For some reason arcade racers don’t seem to be as prominent as they once were, supplanted by either semi-realistic or sim type titles in the last few years. It seems to be a gap that smaller developers are looking to settle themselves into, with one such dev being Vector Unit. They’re best known for games like Hydro Thunder Hurricane and the Riptide GP series, with the studio returning with a follow up to the latter in Riptide GP: Renegade.
In Riptide GP: Renegade you race on hydrojets across eight different tracks, each one with their own secrets and shortcuts. There is a story mode here where the main character, a former rising star in the Grand Prix circuit, is making their return to the racing scene after serving a two year sentence for illegal racing. It’s a tale of revenge against another racer who set up the main character to be caught by the police, and charts the rise of your new team, with other racers joining you to help you climb the ranks from illegal racing to the more legitimate side.
To be honest, the story is only there to give an excuse to move from one event to another, which get harder and harder as you progress. You’ll start with a basic hydrojet that can be upgraded using prize money, before unlocking more powerful jets as you reach later parts of the story. There are a couple of subplots as well that can net their own rewards, with their own dedicated events linked to different members of the team.
There is a simple progression system where earning one star in an event will unlock the following, though it doesn’t always make sense from a story standpoint. I don’t think my character should be getting praise for coming in third while the top racer is ignored. As you progress, you’ll realise that you’ll need more powerful hydrojets to even get a look in at making it into the top three, but to get the upgrades Riptide GP: Renegade does become a bit of a grindfest. These upgrades are to increase acceleration, raise the top speed, improve handling, and making the boost more powerful. You can feel the upgrades when playing and the jets do feel weighty as you control them, especially in turns. In fact I’d say the handling of the jets is one of the best things in the game.
You’ll need to revisit earlier events to get enough funds to have a competitive jet, but if it becomes too powerful, limits are put on it to allow it to compete in the early events. You are never allowed to be miles better than the AI racers, despite them having quite a few advantages over the player. On paper the jets are all equal which should mean a close race, but that isn’t the case most of the time.
I found that should I pull out in front of the pack they’d catch up rather quickly, with rubber bandings so that you can go from a comfortable first to fifth in seconds. Reverse the situation and you will have a tough time catching up with first place should that racer get ahead. Secondl are the police jets that really are out to get you, and you alone. As some events are illegal the police will chase down racers, well that is what should happen anyway. Instead you are the sole target despite the other seven racers on the water. If the police fall behind you then they’ll boost and block off your path, or ram you into obstacles. If they’re ahead of you then you can see them slowing down and waiting while the AI racers speed past.
It doesn’t make sense you’re the only target and it adds an extra obstacle that the AI doesn’t have to face making the races a lot more difficult. You can lose the police should they crash but more often than not the damage is done. Early on in the campaign it isn’t too difficult to recover but when facing tougher opponents one knock into a wall can see you lose the rest of the racers completely. That is in spite of getting a load of boosts from pulling various tricks.
As you level up you can unlock new tricks to perform, done by pushing the analog sticks in various directions, with the more high level tricks earning more boost time. These also help in the trick events as the more complicated it is the more points it nets you. Other events include Elimination, where the racer at the back is dropped from the race as the timer expires until a winner remains, and Slalom. In Slalom you need to weave through gates as quickly as possible without missing any. It’s here where the handling upgrades really pay off.
The eight tracks all have distinctive designs like Downtown Rush having you navigate waterways in a city, while Ruins is set around the decaying buildings of a bygone era. Unicorn Base is a military base that is under attack and the Sky Mines have you racing across ships in the air. Those are personal favourites while Firewater, where a forest fire rages, ranks at the bottom of the list of entertaining tracks. Ruins is especially memorable for the giant waves it throws up to allow huge air to perform a number of tricks.
While some of the environment assets do look a little basic it is due to the fact that Riptide GP: Renegade will be releasing on Android and iOS devices too. There are some impressive sights in the game too like a rocket taking off that makes the whole screen shake, and the theme park rides of the Tropico course. The water itself churns and wakes track behind the hydrojets across all tracks. Firewater is the only track which felt below the visual standard that the other tracks set.
There is local and online multiplayer present in Riptide GP: Renegade. Locally up to four players can race together across different events, which are split by track type. The reason this review is out after launch was due to waiting for players to arrive online, but after only finding one other player it felt a bit like a bust. From what I gathered while playing against that sole stranger the transition to load races was smooth, but the only event option is race. Would have liked to seen elimination in there too to really add to the stakes. I did see that after the first race players can choose to vote on the next track.
Riptide GP: Renegade is a decent racer where the vehicles handle really well. The majority of the tracks look good and are fun to race in. However some of the elements put in to make the game harder for players stick out really obviously, like being the sole target of police vehicles. The campaign becomes a grindfest and the online is quiet at launch. There is only one event option which may get stale quickly due to the limited amount of tracks. If you’re looking for an arcade racer then Riptide GP: Renegade is a decent enough choice.
Version tested: PS4