Back in 1995 I was the proud owner of a PlayStation games console. It wasn’t that horrible little PSOne, it was the proper PlayStation – the big, bulky grey machine that cost me an absolute fortune to buy. One of my very favourite games that I played on that machine was none other than Wipeout, a game that, to this day, is still hugely revered among the gaming fraternity, with it spawning a whole host of clones that have consistently failed to live up to it. It still saddens me that decades on we haven’t ever found anything to rival the brilliance it delivered.
Yet here we are in 2020 and we’ve still seen nothing to beat the original. Enter Antigraviator, the latest anti-grav racer that is attempting to hold light to the brilliance of the king. Has what Iceberg Interactive and Cybernetic Walrus created paid off?
Well no, Antigraviator isn’t a Wipeout-beater. However it is pretty good fun, and it will certainly scratch a fast-paced itch that has been troubling genre fans for decades past. It’s just a shame that, for the intensity it brings, ultimately it ends up falling short with a few unfortunate issues.
As you would guess from the title of the game, Antigraviator is a racer that revels in the world of the anti-grav – you know, those wickedly futuristic machines that have been created without wheels, instead utilising scientific breakthroughs to hover just above a race track before tearing off at stupidly high speeds, breaking the sound barrier in the process.
Set in the year 2210, as an anti-grav racer, Antigraviator does the job from the get-go, pushing you through a campaign that allows the chance for you to build your Grav steering skills, beating back rivals and earning cash in the process. Split into multiple league types, allowing you to get to grips with the basics needed with the lower levels, things are simple enough in the novice leagues, before seeing a steep difficulty curve suddenly emerge as you attempt to show off your skills in the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Legends and Titanium sectors. All these leagues have you playing through four different events in order to be crowned king of the league. Place high enough in each race, earning the points that go with the glory, and you will move up a level and into slightly less comfortable, slightly more hectic races.
These campaign leagues do the job asked of them, but if I’m being brutally honest playing through just a few races per league type does seem a bit on the stingy side. Don’t get me wrong, each of the events is lengthy enough to keep you focused, rarely letting boredom take control, but a league with so few events? It’s just a bit short in my opinion, yet it’s not like Antigraviator is found wanting in the amount of variety found in the event types.
For the most part, the events are varied, and not only are there Single races which see all pilots being able to utilise power-ups and traps, but Pure racing without such additions is also included. Then there are further additions to the basic structure, with DeathRaces seeing you go round and round until all Gravs are destroyed, the Countdown mode working by requesting you hit checkpoints in a timely manner, and a proper Hybrid game mode mixing things up further.
The variety in these is welcome and it’s clear to see the development team have done a fantastic job in weaving these different ideas into the basic structure.
But honestly, I want more.
See, in Antigraviator there is a lack of something special, and I think that’s mostly down to how the power-up and traps system works. In any other standard arcade racer which happily bigs up destructive elements, weaponry is a key component in the gameplay. Here in Antigraviator though, there are few ‘proper’ weapons. Instead, as you make your way around each circuit, you’ll spot pickups, which can be collected and put towards one of two things – a boost or the utilisation of traps. Now, the former of these does as you would expect, hurtling you along at breakneck speed in the hope you can get away from the competition and cross the finish line first. They are standard stuff. The traps meanwhile are what Antigraviator pretends are your weapons. And really, it doesn’t work half as well.
Dotted around each track are environmental trap points, and should you have enough pickups in hand, as you and your opponents cross these markers, traps become available for a split second – and literally, it is pretty much for that split second. With a quick whizz of the B button, you can then lay a trap, with these coming in many forms like that of a rocket to take out those ahead of you, giant bricks that lay on the circuit waiting for someone to hit them, EMP drops to kill a Grav’s power, blurring the racer’s vision with condensation or even narrowing the track itself by dropping huge great big concrete blocks into play. Should these traps hit the target as intended, then you’ll see brief immunity from any revenge mission as your shield is deployed and you are left to get on your way. Again, the variety and distinction between each trap is fine and there are definitely a decent number of types available, but at no point do you feel like you have control over these; instead you are left just hitting that button the second the opportunity arises, before forgetting about it and getting on with your race again.
You’ve got to give it to the team at Cybernetic Walrus for at least attempting something different instead of going the usual route, but honestly I yearn for a proper pickup, a proper rocket to fire off when I want, and a proper banana skin to be laid when I’ve got opponents fast approaching. It’s what arcade racing has been about for years, and it’s severely lacking here.
Thankfully, get the whole ‘these aren’t proper weapons’ idea out of your head though and you’ll be sure to have a decent time with Antigraviator. Success in the campaign delivers in-game cash which can be used to slightly modify your ship, and purchase new improved parts, with some making you go faster, others seeing you well-shielded and more still improving your handling. There aren’t however an awful lot of options in the shop window here, and you’ll rarely be needing, or wanting, to amend too much too often. A bigger variety in ship enhancements would have been oh so cool.
In terms of racing away from the campaign though and it’s good to have a solo race – and mirrored track – option, with global leaderboards in place to show you how you stack up against the opposition. These seemingly need a little bit of work however as they are currently not showing correctly. Whether that is because I’m running a review copy of Antigraviator ahead of release I’m unsure, but as long as that begins to get running it’s another decent little addition to a decent little racer.
In fact, this single race option is a great way of letting anyone get to grips with the different tracks, with a huge variety available to enjoy, taking you from a future urban environment, through the desert, across the arctic, out into space and back down through forestry and island-themed lands. They look great too, created with Unity to provide futuristic 3D worlds that are full of loops, bends, jumps and hazards, with the majority of them also coming with different paths to mix the racing up even more. Yes, for the most part you’ll be going far too fast to really appreciate the minute differences between them – and honestly, at times you’ll be moving so fast that you won’t be able to blink let alone think – but when you do get a moment to yourself to marvel at their creations, you’ll be pretty impressed with their deliverance.
I must also point out the brilliant decision to move all important information from standard gaming placements – ie. your race position, your boost/trap fulfilment and your lap counter – from the top or bottom of the screen to on the Grav you control itself. This ensures you rarely need to move your eyes from the task at hand which, when you take into account the pace of the action that unfolds, is massively grateful.
You’ll be impressed by the audio too. From the countdown as the flag drops to the electric buzz these anti-grav racers make, this is a game that isn’t left wanting in the audio department. Even less so when you consider the banging backing tracks that accompany your racing.
But then whilst the solo gameplay of Antigraviator delivers the goods in a number of ways, we then get onto the multiplayer aspects. And yet again, letdown occurs. There is both online and local split-screen multiplayer in this anti-grav house, moving the solo racer into a multiplayer scene and letting them get on with it. Unfortunately the online systems at play here are broken, with constant closing of matches during loading, hosts being booted, and huge frustration found when inviting any friends. Honestly, it has caused all manner of havoc during my time with the game. And then should you wish to run the ranked online route, it’s looking likely you’ll need a full lobby of eight players to deliver the fun – knowing how the indie scene works on Xbox, that’s a reasonably unlikely ask.
Local split-screen isn’t really a success either, and even though it works it fails to bring the speed and fluency of the solo gameplay. I’m not one to care about 60fps chat, nor inner developmental details which I can’t influence, yet there definitely seems to be a drop in the flow when taking to the vertically split local gameplay. That in itself is more than disappointing.
At the end of the day, for a solo player, Antigraviator on Xbox One is more than worth a play. Yep, it’s not Wipeout, but then rarely does anything get near that brilliance. There are multiplayer issues, but if you find yourself troubled by the lack of properly fast, properly hectic anti-grav racers that are available, then aside from a few little oddities this should be one to consider.