Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-powered Battlecars (which from now on will be called SARB for short) seems like an idea straight out of my own childhood. The main premise of the game is taking teams of remote control cars and pitting them against each other in a game of soccer. There are no rules to the mock Soccer game except that you score by getting the ball into the other team’s goal, so there’s no need to worry about your RC car being given a yellow card or some other such thing.
Controlling your RC cars is fairly simplistic on the surface. You use the R2 trigger to accelerate, L2 to brake and go into reverse, and square to do a power slide. These are all pretty standard racing mechanic controls so most will feel right at home. The "Acrobatic" part of the game’s extremely long name comes from the RC cars’ ability to jump and do tricks using the X button. If you press the X button once your car will jump up, and then pressing it again will make your car do a double jump in whatever direction you press on the analog stick. This is one of the main tricks you will need to master to get the ball to go where you want it, and there is definitely a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing a barrel roll to barely nudge the ball into the appropriate goal.
The "Rocket-powered" moniker comes from the ability of your cars to boost. This is done by collecting boost either in canisters floating around the arena (which fill up your bar completely) or lit up marks on the ground (which fill up your bar slightly). Once you have collected some boost, you can use it by pressing the circle button. Boost for long enough and you’ll notice the screen getting a bluish tint as your RC car goes into “supersonic” during which you’ll be able to drive along walls with ease, hit the ball much further, and touching any other RC car will make them explode as you pile right through them (hence, “Battlecars”). A more difficult and usually pointless feature of the boost is that you can use it exactly like a rocket when you are in the air, and if you position your RC car correctly you can make it hover or reach previously unreachable heights by using the boost. This normally doesn’t have a point, however, since the RC car does not fly exceptionally quickly when being propelled in this manner so it is very hard to hit the ball even if it happens to be so high that you would need to use the boost to reach it.
There are a couple of game modes in SARB, but none of them really last that long. There are mini-games which are probably the most variety and fun you will see from the gameplay as you are assigned tasks like blocking incoming shots on the goal, playing a game of soccer with a wooden crate instead of a ball, or killing off as many enemies as you can within 3 minutes. These can be quite fun and completing them will grant you new RC cars (only different in shape and look, there are no stats to watch over) as well as stars. There is also a tournament mode which has you playing games against computer controlled enemies of varying difficulties. Unfortunately this mode seems to only reward you with stars (which are only really useful for completionists and trophy jockeys). The last available mode is a multiplayer offline or online. The game supports four player splitscreen as well as a pretty good online mode that has been recently fixed (before it barely functioned at all).
The technical presentation of SARB is below average, I have no delusion that the visuals are pushing the PS3’s limits in any way shape or form, and the pixels on your RC car when it stands still are readily visible. There aren’t a plethora of bugs, but at least once an enemy RC got stuck in terrain for the entire match, changing the game from a 2v2 match to a 2v1.
Visuals are as well unsurprising, with arenas ranging from grass to dessert terrain and 8 different models for your car. I wish there had been some more variety in arenas (there are 4 total) and car designs. When you choose a car for a match you can pick a design for the colors, but each car only has two different designs so this is hardly an acceptable amount of customization.
The extremely low volume setting of the music in SARB makes me wonder if the developers themselves knew that there was nothing special about the random techno that they put in as background filler for the game. There are probably a couple songs, but I was never able to differentiate them so it is all just one massive blur of techno in my mind. The sound effects were serviceable, pretty much what I would expect from a Playstation Network game.
The gameplay in SARB is kind of a mixed bag, and I think it hit just the wrong spot in difficulty. Playing it is a lot like a combination of pool and soccer, as your only control over the ball is by smashing your car into it and trying to get your velocity and angle just right to get the ball where you want it. This means that it is exceptionally hard to get the initial controls of the game down enough to win a match, but once you learn a few tricks there really isn’t much depth to the title. It is like the difficulty curve of the game is a log curve (huge jump in difficulty to start followed with a straight line), instead of the straight line that most developers usually try to achieve. This means that most people will either find the gameplay too difficult and give up immediately, or perfect their technique within a couple of days and then get bored with it.
It is hard to recommend SARB on the standpoint of value, even though it has been recently reduced to 10 dollars. The single player only has enough rewards and variety to probably last most people around 2 hours, and the multiplayer has only one game mode and 4 arenas, so there isn’t much variety in that aspect either. You can definitely have some fun playing this with friends, but I don’t think it justifies the price tag.
SARB is a strange title to say the least. It’s like they took an idea and designed a game around it as best they could, but in the end it turns out that there isn’t much you can do to improve the gameplay. Maybe some more game modes and maps would be enough, but I wonder if there is something inherently wrong with the concept of RC cars playing soccer that makes the gameplay hit that unfortunate point of to difficult or shallow for most gamers. You can definitely have some fun with SARB, so if any of this sounds intriguing please try out the demo online, but in the end the title is below average, even if I appreciate the attempt at bringing a childhood fantasy to life.