Thursday, 5 July 2018

Battlefronts among the stars

Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)

Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2017

Review: Although I appreciated the first Battlefront with it's large amount of modes and solid multiplayer gameplay, it always felt like it could have done with a singleplayer experience, not that a game can't purely by multiplayer. T  Luckily this time around EA's DICE have made a campaign mode for Battlefront II, Titanfall did much the same; multiplayer only in the first game, the  went with an excellent singleplayer in the second. But where Respawn really nailed a great singleplayer in TF2, DICE struggles a little to make itself not seem like multiplayer game at it's core when playing the campaign.

This review will solely be about that campaign, as I have not used time in the multiplayer. Gameplay is identical between the two though.

SWBFII's gameplay is a solid DICE quality shooter experience, much like you'd expect from the developer behind the Battlefield games. The gun fights are satisfying and the sound is rich with a heavy weight to explosions. The TIE fighters scream like they are supposed to, making the spaceship battles a joy to play. I really enjoyed the diversions with controling various vehicles like the X-Wing and TIE fighters, as well as the imperial  two legged walkers and four legged, giant AT-ATs.

The view angle options though, to switch between third and first person when playing the main female character, Iden Versio, leaves me a little undecided. On one hand the third person view gives you a more personalised approach to the main character and actually seeing her gives the player a better connection. However, the animation of the characters look little clunky and the feeling of precise aiming when doing so seems somewhat lost. 

On the other hand you can switch to a precise first person view, probably the view intended when not playing as the famous Star Wars heroes, which are locked to third person. The first person mode is probably the best for the gun fights, but it kind of takes away the experience of being Versio. I'd like to see the third person view with more polished animation and settle for it being the default view.

DICE absolutely nails the visual resemblance of famous Star Wars locations here; planet surfaces, small cities, space battles etc. it's a beautiful looking game and is spot on with movie aesthetics. The layout of the level design though, have this generic feeling to them and look like they're pulled straight out of the multiplayer levels design. The lack environmental interactivity is quite obvious too, when walking around in a walker or AT-AT blowing up enemies but hardly any environment. There's a barrel here and there to shoot, but everything else feels like solid concrete you can't damage.

So while they have visually made the game look incredible at first glance, especially in 60fps and 4K on my Xbox One X combined with sharp image quality and detailed textures, the actual level design and interactivity needs work.

I went into this game well aware that it had a short campaign and as such waited for a sale to pick it up, and although I've complained a bit here; I ended up having a fun and exciting playthrough. Playing as the dark side with Version is satisfying, and the levels in between with the famous Star Wars characters are refreshing and a entertaining distraction.

Although the game should have ended at a point in the story and the stupid tie in with the new movies right at the end felt forced, it's a solid shooter for Star Wars fans. The way the game truly perfectly captures visual style of the old 70's style of the movies is fantastic, combined with how sharp and smooth it runs. Nothing revolutionary or out od the ordinary here then, but a solid shooter at heart.



Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Don't crash the coot

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Platform tested: PlayStation 4 & Xbox One X
Released: 2017 & 2018

Review: Long story short, I bought the Crash Bandicoot remaster collection back on the base PS4 when it launched in 2017. Gradually getting frustrated at the games strange control system and frustrating hitboxes I gave it up and forgot about. Fast forward until the recent release on Xbox One and I repurchased it for the X, bonus was that this version is native 4K with HDR.

My initial thoughts on this game weren't positiv back in 2017, I had considered reviewing it, but I became increasingly frustrated over what felt like input lag and hitboxes that didn't correspond with enemy sizes and the edges of falls. The added annoyance of an un-skipable intro, long loading for levels and simple tasks like title screens, I abandoned the game. My PS4 has been in little use since the XBox One X launched, but I always had an idea of going back to the Crash Bandicoot remaster, but never got around to it. However, a spontane repurchase on the X left me replaying this badly titled "N. Sane Trilogy", but this time around on way better monitor in 4K, with HDR and super low latency. Did it change my opinion? Well actually it did.

My initial disappointing impression then, has changed. The super crisp and colourful world pops even more in the largely enhanced upgrade from the standard 1080p on the base PS4 to the native 4K with HDR on the X. The HDR transforms the colour and lighting to become really vibrant and just shine even more. CB is a good looking game, that brings back a great nostalgia feeling of the original games. A lot of care is taken in each of the three games look visually extremely close to how you remember them, albeit with far improved and modern graphics. It's one of the best made remakes visually for sure.

