Game reviews, thoughts on the industry, videos, and more from yet another gamer on the internet.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Shadowgate (2014, PC/Mac)

Thursday, August 21, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , , , No comments



As I said before in my preview of Shadowgate: point-and-click games, more commonly known as the Adventure genre, are becoming few and far between these days. Some of the more recent notable games of the last few years would be The Walking Dead series or The Raven, but if you want to travel back in time you may recognize the Monkey Island series or Maniac Mansion, which was also ported over to the NES during its lifetime. Given that every title in the genre does something different, measuring this adventure to the old school Shadowgate rather than comparing it to other adventure titles only seems fair since even the devs call it a re-imagining. The changes, similarities, what it does well now and what it lacks are up for inspection. Its mostly the same Shadowgate, but this time you get a lot more reasoning behind the journey.

As Jair Cathegar, you are instructed by the wizard Lakmir to take on a perilous task by traveling far and finding your way to the living castle of Shadowgate, then navigating its many perilous halls to stop the evil Warlock Lord, Talimar the Black, from unleashing the Behemoth to destroy the world. A little ways in to the game the bulk of the plot is explained to you through a couple of cutscenes. Lakmir, who is a surviving member of the Circle of Twelve, the only other being Talimar, has grown too weak to fight him face-to-face. Which is where Jair Cathegar comes in. He's descended from a long line of kings and prophecy states that he will be the one to defeat Talimar, but standing in his way is the castle and it's many, many, MANY traps and treasures. Almost everything you pick up can be used for something down the line but there is also a hefty amount of trash. Discerning which is which is up to the player. On the hard difficulty, you're limited to how much you can carry and since the puzzles adjust with each level something that can be used at one point may instead work somewhere else on another difficulty. Its these three levels that give the game am immense replayability factor.



Fools Rush In
The first thing you should know about playing Shadowgate is that its not for those who lack patience: you will die a lot and if you're not adept at using your noggin to solve some complex puzzles then I'm afraid Shadowgate isn't for you. Additionally an attention to detail and a keen eye for things that stand out is also definitely required. If you enjoy games with a steep level of challenge then you'll love it. If you're looking for a nostalgic trip you may or may not be disappointed: while a lot has changed, conjuring up memories of past solutions might help you in some ways but not in every case. In the first screen you find a talking skull named Yorick that offers vague hints and the occasional commentary, he's a decent traveling partner and provides a few passing chuckles, you're notfied by what he says when you hear bones clatter ominously. If you don't like his chatter you can simply choose to hit him to make him speak less. There is no direct combat, just a command that will let you HIT something, including yourself. You will encounter a few beasts that will attack and sometimes finding a way to avoid combat is your best bet.
From the dragon immolating you with fire breath to falling down a pit, almost everything can kill you, the game is still fraught with the familiar death traps that made the original so tricky to navigate. Shadowgate can be smooth as silk when you remember all of the possible combinations of things and think cleverly on when and how to use items. Sometimes being stuck in an area will require backtracking by several rooms. Keeping your torches lit is also a priority. Yorick will notify you when the light is getting too low, and letting it burn out is a bad idea. Once the fire is gone, you can't start another one, and it'll be awfully hard navigating the darkness by feeling your way around.

Shadowgate now has a spacious interface with the inventory and other options no longer taking up most of the screen. Part of the action unfolds through a text box at the bottom while an animation shows. Yes, a basic reading skill is required to play. The most dialogue you'll come across will be written on notes, the voiceovers are sparsely placed throughout the game.
The way of playing takes some getting used as it seems you need to be sure which command you're clicking at the top of the screen or which item you're selecting. Sometimes trying to click on an action requires a second click (or my 2-month old mouse is already breaking). The menus and inventory seem to get in the way of the game itself so if you prefer keyboard bindings over mouse movement you can set those up in the options, or in case you want the very old-school MacVenture feeling.


