Approximately one year ago, I wrote a very lengthy hands on impressions about my experience playing Sonic Forces at EGX 2017 and boy oh boy it set the cat amongst the pigeons didn’t it?
One year on, a new EGX has come and a new very different Sonic game is on the horizon, as I did a year ago, I went to the expo and played a lot of Sumo Digital’s Team Sonic Racing.
I tried each of the different character types, and around 3/4’s of the characters on offer over two days.
This is based on the PS4 version, there was no Xbox One or Switch version to play either in Sega’s booth or the Nintendo Booth, Microsoft didn’t turn up.
It’s great, I want to buy the OST. It’s really good. It’s remixes again of previous tracks, but it’s great.
I can’t think of anything else to say, the music is really nice to listen to.
Performance & Visuals
I’ve seen people mention the odd drop in frame rate from previous conventions, but… I didn’t notice any problems with it. Don’t ask me to say what the frame rate is, because I can never ever tell, especially when in a booth situation like this you’re only a few inches away from the screen unless it REALLY drops.
So whatever the frame rate is, I’d say it’s running well at it’s target FPS, if there are drops, they’re minimal and I didn’t notice them.
Graphically, the game looks great in motion, there’s very little to complain about, tracks are detailed and Planet Wisp especially has tons of Easter eggs and visual treats scattered around the track.
The one area where I didn’t think the visuals looked that great was on the character select screen, something about the models and textures looked quite low in quality. I also think some of the character special effects and lighting effects may have been disabled for the demo.
But otherwise, the game looks fine in motion and performs fine, I couldn’t spot anything that would ruin the experience of a fast paced racer, it looks and plays fine.
By now you should be aware that the third racing title from Sumo takes a very different direction to the previous, gone is the notion of simply coming in 1st will win you the race. Instead, players now have to manage a team of 3 racers, their performance as a team will affect the outcome of the race.
For example, if you come first you don’t necessarily win the race, your team performance is a big factor in your final position.
To give this some perspective, I managed to come first in a race, but because I’d neglected to do much of any team actions, my team didn’t win overall. This teamwork is key to victory, it’s also where some of the games intensity and depth begins to shine.
But let’s just address a common complaint I’ve seen.
“Is This A Bland Game?”
I have seen many people ask this and… they’re right, the promotion for this game has not been great at all, it really does look bland and I think I now know why.
When trying to find screenshots and officially released material for this article, so much of it feels empty and lacks the frantic nature of the game when playing it, the material shown so far is designed to show off how pretty the game can look instead of the fun and intensity.
There’s also an issue with how people play the game too. If you’re watching a player treat it like any other single player racer, the game is amazingly dull to play and watch if you do that.
Trailer footage for this game has not done it justice, even some of the hands on footage we’ve seen has been so poor because of how the game is presented at conventions.
For example, at EGX, each pod has a sheet of paper with the basic controls on it… there is nothing about tactics and gameplay, you have to either ask a rep for advice, or learn it on the fly… now there are some pop ups in the game to explain some tactics but.. these are never that effective.
But even if you play the game once or twice, you probably won’t learn these moves and come away feeling low and disappointed.
Even if you happen to get lucky and dominate a race to victory, it can seem dull.
For instance, on Planet Wisp, it’s amazingly easy once you master a few moves to utterly dominate that track as a technique character (Tails), you can go through the whole track, never encounter an opponent and never be challenged… but doing that will likely not net you the win due to the team play.
To give you some perspective, after 3 races, I was ready to rip this game a new one, I really didn’t like it. But by the 4th race I stopped trying to play the game like I would any other racer, I decided to pass items, request items and try to follow slipstreams and set up slipstreams for my team.
Suddenly, I was winning and the races were more exciting, it just struck me as to what the problem with this game has been. The challenge, the fun and the intensity comes in through these unique team actions. You have to treat this game as a tactical racer, not just a ‘get first place’ type of thing.
