Sweaty palms. A racing heart. Aching arms and a burning sensation in my calves. These are usually the kind of effects that sprinting for a bus or taking on a big staircase has on me but this past week, these are the very same things I’ve felt just sat down, playing FutureGrind. It has had my arms twitching, ankles tensing and my thumbs working on overdrive, always for “just one more go” which lasts late into the night.
FutureGrind puts you in the cockpit of a futuristic, rocket propelled grinding bikes. Each of these machines has 2 wheels, both of which have a colour. Each of the levels in the game are made up of consecutive rail like structures, all of which also have a colour. In order to get from the start to the end point of each of the games levels, you’ve got to jump, front flip, grind and otherwise traverse you’re way across these rails, only touching them with a wheel that has a corresponding colour. Touch a yellow beam with a blue wheel and BOOM. You explode and you’re heading right back to the start. This will happen a lot but thankfully, restarts are instant.
The game starts easy enough but as your progress through each stage, new elements are periodically added. Jump orbs, which propel you upwards when hit, rail changers, that switch the colour of the next rail and colour switches, which paint your wheels a certain colour, all make things more complicated. To make things every spicier, there’s 5 different bikes to ride. Each new one is unlocked periodically during progress and each of these vehicles has their own characteristics. 4 of the bikes have the ability to double jump but the Xero can perform 3 smaller jumps while airborn. The Subverse bike spins the fastest, which means you can pull off massive spinning stunts, but one of the wheels can’t touch a rail at all (or BOOM) and the other alternates colour after leaving a rail. Mastering the bikes and nuances of each track is a real challenge but because the tracks are all just a minute or so long, the failed grind runs never become grinding on your nerves.
About halfway through the game everything becomes gloriously tense. Every jump has to be considered. Every flip is a risk. To add to the tension, each of the games 25 standard levels have 2 additional assignments which need to be completed. These could be anything from “Don’t touch a blue rail”, “Do a 1080 Forward Flip” or “Earn a x25 points multiplier” (which builds which each consecutive stunt/grind). Some of these are easier than others but this alternative objective often pushes you to play the game differently.
FutureGrind is presented in a lovely low poly art style thats employed almost everywhere except the bikes themselves. It’s an appealing graphic choice that’s inkeeping with the futuristic skateboarding game you’re playing.
The art style of FutureGrind is joined by a soundtrack that could be the WipEout after party soundtrack – plenty of synths and base pumping out of the headphones but not quite as in your face or as abrasive as the main event. There’s some really great music in this game if you like electronica big beat and house music.
Developers Milkbag Games have even added a narrative to FutureGrind, played out through the menu screen and the text that gives each stage some context. Initially, the stage select screen allows reps and sponsors from the various bike manufacturers to speak to you but around a third of the way through the game, something goes awry and someone else tries to get in contact. Unfortunately, the narrative to FutureGrind doesn’t realise its initial promise. The game attempts to paint one character that leaves you messages as a villain and without any motivations behind their actions, this falls a little flat, especially towards the end of the game.
I’ve mentioned that FutureGrind is tense a number of times in this review and the reason it’s so heart racing is because it requires incredible concentration. The last third of the game is brutal on your thumbs, your focus and likely your patience. Thankfully, if things get too tough, Milkbag have added a few accessibility options to the game too which make things easier (but warns you that the game is best experienced without them). Here you can slow the speed of the game down by up to 50%, giving you ample time to sort your wheels out on the hardest tracks. Alternatively, you can activate Safety Wheels which means that touching the rail with the wrong wheel won’t blow you up. This removes any challenge to the game but if you’re stuck on an assignment and it’s barring your progress, you can switch this on and get it over and done with. High Scores aren’t saved for either Safety Wheels or slower progress runs so you can’t go setting world records with these modes, but it does mean that you’ve got a way of moving forward if you’re not far off putting your Dualshock 4 controller through the TV.
As imaginary sports games go, FutureGrind is one of the most rewarding on the PS4 – not because of any in game trophy or narrative pay off. No, it’s because everything in FutureGrind is achievable but challenging and any failure is because you’re thumb wasn’t fast enough or you weren’t paying enough attention. Finally overcoming a stage that’s been giving you serious trouble feels immensely satisfying here. This game reminds me of OlliOlli in a lot of ways. It’s a smart twist on a genre, really pushes your skills to the limits and your reward for all that hard work is the knowledge that you were good enough. A duff story that was barely necessary aside, FutureGrind is a really great game.
FutureGrind is available now on PC, PS4 (review version) and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Milkbag Games
Publisher: Milkbag Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we recieved a code from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.