Friday, 15 February 2013

Console Review: Sega Mega Drive / Genesis

A lot of people who grew up in the late 80's and early 90's undoubtedly remember the Genesis, or Mega Drive as it was known everywhere else in the world except for the US, and it's one of the 16bit consoles with the longest lifespan, together with the SNES. The reason I think is that it had a lot of great games for it, mostly pretty decent arcade conversions like Afterburner, Altered Beast and Golden Axe. And of course, we have the Sonic the Hedgehog games which in many ways I prefer to Mario games, but I like both equally.

Due to the popularity of the Mega Drive you can easily find it on eBay and other auction sites, and probably the odd second hand store and yard sale will feature one. It's very affordable and there are several versions of it. The model 1 Mega Drive is the biggest one and features a stereo sound headphone output which you can also plug to your TV to get proper stereo sound for your games. The Mega Drive II is a bit smaller, and doesn't feature stereo sound output, and the Mega Drive 3 is even smaller and also has limited compability with several addons for the console, such as the Mega CD and the 32X. There was also a version released by AtGames recently, which is basically just an emulator with a cart reader and gamepad ports, and features very lackluster sound output, also in mono. This one is not recommended if you're a fan of the console. In my opinion you should get the model 1 if you can.

What I like about the games themselves is that they are very affordable and easy to find complete in the original boxes. This is largely because Sega used plastic boxes for their games, kinda like the covers for VHS tapes. Nintendo on the other hand used cheap cardboard boxes that most people just threw away so if you want to find a complete SNES game it's probably going to cost you a lot more. Mega Drive games in general tend to be much cheaper than SNES or NES games so collecting for the console is very affordable, excluding the really rare games like Duke Nukem 3D and MUSHA.

There's a ton of different accessories for the console, and a lot of controller variations. There exists several turbo controllers, six button controllers and so on, even adapters that allow up to 4 players playing simultaneously, a must-have for party games like Bomberman. As previously mentioned you can also find the Mega CD addon which allows you to play optimized CD-ROM games and also regular music CD's, my favourite Mega CD games being Android Assault, Silpheed and of course Sonic CD. The 32X addon has a lot of games with advanced graphics such as Doom and Star Wars Arcade, but in general isn't worth having unless you're an avid collector.

While the Mega Drive might not have the legendary library of Nintendo, it does feature a ton of great games and it's a great console that I highly recommend to retro gamers as it's very affordable to collect for and finding complete boxed games is very easy.

- Alyxx

PC Game Review: Need For Speed: Most Wanted

Platform: PC (Origin)
Released: 2012
Genre: Racing
Developer: Criterion
Publisher: EA
Buy on Origin

I grew up with the Need For Speed games. In the 90's, these games offered the perfect mix of great famous cars, fun gameplay and awesome music, all presented with sleek graphics and a lot of other neat stuff. Lately I feel the franchise has fallen down from grace a bit with titles like the NFS Underground games that were okay games but I just couldn't get into them. And don't get me started on Need For Speed Shift, which is just way too realistic and simmy for me. Although when Criterion, creator of the Burnout games (which are some of my favourite racers), were brought in and made 2010's re-imagining of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, I felt the franchise was back on track. Hot Pursuit 2010 was a great game with awesome graphics that brought me back to the 90's and reminded me of just how fun and simple these games used to be. You see, Need For Speed to me has always been about balancing fun and realism and that's always been the main draw for me to the franchise. And with the new Most Wanted, Criterion is back to bring Need For Speed into a more social realm, adding multiplayer and making Autolog a much more central feature, but still keeping what made Hot Pursuit such a great title. Is it worth it? Let's find out, shall we?

A lot of races start off with a stylish cinematic that adds a bit of flair to the game.

Most Wanted doesn't really have a story or plot per se, which is probably wise seeing as forcing plots into racers is something I usually disapprove of and most of the time I wouldn't give a rat's ass about the story either way. From what I gather though, the game is all about racing to become the Most Wanted, beating all the other 10 most wanted racers of the city and becoming the top by beating them personally. The game is fairly basic in that sense but there is still quite a lot to do.

Quite ingeniously, the game starts right off with you in your first car and you get a few tutorials to begin with that ease you into the game. I thought this was quite nice as each time you boot the game up, you just go right into it. The basic goal is to drive around, finding car hotspots to add to your collection, and upgrade these cars with new mods like boosts and tires and such by winning races of different kinds. In the game you have something called SP (Speed Points I think) and you get SP by completing races, doing challenges, getting milestones (basically achievements) and other nice things. In other words, the game has a wonderful sense of freedom about it, very similar to Burnout Paradise in a sense that you are free to roam about as you wish, doing takedowns on cops or just smashing through billboards and gates, although in order to progress the game you most likely have to do events.

