Gears of Four

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When I think of Gears of War, I can’t help but think of boobs as well. Not (just) the hulking great muscled man-boobs of the protagonists, but the pendulous fun-bags of the female variety. Why, you ask? Well, partly because I am constantly and involuntarily thinking about boobs, but mainly because on a philosophical level, I think they both have so much in common.

The thing is with boobs right; they’re fucking awesome. Introduce boobs into a situation and it’s like; “Woohoo, best thing ever!!!!!!”. At first. Then, about ten minutes later, the hype has kinda dissipated. It’s not that the boobs are now bad; you’re just aware of their limited applications, your mind starts to wonder and you move onto something else. Here’s the thing though; reintroduce the boobs again a short time later and “Woohoo! Best thing ever!!!!”. Rinse, Repeat.

This, I think, sums up gears in a nutshell. It’s really great fun every time you pick it up, but the gameplay is limited and stagnates quickly. This latest iteration is certainly the best version yet, but only to the point of being boobs with nipple tassels. It’s not Total Recall level of boobage.

But then maybe that’s OK? That third boob in Total Recall definitely takes the titty game to a different level, but possibly not a better one? Maybe it’s best not to mess around with a winning formula. I mean; how can you improve on a boob?

So that’s what you get with Gears of War four. More voluptuous boob, with shinier nipples than ever before, but little in the way of innovation. Without moving onto the penis analogies, it’s extremely solid stuff. For me, the gameplay has never been much more than adequate and it’s not helped by the way the level design will often betray any hope of subtly or surprise. Most of the time you can see exactly when the shooting is about to start before it happens, as the level will open up and you’ll notice a handy collection of waist-high walls to hide behind.

Subtly isn’t really Gears’s thing though and, to be fair, it doesn’t need to be subtle; it needs to be the type of gruff, macho, in-your-face bullshit that satisfies our more primitive desires. In that regard, it doesn’t really fail.

Leaving aside a shitty section where you’re mostly blasting robots, it’s the classic headshot popping, chainsaw gunning, frag throwing, splatter-fest that Gears fans know and love. There’s a new rodeo running mechanic where you can vault, stun and execute enemies… but it doesn’t amount to much. Environments are more destructible this time around, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your cover and hope it’s as secure as you think it is. There’s also some reoccurring electric storm sections that ramp up the drama levels. In these sections, strong winds will hamper thrown weapons like frags and also introduce opportunities for environmental kills. Taking out a restraining barrier, for example, will cause stacked logs to get blown across the battlefield and wipe out any unsuspecting enemies in their path.

The story itself brings me back to boobs, in that; I find it very compelling, but I can’t really explain why. It’s not deep, complex or particularly fascinating, yet I do find it entertaining. I think it’s possibly the steady flow of cut-scenes and how they help drive the drama that does it; making it like an interactive action movie. As this game is set about 20-odd years on from the end of the last game, just seeing how things are getting on post locust horde has some appeal in itself. As you play through the levels you learn snippets of information about what has been going on since the Gears defeated the locust for good, and how civilisation is trying to rebuild. You follow the story of a new cast of characters this time around, but there’s some welcome cameo’s from the original Gears squad as well. It sets up the series well for a kinda reboot of sorts.

Gears of war four is gears of war more. More guns, more guts and oozing testosterone, the game does however sprinkle in enough emotion to show it has a human side, and stop it from being too obnoxious. You may not be able to polish a turd, but Gears proves that you can most definitely oil a boob.

 

 

 

 

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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

 

Replay: Pokemon Yellow

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To coincide with its 20th anniversary, Nintendo have finally released the original Pokemon game on the 3DS virtual console. As a self-hating Pokemon fan, this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up, despite the nagging sense of shame I feel in the background whenever I play the game.

Putting aside my personal issues, I was actually pleasantly surprised with what I discovered when I started playing. I expected and had prepared myself for first a potent nostalgia hit, followed by the crushing realisation that retro games rarely belong on the shiny pedestal I place them on. The nostalgia part certainly happened, but the disappointment I anticipated didn’t. Pokemon Yellow actually still plays really well.

I’m not sure if it’s testament to how great the original concept was or lack of meaningful innovation to the series, but the Pokemon Yellow actually feels better than recent iterations of the game; more pure. Playing this game again serves to highlight how most of the additional crap that’s been added over this years is just that: Crap. It’s meaningless filler and bolted on junk that, in hindsight, has left the series feeling over-encumbered when compared to this stripped back original.

