Motion Without Sickness: Impressions of Wipeout in VR

I have never been a fan of the Wipeout series of games. I do like racing games, I like sci-fi racing games in fact, but somehow Wipeout has always felt a bit dull to me. Very fast, yes, but somehow a bit sterile – like a tech demo. Impressive maybe, but not interesting. The chance to try out such a game in VR, however, gave me a reason to pick up the Omega Collection. Would I feel the same about the series once I was fully immersed in the virtual world of high speeds and high stakes?WIPEOUT™ OMEGA COLLECTION_20180426132301

Well, yes. My feelings haven’t changed about Wipeout in general, but I think it is an interesting game from a motion sickness point of view. Firstly, I felt absolutely no motion sickness at all playing this game. As I noted in a previous VR-related post my first experience with racing games on the PSVR, Gran Turismo Sport, made me feel really, really sick. I assumed from that experience that there was something about racing games that didn’t agree with me. Well, Wipeout Omega Collection has put the myth to bed. Clearly, GTS in VR is just to be avoided in general. I wonder if in part this is because it’s more natural here to move your head into the turns. Here is a lap of one of the tracks:
https://player.vimeo.com/video/269808216

What is really interesting about Wipeout Omega Collection in VR though, is how many options there are for people who are suffering from motion sickness to try and ward it off and keep playing:

  • You can change whether the camera is locked to the pilot or to the ship or track
  • You can change how enclosed the cockpit is, so that your peripheral vision is more limited
  • You can change whether the ship moves about a little when crossing a boost pad or stays level

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All of this means you can really limit the VR-ness of it if it’s making you feel sick. Luckily, I was able to have all these settings turned to their most immersive options without any dramas at all. But I really like the idea that games could give players options to help. Motion sickness is the most-cited reason for not liking virtual reality, from what I can tell, and it seems to afflict different people in different ways. It would be fantastic if more games were able to give players a range of options, so that more people can play and get on board with VR gaming. Then maybe rather than a niche, VR could move towards the mainstream.WIPEOUT™ OMEGA COLLECTION_20180426200408

In the meantime, I’m done with Wipeout again – I might bust out Fast RMX on my Switch to get a little fix of high-octane racing! What about you – can you play VR games without motion sickness? And do you think such options are a viable for other VR titles? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
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Time For Tennis: AO International Tennis vs Tennis World Tour

Sneaking in ahead of Mario Tennis Aces are two games that take tennis a little more seriously. After a few years without a proper tennis game, AO International Tennis and Tennis World Tour have both appeared in 2018, so I thought it was a good chance to have them go head-to-head. After a good few hours with each it has become clear which one has the balle de match – if you’re looking for a tennis game, check out AO International Tennis.

My first, first impressions were actually the opposite! AO International Tennis (the AO is for Australian Open, for which is has the licence) first appears to be a much more arcade title than Tennis World Tour. AO plays much faster, has more exaggerated animations and puts more emphasis on the presentation around the actual gameplay. WT on the other hand is trying to be much more of a simulation. The gameplay is slower and asks you to be more precise. It has a more thorough tutorial as well that really steps you through the different shots and makes sure that you have got them down before letting you continue.

However, that is where the impressive parts of WT stop. Once you are in a game, issues start to rear their heads. Tennis World Tour‘s animations are pretty horrible to look at, particular in the transition from moving across court to playing a shot. Next, and perhaps consequently, there are regular issues with a disconnect between the shot you try to play and the one your player actually does. More than once I’ve been happily preparing to lash a top spin shot across court only for my player to suddenly lunge into a slice down the middle. The fact that this doesn’t happen in AO convinces me that it is the game rather than my bad play!!

So despite it’s more arcade leanings, AO International Tennis turns out to be the best option, regardless of that. It is certainly not easy or basic either. In fact, the power meter you have for playing shots is very clever indeed: rather than just the usual hold-the-button-longer-for-a-harder-shot/hold-it-too-long-and-miss mechanic, you’ll also miss your shots in AO International Tennis if you don’t hold the button for long enough. It does a great job of mimicking the actual timing required to play tennis shots. The animations quite happily keep up with the slightly quicker speed of the game and you’ll be sending down booming serves and forehands down the line in no time. Above all, AO International Tennis is fun, where Tennis World Tour is just a struggle. Add in the lack of online play (although a patch is apparently forthcoming) in WT and AO has the match sown up. Game, set, match: AO International Tennis.

