I’ve been looking for a racer that I could enjoy for quite some time, but I’m not really into the more realistic fare like Real Racing. That’s why I was excited when I first heard about Horror Racing. Now that I’ve had a chance to spend some time with the game, I’d like to plagiarize the immortal words of James Cromwell and say “that’ll do, Chillingo, that’ll do”.
I like car racing games, but I’m not one of those kinds of people that cares about realism. I’m not into the complex navigation systems or dashboards with 100s of buttons. Just give me an outside view of my car, a decent looking track, and several sensible opponents to race against and I’m pretty happy. Throw in some weapons and I’m about ecstatic. Anything else is just grease on the wheels (sorry, but I didn’t think “icing on the cake” would make much sense). Unfortunately, such a beast has been long in coming to the iPhone. For that matter, not a whole lot of choices for this style of racer existed on the Pocket PC either. I’ve pretty much moved beyond my Pocket PC now, but thankfully Horror Racing has come to try and fill that gap on the iPhone. Fortunately, it does a pretty good job.
Horror racing has three different modes of play: Quick Race, Skirmish and Championship mode. Quick Race is really that – you’re assigned a random driver and random course and you race. There is no customization of any sort allowed. It’s nice if you just want to get a feel for the game, but it has not real potential for satisfaction. On the plus side, you still get to shoot things, so it’s all good. Then you move to Skirmish mode. This is still a single race, but you can select your driver, select your course (from the ones that have already been unlocked), and to an extent customize just about everything. The nice thing here is that you can adjust the number of laps for the race, so if there’s one that normally has 7 laps in championship mode you can race it for only 3 laps in Skirmish mode. Still not nearly as satisfying as championship mode, but once again you get to shoot things.
Now we get to Championship mode. Before you start playing a game in any mode you must pick a profile. This is important to remember – a profile is the equivalent of a save game. That being said, the first thing you’ll do in Championship mode is pick a driver. Once you’ve raced your first race in Championship mode, the profile you’re using is associated with the driver you’ve picked, and the only way to change drivers is to either create a new profile or delete and recreate the old profile. Aside from a different look, each racer has a different starting value for armor strength and engine power. These stats can be upgraded by earning money and shopping between races, but new upgrades aren’t necessarily available after each race, so choose your starting balance wisely.
There are three stages in Championship mode, and each stage is divided into five races (with a “final” sixth race at the end of stage three). You must complete all the races in each stage to move on to the next stage, but you can race any unlocked race within a stage at any time. Each race is a certain number of laps, and first through third place takes home some sort of prize. For the sake of getting through the entire game (and because I’m a wimp) I’ve been playing on easy, and so far I’ve been able to beat every race with a first place. Some of the levels have been really close, however. That’s okay, because that’s the way an easy mode should be. One thing that’s cool about the difficulty level is that you can run any race at any difficultly level at any time. Just because you run the first race on easy it doesn’t mean you’re locked into easy for the whole championship circuit.
Horror Racing is the casual racer’s dream, which is why I think I like it so much. Basically all you have to do is steer and fire. There is no acceleration or breaking to worry about, nor is there really the need for breaking. You have three types of weapons: a machine gun, rockets and mines. Unlike most games of this type you don’t have to fret about actually using your weapons, because you’ll find plenty of them scattered around the track. To me this is actually a good thing, because sneaking up behind a racer and blowing them up is just as much fun as the actual race itself. In addition to the basic weapons you’ll be able to collect runes that give you access to special weapons. In a rather interesting move, only the player has access to the special weapons, which is both good and bad. It sort of detracts from the challenge that the computer can’t acquire special weapons, but it’s good for you because these weapons can often give you the slight upper hand you need to win the race. You’ll need to play to discover what the special weapons do, but I will say that one really nice feature is that you can turn the weapons on and off at a whim, so that their power only gets used up when you want to use them.
One of the best parts of Horror Racing is that there are no uber-racers. Everyone else on the track drives just as poorly as I do, so it actually feels fair. Plus, you never have the notion that you’ve fallen so far behind that there’s no way to win. You almost always see at least one other racer, and a little skillful driving or shooting can easily get you back in first place. Again, some may feel this limits the challenge of the game, but personally I get sick of these racing games where after one lap I’m suddenly the only racer around because everyone is so far ahead of or behind me (yes, I don’t really care for too much distance between racers in either direction). One final little feature that I find really amusing is that you can actually ride on top of other cars. Sure you can’t shoot anything while you’re perched on top of another vehicle, but then other cars can’s shoot you, either.
Controlling the car is pretty intuitive, but can sometimes be a bit challenging. The steering wheel is at the bottom right, and the buttons for your machine guns, rockets and mines are at the bottom left. The power ups are in the bottom middle. First of all, it would be nice if the main weapon buttons and the steering wheel could be flopped. Second, sometimes it’s kind of hard to activate or deactivate the power ups. There’s not much room to make them bigger, so I don’t know if it’s just a sensitivity issue or what the problem is. It also seems that sometimes it’s hard to keep your car on course, since this is basically a dual stick shooter where one stick is three buttons instead. I’m not sure if the steering wheel just needs to be a little less sensitive to the touch or what, but it’s not extremely hard to end up going the wrong direction when you don’t want to. Overall though I did find the controls workable, so I’m not really bothered by these points listed above.
Horror Racing is a very nice looking game. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d like the pseudo-isometric view, but it makes the visuals stand out from other portable racers. The cars are nicely rendered, and I love how they get charred when they are hit with weapons. It reminds me of the old Wacky Races cartoons from Hanna Barbara. Between weapons, explosions and the sparkle when cars respawn, the special effects are well done. Even the backgrounds are very nicely detailed. Each stage has its own theme, and if you look closely you’ll see nice accoutrements like crows in the trees or open caskets in the ground. The funny thing is it seems like so often some of the most detailed background graphics appear in games where you can’t really stop to admire them. The only thing I didn’t really care for in terms of graphics was the portraits of the monsters. Ironically, the humans actually look good, even though they’re not at all horrific. Hopefully they’ll consider sprucing up the monsters if they plan any updates.
The audio is pretty much what you’d expect from a racing game. The revving of engines, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns, the quick woosh of rockets before they hit their targets. Nothing special, but it all goes to creating the cool racing atmosphere of Horror Racing. It would have been nice if there would have been some more horror type sounds, like the crows cawing or ghosts in the graveyard howling. It would have added a bit of ambiance to each race. The music is quite enjoyable. I’m not really sure it has quite a horror vibe to it, but it certainly gets you pumped up for the races.
Well I suppose at this point if I told you I didn’t like it you wouldn’t believe me, huh? I have to say this is probably one of the most enjoyable racers I’ve played on a portable system. It sort of reminds me of K-Rally with a horror themed skin, except unlike K-Rally they managed to keep my interest with this one. My one main complaint is with the steering wheel, which became a more evident problem in the last race (which I still haven’t won). However, the game is still good fun and I’m sure I will continue to play it beyond finishing that final race (after all, there are 4 other characters to play). Hopefully they’ll consider adding more tracks some day, but if not I’ll just be getting really used to these.