Gameplay is another story though, the developer seems to have thought it needed to resemble the original games a little too closely in my opinion. There's even a difference here in that CB1 controls noticeably worse than CB 2 & 3, much like the original games. I ended up using the d-pad for CB1, as that was how the first game was designed to be played. But should I need to in 2017/2018? I wish they'd modernised the controls and gameplay further, but I guess they aim to copy that exact feeling for the old games. As such, this collection can get extremely frustrating at times. You'll be misjudging distances and enemy positions consistently and ripping you hair out as you will die. You will die so many times. Those archaic controls can burn in hell.

The transition then going from a 40-60ms input lag on a TV, to my new monitor at 5-10ms was significant and a great factor in making me enjoy this trilogy far more. These games have a slow momentum increase as you accelerate into movement and a sluggish precision to the jumping that I dare say it almost has to be played on a screen that allows a low latency. Playing this game on standard TV settings, which are usually terribly optimised by the manufactures for gaming, will drive you annoyed real fast. For my X playthrough I really wish they could have bumped the game up to 60fps too, it would have helped tremendously to control Crash more precisely. It's a missed opportunity once again, not aiming for the 60fps should have been a priority and will be something only PC gamers can do.

Otherwise though, the collection is a healthy bargain. Half price of a new game price and a complete set of all the first three CB games is great value for money. You'll have plenty of hours of platforming to dig into and it's a far better way to enjoy them for old Crash fans and newcomers alike. There's even a more cohesive look to the animation and model of Crash too as he is alike in all three games compared to the original three games that developed over the years they were released. Nothing to complain about there, and I like that they even allow you to play Coco on all stages too, even in CB1!

CB N. Sane Trilogy is mostly for the nostalgic players out there, wanting to relive those 90's years of the classic on the first PlayStation. While the base PS4 version is fine, the loading really hampers the game and I would recommend the X version over it, if not only for the HDR too; it makes the whole world pop out so much more and the native 4K is so crisp. Most importantly though; for those interested in some platforming you should play this game with two factors in mind. Firstly it's a brutally difficult and unfair  game at times and secondly you need to play on a low latency screen.

A nice remaster release then, hampered by some weird design choices to keep stuff that even nostalgia can't hide were bad ideas even back in the 90's. While newcomers will have a lot of value for money here, it perhaps is aimed at the fans of the games back on the PS1. Keep also in mind the frustrating difficulty before purchase.



Thursday, 21 June 2018

There is no tarmac here


Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: Lately I've been putting a few hours into Gravel, a fairly low-key and budget rally racing game on my Xbox One X. Running a nice 4K it tries to replicate some of that good old Sega Rally arcade magic of powersliding your way through corners in mud, sand and snow. It's nice nod to the good old days of lighthearted arcade racing and a fun one at that. Visually it's a colourful treat, which most of the times works with tropical sunsets and grassy alpine forests looking especially lush to speed past, foggy canyon tracks on the other hand are more of a miss visually though.

Gravel boasts a healthy set of pretty tracks across deserts, mountains, forests and icey roads, challenging you to races in a diverse selection of cars. There are a lot of rare rally cars here that I have not seen outside of this game which made me happy, although how diverse each car handles I'm not sure of. For those seeking more challenge there's a nice set of options to tune your racing experience from pure arcade to slightly more sim-ish handling too, the game also features a nice selection of views to race in.

I purchased this game on sale, and while I recommend it as a fun game to throw a few hours into, I wouldn't go so far as recommend it at full price. Although it mostly looks flashy in it's Unreal engine built tracks, the game can at other times look a little rough. The structure of the game is quite tame and offers nothing compelling in the long run, although the various types of races with tracks that range from either A to B structure or closed racing circuits give the player a nice sense of variety when going through the main campaign mode. It's a standard checkbox affair, with some "boss battle" championships thrown in as singleplayer experience. Multiplayer worked well to, the little amount of time I put into it at least.

Gravel then, just works when it does what it promises; it gives you that awesome slip and slide off-road arcade racing feeling similar to what Sega Rally used to do; where you really feel like you're on the edge of your seat taking each apex of the corner dangerously close while traversing the rough terrain in a spectacular manner. I would have liked a little more polish and substance, but as a lower priced title on sale it really does work as a entertaining arcade rally racer. My little budget title treat of the year.



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!



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.