Sunday, 13 October 2019

Grid (PS4)

It's Sunday! And I know I said that posts would generally be once a week, but since this is a new project let's kick off the exploration of my attempts to rediscover my love of gaming by having a sneaky little look at Grid on the PS4.

First of all I want to say that I was a bit disappointed with Grid when I first played it. This is because Codemasters had been making a big deal about how Fernando Alonso was a driving consultant, with lots of hype on their social media accounts and an article in Autosport giving the impression that this was going to be more of a simulation-like game than the Grid series is usually known for. I had also been watching a fair few let's play videos on YouTube, with each one of them mentioning how Grid leans slightly more towards being a simulation rather than your standard arcade racer. So something a little along the lines of Dirt Rally 2.0 or their F1 games then, right? Wrong!

I loaded up the game, after having to wait for the mandatory PS4 installation and update process (ugh!), and eagerly entered my first event. This event was part of three introductory races to ease you into the game. After this you're dumped onto the main menu screen and it tends to leave you to your own devices to wander through the various screens to update your player profile and figure out how the team management works. Nothing is really explained, but the game isn't really all that in-depth so it's pretty easy to pick up.

I entered the first few races expecting some nice meaty handling and great AI battles, only to find that the cars drive like they've got no weight, have ridiculously short braking distances and the AI's idea of defending it's position is to smash into the side of you when you try to out-brake them into a tight corner. Here's me expecting, based on what I'd heard from the developers and people playing the game, a more realistic experience, but instead I find I'm playing a game that has 3 lap races, floaty handling, overly aggressive AI and is nothing like what I thought the game would be like. I wasn't too impressed at this point.

So, I went downstairs, had a cup of tea (how very British of me) and ruminated on how the let's play videos had managed to get it so wrong when they were talking about how the game drives. I can only assume that the people I was watching had little to no experience of playing an actual racing sim and didn't really know what they were talking about, I guess. Codemasters on the other hand... Hmmm... Having a two times F1 world champion as your "driving consultant" and showing him off to people online via your social media accounts does tend to give people a certain impression about how your game is going to be, especially when you've recently been making a name for yourselves with more realistic racing games than you're generally known for.

After a mental reset, I went back to the games room and sat down to play the game with a more informed outlook.

Grid is good, if you're not expecting anything too complex. If you like short, violent, arcade style races, you're going to love Grid. If, on the other hand, you're more of an R-Factor kind of racer, you probably won't. The game takes place over several different events comprising of short races on mostly fictional circuits with a couple of real world ones as well, though the track selection is very limited at the moment. There's most likely some DLC on the way to fix this. It has a nice mixture of cars, ranging from touring cars to GT pro cars, muscle cars and some 2006 season Renault F1 cars. You have the option to do a one lap qualifying run before each race, and you can repeat it as many times as you like to get yourself a good starting position. I found, though, that starting on pole and driving away from the pack doesn't give you as much XP as you'd get driving in the pack and fighting your way to the front.

Speaking of XP. The game gives out XP based on how you drive, and you gain levels to unlock different bonuses and new team mates. The bonuses seem to be mostly cosmetic to me, and don't appear to have much impact aside from being pretty icons you can put on your driver banner and livery options for your car. Aside from that I don't think the XP system really does much of any great importance. I thought at the very least that unlocking stuff might give a performance boost or unlock new parts, but this isn't the case as there are no car customisation options aside from the livery editor.

You have a team mate that you can control with your d-pad to make them drive faster or slower, but they're generally a bit useless. You can swap them out with other unlocked drivers in the team management screen, but I've not seen any real difference between drivers yet. There's also the nemesis system, where if you hit a driver, including your team mate, a bit too hard they'll come after you and return the favour. This is a nice addition and gives some character to the AI, but it can be ignored by using flashbacks to erase the initial contact that annoyed them in the first place. You get five flashbacks per race, which doesn't sound a lot, but the races are generally so short that it doesn't create much of a problem.

Overall, I think Grid is a bit like the baby of the current Codemasters litter. It's not as in-depth as their rally or F1 titles, and is more of a throwback to earlier games like their Race Driver series. That's not to say it's bad, because it's not. The game is a pretty solid racer and if I'd not fallen for the Fernando Alonso as driving consultant hype (shakes first at Codemasters) and foolishly managed to get a load of wrong assumptions formed in my mind of how I thought the game was going to be, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more from the start.

With the shutdown of the Drive Club servers I think Grid may turn out to be a go to game for some low-brow arcade racing with plenty of crashes!

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Going in a slightly new direction.

Since I'm not really doing anything games development-wise at the moment, I thought I'd put my blog to a different use and start writing about games. I've been a gamer since the late 70's when my parents bought me a Binatone games console thingy that had 10 different variations of Pong under the names of different ball sports installed into it, and from there I wandered into home computers like the ZX81, C64 and Amiga, and games consoles like the Atari 2600, Sega Mega Drive and Playstation. I now have a PC and a PS4, and I also dabble in games development.

So, as you can see from the above paragraph, I have quite a bit of gaming experience, 40 years of it in fact, but I also have a problem... I've started to get a bit bored with games. It all started last generation when I had my Xbox 360. I was buying games for it, many of which were getting top reviews and other gamers were raving about them, but they were leaving me feeling a bit deflated. Sure, there were a few titles that kept me engaged, but most of them just left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. It was a bit like being at a massive buffet but most of the food tasted like cardboard.

You may now be wondering why, if I've got such a downer on games, I've decided to write a blog about them. Well, 40 years is a long time to be a gamer and I don't really want to just pack it in. I've been buying a lot of games for PC and PS4 recently, and I have a load of older stuff for both machines that I've bought but never played, so I thought I'd play them and then take the time to write up what I thought of them. I used to write reviews for a little place called Student Center back in the early 00's, so I've got some experience. However, I don't want to take this into the usual review format of writing a few lines about something and then giving it a score on some arbitrary scale. Instead, I'm going to forget review scores and just give an honest assessment of the game as I see it. So, they're not really going to be reviews, more of my thoughts on the experiences I had while playing the games. Think of it like a diary of a guy who's having a hard time liking something he once loved and he's writing about his attempts to rekindle his love of it.

Now, I'll just add that my opinions on games tend to be a bit wide of the mark from the majority of people that play them. For example I wrote a review for Half Life 2 back in the day that was less than glowing because I found it a bit bland. I actually still believe that it's not as good as the first game. I don't think it's a bad game, and it's certainly grown on me more over time, but I didn't really get why people were so taken with it back when it was released. This is one of many examples I could give where the mainstream gaming press, and the gamers who follow them, have rated something very highly that I've thought of as merely okay. This isn't me trying to be controversial and get people thinking I'm deliberately being awkward to hype up the blog (afterall it's a piddling little blogger site on the very fringes of nowhere and not likely to have much influence, so hype isn't going to do much good), I generally just have a different view of the majority of games out there than most other people. I guess I'm just wired up differently and not so easily impressed anymore. Maybe I'm just old and grumpy.

I'm aiming to do one blog post a week, maybe more if I can really get into it, but I have to try and fit all this in with some complicated real-life stuff, and I may get back to games development at some point, but if you think a grumpy old gamer complaining about games (or not as the case may be, there are a lot of games out there that I do like) is something you'd like to read, you might find something here to amuse you.