Friday, 30 November 2012

A horizonal Forza

Forza Horizon

I've been to quite a few motorsport events through the years and while they take place most of the time around a racing track, which has numerously times been represented in racing games, nobody has quite captured the essence of such events. It's not just about the actual cars racing a perfect line on the track, so well realised in the last Forza Motorsport 4. It's also about the atmosphere, the people and the feeling of being in the middle of something truly unique were the cars and their drivers are the stars. Forza Horizon represents not only a unique racing game it also captures the feeling of a huge motorshow in an incredible way.

Turn 10 must have quite nervously let Microsoft take their  critically acclaimed simulator racer franchise and give it over to, luckily, a very competent mix of British racing game developers. And not just any developers; a fine blend of people from games like Dirt, PGR and Split/Second fame, all fantastic racing franchises. The result is something Turn 10 are, and should be, very proud of. Enter the world of Forza Horizon.

The grand canyon are of the game.

The lighting in the game is incredibly well done.

The result is a free roaming, motorshow event based racing game with slick menus  a thumping soundtrack and breathtaking graphics. All mixed together with Forza 4's fantastic handling and car models. The whole game map is based on Colarado landscapes and is centred around a huge motorshow festival in the middle. Traverse autumn leafed bends, moonlit straights, canyon twisted dust tracks and burn rubber through small towns or flat the engine on a highway  The sheer variation in Horizons map is fantastic and it looks so good. So great are the graphics it easily goes in to be one of the most beautiful racers made to date, and it's free roam!

Night racing looks amazing, but is difficult.

Go off-road for som rallying!

Gameplay can be tweaked to be almost Forza 4 realism without the car damage doing anything else than visual effects to really easy arcade like racing. Newcomers and Forza veterans alike will find a lot of entertainment value here. It may have a more casual approach  but true motor-heads will get they're share of car fun here too. It's not trying to be a new Forza, it's trying to take great ideas from typical arcade racers and mixing it up with more realism. The fact that they also added off-road, almost rally like racing is very impressive. The handling here is kind of simple, but it's fun and adds to the variety.

There are lots of cars to buy and upgrade and tons of races. Anything from street racing, to track racing, beating speed camera records or simply nailing points while drifting. The races are not really that lengthy either, so boredom never kicks in during the time it takes to complete the game. You can seriously challenge yourself by setting the AI on harder levels.
Two classic american beauties racing the highway!

While there could have been an even more personal touch by creating your own character like in Test Drive Unlimited, adding a few more cars and maybe also police just for fun, Forza Horizon is without doubt one of the best racing games made this generation. The variety in race types, environments to drive in and sheer beauty of just cruising while seeing the day change from day to night makes Forza Horizon this years best racer.



Juice X, Lollipops with chainsaws and a bit of original raymen!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Platform tested: Xbox 360

I've never played the original game from 2000, I always wanted to though, but I wasn't into PC gaming at the time. Such a critically acclaimed game deserved a sequel and this generation made it happen. The concept of Deus EX is the three different approaches you have to completing your tasks. Either go out guns blazing, stealthy or hack your way through systems. Of course you can combine all three like I did and enjoy them all. Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues the first games formula.

What I really liked about DE: HR is it's atmospheric design. Right from the beginning you get the impression the developers have used time in getting the future setting looking very special. It's yellow tinted urban environments remind you of such classic movies as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and from a gaming point of view; Halo: ODST (the similarity's are actually quite strong). I really enjoyed how the game opened up in a more free world where you could take sub-missions to earn XP and money to upgrade your charcter. I also liked how they would send you on trips to other areas for your main missions.

The main protaginist, Adam Jensen, who is quite harsh in his descisions.
You can play Deus Ex as a shooter, but you need to use cover a lot.

The level design in DE: HR is quite unique. It makes way for multiple paths to enter buildings and taking out enemies, to suit the play style you prefer. The levels are very three dimensional, I know that sounds stupid, but there is a lot of thought gone into the caring for the various entry points and non-linear layout. It doesn't feel at all like the terrible "walk from A to B levels" so many modern games have.

You will be hard challenged in DE:HR, perhaps the one of the hardest games this generation. I found the learning curve to be extremely unforgiving. I felt they maybe should have added a longer "warm-up" level before throwing you straight in. Suffice to say, this game is not for casuals. The difficulty level gives you a sense of reward though, and brings back the old feeling of actually being good at playing the for completing a task, rather than simply wait for an achievement or trophy to unlock. I miss those days.

You can take down enemies using an energy bar, if you get close.

I'm gonna sneak you up!

The storytelling, characters and well designed structure on each level gives this game a unique feeling and I warmly recommend people looking for a deeper and more engaging action adventure to play it. I would have preferred a slightly easier beginning, even more free roaming and perhaps more engaging cutscenes as minuses. The gunplay is also kind of stiff and could have been smoother, especially considering the unforgiving nature of checkpoints and the extremely high difficulty level.

