Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Getting dug into dirty rallying

Dirt Rally 2.0




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC & PS4
Released: 2019


Review



Introduction


Codemasters are once again back with a rally game, this time it's a continuation of Dirt Rally, a super realistic sidestep series of the main Dirt franchise. Confusingly enough when the previous mainline Dirt game was Dirt 4.  Set aside the fact that they maybe should just combine these to branches into one main game, this is the sequel to Dirt Rally which debuted on PC back in 2015. My experience with both the first game and Dirt 4 was somewhat bland; the first Dirt Rally for me seemed very basically and more experimentally structured, while Dirt 4 found itself confused in the middle between realism and semi-realism. Both the games has lacking visual appeal too.

Luckily Codemasters have really gone the extra mile when it comes to appearance, sense of series direction and content this time around. Lets let the handbrake go, press down the accelerator and take a look at Dirt Rally 2.0!





Plot and setting 


Game layout is fairly simple; there's a main mode which gradually takes you through seasons and underlying rally events at various world locations with increasingly more powerful rally car classes. One season contains multiple events, each event has five stages to race. You need to buy a rally cars to compete in them and manage a staff to help keep repairs quick and make car upgrades available. It's a simple enough structure, although some of the more complex choices are underwhelming explained.

There's no storyline or cutscenes as such, but then again in a racer this is often a huge hit and miss. I like the simple and down and dirty approach to just getting going with races and I found the menus more clear to navigate this time around. There's a nice variety of locations to race on; sun drenched Spanish tarmac, orange sanded Australian forests, fast and bumpy Polish gravel roads, autumn leafed American countrysides and rain drenched muddy New Zealand farm areas etc. I'd strongly recommend the deluxe edition of the game as they are adding along new world locations regularly, especially snow locations are weirdly missing in the base game. At the time of writing both Monaco and Sweden rallies have been added and Germany is right around the corner.

There's a lot of diversity in the rally locations when it comes to not only their visual appearance but also the surfaces they challenge the player with. Gravel roads are fast with a lot of grip, tarmac roads are even faster but require more "ordinary" road racing skills grip can easily be lost, especially in the rain. Snow surfaces are hell, but again they offer a nice variety to the mix. I liked seeing that newly added rally locations are blended automatically into the main game mode.


Gameplay and features 


For further variationoutside the main game mode the game offers other race events to participate in. There's historic rally events, where you can race classic rally classes through the years, with all the lovely modelled classic cars it's a real fun mode to play. In fact the historic mode even lets you later the difficulty level of the A.I. competitors, so it might actually be the best place to begin for newcomers to the Dirt Rally series! Rallycross has it's own main mode for those that love racing around rallycross tracks in a more traditional race style rather than versus the clock. These races are quite hard, and not really my cup of tea, but I'm glad they are in the game. There's also daily and weekly challenges and events to be played to compete your best times against players worldwide.

The amount of tracks and cars is a healthy bunch, and once again I'd recommend the season pass to get even more of them. I would have liked to have seen more track locations in the base game, but there's a healthy amount of stages in each one. Lots of weather types and times of day to add variety with too; daytime, sunset, night combined with rain, fog, clear skies etc. The road surfaces become a huge challenge in wet conditions, believe me. For hardcore players there's tons of customisation options to each car to dig into, tweaking each part to your style of rallying, plus an option to turn on an even more realistic damage simulation.


Video


2.0 really has made a huge leap from the first game and Dirt 4 visually. Gone are also the automated Dirt 4 rally tracks in favour for some beautiful and detailed crafted tracks by hand. It really pays off as each track looks stunningly modelled. Especially foliage and lighting makes the game look not only pretty but also organic like, combined with a slightly soft look which really suits the nature setting of rallying. The HDR brings out even more colour and makes the lighting even better. The car models are really good with lots of interior detail and wonderful bodywork that can be damaged in crashes.

Even more impressive is this Xbox One X enhanced version I am playing; which runs in a almost consistent native 4K, relying on some dynamic resolution if too much is happening onscreen, mostly in rallycross. What's even more impressive than the extremely high resolution is that the game runs in 60fps! It makes the controls and car manoeuvring so smooth and responsive. I have sadly noticed a few sudden, but very short lasting drops in frames here and there. They should look into fixing these. Otherwise it's hugely impressive visual leap Codemasters have done on the X from the base XB1, PS4 and PS4 Pro which all run in 1080p, coming real close to what PC players can enjoy visually! 


Audio


Car sounds are the star of the sound department here; each car sound dinstinctly different and powerful. Growling engines, whistling turbos and crunchy gravel flung up beneath the car all make the audio really pop. It's and impressive audio experience that suits rallying perfectly. I've enjoyed cranking up the sound and enjoying the beast like nature of these rally monsters in my headset, the cockpit view brings the best and most intense sounding experience!

