Lightfield Review

By Kevin Tavore, 3 months ago
The indie renaissance we’ve been living through the past few years has been a thing of beauty. Sure, there's been countless knockoffs and forgettable games, but there are also new developers who have finally gained the platform they need to show they’ve got what it takes to create something better than what came before. They make games that take age-old, commercialized concepts and combine them with new ideas to revive genres that have been dead for over a decade. While many of these takes don’t succeed on every level, what you can get is a new experience that no one has made before and that might just be worth investing in. That new experience is certainly for what Lightfield is shooting and in a world of racing clones, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Lightfield

Lightfield bills itself as a new style of racing game. The developer calls it "hyperfuturistic" and "omnidirectional," two terms that are absolutely meaningless out of context. The first refers to the game's styling, which has very clear influences to racing monoliths like Wipeout and F-Zero. The tracks are colorful, the ships are even more colorful, and nothing could possibly be mistaken for anything resembling reality. It's a setting taken by many games, but futuristic racers take advantage of it more than others. As you blaze through the scenery, the colors run together into a mishmash that just feels wonderful to soar through. You won't have much time to take in the sights as you speed by everything, but the blur itself looks nice and it sets the right tone from the very start.

As for “omnidirectional,” that’s the game’s bread and butter. It’s what separates it from anything else in its genre. Each track is laid out in a 3D world with a series of checkpoints. Your vehicle can either fly slowly or attach to any surface to move quickly. This is simple enough. What makes it different is the fact that there are no boundaries — you can get to each checkpoint in any way you want. It’s also different in that gravity plays no part in the game and you can attach to any surface you like. The physics in the game work well and after a small learning curve, sticking to walls in a zero gravity environment will feel just as natural as driving a car so you can focus on the racing line. That’s important because unlike other racers, Lightfield is less about getting the racing line down perfectly on each corner and more about finding the racing line in the first place.

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This mechanic encourages you to experiment and explore the tracks. When you begin a track, you’ll be in a time trial mode and can explore at your leisure. You can follow the other racers, each of which leaves a bright line of light to show you how they got through the track. Doing so will undoubtedly be your first step. Once you’ve learned the lay of the land, the next step is figuring out when and where you can cut corners and the paths are not always obvious. You’ll learn that instead of following the other racers down a tunnel, you should perhaps attach to the top and then quickly swap to a side wall when the tunnel ends to shave off a second. A second here and a second there quickly add up, and what was once a clear track followed by the AI is now your playground. In any other game it would be cheating, but in Lightfield it’s your goal and the challenge of finding those routes is fun.

Any racing game based on exploration and finding the best racing line is going to need to have good track design. Lightfield feels good here. There are unfortunately only seven tracks, but what’s there is well-designed. The tracks unlock as you play further and each track becomes more and more complicated, which simply opens things up to more creativity in determining the racing line. AI racers will go in all different directions and you can watch them to learn new tricks and get ideas. The variety makes for a fun experience, although with seven tracks it feels like there’s quite a lot of interesting ideas that aren’t fully realized.

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Unfortunately, beyond the interesting, new mechanics and the quality track design, things do go downhill. The game allows and even encourages you to increase the speed. Futuristic racers have always been about speed, so it feels only natural to jack up the speed to 2x or even 3x... there’s an achievement for it, after all. You can do so here, but the rest of the game speeds up as well and the game isn’t forgiving. Fast racing games need forgiving controls and physics. If you’re playing at 2x speed, your reflexes don’t magically become 2x faster, which means you’ll have half the time to react to anything as you would have at normal speed. Things quickly become very difficult as you begin bouncing off walls and accidentally careening into the middle of nowhere when you miss a turn. The ability to increase or decrease the game speed could have been a major benefit to the game, but instead it’s more a novelty if not an outright hindrance for hardcore players.

Perhaps more importantly, there’s just not a lot to actually do in the game. The low number of tracks is really a symptom of this greater issue. The developers tout three different game modes: racing, time trial and exploration. This is a game where you can move through your opponents in a race, which functionally means that time trial and race are the exact same concept. Time trial even has you racing against visible ghosts of various difficulties. Exploration is different, allowing you to scope out potential racing routes, but the actual gameplay in the mode revolves entirely around finding glowing, collectible squares by following a waypoint. In short, exploration isn’t fun, leaving the only engaging activity in the game to be racing in general. There aren’t different ships, career management or really anything else to mix up the seven tracks. The only bright spot here is the multiplayer — it allows split screen and online, with matchmaking promised in a future patch.

Lightfield

The visuals are a highlight in setting the right tone, but visuals alone do not make the tone in a racing game like this: music plays a major part as well. Electronica, like indie games, is going through a bit of a renaissance in recent times and thousands of new artists create interesting tracks on a daily basis. They sound futuristic, incorporating digital sounds with new musical ideas, and that’s exactly the right fit for Lightfield. For this game, Austrian artist Zanshin provides the soundtrack. His music is no doubt good to fans of the genre, but the issue is that it is slow and methodical. Lightfield simply is not. You’re always moving at frenetic speeds and the choice to include almost entirely mellow electronica just doesn’t work and it was distracting. After tuning into a random electronica playlist on Spotify, everything immediately clicked. Zanshin is a good artist, but the music he creates simply isn’t suited to Lightfield.

The achievements do certainly stand out — not a single one ends in a 5 or a 0, much to the dismay of many achievement hunters. You’ll knock off a few right from the start, such as unlocking the second level, but others will take more effort. You’ll need to find all the stars in every level, for one. There’s also miscellaneous achievements for tasks like flying so high you explode. There are also a few that have not been unlocked and have vague enough descriptions I couldn’t say what you’re supposed to do. Luckily, the game does feature in-game achievement tracking to help you along the way.

Summary

Lightfield has succeeded in creating a new take on an old racing subgenre that is worthy of your time. The “omnidirectional” racing allows you to think creatively about how you approach each track and can lead to some very rewarding time trial runs. With good level design and solid game mechanics backing it up, there’s a solid foundation here. If a game can thrive on being unique alone, then Lightfield will be a runaway success, but there are significant blemishes that can’t be overlooked. There are only seven tracks and “three” game modes where two are functionally the same and the third is not enjoyable at all, leaving racing as the only real element to the game. It might be visually explosive, but the music sinks your energy and will have you searching for something more fast-paced to suit the game. At the right price, Lightfield is worth investigating, but at its current price it’s hard to recommend.
2.5 / 5
Positives
  • Visually lovely game
  • Clever track design distinguishes it from its peers
  • Exciting to find shortcuts and other tricks to shave off time
Negatives
  • Only seven tracks
  • Can be extremely difficult to control if speed is increased
  • Two of the three game modes are very similar
  • The other game mode is based entirely on finding collectibles
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 4 hours playing through the game, unlocking all 7 tracks and winning races on advanced and even pro difficulties on top of finding numerous collectible stars. 3 of the game's 13 achievements were unlocked along the way. An Xbox One copy was provided by the developer for this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.