You may remember that the Nokia E90 shipped with a widescreen, hardware-accelerated 3D driving game, Global Race: Raging Thunder? Somewhat wasted on the 'business' device, many people quickly realised that it also worked after a fashion on the also-accelerated N95. However, the game ran like a turkey on other phones without the vital graphics chip. Until now. Raging Thunder has been reworked by Polarbit and optimised for modern single chip ARM designs and for nHD screens - and it's available now in the Ovi Store. Read on for my review of this reworked seminal Symbian racer.
Now, now, don't get excited. The graphic above is from the Nokia E90, three years ago, a fully graphics-accelerated device, and Global Race: Raging Thunder took full advantage. Now shift your eyes to the screenshot below, taken on the Nokia N97 for this review:
Yes, your eyes don't deceive you - the resolution is lower and the graphics fuzzier, but don't let that put you off too much, for there's still a good game here - and notice the addition of code to handle full 3D surfaces (e.g. banking), written in the intervening years.
The key to the transformation of Raging Thunder into a playable multi-platform title, is Polarbit's 'middleware' platform, Fuse. Think of it as Qt for games. Impressively, Fuse is available for (and I quote) "iPhone, Android, Symbian S60, Symbian UIQ, NGI (nGage), Brew, Windows Mobile, WIPI, PalmOS, Linux, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii". Normally, adding in middleware to a title can lend itself towards bloat and a reduction in speed rather than an increase, but I'm guessing that Polarbit's long association with the Symbian platforms has meant that Fuse is very much optimised to work well with this OS.
The end result is what matters, anyway, and Raging Thunder is a blast, running on my Nokia N97 as fast (in terms of frame rate) as the original game did on the hardware-aided Nokia E90. Of course, you rarely get something for nothing, and it's apparent that there's a degree of 'upsampling' going on, with the core FUSE engine working on platform-generic 360 by 180 pixel graphics, i.e. the S60 5th Edition code has to scale these graphics 'on the fly' to fill the nHD screen. This means that the surrounding scenery is of much lower grade than on the original 800 pixel wide graphics hardware of the E90, as you saw above. In addition, numerous graphics tricks (e.g. animated 'streaking') have been added to give an extra impression of speed (when going fast).
But none of this should take away from the fact that the game is downright fun and, once racing, you'll forget about middleware and upsampling and processors - and even that you're playing on a Nokia and not an iPhone - and will simply be focussed on making the next timing checkpoint or becoming the first car past the line.
Reviewers in the Ovi Store (in which this new version has been launched, at 3 UK pounds) have noted that the game's too hard - to which I say 'poppycock'. Games are supposed to be hard - that's what keeps you coming back for more. I've had it up to here with games which can be completed in 3 or 4 hours of gameplay and then you're done and off looking for the next title. With Raging Thunder, it'll take you a dozen races to make it to the front in just the first circuit, and then the tracks just get harder - even with the best reactions in the world, you're looking at many tens of hours (maybe even hundreds) if you really want to conquer the Raging Thunder world.
Along the way, you'll encounter genuine 3D tracks, complete with uphill and downhill gradients, obstacles, powerups, collectable 'dollars' and skull-powerdowns. By default acceleration is automatic, so you only really have to worry about steering (by default using the phone's accelerometer) and power-sliding round corners. Tapping on the left or right of the screen activates power boost or tackles opponents, respectively.
Talking of opponents, there's (ambitiously) a multiplayer mode here, using either players on your own local Wi-Fi network or players from round the world, hosted on Polarbit game servers - this feature being in beta and with the game being brand new, there was noone for me to race against, but I'll try again in a month or so. Still, full marks for trying, Polarbit - Internet-hosted multiplayer gaming is de rigeur in a top title in 2010.
'Arcade' mode sees you tackling one track at a time, trying to beat a minimum time in order to unlock each successive track; 'Championship' mode gives you the lowliest car and then you work your way up from track to track, using monies gained to improve your car and thereby gain better results - and so on; while 'Time attack' sees you trying to beat the best times posted by other people round the world on the same (unlocked) track.
A pumping soundtrack adds atmosphere - we're not talking CD-quality techno here, more late 80s digi-pop, but hey, the speakers in many of the Symbian-powered phones of today aren't really up to much more anyway (the Nokia 5800 excepted).
Priced sensibly and really rather impressively optimised to extract every last gram of performance out of the current generation of Symbian smartphones, Raging Thunder is highly recommended for anyone who loves car racing and who is willing to take on a serious challenge to the reflexes. No, the graphics aren't a patch on those in Real Racing or Fastlane Racing on the iPhone - and, arguably, they're not as good as those on the same game three years ago - but I'm still going to give Polarbit a well deserved pass here for producing something fun, playable and which won't break the bank.
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 15 January 2010
This game is preinstalled on my 5800, which I use already for a year. And the game runs in native resolution, with accelerometer steering. Didn't you remember, Steve?