Monday, 24 June 2019

The Duke

So I bought a Hyperkin Duke...



...which, for those unfamiliar, is a remake of the original and infamously large controller to the very first Xbox. It was made famous by it's massive size and love/hate relationship with gamers. Guessing the taste of it boils down to hand size, it fits mine nicely, Microsoft ended up releasing a smaller S model of the controller back in the day. Drastically reducing size and comfort for players that were complaining. To be blunt, the controller is not nice to play with if your hands are too small. You need to try it, before you buy it. 


Back story


The main reason for the size, which you can almost tell from the pictures of mine, is that Microsoft relied on one single circuit board inside, Sony's controller company did not. The PS2 controller had two circuit boards inside with a ribbon cable between them, making the boards stackable, thus reducing size. The company making the PS2 controller was of course Japanese and refused to help out an American company like MS and so they had to come up with their own size reduction post launch of the console. So they launched with this large controller that got nicknamed "The Duke"

Fast forward to recent years and two of the original Xbox creators, most famously the chief of Xbox at the time; Seamus Blackley, decided to remake the Duke for Xbox One and PC. After a large and positive following on Twitter, current Xbox chief Phil Spencer greenlit the project and Blackley, sitting on the rights for the controller, went ahead with planning and production together with old colleagues that made the original version. They however had to settle for a third party company to make the somewhat risky project viable. Hyperkin was the chosen one and for that reason, sadly, a wireless solution was out of the question.



Overview


Although the Xbox logo was a static round, shiny frame on the original controller, it was originally intended for a Dreamcast VMU like screen back on the drawing board. This idea was scrapped for the final release. This time around for the controller remake they've added the original Xbox boot logo animation shown on a tiny OLED screen each time you press the button. Fun fact: this logo was generated by algorithms on the originally each time the console booted up, so getting hold of this tiny video sequence wasn't as easy as it sounds!

There are a few other differences from the original Duke too: the two memory card/microphone slots on the top are of course removed, a standard XCB1 mic input is at the bottom of the controller now. Right and left buttons are added as an alternative to the black and white face buttons for compatibility assurance with modern Xbox One titles. The triggers underneath feature a more quality feel with a more springy press and the face buttons have the more modern tactile feel. The sticks are also made of a more grippy plastic. Otherwise everything is alike.



Playtest


So how is this reunion to the Duke been? I went in and tested out Halo: The Master Chief Collection first. Here I could play both the legendary Halo 1 & 2 from the OG Xbox, just like I did back in the day with the old Duke. Although Halo:MCC now runs everything at 4K@60fps complete with HDR, I got a nostalgic kick out of it. It was weird to be reintroduced to the long forgotten memories of playing these games back in the day with the very same feel of the controller. I also tested out Crimson Skies, Black and SSX3 which are all OG Xbox games that are backwards compatible on the XB1.

Apart from the obvious size and therefore a large grip for the hands, don't get this controller if you think current controllers are too big, then the first noticeable difference from modern controllers are the tops of the analogue sticks. As you can clearly see on the picture above, the left stick looks fairly normal shaped, but the right stick has a more pointy shape to it. At first I thought it would be strange, but since the right stick is typically used for looking around in a first person shooter it actually feels nice with the more pointy shape! Your hands are set further apart than a typical XB1/PS4 controller and the pad nicely rests in your lap too.

Otherwise the face buttons are oval shaped and the black/white buttons are placed above the typical A/B/X/Y ones. It's nice for fighting games like Street Fighter that typically have six buttons at use, but the smaller size of the black and white buttons make them a little oddly placed. I would really like to see a main modern day controller take back the six face button layout like Sega used to have on the Saturn. The D-pad here is bad, I could imagine playing 2D styled games to be underwhelming with it. So they could maybe have changed it for this remake, but then again it works fine to swap weapons and functions with.




Summary


For such a strange project to actually finalise is such a high quality product is impressive. Not only is the controller really solid built, but it replicates it's old original perfectly. For those that have missed this giant controller and want to jump straight into a nostalgic memory for either old classics on the Xbox One or the PC then this is a great purchase. While the lack of wireless support is indeed the biggest letdown, everything else is a positive reunion.

