I must confess before I start this review that I fell out of love with Formula One games some years ago. I tired of the high-speed, tactical gameplay and decided I wholeheartedly preferred the crash bang wallop of BTC and Rallying. The last F1 game I played was F1 2004 - back when Jordan and Orange were still teams - which, to its credit, I did play a lot. It's time to return to the professional's choice of motorsport however, to test my mettle against the best of the best.
Following three practice sessions (which are skippable), a simple, single-lap qualifier precedes the race. The race proper begins after you select your car and pit strategy, and is more engaging than the practice sessions from the get go, thanks to the freedom to take sharper corners and the fact there are racers at the back of the pack for players like myself to contend with, instead of having everyone speed right past.
You’ll also need to contend with weather and fuel, both of which make a significant difference to how the game handles. The weather is dynamic, if not very impressive on the aesthetic front (there's no spray from standing water, as an example), and using the right tyre at the right time can make or break your race. Fuel is linked to driving style, with braking and gear changes taken into consideration, and can be eaten through surprisingly quick if you don’t manage consumption well. The suite of assist and difficulty options can help you tweak things to your liking, which should make driving feel pretty solid whatever the conditions.
There’s good physical feedback from the controller in the corners and when braking, though it’s slightly disappointing that there are just four rigid directional views when manipulating the camera in place of free movement. With the tap of a button you cycle through information screens pertaining to your standing, though this can be difficult to absorb while driving. You can ask the engineer for specific info to make your life easier, and even do so literally with convenient Kinect voice command integration.
Like most modern racers, F1 2017 features a rewind function and executes it well; you see the last ten-or-so seconds of play and can choose when to jump back in, though attempting to fast forward the video does horrible things to the framerate and it’s easy to miss the desired point. Generally you’ll want to rewind following a collision, and, on that note, there’s thankfully a damage model that sees wings and tyres fly off vehicles.
People who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in F1 2017.
My eyes suffered similar damage (alright, maybe not that bad) at the hands of the game’s abundant tiny text. The visuals in general aren’t quite so harsh, generally looking pretty good besides the awful track textures (not that you'll see much of them).
There's multiplayer on offer, but it’s limited to pure Grand Prix setups with no bizarre, Forza-style extra modes - probably due to the license. Instant and quick race selections have some variety as there are a few classic cars to choose from - such as the famed blue and yellow Renault or the white Shell cars of the 90s, screaming engines intact - however there's only a couple from each era, making classic races a touch monotonous. Leaderboard races round out the offering and do what they say on the tin, with your willingness to asynchronously compete with friends and strangers dictating their worth.
Clearly this is a not a game for casual players, however people who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in this year’s entry into Codemasters’ long-running franchise.
The once-prominent film tie-in has been on the decline for a number of years now, which is largely considered a good thing, as shedding the often oppressive schedules has allowed licensed games to flourish. Cars 3: Driven to Win, however, is a rare exception; a good ol’ fashioned film tie-in that’s also legitimately fun.
There’s a decent amount of content here to boot, with 23 cars (which are purely an aesthetic choice) and 21 tracks (some of which are rehashes) playable across the 5 event types to keep your 20 or so hour journey towards the Hall of Fame mostly engaging.
When you also take into consideration the pleasant visuals and fun local multiplayer, available in cooperative and competitive varieties, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a surprisingly comprehensive game. It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, and falls short in some areas, but is still a very solid example of its genre, which is far more than most film tie-ins can boast.
Brum, brum, as they say in Codemasters’ midlands-based world of speedy motorcades! Can Codies keep up their mastery of all things diesel-burny with Dirt 4, or is it a mucky stain that even the most efficient of washing machines couldn’t get out? Gentlemen - and ladies - start your engines!
From your first moments on the grid the attention to detail is obvious.
Alongside career you’ll find sack loads more - there’s a wealth of online options under both the competitive and multiplayer monikers. Competitive floats a weekly supply of challenges to undertake and work your way up the leaderboard, plus there’s a divisional, FIFA-style mode that will suck many in. Multiplayer fleshes things out nicely with an assortment of head-to-head modes, but clean drivers should beware, as you’ll come across plenty of corner-cutting hacks like yours truly!
Special mention has to be saved for the literally game changing Your Stage creation facility. Here you’re left to your own devices to create rallying stages and events, which can then be shared online. The track design initially seems limiting, as you can only alter a few sliders - track length, difficulty, etc. - but the game’s superb algorithm chucks out some fantastic stages in just a few seconds, something that just wouldn’t be possible with a full fat design suite. There are endless options here, too - even with the same slider settings, the generate stage option throws up another, completely different track, giving the game real legs when it comes to longevity.
