LEGO Dimensions – Review

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Before I begin this review of LEGO Dimensions, we need to set the level straight on a few things, which are the most talked about issues people have with the physical and financial concept behind the game.

There’s been a lot of talk regarding how much this game is going to cost. There’s also been a lot of talk about different parts of the game being locked behind characters that you have to purchase separately and aren’t available at launch. I will answer this talk in a constructive way but make no mistake about it, LEGO Dimensions is really, really cool.

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The price point for the main game is a lot more than you’d normally expect for a LEGO game and certainly more than its main rivals Disney Infinity and Skylanders are charging. The additional packs are also more expensive than the others. But here’s the things that you need to know, the actual constructive things, that differentiate LEGO Dimensions.

Firstly, the packs are great value when you stop thinking of them as just game peripherals and consider them as actual LEGO, which they are. You get in the smaller £15 packs two LEGO things to build – one character and one vehicle/animal – which are able to used directly in the game at any time. There’s no level locking for the various franchises unlike the Infinity. The LEGO vehicles can also be rebuilt two time using the studs you get in game and can do multiple things in game. The packs vary in price and all of the packs can access the adventure worlds of their particular franchise. The more expensive packs like the level packs do give you extra playable content as well which, if you think the cost of each LEGO is £7.50, make each DLC level around the same price. Plus, because of the way it works, they can be used for any version of the game and aren’t console specific.

Secondly, you technically get a pack straight out of the box with the trio of Wyldstyle, Batman and Gandalf along with the Batmobile, the latter can also be upgraded in the same way. This also means that the LEGO Movie, Lord of the Rings and DC Comics worlds are also immediately opened. Regardless of if you own the packs, the story mode visits most of the franchises that are in the game at some point, so you will experience playing in a Doctor Who level, even if you can’t have the pack yet because it isn’t released.

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The third thing is the portal device itself which is a cool little LEGO build anyway (make sure you turn off the power save function on your console for when you’re building it), and is also a puzzle controller. At several times during the game, you’ll need to use the pad to solve colour puzzles, escape attacks and interact with the world in game. Even though all of these little LEGO things look cool, they all serve some kind of further purpose to add to their value.

In fact, we don’t often do this, but we know that people might want to see the kits and what they bring to the game. Thankfully, YouTuber GenerikB has been doing that and you should check out the playlist he’s made of unboxing everything that’s currently available.

The criticisms of the packs though are of course the cost (LEGO has always been an expensive toy though), the design of some of the builds can be a bit low key (Benny’s Spaceship doesn’t particularly fit well together and is a much more minimalist version of the ship that appears on screen) and the level packs not being exactly engaging. This last point is more directed at The Simpsons pack but it is still a fun enjoyable nostalgia trip to Simpsons fans. The problem is that some of these franchises don’t include original voice content (things are taken from the show’s archive) and that will obviously hurt narrative construction and limit the capability. Although the Back to the Future level is also a bit short, compared to the excellent Portal 2 level.

A problem here might have occurred with the actual process behind making the game being as unrelenting and in-depth as any single franchise LEGO game, and if that was a problem of having too much then it’s a good problem to have. We chatted to Mark Warburton, a producer from TT games, about how much went in to doing this behind the scenes:

“We treated every single one like a standalone game. Nothing was done small even though the footprint in the game is small. All the same research was done, the development time, time to get the likenesses to the characters, it was just as important. It made it difficult because we had to give the same amount of attention we’d usually give to just one brand to fourteen different ones.”

 

The thing is is that in truth, given everything they’ve had to work with and creatively combine, they’ve really nailed it. I mean TT Games seriously got it right and the level of enjoyment from playing the game and the nostalgia and excitement of seeing the various franchises at different points truly pays off in the playing experience.

How have they done this? Well by making a LEGO game, of course. At the core of the experience is exactly the same funny, reliable and accessible game as any of the previous games. The story is a good vehicle with which to combine these franchises and to give yourself a quest, a point A to point B scenario that enables you experience all the humour in the game. It has the same gameplay you know and whilst I’ve been critical in the past that it hasn’t moved on enough in recent times, for this it absolutely works and is necessary.

