Phaze has its racing head in a haze

Posted: June 2, 2009 in Racer

There’s nothing like a new and shiny game racer when it’s first released into the iTunes wild. The potential can be great especially when accompanied by detailed screenshots or gameplay video. That was the anticipation that Phaze created when it was first announced a few weeks ago as a high-velocity racer many of us have been waiting for. Unfortunately, while Phaze delivers some engaging gameplay, the game lacks polish and replayability, leaving most of its potential on the table.

Phaze provides visually enticing race tracks and environments as well as a wide variety of race craft to navigate the twists and turns at high speed. The game offers a certain degree of excitement as you swerve through curve and avoid hitting the sides, which can result in a fiery explosion. Of course, your craft respawns so you have little to risk. With 16 race tracks and 10 different race craft to choose from, Phaze has plenty to offer within the 4 levels of difficulty—easy, normal, hard and extreme. Two modes of play are available: Championship Mode and Single Race. Championship Mode consists of 16 races for each level of difficulty, while Single Race allows you to race on any of the unlocked tracks.

With the exception of Tau Ceti, all the racetracks and 7 of the race craft are locked until you finish in at least third place in the preceding track. The accelerometer-based controls are simple to use: acceleration (forward tilt to increase speed, tilt back to decrease speed or brake), and steering (left and right tilt) with a calibration sensitivity option setting. The control scheme for Phaze is adequate with little learning curve, enabling you to handle your race craft accurately and responsively.

Various power ups are available and acquired by driving into them and these include rockets, shields, speed boosts, and energy pulses. To activate power ups, simply tap on the icon, and note that you lose your power ups when you crash, burn and respawn. Green boost pads are also randomly located around the track, and significantly boost speed when driving your race craft through them.

On the game screen, a speed gauge is located at the bottom left corner, which maxes out at 420mph for whatever reason, a lap counter and timer can be found in the upper left corner, and your health bar is located in the top middle of the screen. While the health bar is important, once your craft is destroyed, the craft respawns with a fully charged health bar. Acquired power ups appear as an icon in the lower right corner. The big omission in Phaze is a mini map, which I think is essential in a racing game. I have no idea where my competitors are during a race, and for me, I consider it a significant oversight.

The actual racing itself is above average done well with the responsive controls and exceptional 3D environments. For the different levels of difficulty, there is a huge difference when making the jump from easy to normal. Easy is way too easy, and often you will lap your competitors, and I would have a hard time envisioning anyone finishing out of the top three. The AI in the other difficulty modes significantly ramps up, and you easily find yourself in last place before you know it. With the exception of Easy mode, plan to hit the green boost pads as much as you can to keep up with the others.

Here’s is my problem with Phaze. After the initial newness wears off, Phaze becomes repetitive and turns into a game solely about unlocking new tracks and equipment. The game sorely needs a career mode and statistics, and in its current form, this is a missed opportunity. When you finish a race, your finish time and best lap time appear, but none of this is retained nor tracked. The power ups themselves are useless in many cases because they can only be used once or you won’t use them at all (e.g. Easy Mode—you’ll be in first place so there’s nothing to shoot). The shooting component is underutilized in Phaze, and the gameplay suffers because it teases you with some shooting capabilities, but doesn’t go all the way.

Phaze shows promise with mechanics that provide a good feeling of speed, but it falls short because of glaring omissions. Phaze still can be a good racer, and those who enjoy racing for the sake of racing will find it more than satisfies. For many of us, however, Phaze is not a bad game, but it could’ve been much better.

Albie Meter: 3.5 Stars (good looking, but underachieving racer; hopefully updates help deliver on its promise)

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