Top 10 of '10: Number 7 - Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

This was always going to be a tricky one for me to look at, because I was coming into it with a massive sense of bias. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 on the PS2 is possibly my favourite racing game of all time, so I had a tremendous sense of anticipation for this one, and when that's the case, it's often possible to convince yourself that a game is awesome when it really isn't. So with that in the back of my mind, I put my sensible head on, remained objective, and played the latest entry in the Need for Speed series with a clear mindset.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is awesome.

Rather than have an open world where you drive around looking for events, Criterion have gone back more towards the roots of NFS, and although you can drive around Seacrest County (where the game is located), events are chosen from the map, a lot like that in Burnout 3: Takedown (also a Criterion game). That leads to a more focused game with less boring bits... if you feel like having a look around, great... I don't like being forced to do it just to find bits of game.

Forza! No... it's Need for Speed Hot Pursuit...

As is the norm for any racer these days, you start out in some "lesser" cars (that said, there's nothing here that you'd feel embarrassed going to the supermarket in) and earn access to better and better ones as you progress. And as you do move further along, you gain access to "weapons"... nothing stupid, just the same equipment the cops have got, such as EMP or spike strips. This adds a little bit extra, but without being over the top.

Now, about being a cop. I never really enjoyed that mode as much as I could have in NFSHP2. Stopping the racers always felt a little difficult... you could ram them and park in front of them, and they'd cheekily reverse off and be out of sight as your time limit came to an end. Slightly annoying, that. However, in what is a stroke of genius this time around, Criterion have changed the cop mode into the nearest thing you'll ever find to a new version of Chase HQ in 2010 (or 2011, as it is now).

And if you look to your right, you'll see the lovely Stegosaurus.

Now, this all sounds just about perfect, but although I love this game, I've been a little frustrated by it. The main reason for that is... I'm rubbish at spotting the shortcuts. You might wonder how; after all, there are tons of them. But I get so into the actual racing that the scope of my vision doesn't stray far from the actual road and cars. As a result of that, although I can usually scrape through to the end of the race, my ten-year-old son has beaten me by some seemingly impossible amounts of time on some tracks. How the hell does he do it? Easily, I suspect... just as I would have if I hadn't started getting old...

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit has basically everything I want from an arcade racer. So why isn't it higher in the list? Well, this is my top 10 favourite games of 2010, based on how much time I put into a game and how much I enjoyed it over the year. For a while, I thought this might have been my number one game of the year. But once my progress was halted, I moved on to other things. And although I do love this game and expect to until the next one comes out, there have been others this year that I've enjoyed for longer...

Need for Speed: SHIFT (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Need for Speed: SHIT.

That's all I was going to write about this after five minutes. Why? It's because, before you even get to play the game, you have to throw an uncontrollable slidey car around Brands Hatch, and the game evaluates your performance and recommends game settings. After my first lap, the setting recommended for me was "you're shit". It just felt horrible to drive, and I was worried that I'd made a mistake in picking this up...

The Need for Speed series has had something of a chequered history... something I might go into in greater depth at some point for this blog. If the Need for Speed ride has been something of a rollercoaster, lately it's been on one of the slow, dull points where you're waiting for the fun. I appreciated where they were going with ProStreet, but there was just too much wrong in there to make it really worthwhile. SHIFT was touted as a reboot, so I was excited to play it... until those first five minutes...

Pretty cars, going fast.

Still, after a little tweaking of the settings, I figured I'd at least try a few races. I had a different car, so I hoped it wouldn't be remotely as twitchy and I could actually get around the track like something approaching a racing driver.

Whaddya know? It was miles better. Not just that, but it was actually enjoyable.

Need for Speed: SHIFT is a much more focused racer. In fact, it's steered away from the cop chases and boy racers, and into competition with the likes of Forza 3. That could be some dangerous territory... even moreso, if they'd managed to get it horribly wrong...

Those driving gloves I got from auntie at Christmas have come in handy...

Luckily, from my first couple of hours with it, they didn't get it wrong. Once you've "driven" your test lap and you can actually get into a car that works as you'd expect it to, it all feels a lot better.

It has to be said, in rebooting Need for Speed, the programmers have taken a fair bit from other games. Besides the now tried-and-trusted arrows on the track for the racing line and braking areas, you earn stars for good finishes, which unlock other cars and races, and you also level up, something which is a big part of Forza 3. Interestingly for a racing game, all the Achievements are earned in the single player game.

That reminds me, I haven't played Afterburner for a while...

The main innovation here comes with the effects used when you have a heavy bump. You get a sensation of being briefly concussed, which is pretty jarring and does affect your driving and make you think twice about driving straight into an opponent just to help yourself around a corner.