The audiovisual side of Dirt 4 also impresses for the most part; as mentioned earlier, the car models are beautiful, from the authentically placed sponsorship logos to the ever-changing vehicle shell. Crashes often result in bits of the car body falling off, with the wake of crashes ahead affecting you as you pass.
Unfortunately, the off-track visuals are on the more basic end of the spectrum - trees and crowd members look very simplistic, which is a shame, but undoubtedly assists the game in running smooth as silk. Backend elements are also on the unglamorous side of things, with simple, easy to understand menus and options that are functional, but definitely bland.
The Your Stage creation facility offers up endless possibilities, giving the game real legs when it comes to longevity.
Dirt 4 contains the standard array of radio-friendly hits from the last few years, much like EA Sports’ many offerings. If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love being in the menu screens, if not, you’ll be jamming the A button as quickly as possible to advance to the race. The on-track audio is spot on though, with firing engines, screeching tires and colossal bumps and smashes as you take out yet another tree/sponsorship board. Just be careful not to turn the volume up too loud, as your spouse/family/neighbours might find Dirt 4’s tones grating in time.
As we reach the chequered flag, we have to hold our hands up and praise Codemasters for producing another excellent racing game. The sheer wealth of options available in single and multiplayer are backed up brilliantly by the endlessly entertaining Your Stage feature. Though the presentation might be bland in places, and crosskart events can be painful, it’s impossible to overlook how good the actual rally racing is. Grab your helmet and race suit, get in the car, and go get dirty!
The rumours you’ve heard are true ㅡ Mario Kart is back. Of course, if you’re one of those brave souls (like Rob) who boarded the good ship Wii U (and continues paddling even as it begins to take on water…), Mario and friends never left. This new Deluxe version, only available on the Nintendo Switch, offers a few extra bells and whistles to try to entice the die-hards, but, putting that aside, this game threatens to be the definitive Mario Kart experience of all time.
Now, if you’ve followed us up to this point and you’re enjoying your foray into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe so far ㅡ assuming you’ve worked out how to choose the right combination of controllers, as there’s no prompt to choose which control setup you prefer, regardless of what you’re using when you turn the game on ㅡ one thing you might not have yet realised is that this game literally plays itself.
We’re talking about the auto drive and auto steer options, which are enabled by default and about more than just slamming on the breaks as you go careering into a corner, something which you might have experienced in the likes of Forza (though, admittedly, these games are worlds apart). In fact, the aids will effectively drive the entire course for you if you want them to, meaning the barrier of entry for the game has never been lower.
This does make sense, as it’s a game which should bring families together in front of the TV (or crowded ‘round the Switch) like nothing other than Doctor Who or another ill-fated World Cup match has done in years gone by, but if you’re trying to get the feel of the game it can be distracting to notice the computer wrestling some of your freedom away. The story is the same with motion controls, which are oddly disabled by default, but work effectively in any controller configuration; that said, playing in portable mode with the Joy-Cons attached to the screen can be a tad disorienting.
It might seem like things are a little bit hectic so far. Really this is one of the main emotions you feel when getting into the game for the first time, even on its slowest speed (and, therefore, lowest difficulty), as there’s an awful lot to take in. Does it get easier once you’ve got your head around it all? Yes, and it gets even better.
Depending on how confident you are, a run through each of the 12 cups will give you enough experience to feel like you’re fully in control, and the confidence to believe that you aren’t actually half bad at the game. Upping the difficulty can make all the difference, of course, particularly when combined with the game’s mirror mode, which poses a mental challenge as all the courses are ㅡ you guessed it ㅡ mirrored.
The AI unfortunately doesn’t share the same amount of personality and verve as the rest of the game, in that no matter who your rival in a given cup ends up being (it’s usually dictated by which character you choose), they all behave pretty much the same.
Multiplayer helps remedy that issue, however, as you (and a friend, if you have one hanging about) can take on savvy human players the world over in online races (providing you can connect OK). Many of them will relish the opportunity to screw you over at the worst possible moment, which is all part of the fun, but the lack of voice chat and emotes stops you feeling connected to other players, making what could have been raucous fun just an adequate experience.
