Planet Coaster: A Fun Ride… For The First Fifty Hours At Least.

Intro: A brief history of the genre

I have been playing amusement park management games since I was tiny. I remember playing Theme Park on the Sega Mega Drive (or ‘Genesis’ for the yanks) and recall the seemingly limitless possibilities and the awe that it inspired within me (I also remember constructing a park called ‘Bog Land’ with my sibling that was entirely made of toilets in a grid… it wasn’t a profitable venture).

theme park

On to the Playstation the games got bigger… but unfortunately it proved to be the end of the road for the developer of Theme Park. The title, Theme Park World was okay, but it really wasn’t the technological advancement that we expected. The game felt a little basic and the campaign was short and a little dull.

So disappointing, given that it came out only a couple of years after Theme Hospital, which is considered to be one of the finest management sims and a game that I feel both deserves a sequel and which I’m glad EA haven’t touched since… anyway, I digress.

Then Roller Coaster Tycoon came along on PC and became everything that Theme Park World should have been. The significant advancement in custom roller-coaster design took peoples imaginations and resulted in limitless fun and outrageous designs.

rollercoaste tycoon

Who didn’t enjoy building a coaster with no end that launched poor guests into a lake or at the neighbors?

Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 stuck to the same model, providing more of the same and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 took the world into the full 3D realm, for better, or for worse. Personally, I quite liked the change and I found the campaign in RCT3 to be by far the best of the three.

Unfortunately, the dominance of the Roller Coaster Tycoon brand seems to be coming to a close, with the release of a game that has been largely panned by critics, weirdly called Roller Coaster Tycoon World (ominous echoes of Theme Park World…). It released in close proximity to Planet Coaster and by the looks of it, Planet Coaster has won the war.

Enter Planet Coaster…

king coaster

So the last really good game in this genre was released in 2004, so for thirteen years we’ve been playing the same game and technology has moved on. Fans yearn for more.

Billed as the spiritual successor to Roller Coaster Tycoon, Planet Coaster released in direct opposition to the newest game in the RCT series… and seems to have taken the crown.

But is it any good?… well yes.

As a technical improvement on Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, it is breathtaking. Building coasters is a joyful and challenging experience with the intuitive heat-maps that tell you which parts of the coaster is particularly vomit-making or poop-pushing. You have a great deal of freedom in this regard and can largely do exactly what you want.

The big change here however is the ability to design your own buildings, building shops and rides into them and creating some stunning and themed scenery. This ability to decorate doubles as a mechanic to try to entertain your guests.

If there is nothing to look at around the queues to your rides, guests won’t want to queue for long and will get bored. Indeed if you make the entrance to a ride look schwifty enough, people will pay more to get on.

coaster castle

Unfortunately, this game does not come without it’s flaws. It has been criticized for being too easy and in places, I would definitely agree with this. The campaign is short, with a small number of scenarios, from beginner to hard levels. Beginner levels are essentially a tutorial, and won’t challenge you to any great extent.

There is serious potential here, as the game is adding new scenarios, which have been free thus far. However, at the moment, there’s just not really enough here to go on and the added content has tried to counter the lack of content with excessive difficulty, in an attempt to stop you from completing it all so quickly.

The saving grace is the Challenge Mode, which will drop you in a flat square of land and gives you a standard set of missions to complete. It’s more interesting than sandbox mode, but less interesting than a fully fleshed out and balanced campaign. It feels lazy and as a result the game feels unfinished.

Steam workshop support is great, but by giving you the option to simply download designs from other players, it might discourage you from making your own coasters and buildings. It’s nice to have it there, and I’d like to see some more scenarios from the workshop being brought into the game with proper objectives and custom rules.

I’ve had a lot of fantastic hours on this game, but I’ve done about everything that the game has to offer at this point and I’m really hoping that Frontier won’t rely on the Steam community to create its content for it.

With more scenarios and continued support, possibly leader-boards and some curated content brought into the main game from the workshop, this game has the potential to be truly great… but in it’s current state it’s merely good.

