Accessibility Issues

accessibility

Inaccessible doesn’t (always) equal bad; in fact I’m here to argue the case for inaccessibility as a legitimate game mechanic, rather than simply dismissing it as a flaw.

Some games are going to have a degree of inaccessibly as a naturally occurring side-effect of their depth and complexity. Piloting a sidewinder in Elite is never going to be as simple as flinging an “angry bird” across the screen; that’s just a reality of those particular games.

However, being easily understood – for example what you need to do and where you need to go –  is a more governable facet of accessibility and I think some games (Elite is an example of this as well) can be intentionally vague or obtuse in this area by design.

See, the trouble with accessibility in this respect is that it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. In some games – many in fact – that’s absolutely fine. But, in a sandbox game like Elite, you want room for people to figure stuff out; it’s where much of the reward is hidden in the game. The same is true of other sandbox titles, like the survival game Ark for example.

Starting out in Ark is brutal. Not many games will make you feel as lost, confused and vulnerable as the first few hours of Ark. Many will write this off as shoddy “inaccessible” game design and completely overlook how important that learning curve is. Showing you the basics would, without a doubt, make the game much more accessible, but it would also completely undermine both the core survival aspect of the game and also the reward of finally turning the tables on it.

It’s a delicate balance, but the more a game shows you, the more it takes away from you discovering for yourself, and in some genres it’s worth remembering that can actually be quite detrimental.

Sometimes it’s not purely understanding what you need to do that makes a game inaccessible, but the fundamental difficulty in achieving it that is the problem. The obvious solution – one as old as the hills – is that long standing and often condescending difficulty select option (Change “easy” to “recruit” or “beginner” if you want, will still know it means “loser”). There are games where this “accessibility” has been masterfully implemented; Forza Motorsport for example. It takes a fairly complicated racing sim and makes it completely customisable to individual skill levels via a very intuitive user interface. There are other games though, where difficulty is the foundation the franchise is built on.

The most obvious example of this is the souls series of games. For a game that is notoriously difficult and unforgiving, the game has ironically been beaten by more than most because of it. I’d go as far as to say that had the game have had more accessible difficulty settings, not only would it not have been the success it is today, it would be a game breaking addition. Difficulty is the soul of Dark/Demon souls, and it’s also why so many of the other mechanics work well in the game.

From the trial and error mechanics, to soul collecting, character builds, leaving hints and summoning help; it’s all built from the challenge of the game. Undermine that and you would undermine everything.

Inaccessibilities like those found in these games also feed into a wider phenomenon; that of the gaming communities. Say what you like about gamers; when it comes to communities that form from games like Dark Souls, they’re a cohesive bunch that produce invaluable supportive advice for conquering games. From FAQ’s, to Wiki’s, YouTube video’s and forums; people come together to discuss and overcome the challenges at hand in a way that’s quite remarkable. It becomes a group effort, where vast resources of information are created for free by the community, for the community. This level of cohesion is born from inaccessibility and is not found to this degree in games that don’t have it.

From a games critique point of view, accessibility is certainly a slippery subject; one that really does boil down to personal opinion, but one that I think is definitely deserving of more careful consideration. It’s all too easy to label a lacking component as bad, without really contemplating if less is sometimes more.

The Best Gaming Console of all Time (Part 1)

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A hotly debated subject this one. The best console ever. Ever. EV-VER! Everyone has got one and, although some people apply a degree of reasoning when they state their choice, chances are it’s just their personal favourite. I’ve decided to get to the bottom of this using a slightly (can’t stress the SLIGHTLY enough) more pragmatic approach. Rather than arriving at an answer and back-filling with logic, I’m going to start at the beginning, create a shortlist and then apply a rating system to arrive at the answer. The DEFINITIVE answer. Part 1 is creating the shortlist.

First Generation

Fuck the first generation. All shite.

Second Generation

Fuck the second generation, all shite. Not as shite as the first generation, and you could argue the Atari 2600, but still shite and overshadowed by Atari’s home computers.

Third Generation

Now we’re getting somewhere. The NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) is a attributing fact to the revival of the games industry. Only a div wouldn’t put that on the shortlist. Sega’s Master System is a decent effort, but definitely on the B team of the 8bit consoles. Sorry Sega.

Forth Generation

Fuck the Neo-Geo. Who knows anyone that had a CD-I? The only consoles of note (and they’re both behemoths as far as I’m concerned) are the SNES and the Mega Drive (Genesis if you’re a yank).

I really want to push for the Mega Drive here, but I know that’s a personal bias creeping in. The Mega Drive seemed to dominate a bit more in Europe, whereas the the SNES dominated world wide, and also had a stronger library of games. The Mega Drive is the first console (that I know of) to have expandable hardware, with the 32x and the Mega CD. From that perspective it stands out from the SNES…but neither really managed to impact the industry in a fundamental way. So, I’m going to have to accept the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System).

Fifth Generation

Sony Playstation. Nuff said. Sony, despite being peppy new-comers to the console market, managed to decimate the competition and own the fifth generation. It shifted over 100 million consoles, whereas the Sega Saturn only managed a tenth of that figure.

