F1 Is Back

So the first race of the new F1 season is over. What a race. What a start. The Brawn GP team have come out of nowhere in pre-season testing and carried that pace through to today’s race. Roll back two months and it looked like they wouldn’t even be racing. It was great to see Button take the win, amazing that Barichello barged his way to a second place and even more unbelievable that Hamilton the snail came in third.

It will take a few races to know if the rule changes introduced for 2009 have made a difference but looking at today’s race alone there seemed to be more overtaking and action throughout the whole race. I actually enjoyed the entire race which is fairly unusual. Partly that was down to lesser teams emerging as the new contenders and seeing Ferrari and especially McLaren struggling to cope. Another reason was the overtaking and the failures/incidents right to the end of the race. Maybe it was just that F1 was back on the BBC.

I got up in time to catch the new titles this morning. The Chain is back. I liked the intro and it set the scene nicely. I’m also liking the increased coverage on the BBC and the new presenting team. Even Eddie Jordan started to grow on me once he had crawled out of Richard Branson’s arse. Speaking of Branson, it really started to annoy just how much he was spinning the Brawn win and how they’ve put in money. Yesterday. Yes, big impact they’ve made. Anyway, back to the BBC. For me they kept the good parts of ITV coverage, lost the adverts, added an after race forum which was actually good to watch and also replaced James Allen.

Yep, I’m glad good old James has moved on. I just didn’t like him as a commentator. However, as a journalist and more recently a blogger I’ve become a fan. His blog is regularly updated with insightful commentary on F1 and what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s excellent and a great companion to the TV coverage. Just a shame the TV coverage hasn’t moved on to HD…yet.

So, next stop Malaysia. More Brawn dominance? I’d expect so although I can’t see Hamilton being as lucky. Red Bull, Ferrari, Toyota and maybe BMW all look stronger and all through car failure, rule issues or driver mistakes cleared the way for Hamilton. Assuming the Brawn car is found to be legal and the keep reliable it will be really interesting to se how long the others will take to catch up. This has all the hallmarks of a great F1 season. I can’t wait.

Race Pro

There’s been a real lack of racing games on the 360 recently. There’s always been a healthy amount of racing game from arcade through to sim like but since GRID (which i really didn’t like apart form the graphics) and Forza 2 (so long ago now) there’s been hardly anything. Thank goodness for Race Pro which was released last week.

Now unlike most games that I pick up, first impressions aren’t very good. Graphically this isn’t a looker and while proficient enough it suffers from frame rate issues, stuttering during playback and a fairly standard career mode that does nothing new.

Online options are also more limited than similar games and suffer from some issues. Hosting a game can be problematic at first as when a new player joins the game the hosts game stutters. Even worse, to change car choice you need to drop the game and restart the multiplayer room. You can change the track your racing on while using the same cars but that’s about it. Pretty poor. Scoreboards are also full of glitcher times. Sigh.

However, this is a game from SimBin, renowned for their PC racing game pedigree. Move the settings to professional, turn off all the driving aids and switch to manual gears and you’ll find the best driving sim on the 360. It feels superb and online play has been excellent so far despite the shortcomings already mentioned. I’ve spent a couple of nights now online with the game and it is very rewarding and will definetly be the racing game of choice until Forza 3 eventually appears.

The physics just feel right. Unlike other console racers where there physics, or lack off, are soon exposed everything in Race Pro feels real. You can flip your car and I have done a couple of times now. Most other racers refuse to flip no matter what you do. Also refreshing is the car and track choice. A variety of tracks are making their first appearance on the 360 and Race Pro is all the better for it’s track variety. The cars are also varied, each having their own unique feel and sound. One thing that really does annoy though is that cars need to be unlocked before you can play them online. What a daft decision. By not having at least a car unlocked on each class makes it difficult to join random races online until you’ve played quite a bit of the career mode which is fairly dull and unrewarding. It also makes it difficult for friends to pick up the game later in the year and join in online until they have unlocked some cars. Ill thought out and a lack of understanding what players want from a game, both offline and on.