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Which brings us on to the games magical moments. There are times that the franchises themselves come out and be all they can be, regardless of their LEGO setting. Standing out amongst the rest is the truly mad and glorious GlaDOS and the Portal 2 levels that really feel like they are just more of the last game. The Doctor Who level in the game shows us how this has been a match made in heaven and it is criminal it’s taken this long to bring it about. Whilst the Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Simpsons levels are all enjoyable, they don’t reach the heights of the other two, or the rather cool Ninjago level which sets about combating the lack of overall knowledge in the franchise by given us some great boss battles and puzzles.

The thing is, I’ve played the opening parts a number of times. Once with a friend for a stream, once for myself and once with my parents. Just to see how this whole concept worked between the most cynical of people, other games industry friends and of course the ones who teach you to hate the world. All were warmed. All were laughing. All were actually really impressed by the usage of the LEGO components and were gripped by the entertainment on screen.

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So I’m faced with a dilemma because this game does everything I want it to, yet also does all the things that cost me money and has wisely ignored my criticism of the previous games. But there are things that annoy me, like the inability to complete it without having to actually purchase certain things, and that I have to wait a good four months after release to get some of the level packs and toys. I can’t decide if that’s my impatience or my confusion that the business model is hoping post Christmas or January sales there’ll be more people playing the game after the initial release rush, and not giving everyone the opportunity to get everything straight away.

Ultimately I really enjoyed the game, I can see children and families enjoying the game as well and that’s important. Yes I’m a geeky guy hurtling towards middle age and I like and appreciate it for all the references and the franchises that I’ve enjoyed for the past thirty years. But really, I enjoyed the game too and having a game with franchises that both children and adults can understand, and seeing them interact with each other and learning about the many ages of our entertainment tastes and bond because of it.

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LEGO Dimensions does everything that every LEGO game has done before but that’s good because the portal brings a new way to complete puzzles and the obvious bonus of being able to place any character available in the game at any time. The problem is the cost of course and that completing the game for trophies/achievements needs characters that aren’t available to buy yet. But there is a joy and an great success that’s been achieved in combining these franchises in a fun an entertaining way where the game itself and not the content is the champion.

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  • Excellent franchises working brilliantly together
  • The LEGO toys themselves are pretty cool
  • The USB Portal is a great interactive element

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  • The cost of collecting everything is very high
  • Some of the content needs characters not yet available
  • Some of the content constricted by

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The game is probably the most fun I’ve had in a LEGO game since Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, in the actual game itself. But the franchises are so well adapted that, as long as you know what characters you need to get to complete the game and are happy with the cost, then it’s an load of fun and an excellent family game. It’s well executed and the game champions itself over the many potentially dominating franchises. A good example of balance, really.

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

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LEGO Dimensions – Preview

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So it’s no secret that I’ve been a tad critical of the LEGO games as of late. I’ve found that maybe the formula had gotten a little stale and that, whilst nostalgia of the title kept my interest, they’d become a bit repetitive. Whilst I was at Gamescom, LEGO Dimensions proved me utterly wrong.

We all know and have heard the basic idea of LEGO Dimensions. Buoyed on by the success of franchises like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s Amiibo range, it’s hardly surprising that a toy manufacturer who is already in the video game market noticed an opportunity. And it would have been so easy to see it like that, as an opportunity for profit using toys in games. But thankfully TT Games is at the helm and if there’s one thing that the years of producing LEGO games has given them, it’s that they know how to hit us gamers in the nostalgia bones and give us something with love.

Firstly, the game requires a LEGO Toy Pad and a Gateway which the start pack of LEGO Dimensions comes with. You’ve seen it no doubt, the little plastic pad you put your LEGO figures on and something that looks like the Goa’uld from Stargate would use to invade many worlds. And as the announcement video starring Joe McHale of Community showed, it you build it yourself using actual LEGO. All of the LEGO is actually playable and indistinguishable LEGO, from the Batmobile included and the three figures of Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. Having a LEGO game with actual tactile LEGO is quite a fun novelty really. Building stuff for yourself is always fun, and during the game you will get the opportunity to reconstruct some things in order to solve various puzzles, with onscreen building instructions. Very awesome.

The game sees you going through the LEGO Multiverse trying to stop Lord Vortech from being the dastardly overlord who controls it. So you set out to stop him from taking the foundational elements and achieving this domination. Of course, you will have friends that join you along the way and you can even bring your own by getting the various packs that have been announced. But enough of the exposition, how does it actually play?

