Hydro Thunder with a twist of Mario? My DarkZero review
What do you get when you put Hydro Thunder with a twist of Mario Kart into a blender along with Crimson Skies? The good folks at Digital Reality have created the answer to that with their latest arcade air racer, SkyDrift.
SkyDrift takes all of the best mechanics of those games and throws them into an aerial-based combat racing game. The term aerial is used loosely as you cannot just fly wherever you want to. The game has arrows that point you in the correct direction of the track, if you try to fly past these you’ll be forcefully pushed back onto the track. The same ‘auto-correcting’ will occur if you try to fly too high, you’ll simply be pushed back down. This certainly doesn’t handicap the game’s ability to simulate flying in an aircraft, since the tracks are based on locations such as canyons, mountains, oceans, glacier infested waters, and lagoons (all of which are full of obstacles for you to dodge at various heights).
The main mode of SkyDrift is the game’s campaign, which in turn is made up of seven groups of races. Within this mode are three different race types. First of which is ‘Power Race’, the standard where power ups are available to pick up on the track. There is nothing different to expect in the game’s pickups as SkyDrift features the genre’s bread and butter, with equipment such as homing missiles, machineguns, shields, health repairs and mines. Players can carry up to two weapons at a time, but a neat thing is that you can buff up your item by collecting the same one again before you use it, making it great for tearing down opposition.
‘Speed Race’ is a mode that is the most original in this game, For starters it doesn’t feature any power ups to collect, instead there are rings planted around the track and you need to fly your plane through them to gain a speed boost. Doing this in succession gives your plane incredible speed. It’s a mode that’s all about the player’s accuracy in handling the aircraft, so that you keep getting boosts, missing a ring means you slow back down to the normal max speed of the plane.
‘Survivor’ is the last mode available, and as you’ve probably guessed, your main goal is to survive. When the race begins you have a minute until the thirty second timer begins to count down. If you are in last place once the timer hits zero you are eliminated from the race. This is done until there is only one racer left. Power ups are available here, so you can sneak in a kill just before the timer clocks over to upset a rival player.
It’s a shame that the game only has six tracks to race on as you start to feel the repetition after a while. There are reverse versions of them, but that’s something of a cheap way to extend a game’s track list. Maybe Digital Reality can add some more tracks through DLC since there are already three new planes you can buy to add to the eight that you get with the game. The six tracks included are fabulously designed, attractive to look at, and feature hazards that happen throughout the laps of the race. Dangers such as falling rocks, collapsing bridges, and lava all try to upset your race. I found the obstacles and level design to be very vibrant, as if they came straight from a Hydro Thunder design document.
Controls are simple as the game uses the triggers to speed up or slow down. You can use the right stick to rotate your plane in a knife edge manner to allow you to turn corners sharper. The course actually lets you know when you need to do it by flashing red arrows at you. Aiding you in flight is the ability to charge up a boost bar. Gaining metre is done by drafting behind other planes, flying close to the environment, or even trading in your weapon pickups for some added metre.
Taking damage is symbolized through visual representation. As the player is getting damaged the plane will start to show signs of distress, wheezing black smoke as you carry on getting hit. When you are near destruction the plane will set on fire, becoming flying mass of flame. Different visual effects occur while you are taking damage. For example, if a plane is shooting you from behind with the machine gun powerup, you’ll get bullet holes on your screen; missiles will alert you with a homing chime. You’re always alerted to when you are getting attacked so that you can react to the aggressor.
A really strange design decision is that this game has no split screen multiplayer. The A.I. can put up quite a challenge later on in the campaign, so you are always pressured into protecting your lead. The thing is, nothing beats playing these types of games with your mates. Thankfully though there is an 8 player online mode that works well. There was no lag in the games I played on Xbox Live. All of the game modes that are featured in the single player are available to play online.
One thing that I have to praise SkyDrift on is its portrayal of racing fast. This is appropriate to the speed challenge when you are blasting through a chain of boost rings, with responsive controls you can twitch and turn around obstacles at high speeds, and ultimately end up breaking the sound barrier. It can be pretty nerve racking in a very good way.
SkyDrift is 1200 Microsoft Points (£10), and because of that you can somewhat forgive the shortcomings, since the title is full of quality instead of quantity. It’s worth the admission fee as it is a blast to play, and a bit of a surprise hit that sprang out of nowhere. If you’ve been waiting for the next decent arcade racer on Xbox Live Arcade then you should check out this title.