So ScreamRide is out next month.
I know, I'd forgotten all about it too. Of all the Xbox One exclusives announced thus far, ScreamRide is certainly the most difficult to explain and definitely the most unlikely. Frontier Developments, the studio behind Kinectimals and Elite of all things, revealed this odd roller-coaster 'em up at E3 last year to a chorus of 'erms' and 'okay thens,' showing us a trailer of crazy rides and gravity-defying jumps before retreating into a near-total media blackout.
But now, mere weeks before launch, ScreamRide is suddenly back on our radar with a free Xbox One demo, which we've tested to destruction for your convenience and pleasure. And, if we're honest, to find out what the heck it actually is.
Now we know. Effectively ScreamRide is three games in one: a rail-racer, crazy Angry Birds-style city destruction simulator and a 3D roller-coaster design suite all bound together by a Sci-Fi setting with some vaguely menacing undertones. There's something for everyone, and a lot of ridiculously satisfying demolition porn, but will there be enough of everything?
I was being very literal about ScreamRide's split personality, as it really is three separate games in one. As a new employee of Screamworks, a massive corporation who test human endurance and stamina for reasons that totally won't turn out to be nefarious, honest, you'll have the choice of three separate career paths: ScreamRiding, Demolitions Training and Engineering.
ScreamRiding is by far the most basic of the three paths, as it replicates the experience of being on a rollercoaster. You can speed up, slow down, power up a turbo boost and lean from side to side to stop your riders being flung off the side, and that's about your lot. We've all played games 'on rails,' but this takes the concept to the extreme.
First-person view and two-wheel cornering proves exhilarating up to a point as you careen through corkscrews, loops and impossible geometry, but it does very much feel like a minigame. A Kinect Sports minigame, perhaps, only without the Kinect support. To be honest I worry that ScreamRide mode won't last all that long, especially seeing as it would probably be a lot more thrilling and immersive on a VR platform.
Thankfully, I can see Demolitions Training being busted out every time I have a bad day.
It's beautifully simple. You're presented with an island of towers, roads, skyscrapers and futuristic structures to destroy with a massive catapult, capable of throwing a variety of pods containing crazed adrenaline junkies and explosives. You'll then take aim, set the power and lob your capsules into the cityscape, cackling insanely as you watch buildings collapse, explode and shatter into tiny fragments in slow-motion, taking surrounding structures with them.
"Satisfying" doesn't do it justice. I might need a cold shower, to be perfectly frank.
Finally we have Engineering Mode, which is by far the most robust of ScreamRide's gameplay styles. Effectively you're given a massive 3D space to construct a ridiculous roller-coaster within, able to twist the track around and add a range of prefabricated boosters, loops, corkscrews, jumps and other suitably crazy acoutrements, which you can tweak and change to a pleasing degree. Abomination created, you can then test it out, watching how the test subjects react and scoring points for danger, thrills and G-force.
Engineering Mode might sound facile, but in fact it's surprisingly deep and based on an incredibly robust physics model. Gravity and momentum are very real concerns for wannabe roller-coaster creators, meaning that it's all too easy for a ride to stall if you haven't factored in enough speed-gathering drops or well-placed boosters. Test regularly and think logically, then, to avoid constructing a thing of beauty and discovering that the whole thing stalls on the first loop. With more pieces and environments unlocking as you play and your security clearance increases, I reckon that this mode might actually become surprisingly engaging and a great little timewaster.
ScreamRide's three modes seem to be fun, then, but for me the problem is that the career paths do feel very separate and disjointed, as opposed to being pulled together in a particularly satisying way. Such as running a theme park, for example, with the ability to then test, design and ride the attractions. Instead it feels all too much like a minigame collection, in the demo at least, and the finished game will have to work hard to avoid becoming repetitive fast.
I also can't help but feel that ScreamRide misses a massive opportunity in terms of Kinect inputs. Why can't we ride the rails using body movements, leaning to steer and throwing our arms in the air? Why can't we use voice commands to select specific track components? Why, Microsoft, are you not even doing the bare minimum to add value for people who own the flipping thing even when it would be incredibly easy?
But Screamride only costs £29.99 -- less than £20 new in some recent pre-order deals -- meaning that it's asking for a budget price for some exhilarating fun, satisfying destruction and intriguing creation. Colour us cautiously optimistic, if not exactly champing at a bit, and stay tuned for our full review in March.