Liverpool vs Manchester United. Borg vs McEnroe. USA vs Europe. Whatever the sport, a decent rivalry can add so much more to a simple competition, eliciting passion, anger and excitement from spectators and participants alike. It’s an extra layer of intrigue that veteran motorsport developers, Codemasters, have successfully recreated in GRID thanks to their nemesis system, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
GRID’s AI provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining.
Before each race, you’re given the chance to take part in hot lap qualifiers, which, while entirely optional, are a great way to learn each track’s nuances ahead of the main event and also give you a chance to improve your starting position. Leading the line going into a race is, naturally, a big advantage, especially when competing on GRID’s city tracks, where tight corners and narrow streets make it harder to break out from the back of the pack.
Starting in the rear means you’re also more likely to collide with other drivers, and, intentionally or not, pick up a few nemeses in the process. It usually takes several collisions to spark a rivalry, though occasionally just a single bump is all that’s required to annoy the AI. Teammates aren’t immune to a bout of in-house rivalry either, and will actively ignore orders and requests if you hit them too many times.
City tracks are particularly impressive at night
Rival drivers are marked out by an angry red indicator above their car, and will attempt to hinder your progress should they get the opportunity to do so, sometimes even to the detriment of their own race, whether its aggressively blocking an overtake or performing a surprise pit maneuver just as you’re taking a tricky corner. It’s a brilliant system that adds so much more to races, creating short-lived rivalries and added drama without ever feeling unfair or overpowered.
In fact, GRID’s AI in general provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining; we’ve seen computer-controlled drivers smash into walls, flip cars and take risks that, at times, mirror human behaviour, adding to the overall sense of authenticity. You can, of course, get a similar experience by delving into the game’s online offering, but without the option to pick and choose tracks, car types or weather settings (unless you’re hosting a private game), you might find yourself battling the conditions more than other drivers.
Visually, GRID is a good-looking game, if not spectacular. Some levels stand out more than others; racing through one of Zhejiang’s city circuits at night, with neon lights reflected in the rain-soaked road, for example, looks amazing, but traditional circuits like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, with their wide tracks and open surroundings, are relatively bland in comparison. One of the more bizarre visual hiccups are the cars’ mirrors, which display reflected images in retro-like low-res graphics and reduced frame rates. If, like us, you prefer a cockpit view, it can be a little jarring, but it’s a minor issue that certainly doesn’t detract from an otherwise decent game.
Objects in the rear view mirror are actually a lot prettier than they appear
GRID also caters to both petrol heads and newcomers alike thanks to a generous suite of difficulty options; while we preferred a more arcade-like experience, with automatic gears, race lines, cosmetic damage only and face-saving flashback abilities enabled, it’s possible to turn all assists off, increase AI difficulty and transform the game into a proper simulator. It’s this flexibility, along with the game’s solid racing gameplay, generous solo offering and excellent nemesis system that make it an easy recommend.
Let’s be blunt here: snooker hasn’t been in the mainstream since TV’s Big Break, featuring the chauvinistic “charm” of Jim Davidson and trick-shots aplenty from John Virgo. We appreciated our first foray onto Snooker 19’s green baize at this year’s EGX Rezzed, but is the final product “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan quality snooker, or “Rancid” Rob Holt level play?
Difficulty in the single-player modes can often feel out of balance, too. We’ve played multiple games with the AI set at the low, middle and high ends of difficult and nothing much seems to change. Making one mistake will definitely lead to a loss in the mid to top tiers, though two mistakes are still enough to see you off at lower rungs. You can change your own aim assists and the like to make tricky pots easier, though we’d advise playing with this enabled to begin with so you can get your eye in.
Multiplayer options are solid, if unspectacular. While there are your standard online 1-on-1s and tournaments, it’s local multiplayer that lifts the trophy for us. Playing in the room with an enemy or good associate is absolutely grand, their fixed gaze making for tense moments which lead to simple pots being bodaciously blundered.
As previously mentioned, Snooker 19 really does look and sound the part. Balls are super shiny, John Higgins’ face is accurately morose-y, and the arenas and tables look superb...y. The thoroughly satisfying sound of cue-on-ball and ball-in-pocket are truly authentic, while the commentary from Neal Foulds and David Hendon follows the action most of the time - a regular slip up for sports games of this budget/niche. There is a lot of silence during gameplay, but that’s befitting of a concentration-based sport like snooker, so we won’t hold that against developer Lab42.
