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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2021 1:56 
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What-ho, chaps!

Joined: 30th Mar, 2008
Posts: 2138
Everything I've read has said that BP:Remastered still doesn't have a rotating minimap, so that's a no from me.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2021 2:37 
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Can you dig it?

Joined: 5th Apr, 2008
Posts: 4652
I can get lost and crash my car in an unfamiliar city in real life, why would I want to do that in a game. My sense of direction isn't brilliant TBH.

Seriously though, I think I just preferred the more focussed tight style of the earlier games - I knew where I was going, and I just had to get there quickly.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2022 1:25 
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What-ho, chaps!

Joined: 30th Mar, 2008
Posts: 2138
Ridge Racer: Unbounded (The Full Game This Time)

I traded in some DS games and saw this on the shelf for a... somewhat reasonable price so I decided to finally get my own copy of Ridge RUB after a decade of dithering. (Of course the shop reduces the price by 20% a few days after I buy it. Rascals.)

I played the demo and wrote about it here once upon a time, but I'm going to write a whole new set of notes about the full RUB anyway without referring to my demo post, and see how closely my enlightened won-the-whole-game-nyah reactions marry up to my peasantly looking-longingly-through-the-shop-window demo experiences.

Wouldn't you know it, the full RUB is surprisingly like the demo, except it has an intro with a plot! I love my racing games with plots, and I hate my racing games without them.

The game starts off with a moody, edgy cutscene where you're introduced to an underground anarchic street racing league called The Unbounded led by a gal in a nifty leather coat (not FMV like the NFS trilogy, sadly) who wants to destroy the decadent city of Shatter Bay (named after Captain William Shatter (yes)) by doing incredibly destructive racing over and over until the city is a smoking wreck. The loading screens say things like "If the roaring engines don't wake up the citizens on this side of the city, then the bent steel coming through their kitchen window will.". So we're probably not the good guys. For some reason. I mean, it's cool that we're the antagonists - antagonists usually have the cooler tasks and cooler motivations, but Shatter just seems like... a normal city. The Unbounded must be really pissed off with them all for some reason. Every time you complete a district you get a little animated background of the city with buildings all crumbling and on fire with Kara standing over them. The total lack of acknowledgement that there are probably people in those buildings we're blowing up and almost certainly people driving those cars is fascinating. Every so often a level will put you in a semi truck cab and challenge you to 'frag the cops'. There's no police radio like in NFS Most Wanted Good Edition where 'taken down' cops report in from their busted up cruisers like it's The Blues Brothers. Kara Shindo wants you to kill everyone. And the player character goes along with it, 'cause.

I remembered her name because her moody anarchist manifesto intro ends with 'I am Kara Shindo. Remember my name!', so I did, since it's only polite. I was expecting her to show up again and say something, anything, as I went through the game. Nope. The game's plot only appears at the beginning and at the end, and -spoiler alert!- The Unbounded want to destroy Shatter Bay because it's decadent, like they said in the intro. And now you've done it. That's it.

I looked Kara up on the RR Wiki, since I know that RR likes its CGI race idols, and it had this to say about her:
Quote:
'Kara Shindo is a character in Ridge Racer Unbounded. She is the head of the Unbounded gang and seeks to destroy Shatter Bay.'

That's the entire article. Not quite Reiko Nagase levels of marketing going on there.

My overwhelming memory of the demo of RUB is the whole world looked like it was kept on a smoker's desk. That was playing on my brother's PC, which is an important distinction to make, since the PC version of Driver: San Francisco has very picky shaders which results in the entire game being displayed at half brightness on every PC I've seen it on, so I thought maybe it was the case here. It is... maybe... I can't really tell. I'm playing it on a proper suitable TV for the 360 so it looks as good as it's ever going to be. Yet, the whole world still is somewhat dark even in the daylight levels and with the brightness turned up a few notches in the options. Some levels look hyper overposed like a bad photocopy, but some levels (in daylight) look somewhat normal and pleasant... again with a strange caveat that the game looks horribly upscaled and speckly a lot of the time (and runs at perhaps 20 FPS if the in-game timer is anything to go).

The game's various coloured lighting presets are all very nifty, to tell the truth. I started off hating it and sort of grew to respect it. Slightly. The game just puts its worst foot first. And second. And for most of the game. They must've gone to some effort to draw day and night variations of every building texture and make sure they all looked reasonable under all twenty or so of the lighting styles. It's just a shame that the game is damn near unreadable under anything but bright sunlight. The only fully day district (the preset is named 'Cold Day' in the track editor, and you're very welcome) is Williams Way, and HOLY HELL it's so much more pleasant than the rest of the game you've played up to that point. It feels completely different. Well, it feels like a last-gen remake of the not-so-great bright city from NFS: A Criterion Game, just less crinkly and over-detailed. But then the game punks me again by setting all of the Williams Way races -mostly underground in tunnels-. I laughed. The final city district in the game uses a Deus Ex: Human Revolution-ish pitch black world with golden highlights, so go ahead and whack that Brightness slider up to max in the options if you want to stand a chance. Even in Cold Day you might want to put the Brightness on max since some of the shadows the skyscrapers throw across the track are full-black otherwise. I love how all the screenshots on the Xbox 360 store interface are of Williams Way in Cold Day. It's as if they know that if they showed how the game looks the majority of the time, nobody would buy it. (As if anybody looks on the internal 360 store thing anyway...)

I'm sure you all know RUB's gimmick, but I'll explain it here anyway. RUB doesn't have shortcuts like typical games, they're all hidden through buildings and are only accessible if your POWER gauge is full. The POWER shortcuts come in two varieties. The main type is a totally flat wall like a garage door plonked in the middle of the road. If you're POWERed, you go through it like it was cardboard, if you're not, then you get CRASHED. Unfortunately, another thing that looks like a flat grey rectangle is the road itself, so on your first go at the track you'll be constantly making 50/50 choices as to which dark flat cube in the distance is the real track, and which is a cunning fake Wile E. Coyote painted tunnel waiting to kill you instantly. Sometimes the POWER shortcuts aren't in the middle of the track - they're at 45-degree angles to it, totally concealed so you will never ever see them while you're in motion. Like you would be if you were racing, say.

POWER is incredibly capricious to get. You get it by drifting, drafting, etc, but the draft range is basically NONE. Not that you have very much depth perception in this game because all three camera angles put the camera very low to the ground. The developers must have known that their lighting and graphical design meant you COULDN'T SEE A FUCKING THING because when you have POWER, the game constantly picks out 'Targets'™ with HUGE screen-filling HUD elements labelled DESTROY SHATTER PD, DESTROY CAFE, EXPLODE TRUCK with arrows pointing to the offending object. Now not only can you not see a thing, but the things you could possibly see are obscured by the text. Also what is funny is that the duration of POWER is slightly shorter than the typical range that the HUD hints appear, so if you POWER immediately upon seeing the hint, you'll blast enthusiastically into the object and obliterate yourself.

The game has a mini-achievement system which it calls 'Awards'. They're like little achievements you can earn once per race for doing special stuff, and each time you earn an Award you get almost a full POWER bar reward. Against other cars, POWER works like a Mario Kart star. Now imagine twelve racers all smushed up activating stars at will. Given that you get Awards for things like 'going moderately fast', 'drifting a little bit' and 'hitting some objects', the start of every race turns into a blinding whirlwind of glowing red POWER trails and exploding twirling cars. Most races start with half the pack exploding in the first ten seconds, and with the player either in 12th place completely beyond hope, or in 1st place. And being in 1st place doesn't guarantee victory like in some games, you will be CONSTANTLY harangued by bastards coming up behind you unless you pull out your best moves and POWER away from them - POWER's nitro is actually really potent and boosts your top speed by 20mph for longer than the visual effect lasts, so definitely POWER if you can. Close combat racing amongst the pack is a real hassle in RUB. Totally luck based and bananas. Stay away! All of the races in game were made with the block-based track editor, and as a result there are a LOT of straight lines. Which made me wonder what the heck I was supposed to do to defeat the enemies. You can't really be creative, and the drafting distance is microscopic. You have to just accept whatever you see (or not see as the case may be) and -do yer best-. The game is really difficult and arbitrary, especially at the start. Don't expect to breeze through RUB. These cars are gonna make you earn every success.

I restarted a lot, which is fast, but there's still way too many layers of glowy swooshes you have to sit through to get anywhere. You might be tempted to complete races just for the XP points, which is a good idea if you're collecting the mini mid-race awards since they don't 'click' into your save file otherwise, but it means sitting through lots and -lots- of text swooshes and things filling up while your eyes roll into your head and none of it is bloody necessary at all. It's like the game wants you to get sick of it in a controlled manner so you don't either burn through the limited number of races too quickly, or burn out on the game entirely.

And, yeah, RUB has CRASHED. Joy. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does it is NEVER EVER your fault. Usually, and infuriatingly, it mostly consistently occurs during a drift if you clip the -inside- wall. You can slam your broadside into the outside of the track and trundle right on (as is the Correct Way for a racing game to be), but if your front corner touches the wall twenty irreplaceable seconds of your precious life are stolen from you as you are banished to cutscene land. It doesn't tend to happen for many other reasons. But boy it sure is fun to have a rival racer POWER up your backside and one-hit-kill you with no warning. I mean, you can (and must) do the same to them, but fair doesn't mean fun.

On that subject I also suggest turning off the Event Cam in the options. It doesn't stop CRASHED, but the shoddy looking slow motion destruction cutscenes you get when you POWER through a building are not that exciting the first time, never mind the hundredth.

RUB is anything but fair. There are plenty of instances where the game does something egregious and I either yell 'WHAT' at the screen or just stare the Crashed screen repeating 'Nope. Nope, you're lying, stop it.'. If you go into it expecting a normal racing game, you're going to not enjoy it. And if you go into it expecting the weirdness to be in the car mechanics, like Ridge Racer 1's VERY weird drifting, you'll be upset too, because RUBs car driving great and it's the buildings and opponents that are bizarre here.

Traffic cars, concrete columns, plants and lampposts are all fair game to be sliced through as if they were made of dust. Buuuut... how do you tell the difference between a traffic car that's been tossed onto its side onto the middle of the track, and the aftermath of an -e-p-i-c- -f-r-a-g-f-e-s-t- that's left one of the enemy racers paralysed in the middle of the track? You can't. You'll slam right into it expecting to knock it away like bowling pins and you'll get caught on it and it'll SUCK.

As you smash through items or through the front and rear walls of a POWER shortcut, chances are large pieces of debris will get lodged on the front of your car, completely blocking your view, even when in third person. That's great.

In the Old Town district, there are more than a few POWER shortcuts that will dump you out facing a brick wall. Most of the POWER shortcuts elsewhere lead to ramps - you're supposed to use them to gather even more POWER from the airtime from the jumps hidden inside - but RUB isn't very good at simulating landings. One in ten times, your car will land awkwardly on its front and start twirling about in every direction at once, ruining your race. It's lucky the races in RUB are short.

Now that I've won the game, I can confirm that CPU players will never, ever deliberately trigger a POWER shortcut. Sometimes the CPU players will POWER through an explosive truck placed across the road, but only if you push them into it. You will never encounter an opened POWER shortcut that you didn't open yourself, which is the strangest dang thing. It means that you're playing a different game to the CPU players - it's asymmetrical, like Pac-Man VS. I can't think of any other racing games that have rules like that - the closest example that immediately comes to mind is the original Super Mario Kart, where the CPU versions of the characters all use their signature weapons freely instead of being restricted to the item boxes like the player is. I'm not really sure what the consequence of this is - I never figured out for sure whether it was best to open up every shortcut as soon as possible or to save them for later. They don't really help you anyway...

The CPU drivers never have names, which is sort of strange I guess. There's no tournaments or race-to-race persistence so I guess they never thought the need to give them names. It adds to the sensation that the rest of the pack exists purely as a unified opposing force versus the player. This was before Forza's awful horrible inexplicable decision to use random gamertags from your friend list as CPU names.

One really cheeky thing the AI drivers sometimes do which always racks me off is to activate their own POWER the instant you do, rendering them invulnerable to your attack. I get that a real player would naturally try to activate it in self-defence if they realised they were at risk, but there's no way they'd react flawlessly like the CPU players sometimes do. They wouldn't have any way of knowing you'd done it.

