Cities XL 2011 (Review)

“The new SimCity is everything you’d expect it to be and mo… Hey, wait a second!”

A few years ago, SimCity Societies was released to end the drought of city building games. Fans of the SimCity franchise rejoiced as the game was released, but once it was in the hands of the public, everyone came to a horrible realization. This wasn’t SimCity anymore. Just as The Sims had been dumbed down and Spore failed to impress anyone beyond casual gamers, SimCity had now become a watered down version of it’s former self that lacked depth and soul. Gone were the days of epic city building experiences, replaced by a basic and shallow gameplay experience that literally let players make whatever kind of city they wished without any consequences.

As a SimCity fanatic, I was pretty let down when Societies was released. I still play it sometimes even to this day, but the thrill isn’t there and I never look forward to making vast cities in it. I figured that Societies probably drove a stake in the city building simulation genre, and it seemed like it did just that for a while. Things were eerily quiet for fans of city building sims for a while until a low profile developer known as Monte Cristo decided to take on the genre with Cities Unlimited, which later became Cities XL and, finally, Cities XL 2011. The version I am about to review is Cities XL 2011, which will be the final version of the product considering Monte Cristo is now bankrupt and defunct.

Click to enlarge.

First off, Cities XL 2011 is good. Really good. The game takes the city building formula popularized by SimCity and creates an experience that would be far more deserving of the SimCity title than Societies ever was. The core gameplay is nothing new at all. Build a powerplant to power the city, construct industries so that your people can work, make sure the roads are sufficient for increasing volumes of traffic, and so forth. As I said, it’s what we have all seen before and have done over and over in SimCity titles. Cities XL does give the player more freedom and control when placing things, however. For starters, players have complete control over roads. You can lay them in any direction or shape that you desire. The result is fantastic, allowing cities in the game to look far more natural and less grid-like than what we’re used to in the SimCity series. Building placement is pixel perfect, replacing the grid-style placement system from SimCity. You can be so precise with where you want to set your buildings in Cities XL that it really is fantastic. Having so much control over building and road placement really helps give the city an organic feel, which is just the thing that city building sims needed.

The core “RCI” gameplay is of course present and plays center stage. For those who do not know what RCI is, it stands for residential, commercial, and industrial. Residential is housing for your populace, commercial serves as retail outlets and lesiure locations, and industrial is obviously where your citizens go to work. Balancing the three is as pivotal as it was in SimCity, but Cities XL makes things a little more complicated by throwing several different social classes at players. Your population is divided into four parts: unskilled labourers, skilled labourers, executives, and elites. Each class requires different employment and housing needs, so you really have to keep your eye on all of them at once. Your executives may require more jobs, so you’ll want to set down some office buildings… But then the executives might be stealing jobs from the lesser educated skilled labourers, thus creating the need for more jobs. It’s not too difficult once you realize that each group of working class people require different industries to work in. While executives will typically fill management and office jobs, your unskilled labourer population will mostly have to find work in stingy factories and warehouses. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of once the ball gets rolling.

Click to enlarge.

The only thing that really lets me down about the gameplay is that the game feels too easy. Perhaps it is because I’ve just played too many city building games, but I just don’t find Cities XL to be challenging once you realize what each class of people needs from you. You just have to balance industrial and residential so that all of your workplaces are full and that there is no unemployment while, at the same time, making sure that there are schools, police stations, and other vital buildings present where there is demand for them.

Still, the gameplay is very addicting and deeply satisfying. Watching your city grow is a very enjoyable experience and is sure to be one that lasts quite a while since the maps are extremely large in Cities XL 2011. Your population will be hitting six digits long before you have come close to even filling a tenth of the map. They are really large and vast, which is fantastic.

The graphics are pretty adequate overall. They are certainly not breathtaking or revolutionary, but they are a step up from the graphics in competitor games such as SimCity Societies. Buildings are all fully 3D and look like what they are labelled as, and your city really looks alive as pedestrians and traffic zip around your city sidewalks and streets in a believable fashion. Though the graphics aren’t going to wow you, they certainly are detailed and are pleasant to look at. The people in the game look a little weird when you zoom in on them, but it’s not too much of a bother if cartoony models don’t upset you.

Click to enlarge.

