Monday, 25 April 2011

Let me race you!

I like cars. No, that’s an understatement. I love cars! The speed, the cool designs and pushing the limits of control, it’s all stuff I love to experience through videogames in racing games. These days racing games are usually divided in three categories; the simulators, the semi-realistic racers (half sim, half arcade) and the arcade racers. So if you are looking from a console point of view (the really hardcore simulators are on the PC) Forza 3, NFS Shift & Gran Turismo 5 are in the first category, Project Gotham Racing 4, Dirt 2 & Grid are in the second and games like Blur, WipEout HD and Burnout Paradise are in the third. So lately then I’ve been playing two new racers, each in their category. I’ll take you through the paces.

Test Drive Unlimited 2

First off is Test Drive Unlimited 2, the sequel to one of my favourite racing games ever. The first game let you free-roam around the island of Ohau in Hawaii taking part in point to point races all over the island. You lived a rich lifestyle buying expensive houses, cars and clothes. I loved the game to death despite many of its flaws and rather rough edges. The sequel then was going to be really anticipated game for me this year. This time around not only was a remade Ohau included but also the island of Ibiza! Man was I excited.

The game starts of on Ibiza with a truly terrible party scene where you pick a character from a completely stupid slow-motion dancing scene and it’s followed by an equally bad introduction scene to the main cast of the game. The voice acting is so bad and coupled with really doll-like characters it’s so bad you’ll actually laugh at it. But hey, it’s a racing game and the story side is at least refreshing and something new, so I can’t really complain even though it’s cringe worthy to watch!

The game gets you settled in calmly and sets you up with a caravan to live in and a small car and so on. You’ll be introduced to easy races, how to obtain licenses (you’ll need different ones for the various motor classes and types of racing) and how to find your way around. In fact the learning curve is really smooth and nice. It adds elements at a perfect pace. The driving mechanics can feel a little nervous at the first but TDU2 quickly grows on you and you’ll have some truly enjoyable races. The environments, although completely empty for pedestrians and such, look really good. The day and night cycle and lighting effects are fantastic. The geometry and nature are truly incredible represented. The rain coated streets will definitely make you look twice in amazement!

At first glance everything seemed perfect. This was building up to be everything I wanted TDU2 to be. Then the bugs hit it. First off from day one the servers for the game were fucked. They were down, which destroys the MMO part of the game and it didn’t help that some of the menus were on the servers either. After this the game just plainly did not allow you to even get into the game, it just froze on the title screen. This was closely followed by a bombshell: My whole save got corrupted. The one single thing that really pisses me off is when a save gets destroyed by the game itself. I refused to play the game before they fixed it. A month later and they fixed the save and added a patch. Thanks, but man my motivation for playing was seriously dented.

Although some of bugs have been smoothed out and the online part seems to be more stable now, there are annoyances. For instance the automatic gearing on the faster cars is completely messed up and gets stuck in one gear for at least 2-3 revs before shifting, making races with many bends and a lot of acceleration/deceleration almost impossible to win. I also hate the fact that I can’t sell ugly painted cars I’ve won from my stupid competitors. The whole game should have been postponed and released after such things were fixed.

I wanted to love TDU2, I truly did. I loved the hell out of TDU1 and forgave it for its faults and lack of polish (it too corrupted my save file back then) and wanted TDU2 to perfect the formula. Instead I’m annoying myself over a lot of the same faults. I’ll be kind and give it credibility for still being very ambitious and original compared to the mainstream racing market, but they should have had plenty of time to fix the game better and made a far better end result.



Need For Speed Hot Pursuit

So if TDU2 was a semi-realistic racer, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit is a pure arcade racer. A lot of people have waited for a fast NFS game going back to the classic formula of long races with the police pursuing you. I was very excited when I heard Electronic Arts had put the Burnout creators Criterion on the job! In fact I actually though this could be a spiritual successor to the fantastic Burnout Paradise game by Criterion. That thought however would not quite match my expectations.

Yes, the game has a large free-roaming map like BP and yes the driving mechanics are quite similar. You throw your car at any speed into corners, hit the brake shortly then put the whole machine into a wild Ridge Racer like powerslide. It’s easy to drive, it’s fun and it’s action packed. The map is however sadly not used in a free-roaming or exploring fashion. You simply are sent from point to point race around it. In fact if you want to explore you have to ask for this yourself (this is just like NFS Most Wanted). Why even have a map?