The fact that it’s graphics are a bit of a let down should not put you off this game. It’s a shame but doesn’t detract from the games main selling point – highly realistic racing. While some issues may be fixed via a patch I don’t hold out much hope as we haven’t really see many games get better and better with patches (online Burnout Paradise perhaps?). I love the game and hope others pick up and enjoy it too but it will be a hard sell for Atari. It would be great if there’s enough sales for a Race Pro 2 with better graphics and presentation and a larger range of online options and tracks. The racing engine deserves it.

GT5 Prologue

The title that the PS3 has been waiting for or a glorified demo that is a shameless cash in on a game starved community? Depending on how much time you give the game you could easily walk away with either impression.

Playing GT5 Prologue brings back a lot of memories. Lovely menu’s, soft jazz elevator music playing in the background and some slow cars to get you into the game. It’s always wrong to judge Gran Turismo titles on initial play as it usually has real depth that unveils as you play more. However in single player, playing though the first three classes is fairly dull. I don’t think I played a challenge more than twice to complete it until I hit A class. Even then the only reason was to get money to buy cars to complete challenges. What a grind. This was supposed to be a racing game, not a grind game. It took a long time of repetitive gaming to get enough money to buy cars to complete A class.

GT 5

However completing A class open’s up a far more interesting game. S class is unlocked and also car tuning. Suddenly the tweaking that is the heart of getting fast times and better handling out of cars is available throughout the game. I can’t understand why the dev’s would want to lock this out until now. The earlier modes aren’t that challenging and quite a few people will never even get to see this part of the game due to boredom of having to grind.

S class is excellent though. Fast cars and some great challenges. Also excellent are the car models and the variety. For a cut down game there’s more than enough to keep you occupied including a 2007 F1 Ferrari. It only costs £2,000,000 though so it’s something I’ll never probably see. Graphically the car models are stunning – far more impressive than Forza 2. Not so impressive are the tracks. They range from good (as in almost as good as Forza) to poor. Some graphical glitches and vsync issues mar some tracks. There are also only six tracks so not much variety. Remember though that this is prologue only though.

One of the big claims from Polyphony is around the online modes. In fact there have been claims that this is the best online console racer. Ever. With races of up to 16 players it sounded good on paper but in practice it’s pretty ugly. Firstly there are no private rooms, no friends lists and a real lack of community. This will be fixed in a patch. Allegedly. Online works by offering events that you can take part in. Early events use slower cars. People taking shortcuts or barging into others aren’t penalised. There’s also the issue of no car damage and also the fact that on many courses, not slowing into corners and using the barriers to keep you on the track is the fastest route. Cue online gaming at it’s worst. If there is a collision the two cars go invisible to limit damage. I was amazed as someone raced into the back of me, us going transparent and him keeping most of his speed (don’t think he touched his brakes at all) and continuing to drive through me. Unbelievable. Damage is also promised later in the year.

S class events offered some hope in that people taking to grass and barriers are punished by slowing their car for 4-5 seconds. Except that people shunted off track by idiots are the ones punished…not the real cheaters. Hopefully Polyphony will fix this before the proper game. They’ve allegedly got a year.

Something they don’t need to address though is the car handling which is superb. Each car handles and feels differently but feels…right. However it doesn’t feel any better than Forza 2. Computer AI is abysmal though. Awful in fact. AI cars will continue on their path no matter what’s in there way. Polyphony also added events like AI cars spinning out during a race. This is spoiled though when you realise that offline events are scripted. Every race is the same. A car putting a wheel on the dirt and kicking up dirt does it on the same track at the same corner at the same time each and every race. Really takes away from the atmosphere.

So it’s really a mixed bag. Give up before S class and your left with a pretty bad taste. Grind out some money though and there’s a really enjoyable racer hidden away. Just don’t expect much online. Also, don’t buy via download which costs £24.99 while the Blu-Ray disk costs around £18 online. So much for digital distribution reducing costs. More like increasing profits. One final thought. This isn’t a console seller. If you’ve already got a 360 then Forza 2 is a far better game. Next year when the full GT5 is launched could be a different story.


