I'm sitting, strapped into the cockpit of my vehicle, as I'm brought to street level by an elevator. There are plenty of other racers in front of me who are set to go. 3...2...1…
As I crash my way down the track, I wonder to myself whether or not the Vive's motion controllers are actually supported. Surely I'm doing something wrong? I'm being shot at, and once in awhile a crosshair pops up in front of me that I assume means I have some weapons loaded. I have no idea how to shoot them.
Fans of futuristic racing games like F-Zero and Wipeout XL must have felt like kids on Christmas when the first screenshots of Bank Limit: Advanced Battle Racing were revealed. Oh, how they must feel now after purchasing and playing.
A mess of menus
From the start, it's clear that Bank Limit: ABR was rushed out — attempting to navigate the opening menu almost needs a tutorial itself. You are tasked with looking at the button you'd like to press; there is a crosshair that you'd think would line up with your view, but most of the time you're left guessing as to where your centered view really is. A button will light up, but the crosshair is several inches off in a random direction. You then pull the trigger on your Vive's motion controller and...nothing happens.
It's safe to say the Vive controllers should be altogether ditched if you want to get anywhere. An August 22nd update claims that the menus have been completely overhauled for the Vive controllers, but I still couldn't get them to work. Playing with them while you're racing at least gets you somewhere, but frustration will rise quickly; using motion controllers delivers a clunky, un-fun experience. While in the cockpit of your vehicle, your hands are positioned on the steering wheel, but the Vive controllers just sort of float, disembodied, around you in the cockpit. It really feels like virtual reality was slapped onto a 2D game.
Adding to the impression that this game is a rushed, incomplete project are spelling mistakes and things that seemingly do nothing other than light up when you highlight them with your crosshair. After ditching the Vive controllers for good, I used an Xbox One controller to navigate. While it definitely worked better, using the D-pad and joysticks is anything but smooth. You'll be moving through one menu with a joystick, but apparently you have to switch to the D-pad. Now you're looking around and the crosshair highlights a button and you're taken to some sub-menu. Am I just terrible at navigating menus? Maybe. Do other games make their menus less complicated? Definitely.
I wouldn't go into this much detail normally, but having a menu system this bad as the introduction to your game just shouldn't happen. Enough about the menus. What about the gameplay?
Look! I'm going sorta fast!
Racing games in VR should draw gasps! You should be saying things like, "Oh, shit!" and "Eat my dust!" Not so much here. From the starting gate you hit a speed, and no matter what the speedometer says, it just kind of feels like you're going that same speed. There is a boost function you can hit, but it just makes your car harder to control for a moment until you hit the brakes. There's no adrenaline, and there's no rush.
You're apparently going upwards of 400 miles an hour, but I've felt more of a rush putting the pedal down in a minivan. While I mention the speed and speedometer, I should mention that the inside of the cockpit has some futuristic stylings that are neat to look at. There are colored energy and speed bars, and a couple of HUDs that show position and time in numerical form. Well, they would if they actually worked.
Instead you have a position and a time counter stuck overtop of your inventory HUD on your steering wheel, making it almost impossible to see what weapons and perks you have selected. By the time you glance down and look through the mess atop your steering column, you'll be about to crash into something when you look back up. The energy and MPH bars don't do anything but sit there looking almost pretty. You have to rely on numbered stats located above the bars for any indication of what's actually going on.
Seeing your loadouts through the mess of time and position is only half the battle. They correspond to the buttons on the game controller — holding down the top button, for instance, sends out a seeking missile. You can use the D-pad on the fly to change what each button does, but doing so means you have to remove your thumb from the left joystick. Yes, this is the joystick used to steer. No problem, I thought. I'll go and change the controller layout — I saw that ability earlier in the menus. Well, you can change everything except the D-pad.
There is a flying mode that I really didn't use at all except to test it out; I didn't see the point of it. You hold down a button and it releases you from the track, allowing you to, as developer Tastee Beverage puts it, "soar over your opponents, then lock back down to secure victory." Why do so when you can just ram your way past opponents?
Shooting lasers and rockets is fun
Racing isn't all Bank Limit: ABR is about — thank goodness. While you're racing, you also have the ability to shoot lasers and rockets at your opponents. Seeing the opponent in front of you pour black smoke out the back and ultimately explode in a fiery crash is fun, especially as you zip through the wreckage. If you're taking the defensive, there is a shield you can pop up to ward off incoming projectiles and plasma beams. And that's about it. There are nine weapons in total, most waiting for you to unlock, but new weapons unfortunately don't change the mechanics.
Aiming with your head — that pesky crosshair we encountered in the menus is back — is kind of cool, but the crosshair is constantly disappearing or clipping into the track as you're shooting. It's annoying and seems to happen on all tracks. I found myself spamming the laser button instead of taking any sort of tactical shot, as there seemed to be no reward for doing so.
Amount of content is a plus
For a game that feels mostly unfinished, there are a surprising amount of tracks: 20, to be exact. There are also three arenas that you can battle in, either against computer opponents or against friends. That's right — there is multiplayer, and it's cross-platform. Whether you're using a Vive, a Rift, or a good old 2D monitor, you'll be able to go head to head. I should note that I failed at joining any random games and I don't know anyone else who plays. For this reason I can't say much about multiplayer. I did partake in several single-player cups that threw four tracks in a row at me and kept a point total to see if I would advance to the next class or not.
As you progress through racing cups, you unlock colors for your current vehicle, as well as completely new vehicles that you can attempt to equip through the main menu. There are also new weapons to unlock that you can swap in and out of your active loadout. It's not much, but at least it's an attempt at content.
Tell us how you really feel
Bank Limit: ABR now costs about $25 on Steam, but up until August 19 it was twice that. This was a $50 game that felt, at best, like an early access title with a looooong way to go. I do commend the developers for dropping the price in the face of poor user reviews, but the fact they started with such a high price screams cash-grab. VR is a new medium, and people are starved for games, so much that they might pay anything for a magnet racer that looked so cool in the demos. Good on Tastee Beverage Studios for also fully refunding anyone who payed a full $50 for the game.
If you're a die-hard fan of magnet racers and don't mind slogging your way through labyrinthine menus and poor controller support, you might consider giving this game a try, but only because the price was recently cut in half. This is, at best, a 2D game that had VR shoved into it at the last second.
It's a shame, really — I wanted this game to be a hit — but there is a sign that good things could come. The devs have stated that they are listening to user feedback, and are attempting to fix their game and in the process fix the reputation they've somewhat soiled.
- Decent amount of tracks
- Can play against your non-VR friends
- Menus are terrible
- Vive's motion controllers don't work
- No real sense of speed
- Unfinished content at a high price