A free, once-weekly round-up of all the best Nintendo Switch links, articles and videos from the past seven days.
Sega by
published Wednesday, Jan 25th

Sega Names New UK Development Studio

Sega has announced the name of its latest UK-based development studio, dubbed Hardlight.

The new studio was originally formed in June of last year following the 2008 closure of Sega Racing Studios, but only now has Sega named the team, bestowing the development house with the moniker ‘Hardlight’.

Based in Solihull within the West Midlands, the newly titled studio is reportedly working on a fresh IP that will be exclusive to the upcoming PlayStation Vita. This unknown action adventure game, the first Hardlight is set to release, is due to arrive before the end of this year.

Sega’s announcement regarding the studio came following a recently advertised job position. Sega were advertising for a Programmer role at the then unknown Hardlight studio, prompting questions about who the then-mystery developer was.

Hardlight, Sega’s third UK-based developer team, is described as a “boutique game development studio” that’s founded with “the ethos of staying compact, agile and focused”.

published Friday, Mar 26th

Yakuza 3 Review

Konnichiwa! Watashi no rebyū wo kangei suru Ryū ga Gotoku 3… Oh wait, wrong language. Anyway Yakuza 3 is the fourth installment in the Yakuza series from Sega, which portrays the seedy and gritty underworld of organised crime in the streets of Okinawa. This isn’t the kawaii J-Pop you’ve come to know and love from Japan – unless you’re playing karaoke – and this is definitely not your latest installment of the Katamari series.

A key factor with the Yakuza series is its authenticity. Unlike similar open world environments, such as Grand Theft Auto, every store, logo and piece of advertising you see in Yakuza 3 is what you would see if you walk down a street in Japan. Once you get past the frustrating 5GB required installation of Yakuza 3, which takes up-to half an hour, players can begin to enjoy the authentic Japanese experience.

Yakuza 3’s plot is centered on Sunshine Orphanage and the land it’s built on. This land is run by the protagonist of the game and ex-Yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, and when the Yakuza are requested to take over the land for a big seaside resort, your reputation and friendship with the chairman of the Tojo clan takes a turn for the worse. Then of course, insert a plot twist or two here. Newcomers to the Yakuza series need not worry as you’re well catered for with an explanation of what happened in the previous installments.

Unfortunately your first few hours as a Yakuza won’t see getting involved with much action, as you won’t be facing off against men who compulsively want a fight, but instead you will find yourself helping out the kids in the aforementioned orphanage. With various problems such as offering advice on bullying, to catching a dog and playing baseball. After this initial gentle introduction to the controls and gameplay your character fly’s out to Kamurocho and quickly gets thrown into the deep end of typical Yakuza action, with plenty of fights to keep you on your toes!

Yakuza 3

Getting to grips with Yakuza 3’s gameplay mechanics is simple. Once outside the orphanage you walk the streets and complete your various missions. Typically these missions resolve in you partaking in a shirtless street battle, beating the enemy senseless with a usual smattering of square, square, triangle. Although this may sound repetitive, fear not, Yakuza 3 truly delivers where variety is concerned. Mini-games ranging from golf, karaoke, darts, fishing and more are all on offer, along with the usual smattering of collectables. There is plenty to keep you entertained when the main storyline is proving uneventful, with hours and hours of supplementary experiences to enjoy. Of course, button-bashing aside Yakuza 3 has the heart of an RPG, meaning that with a little effort there are plenty of moves you can learn. These additional moves can be gained via the surprisingly deep experience (EXP) system, or new moves can also be gained through the means of having an epiphany. These epiphanies take place when your character takes photos with his phone and then uploads them to his blog. This process adds a unique and fairly modern take on progression and was a welcome surprising addition.

Unfortunately slight faults and design annoyances do occasionally pop-up, which can taint some of the apparent endless fun to be had with this game. One small annoyance for example: The majority of side missions that take place do not include any location markers, which therefore requires you to mentally remember the street names of where such a side mission took place in order to complete some missions. Although this does sound like a minor annoyance, some of the Japanese street names found within the game, do sound similar to others.

When it comes to visuals Yakuza 3 won’t be winning an award anytime soon, however it’s worth remembering that this game came out more than a year ago in Japan. Taking this into consideration, along with the highly detailed an accurate environment and it more than holds it’s own. A key factor which may be off-putting for a majority is that there is no English audio available. Everything is read through subtitles, both in the cut scenes and the dialogue with all the characters. For someone like myself who has a long history of watching subbed eastern films and anime it poses no problems, but for those who prefer a more immersive experience the constant reading may pose a problem. Additionally, during certain points in the subtitles can be difficult to read due to lighting conditions.

