GRID Autosport – Preview

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It’s time to don those fireproof overalls again, strap on your helmet and delve in to the wonderful world of club competition racing.

GRID Autosport sits in a very weird place as far as Codemasters previous games have been positioned. GRID Autosport is the culmination of about 12 months worth of community feedback over GRID 2 which, despite the reviews and depth, wasn’t exactly what the loyal and passionate fans were after. And so, the decision was made to appease these fans and create a new game for the existing generation to try and set the balance.

I got to have a good go on the game’s last preview build and straight away saw marked differences. In fact I’d go so far as to say they’ve completely trimmed the fat to almost modernism when it comes to the presentation of the menus and XP breakdowns. You could argue that the game has seriously channeled GRID: Race Driver more than anything, but in honesty, it’s taken it a step further.

grid autosport preview 1Gone are the team decisions and the choices of rewards and livery. You are a lone driver now and you sign season contracts from already existing teams. No longer are you building your own team dynasty. As such you don’t have to make calls on reward targets from sponsors or customise the livery to give the big money guys the bigger spaces on the car. No, this game is purely about the racing and as such takes away anything that could distract you from that.

The racing is split in to five different classes: Touring Car, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuned and Street. Gone are the various different competition invites and more arcade style game modes from GRID 2. This is all about the team racing and getting your own XP level up enough to get better and bigger contracts. No money, just XP.

The racing itself hasn’t changed much, if at all, from GRID 2. It’s been tidied up for the lesser car/track options and therefore polished a bit further, but is essentially what you get from the previous two games. The EGO engine looks as lovely as ever and still manages to impress me, even with the last generation technology it’s performing on. The car models are great, the tracks and lighting are wonderful (I even got slightly blinded in the Formula C car as the hot track reflected the sun into my eyes), and the cockpit/in car view has returned.

Slight warning: this isn’t the full release version that I played although it is as close as possible to it. The cockpit view disappointed me greatly. Not the level or the view of the track. That was fantastic but there was a very low level of detail in the car. It was very blurred, with zero mirror accessibility and it looked incomplete. Moving the camera view left and right defaults to the side car views. I just hope that the issue was that it wasn’t complete otherwise I fear the people who campaigned for its reinstatement will be rather aggrieved at the results.

Bare minimum is kind of how the game feels at times, but in a very positive way. I mentioned that it’s trimmed the fat and what I mean is that it’s lost a couple of stylistic stone to become much simpler and open about what it is: A racing game. Which is why the AI annoyed me a bit. Medium is far too easy, as is normal for me on a Codemasters game. Hard is a bit more challenging but AI cars are still too slow in the corners, not able to control the torque their cars have and as such take racing lines that are better suited for finding an escape road than an apex. It’s a problem that really gets on your nerves a bit more when you’ve made an effort on Hard to properly set up the car.

grid autosport preview 3I did one race meeting, which is the same track twice (think GP2), with different setups in the Formula C open wheel and using the overhead camera shot (interestingly, the cockpit graphics looked better from this view than the drivers view so here’s hoping it’s just not finished yet). The first race I set myself up to be oversteer heavy and in a car that wants to whip itself into a donutting frenzy as soon as you squeeze the juice, it was tricky but manageable. I finished 5th thanks to a last corner tank slapper. The second race I optimised my setup to combat such oversteer and torque and get better cornering grip/speed. I finished third, I had an occasional wobbly moment but the biggest problem in that was how noticeably bad the AI cars were at taking these corners in the cars.

Hopefully these are all things that have been finessed out by the time we get our hands on the game proper next week. Or that is easily curable with a quick patch. AI has always been a tricky thing in the Codemasters games (ask anyone who’s played the F1 series – we love it but damn does that brake testing frustrate us sometimes). One thing they have done is taken the game back to its core components that made it fun, shed the fluff and come out with a decent all-access racing game with technology that they are now super comfortable with.

