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!

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