Cities XL 2011 has quite a nice, relaxing soundtrack to enjoy while you build your cities. Thankfully it never gets over the top or silly, as is the case with SimCity titles. Sound effects are also pretty decent. You won’t hear too much when you are zoomed out from your city and are building, but when you zoom right in to the street level, you’ll hear every vehicle driving by along with any sound effects created by buildings in your city. The game sounds pretty immersive at the maximum zoom level, but I’ve noticed that there is a strange glitch that occurs sometimes when you zoom back out. At times, even at distant zoom levels, you will still hear everything at street level for several seconds. Sometimes it can even go on for about a minute which is odd, but it doesn’t really hamper the overall experience much.

Overall, Cities XL 2011 feels more like a SimCity game than SimCity Societies does and, in many ways, is the true successor to Sim City 4. If you enjoy city building sims and want to play one that is truly worth your time, then Cities XL 2011 is the way to go.

Final Score

8.9/10

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BATracer (Review)


“A browser-based simulation that petrol fans will eat up.”
Today I’m stepping back from console and PC video games and focusing on something very different called BATracer. While some people may not see the “game” aspect here, many people do including BATracer’s creators, hence the game’s official subtitle being “Browser Based Race Simulation.” Yes, BATracer is played entirely in your browser.

BATracer lacks the exhilarating thrill of physically driving a car around a track and instead replaces it with a page that lets you manage the settings for your car and then letting the game calculate your performance during each driving session.

How the game plays depends widely on which championship you choose to enter. There are countless ones to pick from and they are all inspired by real life racing series such as A1GP, BTCC, DTM, Formula 1, and more. Different championships require different skill levels. For example, all cars in the GP (Formula 1) championships have different performance levels and the best teams are likely to come out on top, while all cars are identical in performance in the Formula Nations (A1GP) championship.

Upon joining a championship, players get to pick their team. If the player is able to create their own team, they will be able to select their chassis, engine, team livery and name, and more. After setting the team options, the player gets to colour their helmet, choose a nationality, and select one or two driving characteristics. The characteristics are fairly important and define how you will perform under certain situations. The “wet weather warrior” characteristic will allow the player to drive extremely well in the rain, while “speed demon” will make the player drive exceptionally fast under almost all conditions, though this increases the chance of getting into accidents.

Between sessions such as practice, qualifying and race, players must perform setup changes to their car by moving sliders for various parts of the car such as downforce, brake bias, and more. Getting the best out of the car involves finding the optimum setup, which involves putting each slider on the “perfect” number. Each slider has one and the player must find the perfect number by moving the sliders and then doing a test lap. After the lap, the player’s engineer will offer suggestions on what to do with each slider, such as decreasing or increasing them. As the player gets closer and closer to the magic number, the range for each slider decreases. Sliders start at 0 to 100, but after several practice laps they usually drop down significantly. As an example, the range may be 25-40 after five or six laps, which indicates that the ideal number is between 25 and 40. The number is different for every part of the car, and finding each one is essential in getting to the top of the time sheets. Provided you have a good car and decent driver characteristics, it’s reasonable to assume that having a 100% perfect setup (all sliders on the optimum numbers) will put the player at the top of the tme table.

Perfecting your car setup is a lot of fun, especially if you’re in a championship that allows you to have team-mates, which will allow you to bounce setups off of each other and work with one another to make your have the absolute best setup it can possibly have. The only problem with this is that sometimes team-mates will stop playing during the championship season, leaving you to fend for yourself. Thankfully there is an option to give inactive players the boot.

BATracer is fairly well made for a browser game and it’s hard to fault it for much considering it’s simplistic but strategic nature. My only complaint is that the game will ultimately decide if you do well or not. BATracer is, unfortunately, a game of luck at times. It is not uncommon to be doing practice laps and then receiving a message stating that you crashed out of the session and destroyed your car. This can happen incredibly often, as well as a message that says that you pushed too hard and made mistakes on your last lap, which for some reason reduces your number of laps left by two or three most of the time. You can set yourself up to be the most conservative driver imaginable and these driving errors can and will still pop up frequently. I don’t know what sort of formula the game uses to determine if something bad happens, but if you are unlucky, then bad things will happen almost endlessly. Having disaster after disaster strike you is not very fun, even in what is supposedly a simulation. There are no options available to you to refine your car’s reliability or anything of the sort, which is just a huge kick in the teeth.

