Preview – F1 2014

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It’s time again for Codemasters to let us in for a little preview of their efforts with F1 2014, which in real life has been a new and exciting time for the sport. For those of you that haven’t seen the fallout of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this year over the news and the papers, you might be forgiven for even noticing anything different about this years Formula One season. Of course you’d also have been living under a rock that was stuck beside a stalagmite that was in the back of a very deep dark cave that had yet to have been discovered somewhere in the depths of the Amazon jungle that native tribes fear to approach due it possibly containing a soul sucking monster that could only be appeased by the sounds of a V8 engine… I digress.

Engines are a good place to start given that the real world F1 has had drastic changes to it this year. In an effort to be more representative of the current consumer vehicle climate so that manufacturers will stay attached to it, F1 ditched the petrol guzzling V8 super noisy beasts that had been powering them for the past eight years in favour of a V6 Turbo Powered engine linked to a hybrid energy recover system, or ERS. Basically the engine draws power from a battery that charges up kinecticly throughout a lap, as well as petrol. You may remember this as KERS last year which was available as a power boost. Now it is integrated into the car, which lights up the rear tires like never before giving you a squirmy torque nightmare to handle, along with a software adjusted braking system and the return of the rear wing drag reduction system (DRS). The aerodynamic changes, along with some safety improvements, have led to a step nose which is a design to replace the straight noses of previous years. Apparently it’s to stop the cars taking off in a collision but it has created some fairly ugly phallic designs.

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Why am I furnishing you with all of this technical information? Because it will answer quite a lot of your questions about Codemasters newest addition to the franchise. Your first question is “Why isn’t this on next generation consoles?” This is because those rule changes alone have drastically changed the way the game plays, Handling is now a completely different beast and different cars with superior design stick to the road a little better than others. The sounds the engines make has totally changed as well, along with two brand new tracks and a complete change in the way these cars behave aerodynamically. There is no way a next gen version of the game would have been ready. Disappointing, yes. But with the next iteration coming early next year, we hope it will be an easily satiated itch.

Your next question “Is this just another yearly franchise update and why should I get this when I can wait for the next gen version?” It seems FIFA has come under criticism lately for not adding much year upon year, if this years reviews are anything to go by. You could argue that until the classic mode, F1 was in danger of the same. The changes in the sport though require two things: practical testing of making those game changes work, and a comfortable experienced engine in which to implement it. Yes this is a yearly update but a lot has changed in the sport to warrant it, especially if you haven’t brought the recent iterations of the franchise. In fact, I’d say the combo of F1 2013 and 2014 are very clear pictures of several generations of F1 including this newest.

So your final question is “What’s it like and have they succeeded in adapting to the changes in the sport?” Here’s my disclousre of what I played. I did a three lap race in the Mercedes around Australia, a five lap race around Italy in a Ferrari and a three lap race around the new Russia circuit with a Lotus. That way I had all three different engine manufacturers (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault) and three very different handling perspectives. The car selection actually comes with a difficulty meter now so you can tell which ones are the more challenging.

With the first race, I immediately had to find new braking points. The new brake by wire system does shift your bias quite a lot and with the 8 speed gear box, everything is a bit confusing if you’re a seasoned F1 veteran and are playing with the racing line off. The low growl of the V6 turbos has replaced the echoing roar of previous years and almost sounds a little dull and lifeless compared to the previous years engine. At this moment, there isn’t the raspy kind of sound the real life counterparts have in the down shifts and braking, which is a bit sad because I like that noise but hopefully it will come. The handling is, in the Mercedes, surprisingly responsive. I wasn’t having to correct the car nearly as much as I thought I would be which, when you think about it, is pretty indicative to how the Mercedes have dominated the season in real life. The Ferrari on the other hand was much less stable around Monza, especially after slowing. The first chicane was tricky getting around without the luxury of being glued to the road like before. Hitting your apex will be incredibly rewarding, not just for nailing perfect lap, but also for getting the car hooked up well with enough speed and grip for the next turn or exit. I didn’t notice too much of a change in the engine noise between them but there was slight differences.

