Thursday, 18 December 2008

MotoGP 08 - Fine Sense Of Speed

MotoGP 08 is meat-and-potatoes racing with enough challenge to keep two-wheeled gearheads busy for weeks.

motoGP 08 Screenshot 1
After snagging the official MotoGP license from THQ in 2007, Capcom released MotoGP 07 on the PlayStation 2; a promising, if far too difficult, rebirth of a game license that had previously thrived in the hands of developer Climax and publisher THQ. MotoGP 08 is Capcom's series debut on the PC (as well as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3). While the game likely won't create a new generation of virtual racing fans, those who have some two-wheeled gaming experience will find a demanding driving model and plenty of stiff competition to keep them busy.

motoGP 08 Screenshot 2
There aren't any surprises in MotoGP 08's list of game modes--you've got the standard list of single-player modes you'd expect from a racing game: Single Race, Time Trial, Championship, Challenge mode, and so on. The highlight on the single-player menu is the Career mode, which gives you a chance to create a rider from scratch and work your way up through three bike racing series (125cc, 250cc, and, the pinnacle, MotoGP). As you enter races, any points you score by placing high enough in the final results will earn you attribute upgrade points you can apply to one of four aspects of your particular bike: top speed, acceleration, braking, and traction. You can then take your souped-up bike online and enter the competition in online racing events against up to 11 other online riders.
motoGP 08 Screenshot 3

While Career mode is certainly the best single-player mode in the game, it has its quirks. First of all, your career ends after five years regardless of how many series championships you've won. Second, once you've selected from the game's various AI and handling difficulty levels, you can't change them for the entirety of your career. This is especially frustrating once you've maxed out your bike and can smoke the easy or medium-level AI opponents. It would have been more user-friendly to give players the chance to tweak options in between seasons to keep up the challenge.

This lack of career option flexibility is a shame because MotoGP 08 is all about the challenge. While the learning curve is a bit gentler than in last year's PS2 debut, even an experienced MotoGP vet will find some challenge at the default difficulty level. If you bump that up to hard or champion level, you'll face cunning, hard-charging AI opponents that won't give you an inch; you'll be fighting for every position and having a fine time of it (except when you're cursing out loud at your own lack of skill).

Fans of motorcycle racing games will relish the game's bike physics, which are excellent. There are three handling settings to choose from: easy, advanced, and simulation. With a little track time, MotoGP vets will likely be able to settle in at the advanced handling level with little trouble, but throughout every race, the emphasis on the racing line and careful acceleration out of corners is a hallmark of the game. The advanced handling setting is touchy enough; when riding in the simulation setting, even the slightest error on the throttle while deep in a turn will result in a spill. When running against the upper-tier AI opponents, any mistake you make is magnified by their unyielding aggression, and you'll find yourself in yo-yo battles for position at nearly every corner on the track.

While the feel of the bikes in MotoGP 08 is just right, the riding model is not without its problems. The developers have chosen to downplay the consequences of contact between riders. While it is possible to be knocked off your bike by an opponent (and only slightly more difficult to dismount him with some dirty driving), more often than not, you can run into a rider ahead of you with little consequence. In fact, once you've gotten used it, you can actually use this to your advantage by using a rider ahead of you as some extra braking when approaching a corner too fast. The tracks, too, have their quirks. For example, in some corners, the game will penalize you for cutting corners by instantly slowing your bike down to a crawl. It's a fine idea in theory, but its implementation is inconsistent; with enough experience, you'll know exactly which corners you can take advantage of and which you'll need to play straight.

As with the console game, up to 12 players can hop online to race in the PC version of MotoGP 08. Actually getting online is confusing, and neither the game manual nor the game itself does a particularly good job of explaining the process (you need to fill out a form on the game's loading menu). Still, once you're online, network performance is decent--even if the lack of features leave you wanting. You can only run races one at a time--there's no option for virtual championships where players can run multiple races for points--and can only bring your Career mode bike into a race if the host allows it. Even when using custom bikes, however, there's not much in the way of customization; you're stuck with the actual team leathers and bike paint schemes, as well as a series of unique helmets from which you can choose. In an era of customization in such games as Forza 2 and Midnight Club: Los Angeles, next year's MotoGP game simply must have more options for making your rider appear unique.

The game's system requirements are modest, and on the Intel 2.13 GHz machine we ran the game on, the frame rate was solid throughout. That said, the game has its graphical high and low points. Best of all is a thrilling sense of speed (especially on such long, straights tracks as Shanghai and Mugello) that really puts you in the seat of the rider. Unfortunately, decent speed doesn't make up for certain tracks that are simply a bore--with plain backgrounds and sometimes grainy asphalt textures that aren't impressive. New details, such as the night race at Losail, and the brand new Indianapolis GP track set at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway are great additions to the game. The hardcore fans will also find a lot to like with the game's audio presentation; not only is there a big difference among the 125cc, 250cc, and MotoGP bike engines, but individual constructor bikes have an engine sound all their own.

A slightly more approachable learning curve coupled with a great deal of challenge means that MotoGP 08 provides enough to keep you busy for months to come while not being as punishing on new players as the previous game in the series. Now that the series has moved to the next-gen consoles and the PC, the real work begins. Next year's game must primarily make sure that it has the same suite of offline and online features that players have come to expect from modern racing games. There's a lot to like in MotoGP 08's meat-and-potatoes approach to two-wheeled racing; here's hoping that next year's game offers a more extended menu.

Three different series of bikes provide some nice variety
Excellent handling physics
Great track list
Fine sense of speed

Game physics are sometimes haphazard
Career mode only lasts five seasons
Limited online options
Very little bike/rider customization

See also on Car Games To Play:
colin mcrae dirt 2

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Colin McRae: DiRT 2 announced

Colin McRae DiRT 2
After a year and a half after the release of the next game in the Colin McRae rally series, which was hot prefix to the title - DiRT, Codemasters announced sequel not the series, but specifically the game - Colin McRae: DiRT 2.

The title will remain the name of the legendary riders Colin McRae, not so long ago died in a plane crash (helicopter crashed). Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is created in versions for Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, DS and PSP.

Colin McRae: DiRT 2 will continue to develop the theme of races on different location, in particular, on off-road. The game is created on the basis of further developed version of the game-engine EGO, which was used in the original DiRT, and in recent GRID. The developers promise to improve the game for all options and pay great attention to multiplayer - all as usual.

The release of Colin McRae: DiRT 2 to be held next year.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Need for Speed Undercover Returns To Its Roots
Need for Speed returns to its roots with hokey cutscenes, wild cop chases, and solid racing action.

For the most part, the reaction to the last few Need for Speed games was the same: "Why aren't they more like Need for Speed Most Wanted?" "Where are the cheesy cutscenes and the over-the-top cop chases?" It seems as if EA heard those cries, because for better or for worse, Need for Speed Undercover feels like Most Wanted.

Need for Speed Undercover
In Undercover you play the role of...wait for undercover officer. Along with agent Chase Linh, played by the attractive Maggie Q, your job is to take down a group of street racers that have somehow become involved in an international smuggling ring. The story is told via campy cutscenes that fail to capture the charm of Most Wanted thanks to uninteresting characters and a predictable plot. Having a story provides incentive to make it through race after race, but the whole "this is cheesy so it's cool" thing feels kind of forced this time around.

Need for Speed Undercover screenshot 1
Like many other Need for Speed games, all of your racing will take place on the streets of a fictitious open-world city--here it's the Tri-City Bay area. You'll start with a lousy vehicle, but it won't be long before you're able to snag a pink slip to a nicer ride. As you progress you'll earn cash, which can be used to unlock (50+) new vehicles from manufacturers such as Nissan, Dodge, Cadillac, Ford, Porsche, Lamborghini, BMW, Aston Martin, Mitsubishi, and more. If you're into tuning individual aspects of your ride or purchasing individual parts you can do that, but if you're not into tinkering you can purchase an upgrade package and be on your way.