Incredibly well of course. TT Games has a very good pedigree in excellent, easy to pick up gameplay. LEGO Dimensions is no exception to that with the same look, style, controls and mechanics of any LEGO game. It is something that has translated perfectly to every franchise it has graced and it works just as well with multiple franchises. The demo that we played saw us walk down the Yellow Brick Road from the Wizard of Oz. Of course, not as the Oz characters, who were up ahead of us, but as our starter trio. Upon the road were some flowers that could not be passed by our intrepid trio. And so the toy pad came in to play.

We placed the Batmobile on the pad and a dimensional wormhole opens up and pops the vehicle in to the world. Batman jumps on it and we mow down the pesky flora from the yellow bricks of Oz’s M1. Our driving only went so far until we stumbled across one of the characters aiding Lord Vortech, The Wicked Witch of the West, who then started defying gravity* in order to attack our cross-series fellowship. It’s amazing that through all of this, nothing looks out of place. You suspend disbelief that these characters and vehicles don’t belong in the worlds your seeing because, quite frankly, it’s really, really cool.

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This cool crossover of franchises doesn’t just end with the main game. The recently announced Adventure worlds are separate worlds, much like you’d see in a normal LEGO game between the missions except that they’re all based on a particular franchise. We had a little go around in the LEGO Movie world because we had Wyldstyle but other areas will be accessible with the relevant figures selected. So you’ll have to have the various level or character packs in order to access these mini worlds. We’ve already seen clips of Middle Earth, Springfield, Hill Valley and Aperture Science lab inspired worlds and there’s fourteen in total (so far) so collecting these expansion packs isn’t just going to be cool to look at or use in game, there’s decent amounts of extra content as well.

Those extra characters all come with perks too. Scooby Doo for example can swim underwater, which is great for exploration and underwater racing. Much like the free-play elements of most LEGO games, every world and level has the same kind of task appropriate character and vehicle. There’s lots of cool little nods to all of the franchises as well including some slight cel shading for the Scooby Doo levels, Wyldstyle moves like she’s in some stop-frame animation. Every vehicle can be rebuilt in three different ways and can help with different tasks like pulling things down with a winch, or flying like the DeLorean from back to the future… Or spinning wildly out of control like the TARDIS.

Yes it’s taken me 850 words to get to a point where I can talk about one of my favourite parts of the game, and as a massive Doctor Who fan (who has had a TARDIS on every desk I’ve ever written on and a fairly full DVD/VHS collection), I am incredibly biased by this part of the game. Which is why you can imagine how high my expectations are and that after playing the Doctor Who elements of the game, the poor young lady who was helping to show me the various minifigures couldn’t stop laughing at how open my mouth was in shock.

Firstly, there’s The Doctor. With all of Peter Capaldi’s swagger and vocal officiousness. Capaldi voices the dialogue which has been specially recorded but every Doctor also speaks thanks to some clever raiding of the BBC and Doctor Who archives. And yes, I said EVERY DOCTOR. Just the one minfigure gives you thirteen unique Doctors that you could regenerate in to which all have their own little quirks and personalities. Yes even the oft forgotten eighth Doctor and the following John Hurt War Doctor. If you die in the game as The Doctor then you’ll regenerate in to one of the other thirteen randomly with a nice little animation. Then there’s the TARDIS. Jump in in and you can take off, spin around and fly with reckless abandon through worlds like only a 12ft tall oblong wooden box can.

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But then you hold down the entry button a little more and find yourself IN the TARDIS. The control room is fully explorable with all it’s pomp, flashing lights, incredible decor, time rotator column, round things and control panel. The far right control panel will allow you to change the music to whichever show theme you want, the middle one takes you to the relevant level pack and the left one allows you to choose any of the Doctors and have a little regeneration scene. So I went to my Doctor, the Seventh – Sylvester McCoy with his little hat and swinging an umbrella, and left the TARDIS. But then the poor young lady told me to go back inside the TARDIS. So I did.

The console room had changed. It was now the 1983-1987 console room occupied by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. It will change to whichever console room is relevant for which Doctor, including the first two having a black and white filter for ultimate TV authenticity. At this point I became speechless and started rambling about how much this meant to me as a fan of the show and as a four year old watching McCoy’s Doctor for the first time and the last for many years, and how strong my nostalgic connection was to this era… It came as no surprise that my time was up. But this is seriously the best job of Doctor Who anyone has ever done in a video game and this can only bring hope for further licensed stuff between LEGO and the BBC.

