October 27th, 2017 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

The rules are real, the racing is not.

Gran Turismo Sport is the thirteenth game in the Gran Turismo series, one that has been forever exclusive to the Playstation platform. Props for loyalty, eh? It was developed by Polyphony Digital and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Now, I’m going to be up front here, I’ve never been a big fan of Gran Turismo and have always leaned more to the side of Forza and being an Xbox fanboi. But considering that the most recent entry in the Forza series was the lackluster but well-made Forza Motorsport 7, I was hoping that some good, sturdy competition from a rival series would bolster some friendly competition between the two. The last Gran Turismo came out in 2013 and that’s quite the gap. Can the new game pull it off?

GRAPHICS: 2/2

It’s becoming increasingly hard NOT to find a racing game that looks stellar in the visuals department. Gran Turismo Sport is no different. Every car has been built with careful and loving detail from top to bottom. The fictitious race tracks also lend some credence to creativity when it comes to the design, as many other racing sims rely purely on real world tracks, so this game was a breath of fresh air in that regard. Sadly, unlike the new Forza game, this game does not feature realistic weather and every track and race are all situated in a clean and clear race day. That said, to make up for this, the game features the tracks at many different times of the day, so you get many variations of lighting. You can race at dusk, dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, morning, night, and everything in between. If you’re keeping your eye out for flaws, you will notice that some buildings in and around the circuits could use some love but that’s some sheer nitpicking. One particularly great looking course is a dirt rally track based around a wind farm and the aesthetics of that track are gorgeous no matter what time your race.

STORY: 0/2

As stated before, in games that don’t particularly qualify or have a story, you have to observe what sort of progression the game gives you and what incentives are in place to keep you going. GTS sadly has none. For starters, it has three very sad campaigns you can take part in. The first is literally driving school, in which you watch YouTube videos on what you’re supposed to do (no really, it has YouTube videos embedded in the loading screen) and then drive for usually seconds at a time. Not only is it boring, but it also gets incredibly hard as it tasks to perfectly recreate a corner it wants you take to learn about turning. That would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that it drops you into the heat of things too quickly and makes a lot of the intermediate driving courses unreasonably challenging in a vacuum. If the driving school isn’t your bag, the second campaign is a series of challenges that start off interesting but quickly become annoying or unreasonable by the time you reach the second or third series. Then if that’s not enough, the third campaign is track mastery in which you just do specific sections of the tracks in the game, which isn’t very fun either.

All of this leads to me giving up and just playing the “arcade mode,” which is far more fun and just lets you race with whichever car is available. But, while the fun can be dug from there, the progress you make is far from engaging. It has four sections for leveling: you have your currency, mileage points, actual miles, and your experience. Leveling up your EXP unlocks tracks in arcade mode and nothing else (for the most part). The mileage is a daily challenge that gives you a free car if you do a sort of daily mileage workout. The mileage points are used to unlock cosmetics that are laughably minimal. The credits you get aren’t quite enough to buy some cars, but buying cars is a moot point when most of the races supply you with the car you need to race with for free, and the car selection is absolutely abysmal. This game really doesn’t hold your attention or do much to keep you going.

AUDIO: 1/2

The sound is in good form here. Like many other racing games, the realism takes precedence over everything and most cars sound exactly like how they are supposed to sound in real life. I think the real problem comes with a few nagging points that stick and never go away. For one, it has a combo soundtrack of licensed songs and originals for the menu. The menu music is sadly generic and feels like it was done at the last minute. It also sounds like it belongs in a decades-old game featuring big beat and IDM. The licensed soundtrack is a joke, with uninteresting songs that get drowned out by the racing sounds to the point where they are completely unnecessary. There’s that and then there’s the screeching. The screeching sounds you hear when you make any turns or slam the breaks are deafening and unrealistic; taking a hard turn while jamming down the throttle sounds like you’re in some sort of drifting competition, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are going, you are going to hear a solid “SCREEEEEEEEEEE” whether you’re driving a Ferrari or a Ford. It’s so homogenous and grating that it really detracts from the experience. I had to stop playing and load a couple other games to see if it was present in other sims, and it just wasn’t. Or at least, not to the degree that this game emanates.

