Tag Archives: Racing games

Road Redemption Review

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Often times it seems there are a number of massive franchises, that suddenly go dormant. No warning, no announcement. It’s just decided that there will not be another entry in a given line up, and it slowly fades away. Sometimes even becoming relatively obscure. Sure, it’s unlikely anyone will forget about Half-Life in the not too distant future. But how about Mail Order Monsters? On that note, Electronic Arts actually has several franchises, and IPs they seem to have forgotten about. One of which is Road Rash.

PROS: Everything great about Road Rash 64. Rogue like elements used very effectively.

CONS: Dated visuals. Minor bugs.

EASTER EGG: There is a really great surprise for people who complete the campaign.

Road Rash was a long running arcade style racing game. In it you drove motorcycles, and attacked all of the opposing racers in the hopes you could take them out of commission. This made races a little bit more manageable as taking out competitors made it more likely you’d place. But there was still a great challenge in juggling attacking, defending, and watching the road. The series started on the Sega Genesis, but would appear on Windows, the 3D0, Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy Advance.

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The last game came out in 2003. So with that in mind, Ian Fisch, Pixel Dash Studios, and EQ Games began work on a spiritual successor. Road Redemption takes a lot of the elements of Road Rash, and retrofits them with some contemporary features. Interestingly, the game seems to take a lot of cues from Road Rash 64, the one game in the series EA licensed out entirely to another developer (Pacific Coast Power & Light), and publisher (THQ).

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Road Redemption was also an Early Access game for a few years, first landing on Steam’s Early Access service back in 2014. It went through many updates, and was pushed back a number of times before finally seeing release (as of this writing) a few days ago on October 4th 2017 when I bought it.

With the long development cycle, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the game could end up like the nefarious Ride To Hell. The game’s graphics might not inspire much confidence in some people either. They’re not terrible. But in an age where even many indie games are blowing people away (most recently, Cuphead), Road Redemption squeezes by. A lot of the geometry on display looks simple, yet the textures on much of that geometry is pretty good. It also has some respectable lighting effects going on. All in all, it kind of reminds me of an early Xbox 360 game in terms of looks.

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That isn’t to say there isn’t anything fun, or cool to look at though. Character designs are really engrossing. The racers take influence from all kinds of stuff. Mad Max almost immediately comes to mind when you first start playing. A lot of the bikers you see in the earlier parts of the game could have come out of the movies with a lot of the post apocalyptic motif in their costumes. You drive a lot in the desert in the early goings too, so this lends itself to that influence. But as you progress you’ll race along abandoned roof tops, mountains in a nuclear winter, and even completely obliterated cityscapes. The visuals may not hold up to things like Project Cars, or Forza Motorsport 7. But there is a lot of variety.

In many ways the game reminds me a lot of Road Rash 64. That game was also behind the curve in how it looked against other games on its respective platform. That game also had floaty, arcade handling, and so does Road Redemption. Again, the handling on the bikes isn’t going to be tight, and grounded. You have a gas pedal, an e-brake, and a jump button you can use with a certain power up. Combat works almost exactly the same as in Road Rash. You have a left punch, right punch, and a kick. You can also cycle between your weapons using the D-pad.

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Road Redemption does make a number of contemporary revisions to the game play though. The first, and most obvious one is the inclusion of Rogue like elements. The game takes a page from things like Rogue Stormers, Risk Of Rain, and Rogue Legacy. You’ll have one life to clear the campaign. In between races you can buy power ups for your character, and motorcycle like in the Road Rash games. But you’ll also get experience points to spend on permanent perks when you lose.

The storyline in Road Redemption loosely keeps the order of the scenery together. The Apocalypse has come, and gone. There is an assassin with a bounty on his head, and as a member of the Jackals, you have to go find him, kill him, and collect the money. To do this you’ll go through a series of races, each set of which are divided by gang territory. The first few races are in the desert where you’ll go up against the Reapers. Then onto rooftops, and mountains against the Sigmas. Then in dilapidated, war-torn cities against the Phantoms. There are a number of different track sections that can come up in any given race, and win conditions. Sometimes you’ll be told to get to the end before a timer runs out. Other times you’ll be told to kill a certain number of specific drivers. Still other times you’re just told to place in the top three of a race. As I alluded to before, in between the races you’ll use money to spend on items for that specific play through, and gain experience to spend on permanent items for repeat attempts after you lose. These items can be new bikes, level skips, or just things to help boost your starting stats.

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At the end of each gang territory, you’ll have to kill a gang leader in a boss fight. They’re not usually too difficult on their own. But the bosses call in many of their henchmen to kill you. When you catch up to the boss, you’ll probably be pretty softened up. Fortunately this game really expands on the weapon selection here. You’ll have the stuff you’ve come to expect. Pipes, wrenches, shovels, pool cues, and such. But they’ve also added swords, clubs, and other melee weapons, along with explosives. They’ve even added a variety of guns into the mix. When I first saw guns, and explosives I couldn’t help but wonder if things would feel too different from everything else they seemed to be going for. But they don’t. It feels like an extension. Guns especially, are balanced out by ensuring your target has to be in the reticule to be hit. Plus they have to be within a certain range. You can’t shoot blindly, and kill five riders a mile down the road from you. Also if you get too close, you’ll fire over their heads. Something handy to keep in mind for those boss fights. You’ll also feel like a T-800 when rocking a shotgun.

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Also handy is the nitro boosting. You’ll want to double tap the gas Cruisin’ USA style to engage it on straightaways. One really neat thing the game does is placing icons over the heads of certain characters. You’ll have the targets for well, targets on those specific missions. You’ll have a boss icon over the boss in boss stages too. But in every stage, you’ll run into some enemies with health logos, dollar signs, and nitro cans. Killing these enemies will get you the respective reward. You’ll also get short amounts of nitro, and sometimes weapons by killing any bad guys. Some enemies will have pipe bombs over their heads, which just reveals that they’re the ones randomly dropping explosives. All of this gives you all the more reason to take out other drivers.

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The results are a very fun, if sometimes frustrating campaign. It’s a blast jumping off of a ramp, sticking C4 to an enemy mid-air, and speeding by while they explode. The minor track changes, and randomized items, and objectives also helps keep the game from feeling too repetitive when you lose, and have to start over. A ton of games are borrowing these elements with varying results. But Road Redemption is one of the better games when implementing them. The campaign also features old school four-player split-screen play. This makes the game an excellent party game like the Road Rash games were. And even the crashes are great. When you get too focused on taking down another racer, and get hit by a car because you weren’t paying attention you’ll laugh. Why? Because the physics in the game allow for some really over the top scenes. When your racer flies off of his bike 500 feet in the air, then gets hit by an armored truck on his way down, and has actual health left you won’t believe it.  Witnessing the crazy wipe outs, decapitation, and pile ups alone is worth looking into. The game’s audio goes a long way toward making it come together. The sounds of dueling melee during combat, car horns, motors, all going on while a thumping metal soundtrack plays. It all melds nicely.

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Of course Road Redemption isn’t all roses. There are a number of strange bugs I’ve run into. I’ve had my racer crash into things, and get stuck instead of exploding, and falling headfirst onto the asphalt. When this happens I’m forced to go into the pause menu, and select the option to put my character back on the road. Which is another annoyance. One wonders why this couldn’t be mapped to another button on the keyboard or controller. Other times I’ve clipped through objects that should have been solid. Like the giant antennae on a rooftop during a race. Then there are the occasions where some of the craziness leads to a cheap death. Like the time the “Demolished cars fall from the heavens because you’re hallucinating” condition loaded, and without warning, a blown up taxi landed on me mid-jump. This got me a Game Over screen right as I was about to win the race.