There's little worth of mentioning music in this game; most realistic racers and rally games are absent of music during races. The menu music is just, well typical menu music.





Summary


Although this games can be really brutal at times, not a racing game for newcomers at all, it really helped get me more sunk into rallying than the first game did and Dirt 4. I think it might be the huge visual leap and the way you can tailor a easier learning curve for yourself to get yourself familiar with this type of racing. It's more meaty package and less of a barebones approach than the first game. I haven't had so much fun rallying in a while and the 60fps focus really helps put the game precisely at your fingertips. 

The whole scenario of burning down a claustrophobic, tight gravel road at high speed while jumping on small bumps and having to hammer down the brakes as you enter sharp corner while throwing your car sideways and hearing the amazing audio growl from your engine while passing so natural looking country roads is just an experience Dirt Rally 2.0 nails down more perfectly than any other rally game has to date. Codemasters are in league of their own these days when it comes to rallying. A warmly recommended racing game for those that can take a realistic simulator, but also enjoy the intensity of what rallying is about. Even more recommended for console players with an Xbox One X as the team have gone an extra mile to bring incredibly visuals to the platform!

It's of those games that does all it's game components well and comes together as a fantastic package in it's genre.

Rating

★★★★★

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Reigniting old dragons

Spyro Reignited Trilogy




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PlayStation 4
Released: 2018


Review


Introduction


Activision had a huge success with their Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and cleverly looked through their franchises and decided to give Spyro the Dragon the same  remaster treatment. I'm talking about the first three games from the first PlayStation here, just like what the Crash Bandicoot trilogy focused on. I was a huge fan of the original Spyro on PS1 and played it to 100% completion twice; once alone and another with my dad. I kinda regret not looking into the sequels; Ripto's Revenge and Year Of The Dragon back then, but my teenage budget was limited to far less games than these days. Luckily I get to play them in this remaster!

So while the remastered Crash Bandicoot games looked amazing, the games felt a little dated and frustrating when it came to gameplay in modern times, so I was curious how well the Spyro games had held up. After all, we are talking 20 years in between the first game and this remaster. So lets take a look at what I have always regarded as the only true competition the PS1 had up against the mighty and 3D platform genre defying Super Mario 64 on the N64.





Plot and setting


Like most platformers in general the plot isn't exactly very groundbreaking, it's about a baddie taking over a kingdom, grabbing stuff and throwing it around various worlds to collect. The first Spyro is structured very strict in this fashion; each world has underlying levels set in it's visual theme. These worlds work as a main hub, letting you access it's levels through portals. Everything can be completed and collected before moving on, no new abilities are needed or ever given to the player. Fairly straight forward platformer.

Spyro 2 and 3 are built with the same hub world with a certain visual theme connecting the underlying levels, however this time around you learn new abilities and levels can't be completed before you backtrack them with the acquired skillset. As such the hub worlds become a little more complicated in completing 100% before moving to the next, as levels must be revisited as you leave them without collecting everything. Spyro 3 is even more elaborate structured with guest characters that are required to completing certain levels too. Boss fights are considerably more challenging in Spyro 2 & 3, for good or bad, as they are laughably easy and simple compared to Spyro 1.

Collecting all these games together though, really helps ease the newcomers into things; Spyro 1 is easy to grasp and requires no specific abilities to complete each level, while Spyro 2 adds this and Spyro 3 dives  deeper with new characters and more eloboratetly designed levels. It's a nice and progressive way to play through them chronologically.


Gameplay and features


What immediately becomes apparent from the get go in this collection compared to the Crash Bandicoot one is how well and precise the gameplay holds up. The battling against enemies is about either ramming or burning them, it requires observing them to know what to do. Small enemies with no armour can be rammed or burnt, if they have armour only ramming works, while large enemies usually just require burning. You'll quickly learn which enemy needs which type of attack. Spyro can also roll from side to side with the shoulder buttons, required for the more experienced players to dodge enemy attacks. 

Spyros platforming is largely based around the flying mechanics; it's about spotting how you can glide to new areas to explore by finding higher and higher vantage points to glide from. Fast paced running is required on later levels to make speedy jumps to glide to far off places, plus there's also flying only levels to keep Spyro veterans challenged throughout. I really appreciate how large they were able to make the 3D levels too on a PS1, a cheeky nod to Crash's limited 3D that never was gonna make Mario 64 shake in his blue pants. Although the actual visuals are upgraded it's impressive to see how large the 3D levels were as their size, layout and scale is untouched.


Video


Much like how the Crash Bandicoot trilogy upgraded these old looking games in a pretty yet nostalgic fashion, this trilogy gets the same treatment with care. The consistency is key here as all three games end up looking graphically on level compared to the old games that saw a gradual development through the years they were made. Like I mentioned the level complexity increases throughout and Spyro 3 features the most ambitious and large level designs.

