GRID Autosport – Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screenshots

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The Evil Within – Preview

The weight of expectation on The Evil Within is certainly on some broad shoulders. Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami happens to own those shoulders.

Annouced two years ago and almost finally upon us, the game follows a modern day Police Detective, Sebastian Castellanos into a deeply disturbing psychotic environment filled with zombie like creatures, shifting environments, evil monsters and the pairing of a mysterious boy and his doctor.

the evil within preview 1Playing through the two demo levels I got the chance to experience, the atmosphere is certainly one reminiscint of the iconic survival horror of the PS1 era. Even at this early stage the classic over-the-shoulder view, dark colours and foggy outlines are effectively imposed here. As you walk in to the first level, you are almost paranoid of everything and desperate for supplies, smashing all the boxes you can and getting as little ammunition as is available. There are several other options you can use including a multi faceted crossbow.

In fact, that’s one thing that I was surprised by, the weapons. So far they are incredibly effective, almost too effective. The only thing that really stops you from going quite run-and-gun at this stage is the amount of ammo. Something that will change as the difficulty increases especially. Quite an interesting dynamic is the way that you can‘t fight off multiple enemies forever, or just simply mow them down in a haze of bullets.

Eventually you will get swamped and overrun. You can slow them down but until you take a flame to them, they’ll keep coming. You have to be precise with your shots to put the down in the first place and you have to be conservative. Your gun won’t always be on target, so no panic shooting. Melee will only buy you a bit more time. But the game employs some clever, and tense, devices to help you with dealing with the mobs. Plenty of objects are around that are easy to use as explosives, traps to set, corners and corridors to funnel them in to, but the best has to be the weapon wheel.

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The weapon selection wheel (think any Rockstar title of recent times) has quite nicely been implemented but unlike most games where it either pauses the game or continues it, it slows the action down, quite conveniently buying you some time to think, plan and execute you next moves.

The visuals of the monsters (known as The Haunted) are, to be honest, as you’d expect for a zombie monster horror. Everything is as gory as you’d also expect with blood, guts, flesh, and Shining-esque set pieces. However the star of the show already, by far is the audio.

From the first moment that you hear the opening bars of Clair De Lune echoing from the save points, you already know that you’re in for a scary ride. One of the things you notice when playing with headphones is how much the audio design is completely surround sound biased. The little sounds and the use of echoes and reverbs resonate in your ears and creep you out.

If one think has come along the furthest in the days of the PS1 survival era, it is sound options available to game developers and this game takes full advantage of that. At the games developmental stage, the audio is the biggest winner and the thing that needs improving the least.

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I must stress that this is an early stage, so there is definitely no criticism. This will be an incredibly atmospheric horror with many interesting subplots and twists along the way. But there will be some work needed along the way to make the visual and the weapon balancing just right, then it will certainly be a game to play with the lights off.

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Lords of the Fallen Preview

Lords of the Fallen has already had its share of comparisons, and it’s easy to see why. Being treated to a demonstration of a level following the anti-hero Harkyn, the new game from Deck 13/CI Games could easily be accused of ‘ripping off’ other franchises like Dark Souls, Darksiders and the like. Even the executive producer Tomasz Gop was formerly involved in The Witcher series. So it’s something they freely recognise but want to distance themselves from.

However I saw something different. I saw a game that, whilst with RPG elements, owes a lot more to its action and its combat. The player’s ability to have choices in how to handle a situation (gung ho, using the environment, using magic) makes the combat look very easy.

It’s all about timing, learning to use the combat system and followed up by how you want to you use it. In fact, I would say that as a game, its gameplay owes a lot more to franchises like Dynasty Warriors than its visual credentials portray.

“With the art direction, this definitely isn’t dark fantasy… It’s more of a high fantasy,” Tomasz told me.

Seeing the current build on a big high definition screen certainly helps to show how good it is.

“The old pen and paper Warhammer series was also an inspiration… but we want it to be more arcade, [in the] Dark Souls/Tekken kind of way.”

lords of the fallen 1You can see what he’s getting at as well. The third person, almost hack and slash, style of the game certainly gives you a very easy pick-up-and-play atmosphere, which is where I got the echoes of Dynasty Warriors. Even just watching it, you could see that as an introduction game for someone who’s never played one before this would work excellently.

That’s not to say that the game is too easy. There’s going to be, depending on the gameplay style, around 20 hours of play in the game. That being said, once you’re in the rhythm though, it’s easy to see this becoming an Internet speed-run favourite. The way the game sucks you in though isn’t its story, or its next gen graphics or enjoyable smashing of nasty skulls. It’s that your anti-hero Harkyn has ‘credibility’.

The game’s lore and entire creative side has been started from scratch, so everything in here is brand new.

“What’s important is not realism but credibility, and the credibility in here means that we want people to believe that Harkyn is actually a guy who can learn things. He could actually wield these weapons, he can actually fight them because he knows what it takes to survive.”

That is something that comes across and makes you connect with Harkyn despite the RPG element of the game being rather secondary to the action and tactical nuance needed for the combat system. Again it means that things are not just there to be powerful or to make yourself heavy or affect your gameplay, but it can just look cool and be fun for, as I put it, kicking ass.

“I’m really fond of the design of the armours of this game,” Tomasz pointed out. “There’s so much detail, I love looking at this and hinting towards people ‘you might want to try this because it looks cool.’”

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This could be, if you forgive the two MMO games coming soon, the first fantasy action/RPG to land on the next generation consoles. Its combat is easy to pick up and play, like Ryse you could surmise, and its RPG element isn’t so deep that you need expert advice on a D20 and a history of mages to embrace it.

