REVIEW: Super Mega Baseball 3 (XSX)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: PC, XSS, XB1, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 20 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes

Game Summary

Super Mega Baseball 3 is the latest in the series of indie baseball games from Metalhead Software. The series has a fun and playful look but is surprisingly detailed and deep. Sequels that are almost identical to their predecessors are really difficult to review. Last year I played through Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 but I couldn’t write a review about it, as I had nothing new whatsoever to say about it over the original Puyo Puyo Tetris. Super Mega Baseball 3 is not far off this. If you are interested in this game, you should probably first read my review of Super Mega Baseball 2, as most of that still applies! My main thought about 3 is that it is the same as 2!

What’s good about it?

  • So, what’s good about it? Well, its the same. There were many good things about SMB2 that continue here. The gameplay is just as good – smashing the ball out of the park is still a huge joy that doesn’t get tired.
  • SMB3 has added a franchise mode. Here you can play through multiple seasons and release and sign players over time. This just takes what was good about playing seasons before to another level. It’s not super deep and detailed like something you’d find in a Madden or FIFA, but it’s a small but welcome addition.
  • Compared to the game before, difficulty is smoother in SMB3. As you increase your ‘Ego‘ setting, you can learn and get better as you go. I didn’t run into a sudden wall when I could no longer complete.

What’s bad about it?

  • Well, again, it’s the same! In the same way SMB3 has SMB2s positives, it also has it’s negatives. Read the previous review for more into.
  • One additional thing worth mentioning. In that review of SMB2, I asked for fielding to be more difficult. But, not like this! Catching high balls is no longer automatic, at least once you get to a certain difficulty, but instead you have to run your fielder under the ball. However, the game maintains the behind-the-batter perspective, which means that sometimes it is impossible to tell where the ball is going to land. It’s frustrating to miss catches because the flight of the ball is impossible to read.

Conclusion

I would have to say, for those that played Super Mega Baseball 2, this is just not a fully featured enough game to carry off such limited changes. Super Mega Baseball 3 would need to change things up much more to bring in new players. For those new to the series though, there’s a lot of fun to be had!

REVIEW: Tunic (XSX)

  • Released: 2022
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: XSS, PC
  • Time to get into: 4 Hours
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

I first saw Tunic at the Xbox showcase at E3 in 2017 and thought it looked great. I was expecting fun exploration, a great story and maybe some exciting boss battles. Tunic has finally arrived in 2022 and sadly, it has none of those things. What we have is a decidedly retro game of discovery and fierce combat. Do not let the cuteness of the hero distract you – this is a brutal game that hates you and wants you to fail. The gameplay is varied and controls are tight but I ultimately felt like all my efforts weren’t worthwhile. It’s a tricky game to talk about without giving things away, as huge chunks of what goes on in Tunic would be considered spoilers, so rather than the usual what’s good/what’s bad format let’s look at Tunic in light of those 3 aspects I was hoping for after first seeing the game 5 years ago.

Exploration… or Discovery

  • I definitely wouldn’t describe it as exploration. Tunic has a vast amount of little nooks and crannies to investigate but most of the time I just found myself walking into walls in an attempt to figure out if there was a route through the shadows. The gold standard for exploration for me is still The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – in that game you would just run about the world and around every corner was something amazing to get involved in. Never once did I feel the need to walk into walls in case I missed a secret entrance.
  • That said, some of the areas you discover in Tunic are fantastic. The Ruined Atoll for one – when I arrived there it felt like a big expanse of new opportunity. Once you figure out how to get to all the places you can see in a new area, it feels like you have solved a puzzle (which, in a way, you have).
  • Puzzles are the entire basis of this game. Even the combat, which I’ll talk about in a bit. You are never told anything at all directly. Up to a point this works nicely and is exciting but it does mean that to get the full extent of this game and you need to have fallen in love with it and be fully committed to doing things like walking into every wall. It never engaged me to that extent and so I missed a huge amount of stuff, despite my efforts not to.
  • There are two endings – the one I got and another I read about afterwards. And frankly, after 30 hours slogging through the game, I find both of them very unsatisfactory. Like the developer was laughing at players who made it to the end: ‘ha ha, here’s your reward!’

