Month: October 2014

Review: Forza Horizon 2

A Racer’s Nirvana

The Forza series has always been a standout when it comes to first party games on Microsoft’s systems. The game combines aspects of circuit racing with that of open world racing. Honestly, I believe this game is the first notable console exclusive for the Xbox One, with most of  the first party games so far being lackluster efforts. The game itself, released on both the 360 and the One, is developed by Playground Studios for the Xbox One version and by Sumo Digital for the 360 version. This review, however, will be over the Xbox One version since it utilizes the most advanced hardware of the two.

Visually speaking Forza Horizon 2 is simply breathtaking; the attention to detail regarding the cars and racing environment is sure to make players pause for a few seconds to take it all in the first time the game boots up. The detailed textures run at 30FPS at 1080p resolution and couldn’t look any cleaner. The anti-aliasing (which gets ride of rough edges on polygons and models) allows this game to have a very polished and smooth look, an essential feature if you are making a racing game with exotic cars that have warped and unique angels in their body frames. The overall color palette of the game consists of bright colors, a stark contrast with the gritty, bleak nature of other games as of late; these colors truly help capture the atmosphere of the Italian countryside in which the game takes place. Driving on a coastal Mediterranean highway at 200+ mph has never looked better than in this addition to the Forza series.

Content wise, Forza Horizon 2 has about 200 cars, with many more to be released via every gamer’s worst enemy: DLC. Not lacking in variety, there is hardly any repetition in the style and models of each car that was picked to be featured in the game. Unique cars such as the Swedish Koenigsegg Agera R (which happens to be my favorite car), or the Texas-based manufacturer Hennessey’s Venom GT, which can hit speeds of 270 mph, are nice additions compared to every other racing game’s typical Lamborghini and Ferrari. The latter two are in the game, but in a breath of fresh air, are not the focus. Many other unique (and more than likely under the radar) manufacturers such as Noble, producers of the M600 supercar featured in the game, add a freshness to the stale roster that plagues other racing games.

Race-wise, players have hours of content to play through, whether it be Grand Prix, Single Circuit Races, etc. The actual “Story” of the game consists of 15 tournament style races which, when completed, only put the player at about 15% overall completion of the game. (Beating those 15 tournaments alone took me about 2 weekends of on and off playing). The tournaments range from open world point to point racing, rally car racing through the Italian countryside, and classic, closed-circuit racing. The choice to have all three allows nearly any racer to find their favorite form of racing in Forza. Online play with various clubs (which are similar to clans in FPS games) also add high replayability to the game.

Actual gameplay in Forza Horizon 2 can be either incredibly easy or incredibly difficult depending upon the preference of the player. People who are new to less arcade-style racers will more than likely enjoy the ability to rewind after a bad turn or crash in hopes of improving the second time around. (However, the amount of times you use it affects how much money you get at the end of the event.) Braking and handling assist, traction control, and ABS also help newcomers slowly enter the world of Forza. These features may seem boring and unnecessary to veterans of the series who enjoy a more pure racing experience. Luckily, if you are up to the challenge, the HUD (which shifts your position to only inside your car) and assistance measures (brakes, handling and even rewind) can be turned off  to rake in larger rewards at the end of events. If you really want a challenge, I also suggest turning on realistic damage and tire burn, which makes every high-speed nudge or tight turn a risk to your car’s performance and, therefore, your finishing slot. But as I mentioned earlier, by turning all of these elements to make the game more difficult, you will receive and incredible raise in rewards won in game. (If you think that you have what it takes to challenge me in a time trial feel free to ask, but it will be a pure race as stated above.)

Lastly, the sounds of each car in the game were separately recorded by the developers in order to capture the feel and intensity of each unique engine. Playing Forza with stereo headphones or a high quality home theater setup will get you as close to the real thing as possible from your couch.

Forza Horizon 2 provides everything a true racing aficionado would want. New exotic cars combine with nice retro ones to fill in the roster, a dynamic and stunning environment, and a large sandbox world to race in. In my opinion this is the first game that makes getting an Xbox One really worth it since it is a previous and current-gen Xbox exclusive. From longtime racers to newcomers, I highly recommend this intense racing simulator that finally provides Microsoft with a new exclusive game. (Look for reviews of the Master Chief Collection and Sunset Overdrive in the coming future.)

Verdict: 9/10 * Easily the newest and best looking racing game on the market. Provides an easy to lean yet hard to master experience, but lacks in number of cars when compared to games like Gran Tourismo, which have over 1000 cars to pick from. Despite that, this game is as good as it gets overall when it comes to a racing game. Ditch your generic racing games and buy a copy of Forza Horizon 2.

