Archive for March, 2009
Monday, March 30th, 2009
I am sure that most people were expecting this review to be Resident Evil 5. However, believe it or not, it was actually supposed to be the new 50 Cent game; a game that I have heard nothing but good things about since it was released. Sadly, it is also a game that I have not been able to find a copy of.
What I found instead surprised me. It’s a game that even I had not heard of before I picked it off of a shelf. It’s called Race Pro.
As the name suggests Race Pro is a racing simulator developed by the wonderfully named SimBin, and is published by those “old-boys-club” members Atari. You probably know of Atari, but you may be a newcomer to the works of the Swedish based SimBin. The cliff notes version is that they were founded in 2003 and have since developed 6 racing games for Windows PCs. Race Pro is their first attempt at a console based racing simulator.
And as far as first attempts go this is not a bad one… provided that you are a racing fanatic like me. The easiest way to sum up this sim is to say that it reminds me of an expensive 5 star restaurant that the unwashed masses could never get into, and (as a member of those unwashed masses) even if I did get in I would be forced to sit by the kitchen, and have all the snooty waiters give me dirty looks.
Race Pro gives no apologies for what it is, and doesn’t ask for your forgiveness, which is something I can respect. However, even as a race fan I feel that Race Pro is very selective of who it wants to appeal to. And just in case you are not sure that would be people who enjoy racing around a track chasing better lap times. Now if you are one of those people, you will be delighted to hear that Race Pro does that very well. The controls are tight and responsive. The mechanics and physics of driving a race car feel realistic, and how they handle is realistically different between all the car classes.
In fact, any race related detail got knocked out of the park. Every race track in this game (and there are a lot of them when you finally unlock them all) is rendered in a level of detail that some people might call compulsive. They also look even better when filled with a wide selection of whips that were ripped right out of the FIA’s World Touring Car Championship, the European F3000, Formula BMW, Mini Challenge and the Caterham cup series to name a few.
The cars themselves are as close to perfect as I think is possible in a game; at least that is true when it comes to the mechanics of driving a car around the track at insane speeds. When racing around at the games highest difficultly level the cars will react exactly like you’d expect them to in real life. This is not some arcade racer were you can just drive as hard as you want and steer by bouncing off of walls like a pinball. Anything but precision driving will get you wrecked. Every corner really feels like a game of chess that requires you to plan ahead before acting to get good results. The option also exists to finely tune your car for the best possible lap times; however, as always with racing sims you will need a degree in rocket science and 5 years experience at NASA to make heads or tails of what half the things do.
That sadly is where the good times end. Simbin has focused so much on making a good racing game that everything that doesn’t directly affect racing around the track is either half done or not included. For example, non-racing fanatics may be turned off by the fact that there is no soundtrack to speak of in Race Pro. The only music in the game is some generic electro-dance stuff that plays on the game’s title screen. However, I could be the only one turned off by that. I may have been spoiled by the music during my bike racing on GTA4′s last expansion.
The voiceovers in this game feel so weak that I think the game would have been better off without them. In the 15 or so hours that I played Race Pro I could only get the game to say 2 things. The first was a warning for breaking a racing rule, and the other was a “congratulation” for winning a race. To say that I was not impressed by this would be an understatement. Especially considering that every line in this game is uttered with all the enthusiasm of a man about to sit down and do his taxes.
There are also no extra modes to speak of: you can practice, run a single race, play in career mode, or race online via Xbox box live. However, all of that is done for the exact same reason; to get around the track as quickly as possible. On top of that there is a very small selection of tracks when you start off; because, many of the game’s tracks need to be unlocked as you progress in career mode. All of this limited diversity at the start could make some gamers feel like there is not much to do in Race Pro at all.
Off the track, there is not much to keep your interest either as the menu system, career mode, and even the race track environments seem to be built for functionality over anything else. Also, most of the information that I needed to know was conveyed to me by boxes of white text that I had a hard time reading on my 27 inch standard definition TV; so like everything in this game that doesn’t directly involve racing, it works, but not well.
Functionality also seemed to be the path the designers took with the game’s graphics. This game is not pretty at all by current standards. Even the nicest things to look at seem a little bland in a world of Halo 3s and Metal Gear Solid 4s. Like everything else outside the mechanics of racing, the visuals of this game work, but they do not impress. Grass looks like grass, and road looks like road; but to be honest they look like the grass and roads I would expect to find in a PS2 game. Not a current generation title.
In the end, this is a good game, but it is not a good game for everyone. Race fans who want a realistic racer should pick this game up for sure because realistic racing is where it truly shines. Like me, it may not be pretty, but it’s good at what it wants to be. However, if you are not a fanatic race fan then you may feel that this game is either not pretty enough or not full of enough content to keep your attention. If you are one of those people I would highly suggest you play bike racing on the GTA 4′s expansion: The Lost and Damned instead. That bike racing is so much fun that it was all that I played for 2 weeks straight, and I only stopped playing it because I had too.
Sunday, March 15th, 2009
I don’t normally play Xtreme Sports games. This is partly because I have no idea what’s going on in them, but mostly because I fear that giving them any attention at all would convince someone to make a sequel to Jonny Moseley Mad Trix. You may think I am silly or over reacting because I fear that, but watch the intro video to Mad Trix and then tell me that my fears are not warranted.