Great story… or vague idea

  • Tunic is so insistent on not telling you anything that story ends up taking a back seat. As much story, such as it is, it told through the static pages of the in-game manual that you collect the pages for, as it is in game. This meant I never really got invested at all. It’s a good thing the main character is cute, or I might not have cared about him at all.
  • In this way, Tunic is very much form over function. Similar to another difficult game I played recently, Ghostrunner, story and lore are just a plain frame in which to place gameplay. Tunic is so determined to be retro and nostalgic that it ignores the fact that many of the good things about modern games aren’t just window dressing.
  • Everything is a grind. I’ll be as vague as possible with this example: at one point you get put back into the world with absolutely no idea what to do next. Ultimately it turns out you have to travel all over the map and collect a handful of things. There are no puzzles to solve (other than working out what you are supposed to do) and no battles to fight. You are just walking about to go to a few places before you can properly got on with the game. It’s not interesting, let alone fun.

Exciting battles… or brutal difficulty

  • At it’s base, combat is fairly simple. You have a stick and then a sword to swipe at enemies and over time you gather more and more weapons and options. This development works really nicely. By the end you won’t believe you were ever only equipped with a stick!
  • Similarly the development of the five proper boss fights is the same. By the time you beat the last one, the idea that you ever struggled against the first seems preposterous. And yet I remember the feeling of dread when I first stumbled over the lowly Garden Knight!
  • These fights are also like puzzles in that I spent about half my time trying to defeat each one just working out what my best plan of attack was. When to just defend and survive, what weapons to use and in what combinations. Figuring all that out is half the battle. Also, its worth saying that there probably isn’t one solution to each. I found my solution, but another player who liked using different weapons, different modifiers, or who had upgraded their stats in a different way would probably find a different way to win.
  • All that said, you need to know that these boss fights are brutally difficult. I make no bones that I am not very good at this game, so perhaps you wouldn’t struggle as much as me, but each boss after the first one literally took me hours to complete. On top of that, even the standard enemies that litter the world, and aren’t too difficult on their own, can easily overwhelm your tiny fox with numbers. Even a good player is going to die, die and die again.
  • There isn’t really any difficulty setting, as such. There is a no-fail mode, where you literally cannot die, but that just felt like cheating to me. More than once I got so frustrated I put it on, only to pause before I completed the boss, take it off again and start over. Perhaps if a player was enjoying the puzzles and the grind, that person could just put on no-fail mode to essentially skip the combat. Otherwise I don’t see the point of it. If you aren’t going to allow for players of different skill levels, why allow for those who want zero skill?

Conclusion

If you don’t mind the difficulty, both in terms of working out what you are supposed to be doing and in terms of combat, then there is a decent amount to like about Tunic. It’s just that all that enjoyment is buried under a lot of hard work. As long as you go into it with that perspective you should be amply rewarded. And hey, you can always just essentially skip to the end with no-fail mode – that’s probably what I should have done.

REVIEW: Gran Turismo 7 (PS5)

  • Released: 2022
  • Played on: PS5
  • Also available on: PS4
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 33 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online and offline

Game Summary

The clue is in the name. Or at least the tag line. Gran Turismo games have always had the line ‘The Real Driving Simulator‘ attached to them and in this lies both the best parts of the game and the biggest issues with it. Ultimately, this is a fantastic driving game and a terrible racing game. The handling model is absolutely the best I’ve ever played and the game really takes advantage of the power of the PS5 to look utterly remarkable. On the other hand, the races are dull and the single player campaign is a drag. There’s a huge amount to admire about Gran Turismo 7, but very little actual fun to be had.

What’s good about it?