I’ll give it seven vomiting guests out of ten.

PES 2018: Too Little, Too Late… But I Kinda Can’t Wait

Since the tail end of the Xbox 360 / PS3 era, I’ve been exclusively a PC gamer for the most part. I don’t think I’ve turned on a console for a few months because PC gaming is so much more convenient and cheaper, once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of building your gaming rig.

Now, Konami don’t do PC gaming very well. Their PC ports tend to be awful and the PC versions of Pro Evolution Soccer in the last few years have been based on the last gen variant.

PES graphics

Now, I’m assuming that their positive spin argument for this is that not all gamers have a PC that will run the latest version, but Konami would have to be colossal idiots to believe this. PC gaming has always been about a variety of hardware, tweaking graphics settings etc. to make games run. They are spoiling the experience of a large number of people because some people still have PC’s that were built in the 1800’s.

The fact that we are not given the choice to run the game at ‘current-gen’ specs is beyond daft, and as a result, the last football game that I bought was PES: 2015 (with the exception of Rocket League, which is the greatest football game of all time).

Konami have now made the announcement that the next PES game on the PC will be in line with current-gen technology (The below snip has been taken from Konami’s official teaser site).

PES Snip

“PC Steam version undergoes substantial enhancements in graphics and content, meeting quality standards and ensuring parity across all current gen platforms”. They say this as if this is some sort of gift, as if we should be grateful… but how has it taken this long?!

It seems that other PC Gamers may have stopped buying the games and Konami have finally realized that they could boost sales by treating PC Gamers with a little respect.

Admittedly, I kinda want it and I’m really hoping this game will be good. I’ve never liked FIFA’s over-realistic sluggish movement of the ball. The controls are always unresponsive and everything seems to move at a frustratingly slow pace.

P.S. If someone at Konami is reading this (as if…), there is one thing that you could do to make this up to PC Gamers… one thing that will make us happy again… add Steam Workshop support please… you know why.

The Tragedy of Ubisoft: Great Games, Marred by Greedy Businessmen

If you look at Ubisoft in the last couple of years, it’s difficult to fault the quality of the products that they are pumping out (…with the possible exception of The Division). These games are polished works that are genuinely engaging and fun to play and I have personally put many hours into both Rainbow Six: Siege and For Honor.

Mr Dark

Rainbow Six: Siege

Rainbow Six: Siege, whilst an online multiplayer and nothing more, is far more interesting than any of the shooters that have been released in the last few years. It is a welcome relief from Counter-Strike and a nice change of pace in the testosterone-fueled, focus tested farce that is the current multiplayer shooter ecosystem.

Rainbow

My love for this game is great, which is precisely why I’m so disappointed that men in suits have turned the game into a marketplace. Here are my main gripes with this game:

Firstly, I would like to address the issue of season passes. Do you remember when you paid £40 for a game and you got the game? It seems like such a distant memory now, with the mass use of season passes and DLC in games.

Season passes, especially in largely multiplayer experiences such as Battlefield, mean that you are going to end up paying more like £80 for a complete game, the developers knowing full well that you will need to buy all of the new maps in order to play the thing online.

Rainbow Six: Siege currently has two of the things, which retail at over £20 each on release. Whilst i prefer a game that has continued development over a CoD-style annual release, this is somewhat taking the piss.

Following from my previous point, it is theoretically possible to unlock the content hidden behind the season pass paywalls through ‘renown’, the in-game currency, but the marketplace is so rigged, that the amount of grinding required to unlock even a single character is obscene.

Let’s be generous and imagine that you can make roughly 1,000 ‘renown’ in an hour. A new character costs 25,000 renown. You will need to play this game continuously for over a day to unlock a character.

OK, so Ubisoft release 8 characters per season pass, and it’s going to take in excess of 200 hours for you to unlock all of them. if you pay £20 for the season pass, Ubisoft values your time at roughly 10p per hour? Bollocks.

