Alleykat (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Uridium was a huge success. Commodore 64 owners lapped up the slick blaster, and with good reason. It was as close to an arcade game as they had seen at that point, looking and sounding spectacular and offering a great and enjoyable challenge.

Talking of challenges... how was Andrew Braybrook going to follow up his latest mega-hit? It must have been tempting to go with another straight shooter, but that wasn't the Braybrook way. Instead, he went with a racing game... with a twist.

Free, you say? Loves a bargain, me.

The game was called Alleykat, and was again set way into the future. This time, though, there were no Dreadnoughts in sight. Alleykat is set squarely on terra firma... well, maybe not terra firma, as this game sees you playing the role of a pilot in an intergalactic racing league.

The league takes place over the course of a year, with each month hosting a number of events. You're able to enter just one of these events per month, and your ability to do so depends on how much cash you've got. When you start out you're skint, as you've spunked all your cash on your racer... luckily the first race of the season is free to enter.

Yeah, just drop me off here mate, I'll be alright.

If you scroll down the calendar, you'll notice that you can peruse each event ahead of time. This is handy, because it means you can pick and choose your career. And you'll want to, because you'll develop your own style and favourite types of races and tracks, and you'll also learn which tracks to avoid...

Different events might range from Time Trial to Demolition to Dodge'em, with more besides. Each title states the obvious, so from that you can work out what you fancy getting up to, and choose accordingly. That's not to say you'll necessarily have an easy time of it from cherry-picking your favourites, though...

Beware the Cater-Killer...

Each type of race has an objective, as specified by its race type. So, obviously, in a Demolition race you'll score more highly for destroying all the scenery; in a Time Trial you'll score more highly for finishing quickly, etc. You can add to your score though, by destroying the hostile craft that patrol the racetracks. They're really thrown in as a distraction from your main objective, though, because unless you're racing on a Demolition track, you're not going to want to break off from what you're concentrating on. And you especially won't want to do that on a Dodg'em course... very dangerous.

Finishing the race will earn you prize money, which is essential to the continuation of your career. As I mentioned earlier, you'll need funds to enter the later, more prestigious events. If you fail to complete a race, you'll get nowt. You can just about afford this early on, but later races cost more to enter, so if you crash, your season is pretty much finished. It does look amazing when you crash though. Small consolation. It might be worth keeping an eye on the track as you race... small amounts of credits are strewn around, waiting to be picked up... another distraction, but it can be worth the effort.

Save the rainforest! No, wait... destroy the rainforest!

This all sounds pretty great... so what's wrong with it? Sadly, the racing itself is flawed. In many of the races, you can simply move to the right, blast everything in your path for an entire lap, and then hightail it outta there at top speed for the rest of the race. This doesn't necessarily serve you for the best in a Demolition race, but it'll get you to the end intact, winning you the money you need to progress. There's not enough of a feeling of threat or danger. The Dodg'ems are more difficult and you'll need a good deal of skill to get through them, but you can just, erm, dodg'em if you want and choose easier races.

I have to say, though... for all Alleykat is a little less-well regarded than earlier Braybrook games, I really enjoyed re-acquainting myself with it. It's not as good a game as the three that came before it, of that there is no doubt. The flaws in this one are a bit bigger and slightly more damaging, but there's still some good fun to be had. The variety of choice as you play through the game and the high score potential combine to keep things relatively fresh, even if you have a session lasting a couple of hours.

Here I go, way too faa-a-aaast, don't slow down I'm gonna craa-a-aaash. Oh... I did.

I actually think that Alleykat was a game ahead of its time. It's a really good idea that was hampered by the limitations of technology. Being a vertical scroller is the obvious orientation for a racer, but with the tracks being so cluttered you're forced to play the game "wrong". As I write this, I'm envisioning a 3D, into-the-screen racer. It could even have the same graphic style, albeit fancied-up with today's technology, but you'd have a better chance of playing it properly on all stages, and it could be really good fun. As it was, Alleykat was a pretty decent game, although many would say it marked the beginning of a slippery slope...

