Control Review

Control is a game where saying “expect the unexpected” isn’t just a cliché. While parts of Control play like other games in the action-adventure genre, taken as a whole it’s easy to see Remedy really let its freak flag fly for this one. In a good way.

Control picks up right in the middle of an attack on the Federal Bureau of Control, or the FBC, by a supernatural force called the Hiss. Jesse Faden, the protagonist, inadvertently becomes the Director of the FBC and it doesn’t slowdown from there. Eventually getting supernatural and telekinetic powers, Jesse becomes a powerhouse and makes you feel like almost like a Jedi with all the things you can throw.

The story unfolds across several sections of the Bureau as Jesse fights the Hiss and helps out the beleaguered employees of the FBC. The characters themselves are nothing special (apart from an increasingly odd janitor who says you’re his assistant) but help show off how great the game looks. It’s a lot of grey but Remedy splashes color across everything giving what could have been a mundane office space a signature style all its own. Flashing lights, streaks of blood and supernatural mold combine to make the environment stand out.

The gun-play and abilities combine to make action frantic but fun. You never quite feel in control (no pun intended) but you’re never out of moves. If you gun needs a second to recharge, throw some fire extinguishers and desks at foes to knock them back. If you feel overwhelmed by the action, you can literally pull the ground up to block projectiles while you figure out your next move. You’re never without a trick up your sleeve and as a result the combat will leave you hoping for more enemies to throw things at.

That beings said there are a few enemies in the game that can feel a little overpowered, namely the bosses. I tried to do several side missions as I progressed but abandoned them after throwing myself at the bosses a few dozen times. It’s not helped by the frequent frame-rate issues that emerge when too much is happening, but the precision required to survive is sometimes expert level even at the beginning. Still, returning to the bosses with more upgrades and powers proves to balance the playing field quite a bit, it’s just not clear when you hit that point.

But if you just stick to the story you won’t have too much of an issue progressing. Most enemy encounters are just waves of Hiss infected foes that require strategy but aren’t mini-boss level difficulty. Often the story tasks you with mild platforming or puzzle solving too which helps break up the pace to keep things interesting. Also, read everything. There’s always a document, audio file or paranormal phone call that teases at the much larger world outside the Bureau.

Overall, I loved Control. The atmosphere, game play, and absolutely bonkers story are amazing, even with the rough edges. Jesse’s story is a fascinating one that I hope we get much more of in the future, especially because I know it can always get weirder.

Update on the Update

When Control released many praised a lot of the things I did above, but also noted some technical issues. We already reported on that (link above) and I definitely ran into some serious frame-rate problems playing on my base PS4. Slowdowns were generally during combat or right after loading, but it was bad enough to make me stop for a bit. I still beat the game and enjoyed it but about a week after the game released Remedy released a patch.

The patch helped the frame-rate a lot; but not completely. Combat occasionally still slows down (especially with explosions) but it’s not as much now. Also, the map loads immediately whereas before it would take sometimes around 20 seconds to load and be useful. Remedy has released a road map for new content and hopefully more patches are coming to.

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Review of NASCAR Heat 4 — I want you to build me a car

For what’s felt like a long time, the NASCAR gaming market has endured a bumpy ride.  There are plenty of really good racing games/sims out there that happen to include stock car racing, but games that are dedicated to NASCAR have been very rough around the edges lately.  And due to low budgets and game-engine difficulties, 704Games has had a very tough time giving the NASCAR Heat series the successful pit stop it’s been in need of.  However, after this year’s iteration was announced and its new features were slowly being revealed, longtime NASCAR gamers like myself had plenty of valid reasons to get revved up.  And now that NASCAR Heat 4 has taken the green flag, it’s time to find out if it lives up to the hype.  Let’s pull those belts tight and get into the meat and potatoes.

