GRIP (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99 (Assorted team unlock DLC totalling around £6)
Where To Get It: Steam

GRIP, spiritual successor to Rollcage and future racing game about cars that work equally well (or poorly) both ways up, remains a game where when it goes well, it goes very well, and when it goes poorly, you say rude words and hit the “RESTART” button. It also remains a game where the line between the two can be quite thin. As thin as a single ramp, or some inconsiderate driver you’ve just shot with a gatling deciding to get in your way after several high caliber reminders not to.

Pictured: Poor combat-racer etiquette, as demonstrated by a robot.

You’d think they’d learn after the fifth missile for getting ahead of me in a row. But such is life in the world of GRIP. C’est la guerre, as they say.

The thing with GRIP is that, although it’s undeniably cool, it is also harder and a little less accessible than other Future Racers. Breakneck speed, combined with the ability to launch yourself into the air, combined with less than stellar track signposting and some nasty corners… This is before we get into things like the entire HUD going screwy when you’re heavily damaged, or the less than friendly multiplayer interface (and odd segregation of race types.)

Does that, necessarily, make it bad? Well, no. It’s aiming for barely controlled chaos, and it gets barely controlled chaos. It’s also one of the first future racers where I felt obligated to use the brakes. And, to its credit, it does mention the difficulty of the tracks, and it’s not joking when it says “Hard.” To take one example, the aptly named Acrophobia (A mountain track set above some deadly drops) finishes with perhaps the nastiest brake trick I’ve seen, a leap from one track to another vertically opposite, then… Ah, then, if you don’t immediately slow down, you’ll careen off the side of a 90 degree hard turn, rather than quickly braking (or at least, taking your finger off accelerate) dropping from the second track, slowed down, but able to take that sharply angled corner. That one caught me out more times than I care to count.

I can’t deny, however, that it looks *awesome* when you pull it off.

On the plus side, beyond the track design, and the usual Future Racer tricks (Such as only hitting the accelerator on “GO!” to get a boost-start… Itself mainly useful if you don’t have a conga line of racers in front to ruin said boost), difficulty can be set in a moderately granular fashion. Don’t like blowing up mid-race? GRIP feels you, and lets you turn that option off. Want packs to be more cohesive, and to never feel truly safe in a race? Rubber-banding can be turned on and off. Don’t like Blue Shells (the Hunter missile)? You can turn that off in pickups. Well, in single player and online, anyway. In Campaign, the rules are mostly set.

Speaking of weapons, the game seems to be at its best when it’s sticking to traditional models. There, any flaws in the bots seem more natural. In Arena mode, for example, I never really felt challenged by the bots, only by other players, while in Ultimate race mode (which adds a stunt and combat scoring mechanism, as well as racing points), it felt like the more cohesive the pack was, the harder the time I had racking up those points. After all, you don’t get points for fucking up and losing seven places… Speaking of… A reset remains punishing in most cases, so occasionally, there’s the frustration of a second placer knocking you off the track (or going off the track due to a moment’s inattention), and… All of a sudden, you’ve lost several places, and, if this is anything after the 2nd lap, good luck clawing your place back. Combat is nearly all frontal, with some clever exceptions like the EMP field (also known as “Punish anyone coming close”) and the time slow powerup (Which slows everyone except you… Normally quite powerful, it can, however, aid some players through the more difficult sections, which makes it a bit of a gamble. But a clever one, as some distance is always gained.)

The Hydra Missile. Poor lock-on range, situational… Still like it because it’s a swarm missile.

Overall, GRIP is something I personally enjoy, while acknowledging it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The menu accessibility varies, the track signposting is iffy, the tracks can get hard pretty quick. But the powerups are pretty balanced, the granular difficulty is a good choice, the music and visuals overall are pretty, and the feeling of big, chunky jet-propelled cars careening around their chosen track or arena is pretty good, right up until it suddenly feels a bit frustrating. Probably not best for first time future racers, but at least alright overall.

The Mad Welshman will always, when customisation options are available, go for the most garish car imaginable. It’s basically like using missiles, but for the eyes.

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DISTANCE (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

2018 continues to be a year of firsts for me saying words I never thought I’d say. In the case of Distance, spiritual successor to Nitronic Rush, those words are “Wow, I never thought I’d see a good horror game in the Future Racing genre.”

Grain, spooky thing in the distance, ambience? Yup, that’s… Waaaaaait…

And yet… Here we are. A Future Racing game involving a car that can fly, tumble, and make sharp turns without braking… Also being a game with horror stylings, unsettling the player with strange vistas of a world gone horribly wrong, shining hope transmuted to despair. Without a single human character, only a car, a road that inexplicably seems to want you dead, a teleporter, and a rogue machine… OR IS IT?