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The only other issue really is the online multiplayer. It isn’t bad, but it is anemic. You can only really play a team mode. So when you, and friends go to play, you’ll likely be placed on opposite teams. Because of there only being the one mode, and the lack of an offline LAN mode things can become mundane quickly.  So if you’re coming into this game solely for online multiplayer you may want to reconsider it.

But for the campaign, and local co-op split-screen multiplayer, this is a solid choice. If you happen to have the computer hooked up to the TV in the living room, or you own a Steam Link device to stream the signal to the TV you’ll love playing this game in a living room environment. It’s a lot of fun to play. And that’s really what makes it a solid recommendation. The problems it does have are annoying when they happen. But they don’t come up chronically, and plague the experience. Most of the time the game runs the way its supposed to, and aside from having to pause to reset your character you’re probably going to be fine. Considering how much fun you’ll have the other 98% of the time, Road Redemption is definitely worth looking into.

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Plus there are a lot of cool secrets, and characters in it as well. Unlocking them means beating the game multiple times. Beyond that, when you do beat the game, you’ll unlock a mode called Campaign Plus. This mode is a harder version of the campaign where the tracks are even more randomized, and enemies are tougher to take down. Beating this mode a number of times will unlock even more things.

 

With all of the content, and local co-op on hand, Road Redemption succeeds in its mission to bring back motorcycle combat racing. The contemporary additions are done well, and I can’t emphasize just how entertaining it really is. It isn’t the best looking game you’ll play this year. It’s a bit rough around the edges. But if you miss Road Rash, or just want to play something that fully commits to post-apocalyptic B action movie cheese, pick this one up. It’s simply a joy to enjoy.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

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Ah Carmageddon. It probably seems esoteric now, but twenty years ago (man time files, and boy am I old.) it was a pretty big deal. It was a racer that involved wrecking other cars, wanton destruction, and the wholesale vehicular manslaughter of pedestrians. It caught the ire of the same people upset about the absurd violence of games like DOOM, and Mortal Kombat. So when it was ported to consoles, in some regions it was heavily censored. The game led to two sequels. One was a pretty decent one. The other not so much. So here we are with the fourth game all of these years later. How does it fare?

PROS: Still has gory comedic violence. Fun tracks, and vehicles.

CONS: Not a big visual leap over the old games. No improvements to handling.

WHAT?: Power ups are crazy.

I enjoyed the original Carmageddon back in the day. The sequel was also pretty fun. It was juvenile. It was full of stupid humor. But there was a certain amount of charm in it all. Running over pedestrians for time bonuses, destroying opponents to steal their car, all on dangerous, and silly themed races. There were issues with the games like the inconsistent enemy A.I., and the bad handling causing you to spin out fairly easily. But the underlying game under it all was still goofy fun. Visually these games weren’t much to look at, the car models were blocky, and the pedestrians were even more lo-fi. But that made the mayhem more comedic so you didn’t mind so much.

And the audio, man, was it good. The voice samples, and dialogue went along with it fantastically. Plus it had a pretty cool soundtrack. It was pretty good. But the third game changed things up a bit too much for some, and not nearly enough for others. Plus it didn’t come out in the best state from what I remember. It kind of came, and quietly went. Carmageddon went dormant for a long time.

Over that time,  Interplay, the game’s publisher went into all kinds of financial woes, and the IP ended up at Square Enix. Stainless Games would finally get the IP back in their hands, and upon doing so, brought out the fourth game in the series. First as Carmageddon: Reincarnation, and now that it’s got a console port it’s been retitled Carmageddon: Max Damage. So after all of these years, and all of this time, how does this new game hold up?

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Visually, the game does look better than the first three games. But not by very much. This version has some advanced lighting effects, and some other visual cues. But the vehicles themselves are still fairly low on the details, and the pedestrians are still blocky people you’ve been smearing over the pavement since Carmageddon II.  The PC version does feature a robust set of options, so if it taxes your hardware, you can lower some settings. The sound is the same sort of scenario. The sound quality is a bit better than the old games. It doesn’t sound as compressed, and there’s still a hard rock soundtrack to jam along to while destroying other drivers.

Carmageddon: Max Damage also follows the same rules as the second game. You start out picking one of two vehicles, and racing sets of events to unlock new ones. Each set generally has three or more events you need to win in order to get a stamp of approval. Win enough of them, and you’ll unlock the next set of events. You don’t have to play every event to unlock the next set, though it is recommended because you’re more likely to unlock every set that way.

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During the events you can also find tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your vehicle. You definitely need to upgrade your vehicle because later races feature more aggressive opponents who will destroy you pretty quickly if you’re unprepared. To keep yourself from being destroyed, you must keep up scoring points. You get points (and time) for running over people, doing crazy stunts, and blowing up racers.

There are several event types in each set. Some of these are a traditional race, where you need to place first to advance. Others are challenges where you have to get to a certain number of checkpoints first, or kill a number of specific people first. Often times there will be a specific opponent for you to destroy, and in doing so you get to keep their vehicle for your garage. And then the best are the classic events where you can go for whichever goal you want. Killing racers, running over people, or winning the race.

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During the events as you’re earning points doing all of those over-the-top things you’ll start getting rear ended. Or jammed into a wall. Or knocked off of a cliff. All of which start to severely damage your vehicle. The damages will affect how your car handles too. So if you get T-boned you may end up only being able to take left turns. Or you could bang up the front end to the point the car barely runs. You can even get into situations where the car’s engine is shot, and you have no tires.

This is why you need to earn points. You can use the points to fix your car on the fly, or recover your vehicle if it falls into a chasm. Now if you rack up an insane score, you can spend a large chunk of it to constantly keep your car in pristine condition. This makes the game considerably easier. But it still isn’t a cakewalk. Especially as you progress, and begin dealing with more, and more aggressive A.I. There are also Mario Kart styled power ups you can find by driving into oil drums. Some of these are useful, like the Sith Lord Force lightning that you can use to electrocute opponents. Others are just silly, and ultimately useless, like the one that makes you wobble.  Still there are others that are there to troll you, like the power up that blows your car in half, and could lead to a loss if an enemy hits you afterward.

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In between events you can spend the tokens you find on upgrades for your vehicles. These are drip fed to you through the game though because certain upgrades are only purchasable at certain levels. This gives the game some replay value as you can go back with a beefier car to play older events you’ve skipped. But at the same time it can be annoying when you’ve found 7 tokens, and can’t spend them on what you want even though you have enough currency.

The main problem with this one though, is the fact that it hasn’t improved the driving physics over the old games very much. Far too often you’ll find yourself spinning out after attempting to make a hard corner. Or you’ll find the rag doll physics when trying to roll your car over either don’t move enough, or move too much making getting yourself re-oriented an annoyance. It doesn’t make the game a bad one, but it is a big enough annoyance to take you out of the experience. It’s enough of a distraction, you may find yourself playing it in short bursts rather than several hours.

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This isn’t to say Carmageddon: Max Damage isn’t fun. As long as you enjoy dark humor, and cartoon violence it’s got a lot under the hood you’ll enjoy. One of the really cool things I’m glad to see has been retained is the replay feature. When you finish any event in the game you can go back, and re-watch it. As you’re watching it again, you can experiment with a ton of different camera settings. You can change the point of view, for different parts of the play back, you can fast forward, rewind or pause video. You can even take the HUD off if you want. This is also where you can get some laughs, as this is where you’re most likely to listen for the voice samples, and pay attention to the gore. Because when you’re trying to actually win a race you’re probably most focused on driving or other goals.

