The PS3-lovin’ slice of the Internet went mental when Sony messed up the European release of Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (SARPBC), but ten minutes with the game is enough to put that little fiasco into perspective.
So, it was worth the wait, but how much weight do we attach to the worth of the game?
SARPBC doesn’t quite give the game away with its title. Although every word is worth its place, the part that’s missing is what you do with the enjoyably controllable cars. And that is, you play football with them. Of sorts. Whilst tearing around the various arenas at breakneck speed the ultimate goal is – ahem – to score goals by knocking the giant ball (or balls) into your opponent’s goal. Its simplicity is key to the experience, because although it may seem shallow, the physics of the car and ball interactions are so good that you’ll score more satisfying goals than in FIFA.
The smart tutorial introduces the controls via a series of progressive tiny-mini-games. It’s here you learn the basics of driving your car, from simple acceleration, braking, and reversing to the nifty power-slide. All the arenas have special floor sections that give your car a charge of boost when driven over. There’s no need to wait for a certain level of charge though; you can use whatever boost you’ve accumulated. This means you can save it for an arena length dash where your car becomes Super Sonic – and hitting an opponent like this causes their car to be temporarily destroyed – or use the one second of charge you have left to beat someone to the ball and nick a goal. It’s a neat system that has you constantly making decisions about whether to boost or not and whether to nip round the arena gathering charge leaving the ball unattended.
The controls become more complex when the jump, double-jump, and dodges come into play. The jumps are ideal for evading oncoming cars and reaching a bouncing ball, while the dodges are also good for gaining an extra burst of speed. While in mid-air the car can be tilted forwards and backwards, and if you tilt the back end down and apply some boost you can effectively fly through the air, albeit for a short time.
Driving the car is like taking charge of one of those top-end remote control kit cars. It simply zips about wherever you point it and the high-powered brakes mean you can stop on a sixpence. It can become chaotic though and in some games you may find yourself being rammed up the exhaust so often you’ll have trouble playing with the ball.
The game is split between the excellent single-player mode and online play. Single-player has you racing through a series of mini-games – score goals in a certain time, make saves and so on – and what the game calls the Tournament, which is a series of matches against varying teams of opponents, with each win unlocking the next round. Stars are awarded depending on your performance and you can earn Trophies and unlock new cars if you win enough.
Online play should have you purring like a Ferrari, but it’s more likely to make you growl like my old Nova. It’s got enough options – although some proper leagues and tournaments would be welcomed – but most of the times I’ve played it’s suffered from serious lag and “network errors”. Clearly there is work to be done.
The speed you’ll be playing at means it’s hard to notice how everything really looks. It’s functional more than anything, and the nicely explosive animation when a goal is scored is about as exciting as it gets. There are some issues with drawing frames too and this is more noticeable online, however if you set the Vertical Sync option to Enabled this all but removes those glitches. Aside from that, in motion the visuals are excellent. The cars are super-responsive and the sense of impact during collisions and the resultant out-of-control animations are fantastic.
It’s loud and raucous which fits the gameplay perfectly, but there’s nothing exceptional. Custom music is part of the package and I imagine playing while Guns n Roses blares from the speakers is the way to go. The sound matches the visuals; they both serve their purpose but don’t do anything spectacular. The thing is, does it matter?
Clearly, it’s not next-gen if you want your audio-visual senses assaulted by the best the PS3 can offer. It features online play that is rambunctious fun if it works properly and painful when it doesn’t. And Trophies are supported – SARPBC Trophies.
My old Nova wasn’t next-gen either, but it did exactly what I needed it to and I had a lot of fun at the time. SARPBC is the same and I care about its next-gen credentials much less than I do about smashing that ball into the top corner of the goal with a double-tap dodge jump.
If old-school knockabout fun is your thing then SARPBC is probably the best the PSN has to offer you. The time Psyonix spent tuning the engine brings more joy than any amount of tuning of the bodywork would have done. It’s good value too, you’ll get your money’s worth from just the single-player, and if the online can be tweaked all the better. There are some graphical issues and while they can be a bit unsettling as you charge towards goal, they are infrequent enough that you will start to tune them out. The online problems are worrying though and this game deserves better: We urge Psyonix to give this aspect an MOT.
With developer support and patches to fix the online play and include proper league and tournament structures, this should become a staple of the PSN for months. Without that support though, there’s still the single-player which has oodles of replayability and is enough to justify the purchase.
Further SARPBC reading on TSA: