Wednesday, 30 May 2018

10 years later we return to burnout a paradise

Burnout Paradise Remastered




Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: It's been ten years already and Burnout's first and only last-gen exclusive appearance has been remastered. Although a lot of people missed the more classic styled Burnout when Paradise changed the formula from circuit racing to open world, I'm not here to talk about whether or not that was good or bad. I'm here to celebrate Criterion's fantastic racer from 2008, the game Electronic Arts refused to give a sequel to and made Criterion develop on the bland Need For Speed series instead.

They've bumped the visuals up from a meagre 720p on Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 to a full, fat, native 4K on the Xbox One X. Textures have been replaced to scale with the insane resolution increase, as well as other post processing effects to clean up the visuals. Don't get you hopes up though; all the 3D models are staying with their last-gen detail and as such look a little on the sparse side by todasstandard. Like I've mentioned before though; the backwards compatible program to Microsoft makes you wonder how the original vanilla Burnout Paradise release on 360 would have looked compared to this if they gave it the 4K treatment. Fairly alike I would guess, once again though, this is released as a lower priced title and the textures are redone at least, so I can't really complain.



What quickly becomes apparent as I dive into Paradise City, ten years later, is how accessible and satisfying the gameplay is. Races are found at each traffic junction, just pull a burnout with your car and the race begins. There are standard races, time trails, crash races, stunts and survival type events scattered across the map. Although I admit I still miss that there are no lap races in Paradise, everything is strictly point to point based racing. The start and end points are located at a small number of places on the map, as to make the player familiar with learning routes through the city by heart.

By today's standard the map isn't on a huge scale, but it's just the right size to memorise and it helps the game from being too overwhelming. It's a fantastic game for beginners or casuals to the racing genre to begin with, as well as being a great opportunity for younger players to relive some of that old-school arcade racing madness that was so prominent back the 90's. Controlling the car is super easy to get into, while mastering the corners for great drifts requires practice. Controlling similar to timeless 90's arcade classics like Daytona USA, Sega Rally and Ridge Racer; the gameplay is about reaching out to most players regardless of skill, but also having and underlying depth to hone your skills and become great at playing the game.



There's little else to report about this remaster really. If you haven't played it before it's an easy introduction to a fantastic arcade racer, in a genre with far too few titles the last ten years since it's release. Sure, some of the nuisances are still present, but this is such a great package for those wanting to have som fun racing without getting serious. The lightning fast 60 frames per second and super sharp 4K picture on Xbox One X makes this classic shine again. Recommended as a great substitute for serious and realistic styled racing games of today and newcomers to racing games alike.

I just wish they'd gone a little further in remaking it more rather than remastering, especially since it's already backwards compatible on the Xbox One. All DLC is included from the original though, that includes a huge new island added to the game, that's a lot of value for money if you've never played the game before. Add an extra star if you're a newcomer to my score!

Rating

★★★★

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Remastered rogue assassins!

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered



Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: The fourth mainline Assassin's Creed game, Black Flag, had a strong emphasis on sea battles and changed the layout of the previous AC games. Going from single city locations, to a open world based map at sea, complete with lots of islands to explore. Black Flag was also released at the end of the last generation of consoles, crossing over to the new one in a visually upgraded version; releasing across platforms Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4. The next instalment, AC: Unity, was built on an entirely new engine and thus built for the new generation only, marking a shift over to the new hardware as permanent.

Strangely enough though, Ubisoft decided to release a sort of sequel to Black Flag on the last gen of consoles only. Titled AC: Rogue, keeping the nautical theme and sea battles, but placing it away from the warm, beached Bahamas with palms to the cold and icy waters of the North Sea. This year sees Rogue getting a remastered release on the current gen with Xbox One X taking the graphical console crown with a full native 4K resolution. It's the version I went for.

It's nice of Ubisoft to recognise the popularity of Black Flag and re-release this game that went under the radar, especially to people who really enjoyed the sea battles and different approach to the AC formula. So does AC: Rogue Remastered hold up, boasting clearer visuals and some visual enhancements over it's last gen form? Yes and no, considering there have been three mainline AC games in-between, with the latter Origins setting a new, and high one at that, for smooth AC controls and gameplay. It's a tough call to follow, let's take a quick look.




Rogue continues Black Flag's storyline many years later and ties itself storywise neatly in-between AC:BF and AC3. Characters from both games make appearances, plus there's a shift from AC:BFs small villages to an entire New York map in Rogue too. Complete with gang warfare, neatly giving service to those who prefer urban AC games and liked the gang stuff in AC: Syndicate, although never diving so deep as the latter in it's options. You follow an Irish sea captain called Shay, learning his more troublesome experience with the Creed. As such, the storyline takes an incredibly different turns compared to other AC games. This story twist is perhaps Rogue's strongest suit and the thing that sets it the most apart from a long line of games.