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The game also supports Mods you can get in the Steam Workshop on PC, and the game supports multiplayer. There isn’t much of an online play community here, but the ability to play the game with a friend does add some fun to the package. I like that this is a game that supports LAN though, so if you do have a few people coming over with laptops, you can do classic multiplayer through your home network.

Overall, Carmageddon Max Damage isn’t a bad game. But it isn’t something I’d tell you is a must-buy either. A big chunk of the package depends on your sense of humor. If you like dark, and violent comedy then you’ll get some laughs out of it, and it is competent in its modes. The thing is, it doesn’t excel at any one racing mode. If the mechanics had been vastly improved over the old games it would be worth a recommendation. But it really hasn’t. If you’re looking to add a technically sound arcade racer to your game collection, there are better options. But if you want something to make you laugh at a preposterous send-up of Death Race, you could easily do worse.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Redout Review

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Futuristic racing games seem like a rare treat these days. True, Wipeout reappears on every Sony platform at some point to some fanfare. But the racing subgenre was once more packed with contenders. F-Zero, Extreme-G, even Star Wars Episode 1: Racer are looked at fondly by many, many people.  But beyond Wipeout, not too many other games have taken a stab at serving the fandom over the last decade. Fortunately there are signs that this might be changing. In 2015 Shin’en gave us Fast Racing NEO on the Wii U in the absence of Nintendo’s own F-Zero. Last year, a small outfit out of Italy published today’s subject. 34BigThings has given the world not only a game inspired by the two biggest franchises in the subgenre, they’ve made something on par.

PROS: Gorgeous! Insane sense of speed! Superb controls!

CONS: Some of the ships look derivative. High learning curve. Minor bugs.

VR: The game supports most major PC headsets.

Released in September of 2016, Redout was a pleasant surprise. It quietly appeared on Steam, and as more people discover it, it seems to generate a very positive reception. With good reason. Upon picking this up with the Steam wallet card I was gifted for Christmas, I too, have a positive reception. Redout is a game for anybody wistful for the days of those racers I mentioned earlier.

It should be mentioned, that while it takes inspiration from those old games, it also doesn’t play entirely like them. There are definitely elements that you will see upon firing it up, but it still retains its own identity. There are enough unique things here that F-Zero, and Wipeout fans will still need to practice, and learn these nuances. But don’t let that scare you off from checking this out. Because this game is a lot of fun to play.

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For starters, the game has an intense sense of speed. Especially if you tweak the options on your computer for the best possible performance. Redout is a very scalable game. It runs on Unreal Engine 4. While this means you can have a lot of visual effects going on a more powerful machine. It also gives you a great many options to tinker with. The graphic settings are pretty robust giving you several areas where you can tweak details. Resolution, texture quality, visual effects, and even frame rate capping is here. Personally, I would set your cap to unlimited, unless your specific machine tends to jump around a lot in terms of frame rate. And unless you really can’t deal with tearing, I recommend turning off V-Sync too. If only because the higher your frame rate, the better these kinds of games perform.

But no matter how you prefer to play, there are a wealth of options on hand here. The game also allows you to play it with a keyboard, and mouse set up, but honestly, you’ll really want a game pad. Once you start playing, it really becomes apparent it was designed with game pads in mind. I tested the game with both, an Xbox 360 controller, and the Steam controller. Both of which seemed to work just fine. There are several preset configurations for game pads in the option menu as well. You can try to play with a setup closer to F-Zero GX, where you can use the shoulder buttons to drift left or right. There’s also one geared more toward Wipeout enthusiasts too. But honestly, the game’s original layout seemed to work the best for me.

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You control steering with the left stick, and you can use the right stick to control your pitch, and yaw. You use the right trigger for gas, the left for braking, while the face buttons use items, boost, and change perspectives.

Redout has three modes. A career mode, a single race mode, and online multiplayer. The main attraction is the career mode. As going through the career you’ll eventually unlock vehicles, tracks, and some bonus content. The single race mode lets you choose a course you’ve unlocked, the race type, and you’re off to an exhibition match. Online multiplayer is also what it sounds like, playing online against other players, or your friends.

Going back to the career, the game will start off by having you select a vehicle. You’re given a small amount of money to select a ship. Redout has a wide variety of vehicles to choose from. It even takes a page from more realistic racers like Gran Turismo, or Forza by having different manufacturers of ships. Under each manufacturer are a few different class ships to choose from, and each manufacturer’s ships handle differently from their competitors’. One vendor may offer vehicles that are heavier, and can take a lot of punishment, while another offers high acceleration vehicles that don’t grip the track as well. Each of these is balanced pretty nicely against the opposing vehicles. It really boils down to your specific racing style. Over time you’ll earn enough in-game currency to buy them all.

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Once you’ve levelled up your pilot rating a few goal posts you can also equip power ups. The power ups in this game differ from other games in that they really don’t do much to damage, or destroy opponents. They’re designed to help you pilot your ship more effectively. There are several power ups, but you can only use two at any given time. These are divided between passive, and active items. One category is a line of power ups that is used automatically, while the other contains items you have to engage by pressing a button.

These items will improve your boost, slipstream, or handling. There aren’t any real offensive arsenal at play, save for one EMP weapon used to disable other racers’ power ups. Each of the items can also be upgraded four times, increasing their potency, and effectiveness during an appropriate race.

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I say appropriate, because there are a bevy of categories here, and not every one of these allows for their use. You can use them in standard races, which are what you might expect. A set number of laps, with a certain number of contestants. But then there are races called Pure races, which won’t allow you to use your power ups. Other than that handicap, you play the race as normal.Up from there are Elimination races. You’ve seen this in some other games, where the last place racer is kicked out every lap, until just one racer is left. In Redout, the last place racer also explodes for dramatic effect. It’s kind of like you’re Keanu Reeves in Speed, but you didn’t go nearly fast enough, and Dennis Hopper gets away with killing you scot-free.

Beyond those there are time-trials, and tournaments where you traditionally shoot for the fastest time possible, and do races in succession. But Redout doesn’t end there. The game has an Instagib mode! Normally the realm of First-Person Shooters, Instagib allows for no mistakes. If you hit anything, you die, and the race ends. Joining that mode is the Arena race. This applies the race rules you’ve seen in F-Zero X, and F-Zero GX to the game. In these races, there are no re-spawns. If you blow up, it’s over. The races go until you’re either the first place winner, or the only surviving pilot.

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Still not sated? How about Speed challenges, where not only do you have to be fast, you have to do specific tasks in the race? Or the Survival, and Last Man Standing matches that again, take away re-spawns from time trials, and pure races? The game also has a scoring race that scores you on how well you’ve done, and even what it calls a Boss race. In the Boss race, they tie together several tracks into one track, and expect you to shut down everyone else.

It is true that some of these races are similar to others with challenging tweaks. But at the end of the day, Redout still gives you a lot more variety in its campaign that a lot of high-profile racers do. Not only that but the racing on display here is fun, addictive, and is a joy to see in action. Over the course of the career mode you’ll discover new tracks, earn money for power ups, and new vehicles. As I mentioned before, there are different statistics for the various ships you’ll pilot. So depending on the track you’re on, and the kind of race you’ll be in, you need to handle each scenario differently. You may find for one type of event you want the zippier, lightest ship possible. But for another you might find you have a better time with something slower, and durable. Of course, you may just like one specific style for everything. But to entice you to experiment, throughout the career mode you’ll be offered endorsements.

