Gamestyle Archive intro: an early Xbox hidden gem? That’s open to debate but Quantum Redshift was a thrilling ride whilst it lasted. For Alex Carroll those limitations became all too clear and maybe now we can look back with rose-tinted glasses about the whole experience.
Writer: Alex Carroll
Published: October 2002
Future racers have been around for ages, with each successive console generation bringing better graphics and more tracks, but unfortunately have never really delivered any further gameplay innovations. Quantum Redshift is the very latest (and the Xbox’s first) and brings a much-needed burst of adrenaline to adopters of Microsoft’s new console. However, beneath the glorious exterior bubbles 5 year old gameplay and predicable attempts to prolong it’s lifespan. Firstly, though, Quantum Redshift is the ultimate graphical showcase, there can’t be any question of that.
Developers Curly Monsters have produced the single-most stunning looking racer ever seen, on console or arcade. Shifting at a scorching, rock solid 60 frames a second on any game would usual mean cutbacks in other areas – texture quality and polygon count often take a dive to substitute for the frame rate (take F-Zero X for the prime example) but in Quantum Redshift you get the whole deal – busy environments, convincing lighting, sharp, high resolution textures (with bump-mapping) and some of the most impressive graphical special effects yet seen – the water itself is worthy of award. Certain levels are more impressive that others (Kalau Wastelands is bathed in constant, pouring rain that cuts through a dusty racetrack lit with neon signs throughout) but it’s fair to say that each time you start a race the sheer speed and graphical splendour hits you right in the face, a eye-candy driven rush that lasts much longer than you’d imagine. Even a couple of weeks after first experiencing the game it still provokes the same emotion every time the announcer shouts Go!. Thankfully, the sound too is equally superb, and despite some (oddly) down-tempo techno in the background the spot effects are meaty and sound fantastic in Dolby Digital: the whoosh of approaching engines, the distant explosions hinting at what’s around the corner, even the voice-overs in the cut-scenes are good enough that you don’t cringe at the acting.
Whilst the game doesn’t start all that fast (the first couple of difficult levels are there just to ease you in) when you finally unlock Master mode you’ve have your work cut out just staying on the track, never mind winning the race, and that’s without mentioning the titular Redshift level which truly demonstrates some insane speeds. The craft handling, whilst a little light, is actually much more suited to the middle of the game that either the beginning or the end – your first couple of races will see you braking far too early and struggling with the drifting, and towards the end of the game it doesn’t quite provide enough response, sadly, regardless of your reaction times and experience with this sort of game. It depends on how much you’re prepared to put into the game, of course, but once Redshift mode is unlocked there’s little to keep you coming back and that’s where Curly Monster’s gorgeous racer begins to run into problems – there’s just that much to it. Whilst this is an issue that can be levelled to most high-speed future racers, recent titles like Wipeout Fusion have been so finely tuned (literally to perfection) at higher speeds that at it’s fastest, Quantum Redshift just isn’t fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, getting through the main championship mode, with it’s decent selection of tracks and formidable challenge will last you some time, but as with Extreme G III you’ll need to ‘complete’ the game with every character to eventually open the very last secret, something not only outside the scope of what most gamers can expect to put into the game, but also a little unnecessary.
There isn’t a huge selection of tracks and although the game mixes up the order depending on who you’re racing with, there’s a large amount of repetition and you also need to come first in each race to progress. This might not sound such a problem to some reading this, and at first it’s actually quite easy to win each race comfortably, but things soon change and you’ll often find yourself racing the same track over and over again before you finally grab first place. Points gained through the race (by attacking enemies, collecting pick-ups and so on) can be translated to cash credits provided that your most recent run is also your highest scoring (for that particular speed level) – meaning that to gain cash you need to score higher in the race that you’ve done before throughout the game. Credits can be spent improving your craft’s shield, turbo’s (by increasing the time you can use them for in half second steps) and weapons. Each craft has 3 separate weapon areas, mapped (nicely) to three of the Xbox controller’s face buttons. The red weapons tend to be heat-seeking missiles, the blue are unguided rockets, guns and so on, and the yellow items are actually shields, best deployed as the ‘Attack Warning’ message flashes up on screen. Sadly, for the most part these weapons are actually too weak and inaccurate to do anything useful with (despite your opponents being strangely adept at their use) yet unlike with Extreme G III you can’t really expect to do that well by just improving your turbos, mainly because you need the shields power-ups so much.
Turbo’s are activated by a tap of the A button, and you can hold the button down for as long as you have turbo left – thankfully the speed increase is both instant and massive. Whilst Curly Monsters have to be applauded for the amazing graphics and amazing presentation I can’t help feeling that Quantum Redshift could have been so much more. Whilst what is there is done brilliantly and the game is full of nice touches (fly-throughs of the level whilst it’s loading, character interaction before races, a decent frame-rate in the multiplayer mode, and a widescreen mode and choice of user soundtrack) there are also a few niggles that start to spoil the experience, especially after extended play: the weapons system isn’t terribly well realised, the game is made artificially tougher by the use of some crafty enemy catch-up and increased skill should you actually get in the lead, and the handling suffers at the higher speed modes, for example.
I can’t really suggest renting this game, either, because for the 2 or 3 days you’ll have the game it’ll probably be the single most played piece of software you’ve had on the Xbox for a while, and there’s that magically quality to the thought of a super-fast racer and the aforementioned stunning high-resolution visuals that will surely shift this title off the shelves as quick as anything with a Bungie logo on. After that, however, the experience shallows and the formulaic gameplay mechanics start to shine though, which surely is the single biggest disappointment here.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10