Quick, name five family-friendly racing games other than Mario Kart. Name two? For sure, there simply aren’t a lot of casual, colorful, non-hardcore sim racing games that are fun for families and at parties. Obliteracers, from Australian developer Varkian Empire, increases the roster by at least one more. The game is in Early Access on Steam and scheduled for full release on PC and current hen consoles later this year.
Obliteracers is actually a vehicular combat game devoid of any bloodshed, malice or anything approaching actual violence. That said, the object of each race is not to win with the best time or complete a requisite number of laps, but simply to survive, either by attrition or doing the best job of knocking the other drivers out of the race. To this end there are dozens of power up that give drivers all manner of diabolical weapons like guided missiles, flames that ignite other cars, lightning strikes and many more.
The art style of the game is a bright and colorful 3D cartoon aesthetic, with driver characters being fanciful, goofy animal characters with hovercraft-style cars that are small and stylized. There are dozens of tracks in a really wide variety of environments from seaside tropical locations to indoor areas. There are night races and some very pretty weather and lighting effects. Obliteracers has an appealing, welcoming visual style.
Perhaps focusing on the skills and attention spans of younger racers, the tracks are all very short and while the environments change, the basic course layouts — turns, levels and changes in elevation, jumps, etc — don’t feel that different from race to race. Longer tracks might feel out of scale, but a little more variety in layout would be welcome.
There is, at least at this stage of release, no story to speak of that sets up the world but there is a lengthy single player career mode, and of course individual races can be customized in a huge variety of ways, from number of players (up to sixteen, including support for bots) to the dozens of game-altering modifiers. Adding to welcoming, party and family-friendly vibe is the wide variety of inputs that Obliteracers will accommodate simultaneously, from traditional gamepads to smartphones and PC mouse/keyboard configurations.
What makes Obliteracers more than a bit frustrating to play is that the camera does not track or follow the player’s vehicle but seems to independently follow the leading car. It’s easy for the camera to exclude the player’s car entirely, creating the likelihood of driving off the track and ending the race. This “follow the leader” camera makes it feel like one is watching the race but not actually participating and makes it difficult to find and accurately control one’s vehicle in a game where awareness of the environmental hazards and avoiding them is critical. The fact that the vehicles are hovercraft and therefore not subject to the laws of wheel-based physics adds another element of frustration to the the already loose controls and flukey camera.
Obliteracers has a lot going for it — colorful, fun environments and lots of options for play, a wide variety of tweaks and customization opportunities in races — that right now is undermined by the camera issue. It’s an easy game to pick up and the races are short and sweet. There are plenty of cool ways to knock the other racers off of the course, but nothing’s taken seriously — it’s all in good fun. It will be interesting to track Obliteracers as it nears release this year.