Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Real Racing 3 (Update 1.5)

Uniquity is a hard thing to pin on a game such as... wait I've said that before...

But for the sake of arguing, that holds true for Real Racing 3. Most hardcore gamers have shunned mobile gaming as being just casual distractions for the day-to-day commuter, but there are still plenty of gamers (myself included) who don't mind having something to play when a console is either out of reach or is just becoming a tired media device.
It was Christmas of last year that I received a Kindle Fire HD and the first thing I did was connect it to the Amazon Appstore to get games, among them was Real Racing 3 since it was free (I also paid for the Minecraft beta, which was a mistake).
So what's better than "free?" While Real Racing 3 has microtransactions they're not needed to progress in the game all the way through. I myself have only spent roughly $7 to get more R$ ("Real Dollars," RR3's form of currency) and gold coins but that's because I wanted to. I wanted to get a newer car and have enough coins for upgrades later on. Its possible to play through the entire game without paying anything by winning races for cash and leveling up or completing quarter-percentages of a racing series for more gold. In that sense, the term "freemium" isn't even an issue here. You can't pay to win since its all about the driver's skill level that matters once the racing starts. Here the microtransactions are only meant to get things done quicker and there's never an importance placed on either R$ or gold.

After the mention of free pricing you probably think RR3 to be light on content if you expect only fools to pay for microtransactions, and you'd be dead wrong. Featuring 77 cars from 18 different manufacturers, 23 different courses from real world locations, and 10 different event types, the game's file size of ~1.2Gs is filled to the brim with things to do. New cars are unlocked for purchase after a certain amount of trophies are won and are first offered at a discount price. (I highly recommend having enough for the initial purchase price so the discount will leave you with enough for upgrades.) You have the options to hire an agent to increase R$, a PR manager to increase fame (which increases levels), and an engineer to maintain your cars condition, all depending on whether or not you win the race. The game also features achievements for a variety of things such as number of cars owned, winning so many races in a row, leveling up, even buying a certain amount of upgrades. However these can't be shared, aren't attached to any game service, and are generally useless in the grand scheme of things.
RR3 features several different ways to customize your play style with the default being the tilt controls with auto-acceleration. There's also the options of on-screen buttons and auto-braking for the players who want to take it less seriously.
As far as physics go, the dedication to reality can be unforgiving. Grass or dirt slows you down heavily, walls can cause an undesired stopping effect if hit at a certain angle and while other cars can PIT you, they remain untouchable. After each race your car will require maintenance and, depending on how badly roughly you were driving it, the condition will deteriorate over time. A hired mechanic will fix things for a price and, on some cars, a very lengthy wait time.

It seems that "HD" graphics on a mobile device are akin to late-PS2 era graphics... OR other racing games such as Asphalt 8 Airborne are doing something right while Real Racing 3 is left in the dust. Textures are lacking in definition and upon closer inspection seem to resemble a game that's either still in beta or needs an HD texture pack as DLC. 
If all you care is the quality of graphics, then the first screenshot above has already caused you to lose all interest. While the graphics are hindered, its the gameplay that's meant to be the star. This trade-off is completely acceptable since the cars and tracks have been recreated with enough care that seeing a bland road surface should be the least of your worries.
There is a nice sense of scale upon seeing a far away wall materialize into being. Its not as bad as, let's say the original Driver on Playstation 1, but its noticeable if you look for it. Car's lights can be knocked out with ease, bumpers can be wrecked, and doors can be dented but paint remains clean regardless of how bad you wreck.

Most racing games seem to recycle or pitch-alter engine sounds to save on space. RR3 has gone the opposite (and more respectable) route by featuring a wide variety of engine sounds that match the cars being driven. The whine of the turbo, the backfire of the exhaust, the tires screeching, the tires thumping on the corner markers, and even the crashes all draw you in nicely... half a second after these things happen. There is some noticeable audio lag and while its not serious enough to break the game, it is distracting enough to break your concentration.
The music is good for the most part, until a dubstep track comes on. When will developers learn that dubstep is not good music and does not fit well within a video game? I've turned the music off and I don't mind hearing just the engines. Anything is better than dubstep.

Time-Shifted Multiplayer uses the times of other players from around the world for you to compete against in every race. Rather than directly battling other players, you're up against their total time. Instead of another racer's ghost or recorded driving habits, you're up against AI that is set to a speed that will complete a lap at a certain time. This leaves the AI completely dull and often not a threat or challenge since they brake and accelerate as though driving on wires. You can either outrun, outclass, or try and crash them to break their monotony but its pointless to try and do so when speeding past them is just fine.
Local multiplayer is present and is probably a better time when friends are near. Unfortunately I can't comment on this since I haven't played it before, but my best guess is that you can only race through the event types on a track that the host player chooses. That might be appealing to those who are serious about racing games, but let's face it: this is mobile gaming and that won't be fun for most.

