Gran Turismo 6 Fact Sheet

Available worldwide December 6, Gran Turismo 6 seems to be the installment in the series that Gran Turismo 5 wanted to be. Everything introduced in the previous game has been refined, and major complaints have been ironed out to create a better playing experience. Below are facts I’ve collected that I feel showcases just how significant of a racing game Gran Turismo 6 will be. Continue reading

Advertisements

F1 2011 (Review)

“Codemasters comes close to perfection with their third Formula One title.”

It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, Codemasters had nothing more than the official license to develop F1 games for the next several years. F1 2009 on the Gamecube and PSP was arather slow start to their career as F1 developers (2009 wasn’t even developed in-house) and, while 2010 was a very nice treat, there were a lot of problems with the game that ultimately turned away even I, an obsessive fan of the real life sport. F1 2011 continues the trend of each Codemasters F1 title being significantly better than the last and I can probably even say that 2011 is perhaps one of my favourite Formula One games of all time.

For starters, if you want a realistic/sim racer, don’t even bother with this game. F1 2011 is developed for mainstream appeal because, of course, Codemasters would like to maximize their profits from this game’s sales. The hardcore sim fanatics will find plenty to be upset over in this game due to the slightly arcadey feel of the cars at times, but the rest of us? Oh, we’ll gobble this game up like a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

F1 2011 is, predictably, very similar to 2010 in many areas. Your statistics are still flashed before you during loading screens, and most menus are still set up in the same way that Codemasters established with the very first DiRT game some years ago. Regardless of the quality of racing in Codemasters games, I can’t help but frown a little bit at their laziness. We’ve had three DiRT games, GRID, and two F1 games that have all had scarily similar features and menus. For some reason Codemasters seems content to simply copy and paste a vast amount of code and resources over and over again throughout the years. As a result, it feels all of the games they release are merely mods running on the same engine due to there being so many similarities with each of their games. It is sort of like how many Source mods still look and feel like Half-Life 2 in terms of visual presentation, controls, features, and so forth. It’s also worth noting that the ingame garage menus at the race tracks are literally ripped straight out of last year’s game. The garages even look the same, which is just completely lazy in my opinion. Even when you choose to go out on track, the animations of the mechanics are the same from last year. Heck, they’re even standing in the exact same locations from last year’s game. This goes back to how I feel like all Codemasters games simply feel like mods. F1 2011 may be far superior to F1 2010 in many ways, but it also unfortunately feels like a mod of it as well. So while there is a lot of copying and pasting going on here, which I feel is a horribly lazy thing to do, there’s also a lot of fantastic improvements in the game.

The best part of F1 2011? Car handling has been improved drastically. While I am still a little saddened that driving over grass and sand traps isn’t as difficult as it should be, I honestly revel in the fact that kerbs can now be driven over without having a fear of spinning out wildly sitting in the back of your mind. In 2010, spinning out by riding the kerbs was a pretty common problem that a lot of people complained about. In 2011, the realism has been improved greatly in this area and players are now able to ride kerbs as well as the real life drivers. This will encourage a lot of players to be more aggressive with their hot laps as it gives us more room to be creative and develop our own proper racing lines.

There are a few new features in the game that were not present in 2010. Split screen racing has finally made an appearance in a Codemasters racing game for what I think may be the first time ever. There’s also co-op championship where you and a friend can plow through career mode together by driving as teammates for any of the twelve teams. This is an amazing feature that more games should incorporate, as it should help develop a real rivalry between good friends as they fight to beat each other and become the team’s #1 driver. This mirrors what happens in real life, so kudos to Codemasters for adding this! I only wish that I had even a single friend or relative who liked Formula One as much as I do so that I could utilize this game mode.

Codemasters did all of us true fans a favour by adding the safety car to 2011. It’s pretty rare to have the safety car deployed (a stark contrast to the real sport in recent years), but if a pretty substantial pile-up occurs then you can certainly expect to see the silver Mercedes safety car being deployed to lead the cars around the track for a lap or two. They have also added DRS and KERS to the game. I won’t bother explaining what those two systems are because I am sure that most people reading this will be actual fans of the sport and won’t need to be educated. Both systems are incorporated fairly well, and you will notice a frightening increase in speed if you are lucky enough to have DRS and KERS at your disposal at the same time.

