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!

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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.

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.

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution — A virtual Duel Monsters museum

When I was seven years old, the kid next door and I frequently hung out on weekends and nerded out about anime things.  We’d watch the shows on a tube TV, and then we’d play a variety of tabletop games about them.  And thanks to him, I became a big fan of Yu-Gi-Oh.  I played the card game quite often, got hooked on the TV show about it, and even dressed up as Yugi Muto for Halloween when I was 10.  However, as I got ready to begin my teen years, I wasn’t keeping up with it as much due to my other interests and how busy my personal life got.  But with a little help from the folks at Konami and Other Ocean, Yu-Gi-Oh fans like myself can relive childhood memories and do a little catching up with Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution for the Nintendo Switch.

Card games with or without motorcycles

A Switch-exclusive enhanced port, Link Evolution contains over 9,000 cards that cover all eras of the Yu-Gi-Oh timeline, from the original series to the VRAINS series and everything in between.  The campaign mode has you reliving prominent duels from the manga and anime, and you must win said duels in order to earn currency and unlock booster packs that you can buy in the card shop.  There is no voice-acting to be heard, but the dialogue makes up for it since it’s a near-exact copy of the anime’s transcripts.  When you feel like you’ve made at least one powerful deck, you can enter multiplayer and play in either a custom or ranked lobby.  One gripe I have with it is that even in private lobbies, you can’t use your custom decks if they have “forbidden” cards.  It’s not a dealbreaker, but hopefully there will be a patch that allows you to disable this ruling when you make your own lobby.

Since this is just a simulation of a card game, you shouldn’t go into it expecting gorgeous graphics or a large jukebox.  However, the playing fields mimic those of the anime quite well, and the 2D characters look as if they just jumped right off the manga pages.  And although the music catalog is very thin, it’s still a fitting soundtrack.

That’s game

Konami has taken its ownership of the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game quite seriously, and they’ve once again proved it with this very addicting Duel Monsters simulation.  Whether you’re a longtime Yu-Gi-Oh supporter or you just like virtual card games, Link Evolution is a must-have for your Switch library.  Get your game on!

THQ Nordic acquires Milestone S.r.l.

If you like virtual two-wheel racing, chances are you’ll recognize the name Milestone S.r.l.  The Italian studio has years of experience with motorcycle games, and they currently have partnerships with MotoGP, MXGP. and Monster Energy Supercross.  However, they’ve been facing tough dirt-bike competition in the form of the MX vs. ATV series from THQ Nordic.  And it’s ironic that I mention said competition, because the Swedish videogame holding company has purchased Milestone, thus acquiring the rights to series like MotoGPMonster Energy Supercross, MXGP, and Ride.  In theory, this could be a big help to Milestone since they didn’t quite have the budget that racing game giants like Codemasters have.  It’s also an ironic acquisition since THQ Nordic used to have the MotoGP license themselves, so it feels like they’re delving into their past in some fashion.  On a personal note, I feel like one of the biggest reasons for this purchase is that THQ Nordic has been concerned about the possibility of Milestone’s dirt-bike games wiping the floor with the MX vs. ATV series.  Again, that’s just my personal opinion, and you’ll have to hear the real story from the horse’s mouth.  Regardless of reasons, I’m curious to see how Milestone performs now that a giant publisher has acquired them and thus helped them out financially.

The cage is lowering — 2K announces WWE 2K20

Some wrestling gamers like myself thought 2K was quietly future-endeavoring their WWE-licensed games, but it turns out we were wrong.  With two months before its scheduled release date, WWE 2K20 has appeared on the TitanTron, and 2K has informed us of some of the most notable additions to this year’s iteration.  One of the new features I’m really pumped up for is that we finally get to play as women in the MyCareer mode, which in turn brings back mixed-tag matches.  And speaking of women, this year’s 2K Showcase is based on the careers of the Four Horsewomen (Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Bayley).  This won’t be the only story in the Showcase mode, as 2K is working on a package of DLC entitled 2K Originals, which is full of unique worlds and themes.  Towers mode also returns, bringing with it a tower based on the career of Roman Reigns.  One last thing to note is that longtime developer Yuke’s has parted ways with the WWE license, leaving Visual Concepts as the sole developer.  The studio behind NBA 2K promises streamlined controls that will appeal to beginners and veterans alike.  With all that being said, is 2K20 going to emerge from the mid-card, or will it be placed in a squash match? The bell rings on Oct. 22.