Formula Fusion Review – Not the Spiritual Sequel to WipEout We Hoped For

Formula Fusion Review

When a team announces that they’re working on a spiritual sequel to WipEout – one of the most easily recognisable and well-respected game franchises to be released in the last 30 years – you sit up and listen. When they then announce that the environments and visual presentation of the title are going to be put together by the team that gave the original game its seminal look, you give them your full attention. Many people did, which is what led to R8 Games’ Formula Fusion successfully being funded on Kickstarter back in May 2015. Two months later, the game appeared on Steam as an Early Access title and we were off to the races with a limited, but visually impressive, taster of what the full game should be like.

Fast forward to the first day of June 2017 and Formula Fusion has finally been taken out of Early Access and given a full release. Well, I say “full” but the more accurate description would be “unfinished.” For some reason, the developer has decided that rushing the release to get it on the virtual shelves a week ahead of the PlayStation 4’s remastered WipeEout Omega Collection would be a good idea. I can’t really see the logic in it, especially given how unfavourably Formula Fusion compares to the original versions of those games, let alone the remasters.

On the surface, Formula Fusion provides a fast anti-gravity racing experience that comes as close to the smooth handling and breakneck speeds of its ancestors than any of the other games that have tried to emulate the 1995 original. Visually, the work carried out by The Designers Republic is – as expected – mostly of a high quality, with the dirty urban environments looking sharp throughout as you careen and drift around the corkscrew-like tracks at thousands of kilometers per hour. The controls – you should use a gamepad here, though keyboard controls are available, of course – are fluid and responsive, meaning that you once you get your head around the handling model and work out how to use your airbrakes effectively again, you can really push yourself to improve your times and put together the sort of perfect laps where your turns and drifts make everything feel as if it’s just flowing like water. This is all good stuff which means that a lot of the time when you’re playing Formula Fusion, you’ll feel as if it truly is the future of anti-gravity racing, as it claims to be. What gives the feeling of it being an unfinished product though, are the sheer amount of oversights, confusing decisions, bugs, and missing content.

The first puzzler comes in the form of the weapons system. In practically every other racer that involves weapons, you pick weaponry up as you race around the track because it gives you the ability to adapt to your situation. That brings about a sense of urgency and control that Formula Fusion doesn’t contain because here, your weaponry is decided upon before each event and you only get one offensive choice. If you go with rockets, you can only fire forwards. Opposingly, mines are almost never a good choice since you’ll rue the decision when you’re in third place and chasing down the leaders that you now can’t lay a finger on.

What makes this decision worse is that the weapons you can equip feel so terribly pointless. Every craft is equipped with a shield, which must be depleted before your shots do any serious damage to the health of the ship. Shields can be recovered by collecting purple pickups dotted around the course and if that wasn’t enough, racers can choose between using energy pickups to power a round from their weapons, or provide an overdrive effect to their shields. This means that every time you take aim and fire at an opponent, you might as well have not bothered since they’ll likely have either maximum shields or overdriven shields in play. In some cases, it will take a dozen direct hits just to take down one opposing racer – providing they haven’t gone on a mad run of collecting shield pickups in between your salvos. The lack of any meaningful visual feedback with weapons – such as explosions or any sort of deceleration from the opponent – can lead you to even wonder if your shot landed, anyway. If you’re the one in the crosshairs, there are times when a missile will hammer into your craft and you won’t even notice.

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“On the surface, Formula Fusion provides a fast anti-gravity racing experience that comes as close to the smooth handling and breakneck speeds of its ancestors than any of the other games that have tried to emulate the 1995 original.”

As you progress to faster ships, the weaponry becomes less of a problem, since the design of the tracks doesn’t make for an enjoyable time anyway and you’ll be spending all your energy just trying to avoid walls. In the Elite class, it’s all but impossible to race narrower sections of track without slowing to an absolute crawl (which the AI doesn’t seem to have to do) and some of the decisions regarding the basic layout of the courses are unfathomable. A track that is a series of ovals that encircle a tower sounds like it could be challenging fun at high speed, but when the developers have decided to jam multiple boost points on the ground before every corner, meaning that you either hit one and get thrown into a wall or have to more or less drive into a wall anyway to avoid them, it’s just a frustrating mess.

Multiple race types are on offer in the campaign, with standard races and speed lap challenges working well. But Endurance and Elimination are tedious and very little fun to play. Endurance sees everyone’s shields constantly depleting as they race, meaning that you must grab shield pickups so that you can be the racer who has driven the furthest when everybody is inevitably destroyed. Only, everyone’s shields take forever and a day to start depleting, so each race feels way, way too long. Elimination has everyone racing as normal, with the person in last at the end of each lap being eliminated. Ten racers start, meaning that these events require nine full laps of the course. You would think that in a weapons-based racer, blowing opponents up would eliminate them in this mode. Alas, that isn’t the case. “Destroying” someone’s vehicle just causes them a slight holdup, which – even though the pointless weaponry means actually destroying another ship is relatively rare – seems ridiculous. On the flipside, that weak weaponry does mean that you’ll get to the end of the career mode without ever having been taken down by an opposing racer.

Again, I must correct myself. I said “the end of the career mode” but the real end of the career mode hasn’t been implemented yet. What you get in this launch version of the game is the opportunity to beat a handful of championship rounds in the only selectable ship for the only selectable team, before realising that all the other team/ship combinations – 9 of the 10 available, in fact – are listed as “Coming Soon.” I’m told that once post-launch optimisation patches have been completed, the developers will be starting work on these campaign parts. That just isn’t good enough.

Although to be honest, this isn’t surprising when a large portion of Formula Fusion’s upgrade options and weapon descriptions in the game’s garage area are entirely missing, leaving you guessing as to what each selection will do. Disappointingly – and entirely unprofessionally – a lot of them still have icons that just say “placeholder.” Steam achievements are no better off, triggering seemingly at random. Upon completing my first single race, I picked up three achievements, none of which I had satisfied the criteria for unlocking.

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“As you progress to faster ships, the weaponry becomes less of a problem, since the design of the tracks doesn’t make for an enjoyable time anyway and you’ll be spending all your energy just trying to avoid walls. “

Once you’ve completed the part of the campaign that is in place, you’re left with quick races and “War” mode, which is essentially an online single race for up to ten players. There are no tournaments, leagues, championships, or anything like that. Just a single race which earns you credits for use in single player. Well it would, was it not for a bug that prevents those credits from actually being stored.

It’s easy to forgive some of these smaller bugs, as they’re likely to be fixed soon, but the more glaring issues can’t be dismissed. From the missing content to the weak weaponry, lacklustre race modes and poor track layouts, it’s baffling that Formula Fusion still feels like a beta (at best) despite being in Early Access for many, many months. The development team is really onto something with the handling model, as the moments where you’re deftly sliding around corners like a pro suggest that there’s potential once they finish things up. Sadly, for R8 Games, most people don’t go into a store and ask to buy a bucket of potential, especially when there are finished products already sitting on the same shelf.

***A Steam key was provided by the publisher***

 

The Good

  • Handling model is great
  • Visually impressive at times
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The Bad

  • Weapons may as well not be there
  • Multiplayer limited to single races
  • Most of the campaign mode is missing
  • Countless bugs and placeholders
  • Poor soundtrack
  • Difficulty curve appears to be random from race to race
  • Zakalwe

    Extremely accurate (and well written), review as of July 2 2017. A bucket of potential indeed, but a mess as it stands.