Mad Max – Preview

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I didn’t want Mad Max to start with. I didn’t ask for it, and I certainly didn’t really care too much about what the gameplay would be like. Fair enough, there was a movie coming that looked interesting but I just imagined a dead 80s franchise being milked while it became relevant again. Then I played Mad Max and I soon realised this could be the one game that I wouldn’t be able to live without.

It’s a bold statement in a year that has Fallout 4 on the cards and the similar stylings of Batman: Arkham Knight arguably in pole position as Game of the Year right now, next to Life is Strange. But something about the short time I’d spent with Mad Max gripped me and took me to a place of customisation and driving intensity in arid areas I’d never have imagined.

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To start with, it’s worth pointing out that whilst you are the titular Max Rockatansky, you are not any of the movie versions of him. He’s his own character and rather autonomous so you can slot in to playing as him better. The black V8 Interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon in real life) is absent thanks to theft by marauders, but this only furthers the plot and the gameplay dynamics. Swedish developers Avalanche Studios have basically been given the keys and asked to come up with their own thing. So this is not a tie-in of any kind – Box one ticked.

Gaming is very spoilt with dystopian post-apocalyptic madness, which has probably got something to do with the movies and fictions game designers had growing up in the 1980s. So it’s with a sense of irony that the films probably inspired the games we love (Fallout being a prime example) that then inspired this game. But Mad Max’s world is extraordinary.

Everything that’s crazy about the movie world is here. You have the crazy side characters and seemingly endless insane cults and gangs ready to wreak havoc upon you in inventive ways. You have the vast and inescapable desert and the occasional hard rock. You have the intense weather from the films, dramatic and violent storms blowing sand everywhere or crackling with electricity.

In the play-through I had a companion from the studio to help me get to grips with the game and the controls quickly, communicating through a headset, but that became absolutely pointless as a storm hit. The storms are not scripted events and have varying degrees of severity. It was loud and obnoxious like an old TV used to sound at 3am when you fell asleep to it and all that was on was static. The only thing I heard my companion say was “you need shelter,” and she was right.

Three cars had come out of nowhere and started attacking me and trying to ram me. It had nothing to do with the mission to reach a stronghold in search of a legendary V8 engine. No, the actual mission had become incredibly mute and unimportant compared to the three guys throwing fiery explosive javelins at me. The cars had come from out of nowhere, just like the storm, and destroying them presented other problems. My own javelins were doing their job but the wreck of the car was now scrap metal which got caught up in the winds and was now smashing in to my face.

My visibility was zero and I did what only a professional coward would, and drove away really fast. Anywhere, just away from the remaining pack of cars. This presented its own problems in the shape of large immoveable rocks that only a 4×4 would dare attempt. I crashed, weakening my own car even more before seeing how far out from my original waypoint I was on the in game map. The road was much closer than I realised and as soon as I relocated it, I put the foot down on my upgraded V6 powered car and lost my assailants in the dust. I reached the stronghold which was under attack, but as a cutscene played and the storm relented, I suddenly realised how open my jaw was and how much fun I had just had. – Box two ticked.

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All of this is made possible by some excellent gameplay features. The open world is a huge expanse of post-apocalyptic wasteland that is split in to regions. The story mode will take you across all of this but you will need a lot to survive. Our demo was a mission that was just under half way through the game, and so our character, our Max, was suitably levelled up for us. You can customise your Max in any way (looks, clothing, weapons) but what is more fun is the car, the Magnum Opus. Driving in this game is incredibly responsive and you can do a great number of things to your car to personalise your experience, and that personalisation feels key to what Avalanche are attempting to do here.

You can upgrade your engine parts, wheels, chassis, etc, by using scrap metal that you collect throughout the world. You’ll find old car wrecks and there’s bits and pieces that you can find after you’ve destroyed other vehicles. This scrap is then used to purchase these upgrades but in some cases, you need to find them first. A new car chassis will be in the desert for you to find and the rewards for exploration and discoveries like this translate directly to what you can do with your car.

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You have a companion called Chumbucket, on your journey who sits in the back of your car and is the man who fires your main weaponry.  Your harpoon is the standard weapon but there are also the Thunderpoons (the explosive bolts), a sniper rifle for distance shots, your own shotgun and the option to either quick fire or aim yourself. All of which you purchase with your scrap metal. So you can go quite balanced, very weapon heavy, quick armoured speed, whatever you want. Your car customisation can add a ram at the front, different hood ornaments, the cool wheels with spikes, flame throwers on the side of your car, your own colour schemes… There’s an incredible amount and the team at Avalanche have taken inspiration from Forza Motorsport of all places in how to personalise a vehicle.

The game should see you try to reunite Max with his fabled car whilst also looking to end his madness, but one of the things to stress here is that you are Max. So therefore YOU are the mad one and you can be as mad and as crazy as you want. The game is a veritable sandbox (desert pun unintended) that allows you to play how you want, to whatever goal you want and with whatever setup you want. Even in my demo, no two journalists had the same experience and we all had our own stories. I’d talked the day before with another journalist who thought the harpoon was overpowered because you can just tear the wheels off enemy vehicles with it and then mow everyone down in a Carmageddon-esque frenzy. But that was their story and unless I did exactly the same as them, my own story would be unique – Box three ticked.

The game did blind side me as to how much playability there was from what is essentially a core concept of a bonkers bloke driving a car around and destroying everything that attempts to destroy him. But after I played it I realised that the story I was taking away was my own, not Max’s. And although there is the main quest with a story and plot, this doesn’t interfere with your experience and how you go about attaining that. Where other games after a while do get a bit repetitive, and I can imagine that hunting for scrap could possibly get a bit repetitive if you’re that way inclined, Mad Max kept me interested, gripped and excited for what I was about to do next with reckless abandon. So now that I don’t have Mad Max, I want it even more. Roll on September.

Mad Max is due for release on September 1st 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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Gamescom 2015 – Day One


It’s been an interesting 24 hours here in Cologne. Europe’s premier games conference and industry trade fair is buzzing with people. Today is the calm before the storm where industry and press get to see some things before the peoples of Europe come and wreak absolute carnage. How much carnage? Well the organisers are expecting around 400,000 people approximately. That’s just under the population of Cardiff.

We start today with yesterday. Xbox’s annual briefing gave us some new glances into things we’ve been waiting for, such as Halo 5 Guardians, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The latter of which we were treated to a secondary demo of after the breifing. Lara Croft’s adventures seem to follow the exact same system and style of the 2013 remake. Some have criticised it for being and Xbox exclusive (which we now know it isn’t after Winter 2016) and that Lara was a bit too indestructible. Honestly, whilst she certainly takes some pubishment, you don’t feel that she’s immune to the physicality she endures. The game has a frenetic and terrifying way of creating urgency in how you react against obstacles and big crazy events like collapsing caves. It does look good and we can hardly be critical for wanting more of the same and getting it.

Crackdown 3 appears to be the most technologically progressive out of the games we’ve been shown. The use of Microsoft’s cloud servers in delivering a better in-game experience is nothing new (we found out last year that Dead Island 2 was due to use the system). But there doesn’t appear to be a game that has ever been so reliant on it. The 100% world destuction is an ambitious ask for a console that has begun to find its gaming feet but it raises some questions. Will this be unplayable offline, will this be reliant on server connections being stable, will the amount of players cause lag and issues? The 4 player co-op sequel is in the pre-alpha stage so it’s going to be a while but what we’ve seen is impressive. The 100% destruction is based on actual construction with elements in the buidlings. There’s no empty shells with textures, every shatterd pane of glass, broken concrete, collapsed steel pillar and brick is a physical element in itself, with each building being based on its own server as to not interrupt gameplay. The demo we saw with ultimate destruction used 12 servers in addition to the Xbox One. Is it too ambitious? We’ll see next year hopefully.

We saw new game Scalebound (a rather jaunty hack and slash with dragons), debut some gameplay, and we saw some almost blase news that Cities: Skylines (the Sim City rival/usurper) will be making it’s way to the console. But the biggest new annoucement was a sequel we were all hoping for and from a studio that we really should have predicted. Halo Wars 2 is coming and it will be developed by Total War studio Creative Assembly. I for one am sad that it isn’t in house with a reformed Ensemble Studios but I’m more exctactic that it exists with a studio that has such pedigree.

