Obliteracers, from indie developers Varkian Empire, AKA Space Dust Studios, is a game that does exactly what it says on the tin: you race, you obliterate. That’s about it – and we have absolutely no problem with that. It’s not that it’s the greatest (at times, it doesn’t even feel entirely competent), but what it has in spades is fun.
It’s worth pointing out that this colourful combat racer is slightly easier than its more famous cousin Mario Kart. In fact, unlike most racing games, Obliteracers kicks off with a survival mode, rather than focusing on time trials, fastest laps, and all the other pursuits usually offered. This makes Obliteracers – which deserves to be played with others, particularly since it can handle up to 8 local players – an incredibly accessible entry in the genre.
You have one objective: Destroy the competition.
So you take control of one of 16 characters, all very cartoonish and described by the dev as ‘brutal-cute aliens’, and face off against each other. The 12 tracks you’ll race along are, by and large, par for the course; there aren’t any that are particularly outstanding or memorable, and fans of the genre will have almost certainly seen all this before. But the gameplay itself is enjoyable enough to distract from the fact that there’s nothing particularly new here.
There are four game modes, none of which are of the ‘Place First’ variety. There is a classic Knockout mode, plus three variations of Team Deathmatch: Standard (Called Survival), Infinite Respawns and Leader Takes All. While you should absolutely try them all, we recommend Knockout and Survival as the best modes here, being both challenging but fun.
A nice touch is the inclusion of an absolute ton of modifiers, which offer serious replayability. Turn the floor to lava, remove key weapons, reverse steering, speed up the gameplay or even flip the track – there are 44 different mods to choose from, each upping the ante (or levelling the playing field). There’s little else in the way of customisation though, which would’ve been a nice, if unnecessary, addition.
Much like the magisterial Mario Kart, there are a selection of weapon pick-ups in the game, and it’s a race not just for first place or to be last car standing, but also to get the best weapons; weapons that can wipe out other racers, but also that fit your playstyle. These range from the basic (rear-mounted machine gun) to the Bondian (flamethrower tyres) to the bizarre (shark-shaped homing missile). A special shot-out goes to the Wacky Races-esque oil slick that sends the opposition careening off the track.
When you’re out of the race, you’re not necessarily out of the game – those players can then take control of a lock-on torpedo: Hover over the player who stands to lose the most, hit X and you’ll strike them with a missile, potentially ensuring they crash out of the race too. Beware though, that way true rivalry lies.
This proves to be one of the finest additions to Obliteracers, giving even the weakest driver a chance to stay in the game. It also means gives the game a real sense of enjoyable rivalry, the kind which competitive split-screen is built around. We dare you to keep your cool with your player 2 when they take you out just seconds from the finish line.
But for all the fun that the game offers, there are still certain niggles. This is apparent right from the get-go, with issues with the camera. Rather than remaining focused on your particular vehicle as you weave and dart across the track, the camera is placed centrally, offering an overview of the entire starting line-up of racers. As such, if you don’t maintain a steady speed and the camera ‘overtakes’ you, then you’re out of the race.
We understand the reasoning here – there’s no screen-splitting for local multiplayer; all racers find themselves crammed on a single screen, creating a real sense of smashing, bashing vehicular anarchy. But in the single-player campaign, there’s really no excuse for that – except, perhaps, to add another challenge. And challenge it does, since it can be easy to lose track of precisely which character you’re controlling and where they’re located on the screen. That’s not helped by controls that just aren’t tight enough for the fast-paced action, expect to skid straight off the track at least once in every game.
It can be an intensely frustrating game, at times, but you sense that that’s precisely what the developers were aiming for. A fun, yet grating party racer that doesn’t take itself too seriously (when you have an alien pig driving a car, you sort of know what tone to expect). For that, it should be commended for its achievements – and forgiven for its faults.
Obliteracers is available from the Xbox Store from 26 August, priced £11.59.