Thursday, October 24, 2019

V-Rally 4 Review

It's unfortunate that I should have to tell people to people to avoid this game even though it can be enjoyed somehow. What's presented is a very fun and challenging rally racing game with changing physics for separate event types that keeps the players on their toes, but it's severely ham-stringed by a difficulty setting that is almost impossible to win against when set to the default. It's great for anyone who's a fan of rally racing games but not so much for anyone else. 

To those of us who do enjoy the off-road sport, V-Rally 4 is a decent game with solid racing but not much else to speak of. The metagame of managing a team and budget adds a realistic but somewhat unwelcome touch by charging thousands of dollars to maintain operations. It feels very hands off but is unavoidably necessary to upgrade vehicles in order to even stand a chance at a podium finish. Higher level mechanics, researchers, and a PR agents must be added to get better parts and access to higher paying events. Car upgrades come sparsely and are unlocked per days raced as opposed to an XP system, it also forces the player to manage the budget: will a car upgrade help now or would it be better save up for a new car for higher level races? It hardly matters because the AI is constantly overwhelming if not adjusted and even at the default difficulty setting it seems to be hard to keep up even when pushing the cars to their limits. Lowering the difficulty feels no better when things seem to be going well in a race only to somehow find yourself in 9th place at the very end. Lowering the difficulty lowers your overall prize money so the unhealthy balance of risk vs reward has no appeal.
The changing physics happen with each and every race and event type. The rally racing is the most diverse between dry asphalt, snowy roads, sand, and more. Buggy racing hardly feels any different when powering through water or sand but recovering from a large jump can be unpredictable. Gymkhana is on dry asphalt but you're expected to drift through hairpin turns, often times with a FWD car. Hill climb is the fastest on dry asphalt and can be tricky with unexpected turns and no pace notes to guide the player.

The game has a distinct lack of personality and design-wise is very boring. The in-game UI is dull and there is no flare or excitement when pulling off a perfectly executed handbrake turn around a hairpin or landing on all four tires from a jump is met with no excitement or reaction. It features a very basic photo mode that only angles and zooms the camera, nothing more. (The screenshots in this review were taken by me.)
The locales are gorgeous and light rays, grass, water reflections, and dirt clouds make everything look amazing and is the best part of the game. However there's a big lack of variety in regards to the amount of cars and tracks available and racing the same places over and over will become tiresome after just a few hours.

Sound design has taken a hit with each engine sounding different from one another but not very powerful. There is no bass to the backfires, no feeling from the tires squealing, and no reaction from the crowds. Pace notes are accurate but not very detailed for the rapidly-changing rally events, even the co-driver sounds bored and not concerned with the racing. The only music is in the menus is same song repeated each time a race is finished.

If you've beaten the WRC games as well as the DiRT series then you'll find plenty of faults with V-Rally 4 but you may also find enjoyment in the challenge. When compared to the other series it feels like a budget title which is a shame since the V-Rally series, which started as an offshoot from the NFS franchise, has a pedigree as far back as the first Colin McRae Rally on the PS1. It has changed developers and some ideas were gleaned from the others but nothing about this title pushes the limits of rally racing games or makes the player want to play more.
If an XP system that rewarded the player for drifts, speeds, jumps, etc had been added in exchange of team management, it would have given the game it's own personality. It would have added an arcade flair to a sim racing game. Instead it's hindered by copied ideas and a difficulty system that doesn't actually adjust. V-Rally could be better in the future but only time will tell.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Anthem Review

Anthem started out as a great game with plenty of things to do, places to explore, enemies to take down, weapons to discover, a story of decent length, and an endless possibility for the future. A brand new IP that could rival Destiny or The Division that immediately fell apart after the first patch wherein weapon and loot levels were adjusted. Suddenly it was difficult to find new weapons, and the ones in a player's possession were no longer as powerful as they once were.
Then another patch, and low-level weapons were too powerful, and the better loot moved to the after-campaign missions.
Then another patch and the weapons evened out and the loot was given freely to everyone.
Then another patch and suddenly part of the loot disappeared.
Then another and another and another and now no one has any idea just how powerful their weapons actually are.

Despite the overwhelming near-constant release of patches, Anthem is a good game. Plain and simple.
The currently unnamed planet that the game takes place on features amazing scenery divided into locales that unfortunately get tiresome after the 10th hour or so when every nook and cranny has been explored. Caves that lead to dungeons which house hidden missions are sparse and are merely tantamount to hidden side quests. An invisible roof barrier and walls that time the player out keep anyone from truly exploring what at first looks like an open jungle. Fort Tarsis is vibrant and feels alive but barren with a lack of NPCs that were abundant in the first trailer shown at E3 2017. It may be improved upon if there are future expansions but only time will tell. Each dungeon and Cataclysm are unique and never copy-paste jobs of pre-made layouts. Strongholds, Cataclysm events, agent quests and contracts, and legendary contracts at first seem like they would offer a wide variety of mission types but most are seek-and-destroy, item collection, or task the player with fending off an attacking group of enemies.
It's not all hindered by BioWare's indecision though. The main saving grace is the action itself: there are plenty of fights to get into in the overworld during Freeplay and each one can last several minutes, some may lead into a side quest wherein enemies must be defeated or an object must be located. Freeplay offers up the entire map for the player to explore with four others. You can group with random people and head out to cause trouble or simply hunt things down on your own. There are hundreds of lore items to find throughout the game that build on the depth of the world that detail the various factions, creatures, and history. These appear in random places but are so rare and insignificant to the overall game that only someone looking to complete things 100% might care to find. 