Therefore, I originally picked up Shaun White Snowboarding with what can only be described as a mix of fear and disgust. On the way home I was horrified for what my actions could mean to the future. It was like I was John Connor during 2003′s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. I alone knew that my actions could be responsible for bringing about a terrible future, so with all that in mind imagine my surprise when I finally played the game and realized that all I could feel for it was an uncontrollable sense of…
I think that may come from the fact that the game itself has no idea what it wants to be. If I could compare it to anything, I would have to say that it reminds me of a schizophrenic alley cat that used to run around the streets of my childhood neighbourhood. This alley cat would go from hostile, to friendly, to hostile every time we crossed paths, and that’s what sticks out the most in this game. It has an extremely difficult time trying to figure out what it wants to be as the game magically goes back and forth between Xtreme Sports simulator and a snowboarding arcade game.
You start off in this game as an unnamed bunny-hill-jock out to impress… well whoever will watch you to be honest. You get dropped at the top of one of the game’s four hills and you pretty quickly figure out the only thing that you’re good at is going down the hill really fast. About halfway down you wipe out and come face to face with Shaun White. Shaun is apparently impressed by your balls to the walls “I don’t care about my own safety” attitude, and your willingness to throw yourself down a hill like a monkey strapped to a rocket. He however feels that your technique could use work and thus agrees to school you in the fine art of boarding provided that you’ll run around all four hills looking for his missing pocket-change that comes in the form of 48 missing coins. You agree and the game begins.
Now this is normally where I would list everything I like about the game in paragraph form and then move onto paragraphs about what I didn’t like afterwards, but I found that extremely hard to do for this game. You see nothing in this game was just good or bad. Everything fell into the grey area between where nothing is good or bad, but both.
For example, the game uses the Assassin’s Creed engine very well, and thus has a huge and open sandbox world to explore. However, it is populated with a wide selection of nothing to do. You can explore the four big mountains until you are blue in the face, but outside a smattering of mini-game like challenges (that are actually pretty fun) there is not much to keep your attention for very long. I could see the average person getting bored with this game in a week or two tops.
The controls are also very good. They feel tight and responsive, and allow you to pull off some amazing tricks. However, the game never explains to you what combination of controls will do what. Sure you are told this button will make you jump, or that button will rotate your snowboard, but for all of Shaun’s claims that he will help you, you’re pretty much left to figure out things for yourself.
The sound track has its moments, but like everything else in this game it has its ups and downs. After about an hour of playing it, I realized that for every good song that I actually enjoyed (Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music, Sloan’s Ill Placed Trust, Three Days Grace’s Animal I Have Become, etc.), I would have to suffer through 3 generic songs by star studded list of indie group that no one has ever heard of before.
Multiplayer is a decent event if you can find some friends to play with. However, my problem with it is that it ruins single player for you. The multiplayer in this game is exactly the same as the single player. The only difference between multiplayer and single player is that the AI bots that populate this winter wonderland in single player are replaced by flesh and blood people in multiplayer. It can be fun, but once your friends are done, and you are forced to go back and play alone, the game can feel somewhat empty. And before you even get that far you would have to convince your friends to spend their money to get it in the first place; which is something I couldn’t do.
However, nowhere is the multiple personality disorder of Shaun White Snowboarding more apparent than with the super powers. That’s right I said super powers. Along your journey towards game completion Shaun will empower you with different powers to help you get around the mountains, and to be honest it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the game. Sure it is fun to be able to jump so high that I could make superman jealous, but when my character can jump 5 stories at one time and barely get 5 feet off the ground at another, I become confused and the only words that come to mind is “What the F-bomb?” It’s like Dale Earnhardt Jr. showing up to next year’s Daytona 500 with an elephant to race with. It’s just so ridiculous you can’t help but exclaim, “WHAT?!” That’s how the super powers in this game make me feel. They are an interesting attempt to make the game fresh, but all they really do, is make an already unfocused game more confusing.
In the end, Shaun White Snowboarding is an interesting attempt at an Xtreme sports game, and I do appreciate them trying. However, this game has no focus at all. It tries to be everything to everyone and ends up being nothing at all. It is also a truly fun game to play with your friends. However, in a world of Killzone 2, Resident Evil 5, Mad World, et cetera, I really can’t find any way to convince my friends to purchase copies of Shaun White Snowboarding to play with me. If you can than you may find something fun in this game. If not, I would suggest you pick up the new 50 cent game (I hear that it is actually good) to kill time until Resident Evil 5 comes out, so that you can do a little zombie killing co-op instead.
Lastly, I do not have a balance board for the Wii, so I can’t prove or disprove this, but I have heard that the Wii version of this game is far more enjoyable. You control the Wii version by moving around on the Wii Balance board, and that gives it an extra level of depth I feel that my Xbox360 version was lacking. Therefore, if you are one of the lucky people in the world who own more than one current generation console, and you are dead set on getting Shaun White Snowboarding, then I suggest that you get that version instead.