For the next generation people out there, there’s no news on a PS4/Xbox One version of GRID Autosport but Codemasters have been very honest about only releasing a game on the new systems when they feel they are ready to produce something of outstanding quality. From the feel of it, GRID Autosport will certainly take up some time while we wait and won’t beat around the bush either.

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GRID Autosport is out Friday 27th June on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Check back on TheGameJar, Facebook or Twitter for further news and reviews.

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Screenshots

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E3 Recap – Sony Press Conference

You may have heard us talk about the Sony E3 Press Conference on TheGameJar podcast this past weekend. If you haven’t then go and do it, but read this at the same time. Because, you know, multitasking right?

You could argue that Sony certainly had the most invested in their conference in terms of delivering. Their console is still outselling the Xbox One (for the fifth month in a row now) and whilst the big name Christmas stocking filler battles over Xbox DLC exclusivity, Sony have very quietly bagged themselves some big names.

destiny-alpha-screen-night-timeSince the conference, two games have had some early release testing. The much anticipated Bungie original IP, Destiny, had an early exclusive Alpha release and an exclusive PS4 beta announced. As quick as that happened, Battlefield Hardline also released a multiplayer beta for the PS4. But sticking with Destiny, Sony are obviously investing a lot into the potential this game has and I think, having watched a lot of the early access videos, it is the right decision. The white PS4 console bundle with the game could be just what the people debating how to enter the current generation console market need to convince them.

The big names that Sony unleashed with gameplay certainly felt a lot more conclusive than the Xbox conference, to me personally. Sony are obviously very confident in the power of their console and that’s evident by the amount of gameplay that was shown. There was a certain confusion and potential trepidation at the gameplay reveal of The Order 1886 in my eyes. The gameplay looked interesting and atmospheric but it felt a tad confused and there wasn’t enough to excite me.

Then there was Entwined. The immediately released game that feels like the bastard of Child of Eden and After Burner. It was interesting, especially as a debut game, but again not enough for me to jump straight in to it. Then more inFamous spin offs and I zoned out a bit… Until Sack Boy appeared.

If you don’t love Sack Boy, regardless of your thoughts of Little Big Planet, then you are morally bankrupt and dead inside. As I said in the Podcast, it always confused me how amazing some of the levels created by the community happen so quickly and so effectively. But it is definitely encouraging for the PS4 community to have a truly co-op creative platformed.

far-cry-4-fc4We can skip to Far Cry 4 and how excited everyone is about this game. It’s certainly no secret about how powerful the Cry Engine is. The amount of corners and performance possibilities that the previous generation of consoles couldn’t deliver is now behind us. Far Cry’s gameplay is always great, but the environments especially are spectacular and always have been. Far Cry 4 has nailed it already. Plus elephants. Elephants dammit!

Then there was the Dead Island 2 reveal. A game I’m excited for as the promise of Dead Island (despite the lacklustre end game) was enough for me to enjoy it.

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Let’s skip ahead to the big Naughty Dog reveals. The Last of Us Remastered looks great and for those of us who have ashamedly never played it, we get all the goodies at once. Then the reveal for Uncharted 4, presumably the final saga of Nathan Drake, but the excitement was enough to end the conference in style.

Batman… BATMAN! Wow, how good did that look? Gotham has always been the most dark and atmospheric place in the ‘open world’ genre and the PS4 certainly looks like its got it going on. It was always going to be impressive but it looks great.

It may feel like I’m rushing through these and I am. Because I want to get to the two things that greatly impressed and surprised me. Firstly, Grim Fandango. I remember the original release and anyone who’s played the Monkey Island remasters will know how great the original games are, let alone the graphical upgrade they had. If there is anything that deserves the re release and the updating then it is Grim Fandango.

