STAFF REVIEW of Xenon Racer (Xbox One)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Xenon Racer Box art Before Forza Horizon took the crown of arcade racers, you had classic titles such as Need For Speed, Burnout, Split/Second and Ridge Racer where you could drift your way to victory. Xenon Racer is the latest to enter the arcade racer genre, with a super futuristic design and a trailer that got me super excited to check it out.

If you were to simply watch the trailer, you’d come away being impressed by its super stylish visuals, smooth as butter framerate, breakneck speeds and exciting drifting based racing. Thing is, trailers can be deceiving, and while the core gameplay does have a Ridge Racer-esque gameplay to it based around drifting and boosting, the trailer is ten times more exciting than actually playing the game itself.

It’s the year of 2030, and flying vehicles are finally a reality. Obviously everyone will transition to airborne vehicles, but before that becomes the new standard, a special racing championship has been organized for wheel based ground vehicles, open to all of the top vehicle manufacturers. These cars are extremely technological and run on electricity and Xenon Gas, which results in super speeds as you race across multiple continents and cities, from Boston, Tokyo, Dubai, Canada and more.

Racing itself controls similar to most others in the genre, with Right Trigger being gas, Left Trigger for braking, Left Stick to steer and ‘A’ for your handbrake. Simple on paper, but actually controlling your vehicle and making it do what you want to do are much easier said than done. Given that Xenon Racer is arcade based, you’ll speed very fast and need to drift around corners to fill your boost meter.

To win races, you’re going to need to go as fast as you possibly can, obviously, but to do so, you’ll need to utilize your boosting as much as you can as well. To fill boost you need to drift or collect powerups littered throughout the track, but keeping your car controlled properly during your drifts is a whole other story.

Tapping the brake or hand brake will start your drift, but there seems to be some sort of lag before the drift actually starts, regardless of which vehicle you’re currently using. Even after a handful of hours of struggling through races, I still can’t consistently drift without hitting walls on a constant basis, even with upgraded parts, and this is only the beginning of a handful of problems.

The difficulty is absolutely insane, even from the get go. The first tournament in the career requires you to place at minimum 5th out of 8th, which doesn’t seem too bad, until you constantly place last your first few tries. Once you somehow manage to pass the first leg, the next few races will require you to come in first place; not top three, FIRST. Again, this is MUCH easier said than done.

You’re able to upgrade your cars with parts you earn from winning, but you need to win to get parts, and to get parts you need to win. See the dilemma? The difficulty ramps up steeply in about 3 races and I can foresee many becoming quite frustrated with it very early on, not giving it a full chance, but I wouldn’t blame them at all after wanting to give up myself. When it feels impossible to win, why would you keep trying?

When you do start to earn parts and upgrades, they can slightly change the performance of your car, though I didn’t find any massive changes to the gameplay even with these installed. With better handling you won’t grind the corners AS much, but you’ll sacrifice speed to do so, so it’s a balance you need to figure out. Each race only allows certain types of cars to participate as well, so sometimes you’re forced to play with a terrible car that you have no upgraded parts for instead of the one you’ve become accustomed to and is improved.

As you drift, your boost meter will fill. Completely fill one of three sections and you’ll be able to boost for a short period of time based on your car’s specs and upgrades. Even while at full speeds, you’ll need to drift the corners, but is obviously much more difficult to do so, especially on hairpin turns. When you inevitably crash and grinding the turns, your damage meter will drop down from 100%. If you manage to completely wreck your car and hit 0% for your meter, the car will reset and you’ll lose a few seconds, which basically dooms your chances at winning. You don’t lose any racing performance that correlates with your damage percentage, so it’s only there to force you into driving almost perfectly, which is near impossible when the hardest rival isn’t your opponents, but the controls.

Then comes the biggest offender of all; absolutely abysmal performance. Now, I know trailers are going to over emphasize how great a game is, showing off its best parts, but actual gameplay looks nothing like what was shown. Graphics are nowhere near as pretty or shiny, and it’s anything but smooth. Playing on an Xbox One X, you can choose between Performance and Quality, though choosing Quality makes the game essentially unplayable.

Performance mode makes the game run somewhat smooth, though there are still some serious hiccups at times, dipping quite a bit in framerate. Quality mode though is a complete disaster and shouldn’t even be included. Even when toggling on the prettier visuals, you can barely notice a difference aside from some slightly better HDR lighting and shadows. What suffers though is the performance, to near single digit frames per second. Once you start crashing against walls, causing sparks, or going through a tunnel, kiss those FPS goodbye. It slows down to the point of essentially being unplayable, and I can’t even imagine how the performance is on standard Xbox One’s.

While the career mode will be where you spend the bulk of your time racing, there are other mode options like Time Attack, Elimination races and Online, well, in theory. In the whole time I’ve been reviewing Xenon Racer, I’ve checked online every day for a lobby or match to test out how the game plays with other people to face against. Not a SINGLE time was I able to find a match or lobby. I created a lobby and left it open, yet not a single person joined either. Consider the online DOA unless you happen to sucker other friends to play with.

I really don’t enjoy focusing on negatives, but when there are so few positives to note, it makes it quite difficult. What I did enjoy the most was how the futuristic cars slightly transformed when hitting certain speeds, like spoilers folding out or the wheelbase extending, but that’s one of the very few notes I have in the ‘pro’ column. I was absolutely taken back when I checked that the price was $59.99 CAD on the marketplace. Even at less than half of the asking price would make me feel guilty if I recommended it.

Sure, if futuristic racing is your absolute happiness and joy, then obviously you’ll probably enjoy the aesthetics alone, but for everyone else, there’s more frustration than fun. Xenon Racer is trying to be Ridge Racer though looks like it’s two generations too late and is topped off with terrible drifting controls and unbalanced difficulty from the get go.

Overall: 4.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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