Note: If anyone feels like setting up a Forza Tournament for Ranger Day, feel free to send me a message on Moodle.

Review: Super Smash Bros 3DS

Settle it in Smash

Nintendo always attempts to and successfully brings nostalgia to gamers who grew up playing the Smash Bros franchise. Its routes can be traced back to the side scrolling fighter that first appeared on the Nintendo 64. This year, Nintendo is for the first time releasing a Smash Bros game on both their handheld and home consoles products. The latter comes out in late November on the WiiU. Yet this past Friday marked the launch of the 3DS, 2DS and 3DSXL versions of the game. The hype behind this game was expressed by its sales, which Nintendo is boasting are some of the best they have ever had for a day one handheld launch; they are comparing it to last year’s Pokemon X & Y sales figures. (At my Gamestop that I work at we sold more copies of Smash Brothers alone than copies of Forza Horizon 2 and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor combined!)

If you have played a Smash game you know what to expect in this iteration of the franchise. This version has 49 different characters (Although several are merely reskins IE Mario = Dr. Mario) which come from both first party Nintendo games and third party franchises as well. Examples of newcomers to the beat’em game include Pacman, Megaman and several others from third party developers. The Wii Fit trainer, Little Mac from Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, and Lucina and Robin from Fire Emblem are just a few of the Nintendo characters that have been added to the roster. The roster numbers a total of 48 character, 12 of which are unlockables. Several characters have been modified though, for example Zelda and Sheik are separate characters, as are Samus and Zero Suit Samus. Other characters such as Mario and Link are for the most part untouched.

This version of Smash plays a lot like a mixture of Melee and Brawl. (Any previous players will understand it) Recoveries however seem to be a lot easier in this version which frustrates people such as myself who has played every version of Smash. The reasoning for this i’m guessing is to make the game more accessible to a new generation of gamers since it’s on the 3DS. Gameplay mirrors that of the other games so players who haven’t played in the series in a while shouldn’t have any problems jumping back in. The atmosphere of also playing next to your friends wherever you want, say for example before or after school, also adds to the amount of fun this little handheld game has in it. The moments of fighting your friends in intense brawls hasn’t felt this good since Melee in my opinion.

However, this game isn’t without its share of flaws. The game mode Smash Run, which is exclusive to the 3DS, isn’t all that impressive. Essentially all four players are given a certain amount of time to search a labyrinth type area for power ups and items to collect which will be used in a final fight against all players when the time expires. I didn’t find the game mode to be that enjoyable, I felt as if I was running around and hoping that I would receive lucky drops from defeating enemies in the labyrinth. It basically boils down to the fact that the drops the player receives are either incredibly overpowered or are completely useless, this in turn makes the final fight against the 3 other players very lopsided.

My last two issues with this game revolve around the online mode and the camera/HUD. The online matchmaking rarely works for myself and when it does the matches typically lag out or simply freeze up. Local play which one can use at school works most of the time but every once and a while it will lag a little bit and will effect matches since the Host’s version of the game won’t lag at all. The camera/HUD seems to track the combat and players a little bit slower than previous iterations. The smaller screen also might contribute to this, the game just seems to take a bit to register where the players are knocked to.

In the end the New Super Smash Bros for the 3DS is a great addition to the series, in my opinion it plays better than Brawl which was way too easy on players. The art style works well with the 3DS’s capabilities and provides a really good preview for the full version which will come out on the WiiU on November 21, 2014. It provides much needed nostalgia for veteran players but fails to exit the shadow that is cast over it by the previous games. However it is still worth buying if you have a 3DS since there are no other versions of Smash Bros on a handheld device.

Verdict- 8/10

Review: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

One Game to Rule Them All?

There are spoilers ahead regarding the beginning of the game’s plot. You have been warned.

There are few who haven’t heard of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, two pieces of literature that were crafted by the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien. Middle of Earth: Shadow of Mordor by Monolith Productions finds its place in the world that Tolkien created. This team of developers has worked on some notable games, and is probably best known for the Batman Arkham Series. The game itself takes place in a period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The player takes control of Talion (voiced by Troy Baker), a Ranger tasked with guarding the infamous Black-Gate separating Gondor from Mordor. The gate is essentially, to those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s work, a giant wall that acts as a buffer between the armies of good and those of Sauron. The peace doesn’t last long, as your character’s wife and son are executed in front of him within the first 5 minutes of gameplay, and is then personally killed by raiding Orcs who are under direct order from Sauron, but this isn’t the end for your character.