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The Lotus was a very realistic representation… Utterly shit. If you’ve been following F1 then you’ll know Lotus’s fall from prominence compared to the past few season’s competitive car has been quick and nasty. Changes of drivers haven’t helped, especially with one of them running up the bill for spare parts quicker than you run up the bill at your works Christmas party bar. It might not have helped that I was driving around the new Russia circuit in Sochi that I’ve only seen in a BBC feature. The track is surprisingly tight and has a lot of potential to create missed braking points and wall collisions. The tightness, especially with kerbs and sharp apexes really make the car quite unstable and the torque bites the car as soon as you hit the gas. It does not have the raw pace of the other two cars which is quite nice compared to the other slightly unrealistic representation of lower grid cars. It presents more of a challenge to you by upping the difficulty of the car, rather than having to rely on upping the difficulty of the AI and of the driver aids.

There’s still a few weeks left before the chequered flag falls on F1 2014 and the last generation of Formula One racing games. In a way, it’s a shame that the rule changes happened for the game because last year’s effort, especially with the classic cars, was a great love letter to the sport, if not lacking more DLC opportunities due to licensing. The current £40 price tag will definitely be a sticking point for a lot of people, especially given the reception for GRID Autosport and its lower pricing. The only thing this game is missing visually is the red stripe of alcohol sponsorship on the Williams, but we shall see, puns aside, if the team at Codemasters can churn out a challenging racing game or an annual iteration. I’m hoping for the former.

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Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam – Preview

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I had heard about Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam before I went to Gamescom. I am a writer, I write and as such I end up following the printed prose form and its news. So to hear that a book and a game had been created by the Scottish author, I was naturally intrigued. I’d also been hankering for something for a while. I wanted a game that was like Quake. I’ve been missing the fast moving, gameplay driven first person shooters that used to occupy so much of my youth in the mid to late 90s. I know there’s Quake Live but I’m sure you can guess what I mean.

Meeting Christopher at Gamescom along with Nick Witcher from RedBedlam who has made the game put a whole new perspective in to which for me to wax lyrical over. Normally books about video games come in the form of tie-ins or licensed works, with the exception of Ready Player One. Bedlam however is very different. What’s clear about the game is how much the two entities, prose and code, are in tandem. Whilst not necessitating having to read the book before you play or visa versa. But you can of course do both.

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The story behind it is that Nick, a fan of Brookmyre’s work, noticed something in his novel Pandemonium that hinted at Christopher’s history as an appreciator of video games that was the way his characters were organised in to clans, much like first person shooter gaming clans. Nick himself was quite the Counterstrike player so it was quite easy for him to spot. This led to Nick emailing Christopher to ask if he wanted to make a video game. Lots of communications later (and apparently a few ‘creative’ binges between Glasgow and Brighton) an idea was forged.

Christopher’s gaming love came from playing lots of games but this focus was on his first person appreciation of Quake, Quake 2, Unreal and the like. Those fast moving, gameplay driven first person shooters that used to occupy so much of his time in the mid to late 90s… You sense a theme here. The staff at RedBedlam grew up playing games like Doom and Wolfenstein. So you can see where this is heading.

So enough about the history? What about the game? Well it is currently on Steam Early Access with the first two levels available. The first of which you can see on our special preview video coming shortly. It plays like a Quake or an Unreal game. But that is only the first part of this game. The game itself, along with the book has become a homage to the first person shooter genre and especially its history. Whilst you’ll see the first level has the element of that futuristic space shooter it is a lot deeper than that. Plus it is very important to point that this isn’t a port or a clone so to completely create not only a game that can replicate the mid 90s FPS genre but others as well in the same engine and controls, it is incredibly impressive. You can tell the research that went in to playing the games they are inspired by to recapture that feeling was well spent.

There will be many ages of games seen from the first person perspective in Bedlam. Inspired by the likes of Elder Scrolls, Call of Duty and even Pac-Man, the game successfully makes you feel like you are in the games of a certain era. The has to go down to the incredible art direction of the game. The level design and the style of the detail both in the textures and in the weaponry (which is interchangeable between each era) are excellent and really evoke that nostalgia whilst making you enjoy what you are currently playing just as much as any of the games it takes inspiration from.

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Speaking of inspiration, we have to discuss the writing. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously and the dialogue, voiced by BBC comedy Burnistoun’s Kirsty Strain and Robert Florence (along with some extra from Christopher Brookmyre) takes its inspiration from Science Fiction comedy legends such a Doug Naylor and Rob Grant’s Red Dwarf and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide stories. There is a very traditional and stoic British humour about it which not only adds to the aura of the game and the tropes of the time they were made, but also adds a great and entertaining story element.