As we reach the end of the frame, we cannae help but feel a touch disappointed with Snooker 19. Yes, it’s a niche sports title at a competitive price (~£25) but the lack of customisation, modes and training really hurt it. Big snooker fans will love it, that’s for certain, but it doesn’t have enough mainstream appeal to reach a wider audience.
Some things in life are bloody hard. Think ironing on those travel-sized boards, resisting that packet of Ginger Nuts hidden within the cupboardy prison, understanding anything written by a lawyer, or the cleverly titled DiRT Rally 2.0. We might jest, chums, but seriously: this is the *snicker* Dark Souls of racing games...
From the title screen you’ll find two main methods of play: My Team and Freeplay. My Team focuses on online-centric challenges, AI challenges, and both rally and rallycross career modes. The career modes are an excellent timesink, but we’ve really found ourselves getting stuck into the daily and weekly challenges, which counter-balance the longevity of career with short, sharp tear-ups.
Freeplay features a quad collection of historic rallying (absolutely fantastical), officially licensed FIA world rallycross championship, time trial, and, most intriguing of all, custom mode. Here in the custom world one can create and share their very own championships and stages, all created via an easy-to-use system. Players decide on terrain, type of race, number of stages, weather for these stages, track conditions, etc. Much like DiRT 4’s Your Stage, Custom guarantees staying power.
Raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling.
2.0 is a real looker, too. Bash your way around cliffs as the sun sets and you’ll see what we mean, as gorgeous lighting creates lens flare and has distant waters shimmering away beautifully. Stagnant puddles glisten with filth, raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling. Some of the backgrounds might be lacking a bit in detail, but honestly, when the driving is this intense, and the foreground this pretty, you probably won’t care.
Sound-wise, 2.0 gives us the same aural problems that DiRT 4 did, unfortunately. The raucous wailing of engine noise possesses the ability to grate on both oneself and the neighbours, and, on a personal note, the monotone of the co-driver is so reminiscent of my Year 10 ICT teacher that I began to nod off. Menu music and background vibes are fine, if a little understated.
We do have a few more niggles that we’d like to mention on top of that charismatic co-driver, though, folks. Whilst we personally loved the total lack of hand-holding tutorials, many with the desire to get involved with DiRT for the first time will be left feeling woefully unprepared for the mountainous learning curve and ridiculously narrow tracks that lie ahead. A practice/training mode, as seen in DiRT 4, would certainly have allayed this issue.
We’ve also experienced some problems with low-light and night races (the many miserable, rainy Polish rallies come to mind), where even Dr. Personality’s instructions can’t save you from smashing into trees, or even missing whole corners, because you couldn’t bloomin’ well see ‘em! Playing these at nighttime with the lights off and the brightness dialled up will help, but that’s realism gone too far.
These minor negatives aside, DiRT Rally 2.0 is exactly the kind of game that people don’t really make anymore. It’s mercilessly tough, never holds your hand, and takes a while to really get under your bonnet. If you don’t have the leather interior and hub-caps for that, then we suggest you stick with DiRT 4, but for anyone up to the challenge, we can’t recommend this enough.
Like many people, I grew up a professional wrestling fanatic. WWE’s unique blend of sports and entertainment, presented with a grand flair for theatrics, had me well and truly hooked. Early licensed games successfully captured the magic, but, as the mainline series progressed, focus was shifted to a more grounded sports simulation in a presumed effort to match UFC’s more ‘legitimate’ output. This was widely regarded as a mistake, so now, better late than never, 2K have acted on fan feedback and embraced the outlandish elements that set WWE apart, making for a much more enjoyable game on the whole.
Showcase is back and MyCareer has seen an epic overhaul that takes it from boring to brilliant!
Where previous incarnations left players to their own devices, here there’s a real narrative focus, with developed storylines and voiced cutscenes on-par with WWE’s on-screen product. Some of the wrestlers phone their lines in, plus John Cena’s voiced by a truly dreadful impersonator (his fees probably aren’t cheap now that he’s made it in Hollywood), but it’s self aware and just silly enough to get away with it without devolving into ridiculous parody.