Painting Life 
The land of Tyragon is a dark and dreary one where magic is abundant and there remain spells crafted from people whose names have been long-forgotten, and Castle Shadowgate is almost the epicenter of it. The room and inventory art was done by Chris Cold, who has been able to create not only a variety of dungeons but ones that flow well together from one room to the next, they're greatly designed and all fit within the theme of what you would find given the atmosphere of the world. The cutscenes were animated by Wang Ling, also a digital painter, and are somewhat reminiscent of what you would see during the cutscenes of Guild Wars 2. You won't have to worry about too much brown or gray with splashes of colors in certain areas (as seen above) that almost command attention, each space is different and the map in the bottom left of the screen is a handy tool to help you remember where things are.

The voice acting, though few, is top notch with voices neatly matching the characters but the main thing you'll hear will be the soundtrack which is impeccably orchestrated: immersive, haunting, mysterious, calm at times and adrenalized at others, fitting the moods of the rooms perfectly. But don't you wish there was a bit more nostalgia to be had? Have no fear. In the options menu you'll find an NES music mode that inserts the original tunes from the 1989 NES release as well as the transitions and text-scrolling animation. Basically you can turn it into a big nostalgia trip with updated visuals. Its a nice addition that has no bearing on the gameplay itself but is a very welcome one.

Invokan, Agaap, Entraiz...
As of writing this I haven't been able to complete the game. I had a lot of trouble with it until Dave Marsh, one of the creators, helped me out. That being said I can't tell you how long it will take to complete but with the puzzles and items changing with each difficulty level you'll sink in at least a dozen hours. While Shadowgate holds itself together like a AAA game you can't help but feel overwhelmed as your torch light slowly dies and you've exhausted all options to figure out what to do next, you will feel stupid that the answer may be something you simply overlooked. A lot of thought and effort have gone into remaking everything and making it all work together and it shows... almost a little too well. When you hit a stride it feels good but when the game comes to a halt then you need to think your way through. You might find yourself trying items and actions repeatedly on random objects in the hopes that something will happen, but it never does.

Upon entering the pitch black dungeon, a shaft of light pierces the darkness, illuminating a book upon a pedestal. Opening the pages you find only two words written in the entire book: "PRICE DROP!" Then a trap door opens below your feet and you plummet to your death.
If you've been curious about it, its best to wait for a Steam Sale. Nostalgia or not, Shadowgate is a pure challenge to play and many people will be turned off by that, which is a shame since this time around it has a lot more to work with. Amazing visuals, captivating music, and a bit more depth to the story give a more complete sense of the world than what we had on the NES. Games are meant to be fun but Shadowgate proves to be a lesson in patience and observation. The immersion in the world matters little if you're not allowed to guess. I'm not saying "don't buy this game," I'm saying you should wait for some brave adventurers to go first. But if you're craving a challenge, you may have found one worthy to test your mettle.

Keep Playing

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preview: Shadowgate (2014, PC)

Sunday, August 03, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , , No comments

Shadowgate, originally made by ICOM Simulations, started life in 1987 on the Apple Macintosh and found its way to the NES in 1989 where it gained a cult following. It was innovative for the time with its first-person view point-and-click gameplay on a home console but never garnered a widely celebrated status, though it did have sequels on the TurboGrafx 16 and N64 as well as a newer port to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. The story was you against the Warlock Lord as you sought to disrupt his plan to summon a demon that will destroy the world. As you made your way through Castle Shadowgate, filled with dungeons, traps, an occasional dragon, puzzles, and hidden areas, you wouldn’t find much of a sense of lore within the dark walls. The backstory was a generic medieval tale of ancient magic versus evil, but at the time that’s all you needed as a reason to make a game and go on an adventure. Jump to 2012 where original game creators Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs have made their own studio, Zojoi, LLC, and have “re-imagined” Shadowgate for a new generation. Following a successful Kickstarter of over $137,000, they were able to reach at least one of their stretch goals which will let players adventure through a re-made Castle Shadowgate as well as a third tower that builds on the world’s previously barren lore.