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If you choose an endorsement you’ll have to use a specific car, set in a specific way. But if you win events under these conditions you can earn the car for a lot less in currency. If you lose though, or change vehicles, or settings, the contract gets voided. Now some of you might be concerned you’ll never see all of the content the game has to offer due to the time spent, needing to win to get ahead. Something that makes Redout approachable, is that you don’t have to be very good. You get points to spend in this game for almost anything. Even if you lose a race, you get points. Even if you re-do a race 23 times in a row, and lose every time until the 23rd, where you place third, you’ll get points.

You can then use the points on power ups, or vehicles to ease your burden. Obviously, if you do well you get a lot more money. But the money you get in a loss isn’t paltry either. It isn’t until much later that losing becomes a little bit of a grind. But the important thing, is it doesn’t feel like a grind at all. That being said, spend your money wisely. There’s nothing worse than spending all of your cash on a ship you think is going to win, only to find out it’s too high a rank for the event you’re having trouble with. Or that it isn’t the best option for S curves, and the track has several S curves. Redout forces you to research.

But we come to racing games, for the racing itself. Redout has impeccable racing. Make no mistake, it’s a very formidable game, but winning is achievable. I’m not particularly talented at racing games. But even I managed to get a first place medal on a handful of courses. The high sense of speed is something this game does exceptionally well. In fact, there were a few times on tracks where I caught air, and felt a mild chill as I nose-dived back onto the track. The implementation of plane controls with the second stick is also very clever. It does it a little bit more realistically than even Nintendo’s flagship series.

That’s really saying something. Because of just how on point F-Zero has generally been. But again, it also doesn’t handle like F-Zero. It may have a convention or two in similarity, but it’s still very different. One thing you really need to get a handle on is the drifting system, which uses the Yaw position to tilt your ship just right so you don’t run into the guard rails. The game can chastise you for mistakes. Hitting the guard rails makes you lose speed, and a ton of health. Changing your pitch isn’t only for jumping off of ramps. You’ll need to raise the nose off of the ground when headed into loops, or corkscrews too. Because otherwise your front end will grind into it, again, cutting your speed, and damaging your ship. The longer you can go without making mistakes, the more health you can recover. The game rewards you for doing better this way.

Over time, you do begin to improve as you memorize track layouts, and figure out just where that drift is going to be needed, or where you need to be positioned for that upcoming ramp. All while going at a breakneck pace. If you thought F-Zero GX, or Wipeout 2048 were fast (and they were), this game gets even faster. Especially if you’ve tweaked the game for performance over style.

But even if you prefer style. The game is still very brisk. It is also a really great looker. The screen shots, and videos don’t look nearly as good as it does in action. 34BigThings has gone with a simplified look, and yet the art style goes a long way to hiding the lower triangle counts. The result is something where you have the bright vibrancy of TRON, married with elements of both realistic, and animated features. You won’t have a lot of time to appreciate it while you’re racing. But when watching the camera pan over the track before a race it looks wonderful.

Musically, it’s really good too with the caveat you have to love electronica. Everything goes for a bouncy, soft, style of techno music. It is beautifully composed, it fits the driving well, and you can even buy the soundtrack separately to play in your actual car! Even though the synths used rarely, veer into sharpness they do run up tempo, and a fast beat to the music. Now, if you prefer other genres in rock, pop, or hip-hop you may find yourself turning off the music in the options menu, and playing something else. But, I would still recommend you at least give the soundtrack a try. Because it is really, really good.

Of course the sounds of the Twin Ion Engines, and collisions are on point here as well. Speaking of TIE Fighters, the game does sometimes wear its influences on its sleeve a bit too much. Just in the case of some of the ship designs. There are clearly pod racers in it, and you’ll see some elements of other Sci-Fi franchises in the ship designs. It’s the most noticeable with the pod racers though.

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Online races are an awesome time as well, when you can find them. As of now that’s the only major issue with Redout. Not a lot of people seem to be consistently hopping onto the multiplayer. Which is really sad, because when you do find some competition it is some of the most enjoyably cut throat experiences you can have. The net code seems solid, I rarely had any major lag when playing. The racing is just as brisk, and over the top in multiplayer as it is in the career mode. This is a game where the skills you gain in the single player, carries over to the multiplayer. Hopefully, over time the game can find a big enough audience who will give the online racing the love it deserves.

But even if that doesn’t happen, you can still host private games with your friends, and the amount of stuff to do on your own is still staggering. The wealth of single-player content will have you playing this game for a very long time. One thing everyone will especially love, is that A.I. racers don’t rubber band after the first class level. So it really does come down to your skills on the track. Even after you’ve unlocked everything, you’ll want to go back, and attempt to get gold medals on anything you haven’t. Plus 34BigThings seems committed to supporting the game for a while.

Which is good, because the game has one minor bug that irks me, and it will probably irk you too. When you exit the game, it resets the option menu settings. So every time you play, you’ll have to re-select what you want. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t a huge deal, because most everything else is so great. But it does grate on the nerves. Overall, though, Redout comes highly recommended. It’s everything a futuristic racer should be. Fast, frantic, addictive, and fun.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Roadkill Review

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Grand Theft Auto 3, and its expansions were some of the most influential titles in gaming. Many titles have come out over the years trying to ride the series’ coattails. Some titles have actually tried to dethrone it. Outside of the Saints Row series, few ever came close. But there were other titles that simply took some of GTA 3’s better elements, and implemented them into entirely different experiences. Roadkill is one such game.

PROS: The best elements of car combat games, and open world adventures. Humor.

CONS: A very threadbare multiplayer mode. Nothing is done on foot.

MORE COWBELL: Remember that SNL skit from 2000? You’ll be reminded of it often.

Roadkill is truly an underrated gem you should buy if you collect old games. It’s an experiment in merging the open world play of GTA3, with the exhilarating  car combat of the Twisted Metal series. Throughout the campaign you’ll drive all over a pretty large map, going on missions, heading to shops, or even just goofing around. In many ways you’ll feel like you’re playing a GTA game. Except that you’ll be in a car the entire time. You’ll never step foot outside of your vehicle the entire game. Aside from FMV cut scenes.

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The game opens up with an FMV of your character driving through a wasteland to the tune of Don’t Fear The Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult. Which will remind almost everyone of Christopher Walken exclaiming “I’ve got to have more cowbell!”. The song is played a lot throughout the game, so much so that you’ll probably need a month long break from hearing it upon completing it. The set up is that the world has been through an apocalypse. A disease has wiped out large swaths of the human population. In true Mad Max fashion, different clans of renegade gangs have all risen to power. Each laying claim to different parts of the world.

You play as Mason Strong. Yes, your character is named like a mid 1990’s Cinemax movie protagonist. But once you get over the cheesy moniker, the game begins to pick up the pace pretty quickly. You’ll end up joining one of the gangs to rise through the ranks, and fight your way to the top. All so you can take down one of your age old rivals. You start this quest by going on missions. Some of these move the story along, while others are side quests that can get you new vehicles, and upgrades. Many of the missions consist of the typical objectives you’d expect. Sometimes you’ll be told to blow up a certain target. Or win a specific race. Or get to a certain place within a designated amount of time. Roadkill employs a GPS mini map like its contemporaries as well.

