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Review – Forza Horizon 4 (PC, Xbox One)

Microsoft – 2018

The Good

  • Stunning Visuals
  • Gameplay has a ton of variety and courses and cars
  • The car Livery system is pretty great

The Bad

  • The PC version is a pretty mediocre port of the console version
  • There are a lot of bugs.
  • The Online Scene isn’t great

Racing is a genre of games that I don’t really obsess over but I often come back to. It’s quite possibly my secret favorite genre. I bought an N64 so I could play Cruisin USA, I played a ton of Gran Turismo 2 on my Playstation, I played a bunch of Need for Speed games. the only X-Box 360 title I have played with any amount of play time was Forza Motorsport 4.

I’d been kind of looking at trying one of the Forza games in the Windows 10 store, though I was a little apprehensive early on because, well, it’s the Windows 10 store. I’ve used Windows 10 enough that I can say I’m ok with keeping it around some so I went ahead and decided to dive into Forza Horizon 4, which is the newest title in the series. It was on sale and I had a bunch of Bing Rewards credit so I picked up the Ultimate Edition for a steal and have been playing it pretty regularly since.

So, Forza consists of two core series. The Forza Motorsport Series is a more traditional “Pick a race and run it” style game, the Forza Horizon series is a more open world experience. Each of the Horizon games take place in an approximation of a different real world region, Forza Horizon 4 takes place in the countryside of the UK near Edinburgh. It centers around the Horizon Festival, which is a sort of gathering for racers to show off their skills in different types of racing. The point is, there is some sort of vague plot to this game, you meet with some of the organizers and they give little cut scenes occasionally. Each race type culminates in a longer showcase event, that one of the characters has been building up to. It’s not going to win any writing awards, but it’s there. There are sub stories as well, though it all amounts to an excuse to drive a car and win some sort of race.

For example, one of the sub stories is a series of events hosted by a Vlogger who is showing off cars that appeared in video games over the years. Like the Ferrari from Outrun or the
Lamborghini Countach from Test Drive. Another has you participating in a series of outlandish stunts as you work do some side work for a filmmaker as a Stunt Driver. There are a series of special event races which culminates in a Halo themed run driving a Warthog. Another has you race a massive hovercraft as it storms over the terrain.

These are all in addition to the more standard races that make up the core Horizon Festival series. The Horizon races are broken up into types you might expect, Off-road racing with trucks, Street races with lots of tight corners and turns, Road races which are a little more forgiving than street races and have a few more straightaways. You start off with only a handful of events available but unlock more as you level up your skill in each type of race. Eventually the entire map is essentially covered in events.

The map itself is pretty good size. It can take a pretty good while to circle the entire area, and even just traveling across it can take five to ten minutes, depending on how much you go off road or what car you’re driving. In addition to race events, there are all sorts of activities on the map itself. Speed Trap challenges to achieve a high speed at a certain point, Drift Zones where you accumulate points by drifting around a series of turns, or Danger Signs where the object is to see how far you can jump your car. Like regular races and mini stories, doing these activities, unlocks other activities.

When all of this gets old, there’s also the hourly Forzathon events, which are sort of impromptu gatherings of players who all work to do the world activities for accumulated points. These, admittedly, get a little old, they last 10-15 minutes and it involves doing the same speed trap or danger sign jump over and over and over and over while a meter inches upwards for the group. It really feels like these could be given some more variety, maybe a series of checkpoints for everyone to race through that span the map or something. These events give special Forzathon Points which can be used to buy special weekly exclusive items.

Thinking of buying, the game’s other progression system is through accumulating cars and player outfits. You can’t exit your vehicle but your avatar appears on race start and completion screens and shows up in your car driving. You earn clothes and cars through a variety of methods, winning races and leveling up the different race types is one. You can outright buy cars with your winnings. You can also win prizes through Wheelspins which are earned from victories and leveling up your character. These are pretty much what they sound like. A big prize wheel spins and you get an item afterwards.

It’s notable to add that there is no real world cash shop. You buy the game, and that’s it. The Wheelspins especially feel like something that would normally be a “pay $1.99 and get a wheelspin” item but there is no way to buy extra wheelspins. They must be earned by racing. This is good because frankly, micro transactions are kind of hurting the game industry. It’s a little frustrating since it means you get a loot box that you can’t control and may get some garbage emote out of it instead of that rare car that happened to show up as an option. Fortunately the game pretty much showers you with Wheelspins.

