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.