Unlike the Crash Bandicoot trilogy though, the Spyro trilogy has gone for an Unreal Engine 4 powered graphics engine. It's a risky affair as we have seen various degrees of expertise on the engine, Bandai Namco coming to mind as opting for disappointingly low resolution boosts for the powerful consoles PS4 Pro and XB1X. Spyro follows this trend sadly, ending up at a rather sparingly 1440p on the X and Pro, and it runs 30fps with annoying frame pacing issues too.

Although the levels are beautifully realised in their design, retaining the soft coloured and fairly sparse small detail, I would have liked to have seen more of a visual jump on the most powerful console in terms of resolution and maybe framerate. It all ends up looking a little blurry when compared to other 4K enhanced games, those only used to 1080p will see a nice boost though. The frame pacing makes the game look like it's jumping frames every now and then and really should have been launched without this oversight. It has yet to be fixed in patches too.


Audio


Sound is nothing majorly noteworthy, but all the old familiar sounds are here and are instantly recognisable. With a large emphasis on magical and sparkly sounds, also the little egg thief's taunting laughter comes back as the most memorable one. This time around it's all in surround at least helping to give you more spatial awareness as to where sounds are coming from.

The music mind you, I always really enjoyed with my experience of the original game. Memorable and atmospheric tracks that former co-founder and drummer of Police fame, Stewart Copeland made for all the three PS1 games after he walked through each level to get the atmosphere right for each music track.

This time around it's cleverly remastered and sounds just like how I remember them, albeit with a richer audio experience and more clever use of dynamic volume and reverb when things are happening in-game. You can switch to the old PS1 music tracks too if you really want to go old school, but like the Halo 1 and 2 remasters the new music score is done really well and updates the same music scores to a better experience to my ears. While still retaining the great background melodies and unique sound.





Summary


If there are some downsides that need mentioning apart from the sparse resolution boost and frame pacing issues, there's the way too close camera angle on Spyro. Mostly it works fine, but there are times when you just miss an enemy and need to turn quickly that the camera just ends up showing mostly Spyros purple butt and the ground below. It gets confusing and results in som cheap damage points or deaths. You can of course move the camera yourself, but this is mostly tied to the angle being to close to Spyro as a default. There's also some nasty difficulty spikes in Spyro 2 & 3's bosses that I could have done without.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Spyro's wonderful fantasy world. The art direction and the somewhat sparse level of small detail resides in a remastered style that isn't overly remade, bringing easier back memories of how it originally looked. I was pleasantly surprised that the games played so well and can safely say it is a much less frustrating and far more enjoyable affair than the Crash Bandicoot remasters were. Looking back this is really a trilogy PS1 owners could proudly say at least came fairly close to what a fully 3D platformer like Mario 64 could have been on the old 32-bit Sony platform.

Recommended strongly to those with Spyro experience on the PS1 and new players that feel the platformer genre is understated on the more "mainstream" consoles that are the PS4 and XB1. It's probably some of the best budgeted and best playing platformers you'll get this generation outside of Nintendo's Switch. Spyro still is and always was better than Crash in my opinion and over 20 years later this remaster proves it. 

Rating

★★★★

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Automated and blindfolded androids

NieR: Automata



Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Released: 2018
Original release: 2017


Review


Introduction


NieR: Automata made solid reviews and healthy sales when it was released on PS4 and PC back 2017. It's the sequel to the Drakengard series spin-off, NieR, which became somewhat of a cult classic over time despite it's mixed reviews. NieR: Automata, much like Nier, blend gameplay ideas from various action genres, but is a role playing game at it's core. For information; I have no experience with the first game prior to playing Automata, and as such jump into the lore with a blank slate.

Being a console only player and seeing that the base PS4 version was badly optimised I waited in hope for a Xbox One X conversion. Luckily SquareEnix have delivered, and it's a nice visual step up from the fairly muddy PS4 Pro version too.  A year later and this "Become As Gods Edition" has arrived in digital form only so far. Let's take a look at what Automata is all about.







Plot and setting 


N:A is strange title, it's setting and introduction level opens up for so many questions, as does the storyline when you progress further. The story is, briefly explained, about a female  android named 2B sent from the moon, where humanity have escaped from an alien robot race back on earth. 2B and her companion android 9S have been sent on a mission by the humans to take back earth from the robots. It features a very typical Japanese anime type storytelling, that needs some acceptance from the player to fully appreciate and enjoy. If it sounds a little to distant from the more grounded Western games, then this is probably not for you. I'm kind of in the middle, I do still enjoy Japanese games, but I am mostly an old school player when it comes to games from Japan.

