The budget racing game from Engine Software and Midas Interactive some fleeting futuristic combat entertainment, but a lack of content and some frustrating design choices mean the experience isn’t all that it could be.
World-building & Story
Being a racing game, I didn’t expect much from Stateshift in the storytelling department and indeed that’s what I got. While there are characters and an intestine setting here, that’s it – nothing is expanded upon and no plot is told.
Of course, that’s in no way detrimental to a game like this, but what is a shame is the title’s interesting potential squandered in the world-building department. This is a place where fierce car combat races take place through industrial-looking futuristic tracks full of hazards (not dissimilar to Jak X), yet you’re never given any insight as to why things are the way they are. Even a series like WipEout justifies its anti-grav racing with an interesting history of futuristic racing leagues (if you dig for it).
As such, Stateshift comes across as being rather empty – good looking and with the potential to be interesting, but with little to say for itself. I can’t mark it down too far in this regard, but it is slightly disappointing.
Presentation & Sound
Graphically, things aren’t too bad for Stateshift. It definitely shows signs of being a mid-life PSP game, but I found many aspects of the presentation impressive even on the Vita.
But certainly, high points weren’t to be found in the interface and non-racing graphics, as these are dull at best. You’re given a choice of two racers upon booting up, complete with lazily drawn portraits without much life to them, before being plunged into a series of weak menus.
Other than this, though, the game holds up fairly well. Sure, you can tell the hardware it’s designed for and it’s certainly no more advanced than a PS2 game, but there are lots of things to be admired here. Vehicle models are detailed and animate well when shifting between states; environments follow different racing-typical themes such as cities and ice caverns but all provide variety; environmental effects such as snowstorm or falling sand in a crumbling temple are used well. Certainly that I can say I regularly admired things while blasting through Stateshift‘s futuristic landscapes.
With that said, certain things about the game don’t hold up to scrutiny. Although draw-distance is generally good, there were times upcoming objects were just a blur and the path wasn’t clear, leading to a few more collisions than I would have liked. This is aggravated when the upcoming object is another racer using boost, which can be difficult to make out on some tracks often causing me to swerve out of the way (which isn’t the point in a combat racer).
And speaking of using boost – although the game generally runs fairly well, boosting your vehicle (something you’ll need to do if you want to win races) causes the framerate to tank, making it difficult to control what you’re driving. I was still perfectly capable of staying on track in spite of this, but it’s a frustration.
Sound is pretty good – vehicles growl and smash together while driving, all to the beat of a techno soundtrack that’s stereotypical for the genre yet still incredibly fitting for what’s happening on screen. They’re not the kind of songs I’m going to be thinking about after the game is turned off, but they set the tone well.
Gameplay & Content
A futuristic combat racer cut from the same cloth as Rollcage, Stateshift‘s main gimmick is in the title – your vehicle can shift states while racing, providing various different perks. An interesting concept that does allow for some strategic thinking, the rest of the game is sadly a little too undercooked to make full use of it.
Content is the first matter I want to bring up – progression is heavily gated and even when you’ve unlocked most of what the game has to offer, there isn’t much here. You have to progress through a series of tournaments in a “career” mode to unlock new courses, but there are precious few tracks in the game meaning you’ll be racing the same ones over and over. There’s certainly more here than it first appears, but the hurdles to unlock new stuff hurts the experience.
Still, the tracks themselves are interesting – interactive, winding obstacle courses that are beautiful to look at and fun to race. Each normally has branching routes, encouraging you to find the quickest way through, and they’re littered with speed boosting collectibles helping you to hone the perfect racing line.
The actual driving itself is a mixed bag. Although Stateshift is a combat racer, there are no weapons, meaning it’s more of a “bash into your foes” experience similar to Burnout or Motorstorm. I never felt particularly threatened by my fellow combatants though, as they mostly fought among themselves unlike the challengers in the aforementioned titles who would often be far more aggressive, leaving the idea of ramming your foes off the road as somewhat of an afterthought.
Handling of your vehicle is iffy – it tends to be rather sluggish at the best of times, but this seems to be part of the design. As previously mentioned, you can use a power bar (filled by either collectibles or drifting) to shift states in a race – basically, change the makeup of the vehicle for a different purpose. For example, ‘dragster’ heats up your vehicle causing it to be even more difficult to handle but allowing you to boost to drive faster; while ‘scorch’ cools it down and makes it much more maneuverable.
It’s a neat, inventive system that should cause a lot of strategic thinking while racing, but in reality by tying it to a bar filled by drifting, your only thoughts will be whether you can drift around any particular corner and whether any straight is long enough for you to boost through. Rather than expanding the experience as intended, it only serves to restrict it.
This is compounded by the controls, which are generally fine yet contain the bizarre choice of double tapping the shoulder buttons to shift states. I assume this is to ensure you don’t press them by accident, but in reality just causes it to become a chore because a double tap often won’t register if you’re making a split second decision.
It all compounds to make a game that’s by no means bad – in fact it’s really enjoyable in places – but it’s definitely less than the sum of its parts. Which is a shame, because Stateshift remains an interesting blend of unique ideas alongside more established elements of a genre we don’t see enough of these days.
Stateshift is a strange mix of highs and lows – the presentation can go from stunning to iffy; the driving ranges from inventive to frustrating and the way the content is gated both encourages you yet feels incredibly off-putting. It’s worth a try if you’re a fan of the ever-dwindling car combat genre (or futuristic racers in general), but I can’t help coming away from the experience being disappointed the game didn’t quite live up to its potential.