Quantum Break was given more of an outing and we saw an expansion of the third person gameplay to something that looks quite like a rival to inFamous and the like. Remedy studios appear to be brilliantly keeping their TV style presentation for the game with Aiden Gillen (Game of Throne’s Littlefinger) sticking to one accent alongside a great cast. The gameplay does look excellent but we need to see some more, less demo-y gameplay now, and maybe even some hands on time.

We also had DVR announced (if you have that much memory left then teach me your ways), a new keyboard peripheral and backward compatibilty for Games with Gold. So your Xbox 360 Games with Gold from now on will be playable on the Xbox One. None of your previous ones sadly and there’s no telling how that’s going to limit the game choice but apparently everyone is on board so, we’ll see.

The next morning EA held a conference which, from the social media reaction, hasn’t really been well received. We have more news on FIFA 16’s Ultimate Team mode, a new Sims 4 expansion, some Mirror’s Edge gamplay, some Need for Speed and, most importantly, a new trailer for Star Wars Battlefront. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much from EA than what they had already announced at E3, with a new Battlefield game being slated for 2016. I personally didn’t see it as I was busy checking out Dark Souls 3 (a preview of which will come next week) but here’s the trailer for Star Wars Battlefield.

We also has a press conference from Blizzard which introduced new characters to Heroes of the Storm including the monk from Diablo, along with some gameplay refinements. We also saw a new standalone expansion to Starcraft 2, Legacy of the Void, new Hearthstone cards and more news on Blizzard’s first person shooter, Overwatch, including new maps and their 16th character – carnival loving Brazillian Lucio.

There’s still some noise to come from Blizzard with the reveal of the new World of Warcraft expansion and I’m going to be deep in halls checking out all that I can so stay tuned to our Twitter for more and more reports over the next week.

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Batman Arkham Knight – Review

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Riddle me this, Chiropetra loving friends: What ever shall we do when the Arkham game ends? This really is the end according to developer Rocksteady. Their trilogy (Origins was done by a different studio so it technically doesn’t count) has seen the most critically acclaimed Batman iteration since the Nolan movies, brought expertly to life with an excellent team of developers, writers, actors and artists. I’m actually a little bit sad about it.

It is kind of refreshing in this world that (regardless of your opinion on the games season pass) a franchise isn’t being milked to death, and by that I mean annual or bi-annual releases which, given the success of the games, could easily have happened. But there is a love here for the source material and the sense of achieving a great story rather than just making a great game, so this kind of closure is essential.

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Ok, enough pontificating, this is where I tell you that Batman: Arkham Knight is my game of the year so far and that I actually like the Batmobile. After the events of Arkham City, the game begins with some dirty work from Commissioner Gordon and everything being really peachy in the normally dark and rainy Gotham. This of course lasts all of 5 minutes before the work of Scarecrow ends up evacuating the entire city leaving it open to the evil machinations of the series super-villains at large.

So yet again, you have to go forth as the caped crusader and be the vigilante that kicks everyone’s ass. You’ll encounter various foes along the way, along with various allies and be flummoxed by the mystery of who the new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, actually is. All of this whilst trying to curb the spread of gang thugs across the abandoned districts, finding all sorts of lost firefighters who they seem to have exclusively kidnapped, solving The Riddler’s little treats across the city, and much more.

It seems with every Arkham game, the combat has got smoother, the fighting more fluid and the space more apt for the style of a character such as Batman. By this I mean that the halls of the Asylum have progressed to the cramped alleys of the City and now to the streets, rooftops, and buildings of Gotham as a whole. The space to fight and to have epic one man, or even dual takedown battles, really gets your excitement level up and makes you concentrate more on how far away flying objects are, how much there is to counter and how satisfying it is to get the timing just right.

One of the things this game certainly rewards, much like Arkham City, is Batman’s flying and gliding. At times, City felt a tiny bit claustrophobic, at the lower levels, towards the ground. Gotham is huge though and the space is there for you to fly around, get to the super high places, and glide between buildings and to really enjoy and explore the city. And as you upgrade your Batmobile, launching yourself in to the air is incredibly fun, seeing the metropolis of Gotham flash past you as you catch a current.

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Which is great because it is visually wonderful. The gothic dark beauty, evocatively creating the air of Burton’s movie direction and the lighting and building density of something like Blade Runner, is in abundance here. The super structures of business made of glass and steel mixed with the old industrial buildings of Founders Island are fantastic against the backdrop of the old and regenerating styles of Bleake Island and its imposing clock tower. Miagani Island shows some of that comic book juxtaposition of the fantastical and real life with the orphanage and Wayne Tower and the huge blimps always in the sky towards the eastern edge of the map. There’s an aesthetic and colour palette representing the dankness of grimy expired industry and modern chrome that, under the dark clouds and rain, only reflects the entropy it’s trying to counter or delay. It’s a stunning visual treat.

Flying around this city and even driving around it really makes you connect to the world, despite it being very different from most open world games and their maps. Mostly the connection is familiarity with the world around them in popular culture and history. But in the case of Batman it’s like being given the opportunity to explore a landscape painting, finding all of the tiny brushstrokes of life and colour. The missions that ask you to search for things (Riddler trophies and firefighter rescues) really do give you the opportunity to experience every nook and cranny, which is a wonderful thing.

The story reflects the character of Batman and everything that has brought him up to this point. The duplicity of his morals, the violence of his pacification and his single-mindedness dictate everything that happens in Arkham Knight, along with everything that has already happened in the franchise. The mysteries that surround what is happening keep you going from point to point and the non-story specific distractions are fun to keep you from going way too deep in to the Bruce Wayne introspective rabbit hole.

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Which leads us to the elephant in this room, the Batmobile. I like the Batmobile. The transition from ridiculous supercar to hovering tank is fluid, the arsenal and upgrades at your disposal are great and the driving is smooth and incredibly easy, especially if you aren’t normally a car guy. People that have played games with tanks in like World of Tanks, BattleZone and others will probably get on really well with it. The easy to read firing arcs of all the different enemy drones, encouraging the evasive action needed, make it an experience that isn’t jarring or too steep a learning curve. The puzzles that require the Batmobile all use a different part of the car and a different use of it as well, showing how man and machine can be quite symbiotic.

The criticisms I have is that the world occasionally doesn’t make a lot of room for the Batmobile when it is required, making the whole operation a little bit clumsy. That is something that isn’t helped by the controller layout with L2 on my PS4 pad activating the battle (tank) mode – normally L2 would be your brake or reverse in any vehicle. It’s something you get used to but you will slip up, especially if you do play a lot of games that involve driving. The other issue I have is how reliant of the Batmobile some of the missions are. There are many tanks and vehicles that the Arkham Knight’s militia employ and sometimes there are far too many to destroy or navigate in the casual missions.

The secondary problem with this is that it makes the side missions incredibly repetitive, especially if you’ve completed the main story. You kind of want to complete it but at the same time, it can feel very grindy and after awhile, the sense of achievement fades in to relief that it’s over, which is a far cry from how you feel throughout the main part of the game. In fact, it’s very similar to the work you need to do in another Warner Bros. game, Shadow of Mordor. A surprise hit of 2014, after the main story finishes there isn’t the greatest of incentives to fully complete it. With Batman, you can complete what you need to finish the game to your satisfaction but to 100% it and get the reward/achievement for it is a slog that you might not wish to partake in. But the other way you can look at it is that, if these are the only holes we can pick (well known platform issues aside) then Rocksteady have really succeeded.

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One thing I have to mention, as I’ve said it to friends that have played it and to those that haven’t, is that the voice acting in this game is phenomenal. As far as game voicing goes, we always look to big names like Troy Baker and Nolan North in recent times to turn out stellar performances, and they are present here too. But the Arkham series has had the magnificence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the past reprising the roles they voiced on the animated TV series. Arkham Knight is no exception to that style. Everyone is stellar, and one in particular is worthy of an award if such a thing existed, as the performance was just perfect. Tara Strong is brilliant as is Tasia Valenza and Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) makes an excellent debut as a video game voice actor with Commissioner Gordon.

The thing is with this acting talent and the strength of the story is that the presentation becomes a magnificent thing. Excellent use of the game camera can turn one moment of insignificance in to a brilliant cacophony of entertainment, terror and danger. Flashbacks are brilliantly utilised and the slow reveals of plot are magnificently constructed in the game environment. Whilst some games can just portray this in a cutscene or a filmic way, Batman: Arkham Knight has done it in a beautifully encapsulating way, without falling in to the gaming cliché of quick time events or removing you too far from the action.