There are six(!) different currencies within the game (unless you count two of them separately). Gold, weapon/javelin parts, compounds/alloys, embers, crystals, and shards that must be bought with real money. Gold and shards are used to buy emotes, armor packs, textures, and decals but gold must be grinded for which can potentially take hours and sometimes days to attain. Weapon and Javelin parts are used for crafting blueprints which are obtained by finding new weapons. Compounds and alloys are used with shards to craft mods for weapons and Javelin parts. Crystals were introduced in the cataclysm update and may disappear, much like another past currency did.
There are four Javelin types to choose from: Ranger offers the most balance, Colossus brings heavy armor and shields, Storm can attack enemies with elemental powers, and Interceptor being the fastest but most frail. Each part of these can be visually customized to the players choosing, from armor sets to paint and decals. One of the main attractions to Anthem is the ability to fly; each Javelin can go a considerable distance on it's own and when cooled by flying through a waterfall, making an immediate descent, or flying low to a water source can prolong the overheating.
Customization options for the Javelins are lackluster and, as I said, gold must be grinded for days to have enough for a decal, a pack of armor, or even an emote. Weapons must also be grinded for in all areas with the best appearing at complete random (I received a Legendary pistol from Free Play) and are not guaranteed after completing a high-level mission. After the main campaign, the contracts become repetitive and, aside from strongholds and Cataclysm, are one of the few things to do to keep players interested for just a little bit longer.

Audio quality is top notch with the main star being the guns and explosions. From the lowly pistols to the heavy machine guns, each one packs a punch and feels powerful. The sounds of the Javelin are clear as day when running through the jungle or flying. The jungle creatures, waterfalls, the ambience of Anthem tech, and even the enemies have all been given special attention. NPC interactions in Fort Tarsis sound like natural conversations and the voice actors perform excellently (Sentinel Bren is adorable, fight me). There are many characters to meet and all of them offer different context choices when speaking with them, there is no right or wrong way and they all lead to a mission.

I was an Anthem apologist for a long time, I only looked at the good parts of this game and tried to tell people to only focus on those, but those good parts only go so far and after each patch has further twisted the overall gameplay, I can no longer tell people to focus on just that. It clocks in around 50 hours of play time and easily recommendable to anyone who loves the the shoot-and-loot trend.
Anthem isn't a bad game by any stretch, it's just hindered by some initial poor design choices that have since been repaired while others have been made more complicated. Until BioWare releases an expansion the audience for this title shrinks daily and that is unfortunate since there is a massive amount of potential that would keep people coming back for years.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO Review

If the WRC and DiRT series could be compared to Gran Turismo and Forza, then Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO could be compared to Driving Emotion Type-S: a one-off game from SquareEnix (back then just SquareSoft) that may have looked decent given the initial reviews, but once played the disaster that it truly is becomes apparent. It can't hold it's own against the bigger titles and is left on the shelves or in the cloud as a forgotten regrettable purchase. Developer Milestone has been around since the 90s and have worked on the WRC series in the past and is currently the developer of the MotoGP series which proves they have some knowledge when it comes to sim racing, it's just surprising to see how mediocre Rally EVO truly is. It seems to have hit a bump and crashed headfirst into some trees.

The first and immediate problem are the physics that seem to toe the line between reality and arcade: it's hard to understand just how they work and even when you think you understand them, the game seems to change with each and every car and surface. RWD cars slide violently from the back when braking while 4WD cars seem to lose the ability to steer altogether when the brakes are pressed. Thankfully options such as traction and stability controls can be adjusted from the menus even during a race. Wonky physics aside, the game has a rewind function that allows to undo some mistakes. These are limited in the number of uses for each race and have a time limit before being able to be used again so crashing so soon after using one can be frustrating.
The variety of race types is commendable but some of them are absolutely useless in the overall package of this being a rally game. Modes such as Sector racing, which has you racing to be the fastest driver in a sector on a single race track, can last less than three minutes. Elimination races are something you'd expect to find in an arcade racing game. The rally stages are the best and there's a huge variety to the courses, with changing surface types. Speaking of, the career mode feels more like an arcade mode by jumping from event to event being broken up by classes for each car type. The Loeb Experience portion of the game does the same thing but is unlocked by climbing higher on the reputation ladder. All the while there are no end-race consequences for damage so you don't have to worry about paying for repairs, you can use those credits to buy new cars and keep going. It all adds up to a game with $30 worth of quality and content that retailed for $60 at launch.
There is nothing steady about the overall game when you have to remember how to drive a RWD car on the snow in one race to a 4WD car on dry pavement in another. 

Each stage and locale are detailed to be as realistic as possible and feature some of the courses from the official WRC calendar, but there's no pizzazz behind it, all the colors feel muted and the scenery feels lifeless. In spite of that, the light rays, reflections, and shadows are excellently placed and reflect nicely off of the car and bodies of water or ice. I use the first screenshot as a Facebook banner and one of my relatives thought it was a real picture.
Each car sounds unique and the backfire from the more powerful vehicles have a nice bass to them. Pacenotes seem to go an extra mile in the wrong direction compared to other games and the co-driver sounds like a robot. Even counting down at the start of a race you can hear him say "Go?" There are audio hiccups and more than once while playing, the co-driver switched to a completely different language. Several times there are audio clips of Sebastien Loeb speaking to the player in the career mode only it's not really him. Loeb is French and has an accent, the man in the recording is purely American

Every once in a while a game comes along that has some competence: it "works well" but for some unexplained reason all of it comes together in a big mess of slush that gets pushed to the side in favor of a more well-established series of games. For those who don't know, Sebastien Loeb currently has the most victories in the WRC: 77 wins according to the website (for comparison, McRae only has 25), so a man of such importance should have had a better game than this. I didn't expect Colin Mcrae Rally series level of quality but if I'm being honest I'd like to see another developer take over this title and try something new.

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