Sega Rally Online Arcade

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

I love Sega Rally. From the arcade and Saturn versions right up to its rebirth on the 360, it's a great racing game. The original version was most definitely an arcade game... short, sharp bursts of racing on a small number of tracks, with hardly any cars available. It handled like a dream, and constantly kept you coming back for more in the hope of shaving milliseconds from your best times.

The current-gen update of Sega Rally (known as Sega Rally Revo in the States) was an altogether different beast in a lot of ways. It retained the awesome handling, but added loads of tracks in the form of Championships and Leagues. It was, and still is, eye-wateringly, hair-tearingly difficult. I mean, it's rock hard. Every now and then, I'll find myself loading it up in the forlorn hope of eking out a few points so that I can unlock the next League. It's so, so hard. And yet, I still love it.

Wonder if that place is open? I fancy a bacon sandwich.

Now we have Sega Rally Online Arcade, a Live Arcade title by Sumo Digital, weighing in at just 800 points. What a bargain! Or is it? I've had a good go at finding out.

Sega Rally Online Arcade follows OutRun Online Arcade in updating a classic Sega arcade game for the XBox Live Arcade market. OutRun Online Arcade was amazing, featuring the classic five-ending race and a Heart Attack Mode. It was also a great high score game, and I was involved in some epic tussles on my Friends Leaderboard, with positions changing all the time. In the end, my son Aidan, who was eight years old at the time, emerged at the top. Little swine.

Nothing like a quiet Sunday drive in the countryside. And this is nothing like, etc...

You're not going to get as much leaderboard fun out of SROA, because you don't score points. You're also not going to get as much depth... whereas OutRun has fifteen different stages to master, SROA has only five (as far as I know at this point - oh, and they're all similar to those in Sega Rally Revo). You can tackle three of them from the outset in the Quick Race Mode, and if you try the Championship and race through all three in first place, you will unlock Lakeside... finishing first in that one will see you unlock it for Quick Race play.

The fifth course is the classic Desert course from the original Sega Rally, and you get to race on that using the classic cars from that game. It's a lovely touch... it would be lovelier if you got all the original tracks (I don't know at this point that you don't, they may be unlockable, but it doesn't look like it).

Say hello to an old friend...

I have to say that the car handling feels different in this game to past games. I find that a bit odd in some ways... surely it should feel the same as the first 360 Sega Rally? But it's a bit more arcadey, a bit more forgiving. Whereas I love that first 360 game, it really is rock hard and that's offputting to some. This one can be blasted through fairly easily. It's an exercise in fun. You wouldn't enjoy battling your buddies if you were gnashing your teeth at the difficulty level, would you?

So, it doesn't sound like you get that much, but it's only 800 points, which is a bit less than seven quid. And I think the focus is set more firmly on the Online aspect... this IS an arcade game, and the intention is to fire it up for a quick blast with your mates, with the single player mode being ideal for practicing or if you fancy a bit of high-speed action without any major time commitment. I reckon it does the job very well for the price... see you on the beach!

Top 10 of '10: Number 5 - Split/Second (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

Out of all the games on the list, Split/Second is perhaps the one that surprised me the most. I mean, I do love a good racing game, but this one was up against the heavily-hyped Blur as direct competition, and although developer Black Rock had a racing pedigree, Blur came from Bizarre Creations, who apart from the Geometry Wars games were known for a little series called Project Gotham Racing...

OK, so we can only have two fielders outside the circle here... what?

Split/Second comes at the racing game from a different angle, pitting you as a contestant in a dangerous high-speed TV show. To bolster that impression, the whole front end is served up TV-style, with an announcer, erm, announcing where each episode will take place and what will be involved. When playing through a Season, you get to choose the running order. That's crazy, what would the TV executives say?

As far as gameplay goes, I reckon that Split/Second comes off as kind of a cross between Burnout, The Running Man and ITV's Run The Gauntlet (who remembers that little gem?). The racing is fast and furious, some of the events are a lot more interesting than you'd expect to find in a racing game (you don't normally expect to find heavily-armed helicopters or trucks spewing explosive barrels in your way), and the stunts are spectacular...

