Monday, August 01, 2011

A.I.M. Racing Review

A.I.M. Racing, developed by SkyRiver Studios and published by 1C Company on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Sixteen tracks
The Not So Good: Extremely poor handling, overpowered AI opponents, LAN-only multiplayer, uninspired graphics, must unlock content, control assignment limitations, no alternative racing modes
What say you? This futuristic racing game lacks tight controls and notable features: 2/8

Hey, remember those pod racers from the first (fourth?) Star Wars movie? Wouldn’t it be sweet if you could drive them? I wish there was a computer game that did that. Oh, wait, there was, but that was ten (seriously) years ago. Time for a shameless retread! Enter A.I.M. Racing, which surprisingly does not involve driving AOL’s Instant Messenger service. Apparently, this game is based on a series of role-playing games (I can see the obvious transition). Piloting hovercraft at unsafe speeds on foreign landscapes is enough to get my interest piqued, so how does the racing fare?

A.I.M. Racing has decidedly outdated visuals. Most everything about the game is bland apart from the racer models. The environments are not detailed and only contain the scattered obstacle to impede your progress. The racing circuits fail in a couple of areas: both the layouts and the textures lack variety to make the game memorable. The special effects suffer from the same fate: boulders and other objects magically disappear when you run into them, and weapon damage is understated. This is not a game that pushes the limits of your hardware, and it shows. The music is also quite uninteresting: a generic mix of uninspired techno beats. The weapons also lack the punch you would expect. Everything about the presentation of A.I.M. Racing has a very generic and forgettable feel to it.

A.I.M. Racing features typical racing options: a four-tiered championship of increasing difficulty, quick races with unlocked tracks, and network play (but only over a LAN). There is nothing unique here, and the choices are actually quite limited once you examine the features more closely. First, you must unlock additional cars and tracks (boo!). While you can choose the number of laps and lives and opponents, you can only race in traditional circuit events. Also, you cannot assign an axis to the throttle and brake, eliminating the use of wheels or analogue gamepads. There are sixteen tracks to choose from, but, again, you have to unlock them in the championship mode. Boo!

Racing in A.I.M. Racing uses gliders that hover a couple of feet above the ground. While you might think that this would lend itself to some unique racing, it does not: other than being able to jump a short vertical distance over objects, it’s the same as any other arcade racing game and pretty disappointing. Each glider is rated in five attributes: strength, acceleration, max speed, maneuverability, firepower. A particular glider usually has one area of very high rating, while the others are significantly lower. You cannot customize your own racer: a disappointing missing feature. You can, however, earn modifiers after some races, but this is a small

The physics of A.I.M. Racing are quite terrible: most of the hovercrafts handle like they are moving through heavy syrup with no cornering ability at all. I realize the vehicles are hovering above the ground with no physical contact, but they should handle better than this, especially for an arcade racing game. Even turning the mouse sensitivity to full doesn’t result in the turning radius I desire. This wouldn’t be an issue of the AI drivers played by the same rules, but they can take corners at speed with ease, leaving you quickly in the dust. Making things worse is the seemingly random placement of objects designed to impede your progress, stuff that the AI never, ever runs in to. The only thing to even the playing field is the use of weapons, but even shooting at foes is a confusing affair. The game targets other cars automatically, but the game doesn’t explain when you are “locked on” and when you are no, as the reticule says green all of the time and there is no auditory cue to indicate when to fire. I don’t even think the “normal” weapons use the reticule, as you must be horizontally lined up with your enemy in order to score a hit. So why have the target marker in the first place? While the controls are not as complex as the other combat racing game, you still have to deal with the extraneous acceleration booster that must be applied every ten seconds after recharging. Tediousness does not have a place in a racing game. As you might expect, there are pickups to pick up that grand temporary bonuses for acceleration, shields, guns, and other assorted weaponry. You’ll need them, too, as the AI is too dexterous and never makes a mistake. The game tries to explain this as you racing against robots, but it still doesn’t make for exciting racing. You might as well make A.I.M. Racing a rally game since you are racing against a perfect foe influenced only by weapons, assuming you are in range, which you will not be.

A.I.M. Racing lacks that “hook” that you need to grab your attention and make the game stand out against the horde of racing titles. It's tough to say anything good about the game, as everything reeks of average to below average quality. The sixteen tracks seem like a lot, but they suffer from repetition of layout and setting. The cars handle quite poorly, not cornering as effectively as you would like. This would not be a problem if the AI played by the same rules, but your superior opponents take the turns with ease. This may be partially due to controller issues, but since A.I.M. Racing doesn't allow you to bind an axis to the throttle or brake and increasing the mouse sensitivity doesn't result in better maneuverability, then you must blame it on the game's physics. Add in limited multiplayer options, the requirement to unlock content, and only one race type, and we have a limited and ultimately uninteresting racing title. If you are looking for an arcade combat racing game, Death Track Resurrection is far superior to the bland driving of A.I.M. Racing.