Game Review – Redout

Redout is a challenging and insanely fast anti-gravity racing game by 34BigThings, released September 2, 2016 on Steam [Xbox One & PS4 slated for Early 2017]. I’ve been anticipating this one since 2014 as a PC alternative to Wipeout; was it worth the wait? …spoiler… YES!  Review last updated for Patch #1, 2016/09/10.

Banner - Redout

Aspect Ratios 16:9, 21:9 is playable but crops view vertically
Framerate Cap Unlimited, optional steps between 30 and 240
Performance Good
SLI No
Options Above Average, but missing a few things
Key Rebinding No
Controller Support/Rebinding Yes, No
Multiplayer Online (12 Players)


PC Port Quality

While technically competent because of the capabilities of Unreal 4, a few oversights in the options department leave a bit to be desired. Resolution and the Borderless-Window(Default)/Window/Fullscreen toggle are only found in the config files or set via launch parameters, but oddly it does have in-game resolution scaling [40/60/80/100%]. Fullscreen refreshrate matches what’s set in Windows, and there is a v-sync toggle and configurable framerate cap [30, 60, 75, 100, 120, 144, 165, 200, 240, Unlimited]. There’s a reasonable array of graphics options, each with scale-ability between Low/Normal/High/Epic, the main issue being the way that post processing effects have been bundled. For really any title, separating Motion Blur, Depth of Field, Chromatic Aberration, and Ambient Occlusion into their own individual settings is best, as the first three obscure clarity in different ways, with AO often having a large performance impact. Motion blur was thankfully separated out in the first patch (though for now seems to turn back on between restarts), but I noticed a bloom effect and an odd pixelated shading effect that crop up while raising the post processing setting as well. The anti-aliasing setting doesn’t clarify it’s methods, but it seems to range from post (FXAA or SMAA), all the way up to high-end temporal stuff which while blurring slightly, completely removes crawling or flickering of the thin horizontal lines in the track while your craft bobs up and down.

Redout - Menu - Settings
Options Menu

I’d like to see FOV offsets for each of the camera views, as the front bumper camera specifically seems to be narrower than the others even though it would benefit from added special awareness the most, being so close to the track in a game with many steep inclines and loops. It would also be best to move to internal FOV that is vertical, as when using displays wider than 16:9, the horizontal restriction causes the image to be cropped vertically the wider you go. Even at only 2x wide, the further back camera view is so cropped that it looks like the hood cam. [Manual fix on WSGFBetween the 4 viewpoints there are 2 static HUD layouts, and the other floats beside the ship making it much harder to see. Some way to set a preference so that I could have the static cornered HUD while using the chase cam would be appreciated. The vehicle and race portions of the HUD can be toggled separately, though certain messages will still appear such as opponent names and checkpoint timings during Time Trials.

4 Camera Views - All but the first will pull backwards based on speed.
4 Camera Views – All but the first will pull backwards based on speed.

Performance isn’t incredible, but it’s quite scaleable and can look good on most systems. I was able to push 100-120 FPS on low settings on a single GTX 670 @1080P, while everything maxed including AA ranged from 65-90. No SLI support by default, but using compatibility bits from Daylight (also UE4) and forcing AFR2, I was able to manage a 25-30% framerate increase with no flickering. Tracks use portals to warp you around the environment more quickly, and they’re also used to chain all the tracks of a world together in the Boss events. Users have reported significant framerate drops when nearing these portals, but I’ve not experienced this myself.

Redout - Menu - Controls
Keyboard & Controller Layouts

Xinput controllers and keyboard are supported simultaneously (button prompts are toggled in the options), while the mouse has no function. No inversion settings or rebinding beyond 3 preset controller layouts. Redout has the most complex controls I’ve ever seen in a racing game of this type, using a number of kinds of movement you’ll need to wrap your brain around; full keyboard/controller rebinding would make that accessible for more players. All the primary movement controls (throttle, brake, steering, strafing, pitch) accept analog input, but while I do acknowledge the fidelity of that kind of control, it can be quite difficult to manage while not actually being fully required. Even though the game is so fast and challenging, the absence of strict grip mechanics (essential to many realistic racing games/sims) allows for competent, satisfying play even with a keyboard. Much like Trackmania, this is an ideal title to whip out a laptop during a commute, as all you need is WASD, the arrows, and shift/space. As insane as it sounds for a title with so much analog control, I found it to be more responsive and less taxing during long sessions on keyboard. I did have to manually rebind, swapping A/D with </>, putting the strafe in the left hand with steering on the right.