There are also online tournaments, which Nintendo will hopefully use like the Global Missions in Pokémon Sun and Moon to bring players together, albeit more competitively. Players are able to tweak rules at their leisure, making AI more complicated or restricting what items are available to customise the level of challenge across the currently available roster. It’s a nice thing to have, but not the main event when you consider everything else the game has to offer.
Speaking of which, we’re yet to talk about the revamped battle mode, which is probably the biggest change from the original Wii U release of MK8, and, in many ways, where the most memorable moments will be created. Getting four people together in a room, or more if you have additional Switches handy, to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
Getting four people together in a room to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
There’s no finish line here, only a variety of surprisingly diverse game modes which involve you getting up close and personal with items. The familiar Balloon Battle is present and accounted for, but there’s also the endearing Renegade Roundup, which pits two teams against each other cops and robbers style, with one team trying to gobble up the other with piranha plants and the others trying desperately to free their friends. Just to reiterate: It’s an absolute blast!
The look, feel and handling of the game itself are all excellent. This is a series which has a lot of history, and Nintendo know how to do it right by now. Everyone has their favourite instalment of the franchise, and it’s nice to see a few things which had taken a break come back in this iteration, but for those coming in fresh, this really is everything Mario Kart has to offer.
While there are flaws, considering Deluxe’s price in comparison to some other Switch titles (we’re looking at you, Super Bomberman R), there’s great value for money on display here. The courses are diverse and interesting, with very few including features that annoy and many boasting interesting tweaks ㅡ The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing-themed courses in particular are a bit of fun.
In short, this is the second essential purchase on the Switch so far, closely following Breath of the Wild, and one which really re-enforces what the new system is designed to be ㅡ something which brings people together, in this instance to argue about who deserved to win after a carefully placed item and a bit of luck turn the tables metres from the finish line.
● Looks stunning & plays brilliantly
● Full of content - good value for money
● Play as Link, but this time on a motorbike
● Could do more to teach new players the ins and outs
● Limited communication options damage the online experience
● Those bloody blue shells!
In the now (seemingly) annual Forza release schedule it's once again the turn of the younger, party-loving Horizon series to give people their dose of car porn and speed thrills.
...cars are beautifully modelled and the scenery, even when not in motion, is all very decently rendered, backdrops and skylines being particularly beautiful to cruise along to.
Of course, no one actually plays Forza for characters or plot, and you can soon settle down to smash through the outback. As it happens this is endless fun. Despite all the races and events on offer, I often found myself just choosing a direction and driving, smashing and bouncing across the scenery. As it is a Forza game the driving itself is solid and satisfying, with cars being more controllable and on the drifty side than its brother, the Motorsport series. Cars feel weighty and handle noticeably differently, with ground and surfaces seeming to be more of a consideration this time round – taking your million-dollar supercar off road doesn't always end as well as you might hope. It's still a proper racer though, and drafting behind other racers to slingshot your way past is still essential to victory.
Speaking of victory, I do have the same problem I always have with racing games, in that one difficulty is far too easy, whilst the next one up exponentially increases the AI’s speed and they leave you in this dust at the start line. However considering the best answer to this is to perfect your racing line and cornering, it's not necessarily a criticism. I still have to say that the much vaunted 'Drivatar' system is not all that noticeable, they all follow essentially the same racing line and seldom crash.
It being a Forza game, it looks fantastic, cars are beautifully modelled and the scenery, even when not in motion, is all very decently rendered, backdrops and skylines being particularly beautiful to cruise along to. It's not much of an obvious visual step over the last game but small touches in texture and lighting help it look that bit better. The day/night cycle returns as well as rain which, while not as game-changing as Forza 6 or realistic as Driveclub, still looks pretty impressive and does warrant driving more carefully. The damage model is still pretty poor (almost non existent beyond slight crumpling) though - you sort of feel like 200mph crashes should have some visual effect.
It's not just a pretty face either, there's content too. The world is the biggest yet with nearly all parts of the map accessible, and with collectable (well, smash-able) boards dotted all over the map there's reason to explore. Each area of the playspace contains a good amount of races and 'PR events' (speed cameras, drift zones etc) to complete, and races have different game modes to complete them in, as well as unlockable harder 'street' races (often at night), not to mention new 'Blueprint' races which let you set them up yourself, car type, length etc. Everything is available in multiplayer too, which you can swap to easily from the start menu. With car customisation, tuning and the return of the auction house, you should never want for something to entertain. The levelling system has also been expanded, giving more choice of rewards and bonuses.