Need for Speed Undercover screenshot 2
Not only will you earn money for winning an event, you'll earn driving points for dominating it--basically beating it really, really bad. You can power up a number of your driving attributes, but they don't have a noticeable effect on how your car handles. As long as you drive fast you'll probably dominate, but there are occasional races where you'll totally obliterate the time needed to dominate an event, but you'll still lose to the CPU. The game also encourages you to drive with style and drift, draft, and drive really close to other cars, but other than increasing your nitrous there's little to gain from doing so. That said, the new J-Turn mechanic, which lets you bust quick 180s, is invaluable when chasing down rivals or evading the cops. You'll use it because it's useful, though, not because it gets you heroic driving points.

Need for Speed Undercover screenshot 3
The cops are back in full effect in Undercover, and for the most part, their return is welcome. The challenges in which you must ram and take out a certain number of police cars are great fun, as are the challenges where you must cause a certain monetary sum of damage. Of course, you don't always have to ram cars to take them down; you can also run into log trucks, electrical towers, billboards, and more to leave a little surprise for your pursuers. It's too bad that some odd quirks hamper the cop chases. The environmental hazards that you can unleash certainly look cool and are effective, but quite often you won't see any police cars get hit by the objects, yet when the cutscene ends the cars are trashed. Sometimes you won't have to do anything at all to evade police--the game says "go" and you stay still and nobody finds you. Cops are capable of laying down spikes, but you can go the entire game without them ever doing so. The biggest problem, however, is that the cops don't do much other than bang on the side of your car and yell at you, so if you last long enough they sort of fade away on their own. This makes the chases less challenging than they could have been and also makes them feel artificial, like you're just fulfilling some sort of time requirement until the game decides you've done well enough to escape.

Undercover isn't just about messing with the Man. There are events where you need to maintain a lead for a specific amount of time or get a certain distance ahead of your opponent. Sometimes you'll have to shake the cops while trying to keep a stolen ride in pristine condition, and there are checkpoint races and circuit races as well. There's not a whole lot that's original here and the races are generally extremely easy--you might not see another car for an entire race once you've cleared the starting line. They're difficult on occasion, but this is usually because of the choppy frame rate, which is often dreadful on the PlayStation 3. It's not as if Xbox 360 owners are getting a smooth, fast frame rate, but it's significantly better than the PS3's slide show, which is often so bad that it makes the otherwise great-handling vehicles a chore to drive. What's odd is that there's really no obvious reason for the game's poor frame rate; the city doesn't look much different than those in Carbon and Most Wanted, and the car models have aliasing issues.

That said, the game does do a few things very well. The online cops and robbers mode, where the robber tries to pick up money and take it to a drop-off point while another person plays the cop and tries to ram them, is quite a bit of fun. But mostly what the game gets right is its pacing. The races are short--sometimes as short as 20 seconds, and almost never longer than five minutes. Another cool thing the game does is it lets you instantly jump to the closest race by pressing down on the D pad. If you want to find a specific event you can press up and you're taken to a GPS map, where you can instantly go to the race of your choice. It'll save you a lot of needless backtracking, and combined with the short races, makes sure that Undercover never gets boring.

If you're one of the many people who loved Need for Speed Most Wanted, flaws and all, you'll find a lot to like in Undercover. It's not very original and the slow frame rate is a downer, but there's no denying that it's just good fun to run from the cops and wreak havoc on a city in the process.

* Plenty of cop chases
* Instantly join races with press of a button
* Isn't long before you're driving a cool car.

* Lots of quirks and nagging gameplay issues
* Emulates Most Wanted, but doesn't necessarily improve upon it
* Story isn't much to get excited about
* Frame rate isn't great.

See also on Car Games To Play:
need for speed pro street - smoke in eye
motorstorm pacific rift - blast to play

Monday, 27 October 2008

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift - Blast To Play

Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is a rush, which should come as no surprise to fans of its predecessor. It's rip-roaring fun to speed through fields of sugarcane and race dangerously close to a cliff's rocky edge in your buggy all while avoiding the deep treads of a monster truck ramming you from behind. This is the Motorstorm experience, first delivered in last year's fun--but stripped--off-road racer. Pacific Rift is more of the same from a gameplay perspective, but it throws in twice the number of tracks, a new vehicle type, and a more fully featured multiplayer experience. But it's not all about quantity: Some of the new courses are dazzling and, in many cases, far exceed the quality of the original's courses. A few nagging issues remain, but for the most part, you'll get your money's worth out of this great sequel.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift
As in the original Motorstorm, you begin each race by choosing a vehicle type and then dashing through an expansive off-road course against up to 11 other vehicles. Because each vehicle has its own strengths and weaknesses (motorbikes are quick to turn but vulnerable to crashes; big rigs are relatively slow but can plow their way through thick underbrush), courses feature a number of different routes to the finish line. It's up to you, through trial and error, to figure out which route best suits your chosen vehicle. You'll also use that knowledge to your advantage while avoiding the ferocity of your opponents--and exercising yours upon them.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift Screenshot 1
Describing tracks as intricate actually sells many of them short. There are 16 of them in all, eight more than in the original's release, and some of them are mind-bogglingly clever. Perhaps the best of these is Sugar Rush, a high-speed romp through a sugar plantation that takes you through a cluttered factory and into its lush fields. The ramps are narrow while the turns are sharp, and the robust physics may cause a crate or random tire to get in your way where there hadn't been one before. It's also a tough course with multiple potential paths, and one in which a single mistake within the factory's claustrophobic spaces can cost you the race. On Beachcomber, a sprint across the white sands of a Pacific island getaway is complicated by marshes that get muddier as vehicles drive through them, soaring jumps, and thick vegetation. Even some of the less complex courses, such as Cascade Falls, are a joy to navigate thanks to the varied scenery, a great sense of speed, and significant differences between the branching paths. The high quality of these tracks makes other tracks look downright simple, such as the straightforward race through rocky gorges and mossy caves known as Razorback, or the minimalist watery environs of Colossus Canyon.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift screenshot 2
Some of the courses turn the spotlight on Pacific Rift's boost function. You can give yourself a kick of speed using nitro boost, but you can't use it too liberally, lest you overheat and explode. A few courses take you near burning pits of lava that further increase this risk but also scatter sprinkler showers about the track, letting you cool off your seared mudplugger. The Scorched track makes brilliant use of this mechanic, combining seemingly endless forks and burning straightaways into a fun ride. Of course, you'll not only struggle with the challenge of the courses themselves, but also with the aggressiveness of other drivers. Using a shoulder button, you can ram into other vehicles, which is a particular delight when behind the wheel of a big rig or monster truck. It's less exciting when you're driving a defenseless ATV and must cope with a crowd of vehicles at a course bottleneck--or dealing with an AI that ignores the best route for its vehicle in favor of forcing you over a cliff.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift screenshot 3
You will run into some other frustrations, though these aren't frequent and are a by-product of Pacific Rift's loose physics model, which usually makes for rough-and-tumble fun but can be a little too sensitive for its own good. You might crash for no apparent reason when hitting the bottom of a ramp or simply driving from one surface onto another, even when it looks like a clearly even transition and is one you've made a dozen times before without issues. Vehicle handling is also loose, which makes for impossibly high jumps, but also means that making contact with so much as a pebble could cause your buggy to launch into a series of somersaults. This is the case even with large vehicles, such as the new top-heavy monster truck, which feels less solid than you might imagine. These issues are generally avoidable if you have an error-free race, but it does bring a philosophical discrepancy to the forefront: Many of these design elements encourage crashing, but they also demand racing perfection if you want to finish in the top three--a dichotomy with which the game never quite comes to grips.