Sega’s Yakuza 3 has had it’s fair share of controversy? During the localisation process of the game various things were cut including, the shogi mini-game, the mahjong mini-games and a Japanese trivia game. However, these cuts were small and in no doubt necessary for the audience in question, compared to the most complained cut of all. Sega cut a mini-game involving a hostess club, which in-turn resulted in the cut of several other side missions in the process.

Despite the various cuts and the constant subtitles, overall Yakuza 3 is a game which will interest anybody with an allure to Japanese culture. Of course those with a curiosity surrounding the seedy lives Yakuza (or gangsters in general) will also find something of interest here. Yakuza 3 is a title which can provide endless hours of fun with its extremely well thought out mini games, random street brawls and deeply engaging storyline, which manages to capture your attention from the very first scene.


published Tuesday, Feb 02nd

Bayonetta Review

Gaining attention with some very early first rate reviews, Bayonetta has built up a lot of hype over a small period of time. So after the long wait for a Western version it is finally here, and it certainly has much to prove.

The storyline progression is very difficult to keep track of and even understand throughout the game. However, it can take refuge in the fact that due to its heavily action packed gameplay it, arguably, does not lend itself well in keeping to a firm narrative. The title character, Bayonetta, is one of the last witches, fighting various angelic creatures in order to restore her memories.

Bayonetta is a highly sexually charged game. The gameplay, animation, design of Bayonetta herself and even some cocky voice work all demonstrate a penchant for the risque. Cutscenes are very long for such a vague storyline, but keeps engagement with some comic book style scenes and moments that require input from the controller.

Arguably the biggest problem in the game is its indecision in having a serious or comical overall presentation, as the two do not mix well at all. The artistic, often gothic, architecture, spatial areas and gargantuan enemies come together to present a resolute, cool environment, up until the point at which Bayonetta enters the frame with an out-of-place statement, accompanying truly horrid Japanese pop music.

Gameplay features the usual action aspects with a simple attack, heavy attack, dodge, and combination to produce complicated techniques. The complex battle scenarios are simply a work of art. When the difficulty is right the frequent set pieces – whether it’s against a group of ‘angels’ or one of the vast bosses – are fantastic, frantic, pure fast-paced action.

Some battles have objectives, such as perform three high damage ‘torture kills’, achieved when successful dodges fill a meter. Dodging enemies also engages ‘witch time’, a function which slows down everything apart from Bayonetta, allowing her to dish out more combos. The placement of the dodge manoeuvre on the right trigger is ingenious, matching with the analogue stick and button for rolls and jumps, making the system flawless. The combat adds yet more to the character of Bayonetta with more sexual reference. Bayonetta has no outfit, but her hair is used to morph into latex bike gear she wears until she pulls off one of her special moves – one that requires her to strip off the costume to become totally naked. This, along with voice work and some lollipop references, makes this game one of the most overbearing, stereotypical Japanese titles imaginable.

As well as combat, there are a few small puzzles in the game involving versions of time manipulation, including witch time. The game makes use of a two dimensional concept, both a light and dark contrast between two time periods. Some puzzles require the collection of time pieces between the two worlds in order to reform the area and progress. These puzzles offer light and infrequent breaks from the constant fighting, but are refreshing nonetheless. The loading screens comprise of an area for practicing combos, with a list of the available executions along side the screen. This is especially useful when preparing the right move for the fights, which require a certain combo criteria to complete.

The difficulty of the game is spread across 5 different settings, from very easy to very hard. Unlocks include new weapons and accessories, which carry on with each new game and the difficulty ties into this – as the character becomes stronger the difficulty increases. For those looking to start the game on normal (as the title suggests it should be neither too easy nor too hard), Bayonetta has the most enraging and demoralising difficulty setting. The constant stream of set piece battles does not blend well with these hard difficulty settings, especially when the normal difficulty is far more challenging that expected. Until the strategy for each is perfected, each of the bosses in the game will result in many, many deaths, and only then will it reveal that there is another fight right around the corner.

The health restore system does come at seemingly random points in the chapters. The items that can be collected can be conjured to give a boost, but most of the opposition can deal that damage and more in one of their moves. In addition, there are not nearly enough checkpoints for the amount of damage that each opponent can actually take, and when constantly restarting each scenario, the standard battle music is essentially on a loop. The frustration is mind-blowing.