Although the storyline can get quite absurd at times especially with the over dramatic and weird characters along the way that feel quite stereotypical for anime shows, the dialogue actually flows better than most games and animes from this territory in English. I ended up quite enjoying the casual banter between the two main characters: 2B and 9S. You need to be open to this anime style to fully enjoy the story is my take on it. You also have to accept that not everything that come across as quite absurd is ever explained either.



Gameplay and features 


This game shifts gameplay form a lot in it's introduction level: It begins as an R-Type like shoot 'em up, then transforms to a twin stick 2D shooter like the way Geometry Wars plays, then a 3D spaceship tunnel shooter and ends up as a hack and slash styled game in the vein of Devil May Cry. Confused? Well the latter gameplay form is where most of the game resides and the part you'll get most familiar with. Not only do you have short and long sword attacks at your disposal, but also a tiny drone turret that fires where you aim. It's a little tricky combination for beginners, requiring you to do melee fighting with combos, while at the same time aiming.

However, controls quickly become second nature and setting the game on easy is a recommended idea for players that are very new to the genre; this lets you set the turret in auto mode and shooting no longer becomes anything to worry about. Enemies will also take less damage and boss fights become way easier and manageable. I had to knock the difficulty down after a while; either my skills weren't cutting it or the boss fights were way too high difficulty spikes. Lets say the latter is most likely. Leveling your character up and upgrading or buying new weapons is also highly recommended to stay on top of your fights.



Graphics and technical


This isn't really a title that pushes much visually, I'm guessing the lack of native 4K and such is more due to optimisation here. It's a fine game with a fairly unique aestethic to it and does shine visually a few times, but it resides in looking like something from the last generation. Detail everywhere looks very sparse with a large but empty world with a little bland colour variation. That being said, I appreciate the amount enemies and focus on 60fps gameplay to compensate for visual flair. The gameplay flows nicely and combat feels fast and responsive as it should in a fast hack and slash like this.

As a side note: The game falls under 60fps on most consoles, much less so on Xbox One X, but using a Freesync monitor on the X is a game changer here. It helps keep the game feeling steady and precise throughout! The added HDR in this version though, looks cheaply implemented and is of nothing of importance to play with.



Sound and music



The music score ended up something I took more notice of than expected, it sounds like a cross between the original Ghost in the Shell movie score and music from a typical PS1/PS2 era Final Fantasy game. It sounds cool and fits well into the open world RPG setting and clearly Japanese styled artstyle of the game.

Nothing stands out in the sound department, but like I mentioned the voice acting on the two main characters is done unexpectedly well. Their banter helps keep traversing large and repetitive areas more diverse as you listen in on their often amusing conversations.







Summary


N:A is in a nutshell a game you need to accept some elements that may not be what you want unless you are very into Japanese games. The storytelling with it's strange turns and over the top weird characters for one. The other is the fairly underwhelming visuals compared to a lot of other titles. Then there's also the whole anime design aesthetics of the characters. It might sound like the old "you either hate it or love it" quote, but in a way it's kinda the way to describe N:A. Fans of the game really go wild for it, while if you're more down the middle of road on it's whole design like me, well then you can find a lot of entertainment here regardless, but alas it won't be anything that blows you away like the fanbase hypes it to.

There is another strange kicker to the whole experience too though, which is important to mention and a fairly unique idea. N:A isn't completed by your first 10-12 hour playthrough, no, once you have completed it it encourages you to play it again. Only this time you see and play a lot of the campaign through another characters eyes. Then the third playthrough is even more different and a sort of continuation of where the two first playthroughs ended. Yes, it's weird, and yes, it will require time to do them.

This replaying of the game leaves a dilemma: from a first playthrough perspective the game resides in a fairly forgettable affair with it's story ending, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. While if you spend the time to actually play it again and again you are rewarded with new experiences all the time, not just some minor changes. Often large changes, like you're reading the next chapter of a book. It makes it difficult to recommend for those just willing to put down the effort of one playthrough though; you'll simply only see a smaller part of a bigger picture. It's a risky design of game; requiring players to replay the game to fully enjoy and experience the whole game. Many will simply leave after the first playthrough.

I have ben back and forwards as to whether this title really was my taste but end up recommending it. However, take time to play it at least twice to expand the storyline and appreciate it more. In summary N:A gave me a joyful playthrough with fast and fun gameplay and I'm very grateful SquareEnix ported this game over to the non-Japanese Xbox too. It's sounds cheesy to say it, but it just isn't for everyone, however it deserves your attention for it's originality, blending of genres and entertaining gameplay. A left field experience for those seeking something a little different from the mainstream, yet a game that resides in the more popular niche games of recent years.