Excusing the lack of rebinding (devs say they’re working on it), two small problems that plague the otherwise excellent controls. Camera look is clunky and useless, regardless of whether or not it’s on the default D-pad, or the right analog stick when using the 2nd or 3rd presets… It supports analog when on the stick, but it’s only smooth between the 4 cardinals, snapping weirdly while passing them. When letting go of either, there’s this slow, jerky pan back to center that WILL make you crash; luckily there is a dedicated look back button that doesn’t have this transition. Last is the lack of camera control for the keyboard, meaning you can’t rotate the ships in the menus as WASD and the arrow keys both navigate the menus.

Redout supports VR headsets, but I’ll leave that to dedicated outlets.


Gameplay

Mechanics

Ever since I left the PS3 behind, I’ve been searching for something to scratch the itch that Wipeout HD used to. A racing title that is as challenging if not more so to just get around the track than most sims, and yet feels absolutely nothing like them, nor much in the arcade/karting categories. Before delving into all the nuance… Redout is the game I’ve been looking for.

Redout makes one simple control change that has a major impact on the moment to moment feel, while maintaining the same flow and extreme precision required to take turns at full speed. Wipeout’s ships move along the lines of a snowboard or jet ski; relatively rigid in the direction they’re directed, but with the ability to tilt and carve to turn more rapidly. Redout trades that carving (air-brakes) for full strafing control, a lot like the fighter crafts in a number of modern space sims, completely changing the way turns can play out. Strafing can be used to quickly preposition on the track, but it also has a very nuanced impact on your turning ability. Strafing towards the apex can help, but to nail the more complicated turns you’ll need to get creative. You can setup by turning prematurely and strafing outward to start what looks like a traditional drift, before transitioning into an inward strafe to keep you from bonking the outer wall. Unlike traditional drifting however, it’s not a result of momentum, but something you have direct control over.

Redout - Screenshot 05

You can certainly let off the gas, or even apply the break to get around the turns without utilizing strafe, but with the faster speed classes and more complex tracks, you’ll be resetting your momentum so many times that you just can’t compete. Strafing is near essential you won’t get very far without it. Certain vehicles with the right abilities can get through most turns without “drifting”, but they’re still making full use of the strafe to tighten their turning radius. While hitting the wall isn’t the end of the world, you definitely want to avoid it as certain modes can tear up your health (causing you to explode, losing time or ending the event entirely), along with a slowing effect.

In addition to these incredibly challenging turns which can easily ruin your laps and explode your ship (health regenerates slowly between impacts, or after the use of the Repair Drone active ability), you’ve a number of other things to worry about. There are jump sections, and while most are pretty straight forward, others need to be taken at the right angle and/or require that you pitch your ship properly to land earlier or later and to avoid various obstacles. Running Class IV ships, a few even expect pitch input immediately to avoid flying off a mountain or slamming into the roof. Because of things like that, memorizing the tracks is heavily incentivized. You can improvise in Class I/II, but any faster and you need to know to do well. That pitch control is also used to avoid grinding your nose into loops and hills (“Blackouts”), and the blood rushing to your head and a bit of instability during reverse loops and arching over sharp hills (“Redouts”). Unlike Wipeout you can’t use pitch and boost to lift off the track at any time, but there are a few humps/gaps that have provide a touch of air time depending on your speed and pitch.

Redout - Screenshot 04

Lastly are the three boosting mechanics. You can choose to spend your ship energy on a variable boost at any time, or spend the full bar for a more effective burst while using a specific active power-up. Effective use of boost can be used to recover from mistakes, to get through acceleration to make the most of long straights, and if you’re really good, to further tighten your turning radius (increasing the maximum speed you can take sharp turns). The tracks are also littered with boost gates that are just as essential; much easier to hit than Wipeout’s pads, but they can still be missed.

Vehicles and Abilities

Each of the 6 vehicle makes have their own attributes. Some drift/strafe well, others grip more for a tighter turning radius. Some can take a beating, others are geared towards generating energy to either boost more often or to use the various active abilities.