It's all going wrong here...

Let's talk a bit more about those stunts. As the game is rigged to be like a TV show, there are explosives and set-pieces all over the place. Of course, they're no fun if they just sit there, so by racing in a dangerous or daring fashion, you're able to build up a powerplay meter. This has a number of levels... at its most basic, you can trigger it and take out a number of opponents if you time it right.

At its most powerful, though, you can unleash a course-changing catastrophe, some of which include bringing down a building, crashing a plane onto a runway or blowing away sections of a dam. These events are truly spectacular, and the first time you set them off it's a real jaw-dropping moment, and if you come through the other side unscathed you come away with a real adrenaline rush and a huge grin on your face.

Go me-ee! Go me-ee!

There are a couple of slightly weak points... the racing, thrilling though it is, has a tendency to have some harsh rubber-band AI. I don't particularly mind that, but I know that some people do, so it's worth bearing in mind. Also, considering the fact that the game is set up as a TV show, not enough is made of that through the actual racing. It would be nice to have the point reinforced now and then (not incessantly) with a little commentary on key events. Another thing... if you wreck a racer I reckon they should be out of the race and replaced by another competitor, although that might make it tricky when it came to you being wrecked...

Yeah, well, it's not like it hasn't happened before...

Those are minor quibbles, though, and don't serve to spoil what is an extraordinary video game racer. I don't usually sell or trade in that many games (although I might be having an eBay blowout in my week off!), but sometimes needs must, and after I'd seen the end credits on Split/Second I flogged it off and put the money towards something else. I kind of regret that, and in fact I'm going to re-buy it, such was my enjoyment of the game. If you haven't played Split/Second yet, I'd highly recommend you hunt it down yourself.

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...

Caught Speed-ing

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Oh man, this is awesome.

I'm saying that only an hour in, so I suppose it could all go wrong... but I can't imagine how.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 on the PS2 is, as I have said many times before in many different places, one of my favourite games ever. Not just racing games... all games. I love that game. But after that, things have been a bit hit or miss with the Need for Speed series, as you'll read here someday (soon-ish) when I start my rundown of the entire series...

I definitely need some speed now... I'm last!

I think, in the main, that Need for Speed has a need for cops. They add an extra dimension to the racing that lifts it above the average. I was really happy to hear they were going back down that route, but apprehensive... could they get it right? Then I heard that Criterion were on the case, and I relaxed a little. Criterion are awesome.

And after an hour, I can say that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is awesome. It's exactly what I'd hoped for from a Hot Pursuit game, with lots more thrown in because Criterion loves us.

It's got aggressive cops - they're going to give you a hard time. And that's a Good Thing. It would be no fun if they chased you and then just milled around politely, hoping you might pull over. No, they'll ram you hard and aim to damage you as much as possible. Bring it on.

Seems a shame to smash a car, ramming a roadblock like that...

It's got decent and aggressive AI opponents. Even from the first race, you're not going to just pass everybody on the first straight and roar off into the distance. This game has opponents that want to win. Again - bring it on.

It's got shortcuts - proper, long offroad shortcuts like Hot Pursuit 2, and plenty of them. This is important. The shortcuts not only give you ways to get the jump on your opponents, but also provide ways around police roadblocks. The shortcuts were an integral part of Hot Pursuit 2... I'm glad to see them used properly in this game.

It looks lovely, and it feels great. Being a racer is as great as you'd hope (and they've given you limited weaponry in some races now, too), and being a cop feels, in some events, as much like a modern-day Chase HQ as you're ever likely to get. The only thing(s) it seems to be missing are the huge jumps... I haven't done any yet. I'm not missing them enough to matter.

This is huge fun, and pretty much a dream arcade racer for me. This is after two hours... I broke off from writing this to go back to the game. And now I'm going back to it again. This isn't a review, just my initial impression... there's loads of game to play yet. Loads of lovely game. It's absolutely clear to me that at least a few of the chaps at Criterion must have played and loved Hot Pursuit 2 at least as much as I did. They get what it is that made that such a great game and have taken all that and put it into this game, whilst adding the best of Burnout and their fantastic knowledge of the online system. Cheers, gang, I can't get enough of this game..