As an aside whilst we’re on the topic: commentary is still awful. Lines are often delivered deadpan and endlessly repeated, there are constant stilted cuts, plus moves can be announced despite never having happened. The audio mix could use some work on the whole, in fact, with theme music drowning out voices and echo-y recordings - where we’d assume the dev team struggled to secure touring WWE Superstars for a professional studio visit - lowering the overall level of quality. At least the licensed soundtrack is great.
Familiar audio issues may remain, but this iteration of MyCareer is what fans have been clamouring for. At its core it remains a lengthy pro wrestling roadmap, but it’s told with heart and knowing references that fans will love.
Established fan or not, everyone can appreciate the surprisingly deep RPG systems. Experience and currencies are awarded as you progress - in greater quantities if you engage in optional branching conversations and side matches - allowing for the acquisition of skills, abilities and a range of cosmetics. Even beyond MyCareer, striving to improve your custom wrestler (formally MyPlayer) should keep you coming back for exhibition events well into the future.
That being said, getting your footing and sticking with MyCareer up until that point could prove taxing for some, as the starting attributes aren’t fit for much. Grinding to overcome that starting hump can feel as though you’re being guided towards purchasing the premium KickStart DLC, which is also included in the Season Pass, but it’s perhaps a worthy trade-off if that explains the surprisingly non-monetised Loot Packs. Again, you could probably just drop the difficulty, but that comes with its own issues.
While Showcase and MyCareer have significant legs of their own, WWE 2K19 has plenty more to offer in the returning Universe mode (where you micromanage your own endless programming schedule) and the all-new 2K/MyPlayer Towers. No doubt inspired by Mortal Kombat, Towers task players with running a gauntlet of back-to-back matches, each with their own specific modifiers and stipulations. They’re updated frequently and you should be wary of which you choose to tackle - Towers can be brutally difficult and there’s no prize for failure, however long you might have devoted to climbing them beforehand.
If you’re feeling brave, you might want to attempt the insanely difficult 15-match tower in which you play as cover star (and gaming superfan) AJ Styles. If you manage to beat it, not only will you get an achievement, but you could be on track to face AJ in a WWE 2K19 match worth $1,000,000!
Varied match types - many of which have been tweaked for the better (Cage matches in particular) - help to keep each game mode fresh, as does the ability to play co-op and competitive multiplayer either locally or online. Network bouts suffer with latency, but stability is overall much improved and the Road to Glory online league - in which wins earn rewards for your MyPlayer and points towards qualifying for global online pay-per-view events - offers more specific motivation to test your mettle against human opposition.
There’s absolutely loads to do and it’s all held together by the solid simulation-style gameplay, only with increased scope for the sort of crazy maneuvers that made those old WWE games so appealing. Generally you’ll be performing a wide range of contextualised strikes and grapples, whilst attempting to tactically target limbs, manage stamina consumption and preserve reversal stocks. Advanced players can play to the crowd and taunt opponents to receive different buffs, or those just along for the ride can roam the backstage area and hurl themselves from atop a production truck with nary a care for the unforgiving concrete below.
Payback abilities are a new addition catered towards narrowing the skill gap between those player types, accommodating comebacks and, at their best, edge-of-your-seat contests with that ‘big match’ feel. You’ll choose a Major and a Minor skill, both of which are charged by taking damage, though some are markedly better than others - escaping certain defeat is preferable to delivering a low blow and risking disqualification, for example - so you may well find yourself rigidly sticking with the same loadout instead of switching to counter the opposition.
Former UFC star "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey is a pre-order DLC character, along with luchador Rey Mysterio.
Some will no doubt still pine for the simpler days of No Mercy on the N64, but while WWE 2K19 doesn’t fully re-adopt arcade-y gameplay, it has injected plenty of madcap fun back into the series. There’s a big head mode, 8-bit and cel-shaded screen filters, a zombie Triple H character, MyPlayer abilities that essentially amount to super powers, Wyatt Compound (wrestler Bray Wyatt’s creepy backwoods home) brawls, plus an insanely extensive creation suite that now allows for Minecraft-style block body types.
The creation tools, inclusive of even a video editor, provide everything you could possibly need to create your very own wrestling promotion from the ground up. It’s seriously bonkers and a boon for even the creatively barren, as shared Community Creations can be downloaded and enjoyed free of charge. You can already grab accurate renditions of just about any wrestling or pop culture figure, which makes it a bit of a bummer that you can’t use them for MyCareer, though that would admittedly break the context of the story and wider MyPlayer progression systems.