Aside from that, it's standard but high-quality racing all the way. You earn money for doing well, with which you can buy new cars or upgrades... but ~I feel that it's handled in a better way than earlier NFS games. SHIFT is certainly a massive step in the right direction for the series, being a serious racing game whilst still retaining just enough of an arcadey feel to make it easy to get into. I do miss the cop chases, though...

Budokan - The Martial Spirit (Commodore Amiga)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Fighting games were always pretty popular on the old computers... not with me, though. I'm not very good at them, so generally speaking, I tend not to like them. There have always been exceptions... International Karate was fantastic, for instance, and some of the old arcade beat 'em ups have always appealed.

Budokan is a bit of a different beast, in that half of the game is devoted to training and learning.

This is a nice place. Now, where should I get beaten up first?

The game starts with you in the courtyard of the Tobiko-Ryu Dojo, where you will undertake your training. There are four training halls, each specialising in a different discipline. These disciplines are Karate, Kendo, Nunchaku and Bo. As you make your decision and walk towards the dojo of your choice, it's clear that you're disadvantaged right from the outset... your character doesn't half move with a limp!

Once you're in the dojo, you can choose to either practice your moves or take on a sparring partner. There's a decent selection of moves for each discipline, so practicing is a good idea at the beginning. When you've got a few moves down pat, it's time to try them on an opponent. Budokan gives you three different sparring partners, and it's worth taking them all on in turns, just to see how different opponents might come at you.

Welcome to Budokan! If you come back next Friday, there's a gig on.

Once you feel your skills are at a high enough level, you can finally travel to the fabled Budokan arena, to take part in the martial arts tournament. There, you'll fight a range of opponents, each with different skills and weapons, some of which you won't have encountered before.

Budokan has an interesting gameplay mechanic, in that you only get to use each of your disciplines a maximum of four times throughout the tournament. You can, if you wish, use kendo against a karate fighter, which is quite amusing. But that might leave you vulnerable later in the tournament. It also means that there's no point developing a favourite and sticking with it... you're going to have to mix and match your styles. It helps to keep the game a little fresher.

Hah! Know karate, do you? Well, I know stick, and now, so do you!.

At first, it seems that all that supposed depth counts for nothing, as you'll probably dispatch your first couple of opponents easily. But things soon change, and you'll find yourself eating mat on a fairly frequent basis. A problem rears its head, in that fights are quite short and loading times are not, so you end up spending more time watching and loading than actually fighting. Still, Budokan is a cut above your average early fighting game... although having said that, it's a bit like a kind of advanced Yie Ar Kung-Fu. That's no bad thing in my book.

Star Flight (Amiga)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

I can't tell you how long I've been wanting to play Star Flight. After The Bard's Tale had ensnared me on the Commodore 64, I had been bitten by the complex games bug, and seeing this on the C64 really piqued my curiosity. But I didn't have a disk drive at the time, and when I did get one I'd either forgotten about this or just didn't bother hunting it down. In truth, I blame Wasteland for that.

So it was with some excitement that I saw this in my Amiga pile. I was immediately put off, though, when upon opening the box I was confronted with the deranged scribblings of a confined lunatic.

Gibber gibber, scribble. Make any sense to you? No, me neither.

Actually, it's quite understandable. My mate Stephen, who gave me his Amiga, always used to write notes when playing complex games, which makes sense as you'd need to refer to or remember this stuff maybe months later on in the game. Loads of his game boxes are littered with scraps of paper that look like something that would lead you to the Holy Grail, when really they just lead you to the planet with the best mining potential in a game.

In terms of the game, it was really difficult for me to get going. What with a huge manual and code wheel, there's a hell of a lot to get to grips with, something which seemed easier when we were teenagers. And probably was, come to think of it.

The latest Missile Command world record attempt wasn't going well...

Also, the disk is filled with saved games. And there doesn't appear to be a way to start a new game, at least, not without making a new backup of the original. And I couldn't be bothered with that, either. So I set out into the galaxy in the Starship Enterprise, with Kirk and crew at large. Cheers, Stephen.

Still, difficulties aside, the time I spent in the game showed much potential. I did manage to pick out a planet on the star map, made my way there without confrontation, landed safely, drove about on the planet, mined a bit, made my way back to the ship, and took off back into the planet's orbit. Not bad going. Next will come the job of finding somewhere to sell my stuff.

Star Flight is obviously a game that you could play for years. I don't know if I'll be committing to that, but I'm happy to have finally had the opportunity to play it, and to know that it's there if I feel like having another crack at it.