First Impressions: Gears of War 4

I found that the first three Gears games all started slowly. The opening sections were all about slowly introducing you to how the game felt and eventually things would start to get crazy a hour or two into the game. Not so with Gears of War 4! It starts with a proper bang, throwing you straight into the action. A prologue section essentially summarising everything that has gone before in the Gears‘ world has you playing through a few different ‘scenes’ from that history and they are all loud, brash and noisy. In other words classic Gears!07-10-2017_08-12-48
Outside of that great start there is not a lot to tell about the gameplay in terms of first impressions – this very much appears to be standard Gears of War action. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing – what has made the series so great so far is that the way your character moves, shoots, re-loads and uses cover just works so smoothly.07-10-2017_08-13-26
This game, perhaps unsurprisingly, looks lush. For a series that has spent a lot of it’s time in dark corridors there sure it a lot of time spent outside in the day in the first Act of Gears 4. Much like every other first sequel in a series on a new console everything is just a little more detailed and colourful that what has gone before it. So far there’s no wow factor but it certainly holds it own against other such games from recent times.
The other thing worth mentioning is the story – in the early going you are an Outsider, not part of the COG. I won’t go into detail, to avoid spoilers, but it certainly is a change for a series that has so far made a play of how the Gears aren’t trusted by most folks – here the tables are turned, you are most folks! How this will play out I’m not sure but it’s a turn up for the books.07-10-2017_08-15-11
I kind of think you’ll already know whether you want to play this game. I haven’t seen anything yet that would be likely to really bring in new fans that hadn’t enjoyed Gears of War before now. On the other hand, if you did enjoy those games on the 360 then this seems to be keeping the basic formula the same. If that’s you then I’d recommend going for it – I am certainly enjoying going back to Sera myself.07-10-2017_08-12-25

Click here to purchase the game from Amazon.co.uk:
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REVIEW: Dirt 4

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 3 Hours
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes

This game is so close to greatness that I almost feel more sad for it than I do about it, given it’s flaws. It’s a technical masterpiece and there are moments, long moments in fact, when everything else but the joy of driving so fast, so close to danger on either side fades away and you are just in the zone. Sadly, those moments are ultimately too few but make no mistake; for racing fans, particularly rally fans, Dirt 4 is a fantastic game that you will love playing.01-10-2017_21-51-12

Threading the needle
As I alluded to in my first impressions of Dirt 4, the real thrill of the game is the rallying sections. Rushing headlong across gravel, snow or wet tarmac – with rocks, trees or just sheer drops so close on either side – on the very edge of enough grip is fantastic. The seemingly constant stream of corners requiring you to brake and accelerate, turn left and right, gear up and down and only your co-driver’s notes to give you a clue of what is coming next is exhilarating. All of this feels great due to the brilliant handling model the developers have created – every car and every surface feels unique and real. For example, changes in sound and in controller rumble go hand in hand with the changes in steering and in acceleration/braking response as snowfall is heavier in different sections of a Swedish rally stage. This combination of detailed feedback is empowering, allowing you to push harder and harder in search of more time. It’s such a technically well put-together game and this allows you to really stay at the limit for long periods as you slide through the corners at breakneck speeds.01-10-2017_21-51-22

Other races
If all this sounds too good to be true then you are right – it is. These rallying stages are almost great enough to render the rest of the game unimportant but there are two significant flaws in Dirt 4 that slightly temper my enthusiasm. The first is the other racing types. Career mode also includes Land Rush and Rallycross races. Here you are pitted directly against other cars on the same bits of track but these races are somehow less exciting than being alone on track. I put this down to the inevitable requirement for these modes to have proper race tracks, where you are required to do multiple laps. The excitement of the rally sections is partly based upon having to drive as fast as possible into the unknown as the stage stretches out ahead of you – here you know where you are going and some of the tension of it is lost as a result. In addition to career there is the Joyride mode which sees you taking part in some mini-game-like tasks but all of these other racing types just feel like distractions added to fill out the game’s offering.01-10-2017_21-50-33