  • The driving mechanics in GT7 are incredible. No doubt about it: this is the best pure driving experience I have ever played. The detail in the handling and the feedback the game gives you to feel that handling are truly remarkable. Plus, you are given loads of options – although to warn you, they are a bit buried in menus – to control things like the camera view that just enhance that experience. Driving fast around a bumpy and tight track like the Nordschleife you can feel every bump, every time a type loses grip and you can react to them to keep charging forward. Absolutely fantastic.
  • Talking of details, GT7 looks utterly stunning. The cars and tracks look almost perfect and there are some nice touches like planes flying overhead to make the world seem more alive too. Replays almost look real, it’s possible to forget when watching one that you aren’t just watching an actual race.
  • Along those lines but entirely deserving of their own separate bullet point: the weather and lighting effects are simply amazing. And it’s not for show – this isn’t about crazy rain effects making puddles like so many games before that have touted their weather effects. Simply, whatever time of day and weather conditions the race is set in, GT7 does an amazing job of making you feel like you are there. Low sun shining in your eyes at twilight, overcast morning races and rain storms all seem real. I never thought I’d be writing about a game making overcast conditions seem remarkable, but GT7 is that good.
  • It’s worth mentioning the PS5 Controller, the Dual-Sense. It’s features like haptic feedback and variable triggers have, so far, been nothing more than gimmicks for me. GT7 really does make great use of the triggers though. Again, it’s not about being a gimmick, but the variable triggers make braking and accelerating just that little bit more real by their resistance.
  • Hmmm…
  • I’ve said a few really glowing things things about Gran Turismo 7 there, it must be amazing, right? Unfortunately…

What’s bad about it?

  • The single player career mode in GT7 is short and prescriptive. After each (short) set of events you head back to the ‘Cafe‘ and are given a new set of tasks. Occasionally these are odd things like ‘give one of your cars a wide-body upgrade’ but in most cases it’s just three races to go and do. Be in the top 3 places, then come back to the Cafe and be given the next three.
  • Perhaps that would work if the racing was good but the ‘racing’ is essentially non-existent. What gets called racing is really just passing challenges. You always have a rolling start, always start from the back of an 8/10/12/16/20 car field, and always have to come through to at least 3rd to progress. Not only does it make every race dull but it means that your rivals feel like just an inconvenience to be brushed aside, rather than competitors to do battle with.
  • There is next to no damage. The Gran Turismo series is well known for not featuring damage when others have done so but I simply don’t understand the approach here, as there is minor cosmetic damage. Paint work can get scratched and fenders dented but have a huge crash and you can just carry on. Not only is this confusing but adds to the dull gameplay, as there is essentially no risk to having an accident. If you want to you could turn every race into something from Wreckfest and face no consequences at all.
  • On top of this, there actually aren’t that many race tracks or cars. At least, I should say: compared to Gran Turismo 7‘s competition. There are still plenty to go around here but you aren’t spoiled for choice.
  • Everything else outside of the main campaign is just a bit random. There are ‘Missions‘, where you are tasked with completing various quests (including passing challenges, which is quite amusing given what the main gameplay is like). It feels like they just went ‘hey, pop some of that stuff in too, why not?’ The end of Cafe’s Menu Books is supposed to be the beginning of your journey but nothing available made me want to continue.
  • Compared to the series heyday around GT3 and GT4 on the Playstation 2 it feels like so much is missing. Where are the 10-race championships of good length races? Where are the endurance races? There are a couple in the Missions part of GT7 but it feels like a throwaway option rather than something well designed.
  • Outside of the Sport mode, which returns from GT Sport, multiplayer is a mess. With zero curation or matchmaking to speak of, its just a long list of races with hardly anyone in. Unless there was an interesting Sport mode race scheduled soon, I quickly went back to the single player.
  • I did want to mention briefly the micro-transactions that seem to have made people very angry with the Polyphony. On top of the £70 for the game, if you want to get close to owning all the cars – or even just some of the more expensive ones, you’ll have to sink more money into the in-game credits in order to have enough to buy them. This is clearly an issue but to be honest, if you have become obsessed enough with GT7 to need all those cars, maybe paying more isn’t so bad to you? For everyone else, you really don’t need them so there’s no real danger of taking extra money from anyone who doesn’t love the game.

Conclusion

I probably have to recommend Gran Turismo 7 to all racing game fans, just to experience the driving. It truly is special and the game is getting an additional star just for the quality of that. But there’s just not that much fun to be had around that. It’s a massive disappointment. Maybe rent it, rather than sink all your cash here.

