Thursday, 20 November 2014

Driving into the horizon again

Forza Horizon 2

Back again is Forza, this time in the form of a sequel to it's spin-off series; Forza Horizon. The first game was released on the Xbox 360 in late 2012. The principle was to take the fantastic car models and handling from the main simulator series to a more easy-to-drive and free-roaming racing festival. The result was one of the 360's best racing games, positioning itself perfectly between arcade and simulator. No surprise then, that there's a sequel that has recently arrived for the Xbox One (it should be noted that there's a version on 360, which bases itself on this version, but it's not exactly the same game or developed by the same company).

Right from the awesome, though psychedelic and rave party inspired introduction video, to the moment you roll out of a car ferry with your Lamborghini this game shines quality and fantastic presentation. Your first drive is to get to a festival in the middle of Forza Horizon 2's map. As you drive closer, more and more racing cars meet along the way heading for the same festival destination. It's a really great way to give scope and atmosphere of the game's setting. Arriving at the festival and beginning with some pep talk, you are gradually introduced to FH2's many modes through three races. The learning curve is very subtle and gives you a variety of choices to suit your playing style from the get go.

FH2's map is a small representation of the coast of France and Italy, including the beautiful city of Nice. It's a lot larger than the previous Horizon map, and includes a lot of off-road areas to roam in. In fact, a lot of the time you can simply drive away from a road and just cross the countryside to your destination. Further heightening the sense of scale and size to this game.The races reflect this very well, putting you in normal road races, off-road ones or on gravel. Between travelling to various towns on the map and taking part at small festivals in each one, there's a huge freedom in choices; be it car type or certain races you want to partake in. In fact the game never forces you to drive certain type of cars at all, you can simply drive what you like and partake in championships best suited to your car type.

So if you enjoy rally racing a lot, you can buy only cars that suit this and partake in championships that offer this all the way to the final! Are hyper cars to your liking, or maybe american muscle? Simply buy these cars and partake in those championships that are made for these vehicles. It's a fantastic way to let the player choose his racing style and car type, without feeling the boredom of racing something you don't enjoy. Other than racing there are a ton of challenges to complete throughout the map, including old secret cars to find in barns and smashable billboards giving you experience points. With the XP you can unlock perks that allow you to for instance give you cheaper tune up parts, earn XP at a faster rate or see which cars you still haven't taken photographs of.

There are literally tons of things to do in this game and it will take you ages to complete them all. The main "story" though, until you reach the final, is shorter and as such perfect for more casual players to complete without having to dig in tens of hours into the game. It really is built to suit everybody's playstyle. I'd even go so far as to recommend it to players that don't normally play so many racing games, it really is enjoyable for them too!

FH2 is a wonderful technical showcase for the Xbox One. The detailed world, especially considering it is a free-roaming game, is truly incredible. Towns, mountains, woodlands and sunny coastal roads are depicted in high detail and look like something from holiday postcards. The lighting adds to the mood and is superb, transitioning from night to day looks especially amazing. The rainy weather is also something new for the entire Forza series, and actually add a lot of variety to the races. Weather happens randomly as the game world changes and goes through days and nights.

There's something stunning seeing the water reflections on the road lit up by your headlights and the windshield wipers moving away the raindrops on your front window as you tearing at alarming speeds down a small and windy road at night! A feeling I wish most gamers interested in racers will enjoy by getting this game!

If you are remotely interested in cars and racing games, be it a simulator fan or arcade one; this is the game for you this year. It's an incredible upgrade from last generation and an amazing package filled with tons of races, challenges and places to explore with a huge variety of cars. There really is something for everyone to like and nothing like it in the competition.

Sure the formula may have already been used in the first Horizon game, and perhaps fans of the original will find it simply more of the same, but FH2 is such a huge upgrade with even more content and  jaw-dropping visuals you cannot miss out.

The year's best racing game? The best racing game available for the new current gen consoles? Yes and yes!



    Monday, 17 November 2014

    Reading history

    I have recently read the book "Console Wars: Sega Vs Nintendo - and the Battle that Defined a Generation" by Blake J. Harris. It mainly focuses on the 16-bit era of gaming in the USA, explaining how Sega grew to take over 50 percent of the market from a very dominant Nintendo at the time.

    The book is well written, and explains a generation which I grew up with, not only from the perspective of consumers, but what actually happened behind the scenes on the business side of the war. I love the way the book explains meetings that took place and decisions within them; with actual dialogue. Told in a way that makes yo feel like you're there in the room when it happened. There are a lot of amusing scenes in the book, especially from Sega's side of things, as they were really doing their best to topple Nintendo's 95% market share from the NES era.