For Honor (or ‘For Honour’, if you want to spell it correctly)

Wow, this game blew me away. While I may not be great at it, but it is a fantastically satisfying and tense experience. This game at it’s best in the dominion game mode, where two teams of four heroes compete over a number of points strewn across the map.

for honour

You plow through basic spods with ease and encounters with other players feel significant and exciting. This is usually when this game ceases to be fun, through no fault of the game itself.

Yet again, Ubisoft’s money-men fiddled with a well-crafted game, with no consideration for the user experience… they added a loot system that not only makes you look snazzier, but also makes you better than everyone who doesn’t have as much gear as you.

You will enter into a game and you will see the other team’s loot level is far higher than yours and ask yourself, ‘what is the point?’. You cannot win at that point because the game is unbalanced and those with the loot will win every time.

Loot takes a long time to grind and in the meantime you’re essentially barred from the best mode in the game, because the game doesn’t even allow you to play the dominion mode with the loot statistics disallowed, which is perfectly possible in other game modes. The reason is simple; introducing this would remove the reason to put money into micro-transactions.

So here’s the most baffling thing about this… it creates an unnecessary barrier to entry for new players and will cause players to turn off. This will absolutely lead to a reduction in sales of this and future products and DLC. This money-grabbing behavior will not only lose the company money in the long term, but it shamefully reduces the audience of a game that developers have clearly put so much effort into.

In Conclusion

How frustrating it must be to put your heart and soul into something, only to have it ruined by someone further up the corporate ladder, who not only has zero respect for the product, but who clearly doesn’t understand it.

Ubisoft have a team of brilliantly skilled developers who they simply don’t respect. There seems to be a real culture problem, where short-term gains and making the most cash from each customer is having a significant negative impact on the experience of the customer.

If we want to combat this terrible attitude, we need to hit them where it hurts:

  • Withhold your purchase until the full game (i.e. the base game plus all DLC) is available at the price you want to pay.
  • Request a refund for a game that you aren’t enjoying as a result of pushy or essential micro-transactions.
  • Buy the games that are sold ethically (without micro-transactions or excessive paid DLC)

Contrast

Contrast is an example of an excellent concept brought to life with great care and a large quantity of style.

Contrast: a game of light and shadow

Contrast: a game of light and shadow

Everything about the game simply oozes class and finesse. The setting is an impressive romanticisation of the roaring 20’s in a fragmented world that is never really fully explained. At first, I thought that the world was only fragmented in the shadow realm, but since the little girl you are assisting (who belongs to the “solid” realm) cannot traverse the gaping chasms; I reason that the world itself must be fragmented.

The way that the interactions with those of the other realm occurs is truly inspired and clever. You become truly immersed and some of the side puzzles are as challenging as the story challenges.

contrast style

The game mechanics are simple and the puzzles are well designed. Whilst I wouldn’t say that they were perfectly intuitive, there were very few rage inducing fiddly bits that plague this kind of game elsewhere. It has a nice balance between testing  both reflexes and brain-power.

Puzzle games are not one of my favourite genres, but this one gets top marks for its originality and its execution. The whole thing feels crafted by someone who cares; more than can be said for the AAA vomit that gets chucked at us consistently.

contrast gameplay

The only issue that I have with the game is its length. I do not rush games, and I didn’t rush this one (finding most of the hidden collectables), but even so I was done with it in less than four hours… and that really isn’t good enough for a full game.

There really isn’t a whole lot of replay value either, aside from looking for missed collectables. This is one of the key reasons that I’m not a huge fan of puzzle games… once you’ve finished it, that’s it really.

 

My summary, like the game, will be short and sweet:

A fantastic, well-crafted and engrossing game while it lasts… which isn’t nearly long enough. Wait for it to go on sale, but it’s definitely one to play.

7 corsets out of 10

Gears of War: Judgement

Looks can be deceiving...

Promising so much, yet delivering so little…

The Gears of War series is one of those series’ that have so defined this generation of games consoles. It’s had its ups and downs in multiplayer terms, but its single-player has always impressed, becoming more epic and ambitious upon each outing. As a result, I’ve always been confident about buying a gears game because of its consistent quality.