There's some other types of races in RUB which weren't in the demo. Exciting new stuff! Except they take place on the same cities as the rest of the races, so they don't feel all that new. First up, there's stunt tracks. The stunt tracks are very Trackmania-like - someone's gone and put half-pipes and floating platforms and spinning Ridge Racer coins all over the place and you've gotta dominate the district by being a crazy, gutsy fool and driving megafast. It's like you're some kind of... stunt... car... racer. Hmm!! They're actually pretty fun since the tracks seem ridiculous and impossible at a glance, but a few goes will let you easily pick out the line the game wants you to go for and they're never ridiculously long or difficult. Shame there's only about six of them in the entire game.

In 'Shindo' racing, which I think was in the demo, you have BOOST instead of NITRO which is BLUE instead of RED. And doesn't LET you GO through buildings. I thought there was going to be some kind of special skill involved here, like the fun Touge racing from Grid 1 or the horrible Touge racing from Grid 2 or the non-existent Touge racing from Grid In A Box. But the different kind of power bar is the difference, except, for some reason, Shindo BOOST racing is phenomenally easier than POWER racing. Once you're in first, you tend to keep it. I dunno why. I have a little theory though - I think that the player gets a vastly improved kick out of BOOST than POWER, but CPU racers don't get the same benefit. There's no other reason I can see for my effortless victories.

The other main type of racing in RUB is the 'Frag Attack', which I'm sure Ridge Racer fans had been begging for since the series began. In this mode, the enemy cars swarm around you and you have to use your quickly regenerating POWER to despatch as many as you can as quickly as possible. These modes by far are the worst in the game, and they're the only ones that I couldn't figure out any way to get a perfect score on in my post-game grinding spree.

To frag an enemy, you have to touch them while POWER is on. But it's also based on your relative speed and angle. And you'll usually be trying to drive at your top speed naturally anyway so trying to nudge a car that's just out of reach in front of you can be agonising. And in half of these Frag Attacks you're driving a truck cab that can barely steer. And your score is based on how many cars you kill, but they're not at fixed locations on the track - sometimes they'll decide to not show up when they're meant to, and there goes your run. I think I managed to figure out a knack to do Frag Attacks 'properly' by getting the enemy cars to land in the right places for me to nudge them diagonally but if you told me I'd just gotten lucky and I was deluding myself, I'd accept that too. You can earn extra time in Frag Attacks by going through POWER shortcuts, but since there aren't any enemy cars to smash inside the secret passages, it seems like a trap unless you're very sure there's no cars on the regular route and you'll earn more time than you'll spend in there.

The other type of race is point-to-point 'escape the cops' type races. Yeah! The cops from the intro actually do show up in Time Attacks and Frag Attacks as the antagonists. I was shocked! I didn't think there would be any actual cops in the game. But when there are cops, they don't really act agressively - they drift around you like fairies and make a little chevron in front of your car - I get the impression that they're really there to give you something to draft behind to recharge your POWER, or to slam into using POWER to get additional replacement POWER from the awards. I wasn't very good at these. Even more than the stunt tracks, the Time Attacks seem focused on getting and using POWER perfectly over and over and not having any dead time. The one-star score is reachable, and I'm glad there's individual achievements for perfecting each discipline separately.

Oh man, I wrote all five and a half thousand words of this post and published it and totally forgot about the drift challenges. Yeah, it's got drift challenges, of a really arcadey sort - long drifts get you time extends, and all that. I liked this; I usually like drifts in general. It's much harder than most other games' drift modes, like GRID or NFSU, but it's also shorter. It's focused around trying to keep the car drifting at all times, even in straight lines. -There's no multiplier- which is super duper weird for a drift mode. Still, the time limits are so tight you really do have to race flawlessly to get the max rating. I had to go accept a two-star rating until I'd unlocked some of the better cars. It might not seem like it at first, but there is a knack to the drifting - the game tells you to use the B-button E-Brake to start the drifts, but I've found tapping the E-Brake and the regular brake simultaneously to be a lot more reliable. The drifts are more like NFS than Ridge, which is a VERY good thing. I've played Ridge Racer 64 and its drifts are bollocks and bizarre. They come from another planet. It's Ridge's defining feature and it's -TOTALLY- inapplicable to RUB, which makes me wonder why it has the name at all. But anyway.

You unlock cars as you go but there's only about six in each class, and they progress from 'lame starting car' to 'good at most stats' to 'AWD slow mess' and that's it. The only time you'll get properly fast cars with 5/5 in acceleration and speed is the drift races, for some reason. The cars themselves are a bit of a non-entity in the scheme of things. They're all made up, which is neither here nor there for me, but I don't like that RUB does the NFS: HP thing of only giving you three or four pre-set colours to pick from for each car. Would it have been so much trouble to let the player compose a signature colour they like and have that added to the list? Most of the cars in the game only come in black, red, silver or orange, and everything looks the same anyway especially under the coloured lighting. The -one- distinct car is the Mustang rip-off thing, which dutifully slides all over the place, if that's how you like to roll.

I hit a (ha ha!) roadblock when I completed all the races I could but didn't have enough points to unlock the later races in one of the series. The game still let me finish the career mode and get the end credits without finishing every race, which is nice, but I still wanted to finish every race so I had to come back and figure out what I was supposed to do. It turns out that, get this, to get more points in a race, you have to score more points in a race. I thought it was going to be mega-difficult, but it was only a case of smashing all the 1,000 point POWER targets at every opportunity. It's doable.

One thing I think is clever is in the intro when it ends with a hint that after we've conquered Shatter we're ready to 'conquer the world'. That might equally apply to a hypothetical sequel (which never happened), or the online mode with the track editor where you can make your own cities and put them online. In fact the whole game sort of seems like an introduction to the multiplayer. (A bit like Metal Gear Survive! Except with less plot. I liked the plot in Survive. Ugh. Why couldn't Survive have been cool?).

RUBs editor is semi-slick, semi-annoying and mostly pointless. You put prefabricated city block pieces (from a huge selection that takes ages to scroll through) down onto a grid, and that's it. It's nothing like Trackmania or Re-Volt, despite looking superficially similar, and definitely nothing like ModNation Racers. RUB's pieces are city-block sized, though you're really putting down the roads between the blocks. The game does a flawless job of making all the city-pieces connect together in such a way that it looks like a natural city, with a huge facade of a city just out of reach beyond the main track roads.

Unfortunately (well, maybe), RUBs main campaign is composed entirely of these city-blocks as well. As you're racing, you'll start to recognise gimmicks and scenes repeated and thrown together in new combinations in different levels, which is a weird experience. That sounds like a roguelike dungeon, and it feels that way a lot of the time, except unlike a roguelike, the levels are constant so you can learn them like proper tracks. And you'll need to 'cause of the way you can't see a thing. It also means that all of the stuff flying around you as you drive is all fake and there is no real city and no free-roam mode. When you get into the roguelike dungeon mindset, it actually kinda improved the experience for me, and I started feeling like I was playing the races one room at a time. The game also reuses city blocks in different districts sometimes, which is kinda lazy. The districts supposed to be on completely opposite sides of the city, I'm not supposed to be having random flashbacks like that. Some corners with POWER targets seem to be used over and over again, but looking at a walkthrough to see what targets are on which track, most of the targets are only used in one track each, so I don't know how I'm getting the impression that they're being used constantly. The game feels so samey sometimes it tricks me into thinking it's being samey when it's not, which isn't a great result.

RUB's weird track block system means that there isn't any Quick-Race-type thing. There's no tournaments in the campaign, no persistent racers or scoring, just nine districts with seven individual races each, so all the races are quick races, kinda. There's no way to set up a race under your own terms... except that's exactly what the track editor lets you do, you just have to make the track yourself first and then you can pick whatever options you like. It's a strange thing. The game very agreeably allows you to get any of the normal achievements on a track that you've designed yourself, which almost gives RUB a construction/puzzle aspect where you have to figure out how to make a track that'll let you cheese the achievements you've yet to get. The 'Creative Destruction' achievement requires you to hit more POWER targets than there are on any pre-set track, so it's definitely not cheating.

Too bad the servers are all down now... we'll never know how popular RUB's multiplayer and city-sharing was. At least one review I've found has mentioned that they had trouble finding people to play multiplayer games with, but that's not really a fair comparison if it was pre-release. Still, at least you can still play your custom cities with your pals today, right! Except the game has no split-screen multiplayer whatsoever. I'm sure there's very, very good reasons why racing games don't include this, but they're all bullshit, let's be real. If a racing game has multiplayer, it should also have split-screen multiplayer. But nope. No RUB with your pals. And with the RUB servers down you can't play online in any way whatsoever. Again, bullshit.

One thing I was hoping for in the full game was a much bigger soundtrack. There's only so many times you can see a suggestion on-screen from Mr. Skillrex that you should Kill Everyone before you start to wonder if the idea has some merit. The verdict is... not great. The soundtrack is good. All the poundy woobly dubstep and some hard electronic fast race music. It starts off mega strong with some cool tracks that are labelled as being from Ridge Racers 6 and 7 as if the game was going to pour in a whole load of older games' music in the name of nostalgia. But I was only 22% of the way through the game before it started looping enough for me to notice. It felt like there was only like eight tracks total in RUB's soundtrack, which was god-damned maddenning. But I didn't cave and turn it off until I'd won! The end credits would have you believe there's a lot more songs, but that seems kinda implausible to me. And the way that there are RR6 and 7 musics included rused me and made me not realise there are no RRUB-specific -new- tracks until I was done! How frickin' cheap is that?? (Also I had a snoop at the complete RR6/7 soundtracks and the tracks they stole for RUB seem like the only good ones from there. Hmm.)

And man was the experience vastly improved by turning the soundtrack off. The game is set up for grinding, with a really half-baked, blah, dull rank up system just like the one in NFS Hot Pursuit (complete with You've Unlocked A New Car! except much much less flashy), but getting three stars on some races means restarting them enough times that you'll hear the entire soundtrack multiple times through before you make it. Driving about the place enjoying the satisfying and solid driving physics and chunky car sounds without the music is so much less stressful after you've gotten the end sequence and know all of the CPU drivers' sneaky tricks and don't really have to worry about nothing no more.

Though there are some really silly inexplicable sound choices that I can't ignore. When you reach your car's maximum speed, the game will continue to have the engine revs rising and cycling through an infinite set of gears to nowhere, and sometimes the same thing happens when you hold the brake and accelerator simultaneously too. It's really silly. It reminds me of a proposal I read once where electric cars would have to have artificial engine sounds fitted - so maybe all the RUB cars are electric?

Don't hold out any hope that you'll be able to get the max level achievements unless somehow you're a RUB freak or want to put the time in to make some high-scoring custom tracks. At the end of the campaign I was level 27, and hit 28 with my here-and-there grinding for achievements. The XP requirements to get from there to 30 are GIGANORMOUS; I think I'd have to win the entire game all over again to get there. Or do the non-existent multiplayer... yeah.

The HUD is plonked around in all corners of the screen, unlike the tiny car-hugging display from the marvelous Split/Second: Velocity and the game feels really different with it turned off. It made me appreciate the effort that must've gone into making the 'bonk woooooh' sound that occurs when you fill up the POWER bar, and the way it cuts through whatever song you're listening to. Too bad I like knowing where I am in the race and stuff though. There's no mini-map while racing, which is kind of a trend in this generation. Boo.

My ultimate judgement on RUB is... actually I really enjoyed it. I liked the strange asymmetric rules in races, and the physics worked for me, and with the exception of the hyper-capricious FRAG challenges the game and I got on well. In the grand scheme of things I'd recommend playing RUB as late as possible, if only because it's kinda difficult and requires patience and focus. But it's not too long and not too nerdy.

The elephant in the room is that there's not a lot of Ridge Raceryness here. Obviously. I'm no expert in RR, I only own the first two on the PS1, but I get the impression that that's what people would like to see in RR - cheesy music, bright colours, race gals. Kara Shindo would kind of be the race gal, but she doesn't start the races, show up at the end of the races, or appear at all except at the start and at the end. There's no daft Pac-Man or Xevious themed cars... oh, no, wait, they're DLC. Oh boy. And the card I got with my preowned copy had already been redeemed. You just have to accept that RUB is its own thing. Having looked at some RR6 and RR7 footage, Ridge Racer's racing mechanics really were kinda deliberately wonky. Unbounded should've stood by itself. But then maybe it would've fallen into the murky void of wannabe also-ran (also-raced?) racing games like Crash Time and Full Auto. Now, if it was called Need For Speed: Unbounded... maybe that would've worked. But then the developers would've had to have put a bit more effort in.