NoMansSkyFieldFinally it is my place to talk about the most impressive game at E3, although how well it actually runs and how smooth it is going to be interesting, is the debut game from Hello Games. No Man’s Sky is an FPS exploration game come flight sim come combat sim that is procedurally generated. The promise of practically infinite gameplay and exploration, especially with how diverse and colourful it looks, makes this game an incredibly generation defining title. Plus Sean Murray, despite being having the same name as me bias, looks like a guy who’s really invested in creating something special and inspired by great things. Part of me worries that it could be too big and too ambitious and that delays and setbacks could halt it. Although that’s a hangover of my experience of many games too ambitious for the technology and too stuck without an end purpose. This I feel will combat that, and I hope it does because for all the big titles and particle effects and grand big sellers, this game looks to be what gaming is all about and what Playstation was all about from the beginning. So, here’s hoping.

Finally I shall leave you with two pieces of information you wanted to know but didn’t know how to find out. The music for the Metal Gear Solid V trailer was Nuclear by Mike Oldfield and The Last Of Us trailer was a cover of Nirvana’s Something In The Way by a band called At Sea.

Oh and Grand Theft Auto V looks good enough to bury Watch_Dogs and I’m going to be silly enough to buy it.

What do you think about the Sony conference? Why not leave a comment or talk about it on Facebook and Twitter. We don’t bite!

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Tropico 5 – Review

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(Note: This review has been approved for general release by Penultimo, General Director of the Tropico Press Freedom Commission)

Welcome to Castro Sim 2014. Once again we set sail to the colonial era nondescript Caribbean Sea islands in an effort to find our inner despot and proclaim ultimate rule. This time however, some things have changed around the region of Tropico since our golden age of technology back in Tropico 4.

tropico 5 review 1Once again we enter the world of political satire and city building in our attempt to subvert the status quo of modern democracy. We start quite literally under appointment from His Majesty, The King. The new campaign mode sees us seeking independence from the Crown and then being very careful in politically playing our way through the changing allegiances of the World Wars, whilst still building our own dynasty.

The comedy of the game, its wit and fairly tested satire, is really what always binds it together. The story of the game in fact delves in to those newer jokes, more pop-culture mockery and the constant hilarity of Penultimo who continues to administrate the islands along with your unflappable British ambassador and the anarchistic military heroine. But the political allegiances that are always in play actually mean a lot more than just appeasing local rebel insurgents. As you work your way through the instability of the World Wars and the Cold War, who you choose to keep on side will make you more or less money and better trade routes to keep your extended term as ruler.

It’s these game play elements that make the game a lot more fun to play than Tropico 4, or if not more fun then certainly a lot easier to play and therefore easier to concentrate on the enjoyment. The similar tropes are still there from before; task based acquisition of money and buildings to establish your island amidst the pirates and homeless that will plague it. Although the game hasn’t changed enough since Tropico 4 for those tasks not to get a bit old after a while.

In fact, that is possibly the only hangover that the game has from its predecssor. The city building is a lot easier than in previous versions with an incredibly simplified build menu, a new load of building designs that change through the historical eras, and all of them are incredibly easy and adaptable to place. The Almanac and the island’s layers information is not only easier to navigate but also far more readable and understandable. One thing Tropico does do, once you get into this more strategic st,yle of playing the game is make you assess your space a lot more effectively and the improvements in the game have made that a much easier and enjoyable prospect. Which for a time offsets the overused “Export me 5,000 of this because the consequences are dire if you don’t” repetitive tasks. Although as soon as you’ve established a good bit of exporting through high value crops and get mining, you can financially ignore those which aren’t mission specific.

tropico 5 review 2Which is good because creating your own paradise is very aesthetically pleasing. The games engine runs very smoothly on a system that can cope with the high graphics or just under top performance. The water crashing into the beaches, the wind blowing through the trees along with a much more inviting map fog for exploration, make the environment very nice, along with some excellent detail in the buildings, people and animations. One of the things I loved about previous Tropico games, especially compared to Sim City, is that there is a lot of detail in to creating the lives and attractive buildings in the game. This makes you more aesthetically invested in the design of your island paradise and interested in zooming in and just watching things happen. Much like Banished can do, except with a lot more Pina Coladas.