To dismiss Bedlam as a clone of the 90s FPS genre would be a terrible disservice. There is a lot of love that has been put in to creating this game from people that love gaming of all ages and times. It isn’t just a jog down memory lane but a new and welcome addition to the history of the genre that has transported itself across mediums. I can’t wait until it’s finished.

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Magicka 2 – Preview

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Magicka was a surprise hit written by eight university students from Sweden (what is it with that country and break out hits?). Magicka 2 not only promises more of the same but an inspired improvement on our multiplayer wizard blasting fun.

The wizards are gone, all but extinct thanks to the Wizard Wars. This has left co-operation between wizards rather tense and firey to say the least. Evil however is returning to Midgard as the folklore of the Nords is once again tapped to set a very atmospheric environment. You could imagine this kind of crazy situation being more suited to the table top antics of Acquisitions Incorporated (bonus points if you get that reference), but the ridiculous nature of your incredibly trigger happy wizards is more than suited to the top down view of the snow laden world.

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I think maybe a good way to describe the Magicka games, and this one in particular, is as an incredibly fun and easy co-op cast-and-slash (rather than hack). I don’t mean easy as in the difficulty. Oh no, the game is as tricky as it possibly can be when two or more crazed wizards are firing their deathly beams in every direction to beat the oncoming hoards of fantastical creatures. What I mean is the ease of how to play the game, the learning curve if you will. It completely adds to the fun whilst you are accidentally killing everything whilst you are learning and not accidentally killing everything once you have learned.

Friendly fire and casual friendly trolling has never been more fun than it is in Magicka 2. Yes you are kind of supposed to work together, because that’s the entire point of co-operative teamwork. But one snatch at a spell and the repercussive fall out is not only vicious but hilarious. This is a game meant to be played by people in the same room or over a voice chat and, having played it in the former capacity, it excels in creating that amusing, anecdotal gameplay. Especially when you start summoning demons. Having done that, it made for a very crazy 30 minutes of hilarity and constant death until we realised that teamwork actually works.

Speaking of the gameplay, it is very easy pick up and play. I played it using a PS4 controller which felt incredibly natural, something the development team was surprised by given their preference for mouse and keyboard controls. The gamepad support makes the spell selection and movement surprisingly fluid and easy to pick up and master. So now, if you’ve had previous experience of the game and want your friends to get involved, this will be a great way to get in to it. The spells themselves are fun. All based on the elemental system (fire, water, etc), the spells combine excellently with multiple people, especially with the healing and the speed at which everything unfolds, it causes a cacophony of light and a hectic firefight. It’s incredibly fulfilling when you cross the streams to combine these elemental powers, almost rewarding yourself for the several moment of derping around beforehand.

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The game itself has moved on from the previous incarnation with more customisation options for your wizard and many different spell techniques to get the hang of that really gives yourself a bit of a personal style. The newest thing however is the Artifact system. There are special artefacts to find during the game. The best relation I can give to this is Halo’s Skull system. There are things that add to the replay ability of the game like difficulty enhances (extra health for enemies, less for you, etc) and these can be combined. So whatever crazy hardcore self-masochistic difficulty you like to inflict upon yourself and others, it can always be worse. There are more comedic ones too like the sitcom artefact that adds audience laughter, boos, sighs and the like. Certainly makes for some more laughs.

Magicka 2 is coming to PC in 2015 and, as you might have guessed by the controller use, PlayStation 4. Given the strength of the console’s online play and given the amount of units sold AND the more to be sold with the oncoming release of games like Destiny, there could be a lot of demand and take up for this game on the PS4. It ticks the main three boxes I have with co-op based gameplay. 1) Online multiplayer. 2) Easy to pick up and fulfilling.  3) Absolutely hilarious gaming experiences. So there will be lots of interesting and engaging whooping of evil’s hoards by four dysfunctional and explosive wizards, controlled by you, riding from the ruins of Aldreheim in 2015.

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Mortal Kombat X – Preview

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One of the first things I did when I started writing about games was I did a review of Mortal Kombat, the release from 2011. So naturally I was very excited to get my hands on the new Mortal Kombat X and see how exactly the next generation power has managed to add to the already smooth and visually opulent violence.

In truth, it adds quite a bit. The level of detail and the smoothness of the frame rate is making this one of the most fluid fighting games to date. Not just in its own genre but fighting across the board. The solid 60fps (a phrase I am sure to have worn out by the time I’m done covering Gamescom) makes not only the motion of the characters incredibly smooth but also completely unaffected by the particle effects from attacks. Sub Zero freezing will give you no lag.