While it didn’t create much lore in itself it still held a very mysterious atmosphere that was compelling and the new game will follow along the same lines with both old and new pathways; the same formula of puzzle-solving and dungeon-traversing as the original will remain with a few puzzles remade and many new ones added as well as some content that was cut from the original game. It will have 24 in-game achievements that also tie in to your Steam achievements, an original NES music mode, voice acting (so its not just music and sound effects all the time), three difficulty levels that change the game’s puzzles, and will most prominently feature amazing moving artwork by Chris Cold and Damian Audino.
If you’re a fan of old-school point-and-click games then this new Shadowgate is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to; games of the point-and-click variety have been fading in the last few decades and most of them have moved to mobile devices at the cost of graphics and length. But even if you’re not a fan, you may enjoy the challenge that this game will offer and you might find it will be a nice change of pace from the repetitive titles of the current generations. Immersing yourself in the world of Tyragon, a place of magic and danger; conquering the puzzles of Castle Shadowgate and discovering the truth behind the Warlock Lord; and becoming the hero of a time-forgotten prophecy. That sounds a lot better than another military shooter.


You can pre-order Shadowgate from Zojoi’s website and there are three different tiers that offer an abundance of extras (and right now, each pre-order has a 25% discount, prices described are without the discount). The Wayfarer Tier, priced at a simple $19.99, gives you just a Steam key for either a Windows or Mac digital download. The Adventurer Tier, which is $24.99 includes the game and over two dozen wallpapers based on concept art, the Grim Reaper, and a collection of desktop wallpaper calendars. At $29.99, the Hero Tier includes the former as well as a 25-song orchestral soundtrack based on the NES score, a 60-page digital art book, digital map of the land of Kal Zathynn, a beta test release with an in-game tester credit, and a one-week early release of the full game.

Shadowgate will launch in late August. I have pre-ordered the Hero Tier and have already downloaded the wallpapers and soundtrack, the beta or full game isn’t available just yet but when I get my hands on it, expect a review.

 If you remember this screen, congratulations: you’re old. :-P

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Screen Masher: Dots

Saturday, July 05, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , No comments
A New Blog Type Has Arrived!
In Screen Masher, I'm going to do quick reviews of mobile games that you can get either for free or for pay, most of the time from whichever app store you choose. These will be short reads with some details in certain areas. I'll try to crank these out faster than I do my normal reviews.


A lot can be said for simplicity in gaming, especially for mobile devices. Make things too simple and people may reject it. Add a lot of details and nuances and it becomes a hit. If Tetris is the latter and Flappy Bird is the former then Dots sits somewhere comfortably in the middle.
Dots is a minimalistic game where you connect dots of the same color. Simple. Easy. Tricky.
Timed, Moves, Endless, and Challenges are the four game modes you can spend your time in. Timed gives you one minute to gather as many dots as you can. Moves gives you a small amount of moves to gather as many. Endless, which costs $1.99, is exactly that: an infinite amount of time and power-ups to play with. This mode doesn't bank you any dots. Challenges sends a challenge request to one of your friends on either Facebook or Twitter. A friendly competition mode to see who can bank the most dots.
You can't connect diagonally and if you react too quickly you may miss your chance at a better move and there is no undo function. Connecting dots to make a square will cause all the dots of the same color to disappear. Your final score results in how many dots you bank. By banking and using those dots, you can purchase power-ups such as Time Stops, which stops the clock five seconds; Shrinkers, double-tapping a single dot will make it disappear; and Expanders, double tapping a single dot will make all dots of the same color disappear. Time Stops and Expanders can only be used once per game, so you'll have to consider whether or not its worth using one to get a few extra dots.



The game has 35 trophies and these can be shared on the two previously mentioned social networks. These can be earned by playing 40 rounds, scoring a certain amount, or using so many power-ups. Most of them are easy to earn so there's no pressure when you set your sights on unlocking one. It will take some practice to reach a score of just 300 but once you do then you pretty much have the game fully understood.


If the bright white of the game is too much to handle, included are three other themes. A dark theme reverses colors, and Winter Day and Winter Night (leftovers from their last holiday update) feature snow falling on all screens as well a winter scene during play. Its peaceful and almost relaxing. You can also change the dot's color intensities, this is for people who may have a hard time telling them apart. These colors also change based on theme.


I've had Dots on my last three Android phones. Its perfect for killing a minute or two when I have some free time or when I want to bank more dots. At some times its my go-to game when I don't want to wait for something to load. Playdots, Inc. has a follow-up game simply called Two Dots, it follows the same basic gameplay but with a few twists. But that's for another time.