Ridge Racer 6 (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Believe it or not, I'd never played a Ridge Racer game before. That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, seeing as you know I hadn't played a Castlevania game until recently. But Ridge Racer should have been different. Ridge Racer is an arcade game. I should really have played it at the seaside. But the the days of seaside arcades were numbered when Ridge Racer was released, and I didn't see a Ridge Racer game for a long time.

Similarly, I always seemed to miss the boat with the home releases. I never seemed to own the right console at the right time. So although Ridge Racer was raved about in many places, I always seemed to end up playing Sega racers. That's definitely not a bad thing, but now it's time to broaden my horizons.

Having said that, I was surprised to load up the game and be greeted by Pac-Man. Bloody hell, Namco.

The morning commute seemed a bit more exotic today.

With that out of the way, it was on to the game. And it's a bit daunting at first, plonking you into the Ridge Racer Universe with barely a moment's notice. I mean that literally... a galaxy of swirling green stars swallows you up and spits you out at its origin. It's at this point you realise what a mammoth racing task lies ahead of you. Well over 100 races, and as if that wasn't enough, you have to plot out routes yourself!

I like this approach. It's more fun to have an element of choice over where and when you race. Plus, completing routes (in this case, linking a section of races together) unlocks new cars, and who on this Earth doesn't like unlocking stuff? It's cool to get a new car for every few races you complete. It's even better that they're named after classic Namco games, and driving a Gaplus or an Ordyne racing car is great.

Neeeeeoooowwww! Who'd have thought that little bug had it in him?

There are things I don't like, though. I don't like that you have to win every single race in order to progress. I'd have preferred an approach more like Sega Rally's, where you get points depending on where you finish and a certain number of points will allow access to the next area. That gives a bit of leeway, and is a touch more forgiving when you have a difficult game. Having said that, Ridge Racer 6 doesn't appear to be as hard as Sega Rally, at least, not at the moment...

I really, really, really don't like the announcer. I thought I did, at first. But it didn't take long for him to become really grating. And he's camp. Very camp. Not necessarily anything wrong with camp, but there's a time and a place, and a turbocharged racing game is neither. And when he says, "Ooooh, someone's let off some nitrous", he says it like someone in the room just farted.

Skreeeeeeeeee! Sliiiiiiiiiiide! And without so much as a car in sight for added fun.

But those are niggles. There's plenty of good stuff, too. The sheer volume of racing is something that would keep anybody busy for ages. I like some of the little touches, particularly the way Pac-Man is used for split times. And the actual racing itself can be pretty exciting, even if the controls are weird and the cars just a bit too slidey. Just as well I've played a lot of OutRun 2 in the past, otherwise I would have been completely unprepared.

Ridge Racer 6 is, basically, a giant arcade machine in your own home. It's more expensive than an arcade machine, but you get way, way more game for your money. I'm not entirely sure yet whether I love it or not. I love owning a giant arcade machine, sure, but it hasn't clicked in the way that Sega Rally or OutRun 2 did. That said, I'm enjoying it a lot and will be pressing on with it in the days and weeks to come. It'll be interesting to see where it ranks in my list of top racers by, say, the end of the year.

Hmmmm... list of top racers... everyone loves a list...

Scratching an itch.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

You know how there are occasionally times when you just have to play a certain game? I've had that lately. In fact, I've had a hankering for some Burnout. Not Paradise, though... fine game though it is... but one of the more old-school efforts. I can't be bothered to go hooking up old systems to scratch this itch, though, so that left me with Burnout Revenge. Pity I didn't own it... but when you have that itch, you have to spend, and I popped out and (eventually) found a pre-owned copy. Aaaahhhh... I could almost feel the relief on the bus journey home.

