BlazeRush is a modern take on the classic isometric arcade action racing genre which harks back to the days of the NES and SNES. BlazeRush was originally released for the PlayStation 3 and PC platforms in October, 2014 and has now raced onto the PlayStation 4 console on which this review will be based upon.
BlazeRush was developed by Targem Games, an indie development team based in Yekaterinburg, Russia. You may have heard of past titles from Targem which include Hard Truck and Armageddon Racers, currently the Russian dev team are working on the vehicular combat title Crossout which we are following with keen interest. You can find the PlayStation 4 version of BlazeRush on the PlayStation Store currently for the price of just £7.99. At this low price point it would be unfair to expect a title that is bursting with content and features you could say. Indeed installing the game took only a matter of minutes which came in at well under the 1 gigabyte mark.
Controlling your vehicle in BlazeRush is a doddle, there's no brakes or accelerator here (which may take a little time to get your head around), instead you must simply hold the left analogue stick in the direction you wish to travel. To aid you, the game provides you with an arrow showing your current directional input which is useful for precise control. Completing turns is very satisfying as your vehicle either grips hard or drifts through majestically depending on your choice of vehicle. This is made even more a pleasure due to the very smooth nature of the game, it may not boast jaw-dropping graphical fidelity but I get the impression that Targem Games were more focused on delivering a fast and solid frame rate, which it certainly has.
Visually, BlazeRush looks decent enough for its genre, effects from vehicle trails, weapon and speed boost power ups all have their own distinctive colours which light up the action nicely. Throw in some explosions and sparks and you have a real cocktail of pretty effects which help to give BlazeRush an air of quality. Sadly the environments don't quite live up to the solid look of the vehicle models nor the pleasant particle effects with the backgrounds in particular looking a little bland and low resolution. Surprisingly, there are only two buttons you need to concern yourself with in BlazeRush - fire and boost. These two buttons are mapped several times over on the PlayStation 4 controller so it's easy to find the right choice of buttons to suit you.
In BlazeRush the difference between winning and losing can be very subtle indeed. It is this concept which means you are never truly out of an event despite any mounting odds against your favour, this keeps the action engaging and reduces any frustrating restarts to a minimum. One well-timed boost or a successful missile strike can send you snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Combining a successful slime hit on a leader slowing them down in combination with using a nitro boost zooming you from third to first can be immensely satisfying for instance.
So frantic is the action at times, you have to divide your attention several ways, first keeping an eye on your vehicle, then there's the power ups to look out for which drop from the sky, you'll also be wary of your opponents especially if they're boosting forward or firing at you. To top it all off you'll also be periodically checking the mini-map to see the lay of the track ahead. As you'll be so busy, it's possible to lose track of your vehicle, or worse still, think you're controlling another instead. Fortunately Targem have included a feature which shows a marker above your vehicle upon clicking the L3 or R3 buttons which is handy at times. Technically the game runs very smoothly in the single player mode and was a pleasure to play. There were no signs of any slow down or stuttering even when the action got lively, and I didn't experience any bugs in the single player campaign whatsoever.
The default camera fits all vehicles on the screen at once much like Micro Machines. However if you're not a fan of that viewpoint (as you'll sometimes find yourself in the lead with only a small amount of the track viewable ahead of you) you do have the option to change the camera viewpoint which puts your vehicle in the centre of the screen at all times, I decided to keep it old-school though. I did also notice an option to enable motion blur, but I couldn't notice any great change so left this turned off - both of these options incidentally can be changed mid-race through the settings menu. Also worth mentioning are the loading times, which are almost instantaneous keeping the action speeding along at a rapid pace.
During gameplay, weapon and boost powerups descend from the sky as if orchestrated by an overseer. These can be collected by driving through them but only one weapon and one boost power up can ever be held at any one time (your currently equipped items can be seen at the top left of the screen). A neat touch is that whatever you collect will be physically mounted to your vehicle, so you'll notice two great big rear-mounted boosters either side of your vehicle should you collect a speed powerup. Weapons are attached to the front of your vehicle so expect to see a menacing oversized minigun or perhaps a homing missile bouncing around in a comical fashion bolted to your bonnet or equivalent.