What about you? Are you looking to play a tennis game this year? And if you are, is it just all about Mario Tennis Aces?! Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase Tennis World Tour for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase AO International Tennis for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:

 

One for the purists: Impressions of TT Isle of Man

I really enjoy motorbike racing games. MotoGP 2 back in the early 2000s is the only game I’ve ever been very good at online. I don’t particularly know why, but something about racing bikes clicked with me. Since then there has been a pretty much total lack of good motorbike video games: I usually give each one a go but none of them has been good enough. The next in line is TT Isle of Man: Ride On The Edge. This game manages to simultaneously be far, far better than every bike game of recent years but still not be a keeper. Why? Because it is just really, really… really… hard to play.19-05-2018_08-46-17

This is a game built for purists or die hard fans of the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. Otherwise, unless you are a glutton for punishment, racing in this game just isn’t fun. In fact, it doesn’t work at all as a racing game – it would be better described as a riding game. If you are under no on-track pressure the difficulty of the game is a great challenge. Every bump is felt – every corner is a tiny victory. The speed, the flow of it – it’s an absolute rush. However, as soon as other riders are on track with you it falls apart.

And you fall down.

A lot.19-05-2018_08-46-32

Let’s be fair and look at what is good about TT Isle of Man first. It looks very nice. Various parts of the British countryside have either been built or imagined for the tracks and they are varied and detailed. For example, things like road signs and pavements (avoid these like they are walls!) have been created properly alongside the tracks. The lighting is also gorgeous – different times of day bathe the roads in different colours. Handing is also detailed and well done. Braking and accelerating are truly fully analog but it’s the fantastic level of feedback that you get that sets TT apart. The video below will show the really fantastic flow of a lap in the game but what it can’t do is show you the detailed gamepad vibration. You can feel every tiny detail on the bike in your hands – every bump in the road, every wheelspin, every gear shift. Combine that with the visual feedback (such as the rush of the wind at high speeds – makes you feel like you are really travelling!) and the bike feels really solid and thoroughly part of it’s world.

 

Thank goodness for all of that, as just navigating a single corner is so difficult. On one of the loading screens there’s a quote: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough”. This really feels like the philosophy of the game and when you manage to walk on that knife’s edge for a whole race it does feel good. But there are just too many times when you think you are getting everything just right and next thing you know, your rider is plastered all over the floor. It doesn’t feel fair. I expect it is fair but the window you need to stay in to stay up is just so small that finishing a race starts to feel a little bit ‘phew I made it‘ than anything celebratory.19-05-2018_08-46-24

If this was just a time-trial game then this would be worth battling through but what really ruined TT for me is having other bikes on track. Firstly, the tracks are so narrow. This isn’t really a criticism as such, as the roads on which the Isle of Man TT are held on are very narrow for racing, and are accurately recreated here. But it does not make for great gaming when a coming together results in not just a paint swap but one or both of you on the floor. Where the game is most at fault is the second issue with on-track racing: The AI. The other riders on track seem to basically not heed your presence at all. Occasionally this is to their detriment but usually it is to yours. Think that braking early for this corner so you can have a straighter line out might be better? Well, if the AI doesn’t agree they will smash right into the back of you and send you into the scenery. Every time. For the purists that can live with these issues, TT Isle of Man is a technical marvel. I, however, cannot. Here’s hoping that the new MotoGP 18 that’s out tomorrow is better than last year’s!

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions of State of Decay 2

State of Decay 2 is the next big console exclusive release on Xbox One. As all Microsoft Studios games are now, it was available on Xbox Game Pass from day one. As such, I downloaded it first thing yesterday morning and in amongst work and family I managed to sink 7 hours into it on the first day. I am really enjoying State of Decay 2 so far! The constant stress of surviving is balanced so well with joyously wiping out zombies. I feel like I’ve hardly got started but I am looking forward to the journey.22-05-2018_23-34-40

Although I came into this thinking it would mainly be about caving in the heads of zombies, in fact the main focus of the game is the survival sim elements. Making sure that your band of misfits has enough food, medicine, fuel etc is a never ending battle and the first thing on your mind at all times. Undead Labs, the developers, have done a great job in balancing all this – you are never comfortable but never overwhelmed either. There’s always the hope that the next thing you find in the trunk of a broken down car or the first aid box of an abandoned shop will be the exact item you most desperately need right then. It will be interesting to see over time whether continuing to exist in this game will get easier eventually, as my community gets itself grounded and prepared, or if the desperation that has run through pretty much the entire game so far is there until the end.22-05-2018_23-34-29