So, while there aren’t any micro transactions, this does lead into my first complaint. I purchased the Ultimate Edition on sale, so it didn’t seem too bad, but the game kind of feels like it almost needs the $99 Ultimate Edition package, for anyone who has any intention of seriously playing the game and the expansions. In addition to including the current (Fortune Island) and unknown second expansion, the Ultimate Edition comes with a ton of cars and the VIP Pass, which includes a bunch of perks like double experience and free wheelspins and whatnot, all things that make the progression of the game fly by.

My other major problem comes from how shoddy the PC port itself feels. The game itself plays well and looks great and on the whole, I am happy, but it has a lot of weird quirks and a lot of bugs that feels like they stem from the whole “Windows 10 Cross Play Xbox experience” or whatever it’s called. For example, there is an elaborate and nice Photo Mode in the game, but the only way to get the photos into a useful sharable format is to first share them to your Forza Profile on the Forza website. I mean you can print screen them, but the actual export produces a much nicer quality image.

I also feel like the lack of a user defined radio stems from this weird Xbox wrapper. The in game radio is all right but gets a little old after a while, having the ability to point a user radio station to a folder of MP3s would be amazing. You can play whatever music you want of course on something else, but the game is really bad about auto turning to a new radio station during races and the console version apparently doesn’t have a way to permanently mute the radio at all on the volume slider. Between this missing feature and the lack of screen shots saving to the drive, it’s like the game just doesn’t have access to the file system. It’s more of a Windows 10 problem than a Game problem, but it’s kind of a problem.

On Windows 10 problems, I have also had problems getting updates to take and the game to launch, a problem others have had as well. Sometimes it just doesn’t launch with no helpful errors. I also had to do a complete reinstall to get the Fortune Island DLC to take.

I also kind of hate the complete lack of in game chat, which i understand is also a side effect of the cross play aspects with the Xbox One. The text chat is all done via these little emote meme phrases and you can only “equip” 4 at a time.

Most of these problems, aside from the literal game breaking updating issue, aren’t game breaking. The pluses really outweigh those negatives. Racing games aren’t for everyone, but this one is pretty awesome. It’s visually amazing and the lack of micro transactions despite how easy it would have been to add them is really great. I’d definitely recommend the game, especially if it’s on sale.

Review – The Binding of Isaac (PC)

So, the makers of Super Meat Boy, Team Meat, apparently have an old school Nintendo Fetish of the worst kind.  First you have Super Meat Boy, which has vague connotations of Super Mario Brothers.  Though the reality is the name is all it really has in common with Super Mario Brothers, that and being a side scrolling platform game.  The Binding of Isaac is sort of like this, only with The Legend of Zelda.  It sort of has the same cadence and style in name and shares a lot of game play style.

The reality is, other than the basic interface design, The Binding of Isaac shares very little with The Legend of Zelda.  The presentation is similar but the game itself is a rogue-like.   This game’s primary gimmick, and the source of it’s possible lone flaw, is it’s randomness.  It can be extremely cruel at times.  The ability to complete the higher levels tends to be closely associated with the items and upgrades you find.  These upgrades tend to be pretty random and are also often dependent on if you have enough coins to buy them.  This can lead to some rounds where you manage to become an overpowered juggernaut and others where you’re essentially the same guy on Level 3 as you started out.

Assuming you can even make it to level 3 without upgrades.  There is also the problem of keeping yourself alive in this random mess.  Some rounds, enemies will almost always drop hearts and coins, others you’ll get nothing.  There does seem to be some level of algorithm in place to keep things fair, it just could use a bit of tweaking.  The game does do a pretty good job of keeping the earlier enemies easier and the later enemies more difficult.

It also is surprisingly not as frustrating as it seems like it should be.  This was a trait shared by Super Meat Boy.  It also becomes easier as you become accustomed to how the enemies act and move.  Now, granted it does start to shove curveballs at you like nobody’s business later in the game, like having the laser blasting aliens with small corridors to navigate, and swarms of flying spitting creatures in a room full or rocks.

Despite the frustration, the gameplay is pretty solid, and decent.