There are some things that do notch against it, admittedly. The game is moving on with the technology so make sure you can effectively run it (I had a very weird experience where the game performed fine but the menu screens were incredibly laggy on one of my test systems). The fact that the map controls are natively the arrow keys was annoying as I was so used to a WASD set up, so some ergonomic reshuffling is required. The previously mentioned repetitive task mechanic can have the effect of bogging you down in things against what your mission objectives are and it does feel a bit like a continuation directly from Tropico 4. Other strange things are the Dynasty and Swiss Bank Account mechanics. They are certainly fun distractions, and the Swiss Bank Account has more a place in this game than previous titles, but they ultimately feel positioned there to add a bit more colour to the humour more than a gaming mechanic and sometimes, I want something to pep up the game, not top up the satire.

But Tropico 5 is a very good game. Given the market options at the moment (Sim City, Banished, CitiesXL, et. al.) Tropico certainly does raise a bar in accessible strategy city building with enough humour to keep you honest about the fact that it’s a game. And if it wasn’t for those loading screens, I’d have had no idea that officially, Kim Jong-il was born on a mountain under a double rainbow and a newly recorded star, as foretold to the North Korean people by a swallow. So you learn something new and knowledge is power!


 

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[tab title=”Summary”]Tropico 5 might be a few steps away from its independence in the strategy category, but it certainly is up there with the most playable of city-building despots at the moment. A lot of fun and exactly the right level of challenge/design/world event difficulty.[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Looks lovely, like a portrait of El Presidente.

– Very funny, like El Presidente’s bumper book of pub jokes.

– Gameplay simplified and optimised, just like El Presidente’s Consititution.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Random task system a bit repetitive.

– Can feel too close to Tropico 4.

– There are no cons and Penultimo is not holding a gun to my head to say this, Viva El Presidente.[/tab]
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Trailer


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Watch Dogs – Review

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So the thing you might be thinking, especially if you’ve read other reviews of Watch Dogs or if you’re hearing stories whilst waiting to buy it, is that Watch Dogs is disappointing to the hype it created. Of course there was a huge amount of hype, it was a delayed next generation launch title! But ultimately it’s created a large amount of expectation that you think it won’t deliver, given what everyone else has already reported.

That was something I agreed with for the first couple of hours of playing. To start with the game drops you right in to the action. Actually, narratively, it’s a bit too deep in to the action. So let’s address the issue of the story, as I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about it.

The story of the game is that you’re a lone technologically advanced ex-hacker who has become a vigilante in the Windy City, otherwise known as Chicago. However this occurs because your character, Aiden Pearce, carries the weight of guilt in being indirectly responsible for the death of a family member. His actions and setup make him a man on a course for redemption and satiation of said guilt, which leads you on the path of destruction and death in the name of justice.

watch dogs review 3Now the criticism of Pearce, the vigilante apparently known as ‘The Fox’ but that’s hardly ever mentioned, is that his character is unlikeable and the empathy for him is hard to come by. Which is partially correct, but there are reasons for that. Firstly we don’t know enough about what Aiden has done after his trauma and secondly, the open world nature of the game doesn’t direct us in the vigilante path unless we wish to.

This means that a very important part of this character is essentially redundant, depending how you play it. As reviewers we spend as much time as we can working to complete the game as fully as possible which means we’ve all kind of ignored the crime fighting sub-plot element of Pearce in favor of gunning down many bad guys on our lone ranger redemption fest. It’s also very weird how even with this crime fighting persona, you’re still a criminal actively stealing vast sums of money from unassuming innocent people, which further reduces the belief in Pearce’s confused psyche.

But as you go on further in the game, Pearce does become a tad more emotionally accessible and, by the end of it, you are invested in his story. The entire situation he is in is a mess and unless you appreciate the finer points of the past decade of television drama, it may completely gloss over you.

