesn’t distract from what you really should be paying attention to, the track. The tracks are, for the most part, highly readable (With the exception of a few tunnels like in Abruzzo), and the sound is equally variable and classy. Sometimes, there’s pumping beats, others, guitar riffs galore, and it’s very clear when someone’s nudged you, you’re scraping a wall, your turbo has fully charged, you’re using your turbo… It’s well planned, and I applaud it. I equally applaud the fact that 34 Big Things have gone for relatively low poly models for the craft, as… Well, it fits!

A good example of the gorgeous landscapes... You will mostly only see when you aren't paying *attention*

A good example of the gorgeous landscapes… You will mostly only see when you aren’t paying *attention*

Now, while the game does have multiplayer, alas, it doesn’t seem to be terribly busy, so it’s very much a case of “Host your own when friends are around”, but the Campaign… Does interesting things. You can see it trying to engage you, and get you to experiment. Fly with this ship for two races, it will occasionally say, and we’ll give you money. Win a race with this one, with this loadout, and we’ll give you that powerup. Don’t change craft just yet, because you’ll lose out on the sweet thing. It’s seductive, and, as a method of engagement with a campaign that’s basically “Earn money, unlock ships and things”, it works… I keep accepting the contracts, because hey, a little extra never hurt, free powerups when unlocking them normally costs 4 grand never hurt, and all I have to do is… Try a different style of racing.

Because yes, each racer has a different style. The Asera is twitchy, turning rapidly, accelerating quickly, but relying more on its mobility than its top speed… Or even shields. The Sulha craft, by comparison, are also not very well shielded, but are decidedly drifty, and extremely fast. That first screenshot was a Class III Sulha with its speed boosted as far as I humanly could. I exploded an average of once a lap… And still beat Gold time. Because when I used full boost on a long straight… It wasn’t a long straight anymore, it was a brief prelude to another corner. Not even recharging shields would have saved me for long, because the shields recharge when you’re not hitting things.

It's surprisingly hard to get a good screenshot, because it isn't screwing around, motion wise...

It’s surprisingly hard to get a good screenshot, because it isn’t screwing around, motion wise…

As such, I have yet to truly win an Arena match (A race, but you don’t get respawns, so when you explode or miss the track? Game over, baby!) with a Sulha racer. Speaking of, events also have a fair bit of variety, with Races of various types (No Powerups, normal Race, Last Man Standing, and Arena), Time Trials and Speed Trials, Score Survivals, and… “Boss” Races. No, not as in “There is a boss racer, like in Quantum Rush Champions or Wipeout Fusion”, as in “Hey, did you know these tracks in an area are actually linked? Now race the whole thing.”

It is very rare that I’m enthusiastically for a game, much less in the Future Racing genre, which is very much my bailiwick… But RedOut is well crafted, well balanced, with a good difficulty curve, only one or two tracks I actively dislike (34 Big Things, please make Tubes more clear… Thank you), and design that shows some real love and attention.

G'wan, give us a goooo.... Try us outtt!

G’wan, give us a goooo…. Try us outtt!

The Mad Welshman smiled as he ran his hands over his new Koeniggswerth Yggdrasil. Then he grinned as his mechanics started hauling in the improved turbines. Ohhh yes. This was going to be good.

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Going Back: Quantum Rush – Champions

As you may have noticed, Future Racing games are sort of a passion of mine. Which made Quantum Rush: Champions (Previously Quantum Rush Online) such a disappointment. In discussing why, we have to compare it to a close cousin, Wipeout Fusion, one of the more divisive games in possibly the biggest ex future racing franchise out there (Apart from F-Zero, yes, I know F-Zero exists, shush.)

Weaponry, How Not To Do It

This is how quickly you can die in Fusion. On the first track.

Both Wipeout Fusion and Quantum Rush: Champions erred in dealing with weaponry, albeit in different ways. In Wipeout Fusion’s case, the weapons were, in many cases, too good. Many weapons, including missiles, fired both backwards and forwards, and, throughout the game, it’s perfectly possible to explode (losing you the race) in the first fifteen seconds. Not helping is the fact that, due to sloppy coding, some of the weapons appear to work both ways, but… Actually don’t. And it’s somewhat difficult to tell. But one thing that Fusion did relatively well was that weapon placement was considered. Some tracks didn’t have as many missiles (Which do not corner well), some don’t have many plasma bolts (Which can be murderous when used in the right way)… There’s a sort of balance, although it’s not obvious. Challenges and deathmatch further refined this. Can you score enough kills using only rockets and missiles? How about quakes and shields alone?

Quantum Rush, however, has the same weapon placement for all its game modes, which doesn’t actually work. If you want someone dead in a “kill target” mission, I can guarantee you that over two thirds of the pickups still on the track are largely useless. Not helping are Quantum Rush’s own bugs, which include a weapon that, for the most part, just doesn’t seem to work: The gravity shockwave. How it’s meant to work is that it shoves racers away from the vehicle… But 95% of the time, it doesn’t do a damn thing, taking up valuable space that another weapon could use.