Despite its difficult flaws, there has clearly been a lot of effort put into the combat which translates into an engaging and thrilling experience. However, the sudden switch between truly epic experiences to a comical mix happens one too many times in Bayonetta. Though the heavily induced Japanese style can be as simple as the individual’s taste. It is still a great game nonetheless.

published Saturday, Jul 11th

The Conduit Review

So we’ve now got the third of Sega’s trilogy of ‘hardcore’ wii titles. House of the Dead Overkill brought a classic series back to life; MadWorld was a brand new IP from the creators of Okami; then we have The Conduit, a heavily-hyped shooter from a team (High Voltage Software) most known for working on licensed games like Family Guy. Both HotD and MadWorld garnered critical acclaim, but neither managed to set the sales charts alight, despite their apparent appeal to hardcore wii gamers (and said gamers’ whinging over the lack of good third-party software on the format). So does The Conduit have the right combination to appeal to the hardcore and more mainstream audiences, and therefore justify Sega’s decision to support a console written off as a family format? Well not quite.

You see, The Conduit is a bit of a mixed bag really. There’s no doubting the quality of its visuals; HVS made a big noise about their custom-built quantum engine, with claims that they could get the wii to output graphics almost on a par with the Xbox 360. While this may have been a bit exaggerated (think more along the lines of the original Xbox, which is still impressive) The Conduit is one of, if not, the most technically impressive game on wii. Other titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3 just edge it out as the best-looking game, due to these titles’ more consistent and infinitely more interesting art direction. The sound department is another strong point, with a rousing sound track and some very good voice work.

HVS should also be applauded for creating the best control system for any FPS on any console. It really is an absolute joy to control, with smooth movement, aiming and slick use of buttons and motion controls which puts every other wii FPS to shame. Had the wii’s button placement been more FPS-friendly this would have to go down as one of the most intuitive control systems ever. And if you don’t like the default settings you can tinker with just about every aspect you could wish for to tailor the game to your liking.

The problems lie in the actual game itself though. As indicated above, the art direction is largely uninspired, with generic-looking aliens to shoot at, and a lack of cohesive design in the environments. Levels are very linear, and it’s not until later missions that you get objectives outside the usual ‘get here, destroy this, hit these switches’ kind of thing. You may not even get to see these thanks to some pretty infuriating difficulty spikes (prepare to weep at the end of level three). The story also gets tiring quickly – featuring aliens, terrorist groups and more convoluted conspiracies than a whole season of X-Files. Add to that some outdated gameplay elements that evoke the N64 days (think Turok, rather than Goldeneye) and you have yourself a pretty standard, albeit good-looking shooter.

So does that mean The Conduit should be avoided? Again, not quite. Despite being heavily flawed, the single player campaign is still worth a play-through as there are a couple of very nice set-pieces contained within, plus some good usage of the ASE (all-seeing eye – which can be used to highlight hidden puzzles, locks or show you where you need to go for your next objective) device shown in the trailers, which show HVS are at least capable of creating puzzles that match their technical nous. The Conduit’s single-player is at least a good showpiece; standard gameplay mixed with good looks, which, sadly, is what seems to attract mainstream gamers these days.

The thing that saves it from obscurity though is the superb multiplayer. There really is no better online shooter on the wii right now and it is almost enough to propel this game onto the must-have list. It’s quite clear where HVS have directed their attention as the difference between single and multiplayer is incredible. There are a huge number of options to play around with and some really fun and original game modes to try out. There was very little lag present when we played and it was pretty quick at serving up some death match goodness. With the fast pace of the matches, it brings back memories of Unreal Tournament in its heyday, although maybe not quite as well balanced.

It is definitely worth looking at if you’ve been craving a decent online shooter for the wii, and if you can stomach the more generic elements of the single player you can still get some enjoyment out of that. High Voltage have certainly put a lot of effort into giving the fans what they want, and have succeeded on a technical level. Hopefully The Conduit will see some success in the market place, if only to give HVS another chance to inject some deeper gameplay into a potential sequel that can match the graphical side. Judging by the early sales reports from America, it has already outperformed the other two Sega titles mentioned in the intro. That this is the worst of that (very good) trilogy says a lot about the state of the game industry at this present time.

published Thursday, Jun 04th

MadWorld Review

After the controversy surrounding the ultra-violent Manhunt 2 and it’s subsequent disastrous sales, Sega must have questioned whether their decision to publish MadWorld on Wii was the right choice. Bone-crunching fatalities, decapitations and a not-so-healthy dose of claret – all things you wouldn’t expect to see on Nintendo’s whiter-than-white box of tricks. But ignoring protests from family groups and despite the troubles gaining age ratings in some of the stricter territories (Germans must look elsewhere if they want to get their hands on this), Sega have gone ahead and released it anyway and we’re glad they did, because MadWorld is an absolute beauty.

