Back in the days of the PlayStation 2 there was a racing game that held a special place in a lot of gamers memories. It wasn’t however the Gran Turismo series but rather a game featuring miniature cars and their attempts to race around the human world, that game was Micro Machines. Table Top Racing from Playrise Digital attempts to reignite those fond memories for the PlayStation Vita.
With this console generation coming to an end it’s hard not to get nostalgic about what has made these past several years so memorable. So, we’re looking back at what titles have been the highlights, especially when it comes to gaming with friends.
Danny Lilley reflects over one of this generations most unique and enjoyable multiplayer experiences. Nope, it’s not an entry from the hugely popular Call of Duty, FIFA or Battlefield franchises, but 2008’s Burnout Paradise from Guildford-based Criterion Games.
Last year saw the release of cutesey F1-inspired kart racer F1 Race Stars, featuring cartoon-style versions of real world drivers facing off against each other in scaled down cars. Now, the game is making it’s way to the Wii U.
The game originally appeared on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in November of 2012 — arriving just a few short weeks ahead of the Wii U’s late November launch. However, if you’ve been clamouring to play this on your Gamepad then you don’t have to wait much longer, as one year on the game is making its Wii U debut.
Sony paid tribute to the Gran Turismo series this Wednesday as it celebrated 15 years since the ground breaking release of the original PlayStation hit. Sony marked the occasion at Silverstone, celebrating the series success with the announcement of the next iteration in the prolific racing simulator — Gran Turismo 6.
Jeremy McGrath, known for his illustrious supercross career, decided to ditch the motorbikes for his latest, swapping it instead for a new passion: off-road 4×4’s. Offroad may have time to rev its engines on Xbox Live for a while now, but in March 2013 the racer finally appeared on the European PlayStation Network.
So, has this cut-price downloadable run out of grip, or is this PSN release worthy of a fresh set of tires?
The Need for Speed (NFS) franchise has managed to claw its way back in favour with gamers over recent years with additions to the series from both Slightly Mad Studios and Criterion, of Burnout fame. Slightly Mad Studios efforts on the Need for Speed: Shift titles along with last years Hot Pursuit from Criterion both marked the work of developers new to the long-running racing series.
However, this years entry, Need for Speed: The Run, sees the development torch handed back to long time NFS developers Black Box, giving them another chance at the racing franchise.
The Need For Speed franchise has been waning in recent years. It was once the king of street racing, however a number of less than successful games saw it’s name sullied. Despite the progress made in last year’s Need for Speed: Shift, a game which saw the series take a driving simulator stance, gamers have still been waiting for a return to it’s cops and robbers, arcade roots. Fortunately, fresh from their success with Burnout Paradise, Criterion Games were more than willing to take up the cause.
Hydro Thunder: Hurricane is the sequel to the heavily ported Hydro Thunder, part of Midway Games’s Thunder series seen in arcades in 1999. Hydro Thunder was first published on a home console on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast, before a career mode was added for the PlayStation and four-player multiplayer for the Nintendo 64. Until recently it was added to the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 collection for the Gamecube, Xbox and PlayStation, with the latter console releases having major technical problems. However, when Midway was sinking under bankruptcy protection, Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the majority of their franchises, notably Thunder which was subsequently bought by Microsoft.
The game is a racer, not with cars, but with speedboats, centred across 8 tracks. The first thing that springs to mind on the very first race is the amount of imagination put into the structure of the courses. The races are filled with twists and turns, and the game isn’t afraid to turn a little crazy, from biplanes dropping bombs to create an uneven sway and tide to put the boat off course, to giant Vikings swinging axes in your path and Dinosaurs chopping off your intended route.
Disappointingly, each of these features is scripted and timed upon your arrival; nothing ever happens differently on the same two laps. Eventually objects get in the way of victory, which causes frustration rather than excitement. Other than the surreal, ‘normal’ features of the raceways are ramps, hidden paths and huge jumps. Items including canisters that fill the boost meter and hidden collectable Hydro Thunder: Hurricane logos are placed along the way too, some in not-so-obvious places. The boost is vital for that extra push to get to the head of the pack, but it also allows the boat to ‘boost jump’ over objects, getting into short cuts and secret areas.
The speedboats themselves range in design, and have their own level of speed, acceleration, handling and air control. Each of the boats get more complex, and as their statistics rise the difficulty rises with it, so that if the player wants to use a bit of power there is going to be a certain amount of opposition. This might seem fair, but the difficulty curve takes its toll on the trophy flow once the door from professional to expert opens. Nevertheless, mix this difficulty in with the hazardous environments and the game outputs action and tension that keeps the attention on the screen.