Keep Playing

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Second Look @ Halo: Reach with Foreword

Monday, June 23, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , , , , , , No comments
I know I've been absent for a long while and it is all my fault. I originally intended June to be an Origins Month of reviews, games that I've held onto the longest and games that made me call myself a gamer, but since the car accident I haven't had enough time to write anything weekly. Instead I wrote this retrospective for a site called The Better Gaming Bureau, and the overall response has been better than anything I've seen here or on ScrewAttack. The guys there support my writing and think I'm good at it and I'll continue to write for them for as long as they want me to. Expect a few more blogs in the coming weeks as well as video from my SGC trip.
If you've read my last blog, you'll know that I've had to sell a few games on eBay to have enough money to spend at SGC, that's still going on and while I still can't sell a lot right now my original first five games have already been sold. As far as continuing to sell past SGC, that's up for internal debate of which I might post about later. For now, I hope you like this retrospective, which I've had to rewrite in a way different than what I'm used to.

Thanks and Keep Playing.


 

Some people were skeptical of Halo: Reach even before its release but with good reason: it was Bungie’s last time working on the franchise and many fans thought their hearts wouldn’t be in it, causing it to fall short of living up to its fullest potential under the Halo name. The ending to Halo 3 left us all wanting more from the Master Chief and, with Reach being the third spin-off/side story game in a row, it didn’t get a lot of love due to many fans stepping away from the series after finding too many faults in ODST. In that case, they missed out on a piece of history in the Halo universe. Their fears would have been quickly brought to an end as the game proved it was more than capable of balancing the campaign story with multiplayer action all with great graphical fidelity.


Gone is the blandness of Master Chief and in his place are five Spartans, each with differing personalities and varying sets of skills, and yourself whose face is never seen (Its like being Master Chief without the title). As the newly transferred Noble Six, you’re informed by team leader Carter, callsign Noble One, that your days of acting as the lone wolf are at an end; you are part of a team now and must follow orders. You can once again rely on teammates with competent AI to have your back as you must also watch theirs. Starting the campaign, you are airlifted in to a farmstead near a satellite installation where communications have strangely gone dark. Thinking its insurrectionists, your team is prepared for a small arms firefight only to discover that the Covenant have reached planetside. And so begins the lengthy campaign with a compelling story, long areas to traverse and, in a later level, one very chaotic run through a long field of Covenant.



The campaign never feels tacked-on like in other FPS games, clocking in at around 7 hours to complete and is as pulse-pounding, frustrating, rewarding, and unique as the other Halo titles, if not more. You feel the weight of an entire planet that's at risk of falling and you feel the hopelessness as the population is evacuated or slaughtered. Can you recall your first time taking control of the Falcon helicopter as you flew around the skies over New Alexandria? What went through your mind as you saw the E3 video of the space flight and you were finally able to take control of the Sabre to take the fight to Reach's atmosphere? If you read the Halo novels, how did you feel knowing that in the end Reach would be glassed by Covenant plasma? While the story isn't a ground-breaking work of fiction, what you play through is an integral part of the history of the Halo universe and serves as a good prequel to first game.
You are no longer the bullet sponge as your teammates can take hit after hit without dying and are also as effective in firefights as much as you are. They can kill and react to situations and occasionally have banter, much like in ODST. Unfortunately relying on them matters little in the campaign as the most they do are follow you or take control of vehicle turrets and sometimes the vehicles themselves. Level exploration isn't really encouraged as only thirteen skulls are pre-unlocked with fan favorites such as Mythic, Grunt Birthday Party, and Catch making their return. Since there were no hidden items to collect this time around, it lends more thought on the focus of the game rather than hunting down Easter Eggs.  Making their first appearance in the series, Armor Abilities give you temporary enhancements such as a projected hologram, jet pack, armor lock, and even the ability to sprint a short distance. These simple tactical advantages can sometimes mean the difference between life or death on Hardcore and Legendary difficulties. At the same time, these can also play a big part in the multiplayer and can earn you some kills if used properly or cheap deaths if you find yourself on the receiving end.

