Xenon Racer delivers a drift-based futuristic racing game with a fun, retro vibe, but its nostalgia trip is held back by slippery controls.
Futuristic racing games were once among the kings of the racing game genre. Series like F-Zero and Wipeout provided the kind of high-octane racing that other titles failed to provide, and although major publishers have been hesitant to return to this kind of racing, there has been a resurgence in the independent scene. Xenon Racer is the latest title to try and showcase how motorsport may look in the future.
That said, Xenon Racer doesn't stray too far from modern day in terms of its timeline. Set in 2030, it seems as though a lot has changed in 11 years, with flying vehicles becoming the norm for transport and major cities turning into the neon-tinged metropolises that 80s cyberpunk fans have been dreaming of.
Rather than the jet-fueled speed of Wipeout though, Xenon Racer is more grounded - literally. Within the framing of the game, Xenon Racer is the last hoorah of traditional racing. Four-wheel vehicles, boosted by xenon gas, make it to breakneck speeds as they race around roads now obsolete due to technological advancements.
Because of this, Xenon Racer's core gameplay actually feels like a hybrid of the aforementioned likes of F-Zero and another staple of the 1990s era of gaming. Drift racers like Sega's fantastic Daytona USA are a serious influence here, with success in Xenon Racer relying heavily on being able to pick up the title's drift mechanic.
This isn't required solely to make it around the game's occasionally brutal corners, either. Xenon Racer also tasks players with keeping tabs on their ERS meter, which allows them to boost at effective moments. The boost meter is refilled by driving over boost panels, but also by efficient use of drifting as well, growing the more that the player is able to drift around corners successfully.
When it comes down to it, this is a decent idea for a blend of different racing subgenres. At its core, Xenon Racer feels the most like Ridge Racer if Namco's series had a futuristic facelift, keeping things interesting by introducing this boost management mechanic. Given that decent drift racers are hard to come by at the moment, it's a very useful itch for Xenon Racer to scratch.
When it comes to delivering on this promise Xenon Racer is found a little bit wanting. Despite its strong premise, the game lacks that needed top tier sense of control that the best arcade racers have to offer. Instead, Xenon Racer feels a little bit slippery, its cars floating across the track without the grip needed to differentiate between drifting and boosting.
This takes away a little from the game's neat setup. Failing to hit corners at the right angle will end up costing players badly in terms of damage to their car, and it's not helped by the occasionally awkward rival racer AI that sends them careening into the player at inopportune moments.
On top of that, Xenon Racer is occasionally quite a difficult game. It's a title that expects players to have some experience with drift racing and high speed boosting, so veterans of 90s racing will hope that they're not too rusty. Xenon Racer is nowhere near DiRT Rally 2.0 levels of trickiness, but for those expecting a breezy arcade experience, think again.
Xenon Racer offers pleasing visuals, feeling like how those 1990s racing games were imagined were it not for the limited technology of the time. It maintains a decent framerate throughout on PS4, and those night-time levels in particular really show off its striking use of color. On top of that, it has a fantastic dance soundtrack that feels like it came straight out of Wipeout.
Overall, Xenon Racer is solid. Its awkward moments when it comes to control take away from the experience somewhat, but it's a decent pick for those after a nostalgia trip for a bygone era of racing. It's not a world-changer, but nonetheless has something to offer for classic racing fans.
Xenon Racers is available for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.