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As you play you’re going to find there is a pretty wide variety of weapons you can get for your vehicle. Machine guns, rockets, missiles, mines, sniper rifles, and more. Many of them have both primary, and alternate firing modes.Your car also has different stats that can be levelled up by three grades. Defensive armor, handling, speed, are among them. You can find the majority of these in the various shops in the game.

You can also choose to goof around, and run over pedestrians at your leisure. Or explore the town of Lava Falls, at your own pace. Doing this might even be preferable sometimes, as some items, and upgrades are hidden throughout the world. Some of which can actually help you a lot much later in the game. But exploring also has the risk of running into enemy gangs. Which can get very hectic as you can quickly become outnumbered. The good news is that this ties into Roadkill’s reputation system. The more of these fights you win, the more likely it is that other people will join your cause. Get a big enough reputation, and you’ll have priority in the area.

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There are three main cities you’ll venture through in the campaign. Each with its own unique style, and theme. The first is Lava Falls, a city built on a dormant volcano. The second is Blister Canyon. This area is a city built in desert canyons. Finally, there’s Paradise City which is a bustling metropolis.The mission difficulty increases as you unlock these areas. Doing so is similar to Grand Theft Auto 3’s system. Where getting enough experience will open up the road ways between cities. You can also go back to previous regions to look for items you may have missed, or to play earlier missions you may have skipped.

This might not sound very original, and admittedly it isn’t. But Roadkill’s take on these open world tropes are a good time. Especially the driving, and shooting. Which they should be. Roadkill is inspired by car combat games like Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8, and Interstate 76. So when you run into enemy gangs, they too will be driving around in battle cars. Fortunately driving around the world is a lot of fun thanks to some pretty nice steering controls. Driving feels much tighter, and precise than in other open world games. Yet you’ll still be able to go E-braking for quick turn around time, or power slides. The hit detection is pretty solid, and the gun play is satisfying. The cars also have some pretty cool damage modeling.

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Obviously, being an older game it isn’t going to wow you after playing the most recent GTA, or Saints Row. But it’s still pretty great. Doors, bumpers, hoods, and other body parts go flying off of vehicles in firefights. Cars, and trucks catch fire. Seeing as how you spend the entire game in a car, these are also visual cues for health beyond your health meter. You can see when you’re doing well. You can see when you’re pretty screwed.

Graphically the game keeps pace with most open world games of the era. Geometry is about as complex as in GTA3. Buildings will look pretty simple by today’s standards when revisiting it. But it isn’t any worse looking than the lion’s share of AAA games from the time. The textures are generally pretty good, and some of them even hold up decently. There is a short draw distance however in all three versions of the game. So expect to see some pop in. None of the versions really come out a decisive victor in this regard. The Gamecube, and Xbox versions have a hair better performance over the PlayStation 2 version. But the difference is so minimal you would have to really go out of your way to notice it. There’s virtually no difference here.

Audio really shines here though. The game has some of the most entertaining voice acting of its time. There are even a few names you might recognize like Dameon Clarke (of Dragonball Z, and Borderlands 2 fame) or Laura Bailey (Bioshock Infinite). Some of the funniest stuff here are the radio station voiceovers. These segments lampoon not only talk shows, but news segments, and relationship advice shows too. The relationship advice show parody is by far the funniest one. On top of that, the lines in the story, as well as the random pedestrian NPC’s dialogue are delivered fantastically. If you’re the type who pays attention to small details, Roadkill will make you laugh. Listening to the stations is also a great way to learn more of the game’s lore. Show hosts will often reference the outbreak that threw the world into chaos, or discuss events that involve the characters your working for or against.

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The game also boasts a classic rock soundtrack. It does have a pretty good song selection for what is there. Unfortunately there are still far too few songs to carry you through the campaign. As I said before, by the time the end credits roll, you’ll want a month long break from Don’t Fear The Reaper. But the other tunes will also get old fast. Which is too bad because they are classics. The upside is it does give you an incentive to listen to the voice acting performances, which again, are pretty well done.

When you finally do complete the campaign, there is a multiplayer mode you can play. Up to four players can join in split screen death matches. Regrettably, there isn’t very much to experience here. The mechanics are there, but there isn’t enough content to compete with the games that inspired it. The mode plays almost exactly like Twisted Metal. Drive around, racking up frags. Simple. While this might be fun initially, it won’t take long to run through the 11 maps. Which are repurposed assets from the campaign. There are a fair number of interesting vehicles for you to use. But again,  If you’re coming into this game for the multiplayer, you’re really better off sticking with a multiplayer focused car combat game instead. Roadkill’s take on it is fun, but brief. Which is the most disappointing thing about it since it feels like a missed opportunity for an otherwise great game.

Earlier I said Roadkill is an underrated gem. It really is in spite of its shortcomings. The single player campaign is great. You can spend a long time tracking down every last vehicle, and upgrade. That’s in addition to the meaty campaign. The multiplayer may only be a touch it once experience, but aside from that, and some draw distance pop in there isn’t much to complain about. Roadkill is a fun ride, and at least at the time of this writing is a relatively inexpensive game. If you’re looking for something familiar, and yet somehow unique to add to your collection pick it up.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10

Rocket League Review

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What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said already? Everyone has said it’s pretty awesome. Everyone has told you it’s a blend of racing, and soccer. But you might be sitting on the fence even after all of the praise. Well, the fans around the game are right. You might want to get off of the fence, get onto the field, and kick a ball around. Using your car.

PROS: Entertaining. Competitive. Multiple modes. Split screen!

CONS: No LAN support on PC. Split Screen requires at least 2 game pads.

VIDEO GAME REFERENCES: Show up in the customization.

I too, was a fence sitter. For a while. Even after seeing some of the reviewers, bloggers, and YouTube personalities I like talking the game up I didn’t budge. I’m not a big sports guy. I casually follow the teams I like, but I’m not the type to record, and watch every game of the season. It’s rare I buy a sports video game since I don’t catch the same level of fever, as the die-hard sports fans out there.

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I do enjoy racing games though, and so after a little bit of nudging from a friend, I went ahead, and picked it up. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty glad I did. As you probably know by now, Rocket League is an arcade soccer game. The twist is that instead of people making up the teams, there are cars. At its most basic level, that is what the game is. Soccer, with cars.

I could end things there, but the developers at Psyonix, took the idea a lot farther than that. The standard game puts two teams against one another. One team is orange, while the other team is blue. Games are 5 minute long affairs, and in that short time the team with the most goals wins the game. There are a multitude of things that make the simple idea more interesting.

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There is a customization set in the game. You can choose from several cars, alter their colors slightly (Nothing too wild, as it would confuse people as to which team you are on.), and more. There are multiple tires you can use. You can change the look of your turbo exhaust. You can put a hat on your car. You can even put a decorative ornament or flag on your antenna.

These things aren’t just there to personalize your vehicle. Each of them will have a different effect during game play. Some of them may alter your turn speed, the speed of your boost, or even level of traction. Others, will keep track of time spent playing the game, the number of goals you make, and other statistics. Thankfully, the game is pretty balanced in this regard. In a typical racing game, there are classes of vehicle. Where you’ll almost always want the fastest possible car. Here, however that isn’t the case. True, you may unlock a slightly faster car. But there will be a detrimental effect elsewhere to keep it from dominating other players.

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This is also great because it makes every possible car, and customization viable. Whatever play style you like, you’re going to find a combination that suits you. There is also a nice touch in how online communities, and other games get a shout out here. There are flags for your car, and ornaments that reference them. Obviously they can’t reference every game. But if there is one game you adore in the list, you can proudly wave your fandom.

