After playing the visual and auditory delight that is Everyday Shooter at the E3 Media & Business Summit, the Sony reps quickly shifted gears to a PlayStation Network title that takes a decidedly different path, with static images and placeholder beeps and boops on the audio end. That title is PixelJunk Racers, the first of five or six planned PixelJunk games that sacrifice visual prowess for accessible, affordable takes on familiar concepts.
Just as Everyday Shooter is not quite your everyday shooter, PixelJunk Racers hardly resembles a racing game in the traditional sense, at least not from the segments we played. It's a slot-car sim seen from a steadycam shot in the sky that leaves the full track and all its inhabitants in full view at all times. While this means that the overwhelming majority of the Cell processor gets to take a break during the action, it also simplifies things to an extraordinary degree. Eliminating the need for snazzy 3D visuals and split-screen action means that seven (!) local players can participate in any given event, of which there are many to choose from.
Sixteen distinct event types are included in PixelJunk Racers, and while each are set among the game's 10 tracks, each event type has its own distinct rules and conditions for winning. Additionally, each event has two to three variations to further increase the amount of total content, with a "turbo" version eventually unlocked in each. Even with seven players involved, the controls never become more complicated than using the d-pad (left and right to switch lanes), R2 (acceleration) and L2 (brakes).
What makes PixelJunk Racers atypical (aside from the simple controls and lack of 3D graphics) is that winning seems to have very little to do with speed, taking corners, or even your dealings with competitors. Instead, much of your success has to do with your interactions with the white NPC vehicles that clog up the tracks. Though we've seen screens that lack those filler vehicles, everything shown to us at E3 was centered on avoiding those bland bystanders at all costs.
For example, in Fireball Frenzy, each player is tasked with passing as many NPC cars as possible without crashing, thus building a combo that will increase a player's speed. Eventually, the player's vehicle will turn into a high-speed fireball that destroys anything it hits, including other players. Speed Monkey appears to be roughly the same mode, albeit without the fireball at the end, as players must simply build up speed by overtaking other vehicles.
Sunday Drivers, a mode that the Sony producer described as "tedious" (in the best way possible), packs the courses with even more white vehicles than usual, challenging players to weave their way through traffic without the ability to knock people out of the way. In Escape, every other vehicle on the track (beside the player's) is a fireball, so you'll have to look behind your vehicle at all times to have any success, as a single crash will knock a player out.
PixelJunk Racers appears to have a lot going for it, between the 16 event types, multiple variations of each, and 10 tracks, but is there really that much variety if each event merely swaps in and out the same handful of basic concepts? While that may stifle the lasting appeal of the single-player game, PixelJunk Racers may be a multiplayer dream, as any concerns over originality and variety are quickly forgotten in the presence of six friends and vehicular fireballs. If priced as affordably as expected, that may be more than enough to get this downloadable title onto PS3 hard drives everywhere.
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