If you don’t have the means to download Community Creations for whatever reason, the 250+ roster (the series’ biggest yet) should keep you plenty busy anyway. It encompasses a vast majority of the current crop of male and female Superstars across all brands (RAW, SmackDown, NXT and 205 Live), as well as the best of the UK division and a slate of bygone Legends. There’s a character here for everyone, whether they’re a current fan, a lapsed fan, or a casual onlooker.
Having so many playable wrestlers means that character models vary wildly in terms of quality. The game looks middling for the most part, though can veer into striking or hideous territories at the drop of a hat, which is slightly disconcerting as an enhanced game being played on Xbox One X hardware. Presumably the extra horsepower is pumped into maintaining a steady technical performance, which it does, even in frenzied 8-person matches.
WWE 2K19 is easily the best offering since 2K replaced THQ at the helm back in 2014. Using this as an extensive blueprint, if 2K update the ageing game engine and fix a few distracting issues - like clipping, dodgy rope physics, HUD elements occasionally obscuring mini-game prompts, the aforementioned audio issues - they may well re-establish the franchise as the platinum-selling titan it once was.
The Isle of Man TT. Even those with only a passing interest in the world of motorsport will most likely have heard of this iconic event. Now, thanks to the arrival of TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge, fans can (safely) get closer than ever to the infamously dangerous race.
The developers have nailed the sense of speed, danger and authenticity.
Fortunately, the game gives you the option to slice up the large course and enjoy it piecemeal, letting you practice specific sections or simply replay a favourite part at your leisure. If you fancy a break from it altogether, there are also nine fictional tracks much more suited to shorter play sessions.
It’s these courses, along with the individual Snaefell sections, that make up the early parts of the no-frills career mode, where your goal is to win fame, money and, eventually, the Tourist Trophy (that’s four laps of the full track). This is something easier said than done, as winning races in Ride on the Edge is hard, even on the easiest difficulty settings - crank up the realism and simply pulling away in first gear becomes a challenge.
Without wins, there’s little chance of earning enough cash to buy faster bikes and, therefore, progressing to later tournaments. It’s also frustrating to see what wealth you do have frittered away as monthly bills pile up, though the real problem with career mode lies in the aforementioned clumsy AI that comprises your competition.
These infallible racers stick to the yellow chevrons like glue and streak along with little regard for your safety or ambitions, often sneaking up from behind and running you off the road while you’re just focussed on finishing a perfect lap. It’s a problem that effectively renders mass start races - which make up a large percentage of the tournaments on offer - obsolete, along with a big chunk of potential winnings.
Multiplayer doesn’t fare much better, with the game’s small player base limiting the race options available to those who do choose to venture online.
Unless you’re really into time trials and leaderboards, most will find there’s not much to keep them coming back for more once TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge’s initial thrills have worn off, meaning this is one best suited for hardcore enthusiasts only.
There’s no doubt about it: the Ashes is the biggest spectacle in the world of leather-on-willow, yes-we-have-a-break-for-tea, professional cricket. Step forward Don Bradman Cricket dev Big Ant Studios (they’re Aussies - we’ll try not to hold that against them…), for their first foray into the light of a - at least partially - licensed sports game, with the creatively titled Ashes Cricket.
In a bid to reach a wider audience, Big Ant has implemented two separate control systems; Classic (from DBC) uses the analogue sticks to control foot movement and bat, then line and length when bowling, whilst Standard primarily utilises button presses, with the left stick used to aim in a more arcadey set-up.
The latter is great for an introduction, but you’ll find batting becomes ridiculously easy (Big Ant’s cricket games are usually hardcore in their difficulty) with balls often sailing over the fence. We scored at at least 10 runs per over in every test match we played using standard batting controls, with a lowest team total of 369 all out, and that was on the hardest difficulty setting... Comparatively, getting the same total on DBC17 on easy difficulty took a lot of patience and luck.
What fun it is to have your whole team scream "OWZAT?" at the press of a button.
When it comes to bowling, the simple button press set-up of the Standard control method certainly helps with accuracy, so we'd suggest giving it an extended go before switching to the analogue stick-led Classic controls.
