Friday, October 19, 2012

Forza Horizon Review

When I think of racing games for the Xbox 360 in recent years, there are only two real options. If you want an arcade racer you go and pick up Need for Speed Hot Pursuit by Criterion and simulation buffs will go straight to Forza Motorsport 4. While EA have successfully made a semi-successful jump to the simulation genre with the Shift series, no one has really attempted to merge the two genres together. If anyone should be put to the task, why not the newly formed Playground Games which is created from the best of racing developers past. These people have come from studios such as Codemasters, Bizarre and Criterion, and have been let free on the Forza engine to create the game Test Drive Unlimited 2 aimed to be. I wasn't sure if the Forza mechanics would work in an open world, but this truly is the complete package.


Forza Motorsport 4 was a technical marvel, the lighting effects and sheer beauty of the game made it possibly the best game I have ever seen. You could swear it is a next-gen title with not only the look of the car against the environment, but also the environment itself. As amazing as it was, the environments were limited to the amount of tracks in the game. This doesn't even close to the amount of detail needed for an open world game and I was interested to see how much they would squeeze in to Horizon. You could probably forgive Playground Games if the Horizon festival was made of areas that had a slight tendency to repeat themselves, or if the exquisite lighting and reflections from Forza 4 weren't incorporated into this game. The fact that the same high level of Forza 4 is in Horizon is amazing, adding even more features absolutely blows my mind away though.

Driving through the many different environments of Horizon is spectacular. You will go from the epicentre of the Horizon festival which is bustling with life to beautiful areas that all present something unique to the area. One direction may take you through large canyons, another area will have you winding your way through a lush forest area with leaves falling on the road as you zip past. All areas seem packed with life as normal cars are on the road, as well as fellow racers that, like you, ignore common road rules such as speed limits and staying in your lane.

Cars look absolutely stunning in the different environments. The fading light in the distance gleams off the hood of your brand new Dodge Viper as it zips in and out of the darkness provided by the cliff you are driving alongside. Not only has detail been expertly crafted in the foreground, but also the backdrop to the Horizon festival is spectacular. Driving back to the main hub at night will let you see the fireworks show going off as you approach the party. Yes, thats right, for the first time ever in Forza there is a day/night cycle. The amazing scenic view provided at night is more than just the light from your car. Everything about the graphics is top notch and after this there is no real excuse for other developers to have shortcomings in open world racing games. Test Drive might have made us accept drops in quality for quantity, but Forza proves the impossible.

The Horizon festival is not only about fast cars, but there is a strong musical vibe to the entire event. It is great to see that the developers have incorporated this aspect into the game as the bass pumping opening to the game really had me raring to get into the swing of things. The music isn't the centre of things though so I'll cover the cars first. All the amazing sounds from Forza Motorsport 4 are back to shake your living room as you fire up a beastly car. Each car sounds unique and so realistic its not funny. No game can come close in comparison to the authenticity provided by Forza's sound.

While hardcore fans won't like it, there is nothing better than the pumping soundtrack that accompanies you on your way through Colorado. Turn up your sound system and you will experience an exhilarating ride that is heightened by the sheer power of the music which is blaring over the top of your engine. There are three radio stations to suit your preference of rock, indie and bass. I personally kept my radio tuned into the Bass Arena at all times which would really get the adrenalin flowing. I'd recommend a mix of the three though since hours of the same station will have you hearing the same songs over and over again. The radio hosts are good though and mention things related to your situation in the festival, as well as mystery barn finds among other items.


Forza has been let loose on the streets for the first time, and what a way to begin. There isn't much of a story here except for you are a nobody coming into the Horizon Festival and you are quickly introduced to Darius Flynt who is the champion of Horizon. You obviously can't take him on right away and must work your way through the festival ranks, earning fans and gaining wristbands that let you enter higher tiered events.

There are a number of race modes available in the game. Festival races let you earn points towards earning a new wrist band and are structured the same way as a standard Forza game. You start out racing in lower classed cars but as you move up in the world you require more horsepower at your control to be competitive. The next class of races are Showcase events, which put a bit of variation in the event as you are actually racing against something like a plane or hot air balloon. Outposts in the Colorado area will offer up PR Stunts that require you to perform special tasks to complete the challenge. There are also illegal street races and 1v1 races against rivals that net you a high amount of credits and the pink slip of other racers.