BlazeRush features five weapons in total - the Autogun, a minigun with a short burst of fire which will unsettle opponent's vehicles, the saw blade, a circular disc which can be bounced off walls and will send your opponents tumbling through the air. The heat-seeking guided missile will lock onto the opponent ahead of you, however you have to maintain a little distance as point blank shots won't work.
Furthermore, there's the slime gun which gives you a single shot of green goo which will cover your oppoents in a glowing slime and slow them down, if you miss with it the slime is left as a bubble on the track for others to run into. Granted, you can actually break free of the slime by using a speed boost power up which was a nice touch from the developers. Finally, there's the sonic wave weapon which puts out a small blast wave in front of your vehicle sending those close to you skidding out of control, it can be very effective to send your opponents out of the track boundaries but requires a degree of finesse.
There is no way to actually damage the vehicles in BlazeRush, so don't expect any mechanical or physical damage: vehicles simply respawn back into the action should they be thrown over the track's guard rails (except in Death races where you'll need to sit out the round should you go out of the track's bounds or touch the dreaded spiked roller, more on that later). The heat-seeking guided missile is probably my favourite of all the weapons as it's suitably evil and can be hard to shake free once a lock has been established. A successful hit will send your opponent flying through the air regardless of their mass which is immensely satisfying. Although the weapon selection was acceptable, It would have perhaps been nice to have the ability to lay down some mines just to crank up the challenge that little bit more.
Speed boosters come in three different flavours: there's the standard and common nitro boost which gives the player a small but long life boost, the solid rocket booster, while short-lived gives a greater boost than the aforementioned nitro. Finally, there's the slightly bonkers pulse booster which is described as a “bomb tied to your back” (they're not wrong). It will give you a very strong speed boost which can easily send you flying out of the track limits if you're not careful. To keep the action close and balanced, speed boost power ups are dropped in behind the leader. The downside to this is that if you are close to the leader in second place you'll tend to be stuck there for a while as most power ups will drop in behind you leaving you somewhat in limbo.
Blaze a trail
BlazeRush features a fairly lengthy and meaty single player career mode considering the game's size and price point. The Career Mode, which doesn't have any difficulty options, initially grants you access to just a small number of events, the idea here is that you achieve cups which unlock further tiers and events which is pretty standard fare for racing games.
The Career mode starts off very gently and introduces the basics of controlling your vehicle and using the first booster and weapon power ups. In fact, this is repeated often throughout the career mode as each new power up is introduced. Indeed, it's probably not a stretch to state that around a quarter of the career mode events are devoted to tutorials. BlazeRush certainly does a great job introducing each new power up, leaving little room for confusion or forgetfulness, although some may find the tutorials a little excessive perhaps.
Each event is represented by a tile which shows you key information such as the event type and difficulty. Cups are awarded every race, not only by finishing in the top three places, but also by “killing” opponents, earning a certain number of points and there's the odd weapon related cup thrown in here and there. All of these cup requirements can be seen pre-race by selecting a race tile.
You start off with a choice of 4 from the 16 vehicles on offer, playing through the career mode and earning points during races for hitting or overtaking enemies for instance, will enable you to unlock the rest of the vehicles one at a time. There's a good mix of vehicles ranging from hot rods and souped up street racers to UFO's and tank-like vehicles - all are well made and look very detailed and interesting.
Each vehicle has three stats – Mass, acceleration and Handelability (because putting “handling” was too boring presumably). A high mass stat gives your vehicle decent levels of grip, and as a consequence, they are less prone to being tossed around when hit by weapons when compared to their lighter counterparts. However, heavy vehicles become unstable when skidding and are harder to gain back control. Lighter vehicles, though more vulnerable to attacks, are easier to control and glide through turns effortlessly. The acceleration stat is pretty self-explanatory, however you will notice a distinct absence of a top speed stat and for one simple reason too – all vehicles in BlazeRush share the same top speed which helps to make the action very well balanced.
