Thursday, June 28, 2007

H-Craft Championship Review

H-Craft Championship, developed and published by Irrgheist.
The Good: Unique physics, single computer multiplayer time trials
The Not So Good: Very steep learning curve, infallible AI, no track editor, no online play
What say you? A distinctive driving model that is way too difficult for mass acceptance: 5/8

Scientists are feverishly working towards making alternative fuels a viable reality. Apparently, there’s a problem with using non-renewable resources as primary fuel sources. At current consumption rates, coal reserves will be exhausted in 250 years and petroleum will disappear in 30-40 years. Thanks for destroying the Earth, SUV jerks. My money is on crop-based ethanol. Not only will fuel consumption change, but the appearance and engineering of automobiles will change in the future as well, and it’s fun to think about what future cars will look like. While most computer games try to depict present-day automobiles, H-Craft Championship takes place in the future where racing on suspended tracks in hovercraft is the norm. This is certainly original concept; will H-Craft Championship provide unique racing mechanics?

The graphics of H-Craft Championship are simplistic but effective. The game takes place in space, but I think this is just a way to have fairly generic backgrounds be plausible. The vehicle modes are good enough and the rocket effects are nice, but nobody will be impressed by the graphics. Still, they hold up OK. The sound is understated but effective as well. In general, the graphics and the sound are both pretty typical for an independent game. In fact, they are so typical that my “graphics and sound” section is shorter than usual. Hooray!

H-Craft Championship is a straight up racing game using hovercrafts on alarmingly narrow suspended race tracks. There is a championship mode where you earn points in three events to unlock the next set of events. Thankfully, you don’t need to win in each individual event to advance (an average of second out of four is usually good enough). Once you unlock a track, it is available as an arcade race and a time attack (pretty self explanatory). There is also a multiplayer time trial mode so you can challenge other racers to rally-style action on the same computer. H-Craft Championship lacks online play of any kind, however. Another thing the game lacks is a track editor. Since the tracks are simplistic, the lack of an editor is confusing. It would seem to be very simple to whip together a track in a matter of minutes, but H-Craft Championship lacks this feature.

So, how different is driving a hovercraft in space? Well, I can say this is the most difficult driving game I’ve ever played. H-Craft Championship uses inertia in its driving model, and since your hovercraft lacks wheels (it hovers), the learning curve is very steep. You have to steer before the turn and accelerating will push you forward instead of around a corner if you are turning. It’s really, really difficult, and I still haven’t completely gotten the hang of it. The tracks makes things even more difficult, as you can (and will) fall off the edge of the narrow tracks. This begins with the very first map, too, which makes learning the game a potentially frustrating experience. There are occasional walls around the tracks and you would figure the first tracks would be chock full of them, but there’s no easing you in to H-Craft Championship. The AI is also very scripted and very good: they don’t many any mistakes and run the same pattern each lap. The combination of the infallible AI, tough tracks, and unique mechanics makes H-Craft Championship an extremely difficult game to play.

H-Craft Championship has an interesting driving model, that’s for sure, but it only goes so far. The game is short on the special features: while it comes with a good number of tracks in the championship mode, H-Craft Championship lacks an editor and online play. The game also throws you right into the action with no driver assists or many walls to prevent you from plummeting to your doom. The superhuman AI doesn’t make things any easier. In the end, H-Craft Championship is so difficult that it will ultimately only appeal to hardcore driving fanatics.