The weird thing about going back to last gen AC is that although the map collectively  is much larger than say Unity and Syndicate, the gameplay is not upgraded. As such you're going back to a more cumbersome and fiddly control system. Manoeuvering Shay becomes frustrating and a reminder of how annoying the series used to control at times. The added new feature of hidden enemies wanting to kill you, just feels more of a nuisance than actually adding anything beneficial to the experience. The latest Rogue changed so much gameplay into a far more smooth and stealth friendly experience it's hard to go back.

Graphically we are basically taking a Xbox 360/PS3 game running it in 4K here, so while it looks clean and some of the textures, especially the shadows are vastly upgraded, it looks like a last gen game. Sure it can look pretty, but considering Microsoft's amazing, and totally free, 4K upgrades of backwards compatible 360 games, this feels like a fairly quick money grab from Ubisoft. But who's to blame them, the price is a third of full title anyhow and releasing it remastered leaves the game open to release on PlayStation and PC too.

Rogues sea battles though, the main show of the game, are still as great as they used to be in Black Flag. Upgrading your ship with cannons, mortars and better armour to engage and take down larger and larger ships at sea still feels fun and engaging. Sending captured ships to your fleet management table is also addictive, as you micro manage a fleet to capture resources at far away seaports (although I do really miss the companion app!). This time around there are small additions that make the battles more tricky for the experienced Black Flag player too; large icebergs floating in the sea, winds pulling you near shores etc. Subtle changes, but things that will keep AC:BF fans happy.




It's hard to recommend Rogue for new AC players, let alone those whom have mainly played this generations trilogy of Unity, Syndicate and Origins. However, fans of AC:BF that have missed this title, should really check it out. While it won't be technically breathtaking in any way, let alone the story going anywhere fundamentally mindblowing, it's a nice continuation of the style and atmosphere AC:BF had. I guess also that die hard fans of Rogue that have a current gen console could appreciate the resolution upgrade, at least the massive one on Xbox One X going from 720p all the way up to 4K. Entertaining and nice value for it's low entry price, Rogue is aimed for the AC:BF fans out there and few others.

Rating

★★★★

Friday, 25 May 2018

The Father approved shooter with far away cries

Far Cry 5



Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: This year saw the return of the Far Cry series. A first person shooter franchise I have much enjoyed ever since the first game way back in 2004. The now typical Far Cry "layout" though, originates mainly from Far Cry 3. FC5 follows this formula. We have a main nutcase that needs taking down and areas to liberate on a free roaming map with access to vehicles, nature to traverse and wild animals to defeat. It's a thoroughly tested game structure from Ubisoft, but a one that works incredibly well too. This time around I felt they had gone the extra mile to pull me in again after FC4, the latter I felt a little tame when compared to FC3 to really set itself apart.

What helps FC5 deliver a fantastic package is the focus on enriching the game world. This time around there is so much more to discover, side missions that feel like you're drawn into the game world even further and lots of mini games like stunt racing and fishing to further pull the player into it's immersive world. In fact, I'd go so far that this is probably the best FC made to date, let's take a close look though.




FC5's story revolves around the main character Joseph Seed, a religious nutcase and preacher going by the name "The Father", who after a violent take-over of a whole valley in North America is set to be arrested by the deputy. Much expected the arrest goes to hell and the rest of the game takes you through three main play areas of the valley. Each part is being ruled by leaders under The Father. These three areas are liberated by performing tasks and saving the locals living there. There's some fantastic cutscenes and voiceovers heightening the story to a new level which is the FC series best so far.

Gameplay is solid as always, punchy and weighty gunplay, even the cars, helicopters and airplanes feel like they have the right controlled weight to them. Excellent for traversing the vast landscape with. Discovering and climbing trough hidden doomsday prepper people's bunkers and finding their loot of money and weapons feels satisfying too, there's a lot to randomly discover in the forests and farmlands. The freedom of the sandbox world never feels limiting, while not going overboard with just about right size of the map. You can even let a real friend or AI walk around with you to support you in firefights. There's a variety of sidekicks to walk around with; like a sniper, a pilot with a support helicopter, a surveillance dog or even a fighting bear! 