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Speaking of Sub Zero, the gameplay has changed a little bit. Nothing has changed in a huge way but enough in a freshening way. There are three subclasses to the character you pick. Each one of them has something that adds a buff to some of your moves and attacks, or resistance to the oppositions attacks with defence rebuffs. These variations add another element to the game that makes you think a little differently about how you approach a fight. Scorpion, for example has a demon that he can summon to grab them from the ground in one variation. Another can set himself on fire so that his opponent will also catch fire and the final one will have swords to slice with. These traits are on every character and not only add the tactical element, but also some kick ass new moves.

When it comes to new, there will be new characters. Without spoiling any story, and the lore of the Mortal Kombat universe is being expanded quite nicely with this, 25 years has passed since the last instalment. This means that some familiar faces may be gone but legacies remain. Such as Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya, and Kotal Kahn, a man who has profited from the conflicts by taking over the Outworld. Don’t fear though as roster DLC will be coming.

The environments where you play the game have also expanded too with the brand new Jungle area (thanks to Kotal Kahn) but the expansion is not just in the choice. The environments are all very smooth with excellent depth in the animations. But it also is immersive and has breakable areas and places that can be used for attacks and defence. Not just the branches of trees or rocks, but the style of the environment can also aid certain players attacks. I got some great freezing action in with Sub Zero in these areas.

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Of course you haven’t heard me say anything about the violence and the excellent X-Ray system from the last game. Well it’s here, it’s back and it’s expanded. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and it certainly wets the appetite for the old ‘ultra violence’, as A Clockwork Orange’s Alex would call it. The three tier power bar mechanic is back and it is smooth and deliciously gory. Some new X-Ray animations have been added, no small part in thanks to the new characters. But the animations are bone crunchingly, spine crackingly vile, repulsive, bloody and impossibly painful… Excellent.

This also means the fatalities are given the next generation treatment too and live up to the face slicing promise that you’d expect (there’s a hint there). The game is coming out on all consoles, so you don’t need to upgrade to enjoy the continuation of the new Mortal Kombat lore. However I would certainly say you are missing out on the smoothest 2.5D fighting game I’ve ever laid my hands on and until later in the week, it was definitely the best looking fighting game regardless of style (more on that in WWE2K15).

The release date is, predictably, 2015 and will definitely be worth waiting for. It has the potential to go unchallenged in its genre for quite a while as well in the next generation market so if you’re a die hard fan waiting for Tekken or a next generation Street Fighter, then you might want to explore this first.

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Dead Island 2 – Preview

The first Dead Island was a very good game, despite what the game was compared to the marketing. You’ll be pleased to know that this time around Yager who are making Dead Island 2 know that maybe the message was a bit off.

But the internet spoke and videos of comedic deaths and hilariously overpowered DIY weapons were cleaving their way into our decapitating hands. That’s exactly what we’re getting with Dead Island 2.

Firstly, the promises: Open world with three distinct large areas. California will become alive from the Hollywood sign all the way to the Santa Monica pier. We got to play a small section of that area known as the LA suburbs. San Francisco will also be joining the open world zombie California party and the third will remain a secret for now but there is a lot of California.

dead island 2 preview 1It also promises a seamless 8 person multiplayer and developers like to describe this as the “worlds smallest MMO.” We got to play with the four-player version which does indeed work very seamlessly even though the game is in pre-alpha state. The idea is, although it isn’t ready yet, that you can co-op with anyone on your server… If you want to that is. You can compete with each other (whether that means PvP or not was unclear) or you can just choose to co-exist.

Graphically it looks wonderful with some excellent lighting and frantic blurs as you move quickly, something that the new generation of 60fps consoles eat up for breakfast. It is a tiny bit glitchy at the moment in places but the feeling is there, the feeling that you got playing Dead Island 1 of crazy modified weapon carnage.