Compared to NFS: HP, it's ugly, dark, really restricted in features and sort of 'discount'. It tries to wring a lot out of the few things it has, but it just ends up feeling somewhat limited and low effort. NFS HP is just so gorgeous and slick, even if it is 'just racing'. There's nothing like the graceful sweeping rollercoaster highways and turns of NFS Underground 1, 2 and Most Wanted and every other NFS ever in RUB, which is really strange. You'd think Ridge Racer would be all over giving you nice turns to ride. All you get here are 90 degree blind turns, and awkward chicanes that are 90 degree turns with sometimes-destructible sometimes-not obstacles you have to memorise how to defeat.

I've been comparing RUB to the NFS games in my head, but maybe I ought to be comparing it to things like Burnout Paradise. I HATE BURNOUT PARADISE COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY so RUB gets an automatic pass, but it's also an earned pass because RUB is actually pretty cool, despite the impression I got from the demo. So there.

And the sample I heard over and over throughout the game which I thought said 'SKRILLEX OH MY GOD.' was from this gal's cup stacking video, which is dang cool.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2022 3:21 
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What-ho, chaps!

Joined: 30th Mar, 2008
Posts: 2138
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing With Banjo-Kazooie (Demo)
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Demo)
"Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed!"

I've been downloading random garbage on my 360 because I realised that it's by the grace and mostly forgetfulness of Microsoft that the demo system on the 360 still works in this hellish future year of 2022 A.D.. Do you remember when the 360 first came out and almost every full game (and every XBLA game by order) would have a demo, and you could download them all right there in the dashboard without having to get a demo disc from magazine? It was fantastic, and good. Demos are always fantastic, never a problem. DEMOS DEMOS DEMOS.

So I downloaded some demos to take round to a friend's place and realised that I'd only every played Transformed on my bro's PC briefly a million years ago and didn't like it, and I'm pretty sure I've never played All-Stars. Wait, they're both All-Stars aren't they? Like that shitty minigame compilation on the PS2? And the inexplicable tennis one? Is this a series then?

For simplicity's sake, I'm going to call these two games Sonic Racing 1 and Sonic Racing 2 because they're hard enough to tell apart and remember the titles of in my head as it is. They're the Mario Kart clones. 1 is the first one, 2 has the planes. Got it? Let's go.

The one with planes in
I played the second one first when I was going through the demos mostly because I was curious if the game was going to be 60Hz. It wasn't. Huge HUGE disappointment, to be honest. What's the point of making a Sonic game that isn't 60Hz? It seems like the definition of doing it wrong. Sonic Generations was unpleasantly crunchy on the 360 too.

Anyway, yeah this game works. The announcer is kind of dull. He reads out lots and lots of things, mostly the captions acknowledging the stuff you're doing like it's Killer Instinct or something.

I was worried I'd get messed up when the game changed from Car to Boat to Plane - as if there was a button I had to push to make it happen - but no it just happens when you go through magic things on the track, and each lap within a track is slightly different like you're playing Split/Second (which is constantly on sale for £2 BUY IT!!) - sometimes you're on the track, sometimes you're on a river, sometimes in a plane. The boat is like a car except the moving water means you're kind of all over the place and the steering is kind of delayed. The planes are like boats that go in the sky. The controls are really heavy, which is... good? I can't tell. It makes it difficult to do fast, clever things, but you shouldn't be doing that anyway. Does anybody remember the plane racing game Plane Crazy for Windows 98 that came out around... 1998? The controls in that were really loose and twisty, whereas SR2's planes feel really weighty and slow. Which is probably what real planes feel like. In fact, everything is really slow feeling in SR2. You just sort of glide through the experience at a moderate pace, recognising and respecting the level but not having much input on where you go or what you do, and if you win you win, and if you lose you lose.

There's two races in the game, one in Panzer Dragoon world, and a boost challenge where you have to go from pink boost pad to pink boost pad perfectly or you run out of time. I thought I was doing rather well at it, but I couldn't even finish the course, so I felt really lousy. It kind of put me off buying the game entirely - I was already on the fence, but not being able to do challenge-type levels means the game is going to be a big, unfinished lingering sore on my mind forever if I buy it. So I won't.

The one without planes in
I find it kind of amusing the focus given to the Virtua Fighter cast in the intro to SR1. Look, it's... eyebrows guy! And guy in the karate gi! And they're doing kicks and things!

In my own very limited (yet definitive and inassailable) experience as an English kid born in 1987 who doesn't play fighting games unless they're about cats and has never owned a (working) Sega Saturn, Virtua Fighter means absolutely jack to me. At least I've played Golden Axe on the Amiga before. And I did win Shenmue. My bro bought Shenmue 2 when it came out, I remember.

Whenever I put the SR games on (which is incredibly infrequently, given that I don't own either) I'm always pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Beat, B.D. Joe, Vyse and so on. That's the kind of thing I WANT in a compilation mash-up racing game. But they always pick rubbish characters I've never heard of or don't like. Sega has so many properties, and they just... don't... ever... do anything right.

SR1 has smaller tracks and runs so much worse than SR2 does. At the start of the race when everybody's bunched up and heading for the first corner, everybody drifting at once, semi-transparent water all over the place, the game just gives up entirely and spits out a few random frames like it's an anime fight montage, and when normal service resumes maybe you'll be in front, who can even say.

There's an announcer in SR1, but he's different! And he's got a lot to say - he even properly narrates the race as it goes on, though most of his comments for me were "Where'd you guys learn to drive, a farm??" I don't know why he was being so abrasive, my karts can only kart as fast as they can kart!

After playing the pair, I was wondering if SR1 was even released on other platforms. It's possible that it could've been on the Switch, though it predates the Switch by a million years so it would be the DS in this case. I was surprised to see the N64 Banjos on the Switch Online Thingy when I took a peek at a friend's device - I wonder if that's some really long-term grandfathered contract being honored there, or if Nintendo are licensing it from Microsoft (which would be funny).

It turns out SR1 is on the PS3 and the DS, and what is also funny is that the cover is barely changed between platforms, except when your eyes pass from the Xbox 360 version to the others and Banjo & Kazooie have been annihilated from existence. No doubt Kazooie was cancelled for her humour. Or maybe people took one look at their Nuts & Bolts selves (we've got the rectangular nose Banjo and the sassy eyes-ed Kazooie here) and decided that they had to go. They're not in any version of SR2, which SUCKS balls. I REALLY hate it when characters disappear between different games of the same series. When Smash Bros included all of the DLC characters from the previous edition like Cloud etc. as base characters in the next edition, that was fabulous.

What I don't get is why B&K have full marks for Speed. They're faster than Sonic. Sonic might be the fastest thing alii-ei-ei-ve only when he's on foot, sure, but Banjo is driving a rickety home-made car like out of N&B. Makes no sense!

There's only one track in SR1's demo, which is 'Lost Palace' - otherwise known as Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes. And it's a fine track. It tracks. Though the damn Sonic-legit robo-fish that leap up at you between the jump gaps in the track that you never avoid are annoying as HELL. It turns out that the only bad thing about Sonic Heroes was the controls and the gameplay. Steal the music or graphics and put them into other games, and everything is fine.

Seaside Hill's music is really weird. It sounds like -fake- Sonic music. Like they wanted to do something in the style of Emerald Coast, and that's what they got. It's like the fake movie parody music you get in the Stuntman series (except much higher quality of course).

I liked SR1 more than SR2 because all of the new things that SR2 added weren't really that much fun. So much boring empty space and wasted time. SR1's track was really tiny and was over before I knew it.

Also there were items. I had no idea what they did. Felt like when I was playing WipEout for the first time on MS-DOS. They were just ... stuff.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2023 19:34 
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What-ho, chaps!

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WipEout 2097: Accelerated Adrenaline Rush For Future People
Never dwell on past days. Leave those damp brown days alone.

2097 was/will be a heck of a year. Not only will the next generation of WipErs be WiPing up a storm, but in the universe where Epic Games stayed Mega, giant anime-wannabe robots will be beating seven shades out of each other in the One Must Fall 2097 tournament.

Today, it's the year 2023, so compared to 1996 I'm definitely Future People. I found this game in a shop for £2.99 this month but they knocked 99p off because neither of us liked WipEout. True story.

I don't know whether or not I like WipEout to tell the truth. I've barely played it 'properly'. (Though, fun fact, I'm in the credits for Wipeout HD 'cause I was an intern at Sony, so disclosure or something. I wonder if the barrel-roll-off-the-track-then-respawn-incorrectly bug is still there.) The only times I've played WipEout in the past were probably maybe a dodgy copy a hundred years ago with no music and possibly even no sound effects, so the whole experience was a bizarre, quiet, mysterious cyber-shambles where occasionally I had weapons, occasionally I didn't and I didn't understand a thing that was going on. By complete coincidence, that's exactly how I ended the previous post about Them Sonic so this works out super neatly.

I never had one before, but this is my copy of WipEout. My very first and my very own. I played this copy on the PS2 first, but then moved onto my brother's PSone because the PS2's CD laser wasn't up to streaming the CD track music without glitches, sadly. But the little bar-o'-soap PSone was a super trooper and everything was dandy.

WipEout 2097 is the second game in the series; Psygnosis decided to skip the intervening 2095 numbers and go straight from 1 to 2097. Except in America where this one's called WipEout XL which makes it sound like an expansion pack to the first game. The third game has a regular edition called Wip3out, which I'm sure retailers and suppliers loved, and a separate, later Europe-exclusive Special Edition which was an expansion pack/replacement and included stuff from earlier games, and the PS2 games onward ditch the numbers. Except the Vita one which puts a year in again, setting it before this game, as if that matters.

After I prised open the well-worn box (an overnight stay in a bowl of Lidl's finest dish suds for you I think), I spent some time admiring the sticky, kid-used manual's gratuitous use of fluorescent orange and silver inks. And chuckling at the way the German manual gives slick translations for all of the sci-fi weapons, but the French version goes for 'Le Electro Bolt', 'Le Turbo Boost' and so on. There's some deep WipEout 2097 lore in the manual to get you in the mood.

Quote:
future word...
"A ball bounces. A pin drops. A man falls.
Gravity is the glue which binds us to our planet.
We are about to apply the solvent which will free our species forever."
Pierre Belmondo (Director of European AG Research) speaking at a demonstration of anti-gravity technology, Nevada, April 2035.
-
the year? 2097
No room for manoeuvre. The world is shrinking... like a raisin from a grape.
From East to West... from North to South... meeting your shadow and the echo of your mind before you even knew you'd left.
Landscapes curling through space, hewn from rock, cut from ice. Ships blur like the smears of hurled paint. Tracking the globe, soundtracking your dreams and your visions...
Never dwell on past days. Leave those damp brown days alone.
Our future has more colour. More speed. More noise. Our future has more...
From jungle to city to the recesses of your mind. Shake your head and free yourself.
Free yourself.

The menu is confusing and looks cheap but at least it has one, since WipEout had some static screens that looked chucked together at the last minute. The horizontal panels of the screen scrape apart and slam together and waitaminnit isn't that the same as Rollcage? (Which is also Psygnosis? (Published at least? (And on the back of the CD for 2097 there's a 'Psygnosis Racing' brand label, which doesn't appear in the game, so it was a 'thing' was it? (Or was it? I wonder!))))

The intro has some flashy but awkwardly animated ships flying about and then one explodes. There's no FMV pit girl telling you to fasten your seatbelt or slick sonofabitch telling you to prepare for the future regions of outrageous. You're on your own, and the menu gives you absolutely no clue what you're supposed to be doing (yes, racing, I know). The manual isn't that much help. There's Arcade mode and Time Trial and that's it. The manual says there's a championship mode with lives, but it's just not there. I guessed that you have to get a gold medal in each race win the WipEout and be crowned The Most WipEst, and that was correct!

