If you enjoy futuristic racers, this one comes with a few twists.
Z-Race isn’t the first sci-fi racer to grace VR. Between Radial-G: Racing Revolved and WipEout Omega Collection, we’ve gotten a taste for high-speed racing, but we’re not exactly spoilt for choice. Developed by XOCUS, Z-Race offers a fresh alternative, taking a different approach by utilizing third-person gameplay. Launching this month in Steam Early Access, Z-Race makes for an enjoyable time, and unfortunately, it ends too quickly.
In the current build, we’ve got ten anti-gravity racers and twelve 360° tracks, with XOCUS promising to double this upon completion. Not all of them are immediately available, both split into different classes. Unlocking further tracks requires a top 3 finish in the previous race, gradually increasing the difficulty. As for racers, you need to max out a vehicle’s stats to unlock the next class. Doing this requires coins, which players can collect across each track, and get awarded as race completion bonuses. These are used to purchase vehicle upgrades, improving top speed and acceleration.
Our only gameplay option is asynchronous multiplayer, placing us against “ghosts” of other players’ attempts on those tracks, competing for the best leaderboard times. For the racing itself, Z-Race places the camera behind your selected vehicle, offering a typical race to the finish as you navigate treacherous obstacles from a third-person perspective. If you run into a few here and there, fear not, as there’s no damage system. That being said, knocking into obstacles will briefly slow you down, so you will need to be careful. This approach admittedly works well, feeling more alive than simply competing with AI bots while, simulatenously, removing any wait for matchmaking.
Upon selecting your dominant hand, racers are moved with the respective motion controller. Letting you twist to avoid obstacles, that same controller also handles acceleration and breaking, assigned to the trigger and grip buttons, respectively. Players can activate nitro boost for a speed burst using the other controller, which can be refilled during races. If you’re struggling to navigate obstacles, you can slow down time, letting you pass with advanced precision. For a fast-paced game, Z-Race controls smoothly, and you can jump straight in with minimal fuss.
Admittedly, it doesn’t capture that high-speed immersion like WipEout does. By taking us out of the cockpit and into a third-person game, Z-Race is rather unique, and that doesn’t hurt the experience either. The core gameplay is addictive, racers control smoothly, and I never felt any motion sickness. You can play sitting down and I’d recommend doing so from a swivel chair, allowing you to navigate those 360° tracks with ease. This is all backed by a high-energy soundtrack, which does an exemplary job complimenting the action.
THE MISSING FEATURES
My biggest criticism is that there’s just not enough here. Despite some entertaining gameplay, Z-Race feels relatively barebones, even by Early Access standards, and you can’t help but wish for extra variety. It’s worth noting that XOCUS has confirmed plans to add a “Head-to-Head” mode with up to 8 racers, removing ship upgrades to create an even playing field and also allowing cosmetic customization. That certainly sounds promising but, in this current build, you can unlock everything in roughly two hours.
Z-Race is a tough one to recommend. In this current state, the game’s biggest draw comes from replayability, and thankfully, XOCUS has created an engaging racer that nails that core gameplay loop. I just wish there were more to it. You can’t expect too much from Early Access but, even then, content is especially light. With just a singular gameplay mode, this arguably comes down to quality over quantity and, if you’re eager to find a new futuristic racer, Z-Race offers a good time.
Z-Race will be available March 2nd on Steam in Early Access. According to XOCUS, plans for an Oculus Quest release are currently in the works.
*This review was conducted using an Oculus Quest 2 via Virtual Desktop. Review copy provided by XOCUS*
Feature Image Credit: XOCUS