The down-side
The other problem with Dirt 4 is that for everything that is great about the rally stages, they aren’t perfect and the further you get into the game and the harder it becomes, the more these become obvious. Firstly, the ‘Your Stage’ feature was much-lauded when this game was released (and it does work well for having a bit of fun creating your own stages and events) but the use of this to build the career mode stages means that you will be seeing the same sections of track over and over again. Sure, they are all connected in different ways but it means that every time you are driving, for example, through the trees of Wales and your co-driver says ’60, caution, crest, immediate left 1′ – that crest and corner will look exactly the same. Same rocks on the inside, same trees on the outside. After you are far into the game and you have spent ages trying not to crash into these trees it gets pretty tired.
The other flaw in Dirt 4 is the other side of the coin that makes it so good. That constant state of being on the edge is wonderful when you nail it. But what if you don’t? Usually it means the end of the stage, either because you have trashed your car so much that it won’t limp on or at the very least that you are too far behind to catch up to your competitors. Of course you could turn down the difficulty but that is to be avoided as it is the challenge that makes Dirt 4 so much fun – making the game easier to avoid frustration would also take away what makes it great. This all has two effects: firstly, lots of restarting! Secondly, I found myself feeling tense the entire time I played this game – this was fine to begin with, it was a new challenge, but by the end it had become a real drag. I really missed a Rewind feature like in Forza Motorsport 6 et al – used sparingly that can help you clear up your big mistakes and enable you to go hard, on the edge, the whole time. I imagine some Dirt fans would say this is sacrilege but this is a game people – there’s a reason why us ordinary folks are rallying on our gamepads and not in real cars! For Dirt 4 to push you to the limit to such an extent whilst also being completely unforgiving means that it’s good.. but not great.01-10-2017_21-50-59

Other bits
Let’s clear up a few other aspects of the game. The graphics are understated but excellent in that – my favourite graphical thing is the screen shaking when you crash into something – it really works well for making the crash feel more real. The online play is good. The races such as Rallycross work better against real people but the really great things here are the daily, weekly and monthly challenges. These are different courses that last for the designated amount of days and allow you to set your fastest time. Then at the end of the allotted period you’ll be rewarded with an amount of in-game currency depending on how quick you were compared to everyone else. These challenges really suit the rallying style of racing and you can easily spend a lot of time here.01-10-2017_21-51-46

Verdict
Dirt 4 is so nearly an amazing game. With a rewind feature, I think it might have been but in the end it is just slightly held back by frustration and some lackluster other racing modes. That said, if you are looking specifically for a rallying game then I would definitely recommend Dirt 4 – it will satisfy your rallying needs!

Review4

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

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

Longshot

I first started playing this year’s Madden NFL expecting much the same experience as last year’s – play a few games to get back into the rhythm of it and then try to win the Super Bowl with my Dallas Cowboys. I am currently doing exactly that and my full review will follow but this year Madden had a trick up it’s sleeve. In case you’re not sure what this is about, Longshot is Madden NFL 18‘s story mode and I enjoyed it so much I decided it needed it’s own post!25-09-2017_22-11-45
In Longshot you play as a young man called Devin Wade. I won’t give away too much of the story here but suffice to say that Devin is looking to get himself drafted by an NFL Team after stepping away from playing football for 3 years. As such, he doesn’t stand much chance but an opportunity to take part in a TV show called ‘Longshot’ might give him the visibility to attract enough attention from the NFL scouts. There are two things that make this game great – the story and how the gameplay and the choices you make affect your chances of making it to the NFL.25-09-2017_22-12-42.png