All of this combined is why this is my game of the year so far. The future for Rocksteady is solid, with Warner Bros having invested heavily into the studio and hopefully giving them some solid franchises with which to work their magic, especially if they’re involved in anything regarding the DC universe. But for their Batman swan song, it is a lesson in how to create a brilliant game with a potentially saturated franchise and ultimately, how to end a story. The answer to the introductory question, we can only cry. Cry lots with sadness that this won’t happen again and with joy that it was wonderful while it was here. Thank you Rocksteady.

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The end of a great era of Batman games and a brilliant game by itself. A fantastic story, a huge beautiful city, wonderful gameplay, and superb visuals are only hampered by some subjective issues with the controls of the Batmobile and the repetitiveness of some side quests that overuse the vehicle. Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest way to say goodbye to this wonderful series of games.

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  • Gotham is dark and beautiful.
  • Fantastic story and voice acting.
  • Excellent fluid fighting and gameplay.

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  • Some repetitive side missions and over-reliance on the Batmobile.
  • Slightly odd driving controls for Batmobile.
  • There won’t be any more Arkham games cries

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This is my pole position contender for game of the year. I really connected with the voice acting and the artistic construction of Gotham. The colours, the light, the rain, the brooding… Everything made this an excellent vehicle to deliver a great story and the gameplay is expertly refined. I liked the Batmobile and the slight issues I have with that and the missions are the only things keeping this from a higher score.

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This review was based on the PS4 version of the game.

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F1 2015 – Review

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Formula One is the pinnacle of Motorsport. There is no denying, despite the rise in popularity of endurance racing, MOTO GP, rally and other disciplines, as well as the introduction of Formula E, that Formula One is still at the cutting edge of aerodynamics, engineering and now, hybrid racing. We’re almost two years in to the V6 Turbo kinetic recovery era and, despite the dominance of one team and certainly one engine manufacturer, the technology is well and truly at the forefront of design and evolution.

So it should also stand to measure that Codemasters’ latest iteration of their franchise, F1 2015, should not only reflect this but also embody it. We are well and truly in to a new generation of consoles now and this game is the first look at the new and improved EGO engine. The past two releases on the last generation of consoles were not anywhere near the standard we’ve come to expect of the studio. GRID Autosport felt like a shoe-in to make up for people upset with GRID 2 but it really fell flat and looked rushed. F1 2014 was a shadow of its former years, but with good reason. Unable to release on the now current generation consoles, Codemasters had to come to grips with a rapidly changing F1 rule book and a short amount of time to do it (as well as probably having to release annually due to contracts). The game and the studio were not ready and it showed. You could say it was their Red Bull/Renault moment.

Recently, the studio has won back some kudos thanks to the early access PC title DiRT Rally which takes the formerly “Colin McRae” titled series back to its time trial rally roots and successfully so. The hype for Formula One then is very much real among racing game fans who are excited to see this new engine look spectacular, excited for the changes in the rules, for performance to be expertly reflected, for an in depth setup changing option, and a great racing experience against both AI and online drivers. I can tell you now that three out of five ain’t bad.

Firstly the game engine does look spectacular but not in the way you would imagine. Sixty frames per second, perfectly replicated tracks, cars with up to date livery, and a smooth and exciting experience are all present and accounted for. But graphically, it doesn’t have the visual effects or the artistic panache of Project Cars (also published by Bandai Namco). Although it doesn’t really pretend to have them or even match that level of photorealistic detail in anything except the cars, or the swoon inducing lighting glares. In the effort of maintaining realism to an obsessive level, you won’t get the traditional gaming motion blur to replicate the feeling of speed. As part of the more realistic “broadcast” style, the game looks and replicates a television broadcast experience. For example the lack of natural light on an overcast day dulls the visuals, as it would on screen. Your TV camera won’t get the artsy motion blur we’ve been spoiled with for many different racing games. Surrounding scenery though can look a bit flat and the crowds/marshalls are still poor last generation blurred models (something Forza Horizon 2 is far better with). But other than those niggles it does work incredibly well.

Where there are the artistic sacrifices however, significant gains are made in other places. Wet weather and night races are exciting and incredibly tricky. The weather effects aren’t going to hit you like DriveClub would, but Formula 1 wouldn’t race in those extreme conditions anyway. It does the levels it needs to do well and with expert translation to the car, the handling and the track evolution. The cars and the AI have a massive increase of memory to race better and give you as a driver a more authentic feel. The heat haze from the car’s exhaust is not just a pretty effect as I will explain later. The crash particle effects and the ancillary features like the pit crew and a tablet for the garage set ups are all nicely done, as they always have been. The actual experience of racing, the broadcast chatters and the overall environment around you has been well refined.

What this does is make for the smooth, constant experience, that Formula One is. The gameplay has much more room for interpretation and even if you’re on a wheel or a pad (we played with both) the level of feedback you can feel from the car is extraordinary. You can tell when the back is just a tiny bit lighter, when your brake bias is just that bit too far forward, when the tires are cold and when the torque constantly throws you around as you accelerate out of a corner. Die hard F1 fans will be happy to know that a rudimentary understanding of what everything does and tinkering with set-ups is not only recommended but practically essential on higher difficulty modes. More casual players won’t have a problem getting to grips with the cars thanks to the level of assists but will struggle to race the AI without delving deeper in to the inner workings of an F1 car.

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The understanding will make your experience better and possibly more frustrating. In real life F1 there is an issue with overtaking that I now appreciate a lot more thanks to F1 2015. The heat haze from the exhaust isn’t just a load of hot air and a nice effect to see, it is potentially crippling to your race. One of the issues with the current aerodynamic rules and set ups in real life is how much turbulent air a car causes. Normally when you get in to the slipstream of another car, the reduction of drag should allow you to have less air resistance and close up on the guy in front. But now, the air from the car and the exhaust, combined with the squirmy nature of the modern F1 car actually leaves you with no grip at all. So much so that being under the rear wing of another car will impede your progress. Your car will list one way or another and you’ll be forced to heavily compensate to keep the car facing the right way through a corner, taking vital life out of the tires and combatting wheel spin. This happens regularly in F1 2015 and it’s a frustrating and accurate representation of the sport at present. The best tactic is to hold distance about a half second behind before a DRS zone, use the corner to catch up and have the momentum to leapfrog and be beside your opponent so you can cleanly pass or out brake him at the next corner.

You get the message that F1 is realistic to a point which might take away from the enjoyment of it as a game, but it is an F1 simulator so this is kind of what you expect. And whilst the addition of broadcast style presentation and new cutscenes is nice in a “Pro Evo 5” kind of way, they don’t really bring much to the overall enjoyment. New tweaks like your car being tended to on the grid for the race, rather than the garage, and a new race engineer voice are all nice though. The new feature for the in-car experience on consoles is the radio chatter. You can now directly ask your engineer about race updates. It’s voice activated so you can press the assigned button (L1 in my case) and just say a phrase to get information from your engineer. That’s using Playstation Camera, Kinect or a headset. You also have the entire 2014 team list and season (Caterham and Germany both present), as well as a day one patch that puts the Manor Marussia team in and updates the McLaren 2015 livery. The Pro Championship feature also gives you the hardcore full weekend, no assists experience that you can’t be bothered to manually adjust to in the normal championship mode, which is convenient.

Yet there is a list of things that really let F1 2015 down and it’s a list that grew longer the more I played it. The lack of a career mode is a well explained absence from Codemasters but it is an absence none the less. Personally, I find it a bit too forced to have your generic avatar with your name racing. I’d rather have a full team management mode or some kind of career progression system with a supporting formula. But its absence highlights that this game has three game modes: Championship/Pro Championship, Quick Race and Time Trial. The lack of a challenge mode is a bit of a shame as something like that could have compensated and has always enjoyed the kudos of leaderboards and the Codemasters RaceNet. Sadly, there is nothing in single player for RaceNet users.

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What about online? Well… You shouldn’t have asked really. Patches will surely come but my experience of the online game has been incredibly bad and practically broken. The “hopper” system that searches for suitable session types, ability levels and the like, is supposed to make it easy to find and partake in games quickly. There are different difficulty hoppers and a race challenge that changes to reflect the real life calendar. Except I’ve been barely able to connect to any lobbies, when I do the hopper is already three or four races in out of five and therefore is rather pointless competitively. The game somehow cannot fathom what position you are in either. One race I spent the entire time in 7th out of 9 racers, crossed the line and was rewarded with first place. There were no penalties or anything to cause it, I was just given it. I even got the trophy for it. Sadly this needs to be patched rather quickly, for PS4 especially.