Unless you have experience of using a Duke back on the OG Xbox and are planning on playing some of the old classics available through backwards compatible from that console I wouldn't recommend this controller over the stock XB1 ones without testing one first. After all the shape and handling of a controller is often a very personal matter of taste from player to player.

The Duke may be consistently joked about from players that don't really have experience with it, merely for it's large size. But the joke is on the ignorant herd of sheep that follow the memes; for the players with the hands that need a larger controller or the ones that need a different grip really should give the Duke a try. It might end up as your favourite controller for a lot of games, especially first and third person shooters!

Recommended after testing you own grip!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Post apocalyptic cries far away

Far Cry New Dawn



Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PlayStation 4 & PC
Released: 2019


Review



Introduction


Let me make something clear first in this review; you really should play Far Cry 5 first, you can read my review of that here. This spin-off title from the main series is a direct sequel to that game. The setting, story and atmosphere makes more sense playing FC5 first. Read on at your own discretion, there will be major FC5 spoilers.

There seems to be a sort of expected design choice that Far Cry titles that are outside the main numbered series have more headroom to deliver a left field, crazy and more innovative experience. New Dawn kind of has a foot set in both, delivering a familiar experience like FC5 but dares to throw in a lot of fresh and fun ideas, plus looking more vibrant and outlandish than FC5.

It's time to check out this lowered priced FC5 spin-off and return to Hope County with a touch of mad post-apocalyptic neon coloured to it.






Plot and setting 


17 years have passed since the dramatic and shocking ending of FC5; the crazy Father figure, who was the main bad villain, turned out to be right about his prediction of imminent doom. All the doomsday prepping suddenly made sense as the nukes fell at the end of the game. New Dawn continues the story many years after the atomic dust has settled and a post-apocalyptic rural america emerges. This pink flower covered world has been taken over by a couple of female twins, dressed crazy and rave like, which rule the lands harsh and without mercy. As a survivor in a more peaceful survivor camp you have to slowly regain the familiar, yet differently worn down and post-nuked valley of FC5's Hope County once again.

Although I could have done without, FCND throws you into a rather chaotic getaway at the beginning like FC5. I would guess to quickly get you into an action scene, but I'd like a little more gradual approach in a future FC. Luckily the introduction fairly quickly summarises what is happening and what your main goal is. The first meeting with the crazy twins is set in the introduction, giving you a taste of what to expect and fear from the main villains.

The main goal of the game though, is to not only defeat those twins but build a safe haven for the peaceful settlement of "good guys". Along the way you'll run into familiar faces from FC5, even the Father himself!


Gameplay and features 


If you have played previous Far Crys, including FC5, then gameplay comes as second nature. FCND stays very close to it's main predecessor, good gunplay with a solid and heavy feeling to the weapons. This time around the weapons have got a post-apocalyptic make over and feature some cool and weird solutions for sound suppressors and aiming devices. They look the part for the more edgy and vibrant look of the game. They've even thrown in a saw wheel shooting gun! This time around you need to collect resources to be able to upgrade weapons. Some of the more advanced weapons, especially the higher level ones, require rare parts to salvage around the map.

Weapons, vehicles, enemies and camps that need capturing, all feature levels to indicate how difficult they are to take down. Your weapon should match the camp or enemy level to have the most fair fight. The resources I mentioned can also be used to upgrade the settlement camp. Although I would have liked some more visual differences each time you upgrade, I quite enjoyed tracking down resources to upgrade all the buildings. Medic wing, weapon table, heliport etc.; they all ned to be upgraded to fully feature the best upgrades and support for your character.

This focus on upgrading, collecting resources and trying to recapture enemy camps to further get even more resources albeit fighting even harder enemies, really helps give the game more depth and replayability. It keeps the player occupied with taska that actually are progressing a settlement. You feel like you are taking part in rebuilding something.

Another cool new feature, which I found really entertaining, was taking a helicopter ride to completely off-map areas. These locations can be anything from a derelict aircraft carrier to and overgrown and abandoned theme park. These off-map locations are quite large and require you to sneak in and find a resource pack and get the hell out with the chopper. Grabbing the resource pack will bring down all the enemies to your location, ending in an intense escape! I'd love to see these missions return in future FC games.