Mission variety has clearly been a stronger focus from the developers this time around too; every story mission feel distinctly different and throws you into a nice variety of situations with a healthy dose of craziness thrown in. Even the side missions seem less cut and paste and more like proper story missions without the filler padding often plaguing side missions in FC4. The leveling system is perhaps a tad slow as I had only come about halfway on the perk chart by the time the game reached it's end. You have to grind quite a bit to fully level you characters perks system. The main game is a healthy 20-25 hours long, but if you dig down try to unlock everything you can easily reach the 50 hour mark.

The visuals in Far Cry 5 are stunning, the dense forests and foliage especially, but also the incredibly draw distance that really gets put through it's paces when jumping into a airplane or helicopter. Everything works well; close up indoor details, large landscapes on foot or in cars and the giant large scopes of vast nature when you are high up in the air. Running at an impressive native 4K, on the Xbox One X I played, really helps keep all the small foliage details like leaves and trees so crisp and clear. It's a beautiful game with a fantastic woodland America setting that appealed even further to me as it reminds me of forests here in Norway. I liked the calm folky like menu music that heightens the whole atmosphere of the setting too.




If there's negatives to mention I really dislike the way the game suddenly stops you mid-game to pull you into a fight with one of the leaders of each area. Once you reach a certain percentage of liberation you are wartened they are hunting you, then abbrubtly spawned in a cutscene, a weird design choice that could have been done differently. I would also  have liked to see the roads and airspace in the game have a less hostile spawning of bad guys. It's like you are constantly attacked if you follow roads or attacked by an annoying airplane without end at times. I ended up mainly sticking to the bush, but I enjoyed mostly walking by foot in the forests anyhow!

I went into Far Cry 5 slightly sceptical of the redneck and religious setting, feeling that it wasn't something that felt like a scenario I was particular intrigued by. I still went ahead and ended up playing the best Far Cry so far, with an ending really took my by surprise and I loved. The charming farmland America pulled me in and the atmosphere absolutely nailed the feeling of being there. The main villain does and excellent job and far excels FC4's effort too. One of this years absolute best games and an excellent first person shooter to boot. Highly recommended!

Rating

★★★★

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The tale of a lucky fox

Super Lucky's Tale




Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2017

Review: There's not a whole lot of 3D platformers outside of Nintendo's hardware these days. Perhaps a genre that's had it's primetime many years ago. Nonetheless, it's nice to see a title or two turn up now and then. Seemingly coming out of nowhere at the Xbox E3 showing of the Xbox One X in 2017, Super Lucky Tale raised a few eyebrows of interest. A cute and colourful platformer running in 4K on Microsoft's new hardware.

The inclusion of SLT into the Xbox One X reveal lineup was perhaps somewhat a mistake, although it deserves to get the publicity, I think many people gathered this as a huge budget title. Which it is not and perhaps it's hype has been made into something far bigger than it aimed to be in development. The reviews have, as a result of this, been fairly lukewarm and it influenced me enough to wait until a sale hit the game before purchasing it. This backdrop brings me to this review of both the main game and the recent DLC add-on. I was pleasantly surprised and had a lot of fun with this game. Reviews aside, lets take a look from my point of view.




SLT boasts a mild and pastel coloured 3D world in full 4K and 60fps on the Xbox One X, a nice upgrade from the 1080p and 30fps on the ordinary XB1. The upgrade to 60fps gives the controls a more precise feeling. Game design boasts some fairly simple geometry, but is nicely designed and pretty. It's clear that this game isn't a triple A budget game, built on the Unity engine and all, but considering it's limited development I think they've done a great job. Sure, the graphics are fairly simple, but they are pleasant to look at, with a warm and welcoming fantasy landscape.

Most levels are open 3D ones, but the gameplay always moves forwards into each level. As such, backtracking can be a bit of a pain, revealing SLT's first bump in the road: the camera. It follows the cute main character, a little fox named Lucky, just fine when walking into the screen, but venturing towards the screen to backtrack makes the viewpoint limited. The button to zoom in and look around the environment is very restricted in this regard too, you can only look forwards into the world. There will be parts of levels that are unnecessarily difficult to view as a result of the camera, never game breaking, but an annoying and unnecessary limitation nonetheless.

Luck-ily (see what I did there?!) the gameplay is simple and fairly responsive to play. Lucky controls well, albeit a little sluggish, and included in his standard platform moves; attack and jumping, he also has a burrowing mechanic. This allows him to dig down into the ground and find objects underneath the surface as well as using it as an attack on some enemy types. There's a nice variety in enemies and their attacks to, keeping you challenged along the way.

