Explore
 Lists  Reviews  Images  Update feed
Categories
MoviesTV ShowsMusicBooksGamesDVDs/Blu-RayPeopleArt & DesignPlacesWeb TV & PodcastsToys & CollectiblesComic Book SeriesBeautyAnimals   View more categories »
All reviews - Games (111)

Race Driver: GRID review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 10:18 (A review of Race Driver: GRID)

Grid is a classy arcade racing game, providing enough depth and variety to satisfy any fan of the genre.


The Good

Plenty of racing disciplines and locations
Accessible and rewarding career mode
Excellent online lobby system
Superb graphics and presentation.

The Bad

Lacking online game types
No mechanical upgrades for vehicles
No split-screen multiplayer support.

Codemasters' Race Driver series has long put the emphasis on making the driver, not the cars, the stars of the show. Grid is the spiritual successor to this series, and though it still offers you the chance to travel the world as a racing driver, the emphasis is firmly back on the racing itself. Taking in a wide range of international venues and racing disciplines, Grid's career mode puts you in the shoes of a top racing driver. You'll freelance as a driver for other teams, form your own team, and negotiate sponsorship contracts so you can buy new vehicles. In addition, Grid has a highly accessible 12-player online mode, a new flashback feature to rewind the action after devastating crashes or costly mistakes, and a novel approach to trading vehicles. It may lack basic features such as adjustable weather and split-screen multiplayer, but Grid still has enough fresh ideas to make it a notable entry in the racing genre.

Grid splits its racing between three geographical locations, with Europe, the US, and Japan each presenting an assortment of racing styles. Europe features track-based racing, with famous locations such as the Nurburgring, Donington Park, and Le Mans on its roster. Europe also boasts a city track in Milan, but it's the US that is more focused on street racing with courses in Washington, San Francisco, Detroit, and more. Japan is clearly influenced by underground street racing and has short, winding tracks that are perfect for drifting around. Each of these locations demands different vehicles; Europe features touring and GT cars, the US has muscle cars such as Vipers and Mustangs, and in Japan you get to drive tricked-out Nissans and Subarus.

The main aim of the Grid World mode is to increase your reputation as a driver and earn money to buy new vehicles. You'll be paid for winning races, playing at harder difficulty levels, earning sponsor bonuses and being part of a winning team. As with many racing games, you need a selection of vehicle types to enter different racing events, and you can buy cars either brand-new or secondhand on eBay Motors. It's a rare example of in-game advertising done right: Some pre-owned motors run the risk of being too banged up, whereas others have proved themselves capable of winning races previously. One thing that Grid doesn't focus on is upgrading vehicle components; instead of buying new engines, you just sell your old banger and buy something better.

The simple upgrade system and accessible racing style mean that Grid is more of an arcade-style racing game than a sim. That said, the game is still challenging, and the believable AI opponents will happily smash you into walls. In a nod to realism, head-on collisions will often take you out of a race completely, though one of Grid's new features offers you a way back in. The flashback system, which can be selected from the pause menu, lets you rewind time and resume gameplay at a point before the mistake was made. Your chosen difficulty level determines the number of flashbacks at your disposal, and there's a cash incentive at the end of each race for not using the feature. Racing purists may baulk at the concept, but it's completely up to you whether you choose to use flashbacks in the game. In situations when you'd previously have to restart the entire race, you now have a second chance to try a corner, and the decision adds an interesting gambling element to the game--should you use your last flashback now, or save it for the final lap? Grid also provides concessions for hardcore players who want to make the game harder, with a pro mode that restricts you from restarting a race at all. Enabling the pro mode changes your entire approach for each race, given that every lap becomes a do-or-die test of nerves.

Grid's controls feel light, responsive, and even quite forgiving, but the damage model and challenging AI can make for a difficult first few races. Minor bumps and crashes will do little to impact the performance of your vehicle; bumpers will fall off and windscreens will shatter, but the innards of your car will perform as normal. However, major incidents will have a more drastic effect on your ability to race. Your vehicle might pull to one side or lose speed and acceleration, or even worse, it could fail completely.

Once you're aware of these dangers, Grid becomes an enjoyably edge-of-your-seat racing experience. With the traction, braking, and stability assistance enabled, the game lets you perform some extraordinary braking manoeuvres, but you still need to be careful. While there's no option to have a racing line drawn on the track, a red light next to the map advises you of when to brake for corners. But Grid's greatest achievement is the driver AI, which does a fantastic job of replicating the behaviour of competitive and somewhat accident prone race drivers. Grid's drivers move in a choreographed formation at the beginning of each race, but they begin to take risks and make mistakes as they try to get to the front of the pack. You'll frequently find yourself misjudging a corner and spinning out, only to see a pack of rivals pile up the next corner down. There are also distinct racing styles between teams and drivers; race leaders will guard their position closely, whereas those at the back will cautiously slow down and go around you if you spin out in front of them. Whichever difficulty level you choose to play at, they're a clever and challenging bunch to race against.

Grid offers a huge number of different racing disciplines to try, from standard GT and pro-tuned races to drift competitions around winding Japanese circuits. There's even a demolition derby, with a track that has two crossovers where airborne cars can smash into each other at right angles. Each season of the Grid World mode ends with a Le Mans 24 Hour Race, and though it's normally condensed into a 24-minute period, it feels only slightly less demanding than the real thing. Caffeine-addled players can choose to follow it in real time by setting up a full 24-hour race outside of the career mode, but you still get to see the full day and night cycle whatever period of time you choose.

For multiplayer racing, Grid offers support for up to 12 players connected via Xbox Live or a system link. All of the racing events from the single-player game can be played online, including demolition derbies and Le Mans, but the game modes are fairly limited, with only ranked, player, or private matches to select. If you're creating a private match, you get complete control over the race types, race length, and damage options, but in the ranked and player matches these are voted for by all of the players in the lobby. It's good that vehicle options tend to be limited to one or two different models in each race because it makes Grid a fair and balanced racing game to play online, but it would benefit from a few additional modes and features. For example, there are no team-based races, you can't save replays, and there are no online TV channels to watch live races from around the world. The lack of split-screen multiplayer also comes as a blow, especially if you're not in a position to play online or link systems.

The new version of Codemasters' Neon engine, named Ego, imbues Grid with some particularly impressive visuals. The backgrounds aren't always sharp, but the action moves at such a frightening pace that you'll rarely have a chance to notice. There are some nice stylistic touches, such as camera tilt as you take corners at speed, and the interior camera offers a spectacular view of the car you're driving. On the technical side, Grid runs at a solid 30 frames per second with no slowdown during pileups. The one notably absent feature is weather effects, given that the game features nothing other than warm, sunny conditions in which to race. The Le Mans track may feature 24-hour day-and-night rotation, but the lack of rain or even day/night options for single races is a large omission.

Grid's presentation is similar to Dirt's, and that's certainly no bad thing. Menus are laid out simply and are easy to navigate, and the game throws up plenty of hints if you're not doing something correctly. You're frequently reminded to apply sponsor logos to your vehicles, play at a higher difficulty if you're constantly winning, and an intercom system is used to remind you of objectives during the race. The latter feature can actually become quite annoying if you're trying to concentrate on a difficult race, but voices can be turned off in the menu system if you find that you don't need them. As well as gorgeous in-game graphics, the stylish presentation of the menu system is enough to make you stop and admire it every once in a while. From the teammates who circle your garage to the statistical updates in the loading screens, this is a game that's blessed with incredible attention to detail.

One area that Grid falls down on is its audio. Engine noises don't always sound as meaty as they should, especially when you're using the in-car view, and some of the cars' engines are difficult to distinguish from one another. Musically, there's a superb intro theme courtesy of UNKLE, but the music in the menus is bland, and the few in-game tracks add little to the atmosphere. The Xbox 360 lets you play your own music over the top, of course, but Grid would benefit from a more exciting and memorable soundtrack to add to the thrill of high-speed racing.

As both an extension and a rewrite of the Race Driver series, Grid is certainly a successful progression of Codemasters' art. It may not feature the customisation of Forza 2, and it doesn't have the diversity of online modes found in Project Gotham Racing 4. But as an alternative to arcade racers such as Need for Speed and Juiced, Grid is an accessible and rewarding first step in what we hope will be an ongoing franchise.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 09:29 (A review of Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box)

Burnout Paradise includes all the fast-driving, hard-wrecking action you'd expect from a Burnout game, but with a fantastic new open-world design that gives it its own stand-alone flavor.


The Good

Racing and wrecking is as thrilling as ever
Open-world design creates a great sense of destructive freedom
Showtime mode is a hoot
Online functionality is seamless and addicting
Superb visuals.

The Bad

Could have used more variety in race and event types
Soundtrack and DJ dialogue are awful
Early in the game, you'll probably be a little confused and overwhelmed by the whole thing.


Is there any developer buzz term more meaningless these days than "open-world gameplay"? Let's face it, it's kind of been done to death at this point, so you have to look on with a bit of skepticism when a developer touts the concept as the next big thing for its franchise. It's understandable, then, if Burnout Paradise's concept freaks you out a little bit. Burnout has, by tradition, been a fairly structured arcade racing game up to this point, and one would have to wonder exactly how well an open environment would serve the series' crash-happy gameplay methodology. Evidently, the answer is quite well. Developer Criterion has invented a world wonderfully suited to Burnout's nature, a city built exclusively to cater to your destructive whims. And while a few design hitches here and there get in the way now and again, by and large Burnout Paradise delivers an experience that is both true to the Burnout name and wonderfully fresh-feeling all at once.

