Lachlan and I recently attended the EB Games Expo in Sydney, Australia, where we had the chance to see a plethora of games in action and go hand-on with most of them. All things considered, it was an enjoyable experience and we’d be remiss, not to mention slightly irresponsible, if we didn’t provide any information from our time there to our dear faithful readers. We’ve decided to bring you the impressions based on genre divisions, but that’s not always going to be viable due to a differing representation ratio. This first article will deal with the racers.
The genre was strongly represented at the show, with racers being among the highlights of the presence of Microsoft, Sony and EA, while Ubisoft also had The Crew tucked away behind their main stage. I didn’t notice this last one until too late and so didn’t take the opportunity to trial the game, and can only hope that this oversight wasn’t too large of a mistake. Nevertheless, with DriveClub, Need for Speed: Rivals, Forza 5 and Gran Turismo 6 all playable, there was a considerable amount of diversity in the style and substance on offer, as well as how much I enjoyed them.
DriveClub is being positioned as the PS4’s premier exclusive racer, for now. Currently in development at Evolution, it is a massive departure from their previous MotorStorm franchise in a number of ways, the most immediate of which is its place as an arcade-styled circuit racer focussing on online connectivity. Because of this latter aspect, it is arguably one of those games that most demonstrates the industry’s newfound philosophy of putting the social aspects of gaming at the forefront. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get a feel for this element of the game at the show, but its presence could still be felt by the game asking you take a photo of yourself before beginning the demo and the way that your scores were apparently compiled to be compared against other gamers. This not being in my sphere of interest I did my best to ignore it, and this was probably not such a good idea.
The DriveClub demo was, by far, the most limited of those on the show floor, and left one wondering exactly what we were supposed to take away from it. Players were forced to trial a short stretch of track, and granted a choice of only two vehicles in which to do so. Your proficiency in speed, cornering and drifting was measured through an arbitrary points system that compared your skill against that of other show-goers. And that is, ultimately, the crux and sell of the demo. There was no real racing, only this attempt at a meta-game that was neither inspiring nor satisfying. It was also the most immediate racer at the show, with a reset of your position if you left the track for three seconds.
Even these shortcomings could be overlooked if the driving itself felt good, but this is simply not the case. The controls, though as responsive as you could ask for, are married to a physics system that offers very little feedback. The three skill areas mentioned above were measured in bespoke challenge segments upon the track, forcing you to test your abilities separately rather than as a whole, which just seems an odd idea in a racer. Driving in a straight line is about as fun as you might expect, while I could divine no real difference between the cornering and drifting segments. All things considered, the actual gameplay content of the demo was utterly insipid, offering nothing that would be enough to sell the game to anyone but the most desperate race fans picking up a PS4 on day one.
On the other hand, it was utterly beautiful and was one of a very small number of games that really showed off the potential visual prowess of the next-gen consoles. It featured a hyper-realistic art style with a strong focus on lush colours and lavish detail that combined to draw the eye irresistably. It’s a real shame that the body of the game didn’t match up to that pretty face.
Need for Speed: Rivals
The latest title in EA’s foremost racing series, Need for Speed, is subtitled Rivals and comes courtesy of debut studio Ghost Games, taking over responsibility for the franchise from Criterion. Conceptually, it isn’t a massive departure from the older games with a central focus on a cop vs racer dynamic, with hot cars and high speeds being thrown in for good measure. Through the open-world layout and Autolog, it retains many of the ideas mandated by Criterion during their run with the series, but ups the ante with a dynamic weather system and fundamentally integrated online elements. The demo, running on next-gen target PC hardware hooked up to Dualshock 4 controllers, pit two teams of three players against each other.
With six minutes on the clock, I was dropped behind the wheel of a police car with the goal of tracking and taking down the racers that zipped about the expansive map. To aid me in this goal were a couple of special abilities that took some getting used to. Before having a chance to get into the meat of the action, you had to track down a racer and engage them in a pursuit, but this was no easy proposition. A part of the blame for this has to be on the size and apparent randomness of the map, but the radar was almost useless, failing to provide any indication of which of the other vehicles on the road was a racer. If I’m being completely honest, multiplayer is not my forte, and perhaps that is why I felt completely out of my depth while playing this one but, although it gave more of an idea of the game as a whole than the DriveClub demo, it was hardly more satisfying.
The driving mechanics felt considerably more grounded, but the reality is that they seemed to play second fiddle to the combat ideal. It’s easy to imagine how things would be different playing from the perspective of a racer, whose sole goal is to accumulate points by staying away from the cops, drifting, jumping and generally having a good time for the sake of it. The controls seemed to lack a degree of fine control, a minor issue that compounded my problems with the exaggerated focus on speed that the game offers. For me, the demo was simply too unstructured to offer any real enjoyment, and I would have much preferred to get an idea of the way that the single player has been handled.