The zombies are pretty easy prey, as long as you make sure you’re in control of the fight. Guns and bullets are relatively scarce so taking a melee weapon and bashing the Zeds heads in is the best plan. I managed to flip my first car (see the image above – I was not happy!) but after searching about I now have another couple of vehicles and driving into zombies is also a very successful tactic. The splat that it makes is also very satisfying! I am not at all convinced that my wandering around feeling like a superhero will continue though; I’ve now seen, but haven’t yet had to face, both Bloaters and Juggernauts – I fear that I have only seen the tip of the undead iceberg so far.22-05-2018_23-34-14~2.png

Everything I heard and read about this game before release went on and on about how many bugs the game has. To the point that I wouldn’t have bought it outright if I didn’t already have an Xbox Game Pass subscription. So, it’s worth me pointing out that I have not seen any significant bugs at all. Aside from the odd little bit of frame rate slow down and a little bit of jankyness around climbing on stuff State of Decay 2 has run like a dream for me. The only time anything annoying happened was when my character insisted on climbing up a ladder, whichever direction I pointed the analog stick in. But that only lasted 5 seconds and then he was persuaded to descend again.22-05-2018_23-33-53

That said, I have only played it single player so far, so maybe it’s just a buggy game in co-op mode. That’s not ideal for Microsoft though. Once again this is a new Xbox One game focused on multiplayer and emergent story telling over the single-player story-based adventures that can be found on PS4 and Switch. As such, they need to get any such issues squared away asap. If you are going to bet the farm on persistent multiplayer experiences then you’d better ensure those experiences are solid! For me though, I can’t wait to get back to my community and keep trying to keep us all alive.

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a download key for the game from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a 1 month Xbox Game Pass subscription from Amazon.co.uk:

 

REVIEW: Rise of the Tomb Raider

  • Released: 2015
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4, Xbox 360
  • Time to get into: 7 Hours
  • Time to complete: 16 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a phenomenally well put together game – the story, the graphics, the combat, the character and inventory progression, the sheer adventure of it all is all just brilliant. If it was a stand alone game it would be a must-play. It isn’t however, it’s a sequel and it’s predecessor, 2013’s Tomb Raider, casts a long shadow over this follow up. For all it’s technical brilliance, Rise is just a little worse than Tomb Raider in a few ways and better in none. Perhaps in time, as the series continues, it will come to be seen as an important piece of the overall arc but for now, you’d be better off re-playing the first game.

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Standing on it’s own two feet…
An adventure game like Rise of the Tomb Raider will mostly win or lose or a combination of the smoothness of it’s gameplay and the excitement of it’s story. It’s graphics are important, certainly in terms of how they relate to playability, but as the lesser of these three parts let’s consider them first. This is a really good looking game. More recent games have raised the bar (Horizon Zero Dawn I’m looking at you) but Rise pretty much holds it’s own. The environments are lush and detailed and the visual effects such as explosions are all good looking without being overdone. In terms of character models and movement it works too – everyone moves about as very much part of the world and it makes it easy to play as you gain a confidence that what you see is what you will experience – no strange collision detection or other blemishes here. Also, Lara’s hair is amazing!

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The two central things are spot on too. Every action, from climbing to shooting to hiding in the bushes is smooth and natural and the controls are responsive. Other than occasionally making jumps that I thought I had missed (which I was hardly likely to complain about!) everything just seems right – rushing about the place is totally solid whilst still being spectacular and fun. The story as well is interesting and intricate, with a good combination of drama and real human reactions and feelings. There’s a post-credits scene I could have done without but besides that it is a good narrative.

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… on the shoulders of a giant
So, why I am at all negative about Rise of the Tomb Raider? Simply because, we’ve been here already. Other than perhaps an improvement in your ability to sneak about and take people out stealthily, nothing has really changed. Tomb Raider looked great, played great and had a great story. But Rise of the Tomb Raider doubles down on suffering in comparison because not only does it take too much account of predecessor but in other ways it also doesn’t take enough account of it’s predecessor.

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The story is very slow burning – nothing dramatic really happens until about 7 hours in. This might be OK if the game needed to establish new characters or a new world, but this is very much a continuation of the same story arc built around one, admittedly great, main character. Also, over the course of the game you collect bits and pieces of gear and earn xp that you can use to upgrade your abilities. None of this makes sense! Lara had learned all these abilities by the end of the first game, why is she having to learn them all again?

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Conclusion
It seems so odd to not be recommending such a great game but Rise simply doesn’t do enough to break away from it’s predecessor. Pretty much the same gameplay, with fewer and less interesting themes and environments – it’s essentially an expensive and long DLC pack for the first game. Another sequel is to be released in the Autumn, so it might be worth playing through ahead of that new instalment in the series but for now, save your cash and go enjoy Tomb Raider again.

