Polarbit is a company that has become synonymous with racing games. From Reckless Getaway to the Reckless Racing series, Polarbit has shown that it has an understanding of how iPhone racing should work. When word came of Cracking Sands, we were anticipating another great, polished racing game set in a Mad Max-style world. Unfortunately, when we actually sat down and played the game we were faced with baffling design decisions that led to a disappointing and disheartening experience that left us feeling let down.
Cracking Sands takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by global warfare. The remaining tribes of people participate in deathmatch races that are obviously meant to make us feel like we’re playing through some of the craziest scenes from the Mad Max movies.
And on the surface the game achieves its goal. You race through a series of hellish environments in cars that look like they were cobbled together with parts from other things. You fight against an ever growing roster of deranged crazies all intent on turning you into roadkill and securing their bloodthirsty legacy. You can customize your car with crazy weapons and you can even change the look of your driver with equipment that can give you advantages in the race.
Don’t go racing without your racing hat.
Sounds great, right? Doesn’t that sound just like the kind of game you’d love to spend hours upon hours fighting through? Well sometimes execution doesn’t always meet up with intent, and Cracking Sands can’t reach the goals it set for itself.
The biggest, most glaring problem here are the downright mystifying controls. First, it’s a tilt only game. There are no on-screen buttons for driving your car. In a game like Real Racing, this is fine and sometimes we even prefer the tilt controls to the buttons. But on a game like Cracking Sands, this just doesn’t work. You’re constantly expected to make all kinds of hairpin turns and lighting fast decisions, and the tilt controls just can’t cut it. Even adjusting the sensitivity didn’t help all that much.
You can also set the action buttons (there are buttons for jumping, nitro and shooting) to be in either fixed locations or in “floating” locations, which means that the buttons don’t appear until you put your fingers in certain spots on the screen. The floating option is essentially useless as we could never quite figure out what finger placements would yield the actions we wanted, and sometimes they would just float off of the screen. The fixed option works the best, but the shooting and nitro buttons look so similar that we often found ourselves hitting one thinking we were hitting the other one. They also have a tendency to be obscured by other things on screen, most notably the table that lists the racers’ placement.
Quit breaking the law, Officer Bob.
But the most bizarre problem with the gameplay has to be the way the controls will flip themselves. We like to play games on both our iPad and iPhone, and the results were strangely different on both devices. On our iPad, tilting left would make us go right and right would go left. But on our phone, everything was fine. This just makes no sense and we can’t figure out why it happens, or how to change it.
There are other, less annoying but still troublesome problems to add to the pile. The cars are tiny in comparison to everything else, so it’s hard to figure out which one is yours. The camera also doesn’t track that well, so sometimes you’ll just lose sight of your car altogether. This happens a lot when you drive through a building or underneath something that’s hanging, or if there’s a quick turn and the camera just floats along. The sound design is also pretty bad, with your gun sounding like you’re shooting a pebble into a frying pan.
Cracking Sands has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, we have to review what we’ve got in front of us, and as it stands Cracking Sands feels like an unfinished product. Best to wait on this one until an update comes along to fix the crippling problems afflicting this game.
Cracking Sands developer trailer