Regular readers know that we’re partial to racing games here at Codec Moments, and we like a good tune as well, so Music Racer: Ultimate caught our eye when the news graced our inbox. A blend of high speeds, thumping beats and stylised graphics make this a striking game that catches the eye and ear, and holds the promise of being able to use your own music in game too. Is that enough to give a rewarding racing experience, or is this a totally different type of game altogether?
This isn’t a racing game to be fair, it’s not about sector times or coming first, it’s more like a rhythm game in its setup. However, it’s not that either because your driving doesn’t influence much beyond racking up a score. Music Racer: Ultimate is actually more of a glorified music visualiser that has you piloting a vehicle along a three lane highway, zipping from left to right in order to strike markers on the road. The markers match up with the beats of the tune playing, and successfully running over one increases the score. There are obstacles dropped in the way that kill the combo and soften the audio when hit, so avoiding them is advised, but on standard difficulty there’s little peril beyond affecting the reward dished out and the smooth playing of the track.
What’s most interesting about Music Racer: Ultimate is that the beats are placed based on whatever song is playing rather than being specific for each level. Each race is dynamically created and the tempo and rhythm of the music determines the speed which you move along. Breakdowns and ambient sections in songs can pull the pace back and allow a breather to focus on nailing each beat, whilst heavy basslines will rocket your car down the track leaving you little time to figure out where to turn next. Each circuit also adds a different challenge with the way they flow, undulate or add extra visual or vibration stimuli.
The way Music Racer: Ultimate looks and plays reminds me a little of Rez in its simplistic vector style and bold colouring, and that you have limited control over what you’re doing. It might strike as an odd choice in a racing game, but this is all about blending your senses with the pulse of the music so that you’re letting a lot of the on-screen action wash over you and get lost in the tunes. Fortunately there’s no lack of music to pick from with the included base tracks being pretty sizeable. Most are electronica that suit the mood perfectly and have a retro vibe to them that fits really well. If you don’t like what’s on offer then there are two other options: Audius or serving your own. The former is a streaming service focussed on discovering new artists, the latter is simply running your own tunes from your phone; and both these extend the life and enjoyment of the game.
Switch into the Zen or Cinematic modes and the races become a case of just enjoying what’s playing and seeing how the game engine converts the audio to visual. It’s a great way to experience some of your favourite music, and in playing there weren’t really any tracks that didn’t work well. Using the Audius interface is simple – you can either search for an artist or use the trending list – and you’ll no doubt discover something new to enjoy whilst trying them out. It’s not the smoothest to navigate, and with no filter or sort options you end up scrolling through endless lists each time you want to pick something, but with a couple of tweaks this could be worked out. You need to get to grips with setting up a server on your phone, but in fairness this is usually an app and setting an IP address in the game, which does have very clear instructions.
Despite the mild levels of faff involved in getting Music Racer: Ultimate up and running for your own music (which is totally optional), it’s a very accessible game. There aren’t any complex controls and everything is pretty intuitive so you can dive right in. There are loads of vehicles and plenty of levels to pick from, though all need unlocking with points earned in the races, so expect to keep playing to earn them. This in itself is satisfying enough when you’ve a virtually unlimited amount of tunes to call on. Ignore the clunky selection menus for the music and this is great way to get lost in sound for hours at a time.
A PS5 review copy of Music Racer: Ultimate was provided by Sometimes You’s PR team and the game is available now on PS and Xbox platforms for around £10, depending on the platform.
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