MadWorld is set in Verrigan City, after a group known as the ‘organisers’ have turned it into the backdrop for a Running Man-style game show known as Death Watch. The city was quarantined after a poisonous gas was released by the organisers and now its citizens must kill each other to fight for the vaccine. Into this stage comes Jack Cayman, a man with a shadowy past and a retractable chainsaw attached to his arm. Jack enters the tournament armed with his deadly chainsaw and utilising spikes, signposts and all manner of environmental hazards to battle against other fighters hoping to win Death Watch and claim a very large cash prize.

Putting the violence aside for a moment, MadWorld is one of the most visually striking games available on any of the current consoles. Seeing as their previous titles Viewtiful Joe and Okami have used cel-shading to maximise the impact of their graphics it’s no surprise to see that Platinum Games have once again used the technique to elevate their latest title above the rest of the crowded action genre. Frank Miller’s distinct black and white style, most notably used for his Sin City graphic novels, forms the basis for Madworld’s striking universe. In the hands of lesser developers, this could have been a case of style over substance but Atsushi Inaba and his team have delivered a game that plays as good as it looks.

Controlling Jack is simple, you can either punch your enemies to death by hammering ‘a’ or press ‘b’ to whip out your chainsaw for a more immediate end, or combine the two with a deft flick of the wii remote for a satisfyingly gruesome finisher. If you feel like it you can use signposts, tyres or flaming oil drums to exact a little more punishment on your opponents and increase you score multiplier for each one you send to the afterlife. Combine these with the numerous environmental hazards like spiked walls, ceiling fans or passing trains and you have some entertaining and very rewarding (score-wise) ways to despatch the many foes you’ll face on your way to the top of the rankings. Each death is accompanied by some great commentary, provided by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender from Futurama, and Marcus Fenix in GoW), which is incredibly funny to listen to and make MadWorld just as fun to watch being played as it is to take part yourself.

Breaking up the action are the much-publicised and very fun bloodbath challenges like Man Darts and several levels set on a motorbike. There are also some great bosses to look forward to, cementing Platinum Games reputation for memorable, and tough, boss fights, which require a more hands-on approach via motion controls to overcome.

The repetitive nature of MadWorld’s action, despite these distractions, is its only major Achilles heel and if you find yourself growing tired of impaling enemies or throwing them into trashcans within the first few levels it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stomach the ten or so hours it’ll take to finish. Those who do see it through to the end will no doubt get plenty of enjoyment from the huge variety of ways to maim and decapitate and relish the challenge offered by the bosses and the incredibly entertaining mini games. And as a lot of the fun comes from trying to get the best combos possible there’s a definite urge to replay levels to maximise your score.

Platinum Games have produced one of the most entertaining games on the Wii and one that should be a must-have for anyone craving more action on the console. Show Sega (and the gaming industry) you care about original IPs and give MadWorld some love.

published Wednesday, Mar 25th

House Of The Dead: Overkill Review

When it was first revealed, House of the Dead: Overkill caused more than a ripple of excitement amongst Wii owners eager for a bit of hardcore shooting action. The trailer, a humourous pastiche of the grind-house theatre style honoured by Tarantino and Rodriguez in last year’s Planet Terror, had its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and showed a glimpse of a title happy to poke fun at its own legacy. The cheesy nature of the original arcade games had been fully acknowledged and embraced and hopes were high that developer Gas-Powered Games (formerly the Kuju team responsible for Battalion Wars) would treat the gameplay with the same level of respect. As the first of Sega’s holy trinity of hardcore-focussed titles (alongside the newly released brawler Mad World, and the promising looking FPS The Conduit) and the first console exclusive in the well-loved series, everyone questioned whether Overkill could deliver the goods.