This also seems true of the all important Pokemon line-up. As the quantity went up with each new game, the quality seems to have gone down. Coming back to the original 150, they now feel like pure-bred’s in comparison. I’m surprised by how many of these classics I still remember, especially as it dawns on me that I can’t name a single one from the most recent game I played. These guys are iconic.

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There are a few innovations that I miss though. The ability to map items to short-cut keys is a sorely missed feature that’s been added to later games. Having to keep bringing up the menu, browsing down the list and manually selecting items adds nothing but frustration. This issue really presents itself in activities like fishing, or when you want to select your bike to move faster.

At first I also really missed the indicator that lets you know if you’ve already caught the Pokemon you’re battling. Then it dawned on me that it really only serves as a crutch for the lazy. Like any good sticker collector of the 90’s, you came to know your Panini sticker album inside out, back to front. When that Argentine goal keeper turned up, you didn’t need an indicator telling you whether you needed it or not, you already knew. With “gotta catch ’em all” being one of the key objectives, the same should be true of your Pokemon. Taking the time to study your Pokedex is a mechanic that helps bind you to the spirit of game, so not being able to shortcut that process is actually quite important. I think it helps you feel more involved, committed and immersed in the game.

Aesthetically…aesthetically this is a game from the 90’s; a gameboy game from the 90’s no less. This is where things get a bit surprising again though, as it really doesn’t look that bad. Had this of been a first person shooter or driving game, it would have probably looked bad back then and positively hideous today. However, given that it’s a cutesy little RPG that takes place from a top-down perspective, time has actually been fairly forgiving. Being of the 8 bit generation and in two dimensions,  Pokemon invariably fairs much better than later games that took the move to early 3D. They’ve created a rich, vibrant world; a world packed with such a variety and intrigue, of both locations and characters, that it’s still a joy to revisit all these years later.

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The same rings true of the gameplay; but then that’ hardly surprising when you consider that even today’s Pokemon games use the same core mechanics. Random encounters and the inevitable need to grind can start to grate a little, but this is generally offset by the “catch ’em all” mentality. The monotony of fighting off endless Rattata’s is often broken up by the appearance of a rare Pokemon that you need for your collection, or by the eventual levelling, evolution and new moves learn by your team. It adds an important element of excitement to what would otherwise feel like thankless task.

Your initial quest quickly becomes multi-faceted as you explore the world and have run ins with characters you meet along the way. Unravelling these plots is key to progressing from town to town, as you take on each of the eight gym leaders. Although presented as serious, there is an air of pantomime villainy about it all, that keeps things light-hearted and enjoyable. It’s all timeless “good guys vs bad guys” stuff, so is as fun now as when it was first released.

The games music is like hearing the familiar voice of a old friend. From moody battle anthems and foreboding dungeon tracks, through to quirky Pokemon sound bites  – the music really supports and compliments the whole experience, helping drive emotion into each situation. The poke-centre melody really is quite relieving and uplifting to hear after hours of dragging your weary Pokemon through a cave.

Overall, Pokemon Yellow is much more than the simple nostalgia hit I was expecting and is still a great game in it’s own right. Although there has been some handy innovations over the years, there’s also been a lot of unnecessary tat – making Pokemon Yellow feel like the unadulterated classic that it is.

Forza 6 Preview

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It has now been just over a decade since Turn Ten first launched the original Forza Motorsport off the starting grid; leaving its competitors for dust as it disappeared off in a cloud of tire smoke. See Forza didn’t just hit the ground running, it hit it with the nitrous button held down and stole the racing sim crown from the hands of some seasoned professions. In the years that have followed, Forza has managed to remain in pole position, delivering a consistent series of excellent racing games. It’s that consistency though that has started to become a bit of problem. As much as Forza set the bar high, it was never really able to push the bar higher; this could all be about to change though, with the release of Forza 6.

The game boasts a line-up of 450 authentically rendered cars, which you can hammer round 26 beautiful tracks; all at a fluid 60 fps and in glorious 1080p. As impressive as that is, and as crazy as this may sound, that’s pace car level stuff for Forza. It is merely maintaining the status quo of excellence that we’ve come to expect from this top spec racer. Where this game really stands out, and where series veterans will really be blown away, is the addition of night time and wet weather racing. The addiction of these factors adds a new dynamic that the series hasn’t seen before, and drastically changes the way you race. Although it may be true that neither of these things are new to the racing game genre, Forza has, of course, done an outstanding job in their execution.