Amiga (CD32) and Atari (Jaguar) both swung and missed, marking the last time the home computer giants would venture into the market. The N64 is also going to make the shortlist. It had some extremely influential games in the console market, was a leap forward in 3D graphics and (I think) introduced the first rumble (pak) controllers; which went on to become an accepted norm in controller technology.

Sixth Generation

Ooooh, a tricky one. We can start off by eliminating the Gamecube and accepting the Playstation 2. The former is meh, and latter is mega.

The blatant Playstation win would usually be enough to knock its rival out of the running  had they been comparative machines; which they were…accept for online. The Xbox really helped take console gaming online like no other before it. Xbox live was (and still is) such a good service that, generations later, others are still playing catch up. Ok, Xbox makes the shortlist.

Last, but not least, Sega’s Dreamcast (RIP)Although short-lived and Sega’s final foray in the hardware market, the Dreamcast was a machine that was ahead of its time (VGA support, first built in modem) and one seemingly deserving of more than its lot in life.

Seventh Generation

There’s no denying the Nintendo Wii and the impact it had. Although I’m sure many of them collected dust, it seemed every living room had one nestled under the television.

The 360 vs PS3 battle is probably the most contentious of any. The Playstation 3 had blu-ray (which went on to win the Blu ray vs HD DVD battle), but was very expensive at launch, lacked games and under-performed. The 360 was actually a phenomenal all-round games machines, online and off – but was marred by crippling hardware issues (RROD).

Hardware differences aside, both machines offered the same features when it came to gaming, only the Xbox 360 did it slightly better. Multi-platform games almost always performed better, online support was far Superior and the machine was cheaper; so Xbox 360 it is.

Eight Generation

The underappreciated Wii U can be removed from the equation straight away, leaving just the similar offerings of the Xbox One and Playstation four. It’s not much of a battle though. Learning from its previous mistakes, Sony released a simple, solid gaming device. Incorporating Sony’s previous mistakes, Xbox released an ambitious incorporated media hub device and also refused to let the shitty kinect die. Xbox aimed high but missed; Playstation Four makes the shortlist from the Eight Generation.

Ninth Generation?

Nintendo’s Switch is off to a much stronger start than its predecessor, but at the moment it’s a one trick pony…and that pony is a cross-gen title. It’s too early to tell, so the Switch doesn’t make the shortlist.

The Shortlist

So this is the list of contenders for The Greatest Console of all time:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Sony Playstation
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sony Playstation 2
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Xbox 360
  • Playstation Four

In Part 2 I’ll be be putting each console through a rating process to crown one of them the winner.

Ark: Survival Evolved First Impression

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If you’re ever having a shitty day, take solace in the fact it’s probably not as bad as the day Bob the caveman is having. Bob (the default character in Ark) is trapped in a perpetual cycle of  waking up naked and afraid on a beach, and then dying shortly after from killer dinosaurs, killer fish and even killer ants. In the unlikely situation that those things don’t kill him, he usually starves or freezes to death a short time later. One time Bob woke up and was over the moon to discover another caveman, like himself, on the beach. Filled with excitement, Bob ran over to said caveman, only to have the guy turn around and stove Bob’s face in with a pickaxe. Life for Bob is hard.

Yup, life – or should I say staying alive – is hard in Ark:Survival Evolved. I mean; it would be hard even if you knew what you were doing, but starting out you’re given no guidance at all, so the early deaths are inevitable. I died trying to work out which button picks up stones. I died trying to get to grips with the inventory. I died going for a swim. I died trying to work a camp fire.  In short; I died a lot. Although there does seem to be a glaring need for a tutorial, I can’t help but think that this is all a deliberate design choice. This is, after all, a survival game. Figuring this stuff out is part of the “fun” and, if you can handle the frustration, it’s actually very rewarding just working out the basics.

Getting to grips with the mechanics and conquering basic survival seems like the first major milestones; I think it will be the bar for many where they either continue playing or walk away completely. Just staving off hunger seems a ridiculous battle at first; your character appears to have some kind of eating disorder where they require constant nourishment and berries, the first food source you’re likely to find, will barely hit the sides.

As you gruel through the first few hours, you will  (or at least should) start to turn the tables a bit though. Everything you do, including simply staying alive, seems to earns you XP. XP earns you level ups; level ups make you stronger. You also come realise that death isn’t a major setback as you keep your acquired levels, stats, crafting unlocks and, if you find your dead body, you may even get all your stuff back. Eventually you’ll build your first shack; a place where you can cook a decent meal, horde some materials and create a spawn point. Not only will this be a glorious moment, it will also set the foundation from where you can start etching out the feeling of actual progress.

If you’re playing on a Player vs Player (PvP) server, this is where the environment will stop being the biggest danger, and other players will be your biggest potential foe. It’s also the point where the game really opens up to you. You can set out in search of friendly players to create a tribe, or venture deeper inland in search of new area’s and resources; expanding your base and really leaving your mark on the world. Playing on a PvP server is certainly going to be the biggest challenge, but also makes for the most interesting gameplay. Each time you stumble across another player you’re never really sure how it’s going to go. Some people want to make friends, some will simply ignore you and many more will probably try to kill you.