This game is sponsored by Red Bull! (This post is not. It is sponsored by our lynx overlords who will reclaim their planet in due course.) According to the loading screens, Red Bull increases your reaction time, but I doubt the medical authority of that statement. The first game didn't have Red Bull sponsorship, it had adverts for other Psygnosis games like Krazy Ivan and Tenka, which is really sweet and cool tbh. It makes total sense. And apparently WIPE OUT is a disaster movie in the WipEout universe?

Progression is clunky and awkward. You have to manually go into the menu and select the track and flick through all the pages to find what you want and what you need. When you get golds in each race, a prerendered text animation shows up and congratulates you for qualifying to race in the F5000 Phantom! Doesn't that sound swish? Because I'm a complete WipEout noob, I spent a couple of minutes perplexed in the ship select menu trying to find the F5000 Phantom so I could race in it before my cat mind worked out that the F5000 Phantom is the name of the racing league we're participating in.

The progression is:
- Six tracks are available. Play each of them in Arcade individually and get 1st to get a gold medal on the track select screen.
- Challenge I is available. Play through all six tracks back to back with three lives and get 1st to advance. Non-podium finishes or destructions lose a life.
- Eight tracks are available. Play each of them in Arcade individually and get 1st to get a gold medal on the track select screen.
- Challenge II is available. Play through all eight tracks back to back with three lives and get 1st to advance. Non-podium finishes or destructions lose a life.
- You get the secret ship. It's a secret because the manual says there are rumours of a prototype super ship, but there's no information available - except on the front of the game case where the hidden fifth team is shown along with the others. Oh well. The back of the case gives away that there are supposed to be eight tracks too, but you will never ever get to see them unless you're a racing GOD. Or you buy OPSM and get the cheats.

When you first get into gameplay in 2097 your mind will be obliterated with purest unadulterated 'Holy Shit! This Is Fast! This Game Is Rad! But it's a HOME CONSOLE GAME! I can OWN THIS and HAVE THIS IN MY HOUSE!'.

WipEout 2097 is some clever shit. By modern retrospective standards maybe it doesn't look like it will blow your mind (say, the draw distance is a bit obvious sometimes), but when you're in motion this game is the absolute business. WipEout 2097 shows up to the gaming year of 1996 throwing five aces on the table and holding a knife to your throat.

Received wisdom says that Golden Grahams are too tasty for geeks and Yorkie bars are not for girls. WipEout 2097 is not for humans. There's no map, except on the track select screen, which is annoying. No rally copilot or warning symbols. Not that you'd have time to look at anything like that since everything is whooshing so fast even on moderate difficulty that your face is planed flat by the power of the game. There's sudden corners that I have no idea how you'd navigate, and some of these are in pitch black darkness or over ledges.

You have to learn the tracks. You have to go beyond learning the tracks. You have to become the tracks. You can't trust what your eyes see because what the game shows you isn't useful enough. By the fifth race I was on the edge of my chair peering forward at the middle twenty percent of the screen flying by pretending my ship was twenty meters further ahead than it was so that by the time I reached that position I'd be turning sufficiently to make the turns. On the last race I had repeated it enough that I became a being of pure energy and won it by a marathon. Which is a far cry from the multiple times that I'd gotten into second and gotten tangled up with what I thought was the first place guy only to find that he was the twelvth place guy (no HUD position markers) and after passing him and the first place guy I end up crashing into the eleventh place guy and dropping back into second and then third. Oh how I laughed.

This game is from 1996 and it doesn't support analogue sticks, and there's no mention of it supporting steering wheels on the back of the case. You're stuck with the regular original gamester - the PS1 controller's digital pad. And MAN it hurts your thumb after a while. That thing is stiff. One race is all it takes for you to get a serious case of the Nintendo Thumb - numbness and painness and flatness all over. Kiss your nerves goodbye.

It does support the Namco NeGcon (that's the controller that looks like a SNES pad but the two halves twist like you're wringing a flannel dry to let you turn in racing games) if you have one. Which I don't, and I don't know anyone who does. I wonder if those things still work after thirty years. I'd be worried I'd shear the thing in half within minutes of getting my hands on it.

I don't know if I like the controls in WipEout 2097. I've not gotten used to them at all, and I can't really say I've gotten any good at the game. The accelerator doesn't feel like it applies acceleration, it instead temporarily sets your throttle to a higher value. If you release it after applying some, you'll accelerate a little more (either that or -every single time I tested- I was on a slope) afterwards. Turning feels like the awful acceleration-applied aiming that console FPSes FOOLISHLY love to attempt in these 2010-years where the turning becomes more severe the more you hold the control down. I say foolishly because the control in question on a modern console would be ANALOGUE ANYWAY. I get there's no other way to do analogue turning with a D-pad so OKAY just give me goddamn digital turning; I'll feather the button if I want something less than full intensity for two seconds if I hold Right for two seconds. Let me input what I mean, dammit.

There's no brakes. No wait, there is brakes. I got all the way to the final race without using them. The brakes are split into a left and right brake. Both at once slows you right the heck down, one at a time turns your ship into megasoap and hurls you into the outside wall. Strange how using the brakes makes you more hovercraft-ish than just driving.

The walls in WipEout 2097 are clingy sticky velcro nightmares and the collision regions are gigantic cuboids despite the ships being all pointy darts. If you touch a wall once in this game you might as well sell your console. If you're incredibly, incredibly lucky, your contact might be interpreted as a scrape and you'll get some sparks and be permitted to go on your way. Otherwise, be prepared to say hello to the last three places you passed. Some guides suggest that pitching the ship nose up will help (is that what the pitch controls are for??), but my poor hand is worked hard enough already by this game.

Reviews comparing WipEout 1 to this game said that Psygnosis had vastly improved the wall collisions so they're not as sticky. To which I say what. I can only imagine that touching a wall in WipEout 1 scrapes your ship into polygon fragments instantly and causes your hometown to fall into a crevasse.

Despite this, the insta-slow barriers appear to be very shallow in height. Too many of the games generous boost pads are directly before ninety degree turns, often on ramps, so unless you crush the shoulder buttons to brake you'll be shot into the sky through walls and off the track.

Except for one specific wall, the front hoarding of the Potempkin building, which is a fucking joke. You WILL hit this building, no matter how prepare you are. And if you DON'T hit the front, you'll hit the INSIDE as your ship hits the ground, bounces up into the air and then smashes against the interior ceiling.

Speaking of which, there's some large jumps in the game which send your craft into an uncontrollable self-destructive tantrum where the craft's nose slams repeatedly into the ground and losing tons of speed. Even in longplays of people winning the Challenge modes they scratch the walls sometimes and go into the ground slamming tantrum. So.

Despite the game letting you/forcing you to fly off the track into the jagged polygon laden darkness, there's no shortcuts in WipEout with the exception of one probably unintentional one in the penultimate level. Whether that's good or bad depends on whether you like shortcuts. I like it when racing games' physics are coherent and predictable enough and the rules are lenient enough that I can pop outside the track for some milk and rejoin it later if it looks like I can plausibly get away with it. Like Grid. Need For Speed Most Wanted -doesn't- do this since its rollercoaster-spiderweb world is a series of very strict wide tunnels for you to race around in. Forza Horizon on the other hand lets you carve Scotland in two with a single handbrake turn if you choose. Anyway Grid is cooler than WipEout 2097 is what I'm saying.

The game is old enough to have password saves but also memory card saves. It has the nifty old-fashioned spinning 3d models of a controller/memory card in the options, which is always welcome. (EDIT - WAIT, NO, SHIT that's WipEout 1!) The passwords are the PS shapes but you enter them on up-down reels rather than typing them in, which is just nonsense.

The intro is okay but not great. The best thing about it is there's a cat. It has the stupid awful horrible unbelieveable probably deliberate but stupid error of having a decrementing checkpoint timer (like the game does) but the deciseconds place goes up rather than down... 4.7 4.8 4.9 3.0 3.1 3.2... it looks sloppy, is what it does. I saw an AI upscaling and upframerating of it that was pretty clever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sRsXfpnQFE

The opponents are a Pain In The Arse. They're the type that has a set speed and route and nothing will make them deviate from it. Never ever expect them to make a mistake. I don't think they can. They work on completely different physics from the player, if they run on physics at all, taking turns you can't and accelerating in ways you can't. They have a lower top speed than you so you can catch them if you're an absolute master at the tracks. But being an absolute master probably means you're doing crazy things like braking for turns and so on, and you're gonna be upset that they don't have to do the same since they'll just magically glide through you and shove you aside while you're in the middle of playing the game properly.

Shooting the opponents is risky too since you can only shoot opponents that are in front of you of course, and stunned opponents that are in front of you tend to slow down in front of you and get tangled up with you thanks to the huge collision boxes and then you're both slowed. Except then they can accelerate back to their magic Scalextric speed while you're stuck in 12th.

There are weapons in this game and they all suck. They're impossible to aim and impossible to use. You'll just use what you're given when you have it and do your best. Or turn off powerups entirely if you get sick of the constant threat detection voice telling you you're about to be shot and there being nothing you can do about it. Not that the AI uses the weapons all that much - they never use quake or plasma or boost and they act as if they're on autopilot all the time anyway. That doesn't stop them from driving over the panels milliseconds before you do and deactivating them, giving them the advantage. (Assuming (unwisely) they play by those rules too.)

The weapon icons don't have names and they're hard to decipher (doubly so when the threat voice is reading out the name of different weapons). I never knew what was going on when I played a dodgy copy a hundred thousand years ago and I barely do now. Pop quiz: out of the Rocket and Missile, which one is the lock-on one and which is the triple-shot one?

The shield powerup lasts too long, doesn't help you against wall collisions, and prevents you from using other, more useful things like the boost and autopilot when it's active.

The quake one says in the manual to just try it and you'll laugh your arse off. The effect is pretty cool - it sends a ripple down the track like a wafted carpet distorting the geometry and throwing the enemy about. The wave is so tall and slow that it blinds you for a moment, so, uh, don't.

The powerups do seem to have a handicap weighting: the autopilot that doubles your top speed and takes all the turns for you appears a lot when you're ninth or below. So... that's good? But the autopilot also tends to disengage automatically when you're about to encounter a turn that you really needed a year or two to prepare for but the autopilot didn't because it's a cheating robot. So... that's bad.

The five tiers of car feel very difficult to drive to each other, which is not something all games manage. Every time you get used to how 'whoosh' your current preferred car is, the next one down is always 'waaaaaogh!!'. The final secret reward car for completing the entire game is hyper zoomy and very hard to race with. You need to be a hyper-evolved next level humanoid to even try.

I had to manipulate the options and try every car to find combinations that worked for me to win golds. The fastest car is too fast to turn and has worse turn stats. The slowest car is too slow to race in. Haven't got the hang of drifting properly. All I can tell you is that I know how to do it in other games pretty well, but these flying darts ain't cars no matter how often I refer to them as cars.

I don't think I ever got better at the game as I went through it. I got six golds and my congratulatory cutscene and then the game asked me to get 1st place on six races consecutively with no breaks, no saving, no reselecting the ship between, and no chance to even view the map beforehand. I decided I'd won enough and stopped. Because I'm not getting much better over time it feels like just luck. Well, not just luck. I am amazing, but I'm not on the level of amazing that WipEout 2097 requires.

There's not a lot of 'content' in this game, as the kids say, I think. Four cars and a secret one, six tracks and two extra tracks nobody's ever going to see, and nobody who's seen them will ever complete them, and nobody who's ever completed them will still exist in time or space as we know it. There's also no mirror mode, which is a strange omission: it's the most arcade/playstation gimmick ever.

The game reminds me of a quote I saw in at least two places in Amiga Power (possibly referring to the Space Crusade expansion disk, or more likely Cannon Fodder 2, or even more likely now that I think about it the Timekeepers expansion disk) where the reviewer said the sequel was meaner than the original which is 'as it should be'. I think both this and WipEout are probably equally mean...

The races are mercifully quite short and have fast restarts with no loading. No loading. NO LOADING.

If your racing game has long loading times before restarts, you're getting docked 20%. I don't care fancy your pulsing neon panels are or how goofy it is to see the player racer dancing in a Santa suit. I'm already in the race. Just do what you already did!

And, man, whatever Burnout Paradise did? I forget. I hated it. Just get out.