Rating

★★★★

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

We'll meet up at the police station

Resident Evil 2 (2019 remake)



Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC and PS4
Released: 2019


Review


Introduction


Although the first Resident Evil lay the foundation of the second game, Resident Evil 2 was an even greater success when it finally arrived in 1998. It opened the survival horror genre to a broader audience, focusing on a more user friendly experience; easier puzzles, a lot more zombies to shoot and dramatic action scenes. This movie-like approach made RE2 hit the record of the fastest and most sold title of any Capcom game prior to it's release. It would put the series on the gaming horizon for years to come. A welcome surprise then, when Capcom announced they would remake the second game entirely after RE7 was released.


Roughly two years later and here we are with the final copy. So can Capcom fill it's rather big boots when it comes to the successful remake of the first game? The RE1 remake was only a six year jump from one generation to the next, this time it's a massive 21 year gap. It's quite a leap in graphics technology combined with gaming evolution and design that has passed under the bridge since 1998. Lets take a look at what Capcom have accomplished with this big budget remake and have they succeeded as brilliantly as they did with REmake on the Gamecube?







Plot and setting 


New or old; RE2 builds it's story on two brand new characters rather than staying with Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield from RE1. Here we are introduced to Leon Kennedy, who's driving to Raccoon City for his first day on the job as a cop and motorbike riding Claire Redfield who's looking for her brother Chris from the first game. They meet by chance and realise the whole town is infected by a zombie virus. I enjoyed when I began this game that it makes Leon and Claire's accidental meet at the gas station playable, in a sort of pre-intro training level. Once arriving at the familiar Raccoon Police Department you need to find out what is going on and find a way to escape the infected city. Conflicts and new characters are introduced throughout and plot twists galore. It's a story we have played before in '98, but with new ideas and sub-plots!

Luckily this time around the developers have opted to let the player get more familiar with survivors at the RPD, you interact and dialogue more with them than in the original. It helps give more depth to the characters you meet and small glimpses into what happened before Leon and Claire arrived. The parts where you play Ada and Sherry have also been vastly improved and feature their own little takes on surviving the apocalypse with some neat and varied gameplay ideas.

Just like it did in '98, the remake depicts a zombie outbreak out of control perfectly with a more believable and chaotic RPD building this time around. You can really tell that the people that have passed away tried desperately to block entrances and keep themselves alive. The fairly empty hallways and rooms are much improved here, and the actual layout of the whole building has been carefully altered to cater for a larger area to explore.



Gameplay and features 


Familiarity blended with new ideas and design is key here; this is not a 1-to-1 remake with the old pre-rendered backdrops and camera angles. Gone are the tank controls too, replaced with a third person angle across the shoulder. What immediately becomes apparent though; is how wonderful the team has accomplished blending new and old ideas with modern gameplay. Right up from the introduction level at the gas station, to when you arrive at the RPD and see that main hall once again; you realise how it's like taking a time machine back 21 years. Yet, you're seeing everything in glorious ultra high resolution 3D that couldn't even be achieved back on old hardware. It's a wonderful feeling and a soothing one to see that, although many elements have changed, they're altered in a manner that brings back familiar nostalgia.

For me it was like I'm seeing the world RE2 pulled me into in back in '98 in a brand new angle. It's how I imagined it actually being there when I was a teenager, with such vastly improved visuals. It's wonderfully nostalgic and at the same time offers different puzzles and layouts making it possible for me to feel how it was way back in '98 to play this game again for the first time!

Gameplay feels like you'd hoped for. Precise third person shooting, but vulnerable and limited by ammo reserves. Nicely balanced as to not give the player a huge advantage over the slow zombies and becoming too fast paced. At times it even feels harder than the original, perhaps due to more random encounters and less obvious areas that are safe. Zombies now follow you into rooms and behave anything from slow to fast, lickers are way more agile and the layout of police station feels less linear and larger. However, I would have been happier with less bullet spongy enemies. At times it feels like the guns aren't doing anything, but then again the whole RE series is like this. Both this remake, RE7 and RE: REvelations 2 are on top of the game when it comes to understanding well-controlled and modern gameplay.

The menacing Mr.X, whom was air dropped in the original to wreck havoc on Leon and Claire, has also been largely improved in his behaviour. Mr.X works as a sort of Jack from RE7 in this game; constantly hunting you through rooms if you are spotted. He suddenly pulls you out of the comfort zone of your safe routes traversing the RPD. He brings a frightening and unsettling feeling which the game needs. RE2's action focus won't give you the scares and creepiness of RE7, not even close as a pure horror game, but Mr.X at least makes you feel unsettling and is vastly improved over his scripted role in the original RE2.