For instance, you have to help your whole team to do well… meaning you have to provide slipstream trails for them to follow, you have to pass and request items, you have to attack other players.
You have to get involved with the whole race, not just your position. This forces you to constantly think and plan tactics during the race. This might seem like a small thing, but each track offers lots of tactical opportunities per racer and team.
We’ll discuss this later on.
But the looks of this game are deceiving, we can blame this on the current trailer footage, or current communication from PR, but Team Sonic Racing is far from a bland experience once you learn some of the basic moves and tactics. The intensity and fun comes from plotting a move and executing it successfully to aid your team to victory.
The game has 3 different character types, each performs significantly different to the other. Each team by default has one of each character type, but you the player can only control one character per race. Limiting your role to a specific function.
This is your Sonic, Shadow and Blaze character, speed types are exactly what they sound like, they drive faster than other racer types, they have balanced handling and they also have a boost defence move.
They’ll be the one who can set up slipstreams ahead of the pack, try to break ahead of other racers. But, they’re very weak to weapons, they can be stunned for longer and the slightest impact will send them flying.
Knuckles, Big and Omega reporting for duty! Power types are the slowest racer types, but they have a bunch of really cool tricks to compensate. Ram another player with a power type and they’ll likely crash or stall completely. Power types can also open alternative routes on the track for the team to follow, shortcuts or new boosters. They can also destroy some environmental hazards, they’re effectively a battering ram. They can also recover very quickly to weapon strikes.
Tails and Silver are your technique types. They have a really unique party trick which really changes how you approach races, unlike every other racer type, they can drive on grass and rough terrain without a speed penalty! This means they can cut corners and shave seconds off lap times, they can also travel on slippery surfaces easier than other racers which means they can take unique shortcuts without sacrificing much speed or control.
They also have a really high acceleration rate and the best handling of all racer types in the game.
“Everybody’s Super Tactical Racing”
So you have these three racer types, you have a team play mechanic which dictates score and final position, how do you use tactics to improve your score and find the fun with the gameplay?
Well, this is what’s not being communicated well from Sega right now and ironically will likely be the reason why I think some people will be put off upon initial play.
Lets say we’re playing on Planet Wisp, and we pick Tails, as Tails we can cut corners on that track, but say we have team mates behind us, when we drift we create a slipstream or set up a slingshot boost. if we take that corner, the slipstream and slingshot opportunity also goes onto the grass, whilst we’re not affected by it, the following player is. Meaning he has to either exit the slipstream sooner or take a speed penalty from the rough terrain.
Say we’re playing as a power type. We could sit back in the race and use weapons to target other players, but what if we tried to sprint ahead, we could then open shortcuts and only inform our team we intend to do so, giving our team a head start from the outset. We could also act as a battering ram, creating a slipstream and breaking down barriers for our team to follow who can then get a slipstream boost and shoot ahead.
Or… do we focus on defence and ram other opponents.
For our speed type, we could just shoot ahead, but what if we used our speed to make more slipstreams for our team?
Then there’s other questions and tactics. We pick up a really good item! We could use it… but should we ‘offer it’ if we pass the item it gives the person who takes it 3 times that item.
We just got our ultimate special move! How about we use it immediately and get that speed boost… wait what if we used it in the middle of opponents, we could knock them out… wait… What if we use it all at the same time!? It’ll last longer, but one player may not get much benefit? What if we use it individually.
Suddenly, what appeared to be a basic racing game now has the player constantly asking questions and making tactical decisions across three characters, all the time adapting those tactics to the position they are in the race and their race rivals.
And as a player, we have to do these team moves because it gives us points which count towards who will win, as well as improve our final position in the race, this is where the game isn’t jut a ‘Ok I’m at this corner, I know I should drift here’ or ‘I know I can max the power here,’ you constantly have to adapt and change your strategy to the race.