The funny thing is, I had Burnout Revenge on the PS2, and didn't really like it. I was kindly sent it for review purposes by a lad at EA Canada, but I was so on the fence about it that I never completed the review. That's one of the problems with getting free stuff to review... it makes you feel bad if you don't like the game. Spend your own money, and you can say what you like. Anyway, sorry, EA Games lad.

Ahhh... the open road. Well, there's that car in the distance, but you can just ram that out of the way.

My main problem with Burnout Revenge was the racing. There have been a few problems with Burnout games over time... but I think I feel a feature coming on to discuss those. With Burnout Revenge, the problem lay with the introduction of "traffic checking". What did this mean? It meant that you could basically drive straight through most vehicles that were travelling in the same direction as you. It removed a lot of the skill from driving, and turned Burnout into Advanced Turbo Snowplough Simulator.

That's what you want to see... cars wrecked by your own fair hand.

Still, I bought it. The other modes are fun, and I was just in the mood to ram some cars and figured even the traffic checking wouldn't be too annoying. And I was right... I found myself enjoying the whole package, this time. The racing is still a bit silly with all the ramming going on, but it was just what I fancied. Road Rage is still great, although it seems much harder for some reason. Crash Mode is better than it was in Takedown... from what I've played of it, it seems that they've removed stupid stuff like the heartbreakers, which is definitely a good thing.

So, my itch is truly scratched. I've even enjoyed the two-player game this time around... Aidan was only four when I last played it and wasn't really up to the challenge. Five years on and he's a worthy adversary, and we battled to an epic 5-4 victory... in my favour. There will be much more of this in days and weeks to come. Good stuff.

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...

Super Laser Racer (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I'm always buying games on a whim, especially when they're cheap. I know there are thousands of games available for this blog through emulators, but buying new ones can never hurt (well, unless they turn out to be shit). The digital distribution networks are particularly good for adding cheap titles to a collection, as they always have sales on. Super Laser Racer was two quid when I bought it, although it's only £2.99 at its regular price. A proper budget game, then!

Super Laser Racer is a futuristic racing game, but it's more in the vein of Super Sprint than F-Zero. And that's not a bad thing! The top-down racer can be a great game, if it's done well. I reckon Super Laser Racer is done well.

These corners can be tricky, especially when you're being rammed and shot at!

Looks-wise, I think it's really attractive. It's very much the Geometry Wars of the racing game genre in that respect, with glowing neon geometric shapes being the order of the day. There are loads of particles flying about too, as you'd probably expect, and I think it works really well with this kind of game.

As for the game, it works in a time-honoured tradition. There are four leagues to race, but only the first is unlocked from the beginning. Likewise, you get quite a choice of vehicle, each with different attributes, but only three are available from the start... the rest are unlockable. That may be a touch predictable, but it works and it keeps the interest level up a bit longer than it otherwise might.

A missile hit helps me to streak through into sixth place.

There are weapons, too... drive over a weapons box to pick up something random and helpful. These range from lasers, bombs and mines for the detriment of enemy racers, to shields and turbo, which are obviously helpful to you. You have to watch yourself, as you can run out of energy and if you do, you blow up, and you score no points for the race. Fortunately each track has a "pit" area by the side of the start straight, and if you drive through that your shields are recharged.

There's nothing particularly revolutionary about Super Laser Racer... it's just a classic genre with a bit of a twist, and done very well. Oh, and it has Achievements too, if that sort of thing floats your boat. If I'd bought this for as a Mastertronic game for £2.99 on my Commodore 64, I'd have been chuffed. For £2.99 on Steam... I'm perfectly happy with it.

Midnight Club Los Angeles (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I like a good racer, and although I wasn't that enamoured with Midnight Club on the PS2, this one has had some very good, consistent reviews, so when I saw the Complete Edition for just a tenner, I bit.

I haven't played it much yet, but I'm kind of wishing I didn't bite after all.

Midnight Club LA, to me, seems almost like a complete copy of Need for Speed Underground 2. And as that is one of my least favourite entries in the NfS series, that's quite a disappointment.

Ooh, that looks nice. Maybe I'll give it a bit longer, after all...

