Let off steam
Racing games are all about going fast enough to beat your opponents, feeling the thrill of passing another player, getting first place. In this respect, Ionocraft Racing is not a racing game.
While it still features a vehicle and the aim is still to go as fast as possible, the difference is that Ionocraft doesn’t have any opponents. To many, this is a flaw. How do you race without someone to race against? But this steampunk styled game shrugs off such difficulties. It doesn’t even attempt a ghost car.
What Ionocraft does have, though, is a garage. The aim, then is not who to beat, because you’ll be racing against your own lap time, but how to shave off that extra second without hitting the wall and exploding in to little pieces. To this extent, the garage has everything you need. Eventually.
To earn parts you first need cash, to get cash you need to race. As is so often the case, you start with a very basic chassis and parts. This should be enough to get a bronze on the first track, thus opening up the next track and giving you your much needed first parts. Back at the garage you can swap your winnings for all the available parts and chop and change them as you see fit.
The idea is to get a balance between the five elements that will help drop those lap times; Mass, Speed, Control, Armour and Boost. Messing about with different parts will cause the bars for each of these to fluctuate and only by a strategic approach to fitting out your vehicle will you be able to reach for gold on each track.
Graphically, the game carries off the steampunk setting perfectly. Metal and rust permeate the whole game from the tracks to the car itself. Steam rises from storm drains and metal sheeting defines the track in the tighter corners. While it’s not the most detailed game we’ve seen on the platform, the graphics do look impressive as you’re hurtling along, trying desperately not to damage your shields.
Once out on the racetrack, the game plays a little like Wipeout, albeit with steampunk stylings and a lack of opponents. Objects and narrow roads with sudden turns prevent you from taking it too easy once you’ve built a craft with a high speed engine and good steering really comes in to play on the more tricky later tracks. Each track will take a good number of plays to really get the best lap time and beat the time for the gold medal.
This is where Ionocraft excels and where the desire for repeated plays will come from. Though a lack of opponents still disappoints, the need to shave seconds off your time will draw you back in, tinkering in the garage until you have the perfect setup, only to realise that the next track may require a complete overhaul of your craft.
Perhaps unintentionally mirroring the game, power requirements from your iDevice are equally important in getting the most out of the game. The iPhone 3GS struggled with more complicated levels at times while the 4G iPod and the iPad 2 had a far easier ride, though occasionally slowing down a little if over-taxed. I also noticed that the battery drain is significantly larger than with some other titles.
Controls are set to virtual buttons rather than using the accelerometer to tilt. This works better than expected and it feels much more responsive as a result. The speed can be controlled by pressing or releasing the throttle, which adds to the strategy of cornering, especially on those really tight corners.
Ionocraft Racing is as much about beating a time as other racers are about beating opponents. With the strategic tinkering needed to build a craft that will beat your last time, the game succeeds in drawing you in for that one more go. While other racers, or even a ghost car of your last lap, would improve the game, the thrill of building the best car and testing it out is enough to warrant a purchase.
- Sound: 7
- Graphics: 8
- Gameplay: 7
- Longevity: 7
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