Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cracking Sands [Polarbit] - $4.99

Racing games, like just about every other genre, have taken off in the AppStore. There’s no lack of them, that’s for sure, and weeding through everything trying to find one or two that will leave you completely satisfied can be quite the task. However, there have been a few studios that have completely nailed the formula and Polarbit is definitely one of those studios. The first Polarbit title I ever got my hands on was Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 2, and since, their Reckless titles (Racing 1+2 and Getaway) have pretty much secured their place in racer fans hearts. With that, it’s no excuse that fans of the racing genre were ecstatic when their newest racer, Cracking Sands, hit the AppStore a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was riddled with issues, which didn’t do much to help push sales. Last night, an update for Cracking Sands went live, and we felt now would be the best time to write up our review for the game. 

Set in a post global warfare environment where civilization has been reduced to a tribal state and the only thing that matters are death races, Cracking Sands is another battle-focused post-apocalyptic kart racer. There were some issues that a lot of players encountered when the game first came out; The controls were tilt only, so players who are more accustomed to virtual buttons in racers were pretty bummed. Also, the drifting was a real pain, making you jerk your iPad left or right, to the point where you might let go of your iPad, and removing the screen from your direct line of sight, resulting in some very uncomfortable moments. There were also a few people who encountered a bug where tilting left made your kart go right and tilting right made your kart go left. This could be fixed by turning your device up-side-down, which just resulted in more comfort issues. There were also some issues with the sound effects being way too loud, drowning out the music and becoming pretty annoying. 

With the update that hit last night though, most of these issues have been fixed. Virtual buttons for steering have been added, and the jerk to drift has been replaced with the same mechanics from Crash Bandicoot; by pressing and holding your jump button while turning, drifting is now a piece of cake. There are still some players who are having the reverse tilt control issues, but with virtual control buttons now available, it’s not that big of a deal. Along with the new controls, the sounds have been adjusted and although not perfect, it is a lot better than it was. 

Now, onto the content. Cracking Sands is overflowing with it. The single player campaign is packed with 9 Cups and with the exception of the first, they each have 6 tracks (the first cup has 5), for a total of 53 tracks. Even though some of the tracks repeat, they each have different objectives. For instance, there’s your typical ‘finish in the highest place you can’, elimination races where last place is taken out every 15 seconds and head of the pack, where you get 1 point for every 5 seconds that you’re in first place, first racer to 10 points wins. Not only is there loads of content in the campaign, but there are also 5 additional gameplay modes which can be unlocked; Time Trial, Race, Elimination, Head Of The Pack and Multiplayer, each with 28 tracks to choose from. Multiplayer is handled through Polarbit’s servers which, unfortunately, are pretty dead at the moment. After trying multiple times to find someone to play with online, I wound up giving up. Hopefully in the future this mode will be more lively, but I can’t help wonder if it might have been better through Game Center. 

Along with the crazy amount of gameplay content, there are also a whole heap of upgrades and items to outfit and soup up your kart with. There are 20 karts available for purchase with each one having upgrades for top speed, acceleration, control and weight. On top of that, you’re able to outfit it with 4 items. These can either be offensive, defensive or extra utilities. Weapons like a rocket launcher, plasma gun, machine gun and quite a few more can all be upgraded up to 5 times. Items like boost, spikes, flash bang, shield and cloaking device can all be upgraded up to 5 times as well, each having a different impact on the gameplay, finding out what fits with your style of play and maxing it out can be incredibly entertaining. 

The level design is also an area worthy of high praise. With some great twists and turns, shortcuts and holes, there are also spots where the track crosses over itself with the possibility of falling back to another section of the track. If that weren’t enough, while racing, the 5 AI racers will be battling it out, all trying to get in that #1 spot, and going from first to last is something that can, and will, happen on a pretty regular basis. Once you’re shot with an enemy racer’s weapon, it slows you down quite a bit. There are also special items which will hold you back, blind you and generally just try to screw you up. 

Like most other kart racers, there are items that litter each of the tracks. The items here in Cracking Sands charge up your special meter. Once you have energy in your special meter, you can use any of the 4 items that you might have equipped. Here’s the kicker; there are some weapons which can drain your meter and transfer it to other racers, and some that if you’re hit with their projectiles, will just straight up drain it. There are pads that can be found on the tracks that will charge up your special gauge along with the pick-up items, but there’s a certain risk/reward aspect when deciding when and where to use your equipped items which helps to make Cracking Sands not just another mindless kart racer. 

Graphically, the game looks great. The environments and animations are all very well crafted and professionally done, as you might expect coming from a studio that’s pretty much mastered the racing genre. The explosions an other graphical effects for weapons all look great as well, adding to the atmosphere and general feel of the game. The UI is great, even on the larger iPad screen. With two options for the buttons, static and floating, this also helps to make gameplay on the iPad as comfortable as possible. 
Being Universal and with the insane amount of content, the price point of $4.99 seems perfect. There are 19 GameCenter achievements and a full 25 leaderboards helping to add to the replay value and challenge of the game. As it is now, Cracking Sands ranks right up there with SEGA & Sonic All-Stars as one of my favorite kart racers for the iDevice. Hopefully the online gameplay mode will pick up in the near future, because as it is now, that’s really my only complaint. If you’re a fan of racers, especially kart racers, this is one title that should definitely be in your collection. 


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