Redout - Ships
4 Speed Classes – 6 Racing Teams

Two abilities can be used at once; one passive and one active. Passive abilities essentially amount to a boost to the various attributes I mentioned above. Maybe you want to stack for sheer speed and acceleration. Or maybe find yourself exploding often in an event where you can’t sacrifice much of your speed; a health buff to a faster ship might be the way to go. Active abilities do some of the same things, but in different ways. You have the full boost which is a lot more effective (the fastest acceleration in the game it seems), but also the repair drone to spend boost to regain health faster, a temporary grip/speed increase (that can be constant with the right Class IV ship), and more. Unfortunately, while some of these can be useful for tackling some of the more creative events, when it comes down to time trials and regular races, players seem to really gravitate to a very small set, but I guess that’s to be expected…

Career and Modes

You can play everything available in the career as quick-races from the main menu, but the 75 event career does a good job of presenting you the various menus via a voiced presenter, and easing you into the various tracks and event types. I did find because of the way that it holds back both the higher classes and complex tracks till later, you never really end up racing the slower classes on the hardest tracks. The difference in speed between each of them is very notable, but the excellent controls make even the slowest ships satisfying; it’s worth it to play around in all of the classes even after completion.

Redout - Career Events
Career Event Menu – Only shows 4/75 events at a time, with a lot of wasted space.

The career menu needs a rework; the simple list they went with makes it very slow to view all of your standings. A single screen layout with a square/hexagon grid of color-coded icons, and a panel on the side to show the thumbnail and info on whatever’s highlighted would be lovely. I really appreciated that they provide enough events so that you’re not required to do modes you don’t enjoy to reach the end. The 75 events also provide concrete goals to achieve with standing, time, or distance requirements for Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platinum medals. “Going for gold” if you will, presents decent variety in terms of difficulty and can be fun to make your way through if you get bored of running Time Attacks. For players on either end of the bell curve, there are no AI difficulty settings, but the upgrades and ability choice/utilization offer that in another from.

  • Time Attack – 2-3-4-6-10-99 laps to set a best lap time
  • Speed – Time Attack, but the further you stay above a speed target, more time is shaved off
  • Instagib – Time Attack with much higher collision damage and no respawn
  • Survival – Health ticks down and spike obstacles are placed on the track; reach checkpoints fast enough to keep going
  • Race – 2-8 laps against 3-5-7-9-11 AI opponents
  • Pure Race – Race with no active or passive power-ups
  • Arena Race – Race with no respawns; first to finish or last living wins
  • Last Man Standing – 3-7 AI opponents, last place for each lap is eliminated
  • Score – Race with 8-14 laps, points are earned for driving cleanly, placement, etc.
  • Boss – Race of 1-4 laps around all 5 tracks of a chosen biome, chained together through teleporters

Redout - Screenshot 03

The solo modes are what I find most enjoyable, at least until they change how collisions work… As I mention in the next section, getting hit from the rear frequently causes you to do a complete 180, at which point you likely have to restart. The AI don’t seem to cause it as often as real players, but it’s still an annoyance. I had a blast with Boss races because they play out more like a rally stage; you have to think on your feet or memorize a whole lot to post great times. A single lap nears 3-5 minutes even with the fastest ships; a huge number and variety of different turns to take in quick succession. I’d love to see a Time Trial variant of these stages, especially once online leaderboards come.

Online

The 12 player online multiplayer allows you to host your own rooms publicly or privately, join a random session, or browse the active sessions. Modes are restricted to just standard and pure races (devs plan to bring more in over time).The lobby nor the gameplay have text or voice chat currently; it would be nice to have but probably isn’t all that necessary. I found online worked well most of the time from a technical standpoint, but there are two serious issues that made it a very frustrating experience. (The ability to see/join active sessions was added in Patch 1.)

