Race After 1977 Hands-On Preview

Fighting off homicidal robots once a nuclear winter clears is so 1990s. Had a hydrogen-powered apocalypse struck the world in 1977, people would be spending the twilight of human history revving up muscle car engines and racing through the ruins of civilization — or so Xpect Games would have us believe in their upcoming iOS sim, Race After 1977. A surprising amount of backstory on the situation and drivers the player will be competing against has been drafted up, available for perusal at the game’s website; but for the player’s purposes the most important detail is that nuclear blasts have changed the planet’s axial tilt and rate of rotation enough to offer the post-apocalyptic racecar junkie tracks that are either permanently arid or snowbound.

While the premise sounds as if it might lend itself to vehicular combat in the vein of Twisted Metal or Mario Kart, Xpect Games tread much closer to the realistic simulation style of Gran Turismo. There’s still plenty of bumper car action to be found here, but the race track itself becomes the player’s main adversary — and if you think American roads have suffered from a mere economic recession, just imagine them after a few years’ exposure to radioactive snow and dust!

Half the battle lies in selecting a vehicle that optimally balances acceleration and traction given the course at hand; the player chooses from a wide lineup of cars derived from pre-1977 models. Three were available in the first level of the build iFanzine received, with up to ten unlockable through player achievement and more on the way in post-release updates.

The iPhone and iPod Touch editions of Race After 1977 will offer two modes of steering: through small virtual buttons on either side of the touchscreen or tilt controls. Beyond making that choice on the options screen, the player is sure to spend some time tinkering with the game’s steering sensitivity setting until he or she finds a comfortable goldilocks spot. Adjusting the game’s controls to player preferences appears crucial to the experience here, because circuits are of formidable length, fraught with spinout-inducing turns and chasm jumps that demand player endurance. Racing genre veterans, especially, will appreciate the level of challenge they’ll find here.

For all that Xpect games is touting the evolving artificial intelligence of the game’s computer-controlled drivers, the real surprise treat in Race After 1977 might just be its music — as you might guess from its title, there are moments when the player will feel as if he or she is racing straight through a weird post-apocalyptic rendition of Saturday Night Fever. This is a very good thing, because the disco beats are mingled with heavy guitar riffs to incredibly catchy effect.

Offering an intriguing blend of simulation-style physics and wild environments a NASCAR driver would surely flinch at, Race After 1977 looks like it’s going to be a winner for sim racing vets in search of something a little out of the ordinary. Unfortunately 2G iDevice owners are going to be left out in the cold; Race After 1977 will release for 3G and 4G iDevices and the iPad.