I’m droppin’ the hammer

The most noticeable changes in this year’s game are the changes to the racing itself.  The weight and aerodynamics of the cars have a more realistic feeling, the contact physics aren’t nearly as frustrating they’ve been in the past, and multi-groove racing has been successfully implemented.  It should also be noted that there are different tire compounds for different tracks, which in turn makes each track noticeably different in terms of tire wear.  Drafting has also been greatly emphasized with the concept of draft partners.  As the race progresses, your HUD will inform you if AI cars are lining up and asking to join forces with you.  Slipstreaming is highly important in stock car racing, and Heat 4 does an excellent job taking that importance into account.

The racing in this year’s game is absolutely awesome, and thankfully there’s plenty of deep modes to race in.  The career mode is mostly the same as its been in previous games, except that the interface has been polished up and you can choose which of the four leagues you’ll be starting your career in.  Also returning is the challenge mode, where you recreate/rewrite the finishes of recent real-life NASCAR races.  The incentive this time around is that you unlock “race-winning” paint schemes for each challenge you complete, which brings back memories of NASCAR games from EA Sports and Atari.  Speaking of EA Sports games, the championship mode now has special types of short seasons that you can take part in.  Sadly, the ability to make your own season hasn’t been granted yet, but never say never.  And if racing against AI isn’t enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that the 40-player online mode has been given some polish.

Shake and bake

The graphics in this year’s game give a greater sense of speed, even though the framerate slows down from time to time when you’ve got heavy traffic near you.  You even get day-to-night transitions during races, but the catch is that you can only see them if you race with the multi-stage format.  While the visuals definitely won’t please everybody, the audio is absolutely stellar.  Thanks to the FMOD program, the sounds of the engines, crashes, and track surfaces are more realistic than ever.

I feel like I’m ready to roll

After a few blown tires, 704Games and Monster Games have finally given the NASCAR Heat series a true revival.  I personally find this to be the best dedicated NASCAR game I’ve played since NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.  And considering just how much I loved that final hurrah from Papyrus Racing Games, what I just said about Heat 4 is incredibly high praise and it’s not hyperbolic whatsoever.  If you’re a racing game fanatic of any sort, NASCAR Heat 4 is well-deserving of a spot in your gaming garage.  Boogity boogity boogity…Let’s go racin’, gamers!

Review of NHL ’20 — Once again rockin’ the rink

Ever since lacing up the skates back in 1991, EA Sports has been dominating the NHL videogame market.  Despite facing tough competition in the past, the publishing powerhouse has buried many slapshots with its laundry list of modes, accessible controls, and hard-hitting gameplay.  With that being said, what does NHL ’20, the 29th game in EA’s iconic hockey series, bring to the table (Or to the rink, rather)? No highly-drastic changes per se, but it has indeed done a noticeable amount of juggling to the lines.

Is it October yet?

With the help of RPM Tech, the skating is even tighter, and the shooting has been revamped for the purpose of recreating the shots you see from big names like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, P.K. Subban, etc. But even if your player is highly adept at shooting, scoring is more difficult thanks to the heavily-improved goalie intelligence.  In terms of additions to the existing game modes, Ultimate Team now has Squad Battles, and the Ones mode is set up as an 81-player bracketed tournament (Which is basically the NHL version of your typical battle-royale shooter).

The graphics haven’t changed much except for the retooled broadcast package, which includes new scoreboards and a heavily-tweaked highlight reel system.  We also get a new commentary team in James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro, who are occasionally joined by celebrities such as Drake.  Music-wise, this isn’t one of my favorite NHL game soundtracks, but it does have popular artists like Silversun Pickups and Motionless in White.

I AM a hockey player

I definitely wouldn’t consider NHL ’20 to be a completely different game from its predecessor, but the longtime hockey fan in me is more than satisfied with the refinements that the folks at EA Sports have implemented.  Whether you’re a newcomer to the series or you’ve been along for the ride since the Genesis days, this game won’t disappoint you.  Ready to rock-y? Let’s play some hockey!