BATracer’s greatest feature, without a doubt, is the uploader. This unlocks when you make a donation to BATracer and acquire “Kool Tools” for your account. The uploader allows you to customize the game even further than you are normally allowed. While users without Kool Tools can only paint their helmets using RGB sliders, Kool Tools users are able to upload their own helmet designs that they’ve made in Photoshop or whatever. Championships with custom teams work the same way – normal users can only paint cars while Kool Tools users can upload their own liveries complete with sponsors or whatever else they stick on the design.

The top car is a normal user's GP2 car, and the bottom is one that I uploaded with my Kool Tools access.

Players who love stats will have a lot to check out here as well. BATracer keeps track of all of your accomplishments and features world rankings and more. It’s a blast to check out your worldwide rank not only in championships won, but also other little things like fastest laps and points scored.

BATracer is a hugely customizable browser game that truly comes to life and becomes something very neat when Kool Tools are unlocked. For anyone interested in browser games or simulations, this is probably worth a look.

Official BATracer Website: http://batracer.com/

Final Score

7/10

No screenshots due to this being a browser game with a mostly text-based interface.

Gran Turismo 5 (Review)

“Polyphony’s flagship series finally makes it’s official debut on the Playstation 3, and the wait was worth it.”

It has been five years since Gran Turismo 4, which is the same length of time that Gran Turismo 5 was in development for. An extremely early GT5 prototype was shown at E3 2005, and since then there has been a wave of jaw dropping trailers as well as disappointing delays. It is November 2010 and, finally, Gran Turismo 5 has crossed the finish line. Was the five years of development worth it, and does the quality of the game reflect the half decade of work?

Upon booting up Gran Turismo 5 for the first time, most users will be required to update to the latest patch immediately, which is close to 200 megabytes. Following this, the game will ask if the player would like to install 8 gigabytes of optional data. Well, considering the fact that the install size is a massive 8 gigabytes should be more than enough to convince the average player to go ahead and go through with it. I did not play Gran Turismo 5 without the install, but I cannot imagine doing so. The game has to load so much data and changes menus so frequently that it would be insane not to do the 8 gigabyte install.

After all of the patching and optional installing is out of the way, which will take roughly an hour in total, players are treated with a cinematic intro movie that runs for a staggering six and a half minutes. The intro walks the player through the construction of cars all the way up to the exciting GT-esque racing that the player bought the game to experience. The intro does start out a little slow, but towards the end it is crammed with more action and excitement than you would ever expect to see in a Gran Turismo title.

Once you reach the main menu, there are a few choices available. GT Mode (or simulation mode for those who have not played Gran Turismo lately), arcade mode, course maker, GT TV, and the options menu are available to check out. I’ll cover the meatiest bits at the end, so first off is the options menu. The amount of individual options that the player can play with is nothing short of exceptional. Dozens of settings for race wheels, television display, and even proper custom soundtrack settings are all contained in the options menu. There’s a lot to check out, so players who are decked out with a racing wheel, a music collection on their PS3, and the Playstation Eye will have lots of cool settings to check out and play with before racing.

All premium cars have the interior view. Standard cars do not.

GT TV is a feature I’m not too interested in just yet, as I am still enjoying the main game far too much to give it much attention. However, I do know what it contains. In GT TV, players will be able to check out GT5 related videos, watch Top Gear, historical videos about various cars, as well as support for the PSP that will enable you to watch GT TV videos on your handheld.

The course maker is an interesting feature that I’ve played with a little. It allows you pick a theme (circuit, kart track, snow, gravel, etc.) and then generate a random track. You don’t too much control over the design of the track, but you can adjust the complexity, road width, and corner sharpness of each section of the race track. The control you have is very limited, and really all that you can do is decide whether or not the track will be basic or complicated. It’s not a critical feature in GT5, but it’s a little fun to check out from time to time. I don’t enjoy making tracks to race on in it, but I do get a bit of a thrill out of making test tracks in it and then giving them a shakedown in time trial mode.