The final - and perhaps most welcome - addition to this edition of virtual cricket is the excellent use of motion capture. DBC17 had some hideous animations for certain strokes (cut shot, we’re looking at you), and every bowler delivered the ball in the exact same way. Well, this is no longer the case, as Big Ant has enlisted the help of Australian stars like Glenn Maxwell, to ensure that batting is more fluid and picturesque, and bowling is more convincing.
There are welcome returns too with the lovely catching mechanic - a sort of QTE event where you match a reticule up with the moving ball to complete the catch - user-controlled appealing (what fun it is to have your whole team scream “OWZAT?” at the press of a button…), robust academy creation suite (players, teams, logos, stadia), and the career mode time-sink. The latter is especially splendid, as you take your player from club cricket all the way to Ashes glory, giving the game massive longevity.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all good news for Big Ant. Bugs and glitches are a bit of a problem here; fielders warp randomly into place, pitch cracks vanish sporadically, catches are taken with one hand whilst the player looks in a different direction, and perhaps worse - and we’ve had this happen three times already - you’ll get someone out only to find that they are still batting next ball, seemingly oblivious to what previously occurred! It’s here where Big Ant really fall down, but knowing their history for swift patches, we imagine this’ll be put straight soon.
To add further fuel to the disappointment fire, however, we must mention the commentary. The audio in general is much, much better this time around - the ball hitting the wicket keeper’s gloves is particularly meaty and satisfying, as is the inclusion of the Barmy Army's chants - but even Michael Slater’s presence can’t save the commentary. Phrases are regularly behind the action, or are off the mark entirely. It’s amusing, but it lets the on-screen action down.
So, as we reach stumps on the final day, we find ourselves largely impressed with this latest cricket offering from Big Ant. Online matches might be hard to find, and sure, we would’ve adored a classic Ashes scenario mode - imagine Edgbaston 2005, or Headingly 1981, or Adelaide 2006, etc. - but the core experience is excellent. For a sport starved of quality video games, Ashes Cricket stands with urn raised, celebrating victory. Take our word for it, chums: this is a must-have for lovers of the gentleman’s game.
The tough-old-bugger’s game of Rugger Union has never really received the video game it deserves. With that in mind, Bigben Interactive (Rugby 15, Rugby World Cup 15) step forward for their latest attempt at righting that wrong, with the outrageously titled Rugby 18.
Scrums droop from a complete lack of antagonistic weight, too. The bind, set, engage motions are performed with the sticks or triggers, and then it’s up to you to line up a reticule with a side-to-side shifting semi-circle to drive your players forward. In principle this system could work, but it sorely lacks the guts required of the sport’s true test of strength.
Mauls can feel great when you push towards the line and touchdown for a try, but just like the scrummages, you never truly get the impression that you’re in a battle. The lack of feedback in the controller across all of the aforementioned is a truly odd omission too, especially when you consider how combative a sport rugby is.
Tackling is perhaps the worst offender of them all though, with players often launching themselves in the opposite direction of the action, resulting in you losing ground, or conceding a try easily. The game also seems to decide on a whim when to activate a high tackle or mistake; it never really felt like our bad timing or placement was the reason behind it. A button especially mapped to serve as the “aggression” tackle could have helped to balance these injustices, and probably would’ve pushed the fun meter up, too.
Special mention must go to the wonderfully jumbled, constantly-behind-the-action commentary from Nick Mullins and Ben Kay.
It won’t come as any surprise to hear that the visuals and audio on offer grade from average down to abysmal, either. Menus are serviceably basic, but the in-game player models and pitch look absolutely ancient when stacked alongside the recently released Rugby League Live 4, not to mention the Madden’s and FIFA’s of this world. The visuals take an especially large dip in the jumpy, jittery, cauliflower-ear-ugly replays, too.
Special mention must go to the wonderfully jumbled, constantly-behind-the-action commentary from Nick Mullins and Ben Kay. It’s one thing for every other sentence to be fused with differing amounts of expression and enthusiasm, but Rugby 18 manages to take aural-description to new levels, with each word sounding as if it was recorded in different parts of the world, with swiftly swaying adjustments to phrasing. It is unabashedly heinous, but by jove is it hilarious to drink in.
