Modern Review: Horizon Chase (iOS)

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The current trend for new games with overtly retro-themed visuals and gameplay mechanics shows no sign of slowing, and the voracity with which they are lapped up by the game-buying public shows no sign of abatement. You only have to look at the success of games like Steamworld Dig, Nidhogg and Hotline Miami to see that the anachronistic aesthetic of ‘old skool’ visuals blended with ‘new skool’ design has plucked at the nostalgic heartstrings of many a modern gamer.

Maybe these allusions to the 8 and 16-bit eras create an air of sentiment, harking to a bygone time when games were more about the experience of getting a high score rather than winning trophies and achievements; but conversely also bring these modern aspects along for the ride too. However you look at it though, it appears retro-styled games are here for the long haul and some of the finest virtual experiences of recent times have been spawned by this craze.

Enter Brazilian software house Aquiris with a bright, brash and ballsy homage to the arcade racers of yesteryear: Horizon Chase. Aquiris have made no secret of the fact that their new iOS title takes all of the cues from those halcyon days of endlessly powering your red Ferrari, yellow Lotus or multi-coloured motorcycle towards the ever-distant horizon line, weaving through the pack of drone-like adversaries and trying to get to the ‘goal’ before the timer runs out. One look at the screens will tell you that this is the most Outrun-esque Outrun clone you’ve probably ever clapped eyes on; from the default red sports car, to the two-tone patchwork of the rolling hills and asphalt everything about Horizon Chase unashamedly parades Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece on a flag pole. Indeed, the only thing missing is a flag man to wave it.

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Horizon Chase is not all about mimicry though. It does introduce lots of new ideas to the formula and for this the game should be applauded. While the visuals are indeed styled in a retro vein, the engine and the effects employed are anything but antiquated. The low-poly vehicle and environmental models look fantastic on the iPhone and iPad screens that the game was tested on, and the undulating terrain and faux sprite-scaling effect utilised by the trackside objects (they’re polygonal, but a cool effect that makes them appear to ‘grow’ faster than they should really add an air of authenticity to the feel of this being a title running on older hardware) are great. Other graphical effects include day-to-night transitions, headlight effects, and rain, fog, snow and thunder storms. To complement this, the music that pumps from the speakers (it is recommended that you use headphones, though) is nothing short of brilliant. Composed by veteran musician Barry Leitch (of Lotus Turbo Challenge fame) everything from the intro music, to the menu tune to the epic techno and dance arrangements instantly feel perfect for the style of Horizon Chase. While a couple of the tracks are a little too close to some of the favourites from the Outrun soundtrack for comfort, on the whole it really does add an extra element to the experience.

Weighing in at a penny under £3, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Horizon Chase would be light on content or one of those ‘in-game purchases are available’ types, but you’d be wrong – this is a fully fleshed arcade racer which features 8 distinct locations from around the globe, each with 3 championships and special races from which you earn extra vehicles and upgrades. There are no real performance settings to mess with, but each vehicle and upgrade has its own strengths and weaknesses. In total there are 32 different cities to race in with 78 tracks in total, as well as 16 unlockable and upgradeable vehicles.

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All this talk of content, music, Outrun, Lotus Turbo Challenge et al would come to nought if Horizon Chase played like a broken jalopy though. Happily, it doesn’t – it plays fabulously. The default control scheme does employ touch controls (acceleration and steering are handled by the player, with braking initiated by lifting off the gas), but contrary to being terrible they work really well. There was the odd occasion where steering was unresponsive but for the most part they are well implemented and allow you to quickly and effortlessly manoeuvre your vehicle around the many corners and competing cars on-track. That the controls exhibit the perfect level of sensitivity is key here as avoiding both the trackside objects, competing racers and also being able to successfully collect the ‘track tokens’ (blue coins which enable you to open up subsequent locations and cups) and fuel pick-ups (yes, your fuel gauge will deplete throughout the race) are all vital components of being successful in Horizon Chase’s main quest. One thing worth noting is that the vehicles are not blessed with Outrun 2’s ability to drift around corners sideways – this is very much planted in the roots of the genre when it comes to car handling. Interestingly though, there are multiple control schemes available, and game-pad support is in here too, so if the thought of touch controls still doesn’t appeal even after this glowing report, you've always got that option to fall back on.

Conclusion

It isn’t often that an iOS game comes along that has such impressive production values and replay value, and isn’t peppered with in-app purchases or some other caveat that involves spending more money. No, what you get with Horizon Chase is a love letter to racers from a bygone era, which not only faithfully recreates the aesthetic and simultaneously modernises it; but one that brings the aural fanfare and timeless gameplay that racers of yesteryear had in spades. Lots of tracks, vehicles and challenge make Horizon Chase a force to be reckoned with in the iOS arena, and for £2.99/$2.99 you really can’t say farer than that.

Link: Horizon Chase Official Website


 

Tom Charnock

A true connoisseur of failed and obscure console hardware, if Tom isn't extolling the virtues of the Jaguar CD's texture smoothing abilities or the Dreamcast's vast array of useless peripherals he's usually on Twitter asking where all the Super A'Can games are.

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