Graphics and technical


What seems like a push to get people to play on the enhanced consoles, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, is the fact that both these versions keep very close to 60fps. While the base PS4 and XB1 hover in the 40-50s mark, making the framerate inconsistent and as such the flow of the gameplay. PC players can enjoy adding even more effects, but this X version I played puts in the effort to lead the pack on console with a lot of the high settings enabled from PC. It would have been nice to see the game reach a native 4K resolution, it resides at a healthy 1620p versus 4K's crisper 2160p, giving it a slightly soft look. However this game packs in a lot more visual detail than RE7 that reached the native 4K, so it's understandable.

Nothing takes away the fact though that Capcom have beautifully realised a modern day remake of the famous RE2 setting. Zombies and characters look really detailed and have lots of small effects when they are shot and wounded. There's a lot of visual variation in the RPD, and while the sewers are really bland and boring like the original, I enjoyed the new high-tech take on the laboratory area at the end of the game. It makes it stand apart from the grey and dull sewers and improves on how the original game looked.

Capcom's RE engine showed it's strength with RE7 and it shines even more here. It looks and runs great, I really appreciate the focus on getting it running at 60fps for a smoother and better gameplay experience. Although we probably should have seen a 30fps cap for the base consoles as the framerate on them really aren't consistent. So to get the proper gameplay flow and visual flair go with PC, Xbox One X or PS4 Pro.


Sound and music


I had my hopes up for the soundtrack in this game, hopefully being something close to the original. My disappointment was huge though, the end result is such a missed opportunity and the soundtrack is forgettable at best. I really wish they'd remastered or remixed the old music tracks from 1998, but alas we get a soundtrack that nobody will hardly notice. Luckily you can swap it out for the original soundtrack, though this is a payed DLC for a small fee that's totally worth it. Once I activated the original OST everything sort of clicked, it was the one main thing this remake was missing. The original soundtrack DLC even helps out for nostalgia in the sound department; it puts in classic menu sounds and the item box opening sound!

When it comes to actual game audio I would have liked punchier and more heavy sounding guns, they're way better than the simple sounding ones in the original, but they sound a little weak here and lack a satisfying punch when they impact zombies. Otherwise the Dolby Atmos 3D sound added to the Xbox version is a nice and welcome touch that gives you more sense of direction as to where enemies are, even in floors above you. It is especially creepy when you hear Mr.X thudding about outside a door or in the floor above you.






Summary


Sure there some bumps in the road with this remake; the most obvious being the incredibly forgettable music score. I also miss having explanations of the helicopter crash and Mr.X's arrival, which are completely unexplained here and just sort of happen. The original game had CGI sequences explaining these events, it's a strange omission indeed.

My main issues though are some of the locations. Take for instance the route from the intro to the RPD should have been longer like the original, here you simply walk down an alley and around a corner to arrive.I preferred how the original game depicted the scenes of post-apocalyptic streets to build the tension towards arriving at the RPD. The later outdoor environments in Claire's story do show some of these classic outdoor areas from the beginning of the original; the basket ball court and a bus full of zombies. However they're sparsely and simply modelled. Like randomly placed objects in a 3D landscape. Like I mentioned earlier too, the sewers are not only a bland area to traverse, but also a confusing maze like area with a lot of backtracking. I didn't like the area in the original RE2 and I don't like it here either.

These aren't major complaints though, I guess I'm just picky because I have a lot of love for these original RE titles, and they don't take away the fact that this is a phenomenal remake. I mean it's like how REmake was versus RE1; there are good and bad sides with both. Making a remake will never hit every high note perfectly, yet at the same time improve things that were weak originally.

From the gas station level, to the arrival at the RPD and the reunion of all the famous RE2 characters in brand new graphics has been an incredible experience. The gameplay is just what I wanted, the visuals bring back hazy memories of how the original looked but in so much more detail. Leon and Claire are superior reenacted and look better than ever with more personality to them than the simple polygon models of '98.

From new and curious players, that have never touched the series or the legend that is RE2 is, to old veterans of the game: this is a must-buy without doubt. It's an equally fantastic remake as REmake was back in 2002. Once again Capcom have taken care of and nurtured a beloved classic and made us relive a memory and experience that's 21 years old. Highly recommended, especially if you find that more old-school layouts of games are nice to revisit!


Rating

★★★★

Monday, 25 February 2019

Donkey is back and freezing

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze



Platform tested: Switch
Also on: Wii U
Released: 2018
Originally released: 2014

Review



Introduction


Yet another Wii U port to review here, this time it's the sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010) on the Wii. Tropical Freeze was originally released in 2014, and as a bonus they have added a easy mode in form of a new member to the Kong family; Funky Kong. He works as a super easy mode for players struggling. Otherwise the game is identical to the Wii U game in content, although boosted resolution wise.

I'm a huge fan of the original Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo, DKC1&2 are masterpieces for their generation. The Wii return of the series' classic 2D platforming is something I only briefly tested back in 2010 and since then never played again. Luckily Tropical Freeze has been ported over from the Wii U and I got to sit down with the game and dig in. While it does bring back some classic DKC vibes, I'm not sure if it's a substitute or brings back how I felt playing the old games. It's nice platformer though on it's own though, so lets take a look.





