Platform: PC (reviewed,) PS4 and Xbox One (both coming soon)
Generally you can separate most racing games into one of two categories: simulation-style or arcade-style. The simulation racers are the ones that focus on emulating real-life racing and often feature high-quality visuals and physics engines. Games like Gran Turismo, Forza, and Project Cars all come to mind here. Then for arcade racers, it’s all about having fun, breaking the laws of physics, and generally focusing on exciting gameplay. Common examples consist of Mario Kart, WipEout, Burnout, and others.
Antigraviator, a recent indie racing game, definitely falls into that second category. It’s a futuristic racing game, much like WipEout or F-Zero, and pushes players to the limit with absolutely breakneck speeds. Surface level similarities don’t mean this racer achieves the same level of success, though.
Faster Than A Speeding Bullet
Antigraviator is an extremely fast and intense racing game. Once you’re done with the tutorial it wastes no time throwing you into the deep end. Your ship gets up to speed quickly and stays there as you bank around corners, slam into walls, hit boost pads, and rocket across futuristic race tracks. One of my favorites is partially in outer space with a wonderful backdrop of a planet in the distance -- shown above.
The one feature that Antigraviator has that sets it apart from other anti-gravity sci-fi racers is how it handles combat. Instead of shooting rockets or placing traps you trigger events on each level -- similar to the underappreciated Split/Second. Once you have one of the power-ups you have to wait and trigger it as you pass by the intended area. For example, you’d pick up a power up and then see an icon under your ship signaling you of a nearby trap. Once triggered spikes might appear for your opponents or something might come crashing into the course as an obstacle.
I never really felt like the system gelled with me very well. Trying something relatively new is admirable, but it seems out of place. Frankly, I just missed the immediate satisfaction granted from hitting someone with a rocket or mine or something similar. Combat should be an active part of racing in these sorts of games, not a passive thing your trigger and cross your fingers for later on.
Half the fun of Mario Kart is the randomness of its items and how silly overpowered they can be at times. You can get up to speed very quickly in those games and your max speed is slow by comparison When I’m playing WipEout, F-Zero, or Antigraviator, I want to focus on that speed. Chaining boost pads with good turning and passing opponents is the bread and butter of the experience. The trap system cuts that off at its knees when your speed is constantly derailed by what feels like a cheap system of slowing you down.
Hollow On The Inside
In a lot of ways though, Antigraviator is a sci-fi racing melting pot. It absolutely nails the break-neck speed that’s made WipEout such a popular series, but it marries that with the more responsive and agile control players find in games like F-Zero. You can bank around corners with more speed and accuracy, which is great, but it also means the courses are intentionally designed to feature sharp, sudden turns at a higher frequency as well.
Piling on the comparisons, it shares a good deal with RedOut as well, another modern PC-focused sci-fi racer. The sleek, modern style is reminiscent and if anything, actually looks better in the case of Antigraviator. Every level feels unique and charming in a special way that’s hard to accomplish in these sorts of games since players are zooming past the visuals at blurring speeds most of the time. But you really do get to appreciate them here.
However, in the case of RedOut, there is just more content on display, plus VR support. Why the team at Cybernetic Walrus didn’t include support for Rift and/or Vive HMDs is beyond me and feels like a major missed opportunity. Both RedOut on PC and WipEout: Omega Collection’s VR support prove these types of games feel right at home in the immersive medium.
Keeping Up With The Pack
All in all, Antigraviator is really at its best when you just ignore all of that and focus on the racing because the core, underlying mechanics really are quite good. But when its contemporaries offer the same or similar racing experience on a base level, plus more, it’s hard to compete.
Antigraviator just doesn’t have enough going on. There aren’t any alternate game modes to speak of really, the online community doesn’t seem overly active, and you’ll run out of things to do very quickly unless you really, really like replaying levels over and over again.