  1. In addition to the problem with unlocks I’ll cover in the Progression section, there is no way to filter speed classes. My suggestion is 4 boxes for the host to untick, for the guests to tick as “votes” to be displayed numerically so the host can judge what the players want, and to be shown on the server selection screen so it’s easy to see before connecting.
  2. There are 3 different kinds of boosting, so players rapidly passing each other is extremely common. Instead of the passer slipping past or spinning out themselves, the person who is hit more often then not gets flicked around backwards, instantly destroying their chance of placing well. A bouncing/bobbing effect so the crafts don’t touch would be great, but even straight up disabling collisions would be preferable over the current mess.
Online Lobby
Online Lobby

I’ve played a number of online races, and while I have had disconnects when trying to join lobbies or when returning to the lobby after a race, only once did I ever have a problem in a race that had already loaded. The countdown finished and only 2-3 players could move; they looked around at the stuck ships before it disconnected because I’d assume the host quit to remake the room.


Progression

You’re given 1 of the 6 Class I ships at the start, with only two tracks unlocked (even for free-play modes). Tracks are unlocked for play after finishing an event on them in the campaign. Completing events in the campaign and in online play earn you currency and experience. Levels (max is 30) gate events (and thus stages) and the ship tiers, while the currency is used to actually buy the ships/abilities and their upgrades. There are 4 upgrades to buy for all 12 power-ups AND for all 24 ships; it’s a lot to get through. This is all needless, and not very well thought out either. The events could only be balanced for pre or post ship/ability upgrades, and really either causes a problem because you can’t remove upgrades once they’ve been purchased. How is a beginner expected to experiment and find their favorite handling ship when you make them choose their first one before they’ve played, and when they have so many other things to spend credits on?

Redout - Screenshot 02

Not being able to access the content you’ve paid for until you grind through a career is problem enough, but these unlocks also carry over to the online mode, putting you at a direct disadvantage for no reason. That could easily hinder the player-base by discouraging players who’ve yet to unlock everything, or at the very least have hit level 22 and have earned enough to buy a Class IV ship. Unlocking the ship classes, tracks, and hitting level 30 only takes ~6 hours in the campaign, but there’s a lot to do beyond that, earning medals on all 75 events and enough money for all of the unlocks. If you wish to skip most of the unlocks (not tracks/classes), editing currency via Cheat Engine is possible.

I wish more devs would follow the approach taken by games like Project Cars and Assetto Corsa; zero progression makes both of those feel like fuller products from the moment you load them up.


Presentation

I turned all the details down for much of my play to get as close to 120FPS as possible. When I turned them back up later on, I was continually astonished by how good this game looks… All of the geometry is medium-low poly, and this is often emphasized by noise deformation of what would otherwise be perfectly flat surfaces. That uneven texture is key, because Redout has the most abundant use of screen-space reflections I’ve ever seen. The base shaders and varied angles give off a very metallic appearance, so when you coat that with a thick gloss from the screen-space reflections, and throw in a ton of rich colors and illuminated elements, you get this spectacularly flashy and detailed aesthetic without the use of complex textures/models. Screenshots just don’t do it justice. If the motion blur is left on it can mask a lot of the detail, and without it the reflections are so abundant that the randomized detail and come off as messy. Any motion, from the subtle bobbing of the ship, to blazing by at top speed, and all of the reflections shift and sparkle, making small rendering imperfections disappear. Redout is absolutely gorgeous in motion.

Screen-Space Reflections
Screen-Space Reflections and Rich Colors

Each of the 4 locations have their own unique color palettes, model sets, and lighting methods, creating a lot of variety between them (Egypt, Arctic, forest, and a volcano). Those differences in design do however make the 1st and 3rd look much less appealing when settings are lowered. Some tracks have weather/lighting effects while passing through certain sections, like sandstorms in Egypt, and a foggy swamp in the jundle. The ship teams all have their own visual style (jet, rocket, pod racer, boat, exotic car, muscle car), each getting more detailed as you increase through the 4 speed classes. A 2/3-tone color picker for customization would be great, but the 7 preset palettes do the job well enough.

