There have been many Mario Kart clones and admirers throughout the years, so it’s nice to come across a kart racer that tries to do its own thing, even if it’s not a bases clearing home run. I’m talking about Obliteracers, Australian developer Varkian Empire’s take on the wildly successful and ever chaotic sub-genre, which emphasizes action over lap times.
Originally released for PC, Obliteracers is just now making its way to consoles. In doing so, it brings with it a love for party gaming, offering same screen vehicular mayhem for up to sixteen different racers. There’s local action for those who like to get together and have a few drinks, online play for friends who can’t be in the same place at once, and a basic single player career mode to get one used to how things work.
Success here has little to do with pole positions or general racing. Instead, the focus is placed on clearing the screen of opposing drivers. In fact, all of the game’s ‘race’ types dole out points whenever the player has something to do with another leaving the race or ends up as a round’s lone survivor. Hell, even the one that requires you to be in first place to earn points is like this, because the only way that said driver earns anything is by being in the lead when someone else is blown up, falls off the track or gets swallowed up by the always advancing camera.
What’s unique about this premise is that it’s tough to take anything for granted. The camera is always moving forward, racers are never shy about sharing their newfound shark rockets or bombs, and one slip up can be costly. Therein lays one of this title’s main issues, too, because Obliteracers can often end up being more about luck than skill. With up to sixteen racers on screen at one time, events can easily become clusterfucks where it’s tough to really keep track of oneself, and given how fast things move forward, it’s very easy to slip up if you’re not paying complete attention.
As you can imagine frustration is not a rarity, because certain design decisions have made luck even more important than it should have been. The scoring systems for each event type (knockout, endurance, leader of the pack, etc.) will sometimes award points unfairly, and when you do respawn from a catastrophic crash it’s not uncommon for your vehicle to almost immediately be pelted with more projectiles without much in the way of a grace period. Add in annoying modifiers that make you explode after tapping another driver, or use your shield and jumping ability to avoid lava-based tracks and you have the recipe for added frustration. The shield, itself, is a particularly devious devil, because while it helps you avoid danger, it also prevents you from being able to accelerate. On top of that, it can sometimes blow you up if used for too long, though that’s dependent on the modifiers in play.
All of the aforementioned action is covered using an aerial camera that shows what is essentially a top-down view of the track, with a slight angle put in place to aid the player. This works rather well, and helps differentiate Varkian’s effort from most other kart racers. That said, it can make it difficult to see everything ahead of you and properly prepare for turns, which is accentuated by the game’s sometimes slippery controls. More precision would have been an asset, although it’s not as if a very noticeable lack of it ruins the experience.
If this game ever accumulates a large online community, it could become a rather fun way to spend a couple of hours here and there. However, given how little this title has been talked about, I worry for its developers. After all, their single player offering is quite barebones, consisting of a simple list of events that, once completed over the course of a couple of hours, offers little in the way of replay value enticement.
Those who think they’d enjoy a game like this, where a constantly moving camera propels cutesy aliens to shoot and ram the shit out of one another for points, should support it. However, the only real replay value that currently exists comes from the local multiplayer mode, which sets up pretty well for living room parties. Still, even then I question the staying power that Obliteracers will have for friendly combatants given that its schtick is practically the same no matter what event type you play. If there was more variety — outside of the weapon, damage and other quirky (the floor is lava, invisible weapons, slippery roads) modifiers, which can only do so much — this would be a much easier game to recommend. As it stands right now, though, it exists as a good building block towards a potentially larger title, and something that only really caters to those who can regularly convince a friend (or three) to pick up a controller and game with them.
What Obliteracers really has going for it, though, are its visuals and performance. There’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the game’s presentation, because it’s all top notch. From the colourful and eye pleasing tracks, to the cutesy Cel-shaded aliens and their themed vehicles (such as Sarge with his tank), it’s hard to find anything to dislike on the visual side of things. Performance is also buttery smooth — at least offline, since the online servers were barren — and the sound design is more than adequate.
At the end of the day, how much value this game ends up offering will depend on how the community supports it. If people decide to pick Obliteracers up for casual multiplayer carnage, then what has so far been a quiet mode could turn into something of value. However, until (or unless) that happens, there’s little to recommend to those who can’t get a bunch of friends together for a night of couch-based gaming.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Obliteracers is a solid and nice-looking kart racer that is ballsy enough to do its own thing. Whether it's successful or not will depend on how many people buy it, and whether those folks become invested enough to populate an online community for months to come. At this point in time, only those who love to battle friends in local action need apply.