Okay, so it gets a little odd and ambiguous at times, and I’m not 100% sure I can give the game props for horror writing when I haven’t completely played through the second campaign, but moodwise, it definitely creates feelings I’d associate with horror: Uneasiness and dissociation, asking myself… What’s really going on?

It also helps that it’s a smooth game. While I would recommend controller over keyboard for Distance, if only because the control scheme is a little odd, the keyboard controls are, nonetheless, quite smooth, and I only ever felt a little put out during the quicker, more difficult segments by the aforementioned control scheme (Quickly hitting SPACE, A/D, and SHIFT in the right timings was a little bit frustrating. Only needed late in the main campaign, and I’m sure rearranging keybinds could help.)

While flying is relatively rare, the cold, deep depths of space aren’t. They’re breathtaking. Well, they would be if cars had lungs, anyway…

Aesthetically, the game is on point pretty much throughout. Good signposting, clear visuals, and a dystopian retrofuturist aesthetic that works well whether it’s ruined or not, I never felt distracted. Musically, it switches well from pumping electronic beats to more ambient, horror styled soundscapes, and the sound effects and voice work well.

So… So far, I’ve been pretty glowing about Distance. And it is a good game. It helps that it also has a track editor and Workshop support, but one thing I will say is that I don’t really feel like the campaign added a whole lot to flying before it’s taken away from you for the majority of the rest. Part of that, I get, flying is hard, and inverting the vertical controls is a bit of a shock if you aren’t prepared for it (My exact words were, as I recall “Friends don’t let friends invert on you.”), but it was somewhat disappointing to see flying under-represented. But other changes from the original formula, such as a “down” thrust (that’s “down relative to your car”) are definitely welcomed, and I did, overall, find enjoyment in doing some of the silly things you can do with your jumping, thrusting, tumbling electronic car before the end of its main campaign.

And that, honestly, is about all I can say, because the game is simple and tight, elegantly tutorialises, and is fairly accessible to boot. It’s got some interesting horror elements that feel natural, and is well worth a look from the Future Racing crowd.

Another improvement over Nitronic Rush… These spikes didn’t want to make me throw my control-device out of a window.

No, for reference, Twisted Metal doesn’t count, because it’s a Combat Racer. Small diff.

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All-Stars Fruit Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (With “Yogscast Exclusive DLC” for £1.69″ …)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Cast’s still extremely white, then. Kind of a metaphor, really, for how the game has turned out, despite me being relatively nice last time I reviewed it. Perhaps too nice, as, over time, the flaws have become somewhat apparent.

This is the middle of the three skin tones on display, and poor Cora (Coconut) appears to stand alone in that midground.

Aesthetically, the game is mostly on point. There’s a lot of visual interest to the tracks, the UI’s pretty clear, the music’s good, and the devs have taken pains to ensure the tracks are part of their world, such as the snake from the first track of Papaya Island being a visual feature in at least one other track, and the like. And if it were just aesthetic, then I would be down for keeping this game on my Recommended list.

But it’s not. There’s a racing game in there, and, after time spent with it? It’s not that good. In fact, like the cast, it’s… Pretty bland. I had hoped, during the Early Access period, that it would get interesting, but there’s only so many variations of “This is a missile”, “This is a contact slowdown”, “This is a boost”, and “This is a trap” before it gets dull, and some of them last a long time. 5 or 6 places worth of time, which, when the AI preferentially targets you, can mean that you’ve just come out of a boost, somewhat ahead of everybody, when… BANANA, UNSPECIFIED ICE, PEACH, COCONUT, and bam, you’re last place, and not able to race for a vital second or two. Cars are cosmetic, so I’ve, unsurprisingly, been spending much of my time with Rebecca, whose special power is… A longish boost.

Started 1st, was made 8th by the AI ganging up, and, after this screenshot, I win by a nose *despite* being attacked a few more times.

The tracks are, for the most part, good, it must be said. Only a few exceptions exist, and most of those are due to arbitrary barriers. But… For all the unlockable characters, I have little incentive to pick them, because their special abilities… Are mostly eh. Some, like Amelia, have front firing missiles that auto target the next person along (and yes, there are shield powerups, so you at least have a chance of not losing five damn places to a Banana Rocket.) Many have mines of some description (with Gwendalyn’s Kiwi Mine being the most powerful, a slow field dropped onto the track.) One of the more inventive ones is Giselle’s Avocado Bite (A chomping, avocado coloured plant grows on the front, biting anyone directly in front of you.)

But all of them, in terms of pure competition, pale in comparison to being able to go faster. And that, honestly, is a problem. The karts themselves have no inherent advantages or disadvantages, so winning involves three things: Drifting a lot (preferably before a boost pad, as boosts stack.) A good racing line. And having boost abilities. Oh look, guess who’s the only character who has that? Strawberry Wings Awaaaaaaay!