There are a few other things as well such as graphical glitches in replays (the cars constantly leave a tyre trail), and occasionally disproportionately fast race AI (frustrating after your two hour slaving over a setup and getting nothing out of it). The Race Engineer talk back feature can be clumsy as I couldn’t find the talk button whilst racing with a wheel and couldn’t reassign it in the menu. The manual is impossible to do while racing if you don’t have a headset (far too clumsy), and (most importantly) didn’t work with chat headset that Sony supply with the PlayStation. I tested the crap out of it and it only worked with my Turtle Beach headset. I also found that the engineer’s voice level is too low, even at full volume with the other sounds adjusted, and that the saturation of engine noises during races is so similar that, again even with levels adjusted, it’s practically impossible to hear your own engine. I’ve spent a lot of races either visually glued to the rev limiter or, after a couple of laps, changing gears by instinct. Maybe this is better with headphones or a good sound system, but on a TV it’s very difficult.

F1 2015 is a fantastic leap forward for the series, and game the engine and playability shows good promise for the current generation of gaming. Whereas many have struggled to get their visuals across or to hit a specific frame rate, F1 has sacrificed the right things in the right places graphically to make an enjoyable experience. But the whole thing kind of feels like an incomplete project. The game feels complete (which could be slightly worrying if you over think about what you don’t like), but it’s very obvious that the work, the improvements and the refinement in everything around the engine and the basic racing mechanic is not. Ultimately the game desperately needs a large renovation of its multiplayer set up and quickly, but fans should enjoy the single player experience even if it isn’t the immersion they crave for just yet.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

F1 2015 feels like a Formula One game. All of the detail, the graphics, the setups, the torque, the wheelspin, the frustration of riding in the wake of another car… All of it is good and a great reflection of the sport as it currently is. But it does feel like it’s a project that is still a work in progress with numerous glitches, absent modes and a very broken multiplayer. One for the die hards who will happily enjoy and wait for more.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

  • Smooth 60FPS graphics.
  • Up to date 2015 season and bonus 2014 season.
  • Excellent translation from car’s handling to controller.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

  • Broken Multiplayer.
  • Absent Modes.
  • Occasional Glitches.

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I’m a massive fan of Formula One: the sport. Therefore I will and do enjoy the game version. Critically the game itself is rather good as a single player experience and I’m sure a few hot patches for AI and driver performance will help in balancing everyone else’s experiences. A career mode would have been great but I’ll take its absence in lieu of having a bad career mode instead. The current issues with the multiplayer though are very poor and need to be fixed soon, and all these little glitches and issues sadly detract from what has been a promising outing.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and tested with the DualShock 4 Controller and the Thrustmaster T300 RS wheel.

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Returning to Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls Online

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Returning to Tamriel brought some mixed emotions to me. Originally, I was going to review The Elder Scrolls Online again, a year after I last did this with its original release on PC, with it’s new Tamriel Unlimited moniker. Surely enough had changed and moved in that year on that I could go back and almost revise my review, I thought, but as the hours I was sinking in to it became longer and the reviews from other sites started coming in, I realised I couldn’t do that.

That’s because, despite improvements, nothing has really changed and the games positives and negatives are still exactly the same. It was actually quite nice to see so many people pointing out the exact same issues I had last time out, and even one of my friends I’ve been accompanying on our MMO adventure making reference to a major frustration of mine. So, instead of a review (because to be honest I’d be giving it exactly the same score this time around) I thought I’d give a brief summary of what I’ve learned now that I’ve spent much more time in Tamriel, and how ‘unlimited’ it really is.

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Money is Pointless

 

On the one hand, TESO has solved one of life’s biggest problems with the overly wealth-biased capitalist oligarchy that we live in. On the other hand, it does it at the ‘expense’ (pun intended) of any mercantile or crafting activity, save for a few well-subscribed guilds. Money is really quite insignificant in The Elder Scrolls Online. You need it to buy a horse and to increase your inventory space (more on that later), and that’s pretty much it.

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Since the abilities of the mounts all got normalised to be the same with no advantages, there’s no point saving 40,000 coins as opposed to 10,000 coins for the cheapest yet identically able horse. Other than that you can craft things and sell them to the merchants for an infinitesimal amount of money compared to the time and effort you have put in to scrounging for the crafting components. I have brought Starmetal so I can craft in my native style from a merchant but only at the start. Now I find everything while adventuring so my only reason to spend money with merchants is gone. There are guild traders so you can buy and sell items, a little bit like an auction house, but to even access them you need to have a guild of fifty active people which, if we’re honest, is bloody stupid if it’s a game you’re going to play with a few of your mates. I’m pretty sure if you’ve got ten friends then chances are 4 of them don’t even play video games and two of them probably don’t even like fantasy games or MMO’s so you’re bollocksed really.

Of course the lack of the auction house does stop people completely ruining the economy of the game, but the complete lack of it and the lack of incentive to actually do things which turn in to financial gain equally cripples the economy. It’s incredibly communist in its workings how the foraging and set prices for all commodities means that, whatever amount of gold you may have, you actually have no advantage or disadvantage whatsoever. Of course this is the way of the Elder Scrolls games, money is relatively unimportant to the world where everything is outside. But it is very relevant to an MMO.

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The Battle Against Inventory Space is Real

 

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It’s weird how “over encumbered” is a struggle we never really fully deal with. We want all the things so having to mercilessly scrap, sell and destroy things seems like a sad process. Much like when you’re going through all the old band T-shirt 21 year old you brought and 31 year old you looks at with envy at how thin 21 year old you used to be.

But MMO’s have their version of this problem and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Limited inventory space is and obvious thing for any game but the limits in TESO seem to be far too small. You have two storage spaces in your bank and your own inventory (and a Guild bank should you be lucky enough to have one). This fills up on average 4,867,308 times per gaming session. Here’s the process:

Go explore/visit dungeon > Search crates/boxes > Pick up crafting items (jewels, provisioning ingredients, etc) > Fill inventory > Destroy things to get actual reward for mission/dungeon > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Then there’s this problem:

Get items > Deconstruct everything for crafting > Fill inventory > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Or there is:

Construct items for crafting writs > Fill Inventory > Bank Full > Scavenge for items to compete writ > Unable to refine items as inventory full > Scream > Repeat.

This is quite literally the only use for money and, because there isn’t really an economic system so you can actually be good at getting money, it takes a lot of time to make enough to unlock the extra spaces in either your own inventory or the bank. It’s a slow process filled with lots of frustration that can either be cured by not picking up anything (which feels a bit soulless) or by visiting the main city every 15 minutes to unload and consolidate what you have over and over again.

There are a few other ways to get around it like training horses but pretty much every way to increase your capacity and therefore your skills involves money. There’s also only one bank per area and the areas have between three and four towns. The lack of that accessibility really hampers the game and the exploring experience unless you’re loaded. And there is one sure fire easy way to get rich quick…

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Plunder Thy Booty

 

Stealing was “nerfed” very early on in the game’s life, but really it is quite stupid. I have almost every racial motif and a load of recipes, not to mention trinkets that I can pick up every 15 minutes or so from the boats at the docks. A lot of these things have come from my friend who is now a master thief. He has spent so long levelling up through stealing and making money by fencing stuff that he’s actually missed a lot of story.

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The annoying thing is that it’s very addictive and you can regularly make something like 1,500 gold per day at a minimum. There are obviously a few issues to hamper your experience like the stolen items taking up inventory space (they don’t stack with normal items) or the fact that getting caught can be a chaotic experience of running away followed by a lonely experience of avoiding anything resembling an NPC that can hurt you. But once you’ve done it a few times and got used to it, it’s the easiest way to make guaranteed money.

In fact it’s so easy, it’s overpowered. You can go down to the city’s docks at any time to see two or more people sneaking around checking every crate and barrel to sell everything, just to make a quick buck. The reward for stealing far outweighs the rick and it feels like a lot of measures that have been taken to stop people ruining the game have in fact helped to ruin it in some places.

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It’s not all frustration though. The console version is a very impressive conversion of the game. The controller has been very well adapted to the hotbar MMO design (a bit like Dragon Age Inquisition has, to be honest) along with easy to locate sub menus, which are well designed. My only gripe is that jump and action are combined but you can change that at the sacrifice of another button in the options.

