Review: In the slightly altered words of David Spade, ?I liked this game the first time... when it was called WipeOut.?
F-Zero pioneered the futuristic racing genre nearly twelve years ago on the Super NES. The WipeOut series met with acclaim years later on the Playstation, introducing a weapons-based combat system into the mix that gave the game a well-needed bit of strategy. Subsequent stabs at the genre such as Extreme G3 and the recently released WipeOut Fusion (the first WipeOut game not developed by Psygnosis) have attempted to emulate the success of these earlier titles by repackaging the game's now-formulaic combat-racing system with little regard for originality. The latest attempt comes to us in the form of Quantum Redshift, brought to us by Microsoft first-party developer Curly Monsters, a team largely consisting of ex-Psygnosis staff members.
The team's past experience with the WipeOut series is glaringly obvious throughout the game. The visual style of the menu and crafts are very similar, and the techno soundtrack is very familiar as well. Curly Monsters may have gone a slightly different route with the course design, but the gameplay is startlingly reminiscent of WipeOut. That said, QRS certainly won't win any awards for originality.
The game should be fairly easy to pick up even for those unaccustomed to futuristic racers. The crafts in the game control precisely, yet still have a bit of ?drift' to them that becomes even more apparent as the speed of the game increases. Combat is done through a simple three-button system for which each craft is armed with both a homing and non-homing weapon, and an overshield. They are also equipped with a moderate supply of turbo boost that recharges after each lap you complete. For the most part, the racing in QRS is pretty much standard fare for this type of game, with few notable exceptions.
The game's controls are well mapped and relatively easy to grasp. The left joystick is used for turning and tilting the craft up or down while in the air; the right trigger is used to accelerate, while the left trigger applies the air brakes used to powerslide through turns; the A button is used for turbo boosting, and the X,Y, and B buttons make up the combat interface. X is used for non-homing weapons, Y turns on the ship's overshield, and B fires homing weapons. The controls are easy to pick up, and certainly familiar to anyone that's played an Xbox racer.
There are five speed classes in QRS, with only the Novice tournament initially available. To progress in each class you must score a first place finish in every race within the class. Each subsequent class cranks up your craft's speed and handling capabilities. As you start out in the Novice tournament, the crafts are easy to control and the courses can be navigated with ease. But with each new class you enter you'll need to get accustomed to the ship's speed increase, and although the courses are still the same they feel quite different as you'll find yourself happening upon new shortcuts and power-ups that were previously unreachable. The Redshift tournament, the final of the five speed classes, brings not only a considerable speed upgrade but also an increase in the number of opposing racers from five to nine. There is no penalty for losing a race ? you simply retry until you manage a first place finish. This makes the game less of an annoyance to play, but also seems to have given the developers free reign to jack up the difficulty level in the later speed classes. As soon as you complete the Amateur tournament and move on to the Expert class, the combination of speed and powered-up weaponry will likely overwhelm those accustomed to the predictable action of the earlier classes.
Vehicles in the game are equipped with a modest supply of firepower. Each ship is equipped with slightly altered versions of the same basic weapons. For instance, the non-homing weapons on some ships fire several rapid shots in succession, while others fire off a single devastating blast that's a lot more difficult to wield but causes more damage. When your craft has been fully upgraded each weapon will have three power levels. You'll need to collect three power-ups of the same type in order to fully charge the weapon. It is, however, somewhat disappointing that you're stuck with the same weapons from beginning to end. Perhaps it would have been better if the player were able to upgrade and swap the ship's onboard weapons between races, and surely such a feature would have added a much-needed layer of strategy to the game.
The AI in Quantum Redshift is fierce and highly competitive. Computer-controlled opponents rarely, if ever, make mistakes of their own on the track. This makes weapons and turbo boosts the only means of regaining ground when you're behind in a race, which feels more like a cheap workaround on behalf of the developers rather than anything else. They are also very persistent with their missiles, making it difficult to hold the lead without being barraged by wave after wave of enemy attacks. Strangely enough though, the opposing racers never even use their shields or non-homing weapons prior to the Redshift tournament, instead using missiles as their only means of attack. AI inconsistencies like these are more than mere overlooks, and they seem to exist only to cover up for further scripting irregularities.