After my fanboy blubbering I was forced to conclude that, whilst this is going to cost me a lot of money to have everything, LEGO Dimensions is ultimately going to be worth it thanks to how unique every pack will be, how every level will have something special and how every character has their own life to them. I know parents will be asking how they can justify buying this and everything when they’re already knee deep in Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Amiibo statues and I say this to them – Buy it for you, because your kids won’t understand why this is so marvellous… Treat yourself.

LEGO Dimensions is due out on September 27th 2015 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and WiiU.

*Yes I like musicals and made a Wicked pun… Bite me.

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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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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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LEGO Jurassic World – Preview

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Hold on to your butts… Clever Girl… Life will find a way… I’m getting these out of the way early so I am not tempted to fill this preview with many puns. But it’s true, there are numerous moments throughout the history of the trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy) of the failed Dinosaur theme park that have adorned our popular culture both visually and in quotes. Which is why it makes perfect sense for it to be a LEGO game. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before but if we’re honest, we’ve all wanted a great Jurassic Park game.

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[You know back in my day – the Cretaceous period – gluten intolerance wasn’t a thing.]

There have been people that have tried but in all honesty, LEGO as a video game franchise hasn’t produced a full on turkey of a game yet. So it’s good to see that the game we all wanted may well be best served by LEGO. In fact I’ve got a list of franchises that I would love to see in blocks. For now though, I can’t wait to build my first Dinosaur.

Yes, whilst there’s a lot that we’ll talk about with LEGO Jurassic World, the important thing is that you can build your own dinosaur and wreak havoc with it. Along with the dinosaurs from the movies, including the new movie, you’ll be able to unlock them all as you play the game. Much like in the films, Amber will contain dinosaur DNA for you to collect. This will unlock one of the twenty dinosaurs, which you can then use to create your own, much like the character creator that’s already there for custom players. Except in this case you’ll also get the abilities of that dinosaur’s part. Acid spitting? Sure thing. Finally giving a T-Rex long arms? It’s about time! And we’re told there’s an arena of sorts which you can pit your dinosaur creations against each other. Which, as a sentence, is pretty cool.

LEGO Jurassic World will have a lot from the new movie of the same name although right now we’re not allowed to know anything about it, because obviously that would spoil the movie. But the game follows the original three movies as well and there have been some very seminal movie moments in them. So we were given a few levels from the first movie to play.

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[Here’s a scene we all forget where human inability to do simple logistics ends in someone being eaten.]

First up, we got to takeover as extinct-species-poop expert Dr. Ellie Sattler who gets to delve into some LEGO dung and cure a Triceratops with lollipops and fruit. You can then control the Triceratops in order to bash things and complete the mission. It’s standard LEGO stuff until the storm starts approaching. Yes, THAT storm from the movie that so excellently screws over Dennis Nedry’s escape from Isla Nublar. There is a dynamic weather and day/night system in LEGO Jurassic World, which will enable things in the exploration phase of the game to change randomly, as well as in levels to suit the film’s transposed dramatic moments.

Our next dramatic moment involves our favourite lawyer getting eaten. The scene of the T-Rex escaping the disabled electric fence and bullying a couple of kids (stupid T-Rex) in an upturned car is replicated very well. Highlights include the original voice work from the movie (including the wise-cracking Jeff Goldblum), constructing a distracting musical box that plays a version of John William’s excellent theme, and the special abilities of the characters. Dr. Alan Grant’s Velociraptor claw can cut through foliage whilst Lex Murphy, the screaming granddaughter of John Hammond, can scream which will break glass.

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[Objects in this mirror may be more blocky than they appear.]

Finally, we see the cheeky and broken-legged Ian Malcolm being rescued by Ellie and warden Robert Muldoon, before being chased by the rampantly annoyed T-Rex. You can also shoot things in to its mouth for an added bonus, but I was personally gutted to see our favourite mirror joke not make an appearance. Again this kind of level design is something that LEGO has done very well before and LEGO Jurassic World is no different.

