Monday, 23 June 2008

Atari - GTR 2

Last year, when we first took the original GTR out for a spin on the medium (semi-pro) difficulty setting, we could have had Miss Daisy along for the ride, happily knitting away without dropping so much as a stitch. That's because if we so much as breathed on the accelerator too heavily near a corner, we'd risk careering into a slide of mad counter-steering, hence we were forced to potter along at the speed of a milk float.

Well, not quite, but it was a punishingly accurate racing simulation, even on this middling difficulty level. Happily, the sequel has been graced with new and much improved driving physics which don't leave you feeling like you're playing a vehicular version of Dancing on Ice in anything but the beginner's arcade mode.

The handling of the cars seems much more solid and appropriate: you can feel the grip of the tyres and steer against any possible slides much more easily than in the original. The whole game is massively lifted by these improved physics, but don't get us wrong; you'll still need to use many of the driving aids at first, and GTR 2 remains a demanding and accurate sim.

In a further effort to help racing novices, developer SimBin has tacked on a new driving school. This features a series of short exercises (almost 150 in total) which deal with every aspect of race driving. There are lessons on braking, taking different types of corners, wet weather handling, overtaking and more, along with tutorials for the game's main courses. Ideal lines and braking/acceleration points are clearly marked, and this provides excellent instruction for beginners and intermediates alike.

GTR 2 screenshot 2
It's a shame that SimBin couldn't extend the tutorial with instructions on how best to set up your car, as this is where it leaves the amateur virtual racers amongst us floundering. There are so many settings to tinker with and very little help is provided by the game's manual, so you tend to stick to basic adjustments such as the wing. Pop-up help descriptions or some manner of tutorial would be hugely welcome, but there's simply no guidance given.

What's worse still, if you want to tune your car with detailed lap feedback via Motec - an analysis program that came installed with GTR - you have to download and independently install it for this sequel. Getting it working wasn't easy, either, as it took us an hour of trawling the GTR 2 community forums, trying to suss out why it didn't integrate with the game initially.

All this is unhelpful, as is the interface itself on a general level. There's no context-sensitive pop-up help anywhere, and the nests of menus and sub-menus are maze-like in places.

GTR 2 screenshot 3
Let's not get carried away with the moaning, though. These issues are the only flies on the windscreen of GTR 2. The rest of the game is glorious, including the updated graphics which now feature dynamic weather and day/night cycles. The attention to track-side detail is superb, and the cars look stunning and sound possibly better, with realistic engine noises such as the distinctive Porsche turbo whine.

The 2003 and 2004 seasons can be raced, along with a host of unlockable minor championships and 24-hour endurance races. With 144 cars to drive and 34 tracks (although some are just variations), the content here is staggering.

Alongside all that, there's the multiplayer, which provides LAN or direct IP connections, as well as a built-in Internet server browser. The latter picks out appropriate races for you based on the difficulty level you're currently playing at, so beginners will compete against others new to the game. It all runs quite smoothly, too, with little evidence of lag issues.

The new improved driving model
Good Tutorials
Huge difference to the overall playability
Vast content and unlockable courses and championships

Interface issues

See also on Car Games To Play:
Mario cart wii - ready! steady! go!
The MotorStorm - all in Heat, Mud, Dust and Sweat!
wipeout - pulse
sega full auto - burnout with guns

Friday, 20 June 2008

Sega - Full Auto - Burnout With Guns

Sega - Full Auto
Full Auto as car games to play on the Xbox 360 should, in principal, work. At its core, it aims to take the wild arcade racing of Burnout and add guns to the mix. It then throws in wanton destruction on an at-times staggering scale, drops in a smidgen of nitro boost and then leaves to simmer. Plus there's a secret ingredient called 'unwreck', which we'll come to shortly.

And in practice there are moments when it really does work, times when Full Auto properly clicks into gear and the sheer potential of a modern day Road Blasters/Burnout hybrid is realised. Make no mistake, when Full Auto's foot is firmly on the accelerator, this is proper, no-nonsense arcade gaming of a wildly entertaining kind. Yet those moments, particularly as you make your way through the game, turn out to be rather less common than you'd like.

Sega - Full Auto screenshot 2
At its heart the game is straightforward. You tackle a series of levels, across different classes of car and game modes, and on completion you pick up the equivalent of a gold, silver or bronze medal, depending on how well you've done.

These medals are usually gauged by a mixture of your placement in a race and the amount of damage you've managed to do. The levels feature fairly well designed courses too, particularly the there-and-back-again tracks, whereby you do a U-turn at the end and go back along the same road in the opposition direction. Carnage naturally ensues.

Sega - Full Auto screenshot 3
But picture this: you're hurtling round at speed. Ahead of you is a car that's just dropped a smoke grenade.

An oil tanker you took out on the last lap is billowing out more pollution and there's a big explosion ahead of you. Behind, there are two vehicles firing missiles in your direction and there's a hidden corner just past that aforementioned tanker. It's at moments like these, which do come more and more often, that the game is hopelessly weighted against you.