Track Design

TemteshBay1

Both Fusion and Quantum Rush, in slightly different ways, suffer from the same problems, and the same good ideas let down by poor execution. Both, for example, have multiple potential paths through the track, and, unlike some Future Racers I could name, none of these paths are technically bad. But in both games, some of these paths are poorly signposted visually, and some of these paths are cluttered to the point of frustration. In Fusion, this is most seen in Temtesh Bay, a track which has bulkhead doors that open microseconds before you actually hit them, a cave segment with hard to navigate rock formations, and some frankly silly track narrowing. In Quantum Rush: Champions, you see similar design flaws in the Airport, with a side path filled with obstructions and narrowings in the form of cargo-plane bays and large shipping crates. Worse, the part that isn’t a shortcut is a hard right where your eyes are telling you to go ahead.

AirportQRC

This is approximately a third of a second before I end up going to the left, the alternate path. A second before that, you can’t see that turnoff.

Unlike Quantum Rush: Champions, however, the AI in Fusion will generally split their efforts between paths… While the QRC craft will, most of the time, stick to the main path. As already mentioned, tracks are used with no changes for other game modes, and this can hurt in the case of, say, boss battles, where the AI will always take a path, and you taking the other will lose you valuable time. More on time in QRC in a short while…

Upgrades

Courtesy of Wipeout Central, this is the top tier FEISAR. Like many of its compatriots, it is 90% gunmetal grey and grunge.

Courtesy of Wipeout Central, this is the top tier FEISAR. Like many of its compatriots, it is 90% gunmetal grey and grunge.

Wipeout Fusion, it must be said, mostly sinned in this category due to visual design and grind. Upgrading craft in Fusion requires money, which requires racing tracks over… And over… And over again (Although not necessarily in the craft you want to upgrade), started as somewhat crappy versions of what they were meant to be, and, eventually, went from not-so-great craft with some interesting designs, to at least fairly average craft with some interesting designs, to good craft with some mind-bendingly dull designs, usually involving gunmetal grey. Quantum Rush: Champions, however, does… Odd things. Upgrades are rewards for earning medals… But even in higher tiers, there just aren’t that many upgrades, and they become progressively harder to unlock as you go on. What are you mostly unlocking? Customisation options, only one half of which (The colours) stay between “Tiers” of craft. And they, also, require unlocking through medals.

It took something like 12 medals to get even this far. The pattern was in Tier 1, but had to be re-earned for Tier 2. The colour is the only one I have been able to unlock to this day.

It took something like 12 medals to get even this far. The pattern was in Tier 1, but had to be re-earned for Tier 2. The colour is the only one I have been able to unlock to this day.

For context, originally, QRC was Quantum Rush: Online, and was going to be a purely multiplayer Future Racer with an F2P model. It had a somewhat nice garage. It had the customisation be unlocked by buying it, rather than medals, although you earned money, obviously, by racing. Upgrades, similarly, were on a monetary basis. And all of this, along with the multiplayer (Which had mostly been going alright) was thrown out when Quantum Rush: Champions was announced. This was a mind blowing decision, to throw the baby out with the bath water, and the game suffered for it, as, since unlocks appear to be based on number of medals, you can find yourself being rewarded for slogging through a difficult challenge and getting gold with… Er… Blue #3. Thanks for the socks, Grandma QRC, but I really wanted that better armour, y’know? It doesn’t help that the customisation options, in a strange funhouse-mirror fashion to Fusion, start dull. Three shades of gray, in one colour. And every Tier, you have to unlock skin patterns all over again.

Difficulty

Difficulty is somewhat erratic in both QRC and Fusion, but in Fusion, at least, the main causes are obvious: The tracks and the weapons. For your first track in a tournament, you could be driving through the icy Mandrashee, a relatively simple track with some quirks, and the very next track is… The dreaded Alca Vexus, home of narrow tracks, multiple chicanes and hidden corners, and, in at least one case, a broken track.

But Wipeout Fusion didn’t require you to have a perfect racing line to get gold. Nor a good enough computer. By contrast, Quantum Rush: Champions gets harder if your computer isn’t recommended specs, and Time Trial… Requires an almost perfect line to get gold. Yes, I would like a challenge. I do not, however, want to be locked out of content because you decided “Perfect line or go home” is a good idea in the first tier of gameplay. And then there are the boss fights and “Target Enemy” modes. Target Enemy is bad enough, because it generally requires a kill a minute of (by Tier 2) up to 3 specific enemies, with, er… The same power up locations as a race would have. Now imagine that, while it’s only one specific target, it’s a vehicle of your class from the next tier up, with special abilities such as being able to drain shields from fellow racers, or leaving a burning trail behind them that makes them overheat. Then give it similar harsh timing (1 minute 30 is silver to kill the Tier 1 boss for NMW)

There’s a lot more I could say about Quantum Rush: Champions, and how GameArt Studio have dealt with the situation, or, more accurately, haven’t… But instead, I’m just going to mention two things. Firstly, Quantum Rush: Champions was ported to the XBOne moderately recently, and from what I can gather, critical reception was no less frosty than on the PC. Secondly, and I want developers to note this one…

MaaaaaybeAProblem

…Global achievement stats like this… This is a warning sign. This is a warning sign that either you have done something wrong with achievements and unlocks, or you have done something wrong with playability and/or difficulty.

Listen to said warning signs.

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