All of this occurs in a world full of life and things to do. Some illegal street races are in designated spots but you can also just pop in behind another driver on the road and challenge them to an immediate point-to-point race. Barn finds are exclusive cars that you can hunt through the 215 roads of Colorado for. These are found as old run down vehicles that are refurbished for your driving pleasure. It is a great idea that doesn't go overboard on the collectibles side of driving.

There is no point being a good driver without fans and this is where freeroaming around really comes in handy. Everything you do in Forza Horizon earns you points. Whether it is drifting, drafting, wrecking signs, passing cars or even some special rewards for crazy acts, they all add up. You can create large combos to increase your multiplier and earn a large amount of points which will have you travel from the 250th most popular driver to no.1. This is what solely keeps me from fast-travelling everywhere after hours of play, even though I have enough credits to be able to afford it.

The content and fun in the game is enough to make a solid title by itself. But putting the Forza title in the name makes us expect the 'Forza DNA' that has been reinforced constantly. The aim of this game was to be able to seamlessly take what you have learnt on the track and use those same skills on the open road. For the most part this is absolutely correct. There is still the difficulty options to turn assists on or off as you please, the cars still handle with brilliant precision and you can upgrade your car to your hearts desire. On the highway you may forget that you are actually playing Horizon and not Forza 4. Look closer and you will notice some 'arcade' aspects to the game. Drifting will be used a lot more but of course this is a purely optional choice by the gamer. The biggest difference is the fact that damage is now purely cosmetic so you can drive as hard as you want. Some may hate this, but the reality is who wants to be limping around a free roaming game with a car that doesn't steer at all. Maybe festival races could have enabled real damage as an option, but this at least partly makes sense.


True simulation buffs won't like everything about Forza Horizon, but as far as I am concerned this is a damn good game. I love the fact that Playground Games have been able to incorporate the Forza experience and level of detail into a title of this scope. The driving is as fun as ever, the area of Colorado is beautiful and makes you want to drive around it. The Horizon Festival is an energetic backdrop to the racing and the music pumping throughout your journey gets the adrenalin pumping. Sure, there are areas where they have had to take an arcade approach but the positives of this game well and truly outweigh the negatives. This is the definitive example of how to do a free roaming game from here on out. No more repeating areas, no lack of quality, no poor handling of cars and desolate roads. Forza Horizon does it right and truly deserves to call itself a Forza game.

Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10 

Monday, October 8, 2012

FIFA 13 Review

The ultimate soccer experience is back and better than ever. It's another year and Electronic Arts are back with one of the biggest franchises in gaming history. I reckon it must get hard for the developers to continually innovate after so many years on the same generation of consoles. FIFA 12 was a standout that brought real world physics to the sport for the very first time. This is more about fine tuning and calibrating to make a game that is still fun and accessible for both the lifelong player and first time adopters of the FIFA franchise. That is why it is so interesting that the developers threw in a level of unpredictability with their 'first-touch controls' that completely change the way you play the game.


When you are making the same game every year on a platform that stays the same you are eventually going to hit a graphical peak. FIFA 12 was a beautiful game with excellent player models and detail in all faces when up close animations are shown. This years game isn't a big improvement on last years title, in fact you could put the improvements at minimal. A few players look more like their real world counterparts, but overall it looks just like last year. This isn't a bad thing though, FIFA 12 was one of the prettiest games around and still is to this date.

The main improvements come in the physics engine and a refinement in the reactions of players. Last year was the first year that players wouldn't follow a set animation in collisions and instead the speed, angle and force of those involved was taken into account. Often you would find a tangling of players bodies or glitches causing unnatural movements that would slightly detract from the overall game. The majority of these are gone and the players react more like their real world counterparts. A few more options have been put into the game like the ability for players to dive to keep the ball in, all minimal changes that just nudge the game a bit closer to the real thing. Overall its the prettiest and most glitch free FIFA yet.