The game isn’t a multiplayer only game either. Like a true sports game, you can choose one of several teams, and play a season. Or you can play exhibition games against the computer or friends. In either mode, you can set up teams of 1 to 4 cars. The more cars, the more frantic, but you also have more options on the field, setting up trick shots, and quick pass/shoot opportunities.

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One thing to remember as you play, is that you can’t think of your car, as a car. At least not all of the time. There are plenty of moments where you’ll want to back up, or jump in lieu of turning the car around. You’re also going to need to survey the field, at any given moment so you can strategize on the fly, and look for openings.

In addition to the basic soccer rules, the game also has glowing orbs peppered about the arenas you can run over. When you do, this fills your boost meter. The boost meter lets you nitro, like in many racing games. You can use it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you just need to get out in front for a good hit or deflection. Other times you’ll need to combine it with a well placed jump to center the ball, or pass it to a team mate. You can also use it to get momentum to drive up the walls of the arena,  and use air tricks after boost jumping off of a given wall. You can use a full boost to destroy opponents too. There is a fair amount of depth in this seemingly simple game.

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The game also offers local split screen play on all platforms, which is handy for those who have friends over. If you’ve got the PS4, or if you happen to use your HDTV as a PC monitor. The game also has online modes. Just like in the single player exhibitions, you can play on teams with up to four players on each side. There are also ranked, and non ranked versions as well as the ability to set up private lobbies with friends.

Unfortunately, while you do get offline split screen, there is one major problem with it. You can’t use a keyboard, and mouse for one player, while a guest uses a game pad. At least not without a third-party utility set up to make the game think your keyboard is a game pad. Moreover, the game only recognizes certain game pads. If you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One pad, you’ll be fine. If you have an old USB pad knocking around, or a newer one that doesn’t use the Xbox pad drivers you’ll have to use a program like Xpadder to get up, and running. You’ll also have to own more than one, as again, the game won’t see the keyboard as a controller.

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There is one other grievance, and that is that there is no offline network option. This is a lesser gripe with the game, but it seems like the perfect LAN party game or LAN tournament game for those who want something other than an FPS, MOBA, or RTS game for their event. Though the online ranking system wouldn’t likely work with a LAN feature, it still could have benefited from one.  That said, the game is a blast to play online, and with the private lobby option you can still set up your own personal matches or tournaments with friends.

Something PC customers will really like however, is the amount of performance options, and bindings available to you. You can tweak the usual, expected settings like resolution, rendering options, and turning Vsync off. But there are a number of other settings you can experiment with as well. You can turn a variety of effects on or off, and even the sensitivity of your controller. You can also change the camera’s field of vision setting. Something you’ll definitely want to do if you have a bigger screen, and want to see as much of the action as possible.

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The game does have DLC available, and more on the horizon. So far it seems to be mainly new car models, and cosmetic options. Nothing that puts people who only buy the base game at a disadvantage. Some of it, like the Back To The Future DeLorean actually looks really good. But again, none of it is necessary or essential to play, or enjoy this game.

I didn’t even mention the wonderful environments, or car designs. The graphics, and sound in Rocket League is exceptional. Everything is, bright, colorful, and looks as fun as it is to play. The audio is no slouch either, with some great engine sounds, crowd cheers, and upbeat electronic dance music. It really is something you can get engrossed in fairly easily.

Rocket League is a surprise hit. You don’t have to know anything about soccer, or racing to enjoy it. If you have a PS4, or a Steam account you should definitely consider checking it out. PC users may want to invest in a game pad since it is clearly designed for one. But at the same time, the game is fairly playable with a Keyboard. Just remember if you’re going to have people over to play the PC version in split screen on your HDTV you’ll need to own more than one compatible game pad.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Giana Sisters Dream Runners Review

Black Forest Games gives us a bite-sized  Giana Sisters based off of a recently added multiplayer mode for Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. Is this another underground classic for this underground series?

PROS: This game is a lot of fun.

CONS: But only if you have friends to play it with.

ON FOOT KARTING: The first noteworthy attempt since Mad Dash graced the original Xbox

It’s no secret that I like The Great Giana Sisters. First taking Super Mario Bros style platforming to the Commodore 64, and other home computers throughout Europe. Then decades later on the Nintendo DS in a sequel. Then it took an entirely different direction in its third installment Twisted Dreams, and its expansion Rise Of The Owlverlord. After these titles, Black Forest Games moved onto its current Early Access project Dieselstormers. But every so often it has given its core Giana fans something to sate them. For awhile they were free bonus levels, and recently a Multiplayer mode for Twisted Dreams.

Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a standalone multiplayer only game based on the earlier Twisted Dreams multiplayer. In this game you are given a decent number of levels that can be played with up to four players. You can do this online or offline. The object is less like a traditional platformer, and more a Kart racer. But don’t go into this expecting something like Wacky Wheels. These are still 2.5D environments you’ll side scroll through. Racers have to run through the courses for several laps. There are power ups you can gain, similar to Mario Kart. You can use these to slow down or take out other racers temporarily, giving you the chance to outrun them. There are a fairly wide variety of these items. One spawns three owls to attack other players. There’s a spring that shoots mines at everybody. Another one targets each player with lasers. There’s even a homing meteor! Not every item is a weapon. Some give you a quick warp a few meters ahead, or a more powerful roll attack to get through some of the enemies or traps easier. The game also adds a dash mechanic where pressing down lets your character do a baseball slide under low hanging traps. You’ll want to master this.

If you can manage to outrun everyone else the person you’ll get a star. The first player to get three stars wins the race, and you’ll go back to the race selection screen to pick a new stage to race on. The way you outrun the other players is a bit systematic. Eventually the furthest behind will fall so far behind they go off-screen. When this happens, a thirty-second time limit lets the remaining three players know they’re going to have to dig in for the top spot. When the timer runs out the person currently in first gets that precious star. It should also be noted, that the Twisted Dreams button layout doesn’t translate to Dream Runners. That’s because not only do you now have a weapon button, but the light/dark mechanic has changed. It is still here, but instead of changing on the fly, there are now floating spheres you touch in the courses to make that happen. It adds a strategy in that it can change sections of the track, giving players another avenue to confound, or elude the competition.

Over time you’ll unlock additional Giana Sisters characters including some of the series’ notable enemies. Each character has some advantages or disadvantages, but all seem fairly balanced. It’s a pretty cool game that combines kart racing mechanisms with speed running. On its face, the game is exceptional, and gives you everything it advertises. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you there are a couple of big problems with Giana Sisters Dream Runners.

The biggest problem is the fact that you cannot play this game with less than two players. Well actually you can. But you won’t want to for very long. There are bots you can put in, you can even assign three of the four players as bots. The bots can be challenging, but since every round is a single race, rather than a circuit there isn’t much incentive. On the plus side, you can give each bot its own difficulty, but ultimately nothing beats the fun of trash talking your friends in a racer. This is really the sort of game where you want to play with at least one other person. Playing with three people is the most ideal though since there is a lot more back, and forth near the top.