REVIEW: Mario Golf: Super Rush (Switch)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online and offline

Game Summary

Despite the enduring strength of Mario’s main adventures and of the Mario Kart series, his sports games can be hit and miss. Most recently found playing a disapointing tennis game, Mario and his pals have now turned to golf. And, sadly, outside of a few bright spots, this is a disapointment too. Mario Golf Super Rush tries to mix up the standard golf formula with special modes, courses and environments and although it is these additions that are probably the best part of the game, they cannot make up for lacklustre basic gameplay.

What’s good about it?

  • There are three additional and different golf modes here, and all have a little something to offer outside of the normal game. Firstly, Speed Golf is a mode that can be played on standard-style golf courses and also on courses designed into other Mario levels, like New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey. Everyone on the course plays at the same time and amidst trying to get your ball into the hole in the shortest time possible you can play special shots that affect the other players.
  • Secondly, Target Golf. Here you have to aim your ball carefully at targets to gain more points than the other players. Outside of hitting the ball it doesn’t really have any relation to golf at all. It’s not just about accurate shots – you have to decide which targets you aim for, trying to prevent opponents getting them.
  • Lastly, and my favourite, Battle Golf. Here, everyone is in an arena with a set number of holes. The person to complete the most holes wins. I liked this mode most for two reasons. Firstly, the environmental hazards like Chain Chomps seem to make more sense here than they do in Speed Golf. Secondly, there’s some strategy: do you go for a hole further away but where you aren’t having to trying and beat someone to it, or fight it out with the other players for the nearer ones? Or a combination as you try to get the three successful holes you need to win.

What’s bad about it?

  • The actual golf gameplay in really basic and disapointing. It’s the standard issue press-to-start-the-meter and press-again-to-set-your-power thing but it has almost no nuance to it at all. This is a huge Achilles Heal for the whole game, as it means that all fun has to be created sort of artificially on top of this. Even the recent Mario Tennis Aces had better basics than this.
  • As a result, just playing a normal round is a total snooze fest. The campaign mode is based around normal golf, rather than the more original modes, and at one point I literally did almost fall asleep playing it. I gave up on the campaign after that.
  • Even those other modes mentioned above don’t have lasting appeal. Once you’ve mastered each, there’s nothing more to play, except in multiplayer.
  • And that itself is an issue, as there is almost no one playing Super Rush online. I found it so hard to just get into a game that I eventually gave up on this too. Some fun is to be had playing split screen with friends or family, but that is basically all this game offers.

Conclusion

If you have this hanging around on your Switch then the occasional game of Battle Golf when you have friends round will probably be fun. Mario Golf Super Rush just doesn’t give you enough reasons to play any more often than that. Unless you are a someone who collects every Mario game, I just can’t recommend it.

REVIEW: The Gunk (XSX)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: PC, XB1
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 5 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

For something called “The Gunk“, this game sure is beautiful! Not only are The Gunk‘s environments lush and alive, but the theme of clearing away rubbish to reveal beauty means that the main point of this game – to rid an alien planet of the horrible titular gunk – lines up perfectly with the games main strength. Otherwise The Gunk is fine in all areas without being great in any. Fine platforming, fine adventure, fine combat. But the sense of awe with the world around you will pull you through this short story, and reward you well for your efforts.

What’s good about it?

  • You start the game by landing on an alien planet and it is this place that is the real star of The Gunk. It’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring world that rewards exploration and tenacity. There are so many nooks and crannies filled with interesting things to collect, research, or even fight. The game is only about 5 hours long, but I would happily have spent more time exploring and marvelling at the world.
  • Your main activity throughout is clearing away the ‘gunk’ that the game is named after, by sucking it up into a machine. This is super basic, but never gets boring because each time you clear away a certain section, the surrounding environment springs back to life. I quickly felt that the gunk was some kind of personal affront to me, and I needed to destroy it all!
  • The Gunk has such a great soundtrack – the music fits so well with the environments and exploration. The whole game is a mood!
  • There are various puzzles to solve and enemies to fight that give meaning to your journey across the planet. These all do enough of a job to make it feel like you are really fighting for the survival of the planet, without being so hard that the focus ever goes off revealing the beauty of the world.
  • The story, whilst pretty basic in narrative, has some nice interpersonal developments between the characters.
  • There are lots of upgrades to your gear that you can chase. These aren’t just a nice reward for exploring but some become pretty vital as the game goes on.