The reward for finishing an event is the customary trophy, which more importantly has credits attached, even if the race has already been completed. Credits unlock new boats, tracks, and events in no particular order, but the pace is always even if you keep the credits rolling.
The Ring Master Event is a time trail race where the boat is timed along a certain path. As long as the rings are hit successively the boost meter will fill, but as soon as one is missed the meter will deplete and valuable time will deducted at the end. Gauntlet is also a timed event, but the track is littered with exploding barrels, which like planting a wall with the bow of the boat will automatically destroy the vehicle, hindering progress by restarting the boat further back.
There is a fourth game type but this is just a Championship style compilation of Race, Ring Master and Gauntlet, where the player competes for points in each round before being placed on an overall leaderboard. It is disappointing that it adds nothing new to the game, but at least it is another challenge when stuck for places to go to rack up credits.
Multiplayer consists of online competitive one-versus-all, cooperative team play, and local four-player split screen. Race times are always posted to the leaderboards as long as there is an Xbox Live connection, keeping in competitive touch with friends and the world. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a great set-up for multiplayer; the techno beat, lively commentary, and the weird course events will keep the banter going. It originated from the arcade after all.
Overall the game is a great arcade racer with a twist, working heavily in its favour against other in the genre. The waterworks and out-of-this-world destruction paint the scene for competitive gameplay. However, its biggest asset is also its greatest flaw. There might be awe at first sight, but after that it is just lashings of the same 8 scenes over and over again. Replaying each of the levels has its rewards, but it isn’t particularly fun earning them once you’ve seen what each course has to offer. Hydro Thunder Hurricane will take you on a thrill ride, but don’t expect it to last.
Forza Motorsport 3 is a game that caters for all form of car lover, from a simple admirer to the enthusiast who craves a little tinkering. With this emphasis on player accessibility the gameplay is heavily assisted from the start, however when removed the cars are succumbed to every possible element, creating a very realistic simulation.
The career ‘Season Play’ offers a progressive campaign, beginning at a small set of short races and gradually building up to have vast, time consuming courses. Rewards for winning races are credits, which are usable throughout the game, and compile as experience points in racer and car company ‘levels’ progress bars which give bonuses, such as discounted car components at specific manufacturers, when each integer milestone is reached. This scheme ensures that each race has a purpose with a continuous stream of new options meeting the criteria for each race, keeping the game away from being monotonous. The difficulties have five suggested defaults, but they can also be broken down into settings. The options are customisable to mix-and-match, which is beneficial as percentage increase in earnings rises the more the gameplay becomes dependent on user control. Optional assists include anti-lock brakes, traction control and a suggested line of travel, which is great for the car enthusiast to dive into, or the novice to leave to default.
As it is a substantial part of the game, the season mode is a lengthy haul– driving for hours on-end just to have statistics reveal that the progress is mere percentiles would suggest that there are many hours of fun, however, after the first season the pace of the game severely slackens, dragging the faster cars further away from reach.
A new feature that is prominent in all single player modes is the ability to rewind time with the press of a button. This is very powerful, to the point where overrunning corners, being overtaken, or getting caught up in a crash can be reversed, making the whole game infinitely less frustrating if it is exploited. With the removal of seemingly inevitable circumstances, the game becomes easier, but it can still be made interesting with the difficulty control.
For those who want to delve straight with everything at hand, a ‘Free Play’ and multiplayer section are available at any point. In free play the full range of cars and tracks are sprawled out, with no restrictions, provided you install the second disc for all of the content. Through Xbox Live, finding a game is relatively easy, as there are continuous lobbies with players dropping in and out. The modes are plentiful and provide a competitive area for online leaderboards and opportunity to play with friends.
The Storefront is where the game ties into a community creation shop to buy and sell user created content such as car designs, vinyl groups, photos, replays, and tuning setups. The currency ties into every part of the game – with the store, single player and the car auction. The Storefront and auction house are stapled with a similar user interface for accessible browsing and buying from an expanding range of items.
The layout of the game is clean and organised where everything is easy to find. Each area is lead into by a friendly voice detailing the points of interest and a how-to guide in getting started with the store, customisation, and Season Play mode. Forza Motorsport 3 is by no means graphically stunning, but it is competent. The one object that really lets it down is trees – no matter which vegetation or where it is placed models looks unnatural in 3 dimensions with flat edges, but a few hours in you’re going too fast to notice anyway. The defects in the surroundings only become a noticeable flaw when changing to one of the front-end viewpoints and not admiring the fantastic car models throughout the game. The attention to detail with the actual cars, without lacking in the interior and exterior copy of real models- down to the stitching in the upholstery- is why this series has gained a reputable name in the racing simulation genre, and it is no different in this title.