The graphics are cool and you go to a jungle place and a snowy place and an industrial place and a city. It feels like a realistic future, but that's probably because of the constant advertising billboards. There's a big maneki neko in the intro which I was looking out for through the entire game, and he appears in the last level, so that's fine. (The flashing alternating backgrounds in the intro however can go in the bin.)

Don't expect sweeping vistas - like I said, these tracks are confusing bendy nightmares, mostly to hide the draw distance (mostly successfully except the poor 'you're outside, ooops no you're inside' cave in the jungle. The last two secret tracks are literal nightmares that take everything I hate about 2097's tracks way too far, mostly pitch black with deadly drops obscuring ninety degree turns onto detached track segments underneath that you have to just learn are there by recognising the fragments of billboards and signs that lead up to some of them. I'm sure WipEout gods love it.

In every game mode there's an arcade-like checkpoint system where you lose if you run out of time. It's completely pointless, except to punish newbies who are having trouble getting to grips with the controls. You can run out of time in Challenge II, but if you do then you're in sixth or seventh place anyway and you'd lose a life regardless.

I -do- really hate it in games where the player has to qualify or beat a time or perform some other feat in order to be allowed to continue but the computer players aren't subject to the same rules. If I have to come in third or higher, then so must they! I want the computer players to be able to lose!

I didn't try time trial mode. There's apparently ghosts. Spooky.

I looked up a longplay of the game and DANG the game looks swish to watch. Watching someone who is good at WipEout play WipEout is a special experience. But I don't think I'll ever bother with gambling with my time on the Challenge modes - at thirty minutes an attempt and back to the start if I fail? I'm fine, thanks. I wish the game had the end credits after the first six golds and then escalated things beyond 100% with an invitation to the 'Insane' league, then the 'Impossible' league, so regular mortal players could be satisfied they'd 'won', and insane or impossible players could continue on their quest to eliminate all the feeling in their thumbs. The most interesting about the Challenge mode is that the lives indicator when you lose lets you see your racer's face! It's a very Amiga-ish sprite.

One thing that's confusing and nonsense is that the game has four speed classes that dictate the crafts' maximum speed and number of laps, and each class has two courses associated with it. In the Arcade mode, you can play the two Easy tracks on Easy only, the two Normal tracks on Normal only and so on. But around the point you get the Challenge, the game silently lets you play any track on any class. When you go into the best times records screen, you can see that you can play every course as every class, but the game sneakily prevents you from picking 'wrong' combinations until that point. I do not know why they do this.

WipEout 2097 has a two player mode! But it's link cable only! Grrr... that's a shame. If you're releasing a kick-butt super 32-bit 3D console with arcade quality gameplay and TWO CONTROLLER PORTS ON THE FRONT, then make the game split-screen, Sony!!! (I did have to check if in 1996 Psygnosis was fully Sony, and yes they were in 1993.) You even need two copies of the game, unlike Ridge Racer's fancy shenanigans. It would've been lovely if more games, both handheld and console, did the Game Boy Advance multiboot thing.

According to the manual, the computer voice was played by 'AMIGA 1200'. Which is exactly the idea I had for Gravity Beam! (Because I was reminded of Thunderbirds - which was also the reason why Starfox has puppets on it.) So the Gravity Beam count-in and the WipEout 2097 count-in are identical! (Except I used punctuation and post editing on 'one' to get a different inflection. And they're a little bit different.)

I chuckled when I was reading through the guides on GameFAQS and the one by Matthew Sephton says 'What a game! WO2 is easily on par with Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 as the best game on the Sony PlayStation.' I gotta agree. Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 was the very first Playstation game I ever played even before I knew what one was! And I thought it was pretty cool. I remember winning it for my cousin.

I still want to get the rest of the WipEouts though. There's another catue in Wip3out, so I gotta get it.

The music, the legendary music! It's... music. It's what it is. But because it's 1996 this is the first time people would be able to hear stuff like this coming from a game with this fidelity. Unless they had a Sega CD (but all Sega CD is supposed to sound like J-pop or a midi played through a Roland Sound Canvas by law) or a 3DO. It's got the instrumental of Firestarter, though given the bonkers difficulty of Wipeout 2097 maybe Breathe would've been more appropriate ("Don't play my game, I'll test ya.").

There's bios of all the artists from the soundtrack in the back of the manual. It's funny to me how all the dangerous, edgy underground menaces are all described as 'bill lives in a bin in London with his two cats. his destructive brand of music continues to devastate london. none will survive' with a picture of a bald bloke in sunglasses. Also, also, finally, on the subject of sunglasses. It blew my mind, really really blew my mind, when I discovered one day that The Bitmap Brothers weren't actually brothers. I mean, what's the fucking point. But in this manual, I had an even more devastating revelation - The Chemical (née Dust) Brothers aren't brothers either! What in the everlasting fuck!

---------

Also WTF! Ridge Racer: Unbounded... NFS: Unbound...??

Also at the time of writing Sonic With Planes In is on sale for £3.xx digitally. I re-read my post and remembered it was vitally important to continue to not buy it.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2023 23:45 
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Can you dig it?

Joined: 5th Apr, 2008
Posts: 4652
I remember in my first year at university, a friend had just bought Wipeout 2097 and was reading the instruction manual in a lecture (cos back then, it was cool to not be paying attention or doing the thing [learning] that we were actually meant to be there doing). He really liked the Japanese-style aesthetic.

I remember the design, the logos of the teams, the iconography (is that the right word?) all seemed exotic, modern and cool, neat and generally kind of building a cohesive experience. I was also impressed that it had music by dance artists I had heard of. I don't think I ever played the game though. Frankly, the original MSDOS version of the first wipeout game was too hard for me anyway, so I probably would have sucked at it.

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 Post subject: Re: The Need For The Need For Speed (and Friends!)
PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2023 18:43 
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What-ho, chaps!

Joined: 30th Mar, 2008
Posts: 2138
The Crew

Or to give it its full (self-claimed) name according to the title screen, The Crew: Calling All Units, with cop sirens and dramatic cop music. Hooray!

I didn't buy Calling All Units, I bought Wild Run Edition, but the single use code had been singly used, which, as always, is bullshit. Dick off with single use codes forever, thanks.

Anyway.

The Crew is a driving-thingy game that's been on my Xbox One shelf for perhaps six years, untouched. I played The Crew on my bro's PC, possibly as part of a free weekend, a very long time ago. I didn't get on with it because I thought the graphics were dark and gloomy, the cars were unresponsive, the map was empty and surreal and various other things I'm probably mis-remembering. It was long enough ago that I'm pretty sure I was playing it with the keyboard, which couldn't have helped. (I won Split/Second the first time on PC with keys though!) I still bought The Crew despite those things, intending to come back to it Another Day.

And as fate would have it, the Todayth of December 2023 is Another Day, because Ubisoft has decided that in a hundred days time, nobody must ever be allowed to play The Crew again.

Which is, you know, harsh.

I've said some nasty things about Blur (the car game) in the past (especially in real life), expressing how humanity would be much improved if the entire game were to just fall into a history-erasing crevice and remove the stain of its presence from time, but I eventually came round to it a little tiny bit. I'd still trade it for a Split/Second 2 in a nanosecond, but I wouldn't any longer erase Blur and accept -nothing- in return, which is what Ubisoft intends to do with The Crew. I'll tell you all about what I mean later.

First, let's plop the actual factual retail disc I soon won't be able to use into the drive and lets get to racin'.

You start off in a horrible shitty race truck of the kind that became trendy in games sometime in the late 2000s. Good start. (By that I mean bad start.) You're barrelling around the hazy muted landscape, gliding through bizarrely intangible bushes and trees, but it's fun I guess. It looks slightly lastgen whenever some unreactive water comes up, but the dirt on the vehicle looks nice.

Then a phone slides in from the side of the screen and you get talked at by some Half-Life 2 looking potato faced idiot you don't care about. I'm some guy who wants to do races, and my brother is the boss of a street race gang, but my guy wants to race in a gang but not that one, or perhaps my brother doesn't want me racing in a gang because it's too dangerous except when he calls me up and says I need to represent the gang or something?

This game is so damn slippery. I am in a muscle car though. But wheeee, these roads just give you no traction whatsoever. Maybe it's because of the rain. I definitely remembered the darkness and gloominess correctly.

Oh! Oh no! There's no rewinds in The Crew! I'm so used to Grid and Forza Horizon and The Run giving you rewinds that this feels quite a lot more tense to me. I'm just gonna have to be really good!

You know, I don't remember any of this plot stuff bumbling around doing odd races in Chicago and the surroundings. Have they rewritten the plot when it got Calling All Units-ised? Like how Immortal Unchained got a new intro with the big patch? I remember last time there being a prison plot about being hired out of prison by the F.B.I. to do ridiculous gang-related videogame driving challenges, because Only I Could Do It or something.

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There's a big map of the United States! I'm in Detroit! Well, kinda. Do you remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Beverley Crusher gets trapped in a pocket universe that's shrinking and she asks the computer how big the universe is and it replies "The universe is a spheroid region, 705 meters in diameter."? That's where The Crew takes place. It's a bizarre Content Aware Fill version of the United States which has been smushed down to just five states called Midwest, East Coast, The South, Mountain States and West Coast. It's 75 miles across and can be driven in less than an hour. But no doubt if I enter this flickering glitchy grey cloud that is covering most of the U.S. I'll be heavily penalised by a long loading screen and told to return to my Designated Racing Area. On cue, one of the very first things my idiot potato brother insists I do is drive to a satellite dish installation and 'sync up' to 'the 5-10 Net', which removes some of the grey fuzz from the map and reveals more icons. You get a preview cutscene of the camera panning over landmarks within the radius of the dish. I'm not gonna make Ubisoft jokes. It's video games, what do you want? Anyway, shut up, you don't have to activate another satellite dish installation for the entire game, and so I simply didn't.

The map is a nifty satellite imitation map like Test Drive Unlimited nailed, and like Test Drive Unlimited it swooshes up and down from orbit to ground level, except on an Xbox One it takes ages to load your destination and it stutters like anything so the effect is completely ruined. Also, ripping off T.D.U. is shameless, but it's the coolest possible map there is to rip off of so you didn't have much choice I guess. And also Driver: San Francisco did it a lot smoother.

There's so much loading in The Crew. There's no cool flashy loading screens like Need For Speed: A Criterion Game or Need For Speed: Heat. I want cool transitions where the car is moved from the loading realm to the game realm or something. (I'm pretty sure when you change cars in World there was some virtual reality effect where your car shimmered out and in again?) It even skips to black for a bit of loading when you're just trying to drive. What I mean is when you're driving around in the world, there are virtual challenge gates on the road which are difficult to avoid (oh how I tried to avoid these fucking things) and when you drive through them you're challenged to an impromptu dare to drive really fast or through some targets or around some obstacles, and then you get a rating and score and all that jazz and that's fine, but when it's done you have to sit through three fucking screens of scores and rankings AND THEN THE SCREEN FADES TO BLACK, LOADS, AND PUTS YOU RIGHT WHERE YOU WERE ANYWAY except at ZERO MPH with NO NITRO. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY. Sure, the game doesn't attack epileptics directly for massive damage like the speed cameras in A Criterion Game, but now it fades to black and stops you dead. You will constantly be driving from A to B because driving and listening to the nice rock station, even virtually, is a nice sensation, and then you'll be trapped in this goddamn challenge thing and then the screen will be full of words and then you'll be stopped, and this will happen OVER and OVER again. I got used to pressing Start (or Menu if you like) and using the menu and D-Pad to Abort the challenge every time I got sucked into one. Yeah, quitting the challenge doesn't result in a fade to black and a loading screen to put you back on the road you were already travelling down, but letting the challenge time out does. Yes, it doesn't pause while you're doing that so if you want to, y'know, drive at 230 in your Lambo and go places fast and have fun, you've got master all kinds of controller prestidigitation to keep unchallengifying yourself.

Here's a silly example of how strangely jammed between the multiplayer and singleplayer worlds The Crew is: you can't pause during free roam but you -can- pause during missions. Unlike Need For Speed: No Subtitle, in fact. Sorry for the long paragraph, but a full quarter of my time playing The Crew was trying to escape a challenge I'd blundered into by having the temerity to -drive down a road- so it makes sense for it to be a quarter of my review.