Modes are on the stingy side as well, sadly. There’s quick match in local and online flavours, league mode - potentially fun once you put the gameplay atrocities to one side - career and my squad. The latter two are Rugby 18’s attempt to do an EA Sports; you’re tasked with building a team from scratch, with the former providing some depth as you climb the divisions, and the latter providing none as you are limited to just quick matches, with no divisional structure or merriment.
So, as the hooter sounds for the end of the match, we can’t help but feel dejected. There are some reasonable crumbs hiding amongst the rubbish, with many licensed club and international teams, a weekly challenge mode, an excellent quiz mini-game in the loading screens, and reasonably girthy league and career modes, but the frequently dross gameplay takes hold early on, snuffing out enjoyment any time you catch a faint whiff of it. With that in mind, folks, take our word for it: punt Rugby 18 into touch.
It’s that time of the year again, chums, as the smell of fresh-cut grass, drink-driving scandals, early managerial sackings, and fair-day's-work-for-a-fair-day’s-pay all combine to create the lopsided world of professional football. The new season brings with it the age old autumnal conundrum: FIFA or PES? We’ve gone in two-footed to bring you back a real piece of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 to help answer that trickiest of questions.
From our first moments on the pitch, the sumptuous weight and control of the passing system wooed. Simple, slower balls across the back feel grand, one-twos speed play up beautifully, and crosses whizz off the boot of fair wingers and fullbacks. Holding down the left trigger also engages the full manual passing option, where every completed through-ball will fill you with sheer bliss.
You can add the glorious shooting to the celebratory pile-up, too. Just like the passing, the length of your button press provides control or power to your shot perfectly. Long range drives are Phillipe Coutinho levels of wonderful, side-footed strikes into the corners provide maximum satisfaction, and cheeky glanced headers raise a smile every time they hit the back of the old onion bag. Honestly, FIFA doesn’t even make the Europa League places in passing and shooting compared to PES’ title-winning efforts.
Defending is a slightly different matter, mind, as the simplistic pressing system prevents the more aggressive defensive tactics that we like to employ during our FIFA sessions here at PTC towers. Holding the pressing button down often leads to attackers easily waltzing around our midfielders and defenders, which proves frustrating. It’ll come as no surprise then that we prefer FIFA’s turn-and-face, show him down the touchlines defensive configuration.
As a result the gameplay is flawed, though still mainly great, but what about the breadth of options on offer? Those that have played any of the last few iterations of the game will be pleased to see familiar favourites like Become a Legend (take one player from amateur to super stardom), Myclub (PES’ attempt at FIFA’s all-conquering Ultimate Team mode) and online divisions return. Legendary single-player campaign, Master League, is still an enjoyable timesink, even if the AI are easier to beat than that of EA Sports’ game (we’ve found 4-4-2 and lots of crosses into the box wins most games). It all comes together to provide a varied and sumptuous banquet of gameplay, easily supplying you with your money’s worth.
This year’s instalment looks pretty good to boot, with mostly accurate facial models for the biggest stars moving splendidly across the pitch. Goalkeeping animations have notably improved too, which importantly also boosts the actual quality of the stoppers.
If Konami pull their finger out and sort the presentation of menus, kits and logos, tighten up at the back, and fix that rancid commentary, we can see PES 2019 mounting a real title challenge.
Perhaps the real winner here though is the lighting, where gameplay is put well before realism. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve struggled to pick up the ball because of stadium shadows, weather, or clashing kits in FIFA, as EA strive for Sky Sports-like presentation, but, thankfully, that never happens here. Whether you play during the day or under lights at night, you’ll see every bit of action clearly in PES 2018.
As the stoppage time boards go up, we find ourselves focusing on the positives from PES 2018’s performance. If Konami pull their finger out and sort out the presentation of menus, kits and logos, tighten up at the back, and fix that rancid commentary, we can see PES 2019 mounting a real title challenge. This year though, they’ll just have to settle for a Champions League place.
Channelling the ghosts of the past, NBA Playgrounds aims to play a game of charged-up arcade B-ball, but, like Dennis Rodman’s hair, it has some great moments, though falls short of reaching the play-offs.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game. Elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious, as is activating the score x2 multiplier when you're not on the receiving end. It’s a shame that the single player elements of the game don’t carry the same wonder, but not surprising considering the market that Playgrounds is pitched to. Online multiplayer is almost equally as fun, provided you can find an opponent who doesn’t rage quit, but it lacks the divisional tiers that make the likes of FIFA or NBA2K such enjoyable time sinks.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game - elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious...
