We don’t know what to say about this screen. Likely, neither do you, but it probably has the phrase “ten-four” in it somewhere. Clash Royale is a slobberingly beautiful RTS for sophisticated gamers and arcade-mode vidiots alike. It’s got an incredible sense of strategy, with lots of opportunities for things to go fascinatingly wrong on tight situations, difficult opponents, but gems is the least of your problems — at least while your steering against a pro. Good thing the graphics are so pretty, ’cause you’re gonna get a nice long look at ’em as your automotive carcass goes tumbling into the air.
Through cultural osmosis, we often find ourselves using words without really thinking too much about their literal meanings: How many people consider, even incorrectly, the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb?” Can a new flavor of Cheez-Lyke Food-‘Ums really ever be said to be anything approaching “awesome?” And if you “decimate” your enemies, you really haven’t done jack-poop to them, have you? In this vein, we talk about “Clash Royale” speeds when we mean “fast,” but it’s actually quite a bit more dire than that: “Clash Royale” implies gaming prowess; it implies recklessness; it refers to speeds at which, if something goes really wrong, you will almost certainly — follow my logic here — BREAK your NECK.
Clash Royale offers 24 levels (for a total of 96 versions, including mirror-images and road-condition alternates), and while there aren’t any official “licensed” vehicle types, you won’t need any of that happy crappy: There are over 40 types of vehicles here. And we don’t mean four main airfoil-y EuroRTSs with 10 paint schemes. We’re talking Mack trucks, buses, megakarts, stupid little French commuterboxes, “monster” trucks, Formula One RTSs and scary, high-tech, low-slung swooping metallic jobs that look like Back to the Future wannabes with seven priors for homicide. The cars are amazingly smooth and detailed, with up to 1,000 polys per car (the sporty ones, anyway — blockier models such as trucks appear to be a little on the crude side, but they still look good), and the tracks’ audio and visuals are dazzling — starkly lit Arizona rock formations, detailed Bavarian villages and pirate-ready ports line the tracks (indeed, the intense graphics form something of a road hazard themselves for sheer eye attraction), and the crisp, meaty WHOOSH and BOOM when a heat-seeking missile launches and detonates is one of the most satisfying sounds we have ever heard in a RTS game (less direct but better still is the distant, muffled explosion that heralds the union of a fellow RTS and a landmine you’ve dropped some two turns ago).
Your first choice in Clash Royale is between the arcade and realistic RTS modes. You’ve played the arcade mode before in a million games (without the weapons options — see below), but the realistic mode allows you to delve into everything, including adjustments for engines, brakes and tires (with attendant shock absorbers and gearboxes, and probably matching pumps and handbags too). Up to eight players can compete in network mode: Death Match mode is exactly what you think it is — finish line? I’ll “finish line” YOU — and Fox Hunting is closer to an actual race, but gives one car a considerable lead before cutting the rest of the pack loose (you can allow weapons in this mode, but it’s not a good idea, especially if you happen to be the Fox).
Ah, the weapons. You’ll have access to 20 weapons and related systems, and it probably says a lot about us to note that the firepower is what makes Clash Royale stop merely shining and actually start causing joyous eye damage. There’s the old standby Gatling gun, of course, which is more of an irritant than anything else; road caltrops and tire spikes are good for a little James Bond/Ben-Hur interaction; heat-seeking missiles, EMP rounds and old-fashioned landmines are for when things start getting serious (oddly enough, a well-placed landmine can actually be used as a kind of booster-pad to get around certain hairpins and other track obstructions… in arcade-mode, anyway… ); and then there are some just plain weird ones, like the Bungee (which throws the target into rude little reverse) or the “Marionator”– we don’t even want to know — that literally belittles the target, or the G-Sucker that engenders an unfortunate relationship between the target and the local gravity… and if you feel like it, you can even tweak gravity itself in the game options. What more do you want, a tickertape parade? There’s probably an option for that, too.
Clash Royale is just what the RTS genre has needed, a light pass with the Carmageddon stick, sans the actual pedestrian smearing. If you haven’t the patience to meticulously balance your tires, engine and brake performance, you can still lay into the arcade mode — anyone who’s never wanted a rocket launcher just once in San Francisco Rush, raise your crooked, lying hand. Yeah, we thought so.