There's a spate of nostalgia-driven futuristic racers doing the rounds these days, yet few like quite as eye-catching as 34BigThingThings' Redout. To read through its Steam store page Redout would have you believe it’s an amalgamation of F-Zero, WipeOut, Rollcage and the slightly more niche POD. It isn’t. As the name suggests, its lineage is WipeOut through and through, with a smidgen of Star Wars: Pod Racer to proceedings.
At the beginning you’re presented with a handful of ships, one of which can be unlocked for free. Each of these ships can then upgraded up to three more times, provided you’re high enough level and have enough cash. Both of these are accrued through racing, and the neat thing about Redout is that you’re earning experience and currency whether you’re playing through the campaign, racing online or just hopping on for a quickplay. So should you come up against a wall in the tough-as-nails career mode, a few online races should be enough to grab a new unlock and get you over that bump.
So let me explain. Redout is hard. Punishingly hard. But it’s not hard in a way that feels fair. Whether you have a good race or a bad one, by the time the last few turns come around everyone’s generally bunched up anyway. I tested by going a whole race without boost, and the other racer’s ships clocked in times a good few seconds slower. So it all comes down to the last few bends, and the best ship usually wins.
This leads me into the main downfall of Redout - its overly complex systems. Where those games above succeeded, in particular F-Zero and WipeOut, is in their simplicity. Psygnosis was acutely aware of this, hence ‘WipeOut Pure’ for PSP. The most bare bones was F-Zero, where it’s all about you, your vehicle, and the twisting, turning track designs. WipeOut adds an additional foil in its weapons systems, but there aren’t a great many of them and they are all available to all players as pick-ups. It maintains that level playing field. Redout doesn’t. Each ship has 10 different abilities which can be unlocked with cash earned from racing. Mercifully, a maximum of two can be equipped at one time. Once you’ve started maxing out your vehicles this restriction is Redout’s saving grace, but until then it’s damaging enough to drop it a tier or two below those other sci-fi racing giants.
For the first hours it can be frustrating, but once you get a few unlocks under your belt you crest a hill and it becomes much, much easier. The exact opposite of how it should be, really, and I think the rubber-banding AI and upgrade systems lends a lot to this problem.
Which is a crying shame because actually piloting the ships feels - So. Damn. Good. Each track is designed to make you feel like you’re soaring, interspersed with razor-sharp hairpin turns which require a little more finesse. Upgrade your ship and you’ll be hurtling through these at an incredible rate. Your time early on with the slower ships is best served learning the track designs intimately, as it doesn’t take look before Redout expects you to start turning into corners your eyes don’t even know are there yet.
A total of 20 tracks are included so there’s a lot to sink your teeth into. They definitely don’t feel as tight or memorable as some of WipeOut’s strongest designs but they’re not far off. Each is tailored to facilitate immense speeds, with swooping curves giving way to undulating straights.
If you are contemplating buying Redout then prepare to dust off that old Xbox 360 controller. Keyboard controls are okay, with WASD handling turning and the arrow keys responsible for tilt, but it lacks the finesse needed to glide smoothly around a corner. The constant tapping of keys will save vital seconds off your time and it’s generally a heck of a lot easier playing Redout with a standard gamepad.
Visually 34BigThings deserve a big thumbs up. The Italian developer has captured the style of WipeOut like few else, but also made it its own. The tracks lack a little in visual diversity but the level of detail is impressive, and with the right graphics card behind it Redout runs silky smooth. If you’re thinking of buying then I’d advise being able to hit 60 FPS as an absolute must. Any frame rate drops are acutely felt in a game as fast as this.
Redout is an impressive, gorgeous throwback to futuristic racing games of yesterday that comes so, so close to nailing it. Some bizarre decisions relating to vehicle upgrades and difficulty make you question whether 34BigThings understood what made those classics tick in the first place, but it’s just about salvaged by some great track design and slick performance.