Racing suddenly then becomes more intense and fun because you’re constantly thinking and making decisions for yourself and your team.
….THAT…. Is very hard to communicate in a trailer video and someone’s over shoulder video after only 1 or 2 attempts…
So I’ve recorded myself playing through the demo at two points of the day, the first was around my 3rd or 4th attempt of the game, the 2nd was taken later in the afternoon. In the video I try to explain how the game works and I hope this helps communicate the fun and excitement that the game truly does have.
Track design was pretty cool from what I saw, Planet Wisp was the ‘easiest’ course in that once you figured out the fastest route from the fork split, you would probably finish well.
Ice Mountain however shows off where the track design can be very interesting, providing multiple routes, some more beneficial to specific racer types, there were also instances where you could launch yourself from a higher track to a lower, and then ramp up to another 3rd route.
It makes racing really fun figuring out the best route and trying to out fox the Ai who are also trying to go for their own best racing routes.
Weapons & Power Ups
So I heard you like Wisps? The Wisps act as weapons in this title, however aside from their cosmetic appearance, they behave as previous ASR games have operated… There’s a mine type weapon, a dumb fire missile which bounces off the walls, a homing missile and a timed explosive.
The weapons are exactly the same as previous titles, they’re just wisps.
There is however one controversial change.
The Ultimate Powers
In previous ASR games, a player had the chance to grab the ‘all star’ power up, at which point their racer would transform and go crazy, giving a boost of speed and attack. This somewhat makes a return in the form of the ultimate power move.
Upon activation, the player becomes invincible and gains an incredible speed boost, should you hit another player, they instantly stall. Making this a very powerful move.
However… the controversy rests in the fact that every racer over every racer type has exactly the same ultimate power move!
In past games, one of the excitement upon unlocking a new racer was discovering their all star move, however in this title you already know what it will be, they will glow yellow, go fast and if you touch another racer, they spin out.
The move has also changed in a sense that it’s no longer an item power-up, but a progression bar that fills when you perform team actions, another reason why you should be doing these.
Another feature of it is that if all 3 racers use their ultimate power at the same time it lasts longer. Meaning there is some tactical decision making to the move.
The Single Player Problem
So far, I’d like to think my impressions have been somewhat positive, but I am greatly concerned about the single player experience.
The main issue is that, the tactical decision making for the race will be limited for the single player on how nice the Ai team mates are in that moment.
For example, I previously mentioned how if you are a power character, you could rush ahead and open new routes… but there’s no guarantee your Ai partners will follow you.
During Planet Wisp, I noticed my Ai team makes take the slower routes, despite going the fastest route for the first 2 laps. Other times I saw my Ai technique character constantly drive on the grass, great for him, terrible for me trying to follow his slipstream.
But for a team of humans, this isn’t an issue, you can communicate easily and create a plan both prior to the race and during. But for the Ai, other than ‘send me an item’ or ‘here’s an item’ you have no say over what they do.
At times it’s… really poor, like I was at the fork in the Planet Wisp track, I wanted to go right, but a team make constantly rammed into me who wanted to go left, another time I saw my team makes blatantly crash into obstacles in the course for no reason.
But when they do work it’s great, I’ve had Ai partners perform a perfect drift which I can follow and speed boost, they have used the in-game radio to request I hold position so they can boost. But it’s frustrating when you see some of the craziness that can happen.
Now this could have been somewhat mitigated if it were possible to switch to another member of your team during the race, but it’s not, you are locked to one character per race.
Multiplayer Is Likely King
Based on my experience so far, this game could do really well if it takes off competitively. Dedicated teams of three could pull of some amazing stuff, they can plan moves and tactics per course, adapt with three players on the fly.
The limitations of the Ai just don’t apply here.
Now Sumo have promised there are more modes for the single player and there is a ‘story mode’ for single player users, but it just felt from the demo I played that this was a multiplayer game at it’s core.