The key to winning races in QRS is twofold. On one hand, you must make smart decisions when it comes to grabbing power-ups. There are four types of power-ups in the game ? homing weapons, non-homing weapons, overshields, and mega-ups, which are the equivalent of receiving all three power-ups at once. If you're behind in a race, the non-homing laser cannon can allow you to regain your footing by attacking and knocking back multiple opponents. If you're in second place, a homing missile is the ideal choice for knocking the leader back. Once you get the lead in a race, shield power-ups are critical for fending off attacks from enemy racers. On the other hand, judicious use of your limited turbo supply is equally important. The turbo boost is best used to get your craft back up to speed after hitting a wall or getting shot with a missile, or to aid your craft in climbing hills without losing its built-up momentum. Strategic use of these two elements is paramount to winning races in the game.
Craft upgrades are purchased through a simple point-based system. Points are obtained by getting high lap times, eliminating opponents, or by finding bonus chips found scattered throughout the courses. At the end of each race you're given the option to cash in your points for crucial turbo, shield, and weapons upgrades. Upgrading the ship's turbo increases your ship's capacity, allowing it to be used for longer periods of time. Shield upgrades improve the ship's defenses, allowing it to take more damage. Fully upgrading a craft's weapons systems will enable it to pick up as many as three power-ups of the same color, creating a powered-up attack capable of targeting multiple enemies. Unfortunately, the upgrade process is fairly straightforward, and gives the player little control over the ship's customization.
There are a total of eight tracks in the game, although you're later given the opportunity to race the same tracks backwards with only small changes to the background environment and no alterations to the track or power-up placement. The courses have you racing on land, underwater, and (at least briefly) in the air. Shortcuts are well hidden throughout the tracks, and often require turbo boosts to reach. Terrain type must be considered within a race since each craft favors different surfaces. The levels themselves are a bit plain, and they don't quite ?wow' you with vomit-inducing loops and corkscrews, but they certainly get the job done.
Each of the characters in Redshift have a rival racer that they must contend with both on and off the track. The roots of these conflicts are described via pre-race cutscenes featuring the two racers exchanging outlandish remarks and overly dramatized body gestures. At certain points in the tournament you're given the chance to challenge your nemesis to a one-on-one race on their home track. The nemesis races are a nice change of pace, being just about the only instance in the game that proper racing technique takes precedence over combat. Unfortunately, the players' backstories are nothing short of worthless dribble, and the cutscenes seem like they were stuck in at the last moment, as they don't really fit into the formula of the game at all.
QRS supports split-screen multiplayer races with up to four players. Every track, speed class, and character that has been unlocked in the tournament mode can be used in multiplayer; although the game knocks back the craft's upgrade levels to ensure that everyone's on even ground as far as their ship's capabilities. A few of the visual effects had to be sacrificed for split-screen play in favor of a stable framerate, but their desertion is hardly noticeable. If anything, the multiplayer mode will keep the disc spinning in your Xbox for at least a few more days, but the lack of online or system link play hardly goes unnoticed.
Quantum Redshift is one of the better-looking Xbox games around, and certainly the most attractive futuristic racer at the moment. The crafts are excellently modeled, sporting a reflective outer shell and eye-catching red contrails formed from the ship's exhaust. When the ship gets wet, droplets of water form on the screen and streak off as the wind blows at them. Some impressive work has also been done with the textures used on the racetrack, although the surrounding environment is a bit blocky and lacking in detail. Not that detail really matters when you're flying by at 900 MPH, it's just that little sore spots like these stick out when put up against an otherwise-gorgeous backdrop.
The game's soundtrack is brought to us courtesy of a Dutch techno group known as Junkie XL. But the music itself is pretty generic, and very easily forgotten. The game supports the Xbox's custom soundtrack feature, which is a blessing for those that can't stand the thought of being subjected to hour after hour of techno/trance music. As I touched on a bit earlier, the voiceovers used in the game's cutscenes are nothing special either. While there are exceptions, most of the dialogue sounds rigid and awkward, making the characters' emotions feel either highly exaggerated or forced out of them.
The real problem with Quantum Redshift is that it does nothing to distinguish itself from other futuristic racing games. Granted, originality isn't always necessary, but in the case of Quantum Redshift, people who have played games like WipeOut and F-Zero simply won't find it as appealing the second time around. I'd even go so far as to say that Quantum Redshift represents a step back for the genre. That's not to say that people won't enjoy the game, because the casual gamer most certainly will. It just isn't the revitalizing breath of fresh air that the genre has so sorely needed.