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.

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

Sleeping Dogs

It has been said, that there are too many sandbox crime-spree games around. Grand Theft Auto; the ever-present behemoth, Saints Row; the lovable simpleton and Driver; The wannabe Hollywood director who should really stop making bad films and concentrate on getting his life back on track.

I must stress, that I have never uttered a discontent in being buried alive in sandbox crime-spree goodness, nor shall I. It is a genre rich with potential, ideas (some of which work, some that don’t) and… well, laughs (and isn’t that what computer games are all about?).

So yes, I love the genre. Even so, when I heard that Square were rebooting the True Crime series (not in name, but in actuality) I must admit I was slightly hesitant.

I remember Streets of LA. I remember the rather clunky controls and the less-than-impressive graphics and not having a lot to do for the majority of the time (I must stress that I haven’t played it since, but the lingering memory is stained with those three key points).

Then I remember the trailer for Sleeping Dogs. All of my fears drifted off into the distance as I started repeatedly throwing a wad of cash at my monitor. Eventually I just used steam instead

I usually buy this sort of game for a console because I prefer using a control pad, but since the xbox 360 pad has been adopted as the default PC pad by most developers I decided to get it for the PC and make use of the HD texture pack that can be downloaded for free and which really boost the graphics.

So, seven paragraphs in, we arrive at the game. The idea is that you are playing as an underground cop, infiltrating a triad that your character seems to have a little bad blood with from his childhood. It is based in Hong Kong, a truly westernised city-state, only recently adopted back into China after Great Britain kindly gave it back in return for a pile of money. It is a truly interesting place, and a great setting for a game.

The game mechanics actually takes some time to get used to. There is a single button that makes you run, jump, leap across gaps, climb stuff, stand up on your bike, lean out of your car and jump from one vehicle to another. It’s all about holding and tapping it at the right times.

The thing that really sets this game apart from it’s rivals is the combat. Guns are rare in this game, and you generally get given one when you need one, so when you get given a grenade launcher, you know shit’s about to go down in a big way.

Obviously, due to the setting martial arts take the fore in this one and it’s done brilliantly. Most of the time you’ll spend your time standing in the middle of a group of three or more angry looking triad types, waiting for one of them to try attacking you and pulling off a sick counter attack that makes the rest of them wince. There are plenty of counters to learn, and to do so, you’ve got to find collectables dotted around the world and level up.

When you get bored of pummelling the living daylights out of your enemies (and the odd pedestrian who catches you in a bad mood… but we don’t talk about that because you’re a cop remember) you can grab hold of them and drag them towards walls and other bits and pieces on the map that you can use to ensure that the police will need dental records to identify the guy. I won’t spoil all of them for you, but there’s nothing like beating a guy to death with a phone handset in a phone-box to send the message to the other triad that you mean business.

I have a single issue with the game, and it is only a personal gripe I have that spoils it for me. I HATE quick-time events. I hate them with an undying fury that will only be tamed as I beat on the creator of the concept. There are some enemies that cannot be countered in the usual way and that trigger off a quick time event to avoid damage. They do it often and when there is a group of the same type of enemies, it can get really tiresome.

All-in-all however, Sleeping Dogs is one of the nicest looking open world games I’ve seen. It plays well, the driving mechanics are well balanced and the storyline is compelling enough. The melee combat really shines through as an example to the rest of the genre of what can be achieved and for that alone it deserves to be commended.

In summary, a solid title. Well done Square. If you haven’t played it, give it a go. It manages to be both gritty and ridiculous at the same time. I love it.

I give it 9 damage boosting energy drinks out of 10.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

You know what’s nice? Being able to play Counter-Strike without people looking over your shoulder and saying, “that game looks crap… those graphics are awful”. Finally, I no longer need to suppress the rage that inevitably follows this misguided outburst because the series has been given a long overdue update. The graphics aren’t the best on the market, but they don’t look out of place next to the other shooters on sale.

The second thing that’s nice about this version of one of my favorite series’ is that it isn’t CS:S. This isn’t to say I didn’t like Source (indeed I’ve racked up many hours on it over the years) I just feel that some of the shooting mechanics (hit-boxes in particular) were clunky and couldn’t really be relied upon. On CS:S, it sometimes seems that your gun is loaded with frozen peas rather than live ammunition.

Global Offensive just works much better and the gameplay seems to flow. Guns are more reliable and you now need to aim at the head to shoot someone in it (rather than the wall three feet away from their head). The gun variety is far greater than previous titles and the addition of the Molotov in particular adds a fantastic game mechanic. Unfortunately, the AWP (the fag rifle) still plays a far too large part in the game, with the first team who can afford to buy them going on to win quite a lot of the time.

The distinct lack of 24/7 servers (those that play the same map in an endless loop) is a breath of fresh air and the map changes are common. It’s just fun and brings memories of Counter Strike 1.6 flooding back… when it works.

The game is by no means perfect. The matchmaking system is… well… why is it necessary? I can understand that for the console versions it makes it easier, but making it the only way to get to the official servers seems to me a step in the wrong direction. It wouldn’t even be an issue the game did it well, but time-after-time it puts me on the same map over and over and if not that then in a server full of bots.

Then there is the glitch that will disable your mouse when you enter a game, meaning that you need to use the command console to disconnect and re-join. This issue is occurring less often since the update, but it seems that the update has introduced a fairly serious lag issue for some. Problems like this are being fixed and I have no doubt that they will be eventually ironed out, but needing to patch a patch is a sure sign of not enough testing and clumsy updating.

My final issue is a relatively minor one: there aren’t enough maps. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Counter Strikes of old having a seemingly endless stream of really good maps, but it’s a limitation that becomes all the more apparent because there is no matchmaking option that allows you to join a server where all the maps are playable. The game splits servers into hostage rescue maps or bomb maps, a really bad decision since there are only two hostage rescue maps at the moment!!

With the release of Vertigo, it seems that Valve are willing to release more maps for free, but I do wish they would combine the matchmaking lists already. After all, variety is the spice of life.

The game costs £12 (less if you get it in one of steam’s many sales) so I can’t be too critical. It’s fantastic value for money, great fun, easy to jump into and is very well populated (as is common with any counter strike game).

The only thing that might drive you away is the steep learning curve that all Counter Strikes have. You’ve really got to stick with this one and learn to die, and die often. Counter Strike will not give you any help when you’re doing badly. It won’t hold your hand. This game is not noob-friendly. It is Counter Strike and that is why I love it.

I give it 4.5 AWP’s (out of 5)