Those with patience through the tough learning curve and difficult battles will be rewarded with one of the most atmospheric and well designed games of later years. It definitely is a game for those who miss the more traditional difficulty and challenges of old-school PC games.



Lollipop Chainsaw

Platform tested: Xbox 360

This game is strange, so strange in fact, that anybody passing by while you are playing it will probably utter the words "what the fuck". Multiple times. But they will laugh and they will find the chainsawing of zombies fun once they try it. In a sense that's how Lollipop Chainsaw, in all it's simplicity, wins you over.

LC revolves around a high school girl, called Juliet, arriving late for school and realizing it has been infected by zombies. After slaying a good number of zombies violently  she sees her boyfriend bitten by zombies and has to decapitate him and keep his head in her belt. Mind you, he still lives on through this and constantly states his sarcasm towards Juliets completely naive and bimbo-like view of the world with some hilarious comments. The dialogue between these two absurd characters, yet so clearly stereotyped, is actually what really drives the story and really is funny. It also helps that the game uses some very good voiceovers for the English version.

Juliet, the zombie slaying cheerleader hero in Lollipop Chainsaw.

The flashy and colourful multikill animations are always funny.

The game plays like a typical 3D hack and slash game. You have some ordinary kicking moves to knock out the zombies and then a batch of various chainsaw attacks to kill them, or should I say completely dismember them? More attacks can be bought for gold coins you get for killing zombies. It's all about chaining multiple zombie kills and keeping the combos going. What is really fun is the fact that the brutal violence is sort of covered up by this naive, pink coloured and glittering world of the main character  It looks ridiculous, yet so violent it makes you almost laugh each time you get a combo kill and Juliet shouts out "Yay!" in her typical bimbo fashion and does a little dance. The gameplay is simple, but gets quite tricky to master the special moves and gives room for constantly improving your high scores and earning the more difficult platinum coins.

The game is serisously violent at times.

One of the more absurd, flashback to 80's levels, these mini-games are really fun!

There are of course some downsides. The environments are really simple, and the geometry is on a PS2 game level. It mostly relies on being a corridor and seldom gives you big areas to roam. This is kind of unacceptable considering the game uses the Unreal Engine 3. It really could have done with looking far better and more exploration minded in the environments  The game just is to short for it's own good. It does however compensate a lot of this with it sheer variation in stuff you are doing and really entertaining mini-games. Complete with an actually very good soundtrack ranging from 80's hits to Skrillex.

Of all the complaints I have said about Japanese gaming running behind, having incoherent stories and just terrible types of characters, Lollipop seems to actually understand comedy. It delivers a wacky plot, yet it somehow comes together well. It shows some truly insane characters but they are all voiced well and have a ton of funny comments. It's a statement that weird games with really fun gameplay and humour can work if you appeal to more western humour and still maintaining the absurdity of japanese popular culture. Now imagine playing as Juliet in a Dead Rising setting without the time limits and the great combo and violent chainsaw attacks....that would have been a truly amazing game!



Rayman: Origins

Platform tested: Xbox 360

I remember the original Rayman on PS1. It was the first game I ever got on the new platinum range. It was probably one of the last 2D platformers of the old generation, a sort of game that was meant for the 16-bit era but made it over to the early 32-bit consoles. Therefor it was quite an adavanced 2D game, considering the details in sprite drawn graphics ans smooth animation. 3D games followed, but only last year did Ubisoft return to the original concept.

Origins is without doubt a beautiful hand drawn 2D platformer, showing it's glory in 1080p with the smoothness of 60fps. It shows that even old genres of games can benefit from modern technical advancement and HD graphics. Just like New Super Mario Bros. Rayman Origins lets you and three of your friends get to together to traverse varied and exciting levels contained in worlds with various scenery settings.

Rayman and his friend hitting each other, there are so many humorous animations.

One of the underwater levels.

Rayman Origins lends a lot of ideas from NSMB and benefits from following that formula. It looks far more stylish and pretty than it's modern Nintendo genre brother, and equally offers the same amount of environmental variation. Origins perhaps surpasses the competition when it comes to gameplay variation and abilities you gain along the way.

Gameplay wise though Origins doesn't feel quite as precise and well defined as NSMB. It feels a tad more floaty and doesn't quite nail the tight controls of Mario and Co. The floatiness becomes more apparent on later levels where the difficulty shoots skywards and really becomes a challenge. Collecting all the gems in the game proves to become a collection nightmare and something I just didn't have the patience to do. I like the variation added with some of the running levels, they are fun and very hard, but feel rewarding once completed.

Boss fights are big in scale and tend to be quite difficult.