Redout - Ship Skins
7 Color Palettes per Ship

Because the game is so fast spatially, they didn’t even try to fake it with large FOV pulls; the camera just moves back a bit during boosts and a warp effect around the edge when you’re going fast enough. Really with all of the classes, but especially the fastest two, the feeling of speed is ridiculous. The narrow tracks, the detailing of their surfaces, and all of the signs/arches/objects surrounding them serve as fantastic reference points to consistently remind you of just how fast you’re traveling, as if the difficulty of the turns hadn’t already achieved that…

The electronic music is well implemented mechanically, intensifying and adding elements the faster you go, with various effects while flying, underwater, during crashes, etc. Each of the 20 tracks seems to have their own feel while staying with their biome’s theme, and a few add in lyrical bits and/or guitar riffs. It’s all certainly palatable, but I think it falls short in two aspects. If you’re playing the same track, or even tracks within the same location over and over, it really does get very samey, which is made worse by the next problem. Almost all of the tracks are very rhythmic in nature, lacking those defined melodies that can really get you into the flow of a game like this, and make you want to continue listening outside of the context of the game. Here on PC you can of course play anything you want, but losing out on all of those environmental/circumstantial effects tends to detach it a bit from the experience. A custom music folder to draw from where the right filters could be applied could go a long way.

Redout - Screenshot 01

The sound effects for collisions and air speed are alright, with environmental filtering through tight spaces and water. Ambient level sound effects consist of a subtle wind or the rumble of lava or a waterfall. I found bird sounds on one of the jungle maps, but they were so quiet even with the volume way up. The air effects are based on speed, and there are some location-specific effects, but nothing felt like it existed in 3D space. I couldn’t find any sound sources could shift between left and right audio channels, and the air speed effect doesn’t change at all even if you’re sliding sideways. The engine profile is weak as well, consisting of nothing but the high frequency range of a jet engine; you’d likely not notice if it were removed. I’d be fine with one manufacturer having this subdued engine profile, but not having a few with more grunt is a real missed opportunity, and could’ve paired with the differences in aesthetic to give each team personality. The game definitely doesn’t sound bad, but it could benefit from more depth and spacial presence.


Conclusion

Redout is an absolute blast; quickly becoming one of my favorite racers on the entire platform. There are a few issues, it’s not quite what I’d call “content-rich”, but I am floored by the absolutely sublime game feel. They’ve crafted a handling model here that feels unique even within the anti-gravity racing genre; a wildly satisfying combination of flow and slip while also being responsive enough for you to face these challenging tracks at such high speeds… They’ve nailed the most important aspect right out of the gate, putting the game in a great position. Patching up bugs and expanding upon content for a game like this is a relatively straightforward process compared to the obtuseness of conveying and addressing fundamental issues with control/physics. The 20(+4) tracks provide enough to do in a title so centered on mastering the mechanics, but more definitely couldn’t hurt. If they want to make that easy, I think it would be very wise for them think about a track creation tool and/or procedural generation, along with a minimal/dynamic aesthetic (like Wipeout HD’s Zone mode) to make content generation as easy as possible.

Scorecard - Redout Small

True speed in racing comes from a number of factors, some visual, but primarily the player’s velocity in relation to the width and complexity of the track. If you can hold the wrong direction for 2-3 seconds and still have enough time to correct without leaving the track or crashing, it’s not actually a fast game, regardless of how high the FOV or the number on the speedometer. Redout is definitely among the fastest racing games I’ve ever played, next to Wipeout HD and the X2011 of Gran Turismo 5 (yes, that’s real-time footage). Again the important bit though, is that it feels like neither of those; it’s satisfying in its own way and is just as exhilarating. Redout is dissimilar enough to Wipeout to be a fresh experience, while also being close enough that it still appeals to those fans. While the game can be extremely challenging, a lot of that difficulty is self-motivated and optional; I think there’s enjoyment to be had here even for new players if they’re willing to put a little time in.

The aesthetic is very appealing, cohesive, and really quite impressive for a studio of their size. It’s incredibly flashy and contributes well to the sense of speed, with substantial variety between the 4 locations. The audio design is pleasant enough but could do with more dynamic elements and a fuller range; sounding a tad empty with the music muted. AI racers can be a bit erratic at times, but their only real problem is how ship collisions are handled; an easy fix that would also alleviate the primary frustration found in online play.

If you yearn for more Wipeout, I highly recommend Redout as long as you don’t go in expecting a clone; it has its own handling with less of a focus on combat and trick jumps in favor of pure racing. For the average racing fan I still very much recommend it, but I feel they have a bit of patching up to do before I’m completely behind it for the asking price.


For full disclosure, Redout was provided by the developer for review. If you found this review helpful, consider a rating on Steam.


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