Video


Once again the Far Cry 5 graphics impress as FCND builds closely to them. It's basically the same visuals, although there's even more foliage this time around and tons of pink flowers everywhere. It's a colourful treat to look like and a reminder of how fantastic the engine can do nature environments. On the Xbox One X version I played we are treated to a full native 4K, just like FC5, and it looks stunning. The HDR is also impressive at times, especially at night with a lot of neon light usage.

The amount of detail in trees, bushes, hills, grass, flowers with the new settlements and worn down buildings from FC5 spread around the vast landscape puts FCND, much like FC5, right on the top list of best looking open world games. The draw distance and far away distances bring a gasp of amazement each time you look out at them.

To pick on some small things; I still found the water looking bland on it's surface and the fast loss of anistrophic filtering in the distance is visible when walking on flat surfaces like tarmac. Small blemishes on an overall beautiful and one of the best looking titles around though.


Audio


Nice spatial sound on the surround, making it easy to understand where enemies are coming from. Guns all sound punchy like you want them to. There's a more modern style to some of the music this time around and a lot of electronic and some fast paced aggressive rap songs kicking in when engaging enemies. It fits the noen pink aesthetics well.

There's also a fairly small assortment of licensed music that doesn't really make itself much noticed other than when you are using a radio in a car or hear it over the speakers of a enemy base you are capturing. 




Summary


I enjoyed my return to Hope County, while it didn't quite blow me away like FC5 did, it's not something I expected it to do as it's after all a continuation to the same areas and story. The new gameplay ideas and vibrant visual approach help give it a much needed breath of fresh air and a clearer departure from it's predecessor. It finds it's own identity quite nicely.

It's not the longest of FC games and should be regarded more as a smaller and almost add-on like feature to FC5. It still got a nice amount of at least 10-12 hours of gameplay out of it though and the asking price is not full price anyhow. A lot of value for your money I'd say, considering you can spend hours just wandering about exploring and doing your own thing in the lush and detailed open world

Recommended for fans of FC5 that want a continuation done a bit differently from that game in the same world. I guess you could jump straight into this game if you prefer the visual style and more crazy approach, but I'd recommend personally to play FC5 first. Solid game, nothing groundbreaking or mind blowing, but a fun and pretty playthough for a nice price.


Rating

★★★★

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

A tale of loading souls and caliburs

Soul Calibur VI




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC and PS4
Released: 2018


Review



Introduction


The Soul Calibur games have been around for years now, I even did a retrospective write up last year on my favourite in the series: Soul Calibur 2. I have played pretty much all the SC titles through the years, with SC4 coming to mind as the one I've spent the most time with after SC2. However, the series has had a difficult job of reinventing itself or catching the spotlight like it did back in it's glory days of the Sega Dreamcast release of SC1 and the multi platform release of the second game, living on the flare of being amazing ports of arcade hits.

Years have passed since these days though, and the fighting genre seems to thrive on smaller budget releases these days. We still have series like Tekken, Street Fighter and Dead or Alive getting frequent releases but not as groundbreaking system sellers or technical hardware pushers. Among all of these, Bandai-Namco have decided to revive the SC series with a sixth entry, technically seventh if we count Soul Blade. Lets take a look at the newest game of souls and swords.





Plot and setting 


Storywise SC6 is a sort of reboot of the storyline, going back to SC1 to uncover what they describe as hidden truths. Nonetheless it's the same kind of setup as always; a mix of various historic, geographical locations and characters mixed into on fantasy world where they are all seeking the ultimate powerful sword. Be it for good or bad intentions.

This time around the game has two main singleplayer modes in addition to classic arcade like battle and network modes. Network is of course battling out online against other human players, truly testing your skills to the limit. The main two modes though, are Libra of Soul and Soul Chronicle. The latter serves as a sort of fleshed out arcade mode, where you can play through a series of events for each characters with plot being presented as text during a timeline. There are sadly no intro og ending movies here; just artwork and still images displayed as the story. A little sparse and cheap looking for my taste.