An angry bird?!
Rayman Origins is definitely something for 2D platform fans to check out, I'd put NSMB over it, but it comes very close and  feels more of a breath of fresh air than Nintendo's over used and annoying roster of characters.



Thursday, 4 October 2012

Classic evil in a residential area

Resident Evil (Remake)

Nothing quite represents mid-90's era gaming like the Resident Evil series. The trilogy made famous on Sony's 32-bit success story the PlayStation. The original game, released all the way back to 1996, set the bar for cinematic and horror games to follow. It was a landmark game, a typical 9/10 for its day, but looking back it's a 10/10. Simply because of its impact on the industry, the tremendous atmosphere and its un-linear layout; which in fact the series never topped by itself since.

The series has spawned many sequels, spanned many consoles and even ended as both cheap CGI and huge budget Hollywood blockbuster movies. Quality varying from excellence to rock bottom. It's a franchise with a lot of weight in the industry. A remake was kind of a guaranteed happening.

While even as early as Nintendo 64, that Mario loving company that is Nintendo, got their first RE game (ed. that's Resident Evil 2 for those interested). However on the marking of a new generation of consoles, Nintendo wanted to aim at a more mature audience. It didn't look further than Capcom's PlayStation success with the RE series. Which had already been bought out onto another console brand with Sega. It’s critically acclaimed but ultimately failure; the Dreamcast (ed. RE Code Veronica for those even more interested). 

I must admit, I never got to play the Gamecube remake when it was released. Only a brief testing and it left me, back then, kind of on a low note. It looked too grey and gritty and for a nostalgia person like myself it didn't quite convince me. Years later, many years, in fact, THIS year, I gave it a new try with a friend. To our sceptic eyes it turned out to be an excellent reunion.

Right off the bat here; I've played both the original and Dir. Cut versions of RE1, I’m no newbie to the series or a RE4 kiddie.

To our surprise though, there were quite a few nice additions to Remake clearly aimed at the veterans of the PS1 games to put them out of their comfort zone. A wonky doorknob that is near a typical save room hub, new rooms, different layout of items etc. Every now and then the game would put you out of your old RE routine. A fantastic way of making the game feel new; even for old players of the series.

One could argue that original Resident Evil really has been quite exaggerated over the years for having a great story; in fact it isn't really the storytelling itself that's very good. The voices are indeed better in this version and the sentences made less cheesy, but it's not really the dialogue that made RE's story. It was the atmosphere, what you witnessed and the small tid-bits from diaries, notes etc. that you found scattered around the mansion that built the story in your own head. The game had a so believable and well-designed environment and setting which bled atmosphere it made your imagination fill in the rest. REmake is no different, only maybe emphasizing a bit too much on its grey and gritty colour scheme for my liking. It should have had the colourful and had distinct variation of the original games rooms and halls.

All in all this remake hit the right spot, it's subtle in its changes and makes sure veterans and newbies of the series get their share of the experience. Some of the new rooms and art style of the REmake are over the top, but it doesn't ruin the game. It's about scaring you and building a great horror game, furthermore it goes to clearly illustrate how far the new RE games have moved from the classic formula into an action orientated and almost embarrassing cheesiness with ridiculous characters and no atmosphere even resembling anything creepy. If you have never played the RE games, start with preferably the original PS1 game or this one.



Resident Evil Zero

Zero was originally intended for the Nintendo 64, it was to become an exclusive RE game to compete with the games on PS1. It got delayed, however, moved and remade for the Gamecube. It is the last in the classic RE series when you think of static backdrops and camera angles. A sort of last supper for a style that Capcom since left. 

The game begins on a train, prior to the mansion incident in RE1, and revolves around the character Rebecca from that game. Here you meet a runaway convict and realise something is clearly wrong on the train as it is infested with zombies and leeches (sigh, yes leeches). From here you end up at sort of research mansion, clearly showing the developers had a wide range of imagination of locations (sigh, again). That said though, I love the mansion setting in RE1, but here it feels a little tacked on. Like, they had to do it again since RE1 worked out so well. Sadly its design is forgetful and look kind of like the art style from the REmake with the a little over the top dark and gritty style. I like how it connects into RE2 later on though, and the train level at the beginning looks fantastic.

The game lets you control two characters this time, instead of the traditional one or swapping between two within the story, first being used in Resident Evil 2. Herein lies RE:0's main problem though. The co-op feature of controlling two characters adds no fundamental improvement or entertainment value at all. It's cooperative mode, without coop.

Sounds confusing? Well it doesn't have any option to play with a friend and begs to ask the question, why was it even added in the first place? At worst it actually makes the game less tense and more annoying. I get the idea from the developers; one character has the healing and herb mixing ability, yet is more invulnerable and the other is strong and takes more damage. However what we ended up doing was playing only with Billy, simply because the fighting will always be necessity to progress and he didn't have any apparent weaknesses other than not being able to mix herbs.