The real likely turn off to some people is the game’s somewhat grotesque nature and it’s somewhat mocking of religion gameplay.  The Binding of Isaac is a story from the Bible where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  The basic plot of the story is that Isaac’s mother is told by a mysterious voice that her son has become corrupted and he must be taught humility, or something along those lines.  There are numerous references to biblical elements.  This is mixed in with what is essentially a horror house of bloody enemies often based on bodily organs.  Often enemies spew blood pellets or drop piles of shit on the floor.  It’s generally something that people who have a more sensitive disposition will probably find offensive.

This game has one final really great point going for it, it’s cheap.  It’s almost like some sort of experiment in marketing but the game is only $5, which is hard to pass up.  It’s frustrating as hell but it’s fun enough that it’ll keep you coming back, assuming you’re not turned off by the slightly disturbing imagery involved.

The Binding of Isaac is available on Steam here.

Review – Vigil: Blood Bitterness (PC)

Freegamer | Meridian 4 | June 29th, 2007

So these days I try to make it a policy to complete a game before doing any sort of review.  The thought is, I should experience all of it before passing judgment on it.  Sometimes in order to complete this task I do resort to walkthroughs or even in game cheat codes.  This tends to factor into the review however.  If a game is too confusing to get through without a walkthrough or too difficult to finish properly without cheating then there is clearly a problem with it.  I’ve had enough experience and skill development in a wide spread of games to know how to figure out even really tough games.

There is a problem though when a game is buggy.  Especially when it’s buggy enough that I can’t seem to get it to move on or I spend more time fighting through poor controls than I do playing the game.  Vigil: Blood Bitterness is extremely bug ridden.  The basic controls are simple enough but the path finding of the player is terrible.  I gave up trying to navigate through this game early in act 2 when I couldn’t get the screen to roll over to the next area after running around repeatedly where it should transition.

How do I know it should transition?  Well, strike 2 against this game is that it’s extremely cryptic about it’s presentation.  Ok, cryptic is not the right word, cryptic implies that there is a book or a note or some sort of arrow hidden in the surroundings to point you in the right direction or the right method to solve the game’s puzzles.  There’s nothing of the sort present in this game.  You wander aimlessly through the stylized landscape until you’ve managed to find both cut scenes in Act-1, then you pray on the circles in Act-1 then you look up a FAQ and discover you have to pray in a certain order unlock the ability to pray to another symbol in another room.  There are no clues telling you to do this, without assistance you’re left to trial and error.

Trial an error is only good for artificially extending the length of a short and terrible game.

The game itself is essentially a Gothic Horror puzzle game.  There is some vague plot about your character and his world being destroyed by some unknown entity (unknown by act 2 anyway).  There isn’t any real explanations though of anything.  The cut scenes consist of random sinister sounding one liners with no meaning or coherence.  Honestly the only reason I have any idea of what the plot is about is because it was summarized in the game’s description when I bought it.

What attracted me to this train wreck of a game was the visual styling (that and it was on sale for like a buck at Gamer’s Gate).  The art style is very interesting and stark using almost entirely Black and White lines.  There are splashes of color spotted around to give emphasis to different aspects though they are infrequent.  The IDEA of the game is also a nice draw.  This sort of “dark adventure” genre is one that has started to get my interest lately.  I tend to steer clear of “horror” in movies and games but there’s a difference between the horror of atmosphere and the unknown versus the horror of say, Left 4 Dead.  In this respect though, there are much better titles than Vigil: Blood Bitterness to be found.  Amnisia is the best example of a much better alternative in the Gothic Horror Puzzle game genre.

Review – VVVVVV (PC)

VVVVVV Site Banner

I’m not real sure what to call this game.  VeeVeeVeeVeeVeeVee just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.  Given the gravity based gimmick I’d say it’s more likely the name is Up Down Up Down.  Or it’s more likely a graphical representation of the game’s gimmick in a symbol form, sort of like Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  The name may also be symbolic of the numerous instant death spikes floating around the game.  It’s multifaceted and deep…. or whatever….

Speaking of the game’s gimmick, the main thing is the quirky control method.  You only move left or right and pressing the “action” button or up or down makes the character flip up to the ceiling or down to the floor.  You use this control scheme to navigate through spike filled puzzles.  Occasionally there’s some sort of enemy, often it’ll be an ASCII style character or a word.  A lot of the game is all about timing and reflex.

