Review: BattleRiders09 Sep 2014 0
I first queued up BattleRiders at the start of what proved to be a tortuously long Labor Day weekend bus ride from my hometown in New Hampshire back to Boston. This setting--overcrowded bus, overly sanitized air, a saccharine safety video and a highway choked with fender benders and multi-car pile-ups--proved to be the perfect contrast to BattleRiders arcade-y blast em' up racing.
If the point of a good, pure racing game is to marvel at the speed and grace of the automotive age, then the point of games like BattleRiders is to remind us that the vehicles which we rely on for commerce and entertainment can just as easily serve as either tanks or missiles. Of course, the missiles here aren't "improvised" so much as "explicitly deadly and heat-seaking," but the point stands.
So, all cards on the table here: Battle Riders is a simple, simple game, and one with a default control scheme which will turn some off from the get-go. It's a turn-to-steer, a setup which likely doesn't quite translate the "hands at ten and two" thing to a phone properly, and yet is bound to wear on your arms if you try banging out a race series or two on an iPad. That said, the scheme is more responsive than you'd think, and after a few races (with ample breaks for my poor, pasty noodle appendages) I was able to reliably navigate courses without banging into every turn. There are the usual alternative options as well, a joypad and directional arrows, which are welcome additions even if they're not the main schtick the game's running with.
Weapons--and you'd be right in assuming a killer arsenal features prominently in a game called BattleRiders--are similarly tricky at first, activated by tapping either left or right of your vehicle to fire one or both mounted devices. Again, this is what you're doing as you're twisting your phone or pad around, and craning your neck in tandem, and trying to pin an opposing racer underneath your sight. And... it's still not so bad. Really.
It helps that these weapons, though uninspired, are satisfying enough when you manage to nail someone. The starter machine guns are pants at range, but swing in close to draft behind someone and you can empty two full clips into their backside while picking up speed. Rockets auto-lock to the racer in front of you, but only at medium to long range. EMP damages all foes near you, while mines are really only useful for maintaining the lead, as opposed to obtaining it. The best gat by far, though, is this sniper railgun mount; it's difficult to aim, but has extreme range and damage, and can momentarily slow down foes looking to break away from the main pack.
There's ammo though, is the thing, and never enough to grease someone from just one pickup on the track. Speed boosts, too, which activate automatically, though there's an option which lets you save them and do the nitrous thing when you please. Navigating occasional branching paths of a track to pick up these boosts and outmaneuvering other racers trying to box you in make for the main action of a race. BattleRiders is at its tightest when you're pulling into the final stretch of a track, eyes glued to the indicator which lets you know when an opponent is close on your tail and where they're trying to make a move; this is the part where you skillfully swing from side to side, deploying equal measures of cunning and grit to eke out a win. Or, you know, the part where you blow some other blue-collar racer half to Hell with the C4 stashed in your trunk.
Some of the campaign race types encourage this sort of behavior more than others, which is to say they're not really races at all, but single-elimination death matches which happen to time out after a few laps. Then again, other modes completely prohibit weapons. These latter modes are the worst.
Slathered over this vehicular warfare is a light smattering of customization and credits-focused unlocks, with race victories netting you the cash to buy new weapons (which don't carry over from one side of a car to another, for some goddamn reason) and rides. This customization is nice enough (mostly because of the fly-ass paint jobs), but slight, and hampered by the fact that upper tier vehicles have both credit and race requirements. The first car quick enough to roll with in the second tier of races is only unlockable once you've completed all the first tier races anyway. Stats differences between vehicles are minor enough that you're never agonizing over which gun or car to buy--rather, it's just what's available. Upper tier weapons are just the basic ones with more ammo or damage potential, two-missile clips versus single-shot. (Oh, and many cars look like Dodge Chargers. So... that's not exactly a plus.)
Even with all this half-hearted progression and lack of later-game punch, the real crime of BattleRiders is that it doesn't sport any multiplayer; it's strictly a slugfest against competent AI racers in the campaign and quick races. That's a major knock, but one which you can only make by admitting that the game is solid, if unambitious.
You'll want to play with others, even if the tracks (again, serviceable, never surprising) don't offer the sorts of extreme scrums, jumps, and knockouts one might expect from a combat racer. Instead, each race is more like a highway right as the rush hour traffic starts to dissipate, with the racers as those ambitious commuters willing to risk a ticket for the opportunity to clear their fellows in one clean go. Oh, except everyone has guns and there are explosions going off all over the place. Wait, do you think that's what's causing all this congestion?
BattleRiders was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.