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.

Sunscreen at the ready — EA reveals Need for Speed: Heat

Despite its last game being filled with loot-box controversy, Need for Speed‘s engine is still revving loudly.  EA’s long-running, high-selling driving franchise returns this November in the form of Need for Speed: Heat.  The team at Ghost Games promised months prior that the series would once again return to its cops-and-racers roots, and the reveal trailer has proven that to be true.  Palm City is full of cops that get more and more aggressive as the sun goes down and the moon comes up.  You’ll be competing in the Speedhunters Showdown competition during the day, and partaking in illegal street races at night.  And in typical NFS fashion, every car in your garage will be customizable in numerous ways.  On November 8, Need for Speed: Heat busts out of the starting blocks.

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.

Review of Madden NFL ’20 — Leather or laces?

For the kids, August means it’s time to go back to school.  But for fans of sports games, August means it’s time for another game of virtual pigskin.  The 30th iteration of EA Sports’ iconic Madden NFL franchise has stepped onto the gridiron, bringing with it some obligatory tweaks and things that might remind you of features from older titles.  So without further ado, let’s take the field and discuss where Madden ’20 completes its passes and where it loses a few yards.

Commander in Kansas City Chiefs

This year, the folks at EA heavily hyped up how much more important each of the teams’ star players are in terms of their stats and statistics, meaning that the difference between them and lesser-known players is bigger than ever.  That might sound like a weird thing to advertise regarding sports games, but it’s not something to sneeze at.  On the field, the controls for things like catching and blocking are tighter than they were last year.  As for game modes, one has been added/brought back and one has been sacked.  The “Longshot” mode has been replaced by “Face of the Franchise: QB1.” After the College Football Playoff, you enter the NFL Draft and it’s on from there.  This mode is basically supposed to bring back memories of the “Superstar” mode that has been absent since Madden 25.  Also, this mode includes ten officially-licensed NCAA teams, which might be foreshadowing a future return of the NCAA Football series (I ain’t gonna bank on that, though).  Unfortunately, existing modes like Franchise and Ultimate Team haven’t had any highly-noticeable upgrades, but at least they’re not broken or unrefined.

The Colts of personality

Not much has changed within the graphics engine, but the animations and physics look a lot smoother than they did last year.  What stood out to more than the graphics was the much-improved chatter from all the players on the field.  Another change with the audio is that the soundtrack only contains songs specifically composed for the game by a variety of well-known artists.  It’s mainly full of rap, which isn’t my favorite genre, but you’ll be satisfied if that’s your cup of tea.

Don’t get mad, get Madden

It may hit the uprights here and there, but Madden ’20 is still a fun game of football that manages to complete the passes that matter.  Whether you’re an adamant sports gamer or a member of a family of football diehards, this year’s installment is another well-produced dose of gridiron goodness for both newbies and veterans of what is probably the most influential franchise in all of sports games.

Review of Kill la Kill the Game IF — Running with scissors

If there was ever an anime that had a short run and deserved a comeback of some kind, it was Kill la Kill. Fans like myself have long been lauding the series for things like its enthralling storyline and energetic music, not to mention wishing it would one day make some sort of videogame appearance. And thanks to the talented folks at Arc System Works, that wish has finally become a reality in the form of Kill la Kill the Game: IF.

The scissors need sharpening

Storyline-wise, it’s no different from the anime upon which it’s based. 17-year-old Ryuko Matoi has arrived at Honnouji Academy in search of answers regarding her father’s murder. In order to learn the truth, she has to fight her way through an egotistical student council led by the fearsome Satsuki Kiryuin. Sadly, the story mode makes you watch cutscenes of the Elite Four battles and just thrusts you into a tutorial fight that takes place after the best of the best are defeated. I know that’s nitpicky on my end, but I still feel the story mode starts in a weird way.

Another slight beef I have with this game involves the graphics and sound. While the visuals, music, and voice-acting do not disappoint whatsoever, the English dub’s lip-syncing is pretty poor. The English voice cast reprises their roles quite well, so it’s a shame that the speaking animations don’t really play ball with the script. Not a dealbreaker by any means, but it needs polish.

Don’t lose your way

Although it may seem like this game is a huge disappoint to me, I assure you that’s not the case. What really matters in a fighting game is the combat itself, and that’s where Kill la Kill sharpens the scissors. The control scheme is easy to get the hang of and never ceases to feel tight. You’ll also be treated with few-second cutscenes whenever you pull off one of your special moves. There’s even a QTE mechanic that may remind you of the clash system from the Injustice series.

When you need a break from classes at Honnouji, there’s a two-player mode both locally and online. The roster is a bit thin (Only eight characters plus two DLC fighters), but you do get a nice selection of prominent locations from the show. And no matter where you do battle, you can rack up credits to purchase things from the gallery, such as figures, music, and voice clips.

Before my body is dry

It’s not quite as polished as Arc’s other fighting games, but Kill la Kill the Game: IF is still a very good comeback from the short-but-lauded anime it’s based on. With things like accessible controls and a beautiful 2D-to-3D translation of the show’s animation, this game is a must-have for arena-fighting fans and anime diehards alike. The term “running with scissors” takes on a new meaning.