Audio in FIFA 13 follows the same level of improvement that past titles have had. The commentators as always have a huge set of conversational pieces to talk about and react perfectly to whats happening in the game. There are a few new pieces added in, but essentially the same high standard has been maintained. The crowd sound great and a loud roar when you score the winning goal in overtime never gets old.


This years addition to the franchise has a host of key features that merely refine and enhance what we had previously instead of completing rewriting the book. Improvements to gameplay include what EA are calling Attacking Intelligence, First Touch Control, Player Impact Engine and Tactical Free Kicks. Modes receiving an update in this years title include the Career Mode and EA Sports Football Club, as well as a brand new mode known as Skill Games that replaces the standard practice session before a game started.

Probably the biggest change to this years formula is First Touch Control. This new system actually makes the game harder, removing some of the accessibility to players who are master ball handlers to begin with. Instead of players perfecting trapping a ball or being able to control a poorly timed pass, the result is now more uncertain. A player running at full speed won't be able to stop the ball and magically continue on. Depending on their skill level the ball could hit off their leg and go sprawling in a direction not originally intended. This is closer to what happens in real life and may infuriate life long players. Real world physics between the ball and the player are a first for FIFA and I actually really enjoyed the unpredictability of it all. Games feel more intense and even less skilled players can hold out hope for an errant pass allowing for them to capitalise the other way.

Attacking Intelligence is a big improvement on the decisions made by attacking AI players. Instead of running in a straight line alongside you, they make smart runs to drag defenders away and set themselves up in the best position for a pass. The player impact engine is more of an improvement on the impact engine from last year. It gives defenders more options to win the ball back and use their strength as an advantage when fighting for position. Tactical free kicks essentially allows for more elaborate free kicks with multiple players able to be lined up for dummy runs and passing options.

As well as being its own mode on the menu, skill games is also the new option for players while a game is loading. There are bronze, silver, gold and skill challenge levels to 8 areas of FIFA that can be completed at an entirely optional choice. They start out fairly simple and may require you to hit targets or complete goals in a set amount of time, but end up being elaborate courses with many challenges. Not being the best FIFA player out there, I found these very useful for seeing where I was at and techniques I could use. Ultimately I found that I actually improved as a player after attempting the skill games. In Career mode an array of small features have been thrown in to make it match what a real life player would face. For the first time ever international matches are thrown in among your club games. A players market value is also based on a number of factors including their attitude and performance.


FIFA 13 isn't a game changer, but it definitely an improvement all round compared to FIFA 12. A little tweak here and a minor adjustment there have gone a long way to making sure FIFA stays head and shoulders above the competition. This is the most realistic and authentic soccer experience to date. Sure, some players won't like the unpredictable physics between the players and the ball but those clever enough to judge their passes power and direction accurately will benefit from the fluidity in their game. Those failing to cope will be left behind, but this is where the skill games come in to finally give us a tutorial of sorts that will actually do more than teach the basics, actually enhancing your skill level. Millions of players worldwide online and the return of all the modes you love (or loathe *cough* MUT *cough*) will make this an irresistible package.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10

Friday, October 5, 2012

F1 2012 Review

So many of our yearly sporting franchises have been annualised and cemented into a pattern of incremental updates to slightly improve the game. Ever since NBA Live fell away there have only been one sport with a competitor pushing it to greater heights (FIFA vs PES), but that battle is in the corner of one game. This is the third Formula 1 game in as many years, providing the true simulation experience that not even Forza can provide with its roster of 'super cars'. Codemasters could rest on their morals and simply put out a F1 2012 that is F1 2011 with a new roster since it was still a decent game, but they have gone out there to make sure the franchise is moving forward. Just like another new franchise in UFC Undisputed 3, this is a big step forward into becoming an elite sporting game that truly recreates the adrenalin rushing experience that is F1 racing.


