Apparently there will be pod style racing some day, because that seems to be what so many futuristic racers depict the vehicles being like. I kind of get that feeling from Ionocraft Racing as well, but that’s okay because I like the whole “hovering craft” type of thing. The game also has a pretty nifty customization system. Unfortunately, the lack of any game modes beyond career / quick race and the absence of drivers other than yourself kind of dampen the festivities a bit. Thankfully there is some decent track design to help pick it back up, and in the end you come out with a solid single player affair.
You take on the role of an Ionocraft racer, and it’s your job to morph your junky ionocraft that has nothing but a cheap engine into a first class racing machine. So how do you do that? By winning races, of course. To clarify things a bit, what you’re actually doing is running time trials, since there are no opponents to race against. At first this actually kind of bothered me, because half the fun of racing games is beating out a opponent at the last moment (or at least causing someone to crash if you can’t win). Once I started getting caught up in the idea of building up my racer and trying to achieve gold medals in all the races, however, this didn’t seem quite so important any more. Of course I’d still love to see a mode where you drive against other racers, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
Now you’re probably wondering what this whole customization thing is that I’ve mentioned a couple of times already. As you finish races you earn money based on simply finishing the race, your time and how much armor you have left. You also get money the first time you earn a particular medal on a given course. In the garage you can spend this money buying parts for your ionocraft. Parts include things like better engines, steering components and a different cockpit. These items affect 5 stats, which are mass, speed, control, armor and boost. Obviously you want stats like control and speed to be high, but having little armor makes running into things a lot more painful. The stats also interact with each other (ie: even if you’re maxed out on control, higher speed means it feels like you have less control). This is also one of those games where you can actually tell a difference as your stats change.
There are some interesting track designs in Ionocraft Racing. The first couple are pretty basic, as would be expected, but it doesn’t take long before twists and turns will be outsmarting you. My current bane is Streetwise, which has proven time and again that it is smarter than me. The key to all of these tracks is memorization, so you can figure out where to cut corners and improve your speed. You only need to earn a bronze in order to unlock the next level, but of course you’ll want to keep improving your time and earning more medals to get money to upgrade your vehicle.
There are three different control schemes you can use to drive your ionocraft. All of them use an onscreen button for thrust. One option employs left and right buttons, another one a slider, and the third the use of the accelerometer. I didn’t care for the accelerometer option much, as I found it too hard to control. The slider wasn’t bad and actually made turning a bit more precise, but in the end I found the left / right option to be the best overall fit for me. When you’re in the garage you use drag and drop to add and remove pieces from your craft. Conceptually it’s pretty cool, but your finger tends to get in the way of the view so you can’t see if you’ve got a piece in the right place or not. It’s also hard to select pieces on your craft for removal once the ship is fully loaded. Still, I admire the attempt and hope they refine the system a bit.
The graphics are nothing spectacular, but they get the job done quite nicely. The backgrounds look good, but like most 3D racers things like buildings tend to look awfully flat. The color palette is appropriately drab without being so diluted that you can’t tell what things are. The vehicle looks pretty slick, especially as it changes to reflect whatever parts you’ve added to it. The sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect: engine noises, crashing sounds when you hit something, etc. I do like the fact that there are actual garage type noises in the background when you’re upgrading your ship. It’s subtle but a nice touch. The music is good and has a nice dystopian future vibe to it.
If the thrill of beating opponents is a must for you when it comes to racing games, you’ll mostly likely get bored quickly with Ionocraft Racing. On the other hand, if the satisfaction of customizing your vehicle to make the most out of every race so you can work your way up to gold medals will suffice, then you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from this game. I earned my first gold medal right before writing this final paragraph, and I’ll admit that I was quite excited. I won’t say I that I was instantly hooked, but now I’m in it for the long haul.
Overall Score: 8/10
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