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.