December 2005. PGR3 on the newly launched 360 is met with plaudits but also some frustration. Not a true HD game, 30 fps and a lack of variety compared to PGR2. What guaranteed it’s success was a lack of competition. It took over 18 months before a game challenged PGR on the 360. That game was Forza 2. However there was never any doubt that Microsoft would cash in with a PGR sequel.

I should point out that I loved the PGR series and it’s predecessor Metropolis Street Racer with PGR2 being the highlight so far. Great track variety and a superb online mode supplemented with downloadable content that extended it’s life. However it was widely known that Bizarre was forced into releasing PGR3 as a launch title which meant corners were cut. With a sequel given the green light I can imagine they wanted to throw as much into PGR4 as they could. Unfortunately too much can detract rather than add to the game.

So What’s New?
There are now 10 cities within the game and this really helps to reduce the repetitiveness of the tracks seen in the previous version. However four of the cities were also in PGR3 so you do feel a little cheated. Before PGR4 was released the dev’s made a big play on how the tracks were now more forgiving and you can see that in some places but in general there are some incredibly tight sections that inevitably lead to contact, especially online. More on that later.

Start Line

The game modes are almost unchanged from previous versions. Street racing, eliminator, one on one modes and time challenges are still my favourites. This leaves the dreaded cone challenges and kudus star chases. I detest both with a passion and these modes detract from the game.

What is new are the vehicles available. Some older models are now in the game but by far the biggest addition are the bikes. These obviously handle differently from the cars and they just feel a bit odd. When you start to turn a bike the head moves with the first movement of the pad and then the bike starts to turn. It takes some time to get used to and to be honest I’m still not that happy with them. They are also far more resilient than for example Moto GP which is understandable as no one would use them if they fell down at the slightest touch. However use them online at your peril – almost every game online has seen bikes taken out before or during the first corners. It’s a dirty world out there. It’s also amazing how much draft you get from a bike!

Graphics and Sound
The graphics are stunning. The detail of each car is amazing but the bike models show off the graphics to an even higher level. Look at the pic below – bike chain, nuts and bolts…almost too detailed. Cities are also rendered to a far greater detail than PGR3 as are the few tracks that are in the game. The F1 track looks miles better than before.

Detailed Bike

The game is also very smooth with no pop-up and no glitches seen during both off and online racing. Special mention must go to the weather effects. The rain is stunning. Riding on bumper view and it looks spectacular and the puddles gathering on the tracks not only look realistic but grab your car as well. However swapping to in car view shows an amazing simulation of rain on the windscreen. Streams run up the windscreen as you accelerate and on stormy nights the wipers struggle to give you a view. It really adds to the immersion!

Engines also sound superb with the best reserved for some of the bikes – they sound monstrous apart from maybe the jet bike which just sounds odd.

This is an arcade racer. Get that into your head and you’ll enjoy the game. If you expect handling approaching Forza 2 then you will be disappointed. In saying that it is good fun although I do find the cone and star challenges incredibly dull.

The usual Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum difficulty levels apply but there is also a career mode that allows you to climb a world ranking table taking on challenges over the period of a season. This is a nice mode and much better than the arcade challenges.

Along with the multiplayer, online scoreboards etc it’s a pretty deep game with plenty to keep you occupied with. It’s annoying though that lap times and split times aren’t displayed but that just highlights the lurch to an arcade model. It’s also disappointing that modes like capture the track are missing from the game. I hope it’s not released as a paid for upgrade as it should have been available from the start.

There’s a couple of major changes to the online options in PGR4. Firstly there is now a party mode similar to Halo which allows you to take up to three other friends into opponents rooms and race as a team. Sounds great but in practice it has a number of issues. The matchmaking is slow. Really slow. Amazingly badly slow. We were waiting at least two minutes between finding rooms although there were times that after five minutes we had to stop and start the search…only to wait another couple of minutes. The second issue is that the online world is full of dirty players. Almost every game is ruined by opponents taking you out of the game. I accept this is an arcade game but it is frustrating to be taken out on the start/finish line or the first corner on almost every race. You can see some stats on PGR Nations like the screen below but I’ve no idea how a clean race is calculated.