Each world you visit has a set amount of levels within it's hub. Each hub offers stuff to unlock, explore and ends with a boss battle. It's a tidy and neat system as each level has four clovers to obtain; one for completion, another to find a secret, a third to collect coins and a fourth challenge one. It's an addictive way to make you collect each clover to fully complete the game at 100%. Like many other 3D platformers it's a game which begs for a full completion. Each hub sports a colourful and cute environment setting and levels within shift between being fully 3D to classic 2D controlled levels, lots of variety all round. I really appreciated the inclusion of puzzle levels in the hubs too, they turned out to be quite fun to complete!





SLT is a fairly short, but reasonably priced game as such. I recommend the DLC that's out too, called Gilly Island, to add it in your playthrough. It has a whole new hub world with a handful of levels within, there's even a nice share of really tricky puzzle levels thrown in too. Location wise set on a cool beach location. It also adds some new game mechanics for some of the levels, which is a nice touch.

I played through SLT with my wife; in av classic "singleplayer, but let's make it coop" fashion. We swapped the controllers for each level and ended up really liking the game, and while I do understand that some of it's mechanics could be polished upon and the control system tightened up, it stands as a warmly recommended family game. It's a nice departure from the more violent and adult orientated games on the system, exploring a fairly thin genre by today's standards. Charming, fun and a fair challenge to complete, get Super Lucky Tale if you are into platformers, just don't expect it to be triple A budget, Super Mario level quality.

Rating

★★★★

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

90's cops used to be virtual

Retroactive review: Virtua Cop & Virtua Cop 2



"Virtua"

Clever or not, Sega's early 3D games with the Virtua brand, riding the virtual reality trend of the early 90's, offered some unique games. Clearly nothing to do with VR, but boasting some incredible 3D games that broke technical boundary after boundary of their time. I'm here to talk about the Sega Saturn ports of two of the most famous light gun games ever created.

Infamous for it's badly ported launch line-ups of Sega arcade hits like Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter in '94/'95, the Saturn would save face and go on to receive faithful conversions the following year. While Sega Rally Championship and Virtua Fighter 2 are famously excellent ports of their time. Despite the huge difference between the low-end home consoles and the expensive custom arcade system boards, they built the games to take advantage of what the Saturn offered and re-code them to better optimise the hardware. There are a couple of other arcade conversions that really deserve some attention too. Namely Virtua Cop and Virtua Cop 2.


Back story


Sega's Model 2 arcade circuit board. Probably the most important arcade board ever produced. If you never played on one of these fine pieces of hardware, well then you simply didn't live the nineties like you should have!

Built by Sega in 1993, though planned as early on as 1990, in a collaboration with an  aerospace company(!), which later became a part of Lockheed Martin, head engineer and famous Sega employee; Yu Suzuki created the follow up to their first 3D powered hardware that was the Model 1. The original Model 1 arcade circuit board was only capable of making texture-less polygon environments at it's launch in 1992, however the following year Sega aimed for fully textured polygons and released the superior Model 2 arcade system board. So advanced was Model 2, it took five years for PC graphics cards to finally catch up with it in 1998. Five years.

Oh, and by 1996, Sega had further moved on their technology and released the Model 3 hardware, pushing technology boundaries even further! Making it into the early 2000's before anything released for the home market even came close. So yes, while you were still playing the low-res Tekken 2 on a PS1 in '96, you could've played Virtua Fighter 3 with PS2 level graphics on the Model 3 hardware in the arcades the same year. Think about that for moment. For those that actually did this, then yes, your mind was blown.

Going back to Model 2 though, Sega struck arcade gold with this piece of hardware and released many games from '93 right up to '98 on the platform, even though the superior Model 3 hardware emerged in '96. This made Model 2 the most produced and successful arcade hardware ever created. It amounted to a revenue of 3 billion dollars for Sega, selling over 130.000 units.

So yes, if you somehow managed to avoid playing on Model 2 hardware you must have lived under a rock, because it powered the following successful line-up of famous arcade hits in it's time, to name a few: Daytona USA, Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 2, Desert Tank, Last Bronx, Dead or Alive, Virtua Striker, Manx TT, Fighting Vipers, Virtual-On, House Of The Dead and the games we are here to speak about:

Virtua Cop and Virtua Cop 2

Now there's a quality platform line-up you don't see very often!


My purchase


Normally I purchase older retrogames through Ebay, but recently for the first time, I used this retrogaming guy from Japan on Instagram.

I purchased a boxed Virtua Gun, commonly referred to as a "Stunner", basically the Saturn's official light gun. Also in the same package was the first Virtua Cop game, which belongs to the boxed gun, Virtua Cop 2 and the fairly bland arcade port of The House Of The Dead. The latter of which I may come back to at a later point, but for now I'm just leaving it mentioned here.