No more, however. This jaunt into the gears universe is a massive disappointment I’m afraid to report. It is a prequel, and the storyline for the single-player is solid. However, the developers have managed to do so little with it. I mean, they entirely skip the war with the faux-russians and go straight for the locusts. I would have liked to see that, and we’ve basically done locusts now.

You get the feeling that the game could have been really quite good, but that the ambitious young up and comer we knew and loved has grown into a fat, greedy CEO (more on this later). It just doesn’t feel right.

It’s competently put together, but instead of a long suave of storytelling, it seems to have deliberately cut itself into 5 minute chunks to fit with the new challenge system. I like the challenge system, but it’s not very well integrated and it ruins the feel of the thing. The game feels permanently staccato. They tried something new and it didn’t work.

It seems like the epic story has been replaced by an arcade-style shoot-em-up that wouldn’t seem out of place sat next to house of the dead 3. Essentially, they have turned a thrilling page-turner into a toilet read.

I could forgive the tedious single-player experience if the multiplayer was any good, but I have to say that I am past disappointed with it. Credit where credit is due; overrun mode is great and is good fun for a couple of hours. I think that it is an inspired addition that has been very well done. It’s a mix of horde and beast mode where players take on both the role of defending COG and attacking locust.

Overrun mode is fantastic!

Overrun mode is fantastic!

Here is where the praise ends, as deathmatch mode, the gears staple, has been frankly ruined. COG vs Locusts is great, as you can very easily tell who’s who. They look different, sound different, make different footstep noises and the old human vs monster thing really hits the spot.

So why did they make it COG vs COG?! Red vs blue works on games like Halo, because the character is entirely the one colour. In gears, you have red or blue pants and sleeves, but the player can choose the colour of the armour plating… and there is a colour that is quite red. I would hate to be colour-blind playing it.

No locust, no fun...

No locust, no fun…

They cut the locusts because it’s apparently happening before they arrive on the scene? Well, someone tell the single player writers, because I don’t think they got that memo. Locusts belong in the deathmatch and their absence ruins the feel of it completely; it just isn’t gears anymore.

Limiting the player to one weapon is another terrible idea. When you ask the player to give up either his rifle or shotgun, the rifle often goes out of the window and the whole game becomes a mess, with players sprinting at each other in order to blow each other to pieces. This totally ruins the tactical aspect of the game and makes it pretty much unplayable… it isn’t fun anymore… it isn’t gears anymore (I’m sure you get my point by now).

My final big complaint about the multiplayer is the map selection; there aren’t enough of them and the ones they did bother to make are awful. Were the designers on something when they drew the designs, or are they just sadists? None of the maps work properly, and the game suffers from retarded-respawn syndrome (you can spawn with your face on the end of someone’s shotgun, or in a rifle’s scope).

There is a map that is basically a series of rooftops and alleyways in a big line and there’s another that is set out in a big circle… it’s really lazy design. Try to spice it up with a few suspended cars all you like, but players know that getting into one of those is suicide and you’re really fooling no-one.

Four maps (yes… you read correctly) are far too few. I would say that six good maps is the minimum amount that a shooter can get away with. With such a small number of poor quality maps, the game gets really stale in less than an hour (well, that’s how long it took me to grow bored of it and put GoW3 in at any rate).

Even after all that, the worst is still yet to come! There are actually eight maps on the disk that you buy in the shops, and you will have to pay them for the right to unlock the maps you’ve already purchased! Absolutely, unforgivably disgusting!! They released one map for free because of the fully justified backlash, but this only means that you’ll get one less map in the pack when you buy it anyway.

It seems like Epic really have lost interest in making quality games, and have joined the ranks of developers who are ripping off the consumer with mediocre product.

If the original Gears of War team (as they were when they made the first game) saw this game, I’m absolutely positive that they would disown it and try to sue someone. This game takes a giant steamer over a series that should have gone out with a bang, but is now shuddering along on the corpses of the consumer, without dignity, without credibility and without respect.