An important lesson I’ve learnt early on is to never light a camp fire at night. Huddled in my little shack, lighting a fire seemed like the logical thing to do – little did I know that it would act as beacon for marauding tribes of killers. Twice now, in the dead of night, I’ve been drawn to the sound of banging on my door. As I watch the doors damage meter slowly deplete, I start to panic and ready myself for the coming attack. Both times I’ve been haplessly overpowered and brutally murdered in my home; my pitiful horde of resources stolen and my corpse ransacked. It’s annoying, yet strangely thrilling and exciting  – the uniquely unscripted gameplay that can only be found in this type of game. I don’t light fires at night anymore. When you’re a little fish in a big pond, it’s often best to go unnoticed.

On a more fundamental level, the game certainly has some issues and quirks. You have a persistent character on each server you join, but there’s no “continue previous session” option or anything remotely useful like that. You have to actually remember which server you were on if you want to continue where you left off. I literally lost my first character because I couldn’t remember which server I was on. Even if you know which server your main character is on, at busy times the servers start to fill up. I’ve had instances where I wasn’t able to get onto “my” server straight away, as it was full.

The other issue of persistent characters is that you’re technically always online, even when you’re not playing. When you log off, your body is still in game and can be killed by other players and enemies. This in itself wouldn’t really be a problem, but it seems that a dino wall-clipping issue means that it’s possible to be killed, even in your secured house. Some well placed spike barriers has hopefully fixed the issue for me.

Some other weird issues include inconsistent building problems, where it can be very temperamental about where you can and can’t build. A common issue in almost every game that lets you build stuff, but Ark seems particularly insane. At one point it wouldn’t let me build on a flat open plain, yet jutting awkwardly out the side of a cliff face was fine! I think this may be down to respawning mine-able resource locations, like trees and boulders. There’s also the issue of occasional lag spikes. These can be especially annoying when hunting, or fighting off another player – but luckily they’re few and far between.

Despite the games issues, and maybe even because of them, Ark: Survival Evolved is one of the best games I’ve played in recent years. There’s certainly elements here that can be found in other games – Minecraft and Skyrim for example – but the game has a very unique feel to it, and on console in particular, I can’t point to another game like it. The prehistoric island, despite some graphical shortfalls, is both a beautiful and mysterious place; with some almost Halo-like structures scattered around that create intrigue and a sense of a bigger picture to figure out.

There’s also – you know – DINOSAURS! Whilst being chased by one of those spitty lizard things that killed Nedry in jurassic park, I ran straight into my first Brontosaurus (Or maybe it was a Diplodocus – I’m not great with dinosaur names). Looking up at the scale of the thing was quite jaw-droppingly awesome, even if they’re not perfect. I wouldn’t profess to be an expert on dinosaur behaviour, but they do have a tendency to just walk around a bit aimlessly. Some of the animations, pterodactyl’s landing for example, are also a little bit ropey. That said, the dino-factor is inescapably cool and more than a little unnerving when you don’t know you herbivores from your carnivores. If you see a raptor, RUN!

The punishing difficulty, frustration and massive investment of time needed to progress will probably put many off, but for me, Ark: Survival evolved has been a refreshing gameplay experience in a sea of (although higher quality and finer produced) generic titles. I personally highly recommend it, but at the same time appreciate it’s not going to be for everyone – even the hour long trial won’t do it justice.

Replay: Call of Duty 4 Multiplayer

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With the Call of Duty 4 (COD4) remaster tantalisingly close to release I thought to myself “What better a time to revisit the original game and see if it still holds up”. Actually, that’s a complete lie; I was installing a Minecraft update for my daughter, noticed COD4 was still in the disc drive and fancied having a go. Whatever.

Anyway, COD4 is just around the corner and I’m pleased to confirm that, for those that haven’t played it in years, the multiplayer is as good as you probably remember it.

The first thing that struck me, before even getting into an actual game, was how concise everything is. It’s still a very comprehensive package, but without the bloat of later games. It actually seems to nail that sweet spot of providing depth and variety, but without getting bogged down in meaningless filler. For example, creating a custom class/loudout takes seconds, not minutes like in recent games. This might not sound like much, but from a gameplay point of view, it means the 30 second interval between rounds gives you ample time to tweak your classes and fits with the flow nicely. There’s none of this “backing out of the lobby to fiddle with your setup” nonsense.

Another aspect of this concise approach is that your choices have a bit more weight to them and there’s more of a noticeable trade off. Pick an assault rifle, you get an assault rifle, and if you want that grenade launch attachment, you’re gonna have to lose the red dot sight. There’s no crazy Swiss-army knife guns to be had here, with shotgun attachments, hybrid sights and FM radio.

That goes for the “perk” system as well; you pick your three perks from the predefined lists, they each perform a clear unique function and you get on with it. There’s no perk modifying perks, or any of the crap found in later games. If you want UAV jammer, you’re going to have to lose stopping power, and if you want steady aim, you’re going to have to give up deep impact. Simple profound choices.