Arcade features many familiar mainstays of the racing genre. You can compete in single races of varying difficulty levels of your choice, go rallying or karting, attack lap times in time trial mode, or even play with a friend in split screen mode. There are a few dozen “arcade mode” cars that you can choose to use. There is nothing arcade-like about the cars, they are merely just vehicles that the game lets you use in arcade mode rather than having to unlock cars in GT Mode to use. This lets you use various cars in arcade mode without going through the hassle of tackling several GT Mode races just to purchase new vehicles. The cars that you do obtain in GT Mode can also be used in arcade mode, but the way in which you set them to be selectable in arcade mode is a little peculiar and perhaps even archaic. Within GT Mode, you must go to your garage and select a car that you own, then bring up the menu and choose “add to favourites” for the particular car. This allows it to be driven in arcade mode. I do not understand why you have to do this just to use your GT Mode cars in arcade mode, as it seems like a very unnecessary step that only wastes the time of the player. I’ve forgotten to add cars to my favourites on several occasions and had to go back and forth between the two game modes just to enable the car for arcade mode and then select it. This process can take two or three minutes sometimes, which is a bit of a bother.

GT Mode itself is where players will spend almost all of their time. The standard simulation mode is contained here, which involves car dealerships, a tune up shop, A-spec and B-spec races, special events, and more. Upon entering GT Mode for the first time, players will have to purchase a car from the used car lot and then practice their skills in the license tests. Players who feel sure of themselves can skip the tests entirely and just go straight to racing instead, since the license tests are completely optional now.

There are several different kinds of races in GT Mode. First is A-spec, which is essentially just standard single races or tournaments that follow certain themes such as only allowing Japanese cars or European antique cars. Winning these races will grant you credits (currency) and experience. Complete all races under certain categories and you will often be rewarded with cars. B-spec races are identical to A-spec races (same categories, events, etc.) only instead of you driving, you get to instruct an AI “apprentice” sort of driver. You will issue him commands to ease up, increase his pace, or attempt to overtake other drivers. Your B-spec drivers will usually struggle initially, but as they drive more often, they will level up and become better drivers. Some B-spec drivers will just struggle with certain kinds of cars. For example, I stuck my B-spec driver in a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, and he made countless mistakes, spinning out at almost every corner. Afterwards, I stuck him in a Toyota FT-86 Concept ’09 and he immediately proceeded to kick ass, winning race after race. I then figured that the twitchiness of the Corvette may have been too much for my B-spec driver, as even I had troubles with the car. The FT-86 was a much friendlier car to drive and felt great, which my B-spec driver seemed to agree with.

2010 Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel and the futuristic Red Bull X1, which is available ingame.

I mentioned experience points, which is new to Gran Turismo. Obtaining experience from events will allow you to level up, which unlocks new special events and allows you to drive higher tier cars. In previous Gran Turismo games, you could essentially just grind credits and then purchase the best cars, but now you must reach the proper level to pilot certain cars. I always used to buy a Doge Viper as soon as possible, but I had to be level 12 to get the one I wanted in GT5 (the Viper SRT/10 Coupe ’06). When I finally reached level 12, I was ecstatic to purchase the car, and then proceeded to lovingly throw it around the corners of a self-created test track.

The special events in Gran Turismo 5 are great. Initially they may feel challenging or perhaps unfair, but after realizing that the special events take not only raw skill but also careful planning and quick thinking to win, they become extremely intriguing. I struggled with one event that involved racing a pretty ugly Toyota bus around the Top Gear test track, and I just couldn’t figure out how to win it. The best I could muster was 9th for a full day until I went back to the event, observed the AI carefully and planned out several various overtaking moves. When I felt ready to challenge for the gold again, I pulled through and came in first position. It was an awesome feeling to conquer the event, and I felt like I really achieved something. The feeling of accomplishment that I have received from Gran Turismo 5’s various events and races easily trumps any other game that I have played recently.

Now that I have discussed the majority of the game’s content (except the online play, which I have not yet played but here is quite good), I want to go over how the game itself plays. There is really only one thing to talk about, and that is the racing.

As in past Gran Turismo titles, the huge collection of cars present in GT5 (slightly over 1000) contains some pretty awful turds, but most of the cars are either pleasant or flat out awesome to drive. The Toyota bus for example is a wretched vehicle that I never want to drive again, while the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is perhaps the smoothest handling vehicle that I have ever used in a racing game, and I have fallen head over heels in love with it. Few cars handle terribly, and those that do not feel like they are just bad cars, no. Instead, the poorer cars instead just feel like untamed animals that fight with you and challenge you for control. It’s an exhilarating experience to drive such cars, as even the real shit boxes possess lots of personality.

