Stop the ride; we want to get off.
Despite touting itself as “this year’s most hotly anticipated racer” (January isn’t even over yet), Cracking Sands sings a familiar tune across its dusty landscapes: A game which seems like it might have had some potential, but instead wound up falling well short of it.
On the surface it has some fun ideas, such as racing across a post-apocalyptic wasteland on ATV four-wheelers, and even spicing the races up by offering different criteria to win (though some concepts seem familiar from challenges outside the main race in other games). The graphics are nice, and you can even customize your own character with distinct looks and features.
The weapon system even helps set it apart from other games of its ilk; rather than picking them up off the raceway, you can trick your ride out with up to three weapons, plus your nitro booster, though only one can be used at any given time. The key then is to keep these things energized, which is where the normal kart racer pick-ups and certain F-Zero-esque energy pads come into play.
Unfortunately, the game itself starts out adequately, but only gets worse as more checkered flags are dropped. Tilt controls are employed to steer, coupled with automatic acceleration, and these work decently enough with the faux touchscreen buttons until the races begin getting more intense. Drifting for boosts, meanwhile, is a matter of rapidly tilting the phone back and forth, which is just awkward.
Worse still, the track layouts tend to be a huge mess as you progress through the cups. It can be difficult to tell where you’re going, and not just because part of the scenery obstructs your view from time to time. You can reset your position with the touch of a button that’s slightly inconvenient to reach in the top-left, but your fellow racers will no doubt have had plenty of time to catch up or even pass you in that time, provided you were able to take the lead in the first place. Earlier on, you’ll see metagame borders with arrows and “no” signs if you venture too far off the track, but it isn’t long before these wind up right alongside the main part of the track, making the courses feel a bit unnatural.
Not helping matters is the sound, as the music is drowned out by the sound of weapons – most often the constant barrage of machine gun fire. It gets a bit irritating after a while, and while you can adjust the sound levels of the music versus the sound effects, it isn’t a huge help, with the music not doing much to stand out. The music isn’t bad; it’s actually kind of decent, but the experience as a whole just isn’t all that pleasant to listen to over the longer term.
If you can get past all of this, there is some value to the game. In addition to character customization and the single-player Campaign mode, there are other modes such as Time Trial, Single Race, Elimination, and Head of the Pack, though these have to be unlocked. There is a multiplayer mode as well, but as of this writing, there was no one else available to race on the one of two servers we could actually connect to.
While Cracking Sands looks like it has some promise, the fact is that – in our opinion, that is – it just wasn’t very much fun to play. The bad outweighs the good, and the whole time, it was hard not to imagine ourselves instead playing other better examples of the genre. And when your game leads people to instead think about playing other games, that’s when you’ve got a problem.