Once the match begins the action kicks in almost straight away and rarely relents the entire game. There’s a constant rattle of machine gun fire as rounds zip past before slamming into walls and buildings. The sound of explosions from grenades and flashbangs are never far away. The key to this intense action seems to be largely down to the well designed maps. They are small enough to keep the action flowing, but not to the point that it ever feels cramped. The moving spawns react to the flow of the battle and, other than the occasional mishap, elevate the problem of spawn camping. The abundance of cover and flanking routes keeps everything moving along nicely.

The static kill-streak rewards (UAV > Airstrike > Chopper) keep things balanced and fair, with none of them being overly intrusive or overpowered. They’re a handy little bonus that work well in conjunction with the gunplay, but won’t preoccupy your mind as you play. It’s not like in later games where people desperately hold out for a match winning nuke, or get pulled out of the gameplay to remotely pilot a gunship.

Guns feel weighty and powerful, with satisfying hit markers letting you know when you’ve found your mark. It’s gunplay at its finest, even if the aim assist probably does make you feel a bit more awesome than you truly are. The only real gripe to be found is with the peer to peer hosting system. The game generally does a decent job at selecting the best host, but with such lightning fast gameplay, your performance can be impacted by your connection to that host. The split second difference in connection speed can often decide the outcome of a particular exchange, even if it’s not always noticeable. It’s far from game breaking, but is obviously frustrating if you do happen to notice it occurring. Luckily, finding a new game will generally fix the issue.

The XP, unlocks and challenges are all as addictive as ever. Most of the challenges don’t really impact on the way you play, they just encourage you to use different weapons and try different game modes – which is great; there’s nothing worse that witnessing your team mates doing dumb shit because they are blatantly just trying to complete a challenge. With each new level you reach, a new perk or gun gets unlocked –  this keeps things interesting and is a system that can really get its hooks into you. It’s not uncommon to have a few extra rounds simply because you notice you’re a few XP away from the next level.

Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer is still, in my opinion, peak Call of Duty. Though some will see it as basic by today’s standards, others will appreciate it for its more focused approach. Rather than showing its age, I think it shows what an unbeatable bench mark it set.

WWE (Worst Wrestling Experience)

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Sentiments like “they don’t makes games like they used to” are often those of rose-tinted middle-aged gamers, who, like anyone reminiscing, are thinking back to a time that didn’t really exist. It’s a distorted version of events within ones mind, one where the bland has been lost to the shadows and only the shiny bits remain.

When I found myself uttering that same sentiment recently, I was however musing about more negative connotations; I was thinking about how games aren’t anywhere near as shitty as they used to be.

Like a spreading fire, such a statement is sure to trigger alarm bells on multiple levels. Firstly among those who are bound (obligated even) to protest that there are indeed plenty of shitty games out there today; that in fact anything that scored below a 9, or anything they don’t enjoy on a personal level is, undeniably, “shit”.

Then there will be those that have sensed an attack on their cherished childhood; that someone has dared to claim things weren’t magical and perfect “back in the day”. They may even be reeling off lists of classics games in their head. Ocarina of time, Final Fantasy VII, Lemmings…

To try and dowse the flames a little, or maybe fan them, let me elaborate on this. I’m neither claiming that games today are now perfect, nor that they ALL used to be shitty; it was a mere observation that I don’t recall, in recent memory, playing a game that was fundamentally bad.

Sure, the millionth iteration of Call of Duty may not exactly be the innovation in first person shooter that we’d all like – it’s probably more of the same stuff we’re bored of – but it’s not a bad game; it’s mechanically sound. And the same goes for everything I’ve played recently. Being a kid of the 80’s (and not denying the gems) I can remember a time when games – or should I say gaming – wasn’t so reliable. For every “Pong” there were multiple “ET’s”, most of which the names I can’t even remember. Things have since vastly improved, because that is simply how progress works. Developers have learnt from their mistakes, they’ve learnt what does and doesn’t work, and the quality benchmark is a lot higher now.

With that in mind, it was a bit ironic to then stumble across a game that laughed in the face of such sentiments. A game that proved bad idea’s are still alive and kicking. A game that has decided to fight for the survival of shit games as a concept.

Before I go any further, I feel I have to disclose that I am not a wrestling fan. I didn’t “get it” until it was too late. The idea of a fake sport just seemed…pointless, so I ignored its existence. It was only whilst watching it round a friends that I realised it isn’t a sport at all; it’s a soap opera for teenage boys, and that was the appeal. That said, I was a fan wrestling games, because beating the living shit out of people transcends subject matter boundaries; it’s a universal good.

T’was because of this (and because it was free) that I thought I’d give WWE 2K16 a go on Xbox One. I was harbouring fond memories of games like WWF Warzone and Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64, so thought it would be an enjoyable romp.

On firing the game up, I was pleasantly surprised (and confused) to see Stone Cold Steve Austin on the title screen! I kinda assumed things would have moved on in the last 20 years, but it was nice to see a familiar face from the N64 days and it got things off to a great start.

Moving through the menu’s and I was instantly taken in by the wealth of gameplay options, the oiled up men and thumping background music. I’d soon created a badass custom wrestler – who looked like a jacked up hillbilly – and started what appeared to be a fully fleshed career mode. This however, was when things started taking a turn for the worst.