Story
The story itself taps into things that every NFL fan will know and feel well. Whether it’s playing sports in the backyard growing up, Friday night high school games or the grading and re-grading of college prospects leading up to the draft, Longshot does a fantastic job of tapping into feeling of all the football stories from real life. It would be easy for it to focus on the gameplay and let the story mode just be a bit of window dressing around that – that’s certainly what story modes in previous sports titles have effectively been. What sets this one apart is that it makes you care about the characters’ success, not just your own. There’s the former prodigy trying to make up for past mistakes, the underdog best friend whose enthusiasm pushes everyone, the old coach looking to make amends, the tv producer fighting to make a great show the right way. It’s like a really great football movie – except that you get to take part!25-09-2017_22-12-36.png

Gameplay
There are two aspects to the gameplay. Most of it has you playing football as you would normally expect but under certain conditions. These range from specific defined training drills to 7v7 games with different rules to full games. The vast majority of the time you are at Quarterback, although there is a little bit of time spent in the secondary on defense at one point. The other aspect is choosing dialog options and this can come in the form of remembering play calls on the training field to standard response-choices during cutscenes. All of this works well in two ways. Firstly it does a good job of teaching you how to play Madden. The whole Longshot experience is too long and too broad to be used as a training mode but actually, for an inexperienced gamer, it would be a good place to start to learn things like reading defences and situational football as well as mechanics of what buttons to press. Otherwise it also works well as every play you make (or don’t make) and every decision choice you pick plays into your pre-draft grade, which you can see in the pause menu at all times. This gives every moment of the entirety of Longshot a real tension and gravity. You will sometimes get a second chance to get things right, but even if you do, there’s a possibility that it will affect your chances of being drafted.
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Conclusion
Longshot does such a great job of walking the line between gameplay and story – it’s the perfect mix. This could be a standalone game and I would still recommend it, so it’s great as effectively a free addition to the Madden ‘package’. Look out for full full review of Madden NFL 18 soon. In the meantime, what do you think of Longshot? Or of sports game story modes in general?

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

 

The Annual Sports Game Merry-Go-Round

Every year in early autumn there is a run of sports games released. EA puts out its latest version of Football (FIFA), American Football (Madden), Basketball (NBA Live) and Ice Hockey (NHL). There are a few others that also compete in the space such as Pro Evolution Soccer or the NBA games from 2k amongst others. Each year reviews of these games are full of references to what has or hasn’t changed since the previous entry and whether or not a full new game can be ‘justified’. However, also each year these games sell really well, so there clearly is a market for the newer versions. As each edition is out now for this year I thought I’d take a look at a couple of the issues surrounding this merry-go-round that the industry has found itself in.25-09-2017_22-10-46

A justified update

Essentially this part boils down to: is a set of new kits, updated leagues (where applicable) and updated rosters with all the right players in the right teams worth the full price of a brand new game? In many ways it is hard to argue that it is; these games have regular roster updates through the season anyway and they have many kits available for each team as it is – downloading some new ones wouldn’t be a problem. But really the issue is not so much should EA and the others publish full new games but can they. At the end of the day, the only reason they wouldn’t do this is if people stopped buying them – which is clearly not the case. Those of us that buy these games year-in year-out justify the updates ourselves!

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If it ain’t broke

All that said, each game is always released to a fanfare heralding the changes and improvements to the game play since the last edition – but is this always a good thing? I have enjoyed each year’s FIFA update either more or less than the previous one depending on the changes made. Some have felt more restrictive – rewarding you only for playing in a certain way – whilst others have felt more open, allowing scoring opportunities from multiple different attacks. Contrast this with recent Madden updates; for the past 2 or 3 years only minor incremental updates to the actual gameplay have been made. When something is working, it makes no sense to change it for the sake of it.