I know an hour isn't always enough time to judge, but sometimes that's all I've got to play before I write, and you can usually get a decent feel for something in that time. I'm not exactly reviewing the games I play for AGAD, after all, just passing an opinion based on what I have been able to play.

In this case, I can't see anything new here at all. You're a rookie driver coming into the city, and you have to impress the right people so that you can take part in more prestigious races and earn better performing cars and more money. Yep, done all that, in NfSU2.

No, I haven't got a bike yet, either...

You can take races either by driving to designated areas on the map, or by flashing your lights at other street racers, who will then race you to a pre-designated point on the map. Yep, done all that, in NfSU2.

When racing, you can keep to the course by driving past coloured plumes of smoke, unless it's a race against a driver you've flashed, in which case you keep an eye on the map and crash at every other junction. Yep, done all that... you see where I'm going here.

I'll give this one more of a try later... after all, I do enjoy my racing games. But when this one successfully apes one I wasn't keen on, it makes it difficult to want to pop the disc back in the tray. The open world city just serves to make things far less interesting as far as I'm concerned, and the cars (at least in the early stages) don't handle well. I have to say, my son pinched the disc to play this and is enjoying it, but at this moment in time, it's not for me.

Unsung Classics. Number 2: Sega Rally (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

"Hold on a minute!", I hear you cry. "Sega Rally isn't an unsung classic!". And, it's fair to say, the original game is a classic that's loved by many, many people. The modern reboot, on the other hand, although critically praised seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye, with few people giving it the time of day.

What a shame that is. The new Sega Rally is an absolutely brilliant arcade racer, full of all the classic Sega touches that you'd expect. Wildlife wandering around on the safari courses. Flying vehicles on different courses... planes, helicopters, microlites and hot air balloons make appearances here. But there's far more to this game than little cutesy cameos.

The way it used to be...

Sega Rally is brutal. As racing games go, this is one of the hardest I've played. But it's also very fair and very true. In many of today's racers, you can just plough your way to the front and stay there, battering meek opponents out of your way and then cruising along as they drop back out of harm's way. That ain't happening in this game.

No, this game will challenge and fight you, every step of the way. You have to earn everything in this game... and I don't just mean race wins. You'll find yourself locked in a struggle to keep fifth place, and in a race of six drivers, that's saying something. Sega has set this game up so that every point counts for something, and it can actually feel really satisfying to finish in the top three.

Ooh, fourth place is within reach! Grab it!

The AI is nasty. Opponents aren't afraid to give you a good whack if it means retaking their place from you. And when you bear in mind how difficult it can be just to drive each course in a reasonable time, you'll find yourself cursing them any time you do that.

The environment also plays a part in your driving. Muddy courses will become rutted as they're driven on, and hitting these ruts on your next lap will slow you down or throw you off course. Pools of water will really slow you down. Sliding from gravel onto tarmac, you'll really feel the tyres bite. Sandy courses feel... "smushy". You'll feel bogged down in deep snow. Everything affects your car as you'd expect it to.

Any little mistake you make can, and usually will be punished. You have to really learn how to drive your car. It's very much about finesse. You have to know when to brake and how hard. You have to know when it's better to just ease off or let go of the accelerator, and when you can gun it. Different corners require different tactics, from a gentle nudge to a hard-braking powerslide, and if you get it wrong you're likely to be watching opposing racers zoom off into the distance. It can be heartbreaking to have battled your way into a good position, just to lose it when you screw up a hairpin or difficult double-bend. But you'll come back for more punishment...

Looks like the switch to Road tyres was a mistake...

Sega Rally is possibly the most difficult racer of the modern generation. But it's also the most gripping, to my mind. It's a game that you have to play in a room by yourself, because you get so into it. You'll find yourself regularly in that ridiculous position of trying to coax extra performance out of your car with your own body... leaning forward at times, or with your hands thrown way out to the side as you try and clip just a little off that tricky corner. It's absolutely intense, and there's not a lot of that around in today's games.

