Anyone that lived through the last couple of generations of console gaming has probably at least tried their hand at a water-based racing game. Whether it was the seminal Wave Race, the fondly-remembered Hydro Thunder, the massively underrated Splashdown, or even the somewhat disappointing Rapid Racer, more or less every platform has played host to a number of racing games with an aquatic flavour. With Riptide GP2, Vector Unit are attempting to carry on this grand tradition at a budget price, porting their mobile hit to Xbox One with a couple of changes supposed to make the game better suit the console experience.
While that porting initially looks to have gone well – the visuals are smooth and crisp and the game handles nicely – there's still a definite mobile flavour hanging around that detracts from the overall experience. Racing on hydro jets – super-powered jet skis – you have to take on four different event types spread across thirteen courses. Straight up racing, hot laps, elimination events, and freestyle trick contests are on the cards here, with the single-player career tasking you with taking these on over and over again until you've beaten the game's final set of races, the Ultimate Cup.
Now, thirteen courses sounds like a fair number, but while some of the track designs are intended to be wacky and arcade-like, they never really get into gear in that respect. Sure, a track will feature a jump over a waterfall or a sharp turn that takes place in a very choppy part of the sea, but there's rarely more than one of these highlights on any given course. This means that while there are indeed thirteen tracks on offer, they all end up meshing into one, making things feel far more repetitive than they really should.
That mobile flavour that we mentioned isn't helped by that, but it rears its head most prevalently when it comes to your in-game career progression. New events (and sets of events) are unlocked based on how many stars you've collected in earlier contests, with those stars being awarded for finishing in the top three of any event. Time and time again, you'll finish a race only to find that you don't have enough stars to unlock the next one, meaning that you have to go back and do better in an earlier event. This creates strange situations where you'll be trying to get 1400 trick points on a track in order to obtain three stars, just so that you can unlock the next event which will see you trying to score 1600 trick points on the exact same track, with the same vehicle and time limit. Of course, by the time you have to double back, the game's sometimes unfairly unforgiving AI means that you've all but been forced to upgrade your vehicle in order to remain competitive, so the earlier events are relegated to being nothing but a complete waste of time given that you can now win them with your eyes closed. There are also times where you can unlock and win the last event in a set, only to be told that you still don't have enough stars to unlock the next set – which is somewhat nonsensical.
With every race in the game taking place over just two laps (barring some later events that take place on a single shorter course, which extend to three) it's clear that Riptide GP2 has been designed for the sort of quick play sessions you'd want a mobile game to provide. Unfortunately, very little has been thrown into the mix to add any depth for console players. A "VR Challenge" mode allows you to take on ghosts of your friends in time trial races, and split-screen play for up to six players is a nice addition, but that's about all you get here in terms of any reasons to come back and play in the longer term.
However, there's something ever so moreish about Riptide GP2, and it could well be something that indeed comes from the game's mobile roots. "I'll stop after this race" turns into "there are only five events left until I've unlocked the next set…I'll just play these and then stop" more often than not and while the list of events initially seems daunting as you're starting out, you'll find that should it grab you in any way at all, it won't be long before you've torn through the game and cleared everything. Indeed, we had unlocked all of the game's achievements and perfected everything in career mode after three sessions, which spanned seven or so hours in total.
For the price, that's a fair amount of playing time.
Riptide GP2 gets more than its fair share of the basics right on the water, which creates a strange anomaly where you've picked up the game for very little money and gotten a decent amount out of it, but are left thirsting for more. When you pick that perfect line through a set of tight turns and power away from your opponents, you'll wish the developers had included something even as basic as reverse versions of the tracks for a bit of variation, or tweaked the freestyle mode so that you weren't limited to just performing tricks after hitting pre-determined jumping points. When you successfully take the risk of hoping your boost will hold out down the final straight, rather than tricking to top it up in a head-and-head race for the line, you'll wish that the tracks were more off the wall and over-the-top, and that the races were longer. When you finally nail that three-input trick when leaping off a waterfall in order to get the required score in a freestyle contest with just a second to go, you'll note that full online play featuring things like tournaments, or even fuller offline multiplayer modes wouldn't have gone amiss…and how about a few weapons?
The fact that you'll be wishing for these things means that Riptide GP2 indeed contains the makings of a truly excellent game. The problem is that while it's fun and cheap, the initial promise set forth by the first handful of races is never fully delivered upon. The only thing that really changes as you play through the mind-numbingly repetitive list of events is that your vehicle gets faster and that the AI matches you. This means that every race has the potential to feel pretty much like the first event, played over and over again. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's far from a good one.
Riptide GP2 contains the makings of a truly great game. Generally fun and moreish, the game is undeniably repetitive and whether or not you make it to the end of the main mode is going to be solely based on your tolerance for such unvaried gameplay. We're hoping that Vector Unit decides to work on a sequel that takes console platforms into account more readily and that they throw absolutely everything at it. It really wouldn't take a lot of work to turn this into a multi-title franchise that could become the Xbox platform's very own Wave Race. We would have been happy to pay twice as much for more depth, but as it stands, $4.99 isn't a terrible price for what you get here.