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Multiple games in one

So, the developers and publishers of these sports games have no incentive to make huge changes each year but do want to make a show of having new features in order to compete in a crowded autumn of sports games. What can they do? The answer over the last few years appears to be new gameplay modes. Ten years ago a sports game would have had all the standard cups and leagues, some basic online play and probably a franchise/manager/master league mode for a more in-depth experience. These days sports games are essentially multiple games in one with the addition of modes like Ultimate Team, Be A Pro, story modes and other slightly different modes like Threes in the new NHL. On top of that the online play options are now hugely varied.2017093007194500-062DD3BC3CF59885A6762E5A30A14CD1

Conclusion

For the record, I look forward with bated breath each year to the new FIFA and the new Madden games and snap them up without fail. The chance to play with all the new players and teams without any hassle is enough for me to part with my cash. The decision isn’t so much ‘can I justify paying this money‘ as it is ‘I want that stuff and paying the money is the way to get it‘! As such, I for one am appreciating all the new modes that these games are gathering up over time. Particularly when they are as good as the new Longshot story mode in Madden NFL 18. Look out for more on that in my next blog post!

What about you? Do you look forward to these games, or are they a rip-off? Let us know in the comments below.

First Impressions: Dirt 4

Rally games used to be my thing. Back in the days of Colin McRae and V-Rally they were my favourite type of game. Then came the rallying sections of Gran Turismo 3 and 4 and Rallisport Challenge on the Xbox. I just loved sliding sideways around corners, just enough grip to keep moving more or less in the intended direction. Sadly, overtime I both drifted away from them and the rally games themselves just weren’t as good as they once were. As such, I was vaguely interested in playing Dirt 4, but not desperate to get my hands on it.16-09-2017_21-35-50

The first couple hours of playing it seemed to back up my ambivalence. This is a technically an excellent game. The car handling is balanced and the feedback you get from the game is such that I never feel like the car is doing unexpected things. The graphics and the presentation of all the menus and options is top notch. But I just didn’t feel like it was that exciting. It was like a great example of how to make a solid game, without any x-factor.16-09-2017_23-03-02

However, once I started to get into faster cars, as I worked my way through the career and dipped my toe into the online stuff, it started to come to life. Although you also get involved in Land Rush and Rallycross races, it’s in the rallying sections where the game is as it’s best. Flying along narrow sections of track, threading the needle with a little bit of acceleration, a little bit of braking and a little bit of steering – all at the same time – is a joyful experience. Or at least, it is until you slightly lose concentration, miss a pace note and end up barrel-rolling down down the road for a hundred yards! Much like this:

Barrelling Down The Road from The Gamer Boys on Vimeo.

Now I’m into it properly, I am really enjoying this game and I have every intention of seeing the career mode through to the end and digging into the online modes too. I also haven’t checked out the ‘Your Stage‘ course generator yet either. Much to look forward to! I recommend you checking out this game if you are a racing fan.16-09-2017_23-03-20

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

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

First Impressions: Madden NFL 18

Another year, another Madden. Right? Just some cosmetic tweaks that don’t really make much difference and new rosters. Right? Well, yes, that is exactly the case in many ways. However, this year’s Madden may have an ace up it’s sleeve that could propel this edition above the usual yearly touch-up.

When Dez beats his man off the line of scrimmage – don’t think, just throw. from The Gamer Boys on Vimeo.

The place I normally head to in a new Madden is Franchise Mode. I select my Dallas Cowboys and set about trying to win the Superbowl. In that aspect, nothing significant has changed. The menus and systems are almost exactly the same, allowing you tweak your depth charts and upgrade your players. The game itself is very similar too, although there is a reasonably significant jump in graphical detail this time around which does add something. I’m 4-1 at the moment, so looking good for the playoffs if I can keep it up! So far so good – if you’re the kind of person that picks up this game every year then there is enough here to make sure you won’t feel let down.02-09-2017_09-37-17
However, there is one thing that might shoot this edition up, from a decent update to a top sports game: Longshot. This is a new story-based mode where you play as an aspiring young quarterback trying to get drafted by an NFL team. It’s early days, I’ve only completed the first act so far, but this might well be a game changer. So far I have really enjoyed it – many sports games try and add a story or career mode to hold the matches together but what really sets this apart is how it has tapped into the psyche of a football fan. Every young fan wants to be a player when they grow up and every older fan is looking at the college game to see which kids their team should draft. The story you are playing through is something we watch unfold year after year. It feels real: this is not Roy of the Rovers stuff, and is much the better for it.04-09-2017_23-42-16
Time will tell if Longshot can come through on it’s promise. In the meantime I have a game coming up against the 49ers and I have injuries along the O-Line. Might be a tough one.

