Years ago I discovered a little futuristic hovercraft racing game on the PlayStation called Wipeout. The concept was simple, and in many ways it was pretty much the same gameplay as Mario Kart or Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart. What set it apart was that there were no cartoon graphics, and no toy weapons, just stunning futuristic graphics, unique craft handling (being hovercrafts) and the most important element: speed. These crafts could go really fast.
So as an avid fan of the Wipeout series, when I found out about Phaze I immediately had to try it. Phaze is pretty much a Wipeout clone for the iPhone. There’s nothing new added, it just takes the concept and translates it. This suits me fine. The question is how good the implementation is. Does it capture the magic that got me hooked to Wipeout all those years ago?
The basic game mechanics are simple and combine the following components: race track, hovercraft, weapons and three laps. As you fly your craft around with other computer opponents, the aim is to finish first, second or third. As you race around the track you can fly over special markers that will either give you an instant speed boost or drop a weapon into your slot. There are various weapons such as bombs you drop behind you, or missiles or rockets to launch at an opponent ahead of you. You can also pick up speed boosts to use at your strategic time, or shield top-ups.
You control your craft by turning your phone in the desired direction and adjust your speed by tilting the phone up or down. There are 10 different crafts to be unlocked over the game, requiring you to finish the game in Championship mode on various levels of difficulty. Of course, each craft handles differently and has a unique combination of power (speed), shield (take more damage) and agility (ease to control).
If you hit the side of the tracks, you slow down and take damage to your shield. Bumping into other opponents, or being hit with weapons, also damages your shield. When your shield is gone, you blow up. It’s not over; a new ship will get brought into play — but you suffer a significant time loss as this occurs. You can’t afford to blow up unless you’ve got a very strong lead on the pack.
There are 16 tracks, with most also requiring you to complete the game in Championship mode to unlock them. These are available in four difficulty modes: Easy, Normal, Hard and Extreme. Once you’ve unlocked a track, it can then be played in Single Race mode.
I’m always very skeptical of accelerometer controls, but these handle impressively. They’re well tuned, and the sensitivity can also be adjusted manually in the options, although I found I didn’t need to touch them at all. I handed my iPhone to some friends who were also skeptical and they agreed — I had a hard time getting my phone back.
On my iPhone 3G the graphics and animations are very smooth and most importantly, that sense of speed is realized strongly — which is an absolutely crucial element to this type of game. One slight wrong move doesn’t just give you damage to your shields, but really slows you down. You feel it, along with the horrible metal grinding sound that provides great audible feedback.
The game autosaves when you exit it, even in mid-race, and allows you to have quick games while passing time without worrying about wasting any progress made. This isn’t absolutely stable, however. I received an SMS during game play and instead of saving my position and exiting cleanly, the game crashed — I lost several levels from my progress. This only happened once, however, and didn’t take me too long to catch up, so I suspect it was an anomaly.
The biggest element missing from this game is an on-screen map overlay so that you can see where you are on the track, and more importantly, where the other players are. Knowing how far ahead or behind you are provides a crucial tactical advantage in these kind of games. Without it, you can feel like you are miles ahead and then with one small bump to the side of the track you get overtaken by three crafts without realizing they were even on your tail.
While you can choose to have the in-game music and sound effects or turn them off to keep listening to whatever you were playing on your iPhone, I’d prefer in-game sound effects with my music. Ideally they will update the game to support the 3.0 OS’s ability to select a personal playlist from the iPod.
While the graphics are smooth and look great, the tracks all have the same general look, except for the backgrounds for the level. A little more visual variety here would be nice. Additionally, a ‘mirror’ track mode would instantly turn the 16 provided tracks into 32 with little effort. You can also notice on some parts of tracks the clipping that occurs so only the next few segments of track is drawn. No doubt this is for speed, but it does look funny.
The issues with this game are minor, but for me, if addressed, would take this game from a Silver rating to a Gold. Ultimately, the comparison has to come back to Wipeout. The truth is that it doesn’t feel like a cheap Wipeout rip-off. It could be an official part of the family. It brings back those warm fuzzy feelings I had playing too much Wipeout on my PlayStation years ago, and has provided much enjoyment. For the small price, I think any other Wipeout fan would find the same.