The AI has also been improved tremendously. While they are still likely to make some pretty awful driving errors at times (I’ve been side-swiped on straights), they now behave appropriately when they are on cooldown laps or being given a blue flag. If you are lapping them or are on a hot lap, then the AI drivers will always make an effort to pull out of the way for you. This is a massive improvement from last year’s game where the AI felt as if it was travelling on rails and almost ignored the player.

The visuals in 2011 have been improved upon slightly. I honestly have not seen a large change from 2010 to 2011, though the mysterious green fog that plagued the race tracks of 2010 have been done away with. I understand that this was done to capture the look and feel of how we television viewers see the sport from the T-Cams since the television cameras do capture a big of mist, though this is probably from the glare on the lens or something. One aspect of the visuals that I believe certainly looks better is the car modelling. When the lighting is just right, the cars in this game are almost photo-realistic. I really have to commend Codemasters on making the cars look this good, though they do seem to be a bit too high off the ground. The ride height of the cars isn’t too realistic and it does make the cars look a little funny if you are looking at one head on from the nose cone.

The soundtrack has been much improved in 2011 and I find myself tapping my feet to many of the game’s pseudo-electronic tracks. 2010 was a big bag of mixed nuts (the paddock music in particular was sleep inducing), but just about every selection in 2011 sounds very nice. The music you will have play if you qualify well or get a podium finish is incredibly uplifting and is certain to make players feel very good about what they’ve accomplished, especially after relatively long races.

My two beefs with this game? First and foremost is the lack of Bruno Senna. A name like his would certainly attract more gamers than Nick Heidfeld and his scruffy over-the-hill mug. Replacement drivers simply are not in this game and it’s a shame. I remember F1 ’95 having all replacement drivers throughout regular seasons and including them in the races they drove in, so why can’t that happen sixteen years later? My second complaint is the difficulty. Even on the amateur difficulty setting players who are unfamiliar with F1 games or simply take a while to get up to speed will find that it is quite hard to set competitive lap times on some tracks. I recall my first race in Australia driving for Force India. I did not have a single off and really drove what felt like I was on the limits and where did I end up? Around eighteenth. You really need to be incredibly precise with your acceleration, braking, and racing line in this game. Gone are the days where, on the easiest difficulty settings, new players could immediately be on the pace if they at least stayed on the track. 2011 will make you work hard for your positions even on the easiest difficulty setting. This isn’t too terrible, but there is a habit of the AI being better at some tracks than others. For instance, the Ai is laughably easy to beat in China, but other at tracks? Get ready to pull your hair out if you’re not a master at the game.

F1 2011 is a huge improvement over 2010, but there are still a few critical issues in the game that hold it back from absolute greatness. While this is a very good F1 game, it is still not even close to being in the league of the greatest console F1 game ever, F1′ 97. Still, this one is worth a look. Give it a go if you have a hankering for some truly fun grand prix racing.

Pros:
+ Car handling has been improved drastically.
+ Exciting new multiplayer game modes.
+ Graphics have been improved upon slightly.

Cons:
AI difficulty can be very inconsistent.
Copying and pasting of menus from previous Codemasters games is starting to feel VERY old and overdone now.
Lack of substitute drivers.

Final Score

8.9/10

DiRT 3 (Review)

In 2007, Codemasters released the newest game in their Colin McRae Rally series simply titled DiRT. It was a stunning rally game that was a huge blast to play and I couldn’t have been happier with it. Two years later, DiRT 2 was released. I was less than impressed with the aesthetics and presentation changes from the first game. DiRT 2 was still a decent game to play, but the game itself had been “mainstream-ified” by tossing in a punk rock soundtrack, silly gameplay features (friendships… seriously?!) that added little to nothing to the core gameplay. Despite these problems, I still thought that DiRT 2 was a pretty great game overall, but it could not compare to the depth of the first game. Now here we are in 2011 and a new game, DiRT 3, has been released. Is it a more traditional rally game like the first DiRT, or does it stray from the established Colin McRae Rally path in favour of something that will appeal to people who don’t even really like rally racing, like DiRT 2 had done?