In terms of sound, not many cars sound terribly interesting. Many of them sound like they have generic stock engine noises that we’ve heard several times over now from various other racing games. However, my Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI GSR ’99 is a real treat to listen to. It sounds ALIVE, as if it is breathing. NASCAR and karts also sound pretty fantastic and really capture the essence of their real life counterparts.

The graphics in Gran Turismo 5 seldom dip below “good.” Most of the time, I would rate them as being either good or great. The only time the graphics appear to be “average” or perhaps bad in any way is when there is lots of mist or smoke being kicked around. For some peculiar reason, mist and smoke effects cause cars who get caught inside of them to look very pixelated. Even the premium model cars, which are ordinarily gorgeous, look like PS2 era vehicles when caught in mist or smoke. Fortunately cars are rarely ever in this situation, their stunning beauty rarely comprimised by strange graphical issues. A few cars do have polygon tearing issues, which is very odd in this day and age. I’ve only witnessed it on the NASCAR cars in replays, but there may be other cars that are the victim of polygon tearing.

In terms of trackside graphics, it’s a bag of mixed nuts. City tracks look absolutely fantastic and are perhaps the best looking environments I’ve seen on the Playstation 3. However, once you move away from the city tracks, you will find two dimensional trees and bizarre instances of distant objects popping out of nowhere, rendering far later than they should. These aren’t gamebreaking and don’t really make the game ugly, and at very high speeds most of the graphical problems are hard to even notice. However, tracks with many slow corners give you ample opportunities to pick out the game’s graphical flaws.

All cars look very impressive in the game's race replays.

There were a lot of debates online which are even going on now over the premium and standard model cars. The difference between the two is that premium model cars have interior camera views and every piece of the cars’ exterior is modeled to perfection. Standard cars do not feature any kind of in-car camera view and have lower polygon counts. Many frustrated gamers, particularly at GameFAQs, have gotten very upset over standard cars, calling them nothing more than reskinned vehicles from Gran Turismo 4. Some have said very unkind things towards the standard vehicles and have spoken harshly of Polyphony Digital as a result. So, what’s my verdict on premium and standard cars? Well, unless you are intentionally looking for any kind of graphical difference and freezing your replays in order to do so, you probably won’t notice a damn difference between the two. Yes premium models look absolutely stunning, but standard models are not the ugly abominations that the internet trolls make them out to be. They honestly look just fine and can easily go toe to toe with the premiums. In my opinion, the only advantages that the premium cars have are in-car cameras, fully modelled exteriors, and more thorough damage models. Aside from that, they look pretty much just as good. I’m being brutally honest here, standard cars are not an issue at all.

So how does Gran Turismo 5 hold up? Were the five years of development worth it? In my opinion, yes. Many people are upset and let down by the game’s critical reception, but those are the people who overhyped the game and hailed it as the greatest game of all time long before it even came out. The truth is that Gran Turismo 5 is not the best game ever made, far from it! But, is it still a good game? Yes, it’s a good game. In fact, Gran Turismo 5 is an exceptional game. The care taken to create this wonderful product is very apparent to anyone who plays the game, and the quality of the racing is definitely unmatched. In time, I expect Gran Turismo 5 to most likely become my favourite racing game that I have ever played. So, is it worth checking out? If you are a fan of Gran Turismo or racing games in general, then yes. Even fans of Forza (which I did not want to even mention in this review) should find some aspects of GT5 to be extremely enjoyable.

While there are a few graphical and technical issues with the game, none of them directly harm what this game does best, and that is delivering some of the absolute best racing to ever grace a gaming console. This is, without a doubt, Polyphony Digital’s finest work ever. Bravo, guys.

Final Score

9.4/10

The Most Epic Video Game Ever

So while I was cleaning myself up for work this evening, an idea hit me for a game that transitions between genres. In essence, it would be a game that has no defining genre. Imagine the following being shown at a demonstration at E3, the Tokyo Game Show, or some other conference.

