Recently on the PlayStation Network, you may have noticed a peculiarly named title, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. After reading said name, you may have thought ‘Well I never! This piece of software promises you can drive an automobile that can obtain velocities in excess of sound speed, all while performing aerial somersaults and dueling with other vehicles! This certainly piques my interest!’
First impressions of the demo may have left you coming to a realisation ‘Ah, this is merely a jolly game of Association Football using these supposed battle-cars!’ You would be absolutely correct. In a nutshell, this game is the love child of Micro Machines and football (or soccer as some may call it).
First, major props to Psyonix for this game. They have taken this simple concept and have tried their damn hardest to make it as playable and fun as possible, while still retaining simple controls. Games of this nature have always been very difficult to pull off, usually because such a mode was an afterthought as a multiplayer mini-game, using the existing physics and move sets to get it to work.
Psyonix have taken a different approach to such previous attempts made in the relevant multiplayer modes in, say, Excitebike 64 and the Super Monkey Ball series. As the game is solely based around the football concept, all sorts of complex maneuvers are included in an attempt to make the game playable, and most importantly, fun. You can double jump, perform flips as you double jump, drive up the side of walls, destroy other cars when going supersonic, handbrake turn, and so on.
The double jump is used in two ways. Merely pressing the jump button in quick succession will raise you higher then a standard jump, while pressing a direction when performing the second jump allows you to perform front and back flips, and left and right barrel rolls. As the ball can bounce fairly high, jumping gives you the added ability to hit the ball in mid-air. Doing the flips allow for some fancy/strategic moves, like hitting the ball in the air with the back of your car as you do a forward flip, sending it flying forwards or blocking an attempt to score. Alternatively, driving past a ball and performing a barrel roll into the side of it may hit it into the goal. It adds a bit of depth to the gameplay, and as previously stated, is an attempt at making the game easier.
As the game name suggests, you can also achieve supersonic speeds. The main method to do this is to use your boost power to accelerate yourself to said speed. Boost pads are littered around each course, giving you a fraction of a second of boost gauge to use, while boost capsules, which refill your boost gauge completely, are a little sparser. Depending on your speed when starting to boost, you will either use up half a boost gauge to break the sound barrier (i.e., from a standing start), or a small tap will allow you to surpass transonic speeds.
When traveling at speeds greater then Mach 1.2, your screen turns a shade of blue. You do not constantly need to boost to stay at supersonic speeds; the cars are great at retaining speed, thus there’s less of a mad dash for boost power. Said boost power is in ample supply anyway, and it’s very unlikely you will ever be in a situation where you can’t get any if you actively would like to. Also, going supersonic gives you the ability to destroy cars you ram into, making them respawn back at their goal, hampering their attempts at scoring or saving.
Even though the game can get a little hectic, you’re rarely confused on where the ball is and where you need to get it towards. There is an ever present arrow just above your car showing you the direction of the ball, and the goals themselves glow in the colour of the corresponding teams, with you and your team mates vehicle painted in the same colour as your team to further reduce confusion.
But, and this is a fairly big but, however much this game has been praised in the preceding prose, it is solely on the merit of the thought and resultant ideas and play mechanics added to the game. Due simply to this game genre, playing feels very awkward, hitting the ball can sometimes feel more like luck then skill, and while repeated plays will allow people to become more accustomed to the way it plays, that nagging feeling never goes away that you just scored because of dumb luck.
This cannot be expressed enough. See a ball coming towards you, and your gut reaction tells you ‘I know, I’ll jump to hit it’. It either gracefully roll under you or bounce too high and go over you. Racing past a ball that’s about to go into your goal? ‘I’ll pull a quick handbrake turn and stop it’ is a valid thought, though you will end up turning to sharply or have it again bounce over you. It can get very frustrating.
This could not be more apparent when playing single player. All the minigames and tournaments are seriously difficult, and playing against the computer in tournament mode just highlights even further the downfalls of the game type. Even on the Rookie level of difficulty, the computer will know exactly how and when to hit the ball to get it where it needs to go. It’s generally not a fun experience at that point, as you generally have little chance at affecting the match outcome, flailing about the pitch desperately trying to get a touch in on the ball.
This is where the multiplayer aspect comes in.
Playing against other people is the saving grace of this game. As humans generally don’t have ruthless robot efficiency (and if they do, they might be replicants, and you should contact your nearest Blade Runner), they will have the same problems with the controls, making for a more balanced and fun game.
And it’s this multiplayer aspect that really makes the game shine. Get some friends around for some two on two action and you’re basically set. The only limiting factor is how long it takes for the game to wear thin, and there really isn’t much of variety to help extend the play time. Speaking of variety, there are a load of Trophies in the game, all bar one being a boring affair of the ‘score so many goals in a ranked match’ or ‘win a ranked match’ kind. There is a ‘score a goal why reversing in a ranked match’ Trophy, though, but that’s about it.
Although there are a few cars to choose from, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference between them other then aesthetics, and unlocking the last half of them is quite the challenge. To top it off, there are only three maps to play on, two pretty much the same, and a third that has a strange circular pitch to, for lack of a better phrase, spice things up.
Still, the multiplayer is a barrel of laughs. Having people in the room to talk to, whether it’s about impromptu tactics with your teammate, or how your revenge for an opposing team member destroying you will be swift and decisive. It’s also highly amusing to see goal replays, with people laughing at how, in slow motion, a car is going for a save, only to jump too early and be blown away by the resultant goal explosion. Oh yeah, the ball explodes when you score. No reason really, but it’s kind of funny though.
You can play people online if you want, and there are ranked matches for those crazy people who like competitive gaming, and unranked matches for the normal folk who just want some fun. Lag can be issue though, which makes the already hit-and-miss nature of the game pretty much unplayable. It is generally more fun then playing against the computer, but doesn’t hold a candle to four player multiplayer.
Overall, this is a fun little game for playing with friends, but however good the controls are, the game concept itself is inherently broken. And for $14.99 you do not get a whole lot of game. Try the demo before you commit to buying.