Xenon Racer markets itself as ‘driving the future’. However, this is a game firmly steeped in the past.
Inspired by classic ‘90s arcade racers like Ridge Racer and Outrun, Xenon Racer provides players with high-octane action at blistering speeds. While the overall package feels slightly bare-bones compared to similar titles on the market, its simplicity is refreshing.
Xenon Racer isn’t concerned with the exhaustive engine and driver performance customisation of racing sims; it just wants you to start racing as quickly as possible. To this end, developer 3DCloud.it has succeeded in producing a fun arcade racer that’s fun and accessible; but also, slightly problematic.
Xenon Racer Review
My journey with Xenon Racer started off rocky.
Arcade racers are meant to be easily enjoyed by the masses; it’s how the genre grew to fame through the brick and mortar establishments of the same name. Anybody who plays an arcade racer should be able to pick up and play with minimal fuss.
Xenon Racer’s opening hours runs players through a gauntlet; almost like it’s testing your patience to determine whether you’re worthy.
The difficulty of each race track is measured by a 5-star system; 1 star means the track is easy, 5 stars lets you know it’s challenging. Xenon Racer starts you off racing on tracks that are rated 4 stars. Whilst not the most challenging, they succeed in throwing you in the preverbal deep end.
Moreover, the first car you slip in behind the wheel of handles like a shopping trolley with a bunged-wheel. Matters don’t improve much with the second car you unlock, either. Both cars feel as if they’re on rails, with any attempt to steer them ending in vain.
My first couple of races were a total wreck. I constantly crashed into corners; crashed into the AI drivers; just crashes everywhere. It was absolutely brutal, and I started second guessing whether I’m worthy of a real-world driver’s license.
My reckless driving meant I banged my car up pretty good. Every time you smash your car into a wall or another driver, you accumulate damage. Once you’ve accumulated 100% damage Xenon Racer will reset your car, usually a couple of metres back from where you were. It’s mildly annoying when this happens, encouraging you to avoid crashing into walls and other drives like I did.
Drifting into the Eye of the Storm
Drifting is a core mechanic in any good racer, especially arcade racers. The skill level of a good player can be measured by their capacity to drift.
For me, drifting is one of those game mechanics that should feel intuitive to the player. It’s something that should feel second nature, even before you know which button activates drifting. Xenon Racer doesn’t measure up to this standard.
There exist three controller inputs when drifting; quickly tap either the break (L2 on PS4), accelerator (R2) or the X button. This confused me at first; could the development team not decide what felt most natural? More likely than not this decision can be attributed to player choice; which when it comes to controller input isn’t necessarily bad, so props to 3DCloud.it for adding it.
Pulling off a successful drift is somewhat problematic and something that takes patience to learn how to do. Despite being an arcade racer, Xenon Racer requires a high degree of control over your speed and the positioning and angle of the car as you guide it into the corner.
It took me a couple of races to come to grips with the drifting mechanic. Though once I managed to master it, then that’s when Xenon Racer really started to shine.
Xenon Racer features a number of different game modes; from a single player career mode to online multiplayer.
The single player is where most of the game’s meat is, comprised of several racing tournaments for you to complete. Each tournament is made up of an increasing number of races, all of which come in a variety of forms.
There’s the standard race against the AI races; time attack races where you race through checkpoints to prevent the timer from reaching zero; and elimination races. I enjoyed the variety on display here, keeping Xenon Racer fresh and interesting from race-to-race; otherwise, the whole affair would have felt like an endless slog.
A degree of flexibility exists in how you progress through the single-player mode. Whilst progression begins in a linear fashion, the critical path slowly branches out in varying directions. All pathways lead to the same ultimate goal, so it ultimately doesn’t matter which path you take, but it’s nice that 3DCloud.it offers the choice.
I should note that each tournament requires a specific type of car in order for you to compete. The types of cars include Normal, Normal GT, Performance, and Performance GT. There are multiple cars available for you to unlock across each type, including various customisable parts as well.
Each car, regardless of its typing, comes with pre-determined stats that dictate its performance across four key stats; Max Speed, Acceleration, Drift and Handling. By swapping out parts you can adjust these stats however you see fit. Want to add more drift? Sure, no worries; you certainly can.
Under the Hood
Whilst not entirely robust, Xenon Racer’s customisation options provide a great deal of reward.
For those willing to invest the time optimising their vehicles, you’ll enjoy a greater level of performance out on the track. I found it particularly useful towards the end of the career mode, where customising your cars is recommended to ensure certain victory. Customising cars also change their visual design, albeit only slightly.