Wrestling games of my era were fast, fluid, arcadey type affairs. They had all the necessary characters, moves and fanfare seen in the “sport” itself, but the gameplay was generally a button mashy system that anyone could play. WWE 2K16 seems to have moved much more towards the sim genre, which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, had it not been for a couple of critical issues.

Many key elements that make up the wrestling match are now carried out via mini-games. This could potentially of worked quite well had the choice and implementation of the games been better. For context, the submission mini-game has you control a coloured bar, chasing (or being chased by) your opponents coloured bar round in a circle. The transition from gameplay to this mini-game is jarring and far from intuitive. It doesn’t feel fun or fitting, it just feels weird and frustrating; but then at least it’s not as game breakingly bad as pinning, which is probably the single biggest problem in WWE 2K16.

Getting pinned in WWE 2K16 triggers a quick time event. Yes, you read that correctly: a quick time event. Although the difficulty of said QTE is linked to your health, it quickly becomes more luck than skill. A win/lose that is little more than a dice roll. That alone is a horrible, horrible idea but unfortunately it works hand in hand with some other issues that create the perfect storm of failure.

The AI is extremely proficient at kicking out of pins, even if you’ve completely dominated them. You can beat seven shades of shit out of them, perform a fucking finisher on them, and still have them merrily kick out like “it ain’t no thang”. This will draw the match out longer, eventually meaning you yourself will get pinned and have to face the horrific quick time event.

The third and final nail in the coffin is the control issues. There often seems to be a distinct disconnect between what you want to do and what actually happens on screen. This ranges from input lag and inputs not registering, to picky contextual manoeuvres like tagging in your partner. It compounds the other issues and raises frustration to controller-throwing levels of annoyance.

WWE 2K16 falls at the first hurdle, which is a real shame because there’s such a potential for greatness and at times it reminded how much fun wrestling games can be. Some may be able to play past the issues – which is great as there’s a wealth of content there – but for many I think the game will have them tapping out in submission.

 

Ridge Racer Vita Review

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Dude, where’s my car?….and my tracks?….and my game?

Ridge Racer (or Riiidge Racer to anyone that played the original) is one of the quintessential arcade racing games of all time. Along with the likes of Daytona USA and Sega Rally, Ridge Racer’s core appeal was simple; great gameplay.

Fast forward over 20 years and, although the arcades aren’t what they once were, Ridge Racer is still going strong, finding a new home on console and handheld. Firing up the Vita version of this latest iteration of the franchise and it’s clear to see the game has stayed fairly true to its arcade roots. Aside from a few additions – which i’ll come to in a minute – Ridge Racer is still a case of picking a car, picking a track and burning rubber.

This is where and why things go a bit amiss for Ridge Racer however. Firstly, despite a slick interface, there isn’t much of a game to be found here. Of the various game modes, everything is basically stand alone races – be it against the AI, multiplayer or the clock. There is no over arching tournament or championship to take part in. You race, the race finishes and that’s about it.

There are a few additions here, but they don’t really amount to much. When you start out, you pick a team to race for. The idea being that you are actually part of something bigger – that all these stand alone races are affecting the overall standing of your team. It’s not actually a bad idea, it just feels a bit shallow and poorly implemented. My experience is that you quickly forget about the whole “team” aspect, as being the top team doesn’t award you with anything anyway.

The more relevant additions are levels and power-ups. As you race, you’ll level up and at certain levels, your cars will go faster. This only affects the first few hours of play, as by then you’ll have reached the level in which your cars are at full performance. It acts as a way to gently ease you in, but I personally think power settings, akin to Mario Karts “CC” system, would make more sense. As far as I can tell, once you’re at max power, you’re at max power. If it’s too fast for you, there’s no going back to a speed setting more suited to your skill level.

Power-ups, and the process of unlocking them, is where the game adds any attempt at depth and purpose. Winning races nets you credits which you can spend on unlocking power-ups from a tech tree. They add additional perks like extra nitrous and turbo starts. Up to three can be fitted at any one time, letting you mix and match to find the setup that suits you best. They don’t fundamentally change the gameplay, but they certainly help with squeezing in better lap times.

The second big issue Ridge Racer suffers from is a lack of content, due to its pricing model. Rather than a full price game with all its content, Ridge Racer has cut the games price and a load of its content at the same time, releasing the rest as optional DLC. Although not an unfair pricing system (buying it all doesn’t cost more than a full price game), it does, on the surface, just compound the “lack of game” issue. Such a bare-bones initial offering (5 cars, 3 tracks) is quite a bitter pill to swallow and doesn’t position itself well when it comes to up-selling DLC content. A more likely scenario is that people will be annoyed and likely  turn away altogether.

It’s not all bad news though, and the game does have one rather major saving grace with its exhilarating arcade gameplay – which is a bloody annoying situation. Ridge Racer is a blast to actually play. The car models are varied, look awesome and handle really well. The same is true of the tracks that are on offer. The result is something approaching arcade perfection, which is why its so annoying that there is nothing really holding it all together!

Hammering round the tracks at break-neck speeds is fast, fluid stuff. You won’t be needing breaks here, just ease of gas a little before tight corners and you send your car into some of the most impressive looking powerslides to be found in a racing game. Not only will you feel amazing as you pull off these miraculous driving feats, the games narrator will also chirp in with quips like “nice cornering!” to confirm that you are, in fact, the fucking man. Throw in some decent sounds affects, a selection of banging tunes and the whole gameplay experience gels really well. – it’s addictive stuff.