Plot and setting 


The game's intentional but rather contradicting title of tropical places freezing up, is all about a gang of viking enemies from the icy north attacking DK's jungle and home islands. The setting brings out some interesting level designs as they are set in lush palm beaches, jungles and savannas, yet are speckled in ice and snow from the intruders. Every island the game takes place on has it's own distinct environment style and ends with a boss fight level. There are multiple routes to gain access to the next level at times, requiring you to find and discover hidden exits to the levels. Otherwise the layout is familiar to DKC veterans alike; completing a level lets you move to the next and so on.


Gameplay and features 


Gameplay is also familiar DKC fashion; fairly precise and fast platforming, with a little sluggish style to the bigger characters movements. Momentum builds rather gradually, but feels suited to the level design. I like how the levels now can switch from land to water on the fly, with the music switching when you dive under water. It's neat and makes the variation within each level even greater. For fun there are of course hidden banana collection challenges, which I found amusing at first, but ultimately became repetitive as they recycle 4-5 layouts of them. The mine cart, flying and silhouette levels are a nice variation and a welcome change of style and pace.

There are a ton of levels in DKCTF, a little too many at times for my taste, especially all the hidden stuff in each level gets a bit much out of hand. Each islands environment outstays it's visual welcome and the somewhat sparse variation make many of the levels blend into each other. I found the old DKC games to have more distinct levels separated either visually or mechanically from each other. Sure, it makes the game larger and more padded with levels, but it also lets repetitiveness and blandness sink in. 


Graphics and technical


Visually I found the game appealing, the tropical setting is well represented with a lot of detail going on, though never being too cluttered to focus on the 2D gameplay. It has a more subtle textured and pastel coloured style to it than the old DKC's though. As such it doesn't really bring me back to those games visually, but it holds it's own style nicely and consistent throughout.

Just like other Wii U ports, DKTF goes from a resolution of 720p to a 1080p on the docked Switch. Further enriching the visuals to more detail in higher resolution. Handheld mode the game stays in 720p. Game runs at a sharp 60fps too.


Sound and music


For an old and big fan of the old DKC 1&2 music scores it was important that this was done right for me. Luckily the music hits the right spots and brings back David Wise to compose. He succeeds in taking the nostalgic DKC tunes and styles to the music score and updates them with a more advanced and modern sound. Solid music, though it never reaches the heights of DKC1&2's for me.

Nothing much of note on the sound department, it's just like you'd expect with the aforementioned cool feature of switching music and more underwater styled sounds as you dive from water to underneath the sea.






Summary


I found the game extremely hard and ended up having to play it on Funky Kong mode. Be aware that you can't switch to funky kong at a later stage. Perhaps it's my tighter time schedule as an adult that makes the game seem harder. It seems like a rewarding game to progress in though as it has a huge amount of levels to unlock if you are really enjoying it. 

Coop is sadly not like how the old DKC game were or the modern NSMB games; it's like Sonic. Player one decides where the screen focus goes and player two must simply follow and keep up or the fall out of the screen. Really disappointing. Where is the old DKC style where you switched for each life or hit on the two characters you played?

Viewed on it's own this is a great platformer, and clearly a better continuation of the first game on Wii. Together with it's David Wise score it goes closer to what DKC was before than the Wii game. It's a colourful and charming ride with so much hidden stuff in each level to discover that it will keep you busy for hours. As a continuation of the old DKC trilogy on SNES though, I am a little undecided. It just doesn't trigger that classic DKC CGI aesthetic and it's darker tone, then again does it need to? 

At the end of the day though the game deserves to be reviewed as it's own title regardless of it's legacy, it's a solid 2D platformer and recommended for those seeking such a genre on the Switch. Be warned that the game is very hard, but enduring through will reward you with a large amount of levels.

Rating

★★★★

Friday, 22 February 2019

Virtua Rally?!

V-Rally 4




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC, PS4 and Switch
Released: 2018

Review


Introduction


You wouldn't be blamed for looking twice when V-Rally 4 was announced earlier last year and released later that same year. Like a ghost from the past and a odd decision to revive such an old franchise. It didn't go unnoticed by me though as I have played most of the earlier V-Rally games.

In fact I was a bit of a fan of the series, although they never were quite perfect titles, if not a little quirky at times, they were good fun and kept rallying at an accessible and entertaining arcade and simulation midway. A sort of middle road between the likes of Sega Rally and Colin McRae Rally back in the 90's. So while I didn't know what to expect from this release or what it intended to be, I had to check it out eventually.