Racing on the courses at night isn’t simply a matter of driving in the dark, in fact due to the fog lit courses, reduced vision isn’t really an issue. Instead it’s the reduced road temperatures that mainly effects conditions, lowering the overall traction and making it akin to driving in the damp. As the dangers created by the colder temperatures are unseen, expect to overshoot a fair few turns before you start to fully appreciate the effect they are having, and adjust your driving style accordingly. Racing in the twilight also gives the tracks a nice new aesthetic compared to their day time counterparts.

Racing in the wet is where things really start to get interesting though. These courses aren’t just a little bit damp, in fact if they got any more water logged, you’d be better off taking a boat. Rain hammers down constantly, drenching the windscreen and causing spray to kick up from rival drivers. All around the track large bodies of water gather, pulling your car off course and causing it to aquaplane on corners. From both a visual and a gameplay perspective, these are probably the most profound changes the series has seen and the end result is really impressive. As your hurtle round the course, your vision obscured by the driving rain, you’re forced to think on your feet, making split second decisions as giant puddles materialise on the track in front of you. Do you hit the water and hope for the best, or do you try and steer around them at the expense of the racing line? It adds a whole new dimension to the art of skilful driving and is a welcome addition to the series.

The only real gripe with these new features is that they neither merge, nor are they dynamic. You can’t race on a rainy night, neither can you race as the sun goes down, or during the onset of a sudden shower. It’s only a minor issue, but it does feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Elsewhere the game remains pretty unchanged. It’s still as visually stunning and silky smooth as ever, even with the increase to 24 cars on track at the same time. The top end stuff, like your S rank supercars and Indy cars, tear along at pant wetting speed. They’ve really managed to captured that whole essence of going fast, and at high end speeds you really do feel like you’re driving on the limit. If you cross that limit and lose control, your car will often pay the price, thanks to the realistic damage modelling that can be both cosmetic and mechanical.

Delving under the hood you’ll find the usual vast array of tuning options, where you can customise everything from performance enhancing parts through to it’s paint job, truly making the cars your own. Despite the staggering amount of depth, it’s all completely optional. Whether you’re the type of person that wants to tinker with gear ratios or simply have the game create a balanced setup for you, Forza has it covered. The game blends deep simulation with accessibility effortlessly. Everything about the game can be tailored to your individual needs, matching the challenge to your own ability. There are driving assists that cover everything from showing you the racing line, to assisting you with breaking and even help steer the car around corners. It really is a phenomenal system as it means that at one end of the spectrum you’ve got a hardcore simulation and at the other, an accessible driving game that holds your hand. Most importantly however, you also have everything in-between. If you want more realistic handling but easier opponents – or vice versa – there is even scope for that. It really is that diverse.

With Forza 6 it looks like the series has finally stopped resting on its (admittedly impressive) laurels and delivered a racing game that is to be nothing short of perfection. One of the deepest, most expansive simulation racing games that is yet completely accessible to all. The inclusion of night and wet races really change the way the game plays and is sure to be a welcome addition to series veterans and new comers alike. If you’re interested in the racing game genre, you really should be getting revved up for this one: it’s going to be sterling.

World of Wanks Review

logo_wot (1)Yeah, I went there. Not wanting to skirt around the issue or litter with this review with “funny” innuendos about being a tanker, I thought it best just to go balls out in the title and slap you round the face with it from the off. It doesn’t escape me that the title has a side effect of framing World of Tanks in a negative light; like I’m openly mocking the game or casting aspersions as to its quality. On the contrary; I really enjoy wanking. Wanking is actually one of my favourite past times, one that I partake in regularly and, no matter how much I do it, I’m always keen to come back and do it some more. So in that context, I think it’s a very fitting title. Anyway… I digress, and that intro merely served the purpose of getting the wank out in the open, laying it on the table as it were, so we can move past it.

What is misleading about the title is the word “review”. That in itself would hint at an objective process of analysing the game and feeding back a grounded appraisal as to the merits of it. That’s not what this is. What this is – and keeping with the wank theme – is me metaphorically spunking out words of praise, in this fanboy love letter to the glorious World of Tanks.

See, the trouble in reviewing World of Tanks is that, if my understanding is correct, a review is meant to help you decide where to (or more importantly, where not to) spend your hard earned cash. As World of Tanks is generously free to play(F2P), that kind of negates the whole process. What I can do is try to talk it up so much that you can overcome the incredible burden of clicking the download button and give it a go.

