BallisticNG: My Impressions

As a latecomer to the WipEout franchise of anti-gravity racing video games, I was born too late to play the earlier games. To my surprise, it may not be too late since BallisticNG by Neognosis is available on Steam.

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Lining up at the back of the grid at Marina Rush. From here, the only way is up. The spectators get a great view from the glass-clad art gallery, or the viewing pods.

BallisticNG bears a strong resemblance to Wip3out in terms of graphics and gameplay. It is developed by a small group of enthusiastic developers. It was originally free to play, but the increasing workload of development meant that it has transitioned to a paid game (only $6.29 NZD). I can understand the motivation for doing this and I was only too happy to re-purchase the game to support the developers.

Let’s start with the positives:

  • Despite the similarities to Wip3out, the ships and tracks are original and satisfying to race in their own special way. My favourite track is Arrivon XI (video by developer Vonsnake), which has a very fast, twisty downhill, followed by a sharp turn with a narrow exit. It’s very rewarding to get this bit right. My favourite ship is the Nexus, which is essentially a fast FEISAR.
  • The pick-up items have some great features, such as firing missiles backwards, and a shield that deploys automatically if you are attacked while carrying a shield pick-up. The autopilot also includes a shield and will stay engaged during corners so it won’t timeout in an awkward position.
  • The BNG modding scene is very healthy, there are lots of great fan-made ships and tracks that have been added to the Steam workshop. These include ports of WipEout ships. And nary a microtransaction or loot box in sight!
  • The unique soundtrack is great and adds to the atmosphere.
  • The game loads very quickly and my computer runs very quietly when the game is running, in part because the graphical processing requirements are quite low.
  • The custom races are highly adaptable. There are a range of speed classes to challenge all types of player, different levels of AI difficulty. I especially like the ability to set extra AI, and extra laps. Two different physics models are available: 2159 which is like the older games, while 2280 is reminiscent of WipEout Pure and WipEout Pulse. There’s something for everyone.
  • The drag ships and tracks are a creative addition where ships race at supersonic speeds around large open circuits (with great sonic boom sound effects). I prefer to do drag mode with 2280 physics since wall contacts are much softer, but there is the risk of falling off the track.

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Going for a supersonic stroll through the Lujiazui Park track in Shanghai. The buildings in the background are (L to R): Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower.

Speaking of walls, here are my criticisms:

  • Wall contacts are very unforgiving with 2159 physics. You can scrape along the walls with no problem, except for the awful sound it makes, however collisions send the ship ricocheting between the barriers, eating away precious shield strength. This problem is infuriating in the drag ships and needs to be corrected.
  • The 2280 physics mode includes more forgiving wall collisions, but this is outweighed by being able to go through walls and fall off the track. The ship is stationary when it respawns; I would prefer that ships respawn at speed so that you can carry on without losing too much time. Even better, make it so that the ship CAN’T GO THROUGH FUCKING WALLS!
  • The campaign includes mirrored tracks. I can’t stand mirrored or reversed tracks!  It’s really confusing to learn a track one way, only to have to race it in another way.
  • Energy walls launched by opponents are really frustrating and disrupt the fast flow of the game, I would prefer them to be removed from the game.
  • The AI in the Campaign mode are all over the place. In the knockout modes, the AI is far too powerful and I’m unable to complete these challenges in hard mode.
  • For the 1 lap 1v1 races, I’ve found that you need to get in front very quickly and the AI will fall behind you. If you don’t, then it rockets ahead into the distance. Use the shield draining speed boost at the start to get the upper hand. Be prepared to restart these challenges a lot.
  • In the endurance races, the AI is unbeatable for the first 5-6 laps, but you can then reel them in the last few laps. While this is a very nice turtle/rabbit story, it’s quite unrealistic. If I can maintain a steady pace for 10 laps, why shouldn’t the AI?
  • For 2159 physics,  you get a boosted start if the throttle is at ~75% when you start the race. Since the AI get this automatically, I think the boosted start should be standard.

While there are a lot of criticisms (mostly to do with the campaign mode, and wall contacts (or the lack of them in some cases)), BNG is still an enjoyable game when you set it up to your liking. It’s still in early access, so there are still changes that will be made. In particular, wall collisions need to be made more forgiving. If you’re adept with the WipEout games, interested in AG racing on the PC, and looking for something that’s quick to load up and get racing, then I can highly recommend BallisticNG to you.

