Founded in 2007, California-based indie developer Vector Unit first made a name for itself with Hydro Thunder Hurricane, the Xbox 360 and Windows sequel to the beloved arcade water racing game.
Since then, the studio has created two primary brands for itself: the cart-style Beach Buggy Racing series and the water-based Riptide GP.
On the studio's tenth anniversary, Vector Unit has launched Riptide GP: Renegade as an Xbox Play Anywhere title for Xbox One and Windows 10. Buy one version, and you get the other for free. Renegade is the first game in the series to be developed specifically for modern consoles and PCs (though it also came to Android and iOS). Could this entry be the water racing game to beat?
Since Riptide GP: Renegade was designed as a console-style experience, the Career Mode now has an actual story. The game begins with a tutorial race in which your chosen protagonist (male or female) accepts a challenge from a hothead racer. At the end, cops swarm and arrest our heroine. Hydrojet racing is illegal in this futuristic setting for some unexplained reason.
Three whole years later, our protagonist is released from jail. Along with the help of a friend, she'll have to build a racing team and compete in increasingly tough events as she searches for the jerk who set her up. These text-based dialog sequences are fairly skippable in general, but at least Vector Unit bothered to give us a reason for the racing.
The single-player Career Mode consists of five chapters, each with three or more race series, and several events to a series. Each event has up to three stars to earn, depending on the place in which you finish. Complete all of the regular series in a chapter, and you'll go up against a boss. Winning these boss races (which are just regular one-on-one races) will cause that boss to join your team, unlocking him or her as a playable character.
Completing Career races also earns you money and experience. Leveling up allows you to unlock new skills in the form of either permanent buffs (earning more from performing stunts, etc.) or new stunts to perform. The buffs are most important, but extra stunts provide an edge in certain types of events.
Money can be spent on upgrades for your hydrojets. These vehicles have four stats, all of which can be upgraded several times. Upgrades prove extremely important. Like in other Vector Unit games, I hit a wall early on in which I needed to grind for money before I could become competitive enough to keep three-starring races. But after fully upgrading that first vehicle, income tends to keep pace with Career progress from then on.
Besides traditional races and boss races, Renegade has three other race types: Elimination, Slalom, and Freestyle. In Elimination, the racer in last place gets kicked out at set intervals. Slalom requires you to pass by specific sides of buoys (gates), much like slalom skiing. Freestyle involves pulling off stunts to earn points and reach score targets.
Renegade uses the same stunt system as its predecessor. When going over a ramp, certain surfaces, or simply catching air from waves or drops, various combinations of the two analog sticks will pull off different stunts. This, in turn, fills up your boost meter, allowing you to hit high speeds for a short time. It takes practice, but learning to pull off higher-level multi-press stunts makes later races and especially Freestyle events much easier.
Career consists of scores of races, but the game only has nine different tracks in total. The developers wisely mix things up, introducing new tracks in later chapters, and throwing in more of the alternate race styles. Still, repetition eventually sets in. Adding more variations of the individual tracks, such as different times of day and weather, would probably help. As it is, Career spreads the game's content a little thin.
Although Riptide GP2 features online multiplayer on PC and mobile, the console versions sadly did not. Vector Unit finally fixes things with Renegade, which supports cross-platform online multiplayer between Xbox One and Windows 10 (not Steam) for up to eight players.
Upon entering online multiplayer, players select from a limited assortment of skins, riders, and hydrojets. All stunts are unlocked here by default, regardless of Career progress. The host initially chooses from three vehicle speeds (slow, normal, and fast), which affects all subsequent races in that lobby.
After at least two players join the online lobby, the race can begin. The game picks the first track automatically. But after that initial race finishes, players vote on subsequent tracks. The online races I completed were fast and smooth, with no sync or latency issues.
Online isn't perfect, though. First, all online races are just standard races. You can't play Elimination, Slalom, or Freestyle events with friends. Second, online play is too disconnected from the overall experience. It doesn't contribute to your overall player level, nor are there any Achievements for completing online races.
As it is, you can race others just for fun. But without an overall goal to work towards, I doubt people will keep coming back for more. Shame that Renegade doesn't support one overall player level between modes as in Gears of War 4 and Sniper Elite 4. One long-term goal shared between modes would really help keep players invested after finishing Career.
Split-screen multiplayer is always worth celebrating, but Vector Unit likes to go above and beyond the call of duty by providing 6-player split-screen in its console racing games. Most of us don't own that many controllers, but racing with six people in the same room is still an exciting prospect.
Whereas Riptide GP2 had no selectable options at all for split-screen, Renegade at least lets the group pick a few things. You can choose between four assortments of tracks to cycle through, the speed of the race, and skins, riders, and vehicles. It's still odd that we can't select individual tracks, race types, or set the number of laps, though.
The Windows Store mistakenly lists Renegade as supporting local co-op. All multiplayer in this game is competitive, so it doesn't have co-op.
Achievements and Xbox Play Anywhere
The Xbox One and Windows 10 versions of Renegade offer a single shared list of 24 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Save games are shared between both versions of the game, so any progress on one platform carries over to the other.
Most of the Achievements are standard Career-focused goals like placing first in all events. A few optional goals like performing the Logroll stunt off a log on the Firewatch track add some charm. Each of the nine tracks also has a collectible Easter Egg to find, which will likely necessitate the use of a guide. Luckily, our Easter Eggs guide has screenshots and descriptions of every location.
On the whole, it's a fair and doable list. I just wish Multiplayer had some Achievements too.
Riptide GP: Renegade is another quality arcade-style water racing game from Vector Unit. All nine tracks have clever shortcuts and alternate paths to find. Several take place in interesting environments, like a forest on fire and a long-flooded city. The actual audio could be a lot better – the music is grating, and there's no announcer, which creates a much drier and more sterile feel than a game like this should have.
- Arcade-style water racing makes for a great time.
- Online multiplayer and split-screen
- Cross-buy and cross-platform multiplayer
- Sound design needs major improvement. No announcer and the music doubles as a sedative.
- Career mode has far too many events for only nine courses to sustain.
- Multiplayer mode has no long-term goals or connection to other modes.
Niggles aside, Renegade's lengthy Career Mode and local and online multiplayer support all make for a robust package. Factor in the low price of ten bucks and full Xbox Play Anywhere support, and you have a must-buy for arcade racing fans.
Xbox One review copy provided by the developer.