Team Sonic Racing upon initial play is a very difficult game to get into. Aside from the points I’ve already discussed about how you need to work as a team to win a race, performing various team moves and learning tactics will take time.
It has a much higher learning curve than ASR and ASRT.
Another factor is the enemy Ai, they can be very ruthless. They will ram you, they will hit you with weapons, they will make your life very difficult indeed.
One big change which affects the difficulty is being hit by a weapon or rammed by an opponent, you almost seem to completely stop and it takes a few seconds to start again, I’m not a fan of this as it completely ruins the pacing of the game and makes races frustrating and not challenging.
However, if you can make it that long to learn the game, and figure out it’s mechanics, the difficulty does drop and you start to see the fun and enjoyment. The problem is the initial climb is quite steep.
“It’s Good… But…”
I don’t think Team Sonic Racing is a bad game, I don’t think it’s as good as ASRT but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Once you get over the initial learning curve, the game opens up and you realise how much depth there is and start to play it more tactically than a traditional racing experience.
However, based on the demo I played, the game feels very unfinished. We’re not just talking things like ‘It didn’t have this mode in it’ or ‘it only had X playable characters’, we’re talking about things I would have thought should be in there such as animations and sound effects which I thought should be there which are just not.
Single Player Vs Multiplayer
The main problem I have with the game in it’s current state is that I am very concerned that the single player experience may eventually hit a wall, a wall which is basically the limitations of your partner Ai.
Let’s take a very basic thing, the Ultimate Power moves. In single player mode, upon activation, all 3 players use it at once… but in a multiplayer setting, players can activate it whenever, if they use it together, it lasts longer, but from a tactical standpoint, it maybe more beneficial for one or two players to use it over all 3.
As explained earlier, there is a lot of potential tactics to this game, but your mileage on them is very limited given the experience I had during this demo. For human players, there are no such limits and I can easily see some amazing teams do some amazing things during this game.
Say you are playing as a speed type, and you want your Power type to defend you, you can’t do that in single player, you have to rely on the Ai’s decisions trees, but a human player, they can make choices and act in accordance to their role.
You’re playing as a technique type, you want the Power type to open a shortcut… well… good luck with that in a single player game, on Ice Mountain there was one shortcut which I never saw any Ai character open… Multiplayer mode., that problem doesn’t exist.
Lack of Weapons
I would be very surprised if this weapon roster is the final list, because there is a clear lack of weaponry in the game when compared to both ASR and ASRT. I’m hoping this list increases and it’s just a small sample for the purpose of the demo.
So I hope this increases because it’s quite a low number right now.
Another big issue is that, with pretty much every racing game in existence, part of the thrill comes from when you cross that line. You either know you’re going to win, or you’ll know it’ll be a close call, but you almost instantly know once you cross if you won, there’s that release of emotion as you go YES! or NO! as you cross that line… But with this game… You’ve got to wait… you wait until you get to the results screen and watch the points add up.
It doesn’t add to the tension, it just prolongs it and you wish you knew the result sooner.
As explained previously, there are three character types, Speed, Power and technique, whilst these have clear advantages and abilities over one another. Characters which share these same race types just feel the same.
For example, Sonic, Shadow and Blaze are all speed types, whilst their race stats are different, it’s barely noticeable in the game. Same is true for all the technique and power types. You pick Sonic, you might as well have picked Shadow, pick Tails, might as well have picked Silver.
It just doesn’t feel unique enough to justify even having racer stats.
When a player gets hit by a weapon or a power character, they don’t just slow down, they completely stop and then stall, it takes about a second or two for them to start up again.
This utterly kills the pacing of the race. It would be much better if they did away with the stalling and let the player recover faster.
Movie Backdrop Feel
In both Planet Wisp and Ice Mountain, I don’t feel like i’m driving through the Sonic universe, I feel like I’m driving through a movie backdrop of Sonic’s world.