The star of the show is Paradise City itself. Coming complete with the titular Guns 'N Roses song (because Burnout: Night Train or Burnout: Mr. Brownstone probably wouldn't have been as catchy), Paradise City is, at first blush, a pretty standard racing game city, complete with all the usual landmark locations and boring background traffic. But it quickly becomes evident that Paradise City is meant for a greater purpose than just being a simple city to race around in. In effect, the city is a blank slate, a pristine canvas on which to paint your own obliterative masterpiece. The simple act of driving aimlessly around the city constantly presents new roads, shortcuts, and destructible objects for you to experience and, often, destroy. Nearly every intersection of road hosts a new event of some kind, and even after you've worked your way through the game's progression of driver's licenses (the only specifically linear portion of the game design), you'll still be finding new things you didn't even know were there.

That might sound a little overwhelming, especially if you've grown accustomed to the rather specific brand of racing that Burnout has always subscribed to. And at first, it most definitely is. Though the in-game tutorials do a decent job of explaining the event types and basic mechanics, you're initially left to your own devices and only have the small minimap to guide you through the many twists and turns of the city as you race--unless of course you want to hit the pause button regularly and use the larger map, which is a bit annoying to do. Those well accustomed to Burnout's previously track-based racing model might find having to explore to find the best route to the finish a bit frightening, but the good news is that it doesn't take a great deal of time to get a feel for the city's various ins and outs.

Until that time, you will experience some trial and error (with a heavier focus on the error), but the funny thing about that is that while you may initially find yourself failing races, it's not often you have to just go back and keep doing that same race again and again. The focus of Burnout Paradise isn't on doing specific events so much as it is about doing whatever you feel like. If you fail a race, odds are that there are roughly a dozen starting points for other races near the finish line of that previous race, and unless you've done them all, you can just hit up any one of them to get another notch on your license. Toward the very end of the game, when you've bested the bulk of the game's events, you may find yourself lamenting the lack of a quick return feature to get back to a race's starting point. But for the majority of the game, it's not really an issue.

It's a strange design to get used to initially, but once you do, it becomes incredibly rewarding. You can spend hours at a time just dawdling around the city and still make forward progress within the game. Don't feel like racing? Just go break through shortcut gates or bust up billboards, which are tallied up as you break each one. Or, track down one of the cars you unlocked on the road and take it down to add it to your collection. Or, you can opt to pick a road and attempt to "own" it. There are two types of events associated with each of the major roads in the game. Time trials are as you'd expect--you simply start at one end of the road and start driving down it, attempting to get the fastest time you can. Secondly, there are showtime events, which are the game's effective replacement for the crash mode found in previous installments of the series. Whereas crash mode was sort of like a puzzle mode in the way it made you create elaborate car crashes out of painstakingly built traffic designs, showtime is the polar opposite. These are elaborate car crashes born from little more than a bunch of nearby cars and your ability to control what is, in essence, a sentient car wreck.

In a word, showtime mode is absurd. The goal is similar to crash mode in that you're aiming to create as much damage as humanly possible, with various types of cars offering up different cash bonuses that feed into your final score. All the while, you can move your busted husk of a car around by pressing the boost button, which causes you to bounce around like a rubber ball. Again, totally absurd, but also totally awesome. It might lack the puzzling nature of the crash mode, but for pure visceral thrill and laughs-a-minute wrecking, showtime mode delivers in spades. It would have been nice if Criterion had found a way to have both the crash mode and showtime mode coexisting, as neither would make a particularly good replacement for the other; but on its own, showtime is a great deal of fun.

A number of other elements from previous Burnouts are also missing or altered here. The lack of aftertouch (the mechanic that let you steer your wreck into opponents during races and take them out) is a real bummer, as it makes wrecking during races a pure nuisance rather than an opportunity for more destructive glee. Traffic checking is absent as well, though it isn't sorely missed. The racing artificial intelligence has seen a bit of tweaking here and there. You still get the sense of rubber banding that the series has always employed, but as the game goes on and the racers get tougher, your opponents become more aggressive and don't just tank right before the finish line. By and large, the game is actually a bit easier than the last couple of Burnout games, but the challenge toward the later stages of the game definitely ramps up significantly.

The racing itself is as exciting as it's ever been. Standard races are intense and thrilling, road rage events are full of wreckful delights, stunt runs have you jumping, barrel rolling, and flat spinning all over the place, marked man races are tense fights to the finish line as multiple enemy cars bop you around trying to wreck you beyond repair, and burning routes have you taking on challenging time trials to earn new cars. If there's any flaw to be noted with the core game design, it's maybe that there aren't enough event types. There's no shortage of events and random stuff to do, but running the same event types, and even some of the same specific events again and again, can grow a bit tiresome after a while. After each license upgrade, all the events you've raced (except for burning routes) reset, so you end up doing a lot of them over and over again. This wouldn't even be an issue if there were a greater variety of event types, but as it stands, there are only those few, and you may wear out on doing races and marked man events again and again.

If you do get a bit bored with the single-player action, you can always hop online and race against others. Doing so is quite seamless. Simply press right on the D pad to bring up the online menu, and then decide if you want to join up with other existing games or create your own. Online in Burnout Paradise is quite a different animal than that of previous Burnout games. You don't just hop into a lobby menu and pick races to engage in. Instead, the city itself is the lobby, and while the host decides what he wants to unleash upon you, you can just mess around and do whatever you like.

When hosting, you have the ability to both race and take on challenges. Races are of your own design, with you setting the beginning and ending points anywhere in the city. Challenges are set, and there are literally hundreds of them. The trick is that there are a limited number of challenges depending on how many players are in a group. There are 50 challenges for two players, 50 for eight players, and 50 for each denomination in between. This means that once you've exhausted all the challenges for two players, you'll have to get three, then four, and so on and so on if you want to complete them all. That might prove unwieldy for those who don't have a lot of friends online to play the game, but at least the challenges themselves are creative and fun. The challenges range from competitive bouts of drifting, crashing, and jumping to cooperative versions of all the same stuff. It's an inventive mode to be sure and an exceptionally fun one when you've got a good crew of friends to play with.

It also bears mention that while online, you can use the PlayStation Eye or Xbox Live Vision Camera to take shots of your rivals online. When you take down a rival player that has a camera hooked up, the cam will take a mugshot of that player's reaction. It's kind of a neat feature that, unfortunately, will probably be abused by all manner of nudity over the course of the game's lifespan, but that's inevitably what happens when you let people do things with cameras.

Paradise's visual presentation is precisely the kind of top-notch work you've come to expect from the series. Once again, the game sets a standard for how a sense of speed should feel in an arcade racer. This game is lightning fast, and the frame rate in both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game holds up regardless of the chaos onscreen. The car crashes in this game are absolutely fantastic, thanks to some dynamite particle effects and camera work in each and every mangled wreck. Cars deform to wonderful effect, scrunching up like an accordion in head-on collisions and bending and twisting nicely in other situations. The only thing that continues to look a little weird is the total lack of drivers in all the cars around the city. It's understandable that Criterion would leave out mangled corpses or what have you for the sake of an E 10+ rating, but it still looks strange seeing all these disembodied cars driving around like a society of Turbo Teens.

It's also worth noting that Burnout Paradise is a game that commands an HD display, and not just for full graphical effect. On the standard-definition TVs we tried, we found the minimap to be borderline useless unless we squinted like crazy. On an HD set, the minimap is detailed and blown up enough to rely on, but when playing in standard definition, it simply became a hassle to use.

If you're looking for differences between the two versions, you won't find many. The PlayStation 3 version looks maybe a hair crisper than the 360 version, but that's about the only visual difference to speak of. On the flipside, the 360 version has a slight edge in that you can use custom soundtracks to drown out the miserable collection of songs EA has amassed for the game. There are a few highlights that fit well with the theme of high-energy racing, but the vast bulk of the music consists of irritating modern rock that's about as ill-fitting as humanly possible. Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" might, itself, be a car wreck of a song, but it doesn't fit the vibe of the game at all. Add in the collection of original Criterion-produced guitar rock tracks from previous Burnout games that sound like they were culled from Joe Satriani's nightmares, and you have a pretty unpleasant musical experience all around. The annoying radio DJ who pops up now and again to give hints, mock you obnoxiously when you fail, and make one glib comment or another about something going on in the city doesn't help matters. He's merely an annoyance that probably wouldn't even be worth mentioning save for the fact that you cannot turn him off. At least the sound effects are still top-flight in every regard. Crashes thunder, engines roar, and tires screech with terrific clarity all throughout the game. If you've got a surround-speaker setup, it's all the better.

It's entirely possible that some people might not enjoy Burnout Paradise's significant shift in direction, specifically those who simply wanted another incremental Burnout sequel. Indeed, Paradise is anything but incremental, and while it might prove a polarizing experience for some, most will likely appreciate what a radical overhaul this game really is. The open-world design isn't just a lazy gimmick--it's a wonderfully executed concept that doesn't rob the game of the series' most beloved tenet: the act of driving fast and wrecking hard. If you're one of the people who tried the Burnout Paradise demo and formed a rather negative opinion of the game, you're not alone. But if you have any affection for the series, you really owe it to yourself to give the full game a look. The demo did little to truly represent what a superbly fun racer this game can be.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

Flatout: Ultimate Carnage review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 09:10 (A review of Flatout: Ultimate Carnage)

It might not offer enough new stuff to make it worthwhile for owners of FlatOut 2, but Ultimate Carnage is still a riotous racer in its own right.