It deserves none and gets none from me. Poor form epic. This is a tediously mediocre addition to an otherwise excellent series.

Rating: a mere four lancers out of ten

Portal 2

Every now and then a game will come from out of nowhere, based entirely on a novel idea that had never been previously imagined, let alone put into practice. The first portal was just such a game.

I remember the first time I ever saw portal, round at a friend’s house with a few beers and the orange box. Eventually, we got bored of team fortress 2 and – deciding that Half Life 2 wasn’t exactly a party starter – we booted up some random puzzler tacked onto the compilation to fill up empty disk space…

…HOW WRONG WE WERE!!!

Thinking back now, Portal is honestly my favourite game in that pack. Though it probably didn’t last any more than about 4-6 hours, the game simply oozed charm and was so simple and original that I almost didn’t believe that someone got a developer to even make it!

Simplicity and dark humour were the game’s backbone and heart respectively. Despite this, by the end of it I wasn’t expecting a sequel because they had surely done all they could with it, right?…

…WRONG AGAIN!!!

Valve managed to pull off one of the most impressive things that a developer can do to a game’s sequel; it managed to add an enormous amount of complexity and depth whilst maintaining the core mechanics and not overcomplicating the thing.

So there are new and interesting ways to interact with the environment, allowing you to do things that were impossible in the previous game. Speed gel allows you to zoom around and make impossible gaps; bounce gel allows you to get up to places previously unreachable and portal-surface gel allows you to make almost anything a portal-friendly surface. Anti-gravity beams move you or a companion in whatever direction you might point it.

Blue stuff

Blue gel turns a testing chamber into a bouncy castle!!!

In addition, the environment is vibrant, interesting and mobile. The world moves around you and you get to see more than just testing chambers.

All of this serves to make puzzles harder and the game last longer but still the basic left-right click portals remain the sole mechanic. Slick, simple and brilliant.

The story is not only a match for the original’s, but it surpasses it significantly in my opinion. It maintains the charm and the dark humour of the first Portal, whilst adding real flavour and epic plot.

Without spoiling anything for you, you play the last test subject left, who has been woken after a VERY long sleep by a rogue and fairly cheerful robot called Wheatley. It seems to want to keep you alive. This robot is voiced by Stephen Merchant and while this annoyed me at first (I tend not to like recognising voices… kind of ruins the premise of a character to me), but once I blocked the existence of Mr Merchant out of my head and brainwashed myself into believing that the voice truly was Wheatley’s the voice acting was very ably performed by… err… who was it again?

So it’s the usual drill, solve puzzles to survive some potentially lethal tests and you get… cake? Maybe. The further you move through, the more insane the challenges and the darker the humour.

The Co-Op game (yes, I’m only just up to that) is fantastic. If you have a friend, badger him/her until they submit and get the game. They managed to pack plenty of humour into this too and it’s not only an enormous amount of fun, it’s also really tricky in parts.

coop

The co-op game is just fun

One bit of advice I can give you for the co-op is that headsets are essential. Though there is an in-game communication system using the keyboard, it can be clunky at times and there are times when timing has to be so precise that it just doesn’t cut it.

Finally, a fairly recent addition is the steam workshop. You can make your own test chambers (both solo ones and co-op ones) and share it with your friends, enemies and everyone else for that matter! You can complete test chambers made by anyone on steam, and there are entire custom campaigns on there made by people with far too much time on their hands (…I’m making one too).

The test-chamber creator is really easy to use and very flexible indeed. In fact, some of the chambers I’ve played have been really deviously tricky… there are some real sadists out there.

map maker

Here’s one I made earlier

This means that the game has the potential for unlimited gameplay; a truly limitless variety of test chambers that you can continue to solve forever.

The first Portal game’s weakness was that once you’d completed it, you knew the solution to every level. Portal 2’s campaign is so vast, it has an entire coop campaign to add to that and it has the community adding to it every day. It is a truly impressive improvement and a game that every PC gamer should own (especially when it can be gotten for a fiver on sale!).

 

Rating: 10 companion cubes out of 10

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (Beta)

So, I managed to get my hands on a beta key… awesome!