Due in the winter months of 2014, you can expect Lords of the Fallen to fall quite literally into your Christmas laps for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Of course at the moment there’s no word on if the Xbox One version will hit 1080p. But if it’s a choice between the game being finished and the resolution holding up other releases, we got the feeling the release would be more important.

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Enemy Front Preview

THE NAZIS ARE BACK, THE NAZIS ARE BACK!

Real Nazis of course, not those zombie/alien/mutated/alternate reality ones, genuine Nazis. In the context of a video gaming sphere, WW2 games have been gone for a long time.

CI Games have decided that, given the slew of future shooters and ‘modern’ combat games, it was time to revisit the events of the Nazi machine, complete with chain smoking commanders, and plop us down in the middle of resistance fighting in Enemy Front.

The concept is pretty easy to grasp, you’re an American newspaper reporter who is trying to get stories from rebels behind enemy lines, until you’re eventually more of a shooty-shooty sneaky-sneaky mercenary than a journalist.

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I managed to get some hands on time with the game and bag a few words with Steve Hart, the executive producer of Enemy Front.

CI Games are of course no strangers to shooting things, having been responsible for the Ghost Warrior series. This game is set more towards the end of the war, exposing the German’s attempts at nuclear fission and splitting the atom.

This then sees you going from various different locals in Europe that, seeing as it’s been a while for a WW2 shooter, gives you a nice feeling of actually belonging there. The textures and overall feel of the environments – be they the French countryside, snowy Norway or the rubble of Warsaw – seem to escape that maligned browny-greyish tinge that so many WW2 games possess.

Thankfully this is something that the Cryengine tackles very well, along with the lighting elements.

“Each area has its own texture set,” Steve Hart told me. “We’ve got dynamic lighting passes for each level… They’re so far removed from any other WW2 title. It’s been in development now for two to three years… [the art team] have worked tirelessly on it.”

So a lot of effort has obviously gone in to the visual artistic direction.

Including the weaponry. Every weapon is lovingly recreated from the authentic guns complete with accurate reloading animations. It could be classed as a good historical document on the weaponry.

“The development team really pushed to get the bespoke animations,” Steve tells me. “The team are big WW2 nuts and military nuts and have put the extra effort into creating it.”

Why do a WW2 game though? Well, according to Steve, the market is ready for this now.

“People are after something like this now and CI Games (a Polish company) wanted to get across the whole Warsaw uprising story.”

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The game isn’t just this run and gun shooting affair though, given the companies history of sniping games. The game gives you a HUD that incorporates a stealth system. You can, or at least attempt to, give yourself a sneaking edge and are given the tools to do so, such as binoculars and tactically tracking the soldier’s patterns, even a record player hiding somewhere for distraction (good luck if you can find it, I did – ner ner de ner ner).

Of course the one thing that some of you may have already guessed is that this is now a last-gen release, coming out on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC later this year. It will also feature the obligatory multiplayer modes we come to expect now. Graphically, the older consoles may struggle a bit more with the visuals, compared to the PC version but hopefully time will tell when we get closer to release date and see some more and play some more.

For now, it is a thoroughly enjoyable WW2 shooter and a return to a gaming environment long abandoned nearly five years ago, but now a bit overlooked and ready for a return.

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Enemy Front by CI Games is due to be released on June 10, 2014 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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TheIndieJar: Starbound Preview

Look, it’s not Terraria, OK? Yes it looks a lot like Terraria, it feels like Terraria, it plays like Terraria and so on, but its not Terraria. We got that? Good! Let’s begin.

Starbound is a lot like Terraria. This early access Steam title has grown fond in the hearts of indie gamers and YouTubers a mere two weeks into its release. If there is one thing you can say about a game that is very close to an already successful game, it’s that you can jump right in and know what to do.

starbound 2In this case you can choose from a number of races and random options to explore the procedurally generated worlds below. Yes, worlds. Starbound has the potential to be absolutely huge. Your main aim of the game is crafting and surviving in this retro style 2D crafter/platformer that looks like the inside of Hunter S. Thompson’s head – very trippy environments, completely alien, all with their own quirks and monstrous horrors. You craft to survive and find fuel to power your spaceship so you can explore everything. It’s a bit like Spore in that sense, only hopefully without the need for a future add-on pack to make that game mode even remotely interesting.

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The closeness to Terraria does make the game feel quite repetitive by association. You yet again have to start a game with nothing and construct your way through painfully slow tools to then build things up for yourself. And an annoying quirk of the beta release is that updates to the game may delete the characters you’ve been playing with. You’ll also have to get used to a slightly different set of controls and after a while, remembering that it isn’t Terraria will eventually be pointless.

It does have some positives over its comparison sibling. Animations are better on some things (cutting down trees that actually fall down is very satisfying), the multi platform availability is a big bonus and, in the beta stage at least, constant updates will keep the game a bit more alive. Compared to Terraria’s long awaited but rather large patch, a consistent release of new material could help the fans to stay. There is one thing that these games and genre have really excelled at. Soundtracks. Starbound’s is a beautiful mix of compositions that accentuate how lonely and alien the game world is, and if anything the atmosphere that it creates helps separate it from the more childish one that Terraria provides. You can even listen to these on their website and I highly recommend that you do.

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I want to play more and need to play more. There’s so much potential and possibility, especially with its almost infinite procedural generation, that you could really get lost in it. It is certainly worth getting and enjoying, even at the beta stage, but it is a game that you would probably only like if you were really in to the craft/platform idea and weren’t bored of it already. For any real longevity I’d feel that you’d have to be quite a hardcore gamer. But as far as introductions go, it’s incredibly smooth, incredibly easy, quite funny and very, very playable. All in all, it’s a very promising start for the beta but it does need something to just give it a bit more of its own identity.

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