Graphically the game is very nice. It’s a very different world to Skyrim but is definitely at a higher texture resolution. There’s the occasional lag for the texture streaming but it all works rather well. The only issue there has been the occasional downtime and PSN issues that have occurred. The game still suffers from being a single player story/quest system in a MMO environment but the group events like the Dolmer’s and boss battles make you feel rather grateful for the appearance of others. It’s also a world that makes you want to explore it and methodically complete it, much like its Elder Scrolls cousins.

I’m honestly glad I’ve returned to Tamriel, despite what might look like a typically British spat of moaning. For a console MMO it is the right mix of non-subscription and casual Elder Scrolls fun whilst still having the dynamics of the franchise and lots of playability. If you’ve got a lot of people or make a lot of friends in game then I’m sure the dungeons and guilds are a much better experience, but even for a small group, it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t visited before, you probably should.

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Thrustmaster T300 RS Steering Wheel – Review

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How to play racing games – Step One: Get a wheel.

It may seem like a simple and obvious instruction and one that is only acceptable if you are a racing game nerd, but the truth is that certain video games come much more alive and enjoyable with a peripheral. Racing games are most definitely one of them.

When we knew we were going to review Project Cars, we knew that Thrustmaster had been working with Slightly Mad Studios in developing their new wheel and said “hey, want us to try it out?” And they did! So after some creative construction, a frame was created to test the Thrustmaster T300RS wheel and the T3PA 3 pedal add on. I’m by no stretch an expert in wheels so consider me a good novice who’s riding the next generation hardware introduction beside you.

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Why did I make a frame? Well firstly height is an issue. If you’ve got a regular office chair for gaming, you need an acceptable height for the wheel. But you don’t need spend hundreds of pounds on a steel frame, although you can, and I would recommend it if you want the comfiest experience possible.

If you’re worried about spending a lot of money on a wheel and having a ghetto frame for it, don’t worry. I have a piano stool that mostly I use for putting my feet on and, with some parental DIY help, reconstituted an old draw to sit on top of it. It’s completely fine and very stable given the force feedback.

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Force feedback is an amazing thing, which has only got better since the days of Microsoft’s SideWinder controller. It brings a realism that breathes new life into a game. But enough of me babbling about how easy the set up and placement of a wheel is, let’s get to it.

The T300 RS is the first official PS4 wheel and comes with a detachable wheel in case you want to ever want to swap it for other add-ons. The wheel is very solid with a rubber texture for easy non-sweaty gripping, solid paddle shifters made of metal and easy to reach buttons for boosts, adjustments and pausing.

The wheel unit itself has a big motor that is actually rather quiet given the input it can throw out on you. The technical is that it’s a brushless motor with a dual belt. There’s a mount on the bottom for you to screw it down securely and believe me you’ll need to. The buttons are all excellently placed and responsive with standard controller layout and more cockpit style placement of the trigger controls. It’s a sleek black and all in all is a good-looking thing, although the mount isn’t particularly friendly to desks with a beam or metal bar underneath.

The pedal set up we have is the T3PA, which is a three pedal unit available separately – clutch, brake and accelerator. There’s a mode button on the wheel to invert the clutch and accelerator, which I’m assuming is useful for some people. But they are robust metal pedals and the brake pedal actually has some good resistance like a real car and makes for some interesting late braking fear in the games. There is something called a conical rubber brake mod included (a big bolt-adjustable rubber stopper) which basically means you can adjust the pedal to have more resistance which is good if you’re heavy on the brakes. All of the pedals are adjustable too in both height and position so you can have wider pedal spacing.

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The games we tested the wheel on were Project Cars and DriveClub on PS4, Euro Truck Simluator 2 on Mac and finally GRID 2 and Gran Tourismo 6 on PS3. So don’t worry, there’s plenty of games it works on and with Assetto Corsa, F1 2015 and WRC 5 coming for the PS4, there’s plenty of next generation stuff coming for you. A note that we couldn’t get the pedals working with Euro Truck Simulator 2 on the Mac, but the wheel worked fine. On investigation on forums there isn’t a single issue on PC so it’s probably a Mac driver issue. PC users, you are good to go.

It is strange though that the most problem I had with the use of the wheel was mostly dictated by the games themselves. For example, whilst there’s several adjustments you can make on Project Cars for the wheel’s force feedback, steering resistance, etc, which you’d probably expect given the dual development. DriveClub by comparison has nothing and the old PC player in me would have loved some remapping options or clearer indications on what button does what (damn this no game manual age).

The thing is once you have a good wheel (which this is) it can highlight the fault in some games. You can’t get a feel for the car in some games like GRID 2 and DriveClub because the controls are so arcade like and slidey or there just simply isn’t enough to the car to warrant the precision the wheel brings, or the wrist ache from all the fighting you’re having to do with the car channelling the uneven ground and torque to the steering.

This is why I’m looking forward to F1 2015 even more now, as this is a wheel that rewards racing. Precision, practice, lap times and feedback from the track, the dirt, and the edge of a kerb you can hang on to until the last millimetre. Project Cars is definitely best for this on console at the moment and the wheel. The different between these games (and they’re all enjoyable on a wheel for the realism) is that you are constantly fighting an unsettled car and wrestling compared to understanding the car and knowing how and why it becomes unsettled.

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For GRID 2, there were moments that the game was kicking the car out all over the place in a straight like which the feedback and precision of the wheel could only translate violently. Which shows the power of the wheel if nothing else. If you are getting rougher with the wheel, the pedals and steering feels like it can handle it. On my forum search I found a lot more serious gaming racers than I who were worried that there would be too much plastic on the pedals especially, but everyone seems to be rather happy. So don’t feel like you can’t give it some.

There are a list of supported games on the website with many more to come on PS4. The easy switch between the PS3 and PS4 is great for those gamers who still love a bit of the older games and PC enthusiasts can use it to for all the serious simulation games and the more mercurial Euro Truck series. In a way it’s quite a nice price point too at £299 to know that you’re getting quality but not paying ridiculous sums of money for a pro set-up you’ll only use for one game. If you’ve got the PS4 and a decent PC then this is pretty good multipurpose purchase. The things you need though is somewhere sensible to set it up, something to set it up on and a spare mains plug for it.

In summary, the wheel is a fantastic bit of kit. The T300 RS is a well built and enjoyable way to experience simulation racing, and if you get it set up right in the game, it can be good for the more arcade drifting based games as well. But this is best when you’ve got the time and inclination to spend a few hours tinkering your cars downforce and feeling why the car is wrong. It’s perfectly set up and designed for this and at times can be a bit too good for games that aren’t designed as simulations.

The build quality of the wheel is great and it isn’t going to kick you all over the place. The T3PA pedal add on is great although the clutch is pretty redundant unless you get the gear shift stick peripheral as well. If I had one bit of advice, it is to remember why in real life racing drivers take their hands off the wheel when in a spin or an accident… No sprains here please.

 

LEGO Jurassic World – Review

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If you had told the late Michael Crichton that his work would eventually become LEGO, he would have said “interesting, but please don’t let it be based on The Andromeda Strain because that movie has fucking bland colours”… Ok he probably wouldn’t have said that (it’s true though, watch the Robert Wise film it’s agonisingly bland in its visuals, even as a fan of the genre) but I’m sure he would have been surprised at the lengths his 1990 book would have been expanded to. Yes Jurassic Park was a book and the film rights were brought up before it even got published.

But now it is LEGO and because of that it is the new franchise for TT Games to give their trademark treatment to. On the face of it, a game that encapsulates 22 years of dinosaur action, terror, that rubbish third movie and the second one that is always on ITV2 but we never watch it, is a good idea. For years the Jurassic Park franchise has flirted with video gaming crapness, with the exceptions of the Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition and the arcade shooting cabinet of The Lost World.

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So here we are with a tricky franchise and a developer who has barely ever struck out.  Naturally, this works like an absolute charm and cleverly makes you spend money to see Jurassic World so that you can understand what’s about to happen in the game. It brilliantly mixes the fantastic visuals that the movies have created and the nostalgia that they invoke with the playful humour that has been tried and tested over many family focused games… More on that later.

As you would expect with any LEGO game, and even the ones we’ve recently reviewed, the gameplay is exactly the same as any other LEGO game – smash all the things, get all the studs and unlock all the people whilst enjoying creatively re-imagined parts of the titular franchise. It looks great on the version we played and isn’t an engine that stretches the older consoles either, so you’re all good on whatever platforms you’re using.