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift screenshot 4
Fortunately, there are more ways to play than in the original Motorstorm. The Festival takes you through a series of races in which you earn points to advance ranks, and they become tougher as you push through them. Your vehicle selection is usually limited in these contests, which is a great way of introducing you to each vehicle and its preferred routes, though you may wish you had a wider selection if you prefer big rigs but are forced into a buggy. These aren't all simple races, either; In Eliminator races, the racer in last place will explode after a period of time until the field is narrowed to a single survivor, while another race variant may eliminate you if you crash a certain number of times. In Speed challenges, you need to race through a series of checkpoints, but they require a bit of trial and error because you only see one waypoint at a time, which may not give you enough time to make adjustments. Besides, at these times, you are a lone driver, and Pacific Rift is clearly at its best when you face a full pack of challengers.

The AI is a challenge, but it can't compare with the thrill of competing with like-minded racers online. Standard and Eliminator races are available, in ranked and unranked variants, and you can even invite friends to a party prior to racing. While the game's official site and other sources indicate support for 16 players, Pacific Rift actually supports 12 drivers. The whole thing is a riot, whether you're aggressively bumping into bikers with your big rig or jumping in a racing car and leaving everyone in your dust. If you'd rather hang out with buddies, you can also take advantage of Pacific Rift's split-screen mode, which supports up to four players. It's fun to race this way, and the frame rate keeps up rather well, even if the segmented screen makes it harder to enjoy the scenery.

And boy, that scenery is beautiful. The green cliffs of Raingod Spires are lush, and such details as a lingering mist set the humid mood. Riptide showcases gorgeous lighting effects and colorful seaside shacks, while the sight of distant waterfalls warms the background. Splatters of mud, splashes of puddles, and a subtle whooshing effect instill a great sense of speed on almost every track. It also performs better than the original Motorstorm: The loading times have been decreased, and moving through the vehicle selections in the menu is no longer agonizingly slow. The sound effects remain top-notch. Engines emit strident growls, and details from the audio cues when boosting to the thuds of your slow-motion crashes are dramatic, as well as just plain awesome. The soundtrack is a collection of boisterous licensed rock from Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, and a variety of other bands. You won't always be paying much attention to the music when rushing past your challengers, but like the game, most of it is loud and rowdy.

With such games as DiRT and Pure competing for your attention, Pacific Rift has much larger shoes to fill than before. It's good, then, that the core Motorstorm racing model is so much fun and there are more ways to experience it now. However, the track design is its greatest success; the intricacy and variety of the courses will keep you coming back to explore the possibilities and test your mettle. Aside from a few remaining quibbles, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift is a notable improvement over the original and a blast to play.

* Twice the number of tracks as the original
* Many course designs are utterly fantastic
* Core racing is an absolute blast
* Great multiplayer, both online and off

* Inconsistent vehicle handling
* Oversensitive physics

See also on Car Games To Play:
wipeout hd pleases new and old fans

Monday, 13 October 2008

Baja: Edge of Control - Rewarding Off-road Experience

This ambitious car racing game delivers a rewarding off-road experience provided you make it past the initially steep learning curve.
Baja: Edge of Control
Baja: Edge of Control from 2XL Games is an ambitious off-road racer that, while not necessarily better than games that have come before it, does enough things well and introduces enough new features to make it a good addition to the genre. Loosely based on the annual Baja 1000 race that takes place in Mexico, Edge of Control not only features rally courses that are much longer than those in other games, but also courses that are so rugged and treacherous that even driving in a straight line can be challenging. Many of the races are endurance tests for both you and your car, and the damage and repair management system adds a unique strategic element to longer events. The quality of the visuals varies according to which console you're playing on. The Xbox 360 version looks good and runs smoothly, the PlayStation 3 game does not.

Baja: Edge of Control screenshot 1
From the outset, you can choose to take part in races, rallies, and hill-climb events in a few of Baja's nine barren environments. These are great if you're anxious to sample trophy trucks and other top-end vehicles early on, but Edge of Control's main course is its Career mode, which you'll have to spend a good amount of time with if you want to unlock the remaining locales, as well as additional vehicles. What's unfortunate about the bare-bones Career mode is that it forces you to start in the lowest of the game's eight vehicle classes, which would be fine, except that Baja Bugs not only lack the horsepower of larger classes, but also the suspension, the grip, the brakes, the cooling systems, and everything else that you might expect from a vehicle purpose-built for racing through the desert. The result is that the game's slower vehicles are often the most difficult to handle and to get across the finish line without sustaining significant damage. Unfortunately, you have to slog through these events before you're permitted (or can afford) to race in more powerful classes.

If you don't opt to turn it off, which you shouldn't, vehicle damage is almost inevitable in the majority of Edge of Control's events. This is especially true of hill-climb events, which not only challenge you to scale some spectacularly steep inclines but also to come back down again. The cosmetic damage to vehicles tends to be over-the-top rather than realistic, so you can expect body panels to fall off before they have a chance to get misshapen. Losing panels won't affect your vehicle's performance, but if you're playing in Career mode and have managed to attract a sponsor, it will only pay you for the logos that make it across the finish line.

Baja: Edge of Control screenshot 2
Collisions with other cars or obstacles will cause parts to fall off of your vehicle, but this damage is purely cosmetic. Interestingly, the kind of damage that will adversely affect your vehicle's performance is generally a result of your driving style rather than of any kind of error or incident. For example, when racing toward a huge ramp, it's conceivable that by preloading your suspension and getting some major airtime, you might be able to leapfrog vehicles in front of you to gain a place or two. Landing a jump like that is unlikely to do your suspension any good, though, and even if you don't end up with a wobbly wheel, there's a chance that you'll damage your oil pan. Another avoidable though very common problem with the vehicles in Baja is overheating, which causes a significant loss of power as your radiator packs up and starts throwing a trail of smoke in your wake. If you ease off the gas when the onscreen temperature gauge moves toward the red, you can prevent or at least postpone this problem, though in a race situation deliberately slowing down often feels counterintuitive. Figuring out exactly how hard you can push your vehicle without breaking it can be a lot of fun. It's frustrating to lose a race on the last corner because you pushed too hard, but it's very rewarding to win a race when your opponents' vehicles are falling apart.

Baja: Edge of Control screenshot 3
One of the tips that appears during Edge of Control's occasionally lengthy load times would have you believe that letting up on the gas is something that you'll want to do almost every time you approach a corner. You're supposed to use the hand brake to turn and then, as you slide around the corner, hold in the clutch to get your revs up so that when you release it upon exiting the corner, you get a welcome boost of speed. It works, and it's really satisfying when you get it right, but it's rarely necessary because most of the sharp corners are set into huge banks that do a lot of the turning for you. This makes the nuanced controls entertaining for expert racers, even though the courses are still accessible to novices.

When your vehicle is in need of some mechanic love, your options will vary according to the type of event in which you're competing. Circuit races incorporate repair stops into their designs where, by stopping for just a few seconds, you can get repairs carried out without losing too much time. During rally events, repairs come courtesy of a helicopter that can be seen flying overhead at all times. When you need to stop, you simply hit a button to radio the helicopter and, provided its crew isn't already busy assisting someone else or eating ice cream (it happens), it will land somewhere ahead of you so that you can stop alongside it to get the same service you'd get at a regular repair stop. Furthermore, if your vehicle gets a flat tire and is carrying a spare (most start a race with one or two, but they fall off), you can stop at any point during a race to change it by hitting the repair button.

Baja: Edge of Control scrrenshot 3
You don't have to spend any time or money repairing your vehicles between races in Edge of Control, but there are plenty of opportunities for you to upgrade or replace them. Vehicle upgrades come in a number of different flavors, including engine, power train, tires, brakes, suspension, weight/aero, and cooling/plumbing. You don't need to know anything about the inner workings of modern automobiles to figure out that throwing money at any part of your vehicle makes it better in the game. Complex explanations of what every new part does are available, but the only thing you need to look at is the performance gauge that fills up as you highlight more expensive options. On the other hand, if you're someone who knows what "2.5-inch dual-rate springs on coil-over shock with remote reservoir" means, you can go into the tuning menus to tinker with your vehicle's brake bias, gear ratios, spring lengths, and other settings to get your ride just the way you like it.

