The arcade racing scene has suddenly seen a major resurgence, and while big hitters like Burnout Paradise Remastered and the upcoming Onrush are grabbing all the headlines, there are some indie teams looking to make their mark on the digital grid. Developer Supergonk is one such team, and with Trailblazers, their futuristic and colourful take on the genre, they’ve got plenty of potential. Unfortunately they haven’t fully been able to deliver on it.
Trailblazers’ unique addition to the racing scene is paint. Not the kind you slap all over your ride, but rather that you chuck out of the back of your car and cake the track in. You play in teams of two or three, with you and your teammates laying the same colour down, and when you drive over your team’s shade you get a boost. Hitting your opponent’s colour slows you back down, creating a fun push and pull between painting and boosting. It feels as though the Supergonk team played a ton of Splatoon and thought about how they could translate that game’s strengths to racing. As a concept, it’s a great idea.
Trailblazers certainly looks the part as well, and its hyper-colourful tracks and sci-fi characters have definitely taken some inspiration from Gearbox’s Borderlands. The floating vehicles meanwhile sit somewhere between a 50s sci-fi aesthetic and classic American cars of that era, making them enjoyably unique. The menus are equally attractive, and they’re all set to some very cool musical tracks from indie artists like The Derevolutions, Skope and Bignic.
The problems start once the game is in motion, and unfortunately they worsen the more paint there is on the track. The frame rate, which is key in any racing game, takes regular dives mid-race, utterly ruining all the good work that’s been done elsewhere. In the run up to release, we were expecting this to be fixed with a day one patch, but we’re now simply told that it’s on the team’s radar to be improved. The major disappointment is that the idea has plenty of merit, and when the frame rate isn’t chugging along you’ll find that trying to create and follow a well painted boost path while undoing those of your opponents is simple and enjoyable fun.
The story mode takes you through multiple chapters of racing, with you taking control of or teaming up with each of the eight racers. The various floating craft that they control boast different strengths and weaknesses, so while one might be fast it will have a poor painting ability. Thanks to little talking head skits between races you do get a sense of each character’s motivations, and they’re pleasant enough, but they aren’t particularly inspired. They’re as quirky as the rest of the game, whether it’s Boo, a frog-man searching for his Dad’s approval or Empress, the ex-leader of an alien nation that I swear I’ve seen somewhere before.
Each race has three different trials to aim for, many of which extend beyond where you place. You might be asked to hit a specific paint target or beat a set time, and it’s nice to see a racing game that continues to think outside of what is a very limited box. While that’s it in terms of singleplayer longevity, you can turn to the multiplayer side of things in order to keep engaged, with both split screen and online options. On PC and PlayStation 4 you’re also able to take part in cross-platform play which is always welcome, particularly when the online community for indie racing games is notoriously small.
For all that the visuals are incredibly impressive, it feels as though the limitations of the Supergonk team – just three dedicated developers tinkering away on the game – have translated into the finished product. Besides the frame rate problems, crashing into anything loses an unnatural amount of inertia and once you hit a wall you can’t get back off it. Similarly, the physics that come into play when you make contact with another racer feel inconsistent at best. It’s a shame as the base handling model is relatively sound.
A variable frame rate is an out and out killer for any racing game, and despite Trailblazers’ clear potential it’s impossible to see past that. The overall concept, of merging F-Zero and Splatoon, is a fantastic idea, but perhaps it needed a bit longer in development in order for it to be fully realised.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro
Also available on Xbox One & PC. Coming to Switch in June.