The answer would have to be an unequivocal yes – Overkill delivers in spades, and then some. There are few titles that can boast such persistent aesthetics – the trailer’s ‘low-budget horror’ visuals extend to every inch of the game. From the gory nature of the graphics to the soundtrack and even the menus, Overkill soaks itself in the grind-house atmosphere. Tarantino would surely get a kick out of the scratch film effects, the outrageously sweary dialogue and the intentional ‘gaffes’ in the cut-scenes (characters switch clothing, smashed crockery magically reappears), little touches that all serve to raise Overkill above its peers in the genre.

In fact, it really stands head and shoulders above most of the rest of the Wii’s library – in the words of the eloquent Detective Washington: this is the balls. Visually it challenges some of Nintendo’s in-house efforts thanks to its technical ability and attention to detail; levels are atmospheric and even though they consist of well-trod environments (labs, mansions, trains etc.) they are well designed and look gorgeous. The character models are equally impressive, with the many varieties of zombie sickeningly dismembered in the face of your gun-barrel, and some great looking bosses (even if they are easy to beat). Overkill’s sound design is also worthy of a mention, not just for the zingy dialogue between Agent G and the foul-mouthed Detective Washington (swearing is neither big or clever unless it’s coming from the mouth of Mr W) but for the songs created especially for the game which will certainly live in the memory long after you’ve grown tired of dealing death out to zombies.

Thankfully just as much attention has been spent on the gameplay itself as the presentation. Overkill is not just entertaining as a pick-up-and-play arcade shooter, but stands up well to multiple play-throughs and is an absolute blast with friends (playing or watching). The combo system means battling for a high score takes a bit more of a refined approach than simply blasting all over the screen, as successive hits add to your score multiplier, eventually giving you the heady levels of ‘goregasm’ if you can hit enough enemies. There is also extra content unlocked by finding and shooting golden brains hidden in each level. Bonuses like the harder, more extreme Director’s Cut, featuring longer levels and fewer lives. And the chance to view any of the hilarious cut-scenes or listen to any of the music, catering for any gamers with a hankering to show off the necrophilia song to friends.

There are a few issues that almost taint Overkill’s shiny bodywork though, as mentioned earlier the bosses look great but are dispatched too cheaply. A few blasts to the obvious weak-point(s) is all it can take and they’ll be down in minutes. Only one or two have genuinely interesting attack patterns and the end boss really could have been awesome had it been as challenging as it looked. There are also some gripes with the levels, with few chances to explore alternative routes and very little in the way of destructible environments.

They aren’t enough to stop Overkill being anything less than an extremely entertaining title and it stands as a bit of a landmark title in that it’s not just a great reimagining of a classic series but also a sign that developers are really starting to push Nintendo’s little white box. Given the format’s suitability for light-gun games we’re hoping it leads to new outings for the other two genre stalwarts, Virtua Cop and Time Crisis. In the mean time we’re off to watch that ending just once more before bed. Fuck yeah!

published Wednesday, Mar 28th

Sonic Riders Review

There was a time when Sonic was the very epitome of cool, not only in looks, but his games too. His fast-paced adventures were a world away from Mario’s more measured and unhurried platform antics. He became a gaming icon loved by fashion-conscious gamers around the globe, and despised by other game characters who would have killed to be as cool as he was. Fast forward to the present and Sonic’s ‘cool’ factor is something akin to your Dad having his nose pierced and walking around in Bench and Ecko gear calling everything ‘wickid’, in short, Sonic is a laughing stock.

Maybe it was the move to 3D that made him suffer; after all, his speedy action was likely to cause more problems than Mario’s thoughtful approach. His earlier 3D outings suffered from terrible cameras that couldn’t keep up with him when at top-speed and level design that seemed intent on stopping him dead at every opportunity. These were followed by progressively poorer releases and finally we get Sega’s latest Sonic spin off release Sonic Riders.

On paper it easy to assume that Sega are making headway by shoe-horning Sonic into a genre more suitable for his main attributes, fast speed and jumping, that of a board racer. Secondly, the early screenshots looked very similar to Amusement Vision’s F-Zero GX on the cube, which led many to believe that Sonic was in the very capable hands of Toshihiro Nagoshi. Unfortunately, such hopes were misplaced as what we’re left with is a complete mess.

Worryingly, Sega just don’t seem to care about their most popular mascot anymore, judging by this title. Yet again, Sonic has been joined by more cringingly bad, ‘cool’ friends that have less personality than a Tory MP and he’s been forced to appear in a game that is so fundamentally flawed it’s amazing to think Sega actually have a QA team. So many elements are just so broken the game is virtually unplayable.