It totally ruins the pace and consistency of the game; a lot of the time is spent simply moving the stale character from room to room, keeping up with the other. The feeling of not being alone too, destroys a lot of the scary element so needed for a slow-paced horror game like this. RE2 had two main characters, and did so in an excellent way of showing two sides to one incident and leaving the characters consistently alone. This however, just feels tedious.

Narratively, RE:0 is terrible. It starts off badly even at the beginning. Introducing possibly one of the worst characters in gaming I have ever witnessed. I know the Japanese games tend to have way-out characters, but this just really tops the chart: A man controlling leeches, that sings opera. Yes, you read that correctly. A man. Whom controls leeches. By singing opera to them.

Combine this with the appearance of a cocky Wesker (this is even before RE1, so why is he such a big-shot anyway?) It really sets the mood of the game to a low. The cutscenes are so bad infact, with these “I'm-sooooo-eeevvviilll” characters (opera singing leech man consistently tries to put you off with comments that would suit a spoilt 5 year old brat). It completely destroys any hope for the game picking up an interesting story. Ever. The only actual good side to the storyline is Billy's past and the relationship between him and Rebecca building through the game. But these are far too few and have long time spans in between, they never help to save the train wreck RE:0 is.

Playing through this game I realized what I maybe should have realized back in the day when Capcom changed everything in Resident Evil 4; the series needed a fresh and different start. I don't believe they got it with RE4 in my opinion, as I've always thought that game was bad (and clearly marked the downwards spiral towards the crap that is RE6). But something had to change. Resident Evil Zero and its forgettable package of gameplay and terrible storyline truly prove this. It was the last in its heritage for the series, but it sadly ended on a low.



PS: Read my "Looking back" feature of RE1 on the PS1 here!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The need to run

Need for Speed The Run

EA's Need for Speed series is one of the gaming industry’s largest racing franchises. Through the years there have been many titles under the brand and many types of racing games. The most prominent features though, have been the races on open roads with traffic through nature landscapes and police cars trying to stop you.

I recall as I'm writing this blog entry some previous NFS nostalgia through the years. From the first games back on PC, to the (at the time) next gen Hot Pursuit 2 on PS2 with awesome surround sound and the Underground game that fused the NFS series with the popular Fast and the Furious movies and rain soaked cityscapes at night. Think over-the-top neon lights, bling rims and plastic body kits. NFS went serious again in, probably my most favourite in the series, ProStreet. It kept the styling options from Underground and went semi-realistic on the driving. Last entry before The Run was a return to Hot Pursuit which although went back to basics in the franchise, it went very repetitive fast.

Perhaps this fear for repetition and an impatient action orientated gaming audience sparked the idea for The Run. It's a different approach to a racing game altogether, originality and a daring idea, yet it goes back to its NFS roots very well.

My favourite: A Shelby Mustang GT500 NFS Edition and it actually exists!

The game introduces you to Jack, who in all fairness to his cocky attitude and appearance is, well, a complete douchebag. Yet something about his smirk and stupid comments, combined with idiotic behaviour made me kind of like him. He has come into bad company and must race across the US of endless roads A (to B) to win a race offered by his beautiful associate (Sam) to pay off his debts. Yes, Sam is so obviously played and modelled after the stunning Christina Hendricks from Mad Men tv-show fame. Their friendship is a one of radio chatter with a caring Sam giving you heads up about tricky parts and your standings in the coast-to-coast tournament and Jack usually replying in a laid back and over-confident manner.

Sam, voiced and modelled after the stunning Christina Hendricks.

The scenes depicting these characters are all in-game, very impressive, and usually contain some easy QTE which lead again to some racing. The very idea behind these are great and set The Run apart from many other racers, in fact it looks and plays like an action movie. The on-foot segments give a nice break from the racing and give some tension to what Jack is going through reaching the end of the race.

Jack being, as he knows best, a complete douchebag towards a cop.

The race from one coast to the other consist of stages, these again contain stretches of road which you must either gain places in the race, make up lost time, fight (ed. race) a rival, elimination type races or simply try to outlive the forces of nature. The race being always from A to B lets you never drive the same road and really gives way for some serious variation in the landscapes.

The Frostbite 2 engine renders landscapes at a large scale very well.

At first I thought the Frostbite 2 engine (think Battlefield 3) wouldn't fit a racing game, the textures for one looking a bit muddy close up for important racing game surfaces like let’s say: the road! But it's the scale of the cities you arrive at, the huge mountains you pass or a whole bloody avalanche nearly wiping you off the road that made me see how great the game looks and needs such a diverse engine to run it. The Run is a really pretty game and it gives you a ton of very diverse scenery. Either it’s detailed cities, highways past grassy hills, traversing dusty canyons, slipping on ice covered roads in the Rockies or sunlight reaching through autumn coloured orange woodlands. It kind of reminds me of NFS 4 High Stakes in its colour scheme and nature filled tracks.