Libra of Soul is where the main game resides. Here you build your own character by choosing fighting style, body type, weapons and outfits. A lot of customisation is available and more is added through the season pass if you choose to buy this. Libra of Soul presents you with a text story on a huge world map. Here you move along, travelling various routes to fight against enemies and earn experience points to level up and take on the harder enemies along the way. It feels like a somewhat more fleshed out version of the main mode seen in previous SC games, yet not really daring to take new directions in ideas. It does get quite addictive to level up and get better weapons at times, however I found the story too text heavy to engage myself fuly into. I guess I'm too used to cutscenes these days with audio dialogue.


Gameplay and features 


Although SC6 runs on a new game engine it feels very much like what you expect newer SC games to play, probably closest to SC4 and 5. New and old movesets foer reoccuring characters are available and it instantly feels like home when you start controlling the game. There are of course a few new characters added, with Grøh coming to mind as a terrible and out of place design. New to SC6's gameplay is "reversal edge" a sort of action implemented slow-motion scene where the player activating an attack needs to choose strikes and the defender has to choose the countermove. It admittedly looks very flashy and cool, but kind of wears off it's charm and resides in the "gimmicky additions" category after a few hours.

For a fighter like SC6 it has a standard amount of options on offer and it's perhaps it's strongest suit, bar the lack of cutscenes. Otherwise there's plenty of customisation options and the main game mode is large, albeit sparse presented, to dig into. Some strange omissions are the lack of a second outfit per player, sure we can make our own, but it feels a little cheap to niot include. I would also have preferred more fighting arenas for added variety.


Video


It seems to be a reoccurring issue for Bandai-Namco to struggle with optimising the Unreal Engine 4, which SC6 is built on. Tekken 7 still runs at a laughable 720p on Xbox One X, Ace Combat 7 sees both the PS4 Pro and XB1X versions run at 1080p and here we have SC6 running at 1440p on both systems. It's a game with one arena and two characters onscreen. Was it really that hard to make it run at a sharper and better looking resolution, at least on the much more power XB1X?

Added into the mix of bad optimisation is the fact that this game has some of the worst loading I have ever seen in a fighting game. For a game that's all about jumping fast from fight to fight and in and out of menus it's almost insufferable. It has definitely made me play the game much less.

Such a shame then, that not only have we a fairly standard looking game; sure it has some flashy lighting and sunsets but the arenas look basic and hide behind an extremely aggressive depth of field, resulting in a blurring of the backgrounds during battle, begging the question of why? But then we have the characters who are all looking their best in the Soul Calibur universe, but compared to larger games in different genres and it becomes apparent that the staff and budget of Soul Calibur is far from what it used to be. When I see massive third person shooters with better character models than a game that has this as a main focus, I realise the industry leading visuals of fighters is along gone era.

As a whole the visuals are nice enough for the eye, but it pushes no boundaries and at best looks average for this generation. A shame, begging the question that maybe Bandai-Namco should realise they aren't really using the UE4 engine very well?!


Audio


Classic Soul Calibur fair; sounds are like they are lifted from the previous games and the music is an, well suited, orchestrated but kinda forgettable affair. Soundtracks from the previous games are unlockable. I know quite a few people enjoy the SC soundtracks so this one won't disappoint as it holds the same style and quality. For me however, there's nothing striking about the audio in this title.





Summary


I must admit I was left disappointed. There's more work that could have been done to raise the game over it's somewhat bare bones feeling. The annoying loading coupled with short and fast fights just make playing a frustrating waiting game. The lack of a proper skip button for long text dialogues makes you end up pressing next over and over then watching even more loading before commencing in a short but sweet taste of a fight. Somewhere along the way the developers forgot the idea that fighting games have always been built around quick entries into fights and moving fast from one to next.

I wouldn't really recommend SC6 much. It seems like a slimmed package and just a overall more annoying experience to play than previous SC games. It's sad to see the developer struggle with optimising the game and adding content post-release giving us the vibes of an unfinished product, even though the Libra of Souls mode is fairly well padded out.

As basic as using the game only for a versus fighter to pick up and play with friends it gets to a tedious loading affair, losing the momentum with such a wait between battles. It just takes the fun out of it. Those that are SC veterans and huge fans I guess it goes without saying, you'll be getting this. For the more casual fighting fans that are looking for a good two player and pick up and play game, avoid it.