Once you get into the main game, via a woeful story (which I can forgive seeing as it’s just a racing game) involving a racing tournament organised by Dr Eggman, you choose your character and prepare to let fly on hoverboard, rocket boots or whatever they use to get around, just be prepared to bounce along the sides and get utterly confused on your first lap. Actually, make that your first set of races; if Sonic Riders had 360 style achievements the first would undoubtedly have to be ‘complete a race without chucking your controller to the floor in frustration’.

Every individual element is flawed and combined will lead to absolute irritation and possible ill-health. The camera is terrible and just can’t keep up as Sonic (or whichever dead beat you’ve chosen to race as) as he’s flung across the track, over zip lines and flung into the air by trampolines. The trick system has poor controls and is let down by the fact that you can’t actually see your character as the camera is busy looking at the sky rather than you. This in turn makes landing from your tricks nearly impossible in some parts of the tracks, not that you can expect to stay on the track much as the controls and steering are equally dreadful.

Sega have crammed far too many elements in, without refining a single one. The ring collection is similar to the original MarioKart, where you get faster and gain bigger air as you collect more, keeping hold of them is another matter as you lose them all if you crash land or come off the track, both of which are sadly inevitable. The Turbulence is a nice idea, as you get behind another racer you can ride their wake effectively an extra boost, but again is poorly implemented meaning you either propel straight to first with little effort or if there are corners involved, get stuck in the scenery and lose badly. Technically too, this title is seriously lacking, with poor trackside detail (if you get the chance to see it) and character models. Add to that some horrendous slow down and pop-up and a soundtrack taken straight from a high school student’s Hip hop mix tape and you are left with very little to recommend this for.

This game was released to celebrate Sonic’s 15th anniversary but merely serves to highlight his awkward adolescence years. Maybe Sega will one day give him a home console title to be proud of but they are never likely to do that until they strip away all the unnecessary extraneous elements and bring him back to basics. Sonic is crying out for a great game to star in, and deserves the kind of rebirth recently seen last year by Lara Croft. The question is, if Sega’s insistent on promoting coolness over gameplay persists, will his appeal last long enough for such a resurrection?

Outrun 2: Coast to Coast by
published Wednesday, Apr 05th

Outrun 2: Coast to Coast Review (PSP)

Outrun was a smash arcade hit on its release in 1986, and its success spawned a few sequels such as Turbo Outrun, Outrunners and despite being good, they were not as widely received as the original. In 2004 came Outrun 2 SP (Special Tours) which expanded the game with an extra 15 stages. This is what has been brought to the PSP: the original Outrun 2 in 3D and the extra SP stages bringing 30 stages to the handheld and a plethora of unlockable extras.

The basics of Outrun are easy – race from one side of the map to the other, choosing along the way by forks in the road at the end of each stage whether to take the left or the right. Taking every left results in Route A, the easiest, and taking every right results in Route E, the hardest. The choice is up to you which route to take, but on the way make sure you impress your girl!

The mission side of 2006 is different to 2 that was released on Xbox and PS2, as in this one the emphasis is on racing rivals to get the highest rank possible on the stage, a AAA. These courses are spread across 4 different difficulties in which you have to achieve an average grade of A to impress ‘Flagman’ before you are allowed access to the harder difficulties.

The other set of missions are set to impress your girlfriend and they follow the same goal – achieve an average grade of A to progress. However, the tasks set in these stages are more similar to those in OutRun2, with your girlfriend setting challenges for a set of the stage such as ‘Don’t Crash’, ‘Pass the Convoy’, ‘Hit the Cars’, ‘Drift’ and others. New ones for 2006 include ‘Avoid the Meteors’, ‘Dribble the Beach Ball’ and the brilliant ‘Avoid Abduction’, as UFO’s hover above the course with their red beams primed to sweep you off the road. If you don’t want the pressure of having to do these in a mission format, then these are all available in the Heart Attack mode.

What makes this game even better however is the team that ported this did an amazing job. There is no slowdown present in the game, and although it may not run at 60fps, the rate it does run at does not hamper the game in the slightest. All the visuals are present and correct, and 300km/h really does feel that fast. All the music is here too, with the 1986 originals, the OutRun2 soundtrack, and then the Euro Remixes of the 2 tracks. All these are available through unlocking which is achieved by a new feature, OutRun miles.

The miles system works by giving you miles for completing stages. Not only this though, driving especially well will result in extra miles and achieving higher grades in the missions also result in bumper mileage. What is good about this though, is that you don’t have to complete the stage to receive them. If you drive well but miss the last checkpoint, you will still be rewarded for what did you achieve. This helps immensely with trying to unlock everything and takes away what could have been a frustrating task.

