Running on Fumes
Racing games have been one of my favored genres over the years. I’ve always held a great deal of respect and interest in automotive culture and racing. I’ve actually partaken in real life racing myself in the form of multiple Autocross events using my own personal car I’d modified myself. The excitement of racing against others and trying to take the coveted checkered flag or trying to set the best lap time on a course is an absolute thrill, and it’s a racing game’s job to capture this feeling. Games like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, Project Gotham Racing, even Mario Kart have a great deal of love put in to them, and it shows in the final product. The way the vehicles look, the sense of speed, and above all else, the handling, are just some of the ingredients to making a successful racing game, and offsetting any of these has the potential to ruin the whole experience. Obliteracers, a kart racing game by indie developer Space Dust Studios, aims to add another ingredient to the formula in the form of combat in an effort to freshen things up. Unfortunately, some ingredients are best used in moderation, or in some cases left out altogether.
Obliteracers takes the by-the-numbers kart racing formula and remixes it into a sort of deathmatch oriented game. Up to 16 racers at a time, both on and offline, race through a variety of courses and acquire power-ups and weapons along the way that are used to take their opponents out. The switch up here is that there are no laps as is standard in traditional racing games. Instead, each of the racers competes in a series of rounds that ends with the last racer still standing (or racing, if you will). Whoever gets the requisite number of points to win the match first wins the race. If you’re knocked out for the round, you switch to a spectator mode where you can mess with your other opponents to try and control who the last racer left in the round is. There are also variations on this formula such as a “King of the Hill” mode where the person in first place gets more points the longer they stay in first, for instance. While this premise is admittedly a fresh twist on a traditional cart racer, Obliteracers is hampered by a number of design flaws that seriously prevent it from being much fun from my experience with it.
With so many players on screen, things can get messy very, very quickly. It can be very difficult to keep track of your racer, with only a colored flag hovering above them to signify where they are on the screen. Additionally, the camera doesn’t stay tracked on your player. If you race too far ahead, it gets too hard to keep track of your character and accurately control their movements. If you fall behind, the edge of the screen can easily catch up to you and you can inadvertently get eliminated. There were a number of times I got eliminated from a round seconds after it began because I simply couldn’t keep track of where my racer was. This is further compounded by the fact that everyone else has flags over their racer as well. The playfield in this game is extremely busy, much to the game’s detriment.
Above all else, control is most important in a racing game. Being able to navigate the course you’re on properly can mean the difference between coming in first or last. In the case of Obliteracers it can mean the difference between winning the round and getting eliminated. Obliteracer’s controls are extremely slippery, making it very difficult to control your racer. The courses themselves are riddled with open roads with pits on each side, ramps that can send you veering off course, and other hazards. Your kart is so slippery that it becomes extremely difficult to avoid these obstacles, which can lead to additional unwanted wipeouts. This was the leading cause of elimination for me in Obliteracers, and it was extremely frustrating, to say the least. One could easily say I just need to “get good”, but these controls really do not work in your favor.
Granted, that’s not to say everything in Obliteracers is necessarily bad. The game does manage to run at a solid 60 frames per second with no problems on the PlayStation 4, even with so many characters on screen at once. The characters and environments are also bright and colorful, though not exactly highly detailed, and despite being an entry in the kart racing genre nothing comes across as derivative. The types of weapons are also plentiful and varied, and each have their own specific use. There’s your standard weapons like machine guns and missiles, and more specialized weapons like grease that causes your opponents to get even more slippery and a force field that blasts opponents away. I may have taken issue with Obliteracer’s controls, but the weapons themselves were indeed very fun to use.
Obliteracers also finds its place in the form of multiplayer. While the single player campaign comes across as short and rather dull, the game is far more fun to play online, or even on the couch with friend, which is always a nice (and sometimes oddly missing) addition to games nowadays. This turns the lone frustration of slipping and sliding off course into an offbeat party games of sorts. Sort of like those Mario Party games that manage to constantly get under everyone’s skin, but are hilarious and fun to play anyways simply for the reactions they generate.
I know I’m coming across as a little harsh here, but I honestly had high hopes for this game when I got assigned to it. The racing game genre is one I hold dear, and this game misses the mark in quite a few crucial ways. The concept and originality are there, it just lacks very clearly in most areas of execution. Still, the game is fairly inexpensive at a mere 14.99 on the PlayStation Store and Steam. So, if you’re looking for a quick party game to have some laughs with some friends this should fit the bill nicely. For those looking for a Mario Kart or a serious hardcore sim racer experience, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows; Publisher: Deck13 Interactive ; Developer: Space Dust Studios; Players: 1-4 Offline, 2-16 Online ; Released: February 23, 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
“Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Obliteracers for PS4 given to HeyPoorPlayer by Deck13 Interactive.”