Hovercraft racers come and go on consoles, with classics like Nintendo’s F-Zero and Sony’s Wipeout series standing far above any competition. For fans on the go, seeing another entry in the genre on the iPhone is always a good thing. Protoxide: Death Race sports a perplexing name and some great tech behind it, but it suffers from some serious flaws as well.
Like most racing sports of the future, Death Race is as much about combat as racing. The single-player campaign is story-driven, focusing on a young racer who wants to become the best, get revenge for something, or some other clichÃ©d motivation. The game actually spends a surprising amount of time building its plot, with text-driven, dialogue-filled cut scenes. Not surprisingly, the story feels entirely extraneous to the actual gameplay, though it occasionally acts as the motivation for slightly off-beat goals.
Your general goal is to finish first, of course, but some of the races also require you to take out rivals. Taking them out requires weapons, and the game sports a decent variety of boom sticks. Just like in Wipeout (and most other combat racers), you must fly through a power-up icon on the track to acquire it. Shields, nitro boosts, speed pads, and a variety of rocket-style weapons are all up grabs. Weapons vary from slow and powerful to fast and weak, but they’re all auto-fired once you manage to keep an opponent in your sights long enough to lock onto them.
Fasten your seat belt tightly before each Death Race.
It’s almost an expected compromise in iOS racers that acceleration is automatic, and that’s the case here as well. You can tap a button for shields, brakes, and nitro, and steering is handled with tilt controls. The tilt controls are responsive, but some gamers will likely want an option to use a virtual D-pad and have actual control over acceleration and weapons.
Visually, Protoxide leaves a good impression. The 12 ships and 16 tracks look excellent, and the 3D engine powering all this vehicular mayhem is excellent. The compromises, however, seem to be in the top-end speed of the game and the lackluster AI. While the game isn’t exactly slow, it’s definitely not hitting the sort of breakneck speeds that it should.
The AI is either absurdly easy to catch up with, or cheaply designed to constantly keep up with you. There’s no strategy to the other racers, and their behavior just feels contrived. We also wish this was a universal app, as that graphic shine dulls considerably if you blow the game window up to fit the iPad’s screen.
Currently, Protoxide: Death Race only supports local multiplayer over Wi-Fi, but the developer promises Internet playability in a future update. We hope that’s the case, as the ability to play online would make the game much more appealing. Net play won’t solve all the problems, but there’s nothing here that isn’t fixable. As it is, Protoxide might appeal to hardcore fans of the genre, but there are still better racing choices out there.