We have always thought that racing games peaked with the SNES. That may sound outrageous, but for us, racing games are best when they’re simple and arcade style. We love Gran Turismo, but we’d much prefer to play Burnout. It’s sort of like realism in first-person shooters–sure, you’d like a little true-to-life action, but when it comes down to it, it’s always nice to find a health pack. So when we started up Low Grav Racer, a futuristic racing game in the mold of Wipeout and F-Zero, we were excited. We thought we’d find a new favorite… but instead, we just got frustrated.
You can pick two classes of racing in Low Grav Racer, Alpha and Beta. You also get 3 ships per difficulty level to choose from, but they play almost exactly the same. The difference between Mario and Donkey Kong in Mario Kart is much more substantial than the change here. There are 12 courses to race on, either in a single race or a competition circuit, and you have to finish in the top three to keep playing. It takes a while to work your way through the Alpha circuit, but the Beta level doesn’t seem that much harder. It’s a diminishing return if we’ve ever seen it.
Our major complaint with Low Grav Racer is its overly sensitive, unadjustable controls. The accelerometer-based steering for the floating vehicles feels incredibly insubstantial. Before the race, idly turning your iPhone swings your ship around like a top. While accelerating that responsiveness dims a bit, but if you get hit by a missile in the middle of a turn and don’t get your iDevice straight by the time the explosion subsides, you’ll hammer your ship into the wall. We don’t know for sure, but we feel like a responsiveness setting in options would resolve most of this.
Also, a certain lack of refinement is evident during race combat. Each track is littered with powerups–missiles, mines, shields, boosts–and they all help you out a great deal. However, their prevalence also means you’re punished for racing well. Take first place in the last half lap of a race, and you will be DESTROYED by missiles from last place. We mean it. At one point, before slamming the home button in disgust, we were hit seven times in a row while in first place; the final five shots hit us when we were already motionless. This is certainly an asset when you’re in fifth or sixth, because it ensures you’re competitive in a lot of races. However, if you play Low Grav more than a few times, you’ll start learning to hang back in fourth and wait for the powerups to come. That is not how a racing game should be played.
Let no one say Lov Grav Racer isn’t pretty, though. The graphics are finely textured and speedy, and the ships themselves look great. The backgrounds are evocative and beautiful, all Martian red and asteroidal purple. The menus also have a neat computerized look to them. We found the music and sound effects to be forgettable; we simply turned them off after a while.
At the end of the day, we just can’t recommend spending the $5.99 on Low Grav Racer until some of this stuff gets fixed in an update. The presentation is very cool, but the gameplay doesn’t keep up, and we didn’t want to keep playing it. There are too many other great racing games on the App Store right now for less.