DiRT 3 has abandoned the whole “the entire game is a career mode” approach that DiRT 2 featured in favour of a more traditional presentation similar to what was found in the first DiRT. The game is no longer centered within a three dimensional motorhome and the career mode is an actual selectable game mode from the main menu once more, and I couldn’t be happier with this. The previous game focused too much on trying to drag the player along a silly career mode and not straying from that path much, which made the rest of the game feel a little weak. DiRT 3 gives ample attention to everything in the game, and it makes for a far better experience than DiRT 2.

From the main menu, there is of course the career mode, but several other choices are present as well such as the single race mode that lets you set up a specific race or rally to compete in. There’s a good number of options here, but I did not seem to see any option that let me make a custom championship or even a custom rally that would let me play consecutive point-to-point stages. This was a bummer for me, and it seems that to access any form of championship gameplay, you will have to venture into career mode and select a pre-made championship. This can be a little upsetting since individual rally stages aren’t very long in DiRT 3. The longer stages will probably take most players about three minutes to finish which is, once you get driving and into your groove, painfully short.

Gymkhana is a fairly disappointing addition to DiRT 3.

There are a variety of ways to go driving in DiRT 3. Typical point-to-point rally racing is of course present, which is a relief since it is indeed true rally racing. Other mainstay modes such as circuit racing and rally cross are there while a new mode tries to establish itself. The new mode in question is gymkhana. Many people have probably seen videos of Ken Block doing all kinds of impressive stunts and tricks in a rally car on YouTube. These videos are in fact gymkhana, which Block seems to be popularizing quite a bit. While gymkhana videos are pretty cool and entertaining to watch, the actual game mode in DiRT 3 is not nearly as impressive. While the controls are certainly responsive, the challenges presented in the gymkhana mode are extremely dull. You’ll be asked to drift around poles, break through obstacles, and even collect tokens. While this doesn’t sound so bad, it is all executed pretty poorly and is not a very replayable game mode. It all feels very gimmicky and out of place, especially when you are forced to compete in mandatory gymkhana events in the career mode.

A lot of lame tacked on features from DiRT 2 have been removed to deliver a slightly more realistic gameplay experience. No more will you have to forge friendships with fictional female rally drivers. In the career mode, you only have one objective… Do better than your competitors! By doing so, you will level up every now and then which now serves a much better purpose than it did in DiRT 2. In the previous game, gain levels would give you pretty useless things like dashboard decorations for your car. DiRT 3 understood that this was pretty stupid, so now gaining levels will instead increase your popularity and recognition in the rally scene. Get enough recognition by leveling and new rally teams will be interested in offering you a drive. The career mode is also narrated by a few different characters who serve as your staff (mechanic, etc.). They are a breath of fresh air compared to the hopelessly bad narration by Block and Pastrana. While they never say anything particularly important or useful, they will crack a few jokes or say funny things from time to time, and this helps break up the mononotous nature of the game’s menus.

As far as gameplay is concerned, there’s a definite step up from the previous two games. In the first DiRT, games felt very floaty and gave the impression that they were hovering above the ground. DiRT 2 tried to address this issue and did indeed make the cars feel slightly grounded, but the controls were still incredibly forgiving and cars still felt a little floaty. DiRT 3 has eliminated all previous issues with controls, with cars that now feel completely grounded and respond brilliantly to your inputs.

One joy that I’ve found in DiRT 3 is how much more entertaining it is to deal with a car that is trying to spin out on you. In one rally stage, I took a turn too sharply and ran off the road slightly and over a few bumps in the grass. This was all it took to make my car want to fly off the other side of the road and into the ditch, but I was able to quickly wiggle the car and snap it back in place, thereby averting disaster. While it certainly was not impossible to straighten your car out and continue during spins in the previous two games, it feels better in DiRT 3. The cars are just much more responsive to you when you tell them what to do. Only the worst of mistakes will force you to crash without being able to prevent it from happening.