There are a couple of additional cars to be won via face-offs that act as sort of boss battle races. The races become available once a condition is met, rather than beating any particular mode. Theses are hard as nails to win, so are something of an end game to complete. It’s still not enough to feel like there is really a game there, but at least it’s something.

Overall, Ridge Racer is a disappointment. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s not the game it could quite easily have been; the game is should of been. Had I of been playing this on an arcade machine, then fine – but as a home version it sorely needs more structure around the race modes to add depth and longevity. The addition of a simple championship mode would have turned great gameplay into a great game.

6/10 – Fun, but shallow

 

This Month In Gaming (July 2017)

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I’ll start off by saying I completed a game this month; Yay me! That may not sound like a massive thing to most people, but I am famously bad for starting ALL THE GAMEZ and finishing none of them. The game in question was PS1 era FF VII, which is one of those “must play” titles if you’re a gamer. Don’t worry, I’ve not actually been playing it since the PS1 – although that would make its completion a little more monumental. Having now beat the game, I am left feeling a little lost without it. This happens to be quite a lot. It’s nice to reach that goal you were aiming for, but the fun is in the process of getting there, not in the destination; Life’s a journey.

Speaking of journeys, Pokemon Go got its UK release this month and, being a Pokemaniac, I was of course compelled to download it straight away. If you’re that one person that hasn’t got the game yet, here’s the deal: Pokemon GO (or “NO” as I refer to it, due to it’s broken overloaded servers) is google maps on your phone, but with a Pokemon theme over-lay. As you walk around the real world, phone in hand, your little Pokeman trainer avatar does the same on Poke-maps. If you look down on the map, you’ll see certain points of interest are “pokestops”, others are “Gyms” and then wild Pokemon will appear sporadically as you wander about. Get close enough to Pokestops and you can click them for items, close enough to Gyms and you can battle other Pokemon and close enough to Pokemon and you can catch them in Pokeballs via an “augmented reality” mini game – a term that sounds waaaaay cooler than it actually is.

Conceptually, I think it’s brilliant. None of the individual elements are particularly new or groundbreaking, but they’ve been brought together to make a type of game I’ve never seen before, and one that I think works really well…when it works. See, Pokemon Go is a great concept, and it seems millions of people agree – I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon before. Everywhere I go I see people walking around with their phones out playing the game. I don’t mean in the way I might see someone else playing Clash of clans on the train and thinking “Oh cool, they play Clash as well”; I mean the fuckers are literally everywhere. It’s had widespread success and it would seem that this success is taking it’s toll on the servers.

As it stands, Pokemon Go is unfortunately a buggy mess. I am assuming here that it is down to sheer numbers, but it’s very unreliable and this in-turn is very frustrating. Seeing as it’s a free application I can’t get too mad about it, but I’ve already considered removing it a few times just from sheer annoyance. The other big negative is how much battery it uses. My poor phone battery already gets a bit of a hammering as I’m on it constantly, but Pokemon Go really drinks the juice. Reports suggest about 40% of your battery for 1 hour of gaming, which is a little disturbing. With it sucking you dry like the worlds most over-zealous hooker, Pokemon Go is a bit problematic as a mobile game. It may make walking more fun, but you’re going to want to make sure your destination is somewhere you can charge your phone when you get there or you’ll need to invest in one of those mobile power packs to recharge on the go.

As I say; the concept is great, and it makes walking much more interesting, but I fear the game could ultimately be as short-lived as your phones battery. The battle mechanics at gyms is far too simplistic and buggy, making them a bit of a let down. It’s worth taking on gyms for the reward in gold coins, but not for the entertaining gameplay. If there is to be any long term appeal, it will come from trying to collect the full set of Pokemon – other than that, the game is going to need a major overhaul in later updates to really revise battling, bringing it more inline with the source material. A tactical turn-based system could add some much needed depth and even the playing field a little. As it stands, the only real tactic is to level up the highest CP (combat power) Pokemon you can muster and just hammer away with attacks.

Overall, Pokemon Go is a bit of a mixed bag. Fun, exciting and interesting at first, but quickly reveals its complete lack of depth. The competitive nature of trying to find more than your mates, or have the strongest Pokemon will certainly hook many, but for others, it will simply remain as something to enhance the walk to work: I personally won’t be dedicating my evenings to playing it.

This Month In Gaming (June 2016)

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It’s been one of those months where, despite my addiction to gaming, I found myself not really wanting to play anything. I’ve got a stack of decent titles patiently collecting dust as they wait for the day I give them some lovin’, but I just can’t muster the motivation or desire to play with them.

In desperation I turned to an old favourite of mine; World of Tanks. Having not played the game for months, I was met by the inevitable massive update – but was then pleasantly surprised to find that, for reasons unknown to me, I had loads of free premium days on my account. For those of you (bellends) that don’t play World of Tanks; It’s a free to play game where you can pay for, amongst other stuff,  “premium” on your account. It means you get 50% more rewards at the end of each game, meaning you can unlock stuff faster.