What’s bad about it?

  • Nothing is actually bad about The Gunk – it’s just that nothing else particularly stands out. There are some light platforming elements, along with the basic puzzles and enemies. But it’s all pretty vanilla.

Conclusion

As a result of the vanilla nature of many aspects of the game, I can see anyone that doesn’t quickly vibe with the world and clearing it up would think that The Gunk really doesn’t offer anything to the player. But if you do quickly connect with the environments, the characters and task at hand, clearing the gunk is a really enjoyable and rewarding experience. I’d recommend everyone play it for a half hour and see if The Gunk as pulled you under it’s spell! I enjoyed it so much, I ended up playing on to get every achievement.

REVIEW: Halo Infinite (XSX)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: XSS, XB1, PC
  • Time to get into: 1 Hour
  • Time to complete: 40 Hours (although if you focus on the main story, it would be much shorter)
  • Multiplayer: Yes

Game Summary

Halo Infinite had a lot riding on it upon release. It was the next instalment of a very popular franchise, one that had fallen away from it’s epic beginnings in recent releases. It was the big hope for the new Xbox console, or at least it had been before being delayed a year from 2020 to 2021. Plus, frankly, had all that extra time been well spent? Well, I am very happy to report that Halo Infinite is a wonderful success – it’s a cracking game in it’s own right but also does a great job of bringing the beloved Halo series right up to date. It has the excellent shooting mechanics and fun story full of twists and turns that feel like a classic Halo game but also has a fantastic open world to explore and many additional traversal options and collectibles that really reward you for embracing all that the game has to offer. Halo is well and truly back!

What’s good about it?

  • Most importantly, the shooting in Halo Infinite is excellent. Everything else would just be nice window dressing without that. In Halo 4 and 5, since 343 took over the ropes of the Halo series from Bungie, shooting has been lacklustre. However, here 343 have turned that around and firing these weapons is as good as it was in the original trilogy. Each gun has a distinct feel and uses. The Battle Rifle was always my weapon of choice once it was introduced to the series and it is once again a spectacular weapon.
  • Halo Infinite looks fantastic. I remember the first time I saw the grass in the original Halo and it blew my mind. Perhaps nothing specific about the graphics here are such a surprising level above what has gone before but the wow-factor is just as strong. The view across the splintered Zeta Halo, where Infinite is set, is enough to make you just stop and look. Flying about in a Banshee is a remarkable experience. It’s not just about long distance views either, a cave lit up with lights and gunfire is also stunning.
  • When I first heard the rumours that Halo was ‘going open world’ I couldn’t really see how that could work. An open world seemed to be so different to what makes the Halo series great. To my surprise, it’s a total success. There’s so much to do besides the main story – side quests, bases to capture, collectibles to find. All of which has been designed brilliantly to make each a worthwhile part of the overall experience, not just a distraction. If the entire game was just the things you can do in the open world, and no main story line, it would still be a worthwhile experience. Getting about this world is made more fun by making vehicles easily (but not too easily) available and by the new grappling hook, which quickly became a totally natural part of both traversal and attack.
  • The sound design is great. Not something I always notice in a game but in Halo Infinite it’s so good I couldn’t ignore it. Bullets pierce the air and grenades split it apart. Even the melee attack, which has been made a little trickier to pull off and is thus a less used option than in previous Halo games lands with a satisfying thump. In fact, everything to do with the sound is top notch – the music and the voice acting are great too.
  • From what I can tell, multiplayer looks good. Full disclosure, I don’t really play shooters online – due to me being absolutely terrible at them! But I played a few rounds of PvE and PvP and everything looks to be great. If you really want a proper review of Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer offerings, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
  • That said, I am looking forward to them adding Co-Op at some later date. I can’t wait to play though Halo Infinite again, probably with The Boy in tow.

What’s bad about it?