There is a secondary gimmick of sorts.  The graphical design is excessively simplistic.  The load screen mimics the look of the old Commodore 64 blue screen and the graphics are intended to mimic this style of retro gaming.  It’s not quite all ASCII like say, Nethack or Dwarf Fortress but it’s pretty close.

This only serves to add to the game’s charm though, at least if you’re a Retro junkie like I am.  there also a simplistic semi retro style plot.  There’s not deep explanation, just occasionally some mostly nonsensical text and the basic premise of rescuing your 5 lost crew members.

It’s an interesting game, though it can be slightly frustratingly cheap at times.  Fortunately the frustrations wears off a bit when you account for the fact that you essentially have unlimited lives at your disposal.  There are some challenges however to trying to beat the game while dying less.  You’ll die a lot mind you, especially the first play through.  I racked up around 1000 deaths my first time through, and I actually am pretty sure i did better than many people.  Fortunately the truly cheap deaths aren’t until near the end of the game, at which point you’ll know it’s close which keeps one’s drive going.  If the whole game had been full of pointless dearly unsolvable puzzles it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

Also, while I enjoyed this game, I can see where it likely isn’t for everyone.  It’s pretty much all the same puzzle over and over in different forms.  Also the frustration of dying constantly could get old for some.  The retro graphics won’t be for everyone either.

I guess the point is, if it LOOKS enjoyable from say, screen shots, it’ll probably deliver, since the game is more or less everything you see, not much more or less.

Review – Limbo (PC)

I’ve been a bit lax on posts the last few days, with good reason.  I’ve been plowing through Limbo in order to do a proper review of it.  Here’s the short, this game is phenomenal.  It’s so simple in it’s design and gameplay and just all around but I have not been so engaged by a game the way Limbo did for a while.  I’ve been devoting my free time to playing through it instead of doing productive things like blogging.

So the plot presented here is very simple, you must travel through the surreal land of Limbo to find your sister.  There actually isn’t much plot in the game itself, that description comes from the game’s description.  You basically just start out alone in Limbo and must figure out what to do next.  The entire game is a complex series of platform based puzzles.  There are so many twists that are so cleverly done however that it will keep you on your toes for the entire game.  There is also a ridiculous amount of variety to the world which keeps it from ever getting repetitious.  As i said, the game is extremely engaging, you just want to push onward, even if there is never any explanation as to WHY you’re pushing onward.

The controls themselves are extremely simple, left and right movement, up to jump, control to activate objects.  You can push some objects and pull levers from time to time as well.  Everything flows extremely smoothly and the physics behind the world are all extremely good as well.  This comes into effect a lot later in the game as the world occasionally rotates or you must swing from ropes and defy gravity.

To make everything even better, the presentation is phenomenal.  The entire game is presented in a very dreamy black and white grayscale.  This does not detract at all from the extreme details of the environment and the use of focus, or the lack thereof, for background objects is done really well to give the world depth but not be distracting from what is going on in the player’s range.    There is no music either, only sound, which is also used effectively for timing or foreboding as needed.  The atmosphere all around is really rich and really helps the world come together.

The atmosphere isn’t just pushed by the graphical look either.  The world itself is very eerie.  There are all sorts of odd machines and ruins of buildings and signs that you pass.  Your character also must do everything he can to survive at times such as tearing the legs off of the persistent giant spider or combating the few natives which show up to attack you.  The traps themselves, especially later in the game, become increasingly more lethal and the game is actually a bit gruesome and elaborate when it depicts the player’s death.  Another good choice was the way death is handled, dying essentially means trying that particular sequence a second time and there are reset points everywhere you’d hope they would be.  There isn’t one part where you complete a complex puzzle only to be killed by the next complex puzzle and get forced to re-complete the previous round.  This would have only hindered things for the worse as you will die in this game, a lot.

There isn’t much to wrap up that has not already been said.  The game is presented amazingly, the gameplay is well designed and it’s generally an amazing game.  You probably won’t care for it if you don’t care for games with “artistic flare” or quite a bit of thought required but if it has already peaked your interest you’re probably going to enjoy it, a lot.