So its rewarding, has all the original music and looks beautiful. Well there’s more. See this can be connected to the PS2 through USB where individual profiles can be loaded onto the PS2 and vice versa. Even better though is the PSP Wireless mode which can accomodate up to six players to participate in races.

Crashes, especially side impacts have been reduced to make it easier for first timers but there is still the threat of a head on collision which effectively means game over. There is very little wrong with this arcade port, as everything has been addressed even down to the individual mission stages I forgot to mention – if you are aiming for AAA and didn’t get it, take the left fork to retry it without any additional loading. Makes the game seamless.

Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast is a joy to play with an abundance of stages, missions and unlockables while sounding great and looking brilliant also.

Outrun 2: Coast to Coast by
published Tuesday, Apr 04th

Outrun 2: Coast to Coast Review (PS2)

When people discuss their favourite arcade racers from days past you would expect to hear about the likes of Ridge Racer, Daytona and Sega Rally. But none of these are remembered with half as much fondness as Outrun. Upon it’s release in 1986, it was head and shoulders above the rest of the Arcade field, with sumptuous graphics, tremendous music and a bright red sit-down cabinet that looked like a Ferrari Testarossa. After ports to just about every available format were released Sega produced a number of inferior sequels that never quite matched the charm of the original. So when Outrun 2 was announced for the arcade and Xbox fans were understandably nervous about whether this official sequel would meet their high expectations, but thankfully Sega and British Dev-co Sumo digital (who ported the game to Xbox) produced a fantastic 3D update that pleased fans and critics alike.

Unfortunately, the game never managed to turn critical acclaim into big bucks and it failed to make a major impact at retail. One reason could have been due to it’s Xbox exclusivity; in Japan no-one bothered buying Xbox games, in America and Europe gamers already had the visually superior PGR series. So it’s no small surprise to see that Sega have seen sense to expand the potential market with PS2 and PSP versions (Although sadly lacking a ‘Cube edition). It’s the Playstation 2 version we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing here and it has to be said, this port is a minor miracle.

Technically, the PS2 should find it very hard to run anything as smooth as the Arcade and Xbox versions, but we’ve got to hand it to Sumo, they have done a terrific job replicating it on inferior hardware. It still runs at a silky smooth 60 fps with no noticeable drop in draw distance or texture quality so the development team deserves a big pat on the back for squeezing as much juice out of the PS2’s aging architecture as they have. Of course, Outrun has always been a beautiful game, maybe not in the same way as Project Gotham but it’s use of gorgeous scenery to create a more relaxed atmosphere means it gets my vote as the best looking racer to date.

The game itself is still as fun to play as it ever was and has kept the same fork-ridden formula as it’s predecessors. You know the score: race against the clock till you get to the next checkpoint whereby you can choose which track to tackle next. It’s a method that ensures plenty of replay value but beware, Outrun 2006’s Arcade roots are very apparent. There are some extremely tight races between checkpoints, some infuriatingly difficult, and these inevitable difficulty spikes aren’t quite as welcome or needed in the home versions.

Still, the main game still plays like a dream and powersliding your way to victory has never felt sweeter especially on the long, sweeping corners of the first track. In fact, while the powersliding technique still takes a while to master fully, it has been tweaked slightly to make it easier for novice drivers to pull it off with some panache. And it’s now harder to crash your car than ever before, possibly to make it more accessible, meaning you should see a lot more of the tracks earlier on than in the Arcade edition.

There are still things that are In need of further tweaking however, particularly since we have recently been blessed with other great racing titles like Burnout and PGR. While Outrun wouldn’t benefit much from realistic graphics it might be time to update the crash system. It’s not only absurd to see your car fly up in the air as it does (with a flight path that makes Gone in 60 seconds’ finale look realistic) but it is annoyingly slow and means any top speed crash is instantly fatal as you’ll never recover enough time to make it past the next checkpoint. Aside from that, Outrun 2: Coast to Coast is pretty much perfect and absolutely packed with content.

