Trailblazers Hands-On Preview: Going The Distance

It's Splatoon meets F-Zero meets Jet Set Radio meets Wipeout wrapped up in what is looking like a fun and unique new racing series. 

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I feel like there have always been two schools of thought when it comes to the design of racing video games: One side desires only the most technical, realistic, sim-style experience possible; which is where we get great titles like Gran Turismo and Project Cars. I personally tend to skew towards the flip side of that coin and tend to enjoy the more arcade or sci-fi racers out there like Mario Kart or Wipeout. Fortunately for my personal tastes, Trailblazers is very unapologetically rooted in the arcade-style experience with a few surprising and truly unique angles on what a racing game can be. I got a chance to try out a work-in-progress PC build using a controller at a recent press junket.

All the core elements that make up a traditional racing title are in Trailblazers. You choose a racer with the right stats and try to get to the finish line before anyone else on a variety of tracks. Only in the case of this game, the racers’ stats have more to do with how much or how fast they can drive over paint. That’s right, Trailblazers has taken a page right out of Splatoon and made a racing game where you and your teammates have to paint the track to create consistent speed boosts.

This, in turn, means that Trailblazers is very much a team-oriented title that adds a new angle of strategy to the genre. A racer can stack their boost up to three times by constantly driving over a painted area, but can’t paint while boosting. When a paint meter is maxed out, a racer can shoot a streak of paint in front of them and cause an opponent to spin out if hit. So, one strategy could be to have a teammate pick a racer longer paint meter while another member grabs a racer with a larger speed boost from turbo-ing over painted areas. Since most race tracks in Trailblazers feature multiple routes, finding one that’s optimum for the entire team and keeping it painted properly becomes paramount to victory.

Surprisingly though, teams can still win a race even if they don’t place first, because everything is based off a point system. This means the winner is chosen by tallying up all the awesome stuff each team cumulatively did during the race. So much like in the original Burnout series, every drift, boost, and attack goes towards your chance for victory. It’s an interesting take, forcing players to engage beyond just trying to get to the finish faster than everyone else, but I can tell you that it did feel rather crushing to get my first win only to lose to the AI team in overall points.

Trailblazers will have several gameplay modes, including a tournament mode. Each tournament race will feature three objectives for players to complete on top of winning the race. Objectives can range from simply placing anywhere between 1st and 5th place or involve boosting for a given distance or time. While I didn’t get to look at every iteration of objectives, they should be rather varied by the time the game launches.

Since Trailblazers is meant to be played in a co-op multiplayer setting at its core, the final version will feature four-player split-screen local and online co-op. So a team of four racers can keep an eye on each other's screens whether or not they’re in the same room.

From a gameplay standpoint, racing feels deceptively simple. Since all the racecraft appear to be hover or jet-powered, there’s very much that floaty F-Zero feel to the way things handle on the track. Figuring out how to keep moving at breakneck speeds over painted areas while not crashing into a railing or missing a split in the course became a nuanced dance. Sadly, I mostly had two left feet when things got going at ludicrous speeds, but I kept wanting to come back for more.

Visually, Trailblazers gave me a Borderlands-eque vibe. It’s got a real vibrant Borderlands, cyber-punk, cel-shaded aesthetic. Plus, the soundtrack takes that neon Blade Runner aesthetic a step even further with a list of songs selected specifically for their similarity to the Jet Set Radio soundtrack. Trailblazers also has a humorous, somewhat casual story behind it that helps give a little context to the backgrounds of the racers and the world they inhabit. Players will try their hands at racing as a space frog with daddy issues, or a robot soldier reprogrammed for racing, along with an assortment of other exotic beings.

The combination of visuals and beats mixed with the classic space racing feel of F-Zero and Wipeout really harkens back to some of the greatest titles ever made. Then you throw in something as out-of-left-field as Splatoon-like mechanics and suddenly Trailblazers is looking like a game that’s going to both strike a chord with old-school gamers while offering up its own unique twist on the racing genre.

Trailblazers is set to launch in May 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and Linux. 

Reviews Editor

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, www.cartoonviolencemusic.com. If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

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