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.

Play 07

Finally, following on from Listen 07 and Watch 07, a round up of my favourite games from 2007.

Orange Box
Half Life 2This is really five games for the price of one. Usually a box set is an indication of average games being sold together but all of the content here is AAA. The main meat is provided by Half Life 2 (HL2), HL2 Episode 1 and HL2 Episode 2. While all three are new to the 360 and PS3, HL2 has been out for a few years on the pc. With slightly slicker graphics being the only main change in HL2 I was a bit worried it would feel stale. However the story still feels fresh and it’s been a joy playing through HL2 again. I’ve enjoyed the story more on the console than I did on the pc – I’ve no reason why, it’s just what I’ve found during play. I’ve yet to complete HL2 yet so Episodes 1 & 2 remain untouched but I am really looking forward to them.

PortalPortal is a puzzle game that is unique to Orange Box. Using a portal gun the player creates two portals. Walk through one portal and you appear through the other. Using this simple concept a number of puzzles must be solved eventually enabling the player to escape from the Aperture Science Labs. Gameplay is pretty short coming in well under five hours. However this is a unique and enjoyable gaming experience that I hope everyone will get the chance to try. Portal alone is worth buying Orange Box for – that’s how much I enjoyed it. Even the end credits are pretty special. The game length is also perfectly judged and once completed you get the chance to go for quick times through each of the challenges or try some of the advanced puzzles which are pretty tough. Stunning.

Team Fortress 2The final game is Team Fortress 2. This is multiplayer only featuring a totally different set of visuals and sounds. Very cartoony with some great audio and presentation. What differentiates this from the other FPS on the market at the moment are the variety of classes. There are nine options and there is a much larger emphasise on team play to win when compared with Halo or Call of Duty. I’ve only played a few games but they have been lag free (thanks to an update) and great fun. Initially everyone will go for the Soldier or Heavy but over time you realise the importance of Medics, Engineers, Spy’s and Scouts. I think there are only six maps which feels a bit tight but they are pretty large and due to the variety of classes there is a huge amount of replayability in them. Over time I would expect more maps to become available.

So that’s Orange Box. If it was just the Half Life series or indeed Portal alone it would have been in my games of the year but to have all five for the price of one is great value. Even at double the price it would have been in my list. So what’s next?
Continue reading “Play 07”


A few program updates…

  • There’s a new 360 dash out. It works a bit quicker than the old one and has been slightly reorganised, for the better in my view. It’s caused a bit of a problem for EA games though which i don’t think are fully resolved yet. DivX & XVid playback now fully supported which is nice as well as a slew of small changes throughout the system. Video Marketplace launches Dec 11th in UK – will be interested in comparing HD quality with Sky & BluRay. With these updates the 360 is finally rivalling XBMC for functionality, while blowing it out of the water for HD. Shame about the noise. And the DVD upscaling – so poor!
  • For Mac users wanting to stream the new video formats to the 360 Nullsoft have updated Connect 360. fast work from the devs to get this out the day after the dash update.
  • Yojimbo has finally been updated with a few new features while hopefully addressing a couple of Leopard bugs. Even though Together has been upgraded I still prefer the features in Yojimbo – and .Mac syncing seems to be working again. Woo!


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.

This weekend was mostly spent…

  • Watching sport. Great win for Scotland on Saturday, and on Sunday in the rugby although they looked a bit nervous at times. Grand prix was pretty good – another close season. Tennis has also been top notch.
  • Playing with Facebook. I can see why it’s pretty addictive.
  • Recovering from golf on Friday. A great day was had by all and after a great round from me (to be honest a far to generous handicap helped) I took the trophy (now virtual) for another year.
  • Tidying up the laptop. It’s always a bit neglected compared to the desktop so every so often it’s needs a bit of work. All looking tip top now though.
  • Garden tidy. Need to take advantage of these good days and give the garden a good tidy. Started but by no means finished. Another trip to Dobbies required!
  • Enjoying Warhawk. First essential PS3 game for me…only took 6 months.
  • Starting sorting out photo library…finally. Using iPhoto and it’s been great so far. Only got a few years left to sort.

I’ve still got loads of jobs to do that I wanted to do a few weeks ago. Roll on two weeks time and another week of work. I’ll be busy….playing Halo 3!

Bioshock Demo

It came out yesterday but I only managed to finish the download today. Fantastic graphics and sound but most important is an environment dripping with atmosphere. The demo scratches the surface and actually promises so much more with some cutscenes at the end of the demo that really wet the appetite. A must have purchase for the 360…again. I wonder when the PS3 will finally get a killer title? It’s out next week, single player only and here’s hoping it really matches up to the hype of system shock successor.

The graphics while not only great are also very stylish and totally different to anything out there at the moment. Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but they are very good. The developers have now released a PDF celebrating the visuals within the game. The post warns of spoilers so I’ve not read the text within the PDF yet, but the images are superb. A great freebie and well worth a look even if your not buying the game.

Site Tweaks

Finally got round to doing some small tweaks to tidy the site up. Sidebar is a lot less cluttered with links now moved to a page all of their own. Speaking of pages I’ve finally got an About page sorted that holds info about me (doh) and also last tracks heard, a currently list, gamercard and some site stats.

Flickr gallery can also be accessed through Gallery page which gives me a couple of options when wanting to view photo’s. Much tidier. Now back to real life tidying – this room’s a mess.

XBox 2004

Halo 2 released on Nov 9th, EA games coming to live which will mean Fifa, Madden and Battlefield all featuring live support (Burnout 3 also) and video conferencing from the xbox, which to me means video within games – superb. Confirms xbox as strongest console in my book. Just need to win lottery, build house and retire to life of luxury…finding someone to share all this with would also be required but the lottery win would make that a tad easier.