Multiplayer consists of the usual Halo games and brings back ODST's Firefight mode, which is similar to Gears of War 2's Horde Mode wherein you fight wave after wave of oncoming enemies with increasing difficulty. Even today, if you can find several friends to play with, it can easily give you a dozen hours of entertainment with many adjustable rules that can make it a tough challenge from the start, and even the opportunity to play on the opposing team as a Covenant Elite. If Firefight doesn't sound appealing, playlists made of different maps and rules can be found as well the ability to section players off by how well they play or how much they talk. If all else fails, there's always the unique mode of Grifball. 


Spartan customization makes a return and offers more options this time around to make your character unique, allowing you to use the same design in both the campaign and multiplayer. These are only cosmetic and don't have any effect in the actual game; armor upgrades don't provide any more protection and ammo belts don't improve magazine capacities. With the Command Points credits system along with leveled ranks, dozens of hours would have to be spent in order to get the more unique and costly items such as a Mjolnir Mark IV helmet, Kat's robotic arm, or armor effects. A player with a high rank and unique armor parts is to be commended for having the patience and skill to obtain them. Also, avoided if you're anything below the rank of Major. 

Reach went beyond the usual themes of cramped human and alien space stations and underground caverns made of metal. While you do fight in a Covenant ship at one point, most of the game takes place outside along canyons with vast draw distances that lend to a grand sense of scale. Mountainous levels have blind corners and cliffs that can lead to an instant death if taken too hastily in a Warthog. New Alexandria, though wartorn, has a sense of a clean and futuristic city. Character designs, as well as their armors, are a welcome change from the Chief's standard Mjolnir equipment and the thought of using the same armor in campaign and multiplayer is one of the best ideas that Bungie has ever had. The vehicle designs are familiar and are just as easy to operate. Light blooms, fog, weather, and fantastic draw distances coupled with amazing environmental art give Reach a feeling of being alive and organic. Before Halo 4, it was the best looking game in the franchise.

As the game's story unfolds in small victories and huge defeats, the soundtrack collides sorrow with hope, action with solemnity, and mystery with the knowledge of how it will all end. The drums give a tribal feel while the orchestra and singers add to the ambitious overtone of the game. Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori both show their talent by making the Reach soundtrack unique in many ways while still holding on to the essence of the past games. In one level, you'll hear a song that borrows notes from the original Halo theme. This should incite in you a feeling that you don't need to be Master Chief to be a Spartan. If you're one who enjoys collecting game memorabilia, the Halo: Reach soundtrack comes on two CDs, has bonus tracks, and is definitely one you will listen to several times. 
The voiceacting is superb but the lines of dialogue might wear a bit thin if you die and have to restart from a checkpoint. Each voice actor has brought their A-game and gives life to each character. From Carter's tone of leadership to Jorge's sympathy, each Spartan is given a personality behind the helmet; even your own Spartan sounds like an every day man/woman, making them feel more relatable.
Explosions and gunshots during firefights coupled with friendly and enemy banter make up the bulk of the game's sounds and with a wide variety of them they never seem to get old, but it seems the sound was given the backseat treatment in favor of the soundtrack as there's really not a lot of new things in comparison to the previous series entries.


Halo: Reach is the last great "Hurrah!" from Bungie and it shows that they put more effort into making a complete game than they have before. Each of the numbered Halo games seems to follow a central theme of discovery, not just along the lines of gameplay environments but more so in the Halo universe:
   *Halo CE is about the mystery of the first ring-world.
   *Halo 2 dealt with humanity's part in the grand scheme of things.
   *Halo 3 is about the deception of the Covenant.
   *Even Halo 4 is about uncovering more of the history of the Forerunners.
Reach takes a different path and chronicles the fall of the UNSC homeworld of Reach; the first and last bastion of military security for the human race falls in a very short amount of time. It doesn't need additional campaigns or massive amounts of DLC to complete the story. It gives a feeling of defeat at the end but a reassurance of hope. Its not the story of how Noble Team dies, but of your Spartan's heroic effort to ensure the safety of the most important person and AI in the Halo lore. As your teammates fall one-by-one, and as you fall in the end, Cortana reassures you that your sacrifice is not in vain. If not for your efforts, the AI never would have made it back* to Master Chief.
It's a thrill ride that leaves you wanting to see more of the vast landscapes and cities. You'll want to do more to help the population and fight the covenant. You'll want to battle online more to reach new ranks and prove you're damn good at it. You'll want more Spartans with personality. You'll want to hear more of the epic soundtrack. And in the end, you will be satisfied. If you missed Halo: Reach, you missed out on one of the best games in FPS history, and I stand by that wholeheartedly. 