The Good

New gameplay modes are quite good
Visuals and track dynamics are a big jump over FlatOut 2
Online multiplayer can be a riot.

The Bad

At its core, this is still very much FlatOut 2
Floaty, somewhat generic feel of the cars can be off-putting
No split-screen multiplayer.

The newly released FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is actually just a reworking of 2006's demolition racer FlatOut 2. It's got the prerequisite shiny new graphics and additional on-track carnage. However, it also comes with some new modes and vehicles to help flesh out the package a bit more. While you can't help but feel like developer BugBear might have just been better off making a proper FlatOut sequel instead of reheating its last game, the upgrades made here are significant enough to make the game stand on its own.

For those who are not in the know about this FlatOut business, the FlatOut series is all about demolition racing. Whether you're bashing opponents into trees while crashing through walls of tires and leaping off rooftops in standard races, getting your crash on in straight-up demolition derbies, or flinging the driver of your car through your windshield into a set of bowling pins or a series of flaming rings, one theme remains constant throughout: wrecking everything--and wrecking it good. Arguably, FlatOut 2 wasn't quite as entertaining as its predecessor because the game took the series in a slicker, less grimy-feeling direction. The grit and dirty destruction of the first game were sanded down, until all that was left was an offroad Burnout clone. But as luck would have it, offroad Burnout is still pretty fun.

The good news is that Ultimate Carnage takes the groundwork laid by FlatOut 2 and improves it by a good measure. If you ever played FlatOut 2, you'll notice the difference the second you lay rubber to the track. The visual upgrade is more than just the standard upscaling of the existing visual assets. Apart from basic upgrades, such as improved lighting, as well as better smoke and water effects, BugBear has vastly improved the look of on-track action. Cars are much more detailed (and there's more of them on the track now, with up to 12 drivers instead of the previous eight), and the wrecks are far more elaborate. On the track, there are tons of objects to knock around and break apart, considerably more than in FlatOut 2. It's customary to see tracks completely littered with tires, logs, broken glass, shopping carts, lamp posts, shorn car parts, and all manner of other destroyed bric-a-brac by the time you reach the last laps. The sheer dynamism of the game's destructible elements is quite impressive, and that fact that the game runs at such a smooth clip while all this carnage is going on is also a big bonus.

As excellent as the racing looks, it doesn't always play quite as wonderfully. BugBear definitely could have stood to improve the way the cars handle. There are three car classes in the game: derby, race, and street. The problem is, except for the expected differences in speed, none of the cars handle all that differently from one another. Size is really the only major difference, and even that is purely cosmetic (big trucks trump small racers in crashes, and so on). Each car has several ratings in categories, such as speed, acceleration, strength, weight, and the like. All of these categories can also be upgraded via new parts in the FlatOut mode, but even these upgrades lack a measure of tangibility. Again, you notice differences in speed, but no matter how much you crank up the handling rating or the weight rating, you'll still feel like you're driving the same basic car across the board. That might be OK if the cars didn't feel so floaty and generally off-kilter from the outset. You'll get used to how the cars feel as you play, but something about this feel combined with the lack of true differentiation among cars makes the racing less interesting than you might hope for.

Car handling quibbles aside, you will have fun with FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage. After all, there are so many different ways to play it that you're bound to enjoy something. FlatOut mode is the game's career mode and hasn't been altered much from FlatOut 2. You start out with a clunker of a derby car, race through a series of unlockable events, unlock new car classes, buy more cars, buy upgrades, and progress as you would through any standard career mode in a racer. Stunt mode also hasn't been upgraded much, though the stunts are still a blast to play. All the stunts revolve directly around launching your driver, be it in a game of high jump, long jump, bowling, basketball, baseball, or royal flush. It's all about setting the right angle for your driver's launch and sending him hurling toward whatever object the game requires for maximum points. There's a great variety of these games, and they're a blast to play in the game's party mode.

It's not all old hat in terms of features because there are some new race types and modes in Ultimate Carnage. One new mode addition is the carnage mode, a second career mode of sorts that revolves around a series of challenges taken from all the various race and stunt modes. These include the new race types found in the game, such as beat the bomb, which is a race where you score points by going as far as you can before a ticking clock with a bomb at the end of it runs out; carnage race, which is like a standard race, except you score points by wrecking the scenery and other cars; and deathmatch derby, which is like a standard demolition derby, but with time-based matches and the goal of getting as many kills as you can before time runs out.

All of these can also be played online, and that is really where Ultimate Carnage shines. Offline racing is amusing, but getting online against other players, especially in some of these new modes, can be downright awesome. Online performance seemed solid in our testing, and with the game already having been out in Europe for quite some time now, there's already a strong online community to play against. Incidentally, there's no split-screen multiplayer of any kind in Ultimate Carnage (there was in FlatOut 2), so if you want to play against people, it'll have to be online.

What it's ultimately going to boil down to with FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is whether you already bought FlatOut 2 or not. The new content in Ultimate Carnage is unquestionably a big step above FlatOut 2, but what is questionable is whether it's enough to justify paying another $50 for a game that, for as much as it's changed, still feels extremely familiar. If you never touched FlatOut 2 and are looking for a crash-happy racer, Ultimate Carnage will absolutely fit the bill. If you already took the plunge previously, think about whether upgraded visuals and a few new gameplay modes are enough to justify a second purchase.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

FlatOut 2 review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 09:07 (A review of FlatOut 2)

FlatOut 2 seems a little too slick for its own good in spots, but it still manages to provide plenty of destructive racing fun.


The Good

Cars and tracks wreck and deform wonderfully
New plenty of content to mess with throughout the career mode, stunt mode, and online playto the stunt mode
stunts can be a real hoot.

The Bad

Overall vibe of the game just isn't quite as engaging as the first FlatOut
Floaty, somewhat generic feel of the cars can be off-putting
a few graphical blemishes
driver launching mechanic during races is barely used to any notable effect.

As much fun as the Burnout series of racing games can be, sometimes you want something a little grittier and grimier than the glossy, pristine-looking races that series has had on offer in recent years. Enter last year's FlatOut by developer Bugbear, a demolition racer in the purest sense. That game consisted of big, clunky, filthy-looking cars that deformed in all sorts of spectacular ways while flying through the air, crashing into one another, and even periodically sending the drivers of said vehicles crashing through the windshield in a rag-doll-heavy heap. In FlatOut 2, the same basic concepts found throughout the original game are once again on display, but while more content has been added to the package to try to flesh things out, it is with these additions that FlatOut 2 begins to lose its way. FlatOut 2 throws in some new, stylistic touches both in its content and aesthetics that make it feel more like a clone of other established arcade racers, rather than something original. And some of the things that Bugbear didn't change still prove as problematic as they were a year ago. However, these irritations don't suck away all the game's enjoyment, and those with a penchant for smashing and crashing cars will find FlatOut 2 an appealing piece of work.

FlatOut 2 takes much of the basic content from the first game and tosses in a bunch more of it. All the stuff you liked--like demolition derbies, figure-eight races, and stunt mode--is all there, with more track options and stunts tossed in. There are even new car classes, with race cars and street racers to go along with the typical junk cars. The odd thing about the new cars, however, is that apart from some expected speed differences, they really don't feel any different than the clunkers in terms of handling or durability. Size is really the only major difference, and even that is purely cosmetic (big trucks trump small racers in crashes, and so on). Each car in the game has several ratings in categories like speed, acceleration, strength, weight, and the like, and all of these categories can be upgraded via new parts in the career mode. But even these upgrades lack a measure of tangibility. Again, you notice differences in speed, but no matter how much you crank up the handling rating or the weight rating, you'll still feel like you're driving the same basic car across the board.

That's not to say that any of the cars handle particularly bad, mind you. Though the floaty car feel from the first FlatOut is front and center once again in FlatOut 2, and though that feeling can be very disconcerting early on in the game, you'll get used to it, and because all the cars handle so similarly, you don't have to make any dramatic shifts in how you drive as time goes on. The one problem with all this, though, is that frankly, some of the cars just don't look like they belong. Even though it's fun to smash up tricked-out tuner cars, they drive just about the same as the derby cars, so they don't really add anything to the package except a different visual style to those races. Unfortunately, that style just doesn't jibe with the dirty feel of the races. With so much dirt and debris all over the place, it's almost counterintuitive to want to drive these clean-looking rides right into the thick of it.

This is an issue that permeates most every aspect of FlatOut 2. The whole game simply feels less down and dirty than the original did. It's like someone in a suit somewhere said, "Hey, those Burnout games are a lot slicker looking than what we've got. What if we try to do something more like that?" That's not to call FlatOut 2 a rip-off of Burnout, because as a whole, it still feels like it has more in common with its predecessor than Criterion's racing franchise. But the way that some of the cars look, the way that the tracks are designed, and just the basic feel of the game simply make it a little too immaculate for its own good. Even the whole thing with the driver flying out of the windshield after huge crashes, a much-used (perhaps overused) concept in the first game, has been dumbed down to the point where it's no longer entertaining during races, and it's now purely a punishment. There's no distance or exaggeration to this mechanic now. Your guy just kind of flies out very quickly, flops to the ground, and it's over. While it's a welcome that it doesn't take as long to reset your car when this happens, it lacks the same level of silliness contained in the original game's mechanic.