Playgrounds’ visual presentation is a definite highlight, with both the players and the playgrounds themselves really shining. The chunky, cartoony character models exaggerate the features of each player, as well as gifting them comically bulging muscles to provide some real laughs. Courts add to the fun factor by playing on recognisable stereotypes, from Shanghai’s cherry blossom trees, to New York’s graffiti, to Westminster with the London Eye.
Shooting from deep, the game also scores on the audio front. A cracking hip-hop theme tune plays in between games, with a vocoder-infused voice blasting lines about being “a high flyer” against a backdrop of rhymes like “alley-oop to the hoop”. The fun doesn’t stop there though, as each venue has its own theme tune, again riffing on the stereotypes of that country - Paris has accordion in its tune, par exemple.
NBA Jam had classic commentary phrases as legendary as its gameplay, and Playgrounds aims for the same territory here. Jam’s very own Ian Eagle is present, along with co-commentator E.J. Johnson, creating a mostly hilarious pairing. Lay-ups are met with comments about finger rolls, jelly rolls and butter rolls, and they also take great pleasure in breaking the fourth wall with nuggets concerning your ability with the controller, which usually bring about a chuckle.
While initially entertaining, the verbal bashings get old rather quickly, mind; we’ve lost count of the number of times Mr Eagle has ended a game harping on about his own skills on the hardwood. Playgrounds is proof that new isn’t always better than old, with nothing coming close to the genius, childhood-defining delivery of “BOOMSHAKALAKA”.
So, as the shot clock ticks down and the game nears its close, it’s obvious that, although Playgrounds can be fun, it certainly isn’t the new NBA Jam. If you’re a huge fan of NBA Street et al then you’ll get your £15.99’s worth, but for everyone else, the ball will hit the rim and bounce back out.
Saber Interactive were good enough to provide us with a copy of the game for review.
Cricket is an interesting sport to convey in a video game; do you go full arcade with T20-like fireworks, boundary side hot tubs and constant sixes, or do you go down the route of simulation with rain delays, one-man-and-his-dog crowds and forward defences? Codemasters tried for years with its Brian Lara series (99 on PS1 being the highlight), EA then picked up the baton with mixed success, but nobody has gotten as close to replicating the gentleman's game as Big Ant Studios did with Don Bradman Cricket 14. Can the follow-up build on the promise of the original? Strap on that jock strap and join us at the crease.
The brilliant control system is still present, but there are now areas of the pitch that seem impossible to hit, no matter how hard we try...
The animations for these shots have also gone backwards, the cut shot in particular looking awful when compared with the 2014 edition. It’s also been made apparent that certain shots will result in you getting out every time; never attempt to late cut a spinner (a bread-and-butter shot in the real game and in DBC 14) as you will be caught behind by the gymnastic wicketkeepers without fail. Running between the wickets has also brought about some problems, as on occasion the AI decides to create a mix up, regardless of your button presses - we’ve been run out a few times because of this bug and it is very irritating!
All of these niggles will hopefully be addressed in future patches (Big Ant are brilliant at fixing bugs and issues), as the core gameplay is still engaging and fun, while the addition of precision shots (hold down the right bumper when playing your shot) is a nice touch for the single-run-loving purist.
The modes and options available are as thorough as the original DBC, with the highlight still being the wonderfully engaging, time dissipating career mode. A lovely improvement from DBC 14 is the inclusion of club cricket. In the original your career began at county level (Hampshire is the CORRECT choice) before progressing to international fixtures. Being able to play for local towns is grand, and it’ll give you a chuckle when the commentator stutters their names out too.
Finding an online match has been an issue for us so far, whether this is down to player numbers or Big Ant’s servers is unclear at this time.
As the bails are removed and we reach the close of play, we have to be honest; we’re slightly disappointed with Don Bradman Cricket 17. Most of what made the original great is still here, but in trying to reach a wider audience DBC 17 prods at a wide one and edges to slip. Here’s hoping Big Ant continue to listen to their community and patch out the bugs and glitches, as if they do, we’ll have the definitive console cricketing experience.