Ridge Racer was a thing at one point.
Never played it before, because I was an F-Zero and Forza man, goddamnit, but Ridge Racer mostly being a PlayStation exclusive was always something I envied, even if it was overshadowed by WipeOut most of the time. Then once I got my hands on Ridge Racer 6, all of that envy was replaced with confusion. What happened to this supposedly great racer I wanted? What does this have to do with anything? Nothing, it’s a vague segue into Xenon Racer.
This is the sophomore title from Italian studio 3DClouds, who burst onto the scene last year with All-Star Fruit Racing, which I haven’t played, mostly due to the seemingly shady price-changing tactics that may have been the result of controversial developer PQube. I digress, but Xenon Racer is instead published by underrated Dutch publisher Soedesco, who has been behind the publishing of various overlooked gems. Once again, I digress, but is Xenon Racer going to be joining said list?
The year is 2030. A new era of vehicular racing is about to arrive, in the form of flying vehicles, and with it a promising future of high-octane action. How do we celebrate such an exciting concept? Why, by using road-based vehicles instead, in a send-off before the world turns to flying cars. No, really, that’s the plot.
It’s exceptionally odd for the premise to be a set up for immense disappointment. I mean, forget blue-balling your audience right from the bat, this is a chastity belt with wheels on it. Still, none of that matters if the gameplay is solid, and it is… most of the time.
In typical fashion, you use the triggers to accelerate. If you can keep up with this complex diatribe of information, then you can surely continue with this fact: Drifting gains fuel. Fuel towards what? A meter that allows you to boost up to a maximum of 3 at a time. Also dotted around the many, many tracks, are glowing squares which can also fill up 1/3rd of your boost bar.
The boost lasts for quite a while, an average of 6-8 seconds depending on your cars stats, and in truth, it does lead to some quite meticulous racing. You don’t completely lose control of your vehicle once you begin to reach blistering speeds of, err… usually 240MPH, so drifting while boosting across lethal hairpins and meanders is intense, it’s cool, and it’s packed with flair.
To jump back for a second however, the maximum speed you will reach in these races is a bit of a shame. It’s 2030, the cars we’re driving look and feel like monstrous drifting tanks, the tracks are unbelievably wide and look like they span tens of miles, yet we don’t even break 240MPH? Come on, man, when ultra-track toys from 2005 show your curvy cars up, that’s just embarrassing.
That being said, a lot of the car designs are cool to look at, and to watch unravel on the tracks. 3DClouds’ artists must have graduated from the Square Enix School of Visual Design, because every car has hilariously stupid proportions and insane dimensions. They’re all THICC with 2 c’s, they handle like the world’s biggest arse without drifting before a turn, but goddamnit, to look at these over-designed hunks of chrome and not giggle a bit is impossible, they’re so adorable.
It’s reminiscent of not just Ridge Racer, but other last-generation/PS2-era racers which were focused on providing these child-like arcade experiences, or memories of playing with Micro Machines and Hot Wheels. It was kinda cool to see my childhood fantasies of watching these cars fly past corners effortlessly come to life in a way that titles like Forza and DiRT fail to do.
I’ve digressed once more, but the driving mechanics in Xenon Racer do work well in execution, and make sense. It’s intense, it’s engaging, the rubber banding A.I. will put up a fair fight most of the time, and it’s cool to watch. Now, if only the rest of the game would attempt to reach the same heights of quality as the racing.
Yes, as enthralling as the weighed-down speeding we’ll be doing across the neon streets of futuristic Tokyo is, there are other elements sabotaging the experience, like the performance of the game. It’s bad enough that the game has a max frame rate of 30FPS, but add on to the fact that it isn’t even locked at 30FPS, then you’re playing an entirely different game, one of frustration as you make mistakes you couldn’t possibly predict or defend against.
Despite some truly great tracks that successfully mix the drifting and actual speedway racing feel together, there are some tracks here which offer nothing but confusion. Straight lines with occasional curves and unbelievably wonky hairpins, apex corners which give out halfway, 90-degree rights which aren’t possible in this giant hunk of metal, so on and so forth. I’d say the odds are more in favor of good tracks than bad ones though, so do keep that in mind.
Still, at least we have some head-boppin’, twerkin’ tunes to help us get into the mood, and– yeah, it’s buried underneath all of the cars revving and commentators commentating. Even if you could hear it, it’s certainly no Redout; Inoffensive house music and mild DnB are the dishes of the day for Xenon Racer, and when you’re dealing with a game that looks like this, and plays like this? There’s only one answer: Crush 40.
The visual aesthetic could’ve done with a bit more inspiration as well. The cars are all fine and dandy with their Final Fantasy-type designs, but the world is just so dull to look at, even with all of its bright lights and big city. There’s not much motion blur getting in the way, or cheap-looking chromatic aberration to get into the way, but that ends up showing off how weak most of the graphics, textures and assets actually look. I get that it’s a throwback to PS2 days, but yeesh, you didn’t even to go that far.
There are a few challenge modes to tide you over, should you 100% the 4-hour long campaign, like Time Attacks, which is designed in an asinine way. I’m sure you know the drill: Usually, you have about 3 laps or so to complete the track in the Gold Medal time, and if you fail? You’ll usually have a chance for a quick restart. Not in Xenon Racer however! It’s more than happy to take its time to belittle you, shove the word “SILVER” in front of your face, and doesn’t even have the common courtesy to highlight the “Restart” button first.
Even if you do get Gold, and you want to move straight on to the next track, the game will just put your ass straight back to the main menu, where you have to sit through slow animations. You look at the holographic globe that wouldn’t look out of place in the original Half-Life and watch as your car is elevated lower into your basement. The unenthusiastic commentator will mildly bark about the crowd going wild, and boom, you’re back in the game. Funny how a game all about going fast has no respect for your time.
The online is also your bog-standard, fairly set chain of events. Your usual races and elimination-type deals, and it works fine. If the host is good, you have an intense race, and if the host is from Lithuania, then be prepared to clip into other racers, and lose matches even with a 12 second lead. There’s not much more to say to it than that.
In the end, Xenon Racer is a perfectly acceptable, if a bit placeholder racing game that attempts to evoke feelings of past-generation underground hits. Once again, It’s certainly no Redout (And even then, Redout would quiver with a new F-Zero), but the racing’s fine, it’s like a Ridge Racer that isn’t terrible, and the cars are adorably over-designed. If you have a few dollars to burn, and a spare 5 hours to kill, its high-octane drifting will satisfy you. I guarantee it 100 percent, 60 percent of the time.
This Review of Xenon Racer was based on the Xbox One version of the game. A Review Code was provided.
A mostly functional throwback title to the over-designed car racing of old, reminiscent of the Hot Wheels and Micro Machines games, albeit not as strong in design or feel.
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