Krautscape is not your average racing game. In fact, you've probably never played any other racing title like it... ever. Why? Because it's not a traditional racing game, not by a long shot.
Published by Midnight City and developed by Mario von Rickenbach (not to be confused with Mario Van Peebles), Krautscape takes everything you thought you knew about the way competitive racing games are played and throws all of it clean out the window. Basically, that means you won't have a blue turtle shell winning races for you.
So why makes this indie title so different from everything else out there? What makes it so unique? So separate from the rest of the herd? Because it encourages you to play, race and compete using non-linearity.
That probably makes no sense to you at all, but I'll try to explain very quickly how Krautscape is setup: You play against an opponent or opponents (I don't know how many in total can participate in the online or LAN modes because no one was on when I tried, but it's up to four people split-screen, locally) and whoever is out front “builds” the track. Now, building the track is done by racing through the checkpoints.
In the one mode called “Snake”, whoever races through the most checkpoints wins. Every time you play through the mode the track will randomly build itself; so it's never the same experience twice. As bizarre as that may sound, it actually works... it works extremely well.
There's another mode called “Ping Pong” and this mode was very interesting. It contains six rounds, and the object is for players to race from one end of the track to the other. Whoever passes through the checkpoint at the end of the track first, scores a point or wins that round. As you go back and forth, the track extends and gets longer and longer using the procedural checkpoints, so the finish lines keep extending in random ways, creating a sort of relay-type race effect.
There's a third mode but I haven't played it yet... I'll get around to it later.
The thing is, the two modes that I did play really struck by surprise because I didn't understand it at all, at first. However, as the game unfolded and I began to see how it was played, you can almost see the possibilities and moments of intensity unfolding right before your eyes. All of this is due to the game's innate gliding feature where players can – at any given moment – switch between a folded up race kart or a momentum-based bird glider.
Now you can't gain momentum while gliding. This means that whatever speed you gather while racing is the speed you carry with you once you take flight. This creates such a unique experience because it forces players to think strategically about where and when they take flight; do you attempt to skip a few corners for a quick lead or do you go for a long glide after passing over a few turbo patches? Do you try to get some height and glide down or do you attempt to skip a complicated section by risking gliding up and over part of the track?
It's not all clear cut and since the track procedurally generates, you're looking at all sorts of cool and unpredictable moments blossoming right in front of you.
To help keep the on-track action competitive and intense, there are traps, roadblocks and other on-track pylons that you drive through to activate a wide range of effects. For instance, one power-up will put a roadblock directly in front of the nearest checkpoint or drop a rotating fan over the checkpoint's gateway, which could prevent players from easily passing through.
Take note, however, that once you pass through a checkpoint and you avoid hitting that power-up, another player can hit that very same power-up, which could affect you even if you're a long ways off.
So say you pass by several power-ups and you're leading the pack and building the track by passing through the checkpoints – some player far back in the pack can roll over the checkpoint and pull up a roadblock for the checkpoint you're closest to, since the checkpoints fade away once that part of the track is built.
It sounds a lot more confusing than what it is, but it's definitely a high-concept, action-racing title that aims to do something very different from the typical Mario Kart or Sonic All-Stars Racing that many gamers may be used to. In fact, I would say that it's closer to Trackmania, insofar that racing skill and quick-thinking are certainly required more than relying on the age-old power-ups.
The game is in Early Access and still has a ways to go before it's complete. I picked up a digital copy for only $7.99. You can check it out over on the official Steam store page. I'm definitely curious to see how well the game will play against advanced players.