Given the level of detail that's available in the garage between races, it's baffling that you're afforded no information whatsoever when buying a vehicle. These purpose-built off-road racers don't come cheap, but when you're considering your next purchase in Edge of Control, the only information you're afforded about each vehicle is its name, price, and the colors in which it's available. There certainly appear to be some performance differences among the vehicles in any given class, but figuring them out comes down to you, plus a whole lot of trial and error.

Regardless of your uneducated vehicle choice, there's no denying that the driving in Edge of Control is satisfying. Vehicle handling makes intelligent compromises between realism and gameplay. Bumps in the road that can potentially throw you off course are far more common than in other off-road racers, for example, but anytime you fly off a big jump, you're afforded some control in midair so that you can try for something that resembles a comfortable landing. Course designs are impressive for the most part, though there's some inconsistency in how you are permitted to cut corners; at times, you'll get away with skipping quite lengthy sections of track, but at other times, you'll be penalized and reset to an earlier part of the course for something relatively minor.

AI drivers are also an inconsistent feature in Edge of Control. For the most part, they drive realistically, aggressively (even on the easier of the two difficulty modes), and believably (that is, they make errors)--they'll even cut corners when they can get away with it. They'll often appear to slow down if they get too far ahead of you, though. At times, when racing alongside you, they'll also seem blissfully unaware of your existence and stubbornly try to go for their preferred racing line--even if getting to it means having to go through you.

Like most racing games, Edge of Control is more fun when played with human opposition. There's split-screen support for up to four players and online support for a starting grid of 10. All of the aforementioned race types that appear in the Career mode are supported, as well as a Free Ride mode that you can use to explore the game's massive environments and Baja events, which are rallies on courses so long that they can take from one to three hours to complete. Smartly, when playing online, you have the option to hit a button and have the AI take over for you temporarily, so calls of nature, ringing phones, or screaming kids don't necessarily have to mean the end of your race. The last two might even offer some welcome relief from the constant droning of engines that you hear during a race--there's nothing wrong with them, it's just that there's very little else going on where audio is concerned. The mellow Mexican music played on menu screens and the like isn't horrible, but you'll hear so much of it on a relentless loop that it inevitably becomes grating after a while.

Baja: Edge of Control for the Xbox 360 isn't a great-looking game, and on the PlayStation 3, it isn't even a remotely good-looking one. The environments lack detail on both consoles, but they look fine while you're racing through them at speed. The problem is that while the vehicles, trackside objects, and even the horizon look relatively crisp on the 360, those on the PS3 have edges so jagged that you'll question whether or not the game is even running at the right resolution. The frame rate on the PS3 also isn't nearly as smooth as it is on the 360, though it's rarely so bad that's it's detrimental to gameplay.

If you can get over the steep learning curve, the Xbox 360 version of Baja: Edge of Control is an off-road racer that's definitely worth a look. The PS3 version is less easy to recommend because while the gameplay is intact, you should not have to tolerate, much less pay for, the combination of an inconsistent frame rate and horrible visuals.


  • Great course designs
  • Plenty of vehicle and event variety
  • Split-screen support for up to four players
  • The easy difficulty setting is a lie
  • Career mode lacks depth
See also on Car Games To Play:
Pure - delivers off-road thrill ride
Car games to play - DIRT
MotorStorm - all in heat, mud, dust and sweat!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pure - Delivers Off-Road Thrill Ride

Car Game that doesn't blaze many new trails, but this off-road racer still delivers an intense, tricked-out thrill ride.

All-terrain vehicles are something of a niche interest, but you don't need to care about them in the least to enjoy Pure. All you need is an appreciation for breathtaking environments and intense racing action. In Pure, Black Rock Studio has crafted an accessible, wildly tricked-out game that may feel a bit familiar, but it pulls off its concept so well that you won't mind feeling like you've danced with this lady before.

In fact, Pure has more in common with EA's SSX series of snowboarding games than it does with your typical ATV racer. At the heart of Pure is a system that rewards you for pulling off spectacular tricks with the ability to boost. Performing tricks is simple--you just push a button and a direction on the thumbstick as you soar through the air--but the built-in risk-versus-reward aspect keeps things interesting. Pulling off longer, more complex trick combinations nets you more boost, and you can tweak your tricks with a shoulder button or simultaneously flip your ATV forward or backward to dramatically increase the payoff. But if you don't finish the trick before you touch ground again, you'll wipe out and lose boost, not to mention valuable seconds. And the game's presentation makes it all very visceral. Not only do the tricks look totally insane, but the way the ground flies up to meet you creates a real sense of danger. This makes successfully completing your trick milliseconds before you land exhilarating, while wiping out will have you wincing in vicarious pain as your rider goes tumbling across the rough terrain.

There are three event types on offer. Sprints are the most technical: These short races around small, tight tracks provide scant opportunity for pulling tricks. The focus on maintaining your speed and sticking to a smart racing line keep sprints fast-paced and fun. In freestyle events, tricks are all that matter. You keep going until your rapidly draining gas tank is spent, linking tricks to rack up multipliers and score big points. The tracks are decked out with ramps to provide more opportunities for catching big air, and power-ups are liberally scattered around that refill your gas tank, add a multiplier to your score, or instantly hook you up with the ability to perform a special trick. (More on those in a bit.) Freestyle events are the weakest of the bunch because the trick system--while robust enough for the race modes--isn't as compelling when you remove it from that context and make it stand on its own.

Standard races are the most interesting events because they balance the finish-line focus of the sprints with the need to pull tricks and earn boost. And, you'll need to make some important decisions on the fly. As your boost meter builds up, you earn access to more complex trick types, which, in turn, earn you more boost, so there's constantly a trade-off at work. Boosting is often necessary to pull ahead of your opponents, but draining the boost bar costs you the ability to pull off the more advanced tricks. It creates a surprisingly complex dilemma. There's added incentive to max out your boost bar because doing so will give you access to a special trick. Special tricks are the most outrageous in the game, involving physically impossible (but nonetheless awesome) stunts, such as standing on the seat of an ATV and doing a backflip as it soars through the air. Pulling off one of these tricks will refill your entire boost bar, but they take several seconds to complete, so you'll need to catch some serious air. Landing one of these tricks at a critical point in a race can make all the difference, so it's fitting that they're neither easy to earn nor to perform.

Pure's main mode is the World Tour. Here, you'll start off competing on ATVs with relatively weak, D-class engines, and these early events can be a tad too easy, but the competition gradually heats up as you rise through the ranks. The later stages, which find you racing faster models against more aggressive opponents, are also consistently thrilling. You choose from one of six riders, but there's no functional difference among them. It's all about the ATVs, and as you complete events, you'll constantly unlock new parts for your ride, which you can put together, piece by piece, in the game's garage. Armchair grease monkeys will appreciate the number of customization options Pure offers, while others might find it almost silly--many of the parts have no effect on performance, and your opponents aren't going to take the time to admire your taste in radiator scoops or handle-bar guards. Still, too many customization options certainly beats too few, and the game's autobuild option, which lets you toss together a ride optimized for race or freestyle events just by holding down a button, means you can avoid the business of ATV construction altogether if you'd like to get right to racing.

Aside from the World Tour, you can hop into any single event, though you'll need to unlock tracks in World Tour before you can access them. And the online play, which supports up to 16 players in an event, is outstanding. Even in races with 16 people on the track, the action stays fast and smooth. Again, though, you'll need to unlock performance parts for your ATVs in the World Tour mode to access them in online ATVs, which makes jumping right into online games a recipe for defeat.