Be prepared to fight mother nature as well as your opponents.

There are issues though. The game takes two or three hours to complete, a lifespan they easily could have increased be forcing you to do some circuit racing along the way and even letting you race all the way back over the US for fun. Even an expert mode where you actually have to gain all the places in the race without being forced to re-race races you didn't make the amount of places would have been great. The handling is as usual in an arcade NFS game far too floaty and sometimes feels as if you are just being carried through each subtle cornered track without much input or control. I found it more real than the last game though.

A beautiful red Chevrolet Camaro, indeed.

The Run really appealed to me, I loved the concept, the stupid story and the sheer variation in its locations. The idea of racing through a whole country was amazing. It could have been such a truly great game with a little more time spent on the development of its replay value. At best it's a fantastic and original racer which feels like a movie, at worst it's a bargain bin game giving you a small handful of gaming hours.



Friday, 20 July 2012

End of a universal trilogy

Mass Effect 3

The Mass Effect series from Bioware has reached an end. It began its life on PC and Xbox 360 in 2007, continued its story of the universes Reaper attack in 2010 with one of the best games made this generation: Mass Effect 2. And now, we get the final part of the story.

Mass Effect 2 is what you call a perfect sequel; it took the fantastic atmosphere and setting of the original game and fixes everything. It overhauled the gameplay of ME1 and controls so much it felt like a new game entirely. So well-made was ME2, that I gave it a well-deserved 10/10. ME3 then, does it match up to its nearly perfected predecessor?

Story wise ME3 picks up fast, it throws us right into a desperate time where Earth is on a full attack from the Reapers. This desperation and witnessing of innocents getting destroyed is a very strong introduction to the game. It kind of sets the mood for the whole story of ME3. It's a fight against time and the galaxy is indeed in its most desperate fight for survival. ME3 keeps you on your toes at all times and constantly puts you in difficult situations. You get to learn how bad the Reaper attacks truly are when you visit other planets and species. This is a fight will be a struggle for Shepard as she/he tries to make all the different races and species collaborate to defeat the Reapers.

Captain Anderson overlooks Earth being attacked by the Reapers.

ME3 takes a slightly different approach to ME2's very open ended game, the galaxy map is more closed in, it feels more dangerous and the exploring isn't quite as pleasant as in ME2. I found the galaxy map kind of annoying with the Reapers sending you away constantly, but it sets the mood. Compared to ME2's maybe a bit too thorough scanning of each planet it's a clearly different approach and is fine considered you probably spent a lot time doing this in ME2 and don't feel the need to explore like this over again. ME3 is in this regard more linear, you know where it is heading, but it throws a few twists along the way and each planet you visit contains surprises.

Enemies in ME3 are smart and aggressive, your skills will be tested!

Although ME2 had its controls laid out perfectly, ME3 manages to pull off some small enhancements. You now have a roll button, so you can dodge away from attacks, it feels slightly faster and the covering is even better than before. In fact it feels like Gears of War only slightly slower. The greatness of the gameplay, combined with it's even smoother layout in ME3 proves itself in the multiplayer mode. Yes, ME3 has multiplayer, but not the traditional deathmatch style. It's horde mode up to four players. Believe it or not, it actually is excellent and really fun to play; you level up characters here and can send them into the singleplayer experience to heighten your galactic readiness against the Reapers. It's fun enough playing together with randoms and truly entertaining with friends. A fantastic addition to the series.

ME3's shooting feels fantastic and never tires.

ME3 looks superb, it may overdo the contrast level for my liking, but the technical side of the game is excellent. The lighting looks fantastic and the character models are amazing. Bioware have really outdone themselves and have made the Mass Effect series into some of the most beautiful games around. I love the variation and colour palette within its worlds. Every new location is a joy to visit and admire. It keeps the excitement at a high throughout the game.

Cerberus soldiers looking for Shepard to fire at!

There are a couple of nit-picks though. I would have perhaps, after the huge decision and very different outcomes ME2 seemed to show at the end of the game preferred a possibility for making almost two separate storylines in ME3. All the choices made in ME2 seem to send you down the same route in ME3, good or bad. The ending though, which met a lot of critics, didn't bother me at all. Sure the different endings don't vary much, but I didn't feel like they needed to as ME3's story was more predetermined than I hoped it would be. I would have also preferred that some of the places you visit didn't look like multiplayer maps and the Asian ninja type of character was so bad it was annoying. Cocky ninjas with grumpy behaviour and completely outdated weaponry (who the hell uses a sword in a distant future against guns?!) should return to rubbish Japanese games that love this kind of stupidity.