(*In the Halo novel, Fall of Reach, Chief and Cortana ran a test exercise before being evacuated from the planet. Cortana was returned to Dr. Halsey while Master Chief was prepped for evac. Noble Team's mission was to get Cortana aboard the Pillar of Autumn in time.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Second Look @ F355 Challenge: Passione Rossa

Saturday, April 26, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , , , , , No comments
(The things I do for a review. I knew about this game long ago because I bought it from Play N Trade. I owned it for a total of one week before taking it back. I played it for a total of 10 minutes before I was completely disappointed. I spent a total of zero hours thinking about this game from that point on. I knew I had to get this game again to review for Ferrari Month so I got it from eBay. I was willing to give it a second chance for the sake of the review but even after setting the game up through the menus I was disappointed even before I started racing. As I literally hit the first turn of Monza I knew that there was no hope for me ever liking this game.)
(Screen shots taken from Gamespot, and are the only "quality" pics that I could find)
 

Personally, I've always felt that if a game makes you work too hard without any reward it quickly becomes a chore. For example, MMOs gradually increase in difficulty the further along you are. Boss battles become more difficult as knowledge of the game world and skill utilization increases. It becomes fun through the adventure of gaining things, whether it be loot or levels, that adheres you to want to play more. With F355 Challenge the opposite occurs as the driving feels like the player's understanding of physics is put to the test with the only reward awaiting you at the end of each race is another race. No unlocks, no special modes, no surprises. In this sense F355 Challenge is completely a chore to play: you play it only if you want to, not because you feel compelled to. There is nothing to draw you in and nothing to hold your attention unless you're either intent on beating it or are a huge Ferrari fan.



Arcade and Single Play modes are the exact same, each has three different sub-levels of Training, Driving, and Racing. Training adds a recommended line and vocal assists. Driving takes you out on the field in a Time Trial where it records your best lap and ghost. and Racing (where the screen to choose this says you can "Praticipate" in a real race...) pits you against a full field of cars when you're ready for it. In Arcade mode, you can choose any of the immediately available 6 tracks out a total of 11 tracks, the remaining five are unlocked by advancing in the Championship mode, or by going ahead and unlocking them through the password codes. Championship mode is a straightforward race to cross the finish lines first. Versus play pits you against another player. Network Race makes use of the Dreamcast's dial-up modem for you to take to the track against players from around the world, but since its now defunct there isn't an option to choose this.
The game is more geared to be used with a steering wheel for maximum effect but doesn't hinder the playing when using the Dreamcast controller. The controller's analog pad is very accurate and better to use than the d-pad. Since there isn't an option to just look back behind your car, the game uses two of the face buttons for selecting driving assists and turning them on or off. Spin Control, Traction Control, and ABS are the usual assists you'll find along with auto-braking, using this feels like the game is holding your hand but is very necessary for those who aren't used to sim racing games. The selection for the assists could have been mapped to the d-pad while a look behind and hand brake button could have been used instead, but it seems that design flaws are abundant.
 

Design flaws come in all shapes and sizes and are never glitches. These are ideas that are implemented into a game during its creation that the developers put in place thinking they will be good to play with. The single in-car narrow first-person camera view that can't be changed is the biggest design flaw this game is guilty of. The length the game goes to uphold the title of racing simulator is dumbfounding. Its an idea that's good in theory, but mediocre in practice. It works, but not well. The only way you'll know when a car is behind you is either the rear-view mirror or the small radar at the top of the screen.
Graphics aren't breathtaking and it looks like the typical Dreamcast style, but its not pushing the limits of the system. It goes for a realistic graphical design and its pulled off well but it seems dark, blurred, and just visually unappealing. There is no damage and bumping into a wall will immediately turn your car into the direction you have your steering wheel. Its almost as if its saying "Oh, I'm sure you didn't mean that. Here you go, mate. Be on your way." Additionally bumping into another car on the track will result in a loss of speed for you.
The only time you get to see the car model is just before the race and the opponents on the track. Regardless of that drawback, the F355 looks accurately detailed, down to the air scoops on the side. As for the tracks themselves, a few turns missing turns here and there means that whatever you may be familiar with will have to be relearned. They don't feel like accurate representations of the real courses since they seem to go faster than what you may be used to. I may be judging too harshly as a lot of racetracks are known to reinvent themselves for the sake of keeping things new. 