The result was twofold. I remembered how much I loved World of Tanks and was also compelled to take advantage of my premium time – as it’s a use it or lose it system. And thus, June has been a non-stop World of Tanks gaming session. From not wanting to play anything, to clocking up more gaming hours than usual and going to bed at 2am.

I’ve always found the “carpe noctem” side of gaming to be quite appealing. I think there is something a little mischievous and transgressive about it. Being awake while the rest of the country is sleeping, watching the progress of the moon against the night sky and – although knowing I’ll suffer for it at work the next (well, same) day – chancing “just one more round”, as I play a meta game of chicken against the clock in the front room. I may need to be up in four hours time – but what the fuck – I’m only 1000xp away from that tier VI tank destroyer I’ve had my eye on.

World of Tanks really is quite an oddity for me. The paid for stuff doesn’t offer value for money as far as I am concerned. It just speeds things up a bit when it comes to progression – It doesn’t affect gameplay at all. This is a great model when it comes to F2P titles, but I actually feel like I owe wargaming (the dev) money. World of Tanks is one of my most played games ever, and it’s cost me basically nothing. I think I may have spent £5 on some gold once for an extra garage slot, which in hindsight I didn’t really need. This makes it one of, if not thee most value for money title I’ve ever played! Possibly a reflection of the capitalist society we live in, but it feels a bit weird to have got so much enjoyment out of something basically for free.

Prior to rediscovering World of Tanks – as I say at the start of this blog post – I found myself a little bored of gaming and was turning to other stuff. A little while back I vowed to spend some time watching all of the gaming to movie crossovers, even though I know most of them aren’t exactly good. Five minutes into Mortal Kombat (one of the better ones, apparently) and I started back-peddling faster than a “Vote Leave” campaigner post EU referendum.

It’s cheesy and crappy, but to the point that those things quickly become the accepted and consistent tone of the movie. They don’t really stand out as bad points. My main issue was that I just couldn’t be bothered to watch it. Without realising it, my mind kept wandering off to other places; I’d find I was looking at the screen, but my mind was elsewhere or I’d ever start playing on my phone. That’s the trouble though – this is a film where you can miss 15 minutes and miss NOTHING. There’s no hint of depth, intrigue, plot twists or outstanding acting. It’s all just really forgettable.

If there were any redeeming…well maybe not redeeming. If there were any note worthy points to the movie they’d be the following. The actresses for Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) are both hot. Scorpion and Sub-zero didn’t seem to lose much of their cool factor during the transition to movie. The Mortal Kombat theme tune is badass, and I noticed that they used an Orbital track in the movie…which shows some good taste was applied. Last but not least, this film isn’t as bad as Street Fighter.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Mortal Kombat, I would say that it’s OK. If anything, I guess you could argue the two dimensional acting simply remains true to the source material.

This Month In Gaming (May 2016)

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Backwards compatibility has always been a bit of an ironic concept to me. Everyone always bemoans consoles that don’t offer it, yet no one ever fucking uses it. That’s certainly been the case for me anyway. Without it, moving to a new console seems like a difficult first step, until later on, when it dawns on me that I’ve never looked back or missed my old games.

This now brings me round to the irony of ironies. After getting to a point where I’d finally realised I don’t use backwards compatibility, Microsoft adds the functionality to Xbox One and, of course, I’ve started using it; well, for one game anyway:

Dark Souls

Although Demon Souls was the first, and there’s been several sequels, Dark Souls seems to be the game people focus on. For many, Finishing Dark Souls is like a gamer rite of passage; a bench mark that separates the men from the boys. It’s also a bloody good game; so with it coming to Xbox One recently, I decided to load up my save and get closer to my goal of completing it.

What always strikes me about Dark Souls is how beautiful it is –  because it really has no place in being so. Dark Souls is a world of the undead, filled with skeletons, demons and ghouls. Its dilapidated fortresses and murky dungeons should really instil a sense of foreboding and horror, but instead come across more as sombre, peaceful and reflective. As you navigate battlements you’ll catch the occasional glimpse of a golden sunset in the background. The stark contrast serves to highlight and enhance these moments, often making me stop to take it in. The resulting affect is much more powerful than it would be in another, happier setting.

Having not played the game for many months, I was surprised by how easy it was to get back into. The nature of the gameplay means that you’re constantly taking baby steps, as you learn by your mistakes. There’s not layers of mechanics or complicated controls to remaster; the main skills are patience and concentration.

The game is as punishing as it is inconsequential. The only real penalty for death is frustration, so you’re free to take on (what seem like) impossible bosses over and over again. This doesn’t make the game feel cheap or easy though, far from it. If anything, there is something slightly sadistic about it. As lives are so abundant, the odds of survival are much less. At times, it feels like every foot of progress has been hard earned and finally defeating one of the many bosses can fill you with pure jubilation. The level of challenge is so high that googling walkthroughs and boss advice doesn’t feel like cheating.

It’s a great game, well deserving of the praise it gets. It can however, get a little heavy going, and I think this is where my other game of the this month came in:

Wolfenstein

I tend to play games at random, playing whatever I’m in the mood for that day. I say at random, but I think in the case of Wolfenstein it was to be a symbiotic relationship with my Dark Souls gaming. Where as Dark Souls seemed to demand a lot of me, Wolfenstein is much more mindless; shoot stuff in the face, then shoot some more stuff in the face.