With all that said, there's still quite a good time to be had with FlatOut 2. If you enjoyed the first game and can get past the sterilization of this one, you'll find plenty of destruction to play with. Cars still break apart wonderfully, with tons of body deformations, pieces that fly off, and all sorts of debris that stay on the track for you to drive into as you round another lap. Tracks break apart similarly well and provide plenty of jumps, shortcuts, and alternate paths for you to crash through. Modes like the demolition derby and figure-eight races haven't changed much between games, save for the addition of some more tracks. But the stunt mode has gotten a number of new games to go along with the previous bunch.

If you never played the original game, FlatOut's stunt mode was a mode specifically designed to take advantage of the whole guy flying out of the car thing, with extra-ridiculous games where you could try to launch him in a high jump, long jump, or even use him as a bowling ball in a bowling game, or a bean bag in one of those carnival-looking point tosses. FlatOut 2 adds new minigames, like a basketball game, where you try to drop your dude through one of several available baskets, all with different point totals; a baseball game, where you try to launch the driver into the best possible spot on a gigantic baseball bat, and then watch as he gets clocked like a ball as far as you can go while trying to avoid landing in one of several giant-sized baseball gloves; and royal flush, a card game where you launch the driver into a board filled with giant cards, and then try to get the highest hand possible in five turns while lining up straights and flushes. Aside from the addition of a nudge mechanic that gives your airborne driver a little boost while in midair, these games functionally work exactly the same as the old ones, and they don't have any more replay value than the old games did. Still, they're all pretty challenging in their own right, and there's fun to be had throughout the mode.

One area where FlatOut 2 has unquestionably improved over its predecessor is in the multiplayer category--specifically, online. Last year's game was weird, in that the Xbox version lacked demolition derbies online, and the PC version wasn't online at all. Here, the online is as it should be, available across the board and with all modes available on all versions. Apart from races and demolition derbies, FlatOut 2 also includes the stunt mode online. Stunt mode is inherently more fun when played against other people, so this is very much a welcome addition. Our online testing came out smooth on all three versions of the game, with little to no lag.

Apart from the occasionally questionable aesthetic choices, FlatOut 2 is still a great-looking game. The sheer amount of deformation and destruction you can do to the cars and tracks sees to that, and all of that destruction is contained within some nice-looking environments and arenas. Some of the street tracks are a little dull, but the filthier country back-road tracks are pretty cool. The amount of debris that can litter the various tracks is quite impressive, especially since wrecking into it often slows down your car. Sometimes the animations of your car getting tangled up with some destroyed sign or someone else's bumper look janky, with pieces clipping through one another, but that doesn't happen too often. FlatOut 2 also runs quite well. On the PC hardware configurations we tested the game on, we noticed notice a touch of frame-rate slowdown during particularly huge crashes, but otherwise the game runs at a solid 30 frames per second throughout (though depending on your system's capabilities, your mileage may vary). Another thing that has been improved over the original FlatOut is the soundtrack. While the first game was made up of purely generic rock from people you've never heard of, FlatOut 2 is made up of far more recognizable generic rock. Inclusions of tracks by Megadeth, Alkaline Trio, and Supergrass are weird but good, but inclusions of tracks by bands like Fall Out Boy and Nickelback are just kind of obnoxious. Still, there are more great songs than bad ones, and there's also an array of high-quality sound effects. It's just too bad there's no custom-soundtrack support on the Xbox or PC versions of the game.

FlatOut 2, while not a major improvement over the first game, is still a quality demolition racer. The addition of more content in each and every mode is certainly a plus, and the driving still has a satisfyingly destructive vibe to it. It's just too bad that it doesn't have the same quirky, filthy vibe as the first game. Fortunately, there are still plenty of lovable qualities to be found in FlatOut 2, especially if all you want is the same basic racing gameplay as in the first FlatOut, but with a lot more of it.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

FlatOut review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 09:02 (A review of FlatOut)

For those who just want to race fast, wreck hard, and look good doing it, FlatOut fits the bill.


The Good

Cars and tracks that break and smash apart in wonderful ways
Excellent graphics engine that's downright brilliant on the PC
Minigames are a riot, if only for a short while
Online play is fantastic.

The Bad

Opponent AI is overly aggressive and prone to rubber-banding
Middling soundtrack
No online on PC; no online demolition derby mode on Xbox
Launching your driver out of the windshield gets pretty old.


After last year's thoroughly disappointing Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, it seemed like the notion of the demolition racer had all but gassed out in this day and age. After all, what fun could it be driving around big, ugly, clunker cars in silly wreck-oriented races when something like Burnout 3 demonstrates how much more fun car wrecks can be in sleek, sexy, ultrafast machines? Thankfully, there is yet hope in the form of European developer Bugbear's FlatOut, an over-the-top demolition racer that is heavy on the physics and light on the realism. These cars drive a lot faster than your usual derby car, but they're just as delightfully low rent in design, as are the many different racing environments you'll find yourself crashing all over. FlatOut is hardly a slam dunk, as it leans too heavily on its unique physics gimmicks for its own good. And admittedly, there isn't a whole lot to this package beyond basic (and occasionally frustrating) arcade races and a complementary multiplayer component. But, for those who just want to race fast, wreck hard, and look good doing it, FlatOut fits the bill.

FlatOut is destruction racing to the very core, throwing aside any superfluous story elements or anything similarly goofy for the sake of just making a pure arcade racer. When you first boot up the game, you're offered a career mode, a quick race, a time trial mode, and multiplayer. Career is where you'll spend much of your offline time and where you'll buy your first car. Initially, you're presented with a few decidedly slower vehicles, but as you move through the career mode, new classes will unlock and each one will get progressively faster. Plus, you can buy tune-ups for each ride that improve speed, horsepower, traction, braking, and all the other usual upgradable stats you'd find in a racing game. The career mode is really just a long series of races within different circuits: bronze, silver, and gold. You don't even necessarily have to win each and every race to unlock the next circuit, but you do have to place at least third in all of them to make sure you earn a medal. Placing higher will earn you more cash, which you can subsequently use to buy more tune-ups and cars, but you can usually earn enough money just by earning a medal. While this way of doing things does shorten the experience a bit (not having to win every single race), there are nearly 40 races in all, so there's always the bonus races to keep you busy.

The bonus races are effectively a collection of straight-up destruction derbies, races on tracks that seem specifically geared toward maximum destruction (for example, a figure-eight course), and a bunch of minigames that make specific use of FlatOut's biggest gimmick: the ability to launch the driver of your car out of the front windshield. This acts as a sort of pseudo punishment in normal races when you wreck too hard (as it takes a few extra seconds to let your car reset back on track), but in the minigames, you're presented with either a gigantic dart board, a high-jump meter, a set of bowling pins, or something along those lines, and a track with which to drive your car up. By pressing a button right before the end of the track, you can set the angle of the driver's launch, and then once you let go, he or she will go flying from the windshield toward the awaiting pins, boards, or what have you. What makes these games so entertaining is the ridiculous rag-doll physics Bugbear has given your drivers, making them contort in horrifically hilarious ways that never fail to make you cringe, even if just a bit. With that said, the minigames do have a limited life span of entertainment, as once you've broken all the records, you can really only watch your helpless driver shatter every bone in his or her body so many times before it becomes a tad repetitive (which is not something we ever thought we'd find ourselves saying, but it's true).

The actual driving mechanics of FlatOut aren't terribly complex or deep, and they rely pretty heavily on lots of powersliding and crazy smashups for entertainment value, rather than on any real racing strategy to speak of. Fortunately, it works...at least, it works well enough. The faster cars in the game can get up to some pretty crazy speeds, and the handling of the cars, though very loose, is pretty manageable once you get used to it. The whole thing of launching your driver out of the car does get old, as we've said previously, but it only happens during the most brutal wrecks. With the punishment of losing precious time by inadvertently sending your driver flying to his doom will be constantly hanging over your head, you might find yourself being a little overly cautious when taking sharp turns. But, you shouldn't be afraid to rub against the scenery or other cars--after all, rubbin' is racin'. Plus, FlatOut's racing model awards you a degree of boost for smashing up the scenery and your opponents. It might seem somewhat counterintuitive to be rewarded for breaking your car, but only the most severe wrecks really incapacitate you, and frankly, considering how great the wrecks in this game look, it's hard to not want to do it.

Everything in FlatOut breaks apart. Cars deform to a spectacular degree, bodies scrunch up bit by bit with each progressive wreck, bumpers sheer off, and sparks fly every which way. Tracks are similarly destructible. You can smash through big wooden signs, send stacks of tires and nearby barriers flying, and leave big chunks of the scenery all over the track to become dangerous obstacles for the next lap. Actually, if there's any one complaint to be lobbied at the level destructibility, it's that some of the debris can be pretty easily driven over the next time around with little consequence. Most often it will be the smaller stuff that you can drive over, but you will encounter some sizable pieces of junk that you'll definitely want to avoid.