So what is World of Tanks, why is it amazing and why should you be playing it right now, instead of that other shite you’re playing? The answers, in order, are; It’s an online 15 vs 15 tank battle game, it offers a uniquely paced (read “slow”), rewarding, tactical approach to the online deathmatch genre and, to top it all off, it’s free to play. If air-raid scale alarm bells are ringing on that last point, fear not, this is not a pay to win game. Actually, this is the game that changed my view on shitty F2P titles – with their crappy pay walls and their fucking gems – to such an extent, that I actually feel like I owe Wargaming (the devs) money.

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You start out with a little sardine can on wheels (well, tracks) that packs a pea shooter for a cannon. As you play you win silver (money) and xp to unlock upgrades and new tanks. You can use gold (via real money) to speed this process up, but as tanks are all tiered and matched, it doesn’t give you an advantage, it just speeds up the process of getting stuff that you can get for free. If anything, they’ve just monetised peoples addictive desire, or should I say impatience, to unlock shit. This is really the ideal F2P situation, as it appears to be enough that people are willing to pay for it and it doesn’t break the game for cheapskates like me.

The first thing that you’ll notice about World of Tanks and how it differs from other shooty games is the pace, or to be more precise, the lack of it. The early tanks are slow, and as you progress, they generally get slower. This is not a halo-jumping, fastest-finger, twitch shooter. This is slow, lumbering, cautious shooter, where armoured behemoths trade blows across the battlefield and when you’re taken out, it’s over – there’s no re-spawning in this game. When a target presents itself, you won’t be pumping away at the trigger either. Turrets move slowly, take time to zero in and need to be painstakingly reloaded between shots. You need to pick not only your target, but also place your shots, aiming for area’s where the armour is weakest.

I appreciate this talk of snail warfare is a hard sell, but honestly, it really is massively rewarding. The action may be slow paced, but it’s also considerate, meaningful and weighted – or to put it another way: everything that other shooters aren’t. This is the thinking (wo)man’s shooter. The slower pace, the tactical map, and the ability to issue commands via a simple radial menu, all lend themselves to accessible tactical gaming. It’s a system that largely avoids the pitfalls and frustrations of other tactical games, where it can feel like you’re trying to herd a bunch of lemmings.

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The game does require a slightly different skill set though. Namely patience and discipline. We all want to be the hero, we all want to be in the middle of the action, but you’ll quickly learn that “Fools rush in” (a term dubbed as “going full retard” in game) is never truer than when playing World of Tanks. Sometimes the best course of action really is to cower behind that rock, or to perform a tactical retreat. Knowing when to press home an advantage, pull back or simply hold your ground is a constantly changing dynamic and it’s this situational awareness that really separates the ace tankers from the n00bs. I consider myself a good player and even I’m not immune to getting lured in by the sight of a damaged target, trying to limp to safety. Too many times have I smelt blood, broken cover to finish off this wounded pray, only to have the jaws of waiting, unseen predictors clamp shut on me, leaving me shaking my head at my own silly mistake as my smouldering wreck litters the battlefield.

This brings me onto the fact that the learning curve can be a little steep as you learn not just the gameplay mechanics, but also build up your “know thy enemy” knowledge. I’m not suggesting you need to be able quote the rear hull armour thickness of a T-34 down the pub in front of your mates, but you’ll certainly have to start to know the capabilities of your own tank in comparison to what you’re facing off against. The game helps you out a bit here with target reticule indicators, but it’s a system than seems to be purposely imprecise, making experience pay off.

Moving on to some more general points about the game; the graphics, especially on the Xbox One, are respectable and packed with a variety of nice touches. Maps for example (of which there are plenty), cycle through both day and night, and different weather effects. These changes have a surprising profound effect on of the look and feel of the map, effecting line of sight and navigation. Environments are semi destructible, so that trusty barn you’re hiding behind one minute can be a pile of rubble the next. Smashing through walls and other assorted bits of scenery also feels nice and tank-like (Shouting “POWER!!!” as you do so is completely optional).

The control of the tanks feels realistically clunky and weighty, with inclines having especially drastic effects of performance. Not that I’ve ever driven a tank, but it feels like they’ve struck the balance between sim-like characteristics, coupled to simple controls. There can certainly be moments of frustration, but these generally come in the “fucking move you piece of crap” form, rather than anything to do with the system itself. Everything feels generally well mapped out on the controller.