The final problem is the game’s online mode. Net code, and stability seem fine. The problem isn’t so much with running into lag, rubber-banding or warp despite a low ping. No, it’s the lack of players. You might wait a while for an opponent to show up in your lobby. For whatever reason, many of the people who own this one, aren’t playing online. At least not as I write this. Again though, if you have a few friends with a copy, Online mode can be just as enjoyable as playing locally. In spite of these issues though, I’m not going to tell people to skip this game entirely. The underlying game is wonderful. It gives speed runners the challenge of making it through a difficult course, and gives kart racing fans the items, and mind games they love. If you loved the soundtrack in the last game, and its expansion, you’ll enjoy it here too. Some old songs return, with some crafty remixes of others. Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a really good game. It’s just saddled with some baggage that will unfortunately hurt single players. If you have a group of friends who are willing to play something different with you however, pick up a few licenses, and have at it. Especially if you enjoyed any of the other games in the series.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (For fans who have friends)

Mario Kart 8 Review

The 8th mainline Mario Kart is here for the Wii U. Is it worthy of all of the praise, and accolades the press has handed it?

PROS: New innovations, improvements, and features.

CONS: The roster could have been a little better.

DON’T PISS HIM OFF: Luigi’s death stare is a meme now.

What can I say about Mario Kart 8 that hasn’t been said already? It has even the biggest Nintendo detractors talking it up. It has a lot of 9 out of 10’s in the professional reviews department. It has also given the world the funniest meme since I was frozen today.

Mario Kart 8 at its core is still the long running game we’ve enjoyed since Super Mario Kart came out on the Super NES. The game features an 8 cup campaign, half of which are retro tracks. The retro tracks this time around are a pretty nice selection, and have some alterations to fit in with the rest of the game. As with every Super Mario Kart, there are three engine speed difficulty levels. 50cc is the slowest, with the easiest computer controlled racers. 100cc is the medium difficulty, and of course 150cc is the highest difficulty coupled with the fastest speed.

As in previous games, playing through the campaign, and shooting for gold trophies will unlock cups, tracks, and other secrets. Mario Kart 8 differs in that playing on a higher difficulty setting will grant the rewards of winning on a lower setting. So those who jump right into 150cc racing, and win trophies will also have the trophies in 50cc, and 100cc races.

This is quite a nice feature since in previous games players found that they had to re-beat the game on lower settings after winning to get certain characters or karts or bikes unlocked. This brings up another change. Coins make a return in Mario Kart 8, and collecting them will not only increase your Kart’s top speed, but work toward the unlockable items. This also carries over to multiplayer so even players who skip the Grand Prix can still find some of them. Collecting 50 coins will begin the treasure hunt. After a certain point the number doubles.

Nevertheless, you should play through the game’s Grand Prix mode to get the trophies, and unlock the tracks the game has to offer. In addition to the aforementioned retro tracks the new tracks in Mario Kart 8 are nothing short of amazing.  Nearly all of them take advantage of the new gravity mechanics as well as underwater sections. Tracks have certain blue striped bars that when driven on lead to alternate paths. Many of these paths will bring back memories of F-Zero GX, as they corkscrew over other sections of track. Sometimes you will be driving on walls or ceilings. Other times this will be blended with underwater sections, or combined with the glider system which has been carried over from Mario Kart 7.

Cart  customization has been completely overhauled too. In the past you would pick your character who would decide what vehicles you could use. Some characters were too heavy to use some vehicles, and some were too light to use others. With Mario Kart Wii, the series would also throw bikes into the mix.

In Mario Kart 8 any character can use any vehicle. The stats will change depending on the combination, but nothing stops you from using what you want. On top of this, you can mix up tires, and different gliders or parachutes for your vehicle. All of which change stats from not only speed or acceleration, but weight, and cornering too. Mario Kart Wii gave us bikes. Mario Kart 8 retains them, and also gives us A.T.V.s to boot. These can be tweaked as well as the karts.

You’ll really want to experiment to get the right feel for your particular play style too. Because Mario Kart 8 is pretty cut throat. While the rubber band A.I. has been reduced it is still prominent. You may very well hold a lap long lead on Rainbow Road. But don’t be fooled. It is very likely the computer will pull off a last second victory, putting you in fourth place. You will rage after barely losing your opportunity to be champion.

Nintendo has also thrown in a few new equalizer items to try to balance things from being so casual things become purely luck, and so skill based newcomers ought not bother. The biggest, and best is the new horn power up. The horn can help in a number of ways, the sound can cause nearby racers to crash. But more importantly it can destroy weapons. So really good players who want to keep their lead can use it to get rid of the blue shells. The #8 is another new one. It will give players a random eight items orbiting around their vehicle. There is also a boomerang that can hit on the way out or the way back.

The actual racing mechanics will also feel a little bit different to lapsed players. You will still be drifting around corners no doubt, but the feel will change with every vehicle combination made. Stunt jumping makes its return too. Pressing the drift button just after going off a ramp results in a trick jump, granting a boost. The drift boost is back as well. Moreover, the speed on some of these tracks approach the level of F-Zero, where one minor misjudgment can have you going off of the track.

In the gravity themed sections players also have to worry about how they bump into one another. Swapping paint gives both players a boost, but the player who hits the other in the correct area will go farther. This also causes both players to spin out AS they boost. So once again, doing it incorrectly could lead to falling off the track.

Fortunately, Lakitu no longer takes his sweet time to get you if you do fall off. He swoops in immediately, costing you only a few seconds. He does however take coins away from you which reduces your top speed until you replace them with more.

The new features, along with the established tropes make Mario Kart 8 one of the best Mario Kart games in years. It may even be the best one in the series depending on who you ask. But there’s still more.

Online multiplayer has carried over from Mario Kart Wii but with a lot of improvements. For starters it now uses the simplified Nintendo ID system. So you don’t have to go sharing or posting friend codes anymore. It also allows you to easily befriend anyone you race with. So if there is someone you enjoyed racing with online you can add them. Setting up a game with friends also lets you choose what stipulations you want. You can even turn off items, so those who always decry the amount of luck in Mario Kart can make it about pure racing.

It also has a really cool tournament feature. With tournament feature you can create your own room, name it, set it’s time schedule, stipulations, and then give the code out to whoever you want.

This has already been a big hit on gaming community forums like NeoGAF, and other communities like Reddit. Allowing big groups from one place to meet up at a scheduled time to play. It’s also nice in that not everyone in a specific community may be friends, but they can still participate if they want.

In addition to the tournaments, and friends lists players can play solo or local multiplayer online. One player can go online against strangers or a second player can join online on the same Wii U playing split screen. The one disappointing thing here is that one of the two players cannot have the gamepad screen to themselves while the other player uses the television. Other Wii U games do this, so it’s perplexing Nintendo didn’t do that with this title.

In all of the race modes the vote system from Mario Kart Wii returns, putting up three track choices, and a random option. The one that is voted on most wins, and that is the track that is raced on. A minor nitpick here is that players cannot just go through the map list, and pick the individual one they would like to vote for. But I suppose this is a sacrifice that was implemented to ensure all of the tracks are played instead of just the few most popular ones.

In any event, online play is a lot of fun. In my play tests I never ran into any lag, even playing against worldwide opponents. The game ran as fast, and frantic online as it did playing alone.

Offline Multiplayer is back as well. Players can still invite friends over for the vintage 4 player split screen races we’ve been enjoying since Mario Kart 64. Playing with four players does have a noticeable effect on the game’s frame rate. But it is still very playable, and still has fewer hiccups than previous versions have. It’s the perfect game for local multiplayer nights.

The only thing that brings it down is the battle mode. Battle mode is still fun, but not as much as it used to be. The big reason is because it fails to deliver its own distinctive maps.  Here, instead we see recycled track sections. You still try to do a last man standing by taking out each other’s balloons with red shells, banana peels, and other arsenal. But with the unoriginal tracks the strategic element of it is gone. There’s no camping on a rooftop, or driving into some other zone to throw pursuers off of your trail. Instead it’s the carnage you love, on a section of track meant to be raced on. It isn’t as bad as other people may tell you, because there is some fun to be had. But it is a let down, and you’ll want to focus your time on the racing.