  • Halo Infinite starts slowly. The opening section of the game is indoors and slow – quite the opposite of the main bulk of the game. Perhaps it is supposed to help onboard new players, but it certainly didn’t work for me.
  • Being an open world game does slightly dilute the story, compared to previous Halo games. There’s just not the same urgency when you can take your time about whether or not to dash to the next main objective. I’m tempted to play the game through again but just mainline the story, although that would mean missing the amazing open world.
  • The biggest issue I had with Halo Infinite is with the final two boss battles. Without giving anything away, one is a bigger battle but the other is the bigger story beat – it’s an odd clash that left me just a tiny bit disappointed. A tiny bit, but worth noting.
  • One of the collectibles in the open world is actually just cosmetics for the multiplayer part of the game. As I mentioned above I’m not fully into that part of things, so I was a bit nonplussed about having to search the world for something I couldn’t then use in the campaign. Again, a very small complaint!

Conclusion

The highest praise I can give Halo Infinite is that if the original Halo had been made today, it would probably look very much like this. Everything that I loved about the original Halo and Halo 3 is here, in a bigger, better, modern package. The open world is incredible and the combat is fantastic. Halo is back!

REVIEW: Twelve Minutes (XSX)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: PC, XB1, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 6 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Unless something truly disastrous takes place in the remainder of 2022, come the end of the year this game will win the award for the biggest disappointment of the year. Not in the sense that I had anything other than some intrigue going in but in that, like a long running TV show that doesn’t know how to end, the first 3 to 4 hours of the game are so interesting that I felt thoroughly let down by the latter 2 to 3. Twelve Minutes starts out with a husband having a nice meal and a chat with his wife, only for all hell to break loose when a policeman storms into the apartment and ends up killing him. What is going on?! Luckily he wakes up back at the beginning of the evening and it is up to the player to puzzle out what it all means. Sadly, your reward for starting to figure out the puzzles is that none of it means anything.

What’s good about it?

  • The basic concept is very clever. I wasn’t sure how this Groundhog Day-style loop thing would work in a game but actually each loop (they are actually up to 10 minutes long, despite the name of the game) is only the same as the last if you haven’t gotten part of the puzzle right.
  • That, in fact, is the best thing about Twelve Minutes: although each day starts out the same, as you know more about the story certain steps that were essential to begin with can be skipped entirely. As such, I felt cleverer and more accomplished with every step I got through and each new thing I learned.
  • Puzzle-wise, Twelve Minutes does a good job of walking the line between the solutions being too obvious or too confusing. Generally they are on the easier side but I still felt pleased when I reached the next steps. The revelations in the story are often dramatic enough that each bit of progress is significant.

What’s bad about it?

  • The one flaw in the looping-aspect is that if you do get stuck, it can be very time consuming to get moving again. Time doesn’t wait for you when you are not sure what to do – the next loop is on it’s way and you had better be ready! Trial-and-error can be very time consuming if you need to run through a couple of loops before you find the correct combination.
  • Gameplay is fairly clunky. I have no issue with things like the somewhat stiff way the characters move – this is a small indie game that is mainly about it’s story. However, the things you more directly interact with, like using objects or choosing dialog options, all feel rushed and basic.
  • The big problem I have with Twelve Minutes is the second half of the story. I can’t say as much as I’d like to without giving spoilers but there are two aspects to mention. Firstly is simply that the various revelations as the story reveals itself make you go ‘oo!’ but after a certain point it’s more like ‘ugh!’
  • Secondly and more importantly the eventual way the story turns out made me feel like the entire thing – all my efforts and puzzle solves – were totally pointless. I don’t like wasting my time!

Conclusion

Twelve Minutes is a great idea that runs out of steam too soon. If you are someone who really loves a game that reveals it’s story through puzzles, perhaps you will find some enjoyment here. For anyone else, I can’t possibly recommend it. Shame.

REVIEW: Forza Horizon 5 (XSX)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: XSS, PC
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 40 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online only

Game Summary

It has finally arrived: the new consoles at last have a game that unequivocally makes it worth the investment. Forza Horizon 5 is available also on Xbox One and PC, but unless you already have a top line PC then an Xbox Series X is the place to play this game. I have mentioned in previous reviews that games on the new platforms need to do more than just look a bit shinier to make the jump worth it and the new Horizon does exactly that. Not only do the incredible graphics really add to the experience but the almost total lack of load times makes a huge map manageable. Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t change up the formula too much from Horizon 4 (which is the top racing game on my All-Time Top Games List) – you are the superstar of a car racing festival, this time located in Mexico. There are a vast amount of cars to collect, races to win and other activities to complete as well. All of this takes place in a magnificent open world – Forza Horizon 5 is life!

