Grand Prix Rock 'N Racing Review
Posted by Ken Barnes
Fast forward seven months from EnjoyUp's first Xbox One release – the dire Rock 'N Racing Off Road DX - and the developer is back again with a slightly more ambitious title. Grand Prix Rock 'N Racing is another almost-top-down racer, but this time we're looking at F1-style cars racing around much larger tracks with a helicopter-based camera following the action, as opposed to trucks buzzing around dirt tracks that only fill a single screen. It's a promising concept, given that it really has been too long since a truly decent top-down arcade racer with an emphasis on racing (as opposed to weapon-based gameplay) has been released.
After jumping into the game's Championship mode, you're sat on the track, waiting for the green light. The commentator – who at this point, hasn't annoyed you enough to make you want to punch him in the face – yells "Go!" and you hit the accelerator. Almost seven entire seconds later, your Formula 1 car reaches 60 km/h. In which time, the commentator will probably have shouted "THIS IS AMAZING!" three or four times. Sometimes he does it so often that the sample overlaps itself.
Audio aside, the initial lack of acceleration genuinely had us heading into the menus to check out the control scheme, just in case we had the wrong idea. As it turns out, we didn't. Your car genuinely starts out that slow. Into the first turn on the oval NASCAR-style opening track and we slammed into a group of six AI cars who have all come to grief. One's decided to just sit there in the middle of the track for a bit. Two are driving around in little circles. The other three are trying to get back into the race but we can't pay attention to them as we have to get back into the fold, only the "reset car" option only works when a black circle appears around your vehicle, and that only happens when you're not moving. But the game thinks that we are moving, despite our car being on its roof and stuck against the wall.
Our only option is to quit out and restart the race.
It must be said that's an unlucky way to start Grand Prix Rock N Racing, since not every race is as catastrophically bad, but they're all relatively close to it. Indeed, as you progress through the ten race season and unlock upgrades for your vehicle, there are times when it borders on sort of being quite playable. Sadly "borders on sort of being quite playable" is absolutely as good as it gets, and even that feeling doesn't last for long. Usually, just as things start to click, you'll be thrown into a wall by an AI driver that's decided to give up on braking. Or you'll slightly clip a kerb by the same amount as you did on the last lap and you'll be thrown into a wall. Or a driver will randomly be weaving down a straight for no reason at all and – yep – throw you into a wall. If none of that happens, the game will work out that you've not got a smile on your face and you'll be thrown into a wall because you've obviously got a bad attitude.
It's at this point that a fan can (and probably will, if history is any indicator) will say "Ah, you just aren't very good at the game" but that really isn't it. The fact is that the game doesn't allow you to be any good at it. Things are promising to begin with. EnjoyUp have gone too far with it, but we get the reasoning behind making the car so terrible at the off. It's so you can learn the tracks, upgrading the car along the way, until you get to the point that your vehicle is competitive. The problem is that when you do get to the point that your car has any sort of pace about it, the tank-like handling model will just choose to randomly cause you to drift out of (or into, depending on what the game feels like) corners, no matter how you approach them. Take the optimal option of braking in a straight line, turning, then accelerating away once your wheels are set and there's a good chance that you'll have lost grip, even with your car upgraded to have maximum handling. If that doesn't happen, there's a better than even chance that you won't get to the corner, since you'll try to brake and the car will swing off left or right. The viewing angle, mixed with delayed visual feedback and not even something like a rumble prompt, means that you can't tell if you're drifting most of the time. That leads to a lot of sudden stops, mostly assisted by a wall.
The crashes and smashes and spins wouldn't be so much of a problem if it didn't take you forever and a day to recover from them and if when you'd recovered, you weren't just hammered back into the wall by the dumb-as-rocks AI. Hit a wall and you'll be stuck there until the end of time, since even though you've got the acceleration – sorry, "Acceletation" as the game would have it, given that it's riddled with basic spelling errors - stat maxed out, continents still drift more rapidly than your car will reverse. You could use the reset option to get back on track but even if that option is available (and it often isn't when you most need it) you could find yourself being reset on top of another car, or in one case where we were leading a race, into the center field area of the track, which caused the whole game to crash. Even using the turbo boost – which charges under braking and does practically nothing when deployed even when you've got the turbo stat maxed out – doesn't help you to get away from crashes, since it only seems to work when you're already travelling at full speed.
During our review time, we won one race. The second race of our first season, in fact, when our car – with no upgrades applied whatsoever and which finished 14th of 20 on a perfect run around an oval track in the previous race – shouldn't have even been in the running, but somehow managed to beat the other 19 drivers by a distance since the game had decided they'd all forget how to drive for a bit. We couldn't come close to replicating the result across four more seasons of racing, an entire three of which were using a fully upgraded car.
Because of the poor AI and horrendous handling model, success comes down to dumb luck. Even if you get into the lead, there's a random chance that a back marker will hit you when on the previous lap, back markers turned to ghosts so that they couldn't interfere. Switching to use the d-pad as your primary steering input alleviates some problems with the handling model, but not to the extent that the game is any fun. There's the odd bit of enjoyment to be had in offline multiplayer, which supports up to four drivers, but as soon as you all see the glaring flaws in the gameplay, that'll be over.
It's a shame, since Grand Prix Rock N Racing looks decent enough and does feature the odd moment or two where you're thinking that if the entire game played as well as it was doing at that exact moment, it would be a decent (and overdue) step forward from something like Nichibitsu's 1990 effort F1 Circus. It isn't a million miles away but the flaws in every single area build up and up to the point that we have to say that despite the changes to the developer's grand formula over their last game, it actually ends up being just as bad.
Grand Prix Rock N Racing is an interesting proposition, but it tries every possible way to make you fail and you can tell that most of the time, it isn't doing it on purpose. Poor handling, archaic AI, no online play and a distinct lack of depth even in the game's Championship mode means that this is one that got stuck on the grid.