GAMEPLAY: 1/2

For a game with a subtitle under it that reads “The Real Driving Simulator” it sure as heck feels pretty unrealistic. Besides the aforementioned screeching, the brakes don’t feel like they work properly. Maybe it is the realism just getting to me, but it feels a lot like the cars are very very lightweight. This doesn’t apply to just braking. Collide with another car, be it a high-speed impact or a ding, and you send the NPC car flying off the track. It also feels like your car is made of elastic with the bounciness of slamming into the guard rails on the track. You don’t get stopped dead, you just BOING right off a guard rail and continue racing. I’m thankful for this mechanic, considering it doesn’t have Forza’s legendary “rewind” mechanic, but it also feels cheap at the same time too. If you’re going to call it a real racing sim, then make it so. This feels a lot more like you’re driving a go-kart at times. This was especially so when I tried out various racing assistance settings.

This game allows novice, intermediate, and expert presets for how much assistance the game gives you with driving physics. I immediately started with expert and was pretty satisfied with the realism it offered at the time, except for my aforementioned issues. Then I tried “intermediate” mode and suddenly the car was practically driving itself. No joke, I kept forgetting to steer the car I was driving because I fell into a trance as the game practically takes over the controls for you when you get to any of the corners. This “autodrive” feature took me completely out of the experience and sent me right back to expert mode. But the problems don’t end there. At the start of many races you are in “autodrive” mode while the race counter counts down from 3. More often than not the game relinquishes control to you in the middle of a corner. It’s absurd.

FUN: 1/2

As said before, the game puts a lot of focus into some realistic driving expectations. Once you get used to the physics engine, the game is rather enjoyable to play for a quick race or two in arcade mode. Unfortunately, you will often find yourself bored as the game makes you try driving around the same corner for the thirteenth time in driving school, doing the same challenge over and over because the difficulty spiked tremendously, or you simply run out of things to do. This game has a lot of merits that save it from being bad, mark my words. For one, restarting a race is instantaneous. If you are unhappy with your drive, you can start over at the press of a button and boom, the race is ready to go. For what it’s worth as well, despite the driving school being unfun for the most part, it DOES make you a better driver. The use of cones to signal braking and turning points are new and interesting. But none of this is enough to keep you going. You have to watch two racing etiquette videos just to join multiplayer. Not only that, but they seem to be fixated on making the races official, so instead of any form of matchmaking, the game just has scheduled races you have to sign up for. I had to borrow a PS4 for this review and didn’t feel like this was worth my time, so I avoided it.

I was really hoping that Gran Turismo Sport would be a triumphant return to form for the series, but sadly this is not the case. GTS feels like another prologue game at best. With its extreme focus on rules and regulations while not being quite a good driving simulator in and of itself, it falls short of being the true racing experience it wants to be. There is a VR mode available for it, but I don’t have 400 dollars to spare so that was ignored, unfortunately. Could that increase the quality of experience? It’s entirely possible. But for now, it seems that Forza will keeps its racing game crown until it gets more complacent, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. With these two racing sims tried out, the way is paved for me to try more racing sims. Project Cars 2 came out earlier in September and is now at the top of my priority list to try before the end of the year. Nintendo is also going to throw its hat into the ring with the upcoming Gear.Club Unlimited in December. Can they best the almighty Forza? This reviewer wants to find out.

SCORE: 5/10

Also, WTF was up with that always online crap? I need to be online even in the ‘campaign’? Total bullsh*t.




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October 12th, 2017 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

Not the luckiest of numbers this time around.

Developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft, Forza Motorsport 7 is actually the tenth entry in the Forza franchise. It’s hard to imagine that a mere racing game can serve as a tentpole in terms of being platform exclusive, but when you’re working for Porsche automobiles and you decide that the best way to announce your new car is to showcase it during a video game announcement in LA, you are talking about some very serious prestige.

GRAPHICS: 2/2*

It’s a strange situation this game is in. Here, I have a game that is certified to run in 4K at 60fps, but that’s on a console that isn’t out yet. Playing this game on my original Xbox One almost feels like playing a preview build in that regard. “Hey, this game is going to blow your mind…. In November!” the game nonverbally taunts. But it shows in little details too. If you go back to when gaming transitioned from SD to HD, a lot of games meant for HD didn’t show up that well on your old SD monitor. This was especially true with fonts and icons often being hard to read between those generations of video. It’s the same for this game; there are definitely some holdovers from what’s supposed to be 4K that make the video seem a little bit off. With all that said, it still looks good above all else. I’ll add an asterisk here as I’d like to see just how good the graphics are when the Xbox One X drops.