There are four classes in the game. Hunter, Speeder, Berserker and Bishop. Bishop looks like Terry Crews with priests garb reigning down violent divinity. We only got to play with the Hunter and the Speeder. Each have their own traits in movement and their own weapon set. We started with the Speeder and got a kick ass machete that we very quickly electrified by robbing the electrical store of batteries and kicking in a few Thugs. We also got a 6-shooter pistol with an added flame kick after draining a gas pump after dodging oncoming suiciders. For the other class, the Hunter, we went in reverse getting an electrified shotgun and a flaming sledgehammer. The latter was slightly unwieldy but was certainly fun to kick ass with. The electrified machete was my favourite, allowing us to execute people with terrific style.

dead island 2 preview 2The game itself hasn’t actually changed too much in its modus operandum. You traverse the open world, guided to objectives whilst scrounging supplies, upgrading your tools and surviving your zombie dodging butt off. After upgrading our tools, we went to defend the fortifications of the ‘Movie Bar’ after they decided to kick out some loud zombie attracting jams including a Peter Fonda quote of “We wanna get wasted…etc” over a radio or PA system. Maybe a ‘Worlds End’ homage or just an homage to California, who knows? At this point, the game being in pre alpha showed a little but was very impressive despite this. If you’re worried about this scrimping on the graphics, it isn’t. The visuals never lose any resolution and the only thing that scares you is the oncoming onslaught hidden by motion blur.

What you can get from this, given it was just a play of the game engine, is that the comedy element is there. The same fun crazy weapon upgrading, limb hacking, zombie zapping weapons that cause much fun, entertainment and cool visuals. The focus on this direction is apparent and it works very well given the slightly larger than life nature of its California setting. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of emotional game attachment or a large effort to build big sprawling narrative relationships. Just kick the hell out of things, stay alive and explore the mad world of Zombie California.

We’re currently looking at a Spring 2015 release and, this is why it isn’t scrimping on the graphics, it will be next gen and PC only. PS4 and Xbox One users won’t have to compete with the engine and resolution having to compatible with past games so hopefully it will keep its looks for the zombie apocalypse.


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Escape Dead Island – Preview

Compared to the next generation offering of Dead Island 2, the current generation offering of Escape Dead Island is completely different.

Dead Island is now seen as a franchise and developers Fatshark have created a very enjoyable single player experience. The story is that you are Cliff. A son of a wealthy media mogul who’s a bit of a socialite douchebag and wanted to make his impact on the world having been in daddy’s shadow for too long. You hear of the first infection from Dead Island and make the gargantuan stupid move that only rich-searching for relevance-brats can make: You get a boat and go to the island with a few friends to make a difference.

escape dead island preview 1Except it doesn’t go to plan, you crash on another island in the archipelago and so you begin your slow descent into the fictional world of zombie bashing insanity. Insanity is actually very key here as the game is incredibly surreal. The descent in to madness is both a physical journey and a mental one here in Escape Dead Island. Stretching the boundaries of what your character is perceiving and leaving you to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.

The big aid in achieving this element is the comic book art styling of the game. You might know it as cel shaded or as Borderlands style (if you’re that young). But it creates a world of 60s comic book action campness with splat’s, kapow’s and bokko’s coming from every hit. Well everything except the bokko… That was from the Young Ones, but you get the picture. It blends it well with a more modern visual styling of the world and the characters. You may think The Walking Dead both in comic book and Telltale Games feeling but I would go a step further, given the insanity aspect of it and say that it reminded me of the Keanu Reeves movie of the Philip K. Dick book “A Scanner Darkly.”

The game itself plays third person as a big semi open world arena of stealth attack and world manipulation. In fact the whole effort to keep it simple aids the game environment a lot. There’s no HUD, no inventory and simple controls. The weapons you have change and upgrade as you find things throughout the world in the staggered narrative order you’re supposed to. Narrative, especially compared to Dead Island 2 is the key thing here. It is an adventure game, not an RPG. You do get to visit places in the world you’ve already explored so that you can get things that you need or collectables.

escape dead island preview 2The world environment is a wonderful, almost semi cartoonish place. It blends the more realistic elements of some things like the big cargo ship containers and the beach huts of the island, with the more surreal action that unfurls around it. The idea of the franchise of ‘Paradise Meets Hell’ is in full effect both visually and in the narrative.

The decision to go with the previous generation may seem a bit stuck in the past but actually makes good sense as most Dead Island fans will still be on the previous generation of consoles or at least own them. This will be out towards the end of this year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It may come to next gen in future but for right now it is sticking with the old. The game does have some replay value despite being very linear and single player with a new game plus mode but there are no difficulty settings.

The atmospheric approach to this game as a spin off of the main franchise storyline is interesting and it’s certainly worth a play, especially if that is your kind of thing. The focus on hyper-reality and narrative background in the canon of the Dead Island story will make itself clear in the full game. But it isn’t going to scare you. In fact this is much more of a survival thriller and more psychological than horror. With a hint of mystery thrown in to the mix. When the game arrives later this year, hopefully we’ll understand a lot more. Or will we?


 

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