There are a lot of people out there clamouring for F-Zero and Wipeout to make a proper return on current hardware. Unfortunately, neither of these classic series have plans to stage a comeback any time soon (not that we know of, at least). It's not all bad news, though, because games like FAST Racing NEO and Quantum Rush Champions are clearly aiming to fill the void in the meantime. While the former game is scheduled to boost onto the Wii U sometime this year, the latter has just arrived on the Xbox One. But even though Quantum Rush Champions certainly looks the part, it's actually in rough shape.
Taking notes from both Wipeout and F-zero in the gameplay department, Quantum Rush Champions is a futuristic racing game all about breakneck speeds, high-tech weaponry, and anti-gravity ships. At first glance, the sleek visuals suggest that it's an indie game that might not be limited when it comes to production values and expertise, but that's not exactly the case. While the action periodically runs buttery smooth, there are technical hiccups – like unstable frame-rates, soft hints of screen tearing, and occasional bouts of brief freezing – that occur regularly enough to remind you that the Quantum Rush Champions does not match the high standards set by the games it's styled after. The instances of screen tearing and freezing are subtle or rare and don't harm the experience too much; the chugging frame rate, however, degrades certain game modes in a big way.
Speaking of modes, there's a surprising variety of racing and battle events to sign up for. When progressing through the three career modes, various ships will be unlocked, and each one has a tier of events to complete before unlocking the next ship. There are standard races, elimination rounds, death matches, time trials and more, and each tier is capped off with a boss race. While we appreciate the developer's interest in having many options on the table, this is undoubtedly a case of quantity over quality, as none of the modes end up being better than just OK.
This is partly because not all of the event types align organically with nature of the racetracks, which were clearly designed with racing modes as top priority. For example: In Defeat the Enemy, the task is to destroy the marked racers as quickly as possible, but it's all too common for those racers to pull ahead and out of view, leaving you struggling to catch up. Instead of somewhat adjusting or responding to your performance, the AI seems to be in its own world, and there's no natural speed balancing or item that's effective enough to make closing the gap anything but a chore. Because this can impact all events with AI racers, the competition never feels consistent. It can work both in your favour and against you, but either way, a win rarely feels satisfying and a loss is almost always frustrating.
In a mode called Courier, there are packages scattered throughout the race track and collecting more than the competition is the path to success. The problem here is that the packages are incredibly small and easy to confuse with weapon pick-ups. Not only is visibility an issue, but steering close enough and snagging a package is extremely unreliable, especially since they don't pull to the vehicle when it's within a certain radius. Mix those factors with a track like Selenit Tunnels, where the race takes place all over the walls of a cylindrical track with plenty of bends and turns, and it's a serious struggle to do what's expected of you.
Whenever we thought we were convinced that a particular event was enjoyable, the next tier would match that event type with a track that it didn't mesh well with. As hinted at above, the tracks feel like they were designed with a conventional racing format in mind, and they feature no geographical adjustments to accommodate the unique circumstances of the other types of activities. It's too bad that the number of events wasn't scaled back so each could receive the kind of attention it needed to be compelling and perform properly. If that were the case, this could've been an entirely different story, seeing as how the core of the game seems to be in the right place.
Thankfully the ships do control pretty well, which ensures there's a moderate deal of fun to be had zipping and blazing around the tracks when circumstances are at their best. The control method might be too demanding for some players – the triggers are used to hard lean into turns and the bumpers are for weapons, while the face buttons are used for gas and boost – so that could be a definite hurdle for anyone seeking a simplified racer. It would've been better if administering the airbrakes to turn didn't reduce the ship's speed in such a dramatic way, although it's not much of an issue once it becomes clear which situations require their use and which don't.
When it comes to the weapons and their usefulness, things are hit and miss. The contour of the road often eats machine-gun fire before it gets anywhere near any opponent, so that option can be highly ineffective. Nabbing special weapons usually produces better results, but many have their own pros, cons, or quirks to deal with. We often felt that it was much easier to complicate things for the racers behind us, as opposed to using projectiles to slow the competition pulling out in front (which we briefly touched upon a few paragraphs back). More than anything, it feels like there's too much discord between the weapon types, and despite their heavy presence during races, they're more inconsequential than we would've liked. Unfortunately, that lack of harmony is what kept Quantum Rush Champions from maintaining our interest.
Being that we're quite fond of the futuristic racing genre, it's immensely disappointing to find that QR Champions doesn't come together well enough to be worth owning. There's plenty more we could say about the ways it falls short, and we could even dig a little deeper into how close it actually is to being a mild success, but it wouldn't make much of a difference. The reality is that the slew of uneven parts and the lack of polish have overheated the engines before any real competition could begin.
Despite looking the part and featuring an impressive amount of content, Quantum Rush Champions falls short of the finish line. The reason for this disappointing performance involves technical problems, poorly-executed game modes, and a general lack of balance between all areas of the package. It's entirely possible to extract the occasional thrill from the swift racing action, mostly thanks to solid controls and a few well-designed tracks, but stomaching all the bumps in the road along the way make it likely you'll want to get your thrills elsewhere.