F1 2011 was already a good looking game that did a great job at conveying the notion of speed to the gamer. Codemasters this year have taken what they already had and merely tweaked whats on offer, putting a bit more detail into the smaller parts of the game. Probably the biggest addition to the game graphically this year are the more realistic weather effects. F1 2012's Active Track Technology allows rain showers to appear on certain parts of the track, with storm clouds able to be seen out in the distance. The water physically changes the track and is more than just a visual addition, making the player change their race strategy on these now treacherous corners.

Each and every track on the F1 schedule has been painstakingly recreated to create the ultimate authenticity for the player. Every corner and straight will feel just like the real thing so we can truly feel just like Vettel as he is pulling around a tight hairpin. The Circuit of the Americas in Texas is a new addition to this years game as F1 returns to USA in November 2012. These tracks aren't dead either, as a lot of detail has gone into having an active crowd supporting the drivers as well as an always busy pitstop with crew members receiving an extra polish of detail this year.

Simply put, the cars sound damn amazing. The engines are loud and you can feel the power of the beast you are controlling. Forza Motorsport 4 have mastered the meaty sounds that muscle cars produce but F1 2012 have done a brilliant job at recreating the sound of speed that accompanies a Formula One car that is travelling in excess of 300kmph. One thing that I wasn't expecting when booting up the game was the amount of audio put into a game like this. Your pit crew play a big role in practice and race day, providing advice and stats to keep you one wheel ahead of the other drivers. This adds to the whole F1 experience and is great to see it added into the game.


The drivers in the Formula One championship deal with some of the fastest vehicles in the planet. Only an incredibly small portion of the population could handle these cars, which is why it is so difficult. Codemasters have made sure that F1 2012 follows the challenging nature of these cars that require complete precision lap after lap. If players were thrown into one of these cars without adequate preparation I could sense a high rate of people abandoning the game. This is why the Young Drivers Test is a brilliant addition to the game. As soon as you boot up the game you are thrust into what is essentially a one hour tutorial that gradually introduces everything you need to know. Instead of being a straight up tutorial it is interactive and brilliantly introduces you to the pit crew and the options outside of the racing as well.

Opening up F1 2012 hoping for a walk in the park will leave you ultimately disappointed. Even on the easiest mode you will need near perfection and intense concentration to be successful. Cars handle well, as long as you abide to real world physics. Following correct racing lines and braking with enough time  to spare will let you run a successful race. If not then you will find yourself in the grass or sand. If you don't spin out then your tyres will pick up grass, affecting your grip for a few laps. The authenticity of this is beyond belief and I can't believe how realistic the entire race experience is. Those who can't perform to the same degree as Vettel lap after lap have the option of four flashbacks, which are essentially rewinds like in Forza. Unlike Forza, you only have four for the entire race and from experience I learnt to only use them for big mistakes and just cop trips to the grass on the chin.

There are a variety of game modes on offer to satisfy everyone from the casual gamer to the hardcore F1 champion. Proving Grounds is a nice area for newcomers to start at, learning the trade in time attack and time trial modes that strip away the physical competition and allow you to focus on getting a good feel for the car. Champions Mode is similar to other sporting games that have challenges set by some of the biggest names of all time. There are six challenges that have you pitted up against the best, this definitely isn't for the lighthearted and well have you pushed to the absolute limits. The bulkiest part of the game is of course the career mode. You start out in one of the smaller teams and work your way to objectives set by your crew. Eventually bigger names will see your talent and you will hopefully move up to a F1 powerhouse and be a contendor for the championship alongside the biggest names of the sport. For the social creatures, multiplayer is also implemented well with a vast array of online and local options available.


In some strange way, Codemasters have made the most realistic F1 racing game to date, yet also the most accessible. The array of modes as well as the Young Drivers Test opens up this challenging game to a whole range of people who previously may have been turned off by the sharp learning curve of annual franchise. Turn off all the assists though and this game is tough as nails, something racing enthusiasts can really admire. For me trying to play this properly it gave me a new respect for all the real world drivers of these beasts. F1 2012 is a superb game that provides the sense of speed and danger like no other racing game out there. I can't recommend it enough, this game will test your concentration, skill and anger levels but by gosh is it worth it.

Graphics - 9/10 
Sound - 9/10 
Gameplay - 8.5/10 
Overall - 9/10