Travelling to a place lets you fast travel back to it at any time, but activating the dishes only reveals where the skill icons are. Defying videogame convention, Ubisoft has left out the barriers preventing me from exploring the U.S., but the game keeps telling me I can't redeem my free 'Metallic orange paint' until I complete the prologue so lets get these story missions down and then I can get to the tedious multiplayer part.

The game is really putting all of its worst feet forwards. You've got gloomy graphics, muted colours, boring cities you can barely see, slippery cars that don't want to turn or touch the ground, endless cutscenes, tiny fragments of being allowed to drive before you're yanked back into the next cutscene. There's a bunch of rough edges with the cutscenes, like characters and cars teleporting about and flickering into position, sudden lighting and weather changes.

You play as this fool, Alex. Wait, we're playing as a dude with boxy black glasses, and is name is Alex?
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WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? You can't choose your character, like in Heat, but that's a blessing really because never seeing those horrible insufferable plastic doll people from that world again is just fine. Alex is apparently the more reckless and cocksure of the Super Cargame Brothers, with his brother Dayton 'Probably Nolan North' Potatoface being the leader of a street racing gang called the 5-10s. He needs me to drive him to some place so he can put one of his disrespectful number twos in their place.

BUT THEN GUN MURDER, NOOO. DEAREST LOVEABLE POTATOFACE IS DEAD. SOMEHOW I WILL STILL FIND JOY IN LIFE.

Cops swarm all over, and a dirty cop conspicuously picks up the murder weapon with his bare hands and practically smears it all over the inside of your television with how not-following-evidence-procedure he is being. Alex is arrested for the crime of kneeling over the dead body of his brother and yelling for help and goes to prison forever and ever.

Thank heavens, I thought we were going to be playing as Alex for the ... oh. At least we're not screwing around with that stupid gross 5-10 gang business with the tattoos and the rankings and the 'owning territory' and ... oh.

FIVE YEARS LATER.

So Alex is summoned to an interrogation room in prison where a helpful F.B.I. lass slams some dossiers on the table and says she knows the real story about Potato's death, which is really helpful and nice and could've been handy five years ago. She offers Alex the slim chance of justice if he agrees to become a videogame prota-

Alex: "I'M IN."

She doesn't even begin to finish the fine print before Alex agrees to go on a revenge spree. Except, because this is a car racing game and not Driver: Parallel Lines or True Crime, this revenge will take the form of endless racing and not so much shooting. She is offering Alex an all-expenses paid F.B.I. videogame protagonist undercover job where Alex can leave prison, get a free car, do whatever the fuck he likes, drive over whoever the fuck he likes, with no consequences, indefinitely, as long as he eventually comes back and does a story mission every so often. Alex's undercover life begins when Alex vows to infiltrate the 5-10s... using his own name and without even changing his haircut or signature glasses. Gutsy.

The F.B.I. lass says she has a car for me... but after we're sucked into a cutscene and a short driving section she then gives me $30000 and tells me to buy a car.

F.B.I. girl: 'There are Car Dealers like this all over the United States'. Shocking.

The cars all seem pretty the same. Three of them are muscle cars and the other one is a Nissan 370Z tuner thingy so I take that hoping I can stick to the road surface better.

There is a kind of customisation tuning in The Crew (unlike Need for Speed: Heat), where you can control Steering Sensitivity, Steering Linearity, Steering Speed Factor, Steering Dead Zone, Throttle Linearity and Brake Linearity. Which is hilarious because you're given no description of what these factors mean. Like seriously, 'Brake Linearity'? I'm not taking a driving test to be a bus driver, dammit. And is there any person on this entire planet who plays arcade-sim driving games and uses analogue braking as an actual analogue control? 'And just gliiiiidddeeee right on down, progressive progressive progressive braking... and there we are at the red lights.' No, when you get close to a curve you slap those triggers down hard and crush the controller in your hands like you're about to scrunch it up and throw it in the bin. Perhaps there really is some utter nerd who really wants more control over the linearity curves of their pedals, but you might as well whack these sliders about to the extremes and see if you can still drive. With everything on the minimum sensitivity, it's hilariously unplayable. (It's like playing a Ghost Games NFS fresh out the box in fact, ho ho!) Naturally I whacked everything to the most immediate and sensitive and I was able to drive the car in a way that felt like I was controlling the car. Great.

After a couple of hours of Crewing, I found that the slightly upgraded car I now had was in fact -too sensitive- so I moved those sliders down to about 60% away from centre instead of 100%. Crazy!

F.B.I. Zoe just keeps on goddamn talking. Alex is out of state prison, but now he's in the even worse prison of being processed through yet more tutorials as we're shown around the super secret headquarters of Alex's operation. It's weird hearing this character which I've seen in a rare mocapped conspicuous not-in-engine cutscene listing game mechanics and menu options. With each character Alex adds to the titular Crew, he gains access to another set of skill rows to put (respeccable, yay!) points into in order to customise his progression. I hope you're sitting down for this - every time Alex levels up I can put another point into F.B.I. Zoe's personal skill and gain an extra ONE PERCENT OF ENHANCED BRAKING. AND IT GOES TO FIVE! I KNOW RIGHT!

And if that wasn't enticing enough, you can spend ingame Bucks (what Need for Speed: Underground would call Bank) or multiplayer centric Crew Credits to buy additional park points!! I can't find any concrete information on whether you can buy CCs in Crew 1 but you certainly can in Crew 2, so if you are so very very desperate to get that 1% YES you can pay real money!! Faboooo!

Also there is a Hidden Car in the garage.

See?

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Or not! Ho ho!

ANYWAY, for some reason we're switching protagonists to a Bri'ish™ police woman and my car has weapons now and I'm chasing down Alex who is playing the part of a mock badguy to demonstrate to this new officer how to do pursuits. Huh. Weird.

The pursuit was very strange. You have weapons like an EMP Blast and you can teleport to the fleeing suspect at any time, and there's no cool sound effects for the weapons and there's no cool OTT cop music, which is boring. It feels like a lame-ass rip-off of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit - like if somebody made a cheap rickety mod to put HP pursuits into Test Drive Unlimited 2.

The Crew has morphed into The Crew: Calling All Units on my system because it's The Crew is a live servicey type thing where when the new expansion (the cool kids would say 'season') comes out, the base game 'e-v-o-l-v-e-s'™ into that new game so it isn't 'dead' because heaven forbid a game just be a game and not be 'dead'. So I've got Calling All Units. Except I don't. These tutorial missions for the police chases as a racer and police interceptions as a cop? I get one mission and then the game says 'Wow! Time for your first free starter car as a cop!' and then I go there and it says 'Buy Calling All Units to get your first cop car!'. So it was just a bloody advert.

And now I'm doing a monster truck score trial for some reason. And now I'm doing drag racing for some reason. And now I'm doing drift racing for some reason. These tutorial examples are giving me no exp so they're a waste of my time. They're also putting me in class 990 cars so the rest of the game is going to feel like a slug by comparison. Ohhh, these are the 'Extreme' disciplines, and this is another damned advert. Grert. I wrote Grert and was going to correct it, but Grert is how I feel about this. I mean this is technically a game demo so I should be happy, but... sigh. I don't know. I couldn't buy either of these even if I wanted to since The Crew and its DLC was suddenly delisted last week. Oh no I'm devastated etc.

What I'm -supposed- to be doing is ingratiating myself with some entry-level 5-10s lieutenant in order to get my foot in the door with my late brother's racer gang so I can infiltrate the gang and get close to the guy who put my potato bro in the ground, as well as collect evidence about the crooked Fed. It involves lots of dialogue like 'own the streets' and 'earn your ink'. Sorta feels like a sort of sad power fantasy for middle-aged men having a mid-life crisis. The main bad guy is called Shiv. (Because he stabbed the protagonist's brother in the back with a bullet.)

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way about the story is that apart from the Bad F.B.I Guy being bad and the Murdery Bad Gang Guy being bad, the game has no moral code. It doesn't revel in the destruction and anarchy of being in an edgy drug-running gang where they give one another titles like being a 'V8', and it doesn't condemn or acknowledge that driving on the sidewalk at 200 M.P.H. through a herd of bison, bobcats and people might not be the most sterling demonstration of the protagonist's fiber. Everything is just accepted silently as ordinary - not even a necessary evil, just ordinary. Is America just like that? The FMV pals from Need for Speed: No Subtitle really made me feel like I was with a family of shady guys all hanging out in our cool midnight diner plotting our amazing schemes.

Here's some good things in The Crew: being able to fast travel to any discovered location or mission, being able to begin any mission directly from the map, being able to repeat any mission at any time, being able to swap your current car without going into a deep menu at any time, being able to make a custom radio station out of any of the tracks from any of the built-in radio stations (which I only discovered there were seven of after beating the entire game... but only the first radio station is worth listening to... and you can't import your own songs it seems, like True Crime on the original Xbox, wait I said I was only going to say good things about The Crew, oops.). Basically I like the game more than Burnout: Paradise. I've decided that BP's humour is just too stupid for me.

You get the option for a game soundtrack or the radio during story missions, which I totally approve of. Heck, the game soundtrack is even dynamic for last lap stuff. And cop chases, with alert and evasion phases. You did that bit right, Ubisoft.

The main quest levels are very self-contained instances of the games activities. They're not quite radiant quests (or Saints Rows' patented 'you must do X bullshit copies of this a-c-t-i-v-i-t-y before being allowed to proceed' crapola) but they sometimes feel like that unless the race proves unexpectedly pivotal to the plot. One race that was super Payback-y was when Alex infiltrated a racetrack as a test driver to steal one of the cars and you have to do the test race and then escape from the track while being pursued... but the only part you got to play was the three lap race around the oval track and the escape all happened during a cutscene. And it wasn't even a very good cutscene. There's nothing in the way of gimmicky one of a kind missions like Driver: San Francisco.

At one point the Dangerous Evil Unhinged Gang Leader calls the cops on us after inviting us to a closed race at Laguna Seca. But... you arranged a track day? If the entire 5-10s gang invaded the track the cops would've possible already noticed? So this must be a legal race? You're threatening us with the cops on the one day your drug-trafficking gang actually meets up to do some legal car racing? Um? Anyway, Ubisoft was a complete fucking moron and decided to let Alex and co. escape the post-race cops in a cutscene AGAIN instead of having the race segue into the pursuit like the good Most Wanted does. I say cutscene, what happens is that Shiv calls the cops, and then it fades to black, and then it cuts to Alex driving away saying 'wow, we sure escaped those cops'. Use this as a point of comparison for how much story The Crew can be bothered to give you in the general case.

I thought The Crew looked dismal when I began playing it, but that's just because it keeps its nice weather effects and nice colours well hidden for dedicated players only. Noobs must suffer Chicago and rain for five hours to see if the game thinks they're worthy to see the sun. Also for some reason the water looks awful throughout the game, and the shadows only appear quite close so the vehicles seem to be floating. The game has hot air balloons in and even has a special cutscene where Alex takes a moment to appreciate them. The game sometimes decides to spawn low flying aircraft above your head just for the cool shadow. Your car flattens trails of wheat (it doesn't look amazing but it looks nice). Later on you'll be driving and suddenly you'll be surrounded by giant awesome trees, or a valley, or a snowy Christmas wonderland or a wooden bridge or something. And not just because of the strange, inconsistent geometry pop-in where it feels like the game can't decide what shape the thing you're driving towards is supposed to be. Because you're travelling over the U.S., I recognised various landmarks... from The Run. And then I wished there was a The Run 2.

There's traffic and pedestrians in The Crew, but somehow either not enough, or too silent or something. Need for Speed: Undercover felt like it was constantly set at dawn in the middle of July so it was blazingly bright but nobody had gotten up yet - near the cities The Crew feels like a depressing Sunday, forever. I once triggered a bug when I was grinding for police cars to appear (triggering and aborting a C.A.U. race to spawn cops then attacking them to cause a FreeDrive getaway), where there were no ambient cars or pedestrians in the world at all. That was cool, I could finally blast around at 250 without worrying about snagging something.

You gather a 'crew' of sorts during the game with one new guy appearing on your team in each region of the US, but their contribution to the game is to tell you on the radio to speed up when you're not in first place and to tell you to keep going fast when you are in first place. They feel as if they have a plot going when you meet them, but only a couple of the characters' plots get resolved with a real ending. Everybody else just lingers around (not in any kind of visible tangible sense).

