Start Your Engines
Of course, just because the game is free roaming doesn’t mean that there aren’t events to participate in. In fact, the city is organised so that no matter where you go you’re never more than a minute or so away from a competition of some type.
The game is organised simply. Players start off with one car, at the junkyard and can roam the city how they please. There are jumps to be found, shortcuts to discover, billboards to smash and so on. If you crash your car then there’s no penalty and you can top up your boost, repair your wheels or change your paintjob by rolling through garages or petrol stations. There’s little to no real aim.
When you get bored of that though, all you have to do is head up to the nearest set of traffic lights or intersection and rev your engine by holding both L2 and R2. This tells the other racers in the city that you want to race and, depending on the intersection, you’ll enter into an event.
The activities run the usual gamut from the past games, but with one or two additions and tweaks. Road rages are the same as before, though you can go wherever you want in the city and repair your car mid-battle by swerving through a repair shop.
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Races take advantage of the open-plan environment and task players with heading from the starting intersection to one of eight finishing points on the map. These finishing points are at the edges of the map and are made of visible landmarks like the football stadium, mountain observatory or country club. All the racers in an event set off at once, but the real challenge is navigating the city because although the HUD offers several ways to track your route, none are very clear.
There are some new events to the mix though too, of which Stunt Run is our office favourite. It’s simple enough – a time limit and the aim of performing the longest combo chain possible. Tricking out jumps with barrel rolls, flips or spins gets a basic score, while smashing through billboards bags a multiplier. All of it has to be linked with boosts and although it’s hard to get to grips with, the whole thing is more fun than a game of naked twister with a bottle of baby oil.
Marked Man is another fairly interesting game mode, one which works like a Road Rage but in reverse. Instead of chasing down other cars, you
are the target and must race to one of the finishing points without being taken down. Again, traversing the city and finding the shortest route is the hardest part to begin with, but the tension soon mounts and as you get used to the city layout intuition starts to take over.
All in all this new system of entering races works really well, but there are a few flies in the proverbial baby oil. For me, the main problem was that entering into a race sometimes couldn’t be done as quickly as I wanted and that there seemed to be no way to cancel your entry other than losing.
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Say, for example, you’re bombing it down main avenue watching the map in the bottom right which highlights all the different mission types by colour. You spot a green circle—a Stunt Run—ahead. As you zip through the intersection, you hold L2 and R2, but nothing happens and you overshoot. You realise that you have to be either stationary or going slow to enter an event as you’re backtracking to the traffic lights.
Of course, that’s a relatively minor concern really – it’s just something which irked me a little bit. More of an issue is the fact that when you get onto the mountain roads outside the city there are precious few intersections and no way to quickly skip back to the nearest junkyard or industrialised area.
Aside from that the game follows a fairly standard and linear progression – complete a certain number of events and you’ll go up a rank. Every time you do, the map is cleared and all the events are refreshed. You’ll also get new cars added to your junkyard and occasionally be told that a new driver is in the city – take that new driver down and you can claim his car as your own.
The cars are all a little different from the usual too, divided into subcategories that have different stats. Stunt cars will gain more boost speed by doing rolls and flips, while Aggression cars can only gain from reckless driving, but are more suited to destroying rivals.
Most interesting of all though is the Speed class, which limits you to only using your boost when the bar is full, but automatically refills the bar if you use it all up in one go.