What’s good about it?

  • Forza Horizon 5 looks utterly, utterly beautiful. Not just in pure terms of it having great graphics, but those graphics have been used to craft a beautiful and alive world. Mexico has been recreated in wonderful detail. There are deserts and snow, mountains and swamps, day and night and more and more – and every single variance looks lush. I played Horizon 4 using the in-car camera but here I switched to one outside the car specifically so that I could enjoy the views!
  • Mexico looks amazing but what about the cars? Also totally first class. The selection is ridiculous, with over 500 cars to collect and huge amounts of user-created decals for every one.
  • How those cars handle is also fantastic. Forza Horizon 5 manages to find a balance somewhere between being arcadey and being more realistic like Forza Motorsport. This is the perfect balance that means each new car you get into is easy enough to pick up but you also get rewarded for actually driving well rather than just throwing the thing into corners without any care.
  • Although broadly speaking the gameplay is similar to Horizon 4, there has definitely been an effort made to make the off-road racing better. Here the cars feel more solid and the heavier surfaces feel different to each other, rather than just all seeming like mud. It’s a small update but does make a big difference. It definitely seems deliberate as well, as it doesn’t apply to cross-country events, when you are just charging across the landscape – these remain as wild as ever!
  • Being able to drive wherever you like is just great. There are a few big trees and small buildings that caught me out but generally you can just drive through most of the smaller stuff. If this really was a real festival, it would be utterly devastating to the local environment! I guess that’s why we do such things in video games.
  • There is so much that you can do. All the different types of racing events, collectibles and challenges are in abundance. Add in the weekly challenges as well and you will never really run out of things to do even in single player. I’ve heard and read that some people think there is too much to do in this game but with a map that you can filter and quick options using the ‘ANNA‘ AI built into the game, you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by all the options.
  • That said, later on, fast travel is actually very useful in Horizon 5. In many ways you don’t need it – it’s a pleasure to drive a fast car from one event to the next – but the map is so huge that getting there can sometimes take longer than the event. On Xbox Series X, there are basically no load times – there’s not even time to take a quick sip of a drink before you are back in the game!
  • Finally, the online options are fantastic. You can just play normal races, either against other players or together against the AI. However, there are many other modes and The Eliminator is definitely worth a mention. The Eliminator was introduced in Horizon 4 but only a while after the game had been out, so this was the first time I had played it. Essentially a battle-royale mode for racers, it pits you one-on-one against other drivers until there are only a few of you left and then there’s a final race for the win. It’s great fun and stole many hours of my time with Forza Horizon 5.

What’s bad about it?

  • The only thing I can really criticise about Forza Horizon 5 is that I felt that all the big events possibly happen too fast! The first few hours of gameplay are full of new showcase events, adventures and regular choices of what part of the festival to unlock. The issue with this is that eventually you’ve done all this and are left with a huge amount of stuff to do but without any more of these ‘special’ events. It’s really not a big problem, as everything in the game is so worthwhile, and I guess it makes sense to front load all of this to keep players engaged. I was just a tiny bit disappointed when I realised I had completed all the big showcase stuff so soon.
  • One possible criticism of Forza Horizon 5 is simply that it’s not that different to it’s predecessor. And this is totally valid. There’s definitely a feeling that this game is “Forza Horizon 4… In Mexico” and that’s the reason why number 4 will stay on my All-Time Top Games List, rather than being replaced by number 5. But that really shouldn’t take away from what a magnificent game Forza Horizon 5 is in it’s own right. Even if you’ve played number 4 to death, you are going to want to play this one to death too!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Forza Horizon 5 may not change up the formula the series has followed so far, but when that has given us some of the greatest racing games ever, I think that’s OK! Add in the largest and most beautiful environment you can possibly imagine driving around and frankly, if you are a racing game fan, even just a little bit, you 100% must play Forza Horizon 5.

