Thursday, 3 September 2015

Solving crimes and driving cars

Project CARS

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

Apart from the more arcade based racing games, on consoles,  the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo series have divided their "simulator" experiences on two dominating hardware brands in the industry between them. Xbox and PlayStation consecutively. On the PC market however, there's a far more diverse and larger market for racing simulators. Project CARS feels like it's born out of such a market and offers this experience on consoles. However, it dares to go up against the Forza and GT giants offering very much an alike experience, though on a multi-platform level. The potential to fail is risky, but the reward of catching two large markets of customers over two consoles is large and tempting.

Luckily Project CARS hits the mark in a very good way, and offers console owners a breath of fresh air and and an equally quality-filled package that Forza and GT have exclusively offered. Does it deliver on all aspects and as such is the new king of the racing sub-genre it delves into though? Read on and lets take a look!

PCars offers a large and detailed career mode, that is luckily "casualized" by a female announcer explaining the types of races, goals etc. available to the player. You set up your alter ego, a profile that follows you as a racer through your career. I found the options of what type of racer your are, which again reflects as to which type of cars you begin your game with to be a bit confusing. I began in tier 5 racing cars, but in hindsight I should have began at tier 1, Go-karts. Building my career from the more small and simple races.

Right from the get go I felt the racing AI was set a little to high for my comfort zone and I felt the practice and qualifying races to be overwhelming and  a bit tedious. This of course depends on how hardcore you wish to play, luckily you can skip to the actual races in your season calender. This calender shows which races you have signed up for in that season, mainly the career races but also smaller racing events and championships.

Progressing through seasons puts you slowly behind more and more powerful and thus faster cars. Although giving you slower starting races, I felt the controls to be very sensitive and the racing felt extremely realistic. In other words it took some getting used to the driving, don't get me wrong though, it took getting used to in a good way. There are lots of aids to help you drive easier, including the option to make the AI drive slower if you feel the game is too difficult. With a few races under your belt you will learn to drive more carefully than you are used to from more semi-arcade racing based games and you'll be winning in no time!

This is the key to PCars in my opinion; it feels and should be driven with a more simulator approach than you are familiar with on consoles. Respecting this, you will get much more enjoyment out of PCars. The career mode could do with a straight up easy mode though, removing warm up laps, qualifying races and making the menues more simplified. The slick presentation of the Forza games come to mind as a great example to follow.

Diversity in racing disciplines seems to have been the goal for the developers behind PCars, there's a large amount of types of cars. From small Go-karts, muscle cars, small FWD cars and all the way to Formula racers and GT cars. I really like the fact that PCars throws up to 40 cars on track in certain races. Seeing them all in front of you not only looks impressive, but also gives you a challenge to drive carefully to pass them all. Fans of certain types of cars can stick to racing them in many seasons, or if you are like me; I really enjoyed signing up for new types of cars each season for the challenge and experience.

Technically PCars rivals the top of the crop when it comes to graphics in this generation, the cars and tracks all look stunningly detailed. The amount of on screen cars is breathtaking and the varied weather and daycycle effects really add a visual flair to the whole package. It helps vary races on the tracks, with a sunny race suddenly turning into a nightmarish fight to keep on track in pouring rain.

There is, however, a cost: PCars doesn't remain it's silky smooth 60 frames per second consistently. It falls down in the 40-50's at times, but I never felt it fell so much it hampered my driving. I have to mention that the helmet camera which turns your head into turns and blurring the dashboard when you speed builds up to be fantastic. It's nod to the similar camera style to Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed. These camera options bring me to one of the things I love about PCars, perhaps it strongest side.

The huge amount of options is where the game shines. Everything from camera angle field of view, seat placing, HUD elements, manual engine start button, windscreen wipers etc. You can tailor everything towards the exact race and onscreen visibility you wish to have. The controller can also be tailored to have the buttons exactly where you want them to be. Another nod towards the PC simulator games; why dumb down a players choices simply because it's on a console?!

I've enjoyed myself on the track with PCars, at times it may seem a little sterile and repetitive when you are overwhelmed with tons of races each season. You can of course skip these and focus on the main races. Nevertheless it's a great package for the more simulator fans of the genre.

For PlayStation 4 owners it's totally a must-buy as the GT series is a no-show to this date on the console. For Xbox One owners, whom have the fantastic Forza Motorsport games to delve into, there's still a lot of fun to be found here even though. Although Forza 6 is just around the corner with weather and night racing, PCars is available right now and it does such effects on all tracks.

So if you are in the mood for a technical racing package, with a ton of options and races to dig yourself down in, PCars really is warmly recommended. Though perhaps isn't something I'd off the bat recommend to more casual racing fans.



    + Plus points

    • Top end graphics at (mostly) 60 fps.
    • Varied range of racing disciplines.
    • Weather effects really help mix races up and thus less predictable.

    - Minus points

    • Not a huge amount of car models.
    • Steep learning curve and perhaps too hardcore for casual racers.
    • Career mode could use a more simplified easy mode to cater for everyone.

    Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

    Platform tested: PlayStation 4

    This game kind of took me by surprise. It was on sale, and my wife actually pointed it out as something she would like to play. Initially I was a little sceptical, as a lot of these type of games come over as being fairly low-budget games. My wife played through the game and then warmly recommended it, so I gave it a chance. Luckily I did, because I ended up really enjoying the experience!

    C&P is divided into six cases to solve, each one taking around 1-2 hours to complete. The main part of the game is exploring various locations that are connected to the case and finding clues and evidence to use to solve it. Interviewing suspects and witnesses will allow you build a though of brain map of the whole case, choosing certain clues will then lead to a conclusion. The game has a lot of different conclusions per case, so you can easily arrest the wrong person. Replaying the cases is highly recommend to get each ending.

    There is also a lot of mini games such as studying evidence and dramatic scenes like fights and shootings. Though these dramatic scenes feel a little misplaced, they are luckily very few and short. It wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes without a little drama in a case!

    The presentation in the game is very good, while it doesn't look cutting edge graphically, it really has some great looking locations with a superb Victorian atmosphere. There's a great variety in places you visit in each case throughout. I liked that you return to certain locations in all cases, like Sherlock's home or the police station at Scotland Yard. It's cool to roam these old streets of London and the buildings from another era!

    I also found the menues to be very smartly designed, making browsing through evidence, previous dialogues and clues a breeze. Essential in a game about solving crimes. You can even look at this evidence while travelling by horse and carriage between locations, in other words while loading! The way you set up a brain map to solve the case is easy to navigate and use. At any time you can change your conclusions and the game even lets you replay the conclusion if you convicted the wrong person without replaying the entire case. In other words there aren't any of the typical annoyances like having to replay the entire game because you did one wrong decision.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough of C&P, finding it a relaxing game to just sit back in the couch and play. It doesn't really require any fast paced movement and can be played at you own pace. The story and exciting cases pulled me in and kept me interested from start to finish. The atmosphere, dialogue and unpredictable cases really help this game build it's own little world, making you feel like you are playing a Arthur Conan Doyle novel.

    I would recommend this game for those seeking a game that they can relax playing and really enjoy a murder mystery! I'm looking forward to the developers making another game in a similar fashion!



      + Plus points

      • Atmospheric Victorian locations.
      • Excellent evidence and conclusion system.
      • Complex cases with unexpected outcomes.

      - Minus points

      • Fairly short.
      • May seem slow and repetitive to some.
      • Some of the mini games suck.

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