Top down racing makes a comeback in this second title in the XBLA House Party, from Slick Entertainment. Can it revive the glory days? or are some things best left buried?
During my misspent youth, much time and money was spent in the Amusement arcades. One of my favorite machines was the top down racing game that had the screen in table form and allowed four players to take a steering wheel and pedals, then race to their hearts content. I miss those days, games were far simpler then.
So, we jump forward to the modern day and find a new title coming to XBLA. Scrap Metal goes back in time and offers a top down racer with a difference. These small, sprite-like vehicles are armed with machine guns. Players will have the chance to hurtle around tracks in a variety of different modes, from plain racing to demolition derbies.
Playing through the story, the player will be challenged with completing various objectives with most as simple as winning a race. The combat racing equivalent of boss battles will also feature. Players may find themselves going back and forth a bit during the story, revisiting past locations. As the story continues, the player will obtain new vehicles. These can be upgraded, in order to make the game easier. However, the player can only keep four cars in their garage, so lots of careful choices must be made.
A game such as this lives and dies simply on the controls and physics. Unfortunately Scrap Metal cannot be said to be living in these areas. Firstly the controls leave a lot to be desired. Two options are offered. For the experienced racer, steering is offered on the left stick, with the left trigger controlling braking and the right for acceleration. The other, “easier” option puts the acceleration also on the left stick, yet braking still requires the left trigger. Neither of these options work particularly well.
The physics of the game also seem a little awry. Racing around the track is relatively simple, as long as you don’t hit anything, or get hit. But, as this is a combat racing game, getting hit is kinda integral. Snagging an obstacle or getting shunted by another racer will mostly result in the players vehicle being spun and thrown completely off course. If added to the imprecise controls, this makes for a very frustrating game.
The game looks quite nice, for the genre, but still looks dated in this modern day. The top down style, like watching the action from a satellite, will never look amazing. But the lack of variety in the tracks and the general dirtiness of the setting serves only to reduce the appeal.
Playing multiplayer, either online or locally, certainly amps up the fun. There are a fair few modes to play with and the joy of knowing that you are all in the same boat regarding the controls and physics, makes for some quite intense races.
I left Scrap Metal feeling a sense of lost opportunity. What could have been a great arcade combat racer is let down by awkward controls, loose physics and lack of variety. It is still entertaining for a while, but players will find themselves wondering what all of the fuss was about before too long.