The two islands of Jurassic, Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, are lovingly recreated with different areas for each movie, echoing the Visitors’ Centre of Jurassic Park, the terrible monsoon of The Lost World and the broadwalk of the new Isla Nublar complex from Jurassic World. There’s lots of interesting things for you to do and stuff to break and the levels have lots of fun things to juxtapose against the terror. Good points include the Jurassic Park theme music-box, an achievement for giving Timmy an electric shock and the continued presence of Jeff Goldblum, which is always a good thing.

It’s an incredibly evocative experience, especially if like me Jurassic Park was one of the first movies you saw in the cinema that wasn’t just a cartoon/kids film. That beautiful and dramatic score by John Williams is there in full effect, including some of the finer points of Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World (the lovely horn motif that plays during the free roaming of the broadwalk is my stand out favourite). So you’ll get around twenty main missions, five from each movie, where you can revel in all of your nostalgic memories of the movies.

Like the most recent LEGO games, there are vocal clips from the movies in abundance, although a lot has also been re-recorded by the wealth of vocal talent in the industry (including Troy Baker and Nolan North). Sadly this includes Samuel L. Jackson from the first movie, but that’s presumably because his lines were delivered with a cigarette in his mouth and are quite hard to hear, and that he isn’t the most family friendly character… Again, more on that later.

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The key moments of all the movies are well represented although the first and last movies are the most creative and fun. The only problems with the others, which are problems with the movies in the first place, are that they become a little bit derivative. There are lots of leafy green areas, overrun jungles and hiding spots. The puzzles mostly involve opening things and avoiding dinosaurs, which, after a few hours, becomes very similar and familiar. Not that there isn’t new character or exactly the same puzzles but you do begin to get a sense of repetitiveness.

There are some nice chase missions that are included as a bonus, like being the dinosaurs rather than the humans. But if I were honest, I would have enjoyed them more in the actual game as a way to mix up the levels and make them more engaging. I only found a couple of bugs (a gyrosphere falling through the world and a few character changing issues, as well as a infinitely renewable coin source), which are frustrating but not game breaking. Then there’s your standard post-game free play and free roam search-and-destroy mechanics, which are the best way to explore, as always. You get that huge world sense like you did in Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter that makes you want to explore. Simple, engaging and intriguing – the perfect mix.

Yet there is one thing that hasn’t sat well with me, and it’s taken me a week to realise exactly what it was. I finally realised it is something that is completely missing from LEGO Jurassic World. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before consciously but it’s present in every other film based franchise LEGO game I’ve played. It’s possibly something to do with LEGO’s family friendly nature that they couldn’t show, despite having shown it before. So whilst I’m pointing it out and getting it off my chest, I’m not judging the game on it, and neither should you. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s one of the things that the Jurassic Park franchise not only excels at but also relies upon. I am talking about death.

One of the greatest things about the original Jurassic Park movie is how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The falling banner about dinosaurs as the T-Rex roars is not only a great visual but also an amazingly ironic juxtaposition, purposefully created. It’s an easy joke but the death of the cowardly “blood-sucking lawyer” is black comedy at it’s action movie finest. Most of Ian Malcolm’s greatest quips are about avoiding death in an almost Woody Allen-esque overly talkative way (not surprising given that Goldblum’s debut was in Allen’s Annie Hall, and he siphons the actor/director tremendously in the films). But, and this isn’t a spoiler, nobody dies in LEGO Jurassic World.

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There are the all-important people eating scenes but all of them blissfully avoid actually committing to the death of a character, regurgitating them after, or just casually changing their death to a relevant whimsical scene. But, and maybe I’m being too adult about this, death is a central theme of the film series and is something that is expertly handled by them. Most of the deaths in the movies are comically based, rather than terror based (with the exception of Jurassic World), yet the complete avoidance of them in the game actually takes away something from the story and the fiction. I get why it’s happened because, a dinosaur eating someone is pretty terrifying. But it’s not as if the games haven’t done death before.

Another thing, and maybe I’m being picky, is a completely needless mini-game involving the Pachycephalosaurus. At first I thought it would serve a purpose to teach you a new mechanic but it just teaches things you already know from the earlier missions and is just there to divert the play from the story a little so you can explore the area. But you then have a part where you use the dinosaur as a battering ram before beating off your fellow Pachycephalosaurus’s in what is almost a dinosaur version of cock fighting. All this happening in a tourist arena with P.A. bellows of “oh don’t worry, he has the hardest head,” as if crying virtual LEGO children are in the stands pleading with mummy as to why the dinosaurs are trying to kill each other. There is a relevant symbolism in this with the movie of Jurassic World, which I won’t spoil, but it’s lost a bit in the game given that it doesn’t attempt to put the more moral dimensions of the plot in to any context.

After a few hours back on the islands, I must conclude that LEGO Jurassic World is an excellent nostalgic love letter to a series we all hoped would have a good game waiting to evolve from it. Although the movies are PG, I feel that the humour and the game itself has been aimed at too younger a player and could have had a bit more freedom in using the source material (Jurassic World is 12A). All of the excellent LEGO staples are there, including character and dinosaur creations, and it all works brilliantly. It is most definitely the best Jurassic Park/World game made and a good LEGO game, but could have done with a little more appreciation of what the audience can handle.

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This is probably the best LEGO game in a while, at least since Lord of the Rings for me personally. The Jurassic Park franchise fits it very well and TT Games has yet again, excellently put their trademark humour and enjoyable gameplay into practice. There are a few unpolished bits and the games suffer mostly from the same reasons that the movies did. Fun to play, good nostalgia and dinosaurs.

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– Dinosaurs, nostalgia and no expense spared.

– Great open world map.

– Another franchise that fits great with the bricks.

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– A bit unpolished in places.

– The story suffers after a while, much like the movies.

– Tiny bit repetitive in the puzzles.

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Whilst I have some criticisms, I’m not judging a score based on them. But there some unpolished parts that more testing could have helped. The game though is a lot of fun and enjoyable for a while, and whilst the pace suffers during the third movie, the only problems mostly stem from the source material. Could have been a little bit tighter in places and the bonus levels would have been great

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

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E3 2015: Bethesda Recap

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As far as debut’s go, this is probably one that will live long in the memory for all of the right reasons. Bethesda took a giant leap to the stage at E3 (at the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars, no less) with an already impressive level of hype.

Doom, whilst teased last year to select convention attendees and an extra three second clip last month, was very obviously going to be on the agenda. Fallout 4 was also going to be hotly anticipated and late on Saturday some leaks began to appear for Dishonoured 2 thanks to some tech-testing fluffs. But we had no idea (which is actually quite a thing in this day and age) of what was going to happen.

Doom was first out of the blocks and it did not disappoint at all. iD Software have been incredibly quiet since RAGE and lost their lead guru John Cormack to another reality. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the original core concept of Doom or its successors – over the top, gory violence. It’s a simple concept really, to just kill all the things in a outlandish manner with big guns, but it’s very rarely executed well (pun intended).

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We saw some excellent melee attacks including a guy having his face smashed in by his own, still attached, broken leg. We saw some fantastically smooth gunplay and weapon selection and some fast and fluid movement. The things that made games like this and Quake excellent is the fast frenetic pace of the games that heighten the excitement, the fear and the adrenalin of the game, and Doom looks to have it in abundance. We were treated to a very well lit and molten factory level set on Mars which seems to have channeled all the tropes of horror science fiction with the cinematographic flair of more recent times, including a good Red Dwarf-esque mobile hand passkey that got a good laugh. We were then treated to Hell with demons coming at us from all sides and the final shot of a BFG volley cutting to black.

The most interesting thing in this is what looks like the first Next Generation console level editor. A simple tool to snap rooms and place objects to create your own levels and game types for multiplayer. Think of Halo’s Forge but with much easier room placement. This is Doom Snapmap and it looks excellent for the creative people and modders that have always been key to the franchise’s extended success. It’s something that will certainly breathe a lot of life in to multiplayer and is a great way to get people to stay involved. Especially on the console market as the game will be coming on PC, Xbox One and PS4 in Spring 2016.

Keeping with the online focus, Battlecry announced an upcoming beta. The online team based combat strategy game looks like a crazy cross between Team Fortress and a non-fantasy MOBA. It’ll be interesting to see but we’ll have to wait until the beta’s have come before we get more of an idea on the game.