There's no rewinds unlike Grid or Forza or The Run, but the game is so horrendously easy, I never really missed them. I never found out what happens if you come in second or third or fourth in a story race; it just never came up. There's no huge marathon races where I felt like I was cheated at the last minute by a bad landing or some quirk of the game engine. Only a handful of times in twenty hours did my car slam to a stop on an invisible immovable Lego brick or get flung laterally across the track or into the air, but that's fine, games are allowed a little bit of that, especially now that the consoles let you record the hilarious results.

The standard crashes in The Crew are bizarrely forgiving. Throughout the entire game I only got CRASHED!!! three or four times and that was when I hit someone at a speed difference of 130 mph. The rest of the time you'll ooze around enemy cars and obstacles or politely slide across or around them. I am really, really not complaining. It does feel a bit like I'm inflatable though.

The game never penalises taking shortcuts and the collision detection for the checkpoint gates is possibly even too forgiving. Driving non-offroad cars off-road works just like Grid, so good! Crashing into opponent cars is a valid tactic, because they're inflatable too. A confident nudge will send any AI car whirling off into a corner pocket, and that's grand. You won't need to rely on dirty tricks like that, because the AI in The Crew IS FALLIBLE. Yes, my friends, you can race against opponents and then maybe they'll hit traffic or they'll hit a wall or they'll misjudge a curve. Believe it!! This does render most of The Crew pretty easy, but okay. In one promotional race, we were all in identical branded cars on a downhill mountain path, and as soon as the race begin they scattered and fluttered off into the air like someone kicked a pile of raked leaves.

There's lots of camera options in The Crew. You can be on the bonnet, inside the car seeing your interior (with customisable colours!) and your hands, behind the car, or with a chase cam view that's distant in the style of classic Need For Speed 1/2/3/4. Acknowledgement is due for that, because that makes it a little more comfortable to play in some respects than Need for Speed: The Run which might as well be called Need for Speed: The Bum because that's where the chase cam goes.

You have to go out of your way to get into a regular cop pursuit, and they're lame. The cops are nowhere near as aggressive as the wasps from Need for Speed: Heat. It feels more like Need for Speed: Undercover where driving moderately fast defeats them by default. And there's no cool cop music. Unless its a story mission cop chase. You only get abilities when you're doing a Calling All Units crate thing? Inexplicably you can still begin Calling All Units crate pursuits as a racer without buying it.

Cop chases (and enemy gang chases) involve you getting out of the 360 ring of awareness emanating from the police units, rather than the vision cones from Driver: Parallel Lines (and they go back to Driver I think) which is lazy. You know what had a cool gimmicky vehicular cop escape sequence? Watch Dogs. I remember that looking really cool.

There are takedown levels which work a lot like Driver: San Francisco where it's not about actually stopping the car but about hitting it diagonally in the butt at the right speed difference to cause HP damage. Don't even get in front of the enemy car or try to knock it off the road because that's just not how the rules work. Trying to knock a fast car off the road takes for fucking ever because you have to catch up to it, then you have to match its speed, then you have to boost into it to close the gap and have enough speed difference to cause HP damage. I like Driver 1 + 2 but these missions don't have the novelty value the PS1 games had at the time so The Crew's takedowns just wore me down.

There's hardly any circuit races in The Crew. Specifically, I mean lap races. They just don't seem to be a thing. Even when the game shifts tone from Alex being the odd-job guy for the 5-10s to being a regional leader who keeps arranging (or having the other story characters arrange on his behalf) other racers for meetings. There's a whole class (a 'Spec' if you like) of cars called Circuit, and you hardly ever use those either! And when you do drive a Circuit Spec car, it's only on an actual circuit twenty percent of the time. I think I only did some Metropolis Street Racing on closed tracks twice in the entire game. (Oh, so that's why it's called Project Gotham. Ahh.) I'm not complaining because circuit races can be pretty dull, but you'd think a multiplayer-centric driving game would have more of that kind of thing.

Oh yeah, there's a nitro button. I only noticed it accidentally as I was trying out the various buttons. I was expecting the tutorial to be more direct about the controller and not the mechanics, but the game is very hands off about telling you -how to play the game- despite punishing you with endless tutorials about the game.

It took me a long long time to find the screen which showed a diagram of the controller and what the button assignments were. ALSO also, fuck this game for calling the help screens 'the wiki'. They're not a wiki because a wiki lets you -edit it-. You're just making things more fucking confusing because now there's the -actual- wiki in the real world and your wiki in the game which is just the help system. And when you're inside this not-wiki you can also go to the... -actual- Xbox Help help manual for The Crew. The Xbox One system has a built-in digital manual app called Help (sorta like how Windows has Windows Help) and games like Lichdom: Battlemage have menu items linking to 'Help' which takes the player to the corresponding Xbox Help manual for that game. Except at some point in early 2022 Xbox Help was discontinued but none of the games referring to it were updated so now when you use Lichdom: Battlemage's help option, or the Help within The Crew's not-wiki, you get an error. Good job. Guhhhhhh.

Disciplines! I didn't write about the car slurping. How could I forget The Crew's signature feature, that totally isn't just a rip-off of Need for Speed: Payback! Here's some words about the car slurping.

The specs the game gives in the garage are confusing. What I thought was a bar graph of stats was actually a list of car disciplines the car can be slurped into. You don't just have Your Car, but each car has to take a Final Fantasy job crystal and morph through a flashy car assembly cutscene sequence into a discipline-specific specialised form. You buy your Nissan 370Z Full Stock, and then you pay 10% extra and receive a special copy of it for Street racing. Now you have two independent cars with different colouring. The Payback multi-headed hydra of multitagonists had to rebuy their a whole new car each time but Alex gets to dupe cars as if by magic. For some reason.

There's no car tuning in The Crew, just like in Payback. In fact, just like in Payback, winning races gets you random component part cards that attach to your car and upgrade its attributes, but there's so many attributes and the upgrades are so marginal that it's not even worth expending the molecules of sugar in your brain trying to push your sluggish cursor through the five levels deep of menu to figure out what you just upgraded and why. Your car just got a tiny bit better, confirm the menu and live with it.

There's absolutely no point swapping parts out to get to a lower rating. And it's a real pain in the arse to even try. Like I said, the parts menu is like a more fine-grained version of the cards from Payback but less fun looking. There's about a dozen slots, and the main distinguishing feature is the component's level. You never get a super duper special once-per-game part like in Need for Speed: Underground, which is dumb, especially for an MMO. It's nice to see your cars rating number go up bit by bit over the course of the game I guess, but I wanted to have to make decisions and compromises like in a real RPG. There's no wonky exaggerated component which gives you a huge boost in one aspect but reduces another, so you might as well never go into the menu. So don't. Car performance customisation sucks. Don't go in there.

If the idea of a tedious (in speed, not in detail) menu did attract your interest (perhaps you've never played a -good- game before), I'll let you down quickly - you can't even buy performance parts if you wanted to (for in-game money or even for Crew Credits - which I assume you get for multiplayer races or for real money). Every time I tried (Visit Street Tuner > Performance > Buy >) the game told me 'There's nothing to buy in this category.' -shrug of confusion-??
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(I tell a lie. ONCE during my playthrough there were parts for Gallardo in the shop. ONCE. Somehow that's worse than never because I never figured out how to get the shop inventory back!)

It's all a moot point at the end of the game anyway when you're trying to get the 'level 1299 car' achievement, as you will surely find a race or a skill jump that you can complete in fifteen seconds and grind it for its Levelled Loot, bringing all your car slots up to maximum level in a few minutes, a bit like you're playing Pokémon or something and you find a guy outside the Elite Four offering infinite experience. It makes the game feel like it has two halves - the single player campaign where you're ascending the levels slowly, which feels nice even if there's no player input to it, and the post-game MMO where everybody's at the ceiling and there's no way to go back down to more sedate street-speed racing. If you're more interested in the latter than the former, then I imagine The Crew's story would be a twenty hour grind prison to you before you're allowed to get your -real hardcore gaming- on.

In my Heat post I mentioned that the way you customise the nature of your car is by buying and installing parts that shift the car's tendency within a 2D grid between two archetypes like 'Drift' or 'Road'. The Crew -does- have an equivalent of that, in the car-slurp system itself. You start off with a Full Stock car, which most people call a car. Then for each ten player levels you get another Slurp Type: Street, Dirt, Performance, Raid and Circuit. But, um...

So you start with your Car car, and then Street is like Car but faster and can do roads. Dirt cars do off-road and shortcuts. Performance cars are like Street cars but... Streetier? Raid cars have a big spare tyre strapped to the back so you know they're the -real- off-road beasties. And Circuit cars are like Performance cars except you should drive them on... roads.

You've got six category names of car here, The Crew, but you really only have two types, don't you? Road and off-road.

You might logically be expecting a Need for Speed style situation where you garage grows over time and your weapon of choice starts with street cars and escalates through tuners and sports cars to exotic hypercars. No. It's possible and highly probable that you'll win the entire game in the car Zoe buys for you at the beginning. You'll unlock its five alternate personalities over the course of the plot and that same Nissan 370Z will be on par with the Lambos and the Koeniggsegs and the Paganis and everything else because, well, they're just just pretendy virtual cars innit? Or something.

Maybe every car is designed to be identical in performance to the others to make the MMO endgame more fair or varied or whatever. Other, better, games use the performance tiers to achieve that goal. You know, like having the 300 M.P.H. italian hypercars that have names that sounds like that they come from space in a 'Hypercar' tier, and having everyday street cars like a Focus and a Golf and a Corsa in the 'Road' tier, so like cars can compete against like. The Crew doesn't do this, and my poor brain is boiling trying to figure out -why-. You might think that the different car-slurp Specs work like performance tiers in a good game, but nah. Street cars can go up to level 1300 just as well as Circuit cars can. Circuit cars might be faster when comparing identical numbers, but in that case WHY DO THEY USE THE SAME NUMBERS. Ugh.

You can only own ONE copy of each car-slurp combination, so you can't have your Drifty White Circuit Spec Nissan 370Z and your Grippy Black Circuit Spec Nissan 370Z with different parameters. THIS IS FUCKING STUPID. Excuse my language, but so these FUCKING MORONS know how car RPGs work? I want to collect cars. I want to collect liveries. I want to be able to make wonky duplicate versions of my owned cars with silly stats or silly colours or silly visual elements. But you can only have one car in each designated 'hole' and there's no way to load and save liveries. **THERE IS NO WAY TO LOAD AND SAVE LIVERIES.** If you accidentally tap the 'Random' button on the car 'tuning' select screen, it'll whip out a random item and colour from everything you own and apply it to your current car, overwriting what you'd already selected with no way to undo. So that's nice.

Visual customisation! The Crew's visual customisation is shit, and inexplicably so. Imagine a good game, then imagine a bad game trying to imitate a good game. The Crew's car customisation menu is all split up and slow and has transitions, like they wanted something as time-consuming as Need for Speed: Underground, but just a little bit worse to make things special. You have to slide through a whole bunch of icons that don't even show you previews of what the car piece will look like, and the camera keeps rotating around the car and the car components explode all like in Bayformers so you have no idea what the completed car will even look like, and there's ONLY TWO SPOILERS?? and aaaaAAARGH

You can buy new paint colours like items and equip them onto your car. You can even buy a second colour and have a two-tone car! And then you can buy one of seventy-odd premade vinyls and apply them to your car! And that's it. Ubisoft made a car MMO RPG where you're represented by your car but you CAN'T CUSTOMISE THE CAR FREELY. Come on.

You can't freely draw or place your own decals. Need for Speed: Undercover and Forza fans, commence your laughter: now.

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I turned my head to talk to my brother and when I turned back I had been booted to the title screen. Yay.

You don't get to freely customise your license plates, which really seems like Ubisoft either didn't want to make an MMO originally or had absolutely no fucking clue what players wanted. I found out after over a dozen hours of playing that you earn license plates by completing HUGE challenges made of dozens of fractional pieces. Most of these challenges are marathon game-lifetime duration challenges. You might get a pre-made license plate saying 'F4STC4R' if you get the fastest time on every single race in the game for example. If these were special license plates, fine, but they're the ONLY license plates. You can't just have one with, like, your name on. And you can't even pick your favourite state. The way they're rewards for completing fractional challenges is like the 'cards' in Carbon, so there's another thing they ripped off, except Carbon's cards are made of four pieces apiece instead of goddamn TWENTY.

