Racing games have been around almost as long as gaming itself. Whether it’s a more traditional racing simulator recreating Formula 1 or the thrills of rally driving, or an arcade racer along the lines of OutRun or something a little more adventurous like the futuristic racers in the WipEout series, we’ve been fascinated with speed and gaming since the 1980s. It’s hard, therefore, for developers to come up with a new take on the genre and provide gamers with something a little different to straightforward track racing or vehicular combat but developers Flippfly think they have the answer with their solar-powered title, Race The Sun…
Unlike traditional racers, you’re completely on your own in Race The Sun. No other vehicle, no “traditional” tracks to race on – in fact, it’s not your typical racer in most respects. You’re in control of a solar-powered plane and quite simply you have to fly as long as possible through as many of the game’s sectors as you can. The sun is setting in the distance so the only way you can keep going is to stay out of the shadows and chase after the sun as fast as you can. Control of your plane is limited to left and right to steer (although you can perform barrel-rolls to get out of tight spots) and acceleration is automatic so all you have to worry about is steering through all of the buildings and obstacles in your path… Oh, I forgot to mention them. It’s not just a lack of power that will bring your flight to a premature end but the buildings and other hazards in your way so you have to use all your skills to make sure you don’t collide with anything or it’s game over.
There are three game modes on offer, the first available from the offset and two further modes – Apocalypse and Labyrinthia – available later in the game as you progress through the game. The main game mode is a straightforward race over a series of sectors, and the game follows the simple mechanics of staying out of the shadows and trying not to hit any buildings in sight. To help you along the way, there are powerups that you can collect granting you a temporary speed boost, jumps that you can collect and use to help avoid the tricker sections on the course (you can store these for use at a later time in the game) and portals to allow you to skip straight to the end of each sector. In addition, along each zone there are Tris – blue triangles that you can pick up en route. As you collect these, a meter fills up that increases your points multiplier during the game to boost your score. Get to the end of the sector and a bird appears dropping bonus Tris that you can collect and a random bonus powerup then it’s on to the next…
The Apocalypse mode is more of the same only a LOT faster and tougher and in addition to the plethora of obstacles in your path, you also have to contend with explosions laying waste to the landscape meaning that you need to have lightning-quick reactions if you are going to survive. The final mode, Labyrinthia, is brand new to the PS Vita and this time you’re trapped in a maze that you have to navigate. The camera shifts to an aerial view and makes an interesting change to the gameplay.
The game has a levelling up system, akin to Jetpack Joyride. You are presented with three objectives to complete, each with varying difficulties and worth a different number of points. To progress from one level to the next you need to earn a set number of points and as you do, you unlock improvements to your ship, decorations and later on in the game the additional game modes. Some of the unlockable rewards are little more than “stickers” that you can apply to your ship (a single emblem that you can apply to one of the wings) but others are more useful including the ability to store more than one jump at a time, a battery to stay in the shadows for longer and more and up to two of these items can be equipped at once. The objectives are varied enough and some are easier than others to achieve but with only 25 levels you’ll have these cracked after a few days of intensive play leaving little more other than the courses themselves.
Visually the game adopts a minimalistic approach with the graphics and your craft adopting a filled and shaded 3D form rather than featuring any textures and it’s no double as a result of this that the game runs at a blinding pace throughout and easily matches the speed of the PS3 version. It does get rather bland and repetitive though and I found myself yearning for some variety. Even though there were changes in the style of obstacles from one stage to the next and some were animated, moving to block your path, generally each one felt no different to the one before it. The only real change came from the sun and the skyline and when that changed and altered the game’s lighting the terrain took on different hues but it still didn’t detract from what is still a visually bland game. Sound is limited to a few sparse sound effects and a soundtrack playing during flight but nothing really that stood out as being anything adding to or detracting from the game. It just seemed to be there.
The one innovative element to Race The Sun is the level design itself. These are reset and freshly generated each day so no two days play will ever be the same. Potentially this could give the game near limitless replayability for those who are drawn into the game, especially as the nature of the tracks mean that success is just as dependent on memory as it is on quick reaction times, and this also links into online leaderboards which are reset every 24 hours as well adding further challenges. For gamers who want to master the game and its tracks it could be off-putting unless you have enough time to spare to master specific tracks but at least the game does have some long-term appeal built in to it.
Cross Buy is supported with the PS3 and forthcoming PS4 version as is Cross Save. While you can’t save progress in mid-game, it does record your overall progress which you can transfer between consoles. It’s also one of the many titles compatible with the PlayStation TV and I’ll be honest and say that running this on the PSTV and comparing it to the PS3 version there’s very little difference. While the PS3 version runs at 1080p, this copes admirably and I found no reason to play the PS3 version when I had the PSTV up and running.
I don’t doubt that Race The Sun offers a great deal of longevity to gamers with its ever-regenerating worlds but other than learning the new track layouts each day I wonder how much appeal the game will have after you’ve completed all of the individual challenges set for you and unlocked everything that the game has to offer. Despite the promise of never-ending content, I found that the game really just wasn’t that exciting to play. Some stages required very little effort to complete, only needing the occasional nudge of the left analogue stick to ensure survival while others were a nightmare to negotiate requiring MENSA-grade memory skills. There were times when trying to complete the challenges almost felt like a chore rather than an enjoyable experience and I was left with an empty feeling that the game could have offered so much more.
The Apocalypse mode was just far too frustrating as well and I found myself crashing head first into obstacles and spent more time waiting for the game to restart than I did playing. Yes, Flippfly said that this game mode is tough but there has to be a balance between tough and irritating and this mode is too difficult to be enjoyable.
I really wanted to love Race The Sun but I couldn’t. There is a great game inside screaming to be let out, but deep down it’s just too limited and repetitive to offer any serious long term entertainment. It may be fun in short bursts, but after all the hype I expected much more. Sadly after you’ve played the game for a short while it feels as if it’s the racing equivalent of grinding in an RPG and ceases to be the fun experience that it should be. Mildly entertaining in short bursts but really this is a wasted opportunity to be a really great game.
At A Glance
- Title: Race The Sun
- Publisher: Flippfly
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: Yes (PS3)
- Cross Save: Yes
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 226Mb