Saturday, July 31, 2010

Racing Game Trifecta (Light 'Em Up)

I would've posted yesterday, but I was feeling sick and not up to it.

I wanted to talk about three popular racing games: Blur, Split/Second, and the new Hydro Thunder out for Xbox Live.  I played the demo for all three and I'm going to talk about them.  You might say "Stop hating Eric" but to be fair, none of these games are that bad, just let me say something.


If you don't know, the premise is you drive through a city or something.  You gain "boost" by drafting other cars, drifting, catching air, etc.  When your boost gets high enough, you can hit the "Powerplay" button to destroy something next to an opponent ahead of you to inhibit his progress.  Examples include buildings rigged to blow and bombs dropped from helicopters.

You can choose to save up double the boost though and use a "Super Powerplay" powerup that literally destroys an airport terminal, drops a nuke, Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks the track or something, etc.  You can alternatively use this to open up new parts of the track--destroying the road to reveal an underground parking garage, etc.

The best thing about the game is the track design which has some good details.  However, the track layout is kind of confusing.  Just like Burnout, you have trouble telling that you're coming up to a barrier or something so you just bounce around off the wall.  The wreckage that sells the game isn't even that exciting, like I came in first three times in the demo, got a big lead, and nothing really happened, I just cruised, that's all.

Car handling is bland, like Need for Speed except the car weighs like over 5000 lbs/2250 kg or something so it just chugs around.  Also, the generic cars (Ford GT40's, Vipers, Aston Martins, whatever) that display little car damage really aren't that cool either and I feel emotionally unattached from it.

I can imagine this game being forgettable within a week or two.  Yeah, this game seems built for the hyperactive MTV watching little kid who loves watching stuff blowing up.

^ Somehow, looking of that pic of Ryan Davis getting all giddy over Split/Second is the equivalent of how I would feel if I were to fall through a trap door into a tub of dog piss.  Really.


Made by Bizzare Creations, the people who made Project Gotham Racing and Metropolis Street Races, comes Call of Duty: the Racing Game.  Really.  This game has 20 players max, you gain XP, level up, and unlock new cars and "perks."  That's right, you can get "perks" in the game.  You get powerups by driving through Mario Kart-like items for flying nukes, mines, little machine gun things, boosts, and health pickups.  Every time you get hit, you lose a bit of health and if you lose all your health, you blow up and lose a lot of time.

The game has cool menu music and it has real cars in it so that's a plus.  Playing with 15+ people is just hectic though.  The "first turners" just smash into you, don't bother to brake, good little Cruis'n-trained kids.  I came in first twice out of eight races so you can't say that I suck and I don't know how to play.  The track design is kind of confusing, especially that outdoor one with the dirt roads.  Oh well, not that confusing once you play it several times.  I just wish there were some daytime courses since night tracks are cool at first, but it just makes me sick after a while.

To get XP, you drift, win races, blow up other cars, etc.  Really, this XP thing has been run into the ground already.  The last thing I need is to feel like a hamster running on the wheel getting fed pellets cause I drove around bouncing off the walls.

The car handling is kind of like Split/Second too, only modestly better since the sense of speed is better and you can hit the braking lines and stuff, although there are theories that bouncing off the damn walls is better than actually trying to race normally.  I enjoyed Project Gotham Racing a lot more than this IMO.  Better than Split/Second, just let it go.

Hydro Thunder:

In sort of a "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord" kind of moment, the Hydro Thunder fans get their game remade for Xbox Live with all new content.  As a Daytona fan, I'm kind of envious, but even though I'm someone who gets a modest amount of enjoyment out of Hydro Thunder on the DC, I can say this port is kind of disappointing in terms of content.

Hydro Thunder is really the only good racing game on water besides maybe that jet ski game on the Nintendo 64.  You pick from a few boats and tracks and have at it.  You pick up boosts, hit shortcuts, and try not to get blown up or run into the wall.  Tracks are two-minute long sprints to the finish as you go from point A to B.

Controls are actually kind of cool since steering a boat is dramatically different than a car cause you're at the whim on the waves. Sometimes I end up missing boosts because I'm floating about so I guess I should practice if I want to take this seriously.  However, another element is track memorization since hidden paths and boosts can give you a huge advantage.  In a disappointing turn, it seems that the boats are slower this time around as if to make you more aware of your surroundings.  I thought it made the game more boring.

There's only eight tracks in this game.  Because you can play any track on online multiplayer and bypass the stupid demo locks, I got to see the last two tracks in the game, Area 51 and Seoul Waterways (on the way to the BIG Starcraft 2 tournament).  I'm kind of disappointed in both.  The Area 51 track has a UFO and a portal to an alien planet, but it's a short "oooh, aaahhh" moment.  Seoul seemed kind of bland, like you race by a few buildings in a concrete waterway.  I thought the tracks in the original Hydro Thunder were more interesting.  Nile Adventure from the original was awesome, but even Area 51 which was supposed to be the quintessential track in this game was kind of lame.  There's this Mayan ruins track in this game though which sounds more promising but I haven't seen it yet.

Also I forgot to mention one thing--the boat balance.  The beginner boats are so slow--I mean you can pick up a fast boat and still kick some ass even if it's hard to handle.  I played Area 51 online twice and I just got dominated in a slow boat but nearly won in a fast boat despite my quality of driving both times were both lousy.  DAMN the Torpedoes, Miss Behave, consider yourselves worthless.  Also, where's all the fun boats like the Chumdinger, the little wooden boat with the fisherman and the dog and the trolling motor?  There's a rubber ducky boat, but come on.  How can you top this:

Yeah, I know this is a 1200 MSP game, but still I think there's many who would be willing to pay much more for a lot more content.  I'm not gonna lie, this game has some potential but I think they squandered it somewhat here.

Conclusion: Call me picky, call me a fanboy, I don't care.  I'm just calling it how I see it.  All games are okay but none of them make me brimming with excitement.  Like they feel like your standard racing game that comes and goes.  Okay, maybe not Hydro Thunder which is kind of cool.  You may like a few and that's ok.  For me, just wait it out for the big fish, like the AWESOME DAYTONA USA COMPILATION coming when Duke Nukem Forever is released.

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