GRIP (Early Access Review 2)

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

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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GRIP (Early Access Review)

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

GRIP, from the developers of Rollcage, is, in essence, a Future Racing game about cars that don’t care which way up they are, going fast and blowing each other up. And oh, boy, is it fun already, despite not being finished yet!

However… There is a shadow over this fun, that I want to deal with as we go along as well, because it overshadows… Pretty much the rest of it. In a word? Aggression.

This, while showing off the beauty of the environments, is a prelude to something *bad* happening.

This, while showing off the beauty of the environments, is a prelude to something *bad* happening.

Despite the game undeniably looking pretty at this early stage, aggression is definitely a problem with the game as it stands, in many aspects. In some others, clarity is a problem in some small ways. But aggression… Ahhh, that’s the real problem right now. The AI is very aggressive. When it’s turned on, the rubberbanding is aggressive. And the weapon/utility selection in this Future Racing game? Is very much tuned toward aggression over defense.

In the developers’ favour, the default options tone this aggressiveness down somewhat by allowing the player to partake in the rubberbanding as an option (on by default), and a damage negating option, protecting them (and the AI, by extension) from the spectacle of going boom when hit enough times, losing them the race (also on by default.) Turning off either one of these options, however, reveals the real GRIP, and the balancing problems therein. Possibly one of the first Future Racing games I’ve encountered where piloting at my best is, in fact, the riskiest possible move I could make. Why?

Let’s talk about Blue Shells. You may have heard the term, one of the more despised weapons of Mario Kart: A weapon that targets the person in the lead, regardless of distance, and homes in with unnerring accuracy, also regardless of distance.

Not pictured: The EMP, missile, exploding vehicle, and hefty swearing that immediately preceded this.

Not pictured: The EMP, missile, exploding vehicle, and hefty swearing that immediately preceded this.

This game has a Blue Shell, in the form of a blue-ish trailed missile. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is more than one option that reliably deals with it. The only purely defensive measures, in fact, are a backwards facing shield (Which will be destroyed after one of either what I’m calling the Blue Shell Missile, or normal, lock-on requiring missiles… Or enough machine-gun shots, but we’ll get into the machine-gun in a minute), and maybe (I haven’t been able to reliably check), the EMP Burst weapon, which seems pretty damn rare. No, more common are the machine-guns (Pretty short ranged, but, as I discovered, have a utility in dealing with mines), the mines (Still presenting somewhat of a colour blindness problem by their warning lights being red and not too visually distinct, value wise, from the track, although the new markers and upwards light-ray do help a little), lock-on missiles, the aforementioned Blue Shell Missile, and turbo boosts.

As it is, with catch-up turned on, and destruction off, there’s tight, tense gameplay where mistakes are paid with a loss of at least a couple of positions (Thankfully re-attainable.) With destruction still off, and catch-up also off, it becomes much more variable, where a few mistakes or a string of missile locks could well cost you the entire race. With destruction on, whether catch up is on or not? Getting into first place is asking to be blown up. Staying in the pack until the end is asking to be blown up. It becomes, in a word, un-fun. In more words, the challenge suddenly becomes a nightmare, and “normal” tracks become hellish torture chambers where travelling more than a few hundred yards without being attacked by something is a blessing from the Powers That Be. I have, no joke, been hit twice by a Blue Missile for 80% of my damage, stayed in first for three whole laps… And then had two missiles hit in quick succession in the final few seconds of the final lap, instantly relegating me from 1st… To 9th.

With Catch-Up Assist on and Destruction off, races become a tight test of skill, with the pack being relatively tight.

With Catch-Up Assist on and Destruction off, races become a tight test of skill, with the pack being relatively tight.

The Assassin, as this Blue Shell style missile is called, is a painful beast. Doing a hefty amount of damage, and making its way to the leading racer almost unerringly, the back shield isn’t a guarantee of protection against it, and the AI have a very nasty tendency of firing off an EMP burst just before it hits, whether they were the ones to fire the Assassin or not. When this happens (More often than I would like), this makes the race feel, not so much a race against individuals, so much as a race against a hive mind united in not wanting you to win. Even on medium difficulty, the AI… Is effectively too good at times.

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, with catch-up on, and destruction turned off, it’s challenging, and mistakes will cost you, but you can win, even if you’ve been knocked back quite a few times. It’s still a bit of a gamble, but it’s an entertaining gamble. The control scheme is very simple, the music is dark and pumping, fitting a game mostly set in grim industrial wastelands, and the tracks give you lots of opportunities for GRIP’s real draw: Being able to drive on most level surfaces. Tunnels, where you can loop up, then drop onto a powerup. There are multiple paths on the tracks, and each has something to recommend them. And each track, so far, is visually distinct. There are lots of cars, from the slow but tough , to my current favourite, the Speed Car of Doom, the Dominator, and, while visual distinctiveness on the track is a problem, it’s currently not terribly important to know what you’re up against, considering… The cars are mainly customisable by colour, and, so long as you remember not to screw with that destruction setting, this is by no means a bad Future Racing game.

Of course, it would be a better Future Racing game if, amusingly, either destruction wasn’t quite so, er… Destructive, or, at the very least, there were some better repair/defensive options. But as it is, with Destruction off, and Catch-Up Assist on or off to your taste, it is definitely enjoyable… But it would be nice if Destruction on weren’t a death sentence.

The Mad Welshman sobbed as he heard that dread beeping. The beeps were getting closer together, and soon, soon, his car would stop. Oh God. Oh God.

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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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