Thursday, 17 July 2014

Transforming racers and undead monsters

I decided to pick up a few games on the summer sale on Steam when I recently had set up a computer with some okay hardware, nothing very powerful mind you. It's been a while since I've done any real gaming on PC, I mostly play emulators on it. Luckily most PC games have full support for the Xbox 360 pad now and even have the in-game buttons corresponding on-screen. Here is my review of a couple of games I just played through.

Dead Space 3

Platform tested: PC (EA Origin)

Anyone familiar with my gaming tastes will know I enjoy a horror game or two. After the rather action filled Dead Space 2, which followed the excellent first game, my hopes weren't set so high for DS3. I realize that playing the game coop is a rather different affair than the singleplayer like I did. The coop game adds a lot of extra dialogue and requires two persons on various puzzles. The singleplayer experience, however, is very much in the same vein as DS2.

The game does an excellent impression of the sheer scale in space.
There are tons of nasty creatures to gun down.
An abandoned and atmospheric spaceship cockpit, it gives me vibes from the Alien movie!
Those hoping that the game is returning more to it's survival horror roots, will quickly learn to understand that this game is more action horror. The game mostly follows a linear walk from A to B, while gunning down hoards of nasty creatures. That said, the game does have it's moments of eerie and down right scary moments, added to the mix are some more open areas too. DS3 dares to let you explore more, which is a nice welcome from the restrictive DS2. Though you do still feel like you are gunning your way through a long corridor, unlike the first game which stayed more in the same spots and let you explore in your own fashion. At least it gave that impression.

I do like the settings of DS3; the first part is in space on various large spaceships, letting you traverse no gravity areas between them. The second part of the game takes place on a snowy planet. Which gives a rather deserted feeling, though this tense atmosphere is often broken by annoying interruptions from the other crew members you are with. There's some kind of annoying rivalry going on between the main character, a woman and a douchebag that consistently wants you out of the way. It's like listening to a teenage drama over the radio at times, breaking any hope of building a creepy feeling of being alone.

Added to the action is a military unit trying to attack you, these firefights seem incredibly lame; I just want monsters in my Dead Space! Not generic soldier fighting like any other third person shooter.

Press "A" god-damn-it! Something is crawling on your back!
Some of the views are fantastic!
Creepy areas are the norm in the series.
DS3 continues the familiar controls and gameplay of the previous games, the only negative being a fairly mediocre covering system for the fights against the human soldiers. There's a comprehensive weapon upgrade system that literally lets you build a gun of your choosing, with various salvaged parts that you pick up around the game. EA will be trying to tempt you with buying parts for actual money, though I managed just fine without doing so.

Apart from some more unique and memorable scenes in DS2, DS3 does everything slightly better when it comes to the actual game. It at least tries to offer more free exploring. The horror element, although present, never really kicks in like it did in DS1, but it's a scary game nonetheless. I did get fairly "used" to the scares though, both DS and 3 tend to get a bit predictable to when they throw a ton of enemies at the player.

I recommend those that liked the previous versions to play this one, and especially if you have the opportunity to play it cooperatively. The singleplayer will most likely help to create a more creepy atmosphere, but I'd trade it in easily for the fun that is coop gaming as the game is more action orientated than horror.

I enjoyed DS3, but it left me with the same feeling DS2 did; the original was clearly the best game. As such, my review score for the game will be the same as DS2, I found the actual game in DS3 to be a bit better than DS2, but the story wasn't as focused. I might give DS3 to have a slight edge, though it's a very close race.



Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Platform tested: PC (Steam)

Anyone familiar with Sega's blue mascot will know that there have been a ton of Sonic games released in 3D since the Dreamcast. Personally I have cared little for this blue critter since the magnificent trilogy in the 16-bit era on the Mega Drive. I recall a lot of it being bad quality, though I did play most of the PC version of Sonic Adventure. The franchise has lately expanded to kart racing. The previous entry focused solely on cars, but this newest addition also has boats and aircraft!

The game alternates on the fly during a race between these various means of transportation. Each vehicle can, almost like a Transformers robot, can switch between being a car, boat or aircraft. Visually it looks cool and leaves room for some vary varied tracks. At one minute you are speeding down a river in a speedboat, suddenly hitting a jump and you land as a car on dry land beneath. In a similar fashion you fall off a aircraft carrier in a car and speed up through the skies in an aircraft. Tracks can even change layout between laps of one race; much like Split Second did!

The game is beautifully presented, with tons of colours and settings. Each track takes a location from Sega's huge backlog of games (see the pictures above here for three examples). Ranging between Panzer Dragoon, Skies of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio, Afterburner and Sonic the Hedgehog. This is also resonated in the character select screen, with a huge variety in Sega mascots. It's fan service for Sega veterans, and most people familiar with gaming in general. I missed some Out Run and Daytona USA references though, I mean these would have fitted perfectly!

Gameplay in SART is fun and the game progress is addictive, you can level each characters up and give them mods that alter their advantages/disadvantages. The controls feel good and there's a bit of difference in each characters statistic and how they control. I found the drifting mechanics which, in Mario Kart copied fashion, gives you boost, to be a little simple. Sega could have easily gone with a similar to Sega Rally or Daytona USA drifting approach, but I guess that would have been a little steep learning curve for the target audience.

Speaking of competition, I would also have enjoyed more precise and less random weapons. They just don't have the balance and obvious strategic use like in the MK franchise. The weapons certainly help, but a lot of them feel somewhat lacklustre to use. It would have been an idea to alternate special weapon types for what type of vehicle you are in, some air-to-air missiles for the aircraft and maybe torpedoes for the boats for instance.

These issues though, don't take the fun away from this game. They are more my ideas of improving on something that already works in is just fine. The feeling of the game best suits the PC version in my opinion (which I played), because putting the game in 60fps makes all the difference. It looks smooth and the controls just seem to be more precise with the higher framerate. The style of the game very much lends itself to the colourful arcade games that Sega made during the 90's, most of which were 60fps. It kind of fits the style.

You can pick up this game for a reasonable price on Steam and I would recommend people who enjoy Mario Kart type of racers to do so. The singleplayer will take you attention for a nice amount of hours and it can be played coop locally to progress through the game. Either for simply completing the game or unlocking new tracks and characters! A great kart racer that feels like a colourful 90's arcade game with the added, and equally awesome, function of transforming vehicles!



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