Rating

★★★

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Getting dug into dirty rallying

Dirt Rally 2.0




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC & PS4
Released: 2019


Review



Introduction


Codemasters are once again back with a rally game, this time it's a continuation of Dirt Rally, a super realistic sidestep series of the main Dirt franchise. Confusingly enough when the previous mainline Dirt game was Dirt 4.  Set aside the fact that they maybe should just combine these to branches into one main game, this is the sequel to Dirt Rally which debuted on PC back in 2015. My experience with both the first game and Dirt 4 was somewhat bland; the first Dirt Rally for me seemed very basically and more experimentally structured, while Dirt 4 found itself confused in the middle between realism and semi-realism. Both the games has lacking visual appeal too.

Luckily Codemasters have really gone the extra mile when it comes to appearance, sense of series direction and content this time around. Lets let the handbrake go, press down the accelerator and take a look at Dirt Rally 2.0!





Plot and setting 


Game layout is fairly simple; there's a main mode which gradually takes you through seasons and underlying rally events at various world locations with increasingly more powerful rally car classes. One season contains multiple events, each event has five stages to race. You need to buy a rally cars to compete in them and manage a staff to help keep repairs quick and make car upgrades available. It's a simple enough structure, although some of the more complex choices are underwhelming explained.

There's no storyline or cutscenes as such, but then again in a racer this is often a huge hit and miss. I like the simple and down and dirty approach to just getting going with races and I found the menus more clear to navigate this time around. There's a nice variety of locations to race on; sun drenched Spanish tarmac, orange sanded Australian forests, fast and bumpy Polish gravel roads, autumn leafed American countrysides and rain drenched muddy New Zealand farm areas etc. I'd strongly recommend the deluxe edition of the game as they are adding along new world locations regularly, especially snow locations are weirdly missing in the base game. At the time of writing both Monaco and Sweden rallies have been added and Germany is right around the corner.

There's a lot of diversity in the rally locations when it comes to not only their visual appearance but also the surfaces they challenge the player with. Gravel roads are fast with a lot of grip, tarmac roads are even faster but require more "ordinary" road racing skills grip can easily be lost, especially in the rain. Snow surfaces are hell, but again they offer a nice variety to the mix. I liked seeing that newly added rally locations are blended automatically into the main game mode.


Gameplay and features 


For further variationoutside the main game mode the game offers other race events to participate in. There's historic rally events, where you can race classic rally classes through the years, with all the lovely modelled classic cars it's a real fun mode to play. In fact the historic mode even lets you later the difficulty level of the A.I. competitors, so it might actually be the best place to begin for newcomers to the Dirt Rally series! Rallycross has it's own main mode for those that love racing around rallycross tracks in a more traditional race style rather than versus the clock. These races are quite hard, and not really my cup of tea, but I'm glad they are in the game. There's also daily and weekly challenges and events to be played to compete your best times against players worldwide.

The amount of tracks and cars is a healthy bunch, and once again I'd recommend the season pass to get even more of them. I would have liked to have seen more track locations in the base game, but there's a healthy amount of stages in each one. Lots of weather types and times of day to add variety with too; daytime, sunset, night combined with rain, fog, clear skies etc. The road surfaces become a huge challenge in wet conditions, believe me. For hardcore players there's tons of customisation options to each car to dig into, tweaking each part to your style of rallying, plus an option to turn on an even more realistic damage simulation.


Video


2.0 really has made a huge leap from the first game and Dirt 4 visually. Gone are also the automated Dirt 4 rally tracks in favour for some beautiful and detailed crafted tracks by hand. It really pays off as each track looks stunningly modelled. Especially foliage and lighting makes the game look not only pretty but also organic like, combined with a slightly soft look which really suits the nature setting of rallying. The HDR brings out even more colour and makes the lighting even better. The car models are really good with lots of interior detail and wonderful bodywork that can be damaged in crashes.

Even more impressive is this Xbox One X enhanced version I am playing; which runs in a almost consistent native 4K, relying on some dynamic resolution if too much is happening onscreen, mostly in rallycross. What's even more impressive than the extremely high resolution is that the game runs in 60fps! It makes the controls and car manoeuvring so smooth and responsive. I have sadly noticed a few sudden, but very short lasting drops in frames here and there. They should look into fixing these. Otherwise it's hugely impressive visual leap Codemasters have done on the X from the base XB1, PS4 and PS4 Pro which all run in 1080p, coming real close to what PC players can enjoy visually! 