The Melee attack helps a lot in close-combat situations.

Mass Effect 3 sets the bar for many other games considering presentation, voice acting and cinematic feeling. It ends a fantastic trilogy and shows a scale of a fight to survive and a galaxy at war even Hollywood movies would be jealous of. Finally reaching the end of the story I have followed through three games felt really epic, and it felt a lot seeing what happened to all the characters. A truly fantastic game that should be considered one of the best this generation alongside it's slightly better brother ME2.



Monday, 2 July 2012

Round up

L.A. Noire

You know what gets boring? Going to work each day, doing the same things and starting your day at a desk. Well guess what, Rockstar made a game making you do exactly this! L.A. Noire puts you in the role of an ambitious police officer in the corrupt post-war years in L.A.

The game is all about finding clues at crime scenes, then investigating witnesses and accused criminals. It starts out intruiging enough and actually feels like a very original game. Questioning people is a tricky affair, having to read the actors expressions to see how their ingame characters (which all look kind of creepy, more than they do impressive) react to alligations og questions.

While this gameplay sounds fairly good on paper, it sadly turns out to be a really repetitive and annoying affair. Little does it help that the action-orientated controls needed for car chases handle like they are made of air. The shoot-outs scream Rockstar shitiness (Hello GTAIV!) and are terrible. The driving and action scenes are almost a joke and it seems that the developers knew this allowing you to skip any action scene if desired.

This is a game truly for people with patience and very little interest in typical gameplay heavy games. Only jump in if you are interested in a stylish story and solving crimes and murders.



Duke Nukem Forever

DNF is probably on of the most delayed games in gaming history and gained fame because of it. I remember reading about in a PlayStation 1(!) magazine back in the nineties. The development has been restarted numerous times and been handed from one developer to the other, until finally Gearbox decided to get it finished.

The game really doesn't look particularly pretty, in fact in parts it looks really rough around the edges and actually quite ugly. In other parts it takes benefit from running on the Unreal 3 engine though, and boasts some rather imaginative and cool locations. The whole game feels very old-school first person shooter and in fact it's actually something positive.

DNF doesn't take itself serious at all with really crude but funny humour combined with straight forward shooting. The challenge are the often brutal enemies and simply playing it like an old FPS with very little tools at you disposal. Forget ironsights and laying down to fire, this is all about hip-firing and jumping around to avoid bullets. Think Unreal or Quake and not modern military shooters.

The game even has a few hints to it's development time and early screenshots, it sends you on a very varied set of locations and will challenge most FPS players today with it quite harsh difficulty, compared to the rather casual gamer orientated modern FPS games.



PS: If you want to extend your DNF experience even further, the singleplayer DLC download "The Doctor Who Cloned Me", is really good value and takes about 2 hours to complete!

Driver: San Francisco

One of my truly favourite PS1 titles back in the days was Driver. I would sit for hours just driving around in it's four huge cities. Sequels followed, but each one turned out to be a bigger disappointment than the last. Hearing about D:SF made me kind of sceptical and even a demo didn't really convince me. Finally the game went on the cheap and I jumped in. Turns out I shouldn't have doubted Reflections, the game is great!

It evolves around the idea the skill the main character obtains after crashing and ending up in a coma. Called "Shift" this feature lets you at any time pan out of your vehicle and zoom in on another and take control of it. While unrealistic, this feature actually makes the game very enjoyable and makes it stand out from the crowd in a very positive way. Having trouble getting chased by the cops? Just jump into a car in the opposite lane and ram them, then go back to your own car which meanwhile is auto-driving the direction you left it in. It paves way for some spectacular crashes and very creative ways of stopping cars or winning races.

Technically D:SF runs at a smooth and rather spectacular 60fps. The car models are really nice and are actually real licensed models, in fact there are over a hundred of them. The cars feel heavy and drifty, so car chases look spectacular and movie like, in fact D:SF handles perfectly for a type of game like this. It's not realistic, but it's fun and makes you feel like a pro. The sheer variation in missions and modes is also really impressive. Reflections have really found every way a driving game can be played. A funny multiplayer mode to mention is to trail a Delorean, everybody fighting to stay in it's wake, the one doing so earns points. I also liked the missions where you had to protect a stationary armoured truck by ramming incoming cars with other cars you simply shift into.

While the story and cutscenes of the main storymode in D:SF seem a cheesy at the beginning, let the game settle and you will truly be in for one the most varied driving games and free-roam games made. It's the game you are looking for if you've finished Burnout Paradise and are looking for something similar!