Yes, DiRT 3 really does look THAT good!

The AI has been revamped to be much more aggressive in DiRT 3. While they wrestle their cars through rally stages more realistically now, the AI racers in lap races are pretty terrifying! It is not unlikely to be rammed from behind, or for a car to violently slam into the side of your car when they try to pass. In many racing games, these events occur from the player being overly aggressive when trying to defend or overtake, but in DiRT 3 I point my finger exclusively at the AI. Outside of lap racing, the AI is pretty bearable. However… Once you’re confined to a race track with the AI drivers, you’d best watch your back. They are positively ruthless in DiRT 3!

DiRT 3 also boasts the ability to upload portions of your replays to YouTube. While this sounds cool in theory, you are limited to uploading only 30 seconds of your replay and uploads take several minutes at a time. There is no way to save the replay and rewatch it from within the game either. Because of this, the YouTube functionality that is present feels half done at best, and the inability to watch entire replays at a later date is a real downer. Fortunately for PC users, programs such as Fraps are easy enough to find and use.

Multiplayer is pretty great in DiRT 3. There are the usual rallies and lap races to take part in, but a few silly minigames are also thrown into the mix. Want to play capture the flag? It’s here. How about playing a zombie themed game of tag with cars? Yup, you can do that too. How about defending Earth from an invading alien swarm? That’s here too, no joke! DiRT 3 offers a variety of fun themed minigames to jump into, and they are all fairly interesting and varied. Gamers who really don’t feel like racing and rallying all the time will definitely enjoy what DiRT 3 has to offer here.

In terms of graphics, DiRT 3 is probably one of the best looking racing games out there. The original DiRT looked great in 2007, and DiRT 2 looked a little above average in 2009, but in 2011 it is safe to say that DiRT 3 is king. I am more impressed with the graphics in DiRT 3 than I am in other games such as Gran Turismo 5 – a game that takes photo realism a little too far. Car models in DiRT 3 look absolutely incredible, and the rally stages that are held in the middle of nowhere, like just about any stage in Finland, look absolutely breathtaking as you zoom through forests and past the occasional house or two. The HUD also looks pretty nice, abandoning the urban graffiti look of DiRT 2’s HUD and replacing it with a cleaner, sleeker looking one that is easier to read and understand.

DiRT 3’s soundtrack is definitely worth mentioning. Most of the tracks are really entrancing techno or foot stomping rock songs, which isn’t a bad thing at all! Every single track I’ve listened to in DiRT 3 simply sounded great. Need proof? Here is a tune that many feel is the unofficial theme of DiRT 3.

Sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect. There hasn’t been much of a change since DiRT 2, so most vehicle engines and such sound more than adequate but won’t really excite the diehard fans. Environmental sound effects are pretty good, though. You’ll hear nearby spectators cheering and shouting an awful lot and, if you park your car in the right areas and listen, you’ll get to enjoy mother nature as well.

So how good is DiRT 3? Truthfully, it is Codemasters’ best rally game since Colin McRae Rally 3, which was released in 2003. The superb rallying from the first DiRT is here and gone are the tacky filler features from DiRT 2. The interface and menus have been cleaned up, and DiRT 2’s reliance on graffiti art and text is now a thing of the past. DiRT 3 is proof that this new series (it is no longer a part of the CMR franchise) has grown up and has established a true sense of identity for itself. While a few features such as gymkhana aren’t really up to par, overall this is probably the best mass appeal rally game there is.

PROS:
+ The graphics are absolutely stunning.
+ Meaningless content from past games has been cut.
+ Multiplayer modes are very fun and original.

CONS:
– AI can be frustratingly aggressive in races.
– Gymkhana events feel bland and lack replayability.
– Rally stages are far too short.

Final Score

9/10