Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars Review
The PlayStation Store has already delivered several top-notch titles that are well worth the money, the most recent of which is the excellent Wipeout HD. For anywhere from $10 to $20, you can download simple, entertaining and even addictive games that help pass the time on rainy days. The latest is – ‘deep breath’ – Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, which presents us with an intriguing blend of soccer and what appear to be extraordinarily agile remote-controlled cars. These days, if you don’t have an off-the-wall quirky concept, it’s like you’re not allowed to have a downloadable title. Anyway, we weren’t really sure what to expect, but after playing for a few hours, we came away with smiles on our faces, although we found ourselves wondering what could’ve been… Thing is, the game just feels a little too one-dimensional – even for a PSN title – and we immediately began to imagine all the ways those versatile Battlecars could entertain us… Still, we won’t deny it: we had fun.
Psynonix gives us a colorful and satisfying visual presentation, although we would’ve liked a bit more in the way of detail. There’s some appreciated variety in the available arenas, there are many different vehicle designs, and there are a few impressive-looking gameplay effects. We can’t say it’s immaculately honed and refined, nor can we say it’s amazingly accomplished, but we also have to realize we’re not looking at a big-budget title. It wouldn’t be fair to compare it to those $60 retail store releases that clearly put a lot of emphasis on graphics, and for the most part, Battlecars and its Unreal Engine won’t disappoint. After playing for a while, though, the backdrops did start to appear a bit bland and repetitive (despite the varying environments), and that will have to factor into this analysis. If you’re thinking it will impact your enjoyment, though, it won’t unless you have overly strict and unreasonable visual requirements. In the end, it has a rich color palette, there aren’t any major flaws in the visual implementation, and basically, these graphics are simple, yet smooth and clean.
The sound isn’t quite as good, and here’s where we come to one of our biggest gripes: this is one game that could’ve used a seriously kick-ass soundtrack, and instead, the music tends to blend into the background and leaves us decidedly unfulfilled. On the other hand, the decent sound effects do make up for this lacking and the soundtrack, while not anywhere near robust enough, isn’t badly orchestrated. It fits the atmosphere nicely, and besides, you will spend most of your time concentrating on the action on screen, so perhaps the music isn’t as crucial. Driving around and smacking other opponents typically produces a satisfying “smack,” and the explosive impact of a ball crossing the goal line is even more satisfying. There isn’t much else to talk about and we often got the feeling that everything was a bit too quiet overall, but concerning what’s there, it’s not bad at all. Even though the world of Battle-Cars slumps a bit in this category, it doesn’t have a tremendous impact on the experience as a whole. That’s a bonus, ‘cuz after all, the gameplay reigns supreme, right?
We told you the basic premise behind Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars earlier, but now we’ll elaborate because…well, because that’s kinda what we do. Anyway, you control these little cars that are most reminiscent of the sweet remote-controlled machines we all wanted back in the ‘80s. They zip around like crazy; you can go Supersonic with enough Boost, execute power slides, barrel rolls, jumps (and double-jumps!), and even drive straight up walls with enough momentum. You have full control of the car at all times, even when you’re in mid-air, and the controls are both solid and accessible. At first, we weren’t too happy with the button mapping that we couldn’t change, but the instant we got out there, we realized it worked just fine. We did, however, have recurring issues with the camera as it simply sits too close to the action, despite the inclusion of a “ball-finding” feature that isn’t much more than an arrow. Once we got used to everything, though, we settled down and tackled the Tournament and Mini Games with gusto.
Now, the whole purpose of this game is to knock balls around that are about ten times the size of the vehicles. You have to ram the ball to send it towards the opposing team’s goal, which means you need to adapt and aim on the fly. The boost, jump and double jump come in very handy in every match, and appropriately, the more you play, the better you get. The Mini Games include blocking balls, avoiding other vehicles hell bent on destroying you, leaping about to knock balls down, and even playing with a square wooden crate rather than the ball. The Tournaments pit you against anywhere from one to three opponents (sometimes it’s just you versus three, rather than three-on-three), and it’s your job to knock that big silver ball into their goal. You’d think this would get tiring and we have to admit, it did…but it took at least a few hours before we felt like turning off the game. That’s a good sign, no? The only real drawback is the inherent frustration involved in aiming a good shot; given the speed of the game and how tough it can be to hit a ball at the exact right angle, things can get very irritating.
In our opinion, this could’ve been addressed very easily with either larger goals or smaller arenas (or both). Or, and we like this idea even better, institute the slow-mo feature found in one of the Mini Games in all events. In said Mini Game, time slows any time you’re near the ball, giving you way more time to put your car in the best position possible. It worked great! But then we get to the later Tournaments where the AI is ramped up, and you typically feel overmatched at every turn. The most frustrating thing on earth is to have what you believed to be a well-aimed shot glance off the side of the goal, and it’s all the more annoying when you know it’ll take a lot of work to get another shot that has equal potential. But there’s a silver lining- you’ll have to play for a while before you start to become more tired than entertained. Furthermore, you really do get better with time and your teammates aren’t entirely brain-dead. In fact, our comrades were punching in almost as many goals as we were during tough Tournaments.
Yeah, there could’ve been more team strategy, but we have a hard enough time shooting the ball; attempting to make a successful pass would be nigh-on impossible. Still, that’s not something we want to harp on. What’s here is a fast, unique and relatively engaging game that can be very, very satisfying for long periods of time. It really does feel a little one-dimensional and the depth isn’t worth mentioning (the different vehicle styles don’t have different attributes), but the overwhelming positive angle is clear: it rarely stops being fun. Playing around by yourself is an enjoyable pastime for a few hours, but things take a dive when you head online. There aren’t a lot of people on the servers, anyway, and when you do get into a game, you’ll likely encounter several glitches, including significant lag. This unfortunately discourages the player from heading online for more competition, and that’s a black mark on Battle-Cars. However, with enough to do in single-player mode, you likely won’t be disappointed with your $15 commitment.
Overall, it’s our opinion that Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (yay, last time we have to write that!) is worth the small price tag. If you’re looking for something fun and the weather is crappy outside this winter, you should log on to the PSN and pick up this relatively quick 178MB download. Sure, there are plenty of unbelievable games out there, but this one only costs 1/4 what those other ones do…and you never have to leave the house! Not a bad deal. And if you'd like to visit the official site, feel free; they've got extra media and forums for your viewing and participating pleasure.
10/21/2008 Ben Dutka