Thursday 8 March 2012

Nitronic Rush

The Title Screen

GameView : Nitronic Rush GameView

Nitronic Rush is a PC exclusive, survival racing game developed by Team Nitronic. Created by students attending the DigiPen Institute of Technology in 2011, it is available from this from this site (for free). The game is single player only and features a variety of race modes.

The First Thing
It is hard to describe the first impressions of Nitronic Rush; it ultimately depends what you knew about the game before you started playing. If you were aware that every feature of this game was created independently by students, then the first impressions will be very favourable. There is a complete graphics engine, voice acting (sort of) and a very professional-sounding soundtrack. The gameplay is even quite innovative.

If you had just finished the latest racing game on the latest console, then understandably you may think this game feels low quality - and comparatively it is.

Plot & Devices
A technologically advanced, 'blue' city develops a computer for protection that takes over and turns everything orange.

There is essentially no plot; the car is an anti-virus trying to get the centre of Nitronic City. The computer does not approve of this and tries to you slow down your progress with obstructions. It is clearly inspired a little from the film Tron but there are no boss fights or in-game story exploration in any way.

A very basic plot setting

The Game
Nitronic Rush is a single player, platforming/stunt racing game. There are no opponents and it is just about completing a level in the fastest time, with the highest score. There are different types of modes, each with their own levels:
  • Story Mode: 6 levels (+ tutorial Level). The simplest form of racing not requiring complex stunts. 
  • Hardcore: 6 levels (+ tutorial Level). Complex racing where stunts/platforming must be used to finish. 
  • Challenge: 12 levels. Short levels designed to complete a certain challenge such as outrunning a train, or flying without overheating.
  • Stunt Mode: 5 levels. Gain as high a score as possible within the time limit in an arena.
  • Old Levels: 5 levels. Race in pre-release content that was not published. Accompanied by early music and sound effects.
  • Community: Play in levels designed by the Nitronic Rush community

Aside from the regular abilities one would expect from driving a car (forward, back, turning etc.), there are functions relating to the stunt driving/platforming as well. The player is able to 'boost' at will to vastly increase speed. Boosting generates heat and if used too much will cause the car to explode. Heat is removed by passing through a checkpoint, performing a successful stunt or just cooling off from lack of boosting.

In some levels the car can extend wings and fly. Flying activates a permanent boost (since there is no traction) and therefore the heat meter will slowly fill up. Passing through checkpoints becomes necessary to maintain flight and if the heat meter reaches maximum mid-air, the car will fall to the ground.

A 90 degree change

The player can also manipulate the car's orientation. A small jump can be performed to leap small obstacles or wall jump. Using mini exhaust pipes, the car can be rolled to the left/right, and down/up. These rolls are used for performing mid-air stunts to accumulate points, but also for orienting the car as required per the situation. For example if the track is about to run out but there is an available wall to the side, the player will have to jump and then roll the car so that wheels are now in position to continue driving along the wall. Some wall jumps require a roll of 90 degrees, but others require a full 180 degree change of orientation. Jumps can also be used at the end of ramps to gain additional lift.

Gravity does exist but if the car is attached to any surface speed will negate it. However, if the player is travelling too slowly when not aligned to the ground, the car will fall (the boost key is often invaluable for this situation). There are no complex wall jumps in the story mode, but they feature heavily in hardcore levels.

Visually the style is very 'Tron'. There are no complex landscapes but most levels (especially the story) provide a futuristic cityscape backdrop to race through. The car's abilities have fluid animations and generally the game feels solid.

Taking to flight

Nitronic Rush can be controlled with either the keyboard or the gamepad. Initially I tried to use the keyboard, but I found the dual analogue stick much more intuitive to use (in fact the game even recommends you do this). The left stick is used to navigate and the right stick is used for rolls. It will take some practice to master the jump/roll mechanic needed for wall jumping but the car handling is good and the controls are tight.

The soundtrack was made specifically for this game. Even though it was made by students, the quality is exceptionally high. It is also used to reflect what is happening in the game. If a tunnel is entered the soundtrack will strip layers away leaving just the bass, and the music will match the intensity of the current action, connecting the music fluidly to the gameplay. Menus, crashes and stuns are voice acted but not of particular high quality. However the voice acting does have an air of self parody about it that is quite charming - especially with its cultural references.

Wrap Up & Negatives
I would suggest that all the negatives are typical ones associated with an independent production. It is an incredibly short game. The graphics are on the low fidelity side compared to current gaming. The voice acting is a bit poor. There is no multiplayer of any description.

Are these negatives? Yes. But the sting is taken out because it is an independent project in the truest sense of the word and is free to download and play. It brings a fairly uncommon concept to the driving genre with the platforming/stunt style which may not sit well with some, but that is personal preference and not a negative of the game itself.

The challenge levels feature extra dangers

Why write this review? There are far more deserving 'games' out there...the story mode alone could be finished in under 10 minutes. The hardcore levels do take some time to get used to, but once the playstyle has been mastered they too are not challenging.

In my opinion this game represents everything that is right with the video games industry. This game was built from nothing and is not in any way piggie-backed from the success of others. There is nothing wrong with licensing the Unreal 3 engine, but to build everything and still produce a polished title is something that should be actively encouraged. In an industry of corporate publishers, individuals who get together for the expressed purpose of creating a fun game should be supported. And if they succeed (which they did) then our support should be even louder.

Independent through and through

It is free - it doesn't even have adverts! If you like driving games, you should play it. If you like it, you should recommend it to people you know. You will have lost nothing by trying this and given support to the types of people who will progress the industry forward. When Call of Duty: Black Modern Ops Warfare 7 is being released, you will thank your lucky stars that there are people like Team Nitronic out there bringing their new ideas and talent to the table.

Innovation, skill and passionate video game design is a wonderful thing. You will miss it if it goes away.

I loved this game, and what it represents

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