Antigraviator PC Review
It was two years ago when I was talking about futuristic racers in the Redout review and how all the big three first party developers had forgotten about such an exciting genre. Sony tried to show some care by releasing Wipeout Omega Collection in 2017, a package made up of Wipeout HD, Wipeout HD Fury and Wipeout 2048, but let’s be real with this, Sony released the package because it was an easy thing to do, and those games would obviously look fantastic running at 4K resolution. For brand spanking new antigravity racing games, it seems we still have to keep looking towards the smaller independent teams to keep the genre flourishing. This is where fresh faced alumni at Belgian based studio Cybernetic Walrus (formed in 2017) craft their entry in the genre with Antigraviator, their arcade futuristic racer with publisher Iceberg Interactive.
At first glance Antigraviator will look familiar for fans of these games. It’s set in 2210, a time where racing has evolved far beyond the limits, with scientific breakthroughs in the specialised area of antigravity giving birth to this blistering racing sport – so there is your futuristic setting and hover vehicle checkboxes ticked. It’s fast, so there’s another tick, it features an electronic music soundtrack and twisty tracks set in deserts, cities and in space, so as you can see, it’s pretty much has everything that is associated with the genre.
A quick tutorial demonstrates at first load of the game on how to play, and I was fairly shocked to find that there isn’t much going on in terms of its controls. Antigraviator is easier to get to grips with its handling model than something like Redout and Wipeout, two games that give their vehicles a sort of floating/gliding feel to the handling that helps highlight how important air-braking is in those games. With Antigraviator, it’s controls are simple that it almost handles like playing an F1 racing game. The vehicles stick to the track with ease, while attempting tight corners requires braking or holding acceleration and brake for air-braking, a little different than the fancy left or right air-brake implementations in some other antigravity racers. An additional ability, the barrel roll, is available to knock other ships away or dodge traps. It’s certainly one of the more simplest and responsive antigravity racers to get to grips with.
That said, it isn’t all familiar with Antigraviator. The biggest differentiator between this title and other racers is the way items are used, which are called traps. At the top of the screen is a line that represents the racing distance for the current lap. On this bar are marked locations that signal trap zones. Once you hit this section of the map there is a small window of opportunity to activate the trap, which could range from anything like missiles, land mines or even environmental hazards, such as desert rock landslide or energy barriers. Traps are usually something that damages an opponent or blocks part of the track.
While the concept is a neat idea, traps are something that I don’t feel are implemented well – there are many problems with their current use that make them less useful than they should be. For one, you can only activate the trap in that location, which limits their use for catching up to the opposition, since storing a trap to use when required isn’t an option. Traps can also only be activated once per lap, so if some sneaky bugger gets in the zone first or is close behind and mashes the trap key before you manage to, then that trap zone has become a missed opportunity. This happens quite often in the later races in the campaign, where the AI is more aggressive in using traps. The racer that does activate the trap gets a shield to protect them from any damage from the carnage that follows ahead of the activation. If successful in hitting an opponent, the shield gains a green tint to alert the player of an hit. The only restriction with traps is that they cost energy to activate – energy is collected through energy canisters scattered around the track, which a limited amount can be held depending on the ship’s customisation (the default ship starts with 10 slots).
Energy tanks have another vital use – boosting. The game advertises itself as having no speed limit, which technically is true, but only comes into play with the boosting, since standard acceleration will cap out. Boosting can either occur from using two chunks of energy for a very short boost – I do wish there was a way to use more at once, like being able to hold it down for a longer boost – or flying over a boost pad. Chaining these together will push the machine past its limit and eventually reach speeds so tremendously fast that it hits a point that memory will be required to take corners accurately without speeding straight into a barrier and meeting impending doom (and a respawn back onto the track).
Campaign is the main single player mode that pits the player against 7 AI opponents in an assortment events. Each cup increases in difficulty and features four races each across multiple race types – Single (standard), Deathrace (survive as long as possible without dying) and Countdown (timed checkpoint system where each pass of a checkpoint adds a few seconds to the clock). It’s a very basic approach to a campaign, which won’t last too long due to the limited content – Antigraviator contains 15 tracks across 6 environments, with reverse maps doubling the content to 30. What’s left after earning cash and unlocking new ships and parts from the campaign is the single race, where times can be saved against other players, local multiplayer with split-screen, or the online mode in either ranked or casual scenarios.
Off the track are where things become apparent that this game has some shortcomings. Money earned from the campaign is used to unlock the additional two ships and each of the modifications available for those two plus the starter ship. Yep, there are only three base ships in the game, with a small selection of modifications for each one. It is a huge shame that this part is so minimal, as seeing all the outlandish vehicles in other similar racing games is always an exciting moment. In Antigraviator, it loses that spark with its lacklustre selection of ships. The customisation with the three base models is a nice idea, but with only three sections each with three of their own unlocks, you don’t have a lot of choice with the ship models available, with colours acting as the only deciding factor to keep your ship that bit unique against other racers if you take the game online.
I think in the end what it boils down to for Antigraviator is that the racing is solid enough to support itself. The developers have already begun working on patches for the game, one includes offering mirrored versions of the current tracks, but I do think dropping a few more single player cups that support the new tracks, maybe a new challenge mode of sorts that throws in some pure racing modes that don’t use the trap mechanics, and of course more ships, will improve the limited content currently available. It’s not a full priced game, coming in at a normal price of £19.49 (or £17.54 is purchased before 13th June 2018), so there is that to take into account.
Unity is the engine of choice that the developers have used to create a sharp looking game that is plenty colourful. It’s not the most amazing thing you will have seen, but it gets the job done in bringing a crisp, sharp image with good texture work and modelling. The UI isn’t quite as stylish, coming across as a second thought – it can be hard to see where the cursor is when using a controller (which is the ideal way to play I feel) as the colours are similar contrast as the borderline around the options, giving a lack of highlighting to clearly indicate what is selected. It gives the game that sort of low budget feel and lack of polish that might not be as apparent if basing it solely on the racing parts of Antigraviator.
Antigraviator keeps the flow of antigravity racing games alive on PC, bringing with it an easy to get to grips handling system that let’s players get on with racing around these futuristic tracks. It probably won’t be a game that will remain memorable for long, as it inherits a lot of the standard features we expect of antigravity racers, and when it does try to bring innovation it doesn’t quite work well for itself – but you might think differently, as people I’ve spoken to either dislike or don’t mind the trap feature (add a point on if you enjoy the trap mechanic after playing the demo). For the here and now, Antigraviator has decent track design, a good sense of speed and is fun without throwing unwanted distractions into the gameplay that I feel fans of the genre will certainly find some joy to be had trying to best their fastest boost chain, even if its content isn’t stacked as other available options on PC.