Friday, 9 October 2015

Because racing never tires on me!

Forza Motorsport 6

Together with Forza 6, I bought the Forza Special Edition controller, with a nice shade of blue and racing stripes!

Platform tested: Xbox One

With a two year release cycle, the Forza franchise is ready to release the next instalment of it's Motorsport simulation series. Forza Motorsport 6 is here and, as always, is made by the original developers since the first game, Turn 10. Perfectly in time for the ten year anniversary of the franchise! What did I expect since 2013's (that's early 2014 for Tier 2 countries) visually pretty, but content wise thin, Forza Motorsport 5 that launched alongside the Xbox One? Mostly just more of everything, so lets take a look at FM6 and see if they actually do deliver a stronger title this time around.

Apparent from the beginning are the stylish menus and excellent guidance from a female announcer, making FM6 the slickest looking FM game menu wise so far. The presentation is top notch and brings players at an ease into the world of Forza. It's perhaps a little too gentle for experienced Forza players with it's unskipable introduction race on the brand new Rio track, which is stunning by the way. Luckily the announcer leaves you for yourself after a few mandatory races. I really appreciate the introduction to car types, cups and special events, explaining what they are and complimented with small historical facts about the cars.

It's quite obvious that FM6 is a far larger and more content packed title than the launch title of FM5 ever was. Going from FM4, that was jam packed with content, to FM5 on the Xbox One always felt kind of disappointing in this regard, even though the visuals in FM5 were stunning. FM6 contains far more cars, arce types and tracks to speed around, making the singeplayer playthrough a much improved and varied affair. Mods to enhance your car and XP earnings are added for the more arcadey players and the prize wheel from FH2 is added, mixing things up on a positive note. A racer needs content and FM6 delivers this in quantity and quality.

A huge change for the series, and one that has been often requested, is the addition of night and rain effects to the the FM games. Last years Forza Horizon 2 had both, and as such, players expected the weather variety to hit the mainline series too. Although they're sadly not dynamic like in FH2 or the recent Project Cars, in other words rain can't break out at any time or daylight can't change to a darker night etc. However, although they are just static, they're a welcome way of adding variation to existing tracks. A track feels very different both at night or in the rain. I love how well these effects look too, especially the rain effects look stunning, and would love to see them added to every track in the game, not just selected ones. Night racing has a huge amount of light sources and each cars headlights shine up there own spot of tarmac. Impressive stuff.

"A racer needs content and FM6 delivers this in quantity and quality."

Once again the sheer dedication from developer Turn 10 to make this game run at a rock solid 60 frames per second is incredible, and at 1080p to boot! It's just what a simulation racer needs and the framerate proves itself as a must-have in my opinion when racing really fast cars later in the game. It just helps keep high speeds more controllable and clear. It's further technical impressive when the game has upped it's cars per race from 16 to 24. Seeing all the cars bunched up, without a single hiccup in the framerate, is very impressive.

All the tracks look extremely detailed and the upgrade from last generation is obvious in the amount of trackside detail and the detailed textures. I love how they've added falling leaves, dust clouds, fog and other small effects to spice up and upgrade the visual variety from FM5. Tracks like the new Rio track, or FM5 introduced Prague, look absolutely stunning. There's a nice mix of real racing circuits and more fictive ones. I perhaps miss Forza classics like Maple Valley and Camino Viejo, lets hope they arrive as a download soon!

Are there issues with the game? Well, there are some actually, apart from the non-dynamic weather for example. I don't really care for the system of first, second and third place pass they introduced in FM5. It's basically that you must place one of these places to advance. It seems strange when the main game mode consist of various events with multiple races to complete. Why not just let us get points for placings in each race? If I mess up a race, let me get low points, but at least let me continue! This makes the main game feel slightly restrictive, especially when you are forced to certain car types and class. I can understand that they have done so for more inexperienced players, but for racing fans it feels cumbersome and restrictive.

In each race you start in 12th place, why? It leaves the twelve remaining cars behind you kind of redundant, unless you mess up badly. There should be some qualifying or a way to auto-qualify like in Project Cars. Considering the AI is based on other players driving style, they have all the info they need to auto generate you a placing in each race! I love the Drivatar concept of "real" AI, based on players driving behaviour, but they need polishing and balancing, they still drive quite aggressive like in FM5 and FH2, which use the same statistics engine. Luckily they have added a low aggression option for the drivatars this time around!

One could argue that each Forza game doesn't bring a revolution with it, and that they perhaps don't dare to push large boundaries with each iteration, but the thing is; I much prefer to have a really solid and great quality title with small upgrades for each version. Rather than having them sacrifice framerate or overall quality for new stuff like dynamic weather, lighting etc. After all, the hardware dictates the limits of the game and Forza perfectly stays safe to deliver the solid framerate it's famous form while still looking visually striking.