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Next up was the team from Arkane Studios, who’s Dishonored completely took the critics and gamers by surprise a few years ago. Now it’s most definitely back with you being put in to the position of Corvo once again… Or you can play as the daughter of the Empress, Emily Kaldwin. This is what we were shown and it’s great to have a new female protagonist to play with. The steam punk setting is well and truly alive with some focus on the high flying speed running and magical abilities, in a totalitarian world of death and decay.

If you’re worried about playing Dishonored 2 because you missed the boat, never fear. Arkane are releasing a collected edition of Dishonored this winter with some new textures and all the DLC. This Definitive Edition is coming for PC, Xbox One and PS4… I’ll be honest, I’m very excited for it and of all the ideas I had for a remaster (if you can call it that) Dishonored was not the one I was expecting to hear from at this conference.

Another game I wasn’t expecting to hear anything about was the recently released Elder Scrolls Online, but we got a nice little video of some new areas coming to Tamriel Unlimited on both PC and Console and we’ve also been treated to a new card game call Elder Scrolls Legends (Presumably “Scrolls” was taken by someone else?), although we’ve seen nothing of it. I was also hoping to see or at least hear some news of the other Bethesda franchises like Quake and The Evil Within, but we just got their logos at the end. At least they’re still there and more may come in future.

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Speaking of the future, ready your Pip Boys. I could talk to you a lot about Fallout 4 but you should just watch the conference from 1 hour and 5 minutes in. Returning to the Wasteland, you will walk the area of Boston with your companion Dog and do as you’ve always done – explore, fight and customise. You’ll start your story pre-bombs which give a little tongue in cheek look at the psuedo-1950s lifestyle and create your character. This looks incredibly as the old style of sliders and templates have disappeared. Instead you just select the part of the face you want and just play away, regardless of gender (hurray!). You’ll wake up 200 years later as the sole survivor and are set free to explore. No spoilers.

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The customisation is incredible though, from very specific parts of guns to your heavy armour set, clothing and even building your own settlement, Fallout 4 looks to be far and away the best open world role-playing game in terms of player individuality. Creating a world to you, the player that you have affected seems to be one of the things that Fallout 4 is bringing out, which is something the other hinted to. But the technology is now here to make it happen.

Speaking of technology, the Pip Boy is updated to be more than just a static menu (as the developers know you’ll spend a lot of time there) and has become a lot more dynamic. You’ll also be able to interchange memory tapes for audio and even games. We’ve seen a good version of both Donkey Kong and Missile Command in the demo (the latter is increidbly appropriate) and there’s a lot more to come. Especially if you’ve got your eyes on the collectors edition that includes a working Pip Boy… Well sort of. This soon to be gold dust peripheral is a wearable phone dock that allows you (with a free app) to use the whole thing as a second screen and be your Pip Boy access. The app is coming anyway so anyone can do it, but having your own Pip Boy as you play? Well that’s just swell. We also have the Sims/XCom/Tiny Tower-esque Fallout Shelter. A fun little distracting building game where you become the overseer of your own vault, released for free last night on iOS.

Bethesda didn’t show a lot but truthfully they didn’t need to. It was a lesson in how a company can show a minimal amount of products but with a huge amount of quality. All of it coming for next generation consoles and PC. All of it absolutely captivating. Sometimes you just need to do a good job and in their debut to E3’s conference schedule, Bethesda certainly nailed it.

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Project Cars – Review

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We’ve been lucky enough to have checked out Project Cars a few times over the course of the past year. This review is going to confirm some things we’ve already said and probably you already know, which is that Project Cars is awesome.

Of course I have to talk to you about this from the console perspective, but I’m no slouch. I’m well aware of the PC offerings like Asseto Corsa and I’ve been playing racing games on this new generation of consoles very rigidly. However, this is nothing like DriveClub, this is nothing like Forza Horizon 2 and to compare them would be an error. The closest thing you could possibly compare this to is Forza Motorsport 5, but again, that would belittle the attempts of Slightly Mad Studios.

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The game has seen its bumps along the way. Funded by the community and the developers themselves, tight budget constrictions and no publisher to fund them (although Bandai Namco now have distributed the game) has seen some big ideas and some big sacrifices. The planned Xbox 360 and PS3 versions were dropped due to the consoles being unable to run them, and the WiiU version was recently put under fresh doubt for the same reason. The investment in this is now reliant on just three platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Graphically, you can easily (and I mean easily) see why other consoles would have struggled with this game. It is quite simply sublime. From the detailing in the inside of every car, to the shape and look of every car (we’ve talked to Project Cars’s Andy Tudor before about photo realism), to the look and feel of every track – Project Cars is the almost the most graphically complete racing game on the next generation consoles… Almost, with the exception maybe of DriveClub’s beautiful settings and weather dynamics, but it will take some beating. My favourite touches always involve the depth perception of the player, something exclusive to the helmet camera. You can see how your view shifts to where it needs to be as you come to a corner. You lock your attention on the apex of the corner as your dashboard becomes blurred, losing focus in favour of the next place you need to be but relying on your track knowledge as a driver to be already slowing, braking and controlling the car, especially if surrounded by other cars.

What the graphical touches do is highlight how important the thought process is of a racing driver, which given the major involvement of racing drivers in the production of the game is no surprise. The way your head turns and the focus shifts is encouraging you as the driver to always be a few steps ahead, at the minimum. As you focus on the corner, you aren’t actually looking to turn in to the corner. That thought process has already happened. What you’re thinking and looking for is the point where you can get your foot back on the accelerator and power out of that corner as quickly and as smoothly as possible. In fact the helmet cam actually be a little cheat for people who turn off the suggested driving line as it helps to to dictate your braking points.

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There are issues. Occasional glitches, some skipped frames, the gear changing animation frustratingly (and probably unavoidably) happens after your gear change, especially noticeable if you use manual gears, and the game’s replays also suffer from car placement glitches. There are patches due to help cure some of these issues but for the most part, the game does exactly what it needs to do on the screen. This includes some excellent customisable HUD options and data which, if you know even a minuscule amount about racing, are incredibly helpful for reasons I will embellish on later.

Behind the virtual wheel the game plays like a more hyperactive Gran Tourismo than the earlier mentioned comparisons. As far as PlayStation goes (which is the version I tested) Gran Tourismo 6 is probably the closest most recent PlayStation game to it and in the earlier parts of the game Project Cars excels it. The career mode sees you starting in karting and very quickly puts you in to souped up road cars around the more national level racing circuits. You end up signing short contracts for a season in a formula with a team with many invitational races and tournaments along the way. To be honest, this is quite nice as a career mode. Compared to DiRT and GRID’s various attempts at “fan” accumulation, and Gran Tourismo 6’s utterly asinine and soulless progression, it’s one of the best modes that isn’t narratively based (I’m counting most open-world racers as narratively based).

The only issue that I have with it is that it feels a tiny bit forced because the game doesn’t strictly need it. There’s some nice, slightly unfulfilled, career choices like making a fake twitter name and having some fans comment after every race, and some very tiny email addresses where your team give you plaudits and others invite you to races. But it’s just there to read, there’s no real interaction, there’s no way to customise your driver in helmet or design and it’s all there just to push you to the next event. But with the game having everything unlocked straight away with cars and tracks, the career mode really is there to allow us to experience every kind of car. For that reason though, it might not keep the attention of the more casual player as there isn’t really anything to achieve in a gamification sense.

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The experience is very good of course, you can tell that the karts are zippy and responsive compared to the Renault that I went in to next. You can notice how slippery your car is when the tyres aren’t up to temperature and how your car struggles with cold and unbalanced braking.  All of this is brilliantly translated by the on screen data in the HUD and there are several third party apps that can record this information for your analytical desire. After a while though, it all gets a bit too similar especially with so many similar spec cars. Whilst you do get the feeling of every car it doesn’t translate in a way on the controller that you’d have hoped for given the onus on simulation. Add in to that the rather aggressive and poor AI which you’ve undoubtedly heard about then you do get rather frustrated.

