The popularity of downloadable games is becoming more and more evident with such recent successes as Braid, WipEout HD and the most recent Portal: Still Alive. The idea that gamers can get a substantial experience for a fraction of the cost all while not having to leave the confines of their home is more than likely a sign of things to come. The PlayStation Network has been at the forefront of this movement allowing developers to release some truly unique and fun titles on the service such is the case with Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (that sure is a mouthful). This hybrid of genres takes some truly great ideas and meshes them together for one of the most chaotic and enjoyable online games in recent memory.
As the name implies that game centers around driving rocket-powered cars around a variety of environments, but what it doesn’t suggest is that the main mode of play is a crude form of soccer. The objective of the core game is between two teams of cars as they flip and boost themselves into a giant ball in an attempt to score goals. The catch here is that everything within the game is physics-based and learning to maneuver and aim your shots is one part learning curve and one part pure luck. This leads to some insane matches – especially online – and really gives the title an identity outside of the normal tower defense and twin-stick shooters that frequent the service.
The single player game is broken down into mini-games and a tournament mode of which the latter is nearly identical to online except with bots. The mini games are actually quite diverse and fun, but earning five stars on any number of them is borderline impossible. These range from simple tasks such as collecting a number of power-ups on a level to blocking a set number of shots into your goal. These are a nice way to get used to the fundamentals of the game and a great place to rack up some Trophies for earning stars in each event. The tournament mode pretty much throws you against bots in a practice type game across different levels to hone your skills for the online mode (which is what this game was built for) but sadly no matter how much you practice the game still relies more on dumb luck than skill to score most goals.
Controlling your rocket-powered car is actually quite intuitive if not a bit daunting. There are a plethora of moves at your disposal and unless you tackle all of the mini-games you will not understand what half of them do. You can jump, double jump, flip, boost, perform sideways flips and basically treat your car like it belongs in the circus. The Dual Shock 3 handles all of the motions quite well and you will be performing daredevil stunts like a pro in no time.
While there is certainly no shortage of single player content the multiplayer modes are where the bulk of the game’s focus lies. You can opt for local split screen play or take the action online via the PSN for up to eight. One of the coolest features is the implementation of a party system much like Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4. You can round up three of your buddies and go online to face off against other opponents. Clan support is also available, which feels useless at this point but only because of the lack of online competition. The feature is very welcome and I hope that in the future the game garners enough attention to fill up the online lobbies in order to take full advantage of this option.
Another not-so-touted feature is the ability to save and edit your replays for upload to YouTube; a feature that has graced only one other PSN title. This is probably the most overlooked item on the bullet point list and while the editor can give you fits more often than not it certainly is a welcome addition. Most of the issues stem once again from a lack of an online community. Whether this is due to the issues plaguing the online (a patch has been announced and is on the way) such as copious amounts of lag and other frequent inconveniences or because the game simply hasn’t been marketed enough. Of course it could be the whole price barrier issue as most gamers are accustomed to paying ten bucks for an unknown downloadable IP ad this one weighs in at as much as Insomniac’s latest Rathet and Clank expansion.
Believe it or not SARPBC is built on the Unreal Engine 3, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. While the game is certainly not painful to look at it does lack the detailed textures you might find in other games using this engine. Everything in the game looks fine if not a bit generic at times, but the smooth as ice frame rate and quick loading times make up for a lack of visual panache so it all balances out in the end. Much like other recently released PSN games SARPBC also supports the newly implemented custom soundtracks feature so if you are not inclined to enjoy the default music just make your own playlist and jam out to your own tunes while playing intense rounds of vehicular soccer. May I suggest the new Metallica album for maximum kickassery.
Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars is probably the most feature-rich PSN game to date. It supports every single feature PlayStation 3 owners have come to expect from their system and a few that they probably are not aware of. The online play is the brightest point, but with the current problems it really holds the title back from its full potential. Those of you feeling skeptical about dropping fifteen bucks on this title needn’t worry, the game packs more than enough bang for your buck and if they manage to iron out the online woes it could quickly become one of the better downloadable titles available on the service.