It would have been nice if there had been more variety in track design and car design in FlatOut. For sure, this is a great-looking game with some excellent car models and track environments, but there just aren't enough of them. Most cars handle exactly the same, and though there are a few notable differences in aesthetic design, there aren't any truly outlandish vehicles to play around with. There are really only five or six different racing environments, with multiple track layouts for each (some of which really just feel like previous tracks in reverse). The PC version of FlatOut is the clear-cut graphical winner, especially if you have a higher-end PC, as the graphics are almost astonishingly sharp when turned to a higher resolution. The graphics look really nice at a lower resolution too, but they are more comparable to those on the Xbox version, which also look great despite being a little bit blurrier than the graphics on the PC. The PS2 version is predictably rougher around the edges and not nearly as dynamic looking. However, it runs very smoothly with no more frame rate slowdown than the occasional bouts the other two platforms are also subject to (and it still looks pretty great for what the PS2 is capable of).

The best aspect of FlatOut is its multiplayer. It is neither the deepest nor most involved racing multiplayer mode ever put on the PC, PS2, or Xbox, but the races are just a blast when you've got a full eight people going in a regular race or a demolition derby--at least, on the PC and PS2. The Xbox version is inexplicably missing demolition derbies online. And for that matter, the PC version is perplexingly missing online, period, relegating you to LAN play only (dumb move, considering how much fun the online can be). Anyway, the main reason the multiplayer is so much more compelling than the single-player racing is because the opponent artificial intelligence offline is pretty hit or miss. The game suffers from some very noticeable rubber-banding, and your opponents are seemingly always right on your tail, ready to overtake you. Fortunately, you're never out of a race completely, as the AI is just as prone to hitting rails, trees, and other destructive bric-a-brac as you are. They're also extremely aggressive, which will probably lead to at least a few moments of extreme frustration as they constantly nudge and push you into a rail, causing your driver to inadvertently flee the scene, so to speak. Overall, you could call the opponent AI serviceable, but not exactly great. But, again, the multiplayer significantly makes up for this shortcoming, since it's so much more fun when you've got people to play against.

Since FlatOut was developed in Europe, it's not altogether surprising that the soundtrack comes from a lot of artists that North American players might not have ever heard of. What is kind of odd is that all the bands that have been culled together for this game all sound like they're trying to do their best impersonation of generic American alternative rock. A few of the tunes are legitimately catchy, but for the most part, they just kind of fade into the background as you play. On top of everything else, the lack of custom-soundtrack support on the Xbox or PC is pretty annoying. The rest of the sound effects are all quite good, though not any better than most other competent racers on the market.

FlatOut would be a whole lot easier to recommend if certain aspects of its package were tightened up. The merely mediocre artificial intelligence, the weirdly sporadic multiplayer features across platforms, and the repetitive driver-launching mechanic are probably going to annoy the hell out of some people. But if you can look past some of these flaws, the game's delightfully unscripted core racing mechanics can be a lot of fun, especially when played against others in a multiplayer setting. As it is, it's a very good game that falls just shy of greatness, and serious demolition racing fans would do well to check it out.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

Driver: San Francisco review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 08:32 (A review of Driver: San Francisco)

Driver: San Francisco's inspired shift mechanic and wealth of action-packed content make it an absolute blast that revives the franchise.


The Good

Shift keeps the action fast paced and exciting
Huge open-world city to explore
Masses of content to play through
Fun online modes.

The Bad

Ridiculous storyline
Frame rate issues with split-screen
Missions get repetitive toward the end.


Chasing down crooks in high-speed chases, performing death-defying feats of driving, or bringing down entire criminal organisations might be a bit much for your average cop, but Driver: San Francisco's John Tanner takes it in his stride. As you take control of him and begin your beat on the mean streets of San Francisco, the reason why becomes clear: Tanner's uncanny ability to "shift" into the body of citizens lets you do things other cops can't, such as instantly drive any vehicle in the city, coax case clues from criminal passengers, or use cars as battering rams, to name but a few. While the premise behind this ability is ludicrous, it all makes sense as you soar over the living, breathing city for the first time, instantly transporting yourself to new missions and swiftly jumping between cars to take down criminals. Shifting is Driver's coup de grace; the feature that puts memories of the mediocre Driver 3 to rest and reinvigorates the franchise.

Driver: San Francisco picks up where Driv3r left off; it continues the story of Tanner and criminal mastermind Jericho. After escaping from Istanbul, Jericho takes refuge in San Francisco, only to be tracked down and imprisoned. However, a routine prison transfer gives him the opportunity to escape. Tanner gives chase and--after an explosion-filled action scene of Michael Bay proportions--catches up with the criminal, only to be run down and left in a coma. It's in Tanner's coma-induced dreams that Driver takes place; the battle against his coma manifests itself as the hunt for Jericho and real-life news reports on the TV in his hospital room influence his actions. While the narrative is completely implausible and at times downright confusing, it allows Driver to free itself from the shackles of the real world and introduce the unique shift mechanic that underpins the entire game.

Shifting allows you to take control of any vehicle with just a few buttons presses. Activating shift lets you float above the city, from varying levels of zoom that allow for up-close views of roads all the way to a bird's-eye view. You can highlight any car you like, and with another button press, you're in the driver's seat, ready to take on the criminal horde. With a city the size of San Francisco, the gameworld is huge, and there are hundreds of miles of road for you to drive on and explore. Fortunately, any worries about laborious driving to reach missions are laid to rest with shift. Zooming out to a bird's-eye view allows you to see all of the missions on the map, which are marked by clear icons that, when hovered over, detail the content. You can zip from a mission on one side of the city to another in seconds, minimizing downtime and letting you get straight into the action.

There are a huge number of missions available, with a wealth of types from which to choose. Even for something as simple as racing, there are multiple types, such as checkpoint racing, with marked and unmarked routes; smash racing, where you have to smash objects along the route to gain time; and team racing, where you have to shift between two competitors to ensure that they finish in first and second place. Then, there are the police missions in which you have to chase down criminals by using your boost ability to ram them off the road or shift into oncoming traffic to ram them head-on, with replays letting you view the carnage in glorious slow motion. The stunt missions are the most fun: You have to perform feats of daring driving, such as drifts, handbrake turns, and huge jumps over moving vehicles.

Each of the main missions has a story attached to it. Sometimes they relate back to the main narrative, while others involve ordinary citizens who've gotten themselves into a spot of trouble, such as parents whose child has been kidnapped or irresponsible teens who have entered street races. These stories aren't especially engaging, thanks to corny dialogue and merely passable voice acting, but references to kitsch '70s cop shows and past Driver games let you know the game never takes itself too seriously. To progress, you have to complete most of the story-based missions to unlock Tanner missions, which reveal more about his history with Jericho and his current condition. In addition, there are heaps of optional missions scattered around the city. Completing them awards you with will power points, which are also given to you for daring driving such as overtaking in the wrong lane or big drifts.

You can use will power to buy new cars, which are available from garages around the city. All of the vehicles are officially licensed, and there are a lot from which to choose. They range from slower vehicles, such as Fiat 500s, to supercars, such as Ford GTs and Zondas. More cars are unlocked as you complete missions or when you buy extra garages, including classic models and cars from films. Buying extra garages unlocks yet more bonus missions to play through as well. If that weren't enough content to keep you occupied, you can collect tokens from around the city, which open up missions inspired by classic movies. These remove your shift and boost abilities, making you rely on good old-fashioned driving skills to complete them.

Each car shares the same over-the-top feel--think Hollywood car handling rather than all-out realistic. Performing handbrake turns, doing reverse 180s, and driving under moving trucks is par for the course, though there are subtle differences between cars. For example, American muscle cars, such as the Ford Shelby GT, are very fast but a handful around corners, while cars like the Aston Martin Rapide combine speed with better cornering ability. Neither is particularly great off road, so there are Land Rovers and Baja Bugs for sale that let you tackle such missions with ease.

Thanks to the official licences and detailed visuals, each car looks the part too. There's a real feeling of pride as you drive around in your newly acquired supercar, with the sun glinting off the shiny paintwork along with the reflection of passing buildings and signs. Cars don't stay that way for long, though, with crashes and aggressive driving taking their toll on your car's bodywork. Windshields crack and lights smash, while hoods and side panels fly off in all directions. The environments are less impressive, but a lot of life has been injected into the city. Roads are always filled with cars, requiring you to weave through traffic at breakneck speeds to complete certain timed missions. It also means there's always a car around to shift into, so you're never left empty-handed. There are also lots of pedestrians on paths, which add to the living feel of the city--even if they have the uncanny ability to leap out of the way of speeding cars at a moment's notice.

Even if you exhaust the many hours of content in the single-player modes, Driver features a range of multiplayer options, including split-screen. There are six different types of multiplayer on offer, each using your boost and shift abilities in different ways. Initially, you can only play Free for All in which up to six players face off in Trailblazer and Tag games. In Trailblazer, each player has to follow a DeLorean, which leaves a long yellow trail behind it as it moves. Driving in the path of the trail earns you points, but only one car at a time can catch the trail. This makes races a manic affair, as cars battle with each other using shift and boost to catch up to the DeLorean and ram competitors off the road.