Audio


Car sounds are the star of the sound department here; each car sound dinstinctly different and powerful. Growling engines, whistling turbos and crunchy gravel flung up beneath the car all make the audio really pop. It's and impressive audio experience that suits rallying perfectly. I've enjoyed cranking up the sound and enjoying the beast like nature of these rally monsters in my headset, the cockpit view brings the best and most intense sounding experience!

There's little worth of mentioning music in this game; most realistic racers and rally games are absent of music during races. The menu music is just, well typical menu music.





Summary


Although this games can be really brutal at times, not a racing game for newcomers at all, it really helped get me more sunk into rallying than the first game did and Dirt 4. I think it might be the huge visual leap and the way you can tailor a easier learning curve for yourself to get yourself familiar with this type of racing. It's more meaty package and less of a barebones approach than the first game. I haven't had so much fun rallying in a while and the 60fps focus really helps put the game precisely at your fingertips. 

The whole scenario of burning down a claustrophobic, tight gravel road at high speed while jumping on small bumps and having to hammer down the brakes as you enter sharp corner while throwing your car sideways and hearing the amazing audio growl from your engine while passing so natural looking country roads is just an experience Dirt Rally 2.0 nails down more perfectly than any other rally game has to date. Codemasters are in league of their own these days when it comes to rallying. A warmly recommended racing game for those that can take a realistic simulator, but also enjoy the intensity of what rallying is about. Even more recommended for console players with an Xbox One X as the team have gone an extra mile to bring incredibly visuals to the platform!

It's of those games that does all it's game components well and comes together as a fantastic package in it's genre.

Rating

★★★★★

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Reigniting old dragons

Spyro Reignited Trilogy




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PlayStation 4
Released: 2018


Review


Introduction


Activision had a huge success with their Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and cleverly looked through their franchises and decided to give Spyro the Dragon the same  remaster treatment. I'm talking about the first three games from the first PlayStation here, just like what the Crash Bandicoot trilogy focused on. I was a huge fan of the original Spyro on PS1 and played it to 100% completion twice; once alone and another with my dad. I kinda regret not looking into the sequels; Ripto's Revenge and Year Of The Dragon back then, but my teenage budget was limited to far less games than these days. Luckily I get to play them in this remaster!

So while the remastered Crash Bandicoot games looked amazing, the games felt a little dated and frustrating when it came to gameplay in modern times, so I was curious how well the Spyro games had held up. After all, we are talking 20 years in between the first game and this remaster. So lets take a look at what I have always regarded as the only true competition the PS1 had up against the mighty and 3D platform genre defying Super Mario 64 on the N64.





Plot and setting


Like most platformers in general the plot isn't exactly very groundbreaking, it's about a baddie taking over a kingdom, grabbing stuff and throwing it around various worlds to collect. The first Spyro is structured very strict in this fashion; each world has underlying levels set in it's visual theme. These worlds work as a main hub, letting you access it's levels through portals. Everything can be completed and collected before moving on, no new abilities are needed or ever given to the player. Fairly straight forward platformer.

Spyro 2 and 3 are built with the same hub world with a certain visual theme connecting the underlying levels, however this time around you learn new abilities and levels can't be completed before you backtrack them with the acquired skillset. As such the hub worlds become a little more complicated in completing 100% before moving to the next, as levels must be revisited as you leave them without collecting everything. Spyro 3 is even more elaborate structured with guest characters that are required to completing certain levels too. Boss fights are considerably more challenging in Spyro 2 & 3, for good or bad, as they are laughably easy and simple compared to Spyro 1.

Collecting all these games together though, really helps ease the newcomers into things; Spyro 1 is easy to grasp and requires no specific abilities to complete each level, while Spyro 2 adds this and Spyro 3 dives  deeper with new characters and more eloboratetly designed levels. It's a nice and progressive way to play through them chronologically.


Gameplay and features


What immediately becomes apparent from the get go in this collection compared to the Crash Bandicoot one is how well and precise the gameplay holds up. The battling against enemies is about either ramming or burning them, it requires observing them to know what to do. Small enemies with no armour can be rammed or burnt, if they have armour only ramming works, while large enemies usually just require burning. You'll quickly learn which enemy needs which type of attack. Spyro can also roll from side to side with the shoulder buttons, required for the more experienced players to dodge enemy attacks. 