The game is divided into two parts; one where you play as a street racer and the other as a cop. Each part has its own level ladder and race modes. As you progress through the game you access new gadgets to use in races and using them a lot will automatically upgrade them. Racers have a jamming device, EMP, spike traps and boost, the cops have the same devices except that boost is replaced by police helicopter support and the jamming device is replaced by a roadblock. In fact these races where the “weaponry” is available are the funniest. You’ll literally by laughing and smiling each time you either take out a police car, cut unscarred through a roadblock or smash a racer off the road in a horrible accident. The downside however is that the crash physics are a little “off”. It seems to be that you need to hit the cars at certain spots. I would have like a more Burnout like crashing style.

There is no denying that NFS HP is really fun to play. It looks amazing, with its varying weather, day/night cycles and detailed environments (the textures are really sharp), is really fast and flows perfectly when you don’t do mistakes on the track. Accompanied by an awesome list of music tracks (EA always deliver awesome soundtracks to their games) you will indeed have the need for speed playing it! There are many types of races to choose from; hot pursuit (racers vs. cops), time trail, ordinary races, duels etc. The hot pursuit mode clearly being the best. In fact this mode works well online too (apparently Swedish DICE wrote the online code!) and you’ll be wasting hours playing against friends or randoms. The car list in the game is very impressive, with all the newest supercars at your disposal. I wonder how they got all these licenses when you consider you are allowed to really smash these cars into anything?!

At the end I’m feeling excited and at the same time disappointed over the game. I would have liked the game to feel more like Burnout Paradise and have had a similar layout. In fact a Burnout Paradise 2 only with the NFS style, 60fps graphics, wild crashing and free roam would have been amazing! I believe the developers have done a far too “safe” option making the game suit everyone. It delivers what the NFS series is supposed to, but very little else. You will have a lot of hours of entertainment in front of you buying this, but don’t expect it being anything revolutionary.



I'll be back with a look at Mafia II soon!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

There's a Crysis in the Killzone

So people, it’s been a while. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing lots of fantastic games though! I’ve got four new titles I’ve been through lately: Test Drive Unlimited 2, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit, Crysis 2 and Killzone 3. Since they’re two games from each genre, I’ll review two and two of them starting with the latter ones.

Crysis 2

I must confess something, I’ve only played a little bit of the original Crysis and therefore the story and the sequel was new to me. I’ve played the hell out of Far Cry on pc back in the days from the same developers though, but I’ve since gone over to console and missed out on the original Crysis and its Warhead expansion of the story.

Crysis 2 takes place in New York, where an alien invasion takes place. All the inhabitants are being evacuated and the US army are the only ones left, the city is also taken over by The Cell, an organization with interest in your Nano suit and alien technology. The game starts with a fantastic and large scale intro followed by a claustrophobic submarine scene putting you into the perfect mood for the huge scale this game has. The storyline takes you through many famous landmarks in NY and it makes a huge variation in level design despite the same city location. It’s truly incredible to see some of the destroyed areas in the city later in the game and get the feeling of something truly terrible on a large scale has taken place. The plot really picks up towards the end and thickens, though somewhat a little to late.

The Nano suit is what the Crysis games are based around. It lets you have a assortment of super-hero like abilities. It can be used in stealth mode or armour mode. This paves way for the game to be played in two very different ways; I actually played with the armour mode mainly the first time around gunning my way through everything. Second time around I used stealth. It was like playing two different games. C2 has a lot of these neat ideas, it lets you for instance upgrade your suit and change equipment on your guns on the fly. The variation in fighting aliens and humans is also really good, although inspired by Half-Life, it’s a formula that works very well.

Technically C2 is the best looking game I’ve seen on consoles yet. Seriously, none of the other FPS games stand a change next to it. The textures are detailed, the lighting is awesome and the sheer size of each level is breath-taking. I guarantee your yaw will drop at the sunlight effects and the incredible night fighting scenes. The whole atmosphere and feeling you get from its size is like a Hollywood budget blockbuster where aliens invade the earth, only here you get to play it yourself! Crysis 1 took place in jungle like environments, C2 takes place in an urban jungle and the feeling of size, detail and emptiness is incredible.

Gameplay wise C2 plays and feels great. The guns are believable and feel heavy with satisfying physics when firing at objects, aliens or people. I like the fact that there is quite a bit of destructible scenery to take out. The open feeling of levels also helps you play in a rather different fashion from the standard corridor like FPS games we see today. You simply get better at using the environment and its very fun to choose your own path. You get the feeling of being a hunter when there is so much space to move around in; a lot of modern fps game look shamefully linear compared to C2.