Review of NBA 2K20 — As cinematic and emotional as virtual basketball can be

There have been many competitors when it comes to basketball games, and NBA 2K has been on the top of the mountain since its opening tip-off in 1999.  For many years, it faced its toughest competition in EA’s NBA Live series, but the latter began throwing up very bad bricks as the eighth generation of consoles started.  The 2K series has been heavily lauded for its spectacular graphics, tight controls, and incredible depth, and this year’s iteration once again delivers all of the above in spades.  With that being said, let’s hit the paint and discuss all the three-pointers that NBA 2K20 effortlessly drains.

A virtual Mike Lupica novel

The most notable change in this year’s game is the overhauled MyCareer mode.  You still have the usual prelude games and exercises, as well as off-court interactions with NPC’s, but the storyline of your career is more cinematic and emotional than ever before.  It feels like 2K took notes from the story modes of FIFA and Madden NFL, and that’s not a bad thing.  The cutscenes look beautiful and the voice-acting drains its layups.  Did I mention the story was written by a team that includes LeBron James?

Other than a career mode with a new structure, the list of modes is business as usual.  You’ve got obligatory modes like exhibition games, MyTeam, MyGM, MyLeague, Blacktop, and online play.  Also, you can now play through a full WNBA season if you’re up for shooting hoops with the ladies.  The Neighborhood has new additions like a day/night cycle, seasonal changes, and even a disc golf course.  The sheer level of depth that NBA 2K is known for once again delivers.

Shot clock cheese

The graphical improvement is very subtle, but the visuals are still as crisp and beautiful as ever.  2K20 also has stellar audio, with the usual butt-ton of above-average commentary lines and a decent soundtrack that blares everything from Ariana Grande to Motley Crue.

I like the way they dribble up and down the court

Ever since ’99, it’s clear that the folks at Take-Two Interactive love basketball, and they’ve once again proven just how serious that love is.  Even if basketball isn’t your favorite sport, NBA 2K20 belongs on your shelf if you need a sports game that constantly delivers backboard-shattering dunks worthy of the highlight reel.

Nintendo Direct Recap

Today’s Nintendo Direct was chock full of announcements and new details about many upcoming games and had a few surprises as well.

The switch version of Overwatch that’s been rumored for a few days was the first thing Nintendo showed and is releasing on October 15. The trailer also showed of motion controls for some of the heroes as well.

Nintendo then jumped straight into Luigi’s Mansion 3 details showing off some new levels of the haunted hotel and a new multiplayer mode which pits a team of Luigi’s and Gooigi’s against each other.

The first surprise release was a free-to-play Kirby game called Super Kirby Clash which will be available today. Also releasing today is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s third fighter Banjo Kazooie which was detailed in a separate video after the Direct.

The fourth DLC character was announced during the Direct though. He is Terry Bogard from the series Fatal Fury and will release in November. Along with the Terry announcement Nintendo revealed there will be more paid DLC characters coming to Ultimate after the fighter pass finishes.

Pokemon developer Game Freak also has a new game coming to Switch called Little Town Hero which is coming out October 16. It’s available for pre-purchase today and seems to be a turn based fighting game that draws inspiration from Pokemon.

Speaking of Pokemon, the stream went over 4 new details for Sword and Shield. Character customization returns but now will have more depth and options allowing you to accessorize and even choose makeup. You can also set up a Pokemon camp in the wild and play with your Pokemon, experiment with curry recipes and visit other trainers’ camps. Two new Pokemon were detailed; Polteageist is a teapot shaped ghost type and Cramorant is a duck-looking water-flying type.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nintendo announced a few new IP’s, revealed new remakes, detailed already announced ones, and introduced new SNES games coming to the online subscription. They also announced a smorgasbord of new ports including a classic Star Wars game, Doom 64 and an Assassin’s Creed collection including Rogue and Black Flag.

The final announcement was Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, a remake of the Wii title coming in 2020. For more details on that as well as things like a Tetris 99 update, The Witcher 3 port, and Animal Crossing New Horizons, check out the video below.

Remedy Working on Technical Issues for Control

Control from Remedy Games released this past Tuesday to favorable reviews, but players should be aware of some technical issues that have surfaced.

Many are singing the praises of Control after having the week to play (our own review will be coming out soon) but a recent video is pointing out a frame rate issue on the console version.

