Tricky Tracks 2010
The problem with racing buggies is that they're so boring. You just drive them round and round, no challenge, no excitement. So how about we set them on an obstacle course? Now that's more like it! But we can go one better than that... let's build these obstacle courses in the sky! Slip off the track, and it's a long way down...
Welcome to the diabolical world of Tricky Tracks, where the men are separated from the boys by several thousand vertical feet. The concept is very simple - you drive your buggy around a series of tracks, each filled with ever more fiendish obstacles, with the aim of completing them in the fastest possible time. Get stuck or fall off the track, and you'll have to try again. Beat the clock, beat your friends' times, beat yourself up when your nerve slips and your buggy ends up turning end over end on a one-way trip back to the ground.
The controls are very simple. You drive your buggy with the arrow keys, and there's a handbrake key if you want to stop in a hurry. You may well do. Beyond that there's a wealth of strategy - do you speed up for that jump, or take it slowly and skirt round the obstacles? The twin rails are my nemesis - two lines of steel that your buggy must drive along, with utmost precision. Slip off the rails and you're doomed. Obstacles vary from the simple - barriers, bumpy surfaces, jumps - to the downright evil, such as platforms that rotate when you drive over them and some very nasty trapdoors. It's tempting to drive over them at full speed and hope, but that's a tight bend right after them... Even gravity plays a role in later tracks, built on a slant for added complexity.
But don't panic. You don't need to play these tracks in one go, or even in order. Tricky Tracks is very open, allowing you to select any track and even to customise your vehicle. Want a different ground clearance, suspension, braking power and so on? Try fiddling with the settings. I don't personally have the first clue about such things and cannot vouch for how accurate or otherwise these settings are, but I like the option all the same. Viewing a track shows the current best time (if any). That's your target to beat.
So you launch the track, and enter the game proper. There's your buggy, sat just behind the starting line, and up ahead you can see the madness to come in full 3D wonder. There are two camera modes - one very much "in the cockpit" and one set somewhere behind the car (very practical for those more precise obstacles). I would personally have liked a freeform mode wherein I could look ahead and see the track in its entirity - perhaps that would make things too easy! You have a timer in the corner to measure your progress and a very basic speedometer (there is no pretense of identifying your actual speed - the dial is purely relative). That's about it. The game can be fit to a range of sizes and played in fullscreen, though note that any changes will not take effect until you restart. Want to analyse how you did? There's a replay option for every track, during which you can cycle between a number of camera viewpoints. Again, nothing freeform here - all are in some way relative to the car.
Sound is very limited. The only music is a little ditty to accompany the menus - the main game itself is free of such distraction. Sound effects are but two - the skidding of your tyres, and the revving of your engine. In some ways this simplicity appeals - poor quality sound and music can get repetitive very easily - and it certainly was striking. That said, as with Wildebeest's other offerings, this is more of a simulation than an arcade game, and simulators always work better when they cut out the unnecessary.
Tricky Tracks is very simple to pick up, yet difficult to master. The easy controls mean that you'll get started in no time and the customisability of the car means you can experiment a great deal in your bid to shave off a few more seconds. What's the ideal configuration for that track? It's probably down to personal preference. The aim here is not high speed, but control - if you tear off the start line at full speed you may be looking at breaking skydiving records rather than track records. Take your time, navigate those obstacles, and find out how far you can push the speed up without crashing out. I would have preferred a few more camera options, however, and I found the space bar to restart from the previous checkpoint my intuitive "brake" key, so I managed to repeatedly restart rather than stop dead after tricky sections - ouch. Fortunately the controls can be reconfigured if they annoy!
Racing fans that like to squeeze their time down as far as possible will love this game. There's immense replay value in lowering their times alone, but couple that with the reconfiguring of the car and they'll have oodles of scope. For the rest of us, the staying power of Tricky Tracks is limited. Once you've played all the tracks and got a decent time for them, there's relatively little incentive to keep playing them. The good news is that Wildebeest have included a level editor! Make your own tracks from scratch, or load and amend existing ones (to make them easier or harder, that's up to you). I found the editor very difficult to work with; it seems to use keyboard controls rather than mouse and there's no easy way to see the track in its entirety. Some form of tutorial might help here! The designer is also a separate program to the main game, which makes testing new tracks somewhat more laborious. I suspect this is what Wildebeest used to create the ingame tracks, and has been included pretty much as-is without any efforts to make it more user friendly.
This is a simple and fairly diverting game that makes a pleasant change from the normal racing genre. You can play a track within a matter of minutes if you're short on time, or end up losing a couple of hours to that awkward turn. Though there are areas that could be fleshed out and improved, Tricky Tracks has that key element - it's actually rather fun. The demo features a limited selection of tracks and only allows three restarts per attempt at a track but it does include the level editor. Want to give it a try? Or are you scared of heights...?
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