I personally found I needed a decent mix of all three stats and much of my career play through was completed in the good all-rounder “tailfin” (that's the guy with the impressive sideburns). Sadly the vehicles don't sound half as good as they look as you can only hear a slight whirling or chugging sound as they race along rather than any meaty mechanical sounds which would have been great to hear. Fortunately though, the sound effects are done very well: missiles hit with a satisfying crunch and bang and the autogun fire sounds fierce and purposeful as the effects actually ring out through the PlayStation 4 controller, accompanied by some satisfying rumble. The music also does a good job of matching the intense action on screen thanks to its fast paced nature.
There are four different events found in BlazeRush, which all kick off from a standing start. There's the standard 3-lap races, time trials, King of the Hill events and Death Races, each of the events last typically 2-3 minutes which helps to keep the action ticking along nicely. Most of the time you'll be up against 4 AI opponents (except in time trial mode). Time trials provide the stiffest challenge (particularly in the later stages of the Career mode), you are set three target times each giving you a cup should you succeed. In order to be successful here, you'll need to master each track, not only knowing where each every turn is, but you'll need to avoid any obstacles such as ramps or be mindful of any narrowing of the tracks. The King of the Hill mode will grant the leader a point for every second they lead the race with an unlimited amount of laps, the first to score 50 points secures the win.
However, without doubt, the most fun in BlazeRush is had in the Death races. Here you'll be relentlessly chased down by a towering spiked steam roller and any contact with it brings about your swift death, as does leaving the track's boundaries (this is the only time you can actually “die” in BlazeRush). Each death grants every survivor a point, after all but one vehicle has met their demise the action resets with players starting in reverse order of their finishing positions from the previous round and the action kicks off again mere seconds later. Should you die you'll need to wait until the current round is over to return to the action.
In races and King of the Hill events, players receive a boost forward if they fall too far behind (which keeps the camera from having to zoom too far out to hold everyone in the same shot and keep the action close presumably). Now this may sound like too much of an aid, but I found the feature to be well implemented.
After an event has played out you'll be taken to the post-race screen which shows your number of cups earned and race awards along with points accrued. Race awards are of a comical nature, for example if you kill 2 or more opponents with an autogun you'll earn the “Hasta la Vista” award, attack an opponent seconds after they've hit you and you earn the “Payback” award and the “Shot from the grave” award can be yours by hitting an opponent with a projectile just before your inevitable death. I even earned the “Harakiri” award a few times by hitting myself with my own saw weapon, whoops.
BlazeRush does make some efforts at weaving a story into the career mode. The evil “corporation” is hell bent on banning races on every planet they come across as it interferes with their goal of mining and extracting any and all valuable resources from every planet they chance upon. After several races on one planet you'll travel to the next. However you will return to these exhausted planets and witness the devastating effects first hand caused by the corporation which brings me to the game's environments and tracks.
There are three environments in BlazeRush, each with their own variant which shows the aftermath of the mining by the corporation. For instance, the scrapyard planet which was originally set in a desert, morphs into a giant lava pit, the jungle planet once teeming with forests boasting giant trees is now a depleted frosty wasteland, and finally, the alien swamp planet once rich in exotic flora has since withered turning ugly with lifeless shades of brown. Each environment has multiple track layouts, you'll start the career mode negotiating the simple square or rectangular shaped tracks but with progression you'll race on tracks with many twists and turns, elevation changes, narrowed sections, ramps and areas without the aid of a track guard rail making you vulnerable to skidding off the track and out of bounds.
Sections of a track with an incline require you to be particularly careful when using speed power ups. Using a powerful speed boost while going uphill can send your vehicle flying through the air and out of the track's boundaries adding nicely to the challenge and strategy. To succeed in BlazeRush you'll need to refer to the minimap and look for sections which show elevation changes (marked as blue areas) and adjust your boosting strategies accordingly, this is particularly crucial when competing in time trial events. Unfortunately the mini-map doesn't show where the ramps are placed nor does it show areas where a track's edges are missing. Talking of ramps, it would have been nice to see a risk/reward feature when negotiating the ramps (perhaps a speed pad on the ramp for instance) as they are fairly easy to avoid and seem a little superfluous.