The demonstration opens with what seems to be a futuristic racing game. Heavily armored jet-tanks (think Wipeout on steroids) barrel through a jungle landscape dotted with high tech ruins. An NPC portrait appears on the screen as the player speeds through the jungle, informing them via radio to pick up “abandoned weapon cores” laying around the environment. By running over one, players acquire high powered laser/missle weapons that anihilate the opposition when fired. The NPC urges the player to “hurry and beat that bastard to the checkpoint, the safety of the world depends upon it! Use any necessary force!”

The player immediately realizes that the message told the player to throw attack after attack at their opponent. After taking enough damage, the bad guy’s vehicle suddenly explodes, but it turns out that he ejected from the seat at the last moment! The NPC on the radio tells the player to “get the hell outside and stop him from getting away!”

The player gets out of their vehicle and gives chase, quickly catching up on foot. The bad guy feels their presence and turns around. He then indicates that, “You just don’t give up, do it? Fine, let’s settle this now. Like men.”

The camera transitions out to view the two men from a side view perspective as two bars appear at the top of the screen. And then it happens…..

Round one. Fight!!

The game goes from combat racing game to what seems like a full fledged fighter! The two characters go at it, performing combos, linking moves to form chains, performing breakers and parries.. And so forth. After two rounds of highly stylized fighting, the player wins.

As those watching expect a “(CHARACTER NAME) WINS!” message to flash up, they instead witness something else.

Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

The screen fades to black and the player receives a save prompt. After saving, a cutscene plays with the player character entering what looks to be a military operations base. The NPC who previously spoke to the player in their racer is here, revealing himself to be “the General” and the guy who tells the player what to do. The General informs the main character that they may have taken one one of the evil corporation’s main henchmen, but there are still several out there. The General brings up a map, pointing to an area of structures and saying “this is where we are, in this base.” He tells the player that they have to push northwest to a research station that likely holds some valuable information that they can use against the evil corporation. The main character tells the General that he can count on him and leaves the room… And then the game loads into what appears to be an RTS map. The player takes control of the base, building structures and training units to destroy the evil corporation’s defenses near the research station. The main character, as a unit, must survive and be the one to capture the station.

After capturing the research station, the main character enters and finds one of the evil corporation’s henchmen inside. He is waving a disc and saying, “looking for this?” he escapes in a racer. The player hops in one as well, and a sequence similar to the jungle race plays out. After the player fires enough power-ups into the bad guy, his ship will appear to start exploding. The bad guy laughs and says that he isn’t going to give up and… ESCAPES IN A POD INTO THE SKY! The General orders the player to pursue! With the press of a button in the racer’s console, it turns into a flying vehicle and flies into the sky!

The camera angle shifts to the side as the player gains control of the vehicle in the air. Reinforcements from the evil corporation arrive in the form of enemy aircrafts. The player, flying forward the entire time, must shoot them down and salvage their weapons before they explode. After destroying several waves, the player finds the bad guy in a giant robot that he retreived from the evil corporation’s base. Resembling a ship at least a dozen times larger than the player, the bad guy’s ship is capable of firing huge volleys of deadly projectiles. After getting in enough shots, the bad guy’s ship begins exploding. The General begins to congratulate the player when the bad guy cuts them off with, “NOT SO FAST! I’M TAKING YOU WITH ME!” The bad guy fires one last shot before exploding. The shot hits the player’s ship as the begin to spiral out of control. The General urges the player to land safely, but it is impossible. After spinning well of course, the player makes a light crash in an abandoned area.

The player crawls out of their ship to survey the damage and see where they are. As they are examining the hull of their ship, there is moaning… Shuffling feet… The player turns and looks back and there it is! A zombie!!

Suddenly playing like Resident Evil 5, the player is tasked with getting the hell out of what appears to another research station where all hell broke loose. With each zombie killed, a “+1 XP” message flashes over the fallen corpse. Eventually the player gets to the end of the station. Just as they are about to leave, a huge zombie horde attacks! As all hope looks lost, suddenly two people burst in and push the zombies back. Allies from the command base! After defeating the zombies, they introduce themselves as Sergeant Brock and Captain Sharp. They agree to get the hell out of there with the player and then this message appears..

– BROCK AND SHARP HAVE JOINED THE PARTY –

The party then leaves. Victory! Mission Complete!

