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

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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!

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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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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:

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REVIEW: Super Mario Galaxy

  • Released: 2007
  • Played on: Nintendo Wii
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 1 Hour
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: no

All I can say, after finally playing this game just the ten years late, is thank goodness for The Boy and his enthusiasm for all things Mario. It was he who insisted we pick this up. This is a wonderful game and my favourite Mario game ever – in fact, just one of my favourite games ever, full stop. I won’t be too thorough in reviewing this game as it’s been out for so long but if, like me, you somehow managed to miss this the first time around then let me have a few moments of your time to explain why you need to go and fix that as soon as possible!

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The Nintendo Way
Super Mario Galaxy is huge victory for function over form – it’s all about the gameplay. This is the Nintendo way, isn’t it?! The other aspects of the game are all adequate. The graphics are fine, although even in 2007 they weren’t groundbreaking due to the Wii not being built to compete on specs. The story is the same as every Mario game – you know; Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, Mario fights through various obstacles to rescue her etc etc. Standard, but that is fine. On the other hand, everything about the actual gameplay is spectacular – the level design, the platforming action, and the controls to combine them.

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Levels and Galaxies
The sheer variety of environments you will find yourself in is remarkable. As Mario jumps from planet to planet – sometimes even within levels – you’ll not only find yourself on solid platforms but in water, in the air, on platforms that are sinking into lava and many more. If anything, what’s most remarkable about this is that it never feels overwhelming – the game does a great job of guiding you to what you need to do. Only once or twice did I get stuck and even then when I figured it out it was simply that I had somehow missed something obvious!
On top of all this my personal favourite thing about the levels was how the game messes with gravity. There are a number of levels where different platforms have different directions of gravity. Some even let you influence that gravity yourself. Mario can then move around levels walking on the walls and ceilings as well as the floor. Gravity is clearly an important part of a game called ‘Galaxy’ but the developers have gone so much further in harnessing that to open up new areas for Mario to move around in.

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Actions and Power-ups
Every action that Mario can take feels totally smooth and natural. Running, jumping and spinning quickly all work nicely and the placement and timing of Mario’s moves can give different results, opening up even more options for getting through levels and defeating enemies. Power ups are also brilliant at adding more aspects to the gameplay. Bee Mario can fly, Spring Mario can leap high, Fire Mario can light torches on fire to open up new sections etc.

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Controls and Remotes
Traversing these wonderful and varied levels with these spectacular and varied moves is made fantastic by the control scheme. Super Mario Galaxy combines normal button-and-stick inputs with motion controls on the Wii Remote. It does this almost perfectly! Moving Mario about is usually the domain of the stick on the Nunchuck. The buttons take care of actions like jumping. Finally moving the Remote around is used to gather the collectibles, pointing when required and shaking to get Mario to spin. This combination quickly becomes second nature – if only more Wii games back in the day could have combined Wii Remote motion controls with more standard controls to such great effect.

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Verdict
What a fun game this is! I always looked forward to what the next level would have in store for me. Run, jump, spin, fly, buzz, bounce, skate – every action was a joy from beginning to end. The ultimate platformer.

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Impressions: MotoGP 17

You’ll note that this post isn’t entitled ‘first impressions’ or ‘review’. Quite simply this is because I have no interest in playing this game past the 3 or so hours I’ve spent with it and thus these are my only impressions and I’m not going to ever get into a position to do a full review.MotoGP™17_20170831165110

Here’s a list of what’s good about this year’s MotoGP game:

  • nothing.
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This shot is actually vaguely appealing – don’t be fooled!

Here’s a list of what’s bad about this year’s MotoGP game:

  • graphics are average in-game
  • graphics are horrible in cut-scenes and menus
  • ‘cut-scenes’ is generous, they are as pointless as they are poorly made
  • the gamepad rumble is strange and confusing
  • the camera is disconcerting
  • the career mode is lifeless and a drag
  • etc

MotoGP™17_20170901214457Really, the MotoGP games that were out 10 to 15 years ago were superior to this, where has it gone so wrong?

I can wrap this up real quick: don’t bother with this game. Fans of MotoGP will be disappointed and everyone else will be angry that they wasted their money on it.

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