Reflections on 2021, Part 2: Awards

It’s December 31st, so let’s wrap up 2021 with some awards!

Best Game: Knockout City

Hands down the game of the year and almost certainly already the single game I have played the most in my life. I keep kind of expecting to start to get bored of playing Knockout City but that feeling just never comes. Whether you just want a quick 10 mins of fun, or a few hours of heated battle, KO City has you covered. And it’s on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, so what are you waiting for?!

Runner Up: Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

I played this right at the very beginning of the year, on PS4, before I got the new Playstation. Still, it looks great and plays great. There are enough new moves and story beats for the game to move out of the shadow of the main Spider-Man game, so although it’s not as expansive as that one, Miles‘ game is a must-play for any PS4 or PS5 owners.

Best Platform: Xbox Game Pass

I slightly cheated and gave this award to Xbox Game Pass last year and I am unashamedly doing so again. It’s by far the best deal in gaming and it only getting better in the last couple of months with the addition of Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite (reviews of those coming soon). Game Pass has enough great games to keep most people occupied and you can play them on any Xbox console, PC or even streamed to your phone. But it has another secret weapon too: giving you a chance to have a go at games that you might not do so otherwise. Hence my choice of the image above being from Dirt 5 – I am so, so glad I didn’t waste any money on this game, but I had a few hours of fun with it thanks to Game Pass.

Runner Up: PS5

Take Xbox Game Pass out of the equation and, of the exclusive games I’ve played on the new consoles, the Playstation 5 takes this by virtue of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. This is an excellent game and one of the first things you’ll want to play if you do get a PS5.

Best Multiplayer Game: Knockout City

No surprises here. There’s no offline multiplayer or even co-op multiplayer, which is a shame, but in terms of online multiplayer, KO City is the best thing I’ve ever played.

Runner Up: Pikmin 3 Deluxe

Here’s the offline, co-op multiplayer from 2021! The Boy and I had a blast playing through this game together. It’s does a great job of making you work together to achieve your goals and if you are playing well together, it’s actually much better that way than playing alone. Plus, you get the occasional fun of ‘hey, you took my pink Pikmin!’.

Most Unexpectedly Good Game: Mini Metro

I went into this expecting a pretty simple mobile game that I would play when in the queue at a coffee shop, or on the train or whatever. Instead, next thing I knew, I was playing Mini Metro instead of console games. The puzzling aspect is fairly simple but the challenges and differences between the different cities give the game depth.

Runner Up: Knockout City

I have surely written enough about Knockout City now, but it deserves a mention here. Again, I thought this would be the kind of game you play a little bit, as a change up from your ‘main game’. Instead it took over 2021 almost entirely.

Worst Disappointment: Cyberpunk 2077

Not a disappointment because it’s bad – it’s a decent game – but because of the hype. Seemingly anointed as the game of the year before it was even released, it turned out not be anywhere near that. Not even in the ballpark. Plus, I played it on Stadia, so had none of the technical issues that others faced. It must have been even more disappointing then.

Runner Up: Halo Wars 2

My review said it here really – I played this to make sure I had played every Halo game’s campaign before the release of Infinite. I probably shouldn’t have bothered.

Well, there we have it – the end of 2021. Here’s to 2022! I will catch up with reviews of Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite as early in the year as I can. Otherwise I am most anticipating Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 in the first part of the year. Things like Starfield and Breath of the Wild 2, I don’t yet trust will actually be released in 2022! Hopefully it’s a cracking year. Happy New Year everyone!

Reflections on 2021, Part 1: Review of Reviews

I played relatively few games in 2021, mainly thanks to the fact, as I mentioned in my review, that Knockout City has just taken up so, so many hours of my gaming time – and other time besides, probably! But still, there are a couple of new games on my All-Time Top Games List and a few other really cracking games too. Plus, this was the year I managed to get my hands on the new consoles. So, in case you missed any, please find below all my reviews from 2021.

2021 Reviews (by score and then chronologically):

5*

4*

3*

2*

Come back soon for some awards in my next post, to tie the final bow on gaming in 2021!