What do I mean by that? Well… remember in ASRT, how the tracks would change and transform depending on what was going on in the background? Or as you raced along you’d cause damage to the environment and it would change? Or something would happen which would impact the race?
For instance, I think it’s the Adders Lair track, on the final lap fireballs rain down from the sky and produce new hazards on the map? Or how on some tracks you would see something in the background happen which impacts the track or changes it?
Well… I’m playing Ice Mountain, a level which is a combination of all previous Sonic ice stages, which suddenly a volcano erupts. Even the characters comment on it, so I’m driving around expecting to see lava on the track, or fireballs fall down from the sky, maybe it even melts some of the snow and ice and makes the final lap harder.
But it doesn’t. It doesn’t do anything, it’s just there. There is no impact to the track at all. It literally feels like you’re passing through a movie set of Sonic instead of being emerged in Sonic’s world and reacting to it.
Lack of Animations & Sound Effects
This is where we get to the very nitty gritty of criticism, but the fact these are missing makes me more concerned.
Take a look at any character in ASRT during the race, they’re really animated, Sonic jumps and poses to the player, other characters also cheer or curse as the race unfolds depending on what happens.
In TSR… the most animated they get is when they the steering wheel. That’s it.
In ASRT, the victory screen is elaborate, there’s a celebration.
In TSR it’s a static render of your character, followed by the tally chart.
Then there’s the issue of some missing sound effects, when you select your character, there’s no audio or even visual feedback that you’ve done it, no announcer says your name, the character doesn’t say any dialogue, not even a small beep or blip to confirm you’ve selected a character, the screen freezes and then begins the demo stage.
Another huge missing animation/effect comes in the Ice Mountain stage, a giant Orca whale jumps over the track and lands into the ocean… at least I think it does, for you see, there’s no splash. It just looks really strange and unfinished in it’s current state. Gosh this could have even been a dynamic environment hazard, the splash could knock racers out of a boost or some other effect, but nothing happens.
In the demo I played, they were quite long. But… again demo, may change.
I don’t say this lightly, because I know what it means for the developers, but based on the demo I played, Team Sonic Racing should be delayed. I know it only has a tentative release of ‘winter’, but it is not ready based on this demo. So much is missing from it and I’m very concerned that single player mode will pale compared to multiplayer.
I also fear that Team Sonic Racing could potentially get treated very harshly in it’s current state, it’s not an easy game to pick up and play, it requires learning the mechanics and having them explained to you in a clear way, something which at the moment the game doesn’t do very well.
I myself spent a long time playing the game on the Thursday of EGX and for a large part of that day I didn’t like it, but by Friday I started to figure out some of the gameplay mechanics and tricks, it started to become more fun. But it wasn’t until after the Sumo Digital panel in the afternoon where more gameplay mechanics were explained that I realised what I’d missed, upon then coming back to the game, it was a totally different experience for the better.
It feels like there is a really really good game here, it could even be fantastic, I really like the idea of thinking tactically during a race for a group of characters and when you learn some of the tricks and abilities, racing really opens up and becomes more interesting and enjoyable.
It’s not a bad game, in fact it really is good. But so much seems missing from it based on this demo and with Sonic games especially, both the good and the bad change very little from their public demos to final product.
A big problem right now is that Sega also needs to change how it’s promoting and showing off the game, so far there has been little to nothing to show off how important it is to play tactically and how you can approach problems differently in the game, or how to do said tactical moves.
The players enjoyment is utterly vital to understanding this aspect of the game quickly, otherwise a lot of people will hate this game.
But the main issue is that single player is very limiting to how far your tactics can take you, combined with the initial steep learning curve I’m concerned the initial response to this game will be poor when there is a potentially unique and fun game here.
Some of these issues can definitely be addressed, however some of the things I’ve listed cannot be resolved without a significant delay. But as they say on that TV show ‘Winter is coming’.
Team Sonic Racing releases Winter.