PGR Nations

The third major problem was the graphically fantastic weather. Almost every game was wet or…very wet. While I appreciate the effort that has gone into the weather modes the matchmaking needs a tweak to reduce the rain’s frequency. If only we could do that in real life!

Unfortunately those aren’t the only issues. A gap of a few feet between cars but you still cause a crash? It’s also annoying that spins are so easy online but offline you can’t do the same to AI racers. That sounds to me that spins could be addressed but the developers have chosen to allow spins to easily occur.

The other major new feature is PGR Nations. The site allows you to upload photo’s and see world rankings, you and your friends stats and also enter tournaments and see the worlds best players. It’s a nice addition especially the photo mode. On PGR4 you can also save and view friends video’s and also rate them. Some of the top 20 video’s are superb and well worth a look.

PGR4 is a good game. Not great, but good all the same. If it hadn’t come out during this golden time for games then I may have appreciated it more but it just doesn’t do enough compared to others in the series. Hopefully over a longer period it will show some hidden depths.

Forza Leagues

Over the last three weeks I’ve been beavering away on a new website which is finally ready to roll – www.forzaleagues.com. For the last few years I’ve gamed with a great but dwindling bunch of guys known as The Lickers. We’ve ended up with a core group enjoying mostly racing and first person shooters but we have a problem – no site to run leagues and a habit of starting a league but never finishing it.

So myself and Cheesy (fellow Lick) decided to try and do something about it, hence Forza Leagues. The website allows us to easily run multiple leagues and seasons for Forza 2. It should make the admin part as easy as possible and give us some nice stats along the way. It also allows us to attract 360 users from other forums and websites to join our leagues or form their own using the software we’ve developed.


Now when I say we’ve developed the software it’s really all down to one guy – Graeme (he asked me not to link to his homepage). So it’s a big thank you for the coding you’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. Everyone’s feedback so far has been really positive. I also need to thank Robert (Foe Real) who’s logo work in Forza is superb and can be seen above. Soon we’ll all be riding using his designs.


Longer term we hope to add more games, leagues, ladders and team tournaments but for the moment, to get us started, we’re focussing on Forza 2 only. We’re looking for clean racers to join up and take part. Don’t worry about fast times as there will be leagues to cater for all abilities. The important thing is that you race fairly and don’t abuse your fellow gamers. If that sounds like you and you enjoy Forza 2 then feel free to register with Forza Leagues and at least give it a go. Hope to see you there.

Video Treats

These have all probably done the rounds but they are new to me so I thought I would share.

First up are High Speed Video clips. Sounds pretty dull and the web page is very 90’s but the content is superb. Highly recommended are the face slaps and punches. The jello clip is also eye opening and the paintball shot proves just how sore these shots can be.

Next up is Sabine who spends her time driving folk around the Nurburgring. The video shows just how fast she goes and also how lucky the Scottish passenger is. Dog.

And finally – set phasers tae malky. Enjoy.

Colin Mcrae 04

Picked up Colin Mcrae 04 today. First impressions are favourable. Graphics are improved over previous version, handling does feel more weighty – I tried 03 a couple of days ago just to make sure I would notice differences like these.

However there are some usability niggles that should no longer exist in games and smack of lazy programming and/or cash-in of an easy upgrade. Firstly you can’t assign your own controls, with the ability to only choose from one of five pre-defined control settings. This is pretty nasty and while I can find one that almost suits me why couldn’t I assign controls to buttons of my choosing. Allowing the user to map controls to any buttons should be a pre-requisite on all games.

Every time you start the game you have to enter your name – why doesn’t it hold the previous entry? The LIVE scoreboards are a good edition although proper multiplayer is would have been a better option. In fact the LIVE scoreboards seem to load separately meaning you come ‘out’ of the game when accessing them. When you go back to the game it restarts but without the loading intro’s – weird.

Overall a good game, better than the last one but a fairly weak update.