The good news is that the racing is so much fun you’ll come back to it again, and again. In any mode be it online or offline. This could really be considered a killer app that the Wii U really needs. I didn’t even talk about the visuals yet. They will be one of the first things you notice when you start playing.

To be sure, if someone really wants to be a sourpuss they can nitpick on small details like AA being off, or the occasional medium detail texture. But 90% of the time Mario Kart 8 looks amazing. From small details on character models, to NPC’s in the backgrounds to the reflective effects on puddles it is great stuff.  So great in fact that when you begin playing with the Mario Kart TV feature you will really start looking for new things you hadn’t noticed before.

Mario Kart TV is a really cool, if limited editing tool. It allows you to broadcast clips of your races to your YouTube account. It allows you to do minor edits to them, and even lets you keep a small list of your most loved ones on file. It includes a slow motion tool that has also birthed the Luigi Death Stare meme.

As with most Wii U games you can still post screen shots to Miiverse, social networking sites, or your image host to display elsewhere online.

The elephant in the room is the roster. It should have been more varied than it is. That much is certainly true. While the Koopalings are a very welcome addition, and the baby version of Rosalina was expected, Princess Gold Peach does come off as a bit lazy. Bringing back King Boo, Petey Piranha, Birdo, or even a different Mario character like Wart would have made more sense. In the grand scheme of things though the roster change really shouldn’t dissuade you from playing this game.

Mario Kart 8 isn’t perfect, but picking it up is highly recommended. It has very fun, and challenging racing mechanics. It has the party game atmosphere long time fans have come to expect. It has amazing track design, and some of the best online multiplayer gameplay Nintendo has ever put out. It also has some of the best driving tunes in the series. Each track has a musical style that complements its setting beautifully. There is a wide variety of locales in the game, so there is also a wide variety of music. The soundtrack is simply wonderful.

You won’t get flawlessness with Mario Kart 8, but you will get a game that does indeed deserve the accolades. It really is worth a high score, as well as being in any Wii U owner’s collection.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Crash Time 2 Review

Recently re-released on digital storefronts, Crash Time 2 is a game that tries to converge Criterion’s Burnout Paradise with Taito’s Chase H.Q.

PROS: Visuals hold up surprisingly well.

CONS: Jerky controls, glitches, abysmal voice acting

WAIT, WHAT?: Split Screen Multiplayer.

Originally released in 2008 as Burning Wheels, Crash Time 2 is the second game in a series of five games. The last of which was released two years ago. Many players will have only recently heard of this franchise. Why? Because it was predominately marketed, and sold in European countries. With its release on Steam, Crash Time 2 finally brings the franchise to other parts of the world.

The game takes place in an open city environment, with hub tunnels connecting various areas of the city. In the game you play as a duo of police detectives who have to go on missions stopping criminals. Crash Time 2 has several modes of play. The first is a story mode that puts you in aforementioned scenarios chasing down criminal drivers. Sometimes it mixes things up by having you drive to a certain location, or alongside a certain NPC vehicle. These missions borrow heavily from Taito’s Chase H.Q. games.

You’ll spend most of the story mode chasing down criminal cars, and trying to ram them off of the road until they finally break down. The game also attempts to take a page from Criterion’s Burnout series of games by having damage modeling factor into the missions. As you drive into objects like fences, oncoming cars, or even the enemies you are tasked with bringing down, you will take damage. Windshields will crack, bodies will dent, and  your wheels can even snap off of the axle. Damage will negatively affect car behavior, making maneuvering more difficult.

As you complete missions, you’ll also get access to other cars throughout the game. There are a fair number of them.

The second mode is a free-roam mode. This lets you pretty much drive around, taking things at your leisure. It’s about the best part of the game, as it’s going to let you get a good idea of where roads lead, and where you can go off of the beaten path. There are also a number of areas connected by tunnels. These load the next open section that you’re heading into. Each of these are of a fair size, and give you a decent amount of ground to explore.

Finally, there is a racing mode. This mode works essentially like the old Burnout games, in that you have a circuit of tracks against other A.I. racers, and you can force them into traffic, ram them, and such to try to destroy their cars, and cost them time. But unlike the games it  steals from (It even features an instant replay when you crash or take someone down) it doesn’t reward you for driving recklessly. In fact, if you drive into oncoming traffic the game gives you a warning countdown to get back into your own lane as it doesn’t count as part of the track. As you go through this mode, you’ll unlock newer tracks, and cars.

All of this sounds pretty respectable until you actually start playing. While I’ve certainly played worse driving games, Crash Time 2 isn’t very good. This is because cars have some of the worst driving mechanics this side of early sandbox crime games. Cars always take the widest, sluggish turns. The game does have a hand brake button in addition to the regular brake button. The hand brake function in most other racing games is awesome. It makes drifting around those “L” shaped turns achievable. In this game however, it’s horrible. Unlike a good arcade racer, This makes drifting  around 90 degree turns nearly impossible. Which is really bad because the criminal driver A.I can do it with ease. Even on the easiest setting with traffic set to the minimum number of cars this will be troublesome. Hand braking will almost always result in a spin out or an axle breaking car crash. Criminals get away, races are lost, and free roaming is cut short.

The game does throw in a rechargeable nitro boost to give you a chance to catch up, but chances are the A.I. will easily escape with perfect cornering after you grind a guard rail or love tap a weary traveler. To remedy this, you have a siren function the game swears makes traffic stay out-of-the-way in the loading screen tool tips. But the siren does absolutely nothing for you in practice. There is also a horn button, but again this is wasted breath.

Losses are not only infuriating, but tedious too. Rather than simply start you at a checkpoint when you’ve taken too much damage, it forces you to watch a timer countdown. As the enemies escape your range while you’re stranded with no wheels. If you’re the persistent type you will pause, and restart with every crash instead of going through this monotony. When you do hit objects, or enemy targets the game arbitrarily throws out damage point money in Euros. But this doesn’t seem to serve any practical purpose in game play.

 

While the car damage does look pretty cool, in practice it isn’t very good either. This is because it is FAR too easy to destroy a crucial part of the car. A minor grind up against the curb will many times cause a wheel to snap off of the axle. Even at pedestrian speeds. Sometimes you could be hit by NPC traffic, resulting in getting T-Boned, and thwarting your ability to steer. This will only serve to annoy you further.

Voice acting in this game is awful. Dialogue comes off as if the performers simply read their lines aloud off of cardboard. There are no believable performances whatsoever. The generic metal soundtrack fares a little bit better, but in time you will probably shut off most of the sounds that aren’t actual vehicle or car accident sound effects.

There is no online multiplayer in this game either. So if you are morbidly curious enough to play it, do not expect to be able to play it with friends or relatives over the internet. The game does have split screen multiplayer for whatever reason. So if you must insist on playing it with someone at the same desk you can. It also allows you to split the screen vertically or horizontally.

The game features a tutorial you can play through to try to get a hang on the basics, but with the wonky steering controls it really won’t matter. This is one of those budget titles that starts off with a bit of promise, but squanders it all with its bad controls. Even when using a gamepad Crash Time 2 isn’t very fun. The same floaty, fishtailing on even the slightest turns is still present with a controller. True, there are far worse driving games out there to be sure. But there are also many, many, better ones. Please, for your own sake, and sanity play one of those instead.

Final Score: 3 out of 10