Visually, it wasn’t nearly as appealing as DriveClub, with a comparatively muted colour palette, though it featured a much grander vista and a more complex environment. Where it took the crown, however, was in its use of particle effects. From the smoking tyres to the fuzz of falling rain, it may have been mostly subtle, but it gave the entire image a fuller aspect, enhancing the atmosphere of the game by a considerable amount. I think that, if you’re a fan of Need for Speed, this one is well worth looking into, but if you’re not already sold on the series, Rivals isn’t about to change your mind.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza Motorsport has long been considered Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s Gran Turismo, and they’re getting a jump on the competition by launching the latest iteration of the highly acclaimed series alongside the Xbox One. Turn 10 are back in the driver’s seat, putting the focus firmly on simulated circuit racing after last year’s open-world experiment, Forza Horizon, was outsourced to Playground Games. With 92 cars and 7 tracks thus far confirmed for the game, it appears as though the console transition has resulted in some cuts to the amount of content, but that is a secondary consideration if the rest of the game makes up for the shortfall. The demo gave a choice of four cars, racing a single circuit of Laguna Seca against three AI controlled vehicles.
My poison was the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe (I prefer to take more moderately paced vehicles where possible as I find it to give a better idea of both the physics systems and sense of speed). Being a more straightforward racer than either of those already previewed, the goal was to win in as close a position as first as possible. In the spirit of full disclosure I finished second. The demo was largely void of the bells and whistles of its contemporaries, making clear that Turn 10 knows what their goal is in the development of this game: the core racing experience.
And they’ve done well in that. Laguna Seca is not an easy track to navigate, requiring a high level of control due to its sudden turns and elevation differential. Forza 5 recreates this wonderfully, though it must be said that there was almost no penalty for skidding from the track if taking a corner too fast; it didn’t matter if you ended up in grass or sand, you weren’t robbed of any great amount of speed, and it gave the experience a lightweight feel. And, even if you did happen to make a mistake, the rewind function allowed you another opportunity. It’s a series staple, but one that I’ve never liked due to how forgiving it makes the game. Further, the actual driving physics weren’t as close to a simulation as I might have hoped, and there were far too many assists turned on for my liking.
I much prefer to play simulation-based racers with a wheel, so perhaps the necessity of playing Forza 5 on a controller goes a way towards explaining my faint dissatisfaction, but there seemed to be a lack of fine control that doesn’t sit well with the need of precision timing and reflexes that comes with a game of this ilk. Visually, Forza 5 has a vivid colour pallette, but doesn’t reach into the same realm of hyperrealism as DriveClub. It also didn’t seem to have quite the same level of detail, but that could also be attributed to the realistic visual style. Thankfully, Forza 5 has considerably more substance to it.
Gran Turismo 6
Amidst the onslaught of next-gen racers at the show, Gran Turismo 6 stood out by acting as the flagship title of the PS3. It’s not nearly as sexy or eye-catching as its contemporaries, but it was still attracting the longest lines, even after the widely criticised mis-steps of its predecessor. For this latest iteration, the menu system has been cleaned up considerably and the scope – over 1200 cars (many of them still remaining from GT4, admittedly) and 33 tracks – is undeniably impressive, but it remains to be seen how far Polyphony Digital has altered the core game to make it more user friendly. The demo offered a choice of over twenty vehicles, encompassing a wide variety, and set players loose on two laps of the Mount Panorama circuit.
For this one, I jumped behind the wheel of Toyota FT-86, and managed to climb from eighth place to second. Like Forza 5, it does away with all of the ancillary objectives of most modern racers to give a purer, more straightforward experience, and feels all the more satisfying because of it. And a big thumbs-up has to go to Sony for offering a full wheel/pedal set-up to demo the game, which really informed the experience and was one of the reasons that it was, hands-down, the best racer that I played at the show.
But to ignore the quality of the game itself would be a massive oversight. Like Forza 5, the user settings were locked to use more assists than I like, which hampered my enjoyment a little. Even so, one could feel the way that the physics simulations have been subtly improved over GT5, making ability and fine control and even more important aspect of the game than ever. It may be down to the advertised alterations to the tyre simulation – I wouldn’t know for certain – but it clearly feels more realistic, and that is a good thing for any series fans.
Playing with a controller would be a very different experience, so I can’t vouch for how it compares directly with any of the other titles on this list due to the different input system. As you would expect, Gran Turismo doesn’t have anything approaching the visual appeal of the other games, being comparatively muted. That being said, the detail in the Premium vehicles isn’t that far different from anything else demoed, which only validates Polyphony’s claim of their assets already being next-gen ready. In terms of my personal level of satisfaction, Gran Turismo 6 was the best racer at the show.