Despite taking loads of inspiration from the SSX games, Pure capitalizes on the fact that it is, in fact, an ATV game. Although the action here is far from realistic, the physics feel convincing--your ride will dig into the terrain as you slide through curves, and the dirt roads that make up many of the tracks feel as rough under your wheels as they look. The tracks offer an excellent amount of variety, both visually and structurally--the hairpin turns through the airplane graveyard at Ocotillo Wells in California provide a sharp contrast to the gentle curves that take you through the lush coastal landscape of Kosa Phi Island in Thailand. And the tracks have alternate routes you'll discover that can shave seconds off your time, which makes familiarizing yourself with them rewarding. Still, the action isn't without its rough edges. It's not always clear where the track ends, so you may find yourself going out of bounds and being penalized a few seconds of time when you thought you were just taking a shortcut.

Pure's visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. Every detail, large and small, contributes to bringing the environments to life, from the grass and flowers right underneath your wheels to the roaring rivers you might see frighteningly far below. Your ride also realistically kicks up dirt, splashes through puddles, and leaves tracks in its wake. (Nearly every level has helicopters hovering overhead, and, of course, helicopters make anything more epic.) And the game creates a thrilling sense of speed, without any noticeable drops in the frame rate, even when the screen is filled with other riders. The game's sound is great as well. The raucous rock songs on the soundtrack by such artists as Jeff Beck, Wolfmother, and The Futureheads seem to have been chosen with care to create a cohesive backdrop for the action. The whine of the ATVs is authentic, and there's a sickening sinking sound that makes the game's insane jumps that much more likely to induce vertigo. The only problem with the game's sound is that the narrator tends to repeat basic tips ad nauseam, but thankfully, you can shut him up at any time.

The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are almost indistinguishable from one another. The 360 version has achievements, while the PS3 version lacks trophies; on the other hand, the larger shoulder buttons on the Dual Shock make it ever-so-slightly more comfortable for tweaking tricks. Ultimately, if you know more people playing one version or other online, that's the one you should choose. Pure isn't the most original game out there, and it might have been nice to see it build on the trick system in SSX instead of just copying it wholesale. But nonetheless, its focus on tricks, boosting, and larger-than-life jumps over gorgeous environments pays off. This is an exciting racing game that seriously delivers on its promise of high-speed, high-adrenaline action.

* Breathtaking environments
* Trick system is straightforward and compelling
* Good track variety
* Excellent online play

* Doesn't offer much in the way of originality

See also on Car Games To Play:
car games to play - speed racer
MX vs ATV - untamed car game that has a lot to keep you busy

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wipeout HD Pleases New And Old Fans Alike

Wipeout HD may be a rehash of other games in the series, but a bargain price and fantastic 1080p visuals should please new and old fans alike.

WipeOut HD Playstation 3 game screenshot
When it launched all the way back in 1995, the original Wipeout was a poster child for the original PlayStation in the West. While games such as F-Zero had come before it, the mix of cutting-edge visuals and a licensed techno soundtrack was a unique take on the futuristic racing genre, and it struck a chord with both hardcore gamers and those who'd never been interested in the hobby before. In the interim, the series has settled on the PSP with Wipeout Pure and Pulse, two games that not only showed off the power of the console, but were great games in their own right. With Wipeout HD, Sony has brought the tracks, ships, and soundtrack of these two games to the PlayStation 3, wrapping it all up in a shiny 1080p graphics at a low £11.99 ($20) price point. The repackaging of existing content means it offers very little new for players of the PSP games, while there are actually fewer campaign modes than in the PSP games. While many fans will have trouble resisting that high-definition makeover, they'll be paying for very little that they haven't played before.

WipeOut HD Playstation 3 game screenshot 2
There are three main components to Wipeout HD: the single-player campaign, an online mode, and racebox for individual races. The single-player mode is structurally identical to Wipeout Pulse on the PSP, with a tiered career structure that increases the speed and AI difficulty as you progress. There are five different event types: single races, multirace competitions, time trials, speed laps, and zone. Most of these are self-explanatory, but zone is a mode in which you gradually increase in speed until your ship takes too much damage and explodes. You'll inevitably prefer some events to others, but the career structure means you don't have to win every race to progress. Points are awarded based on final positions and you have to accrue a certain number of points to open up each successive level. There are only eight different tiers in total, but each one offers more and more races, and you unlock more tracks to play in racebox as you progress. Given that Wipeout Pulse on the PSP also featured an elimination mode though, it's disappointing to see fewer race types in the PS3 version.

WipeOut HD Playstation 3 game screenshot 3
Like its predecessors, Wipeout HD has an incredibly steep difficulty curve. It's relatively easy to win medals on the first go during the first four tiers, but even seasoned players will struggle to do this from the fifth tier onward. Recognising this, Sony has implemented a new pilot assist mode for the first time in a Wipeout game. When it's turned on from the menu, pilot assist automatically steers you away from the edges of the track and generally makes crashing much less of a problem. In fact, it's so effective that you only really need to use your airbrakes for the sharpest corners. While this produces some erratic moves at the faster speeds, it's a welcome feature that certainly helps until you reach the peak of your ability.

WipeOut HD Playstation 3 game screenshot 4
Wipeout HD has both a two-player split-screen mode and eight-player online support. The split-screen mode runs at a noticeably lower frame rate than the single-player mode, and it suffers from some dramatic slowdown when a lot of ships are onscreen. The online mode fares much better in terms of performance, with a well-laid-out lobby system and smooth online racing. Real opponents create much more frantic races, and you get far more action online than you do playing against the AI; you'll find your ship taking much more of a pounding online than off, but when your ship explodes you return to the track a few moments later. The main problem with the multiplayer mode is that it's incredibly limited, with only single races or twelve-race competitions to play. Other than that, the online mode held up well from a technical level, and it also offers voice support.

WipeOut HD Playstation 3 game screenshot 5
There are a number of PlayStation 3-specific features in Wipeout HD, including a motion-based control system. You move the controller to control pitch and steering, or just pitch alone. Wipeout's floaty ships might seem like a perfect candidate for motion-sensitive controls, but it's unlikely that you'll find tilting the Sixaxis controller preferable to using the standard analog stick. It certainly helps land jumps a little more elegantly, but it just doesn't offer the accuracy of movement offered by the standard control scheme. Wipeout HD also has trophy support which gives you an incentive to try out moves such as barrel rolls, and there are unlockables such as the heads-up display from PlayStation classic Wipeout 2097 (known as Wipeout XL in the US). You also get new skins for the ships you use the most, but the feature in Wipeout Pulse where you can design your own decals online hasn't made it to the PS3. The photo mode has been expanded in Wipeout HD, though, allowing you to capture stills from replays and add effects such as exposure and depth of field while saving them in full HD resolution to the PS3 XMB. And while the in-game soundtrack is great for fans of electronica, you can also import your own playlists--created through the XMB from music files you've uploaded to your PS3--and play them sequentially or randomly in-game to introduce a little more variation.

Wipeout has always been about "style as substance", and that tradition follows through to the PlayStation 3 version. From the strikingly clean environments to the imaginative logos and branding, everything about the game exudes effortless cool. Much has been made about the game's 1080p, 60-frames-per-second visuals, with Sony even citing it as one of the reasons for the game's prolonged development time. Thankfully it was well worth the effort, as the finished game has strikingly artistic visuals that are gorgeous to see in motion. This isn't a game that features accurate physics, track deformation, or even weather effects, so all of the console's horsepower is focused on producing super-crisp visuals that move at a blistering speed.

Music is just as important to Wipeout as the visuals, though, and the soundtrack doesn't disappoint. The mix of techno, dub step, and drum and bass fits the game well--but that said, Wipeout HD features exactly the same tunes as Wipeout Pulse. Likewise, all of the tracks and vehicles in Wipeout HD have appeared in the PSP versions of the series. Even though the HD remix offers an incredible amount of extra detail to appreciate, the twists and turns will be incredibly familiar to long-term fans of the series. And although there are zone variations of each track, these were also in the previous games, meaning the lack of anything new to play is definitely Wipeout HD's biggest weakness.

