Need for Speed: Undercover (360) – Review

NFSU_cover Blackbox/EA’s Need for Speed series has been suffering in the most latest offerings by focusing less on driving hard and fast, and instead focusing on more technical driving, and most consider the last good title being Most Wanted.  The latest offering, NFS: Underground, does try to recapture the flavor of Most Wanted while ditching several modes such as drifting and drag racing that were met unfavorable by critics, the game still suffers both design problems that make the game too easy, and technical problems that mar its presentation.  It’s still a fun racing game, but just not a tight package that older NFS have been.

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Stuntman Ignition (360) – Review

Ignition coverThe original Stuntman game was interesting: the concept of being a stunt driver seemed to fit the video game mentality perfectly, but the execution of the game was horrible; between long load times and very tight stunt requirements, it made it difficult to run through each stunt enough times to know the entire stunt ahead of time, and then repeating it to get the timing and actions down right, taking much of the fun out of the game. The original game was produced by Reflections Interactive and distributed by Atari, but THQ has taken over development of the sequel, Stuntman: Ignition, with development by Paradigm Entertainment. The sequel has definitely learned a lot of lessons from the first game, with stunt courses being a lot easier and a lot more forgiving to pull off, but with this improvement creates the problem of the game being almost too easy to clear (though presents a score-mode to challenge you to be perfect) and making the value of the next-gen title a bit questionable.

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Stuntman (PS2) – Review Repost

Stuntman - CoverStuntman is one of those few games that really should be able to sell themselves from the concept alone, however, the game fails rather spectacularly due to a number of gameplay and performance features that seem to be easily corrected.

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Stuntman: Ignition (360) – Initial Impressions

I already had tried and stated some of the things about the demo that make this game about ten times better than the original Stuntman game.  Notably: there’s a couple ways that you can play through the stunt completely (not quite sandboxing it, but close enough) either by switching to easy mode which gives you the opportunity to miss more stunts, or as long as you don’t miss a critical jump or the like, you can continue even knowing that you failed.  In order to clear a stunt, you still have to play through the entire stunt without missing 5 required stunts, but getting there is much less of a pain than it was in the first game.  Playing through a few more levels, the timing feels a bit more comfortable as the game encourages you more to score more via chaining stunts instead of just finishing a stunt and moving on.  They add motorcycles that can wheelie and also slide under low obstacles.  You can still put together your own stunt courses as well as a challenge mode where you have to meet certain requirements with the course you built (similar to TrackMania’s Puzzle modes).  There seems to be a lot more ‘pick and go’ options as well.

The only concern I have presently is that there’s a total of 6 movies with 6 scenes in the game, so I’m hoping its not too short.  It does look like you can’t just wimp through all the stunts; movies don’t get unlocked until you achieve a certain ranking and that can only be improved by gaining better score ratings on individual scenes.  I haven’t had this problem yet of having to go back to do better, as I only got through the first movie last night, but I don’t expect this to be a critical show stopper (eg I doubt its the case that you can’t do the last movie if you haven’t 5-starred all the previous stunts).

So far, so good…

DiRT (360) – Review

DiRT  - Cover

It’s amazing the type of variation that one can get with racing games still after so many years of development. Just recently was Forza Motorsport 2 with highly realistic track racing, and then there’s the Need for Speed series that does street racing. But DiRT, developed and published by CodeMasters, offers yet another bit of variety for racing, this time in terms of motorcross. The game is effectively a continuation of the Colin McRae motorcross series featuring himself helping you through the game. Most of the game is pretty well done and does a decent job of simulating various types of terrain, but otherwise it lacks much of the staying power that other racing titles have, in part to a rather weak online multiplayer aspect.

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DiRT (360) – Initial Impressions

I will say this, that while the demo actually came out before the game (what a surprise!), the demo only had a single race mode that really didn’t display the best of this game.

It’s NOT as graphically amazing as the PS3 Motorstorm, but it’s sufficiently pretty for a next-gen title.  And after play Forza 2 a lot, having two different in-the-cockpit views, including the safety meshing, makes for an interesting gameplay experience (there’s also bumper view, hood view, and two trailing cam views incase you need to see more of where you’re going).

There looks like there’s about 6 different single player modes, including a full-on race mode against other cars at the same time, “crossover” tracks against 1 other car, and then timed courses where you need to go as fast as possible on twisty terrain which can be quite harrowing.   Career mode is a large pyramid structure; you need to complete races and accumulate points going left to right and down to top to get to the single ultimate career race series.  Like most racing games, you earn cash to buy new cars, 43 in all.

Haven’t tried online yet.

I will say that the menu system/loading screens are the most interesting and beautiful ones to look at (same as in the demo)  in a long time, like floating panels within a large 3D environment, yet they move fast from one selection area to another.  Plus at the start of career mode, the announcer quickly (5 minutes) gives you a low-down of how everything works from the menus side, which is pretty nice as well.

Forza Motorsport 2 (360) – Review

Forza Motorsport 2 - CoverGran Turismo has been known to be the most realistic console racing simulator to date through its various incarnations. When the original Forza Motorsport came out on the original Xbox, it did make an impression due to its strong realistic physics and was given very positive reviews, but was still overshadowed, in the overall console market, by Gran Tursimo 4 for the Playstation 2. Now, Forza Motorsport 2, developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios, has hit the market and may have flipped the tide for good in its favor. The game’s physics engine is even further improved, and allows for not only tuning and improvements of cars, but physical damage to cars (something that is generally missing in realistic racing games), and a huge number of options to adjust the game from a detailed racing simulation to a fun arcade racing game. It also sports one of the best Xbox Live implementations that ties in well to the single player mode. By far, Forza Motorsport 2 is a definitely must have for any racing game fan and may easily surpass Gran Tursimo as the best racing game ever.