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Formula Fusion: My Impressions

It was a sad day when Sony closed down Studio Liverpool in 2012, the games developer who had produced highly regarded titles such as the early to mid 2000s Formula One games (but not the abomination that was F1 Grand Prix for PSP) and the WipEout series. The WipEout games were futuristic hovercraft racing games, where players piloted anti-gravity (AG) craft around a variety of challenging circuits. The games were particularly unique for their electronic soundtracks and superb visual design that extended to AG craft sponsors and advertising around tracks. For me the portrayal of the future in the WipEout series was alluring , the racing was frenetic, and to this day WipEout Pure remains my favourite video game of all time.

The closure of SL means that there are no more installments in the WipEout series. In its place similar games such as BallisticNG or RedOut have been released. Joining them is Formula Fusion. Formula Fusion makes a convincing claim to assume the mantle of spiritual successor to the WipEout series; R8 Games has ex-Studio Liverpool staff and The Designers Republic was involved with the graphic design. While it has been in development for a while and I have been playing the early-access version for a few months already, June 1 marked the release of the full version. Below, I’ll list my impressions of the game, starting with the positives:

  • The graphics are superb, the craft and track assets are very well resolved (I’m playing with “high” settings). The sense of speed is immense as surroundings whizz by when I boost down the straights of Midtown at 600 km/h. I also enjoy the glare when I exit the tunnel in Niagara.
  • The ships have very different personalities. The Vixen is a good all rounder, with predictable turning behaviour, the Sabre feels more “pointy” and I can dart it about to get onto speed-up/pick-up pads. The Python is very floaty and slow to respond, so forward planning is needed to keep it out of the wall. Such diversity in ship handling is good, it allows players to work with a ship that suits them and introduces an element of strategy where ship benefits and drawbacks need to be weighed against each other.
  • Customisation. The ship skins can be changed (without any microtransactions, take note Frontier) and modifications can be made to make the ships faster, handle better or give them superior offensive/defensive capabilities.
  • Race results. This was a weak part of the WipEout games that I played. You never got to see the results at the end. This is addressed in Formula Fusion, the results are given in real time and at the end of the race. Furthermore, the lap times of each AG-craft are displayed in bar-graph form making it easy to identify how I compare to my opponents.
  • Replays. These can be set to auto-save and can be viewed under the “Records” section. When viewing the replay, you can switch between the AG-craft and camera views. You can even change the zoom and orientation of the camera in one of the modes. This feature is great for making videos to share online, or reliving past glories.
  • Game Modes: The elimination mode isn’t anywhere near as fun as the similarly named mode in WipEout Pulse, which was all about racking up kills. Here it is the more traditional “last place is eliminated each lap” approach. The endurance mode is interesting. The shield/health drains at an increasing rate as the laps go by, the challenge is to go as far as possible before the ship explodes. This requires a balance between outright speed and collecting shield pick-ups to prolong your time on the track.
  • Double Boosting. Fly between two adjacent speed-up pads and you can get twice the boost compared to going over a single pad. This feature is useful for speed runs, race strategy and improving the precision of one’s piloting.

Now for some negative aspects:

  • The game isn’t as smooth as it should be. There are jitters in the frame rate, which is an issue when precise movements are needed. This was improved by a patch released not long after the release of the game, but it still isn’t perfect.
  • The music seems quite dull and repetitive. More variety in this area would make things more interesting.
  • There was a cockpit view during early-access, but this isn’t in the game now. While I wouldn’t use it, it was nice to have the option. From what I can tell, it will be back in a later update.

All-in-all, Formula Fusion is a welcome addition to my SSD. I don’t bring out the PSP to play WipEout much anymore, so it’s great to have something that can run on my PC. From a graphic design and lore point of view, it offers a fresh break while demonstrating the same attention to detail that endeared the WipEout franchise to me. The ships are great fun to pilot and the tracks are well-designed and very rewarding to fly when one gets everything right. That feeling and new content including free tracks and craft will keep me coming back to Formula Fusion for a long time to come.

Here’s a video of what it’s like to play:

Apologies for the pixelated appearance, I’m new to video capture. I recorded the gameplay with OBS, the footage looked great. Then I had to truncate it in Blender, which is where the quality was lost. With practice, I’ll hopefully find some better settings.