Digital Foundry did a breakdown of what players are facing, and while PC has its issues, consoles are having the most trouble. Base PS4 and Xbox One have the worst of the frame rate issues but even PS4 Pro and Xbox One X aren’t immune to the slowdown. Click the link above or watch the video for a more in-depth explanation

That being said, Remedy did announce Friday they are working on it. The blog announcement, which you can read here, addresses several issues but also mentions “console optimization” in general improvements. The frame rate isn’t mentioned specifically but considering the frame rate is the biggest issue I’ve seen on console, I bet that’s part of it.

I personally haven’t finished the game yet (thus no review yet) but I will say I am enjoying the game so far, frame rate issues aside. It usually slows down during fights which is a shame considering how beautiful the game looks in motion. The physics engine is incredible and fights result in so much debris and damage to the environment sometimes it’s a miracle the room is still standing. But more on that in my review.

Review of Skate 3 — You wanna go skateboards?

When EA decided to start the Skate series and go head-to-head with Activision’s Tony Hawk franchise, that was a big deal.  The latter had long been the king of virtual skateboarding, but it was beginning to go downhill in the late 2000’s, and something else eventually had to drop into the halfpipe and issue a challenge.  Thanks to a more realistic resemblance of the sport and a unique “flick-it” control scheme, Skate was quickly lauded by critics and skaters around the globe, proving that you don’t need Tony Hawk on the cover in order for your skateboarding game to be popular.  With that being said, it’s been over nine years since the third installment in the series, so let’s hit the park and reminisce about the virtual skating masterpiece that is Skate 3.

Pretending I’m a superman

The story takes place in the fictional skate haven of Port Carverton.  After a stunt on live TV goes horribly wrong, your filmer convinces you to start your own board company.  From there, you recruit a team of rookie skaters and complete a wide variety of challenges, including things like trick competitions, races, following other skaters, filming/photoshoots, Hall of Meat, Domination, Own The Spot/Lot, 1-Up, and S-K-A-T-E.  Your ultimate goals are to impress the pros, earn as many fans as possible, and sell a million skateboards.  Best of all, your path to becoming Port Carverton’s top skater is entirely up to you.

The control scheme is business as usual if you’re familiar with the previous two games.  Your right stick is used for ollies, nollies, manuals, flip tricks, and tweaks.  The left stick is used for steering, spins, and reverts.  The left and right triggers are used for grabs, each corresponding to whichever hand you want to grab the board with, and also for frontflips and backflips.  The face buttons are used for pushing, getting off your board, briefly taking your feet off the board during a grab, and lying down on your back while your board is moving.  The right bumper is used for lip tricks and darkslides/dark catches.  When you get off your board, you can perform hilarious aerial stunts and bails, and also grab hold of different objects to use for your trick lines.  This game does everything in its power to be both easy to learn and challenging to master, just like a certain other skateboarding franchise.

‘Cause I’m TNT

If you’re tired of skating solo, you and up to five friends can team up to complete goals, go head-to-head, or just explore Port Carverton.  You can even share your photos and videos around the online service, as well as create your own skateparks for anyone to visit.  The sky’s the limit in terms of the amount of freedom you have in this virtual skateboarding experience.

Unless you’re playing this on the Xbox One X, the framerate won’t always be consistent and the graphics can have a case of pop-in somewhat often, but the team at Black Box did a fine job creating a massive skating playground with many places to roam around in.  I personally like the audio better than the visuals, as all of the pro skaters lent good voice-acting to their virtual counterparts.  You also get a decent soundtrack that features popular artists like Neil Diamond, Beastie Boys, Jeezy, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Agent Orange.

I don’t think contrast is a sin

Like many other people on social media, I have long been begging EA to make a sequel to what I consider to be the best skateboarding game on the market.  But for the time being, Skate 3 will always be a very prominent title in my gaming repertoire.  Whether you’re a longtime skater or sports-game junkie, you’ll definitely want to tighten up your trucks and take this game for a spin.