Wipeout HD is a compilation of PSP games running in high definition, and while it looks considerably better for the visual upgrade, there's little new for fans of the series to sink their teeth into. The online mode also looks a little feature-light next to other racers, but it's technically competent and adds more longevity to the already deep single-player experience. The result is essentially an oxymoron--a game that's obviously meant for fans, but one that paradoxically gives them nothing they don't already have. If you're a fan of the series but missed the PSP games then HD is a must-buy, but Wipeout stalwarts could rightfully look at this director's cut as a bit of a cash-in.

* Beautiful visuals and immaculate presentation
* High-value price point
* Deep single-player and competent multiplayer

* Tracks, ships, and music have all appeared before
* Lack of multiplayer modes.

See also on Car Games To Play:
MX vs ATV Untamed Car Game Has a Lot to Keep You Busy
Midnight Club Los Angeles (preview)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

MX vs. ATV Untamed - Car Game that Has a Lot to Keep You Busy
With high-profile games such as MotorStorm and Dirt already released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the bar has been raised for recent off-road car racing games. Rainbow Studios' MX vs. ATV Untamed feels a lot like previous entries in the MX vs. ATV series and, as a result, doesn't meet that same standard of quality. Nevertheless, despite its problems, Untamed manages to be a worthwhile and jam-packed off-road racing experience.

MX vs. ATV Untamed
As with previous versions of the MX vs. ATV series, Untamed tosses in a mess of rip-snorting off-road vehicles your way: everything from your standard MX bikes and ATV quad racers, to dune buggies, monster trucks, and even pocket bikes. The different vehicles have their handling quirks--for example, MX bikes are more nimble but less stable than ATVs --but all of the vehicles are governed by Untamed's fast-and-loose take on physics. The result are vehicles that are able to make epic jumps, turn and twist in midair, and, if you're careful, land with four wheels on the ground and minimal damage to vehicle or rider.

MX vs. ATV Untamed screenshot 2
However, landing those jumps can be a dicey prospect. When tackling the largest jumps in the game, you never really know for sure when or if your rider is going to be eating a mouthful of dirt after a nasty-looking crash. Of course, part of this is a result of the game's rhythm-racing concept, in which the player is required to preload jumps by pulling back on the left analog stick and pushing forward at the lip of the jump to add extra height and distance to the jump. Learning when and where you need to preload is one of the skills required for making your way through the game. Unfortunately, Untamed is inconsistent in its approach here. Often what seems to be a perfect approach for a landing will result in a painful-looking and time-wasting spill.

As a result, gameplay in Untamed is an odd mix; the game encourages players to pull off massive jumps and chain together continuous trick combos but, because of the touchy physics, it often seems as if the game is fighting itself, preventing the player from landing those tricks. This is most pointedly felt in the freestyle events in the game's huge X-Cross Tournament single-player mode. The X-Cross Tournament will have you driving every type of vehicle in the game and playing in practically every single mode available as you make your way through a linear tournament.

Unlike the race modes that make up the majority of the X-Cross Tournament, the freestyle events are solely trick-based. Here, racking up trick points is the goal and, unlike the rest of the mode, the game's arcade physics seem bent on preventing you from succeeding at, or indeed enjoying, these freestyle events at all. One peculiar quirk of the X-Cross Tournament is that you can't restart an event once you've begun it, so if you fall behind quickly, you'll still need to finish the event completely before going back and trying again.

If frustration sets in during the X-Cross Tournament, the good news is that you can always move on to something else. Untamed is packed with things to do. In addition to the aforementioned X-Cross, the game has a number of event series (nationals, supercross, supermoto, and so on) to take part in, as well the ability to customize single events of your choosing. Then there are the multiplayer options, including split-screen, LAN play and online play for up to 12 players on the Xbox 360 and eight on the PlayStation 3 version. Though the online racing is straightforward enough, you can also check out some online minigames, such as Snake (think of a dirt-themed version of Tron's light-cycle game) or Tag, which challenges you to grab and keep a ball for a full minute. Each time you're "tagged" by an opponent, the ball changes possession.

Perhaps the starkest difference between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Untamed--apart from the lack of rumble in the Sixaxis controller (which is especially noticeable in an off-road racing game full of bumps and jumps)--are the graphics. The Xbox 360 version looks superior in practically every way, with a superior frame rate, less aliasing, slightly sharper textures, and less graphical pop-in. Playing Untamed on the PS3 will result in some noticeable frame-rate chop in the corners, especially when multiple vehicles are making their way through the turns. Regardless, neither version of Untamed is a graphical showcase, with frequently indistinct textures that are especially noticeable in the lineups before a race begins.

The vehicle roster in Untamed is defined by its variety, and the same can be said for the game's racing environments. The open-door events are the best in the game; they're typically faster and more wide-open, with just enough narrow passages and tricky sections to keep you on your toes. On the other hand, the indoor events, namely the supercross events, are more technical by nature. As a result, supercross events are far more demanding (read: frustrating) because even the smallest mistake can put you off your rhythm or, worse yet, off your bike completely. A couple of new modes can be found in Untamed. One is endurocross, which you can think of it as an indoor supercross course with rocks, ponds, and logs as your obstacles, but it's a bit too plodding to be fun. Nevertheless, Untamed's best, most imaginative tracks are full of drastic elevation changes and challenging, high-speed series of jumps, and these are sure to give race fans the thrill they're looking for. In keeping with the game's "kitchen sink" approach, Untamed has a huge variety of difficulty settings. For example, in the early X-Cross Tournament events, there are nine artificial-intelligence difficulty levels to choose from, though that number shrinks as you progress through the tournament.

With Untamed, the formula for the MX vs. ATV series hasn't changed much, and the car game is at its best when focused on freewheeling, pedal-to-the-metal speed. There are moments of abject frustration--think of the most tedious of the supercross events and practically any freestyle contest--but that frustration is mitigated somewhat by the fact that there's always something else to do in the car game. Sure, it's more of the same with MX vs. ATV Untamed, but at least it's a lot more.

* Fun variety of vehicles
* Outdoor courses are by and large very fun
* Lots to keep you busy in the game

* Not a great-looking game, especially on the PS3
* Landing jumps can be unforgiving
* Several events are more plodding than fun
* Freestyle events don't feel like they fit

See also on Car Games To Play:
car games to play - speed-racer
sega - full auto - burnout with guns

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

GRID (DS) - Keeps You Entertained For Hours
Grid offers a great balance of arcade and simulation racing with enough extras to keep you entertained for hours.

A few months after the release of the console version, Grid comes to the DS with the same mix of simulation and arcade driving that made the original so fun. Fans of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of GRID

will notice that some features, such as rewinding time, have been cut, but replacement features, such as the track creator, make up for it. That's because Grid does everything a handheld port of a console game should do. Instead of trying to force the DS to do things it isn't capable of, developer Codemasters uses the system's strengths to deliver a game that resembles the console iteration, but feels like a fresh experience of its own.

Much like in the console version, you'll spend your time in Grid hopping around the globe completing races and events in an effort to increase your reputation and become the best driver in the world. You build your reputation by earning medals. Each event offers three medals, though you only need one to move on. Events include a wide variety of activities: races, braking tests, steering and drift challenges, time trials, survival races, blueprint challenges, and more. Winning medals unlocks more events, cars, part upgrades, and track pieces. The CPU drivers start out easy but gradually get tougher as you move on, making it increasingly difficult to snag three medals from every event. The steady stream of unlockables and plethora of events will keep you busy for hours.

GRID screenshot 2
The driving in Grid smoothly blends arcade and simulation racing. From bulky American muscle cars to sporty Japanese coupes, Grid offers a nice variety of licensed vehicles to drive, each of them handling a bit differently. The cars don't drive with as much realism as pure simulation racers do, but the damage system requires you to drive with more precision than the average arcade racer. Cautious breaking and smooth drifting are the keys to success in Grid.