F.E.A.R. 3

In a way the F.E.A.R. franchise should have been much larger than what it became, at least considering it's roots. The original F.E.A.R. was a fantastic cross between an action-filled FPS and a horror game. It completely outdid the competition graphically and the effects it used in it's slow-motion and destruction were amazing for it's time. Perhaps the first fault Monolith did was letting other people take care of some fairly confusing add-ons, and later on deny their storyline and make their own sequel. F.E.A.R. 2 did deliver a far more varied experience, but never quite nailed the atmosphere and originality of it's predecessor. F.E.A.R. 3 seems to follow the original games add-ons, being created by a different developer. A strange move for a franchise which could have been far more than it became.

What we are delivered in F.E.A.R.3 is a story of two brothers, both sons of the project in F.E.A.R.1 where Alma was born. One is Paxton Fettel and the other, a new character, is Point Man. The latter guy plays like the original F.E.A.R. games, with his slow-motion abilities and gun expertise. Fettel has more psychics abilities and relies on taking over enemy soldiers bodies and using them to kill each other. A more defensive playstyle if you like.

There doesn't really take much playtime to realize that F.E.A.R.3 is a fairly low-budget game. The presentation of the story is messy and never really explains much. The graphics are really generic and at times even quite aged, and while the gunplay feels solid the small levels look like an old FPS game. The environments you traverse are fairly standard too, making most of the game a sort of sleep walk through it. The airport level is the only one that stuck out for me and was quite good.

I guess it's an okay FPS for those who really want expand in the genre and need more games in it, but there is little to get from this title as a whole. If you are a huge fan of the series and a FPS fan you could give it a go.



Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Snowboard rage!

It's been a while now, I haven't stopped gaming, just writing! There's quite a few titles to mention, but I'll have to start somewhere. I want to talk about two games I've played through recently in this update. The newest shooter from Carmack & id Software and the newest version in a long-awaited EA snowboard series SSX.


Every engine id and its man behind the label, John Carmack, has made, has been significant for the gaming industry. Wolfenstein 3D was the first true FPS game, Doom revolutionised the genre with it huge worlds and its amazing gameplay (it still feels great to play to this day), Quake gave the genre polygons and a game engine that not only spawned two incredible sequels but also an engine that would dominate first person shooters the world over. Call of Duty used it, Medal of Honor did and even the critically acclaimed Half-Life series incorporated Quake code and still does to this very day in its famous source engine. It would take the third Unreal engine to finally beat its rival to dominate the current generation of games. Id Software fell behind by the release of Doom 3 in 2006, which sported a brand new engine. While detailed, it didn't hold pace against the open world and detailed FarCry engine or Half-Life 2's amazing physics engine. 

Behold then, Rage, a brand new id engine and a new take on the FPS genre at that. Rage relies on the use of mega textures to illustrate its worlds. This technical wizardry gives way from some huge and highly detailed worlds. The engine also wipes away everything you don't see, focusing the graphics and textures on the visible. The technique really shines, as Rage’s leaves you breathless at times, while running at an impressive 60 fps on consoles. The downside however, is pop-in texture when turning fast and fairly rough look to the worlds when close up (the characters faces suffer most for this). Regardless though, with its smooth framerate and scale, Rage is one of the real lookers in the genre. When I first heard about Rage I wasn't intrigued to be honest, I thought it would be another post-apocalyptic, grey and brown coloured game. However after testing the demo, I was highly impressed and decided to jump in. I haven't regretted it since. The open-world gameplay, combined with the classic claustrophobic corridor FPS-style is a really good combo. It gives way for two playstyles, and get this: Rage is a racing game aswell, and no it isn't a tacky minigame The driving is needed for traversing the dangerous territories between cities and hide-outs, and the racing earns you money. Money to buy ammunition, equipment and better guns. What's more is that the racing really feels great to drive and is a major part in the game, making Rage a very varied game to play. An remarkable effort in an overcrowded genre these days.

Rage has incredible scale and the megatextures make landscapes like this detailed.

Setting up turrets helps you out in fierce firefights.

The variation continues in some strange but very different weaponery, with various types of ammo and upgrades. I also like the fact that junk you collect around the environments can be used to build turrets and robots to aid you in fire fights. It's easy to get into and very fun. Earning money is fairly easy and merchants let you buy parts you need to build these. Gameplay wise Rage feels amazing with the solid and high framerate and the guns feels good and pack a punch against some very aggressive enemies. In fact the game is quite hard, but always rewards you for doing a good job. Like I mentioned the driving feels great too, the cars have weight and drift in corners, giving way for a better feeling than even some standalone racing games. There are also bunch of coop missions added for fun, they'll give you and a friend quite a challenge to get through!

The racing is really fun and adds a lot of variety.

The deformed mutants that inhabit Rage's world are nasty and agressive!