I have no vested interest in Wolfenstein as a series, so I’ve no idea how well this one fits in. As a fresh faced Wolfenstein player, I can however say that The New Order is a darn (yes, darn) fine shooter. The “shooty bang bang mechanics” are great; really fast, fluid stuff. Even the story isn’t too bad – it basically boils down to “fuck Nazi’s”, but that’s ok becasuse….fuck Nazi’s.

If I do have a gripe, it’s the between mission stuff. You’ve got your little hideout/base area where you’re routinely forced to do sub-mission crap before you can move onto the next round of mindless killing. I guess it’s to add context and build both the story and the charaters, but the relality appears to be a bunch of dull fetch quests. If your idea of fun is searching around the base for lost toys, then great! For everyone else though, these are irksome at best and I personally just “googled” to get them out the way as fast as possible. It’s a minor annoyance really, and I like the idea of the base area, but I just feel they could of implemented in a more interesting way.

At the time of writing this i’ve still not completed the game, and yet I’ve stuck a fair few hours in. For a shooter (these days) this certainly hints at a legthy campaign – which is good news as they didn’t include a multiplayer.

This Month In Gaming (April 2016)

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A slightly surprising month of gaming this one, as I played two games I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy and yet was pleasantly surprised on both occasions.

The first one was Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played a few Final Fantasy games over the years, but wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I don’t mean that in a negative way either, I simply mean I find them to be good games, but not ones that make me jump up and down whenever somebody mentions them.

Somehow – possibly down to the N64 – I kinda missed out on playing Final Fantasy VII back when it was released. Now it’s not like I’ve played all the others – I couldn’t even tell you how many there are – but Final Fantasy VII seems to be the one that people go on about. Final Fantasy VII is the Final Fantasy game. Seeing as nobody is making any fucking games on the Vita these days (and because it was on sale) I decided it was high time I gave this game a try and the handheld seemed like a good fit for it. For some reason I refuse to play retro crap on my home console. I don’t think it demeans the machine or anything – I just have better shit to play when I pick up the controller.

Unless fuelled by dangerous levels of nostalgia, many shitty retro games are….shitty retro games. Actually, I find that statement to be true for quite a lot of old shite. I’ve lost count of the number of “classic” movies I’ve had to endure – but anyway, I digress. As I was going into Final Fantasy VII for the first time, I feared it was going to be little more than an archaic RPG, the likes of which have been superseded many times over since the time of its release. Now this isn’t actually far from the truth – however, the nature of turn-based RPG mechanics mean that time has been fairly forgiving. It’s also a genre where graphical prowess holds limited authority. Where as many ageing games can look bad now in comparison (think Goldeneye), Final Fantasy just looks different. I’ve played modern releases that have opted for similar aesthetics to this as a style choice, rather than limitation – so it’s not really detrimental at all.

The game did start a little slow for me, or at least getting my head round the mechanics did. Things also get a bit choppy at times, with certain characters forced into or out of your party. Once I got to grips with materia though (magic/ability granting stuff), everything started to click and found the whole thing much more enjoyable. At the time of writing this I’ve not actually completed the game, however I’ve certainly gone from struggling through the first ten hours, to blasting through the following forty. Although I think I’ve missed the bus on this one becoming a personal nostalgic great, there are occasional moments where I feel like I can glimpse back in time and see why it is for others.

The other game that I was pleasantly surprised by was Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. I’ve written before about my feelings towards this cash cow franchise, but long story short; used to love it, now I can’t be arsed with it.

It’s probably down to the “used to love it” part that makes me feel that, on some level, I really need to play each one at some point; so that’s what I did with this one, now that it is dirt cheap.

Once I started playing, I was surprised by how seamlessly entertained I was. It’s great, top-drawer stuff, and for all the cynical comments it gets, it’s hard to find fault with it. The familiarity from all the previous Call of Duty sessions just stops if from feeling particularly special, even though it’s one of best produced games on the market. It’s kind of like why I think all these celeb’s get caught cheating on their partners. Despite having Call of Duty at home, they still get caught balls deep in Kane and Lynch 2; because variety is the spice of life.

One thing that does make it stand out is Kevin Spacey, because Kevin Spacey is awesome. Add Kevin Spacey to anything and you’re basically onto a winner. Every time he shows his face in the game a little “Kevin Spacey” alarm triggers in your head, instantly making that situation better than a situation devoid of Kevin Spacey. I can’t think of a better person to put in the game…apart from maybe Kevin Bacon.

Multiplayer has arguably been the bigger focus of Call of Duty since Modern Warfare dropped. Advanced warfare’s double jump may not sound like much on paper, but in practice it has quite a significant impact on the gameplay. Or, to put it another way; it adds chaos. Despite getting my arse kicked as gun totting manics bounced around the levels like bunnies, I actually found I was really enjoying myself. Experience of the maps themselves seemed a little irrelevant with this new ability, leaving it all about fastest finger first as everyone throws themselves headfirst into the fray. In all in all, very good fun.