The game is still in beta format, but I’ve logged a good amount of hours on it and I’ll give you my initial experience.

The first thing that strikes you is the graphics. They are very polished, even at this stage. Everything looks fantastic and the level of detail that they’ve managed to achieve on such a large and massively multiplayer game is impressive. I cannot understate how devastatingly pretty this game is.

FFXIV Beta Screenshot

The graphics really are something else…

The universe is quite charming and extremely ‘square’. You can instantly tell that you’re playing a game made by square just by the look of the character skins, the towns and the level design, and this is before you spot people whizzing around on chocobos, moogles delivering letters and hear the tell-tale musical ambience that is so engrained in the long and inconsistently brilliant series.

The music is a bit patchy at the minute, but you can tell that the aim is ambient scores that fade seamlessly into battle music and back again when you encounter and vanquish a beast of some kind. There is none of the randome encounters that some people love and others seem to hate, you peruse the area and press tab until you target the thing you want to kill.

The standard ‘victory tune’ (we all know the one I mean) blasts when you level up, a shiver running down my spine the first time it happened. Basically, they’re doing all they can to make this MMO seem like a Final Fantasy game.

When I started the game up for the first time, it detected that I had an Xbox360 controller plugged in and announced that I could use that instead of a keyboard and mouse. In the interests of science, I tried it for a few hours.

I have to say, it doesn’t work too badly once you get the hang of it, but it makes targeting enemies a long and difficult process. I’d use keyboard and mouse if I were you. It’s playable, but awkward.

At the minute, there’s no voice acting in the game, but the script that you read (old school) is written in an oddly anglicised way, with accents from all reaches of the UK written in to it. I hope this means that they’ll be staying away from the cheesy americans that so plague the series and make certain characters impossible to like.

The races are the usual Final Fantasy fare, with some influence being taken from D&D races (there’s your human and elf races and an ork-ish race etc.). They all look great, if a little anime-ish.

Whilst the beta only let you play as three classes, it did show the list of classes that will be in the game. This is where we become a little disappointed because it seems like there’s a continuation of the tendency for MMO’s of late to remove the roles from role-playing games.

I suspected that there would be the black mage (attacking magic) and the white mage (defensive and healing magic), but the mage in the game was clearly a red mage (bit of both, master of nothing). They want the player to be able to complete the game on their own and in my opinion this is why MMO’s of late have had awful communities. Why discourage players from teaming up to complete missions? I really wish an MMO would break this trend.

The storyline, at the start of the game at least, seems to be exactly the same regardless of race or class. I hope this isn’t the case, because this would severely reduce replay value for me. No light is gleamed on the endgame from the beta, but it’s got to exist after Guild Wars 2… That’s another review entirely.

After playing the beta for a significant amount of time however, I realised something. It hit me like a brick in the face…

…Aside from the shine and the polish, I’ve played this game before… lots of times. This game doesn’t do anything interesting or new. It does the same stuff that every MMO does, and with more fiddly controls. Two examples of this are the fact that you can’t move whilst charging a skill/spell and targeting the enemy you want to attack can be clunky (especially when there’s 20 players piling onto an event).

This is the tragic thing about the game; the fact that it hasn’t done anything aside from looking fantastic means that if it charges any kind of subscription for the game, it’s just not worth it. Too many competitors are free to play, and do the genre arguably more justice.

Single player Final Fantasies (well, most of them anyway) are great. They are a set of games that everyone should have a go at, but Square have made the mistake of including its MMO exploits in the series main, breaking up the series with what is effectively a side project (and expensive one at that! Subscription fees have been unbelievable for their MMO games so far.).

Now, I’m all for Square making MMO’s, and I wouldn’t even mind if they stuck the Final Fantasy name on it, but Final Fantasy XI and XIV should have been called Final Fantasy: Online and Online II.

You can make an MMO feel like a Final Fantasy game, but it still isn’t one… It’s a branded MMO-RPG.

Am I excited for the release? Meh, not anymore.