There’s nothing subtle about Russian developer Herocraft‘s new hovercraft racer — and for the most part, that’s a good thing. This game combines futuristic racing with gunplay and adds a campy storyline for good measure — making for some quality entertainment while you’re commuting to work on a much slower (and less lethal) vehicle than those in Protoxide: Death Race. Let’s take a look at what’s under the hood of this 1.5-years-in-the-making title, shall we?
Protoxide looks good enough, with a well designed game world and vehicles. The game’s 16 tracks are set in a gritty post-apocalyptic metropolis called Steelers that offers a variety of locales ranging from streets with crumbling buildings, to industrial areas, to the city dock. However, there isn’t really anything here that you haven’t seen before — veteran gamers looking for an original art style will be sorely disappointed. The same goes for the forgettable soundtrack — there isn’t a strong motif to be found among the repetitive techno beats that play through each race.
Instead of a tournament, Protoxide features a campaign, which takes you some semblance of a story as you race. The plot is not unlike most Hollywood movies that involve underground racing — you play a street-hardened racer looking to make a name for himself among the city’s champions, face off against the best that Steelers has to offer, fall in love with a beautiful fellow racer and show them all how it’s done. The campaign mode features illustrations and cheesy dialogues to bring this literary gem of a script to light, but you’re probably better off skipping these screens and getting straight down to business.
Being a combat racer, Protoxide offers a few different game modes, including a standard race, a time-bound Deathmatch where the player with the most kills at the end of the round wins, and a Survival mode which sees you take down opponents in order to remain the last man standing. You can play any of these as a Quick Race, and unlock tracks and vehicles (called Warglyders) by progressing through the campaign.
Campaign races start off as plain-jane dashes to the finish line, with extra points for taking down opponents — but once you’re a few rounds in, doing damage becomes essential to scoring a win. If you want to go up against a friend, you can do so in multiplayer mode, provided you’re both on the same wi-fi network. However you choose to play, you’ll quickly realize that this one’s all about the powerups.
Every track is loaded with several powerups including weapons, shields, nitro boosts and damage repair. These are essential because even the fastest Warglyder travels pretty slowly and you’ll need more than your ride’s own horsepower to take home the trophy. Plus, you enter each race unarmed and must pick up rockets to slow down your opponents, who, just to keep things interesting, also grab powerups to not only hurt you but also deny you of boosts, shields and weaponry when you need them most.
Protoxide offers two control schemes to handle your Warglyder: tilt to steer or use on-screen left/right buttons. I’m no good with accelerometer-based controls, so I opted for the latter — unfortunately, both the left and right steering buttons are located on the right of the screen, away from the shield, nitro and brake buttons on the left. This makes for some awkward thumb action, but you eventually do get used to it.
As with the weapons in Protoxide, you’ll need to pick up nitro and shield powerups to use them. Activating the shield whenever you’re targeted by an opponent (indicated by a flashing red icon) protects you from taking too much damage from rockets. Once you’re armed, you’ll need to lock on to your target by staying within range of them till the meter fills up — your Warglyder will auto-fire whichever heat-seeking rocket you last collected. It’s best to target enemies on long straights, as rockets usually go to waste on curves when your opponents can turn and move out of sight.
Earning your racing stripes
I recommend playing through the entire campaign to begin with, since you’ll get to see all the tracks and unlock Warglyders as you go along. There are four areas in Steelers, each with a different setting: the dock, the city, the laboratory and the factory. The tracks are fun to navigate, with their sharp turns, underpasses, ramps and even alternative routes. The Warglyders differ in parameters like weight, armor, speed, nitro duration and weapon damage, and can be swapped in for different races, depending on whether you need to just win the race with sheer speed or dish out some pain while you’re at it.
I found the first couple of races fairly awkward because it takes a little while to get used to the vehicles’ handling. Once you become familiar with Warglyders, you’ll start to enjoy the fast-paced gameplay that involves strategically collecting necessary powerups and staying behind opponents to lock on to them. However, the campaign is just too darn easy to complete, as the opponents don’t offer much of a challenge — most players won’t have to replay a single level to get through it all.
Protoxide: Death Race offers solid arcade-style fun for racing enthusiasts. The tracks are great, the novel weapon firing scheme lends an interesting twist to the gameplay and it doesn’t look too shabby. However, this game would really have benefited from having more game modes (such as time trials and checkpoint races, given the quality of the tracks), a better layout for on-screen controls, and additional difficulty levels for experienced players to test their skills.
Even then, Protoxide has a lot going for it. If you’re looking for an enjoyable take on racing and like your vehicles armed to the teeth, this is a great choice, with plenty of value for just $0.99. Don’t forget to challenge your friends in Multiplayer mode to see who rules the mean streets of Steelers — just make sure to grab all the mortars before they do.