Sumo have also seen fit to give us not one but three editions on one disc, featuring tracks from Outrun 2, Outrun 2 SP and Coast to Coast so there really is enough to keep the most ardent gamer happy. There are also some great extra modes to take your mind off all out racing, if you so wish. The best of these is the unfortunately named Heart Attack mode, which makes a return from Outrun 2. In it your blonde passenger gives sets you a task to complete before you reach each checkpoint, as you accomplish this task you build up her heart meter which adds to your time at the checkpoint. The tasks are nicely varied (and slightly masochistic) such as don’t crash, hit a large beach ball along the road and hit as many cars as you can. There are also Stunt modes, Time Attack options and a more than competent Online mode.

As expected, Outrun 2: Coast to Coast is an absolute joy to play and is a great alternative to the likes of realistic racers such as TOCA, PGR and Gran Turismo. This is definitely a title every PS2 owner should think about buying and is one of the most fun titles so far this year

Full Auto by
published Thursday, Feb 16th

Full Auto Review

“The most destructive racing game ever” claims the box art for Sega’s ‘Full Auto’ and as any gamer would know blowing stuff up is fun, creating havoc is brilliant, and generally causing destruction in any videogame usually gets a thumbs up, so with Full Auto strapping guns to cars were could it go wrong?

The Full Auto format originated from US based developer Pseudo Interactive who introduced the game to PC gamers back in 1999, and now Xbox 360 gamers have the chance to get to grips with this interesting take on the racing genre. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is currently not short of racers, with the likes of PGR3 and ‘Need for Speed’ already on the shelves, so can Full Auto really offer a fresh experience worthy of your cash, especially when Criterion’s critically acclaimed Burnout is mere weeks away?

On starting up, you are quickly reminded that in this game, things go off with a bang; this presents a great way of getting you psyched to really get involved and start destroying, so upon tearing through a few ‘Burnout’ style menu screens you find yourself participating in a race, and within seconds you’re speeding through the streets causing general mayhem, and there is plenty of mayhem to be had.

Full Auto will last any gamer a considerable amount of time, with several various game modes, including Arcade, Xbox Live, Head To Head and of course the main Career route, which is were the main mode lies. Career mode features over 120 unique races spread out over 17 racing series, and they all present there very own unique objectives and playing style, which will initially leave you on a gaming high, left working out which way you will complete your next race, and with what weapons. Figuring out the best combination of car and weapon to complete your task is not always a simple one, especially when the game provides you with such a grand roster of racing machines, twenty one in fact, ranging from jeeps, trucks, and cars all of which are customizable, not only in appearance but in choice of weapons, with mines, smoke screens, rockets, cannons and more available.

Multiplayer gaming is catered for well, with both offline and online modes available, up to eight players can play online, and the ability to gain ranks from nought to ten, offers an added incentive to tear it up online.

When a race begins you are left at the back, and as you race forward through the competition you gain ‘Wreck’ points which is obtained depending on how destructive you are to the surroundings and competitors. Gaining ‘Wreck’ points is primarily stacks of fun, and in the first handful of races the devastation caused is highly impressive. Boost is also provide for jumping ahead of the pack, and the ability to ‘Unwreck’, which is a cheeky new feature which gives you the ability to go back in time by a few seconds if you make any fatal mistakes. The ‘Unwreck’ feature seems poorly executed, not only by being to generous in its quantity, but additionally by making the cars feel indestructible upon most damage and error encountered.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the sheer scale of destruction is at first outstanding, the thrill provided from the demolition soon does were thin, and after an hour or two of solid play time the ability to ‘Wreck’ begins to lack in appeal.

Graphically Full Auto impresses when on screen explosions or high quality replays are involved, but the car models and tracks lack any great quantity of inspiration and could have easily have been accomplished on the original Xbox; the odd frame rate issue also occurs which really does interfere with the experience.

On the audio side of things, generic car sounds are to be expected, but the range of audio for the weapons is highly impressive with each bullet, or rocket truly packing a punch. The games soundtrack features a fairly even mix of dance and rock tracks, so no doubt something will appeal.

If gaining G’s is your thing then Full Auto is king, the game offers a huge fifty achievements, and several can be obtained early on, with a great deal saved for genuine veteran players, truly adding to the lifespan of this already packed title.

If you really need a racing game fix and cannot wait for Burnout, then Full Auto may provide a weekend of fun with its unique take on the genre, the destruction provides a superb twist on standard ‘A to B’ racers, and although the novelty does narrow the shear amount of races available, multiplayer options and achievements will keep you hooked for some time.

Overall Burnout still holds the crown of racing destruction, and Full Auto just falls short of being anything overly special, and ends up feeling like a poor mans Burnout. Fun at first, but falls short of anything grand, rent it.