As far as free games go, Real Racing 3 for your iOS, Android, and other devices is something that's definitely worth having if you're a fan of sim racing or enjoy mobile games that can hold your attention for longer than 5 minutes. All others need not apply since its not the sharpest-looking or most casual-friendly game out there with its need for dedication to long racing series and its unforgiving physics. The biggest problem that Real Racing 3 faces is its lack of ingenuity: it doesn't do anything that stands out from a big console racer when it has the opportunity to do so. It could become the definitive sim racing game for mobile platforms but instead feels content as being just another racing game based around social connectivity. Despite all of the negative, what you'll find here is a solid racing game with careful attention to physics, car data, and the players.
If you do find yourself enjoying RR3, then why not support the devs just a little and buy a $1.99 pack worth R$50,000? They've been supporting the game since launch and can easily increase the amount of content with just an update. And with thousands of other players out there constantly updating the leaderboard times, it never hurts to try and better your driving skills.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review/Control Freak: Armored Core Verdict Day

I couldn't keep the review going for long. I'm done with this game. Welcome to a new entry into my Most-Hated Games List.

Armored Core premiered in 1997 on the original Playstation and with its combination of mech action, customization, and RPG-based credits reward system, it quickly became one of the best examples of mech simulation games to have ever been produced. The follow-up games being expansions took the game on a single-player quest and subsequently into the arenas. Fast forward 16 years later to 2013 where FROM SOFTWARE is still creating new Armored Core games and expansions. Verdict Day is not the initial release as it follows Armored Core V and even continues the story past the single-player campaign. But in these days of DLC add-ons and microtransactions, is it really worth it?

Earth is now a barren wasteland as three major corporations vie for control over territories that hold the remaining resources. The big three have worked out an uneasy truce among them but are still prepared for war with hired mechs and teams able to be dispatched at a moment's notice. The single player campaign puts you as a mech pilot working for a mercenary company when you're given the order to attack certain patrols in order to incite another war among the big three, just so they'll have reason to hire mercenaries again to do their dirty work, putting you back in a better paying job. Along the way you'll encounter other mercenary mech pilots who want to end you and the collect the bounty on your head, as you must do them also. You can form teams with AI-controlled mechs to help with completing the more difficult objectives, but it never really beefs up the difficulty enough until after about a dozen levels are completed.
If you find the single-player campaign to be too dull (and you probably will), you can open your game to the multiplayer section where you can hire other players to help you with your single player campaign missions, hire yourself out as a mercenary to help others, or have big team corporation battles (this all pending on whether the servers are up, of course, which is only half the time). And even then in the big team battles you'll come across a group of Koreans with the Windows logo who will completely obliterate whatever team is pieced together. Its this cross-cultural imbalance that makes this part of the multiplayer not even worth considering playing. They control most of the game and why servers aren't region separated is a painful reminder that FROM SOFTWARE only cares about its Far Eastern audience.
Inside the cockpit, you'll find that the action is just as chaotic and fast-paced as its ever been. Kinetic, Chemical, and Thermal Energy weapon types once again play a role in the game. Mech customization can prepare you for certain weapon types but leave you vulnerable to others. This same rule also applies for the one-on-one missions. After a short while they'll require careful planning and the right parts equipped to take down enemy mechs.
In order to advance in the story you need to defeat these other mercenaries, but when it becomes impossible to do so, it gives you no alternative to continue forward and brings the game to a grinding halt. Seasoned vets will find no fault in this and will find a way to work around it. All others will be turned off and will find no reason to continue playing. Its this exclusivity that the series has always had that prevents it from becoming something enjoyable by everyone.

The game engine is the same as 4 and 5, so you won't find much spectacle in the graphics. The whole thing is just as gritty as it was before and even though its a separate release, its already a tired view of things. With the exception of the new mech parts and the new maps, you'll find everything is the same.

The sounds of battle provide a very stark contrast to the calming nature of the menus, which features an operatic score backed by guitars. Guns in every form have different sounds and could shake the windows if turned up. The chaos of so many sounds happening on the battlefield is short-lived since some fights can take as little as two minutes.

Where the previous entries before Armored Core 4 were balanced between single and multiplayer, here most of the attention is on just the latter. It wants you to join a team, play through seasons, and play with others all online in order to get the better part of the experience. But what it boils down to is the same formula as the games before it: build a mech, defeat other mechs to unlock new parts, win until you have enough money to buy those new parts. It goes to show that FROM SOFTWARE has put the Armored Core series into a niche corner and shows no signs of advancing it with new ideas. Where creating teams and selling yourself as a mercenary are good ones, it seems they didn't bother to plan what to do for the rest of the game. If this is how the next few titles in the series go, with an ignorable story and a lot of repeated mech parts, then you should just ignore it. Armored Core Verdict Day is not a bad game, its a bad game to keep playing.
I looked up synonyms for the word "okay" because "okay" just sounded too dull. What I found was "acceptable," "permissible," "competent," and "satisfactory." I guess I could say that it is a competent game in that it knows what its doing but I just can't in good conscience use the others words to describe how much of a letdown Armored Core Verdict Day really is. There are other mech games that are taking the same ideas but in different and exciting directions; Hawken coming to mind first. But if this is what an old veteran of the genre has to offer then it should be put to rest for a few years.

If you have Armored Core V then you don't need Verdict Day. I understand that releasing expansions as separate games is what the series has always done but in the year of 2013 this is a tired practice. This idea of nickel-and-diming the players has already outlived its welcome. What could have been just a $20 DLC add-on was instead released as a $50 entry into the franchise. For that price the amount of content offered is simply not worth it. Companies need to understand that this will not get us to buy new games. You do not need Verdict Day. If the series continues along this path it will eventually do itself in. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get a mech game worthy of all of us playing.

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