The Forza Motorsport series is about evolution, and it really does evolve. Not in huge leaps, but with smaller steps, and it pays off. FM6 is, without doubt, the best console simulator to be purchasing now, even topping the mighty Project Cars in my opinion. Simply because the overall quality is just more consistent all over the board, and the amount of tracks and cars really give players a fantastic racing package. A must-have purchase, and together with last years more arcade styled title, Forza Horizon 2; there really is no reason at all the you shouldn't own a Xbox One if you love racing games!



    + Plus points

    • Incredible visuals at a rock solid 1080p@60fps
    • Night and rain races add lots of variety.
    • A more complete and beefy package than the previous effort, Forza 5.

    - Minus points

    • Single player seems restricted and linear.
    • Random weather and day cycles would have been nice.
    • The "win the race as top three or bust" system is not a favourite of mine.

    Friday, 2 October 2015

    Gearing up for the ultimate

    Gears Of War Ultimate Edition

    Platform tested: Xbox One

    Xbox 360's flagship game of 2006 is remastered on to the Xbox One. Bring on Gears Of War Ultimate Edition!

    I bought the original Gears back in 2007, shortly after purchasing my Xbox 360. I instantly fell in love with this classic. I loved the world design, controls and fantastic cover shooter mechanics. The series quickly grew to a trilogy through the 360's lifespan, and even gave way for a spin-off. The developer, of the latter, are the guys behind this remake and the up and coming Gears of War 4, due out next year.

    Instead of opting for a simple remaster  by running the original game in 1080p@60fps, developer The Coalition, have opted for a remake approach. Bringing the graphics up to a modern level, while retaining the distinct look and feel of the classic. The music score and voice overs are kept untouched, while some of the cutscenes are altered for an improved and dramatic effect. As such it falls in the remake category, rather than being a simple remaster.

    Replaying the game, I must admit that the decision to upgrade the graphics subtly, yet incredibly pretty, is a great one. It gives the impression of looking like how I remember the original. This gives the player a really strong nostalgic feeling of playing the game back in the day. Like I said, subtle, ye retaining the very typical Gears style in the level design with far improved graphics.

    Playing this Ultimate Edition I realize how much I've missed the Gears world on my Xbox One, and I have truly enjoyed my replay of this gem. In my opinion the game itself has withstood the test of time, with many classic scenes and gameplay that still feels incredible tight by today's standard. Few third-person shooters, even today, come close to the quality of gameplay this series offers. Movement and aiming feels responsive, precise and smooth.

    "...the decision to upgrade the graphics the impression of looking like how I remember the original"

    I love that they have added the exclusive fifth chapter from PC version in 2007, further beefing out the length of this otherwise fairly short game. The more recent Gears sequels fixed the lifespan issue, but the original game on 360 always felt too short, though with many memorable moments. Replaying the game also reminds me that this first game was far darker and more horror-like than the sequels and series in general became. This may change though as the E3 trailer this proved that Gears 4 seems to be going for a darker and more scary style again.

    If there's a complaint to be made, it's definitely missing the 60 frames per second framerate for the singleplayer, though I guess they opted for more detailed graphics in the end. Luckily though, multiplayer is 60 fps! It really makes a difference. Proving even further how tight the Gears gameplay is, with the added smoothness and precision of 60 fps. Here you get all the classic multiplayer maps and gameplay from the first Gears. It pulls in some cool elements and movement styles from Gears 3, like the excellent (and my favourite) mode; King Of The Hill and multi directional rolling.

    Being reunited with Marcus, Dom, Baird and  Cole eight years later has been a pleasant experience in this Ultimate Edition. While I would perhaps have enjoyed some new areas, a 60 fps singleplayer, and perhaps a remake of all the Gears games, it has positively kept itself very true to the original. Going down in history alongside Tomb Raider Anniversary and Resident Evil Remake as excellent remasters of already excellent originals.

    Even if you are fan of the Gears or never played the series before, you really should give this game a playthrough. Time has proven it as a classic and what better way is it to play it in upgraded graphics and full HD?! If you are really looking for an even greater time with this title; I urge you to play it through cooperatively with a friend, online or offline in splitscreen. A great coop experience and tons of fun!

    One could only ask yourself; would it not have been better if they had ran all the four Gears games from the 360 in 1080p@60fps, without the graphical update? A kind Halo MCC style, called Marcus Phoenix Collection on the Xbox One. It's an interesting thought, but luckily the end product is a fantastic one nevertheless.



      All four 360 classics of the series are available as a free download, if you play the game before the year ends online, they become available for download when backwards compatibility arrives later this autumn!

      + Plus points

      • Remastered graphics.
      • 60 fps multiplayer.
      • Fifth chapter PC bonus levels finally added for Xbox players.

      - Minus points

      • 30 fps singleplayer.
      • Only the first game remasted.
      • Would not a 1080@60fps version of all four Gears game been sufficient?