Remember earlier when I wrote that Xenon Racer’s cars handle terribly? Well, customising them to adjust their stats will go a long way towards making them handle a lot better; though some cars are just inherently bad.
You can earn new parts to customise your cars by completing races in single player. The help tips flashed during loading screens advertises then you earn new parts in any game mode, however, I never earned any such rewards; despite trying out Fast Race (quick play), Edge Mode (which combines Time Attack, Checkpoint Attack, Elimination, and Free Mode) and both online and local multiplayer.
Whether a bug or otherwise, there’s still merit in playing any of the aforementioned game modes. Particularly local multiplayer since it supports split screen. Whilst I played Xenon Racer on PS4, the game’s also coming to Nintendo Switch; which I personally believe will be the most ideal platform to play on. Like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe before it, Switch owners will be able to pass around Joy-Cons to friends anywhere they are to satisfy their need for speed.
Gas it Up
All of Xenon Racer’s cars utilise something called Xenon gas. An entirely fictional concept, Xenon gas is what powers the boosting mechanic fitted into each car.
By boosting, you can accelerate your car’s speed up to and exceeding 400km/hr; meaning a well-timed boost could very well be the difference between winning or losing a tight race. At first, I was a little sceptical of this particular mechanic; why would I want to go faster when I’m already bashing into everything? Every time I engaged a boost during those first few races; it did not go well.
In addition to the four main stats, customising your car with new parts also increases your boost recharge rate, duration and overall power.
The computer AI is especially brutal, even on easy. And so, if you don’t engage boosts regularly then you’ll quickly find yourself left in the dust. The key to victory, I swiftly learnt, was to combine boosting with drifting; utilising them both in tandem in order to give yourself a competitive edge.
A huge part of Xenon Racer’s fun factor comes from hurtling towards a sharp corner, sliding into a screeching drift, and then at the last second engaging a boost to launch yourself out of the corner. When done successfully, these moments make Xenon Racer really worth playing.
Sights and Sounds of the Track
Xenon Racer enjoys modest visuals that, while not cutting edge, are at least aesthetically pleasing.
Playing on a standard PS4 console, the most eye-popping moments for me were reserved for tracks featuring that warm glow of sunset. Several tracks, in particular, caught my attention; from the neon-soaked night sky of the Tokyo tracks to the warm forests of the tracks based in Canada.
Whatever detail my eyes could capture as I zoomed past at 400km/hr looked impressive enough. This is a huge pro for Xenon Racer; I didn’t record any drops in frame rate or performance in my 10+ hours, meaning the scenery remained indistinguishable to me.
I did, however, discover a game-breaking bug preventing me from progressing in single player. It appeared during the second GT tournament after I completed one of the two Checkpoint Attack races. Though for whatever reason, Xenon Racer didn’t register my victory, meaning I couldn’t progress to the next GT; Thankfully, a pre-release patch was issued that resolved the problem.
Xenon Racer’s soundtrack is comprised entirely of music from the Electric Dance Music (EDM) label, Monstercat. Tracks from 20 of the label’s signed artists are featured and include; Pegboard Nerds, Rameses B and Melano, Grant, FWLR, Tokyo Machine and Noisestorm to name just a few.
There are a few decent tracks amongst the mix, the 8-bit inspired BUBBLES by Tokyo Machine one of my favourites. The rest of the tracks are fairly straight forward dance music that, while not my personal taste, work as decent background noise.
My one criticism is the soundtrack gets drowned out by the roar of the car engines and obnoxious race announcer. Thankfully you can adjust their respective sound levels in the settings; which I did almost immediately.
Fun yet Flawed
There are a few design choices holding Xenon Racer from being truly great.
For one, the barrier of entry is problematic for new players. Arcade racers at their core are meant to be easily accessible for anybody, regardless of skill level. Forcing players onto some of the more difficult tracks, while driving drive terrible cars, right from the start is a highly questionable decision.
Secondly, Xenon Racer lacks core features expected of racing games in 2019. Most notably is the absence of a rewind feature. Instead, there exists a function that resets your car back to the centre of the road should you become stuck. Doing so loses you valuable time; time which your opponents can race straight past you.
And lastly, the UI is unintuitive and cumbersome; not unlike the drifting mechanic. While certainly not a major issue in of itself, it highlights a distinct lack of polish with an otherwise relatively fun game.
For those looking for a competent arcade racer that takes no prisoners; then Xenon Racer is definitely up your alley.
Xenon Racer was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Xenon Racer