Racer with good intentions, but poor execution.
Review written by
August 20th, 2009
The racing genre has seen its fair share of unique, thrilling, and innovative input. However, for every well-made, interesting racer there are ten bland, broken, and/or unvaried games. These try to inspire, try to copy, and try to break out of the wall of containment that keeps these games from being good. Unfortunately, they do not succeed. Speed Zone, developed by Awesome Play and published by Detn8, is another racer trying to be something, but ultimately comes sub-par to its potential.
Speed Zone has three single player and one multiplayer mode. For single player, there's solo, race, and battle, each with separate goals. Solo is a time trial game with five different winning qualifications. Race is the basic ten-car pursuit. Battle mode puts you and nine others in an arena, where you collect weapons to fire at other vehicles.
The solo mode is perhaps the easiest, seeing as one of the five qualifications to win on each course is to stay above a certain speed for a predetermined amount of time. Race mode, however, is the most difficult. The tracks are too hard to control on and the AI is simply too skilled to allow you to catch up. Every race I played, even with a customized car, I ended in last place. Too hard and not enough incentive to continue. Battle mode is actually decently fun. While the only really effective weapons are the lightning rod and the heat-seeking missile, the contest at least lives up to the thrill. Unfortunately, each round is too short to be considerably enjoyable.
Speed Zone is a futuristic racer. That means that the cars will inevitably go very fast. Unfortunately for the player, the vehicles do not control well when faced with bumps, quick turns, and gaps. You will fly off the track, hit objects causing you to flip uncontrollably, and spin out forcing you to either respawn or turn around into the correct direction, completely obliterating any chance of ending in first place. This brings me to my main objection with Speed Zone. For a game that seems to be targeted towards the casual market, this game is absurdly difficult. The tracks are too narrow or meandering to allow for fast vehicles to stay on the course and keep up with the AI. Of course, you are given the ability to upgrade and customize vehicles with money earned by winning races. But even the beginning level races are simply too difficult to actually earn decent money from, meaning that you'll have to lose a lot before you can scramble enough money for a speed increase, or one of the other upgrades.
Another major problem is the physics. From what I experienced, the physics engine is wrecked with collision detection issues and unrealistic gravity. Many times, I was going too slow through a loop and started to fall at the very top. But the fall was a strange, slow fall, that felt like I was sinking through water.
In general, the gameplay is lacking. It could have been far more fun if extra effort had been put into balancing the game mechanics and keeping the difficulty down, or giving the option to turn down difficulty, especially since the difficulty alienates so much of Speed Zone's audience.
Speed Zone's lifespan is a mixed bag. In some respects, the dozens of customizable options are enough to keep playing. On the other hand, much of the advertised longevity in the game is actually shallow and repetitive. The box proudly proclaims 30 total courses available. While there are ten tracks for each mode, I found that many of the tracks are the exact same as others just with subtle differences, such as background changes, course mirroring, and obstruction additions. This is not the correct way to lengthen gameplay, as even the newest of newcomers can detect the folly.
The game supports several control schemes. You can choose from the Wiimote, GameCube controller, classic controller, Wii steering wheel, and even stand-alone nunchuck to control the cars. Most of these work, and you might find fun in experimenting with the steering options.
One of the main draws this game tries to rely on is multiplayer. The game manages to accommodate up to 8 people at once. How could this work? Well there are several combinations available. You can have four Wiimotes and four Game Cube controllers, four Wiimotes and four nunchucks, etc. While this may sound interesting, what I experienced with my friends was utterly disgusting. None of us could figure out how to work the game and we were left never wanting to play this game together again.
Surprisingly, the presentation of Speed Zone is actually rather good. The game runs in fully functional widescreen, 480p, and at a consistent 60 frames per second. The courses, while a bit bland and unvaried, are at least interesting in their settings. Driving through a course built into an asteroid belt is a different experience, and one that the graphics are able to capture.
The vehicles on the other hand, look less like life-sized, powerful, future cars, and more like small car models for kids. They can be customized in the way of paint jobs, but there aren't any ways to personalize the vehicles, only to pick from a list of premade decals.
In the end, the graphics and presentation are the two attractive aspects of the game. Still, the polygons are too simple, textures are laughable, and the tracks aren't varied or colorful enough. There are an awful lot of grays and browns, meaning that nothing will truly stand out and remain memorable.
The sound and music of Speed Zone are both very generic. Sound effects are okay, I suppose, but nothing will leave you impressed. The music consists of repetitive pulsating beats and soft techno, neither of which have a lasting impression.
All in all, the sound of Speed Zone is underwhelming. In fact, you may notice a virtual lack of sound and music, seeing as both are kept quite low in volume.
For a game that some may have believed had true promise, Speed Zone falls flat when compared to better, more innovative titles. A few may get decent amounts of enjoyment from this game, but my prediction is that most will find what I found, a hollow shell of an exciting premise.
I don't mean to be condemning towards a developer with potential. Instead, I invite them to accept this review as a challenge to put the time and effort into making a game that has quality. This game may have fared better if it were a cheap, wiiware title, but as a full $50 retail game (or $30 depending on the outlet) the game isn't enough to justify its price.
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