Talion awakens and realizes he isn’t dead. He is informed by an ethereal spirit that his destiny is bound to his and that he is cursed and cannot die. This angers the protagonist, who wants to join his family in the afterlife. The spirit explains that you now have wraith like abilities and can end your curse if you find and kill those responsible for your predicament. Without any further spoilers, the player will find references scattered throughout the game that attempt to call back to the original books the game is based upon. You get the opportunity to meet a hermit who is in search of some sort of precious ring. (Never heard of it) The game attempts to immerse the player in the world of Tolkien and does a great job at depicting the area of Middle Earth that is Mordor.

Gameplay is based off of the Arkham series’ combat system. When it comes to fighting the game at its lowest perception is merely chaining combos together in swift undivided strikes which are always beautiful to look at. The developers took their time to polish off the combat system and make it look as natural and fluid as possible. They even went to the trouble of making the voice actor, Troy Baker, do a full motion capture of all the animations the player can go through in order to obtain realistic range of movement. The weapons in the game are few in number, but used to the best of their ability. The small array of weaponry includes a simple broadsword that the player can channel their wraith abilities through to increase damage, a bow that can pick off enemies from afar, and a broken straight sword that belonged to your son which now acts as a dagger and a symbol of your need for revenge. Junior Sharwin Yogeswaran describes the gameplay as “a mix between Arkham and Assassins Creed, thrown into the world of Middle Earth.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the combat is far more responsive and fluid than the Assassins Creed series and isn’t nearly as repetitive as the Arkham games in which the player can simply spam the counter button to essentially never get hit. The latter may work at first but once one starts fighting units with spears, shields, and berserkers armed with hand axes, it is soon realized that the game is more difficult that previously imagined.

Two aspects of gameplay that set it apart from the Assassins and Arkham games are its use of “executions” the player earns through combos or not taking damage, and the more important Nemesis AI system. The executions are brutal to say the least, decapitation and impalement of orcs have never looked this good in a game. Players may have moments of shock after carrying out one of these brutal strikes for the first time. I myself was stunned for a second by the first decapitation I saw in the game and still cringe a little at the brutality, even having already put 30+ hours into the game. The real star of the show when it comes to gameplay is the Nemesis AI. In the Shadow of Mordor, the player will find themselves in a struggle to either kill captains in Sauron’s Orc army or the higher up Elite Captains and War Chiefs. Monolith brought an interesting aspect to the game. Say, for example, I’m hunting an Orc Captain and burn him with hot tar, and he somehow survives. In the game you will more than likely see that Orc again, and they will remember what you did to them. They will show this by simply saying it aloud or by reminding you during combat.

This happened to me when I was fighting a Captain by the name of Rignar the Skinner (Nearly all of the names are mix- matched so many are unique). Rignar egged me on the first time I fought him, taunting me with things such as “I’ll skin you alive you soft skinned human.” This made the hatred more personal. Rignar, however, was awful when it came to combat and always fled when his health was low. (Notice all captains behave with different attributes; some have honor and will fight to the death. Others will panic and run off. Some are afraid of fire, others embrace it. You get the idea.).I found myself hunting this single Orc for several hours because the game had succeeded in bringing out a personal emotional reaction. Each time that I found him he would start off the fight saying things such as “I let you win puny human.” Or “Back for some more?” Which really ticked me off. The frustration continued until I myself cut him in his face and actually rejoiced in real life, as I had finally defeated my enemy. However, I apparently should have executed him because about an hour later he popped up again. This time with a large metal plate on his face where I stabbed him in a non-fatal manner. He mocked me, saying “I will just take your skin and wear it over the patch that you took from me!” Needless to say he didn’t survive that battle and I don’t think one can reattach a head. The fact is this is my own unique experience with the AI system that is being used in the game. None of this was planned or scripted, the developers decided to create an AI system that actually learns from the players actions and forms a unique and very personal theme to the player. For example you may have a completely different experience and if you get killed enough you will notice that the Orcs begin to realize you are a wraith who can’t die which adds to the fun and atmosphere of this unique and surprisingly under-hyped game.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor provides the player with a simple to learn but hard to master combat system that has two distinct skill trees. It looks simply beautiful on the next gen and truly attempts to form to the player’s actions.

Verdict: 9/10 *for killing orcs with style and forming a unique AI system that forms to the player.