Spyros platforming is largely based around the flying mechanics; it's about spotting how you can glide to new areas to explore by finding higher and higher vantage points to glide from. Fast paced running is required on later levels to make speedy jumps to glide to far off places, plus there's also flying only levels to keep Spyro veterans challenged throughout. I really appreciate how large they were able to make the 3D levels too on a PS1, a cheeky nod to Crash's limited 3D that never was gonna make Mario 64 shake in his blue pants. Although the actual visuals are upgraded it's impressive to see how large the 3D levels were as their size, layout and scale is untouched.


Video


Much like how the Crash Bandicoot trilogy upgraded these old looking games in a pretty yet nostalgic fashion, this trilogy gets the same treatment with care. The consistency is key here as all three games end up looking graphically on level compared to the old games that saw a gradual development through the years they were made. Like I mentioned the level complexity increases throughout and Spyro 3 features the most ambitious and large level designs.

Unlike the Crash Bandicoot trilogy though, the Spyro trilogy has gone for an Unreal Engine 4 powered graphics engine. It's a risky affair as we have seen various degrees of expertise on the engine, Bandai Namco coming to mind as opting for disappointingly low resolution boosts for the powerful consoles PS4 Pro and XB1X. Spyro follows this trend sadly, ending up at a rather sparingly 1440p on the X and Pro, and it runs 30fps with annoying frame pacing issues too.

Although the levels are beautifully realised in their design, retaining the soft coloured and fairly sparse small detail, I would have liked to have seen more of a visual jump on the most powerful console in terms of resolution and maybe framerate. It all ends up looking a little blurry when compared to other 4K enhanced games, those only used to 1080p will see a nice boost though. The frame pacing makes the game look like it's jumping frames every now and then and really should have been launched without this oversight. It has yet to be fixed in patches too.


Audio


Sound is nothing majorly noteworthy, but all the old familiar sounds are here and are instantly recognisable. With a large emphasis on magical and sparkly sounds, also the little egg thief's taunting laughter comes back as the most memorable one. This time around it's all in surround at least helping to give you more spatial awareness as to where sounds are coming from.

The music mind you, I always really enjoyed with my experience of the original game. Memorable and atmospheric tracks that former co-founder and drummer of Police fame, Stewart Copeland made for all the three PS1 games after he walked through each level to get the atmosphere right for each music track.

This time around it's cleverly remastered and sounds just like how I remember them, albeit with a richer audio experience and more clever use of dynamic volume and reverb when things are happening in-game. You can switch to the old PS1 music tracks too if you really want to go old school, but like the Halo 1 and 2 remasters the new music score is done really well and updates the same music scores to a better experience to my ears. While still retaining the great background melodies and unique sound.





Summary


If there are some downsides that need mentioning apart from the sparse resolution boost and frame pacing issues, there's the way too close camera angle on Spyro. Mostly it works fine, but there are times when you just miss an enemy and need to turn quickly that the camera just ends up showing mostly Spyros purple butt and the ground below. It gets confusing and results in som cheap damage points or deaths. You can of course move the camera yourself, but this is mostly tied to the angle being to close to Spyro as a default. There's also some nasty difficulty spikes in Spyro 2 & 3's bosses that I could have done without.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Spyro's wonderful fantasy world. The art direction and the somewhat sparse level of small detail resides in a remastered style that isn't overly remade, bringing easier back memories of how it originally looked. I was pleasantly surprised that the games played so well and can safely say it is a much less frustrating and far more enjoyable affair than the Crash Bandicoot remasters were. Looking back this is really a trilogy PS1 owners could proudly say at least came fairly close to what a fully 3D platformer like Mario 64 could have been on the old 32-bit Sony platform.

Recommended strongly to those with Spyro experience on the PS1 and new players that feel the platformer genre is understated on the more "mainstream" consoles that are the PS4 and XB1. It's probably some of the best budgeted and best playing platformers you'll get this generation outside of Nintendo's Switch. Spyro still is and always was better than Crash in my opinion and over 20 years later this remaster proves it. 

Rating

★★★★