Plot and setting 


One could say the first V-Rally lends a lot of inspiration from Sega Rally, but it was built for home gaming and not arcades, with far more tracks and cars. V-Rally 2 saw a huge leap in scale; various modes to race, lots of unlocables, more matured graphics and even a track editor! However the V-Rally series changed quite a bit from 1 & 2's arcade roots, to a more serious and simulation style in V-Rally 3. Gone were the many rally race types with multiple car races and in it's place single races against the clock, just like real life rally.

V-Rally 4 settles for a middle ground between these styles. It can be dialled up to a simulation experience, but also wind down to a more easy and care free arcade-ish racer. It's about having a care free and fun rally experience, but also feeling like it isn't completely arcade madness either. Despite this uncertainty as to what it is, VR4 brings back the vibe of the old games strangely enough.


Gameplay and features 


The handling is what in VR4 surprisingly reminded me of how the old games controlled; fairly easy to grasp but a bit on the over sensitive side, bordering on being twitchy. It takes a few races to get used to, but once you grasp the handling model things pick up pace. Though the game never lets you feel completely comfortable behind the wheel, it always has that sensitive touch that will punish you hard if you screw up a turn. That said it's nowhere near the super twitchy first game, man that was a beast to tame.

The main mode in VR4 features a world map. Here your rally career takes place and I'm happy to say that this mode is more interesting than you would first expect. You rent in a manager, mechanics and engineers, these will in turn help to fix cars midway in cups or unlock upgrade parts for your cars. Dealers sell various car types for suiting the race types on offer. The game is divided in a week, with the days being spread out on cups and events spread across the world. When the week has ended it's payday for your hired crew and a new week begins with races to attend.

The game tailors the types of races on the map towards what you seem to choose most often. I quite liked this as I preferred certain race types to others. The types of races offered are straight up rally races against the clock with a co-driver, super fast hill climbing events (these are very fun), buggy races, gymkhana show off races and rally cross. It's a nice selection, if not a bit standard after all the Dirt racing games from Codemasters. In fact, VR4 lends itself a lot of inspiration from the older Dirt games, think Dirt 1 to 3. However, I liked the career mode here better and it's certainly a more interesting layout overall compared to the stale and bland Dirt 4 of recent years.

Car selection is varied with quite a few fairly rare models, but the overall number is fairly small. Every car has a modelled interior and the camera angles can be tweaked to your liking in the options menu, which is a welcome sight. They even let you have manual control over headlights and the wipers in-game. I enjoy attention to detail like that. Racing environments featured is the classic list of rally settings; pine forest gravel roads, snowy tracks, deserts and muddy jungles to name the most obvious.


Graphics and technical


Nothing out of the ordinary visually, developers Kylotonn have used their own WRC game engine and dived into adding a little more arcade styled environments. There are airplanes and helicopters buzzing by, very colourful fields of flowers and some cool buildings along the tracksides. It's clear to see that they have gone beyond the typical WRC games with their fairly bland rally scenery to deliver more memorable and distinct variations of rally locations. Xbox One X sees a solid boost to native 4K@30fps over the 1080p@30fps on base consoles. Sadly a 60fps target would have been real nice in a racing game like this, PC players can indulge though. Otherwise the sharp resolution on this X version shows off quite a bit of detail put into scenery and textures.

VR 4 is not a racer that will lead the pack visually in any way but overall it works nicely and shows some flair when elements like weather effects and interesting scenery all coincide to show off a real pretty view now and then. I was happy with how it looked.


Sound and music


Growling and punchy car sounds, I really like the distinct turbo sound of these powerful rally cars, especially the hill climbing monsters. Same with sound effects of the actually gravel and road being driven on. Music wise the game is bad. There's literally like one single rap song that plays over and over in the menus. I was so bored by it I had to turn it off in the end, kinda disappointing when the old V-Rally games had some cool tunes. No music is used in races, but that is fine in a rally racer as you are mostly listening to the co-driver reading directional notes anyway.





Summary


I came in expecting a game that was low budget and a shadow of it's former self, simply bearing just it's name. Indeed I still feel it was an odd decision to resurrect this old franchise which wasn't exactly blowing the minds of many back in it's prime. I guess V-Rally 2 will always be the champion with strong reviews and most sales. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a bit of that old V-Rally DNA going into VR4 and what seems like a lot of passion put in here. It actually really does feel and look like what I'd expect V-Rally to do in modern times.

As such I enjoyed playing it quite a bit, it never completely blowed me away or anything, but it just does it thing well. It's a fine rally racer balanced between arcade and simulation, not taking itself too serious in it's simulation attempts and offers a solid career mode to manage a rally career in. While the handling might not be everyone's cup of tea with it's sensitive and unforgiving approach, I can recommend it to old V-Rally players and those seeking something similar to the older Dirt games.

Rating

★★★★