These days, arcade racers are few and far between, so it's refreshing to see one as bright-eyed and original as Trailblazers launching on PS4. Supergonk's unique racing game has looked promising from the start, with a core mechanic that separates it from its stablemates. With an emphasis on cooperation, and a surprising amount of story, this is one racing game that's truly doing its own thing, but is any of it going to keep people playing?
Let's start with Trailblazers' main hook. Each anti-gravity vehicle can lay down a trail of colour as they race around the track, and any teammates can then use these strips of paint to boost. You and your allies should try to coat the course in your colour, as this not only gives you more opportunity to travel faster, but also means opposing teams will have to spend less time boosting and more time painting. It's a clever system that opens up a strategic way of thinking; if you're out in front, you should be painting as much as possible to help your team, but also to hinder the others. If you've fallen behind, you can catch up by driving over your team's colour, while also making sure to paint over opposing colours to slow down the competition.
The push and pull that this system creates means that you're always engaged, and are always making decisions in the heat of the moment. In the game's main 3v3 mode, the team with the most points will claim victory, which doesn't just include race position. Practically any activity on the track will contribute to your team's total, encouraging you to keep the points ticking no matter whether you're leading the pack or bringing up the rear. You can attack opponents if you have a full paint meter, which also nets you points, so even playing dirty has advantages.
Trailblazers works hard to ensure you're familiar with all of its intricacies via a lengthy Story Mode. The cast of eight partaking in these races are introduced one by one, and their stories intertwine as you progress. The narrative isn't great, but there's an effort to give context to the action, and it's all pretty harmless. More importantly, the Story Mode provides a thorough introduction to the game's ten tracks and their variants, as well as the five race types on offer, which we'll get to shortly.
Each of the eight characters has different stats: some of them are all-rounders, while others specialise in boosting, or have particularly large paint meters. Their matching vehicles all handle a little differently, too, but generally speaking, the driving is well done. Drifting, however, takes a bit of getting used to. A simple tap of the break when turning will cause you to drift, but it's imprecise and kills your momentum, making it difficult to stay on course, especially on narrower tracks. Colliding with walls or other obstacles cancels your current points combo and can stop you completely, which doesn't marry well with the iffy drifting.
Hitting other vehicles can be problematic as well, which occurs all too often after executing a paint attack. Rather than the spun-out opponent be cast to the side, they stay right in your freshly painted path, which more often than not means you shunt straight into them and grind to a halt yourself. Some erratic AI behaviour doesn't help, with even your teammates getting in the way occasionally.
These gameplay problems are more obvious in certain modes. The Partner Battle (three teams of two) and self-explanatory All vs All modes are the main offenders, as there are more opposing vehicles that'll try and do you in, while the 3v3 team racing, Time Trial, and Gate Chase modes fare better. Gate Chase prohibits the use of your paint meter, and instead litters the track with dozens of gates that send out a streak of your team's colour when you pass through. All the modes are enjoyable enough, but with AI drivers that can easily throw you off, you'll suffer some very frustrating losses.
Given the game's cooperative nature, multiplayer will play a large part in its success. While we've yet to sample the online multiplayer due to deserted pre-launch servers, split-screen racing for up to four players is included. Unfortunately, split-screen feels quite cramped, and it exacerbates the performance issues found in single player. Having said that, playing with other humans rather than some haphazard AI does allow you to better communicate tactics, and if you're longing for old school, offline split-screen racing, this will still entertain for a while.
Speaking of old school, Trailblazers has a late nineties/early noughties feel that we quite enjoy. The vibrant aesthetic lends a very unique, stylised look, while the soundtrack reminds us of Jet Set Radio. It's all presented with a fun, lighthearted tone that we don't often see any more.
Trailblazers is an ambitious and entertaining arcade racer with a great core concept that gives races a very dynamic edge. The added strategy that the track-painting system provides makes for an excellent ebb and flow to the racing, and the presentation is well executed. Some gameplay hang-ups do occasionally spoil the fun, however, with stubborn AI drivers that cause lots of unwanted collisions -- including your teammates. Some performance issues aside, this remains an engaging, and rather different, racing game that just about overcomes its problems to offer some good old fashioned fun.