GRID screenshot 3
Despite the chunks of metal that flake off your car when you hit a wall, cosmetic damage isn't something you have to worry about. It's the inside of your car that you'll need to keep an eye on. Icons representing different parts of your car sit on the bottom screen and change from yellow to red depending on the level of damage. Mess up your steering and your car might pull to one side; damage your engine and you'll lose top speed. Rough up your car too much and you might just be taken out of the race. You can stop in the pit to repair your damage, but it takes up so much time that you're better off just learning to drive carefully. Fortunately, as you progress through the game you'll earn various upgrades for your car that make precise driving a little easier.

Upgrades aren't the only thing you'll earn. Successfully beating events will also earn you new track pieces and scenery for the track creator, which is worked into the single-player game in the form of blueprint challenges. In a blueprint challenge, you are given a budget and a checklist of track features, and set loose in the robust track creator. These challenges are never particularly hard, but they do a great job of showing you how to create dynamic tracks. Using the stylus, you simply draw the track out and then add in any special turns, track pieces, or scenery. You can add subtle slopes or sharp inclines, choose the time of day and overall color shade of your track, and even add custom billboards and advertisements. The best part is that after completing your track of terror, you can share it with friends online. Grid already has an impressive number of licensed tracks, so even if you don't take advantage of the superb track creator, you'll still have plenty of challenging courses to keep you busy.

In addition to online track sharing, Grid also offers a number of multiplayer options, in single-card, multicard, and online varieties. Most of the single-player events are also available in multiplayer. You can race with up to three other people, and after doing so you can add them to your friends or rivals list, making the whole friend code thing less of a hassle.

Visually, Grid pushes the DS to its limits. The cars sport plenty of detail, cutting down on the pixelated, muddy textures that plague so many 3D DS games. Your car won't show any cosmetic damage, but if you smash it up enough it will start smoking. The tracks are smartly designed, and the ever-present minimap on the lower screen means you'll always see a turn coming. Backgrounds aren't groundbreaking, but all of the tracks have just enough detail and landmarks to feel unique. You'll race across the hills of San Francisco, the neon lights of Tokyo, the claustrophobic streets of Milan, and more. The only visual hiccups come in the form of a few frame rate hitches, and strange swiveling animations of the CPU cars when you touch them. Like the visuals, the sounds are as about as good as the DS will allow. Roaring engines and screeching tires make up the bulk of the sound effects, while thumping techno music plays in the background.

The single-player game takes six to eight hours to complete, depending on how hard you chase after the medals. The track creator extends the replay value exponentially, giving you plenty to do after you've had your fun with the licensed tracks of the single-player game. With tons of variety, great multiplayer, and hours of replay value, Grid is a handheld port worthy of any racing fan's time.

* Good variety of races and events
* Robust track creator lets you easily make tracks and share them with friends
* Internal damage system encourages precise driving
* Plenty of great-looking licensed cars
* Dedicated friends and rivals list

* Some odd car animations
* Sense of speed is lacking

See also on Car Games To Play:
wipeout-pulse (PSP)
flatout (PSP) - head-on

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Forza Motorsport 2 - Races Just Feel Right!
Forza 2 delivers on nearly every aspect you'd want in a Forza sequel. It drives incredibly, it's wonderfully presented, and it's rich with modes and features.

It's exceedingly rare when you can say that a car games is built for everybody. Considering how splintered the driving-game audience can be, with the hardcore sim-savvy fans on one side and the more casual, arcade-oriented crowd on the other, most games that have tried to appeal to both markets haven't pulled it off. However, Microsoft's Forza Motorsport for the Xbox flew in the face of other such failures. It created a game that was both easily accessible and remarkably deep, with a challenge level so scalable that you'd be hard pressed not to find some setting you liked. Now, Forza has come to the Xbox 360, and expectations are understandably high. In most regards, Forza Motorsport 2 delivers on those expectations. Not only does it continue to improve and tweak an already fantastic driving model, but it also piles on more cars, more tracks, more modes, and more features than you'll know what to do with. That's not to call the game flawless, but for every little quirk that pops up in Forza 2, there are a myriad of awesome elements to make those issues practically irrelevant.

Forza Motorsport 2
Forza 2 cobbles together more than 300 cars from 50 major manufactures; a ton of licensed, aftermarket parts and upgrades; and 12 racing environments, several of which are real-world tracks like Laguna Seca, Mugello, Sebring, and the dastardly Nürburgring. It's a healthy jump in content over the original Forza, especially with the cars. Looking down the list, you'll race in everything from a Volkswagen Golf or Mini Cooper to top-of-the-line Ferraris, McLarens, and Saleens. It's a huge list, with tons of custom-built variations on popular rides and exceedingly fast racers. Between the 12 tracks, 47 different ribbons are available, meaning many of the tracks can be raced through a host of different ways. The best tracks in the game tend to be the ones based on real life. A couple of the tracks can be real snoozers, but even they have a ribbon or two that can be fun, given the right situation.

Another thing that sets all the different cars apart from one another is the new performance index rating system. Cars are still classified through a lettered system (D-class cars are the lower end of stock, store-bought rides; S class is all high-performance vehicles; and so on), but the new performance index now separates out cars within their own class by assigning each a numerical value based on individual stats in speed, acceleration, braking, and the like. Upgrading cars with new parts boosts the PI, and if you go over a certain number, the car will actually move into a new letter class. Seeing the PI of opponent cars versus your own lets you know exactly what you're up against and, in some cases, if you need to spend some cash before you're able to compete.

Forza Motorsport 2 screenshot 2
What primarily makes Forza 2 such a joy to drive is the way you can scale the difficulty to your own skill level. If you're a novice player and don't know a Gran Turismo from a Need for Speed, Forza 2 eases you into simulation driving nicely with several driving-assist features. There are basic ones, like stability control, antilock braking, and traction control that all work to keep your car on the road without too much duress. The big feature in the original Forza was the dynamic driving line assist, which essentially put a big line of color-coded arrows along the track (green means accelerate, yellow means slow down, red means brake), dictating the ideal driving path. This same line is present in Forza 2, but there's also a modified version of it that only shows braking spots. This ends up being the ideal line to use, as the original line has a tendency to become something of a crutch. Here, you're really only getting help with the turns, and once you've run a track a few times, you can usually get a good feel for where every ideal spot for deceleration is. If you're already into the hardcore driving sim genre, these features probably sound more annoying than anything else. Fortunately, you can turn it all off and get the full, realistic driving experience if you like. Doing so does make the game significantly more difficult, so consider yourself warned.

Forza Motorsport 2 screenshot 3
Even with all the assists turned on, careful driving is a must in Forza 2. Take a turn slightly too fast, and you're spinning out in the rough. Likewise, driving too passively will drop you down in placings fast, as the artificial intelligence will capitalize quickly. That's what you'd want in opponent AI, of course, and in most every situation, opponent drivers behave smartly. Unless you give them a reason to, opponents rarely bump or slam into you; instead, they concede corners if they can't pass you cleanly. And if you happen to start slamming around like bumper cars, the AI will adjust accordingly, with more easily intimidated opponents backing off and more aggressive opponents knocking you off the track if they get the chance. Generally though, they'll stick to their racing lines and drive professionally. In a sense, you know the AI is good because you don't find yourself thinking about the other cars much, except at moments where you're fixing to pass them or one of them is aiming to pass you.

There's more to Forza 2's driving model than great physics and smart AI. The driving interface is another huge factor in what makes the game so enjoyable. While driving, you can bring up a variety of different menus that show where your car is damaged, the temperature of your tires, and even some advanced telemetry data that might look like gobbledygook to a more casual player, but these give fantastic insight into the performance and status of your car for those who know how to read it. These options are what sets Forza 2 apart from other games of this type.

Forza Motorsport 2 screenshot 4
Perhaps the best overall aspect of Forza 2 is that it gives you so many ways to experience its fantastic driving model. You can start out participating in exhibition races or time trials, hop online to take on the rest of the world, or dive right into career mode, which is the true meat of the game. Career mode starts you out picking a region to call your home, with options of North America, Asia, and Europe. Specifying a region essentially dictates what brands of cars you want to establish a relationship with early on, and you'll quickly find yourself earning discounts with automakers from your region.