In fact the past decade of television drama has an awful lot of sway in the story of this game. I recall a preview video somewhere that said one of the villains of the piece, Iraq, is someone the voiceover referred to as Iraq Barksdale. The reference to The Wire is not amiss either as a fair portion of the game owes a lot to the gritty projects portrayed by that show.

In fact, if I was to sum up this story I would class it as this: Robocop’s OCP meets 1995 movie Hackers, interspersed with Wire-esque gang warfare and a hero based on The Punisher that, all in all, tries a bit too hard to deliver a serious message. And it does try very hard to deliver an Orwellian style nightmare of a surveillance state, ala Blair CCTV, and the dangers of integrated networked automation.

Sadly though this is let down by the fiction of the world being very repetitive and poorly constructed and acted. The random stories you find along the way hacking into other people’s conversations and phones (a device intended to humanise the world round you) very quickly become repetitive and tiresome, and the random jobs/salary and recent activity information can get a bit silly at times. The tertiary elements such as radio news pops and television broadcasts as well as the occasional DedSec interruption are incredibly wooden and far inferior to the rest of the game’s acting. Which is strange as they’re actually crucial for plot exposition but feel casual and almost throwaway.

But we’re gamers, right? We don’t give a shit about story and my dramatic criticism of the narrative construct. You want to know how it plays and want me to stop twatting around like this is an literature essay. Well, alright then.

watch dogs review 2As I have touched up on the fiction of the world, let’s discuss the world itself. It is, quite frankly, magnificent. The open world Chicago is designed very much like the original Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. There are the ropey areas, the slightly middle class areas, the big city, a more desolate backwater area and several ways to get around. The inner city is sadly a bit dull though. Apart from the enjoyment of checking in to a place on your phone and finding out some history regarding the area, the city itself is not very interactive except where the game has its set pieces. The metropolis is effectively a built up road maze with many obstacles and tools for you to escape the police, or the prying eye of the ctOS.

However, Pawnee, an area you grow very accustomed to in Act III is one of the most beautifully realised places I’ve seen in gaming. As a rural gaming environment, I’d put it up there are one of my favourites next to Bright Falls from Alan Wake. The colours are rich and deep and, regardless of the resolution blah de blah (I was playing it on a PS4), it is a lovely place to just walk around and it arguably has more interesting things to check out than Chicago itself. Even the old wooden bridges, appear in excellent detail and add to the atmosphere.

Pawnee is also one of two places that you can see the beautiful sight that is Chicago from afar. When it hits night, you can look over the largest expanse of river and see those skyscrapers lit up. The only other place is on a boat out in the water expanse on the east side of the map (presumably Lake Michigan). Whilst the game doesn’t compare at all to Grand Theft Auto V in its fiction or depth, it does portray the metropolis from a distance that GTA wasn’t able to do effectively, in my opinion.

Now, the hacking… I’ll be honest; the game revolves around this apparently jailbroken iPhone being the Excalibur of hacking and it does get a bit old quite quick. There is almost an over reliance on it. It’s far too easy to do things and, especially when earning (stealing) money, it makes the economic part of the game entirely redundant. I never once, apart from the mission where I had to, purchased anything from a shop. I brought one gun as part of that mission. The rest, the ammo, the component parts for grenades and distractions, were all found in game. I’d amassed over $200,000 and spent none of it except for a gratuitous coffee or beer. Even the clothes are just different colours of the same clothes and I think Watch_Dogs missed out on a great customisation opportunity here.

The weapons are not as comically violent as others in the genre and are very functional. Mostly sub-sets of themselves but they are all easily handled and the weapon wheel is easily used. You get by without really getting annoyed or frustrated at weapons or their selection which I am guessing is the plan for it. Driving is relatively simple but very sluggish in the early stages of the game and as soon as you can get a motorcycle and your hacking skill tree is good enough to manipulate any potential chases/ramming sequences, then it’s again far too easy. The motorcycle is in fact incredibly overpowered. It is, unless you make the mistake of going head first into something, practically accident free.