A short mention of the multiplayer too, it lends a lot of ideas from Call of Duty’s success story in multiplayer (levelling + points per type of kill) and it holds up very well. While it probably won’t catch so many people attention, it’s a close combat online FPS (it’s actually the opposite from the singleplayer) with the Nano suit abilities thrown in. Very fun to play and it has some great maps. It’s fairly easy to get into too.

If there are things to complain about and the reason C2 misses its 10/10 (yes, it’s that fucking close) is the somewhat untidy storytelling. It grips you at the start with its epic scale, but I would have liked it to show more of the disaster movie style presentation throughout. The game jumps between areas in New York with only a boring map screen and a voiceover. The story should have been explained in more movie-like cutscenes in my opinion. Altogether though, the games ends in a truly epic fashion and in the end you’ll sit back with a big grin on your face. Kudos for the game being about twice the length of your average shooter too.

If there is one singleplayer FPS game to buy this year, hell even this generation of consoles, it is this game, without doubt.



Killzone 3

If you own a PlayStation 3 you may have heard about this game! The hype train behind most PS3 exclusives usually surpasses most other consoles and KZ3 is no exception. I’ve played all the Killzone games so far and while Killzone 2 this gen was an entertaining blast it was a somewhat forgettable experience.

After playing the demo of KZ3 a friend and I were left very impressed, so the purchase was unavoidable. We played the game in splitscreen coop, a feature I missed in KZ2. Strangely enough it’s only local coop and not online (why?!).

The story picks up on the abrupt ending of KZ2 and it may therefore be a little confusing for new players of the KZ series. Bottom-line is that the humans have to retreat from the Helghast planet after a huge bomb goes off, but the Helghast are planning a counter attack and developing a new kind of weapon. The desperation of the human becomes apparent very early and once again the series manages to convey the sense of desperation and gritty warfare very well and believable, even though it’s fiction.

I’ll be happy to report that KZ3 is an action-packed shooting fest to play through with a lot of variation. The best level actually being the one from the demo with the jet packs. It just feels very well designed. The game looks stunning as well, with its gritty presentation of a violent war between two human races. The variation in locations is very good, ranging from icy mountains, to deserts and strange alien landscapes. I only missed some of the urban warfare from KZ2, but I guess that was used up back then.

The feeling of the game has improved a lot from KZ2. It has a more toned down accelerated aim and gone for a more sensitive and responsive one. It still has a slight sluggish feeling, but it’s hugely improved. I love the feeling of having to slowly advance and take cover a lot. There are many weapons to use and some of them are simply amusing to play with just to find out what they do to the enemy!

There are some issues though, the story is shown off in action packed cutscenes but lack substance and has a very messy storyline. Jumping back and forwards and not really explaining reasons to new locations. They also pop up a bit too often for my liking when you are suddenly getting into a great battle you are interrupted by yet another cutscenes which does all sorts of wild things then just puts you back in a new area. Let us play interrupted please! This is especially noticeable on the demo level where the amount of freedom is very good, KZ3 really could have taken the Crysis 2 approach and left you wandering around and fighting the way you want yourself.

Just like in KZ2 the field of view is too low, I’m having to turn my head constantly to see things that are a few inches away from what should have been in my eyesight. I guess they are doing this to get the shaky-cam feeling of a war documentary, but it gets a little tiresome in lengthy game sessions. The framerate sadly dips at occasions too and they could easily have cut back on some of the confusing and just uncontrolled vehicle sections.

All in all I really enjoyed the playthrough of KZ3, it’s fairly short, but keeps you on your toes throughout. The coop mode was very entertaining and probably leaves you with a better experience than playing it all alone. For the next game I’d like the pace toned down a little, the open environments used even more and the cutscenes to be more plot heavy without the cliché evil guys.

This will go down as one of the best fps games this year and for any PS3 owner it’s a must-buy. If you haven’t played KZ2 either, I’d recommend playing both for the variation and to get more out of the story.



So I'm guessing you are thinking; which is the better game? C2 or KZ3? Well both games dare to be inventive and different in their genre, they are both technically very impressive and the gameplay is fantastic. The prize however has to go to Crysis 2, it just goes that distance further to release itself from the generic fps genre, it dares to be different and it does it in a very impressive way. It will most likely go down as one of my truly favourite fps games this generation.