There is multiplayer, and there are multiple game modes, but certain characters are a pain to unlock because, as is often the case with a racing game’s first outing, the time-trial gold times can best be described as “Race perfectly, and then some.” Which is decidedly unfun.

As such, despite having a visually interesting world and some good music, I can’t really recommend All-Star Fruit Racing, because it’s a case of style over substance, and, as a party racer, it has balance problems.

Obstacles, if hit, slow you down as if attacked by the weapons. Not, if you look in the bottom left, that it matters right now…

The Mad Welshman will always warn folks about giving one person a turbo nobody else has. Always.

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Hot Lava! (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Saying the words “First Person Platforming” is, in the majority of cases, a phrase to make one shudder. It’s rarely replied to politely, and, while there have been good games with first person platforming and movement elements, they’re rare enough that, for the most part, they don’t go down well.

Not pictured: The fifteen other attempts to get the sub 5 minute star, the buckets of sweat dumped over me, the grunts of EFFORT and the Body English. Also that this is a still of the middle of a series of jumps that take about a second, maybe a second and a half.

So it’s perhaps a good start for me to say that the most shudderworthy part of Hot Lava, a game that entirely revolves around first person platforming, was its attempt at a Saturday Morning Cartoon theme, and the lampshady humour about SatAm writing. Also the really thin poles, but we’ll get to those.

From what I can tell, the story of the game, such as it is, is that you’re a child with a highly active imagination (Who, as in my childhood, seems to be going through an “Imaginary self” phase), who is playing “The Floor Is Lava” , that game where the whole point isn’t to touch the carpet or flooring, because if you do… If you doooo… You’re sooooo dead. Because the floor is lava!

Now add in a score mechanic, collectibles, fake loot boxes bought with in-game currency, character customisation of your Action-Man jointed avatars, time-trial leaderboards, a pogo stick for some challenges, and a whole host of tricks and traps that could conceivably be how a child would imagine the danker and hidden parts of the school (like the ventilation being filled with deadly fans and crusher traps), and you have Hot Lava in its present, Early Access state.

Guess who gets the Boy Aquaman(TM) Short End of the Stick? #GiveSueNamiAChanceHackWriters

Aesthetically and accessiblity wise, insofar as a game about, basically, speedrunning a first person platforming level is pretty good. I never outright failed to notice something I could (in theory) jump to, there’s a checkpoint marker that is, unfortunately, not often all that useful, but it is there, and clear to boot, I had no problems with menu options or colourblindness issues, and things that can be swung from or grappled are highlighted well. The controls are, at their basic level, pretty simple: Tap space to jump, WASD to move, you control your jump mainly by mouse direction, rather than strafing, and you automatically grab anything that you can grab and have successfully reached.

Of course, for the “Pros” (ARGH) , there are tricks like perfect jump timing, a variation on Quake Bunny Hopping (If you jump, and both strafe and turn in a direction, then jump with the right rhythm, alternating directions, your momentum increases. A lot), and other such shenanigans. Oh, and a hidden comic and golden pin somewhere in the level, further cementing that one of the inspirations here (Beyond the child-to-tween-hood of a 30-40 something) is the Tony Hawks series. Or maybe Dave Mirra Pro BMX…

Scratch that, I have very unfond memories of playing the latter. In any case, the game, overall, feels alright, and you quickly get into the rhythm, except for the times you’re lost (The game relies on replay, so that’s less of a sin than you’d think), the times the way forward is awkward (Such as in the Ventilation Tunnels Of Crushing and Fanblades) , and… Thin rods that you have to jump on. The first person equivalent of “Pixel perfect platforming”, I despise them so, and am grateful that their somewhat easier to deal with cousin, Thin Rods You Can Jump On And Run Across, don’t have a tightrope or grind balance mechanic to – that is not a suggestion, Klei Entertainment… koff… Just to clarify.

Unlike either 80s playsets or loot boxes, the playsets of Hot Lava don’t ask for your blood, soul, money, or grandparents. All you need is to play. Plaaaaay. Plaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!

As much as it feels odd to say this, Hot Lava… Looks promising. And this, funnily enough, is why I didn’t delay this review until the second area (Billed for about a week after the review hits) arrived… Because, even at this early stage, it’s oddly fun. With the exception of the SatAm theme… Sorry, folks, I know some SatAm themes were abominable, but that’s no excuse, dammit!

The Mad Welshman, overall, recommends this. The lava has told him it will eat all his favourite socks if he doesn’t. Joke’s on the lava, he likes the game anyway, and never mastered the art of wearing matching pairs.

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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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