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Genre: Racing


Xbox Review - 'Powerdrome'

by Inexhist on July 21, 2004 @ 12:10 a.m. PDT

Genre: Racing
Publisher: Mud Duck
Developer: Argonaut Games
Release Date: June 16, 2004

In the racing genre, there are a few permutations to be seen. Some of the notable ones are the "battle racers" where you race around wielding a veritable armory while attempting to outrace or obliterate the competition; there are the street racers, where you race pimped out street legal cars speeding along empty or sometimes populated streets. There are the slightly more authentic racers, where you are driving your typical race car across a typical race track. Then you have the futuristic racers. The most famed of this last type would likely be F-Zero; when it made its debut on the SNES, it provided a springboard for a proliferation of other futuristic racing titles. Argonaut's budget-minded Powerdrome Racing falls without question into that last category.

The people at Argonaut apparently came to the conclusion that the ideal futuristic racer should have you barreling down tracks at gut wrenching speeds well in excess of 1,000 mph … and little else. Thus, they promptly dispensed with things like weapons, story lines and vehicle customization.

That's right … there is no story about how your character is racing to save his poor dying sister or because he needs the cash in order to build his super secret space base of planetary destruction. You have no idea why the characters are supposed to be racing unless it's just because they like to race. Really, how mundane is that? You can give up the idea of building a racing vehicle to meet your desires and tricking it out into an unstoppable speed demon. Oh, and don't forget you also have no opportunities to obliterate your opponent with a barrage of heat seeking projectiles, either.

Are you still reading? Ok, if so then you just might be interested in this title for what it is really about; piloting your Blade down a poor selection of tracks at speeds that no sane driver would, in conditions that no modern car could, and as characters that look like something out of old circa 1980 sci-fi shows.

Now every game has to have a feature that helps to separate it from the others in its genre, right? Powerdrome is no exception to that. It has taken a new approach to the boost aspect commonly found in futuristic racers. In Powerdrome, as long as you are in your High gear and don't run into walls or other drivers, you will build up a little blue meter. Once that meter is full, it turns into one of three storable specials. These stored specials can be used at any time to either boost, giving you a short lived increase to your acceleration, or to fix damage your vehicle has accumulated (often from boosting at the wrong times and grinding against the wall of a turn).

The key is really in the boosting, as it will help you propel yourself around the track even faster than the game's already break neck speeds. The repair feature seemed unnecessary, as only once in my time of playing was my vehicle so damaged that it went out of control and exploded (I suppose that's what happens when you drink while driving a flying jet powered motorbike. That's right kiddies, don't drink and drive or else you will end up a super-sonic meatball
skidding across the tarmac!).

Some of the more noteworthy aspects would be the environments and visual effects. The majority of the environments looked exceptional, even if they were a touch stereotypical. You have your neon sign saturated cityscape, your swampy sludge pools, and your beach-front water course. The environments contain a number of moving components in the background which help add depth, and some great visual effects; water spraying across your helmet visor, an almost overwhelming, albeit brief, screen blur when you take a hard hit from a competitor or a wall, and a camera shake that gives you a feeling of speed and danger. Between the visual effects, environments, and speed this game almost has a wonderfully immersive and futuristic feel ... if it weren't for the sound.

The sound in Powerdrome does nothing to live up to the graphical workmanship. The vehicles emit a constant -- and irritating -- whining noise reminiscent of a tie fighter and a two year old screaming to see who can be the loudest. The sound effects for collision were fairly flaccid, even when colliding head first with a giant cement column while traveling at 1,400+ mph.

Speaking of traveling at 1,400+ mph, the cast of Powerdrome has an annoying habit of constantly talking while doing just that. In fact, they speak so loudly that you can miraculously hear them while traveling faster than the speed of sound in a vehicle that is closer to a motorcycle than a Porsche. The soundtrack was on-par with the rest of the sound; relatively uninteresting techno that had me wishing I could play some of the KMFDM MP3's I have on my Xbox.

Another strike against the game would be the various modes of game play, which seem to lack any innovation. You have time trial, single race, and finally, championship mode, which is where you unlock extra tracks, racers, and features. The game also has standard multiplayer options such as system link and Xbox Live. If nothing else, this game over Xbox Live can teach you the wisdom of patience, as I was not able to find a single soul in the Powerdrome server so if you were hoping to find someone to share your love of futuristic racing games, look elsewhere. I also found myself wishing for more options as far as multiplayer games went, as it got a little tedious racing the same handful of tracks again and again.

I can understand wanting to use the beautifully constructed environments more than once so I can sympathize with putting in mirror tracks and reverse tracks. However, I definitely feel those are things that should be added on top of an already robust selection of tracks instead of replacing new tracks. In Powerdrome, there seemed to be only a handful of environments and tracks, and they were repeated at night, during sunrise, backwards, inverted, ad nauseam. This led to a feeling of tedium and repetition that detracted from the overall enjoyment of the game, which also contributes to the redundancy that seems to permeate this genre. Really, how many different ways can you show jet-powered vehicles powering along twisting futuristic environments at very high speeds?

In a world where cars are rocket-powered self-repairing speedsters and the men are strange looking half-elephant robot cyborgs, racing has taken on an all new face … if you have never played a futuristic racing game that is. Powerdrome doesn't really stand out on its own but instead follows an essentially generic formula. If you are already a devout fan of futuristic racing titles, this competitively priced game may just be for you.

Score: 6.5/10

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