Red Bull, the company that produces the best-selling energy drink in the world, has a soft spot for videogames. The drink maker has attached its name to several games for Android and even Xbox 360, since it happens that gamers like yours truly often enjoy sweet, life-giving energy drinks. It's easy to write these software titles off as nothing but advertising tools, but sometimes they actually stand up well as games.
Take Red Bull Air Race – The Game, which has just launched on Android. The game comes from Canadian developer Roadhouse Interactive, who you might know as the creator of the excellent Warhammer 40K: Carnage. This time Roadhouse has crafted a 3D airplane racing game, based on the real-life Red Bull Air Races that also happen to involve airplanes. With great production values and lots of races to fly, Red Bull Air Race is a surprisingly solid free-to-play aerial racer. Read on for impressions and hands-on video.
Learning to fly
By default, Air Race utilizes touch controls. Tilt controls are also available, but I'm not much of a tilt guy – unless we're talking about tilting a vending machine when the candy doesn't drop out of the dispenser. I'll definitely tilt to get my Peanut M&Ms.
Anyway, the touch controls are quite simple. Hold the throttle button on the right to accelerate, and release it to slow down or coast. The virtual stick on the left allows you to turn and perform the occasional complex maneuver.
You mostly just need to move left and right to stay on-course, which makes Air Race easy to pick up and play. Only at certain times on the course do you need to pull up and increase elevation. Even then, you'll soon come back down, perhaps after performing a trick of some kind. It's a good arcade-style control setup.
Race through the sky
Red Bull Air Race features a total of 55 different courses (and 200+ total races) spread across nine different locations, such as the US, UK, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi. Players can even fly in Fort Worth, TX, a stone's throw away from my home in the Houston area.
During a race, you have a yellow track to use as a guideline. The important thing is to correctly pass by pylons, which act as checkpoints. Missing or hitting a pylon will incur a time penalty. Single pylons can be passed by at any angle. Double pylons need to be flown through with your wings leveled out, as opposed to flying at an angle.
There are several different types of races, such as flying solo, flying against ghost racers, and flying against actual AI planes. Come in first during a race and you'll earn gold, the game's premium currency. You also earn Flight Hours, which act like experience and will level you up over time.
Outside of the race
After racing you'll need to repair your plane, otherwise it will lose some of its performance. As you might expect, this is where free to play mechanics come in. Repairs cost money, and have to wait for the repairs to finish before they take effect. Extra technicians will speed up the work, but they cost premium currency.
The game offers six panes planes to choose from. Each can be upgraded (with regular currency) and reskinned with different paint jobs for premium currency. The skins cost like five dollars each, which is kind of pricey. The better planes cost gold as well, but they can also be unlocked by earning medals in the campaign.
Red Bull gives you wings, alright
Red Bull Air Race – The Game has a lot going for it as a racing game. The various locations are quite beautiful, and you get a different look at them than you would in a land-based racer. The licensed music helps the authentic atmosphere too, although the menu music has started to get on my nerves. And racing planes is a nice change of pace from the average racing game.
I'm not super far into the career mode, so I can't say whether it eventually gets too tough for free players to remain competitive. But the game starts out fun and doesn't overload you with Red Bull ads or anything like that. If you like flight games or racing, give Red Bull Air Race a sip, I mean download.