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Speed Forge Extreme review

A new contender arrives on the Wipeout clone scene, but does it have enough to take the crown? Read on to find out.
With it’s accelerometer controls and it’s PS2 like graphics, racing games seem to be the obvious choice when developing for the iPhone and iPod Touch. But with the need for accurate handling and physics, it can be tricky to pull off well, especially with many of us having the knowledge of how a real car handles. And so, the futuristic racer was born. Unless you are from another dimension or work for some top secret government agency, it is unlikely you have got behind the wheel of a supersonic, gravity defying racing craft. Because of this, developers can push things beyond the realms of plausibility and deliver adrenaline pumping racing.

062307_2Nintendo seemed to be one of the first on the scene with it’s F-Zero series on the SNES, then N64 and Gamecube, but it was the release of Wipeout on Sony’s PSX that really got gamers attention, some seeing it as the killer app for the platform on it’s release, particularly in Europe. Since then Wipeout is the model to follow when creating a racer of this genre.

From the titles available on the AppStore thus far, only one game has really come close and that’s Low Grav Racer. Now into it’s second iteration with Low Grav Racer 2, it offers more levels and upgraded visuals, but mainly more of the same from an experience point of view. While it does bear some similarities to Wipeout I found it was more in line with F-Zero in it’s speed and roller coaster like courses. But we are not here to talk about LGR, now Speed Forge Extreme has arrived it has become the de-facto Wipeout clone.

This is very much down to it’s industrial setting. Courses feature rusty palettes of reddish browns and greys, with steel structures and futuristic neon billboards very much in the Wipeout vein. All-in you have 16 tracks (4 of which are arenas but I will explain that later), these continue the industrial theme with mine shafts, factories, quarries, sewers and the innards of an alien ship. Races comprise of 4 laps, in which you must come first to unlock the next.

Then there are the ships. There are six to choose from (once unlocked through playing through each track) which differ through weight, speed, agility, engine and munitions. You start out with a rather pathetic looking racer with minimum specs, but soon you’ll be speeding around the tracks in a pimped out, and much larger craft.

062307Along the tracks are various power-ups to enhance your ship, these comprise of boost pads for a quick boost in speed, big red X’s which have the opposite effect and slow you to a crawl. And then there are the weapons power ups. Depending on what you have unlocked, you can replenish your various weapons through the pickups on the track. The first weapon you’ll encounter are rockets, but you’ll soon have access to explosive mines, rapid fire guns, and tri rockets. To protect you from enemy fire you can pick up shields, which encase you in a protective bubble, or there are also spanners you can pick up which fix some of your damage. Should your health reach zero you will explode. You’ll re-spawn, but it will slow your progress in the race.

A good addition to the game is the inclusion of 4 arenas. Here the object is not to race the computer controlled opponents, but to instead destroy them in a killed or be killed scenario (A bit like Mario Kart’s battle mode). Each arena is a large open area littered with power-ups and you must hover around, taking out a set amount of enemies before you can continue to the next race.

Speed Forge employs a variety of control options. Five in all, as well as the option to invert each of those. I won’t go into full details, but my favourite come down to two options. The first, which is my preference for racing, is for auto acceleration, touch to break and tilt to steer. For me tilt to steer is a no brainer, some may find it hard to get used to, but it’s the most realistic of the options. For the arena battles though I recommend the touch to steer option. The best of which is the slider control, you may also want the auto accelerate turned off too, this is because the arena battles require maximum manoeuvrability and stopping power.

So far this all sounds like a solid racer right? But what sets it apart from the others is in the developers ability to push the system in the graphics department. The texture work, track side details, and ship models all look great, and even better in motion. Everything is beautifully lit with a High Dynamic Range feel (most likely faked) and wonderful bloom lighting effects strewn throughout. If you are lucky enough to own the latest iPhone 3GS or iPod Touch then it doesn’t stop there. In the display menu you can turn on an OpenGL ES 2.0 only ‘motion blur’ option. This not only adds a greater sense of speed and realism to races, but proves that Apple’s devices are up there and possibly surpassing the PSP in terms of their ability in offering console like experiences in a handheld device.

Speed Forge is not without it’s downsides though. While it’s tracks and AI controlled competition do offer a fun challenge, like all the other future racers out there on the AppStore, any kind of multiplayer options are missing. Wipeout, way back on the PSX won the hearts of gamers not only with it’s fantastic sound and visuals, but with the split screen multiplayer mode, offering hours and hours of adrenalin fuelled racing. So, while Speed Forge Extreme really is the best of the bunch so far, it still has a ways to go before it can reach the platforms full potential of the genre.
4-stars

Speed Forge Extreme is out now for $2.99

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