Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I want that Powerdrome trophy!

Game Category: Racing
Developer / Distributor: Applied Atomics and Second Intention / ZOO Digital
Release Date: 16 Jun 2004 
Rating: PEGI 12+

Racing games always gets me on an adrenaline high especially when I am accelerating down a straightaway and whizzing by all my opponents at a breakneck speed. Most games are however grounded on Earth, and as we know, wheeled vehicles can only go that fast.

Well then, what if we had a game with a science fiction background?

The Thousand World Hegemony has conquered all and everyone is at peace. Now, what better way is there to have fun than to play Powerdrome - a racing sport that uses lightweight hovercraft-like vehicles known as Blades. To top it off, let's hold the game on tracks built on various worlds. These tracks will require the ultimate driving skill to successfully beat the track record.

And that folks is basically the idea behind Powerdrome, a game originally released in 1988 on the Atari ST personal computer by Electronic Arts (now EA Games). The game was later rejuvenated into its current form by Argonaut Games, but made available only on the Xbox and PS2 consoles. It was shortly ported over to the PC by Second Intention, a game developer based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Give me speed!
Game Play
Before you get in too deep to the review, if you are looking for weapons and power-ups in this racing game, then you will be sorely disappointed. There are no weapons per se, you only use your Blade to ram opponents from behind. As for power-ups, the only thing you get is a speed boost.

So, you may ask, what's the fun in racing around Powerdrome's tracks?

Why, supersonic speed - in excess of 1200 kilometers per hour (or if you prefer, miles per hour - I couldn't find any units for speed in the manual nor in the game).

How many machs did I get?
Powerdrome starts you off with three single player modes and a multiplayer match. There is also a gallery where you can spend some time in too.  Here are all the modes described in some detail:
  • Race - You can select any available track and play it with an available racer of your choice. You then choose to play the game on 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, or 30 laps. There are also three difficulty levels to choose from - Protodrome (easy), Skydrome (medium), and Powerdrome (hard).
  • Championship - According to the PDF manual, this is your chance to "race to glory across the worlds of the Hegemony". Fair enough, especially when you have to go through 19 events of racing, with each event sometimes further divided into several sub-events. There are four types of races: standard circuit race with a number of laps to complete, eliminator where the last person to cross the line is removed from the next lap, challenge is a one-on-one race, and hot lap requires you to complete laps within a target time.

Here I am in Championship mode
  • Time Trial - Practice makes perfect, and what better way to do it than to race against a ghost of yourself.
  • Multiplayer - LAN play, sure.
  • Gallery - After unlocking a category in Championship mode, you will unlock some bonus material like a photo gallery of one of the racers or of one of the tracks. Talking about that, you actually start the game with only two racers and two tracks unlocked.

Oh... eye candy
You begin a race by picking one of the 12 characters. This is the only time you get to see a close up of a character as well as the blade he / she (or it) uses. The characters are described by one liners so don't be disappointed if you don't find some background writeup about their life leading up to the Championship.

There are some attributes for each of the blades, but I don't really pay that much attention to it. For your information, there's Top Speed, Armor, Weight, Thrust, Handling, and Skidding.

A racer and his blade
The design of the HUD is important in a racing game. I believed the developers did a good job in Powerdrome for this. A little circle at the bottom right tells you all you need to know:
  • The number in the center is your speed, 
  • The orange circular bar on the outside represents your engine rpm (revolution per minute), 
  • The red arc on the outside (bottom right) represents the damage your blade has taken (colliding into walls and AI opponents), 
  • The left half of the inner blue bar reflects your boost bonus charging up, while the other half indicates the number of boosts you currently have. To get the bar to charge up, you must be driving fast and not hit anything for awhile. You can get a maximum of three boosts this way.
  • Finally, the words LO and HI means low and high gear respectively.

One on one racing
There is no doubt that Powerdrome is a pretty challenging game. The PDF manual that comes with the game has a couple of useful racing tips. I am not going to repeat them here, so I suggest you read them.

The graphics in Powerdrome is pretty nice. It really feels like you are in another world racing against other racers in sleek Blades. The 3D model of the Blades look like ultra modern cars while their cockpit view is excellent. The HUD is very compact and easy to read.

The tracks have interesting things to see as you race along, for example I have seen aesthetic looking dirigibles, a track that takes you behind a beautiful waterfall, and even stampeding alien creatures. The special effects like motion blur and colored lighting effects are all great stuff too.

The main menu user interface is rather bare (especially at higher resolutions), but at least it's functional. The gallery contains some excellent artwork and concept sketches - I thought they were worth unlocking.

Surreal is the word
The music sounds futuristic and funky enough, but you don't really hear the track scores unless you reduce the volume for the sound effects. The whine of the turbojet and ramjet engines on boards the Blades create this humming sound that can be quite irritating, but otherwise the rest of the sound effects are pretty alright.

The voice over for each of the 12 characters are a mixed bag, with some acting slightly better than others. There are tinny and synthesized voices which add to the sound variety in Powerdrome. These guys will throw taunts at each other as they race past.

Too much damage and you'll hear your Blade go B-O-O-M!
  • A variety of tracks and their reverse / mirrored tracks are available for racing in Powerdrome; there are 24 altogether.
  • This game is pure racing fun at incredible supersonic speeds. The boost system will help you a lot in winning the race. I suggest you also use manual gear shifting, as it really helps. 
  • Great graphics abounds.
  • The game can be played via keyboard, mouse, or PC game controller.

  • There is no Blade vehicle configuration. Just plain, simple, and pure racing here. The game could have benefited from some form of configuration reward system. Otherwise, Powerdrome bares the ugly truth after a while of repeated play - the racing game play is rather shallow. Hence, my slightly low review scoring for the game.
  • The keys selected for racing may not be optimum, some tweaking may be required; depending on your personal preference. 
  • The game can be very challenging for average players. You either start memorizing the bends and zig-zags in the course, or I suggest you take a peek at the section labeled Tips below.

Keep boosting to get a perfect chain
Tips (select the black paragraphs below with your mouse to view):
If you find the game too difficult, you can actually edit championship.xml in the Powerdrome/win32/structure folder. Here are the steps:
  • Make a backup copy of championship.xml.
  • Use Wordpad to open championship.xml.
  • Change the ai_skill parameter to have a value of 0.1 for an event of your choice. The lower the number, the more stupid are the AI opponents.
  • Save the file and run Powerdrome
If you need a reasonably priced racing game that takes you on a sci-fi spin, is suitably challenging, and you absolutely don't mind the lack of vehicle configuration, then Powerdrome is the one for you.

Speed is all you'll need!

They should have used my tagline, perhaps it would have sold better...

I won! By the barest of margins...
Daily PC Game Review Score: 6.5 / 10
Review Date: 15 Jun 2011


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