It has its problems, but they're more irritations than anything else. Playing with damage on feels unfair, as the AI do not take damage and can take you out. The impact physics are very rigid too - clipping a tree root will stop you dead.
Speaking of being taken out by the AI, the freeroam map always has drivatars around with you, but frankly they're a menace – they turn and overtake without a warning or a care, which is very frustrating when you have a high skill chain or are going for a speed target. There's also little visual difference between trees which can and can't be destroyed, though you learn to tell them apart fairly quickly.
The PC version has some widely documented framerate issues but I did not experience any on console, though it does sometimes take a surprisingly long time to save changes in garage. There's also a slightly unexplained hiring system, which routinely asks you to go find a drivatar and challenge them to a (easy and cheatable) race to hire them, but because it takes them from your friends list it mostly brings up level 1 players you'd never want to hire anyway so it seems a bit pointless.
Forza Horizon 3 essentially just builds on what came before, but hones it and adds enough new content to make this a definite purchase if you enjoyed the last one, or just want a fun colourful racing game to trash the Australian outback with.
Back in the day, Colin McRae games were seen as definitive when it came to rallying. Since his tragic death in 2007, the series somewhat fell from prominence and was largely replaced by titles that tried to fill the rally niche, but found little fanfare. Codemasters have decided to put an end to that by re-entering the race with the latest in their flagship DiRT series, which takes it back to its origins.
The biggest feature in denoting a driving game's worth is the vehicle handling, and the best way to describe DiRT Rally's would be twitchy. As someone who's spent a lot of time with, and gotten used to, the heavy car handling found in the likes of Forza and GTA, it initially came as a bit of a shock that here the cars demand a much higher level of control. If you feel that you're starting to lose it, you genuinely do have to wrestle with the controller to keep yourself on track. It can be an exhilarating feeling when you manage to stop your car taking a tumble, although less so when you fail to do so (more on that later). There's a variety of options for making exact adjustments to handling, like upping the thumbstick sensitivity for added manoeuvrability, which will please the well-initiated. Despite that, it feels like the game would benefit from a driving wheel - then again, what racer wouldn't?
Special mention goes to the audio. Played with headphones, it's very immersive; car engine noise and throttle vary a lot vehicle-to-vehicle.
On the visual front, it's hardly a graphical powerhouse, but they certainly do the job. Cars are decently modelled and become sufficiently knackered as events play out. The road surface texture detail is good, allowing you to very easily work out what you're driving on, which is important when gauging braking distances. The landscapes around the track edge can look quite flat and lifeless, though further off in the distance there are some nice views rendered. For a game so dense in trees the foliage is quite poor, though when you're in-motion (pretty much always), it hardly matters, as you'll be concentrating on what’s ahead.
Special mention goes to the audio. Played with headphones, it's very immersive; car engine noise and throttle vary a lot vehicle-to-vehicle, and you even hear the gravel dinging off the underside of the car, or twigs snapping under the weight of your wheels. The menu music consists of a listenable, if repetitive, set of mild electronic tracks.
One disappointment was the lack of vehicle customisation. While there's a decent range of cars on offer, the only visual changes the player can make to them is swapping the decals from a set selection. You can't make your own car designs, or even change colours.
More bizarrely, for a game claiming to be “the most authentic” rally game ever, it's odd that you can't manually upgrade your car, or choose tires based on what you think will be best. Instead, upgrades are earned based on time spent with each car - even then, there are only three available, all of which increase your speed. This means that whenever you buy a new vehicle you're at a disadvantage from the start; a real problem in rallycross, as you'll likely struggle to keep up with the AI.
Further frustrations are introduced by the level of difficulty. The handling isn't the only twitchy part of the game, as the physics are equally eager to flick you off the track. Whilst, yes, this is obviously a skill-based game, and one that requires a lot of concentration, it's far too easy to find yourself off the track and heavily damaged. Clipping an obstacle will often stop you dead or send your car tumbling - realism's all very well and good, but when the slightest mistake can cost you the whole race it can become tiring. Frustrating even, especially when trying the daily/weekly races which can only be attempted once. Add to this the unmarked teleport zones (some only a few metres from the road), the resultant time penalties and track designs that frequently see you get wedged at the roadside whilst attempting to get back on track, and you'll need some real perseverance.
Rallycross is especially unforgiving, I personally didn't manage to get past the first event, as even the tiniest mistake almost ensures last place - there is no margin for error. Rally and hill climb, on the other hand, start you off with generous time allowances.
