Defy Gravity in "Survival Racer" Game Nitronic Rush
At a Glance
Racing games aren't always about car licenses, accurate simulations, or photorealistic tracks. Some push a little further into the world of make believe, endowing your vehicle with supernatural speed or the ability to soar over obstacles without mishap. Others go for the surreal, changing up the locations and providing you with roller coaster-like tracks that defy the laws of physics and lend a futuristic flair to your lap times. A lot of gamers enjoy this sort of experience, as the sales numbers for franchises like Burnout and TrackMania indicate--but the number of racing games that explore these themes is limited, and few go all the way. Nitronic Rush, a gaming project from the minds at DigiPen Institute, is one of those few.
You don't play Nitronic Rush, you experience it. The music pulses, the neon lights glare, your vision blurs as the sense of speed builds and the tracks traverse yawning chasms where a wrong turn will send you hurtling off into the abyss. The Xbox-style controls are fairly straightforward: you have the tepid standard accelerator (used mostly to maintain momentum) and you have the explosive boost mode, which shoves your car forward like launch day at NASA. You use a leaping function to attempt shortcuts and avoid on-track obstacles, whereas flight mode unfolds a pair of wings on your cruiser and sets you aloft briefly. Twin analog sticks control normal and enhanced steering modes.
Dubbed a "survival racer" by its development team, Nitronic Rush is less about competition and more about overcoming obstacles without destroying your car. A heat gauge keeps a close eye on the proceedings, and when the engine starts to overheat, things stop working. Push too far and your car will immolate itself. As you race on the elevated neon tracks, obstacles rise up and force quick, nail-biting course corrections, while jumps sail you through loops of energy that will shatter your vehicle should it touch them. Pulling off crazy, complicated stunts like backflips and racing along the walls of skyscrapers or tunnel ceilings tends to net the most points, and you'll soon find yourself exploring each track environment to discover the best places for such thrills.
Accompanying the gameplay is an excellent soundtrack that pays tribute to the thumping electronica tunes so common to racing titles of this style back in the 1990s. Unlike games of that era, your performance is ranked globally via a single button opt-in Internet scoring system and ghost cars provide bogies to chase for improved laptime numbers. Recent updates have added better HDR rendering, more tracks, more vehicles, more levels and more gaming modes, upping the content quotient significantly.
If there are flaws, they seem inherent to the game's design rather than coding or technical issues. Car control is difficult under boost or flight modes, and the tracks are quite short. In fact, the entire game is over pretty fast. The models used for the cars and tracks are imaginatively conceived and colorfully realized, but they have a noticeably low polygon count for a game of such recent vintage. Also, after years of open-world racing games, speeding around on tight tracks seems a bit antiquated, no matter how garishly lit they appear (although the new Stunt modes alleviate this problem to a degree). However, since Nitronic Rush is completely free, these issues fade into the background. The fundamental goodness of this game cannot be denied.