There are downsides to what could have been an incredible game though. The ending of the game is terrible and explains nothing, it ends in such an abrupt and unexplained manner I could hardly believe it was over (it's lost a whole rating point for this). Considering Rage being a more free-roam game than a typical FPS (think of it as a cross between Fallout 3 and a traditional FPS) should have included another city (I honestly thought the third DVD was a singleplayer disc) to greaten it's length. Levelling and a XP earning system is also greatly missed and feels strange not to have been in a game built like this. The pop-in of textures and the more lazy graphical parts of the game could have done with more work too.

All in all rage is a different experience than most games of its type. I love that Carmack and Co have taken a fairly daring jump with Rage and succeeded, it does however lack the final polish to make it a true classic. For that it needs a much stronger storytelling, less generic look and maybe just a little bit more work into it's art design and characters (including their personalities).




If you ever owned a PlayStation 2 you most likely (and most certainly should have) encountered a SSX game through its lifetime. The first game was a very strong launch title for Sony's last generation system and outdid itself with adding lots of tweaks and extras in the follow-up SSX Tricky. It went almost free-roam in SSX 3 and gave players a brand new, but equally incredible experience. It hit a horrible art-direction and messy layout wall with SSX On Tour, resurfaced slightly on the Wii with SSS Blur, then it went silent. Finally here in 2012 and we have what this generation has needed, a SSX game!

Sadly though, what we are delivered may on the first hour of its white-coated surface seems incredible, soon turns out to be incredible hard and very shallow build-up for a game. It does not take many horrible accidents by falling off the slopes to be introduced to the "skip race" option in SSX's sloppy and unbelievably underwhelming laziness that is its singleplayer. You are introduced to the fact that SSX is taking place on various mountains around the globe, but it doesn't take long to realize you can't choose a favourite character and are doomed to fail races because your character is never levelled up very high. Furthermore being forced to swap to random characters to race with doesn't help you sticking by one of them to level them higher either. The skip race option testifies that even the developers didn't have faith in the learning curve of the game, and that is really embarrassing.

I decided to leave the terrible singplayer alone, gone where the race events, gone was the idea of it all being a huge event. Instead I was met with infuriatingly hard races and cheap as hell cartoon cutscenes with no meaning at all. Even SSX3’s DJ Atomika (the same guy that voiced Burnout Paradise) sounds like he's given up on life. I went over to what seems to have been the main idea by SSX's developers.

The scale in SSX is incredible at times.

My SSX series favourite; Elise Riggs!

The global events mode. Here I can constantly be informed about how my friends are doing in the slopes around the globe. It gives me the change to try my best at beating their ghost records, rather than just racing the ghost of the gold, silver and bronze ingame records. To get the most of SSX you should really go online and add some friends, or else you are racing forever alone against computer ghosts with no geotags (markers placed by other players at difficult spots) to collect. In fact, don't even bother with the game if you aren't planning on being social, because there isn't much else to motivate you through its unforgiving slopes.

The sheer size of SSX, combined with the really nice graphics (snow never looked better!) is something to mention, however in here lies its problem. There are over 150 slopes, that's right; a hundred and fifty. There are just too many, and far too many annoying slopes. Slopes have holes and sudden drops to fall into, with no warning. Gone are the signs from Tricky which at least gave some indication. There are even slopes inside pitch black caves with pitfalls in them. That’s not mentioning the levels where you are constantly running out of oxygen. This game will truly test your blood pressure. Truly.

Mostly you'll find yourself sideways or upside down doing wild tricks.

Falling, a huge part of SSX...
Why did the developers not settle down with the slopes without places to fall out and rather use their art design for less tracks, and much more detailed ones at that. You are left to compete on so many slopes against your friends giving you the attention span of just bothering to try a couple of times on each. Why not have far less, and the automatically increasing the competition on the fewer slopes? And even more importantly; Why not design in lower levels to each track, which are longer for your disadvantage, but at least save you from falling down endless holes and let you continue to race.

There are some nifty ideas though, I love the wingsuit it gives way for some breath taking moments, I think the solar panel is fun and I really love the survival tracks. They really keep you at your toes, cruising down the slopes as carefully as you can. The tracks that are good are really good at that too, and look beautiful. There is nothing like jumping out of a helicopter and catching speed down SSX’s white, luscious mountainsides before jumping off a cliff and releasing your wingsuit! SSX could have been and incredible game, it's got the technical side nailed (complete with an amazing soundtrack) if only it had copied more of its predecessors key to success.

SSX ends up being more annoying than fun, and it's a damn shame because it really stands out as a different type of game these days. The game screams the need for a much more expansive singleplayer experience with far more options and a closer connection to the riders and a reason for competing (that includes winning events and actually getting the feeling of being in a tournament). SSX ends up being a game for your social network to compete against each other on the easiest and most fun slopes. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, avoid it.