STORY: 1/2

So yeah, racing games don’t have a story, so for this section, you heavily lean on incentives to progress. In most games, it’s plot. In racing games, it’s encouragement to be the best. This doesn’t always work so well for Forza. The game made a brilliant opening impression by having you race through three specially tailored racing experiences before jumping into the campaign. It’s back to regular old championship trophies to make your way to the end. Problem is, sometimes if you don’t win every match you will find yourself participating in a championship you don’t really want to do but you have to complete just to progress. Even if all you need is 50 points, you have to finish the championship to progress. The variety of challenges is decent, but sometimes I think Forza should just make a sort of “tour de force” of specially prepared races, more than just three, to cruise through before jumping into championships. It’s also odd that the progression system seems to be built on building your car collection instead of winning races.

AUDIO: 2/2

Like every other Forza game, special attention has been taken to make every car you ride sound like the the way it should sound in real life. The audio changes based on being in the cockpit or outside, like it should. Collisions sound like they should and are more visceral than ever. The generic rock music that plays between races is just okay, but to be honest, it’s sort of a welcome change. As much as I love the 5+ EDM radio stations in the Horizon series, this game’s music is refreshing. Not that the soundtrack matters a whole lot when you’re actually racing. This is a racing sim, the roar of the engine should keep you going just fine.

GAMEPLAY: 1/2

There are several nags here and there. The difficulty slider for the “drivatars” seems to be a little unbalanced. I am not the only person who seems to be experiencing wide jumps in difficulty in what should basically just be marginal changes with each tick up on the scale. I found the best pairing I’ve gotten so far is “Above Average,” which is one tick above the normal difficulty. Yet in Horizon 3 I could get away with 3 ticks up and go all the way to “Pro.” I’m not sure if this is a balance issue or maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve played a racing sim, considering I skipped Motorsport 6. Still, although frustrating, the challenge of the game is all the more rewarding when you do click with a car you recently purchased to race with. Then there’s the “free race” mode which was needlessly confusing to set up and was very restrictive. Not allowing you to play with other cars you want to just take on a test drive isn’t really a feature. For once I actually dabbled in the “rivals” mode, a series of time sensitive special races and had a bit more fun with that.

FUN: 1/2

This game has quite a few killjoys. There’s the now infamous “Prize Crate” issue wherein they want you to spend your hardearned money on randomized loot boxes instead of buying cars, but they also expect you to buy more cars to level up your car collection status anyway. That also gets in the way of things, because buying a car is no fun at all. In prior games, you’d get a good look at each and every car available to purchase. Here in Forza 7, the the car buying screen looks like a messy stamp collection you have to rifle through. The small font and small thumbnails for the cars don’t help. Neither do the random locks on certain cars that can only be unlocked after completing an unspecified milestone. The aforementioned bit about having to play a championship you don’t want to in order to progress really is less than ideal. Even with all the gripes I have, I do keep coming back to the game. The game is so well made, it’s just weird how your progress is impeded by some questionable design choices. But even after all of that, there were still dozens of moments where I was on the edge of my seat, engaged in the race, and may or may not have damaged my right trigger in the process.

Forza Motorsport 7 continues to express the pedigree the game has, yet it’s got a handful of issues that are too big to ignore. Though I didn’t personally have any problems at all with the Prize Crates, the decision to put it in is baffling considering it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of impact on the game. Turn 10 has done better than this in the past. I’m not angry, just a bit disappointed. Perhaps Gran Turismo Sport will steal back the spotlight? We’ll find out later this month.

SCORE: 7/10

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June 11th, 2017 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

DLC made me buy toys!

Forza Horizon 3’s new Hot Wheels DLC was so much fun. It was also the very definition of brand synergy and found that the toy line was frequently being talked up in the game itself. So, we did the rational thing and bought a handful of blind bags and a favorite, and here’s what we got!




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May 15th, 2017 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

Worth getting the game for just the DLC?

 

In this minicast, HMG discusses if Forza Horizon 3 is worth picking up just for the new Hot Wheels DLC. Fact is, you should buy Forza Horizon 3 just for the game itself!




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March 10th, 2017 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

Can’t call this game Horizon, that title belong to Forza.

In this video, Hard Mode discusses whether or not Horizon Zero Dawn is worth getting a PS4 just to play it.