    It's impressive reading how Tom Kalinske and his handpicked crew at Sega, managed to completely change a market around and actually become the the leading company. From being almost nothing, to a huge phenomena, and then again seeing the fall as they approach the disastrous Sega Saturn launch. It's also interesting to see how Nintendo changes from being very non-rigid company and slowly adapting to compete with Sega in a more modern fashion.

    If you're an 80's kid like me and grew up playing videogames as a child in the early 90's, battling out in the school yard about what was the best of Sonic and Mario, this is really a great read. For younger people interested in the history of gaming I would think it appeals quite well, as this generation builds the foundation for how both Sony and Microsoft raised to fame in the later ones. It also illustrates how Sega modernised a lot of marketing for the industry, which even today is formula still being used.

    Buy the book on Amazon:

    Watch Blake talk about his book here:

    The first light transistors

    Infamous First Light

    After the fantastic Infamous Second Son I was hungry for more, and so here we have Fetch's story in Infamous First Light! It takes place before the events of Infamous SS and tells the story of how Fetch and here brother came to Seattle. The game is a DLC to Infamous SS, but it does not require the original game to play. As such it is a fantastic deal for the low entry price, you should however have played Infamous SS first, even though this is a prequel. Infamous SS eased you into the whole series in a more gradual way and teaches you abilities at a slower pace, it's much better to start there, especially if you are new to the series!

    First light is divided into two areas if you like; the city are, which is the backdrop for the story and the arena area. The arena area is a perfect place for levelling up and feels like a mini game on it's own. Here you have to either help hostages or fight of increasingly harder waves of enemies. I normally find this type of combo fighting very difficult and tiresome, but in first light it's fairly easy to get the hang of. As you level up Fetch, each wave becomes easier and you progress to some of the later ones required to earn trophies. While I did alright in them, this type of gameplay isn't something I personally enjoy so much.

    Luckily the story mode plays like the last game and there are some really cool and nifty abilities Fetch unlocks. It kind of illustrates how good the neon ability was in Infamous SS. There are some cool missions to play in the story as well, which bring some new ideas into the picture to make it a slightly original experience to the main game.

    Just like Infamous SS, FL is a graphical showcase of the PS4. It renders an amazingly detailed and beautiful Seattle, though this time limiting you to the lower residential side with the tower. Everything runs really smooth and there's even a mountainous snowy landscape further into the game that once again showcase how diverse the engine seems to be. It really is impressive how good they have made a free roaming game like this. Especially the characters look really detailed in the faces.

    For it's low entry price and generous hours of gameplay, this is a good DLC for fans of the main game. It's amazing they are giving people the chance to get it at this price when you consider you don't need the full game to run it! I enjoyed it, though the areanes stuff wasn't exactly my thing, it probably is for others. The best part of First Light is learning more about Fetch as she really is a great and very different character from Infamous SS' Delsin. Play Infamous SS first, then pick up First Light immediately, for a real fun and different experience!



    Check out my review of the original Infamous Second Son here:

    Two awesome exclusives in one year, very good work on Sucker Punch Productions' behalf! Probably the best games exclusives to the extremely thin line-up of exclusives this year on the PS4.


    Hearing of a  new game from the Bastion creators got me very excited, and there are a few similarities, especially the way the story is told with a voice telling the story and the artstyle. But further similarities end there and so transistor becomes Bastions spiritual successor, but a fairly distant and more weird one at that.

    Transistor's world is clearly a design  similar to Bastion, but it sets itself in a futuristic city fused with an Art Deco artstyle. The gameplay is a sort of turn based RPG in limited battle arenaes. You use a time stopping mechanism that serves as a way to limit your moves each turn. You need to combine various skills and attacks to take out the enemies. Winning depends very much on strategic decisions and the way you move around each turn. It gives some homage to the old JRPG's that featured a square-based board for a playing field.

    Amongst this fairly uncommon gameplay style in todays world, I found it interesting and actually fairly refreshing, is a story that is very stylishly told. However, I found it to be very confusing and difficult to actually understand. At times it's very strong, at other times it's like standing in a modern art exhibition where I understand nothing, but it looks artistic. As such the game never really grabbed me the way Bastion did, but it did get me through two playthroughs, since it's fairly short. The game adds some more difficulty the second time around as well as letting you continue your levelling ladder further, which is nice.

    I found Transistor's gameplay to be intriguing, and it's 1920's Art Deco setting wonderful, but it became a little to obscure for my taste. The story is very "way out there", don't get me wrong it's presentation is mysterious and well executed with the storytellers voice, but it just was too dreamy for and strange for me. If you have never played the previous game, Bastion, by the same people you really should start there, it is fantastic. If you are looking for a Bastion inspired, but ultimately very different and more psychedelic game and story, well transistor may be to your suiting.