This isn’t an AI that will get out of the way for you to get an easy win. But it doesn’t get out of the way at all or give any quarter when beaten, anywhere or anytime. This leads to frustrating collisions and several occasions of being run off the road. At times in practice and qualifying when you’re the faster car and overtake someone, you’ll immediately get a blue flag telling you to let the guy back through. The AI themselves struggle with the cars level of simulation detail with occasional sliding and tricky braking. All things real drivers deal with of course but when you have to cut a corner to get out of the way, or run slightly off to get around a car pushing you off the track, and you get penalised for it with lap penalties, it feels very harsh. If it happens more than once in a short qualifying session then you’ve got no hope of setting a time. So eventually, you will get frustrated.

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However, when you use a steering wheel (we used the Thrustmaster T300 RS which will be reviewed shortly), Project Cars becomes something utterly spectacular. The video below is actually me using the wheel, racing around a shortened Monza circuit in the Formula C (Formula 3) car. What the game’s realism does is make the steering wheel a much more enjoyable, reactive and interesting experience. You feel why the cold tyres make the all the difference and how the data shows you why you are overshooting corners with cold brakes. When you change to something else, even a McLaren, you can tell that the single seater cars are light and flighty compared to the dead weight of a normal car chassis.

 

You can understand when you go around Laguna Seca’s famous corkscrew and come to the next left hander, why you stay up on a high line thanks to a horrific dip in the track that completely unbalances the car. Practice sessions not only become essential but also a fascinating journey of discovery for the tracks and the cars. It breathes new life in to the game that you probably wouldn’t expect on console. Project Cars is a responsive and intuitive game with a control method normally championed by serious PC simulators and it works brilliantly with it.

The thing is though, this game is obviously for racers and it’s not that the game isn’t interesting or intriguing to people who aren’t huge sim racing fans, but the lack of a more narrative-based career progression and things to unlock does alienate the more arcade style of players. It’s not to say that this isn’t for them at all and that everyone can’t get some enjoyment at any level because you can. But this is a simulation racing game. This is perfected for the people with the kit who take as much pleasure on a track on their own perfecting a lap and a time as they do racing others and pulling off a tricky outside overtake at high speed with dodgem car wielding AI. And on that count, Project Cars is a spectacular game and a triumph for Slightly Mad Studios and the development model they used.

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Project Cars is the game that real console racers have probably been waiting for since Gran Tourismo 4. It’s responsive, interestingm in depth and rewards the expense of a wheel and a proper set up, whilst still being perfectly enjoyable without it. Arcade racers might get annoyed with the lack of career achievements, accolades and frustrating AI but can surely warm to that perfect lap which Project Cars captures perfectly.

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– Excellent graphical detail for cameras, cars and tracks

– Amazing depth of detail to suit all levels of racer

– Great support of steering wheels

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– AI is very aggressive and causes many issues

– Career mode doesn’t grab the more casual racer

– Some occasional glitches that we hope will be patched

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Whilst this game is absolutely amazing and a brilliant achievement for the production costs and the development model, I can’t look past a few issues, like the AI and a more narrative career mode might have increased the scope of the game a little further to encapsulate the casual player a bit more. I wouldn’t say the game is reliant on a steering wheel but the type of game that is make it clearly biased towards one which of course could limit gameplay for people who don’t own or don’t want to buy one. Still, this is the torch bearer for the coming years of simulation racers and I’m sure will be tough to beat.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and also used a Thrustmaster T300 RS steering wheel and the T3PA pedal add on.

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F1 2015 – Preview

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The rain beats down heavily over Marina Bay. The flood lights are reflected, shimmering in the pools on the tarmac occasionally splashed with colour from the lights of ferris wheel. You’re thrashing through the streets, skating as you hit the puddles, the floor of your V6 turbo-charged hybrid monster scratching against the contours of the tarmac where it rises above the water. The raspy and angry sound of the 600 BHP engine roaring between the concrete barriers and bouncing under the stands as you enter the final chicane. It sounds like a petulant child as you carefully feather the throttle, taking every effort of your concentration not to squirm the misbehaving rear in to the wall, and screams with great freedom as the straight appears and you floor it, feeding petrol and recovered kinetic energy in to one last hurrah before crossing the line and taking the chequered flag… In 14th place.

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The changes to Formula One in the real world are finally ready to be properly reflected in the video game franchise from Codemasters. F1 2014 used the last generation engine and for those that played it, it definitely showed its need for an update. Yearly licences will always get to a point where the cross over of technology can betray it. F1 2014 was beset by this on both the gaming front with next-generation consoles and with the motor sport’s own evolution following a massive dynamic shift to more energy efficient vehicles. We previewed F1 2014 last year and you could tell from the games entire demeanour that this wasn’t going to be the game of F1’s past. In a way it was almost a good soft launch or education in to capturing the feel of the new cars.

So we fast forward to this year and F1 2015. A game that is coming DURING the season, which is excellent news. The game has traditionally, and rather annoyingly for Codemasters, launched towards the end of a season rather than other sports titles that precede their competitive starts. And as a bonus, although some may see it as a “thanks for sticking with us last year” present, last years Formula One season will be included along with the 2015 season. So you can dominate as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes against two different seasons worth of driver lineups.

As you can probably tell by my opening paragraph, the game is tricky. It of course can be watered down with assists but, come on! The sport is deliberately trying to make these cars harder to drive, so go along with it. Like most simulation based games, practice and an appreciation of the learning curve needed to drive a virtual Formula One car is very rewarding. Especially when you see the work that has gone in to making the game stand out on Next-Genertaion hardware.

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You could argue that the EGO engine was due a facelift and it has got it. Whilst the Singapore circuit and the changing weather effects are quite obviously for our demonstration benefit, they are a great demonstration. The problem with many racing games, thanks to the realism in the cars and the track, is that the surroundings can suffer from not feeling very alive. But as you drive around Marina Bay in the lashing rain, you actually feel the tinge of fear. You have that worry that the beautiful puddle in front of you that’s majestically reflecting the light from the theme park is going to send you aquaplaning in to the floodlit tyre wall. As you enter the chicane under the grandstand towards the end of the circuit, you come close to where the waters edge is and you wonder if a big crashing wave will come over, through the barriers and on to the track right as you’re hitting the apex. Of course it won’t but that’s the feeling the game can evoke. Your fear and trepidation makes you falter with the intense concentration you need to drive these cars, and they are intense in the wet.

So much work has been done to make the game feel more alive and it’s not just a mechanical device in the gameplay, it’s also an atmospheric one. The new focus on broadcast cameras and new cutscenes, along with the return of Stevenage’s lesser known F1 master, David Croft, brings the game closer to the presentation that EA hit for their games. But this isn’t at the expense of the game or just added colour. If you remember the old F1 games on Playstation, you used to have Murray Walker making occasional quips which after a while grated and annoyed more than pleased. And commentary can quickly date a game. But the branding, the new camera angles, the more graphically televisual approach to things like menu screens, driver selection, etc can really get you in to it. Along with a new race engineer, the game is aesthetically getting quite the facelift, much like the sport.

I operate under a strange bias when it comes to Formula One games as I love the sport and I’ve really enjoyed Codemasters games. F1 2013 was a magnificent package. But I’m also quite demanding now thanks to what has come before it with Project CARS’s wonderful visuals, Driveclub’s amazing environments and the freedom and sense of vehicle character you get with the Forza Horizon games.

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Much like current Formula One, your management of your car and fuel is paramount. The control methods on both wheel and controller are easy to use (last year’s pad control wasn’t particularly great). But this heightened drama is being propped up by better AI and the Campaign mode. Picking a driver and playing an entire season with them has been a staple of ALL racing games so it’s good to see it finally appear in F1 2015. There’s the new Pro Championship mode which is for the purists (masochists) to give you the most authentic experience without having to individually turn everything off.

The dynamics of Formula One are changing all the time. For all of the Mercedes dominance, Renault’s failing’s, Red Bull throwing their frustrations at Renault, Bernie Ecclestone making soundbites that would probably dissolve many PR companies and McLaren Honda’s struggle to make their new partnership deliver on the track, it is the narrative behind all of them that grip up to those 2 hours on a Sunday where we live and breath our passion for the sport through our love of the racing on offer.

It’s something that the rule changes have done to give us a more open race and therefore a more interesting narrative. F1 2015 looks on course to give us the solid experience of racing and the drama we crave from the sport. If it’s the evoking of a powerful visual of a rain soaked track in Singapore, the elation of mastering a corner, the bittersweet sadness of seeing Jules Bianchi’s name in the roster from last season or the triumph of winning a race, the early impressions are that F1 2015 has it. Let’s hope it keeps up the pace during its final laps.

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