In Tag, one car holds a tag trophy at the start of the race. Whoever holds the tag earns points, while the other cars have to ram that car to steal the tag. This cat-and-mouse system is a lot of fun, and with rapid shifting going on around you, any one of the AI-controlled cars on the road is a potential tag stealer. To unlock further modes, you have to earn experience points and level up, which is irritating if you just want to jump straight into something different. There are standard eight-player races that don't let you use boost or shift; takedown races, in which players take on the role of the police and chase down a getaway driver; and shift races, in which the first person to drive through a checkpoint gets the points. There are also cooperative team events, such as capture the flag and relay races.

The addition of shift to online races is excellent. Thankfully, you can't just spam the ability in races, with a gradually replenishing energy bar limiting the number you can make. If you'd rather take on a friend face-to-face, split-screen offers all the same modes. There are also additional co-op races like Clean the Streets, where you have to prevent marked vehicles from reaching their destinations, and a Freedrive mode, where you can kick back and enjoy a leisurely drive around the city. While on the whole these modes work well, there is a noticeable amount of slowdown when you enter heavy-traffic areas on freeways, which turns races into something of a slideshow.

While Driver: San Francisco is a lot of fun, it isn't without its faults: Missions can get a little repetitive toward the end (particularly if you're doing all the side missions), the storyline is ludicrous, and the less said about the incredibly frustrating final boss battle the better. These issues do little to sully what is a great driving game, though. A wealth of content, fast cars, and the inspired shift mechanic mean you're always kept in the thick of action-packed, over-the-top driving missions that are a thrill to play.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

Driver San Francisco review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 08:31 (A review of Driver San Francisco)

Driver: San Francisco's inspired shift mechanic and wealth of action-packed content make it an absolute blast that revives the franchise.


The Good

Shift keeps the action fast paced and exciting
Huge open-world city to explore
Masses of content to play through
Fun online modes.

The Bad

Ridiculous storyline
Frame rate issues with split-screen
Missions get repetitive toward the end.


Chasing down crooks in high-speed chases, performing death-defying feats of driving, or bringing down entire criminal organisations might be a bit much for your average cop, but Driver: San Francisco's John Tanner takes it in his stride. As you take control of him and begin your beat on the mean streets of San Francisco, the reason why becomes clear: Tanner's uncanny ability to "shift" into the body of citizens lets you do things other cops can't, such as instantly drive any vehicle in the city, coax case clues from criminal passengers, or use cars as battering rams, to name but a few. While the premise behind this ability is ludicrous, it all makes sense as you soar over the living, breathing city for the first time, instantly transporting yourself to new missions and swiftly jumping between cars to take down criminals. Shifting is Driver's coup de grace; the feature that puts memories of the mediocre Driver 3 to rest and reinvigorates the franchise.

Driver: San Francisco picks up where Driv3r left off; it continues the story of Tanner and criminal mastermind Jericho. After escaping from Istanbul, Jericho takes refuge in San Francisco, only to be tracked down and imprisoned. However, a routine prison transfer gives him the opportunity to escape. Tanner gives chase and--after an explosion-filled action scene of Michael Bay proportions--catches up with the criminal, only to be run down and left in a coma. It's in Tanner's coma-induced dreams that Driver takes place; the battle against his coma manifests itself as the hunt for Jericho and real-life news reports on the TV in his hospital room influence his actions. While the narrative is completely implausible and at times downright confusing, it allows Driver to free itself from the shackles of the real world and introduce the unique shift mechanic that underpins the entire game.

Shifting allows you to take control of any vehicle with just a few buttons presses. Activating shift lets you float above the city, from varying levels of zoom that allow for up-close views of roads all the way to a bird's-eye view. You can highlight any car you like, and with another button press, you're in the driver's seat, ready to take on the criminal horde. With a city the size of San Francisco, the gameworld is huge, and there are hundreds of miles of road for you to drive on and explore. Fortunately, any worries about laborious driving to reach missions are laid to rest with shift. Zooming out to a bird's-eye view allows you to see all of the missions on the map, which are marked by clear icons that, when hovered over, detail the content. You can zip from a mission on one side of the city to another in seconds, minimizing downtime and letting you get straight into the action.

There are a huge number of missions available, with a wealth of types from which to choose. Even for something as simple as racing, there are multiple types, such as checkpoint racing, with marked and unmarked routes; smash racing, where you have to smash objects along the route to gain time; and team racing, where you have to shift between two competitors to ensure that they finish in first and second place. Then, there are the police missions in which you have to chase down criminals by using your boost ability to ram them off the road or shift into oncoming traffic to ram them head-on, with replays letting you view the carnage in glorious slow motion. The stunt missions are the most fun: You have to perform feats of daring driving, such as drifts, handbrake turns, and huge jumps over moving vehicles.

Each of the main missions has a story attached to it. Sometimes they relate back to the main narrative, while others involve ordinary citizens who've gotten themselves into a spot of trouble, such as parents whose child has been kidnapped or irresponsible teens who have entered street races. These stories aren't especially engaging, thanks to corny dialogue and merely passable voice acting, but references to kitsch '70s cop shows and past Driver games let you know the game never takes itself too seriously. To progress, you have to complete most of the story-based missions to unlock Tanner missions, which reveal more about his history with Jericho and his current condition. In addition, there are heaps of optional missions scattered around the city. Completing them awards you with will power points, which are also given to you for daring driving such as overtaking in the wrong lane or big drifts.

You can use will power to buy new cars, which are available from garages around the city. All of the vehicles are officially licensed, and there are a lot from which to choose. They range from slower vehicles, such as Fiat 500s, to supercars, such as Ford GTs and Zondas. More cars are unlocked as you complete missions or when you buy extra garages, including classic models and cars from films. Buying extra garages unlocks yet more bonus missions to play through as well. If that weren't enough content to keep you occupied, you can collect tokens from around the city, which open up missions inspired by classic movies. These remove your shift and boost abilities, making you rely on good old-fashioned driving skills to complete them.

Each car shares the same over-the-top feel--think Hollywood car handling rather than all-out realistic. Performing handbrake turns, doing reverse 180s, and driving under moving trucks is par for the course, though there are subtle differences between cars. For example, American muscle cars, such as the Ford Shelby GT, are very fast but a handful around corners, while cars like the Aston Martin Rapide combine speed with better cornering ability. Neither is particularly great off road, so there are Land Rovers and Baja Bugs for sale that let you tackle such missions with ease.

Thanks to the official licences and detailed visuals, each car looks the part too. There's a real feeling of pride as you drive around in your newly acquired supercar, with the sun glinting off the shiny paintwork along with the reflection of passing buildings and signs. Cars don't stay that way for long, though, with crashes and aggressive driving taking their toll on your car's bodywork. Windshields crack and lights smash, while hoods and side panels fly off in all directions. The environments are less impressive, but a lot of life has been injected into the city. Roads are always filled with cars, requiring you to weave through traffic at breakneck speeds to complete certain timed missions. It also means there's always a car around to shift into, so you're never left empty-handed. There are also lots of pedestrians on paths, which add to the living feel of the city--even if they have the uncanny ability to leap out of the way of speeding cars at a moment's notice.

Even if you exhaust the many hours of content in the single-player modes, Driver features a range of multiplayer options, including split-screen. There are six different types of multiplayer on offer, each using your boost and shift abilities in different ways. Initially, you can only play Free for All in which up to six players face off in Trailblazer and Tag games. In Trailblazer, each player has to follow a DeLorean, which leaves a long yellow trail behind it as it moves. Driving in the path of the trail earns you points, but only one car at a time can catch the trail. This makes races a manic affair, as cars battle with each other using shift and boost to catch up to the DeLorean and ram competitors off the road.

In Tag, one car holds a tag trophy at the start of the race. Whoever holds the tag earns points, while the other cars have to ram that car to steal the tag. This cat-and-mouse system is a lot of fun, and with rapid shifting going on around you, any one of the AI-controlled cars on the road is a potential tag stealer. To unlock further modes, you have to earn experience points and level up, which is irritating if you just want to jump straight into something different. There are standard eight-player races that don't let you use boost or shift; takedown races, in which players take on the role of the police and chase down a getaway driver; and shift races, in which the first person to drive through a checkpoint gets the points. There are also cooperative team events, such as capture the flag and relay races.

The addition of shift to online races is excellent. Thankfully, you can't just spam the ability in races, with a gradually replenishing energy bar limiting the number you can make. If you'd rather take on a friend face-to-face, split-screen offers all the same modes. There are also additional co-op races like Clean the Streets, where you have to prevent marked vehicles from reaching their destinations, and a Freedrive mode, where you can kick back and enjoy a leisurely drive around the city. While on the whole these modes work well, there is a noticeable amount of slowdown when you enter heavy-traffic areas on freeways, which turns races into something of a slideshow.

While Driver: San Francisco is a lot of fun, it isn't without its faults: Missions can get a little repetitive toward the end (particularly if you're doing all the side missions), the storyline is ludicrous, and the less said about the incredibly frustrating final boss battle the better. These issues do little to sully what is a great driving game, though. A wealth of content, fast cars, and the inspired shift mechanic mean you're always kept in the thick of action-packed, over-the-top driving missions that are a thrill to play.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

Driver: Parallel Lines review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 08:25 (A review of Driver: Parallel Lines)

Driver: Parallel Lines looks seriously outdated on the PC. Its dull story and gameplay prevent it from being recommendable.