The online part of the game is relatively fun although I found it quite a distraction from playing the storyline of the game or a side mission. The game occasionally prompts you into going online, thinking that someone is actually already trying to get you. Which is fine, except that it takes you very off course of where you were initially heading. I wouldn’t say that the online is an successful expansion for the end game or between missions necessarily, but it does mix it up a bit. Although there are rewards for winning such battles of hacking prowess, there isn’t really any punishment to drive you to defend yourself.

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If I was to describe the gameplay like I did the story then it would be thus: Metal Gear Solid stealth meets logic puzzles in engineering kills/data retrieval, combined with an overused Driver-esque-ram-someone-off-the-road mechanic, and if you want you can just shoot the crap out of everything anyway. Apart from frustrating take down missions where you have to get close up to a guy and knock him out. Which is quite annoying, as you’ve previously murdered 90% of the people before him so why do you need to keep him alive? No one knows.

The other game modes are quite interesting too and there are plenty of mini-games around even though exploration is a mini game in itself. Finding cars, intercepting convoys, doing take-down hits are all fun little distractions. The two stand out games though are the Digital Trips and The Cash Run game. The Digital Trips are kind of psychedelic digitised acid trips that are games in themselves. Madness is basically Carmageddon, Alone is almost a game version of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg movie ‘The World’s End’, Psychadellic is a trippy free falling trampoline bouncing game involving flowers and points rings and Spider Tank is a tank designed like a Spider destroying the city for points… Enough said. Cash Run however is my favourite. This turns the game in to an augmented reality, free running 3D platformer to collect coins and is great fun.

watch dogs review 1One thing I must mention is the portrayal of women in the game. Now I’m not defending GTA at all in this, but GTA is intended as a satirical look at society and its problems. Watch_Dogs is not. There are points where the portrayal of women is absolutely misogynist to the point of screaming at the game and thumping my Caitlin Moran books in its general direction. Our companion in the story, Clara Lille (with her wobbly accent), has a massive chest tattoo that highlights the fact she’s wearing a top that is unnecessarily revealing. It’s almost comical how low cut her top needlessly is. She is completely over-sexualized, especially compared to our hero Aiden who is wearing more layers than a space-walking astronaut.

Also there is an entirely random storyline involving human trafficking (The Wire season 2 anyone) and the sex slave trade. Now I get that it’s trying to be edgy, but it just felt like gratuitous exploitation and left a sour taste for me. Even the girls in the drug labs were wearing bikinis and as you first hack your way around the projects, sexual assault and sexual acts are rampant and completely pointless. It doesn’t need to be there. The entire sex trade thing didn’t even leave a message; it just felt like it was there to spice things up. If the entire sequence were a drug-based enterprise, I’d have been fully accepting. But this just feels vacuous and needlessly objectifying in an already testosterone filled game.

The thing is I actually started to enjoy Watch_Dogs a lot more towards the end. To start with I had to plough on and, much like everyone else, remind myself that this wasn’t trying to be a usurper to the Rockstar crown. And whilst I had my reservations and criticisms, I also enjoyed the game and some of its stand out moments. But this should have been a launch title and at times, it feels like it should have been. That’s not to be derogatory to it, I’ve had fun playing it and I’d rather a game be delayed so that it is ultimately ready when we get it. Watch_Dogs delivers a good impression on what a next gen console can be capable of whilst not really getting the basics right.

Summary

Watch Dogs has a lot of strong moments and is an interesting take on the open-world genre, but ultimately lacks the punch and direction to make it great.

Good Points

– Chicago looks excellent, especially at night.

– Weapons are easy and powerful

– Hacking is easy

Bad Points

– Hacking is too easy

– Story line isn’t very well set up to start (poor exposition)

– Doesn’t further the genre into the next gen like we’d hope.

Why a 7?

Well, going by the idea that other recent examples in this genre are an 9 or 10 score, this has got a lot of work to do to get that far. But it is still ultimately an enjoyable game for a time and is visually great.

Trailer