Sega - Full Auto screenshot 4
You'll find that you simply can't keep up with everything happening on screen and, ironically, neither can the Xbox 360. Full Auto's visuals frequently judder when the curse of slowdown kicks in, and it's not what we were expecting from a supposedly next generation console game. On top of that, you're offered the option of aiming one of your two weapons with the right analogue stick. Sadly, as you're driving with the left stick and accelerating with the trigger buttons, you'll have to be particularly ambidextrous for targeting not to end in disaster.

Still, at least there's 'unwreck' to throw into the mix. As you go through the game, racking up destruction points based on the amount of damage you do to other cars and the pretty much entirely destructible environments (there's nothing quite like shooting a structure down so it lands slap bang on top of a couple of opponents), your 'unwreck' gauge fills.

Sega - Full Auto screenshot 5

Then, a tap of the right bumper button will rewind time, for as long as you keep the button depressed (assuming there's juice in the 'unwreck' meter, of course). That means that should you miss a corner, should you be taken out by a well-placed missile, or should you simply mess up, you can rewind. In fact, when the 'unwreck' meter is full, you can probably rewind three or four times until you get it right.

It's a neat idea, but one that works for slightly the wrong reasons. That moment that we mentioned earlier, where you can seemingly do nothing but crash, can clearly be tackled now by making the mistake, rewinding, and not making the same mistake again.

Certainly this offers a balance to the gameplay, but more often than not the 'unwreck' mode appears to be compensating for other areas of the game. In fact it ultimately goes too far, to the point where you'll find yourself blitzing through a good chunk of the single player game in far less time than you might expect.

Yet we come back to the point we made near the start of this review. There are several glorious moments, particularly in the first day or two of owning Full Auto, where it all works so well. Loading up a vehicle with a front and rear weapon of your choice and taking it into battle does have the one-more-go feeling to it, and in the short term at least, Full Auto does have a lot to offer.

But it's also exactly the kind of game that rental stores were invented for. Because with Xbox 360 games still attracting a £50 price tag, it's hard to justify spending that amount on a good, solid, short term racing title. Even one with lots of guns.

Cool: great fun
Poor: there aren't enough to warrant £50 of your cash

See also on Car Games To Play:
Burnout Paradise - One of the Best Car Games to Play
The MotorStorm - all in Heat, Mud, Dust and Sweat!
Grand Theft Auto IV - The Whole City Will Be Ours!
Stuntman Ignition

Friday, 13 June 2008

Stuntman: Ignition

Stuntman: Ignition
The original Stuntman car game to play was an interesting concept that was destroyed in its execution. It was so frustrating and difficult that you had to play it in very short bursts to prevent permanent damage to your psyche. For those that never played it, you had to complete driving stunts, with zero room for error coupled with incredibly long load times between each attempt....imagine now having 20 attempts! Stuntman: Ignition fixes the majority of the flaws in its predecessor but it can still occasionally be a rough ride.

Once again, you are a stuntman hired to shoot action driving sequences for a series blockbuster movies, TV commercials and stunt shows. Each movie consists of scenes, with each scene comprising of a sequence of 10-20 stunt events that you must hit. These include, jumping, 2-wheeling, smashing, sliding and performing action events. The movies themselves range from James Bond style spy flicks to buddy comedies.

Stuntman: Ignition screenshot 2
Further movies and events are unlocked by earning stars, as are other bonus content such as video interviews, achievements, and items for the construction mode - create your own stunt set. You can play online in Burnout
play car games style races around a studio back-lot, as well as try out custom tracks built in the construction mode.

There are numerous vehicles in the game that each feature their own unique and satisfying handling characteristics: big things feel big; fast things feel twitchy. The vehicle models and the movie sets are competently designed and displayed with a decent frame-rate that holds up even when everything is going bang about you. The music and voice work all add some much needed humour and brevity to the game, whilst the movie trailers - earner for completing each film - look cool and are satisfying way to conclude each film.

Stuntman: Ignition screenshot 3
Stuntman: Ignition is not perfect: the difficulty is still probably too high, with the final movie being difficult to unlock unless you have scored well on all the previous films, and possibly the hardest movies is the first one you play - which seems a strange design decision. There is still an element of frustration thanks to the exclusion of strikes on the advertisement and stunt shows, and the luck required to keep a score multiplier going when so much is happening on screen outside your control.

Stuntman: Ignition offers something different from the usual driving fare that can be a lot of fun provided you have the patience to persevere. For any fans of Burnout crash mode, Stuntman: Ignition offers a similar experience and should fill the gap until Burnout: Paradise is released next year.

Cool: Cool movies; good selection of vehicles; challenging but rewarding

Poor: Odd Jobs are unforgiving; stringing requires a heavy dose of luck; not many players online

See also on Car Games To Play:
Burnout Paradise - One of the Best Car Games to Play
The MotorStorm - all in Heat, Mud, Dust and Sweat!
Grand Theft Auto IV - The Whole City Will Be Ours!
Car Games To Play - DiRT

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