Maybe its just me, but it seems like many reviews of late have been eyeing various popular genres for a real kick in the pants. Whether its the recycled Resident Evil survival-horror formula, the explore-and-collect formula of platformers or the dial-a-combo gameplay of fighting games, there are quite a few genres that reached their peak a few years ago and have been spinning thei wheels ever since. Quantum Redshift is the latest such perpetrator, this time in the futuristic racing genre—home to such excellent games as Wipeout and Extreme G III. Considering that the original Wipeout was released way back in 1995, its surprising that so little of the formula has changed over the last seven years. Its been tweaked, refined, and placed in a prettier package, but its still the same show. If Quantum Redshift achieves anything, its to make us aware that this genre is in serious need of some new ideas.
Which is not to say Redshift is by any means a bad game; on the contrary, it has all of the priceless loot one would expect from a quality futuristic racer: good track design, great graphics, sleek hovercraft, an authentic feeling of speed, a decent techno soundtrack, and unlockable extras. But in its execution, the game fails to feel rewarding or original. With few options—a tournament mode, a time attack, a multiplayer, and a quick race—the game is also shy on replay value.
To inject some new life into the concept, developer Curly Monsters use characters, each with their own backdrop, to immerse the player in the game. Each character has a nemesis, and the progression of the game is numbingly simple: you choose a character, and then select a level of difficulty (novice, amateur, expert, master, or redshift). The higher the difficulty, the faster the racers and the more aggressive the computer-controlled artificial intelligence. After progressing through a few races, you confront your characters nemesis. Once you beat the nemesis, you unlock that character, his or her track, and the next difficulty. With the exception of "redshift," the highest difficulty (which requires that you complete the game with all 16 drivers), completing the game with any one character will unlock the next difficulty for all characters. So even early in the game, the formula becomes fairly obvious. With a lack of any rewards after a new difficulty is unlocked, there is little incentive to play through with the remaining characters unless youre hell-bent on playing the "redshift" difficulty. The characters are meant to give the player some empathetic investment in the game–but their stories, told with terse dialogue between races, are so thin that the entire use of characters becomes nothing more than a gimmick to provide a thin backdrop to the tournament mode.
But even with a relatively thin backdrop, a game like Redshift could still have a few tricks up its sleeve with strong racing elements. There is no better replay incentive than gripping gameplay. However, even here Redshift feels thin and generic. Each racer (called a "Single Person Armed Racing Craft," or SPARC) has a homing weapon and a dumb-fire weapon along with a brief turbo boost and a shield. Weapons, shields, and turbo upgrades can be purchased between races with money earned during the previous race. To use a weapon, you need to collect red (homing) or blue (dumb-fire) power-ups during the race, which are scattered about the tracks. Yellow shield power-ups are also scattered about along with various point pickups that grant you extra spending cash. This mundane assortment of power-ups completely lacks depth or originality; Curly Monsters have taken an unimaginative, starkly minimalist approach to the combat. Frustratingly, a direct hit from an opposing racer will bring your vehicle to a near dead stop rather than knocking it laterally or causing it to lose control for a moment. Imagine your pulse pounding as you deftly slide into first place toward the end of the final lap, only to be hit from behind and brought to a halt with the finish line in sight.
Track design is good, but not outstanding and does not approach the level of mind-bending surrealism that Acclaim achieved with Extreme G III. Its most reminiscent of Star Wars Episode I: Racer—mostly flat with a handful of steep hills and a wider, more open track than those seen in Wipeout or Extreme G III. Noticeably lacking are any really exciting track designs—loops, corkscrews, ramps, etc. They are there, to be sure, but they are the exception rather than the norm.
Where Redshift does excel is in its portrayal of speed. Although the game starts fairly forgivingly on the novice difficulty, by the expert difficulty the backgrounds start to become quite a blur. All the more impressive, and perhaps contributing to the sensation of speed, are the excellent graphics replete with water effects, excellent textures and an unrelenting framerate. The only real problem is that the craft do not seem to handle terribly well at higher speeds, making the more advanced difficulties a steep and sudden increase over the earlier levels. Even with practice and memorization, you can expect to spend a lot of time running into walls and losing races from a handful of minor miscalculations. Is difficulty a flaw? Only when it's so unforgiving.
Redshift is not a bad game. Its fairly enjoyable and may satisfy Wipeout fans looking to get their fix from the Xbox. But rather than lead the pack, Redshift follows the lead of older (and better) games and ends up feeling purely average. There is nothing within the gameplay to separate it from its contemporaries, and its minimalist approach to the genre's most established gameplay devices leaves it as nothing more than a watered-down version of better games.