An experience bar appears once more as a score that is calculated basd on performance in the race and then the fight are converted into experience points. The bar fills. LEVEL UP!

An overworld map appears. The research station they were at is greyed out. Ahead is a sparse plain. The player selects it and enters. The game shifts to a location that looks and plays like the Archylte Steppe from Final Fantasy XIII. The player’s destination is marked on their map as they must traverse through the open wilds. If they are unfortunate enough to bump into one of the local critters, a dramatic battle transition occurs. Rather than going to an RPG battle screen, the fighting system from before returns! Brock and Sharp appear as what seems to be tag-team partners (think Marvel vs Capcom). The creatures that the player is fighting? A series of wolves! While the player has three characters to alternate between, each with diverse move sets and special attacks, the opposing force is made up of approximately twenty wolves. The player characters seem able to take about ten hits from a wolf before dying (though it would be more if they gained more levels), but each wolf can only appear to take about four or five hits. After defeating all the wolves, each character is awarded experience points based upon how much they were used and how beneficial they were in determining the outcome of the battle. The player then continues, trying to avoid as many fights as possible….

And that is as far as my imagination went. So, what did we include here?
Racing? Check.
Fighting? Check.
RTS? Check.
Retro shooter? Check.
Survival horror? Check.
RPG leveling mechanics? Check.

How would something like this be defined? What genre would it fit under? I had an idea to add in a sort of Civilization or Sim City element to this game idea as well. Would that have been overkill? No, the “playable sports league minigame/diversion from the main story” probably would be, though. Or maybe functional online multiplayer?

Okay, that’s enough. I’m stopping now, I promise.

Return to August 2010 Articles

The Decline of Need for Speed

The Need for Speed series has been respected and revered as one of the best arcade racing franchises ever developed. It has the numbers to back it up as well, as Need for Speed is the fifth best selling video game franchise of all time, behind only Mario, Pokemon, Tetris, and The Sims.

Despite achieving such success, the series has developed a bit of a bad reputation among reviewers and the general public alike over the past few years by repeatedly releasing games in the series which share very few common similarities except rushed development times and generally poor reviews.

Generally, the Need for Speed franchise is losing more steam as it continues to evolve into the unstoppable beast of the racing game genre, pumping out at least two games a year now. To reflect the decline in the games’ quality, here are the metascores for each Need for Speed game in chronological order, oldest to newest.

The Need for Speed – N/A (8.3 from Gamespot)
Need for Speed II – 71
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 88
Need for Speed: High Stakes – 86
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – 78
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II – 89
Need for Speed: Underground – 85
Need for Speed: Underground 2 – 82
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 82
Need for Speed: Carbon – 74
Need for Speed: ProStreet – 62
Need for Speed: Undercover – 59
Need for Speed: Nitro – 68
Need for Speed: SHIFT – 84

With the exception of SHIFT’s success, the Need for Speed series has almost been in a steady decline since 2002. That is eight years of Need for Speed titles being consistently worse, barely even ranking above “average” since ProStreet in 2007.

Two more games in the Need for Speed franchise will be released this year. The first, due out next month, is Need for Speed World, a PC MMO. From what I understand, a beta began quite recently and the general consensus is that the game is unfortunately very bad. A low metascore is pretty much a sure thing with NFS World, unfortunately.

The second game coming this year may help get the staggering series back strongly on two feet (or four wheels?). Currently titled Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, it is the third game in the Hot Pursuit sub-series. The previous two Hot Pursuit titles scored 88 and 89 on Metacritic, the two highest scores that the series has received on the ranking and scoring website.

Electronic Arts is playing it smart with Hot Pursuit III. They know what works and what the core fans of the series enjoys most, and that’s the Hot Pursuit aspect of the franchise. While Carbon, ProStreet, Undercover and Nitro were interesting experiments, they can be considered failures due to being the lowest scoring games in the series since Need for Speed II, a thirteen year old game that hadn’t even found it’s footing or decided yet what it wanted to be.

Hot Pursuit III, ultimately, will be the game that decides whether or not Need for Speed will continue to be successful in the long term. NFS World will inevitably bomb judging by the comments by beta testers, and if Hot Pursuit III follows suit, then I’m afraid that Need for Speed’s time will almost be over.