With the combination of the different components that have both accessibility and detail, Forza Motorsport 3 unfolds to be a great game. The feel of each of the intricate car models on the track do well to distract from any of the minor flaws, and it certainly has the feel of being worked on and honed from its predecessor, with ingenious implementations to replace annoyance with absolute satisfaction. Anyone with a vague interest in cars, to fanatic petrol heads looking for a great racing game, shouldn’t look past this.
After his tragic death in 2007, publishing group Codemasters took the difficult decision to continue the successful Colin McRae franchise. Given the critical acclaim the first received, the decision was justified, as the original Colin McRae Dirt was successful in revamping a series that was in danger of getting a flat tire. Now, ten months on from its first announcement the tires have been changed, the engine tuned and the series’ reputation now rests in the driving seat of the seventh and most recent excursion.
Fans of the first will remember the slick menu system that allowed users to drive through the races with little effort, as well as events, settings and cars that could all be accessed with ease. Codemasters in their infinite wisdom have decided to remove it. In its place is a brand spanking new menu system that, rather than having minor alterations here and there, provides a somewhat novel but over-elaborate navigating experience. The Menu screen resembles some sort of backstage area complete with people faffing about in the background and pseudo graffiti style fonts emblazon the world map that is the event menu, while cool words like ‘rides’ and ‘throwdowns’ have replaced cars and challenges. It’s as though Codemasters have attempted to bestow an image that is more akin to an extreme sports title than a serious natured racer that has become expected of the franchise.
This theme continues into the campaign mode, called ‘dirt tour’. Outside of the ostentatious menus, the actual tour mode works well utilising an experience/prize based system. Gain experience through winning races to unlock more races, cars and accessories; the cash prizes that come with a hard fought win can be used to purchase said items. Career mode down is let down through because of Codemasters attempt to create a sense of involvement. Other drivers will engage in pre, post and in race banter, an unwarranted aspect in itself, however it’s made even more aggravating through the tedious nonsense spouted by them. Each utterance from drivers is some sort of well wishing, fine at first but irritating after each race, and it seems drivers don’t now how to start a sentence without saying ‘hey’.
At first glimpse there is little to recognise from the previous instalment, the menu system being at the forefront of some major revamp work. However, enter into an event and the intense packed race action that made the first title so appealing all comes crashing back. Events such as land rush, trailblazer, gatecrasher and last man standing each provide a different take on the normal racing formula. Although it’s nothing groundbreaking, the variation in events is enough to avoid repetition and maintain each events excitement. Of course, the rally events is where Codemasters excel and after seven attempts the developers have perfected it. Dirt 2 doesn’t disappoint- the sharp corners and dangerous drops as the navigator calls out directions provide a racing experience that no normal race can match. That said, the navigator does let down the experience when it comes to the inevitable crashes, as his comments are inconsistent at best and often don’t match the damage received. A slight knock receives shouts of ‘careful’ and ‘watch out’, flip over several times almost wrecking the car and he’ll remain silent. He’s not dead though, as he continues giving instructions in his calm demeanour.
A new feature to Dirt 2 is the rewind system; known as flashbacks. Borrowed from Grid, it allows the last few moments of a race to be rewound so it can be redone. Crash into a barrier? Rewind it. Get taken out? Rewind it. Some might consider it ‘cheating’ but who doesn’t restart a race when it doesn’t go to plan? In which case, it has it’s practical uses.
Race simulations have always been at the forefront of pushing a console’s graphical limits and Dirt 2 is no different. Vehicles look immaculate even after a hefty shunt into a barrier and a backdrop maintains its splendour even as it whizzes past. Lighting steals the show though; few titles will beat the manner in which Codemasters have captured a sunset cascading over the Moroccan desert. Environments themselves respond well to the car that so rudely careers its way through. Old walls will crumble when knocked into and dirt will cake the car to the point where the paintwork no longer shows through. This most satisfying in the Malaysian rallies, where a once bright red BMW will be a healthy brown when crossing the finishing line.
Colin McRae Dirt 2 has totally separate identity in comparison to the first; while the first had a clean aesthetic, the latest instalment has ditched that in favour of a more vibrant appearance. If it were down to colour schemes the attempt to create a new identity, however the new menu system that has been implanted just doesn’t feel right. Add that to the constant vocal ‘high-fives’ received from the other drivers, mid race fireworks and inclusion of X-Games (the extreme sports equivalent of the Olympics for those not in the know) competitors over current rally drivers feels like an attempt to Americanise a traditionally European based sport. It’s also a shame that for a game baring the name of one of the greatest rally drivers of all time it includes minimal rally events. Nonetheless the driving is still intense and it still looks fantastic, but it’s just not the same. Dirt 2’s heart is there but lacking its soul.