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

Round-Up: Console Controller Comparison

Why does a controller matter?
The controller is an oft-forgotten but key part of the gaming experience. At the end of the day it’s the only thing where the player is physically connected to what’s happening in-game so it really is significant! I’m surprised that more isn’t made of controllers when new games and new consoles are considered and reviewed, so I thought I would collect together my thoughts on the three main console controllers; Xbox One, PS4 and Switch – just looking at the standard ones that some in the box. I believe there are two main things that make a good controller: responsiveness and comfort.

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Responsiveness
The controller needs buttons that feel completely responsive, to remove as much of the barrier between the player’s actions and what happens on screen as possible. Any disparity, such as latency between button press and action, or even just the feeling that the button is harder/easier to press than it should be and the immersion of the gamer in the game is lessened.

Comfort
The controller needs to be comfortable simply due to the length of time that it will be held by the gamer. Even a quick 5 minute thrash around a track in a racing game it a fairly long time to tightly hold on to something like that, let alone the multi-hour sessions that a lot of us get involved in. If the shape, weight or feel of the controller isn’t great it’s ultimately going to hurt!

Controller Comparison: Xbox One

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The Xbox Controller has evolved over the years from the massive ‘Duke‘ controller that came out with Halo in 2002 all the way through to the recently released ‘Elite‘ controller for Xbox One. I believe that the Xbox controller is the best available right now because it really nails one of the above criteria – responsiveness. The basic feel of it in the hand is fine, if nothing remarkable, but every single button, be it face buttons to triggers just feels right in-game. The triggers are smooth for accelerating and braking vehicles and also quick for firing weapons. The shoulder buttons are easy to press for changing settings but also solid for throwing punches and other melee attacks. The face buttons are heavy enough for precision timing without being too heavy for quick button-bashing. They really have nailed it!

Controller Comparison : Playstation 4, ‘Dual Shock 4’

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The current Dual Shock excels in the other stipulation above – comfort. Although I have some issues with the buttons being slightly spongy and their placement being odd (why are the triggers the bottom of the controller? They often catch on things) these minor gripes are made up by the great feel in the hand. The wider size compared to previous Dual Shocks is a better fit and the weight and depth of the controller feels great even after extended gaming sessions.

Controller Comparison : Nintendo Switch, ‘Joy Cons’

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These are a totally different beast from the two controllers above. They are designed for a different purpose as the need for them to be easy to take off and used in multiple ways – on the console, by themselves or together on the grip – is more important than their responsiveness or comfort. In some ways the Pro Controller for Nintendo Switch would be a closer comparison but I really wanted to compare only what you get in-the-box here. What’s great about the Joy Cons actually is that they don’t have to skimp too far in order to achieve their versatility. Whilst in a direct fight they would be third best here in both responsiveness or comfort they actually get remarkably close considering all the things they need to be able to do.

Verdict
All three of the controllers that you get in the box with these current consoles have their strengths. And all three are decent in the other areas too. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come: 15 years ago I would have been putting down the original Xbox controller and picking up a Dual Shock 2 and not enjoying the feel of either in my hands. With these controllers available today we really are spoilt!

What about you? Which is your favourite controller on consoles at the moment? And which is your favorite ever?! Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase the Xbox Controller from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase the Dual Shock 4 from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase the Joy Cons from Amazon.co.uk:

In addition, click here to purchase the gGrip for the Joy Cons from Amazon.co.uk:

And lastly, if you’re interested, here is the Pro Controller for Switch from Amazon.co.uk: