Micromachines, Micro-Contents

So Codemasters is showing further Linux support after Dirt Rally, with Micromachines World Series. This is not a port by Feral but by Virtual Programming (whose latest port was ARMA: Cold War Assault, if I am not mistaken). I have fond memories of Micromachines 2 – Back in college we sneaked in the computer rooms to do multiplayer competition on Worms and Micromachines (the 2D version) on old PCs. Things were not super smooth, but it was playable enough to entertain us for short breaks in between classes. We used to play at 3-4 on the same keyboard! Good times.

Back in 2017. Micromachines returns in glorious 3D. Of course there were many episodes in between, such as the Playstation version (Micromachines V3) that was pretty good as well (the first one using proper 3D), while I did miss the later versions. Apparently the previous game in the series was in 2006, so it’s been a long hiatus, and I was kind of looking forward to playing this kind of game again. After all, there’s no so many of such titles these days, while 2D top down racing games were aplenty back in the 80s/90s.

Unfortunately, this 2017 edition is quite disappointing. It’s just… not very fun. At first it looks like they got every detail right: the tracks are gorgeous, very detailed with numerous obstacles on the way. Especially well done are the parts with dripping liquids that slow you down and leave trails if you have to run on it. It looks sticky, too, you can feel your vehicle slowing down in a kind of elastic manner – it’s a detail but they got this kind of things right. Vehicles are also very well designed and rendered, with numerous effects to make them look like miniature models (camera depth of field really helps). Yet, despite this positive first impression, there’s not much content out there.

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First, the quick play mode is the de facto default mode since the ranked matches are not available until you reach level 10 (note, this has changed following an update they released a week post-release, where they unlock ranked match by default now). Quick play is basically online, and is the only mode where you can gain experience and unlock bonuses and loot. Online? So you expect fierce multiplayer action right ? Well, I regret to say that there’s just nobody playing this game online apparently.

Maybe it’s a timezone problem in my case, but every single of my online matches ended up being against AI opponents. That’s sad. On top of that, it takes WAY too long to play. You have to wait for one minute to get into a match, and then another 30 seconds to select your vehicle and wait for things to start… In the case of a race the game only last for 5 laps which is quite fast, probably only a few minutes worth of gameplay. Once the race is over, you have to quit back to the menu in order to get back into quick play again. There is no way to continue your online session and do one race after the other ! This is just horrible, and I wonder if the devs have actually tested their games at all. So basically you spend close to 30% of your time waiting, not in the race, just because of the way the online mode is designed. So, so poor.

You can also play in local games, but there’s no campaign, so it’s just about playing one track among three modes available, against the AI or against local players. Note that the race mode is only available if you are playing alone against the AI, for some reason. Here again poor design decision appear in every corner: once you finish a game, your only option is to play on the same track with the same settings again, or to quit back to the menu. No way you can change the track without exiting the game mode. It’s as if game devs had brainstorming sessions on how to make the user experience the worst possible.

No campaign mode, no time attack mode with online leaderboards either. There’s just not much to do after all. And it’s obviously a game design decision, because it would have been trivial to add a campaign mode with some stuff you would unlock locally.

The driving is decent, and each vehicle handles differently (some are completely useless, too hard to steer), but I kind of wish the action was a little faster. It seems a little slow compared to the older Micromachines. There’s only three weapons available, a hammer to explode your opponents, a bomb/mine that’s only useful for folks behind you, and a kind of pistol that fires ahead of you to knock down your adversaries. The hammer is I think the most unbalanced weapon: it’s too powerful and it appears too often, so when your enemies have it, you have no way to avoid being hit, since the collision detection is pretty wide (the hammer works even if you don’t hit precisely the car). I also feel that there is almost no skill involved in this game. You can be hammered several times and still kind of make it to end up in the first few spots because the respawns are generous and somehow the opponents never get too far from you. Not sure if there’s such a thing as the vehicles at the back going faster than the ones at the front (handicap?) but there might something like that at work. It feels very forgiving – sometimes it’s a good thing, but in this case it feels like cheating.

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The Elimination mode is also back: this is the classic version of the multiplayer mode, where you win when you can get ahead of the opponents by one screen’s width (the same concept was also duplicated in Speed Runners). Problem is, the view in that mode is wayyyyyy too narrow and too close to the micromachines, making such the challenge too easy (if you are ahead) or too hard (if you are at the back), so it feels completely off versus the original concept. That’s the worst mode of the game, while it should have been the best!

It’s really a shame that this game lacks so much content and does not feel enough in many ways, especially when the technical aspects and art are very good on the whole. Port-wise, VP did an excellent job here, the game runs flawlessly at ultra details even on a GTX660Ti in Full HD, so about any recent GTX card can handle this game just fine at max details. No frame stutters to report, and everything is very stable. The game also recognizes the controller automatically (even the Steam Controller!) which is absolutely great. It really feels like you are on a console, completely plug and play without the need for any setup. The only minor issue is that I have experienced a few crashes here and there (after the update the game crashed at start until I rebooted, and there are sometimes crashes in-game). To be honest crashes were rare in my experience, so I may have caught the odd bug on that day.

So, if you want proper Micromachines action, your best bet is to stick with emulators, or hope that Codemasters wakes up and bring a significant update to the game to take care of most of its flaws (and decrease the price of the game, too – 30 dollars for so little content? What were they thinking?). Since most games make most of their revenues in the first 2 months, I would not hold my breath, but you never know…

Note: The videos of MWS displayed in this article were captured with OBS on my GTX970-powered PC – the framerate may be slightly lower in the video than in-game (where it was hitting constant 60fps).


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