Review4

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions: Gravel

Sometimes creators – whether we are talking about games, movies, anything to be fair – will absolutely aim for the stars. They will go all-out to nail the top shelf – and sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. On other occasions however, something is created just to be enjoyable – no delusions of grandeur, just looking to put smiles on people’s faces. I feel like Milestone – last seen with the woeful MotoGP 17 – has done the latter with Gravel. In review-parlance they’ve not attempted to make a 5-star game – they’ve gone out to make a 3-star game and they’ve nailed it. It might not win any awards or be in the conversation for game of the year but in the meantime anyone who plays it will have had a lot of fun!03-03-2018_19-07-09

It very much reminds me of Rallisport Challenge, which was a launch game for the original Xbox back in 2002. That game also walked the line between realism and fun by having loads of proper licensed off-road racing cars but not making you worry too much about things like braking as you slid around turns. It was a good combination then and it still works now. There’s also an interesting comparison with the last rally game I played – Dirt 4. I said in the review of that game that whilst the main rallying part worked really well, the other race types and modes were lacking. Well, Gravel is what the rest of Dirt 4 should have been – high octane, exciting racing. Gravel is the punk rock to Dirt 4′s indie rock. It’s loud, simple and effective.03-03-2018_19-06-54.png

I haven’t yet played online, but I can imagine it will be fantastic based on what I’ve played in single player. The career mode is called ‘Off-Road Masters‘ and it based around the idea of beating the current champions in various racing disciplines. One thing I do like is the lack of cones in the time trials! In every other racing game I really hate the races where you are forced to weave in and out of a set of randomly positioned cones. Here instead, those checkpoints are signs that you have to smash through. Try and go through the green arrows as either hitting the red cross or missing them entirely will damage your time! It’s a refreshing and enjoyable change.03-03-2018_19-07-43

Graphically, Gravel is nothing to particularly write home about but again it is just right. The tracks may not be as crisp and detailed as some other modern racing games but they do what they need to do. One of the main things that has stuck with me playing this so far is the mud – slipping and sliding about in it and collecting it all over my car by the end of the races. Even if it looks only ok, it feels great. Same for the car models – they feel slightly like cartoons as they have less detail then we have gotten used to recently but actually that just adds to the fun factor – who doesn’t want to jump into this retro Impreza and skid it through the mud?03-03-2018_19-07-34.png

This game is an absolute blast. I grabbed it on release day without looking at any reviews – surely a recipe for disaster – but so far I have zero regrets. If you are looking for a truly polished and technically outstanding game maybe look elsewhere but if you are looking for fun on four wheels then Gravel won’t disappoint you.

Click here to purchase the game on disc for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase the game on disc for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:

 

First Impressions: Celeste

Celeste arrived to ridiculous critical acclaim – as I write, of 31 reviews on Metacritic not a single one has given the game below 80 out of 100, and many of them have given full marks. It’s up there in rare company at the top of the Switch lists with Zelda and Mario. As such, I knew I had to play it but outside of the likelihood that I’d enjoy it there wasn’t much I was enthused about. It has retro-inspired graphics, it’s 2D and it was renowned for being crazy difficult – none of which inspired me.2018021508294700-75A32021BE3512D7AA96B2D72F764411

For the first few hours I thought I had been right. The story was interesting enough, without any great drama, and the platforming was certainly challenging but it really only has one mechanic – the Dash – that sets it apart from any other platformer. But then something imperceptibly changed. I don’t think it was the game – I think it just clicked in my mind. Suddenly, Madeline‘s journey up Celeste mountain has become the most wonderful gaming experience I’ve had all year.2018021508321400-75A32021BE3512D7AA96B2D72F764411

There’s a rhythm to each screen. First, jump about a bit and die a few times working out how you can complete it. Secondly, fail at it – over and over and over again. And then again. At this point I’m often wondering if I am cut out for this whole video gaming malarkey, or if I should throw in the towel, sell all my consoles and get a Netflix subscription! However, in the depths of my despair a miraculous thing happens: my understanding of the level and my skill at manoeuvring Madeline finally match up and boom – level complete!2018021613564700-75A32021BE3512D7AA96B2D72F764411

Here is the magic of Celeste – yes it can be super difficult at times, but that always ends up pale in comparison to how rewarding it is to play. I feel like I am really pulling off remarkable things and my main feeling after doing so is hunger for the next challenge, rather than just relief. I am enjoying the game more and more as I get further into it. I’d recommend getting it for whatever platform you have available but if you have the option, go for the Switch version – each screen is a level in itself, so it works perfectly for a five minute blast on the go just as much as a longer session at home.2018021608293800-75A32021BE3512D7AA96B2D72F764411