I bought this a couple of years ago, for about a tenner, and I'm still coming back to it. It's no more expensive than that now, and if you find yourself yearning for the good old days where games would give you a good kicking but lure you back for more, you really owe it to yourself to buy Sega Rally.

Buggy Boy (Commodore Amiga)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Buggy Boy must be the most requested game there is for MAME. Everyone seems to want to see it emulated, and I'm not sure why. I doubt it was one of their favourite arcade games... I only ever saw it once, I think. Maybe it's because they didn't get to play the arcade game. But there were decent versions available on the home systems. I know - I must have played the Commodore 64 version to death. But I'd never played the Amiga version... until now.

It has to be said that Buggy Boy on the Amiga looks fantastic. Everything is big, bold and bright, with vibrant and colourful flags and a huge buggy wobbling about in the middle of the screen. It really does wobble, though... any driver of that would be throwing up after less than half a lap!

The construction barrier I get, but who the hell puts fences in the middle of the road?

Buggy Boy is a race against the clock. You rarely see another buggy on any of the tracks... it's all about getting to the checkpoint before you run out of time. It's a tricky task, which can be made only slightly easier by picking up up to three time bonus flags per section. Even so, you're likely to coast to a stop with the checkpoint in sight.

In the Commodore 64 version, this was a big tease. In the Amiga version, it's more of a frustration, at least for me. See, the game moves at a real clip... possibly even too much of a clip to play it properly. You'll often find yourself crashing or missing something just because the game was moving too quickly. Either that, or my reflexes are really dulling in my old age.

After playing for over an hour, I came to the conclusion that although this version looks tremendous, I prefer playing the Commodore 64 version. That game is very testing but completely fair. The Amiga version was just that little bit too annoying to keep me at it.

Enduro (Atari VCS/2600)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

God, I loved my Atari. I used to drive my mother mental, playing Circus Atari for ages at a time. The bouncing and bursting noises were enough to make sure she's never liked video games (although my dad got her a DS for Christmas and she can be found playing Brain Training or Puzzler World... truly unbelievable!).

I also new people with an Atari. My cousin owned one, and so did a friend down the street. We used to swap games around... I had Activision's Grand Prix and Plaque Attack, my friend had Phoenix and Chopper Command, my cousin had Super Cobra and, umm, E.T.... but hey, I even enjoyed that back then. And as cartridges were far too expensive for ten-year-olds (at least, until I discovered Silica Shop), swapping was a good way to be sure of playing more games than we otherwise could.

One game I always wanted, but never played (or even saw to buy) was Enduro. From the pictures I'd seen in catalogues, it looked like a revolution in racing games - rather than the overhead view, sideways scrolling Grand Prix, this was viewed from behind, with you driving into the screen. I'd only seen the like in the arcades, with Sega's Turbo, or maybe on the Atari with Night Driver. But whereas Night Driver looked cack, Enduro had colour, it looked vibrant. Shame I never got the chance to play it...

Yes, that's colour. It's snow! In this shot, I'm off to stock up on bread and milk.

But now I have played it. And OK, it's the Atari VCS and I shouldn't have my hoped especially high, but I was a bit disappointed with it. It did feel a bit like Turbo, to be fair, which was a bit of a plus. Other than that, though, it lied up to its name, with me just holding down the fire button for as long as possible and dodging "cars" whenever possible. I say "cars"... it feels more like you're racing multi-coloured spiders. A strange effect. Overtaking them is more by luck than skill... it depends where you are on the track at certain points.

Only 8 cars left to pass! Or so I thought...

This is only difficult at times because of the speed at which the game moves. This is another plus, I suppose... the game really does move at quite a lick, which is what you want from a racing game. And it does have a couple of good ideas... sometimes you'll be driving at night, and you can only see the rear lights of the cars in front. Or it might get foggy, at which point not only can you only see the rear lights, but visibility is lessened, which really tests your reflexes.

And that's what Enduro really is... a test of both endurance and reflexes, rather than a racing game. It's hard to say what I would have thought 30 or so years ago, but I suspect I might have been a touch disappointed and lent it out for another go on Chopper Command... I was awesome at that game...