No need for any explanation. It’s the future, we’re driving, and the lights are green!
Alright so ZR is accelerate, ZL is brake. That’s all I really know going into the first race, with no introduction, text or objective. I got this! The eShop description claims this is “set in the near future, with a new kind of wheel technology” but there’s no story in the actual game. That’s all you really need to know in an arcade racer, to be fair. I hung on to the road as best I could while learning the controls and taking in this immense track detail.
After the first race I was impressed with the graphics, but didn’t really know what this game was meant to be. Going fast is about keeping your speed and holding your car as straight as possible, getting fast exits. The thing is braking doesn’t seem too effective, it’s almost like you need to throw your car in and intentionally slide a bit. No matter what you do it feels quite slow. There’s a heavy emphasis on keeping your speed through corners by drifting slightly. All these are simple racing principles and they get you results in this game. It’s just doesn’t give you much feedback so it takes a while to get used to.
There’s a boost button I didn’t know existed until I looked at the control mapping specifically. It doesn’t make a sound or show any indication that you are using it, despite the car speeding up by 10kph or so. A lot of very absent design like this is why this game feels rough around the edges, but the more you play the more you can get into it.
Splash! A big reason the tracks look so nice is they are colourful and animated. You’ll see grass swaying in the wind, windmills turning, waterfalls thundering down, weather effects, balloons flying overhead. It all combines to provide a lot of life to the tracks. The game only has 4 environments, but it makes the most of them with different challenges, layouts and weather conditions. The wheels fold up when you drive on water and it slows you down a fair bit. You can’t really feel the surface of the water since I think you’re actually hovering above it? It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the car here. All that really changes is you need to go slower through corners.
The music is good for a couple of races. After that, the repetitive riffs start damaging your brain. The music seems original and well-produced, which is nice but it also sounds like a pub band playing the same chords over and over in a jam session. The riffs get repetitive extremely quickly and one song has a solo that just goes on forever until your eyeballs pop because it has no phrasing or structure at all. Some of them are extremely short songs that just loop after 30 seconds, which is horrible when a race can go for 5 minutes.
I appreciated hearing a couple of new “songs” but ended up muting the music completely. That’s not entirely a bad thing though, as I managed to get some quality podcast listening done while going through the championships. I think that was the point where I suddenly became one with the handling model of the game without really understanding why. It does take some kind of primitive understanding of regular racing to figure out what you should do differently. I found cockpit or first-person view to be the best way to get good laptimes.
This game is made by VD-Dev who have a very rich history with racing games on Nintendo systems specifically. They were responsible for an incredibly optimised version of V-Rally 3 on the Game Boy Advance which pushed way above the system’s limits. They then repeated that feat on the Nintendo DS with an open world game, COP: The Recruit running at an astonishing 60fps. This prestige makes its way to RISE with detailed track design, a smooth game engine and different weather effects. It’s a very technically competent game, with some awe-inspiring moments in gameplay.
The handling model is the most important part of a racing game and unfortunately has a lot of issues in this game. Even after “getting used to it” there’s very little sense of traction or correcting during corners that you can do. To go fast you have to move as little as possible, which makes sense but completely discourages any freedom or control. Without being able to feel the ground at all it’s difficult to know if you have grip or not. It just feels like there’s almost nothing going on here, in terms of physics. This should be even MORE important in an off-road game, but the feedback is entirely absent. Instead of being able to feel the track, you have to make educated guesses on how much grip you have. The fact that I can barely tell any difference between driving on water and dirt sums up the problem.
Look past the lovely greenery, impressive shadows, lighting, reflections, and you’ll see the most technically impressive feature of this game. There’s nobody driving the car. There is no life in this game at all, no voices, no story, and the drivers have fake names. If this is the end of humanity, then I take all my criticism back and accept this to be excellent meta commentary for why the car handling doesn’t need to feel responsive.
The visual design in general has some problems, like the finish line being hard to see. It’s just a light blue arrow on the ground, and there’s no sound effect when starting a new lap either. Boosting and braking have almost no impact as well, and this sums up the fundamental problem with the game I think. It’s technically a good game but just doesn’t feel that great to play. It has tons of content at least, with 64 track layouts overall (including reverse tracks) and many different challenges. These can make things interesting, forcing you to do a certain amount of drifts, pass cars, hold your position or control your lap times so they get faster each lap.
RISE: Race The Future (yes, the official title capitalises the T) is a game with a lot of potential but ultimately falls short and feels very unpolished, unsatisfying and unfinished. I have really mixed feelings about this, because it’s exactly the type of game we need more of and I still enjoyed it. The rough interface, lack of vehicle feedback, and confusing design choices really hold it back. So many simple things could have made this a much better game and it’s a bit frustrating. It’s getting a patch soon with some major graphical upgrades, and I’ll give it another chance then. Unfortunately I can’t see the game being more fun to play with better graphics. Overall I can only recommend this to real racing fans, I did have some fun with it but was ultimately disappointed in the near future. There’s always hope for the distant future at least.