I'm really stuck on this car customisation thing - as I was writing and rewriting these descriptions (sorry if I end up repeating stuff as I combine multiple drafts), I hit upon the comparison to the level up system you get in a Tom Clancy game or Call of Duty or something like that, where you have your experience points and your level, but what they do is give you more options for your loadout that are usually but not necessarily better. The Crew's level ups are an inevitable slow crawl, but what happens is your car just gets faster, you don't get to make a car loadout, which seems to me to be the single critical aspect that makes a car RPG a car RPG rather than a linear game where you car slowly increases in speed over time. Basically, what I'm saying is that The Crew is a shit RPG.

The game is thoroughly allergic to letting the player have lots of -different- cars. Throughout the story Alex Yiik will take down some nefarious badguy 5-10 in a tense all-or-nothing pink slip race and then at the end he'll say 'Think yourself lucky I'm letting you keep your ride.' and trade the opponents car for some stupid piece of information he either already knew or could've found out by some other means. I screamed at the screen, I really did.

What's funny is that about a third of the story missions have Alex deciding to jump into a different predefined car anyway. I guess it makes it fair for scoring? But only on specific missions? Because most of the time you can bring your own broken car? Whatever.

Maybe the game is stingy with its cars because there aren't that many cars to get? The statistics page (which you get by going to the map and pressing Left Thumbstick or by selecting your pulsing portrait, you're welcome) claims there are 341 vehicles. That's a bald-faced lie. There are fourteen pages in the Collections screen; subtract two because they're bikes; six cars along the top of a page: that's seventy two cars. They -cannot- be counting the Spec specialisations in this because they're literally the same fucking car. (Yes, when you buy a kit it says "IT'S A BRAND NEW CAR!" in capital letters. It's wrong.)

You'll never get to see any of these other amazing cars by the way because the game is abominably stingy. My 300000 B lifetime earnings didn't come close to getting me the Koeniggseg Agera at the top of the shop. I only got to drive the Lamborghini Gallardo because I spent the free multiplayer currency the game gave me on it.

Ubisoft isn't a stranger to telling porkies, of course. The Crew claims to be the first open world car racing MMO. And it was, it was the first open world car racing MMO to come out since the closure of open world car racing MMO Need for Speed: World.
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Perhaps that's why The Crew doesn't feel like it has to try very hard, because it's actively pretending other, more well-established games don't exist.

You can use airports and train stations to travel across the U.S., but it's more fun to put on one of the radio stations you like and just drive in a straight line. Whyever would you play a racing game if you don't like the driving? If you want, you can drive from coast to coast (there's an achievement for doing so in multiplayer) and see all the different themed areas the game offers, like you're playing through Outrun.

When I was cleaning up achievements, I did ONE of the tasks to earn a hidden car and it took for fucking ever because it was about twenty pieces scattered on hills and it wasn't worth it, so I don't recommend you do that. I did all of the data station satellite things, which, believe it or not, made the map fill up with task icons. If you're in the mood to wander about in the darkness of dusk following the wibbly blue line of destiny above your head from place to place, then getting these dishes can be quite relaxing. But what you'll be doing is following the radar rather than using your senses and intuition which is more drudgery than gameplay.

It made me want to play a game where you were a detective and you had access to a huge state full of cities and you could drive around doing investigations and talking to people and stuff. I made up a whole new game in my head to play to distance myself from being aware I was playing The Crew.

There's a completely vestigial car damage system that the game sometimes draws attention to but has no effect whatsoever on gameplay. There's a whole perk row dedicated to allowing repairs while out in the world and reducing the cost of it, but not once through the entire single-player campaign did I ever need to maintain or repair my car. I don't quite get why that game mechanic was there.

Playing The Crew feels like it's a soup of all the other modern racing games from this time. It's hard to figure out what The Crew's special selling point is. Every Need for Speed in the last hundred years has had multiplayer racing and seamless leaderboard integration and challenging. They've had pursuits, an open world, car customisation, day, night, playing as the cops. FMV story characters, pre-rendered story characters, in-engine story characters, electronic music, live music.

The Crew's single player isn't longer or shorter than any of the modern Need for Speeds (okay it's longer than Carbon, but this sentence is longer than Carbon). Ubisoft seemed to have so much effort into the 'cinematic' voiced, modelled and written plot (65 missions) that they accidentally made a credible single player game when they didn't intend to. Or maybe that's just how it turned out and the MMO always-online thing was a horrible swerve enforced on an almost-complete ordinary single-but-with-multiplayer-mode The Crew at the last moment.

The Crew's story and cutscenes are as good as any other in the genre, because, well, it's a very small genre. What other games fit into the genre that Need for Speed: Payback calls 'action driving fantasy'? Only Need for Speed: No Subtitle really put in the effort, with the FMV guys who I will defend to the death. The Crew has a mixture of really nasty looking in-engine rushed cutscenes, and really flashy detailed cutscenes that you get one of per region, which look like the kind of thing that Ubisoft spent all the money on to show the game off at E3.

I'm not an MMO player, I guess it would be cool to play the game along with someone else and level up my cars alongside someone else so were gaining levels at the same pace. That makes sense. I have no idea if The Crew lets you level scale your car back down to earlier performance levels to replay story missions (alone or with friends) fairly. Every time I've tried to replay a story mission, I've shown up in my bleeding-edge car and the game becomes even more of a cakewalk than usual.

The Crew offers no replay value. I don't mean it doesn't -have- any, I mean it doesn't offer any. You can't begin a new slot and start again. Because it's an MMOoooo of cooouuururrrrrseee. Ugh. Not that the game would go all that differently on a new game anyway, the game doesn't have any set points where you're given a new car, like in The Run or Undercover. But I don't think you can ever replay old story missions in the car you would have had at the time, because as you level up your cars get new parts and other boosty stat upgrades that I'm pretty sure are permanent. You know how Forza Horizon offers to tweak most cars automatically to let you play them in faster or slower races? Imagine the opposite of that. Throughout most of The Crew's story you'll be blasting past everyone in your over-upgraded car.

There's a strange, probably unintentional power fantasy mood to the game. Alex is constantly told that every race record is unbeatable, and every racer is undefeatable, but you can beat everything and defeat everyone by aiming your car roughly in the right direction and putting your foot down. And that's with me tearing through the game fast travelling from objective to objective so I'm not getting any optional experience points or car upgrades, and with the driving assists set to Hardcore.

One of the MMO features that feels like a silly misfire is the faction system. You can associate yourself with one of the 'chapters' of the 5-10 that run each of the states in Mini USA, and the most successful chapters get (a teeny tiny feeble amount of) bonus money. But in order to associate yourself with a chapter you have to progress up to that chapter's territory in the main plot. If you suspect that this means that the starting chapters have a ridiculous advantage due to more players starting the game than finishing it, you are correct!

Because of the terrible stinginess with cars and car customisation, The Crew is much worse as a game than its Need for Speed contemporaries. But because its Need for Speed comtemporaries are -so bad-, the Crew miraculously looks pretty good by comparison. I don't regret buying and playing through The Crew. But I won't let Ubisoft forget that The Crew's worthiness isn't because The Crew was a great example of a good idea executed well, it was because it was an okay example of everybody else's good ideas executed at the minimum required level to make the game function, and nobody else is even -trying-. Except for Forza Horizon, which has earned its rightful place as the God-King of accessible sim racers from NFS, and repeatedly shown that it's possible to make games that aren't complete fucking embarrassments. ARE. YOU. LISTENING. ELECTRONIC. ARTS.

Forza Horizon was such a good game because it had a really good engine, really good graphics, really high quality of execution, lots of features, lots of options, and felt like an enhancement and a contribution to the genre.

Of course The Crew game doesn't -have- to have a special selling point in order to justify its existence. It could just be a Good Racing Game. It's not, but it could have been. The Crew has good racing mechanics if you work to find them. Perhaps its unique selling point is that it's Need for Speed: World except it isn't shut down.

But HO HO HO! This year, like an evil anti-Santa, Yves Guillemot is coming into your house and setting fire to your Christmas presents. The Crew is an always online MMO, and we were always only allowed to play it by his grace. But his patience has reached its limit and now the car racing must cease.

I was surprised, I have to say. The Crew, an MMO? But I own it! I own it on a disc! I wouldn't have bought an MMO, would I? Well, I would. I took out my Wild Run Edition retail box from the shelf and it says it's an MMO on the back clear as day, with the grey warning banner on the front saying REQUIRES INTERNET, like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has. I looked up a photograph of a launch PS4 version of The Crew without Wild Run and it says it there too. To my complete surprise, The Crew being advertised as an MMO isn't an attempt at some cosmic rewriting of history by Ubisoft, it was always supposed to be an MMO. Everybody had forgotten because the last open world racing MMO (Need for Speed: World) had just closed down, and the Criterion-era Need for Speeds like Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted Crap Edition had integrated Autolog™(R)(C) so naturally that it had become standard in the genre and everybody had assumed that driving games, open world or otherwise, would have multiplayer modes and leaderboards and other things fizzing around in the background constantly alongside a full, organised single player campaign progression.

I say The Crew was 'supposed to be' an MMO because it's... not. It simply isn't. It is totally indistinguishable from the type of single-player-with-multiplayer-aspects gameplay that Needs for Speeds Undercover, Hot Pursuit and A Criterion Game and the Ghostly NFSes have. But Ubisoft seems to think it is an MMO. This came as a complete surprise to me, and indeed the entire rest of the human race. It has a single player story with a named, predefined character, lots of cutscenes, lots of interruptions dragging you into cutscenes, sixty-seven plot missions which only make sense if you're That Guy. Of course it's a single player game!

Need for Speed: World was an MMO because it was just a strange abstract city arena of races to try with other people and bots and you had a persistent player level and could level up and get cars. (Hah! Thinking of my time with Not Safe For Work, I think had more cars in that than I ever did in The Crew.)

So many people worked on this linear, scripted, acted, scored, modelled game that putting the MMO name on it demeans it. The end sequence credits take a million years on fast forward and show an image of the earth and moon in space, so I thought we were going to have a Blast Corps easter egg or perhaps a Saints Row IV awful twist or something.

When I mentioned the lack of car customisation and individuality in The Crew to my brother, he pointed out that if you can't customise your protagonist then that makes this an MMO where everybody has to play as Alex. This isn't a Metal Gear Solid V scenario where you make a guy but he's your multiplayer guy and your single player guy will look like Venom Snake always. All these millions of players are all exact copies of the same Alex. This is the incredible world of Alex Yiik. Maybe that's why it must be destroyed, for everyone's sake?

===

Anyway anyway anyway. That was The Crew. I say 'was', because by the time you've finished reading all that, Ubisoft will have had the game executed and fed to the swine. It deserved better. But not that much better. Oh well.

===

Bonus lap! I just saw some of The Crew running on a PC (my weapon of choice is an Xbox One) with a GeForce 3050 RTX. It had also magically became Calling All Units. It does look noticeably prettier than when rendered at 720 and blown up by a TV too stupid to just display it with borders. It still stutters all over the place no matter the detail level. Maybe it's the multiplayer stuff trying to keep itself in sync (since I'd naturally be playing offline without Gold)? It doesn't look like an obsolete graphical embarrassment that must be shut down at all. I can confirm there's no magic barrier preventing you from going into the sunny happy colourful Christmassy mountains before you've taken over the midwest, but you would be driving a naffo car. (You start at SINGLE DIGIT LEVELS and it goes up to 1300!) I wonder if it's possible to escape before Dayton dies and rewrite the entire game!

The game never pushes you into a multiplayer lobby or makes you wait for timers to expire or forces you to do any of the immersion breaking things that a nasty multiplayer-focused game would normally do. All the options in the game default to the single player - if you go to a mission and just jab the pad, you'll play the single player plot, alone.

And finally, I watched someone else play and to my confoundment they did a bunch of skill challenges without being zapped into blackness and reset to 0 M.P.H. ...!!! until the third time onwards, where they suddenly were consistently stopped by skill challenges. I had to chuckle.

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