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Forza Motorsport 2 (360) – Initial Impressions

Played a couple races on this last night, though I have played the demo as well.

Most of the basic overall play (arcade, career mode, etc.) is left unchanged from the first game, which is good.  The realism seems good as well; a little bumper tap can be disastrous (or at least pull you out from the lead and into the grass), and I have always liked the little help of the cornering arrows that you can toggle off as you get more experienced.

Graphics seem fine to me; I know people have been complaining that this doesn’t look as clean as the Gran Tursimo PS3 tech demo, but it’s certainly far from looking like a last-gen game.    The core of the game is racing, and the physics seem to get it down well, and I rather have that for something that is a driving/racing sim than super excellent graphics and less-than-realistic physics.

My only nit is that you get penalized for off-track driving and bumper hits.  Sure, if I intentionally go off, or drive wrecklessly into the middle of a pack, this makes sense, but I had a couple of times where I’ve taken a curve close to the expected line to have someone behind me tap my bumper or the like, causing the car to spin out to the grass, all the time ranking up penalty time.   Sure, I love that the cars are more aggressive than I’ve seen in the GT series, but it seems odd that I’m double penalized for that.

Have not played online but expect to do so tonight.

MotorStorm (PS3) – Initial Impressions

I’ve heard people say that MotorStorm is going to be the system seller for the PS3.  Unfortunately, I really beg to differ, so far, despite it being one of the two better games for the system to date (along with Resistance: Fall of Man).  The concept is sound: dirt/mud racing in the mesa valleys of the southwest in 5 different types of vehicles (motorcycles, ATVs, buggies, stock cars, and trucks), and the graphics look really nice and all, getting the muddiness and griminess of the race down well, but…

Things seems a bit more sluggish than expected for dirt racing – while I wouldn’t hold the game “FlatOut” as a prime example of a great dirt racing game, I felt I had more control there.  And you can’t go too easy on the track lest you get overtaken quickly.  Of course, I’m just starting so it may get a bit easier, but I’m not impressed.  While you can switch on the Sixaxis to use it as a motion control (like with the Wii), it seems even worse — and here’s where the lack of rumble really screams out.

Add to this that the menus and other parts of the game are just really slow — we’re talking close to PSP loading times, which there is no reason for that here.

I need to give it more time to give it a more fair assessment but as it stands now, I’m not impressed at all.

Burnout Revenge (360) – Replay Impressions

I completed the main series of events a long time ago, but decided to pick this back up as I realized I was missing much of the non-online achievements (mostly through completely each rank level perfectly, which along the way includes completing all the basic game modes).  It is still an extremely fun game though there’s certain parts of it that shine and other parts that are really annoying:

  •  Basic and elimination races are still fine.  These are usually easy enough to win and get perfect ratings as long as you screw it up on the last turn
  • Crash mode is probably the best part of the game.  I’d almost say that a Burnout game comprised only of Crash modes would be awesome, though I realize it would get boring – the mix of crash and race modes is what made Burnout Revenge the polished title it was.  A few crash points require being extremely accurate when you launch off in order to make the gold, but thankfully it’s easy to reset these if you fail (you don’t have to wait for loading screens unlike the other modes)
  • Burning/Preview laps are sufficiently hard – you have to basically be boosting all the time as to get the rating up to Awesome, particularly on shorter routes, and you have to be wise about shortcuts that you take – some may save a few seconds in one point but prevent you from getting a better time cut in a second route.  However, these really do help you to learn the routes (including the little stubs on walls that can crash you) for the other modes.
  • Traffic Attack mode – The only mode that using boost is actually bad, save when you have no traffic you can use to attack.  Plus, when you use the boost, it’s hard to tell what is a good truck you can hit safely, and a bigger truck that you’ll crash against.  Usually I found I needed to play these a few times to know where the major traffic patterns were so, such that I knew where I needed to boost through to avoid the wasted seconds in the slow parts.  Also learning how get trick shots (sending a car into a larger vehical) was key.  Getting the Awesome rating then usually comes easy as you do these, though once you get gold, you can boost without impunity to get your rating up.
  • Road Rage mode – The most annoying mode for me, as while I could deal with the time issue, it’s the fact that you actually can only crash so many times before the race is over.  There seems to be a lot more traffic on these, so making it through without crashing is a rarity, so it becomes a combination of knowing the tracks (as in Burning laps) and knowing the usual traffic patterns, and then knowing the tricks of how to bring takedowns (like riding a competitor right behind them while they are on rail, for example)

The largest annoyance in trying to complete these achievements; 4 stars is usally very easily but that 5th star (whether it’s the gold rating or the awesome rating) is the hard part, and unfortunately, if you restart or retry a race you have to wait for the game to reload the race which takes about 15 seconds.  For some Road Rage races, I had to spend close to a hour between racing and restarts to get the stars.

Still, regardless of the technical problems, I cannot wait until the next Burnout game which looks like it will take very good advantage of the next gen systems.