Overall, World of Tanks is a brilliant game. It has a unique feel that adds much needed variety to the genre. It’s refreshing and somewhat strange to play a game where winning is decided not by fancy finger work, but by coordination and discipline. Do yourself a favour and download it. Seriously, get it; I need more n00bs out there on the battlefield that I blow the shit out of!

Dangerously Addictive

Elite

My initial thoughts on Elite Dangerous for the Xbox One

As I engage the thrusters of my little Sidewinder spacecraft, performing a surprisingly clean departure from the Trevithick dock, located in LHS 3447, I emerge into the vast nothingness of space and yet face a very real quandary: what the fuck do I do now?

For those of you that, like me, have never played an Elite game, the outset can be more than a little bit daunting. Although that is also part of the appeal, as Elite – for those that don’t know – is a sandboxy space-sim that isn’t meant to hold your hand. It doesn’t have a story. It doesn’t have a mission. It doesn’t have an end-game. What it does have is the mechanics that allow you to create those things for yourself.

I’d completed the tutorials, so knew the basics of flying, navigating and fighting. Armed with that knowledge I quickly decided my next move: I turned around (tail tucked firmly between my legs) and headed straight back to the relative safety of the starport. After performing a “landing” that can only really be described as embarrassing and/or crashing, I stuck the kettle on and reassessed the situation. I needed a goal.

Perusing the bulletin board of the starport services, I found a message from someone wanting some combat stabilisers delivered. These things weren’t very legal, so the pay was good and, having watched star wars before, I was pretty sure I had the skills needed to complete the task. Now that I had a purpose (and caffeine) I set out again, ready to Han Solo the shit out of Elite Dangerous. I performed a couple of epic hyperspace jump thingy’s, super-cruised towards (and then straight past) my delivery destination. I turned around, slowed down and made it successfully to where I was trying to get to.

It was at this point that I learnt my first Elite Dangerous lesson: Assume nothing. It turns out they hadn’t provided the combat stabilisers. I had to find them first, then deliver them. Bollocks. Anyway, I was well on my way in Elite now. Without knowing it, I was immersed. Whilst heading out to scour the universe for combat stabilisers, I decided I’d “Del boy it” and do a bit of commodity trading. My career had unwittingly begun and before I knew it, I’d lost hours to the game.

I think that is my first real take on Elite. It’s very easy to get completely immersed in the game even through performing simple tasks. I’ve probably stuck 10+ hours into the game already and I’ve not really done much at all. I managed to fry my ship once, narrowly avoiding destruction, and I’ve been in one dog fight, where I destroyed someone who was trying to raid my cargo. Apart from that, nothing all that exciting has happened. But here’s the thing; it doesn’t seem to matter. Somehow the game grabs you without the need for edge of your seat action or pant staining horror, instead using the somewhat unconventional approach of…..monotony?

All I’ve really been doing is intergalactic pizza delivery – with even the beautiful visuals escaping me for the most part – but it’s still got me really hooked. When I’m not playing the game for endless hours, I find myself thinking about it, contemplating my next move. Should I stick to the trading career? Should I dip my toes into a more exciting combat role? Or should I just let my path develop organically? The driving force in the background (for me) does seem to be money. Doing jobs to make money, money that I can spend on new ships, new upgrades, more power! As mans quest for power is historically limitless, this bodes well for the potential longevity of the game as well – as sandbox games can be a little inconsistent with their lasting appeal.

From a gameplay point of view, there are a few minor issues. The controls do take some getting used to, as there is quite a lot of actions that need to be mapped to a limited number of buttons on a controller. What this is means is that certain actions are mapped to button combinations – usually pressing and holding one button, whilst simultaneously pressing a direction on the D-pad. They’ve done a decent job with it, but it is a little fiddly at first.

As this game is pre-release, there are also a few bugs. I’ve had the game crash out randomly a few times, the occasional frame rate issue and weird inconsistencies in actions like the time it takes to open the galaxy map. On the whole though, it actually feels like a very complete build. I’ve seen final products that are in much worse shape.

The sandbox nature of the game means that it won’t be for everyone, and it’s probably one of the key things to take into consideration. If you’re a person that needs a deep narrative, a set purpose and clear direction, you probably won’t get along very well with Elite.

If however, you like the sound of getting into a space ship, jetting off into the unknown, with an objective that is unclear, having the journey drive the narrative, then there probably isn’t a finer game out there.