Players can set up or matchmake into rallycross races online and there's a system of daily, weekly and monthly leaderboard tracks with higher-tier rewards on offer for high placement. Bizarrely, you can't set up a custom rally event with friends unless you sign up and do so via the Codemasters website.
This might all sound very negative, but if you can accept some frustrating moments, and a tendency for the game to screw you over, then there's a lot of content to be found here. Races get longer, harder and more satisfying as you progress, whilst cars earnt through this progression increase the satisfaction twofold thanks to their improved handling.
Turbo marks the first time the TrackMania franchise has appeared on either Xbox or PlayStation consoles, so it’s safe to say there’s probably a large number of people for whom this game will be their first experience of TrackMania.
While there may be more than 200 of them, most of the tracks are incredibly short, some lasting no more than 20 seconds. There are a few multi-lap tracks thrown into the mix, but nothing that takes longer than three minutes to complete.
It’s a bit of a shame as some of the tracks are very well designed and do a great job of inducing the feeling of vertigo as you fly around the more outlandish ones at high-speeds to perfectly choreographed music. Most are over all too soon though, and it can feel a little anti-climactic as a result.
The counter of this is that the bite-sized courses can be incredibly hard to master, requiring multiple runs to learn every corner and obstacle in order to earn the best time, which does help to prolong the experience somewhat. The difference between victory and defeat can be milliseconds, and even the slightest mistake such as grazing a barrier or starting a drift too early can ruin a perfect run, sending you right back to square one.
This may be the appeal of TrackMania games to many but for those who aren’t a fan of the formula, when a mistake happens just before the finish line and with progress to the next track or area blocked until a certain number of medals have been won, it can start to become a grind as you hit the B button to restart the same track again and again.
It can quickly become tiresome, especially when racing in a less favoured arena or car and the obnoxious commentary can really start to grate. Hearing “Did you mean to do that?!” or “Hey, watch the paintwork!” after every crash is a cert to get the blood pressure rising. Thankfully there is an option to turn these off in the settings.
No doubt there will be many TrackMania enthusiasts out there who will gladly gather up the 150 gold medals required to open the final set of courses locked away in the Black Series, but for many the grind and steep learning curve may be too off-putting to get further than the opening few levels.
The saving grace of Turbo’s arcade action turned out to be the multiplayer. Competing in time trials against other players is a much more enjoyable experience than riding solo or against an unfaltering AI.
The presence of other players makes it easier to forgive the flaws of the campaign, and actually gives you a reason to customise your car with the various paint jobs, emblems and numbers unlocked by earning medals.
Numerous filter options allow you to pick the race type and courses when competing online, though it’s probably a good idea to choose the lobby with the highest number of players for the best experience.
At the time of writing Turbo’s servers seem a bit sparsely populated, which is a little worrying seeing as the game was only recently released. Still, find a lobby with a decent number of people and there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Hurtling around corners with dozens of drivers (there can be up to 100 in a race) can be an exhilarating experience, especially as others start to spin wildly out of control, creating some almost set-piece like crashes. There’s no physical contact between any of the cars, so don’t expect to be able to use aggressive tactics to get ahead, it’s all about skill here.
Most efforts will end up mid-table finishes, but there will be times when for one glorious moment your name sits atop the Leaderboard. It’s not all about the glory though, and chasing the pack is by no means less enjoyable. Whittling down your time by fractions of a second to close the gap on the leaders has an “I can do better” appeal to it and will keep you coming back for more.
The local multiplayer options feel like they are catered towards a party atmosphere, something which you can enjoy with friends for a bit of couch co-op. Double Driver mode has two people controlling the same car, and numerous players can take part in arcade style time-trial competitions with limited restarts, solo or as part of a team. Turbo even features that rarest of multiplayer modes these days – split screen, for up to four players.
A custom track builder is available and allows you to come up with your own extreme designs, with a random generator for those a little more creatively challenged. It’s fun to watch the latter churning out procedurally designed courses piece by piece, but they can sometimes lack the finesse and fluidity of some of the tracks found in the main game.
There’s probably enough in Turbo to keep those who love to smash personal records or see their name climbing a Leaderboard entertained, and it could definitely work as something to have on in the background when friends are over to dip in and out of, something the game even suggests in the loading screens.
If you approach TrackMania Turbo expecting to find the core aspects of a more traditional racer in an arcade wrapping, then you’ll only end up disappointed. However, accept the game for what it is and not what you wanted it to be, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.