Everything was in fantastic condition, especially the boxed games looked extremely well taken care of, with the CD's looking almost new. The Virtua Gun is a large light gun, it feels meaty in your palms, but is fairly light in weight. It has a simple start button on the left side to navigate menu options with. Precision seems fine and I had no issues blasting down enemies with it. I bought a second blue gun at a later stage too. These light guns require a CRT TV, as they won't work on modern flatscreen HDTV's.


Virtua Cop




Released: 1994 (arcade), 1995 (Saturn)

The classic light gun game that started it all in 3D, with it's iconic first shipyard level with a security booth and a large fence, complete with lots of baddies in black suits wearing sunglasses. Huge aiming rectiles surround and rotate the enemies, as they slowly go from green to red and the camera zooms up close, giving the player a warning that they're about to fire at you. This zoom effect on enemies kind of defines the VC series and gives it a unique and recognisable design. It was a visual look later copied for the home market in Die Hard Trilogy. Namco's Virtua Cop copycat Time Crisis, which relies instead on a cover mechanic, owns a lot it's ideas from VC.



For the eyes of today VC1 features a very blocky polygon look, clearly showing it's an early Model 2 release. In fact, it almost looks more like Model 1 game with textures. However, the actual picture quality is extremely sharp on my CRT with and RGB cable from my Saturn. I am quite impressed how well they converted the game from the more advanced arcade hardware and made it look so alike. This is how a great conversion is done and what should have been done with Daytona USA and the first Virtua Fighter on the Saturn's release.

VC is structured into three levels, with separate scenes within each one; beginner, medium and hard. On top of that, you can actually choose difficulty settings, lives and continues in the options menu. VC can be played by yourself or two player cooperatively (or dual wielding for the laughs). Each level has a pre-programmed route through it and ends with a boss battle. Beginner takes place at a shipyard with containers and warehouses. Medium is set in a open digging site with an underground facility, while Hard takes place at the gang headquarters, sporting an office building.




Like most light gun games, VC is a painfully short experience. Each level taking 15 minutes tops to complete. It's a very set timeframe too, as the camera moves along constantly. The value for money and lifespan of a game like this is extremely cheap, but it's one of those arcade style layouts that begs for replays over and over. Making you try even harder to hit each enemy perfectly, and beat your last score. You need to see the game from the time period it released and the awkwardly short lifespan these early arcade ports had. It's not about the gameplay time of a single playthrough, it's about getting good at the game and repeating it to beat your last highscore.

For the sheer entertainment of light-gun games though, VC holds up well and still feels fun to play.


Virtua Cop 2



Released: 1995 (arcade), 1996 (Saturn)

Even though the sequel is very close to the first game in structure, it's less square looking graphically and lends itself to the more accustomed look of later Model 2 games with more environment detail thrown in. There's a more ambitious cinematic style going on too, with small intro sequences for each difficulty level and character. VC2 just has a less early 3D and blocky animated appearance all around.




The actual shooting seems a tad more precise and beefier when compared to VC1, at least when it comes to how the enemies react to bullets, giving a more weighty feel to the gun. It's nice and welcome upgrades all around.

For a better value for money, VC2 features lengthier levels and route choices during each of it's three difficulty stages. There's even an extra Saturn exclusive route in the last Hard stage not seen in the arcades. These routes make replaying each of the levels more interesting, adding much needed replay value. I like how the game more prominently features it's main characters too, personalising the game more with it's three gun swinging cops; James, Michael and Janet. I love the CGI intro and character art all around, it looks typically mid-90's arcade and gives me a nostalgic feeling.




Once again we are treated to an excellent arcade port with a sharp, clean picture and vivid colours. It's impressive how they have represented the more heavy polygon visuals of the original arcade game here. It's clearly been treated to an excellent downport as the cutbacks on polygons and have not made the visuals suffer in any way. Both Virtua Cop games on the Saturn are perhaps the cleanest looking 3D games on the system.


Summary


I've probably only played one of these games back in the 90's arcades like once or twice, as my parents generally weren't too happy about me playing shooting games in general, plus I always went for the racing ones anyhow! I did watch their demo reels a lot though and other players playing them. However my gameplay nostalgia for them isn't really a strong one and as such I played them recently with a fairly objective and clean sheet.  Even though modern games have since surpassed everything technically in these titles, I really enjoyed playing through them. I clearly realise why they became such huge arcade hits. The home ports are excellent and a great reminder that the Saturn could pull off arcade quality if it received the development time it needed to be done properly.

I had a blast playing these games, especially with a proper light gun and a old CRT that is required for them to work. Recommended for anyone owning a Saturn and wanting to take part in those glory days of Sega's arcade 3D dominance.