The Good

Pretty smooth frame rate
Offers a number of side missions
Decent music in the 1978 section.

The Bad

Shameless GTA knockoff
Flat story
Gameplay is passable at best.


Driver: Parallel Lines isn't nearly as messed up as the last Driver game. Considering how completely jacked most of Driver 3 was, that's not really saying much, but it's still worth saying. Parallel Lines is a mostly competent game that's probably the most blatant Grand Theft Auto clone to date. Considering that GTAIII was, in many ways, picking up where the first two Driver games left off, maybe this is just a case of turnabout being fair play. Either way, Driver: Parallel Lines isn't broken, but it's almost completely uninspired and devoid of the little things that make these sorts of games entertaining. The characters fall flat, the story is uninteresting, and the gameplay controls are often inadequate. When you add to that some drab mission design, you've got a game that looks good on paper but simply can't add up to a game worth playing.

The action opens in 1978. You, as an 18-year-old named TK, have moved to New York City in search of excitement. You're pretty good behind the wheel of a car and quickly catch on with a crew of criminals looking to make it big. Because this is the late '70s, "making it big" eventually turns out to mean "starting a cocaine empire." But, as these things normally go, stuff doesn't pan out quite so well for TK, and he gets locked up for 28 years. This fast-forwards the game to present day. TK gets out of the joint in 2006 with revenge on his mind, and the story picks up from there. It's a potentially interesting premise that falls apart because none of the individual characters are very compelling or likeable in either era.

The gameplay in Driver puts you in a big, open city that's broken up into three areas by bridges. There are a few side missions, such as races and repo-man jobs, that you can use to earn money, which in turn can be spent on car upgrades. But considering the cars in the game are as disposable as you'd expect from a game like this, spending money on engine upgrades seems like a waste of time, so earning money usually isn't your goal. Instead, you'll follow the story path by taking on a variety of missions. Most of them are, as you might expect from a game called "Driver," focused on operating a motor vehicle. You'll get into races, collect packages, and even steal a car, which you'll fit with a bomb then drive back to where you found it so the owner can get an explosive surprise--unless he played GTAIII. If that's the case, he'll probably see this five-year-old mission design coming from a mile away. Some missions require you to do things on foot, which forces you to deal with the game's lackluster targeting system. It's often skittish and more difficult to manage than necessary. You can target and fire forward out of vehicles too, but this is only useful when you're chasing someone, which isn't all that often. Considering you get into some pretty hot spots with lots of bullets flying your way, and most of your enemies are crack shots, fumbling with the targeting gets very annoying.

At least if you fail, you won't have to retreat very far. When you die or otherwise fail on a mission, you can quickly hit a button to retry the mission. Many of the longer missions also have checkpoints, so you won't have to do the early parts again and again if you're having trouble with the final leg of a mission. It's handy and cuts down on repetition.

There are a few minor police-response systems in the game that stand out because the other games in this genre handle things a little differently. Police cars drive around the world, and you can see them on your minimap, complete with Metal Gear Solid-style vision cones. Doing stuff like speeding, running a red light, or causing a collision while in a cop's vision cone activates the cops and raises your heat level. You actually have to deal with two different types of heat. Normally, cops just see your car, and the heat meter for your current vehicle rises as you speed away. But if the cops see you get out of that car, the heat is all on you, and they'll chase you regardless of which vehicle you're driving. But the cops really aren't very difficult to avoid, and they aren't very smart. Usually, turning down an alley in plain view is enough to completely confuse them and cause them to give up the chase. And stopping off at one of your safe havens totally resets your personal heat level too. Cops occasionally turn up in missions to potentially give you a harder time, but just as often, it seems as though you simply can't find any cops on the streets when in a mission. Overall, the police presence is more of a hassle than anything else because it forces you to drive slowly, stop at stop signs, and do other "realistic" stuff that isn't entertaining in the least.

Visually, Driver's a lot better on the PC than it was on consoles, but that doesn't mean overall it looks good. It maintains a smooth frame rate and looks clean enough, but the models and textures were clearly designed for the previous generation of consoles. However, there are some interesting visual tricks here and there. For example, the entire heads-up display will get redesigned and modernized when you switch from '78 to '06 and TK's walk animation will change from a ridiculous swaggering strut in '78 to a toned-down, more normal-looking walk in the present day. On the sound side, the game doesn't sound very good. There's a noticeable audio quality difference between the cutscenes and the in-game action, with the in-game voices just sounding much lower in fidelity. Of course, it isn't really worth listening to most of the voice acting. Music plays when you're in a vehicle, and there's a decent array of licensed tunes here. But as you might expect, the '70s music is a little more entertaining than the also-ran and out-of-date-sounding stuff you hear in the game's 2006 setting. As far as sound effects go, the only one that really stands out is the pick-up noise that's made when you grab things like health kits. It sounds awfully similar (though the pitch is different) to the pick-up noise in GTA: San Andreas.

Driver is a very by-the-numbers GTA clone. While stuff like having to obey speed laws and stop at red lights arguably makes the game more realistic, it certainly doesn't make it any more entertaining. With unexciting driving physics and lackluster on-foot control, playing Driver: Parallel Lines isn't very satisfying. The game's monochromatic storyline isn't strong enough to make the trip worthwhile either. Sure, it's better than Driver 3, but that doesn't make it a success.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

DRIV3R review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 08:20 (A review of DRIV3R)

Don't waste your time with Driver 3.

The Bad

Awful control
Broken physics
Horrific AI
Weak voice work
Poor textures.

Nine months separate the PC release of Driver 3 from the release of its console counterparts. A sane, logical type of person might assume that the large gap between the borderline-broken console versions and the newly released PC edition was used to fix the game's serious problems. But those people would be mistaken. Driver 3 for the PC is just about as broken as it was on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 last year, and thanks to the ill-conceived introduction of a mouse and keyboard into the mix, it manages to be even worse, overall.

The Driver series is helmed by an undercover cop named Tanner. This time around, Tanner is trying to infiltrate a Miami-based car thief ring, which is working to steal 40 exotic cars and ship them out of Miami. Part of the game's story involves finding out who the thieves in the car ring are working for, where the cars are going, and who's double-crossing whom. You'll start out in Miami, eventually make your way to Nice for some French car chases, and you'll also spend some time in Istanbul. The story is mostly told via prerendered cutscenes that fall somewhere between a music video and a movie in terms of style and inspiration. Generally speaking, the cutscenes look pretty good. In fact, the cutscenes are probably the best part about Driver 3.

Despite featuring three large cities to drive in, Driver 3's main mode is a linear, mission-based game that sends you on mission after mission until you've unraveled the game's story. Each mission has clear-cut objectives, like chasing after a guy who double-crossed your gang, stealing three cars and driving them into the back of a moving truck before the truck gets to its destination, or driving around on an enemy's turf and busting up the place by crashing through exploding barrels and other objects. At the end of every mission, you're given the option to save and then you can continue on to the next mission. The missions tend to vary from city to city, but the lackluster gameplay really prevents many of the missions from being much fun.

For a game called "Driver," you may be surprised to find yourself spending quite a lot of time out of your car, and that's where the first significant gameplay problem comes to light: The on-foot action is awful. Your control over Tanner is stiff, at best. You can fire weapons, you can halfheartedly jump, and you can duck to perform some pretty lame rolls. While you probably wouldn't expect much more from a gruff undercover guy like Tanner, all of his movements look stilted and jittery, and the gunplay--despite giving you access to a number of different pistols, submachine guns, an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher--is decidedly underwhelming. The combat in the game isn't tense at all, and it mostly consists of running up to enemies and blasting them...before they blast back, if possible. However, the game is pretty liberal with the health packs, so you can certainly trade shots with most of your foes without worrying too much. Since most of the game's artificial intelligence is incompetent, you can usually get the drop on the bad guys.

The game's driving portions are better than the on-foot stuff, but not all that much better. You're given a map of the city with a pretty clear indication of where to go, and you're usually in a hurry, so there isn't much time to explore the game's cities in the story mode. The physics behind the driving appear to be designed to give you that '70s-cop-show-car-chase feel, in that everything has been exaggerated. Even the slightest turn around a corner is a tire-screeching, sliding-out affair. Getting slammed hard by a cop car might send you flying into the air, causing you to barrel-roll a half-dozen times before crashing back to Earth.

The problem is that the driving isn't especially fun, as you constantly feel more like you're fighting to stay in control of the car than skillfully outmaneuvering your pursuers. Sometimes you'll hit a ramp and land just fine; and sometimes you'll land differently and roll your car, forcing you to retry a mission. There are also some discrepancies between what you can and can't drive through. Some objects will let you drive right through them, while others will stop all of your forward progress with a loud, damaging crash. What's more, it's even occasionally possible to crash into objects like streetlights or trees, essentially making it look like the streetlight or other object is growing out of the middle of your car. This causes your car to become completely stuck.

The driving AI isn't much better than the on-foot AI, either. Police chases--which happen more often in the game's additional modes than they do in the main story--are especially ridiculous. Cops basically aren't smart enough to get out of their cars and shoot at you unless they can get close enough to you. So, for example, if you were to jump over a guardrail and swim out into the water surrounding Miami, a cop that's pursuing you would simply drive his car into that guardrail, back up, and then drive into that guardrail over and over again. If you can get the cops to get out of their cars, they aren't much smarter.