  

The music goes for an 80's hair metal theme throughout and aside from the opening video only comes off as ANNOYING. In-race is an auditory assault where the main sounds you'll hear are the whine of the engine, the squeal of the tires, and the terrible unlicensed hair metal that the game tries to pass off as music. Its cheesy to the fullest effect and is actually distracting while driving. A radio DJ speaks at the beginning of each race to talk about the song and most of is inaudible as it quickly goes into the song. Oddly enough it goes well together, as well as a peanut butter and melted plastic sandwich.


 

While it tries to pass as a true-to-life racing simulator, it ends up not being a very fun game at all. There's little or no sense of progression and as far as racing simulators go it would have definitely pushed the boundaries had it been more accessible and had a willingness to not be so stuck up. Better simulation of speed rather than just handling. More options for the player and less restrictions. So what do you do when a game throws out fun for the sake of always trying to be right? Throw it out. You don't need to play F355 Challenge. What you'll find is a game that played by its own rules and ends up constantly smacking you on the back of the head to insist that you're driving wrong. Its not a terrible simulator since its adhesion to reality is commendable and it offers realistic physics on a console meant for arcade ports, but that does not excuse it for being annoying.
The Ferrari license is wasted here and how the game was popular enough to attain an arcade-exclusive sequel is mind boggling. I always do try to find the good in each game, a fair chance has to be given, but in the case of F355 Challenge I won't. With terrible physics, annoying sound, bland graphics, and bad presentation there is no hope for F355 Challenge to even be considered playable in my book. I can't think of a niche of sim racing or Ferrari enthusiasts that would find this game appealing.


Keep Playing

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Second Look @ OutRun 2

Saturday, April 19, 2014 Posted by BIGMercenary , , , , , , , , No comments
(Images used from MobyGames, Gamespot, and IGN)

(It does say OutRun 2006, but the same songs are in both games)


The only experience I ever had with the original OutRun game was on my copy of OutRun 2. I shouldn't have to say that the great arcade classic had gone unnoticed by me for years. But my first experience with OutRun 2 was in a bowling alley arcade years ago and after just one minute in the driver's seat I surprisingly found myself loving the force feedback of the steering wheel, the bright colors that blurred by, and the freedom of the old arcade racing days. When I found out that OutRun 2 was also released on consoles I knew I had to track down my own copy of the game.
In the gaming industry "porting a game over to consoles" is a dangerous thing to do. Its either a carbon copy or a rough approximation of the previous version. OutRun 2 fits into the former and was perfectly ported over to the Xbox with added extras. It has the same feel of the arcade game and has lost none of its luster or speed. This is an arcade port done right. Perfectly, I dare say. 


OutRun 2 features three different game modes: OutRun Arcade, which is the original no-frills Arcade game; OutRun Challenge, which gives you several specific goals to achieve along each route; and OutRun Xbox Live which is currently unavailable due to the original XBL being offline. Arcade mode features the classic point-to-point race as well as the new Heart Attack mode, where you earn hearts and points for completing requests from your female passenger such as drifting through an entire zone, passing cars, or staying within a certain lane. It offers quite a challenge for both beginner and experienced players. The final mode is Time Attack, which is self-explanatory.
OutRun Challenge Mode is for those who want a little more out of their time with the game. There are 101 different missions to complete with several objectives that you take on one-by-one along each route, be it knocking over cones, staying in a lane, or racing against a single rival. Challenge Mode justifies why the arcade game was ported over and you'll find the bulk of the enjoyment here.
There is a party mode for couch co-op where you and three friends can race to outperform one another through the same series of trials found in Challenge Mode. If you have a steering wheel controller for either your original Xbox or Xbox 360 (it is backwards compatible), then that may be the best way to play it if you want that true arcade feeling.