Whilst the mechanics of play may slightly change between the games, it is a truly tried and tested formula that lends itself to a lot of nuances in Jurassic Park. One of which is the return to a more expansive open world and hub system. The Tolkein franchise games (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) all had a sense of the journey and the excellent areas of Middle-Earth. Whilst the two recent super hero franchise games have an open-ish world, it wasn’t the in depth and changeable areas that the Tolkein ones were, in my opinion anyway.

LEGO Jurassic World combats that by having two hubs and both the islands from the movies to explore, Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna. You’ll have the dynamic weather mechanic and of course the parks themselves. Mr. DNA, the theme park’s mascot, will be guiding you along the way as well as giving you education bite-sized Dino facts.

Mostly, I’ll be excited to replay various things from the movies and by association, watch all of them again. Too often I only watch the first one because it’s on TV conveniently on the same day and time that I order pizza. With LEGO Jurassic World, we appear to have ticked many boxes: Movie dialogue, excellent music, interesting levels replicated in LEGO and the beautiful South American islands of prehistoric genetically re-introduced doom. So if the early levels are any indication, then the LEGO franchise has found another new home in it’s chameleonic existence, and hasn’t jumped the Megalodon just yet.

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Project Cars – Preview

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Project Cars is responsible for a first in my life, my first 4K gaming experience. In an era where open world driving games seem to be the more successful of the four wheeled genre, Project Cars has gone to a very traditional route. One that games like Gran Turismo has treaded and arguably worn out over many years.

Photo-realism in both environments and cars is not just possible but also essential. Manufactures get the final say on the cars they’ve licensed as well as track owners and sponsors having to clear their input as well. We’ve said before, in an interview with Project Cars Creative Director Andy Tudor, that photo realistic driving games should not only be the norm but are practically the only option. The technology is there, the capability is there and the requirement to produce games like this demands it.

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However, pulling off the technical excellence is one thing. Giving a game a feel and a character on top of that is another thing entirely. It’s something we felt DriveClub was lacking. It’s something I find personally with the later Gran Turismo’s. Something about them feels a bit nebulous in the cars and the driving itself. You could argue that I’m being a tad pious but simulations and arcade games should be able to define the cars ability much clearer in these times. Especially when a game like Assetto Corsa is doing it independently of big publishers and money.

So where does Project Cars sit in this? I have to say, especially to a console audience, it sits at the top of the pile. There are many things that games like Forza Horizon 2 and DriveClub have done well independently like great lighting, dynamic weather, day/night cycles and car customization. Project Cars does it all, excellently, from the get go.

Firstly when tackling the selection of cars, this is very much a racing game, not a streetcar racing game. These are the kind of cars you’d see at a weekend at Brands Hatch, Silverstone or Nurburgring. Not just your big DTM, LMPG supercars, McLaren’s and Pagani’s but the other classes and manufactures closer to the street like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. The interesting thing is that the vintage cars are well represented here too. From my guilty pleasure of a Ford Capri to my non-guilty pleasure of old Lotus F1 cars, everything is not only perfectly reproduced but the way the cars drive are all unique and challenging in themselves. This is a game for people who know names like Jason Plato, Alain Menu and Jim Clark as well as names like Andre Lotterer and Tom Kristensen.

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The tracks range from actual circuits like the ones listed above and including many others across the globe like Australia’s Bathurst and California’s Laguna Seca with its infamous Corkscrew turn. But it also stretches to real albeit less licensed areas like the Cote d’Azur or Monaco, as we all know it. There are even some nice fictional road trip areas to the region, as well as the California area, to give you that off-the-track feel.

The real magic of this game is its dynamic environment system. The game has settings that can change the weather randomly or by design, everything from clear days to rain and thunderstorms. The date and time is also customizable with an option to speed up the progression of time so that you can literally experience four seasons in one day… One full day, that is, with night included. You can also historically set the date and time of a race so that it takes historic weather data to produce what was actually happening at the time. June 3rd 1984 at Cote d’Azur would certainly be one of my recommendations.

All of this works perfectly well straight from the off and whilst there are still a few bugs in the preview we played, these are mostly fine-tuning of cars handling and collision dynamics. Make no mistake about it, this is a game that will be enjoyed by the virtual petrol heads, as well as the more casual intrigued racer, but it will take some mastering, as it should do. If playing Gran Turismo has taught me one thing it’s that repetition is key to driving. Project Cars however makes that just a bit more fun than previous genre titles. This is definitely helped by the immersive graphics. These look great on the PS4 preview build we played and it has all the traditional views you’d expect, including the more immersive helmet cam.

