A quick shot of racing adrenaline. An hourly chance to compete against hundreds of online players to prove your worth. A high octane game of Frogger. RGX Showdown is many things, but derivative is not one of them. While the game certainly draws from other racing titles, its unique spin on the classic Grand Prix makes for consistently exciting one-on-one races more reminiscent of arcade games like Cruis'n than anything seen on console. RGX stands for Rival Gears X-treme, and in all ways, it embraces that title.
The core concept of RGX (from developers ShortRound Games and publisher Telltale Games) is simple: every hour a new online tournament starts, pitting players from around the world against each other in a mad dash to reach the top of the scoreboard. Players get points by racing in 1v1 scenarios and get extra points for not crashing, beating time records, and other milestones. Win streaks multiply the player's score, making it significantly easier to rise the ranks. To help secure a victory, players can use mods before a race to increase speed, accelerations, handling, or boost. There's a bit of strategy involved in deciding when to purchase mods, but the key is generally to just save them for later matches on a win streak.
After racing for up to an hour (tournaments can be joined at any point; there's a distinct advantage to joining early), prizes are awarded. It's no surprise that in a racing game, all of the prizes are cars. There's one awarded simply for participating, another awarded at a higher tier, typically around the top 40% of players, and one awarded just to the #1 player in the tournament. There's a brief pause to let players check out their rewards and then another tournament starts. It's a constant opportunity for competition, but because it's never-ending, the stakes of a tournament feel lower than that of an individual game.
RGX Showdown features five different classes of racing: D, C, B, A, and S. Each slightly increases the speed, similar to cc's in Mario Kart, and provides racers with different optional cars to choose from. At a 10 dollar price point, the game features only 30 unique cars. While understandable, the lack of variety makes the rewards of a tournament feel even more unnecessary. RGX has limited content in general. The only mode is the online tournament, there's no split-screen or even a simple way to play a friend or stranger online in a short match. There are many tracks, but each one is only aesthetically different: night, day, city, desert. Because the races are straight shots forward with no turning, the nameless tracks might as well be the same. The cars might as well be the same too. There are customization options like decals to boast a player's skill at boosting, but it's nothing compared to a game at a slightly higher buy-in, say Rocket League.
But the comparisons to a certain soccer-infused car game stop there. RGX's racing gameplay is most similar to the classic GameCube game, F-Zero GX. The design of the cars clearly takes inspiration from F-Zero's futuristic hovering death traps. Coupled with a focus on boost-management in favor of turning tight corners, it's hard not to draw a line between the two titles. RGX notably comes from several of the minds behind Criterion Software's Burnout and Black Rock Studio's Split/Second. And while it takes an obvious page from their book of high-risk high-reward racing, it shies away from some of the more exciting elements of those titles.
The Burnout series specifically was notable for its crash system. Speeding through traffic, players would collide with an oncoming truck and watch in slow motion as their beautiful muscle car was ripped to shreds. It was equal parts gratifying and horrifying. RGX does borrow the element of traffic, and it is a huge component of the gameplay, but its collision system is much less satisfying. More importantly, it is also less punishing. In the game's short races, colliding with traffic only resets your car a second back from its previous position, and it does so instantly. Lakitu move aside, RGX puts the play back in the driver seat mere milliseconds after they crash. It makes crashing feel more like a distraction and less like a game-losing move. The same could be said for boosting, a system that appears almost entirely luck-based. Prior to the start of a race, players must press the boost button on a fast-moving meter, hoping it hits the top end. This determines the amount of boost they'll start the race with; boost is also gained from near-misses of traffic. But it never really seems to matter because players can so quickly catch up with their rival who got a superior start.
RGX: Showdown truly is a showdown and less of a race. The majority of the time is spent dodging traffic, not trying to outwit or outrace a rival. Because each race lasts no more than a minute, they get a player's adrenaline pumping, but by the time they're really into the spirit of racing, the finish line has already been crossed. The game is made for by-a-nose finishes. Throughout my play-through, this reviewer did not have a single game that was one or lost by more than a second. When on the winning end, this is a great bonus; the losing end, not so much. It feels like cheating to know that your opponent crashed several more times than you, but still managed to catch up due to lack of severe punishment.
For racers seeking a burst of old-school meets the online tourney scene, RGX will scratch that itch. But those looking for a fully fledged racing game should wait for the next big AAA release.
RGX Showdown is out now for PS4 and Xbox One for $9.99 USD. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purpose of this review.