Review: Riptide GP: Renegade

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Vector Unit’s Riptide GP series has been making waves on mobile devices for years now. Sure, the second game made its way onto Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One last year, but despite being good fun it still very much felt like a ported mobile game. Launching today, Riptide GP: Renegade is the first in the series to have been built from the ground up for PC and consoles (though it too will land on mobile devices later). The improvements are subtle, but the extra horsepower underneath the hood results in a tighter, more polished, and more visually enticing watersports experience.

Riptide GP: Renegade is an action-arcade racing game involving the outlawed, futuristic watersport of hydrojet racing. Modes include a full single-player career/story mode, quick race, ghost time trials with online leaderboards, 2-4 player split-screen, and online play for up to 8 players. Vehicles, character skins, and tracks come in nine varieties each. Unfortunately, I have not yet had any luck finding even one person to try online races with yet, so I can’t speak to performance as far as matchmaking or latency performance. Though I can say that the game allows for joining or creating lobbies under three difficulty tiers, which in theory should work to keep races on an equal playing field. In terms of solo content, there’s enough to keep busy on for a long while. The career mode alone took me around 7 to 8 hours to beat, and between optional bonus races, races that were finished without getting 1st place, and unlockable content, I’m currently sitting on just 40% overall game completion.

Story mode progression follows a standard race-game format. Finishing races–lap-based, point-to-point, slalom, elimination, stunt freestyle, and the occasional boss duel–comes with rewards of cash, experience points, and one, two, or three stars depending on where you place in the top three spots. For most of the career, only one star is needed to unlock the proceeding event, so advancement never feels arbitrarily gated. As long as you can get at least third place, you’re usually good to go until the late-tier events become more demanding. Although no stars are earned, cash and experience are still awarded just for completing an event, even if you finish dead last. So at least if you get stuck on a challenging race, you’re always acquiring resources to help future attempts.

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All that money and experience is used to purchase upgrades. Each hydrojet has varying attributes in acceleration, boost, handling, and top speed, and with enough cash individual upgrades can be purchased for each parameter at progressively higher prices. Experience points, on the other hand, allow you to level up and earn skill points, which are used to unlock advanced stunts as well as passive modifiers to boosting, drafting, and trick rewards. Free customization options include choosing paint schemes and unlocking decals to stick on your ride.

Hydrojet controls are fluid and accessible, and the water physics feel buoyant without being too floaty or splashy. Tricking out is accomplished by inputting simple analog stick commands, starting with one-directional tilts for the basic stunts before graduating to more advanced stunts requiring combinations of two or three directional flicks in quick succession. Strangely, the trick mechanics for keyboard play have been dumbed all the way down from the previous game. PC gamers who prefer playing with a keyboard instead of a gamepad are forced to use an automated stunt system which involves a single keystroke and the game choosing a stunt to perform at random. The control change is all the more baffling considering the PC version of GP2 offered full stunt control via WASD and direction keys. Thankfully the developers have already responded to feedback and are open to restoring the manual keyboard trick controls. Honestly, though, a game like this is best controlled with analog sticks, so if given the option I would suggest steering with a gamepad.

As easy as the gameplay is to grasp, there are plenty of nuanced mechanics required to become a master hydrojet pilot. More advanced tricks provide a larger fill rate on the turbo boost gauge (or more points in freestyle races), but they also require more airtime to land, so you have to learn to balance quick, low-risk tricks with the crazier, high-risk stunts, as well as consider the benefits of avoiding ramps altogether when unnecessary hang time will only slow you down. Races start with a countdown, and by holding accelerate and pressing the boost button right before the green “Go!” light flashes, you can trigger a top-speed boost right off the starting line. This becomes a crucial technique to master the timing on as the competition ramps up in difficulty. Drafting is another new mechanic since GP2; now driving in the slipstream of other racers provides accelerated rate of speed. Other racers can do the same, but thankfully rubber-banding AI is avoided because hydrojets need to stay in close proximity to get the drafting boost.

Though largely cosmetic, certain audiovisual cues further enhance the immersion and overall sense of speed. Visible jet streams as well as the faint whistling sound of wind whizzing by jointly indicate when you are actively drafting an opposing racer’s slipstream. When boosting and crashing into waves, the screen blurs, shakes, and splashes with water droplets. The hydrojets even transform in real-time in relation to how much boost is built up, which is a nice little flourish.

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The core racing is solid for sure, but the tracks are the real stars here. Whether it’s flooded, post-apocalyptic city ruins, futuristic cityscapes, a tropical amusement park, a military base, a space station, or a sunset wilderness locale during a forest fire, the tracks look spectacular, and are alive with activity. Hovercraft traffic buzzes overhead. Aircraft perform bombing runs while attack boats spray back anti-air fire. Fireworks burst overhead and light up the nighttime sky. Active amusement park rides like a Ferris wheel and rollercoaster add scenic motion. Space shuttles blast off, literally shaking the terrain and the screen. Airplanes fly over doing water drops to put out fires. There’s always something cool happening in the background to add richness and depth to the atmosphere, even if it’s merely little things like pumping pistons, sparking turbines, or schooling fish visible beneath the waves. Some of the events even have a direct impact on the course layout. Bomb drops suddenly cause larger waves to deal with. Boats and aircraft crash or cross into the raceway. Certain doors become open up new paths from one lap to the next. The events are scripted, though, so after a while a level of predictability does set in.

The tracks have secret shortcuts and Easter eggs (they are literally painted Easter egg collectibles), but I was disappointed by how little advantage I seemed to gain when taking a hidden route. The reward for taking the risk to locate shortcuts, plus the skill often needed to access them, often doesn’t feel worth the effort.

Another mildly annoying element is the introduction of a police chase mechanic. In certain races, police hydrojets will give pursuit and attempt to impede your progress or sideswipe your craft. This wouldn’t be so bad if the cops dished out justice fairly, but they ignore AI racers and only go after the player. With skill the police hydrojets can be beneficial if you’re able to draft in their slipstream without getting bumped or boxed in, but the fact that they only ever target you puts odds of success at an unfair disadvantage. The idea itself is a good one, but the execution comes across as an artificial difficulty modifier that causes too many cheap losses.

For gamers of a particular age, Riptide GP: Renegade will stir up fond memories of watersport classics like Wave Race, Jet Moto, Splashdown, and Hydro Thunder (Vector Unit made the Hydro Thunder Hurricane XBLA remake, FYI). A few issues do need to be addressed, but as modern aquatic racing games go, you’d be hard pressed to find one as fun to play and rich with content as Vector Unit’s latest effort.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Smooth, accessible hydrojet controls
+ Fluid water physics and sense of speed
+ Intuitive trick system
+ Wealth of content, including lengthy career mode
+ Awesome track designs with dynamic atmospheric effects

Cons:
– Chasing police only add artificial difficulty
– Shortcuts don’t seem all that advantageous
– Keyboard controls currently do not support manual stunts

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on PS4 (coming soon to Xbox One)
Publisher: Vector Unit
Developer: Vector Unit
Release Date: 7/26/2016
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: Solo campaign, 2-8 players online, 2-4 split-screen

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam or PlayStation Store for $14.99

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!