As a kid did you ever grab toy cars or planes and whizz them around the house pretending they were racing? Well, that’s what it kind of feels like playing XOCUS’ new virtual reality (VR) videogame Z-Race – minus the screaming parents – a futuristic racing title that will immediately make you think of WipEout yet offers a very different gameplay experience.
Z-Race immediately stands out thanks to its visual style, the anti-grav vehicles looking awesome thanks to a mixture of F1 and spaceship inspiration. While the tracks tend to be mostly tubular in construction there are moments when they open up, providing stunning views among the clouds or racing through icy, industrialised terrain.
For its Early Access launch on Steam for HTC Vive, Valve Index and Oculus Rift, you’ll be able to pilot 10 vehicles split across three-speed grades, three in grades three and two with four ships in the fastest grade one. Gaining access to the next grade requires upgrading one vehicle to the max, which you can only do by collecting coins on the track or by winning. These are split down into Acceleration, Top Speed and Nitro sections, each with three upgrade slots. So each race is a careful balance between keeping that perfect line or trying to collect those coins.
When it comes to the tracks there are 12 in total, split across Bronze, Silver and Gold cups. Unlike the variety found in the ships, the tracks only have four terrains, so by the time you enter the Gold cup they can feel somewhat repetitive. XOCUS does try to mitigate some of this by increasing the number of obstacles, so not only do you have other opponents flying around you there are red cylinders that will instantly slow you down – they’ll even ricochet if someone in front hits one – and red walls to thread through. In some of the tighter tunnels, it can be quite the challenge trying to feed your way through everything.
To help in these scenarios you have slow-mo and nitro to use, the former can only be used three times per race whilst nitro appears as blue orbs on the track. So far this all sounds like a blistering sci-fi racer – albeit without any weapons – offering face-melting speeds and intense competition.
However, if you’re a fan of VR racing games you’ll know inside the vehicle is where the action is, it’s the only true way of feeling that sense of speed. Z-Racer doesn’t, in fact, as its entirely third-person. There aren’t any actual options because of the control mechanics XOCUS has employed, great for comfort, not so much for speed. As VRFocus alluded to earlier, Z-Racer’s controls are like holding a toy in your hand, the controller becoming the ship. It’s a similar format to Shooty Skies Overdrive, all you need to do is move your hand around the track.
While this may not sit well with racing fans it does mean a generally comfortable experience even with all the undulating track design. It does take a moment to get used to but it provides a different experience to more conventional titles like Radial-G: Proteus.
As for the competitive aspect, Z-Race doesn’t offer your standard multiplayer where you have to wait for other players. Instead, the only mode currently available is Asynchronous Racing, where there are other racers on the track who represent other players times. The benefit of this system is no wait times, just dive straight into a race, and you do get that pseudo-competitive feel even though you know no one else is competing at that moment.
Currently, the content available means you’ll see all Z-Race has to offer in under an hour, going back through each course once you’ve supped up the best ships to gain a prominent leaderboard position. Yet Z-Race is an Early Access title and XOCUS’ plans for more content could radically change the experience. An actual head-to-head mode is planned for Q2 2021 which could really add some much-needed depth to the gameplay. Far more radical is the proposition of a cockpit mode. This idea is being looked at due to player feedback and if implemented would completely alter the control scheme, likely two very different racing modes.
For now, though, Z-Race offers a very average racing experience. It’s enjoyable for that initial hour then begins to wain unless you really want that number one position. There’s plenty of potential to be unlocked as the quality of the graphics and smooth gameplay already set a high, premium bar so hopefully, the studio has plenty of content updates planned. Should that cockpit mode arrive then VRFocus will be revisiting Z-Race.