The usual host of Ferrari pedigrees are present including the 360 Spyder, Enzo, Testarossa and 250 GTO. The best and most famous machines are here each with different stats that don't really seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. Although the cars are classified by Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert level, they're all accessible and are easy to drive. The faster cars are reserved for the more advanced players but they're also more unruly in their drift traction and handling. Regardless of that, the slower cars and easier routes may still provide a little bit of a challenge for those who are new to the concept. Traffic changes each time you play and where other cars may be present on a tight turn, they might not be there the next playthrough, giving the replayability factor a little bump. While drifting may be the big show in this game, it feels as though its pretty much the only way to get around any turn regardless of the degree of difficulty. The original OutRun was simply about avoiding traffic and not crashing into objects on the side of the road while here it could be argued for the sake of evolving the franchise that the drifting was added in and given so much attention.
There's a ton of content to unlock and play so if you're not feeling like waiting to beat each of the Challenge Mode missions there are cheats that can unlock the original unaltered Out Run arcade game and music set as well as Eurodance remixes. You pretty much have three entire games in one if you count the Xbox exclusives apart from the OutRun Arcade mode.


Graphics are crisp, clean, and bright with no frames dropped and a steady 30 fps. Even though the Xbox version is currently 10 years old, it has shown little signs of age and looks good even today. The animated menus are never bothersome to navigate and gives the entire game its own personality. Its not trying to be just another racing game, and as creator Yu Suzuki has said "it's a driving game." Understanding that brings a whole new perspective to it.
Each route you take has a different theme and you can feel immersed in this world of speed as the advertisement billboards fly by and traffic is left in your review mirror; of course you don't have enough time to stop and gaze at how each route looks but you do get the feeling that a lot of work went into the details to get them just right with no glitches and no level breaks to distract you.
Each Ferrari looks amazing with clear defining lines, shadows over the models, and an accuracy that not even Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli could achieve. However it does come across as a little lacking in the car options department: more cars could have been added to give a wider variety. The options of paint jobs on each car is a nice thought, but it doesn't give a lot to the players.


Music is plentiful and each track is worth listening to, suiting the game perfectly and giving it more of a light-hearted feeling. There might not seem like a lot of variety at first with only 9 songs to choose from but after the Eurodance remixes and original soundtracks are unlocked you have plenty of options to cruise to.
The sounds you'll hear the most are your engine's rev limits and your tires screeching along the pavement. Its never bothersome and when combined with the music it completes the game's personality. As your passenger compliments you for driving well or berates you for crashing, as you see a cityscape form over the horizon, as your engine roars at the starting line, you get the sensation that the game is alive each time you play it. Most games are weak in the sound area whereas OutRun 2 has put as much effort into sound quality as it did the graphics.

Unfortunately for me, while the arcade racing experience is thrilling, it wears on my attention span quickly. Traveling down the same road(s) in a few different cars is okay for at least 30 minutes at a time but I can't see myself putting dozens of hours into this game. You may feel the same if you're stuck playing alone, it may be better with friends though. But you can't hate this game for doing what it does. Its not a racing game, its a driving game. It set out to be its own thing and accomplished that with flying colors and most importantly it is fun even if you just want to play through Arcade Mode once. The ease of accessibility and the amount of content make this a must-own for any Xbox/360 owner. It does the OutRun name proud.
This is the definitive Ferrari racing game and is meant to be enjoyed in the same way driving a Ferrari is meant to be (minus the insane drifting, of course). Sega has done the Ferrari license justice and has re-invented a classic game, it has a lasting power for years to come and has not lost its shine throughout the years. If you don't own OutRun 2 on Xbox its never too late to find a copy since they're definitely not rare. If you prefer just a little extra than the already large amount of content here, there's always OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast on Xbox, PC, PS2, and PSP. These have more tracks, tuned graphics, and more music. If you're wondering how to improve a game that was already great to begin with, it would be with Coast 2 Coast. As the days of arcades and arcade games are slowing down, OutRun 2 is a treasure, it proves that games can still be fun.

Keep Playing