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This is where my first 4K gaming experience came in to play however. I was lucky enough to play the game on a PC at 4K, 30fps (the game can handle 60fps, but the TV we were using couldn’t) and with a wheel. At this point the game really blooms. Things that you might not notice so much on the console really shine. For example I went around Cote d’Azur circuit in a generic pre-hybrid Formula 1 car in the helmet cam view. Firstly the things you notice are the things that racing drivers actually do.

Your view naturally turns to look at the corner but your virtual head barely turns. What it does is focus on the corner, which completely alters the depth of field you have to your dashboard and the surrounding environment. It’s a subtle touch that naturally happens anyway if you drive and might even pass you by because it is that natural. Secondly, the lighting changes and the shadows move around the inside of your helmet as you go around a track. It’s when you notice that the game is doing this everywhere that it really begins to impress you. With the future of Oculous Rift support, this game’s immersive racing will be a massive cut above other PC options and definitely a rival to the independent games currently available.

Driving with the wheel certainly left my arm a little sore thanks to force feedback and occasional collisions. But what was certain was that it was far easier and much more fun than using the controller. That deftness of throttle control is hard to achieve any other way and the game certainly rewards you for using this method. Having used a wheel for other games, this game is definitely worth the sacrifice of savings to get a good wheel and seat combo.

The game has had a few delays, which is understandable once you play it and see the work that has gone in to it. Mid-March is the current estimate but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went a bit further back just to perfect it. Because that is something this game prides itself on, its perfection. With a 30fps cap*, the PS4 handles the game well and I would presume that the Xbox One does the same thanks to the newer SDK’s giving more memory usage. Although the release is planned to be 60fps. How the Wii U version will turn out is anyone’s guess. But if you are the kind of person who has the time and money to build a phenomenal PC and can support 4K gaming, then start saving now.

*This cap refers to the experience of the preview build on PS4 that we played. Not the final product.

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This preview is based on a preview build, played on a PS4 and a PC.

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LEGO Annouce Dinosaurs and Superheros (Jurassic World)

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It’s not often we cover news, but this one was certainly too big for me to miss posting about.

Warner Bros Interactive have announced the TT Games/LEGO line up for 2015. These include another Marvel tie in with LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers, new LEGO Ninjago game: Shadow of Ronin and iOS releases of The Lego Movie videogame and Lego Batman: Beyond Gotham (the 3 has been dropped).

But the big news is that we’ll get more Chris Pratt, along with Sam Neill, Richard Attenborough and a double helping of Jeff Goldblum. If you’ve worked it out already (without looking at the obvious title), clever girl. Some of the more astute of you who have played and competed LEGO Batman 3 might have noticed this pictured dinosaur in the credits, along with John Williams’s famous score. Personally I blinked and missed the connection. But finally dinosaurs are coming to LEGO.

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LEGO: Jurassic World is a tie in to the upcoming 2015 movie reboot of the series also titled Jurassic World. But it will also include parts of the first three movies: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park: The Lost World (Dino-Godzilla) and Jurassic Park 3 (Island+Dinosaurs+Sam Neill=Cash). In traditional LEGO game style all of these movie tie-in games will be available for every console (360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, PC, Wii U, 3DS) along with LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin being 3DS and PS Vita only.

So a few things we’re looking forward to? Well obviously being able to repeatedly punch Dennis Nedry and the kid from the first movie who got himself electrocuted. We’re looking forward to dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett being brought in and turning TT Games area of Manchester in to a crazy Velociraptor party. But mostly, we’re intrigued as to what LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers is actually going to do.

LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes was already a fairly big game that had bits of the cinematic universe lore from phase one and two of the movie collection, along with comic book versions of properties Disney don’t have the movie licences for. It does seem like it’ll be a tie in to Age of Ultron, wgich is due out later this year, but it promises to include the previous Avengers movie as well (and presumably some more of the recently and soon to be expanded universe).

But I’ll leave you with this fun fact. A Samuel L Jackson character will now have been in three LEGO games. Mace Windu (Star Wars), Nick Fury (Marvel Super Heroes) and now John Raymond Arnold (Jurassic Park). It seems we shall indeed know his name when he rains his blocky virtual self upon our gaming systems.

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