With a region picked out and your first car bought, you'll be presented with only a few unlocked racing series and a driver level of one. From here, it's race, race, race. The career mode is where you earn all your cash and boost your driver level. Boosting your cash flow lets you buy new cars and part upgrades, while upping your driver level earns more discounts on cars and unlocks new races to take part in.

Forza Motorsport 2 screenshot 5
What's neat about the career mode is that it finds ways to keep the progression fresh, even if it is putting you on the same courses again and again for dozens of hours. You'll encounter region-specific races, class-specific races, ones limited to certain levels of horsepower, and the ever-sadistic endurance races that have you racing on the same course for far, far longer than the average five- to six-lap endeavor. The lack of track variety starts to wear after a bit, especially considering how long the career mode is, but there's enough variety to the types of races to keep you very much interested in finishing your career.

The slightly goofy thing about career mode is that you can buy your way to victory as you please. Since you get a quick look at what your opponents are rolling with before a race, you can simply take your qualifying car, boost it to the hilt, and smoke the competition from the get-go. Now, that doesn't work in every situation. Some races require cars of very specific speeds and performance indexes to enter, so you have limits on what you can do. Even still, if you know how to work within those limits when upgrading, you can usually outclass the competition. If you find this a cheap practice and prefer to drive more evenly matched cars, you certainly can. But if you just want to get through the career, it's not hard to upgrade your way to relatively easy victories.

If you get tired of beating up the AI and still need to earn more money, you can hop online and take part in online career races, which earn you cash just as in the offline career races. These are the equivalent of standard ranked matches on Xbox Live, though the host does have more control over the settings of a race. Apart from the standard track and laps info, hosts can exclude certain car classes and even force any of the individual driving aids off for all racers in a match, including the driving line. Once you hop into an online race, you'll find a smooth experience. We rarely ran into any noticeable lag during our online matches, and though there were a few crash-happy online racers, you can most often weed out those players by forcing off some of the driving assists.

There's far more to the online mode than basic races. Microsoft is hosting weekly tournaments for various car classes that anyone can attempt to get in on. The system for tournaments is pretty awesome. You simply sign up for a tournament that hasn't started yet by doing a qualifying lap on the first-round track. Depending on the number of overall slots for the tournament, the number of players with the top qualifying times equal to the number of available slots gets in. From there, you race one round a day and progress depending on your placing within the race. As cool as the tournaments are, there is one odd thing about them, namely that it's not entirely clear why some racers progress and others do not. There was one instance during our testing that we showed up for a race with only one other opponent (there were supposed to be four racers total), and even though the two of us completed our race, we didn't move on to the next round. The other tournament we ran didn't give us any problems and we progressed normally, but it would be nice if the interface did a bit more to show why one racer is progressing versus another.

There is also a very strong community element to Forza 2. Apart from being able to take in-game photos of your races and upload them to the Forza Web site, you can gift and sell cars online. Gifting a car is as simple as picking a car, picking someone on your friends list, and sending it off. Selling cars has seen an upgrade from the original game. Instead of only being able to hook up in lobbies and sell cars at set prices, you can now put your rides up for auction to the entire Forza community. You just select a car from your garage, set a price, and hope someone's willing to bid. And if you're the bidder, you just put money down and hope for the best. The only issues with car auctioning are on the bidder's side. There's no way to set the maximum price you're willing to pay, à la eBay, so if you're in a battle with someone over a car, you'll have to keep going back and forth until one of you gives up or runs out of available money.

If you want to sell a ride online, you're going to want to do some customizing--and not just in performance parts. Forza 2 has a huge visual customization element to it that is both amazing and incredibly daunting at the same time. The customization mode uses a layering system that lets you stack shapes on top of one another as well as resize and move them as you see fit. There are limits to the number of layers you can make, but it's a very high one. Just looking at the mode wouldn't give you the impression that it was all that impressive, but after seeing some of the absolutely bananas cars people have already made, you realize there's way, way more to it than first glance reveals. Not everyone is going to have the patience to make these painstakingly detailed decals, but for those who do, there's a lot to work with here.

Even if you don't slap a bunch of anime girls or Pringles logos all over your car, the stock rides look exceptional. Nearly all of the game's graphical oomph is in the car models. They look and move incredibly realistically, and the game's nice use of lighting and reflection gives the cars even more of a gorgeous sheen. Sometimes that sheen is slightly rebuffed when you notice a bit of aliasing around the edges of the cars while playing with a high-definition display, but apart from that, it's hard to find much fault with the car models. There's even damage modeling to enjoy, though it's not exactly elaborate. Bumpers will sheer off, fenders will dent, paint will chip, mirrors and wings will fall off, and so on. But there's no truly horrific crash damage. Going head-on into a wall at 150mph doesn't result in much more damage than you'd accrue when banging into an opponent's hatchback at 50mph. Still, what damage modeling the game does offer looks good, and it's nice that it's there at all. And if you happen to have simulation damage turned on, big wrecks will pretty much break your car, making it nearly undriveable. So even if the outward damage isn't terribly impactful, you can still screw up your car royally if you're not careful.

Somewhat less impressive, though still attractive, are the tracks. If you get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the ground textures, foliage, or other set pieces scattered around a track, they won't look so hot. But then, if you're getting an up-close look at these pieces, you're probably doing something wrong. The scenery is meant to stay to the periphery while you whip by at ridiculous speeds, and in that context, it all looks great. And that's the thing of it, really. You don't spend much time looking at the track backgrounds because the sense of speed is so phenomenal. It helps that Forza 2 runs at a solid 60 frames per second, with almost no hiccups to speak of. That fast frame rate, combined with some really fast cars, creates a sense of speed that can be breathtaking at times. If the trade-off for not having exceptionally detailed track environments is the game running at a constant 60 fps, that's fair enough.

The last thing of note about the visual presentation is the camera angles, or lack thereof. The game does feature four camera angles, two outside the car, one on the hood, and one at bumper level, and these all work great. The bummer is that there's no cockpit camera view. Games like Project Gotham Racing 3 and Test Drive Unlimited both had full-on cockpit camera views with individually modeled dashboards for each car, so it's disappointing that there isn't any such option here.

On the audio front, engine sounds are crisp and clear, as are the other peripheral sounds of a race, from tires squealing around the track to bumpers cracking as they hit up against one another. If there's any flaw to be found with the audio effects, it's that there just isn't enough variety to them. Many of the engines sound nearly identical to one another, even in instances where it seems like more differentiation ought to be present. The sounds themselves are often excellent, but some dissimilarity in effects would have been beneficial. Though there's no in-game music (unless you're running a custom soundtrack, of course), the game features an excellent array of licensed tracks for the menus from artists like the Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Bloc Party, Prodigy, CSS, LCD Soundsystem, and more.

What Forza 2 ultimately achieves is the precise brand of evolution you'd want from a sequel to the original Forza. The driving model has been made even better with the tweaks and adjustments made to it, and the features set is so remarkably deep that you're likely to lose large chunks of your free time buying, customizing, and racing your favorite cars. It's a testament to the original Forza's design that this sequel can feel both so much like the original and yet so much better at the same time. If you've got even an inkling of a theory that you might like driving games, you need to play Forza 2.

* A phenomenal driving model that's appealing to both beginners and experts
* Races just feel right, from the great car physics to the top-notch opponent artificial intelligence
* framerate consistently holds steady at a brisk 60 frames per second
* Tons of cars to buy and modes to race them in
* Customization is ridiculously deep.

* Racing sound effects aren't as varied as they could be
* Could have used a few more tracks.

See also on Car Games To Play:
project gotham racing - 4
stuntman - ignition
burnout paradise - one of best car game to play
RacePro - preview

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