Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pyroblazer Review

Pyroblazer, developed by Eipix and published by Candella Software on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Decent control scheme, some unique weapons, collectable coins give bonuses
The Not So Good: Bland racing due to lackluster AI, lacks multiplayer, restrictive claustrophobic tracks, poor weaponry for leaders, content must be unlocked, can’t fully customize vehicle, only four power-ups, hardly innovative
What say you? An futuristic arcade racing game that lacks compelling races and typical features: 4/8

One of my favorite poorly known racing games was Ballistics. I bring this up because Pyroblazer reminds me a lot of Ballistics: fast racing in the future in cylindrical tubes. The key to these and many other arcade racing games is to make you feel almost in control, going way too fast on tracks that are way too narrow. With my fond memories of fun games past intact, I strapped myself into a blazer (with pyro, no doubt) and took to some races on far-away lands fortunately filled with tubes. How will Pyroblazer place in the grand ranking of arcade racing games?

The graphics of Pyroblazer are decent enough. The vehicles have a nice level of detail and a good amount of variety, although you aren’t usually close enough to them to see anything. The track environments are not the most compelling settings in the universe, as most of the racing takes place in tight spaces, but there is enough variety to make each individual track distinctive. There are also some nice effects with the weapons and the engine trails, and explosions are satisfying enough. It also runs smoothly, not impeding the faster pace of the game. Overall, I was pleased, but not amazed, by the graphics in Pyroblazer. As for the sound, we get some basic effects for battle racing, a manly-man announcer for pickups, and background music that reminds me strongly of the Crossing Jordan theme song. There are no strong complaints about the graphics or sound of Pyroblazer.

Pyroblazer is a futuristic racing game that my word processor thinks is misspelled. The game features three modes for single player action: a single race, the campaign, or an “instant race” where all options are chosen at random. You’ll have to go through the campaign, a series of linked tournaments with races that award points, in order to access and unlock all of the game’s content. I am fully against unlocking content: I realize that a motivation to complete the campaign is to unlock everything, but shouldn’t the motivation be because the game is enjoyable? If you paid for the game, you should be able to enjoy it fully from the start. There are three race types to choose from: standard lapped events, time trials against the clock, or an elimination mode called “last one.” Pyroblazer does not feature any multiplayer, which is very odd considering that the Gamers Gate page says “Pyroblazer™ will also offer players the ability to compete against each other in 6-player local and internet-based combat racing.” Apparently (at least according to Wikipedia, a source of completely factual information), the developer ran out of money and did not finish this aspect of the game (and failed to inform everyone of the changes). A racing game with no multiplayer? No thanks.

Before a race begins, you need to choose a blazer to pilot. The vehicles are rated in four areas: speed, acceleration, turbo, and hit points. Each blazer also gets a primary and secondary weapon, although additional weapons are available to pick up during a race. You can’t make any modifications to the blazers, taking a very old school approach: why can’t I adjust my vehicle to my liking (with a maximum attribute limit to make things more fair)? As it stands, none of the blazers are all that great since you’ll either get the weapons you want or the attributes you want, but never both. The blazers do have some cool and unique weapons. In addition to conventional bolts and missiles, vehicles can be equipped with translocators to switch positions with a foe, force fields, nukes, and a wide variety of mines that mirror the conventional weapon attributes. The weapon variety is one of the long bright spots in Pyroblazer.

Unlike most arcade racing games, Pyroblazer is best controlled like a first person shooter, using WASD and the mouse for most of the movement. Using the mouse to look will steer your craft, while the A and D keys rotate. You can also use the Q and E keys for quick turns and the hyper brake (a combination of S and turbo) to rapidly come to a stop. While the AI drivers are susceptible to damage and eventual explosion, your vehicle seems to be quite strong; this may be due to the difficulty or the fact that the AI is a poor shot. You are given a limited amount of turbo (that regenerates over time) to get that extra boost. Coins that are scattered around infrequently traveled areas of the tracks can be collected to earn one of the four power-ups: invulnerability, invisibility, quad damage, and pyro engine that burns people behind you. The game does an excellent job highlighting pickups, but having only four to choose from reduces the amount of variety seen in pretty much every other combat arcade racing game.

The track design certainly doesn’t make for exciting racing: the tracks are very narrow and the “dynamic objects” are just things in the way. It is difficult to play in first place as the mines are poor defensive mechanisms. Even when the tracks expand in size, you are really still restricted to a narrow circular path and it can be quite difficult to see the edge. Running into the side of the tube/canyon/whatever results in damage and slows you down, and the restrictive nature of the tracks means you’ll be doing this a lot. The AI pilots have a couple of problems: they shoot poorly and they always finish very close to each other, resulting in a first or last place finish in each race. Once you get out far enough ahead of them, you can just coast to victory. The chaotic nature of the races that populate most (if not all) games in the genre is simply not seen in Pyroblazer, and consequently the game is not that interesting.

Like a lot of lackluster games, Pyroblazer starts out well enough but comes up short in several key areas. I like the control scheme the game implements and the unique weaponry. In addition, the collectible coins give you an alternative objective during the race that grants more bonuses. However, it’s all downhill from there. The lack of multiplayer features cannot be denied as being disappointing, as this would make up for the poor AI that Pyroblazer exhibits. The races aren’t very exciting due to the aforementioned AI and the cramped track layouts. You need to unlock additional content, and content that Pyroblazer does have is limited: you cannot customize your ride and there are only four power-ups to acquire during a race. This game would be more acceptable at a $20 price point rather than a half-budget tag of $30; there are simple more entertaining and more complete arcade racing options available than Pyroblazer.