Rotor

Take control of a chopper, zipping amongst city buildings as you race to beat the clock. Earn more time by undertaking challenges, and get the highest score you can. View your game statistics, and improve your skill over time. Rotor features a fun, physics-based flying model, and original art design, with players able to dictate the colour palette to suit their own aesthetic preferences.

When a game comes packaged with promises of Crazy Taxi, it's only natural for interest and anticipation to run high. Crazy Taxi is a modern arcade classic, a delivery racing game which is simple to enjoy but tough to master. I wore out a controller shifting and boosting on the Dreamcast port, the controller buttons drilling holes into my thumbs from excessive play. Although players do not make deliveries in Rotor, it is a timed racer within a city, so I suppose the comparison can be made. Unfortunately, it's a weak link at best, and a plethora of issues drag the game down despite being one of the prettiest games on the indie market.

Rotor is gorgeous in 1080p. Its three-colored cityscapes are simple but no less impressive to see in motion. The architecture is very well done given it is largely limited to stacks of squares, the varying heights and styles of the buildings fashioning a believable town in which players can race. I like how the developer put street names on the roads, and the light Gouraud shading adds depth to the ground when soaring over the landscape. Players can choose from many pre-configured palette choices or design their own, saved as a custom color scheme with colors chosen from an RGB palette. The graphics are incredibly smooth in motion with no shimmering and such as the player moves about the city. The helicopter is well modeled as well, its propeller blades slashing into buildings and creating debris clouds when flying too close. A detailed minimap in the bottom-left corner tracks the player's location within the city limits, but the lack of arrows or automatic positioning at the start of each challenge can make lining up a chore at times, even with the map's assistance.

The lack of orientation during the racing challenges is particularly annoying given their strict time limits. Rotor offers three game modes: Flight Accuracy, Checkpoint Race, and Orb Hunting. Flight Accuracy has players earning points by staying as close to the projected path as possible as it weaves its way around the city; Checkpoint Race produces a course of floating circles to guide the helicopter; and Orb Hunting has players searching for glowing orbs scattered throughout the city. Lighted, named beacons trigger the events, which would be fine if the player weren't allowed to begin a race while facing opposite of the starting point. This can be corrected with a bit of experimentation to see which route the race courses will take when activated, but it's an unnecessary pain to burden the player with such details in a scoring game with a time limit. There are few landmarks of note to help orient players on the map, namely the starting point atop the Molly Tower and an odd artwork-tunnel thing, also in the center of the map, but that's about it.

Racing is made difficult by the helicopter's controls and feather balance. I found myself using the Y-button to respawn far more than anyone should because my helicopter crashed and got itself stuck inside a building. The left analog stick controls the pitch and roll while the right one handles the yaw and the various bumpers and triggers controlling the air brakes, boost, thrust, and dive of the craft. It's not only too complex but also haphazard in play -- dives drop far too quickly and are too difficult to roll out from, and simple forward movement can be a chore. Three bars of boost allow the helicopter to travel from one end to the other end of the city limits quickly, but trying to boost during a race is a recipe for spinning out as the helicopter's nose tends to drop while moving forward. The game's physics feel as if the developer took an RC helicopter simulator but pushed it into an arcade racing title that the helicopter just can't handle. There's little sense of momentum or positioning during movement, and while I can assume the trying handling is possibly designed like that on purpose, it just isn't any fun.

Rotor is an exercise in tedium, its racing less about speeding around the environment and more about fighting with the controls. It's a shame, too, because it's such a waste of an otherwise beautiful looking game. I couldn't help but think of Chalked while playing, another game I spent a significant amount of time trying to appreciate if only because the visuals were so pretty. Rotor just doesn't offer enough content to give it any real long term play value, and what it offers falls apart due to sloppy, cumbersome gameplay. I'd still say it's worth downloading as a tech demo to see what XNA can do, but then there are games such as REVOLVER360 which already show that players don't have to sacrifice playability and depth to have a great looking indie game.

★★☆☆☆
February 16, 2011
February 10, 2011 | 80 points
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