Review of Grid (2019) — I always race to win

I know I’ve said this at least several times before, but I’m gonna have to say it again  — Codemasters has a long resume when it comes to racing games. Whether it be rallying, Formula 1, or even over-the-top off-roading, the British publisher has done it all. But while Dirt and F1 have still been going strong, fans had been wondering if/when the Grid series would return to the track.  Well, after five years, we don’t have to wonder anymore.  This self-titled reboot is the series’ debut on current-gen hardware, and I’m here to give you the full synopsis on everything it brings to the table.  So with that out of the way, let’s drop the green flag and get this review started.

Turn the car into the wind

Like other established series such as Gran Turismo and Forza MotorsportGrid tasks you with making a name for yourself in a variety of racing disciplines.  You won’t find rally racing or modern Formula 1 in here, but you get to race sports cars, open-wheelers, touring cars, tuner cars, and stock cars from different eras of the sport.  During your career, you must not only place high in the standings, but also manage your race team properly.  It’s your job to collect prize money, buy (And paint) the cars you want, and hire teammates.  No virtual racing career would be complete without a diverse track roster, and this game delivers a hefty number of road-course, street-course, and oval configurations.  There are only 13 locations at the moment, but more will be added in free updates.

GRID-dle cakes

Of course, all of the above would be meaningless if the racing itself wasn’t solid, and the folks at Codemasters have once again delivered solid racing in spades.  While not an arcade racer like Need for Speed or BurnoutGrid tries to be a little more accessible than Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport.  Despite the car-setup functionality being quite simplified, the driving does have weight and realism on both gamepad and wheel.  Flags and pit stops are non-existent, but you still have to drive carefully to avoid crashing out or being penalized.  If you race an opponent too aggressively, they’ll become a Nemesis and try to give you a taste of your own medicine.  Like the previous game in the series, you have the ability to ask your teammate to charge through the pack or play defense, not that they’ll always be able/willing to do what you ask them to do.

Online multiplayer is a bit shallow in this game, as you only have quick-match and private-match options.  Without any search options for public lobbies, you basically jump into public races hoping that the events found are to your liking.  If you want an online race that can be run the way you want it, you have no other alternative but to invite 1-15 friends who have the game.  It’s not a dealbreaker, but I do hope this online-mode drawback can be sorted out.

Pedal to the floor, lap is runnin’ faster

After sitting in its garage for the last five years, the long-running Grid series has made a satisfactory comeback in the form of this reboot.  It may occasionally bust a flat or drop some horsepower, but it still belongs on the shelf of any type of racing-game junkie.  Checkered flag, here I come!

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Pokemon Sword and Shield Add Autosaving

Gameinformer reported yesterday that the upcoming Pokemon Sword and Shield games will feature autosaving.

It will be the first time in the franchise’s 20-plus year history players don’t have to pause the game to save. During an interview with game director Shigeru Ohmori, it was only mentioned for the open-world Wild Area, but later clarified it can be used throughout the entire game

But for anyone who feels like that takes away from the Pokemon experience, it’s optional. You can decide for yourself which you’ll want to go with when the game releases next month on November 15.

Review of FIFA ‘20 — Where the street is named VOLTA

The whistle has blown, and it’s once again time to lace up the cleats and jugar futbol.  EA Sports’ global juggernaut in FIFA has hit the pitch for the 27th time, and while it’s certainly not completely different from its predecessor, it does include a handful of obligatory refinements, not to mention a throwback to its spin-off series.  Do these new features make FIFA ’20 worth the $60 price of admission? Let’s dust off our vuvuzelas and find out.

You held the world in your arms

This iteration’s most hyped-up feature is a mode that replaces the Journey mode from the last three games.  Known as VOLTA Football, this mode is essentially a callback to the FIFA Street series.  The two teams have 3-5 players apiece, and you get to choose whether or not the match has goalies and walls.  The pitches are set in some of the world’s most famous cities, and they come with commentary spoken in the native languages.  If you prefer matches that emphasize showmanship over teamwork, this mode is tailor-made for you.

Don’t worry, the VOLTA mode isn’t the only addition to this year’s game.  The ball physics, penalty kicks, and free kicks have been given some tweaks, making the on-pitch action more fluid than ever.  The Mystery Ball and King of the Hill match types are now not only in single games, but in Ultimate Team as well.  The offline career mode has been updated quite heavily, featuring interactive press conferences and player convos, the ability to fully customize your created manager, and a very streamlined user interface.

I am just a copy of a…

Despite facing the usual tough competition from Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, EA Sports’ globally-iconic FIFA series continues to nail its headers and volleys.  Whether you prefer team-based strategy or fancy footwork when it comes to how you play soccer games, this installment won’t disappoint you.

Review of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) — I want this to be my awakening

It’s no secret that Nintendo has a knack for releasing updated ports of prominent games in their catalog, but it should also be noted that they haven’t released that many full-blown remakes.  For a long time, the big N seemed nearly completely hesitant when it came to completely redesigning classic games for new consoles.  However, as the 3DS’s life cycle winds down and the Switch continues to be highly successful, that hesitance is becoming a thing of the past.  And now that games from established franchises like Pokémon and Metroid have been given the remake treatment in the last two years, next in line is The Legend of Zelda.  But instead of the first Zelda remake being that of a heavy-hitter like A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, Nintendo and Grezzo have chosen to unearth the 1993 Game Boy gem in Link’s Awakening.

I can swing my sword, sword

If you’ve played the original version, you’ll know the story by heart.  Link is caught in a storm while sailing on his ship, and he ends up stranded on Koholint Island.  The skilled swordsman then spends time lying unconscious on the grains of sand, until a girl named Marin comes to the rescue.  After getting acquainted with this new location, Link must awaken the Wind Fish so that he can begin his trip back to his home kingdom of Hyrule.

We all know the gameplay structure when it comes to Zelda games, and this remake is no different.  There’s a sword to swing, dungeons to explore, sidequests to complete, and upgrades to buy.  The dungeons you complete can now be played in a time attack mode if you want to earn some goodies  You even get to create your own dungeons as your journey goes on.  From the dungeons to the minigames, this remake doesn’t disappoint in the upgrades department.

Despite a noticeable amount of framerate drops, the visual style is both charming and beautiful.  The dot-eyed character models are kind really cute, in my opinion.  Also, the soundtrack does an above-average job recapturing that of the original Game Boy version.

Gone with the Wind Fish

This remake of Link’s Awakening does have a few dents in its shield, but it’s definitely a must-have for your Switch library, even if you never played the 1993 classic it’s on based on.  Will the success of this one influence Nintendo to pump out additional Zelda remakes on the Switch? Time will tell, but I don’t see why not.

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.

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!