A big part of the problem with Driver 3 lies in its control. Both on foot and in a car, your control over the action is limited, at best. The game supports analog gamepads as well as a mouse and keyboard. If you spend some time configuring the controls, you can get a dual analog controller to function much like it would in the console versions of the game, but your ability to turn with an analog controller is severely limited. Tanner turns very slowly, then suddenly accelerates his turning. This makes drawing a bead on anything nearly impossible. The mouse and keyboard might not have that problem, but they have plenty of others. Steering with keys on the keyboard simply isn't refined enough to deal with the game's sloppy car physics, making even the most rudimentary car chase a real chore. Also, if there were an award for "worst default control scheme," Driver 3 would win it, hands down. Why, exactly, would anyone make the 5 key on the keypad the "fire weapon" button and leave the mouse buttons unmapped? The default control scheme is clearly an exercise in insanity. After some trial-and-error, it's possible to reconfigure the keys to make the game playable. Well, as playable as this game's going to get, anyway.

Aside from the main story mode, the game also has a few secondary modes, though they really don't add much to the experience. You can opt to simply drive around a city in the "take a ride" mode. There are also some driving games to play, such as checkpoint races, a survival mode that forces you to last as long as possible against the game's dopey, crash-happy police AI, and so on. You can also save replays and edit them by inserting different camera angles, slow-motion effects, and so forth.

A big part of what makes Driver 3 so bad is a series of technical, graphical glitches that make the game look like an absolute mess. You can run it in a wide variety of video resolutions, and you can fiddle with the draw distance and antialiasing, as well. When you get it all turned on, Driver 3 actually starts to look pretty good...provided you're standing still. In motion, Driver 3 is a flickery mess. After testing the game out on a few different video cards, it seems that the lighting has been programmed to flicker on and off everything. At times, Tanner's whole head is lit up like the sun is hitting it directly, while the rest of him stays dark. As you drive around the city, objects like trees and buildings flicker like crazy. And when you run the game in higher resolutions, the textures start to really look like trash.

The sound side of things is pretty underwhelming. Car engines and the like sound appropriately throaty. But the game is missing a lot of the little touches that would help it sound more alive. When a car takes too much damage to continue on, the engine merely stops making noise and the car rolls to a stop. A more prevalent sputtering noise, or something to that effect, would have helped. Most of the gunfire is rather subdued and unimpressive--this only serves to make the on-foot combat seem even more ineffectual. Additionally, the game's voice work is quite stiff. Michael Madsen voices Tanner, and while his gruff, gravelly voice fits the character, the delivery is a little too flat and uninterested. Similar criticisms can be said about most of the voice cast, including Michelle Rodriguez, whose performance as Calita is phoned-in and wooden. Other voices on the cast include Mickey Rourke, Iggy Pop, and Ving Rhames, who plays your partner in the game and narrates most of the cutscenes. The game's music is most prevalent during the cutscenes, and it works with the action quite well, giving the game's noninteractive sequences a slightly more cinematic feel.

Driver 3 is full of the sorts of glitches and problems that final retail products shouldn't have. On top of that, a recently released patch for the game doesn't fix many of its showstopping problems. The control is terrible, the visuals are buggy, and the AI is straight-up broken. Short of being threatened at gunpoint, there's no acceptable reason to play this game.


0 comments, Reply to this entry

TrackMania United review

Posted : 4 years, 2 months ago on 16 April 2013 07:59 (A review of TrackMania United)

Speedy craziness and a great online community make TrackMania United a blast.


The Good

Addictive racing and platform modes of play
Sharp visuals and fast frame rates.

The Bad

Puzzle mode is dull and out of place.

Slot car fantasies come to life in TrackMania United, the latest addition to the zaniest, most addictive arcade racing franchise to ever hit the PC. French developer Nadeo may stick a little too close to the original TrackMania and its sequel TrackMania Sunrise, but the concepts introduced in those games have been refined to near-perfection here. Dozens of insanely catchy tracks, fantastic online support, and a few new gameplay hooks will have you craving the next race the second you finish the last one.

If you decide to download this game from Steam (the only place it's available in the US), be aware that this a racing-game throwback--not the usual hardcore sim with a capital "S" that you tend to get on the PC. Ripping around and having a blast is the point here, not running telemetry until you can blow the doors off everyone at Daytona. Vehicle types here come with loose physics and a slidey feel more fitting of toy cars than of real hunks of metal and plastic. Cars even bounce when they fall from great heights, whether they hit pavement or water when they come down. Tracks are even more fantastic, typically featuring insane jumps, hoops hovering in midair, snowboard-style half-pipes, precipices high above desert canyons, and tropical-island highways that come to abrupt dead ends. And if you can think of a design even nuttier, you can make it yourself with the powerful, easy-to-use track editor.

All of this speedy craziness is experienced in three modes of play. Race is the most down-to-earth option. Like in Sunrise, you run time trials alone or against gold, silver, and bronze pace cars. However, opponents are just ghost cars to push you to better times, as you can't collide with them. Races take place in seven different track categories that unlock as you collect a requisite number of gold and silver finishes. Categories offer different scenery and racing styles. Stadium, for example, sees you guiding formula one-style cars around racetracks in concrete domes, while Desert features trucks on dirt roads. Rally boasts rally cars on grass in windmill-laden pastoral Europe, and Snow takes you to the mountains on ATVs.

Repetition is a bit of an issue when racing, despite the dozens and dozens of tracks included in the game. Each map type repeats the same scenic elements, only varying the time of day and adding glitz like red sunsets and neon nights. Still, you don't spend enough time on any one track to get bored. Tracks range from 10-second drags in the opening stages to slightly more winding treks that take a minute or two to complete. Also, the challenge is strong enough that you can find yourself running a race a couple-dozen times in a row to try to catch the perfect performance of the gold car. Just the slightest mistake puts you in second place, so don't underestimate the toughness of what looks to be a shiny, happy arcade game.

Racing can also be taken online. TrackMania United boasts an awesome online community in both Europe and North America, which lets you hook up with a race day or night. Lag is a slight problem at times, although typically only when loading and starting races. Once you get going, everything smoothes out. Nadeo keeps online leaderboards for different tracks, and also allows you to check your times against others by running official races in the solo mode. So if the basic gameplay doesn't keep you playing, trying to hit the top of the charts likely will. There seem to be thousands of different tracks available over the Net as well, testimony to the game's European fan base and the usability of the editor. These tracks can be downloaded and installed on the fly, although you need to purchase them in solo gaming with coppers earned from activities like posting good official race times.

But while races and the challenge of besting online times will hook you, platform mode will keep you coming back for more. This fiendishly addictive game (a revamped take on Sunrise's ramps tracks) challenges you to simply make it from start to finish without hitting a checkpoint restart too many times, but that's easier said than done when you have to deal with jumps that don't line up, holes that drop you into watery graves, tunnels that whip you around like a pinball, and outrageous one-after-the-other leaps to floating platforms suspended in midair. These tracks beautifully balance learning with driving skill. Even after you've run through a track a few times and memorized its pitfalls, funky driving is still required in order to stay on the road. This means a lot of trial and error...along with a lot of laughing as you continuously miss turns and cinematically sail off ramps to plummet hundreds of feet into the drink in front of gorgeous sunsets. Swearing alternates with the laughter, though, as getting a gold medal requires perfection, and perfection is gamepad-throwingly hard to come by.

Compared to the above, the puzzle mode of play is a big letdown. As in Sunrise, this option sees you building tracks from a top-down perspective. It's an interesting concept, though it seems as out of place with the other two modes as pizza does with rice, and solutions rarely seem logical. As the other options are such pure fun, puzzle really isn't worth much of your time.

But while puzzle makes you question what the developers were thinking, the visuals make you ask how the heck they managed to make a game look this good and run this fast. Frame rates fly on even a low-end machine, and tracks load in seconds (restarts are instantaneous), even though the appearance of the game hasn't been compromised at all. Tracks are designed around postcard vistas like tropical beaches, historic countrysides, and snowy cliffs. Big jumps often trigger the camera switching to a panoramic view of the action, further emphasizing the attractiveness of the backdrops and adding a Fall Guy feel. In-game advertising is the only sore point. When you're logged in online, the scenery is marred by billboards. It's not like tracks are clogged with signage, though, and the ads are region-specific (in Canada, for instance, you get billboards for Rogers and those irritating Bell Canada beavers), so you might see something of interest. Still, having to endure commercials in a retail game is every bit as galling as having to sit through ads in movie theaters.

Audio quality almost makes you forget about the annoying sales pitches, at least. Atmospheric effects are dialed way down for what should be an over-the-top arcade game with lots of squeals and smashes, although the selection of great tunes on the soundtrack mitigates this minor issue. Each song matches its setting, so you get a nifty country honky-tonk in desert races, a scratchy hip-hop beat in the city, and so on.

Overall, TrackMania United has a dreamy, fantasy vibe that could fulfill a kid's slot-car dream. Veterans of the previous two games in the series might find it too much of a been-there, done-that sequel, but it's perfect for anyone who appreciates speed, imaginative track design, and a definitively offbeat take on running cars around in circles.


0 comments, Reply to this entry



Insert image

drop image here
(or click)
or enter URL:
 link image?  square?

Insert video

Format block