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September 27th, 2016 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

Forza Horizon 3 is an open-world racing game developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Studios. It raises the bar for what it takes to make a great game by towing the line between simulation racing and arcade racing. Accessible to almost anyone, thanks to a very open set of options for difficulty, FH3 is an easy title to pick up if you’re a fan of racing sims or just looking to have a fun time. Taking place in many fictionalized versions of real locations throughout the series, this game lands you in Australia for one of the broadest selections of different racing setups available. Can you tell I like it?

GRAPHICS: 2/2

Lush scenery and gorgeous landscape make up the lay of the land. Ranging from the city, rainforest, outback, beach, and countryside, the diversity of scenery keeps the game visually appealing at almost every turn. Plus, with the addition of ‘ForzaVista’ for the first time in the Horizon series of games, the attention to every square inch of car is as realistic as it gets right now. The game laughed at my graphics card on the PC version of the game and my hardware is not that old.

STORY: 2/2

Having a story in a racing game is hard to pull. You want to give the player something to hold onto to drive them forward, but not too much story or you risk making the game boring. FH3 hits the sweet spot by not having any actual ongoing ‘story’, but having some context added to what you are doing, You are the organizer of the titular “Horizon Festival”, so it’s your job to set up races, take part in publicity stunts, and do outrageous top gear style challenges. Having a helpful personal assistant guide you through the game makes you feel accomplished as you set up races and expand festival sites.

AUDIO: 2/2

It’s not just the graphics that add to the realism of the game. All the cars sound like their real life counterparts, further cementing this title as the ultimate car enthusiasts experience. The licensed soundtrack, in addition, is one of the most diverse and well curated collection of tunes yet. The radio stations all have their own genre and offer something to like for everyone. When punk, hiphop, futurebass, and classical all exist in the same game, it’s hard not to find a station you’ll end up loving.

GAMEPLAY: 2/2

The game is very DIY on almost every aspect. The enemy AI can be anywhere from children to formula 1 professional. Braking, stability, ABS, and steering can all be modified to suit your level of skill, so the game’s difficulty can be set to ‘just right’ for almost anyone. There’s plenty of races to tackle, some very well designed tracks set up in the world, and some stellar challenges around every corner. The scoring system is set up so that winning isn’t the only focus when you hit the tracks.

FUN: 1/2

Nitpicking time, as obviously this game is great, but there are some issues. The content you unlock as you go can be really overbearing and litter the map to points where its hard to tell what to do next. Starting championships feel a bit messy as you don’t really get too much of an indication as to what you should be doing and in what order. Keeping to the DIY formula, the game also lets you set the parameters for the races you participate in, but there are some points where it seems like there’s so much focus on the customizing, that focus was lost on the core experience. Not to mention, charging for a car pass, then an expansion pass on top of that and not including it for people who preordered the gold edition is a bit off-putting.

If it weren’t for all the small nitpicks, Forza Horizon 3 would be the greatest game in the whole Forza Franchise. None of the issues is to big to steer you away from the game, so I you’re looking for a great racing title that will keep your busy for hours upon hours, look no further.

SCORE: 9/10




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September 25th, 2015 by Kurt "Chet" Christel

Everyone always has the story of that one game that was “there for them”. You were dealing with a difficult breakup and that fantasy game let you go to another world. School was getting tough and your only way to see your friends is some late night shooter matches. Your boss was being a jerk to you and the fighting game gave you the retribution you craved. Depression set in and you didn’t know what to do but you were super engrossed in story of the latest JRPG. Games can mean a lot to you when they’re your only escape. It just so happens that on more than one occasion, racing games have defined my life, possibly even saved it.

Okay, saving my life is a bit of an exaggeration. But change it, these games did. I was a weird kid, especially as a teenager, and my Xbox helped me through a lot of things. Did you know as a teenager I wasn’t really all that into music? I don’t think I ever bought a CD until I was in high school. For you Gen Z readers, a CD is this round disc thing that has music on it and you buy it in a store. I know, right? Well, a couple of friends showed me a few bands and eventually I chose your average teenager stuff like Green Day and blink-182. But then I got home and realized, I didn’t even own anything to really listen to a CD with. My family had an old “portable” CD player that could not actually be moved while listening to it, and the other choice was to play/rip the CD on my Xbox and watch the cool visualizer (remember those?) as my shiny new Linkin Park CD played on loop. Then racing games came in and made things more interesting.

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