An example of driving to an event and entering it.
 You find events by using the EasyDrive menu at the top corner, although usually when you get a new car and at the beginning of the game, an event is chosen for you. EasyDrive is actually quite a nifty feature as it keeps you in the game and you don't have to fiddle around that much with menus and can pretty much change cars, find events, customize your car, go into multiplayer and other things pretty much while driving, just using your d-pad. Once you pick an event, the event is marked on your minimap and you have to drive to it to enter it. Another practical feature is that you can sort of fast-travel to events you've already done so if you pick up another car and need to redo an event, you can do so easily by just quickstarting the race from the EasyDrive menu rather than having to drive to the location all over again. Once the event is completed you are pretty much seamlessly dropped back into the game world again and you can go on driving, pick another event and pretty much do whatever you want. All in all the single player is quite enjoyable and if you have other friends who play the game, Autolog keeps track of their achievements as well so you can compete with them. There is a discernable lack of visual customization in single player though which is a shame as I would love to be able to put decals and various paint styles on my cars and really make them my own. Instead the only way you can change the colour of your car (and also repair it if it's damaged) is by driving through pit stops along the way that are marked on your map and it's always a random colour. It's a bit annoying to be honest. Another thing is that while you can customize all the controls, I couldn't customize one certain key that is used a lot during the game and had to always press Right Control to use its function, quite annoying when I prefer using my gamepad for all the functions and I think most gamers would too. Another small nitpick I want to point out is that you'll crash. A lot. For some reason, traffic cars are DEADLY to you while other racers and cops can easily be taken down at high speed. But regular traffic can often make you crash violently. I have no idea why regular traffic cars are so extremely secure but it's kind of annoying. While crashing doesn't make the game stop or anything you get a small penalty with a "CRASHED" screen, so it is still quite annoying.

Some events are pure races, others are about losing the cops. Here it's all about maintaining the highest speed.

Multiplayer is quite similar to single player although it has quite a few differences. While I haven't played it as much as I probably should, from what I gather, you find a public server with other people on it and you can race around, doing takedowns on each other for points and as you get points, you can upgrade your cars (which are a fixed set from what I gather) and customize your signplate. In multiplayer, events are timed and you have to drive to a meet up, upon the players there will take part in the event once it starts and you can't leave it. I don't know if you can select which event you wanna do as it seems to be forced, so I really wish there was a way of choosing from multiple events or at least implement a voting system so that players could vote on what event they wanted to do. It's not always I wanna do takedown matches, sometimes I just wanna race. You can also create private games for friends although I haven't fully tested this feature yet, I assume it's similar to public matches only that it's limited to friends only.

Get used to seeing this a lot.

There is one major flaw about the multiplayer I would like to point out though and I am not sure if this will be fixed in a patch, but there is absolutely no options in the menu regarding voice chat and it's pretty much always on by default. The only way to mute it is by manually using the EasyDrive menu to mute your fellow players one by one and it's time consuming, unnecessary and shouldn't have to be done just so you won't have to listen to a bunch of noise while driving. This is a huge flaw about the multiplayer in my opinion and really puts me off playing it as it's quite annoying to go into a public match and just be bombarded by lots of noise and feedback, especially since it's utterly useless when you don't use voice chat yourself. There should also have been an option to use a text chat window for those who prefer that, especially on the PC version where players have access to keyboards. There's just a lot lacking in this department, and in a game that focuses so much on social activity, it should've been mandatory to include alternate ways of communicating. I really hope they do add more options for voice chat in a future patch because as of now, it really is off-putting and having to manually mute players as they join is tedious.

SHUT UP! I'm trying to hear Skrillex!
The graphics are quite nice and you get a lot of options to customize them to your PC, although for some reason I found that the game does not run above 30 FPS and is capped at 30 FPS for some reason. It's nothing major but for a racing game, I would love to be able to play it at full 60 FPS to get better reaction times, but this is nothing major. I also found that there's a lot of glare from the sun in a lot of cases which is a nice realistic detail but it does obscure a lot of the view and can be a bit annoying. Otherwise the game is practically steaming with atmosphere, the asphalt looks real, rain and water effects splash of it and smoke comes off your tires as you drift.

Soundwise the game does a great job. The engine sounds are all varied and very typical of each car and you get a lot of realistic sound details. The soundtrack is also quite varied with songs from a lot of genres, ranging from rock to dubstep and a nice little feature is that while using nitrous, the music sort of phaseshifts or something into a much higher treble and it feels really cool. There's not much else to say about it.

The graphics are really good at adding atmosphere and making the world feel real.
Gameplay: 6/10
EasyDrive does a good job keeping you immersed in the game, the world feels big and you have a lot of freedom. Events are fun and have nice little cinematics that add some flair to them. Multiplayer on the other hand can be a bit forced and lack of options for voice chat makes it quite offputting when you hear a bunch of strangers talking when joining a public server and with no option to mute everyone. Autolog does a good job making the game competitive even in single player and for the most part the game is a great seamless experience and a very social game too. Elements from the Burnout series makes it feel like a lot of fun and keeps you playing even when doing bad.
Graphics: 8/10
As usual EA delivers a great looking racer with tons of atmosphere, weather effects, changes from day to night and so on. The only downside is the lack of changing the framerate so you're capped at 30 FPS which for a racing game is a bit of a shame.
Sound: 7/10
Awesome diverse soundtrack, great engine noises and support for Surround sound makes Most Wanted a very great experience sonically. The major thing that keeps it from being perfect is the lack of options for turning off voice chat which can really ruin the multiplayer experience.

All in all, Most Wanted is a fun and enjoyable social racer and takes what Criterion did with Autolog in Hot Pursuit and makes it a more central feature. The game is very immersive and seamless and apart from a few minor flaws the single player is highly recommended. The multiplayer is definitely ripe for improvements though and the lack of an option for turning off voice chat combined with forced events makes the multiplayer feel a bit lacking, although it is fun once you get into it and upgrading your cars is a lot of fun too and makes you feel like you are always progressing both in multiplayer and single player.

Final score: 7/10

- Alyxx