Targem Games have even thrown in a couple of night time races in the career mode. It's here where you can really see BlazeRush's pretty lighting effects come to life. The various shades of the vehicle trails and power ups make for a nice mix of colour which lights up the otherwise dark surroundings much like a fireworks display. It would've been nice to have seen more than two events take place at night in the career mode as they did add an extra element of challenge to the game.
As you would expect, career mode events generally get more and more challenging in the higher tiers, however the game never felt fiendishly difficult (save for that final boss battle, see below). The AI provided a decent challenge throughout the career mode, if you didn't quite win it was probably because you did something wrong or perhaps just got unlucky, not because the game cheated you or broke its own rules.
As I was nearing the end of the career mode I did have to go back and re-race old events to earn additional cups in order to further progress up the tiers. All told I re-raced about ten events, so it was far from a grind to complete the career mode which I felt had well balanced progression. Once you've progressed through the 52 events found in the career mode you'll go up against the president of the evil corporation which actually became a source of great frustration for me. Indeed It took me 25 minutes to defeat the final boss after many, many trial and error runs. Perhaps a game which takes its inspiration from the 8 and 16 bit era having a very difficult final boss was fitting, but I personally would've appreciated at least one checkpoint thrown in so I didn't have to restart from the beginning should I be sent out of the track's bounds thanks to a well delivered saw blade to the rear.
The career mode took me a fraction under four hours to complete. I gained at least one cup in every event for a total of 141 out of a possible 209 cups, and I had unlocked all but one of the vehicles. Since completing the career mode I have poured several additional hours into the mode picking up more trophies, unlocking that final vehicle and I've even managed to obtain 90% of the game's trophies. Even then I am still quite shy of earning close to 209 cups, in fact it may be fair to say that in order to fully complete the career mode with all PlayStation trophies you probably have to invest between 12-15 hours - not bad considering this is very much a budget title.
Heading over to BlazeRush's online (or Tournament) mode will give you a choice of three events - the standard races, King of the Hill and Death races. Tracks are divided into mini track, standard and hard track options, which respectively increase in difficulty and complexity.
Now I'd love to write about how great it felt to race online but the truth is this is where the game fell down considerably. For the first couple of days with BlazeRush I couldn't get a single online game at all, after much retrying and patience I did manage to eventually connect for the odd game. Playing online, at least at the time of review, was sadly no where near as smooth as the single player experience which is a tremendous shame. The action stutters and warps and frame rate drops are far too common, so common in fact that it largely ruins the online experience completely. Indeed, it would not be overstating it to say that the online portion of BlazeRush is currently completely broken.
Assuming you have the good fortune of connecting to a game, you'll find the action often jumps forward a second sending you flying off the track or altering track position which is extremely frustrating and disorientating. In between these glitchy moments you get to temporarily taste a sample of what it should've been like to play online, these fleeting moments felt good but were too brief to keep me coming back for more.
Also with a full field of 8 players online it can be hard to actually obtain weapons and booster power ups, something that wasn't a problem with the game's career mode with a grid of five typically. Perhaps the rate at which power ups are dropped should been increased to allow for the extra numbers to keep the action flowing nicely. It's such a shame that the online portion of BlazeRush was so disappointing, the single player career mode by contrast is incredibly smooth and technically very sound indeed. Granted you can opt for some 4 player couch co-operative play which I sadly didn't manage to test for this review.
I had a good time with the career mode in BlazeRush. Races were mostly fun, although it has to be said, I could only really enjoy the game in 30 or so minute bursts; any longer and the action tended to get a little stale. And perhaps that's to be expected with a game such as this: it is a perfect example of a decent pick up and play game and one that you won't necessarily be spending hours upon hours playing and that's not a bad thing. Sadly the retro-inspired title has been let down badly by all of its online issues.
With a game such as this, the multiplayer segment should provide a decent chunk of the focus and fun. Indeed you could say it is a great example of a party game minus the party. Unfortunately this was always going to affect the review score in a negative manner. If Targem Games manage to address the online issues I would certainly spend many more hours playing and enjoying BlazeRush as you can only get so much out of the single player career mode.