If the new Hot Pursuit works out and happens to be a success, I truly hope that Electronic Arts will see the light and base all future Need for Speed games on the Hot Pursuit formula. After all, it has worked pretty darn well for the two games based around it.

To conclude the post, here are videos of Hot Pursuit, Hot Pursuit II, and what I assume will be named Hot Pursuit III. It’s quite cool to play them all at the same time and check out how the series has evolved in terms of gameplay and graphics.

Return to June 2010 Articles

Tropico 3 (Review)

“Who knew that being a dictator was this much fun?”

“Good morning Tropico!” I should really have that set as my alarm in the morning after hearing it so many times in the game I am about to review, Tropico 3.

It wasn’t until April of this year that I even knew about the Tropico series, which is surprising considering that the first game came out a decade ago. As a fan of games such as SimCity, I’m really upset that it took me until the third game of this series to even know that it exists.

Tropico 3 is all about ruling over a Caribbean island known as Tropico. The game begins in the 1950s when you first seize power of the island. It is up to you to decide how your dictator did so, as you are presented with a character creator that allows you to choose your dictator’s appearance, background history, and character flaws. I opted to make my dictator a balding alcoholic Russian who was put in power by the USSR.

Tropico’s gameplay was quite interesting. The game started out slow and demanding like the Caesar game in which you have to micro-manage several small details in order for your city to get off the ground, but after that happened it just played mostly like a SimCity game thanks to messages always popping up and telling me what was going on in Tropico.

You basically start with nothing more than your presidential palace, a dock, some shacks, and a few businesses with terrible wages. You have to turn this around, so the first step is to make a good source of income that your populace will work at for little money. Cigars turned out to be a fantastic way to go about doing this, as all I had to do was first plant a farm and direct them to grow tobacco, and then build a cigar factory beside it. For a few ingame months, this did absolutely nothing for me financially until the tobacco began to grow at a good rate, allowing the nearby factory to begin manufacturing cigars and then sending them to the dock to be exported.

Once you start getting some decent money in and the quality of life starts to improve in Tropico, you’ll want to bring in tourists by building another dock or an airport. As I did this, I found that it was also imperative to remove shacks from the city, due to them being unpleasant to look at and they brought down the appearance of the neighborhoods that they popped up in. A good way for me to discourage many shacks from popping up was to increase the wages of many jobs.

Of course, there is more to Tropico 3 than just expanding your city and aiming for a higher population and bigger bank accounts. Unlike in games such as SimCity, your approval rating actually means something in the Tropico games. If it dips too low, you had better expect some serious consequences. The last thing any good dictator wants are riots and assassination attempts!

To make sure that your people respect you, it is important to make sure that Tropico has everything that your people need to survive, or even just have fun. When the city itself is just fine but your people are showing discontent, you can use edicts to sway their loyalty. Edicts are things such as introducing tax cats, bringing the Pope to your country for a visit, or declaring Mardi Gras. Some edicts, such as Mardi Gras, are wonderful for Tropico’s economy.

The game has a lot of content in it, ranging from campaigns to individual mission-style maps. If you don’t like being told to aim for a specific goal, there is also the sandbox mode in which you are free to just develop Tropico however you wish to.

I find myself really enjoying the visuals of Tropico 3. It is perhaps the best looking city management game that I’ve ever played. The buildings and terrain are loaded with detail, and all pedestrians are rendered in real time as they walk to work or just find things to do in the city. Animals, freighters, and more are also all visible most of the time, and many shacks like to pop up on vacant land as well. I expected Tropico to run slowly with so many things going on, but the game was silky smooth for me even on the highest display settings.

The sounds of Tropico 3 are magnificent. Even though there are only a few music tracks in the game and they play over and over again, they are all very fun to listen to and set the mood extremely well as they are all very Latin-based. Sound effects and voice acting are also great, and I never tire of hearing “Good morning Tropico!” from the ingame radio announcer who tells you what’s going on in Tropico, which is very helpful to you.

Overall, Tropico 3 is a lot of fun. Your cities are different each time you play, and the realism in Tropico 3 blows SimCity out of the water. If you’re looking for an enjoyable city game to spend time playing until the next big one comes along, then Tropico 3 is for you.

Final Score

8.5/10