Mar 30, 2011

Review: Trackmania Nations

Trackmania Nations Forever, released by Nadeo in 2006 for PC

Hey again, this is a special treat for you all. You see, this game is free :) If this stuff sounds even a little bit fun, you're not losing much by heading over to to grab it, or if you have Steam installed, just click here to install it directly.

Trackmania Nations was released for free in 2006. Trackmania is a hugely customizable racing game that mixes stunt car racing with stuff like loops and trick jumps in sometimes wild tracks with very competitite online time trials, which has kept this game of interest even until today.

Trackmania Nations delivers the thrill of perfecting your lap times and those track records down to the millisecond. The driving is completely arcadelike with you controlling a F1 car (more cars if you upgrade to Trackmania Nations Forever, for a price), and its just you against the clock. In singleplayer and multiplayer both there are other drivers, but while you see them on the track as you drive, there is no collision detection at all.

The game offers single player trials that have you fighting the clock to overcome increasingly tricky tracks will test your abilities to even make it through a round, once you get a bit further into it. There's nothing special to this game mode at all, its just you, the track,and the clock. The fun lies in the complexity of the tracks and that unforgiving timer that just forces you to try again until you can beat the tracks in time for the Gold.

Multiplayer is where the game shines, even in the free Trackmania Nations version. As soon as you hop online you are introduced to tracks each crazier than the last, thanks to an already established game community who have taken the track designs to heights you wouldn't believe (literally). Depending on what servers you join you may find the tracks too hard to navigate even, but most servers tend to rotate tracks that are more or less understandeable.

Keeping the whole online thing going is an online ranking mode and those with a strong competitive mindset will get a kick out of perfecting the tracks and trying to crush the track records.

Presentation wise the interface is fairly clean, although navigating leaderboards and servers can be a little confusing at first. Graphically there is nothing too fancy schmancy going on, this is after all a 5 year old game. Still, despite not looking awfully advanced it hasn't aged badly either, and for a game like this that requires millisecond precision I'd rather prefer 60+ frames per second than eyecandy.

Overall this game while old now is still going strong with very alive competitive online play. I have not tried the upgraded Trackmania United Forever version myself but it adds a number of new cars but more importantly several new track designer enviroments other than the "stadium" set included in Nations. For a free game, its definitely something I'd recommend checking out.

Final verdict: 7 / 10

+ Thrilling competitive play online
- Single player while okay for practicing loses interest fairly quickly
- Slightly aged graphics and presentation

Official trailer:

Mar 28, 2011

Review: Gran Turismo 5

Gran Turismo 5 by Polyphony Digital, released late november 2010 for PS3 only
This title was rather hard to write the review for. After numerous delays during development and massive hype for the game, portraying it as the ultimate racing game ever my expectations were sky high. Even after getting the game for myself to check it out I have waited a bit before doing the review, to allow for a more objective look. For me it has been a has been a mixed experience. Objectively speaking though ? Darn good game. Me, I was truthfully expecting a bit more.

The game is based around earning credits and levels for winning all kinds of races, events and cups and spending these to expand your car park and upgrade your rides. This game features over 1000 cars! Its quite ridiculous really how may there are, but the drawback to this is that about 800 of these cars are not that well modeled, so called standard cars. They lack interior view also. The rest of them are called premium cars and look absolutely gorgeous, all of them, the attention to detail on them is very impressive. You'll notice right away though that the difference between the two types of car models are rather big, and I had expected the standard cars to be better made. The premium cars are great, but the rest look like they are mostly directly copy-pasted from GT1-4. There is also a very noticeable difference in graphic quality when it comes to the tracks you race on themselves. It would seem the developers went for giving the most famous tracks all their attention making for some rather impressive visuals indeed, but at the cost of all the others which are merely okay. One particular thing I noticed though is how poorly shaders and shadows are handled. Often especially the shadows around the cars can look plain bad, I had expected this to be top notch.

The audio is also a mixed experience. The engine sounds are amazing, almost all the cars have distinct engine sounds you also very clearly hear the extra kick in the rev after installing car engine upgrades or turbochargers and such. It really is a joy to listen to. In stark contrast to this is the sound you'll hear the first, second and every time your car makes contact with anything, be it crashing full speed into a wall, other cars or trading paint with them. All these things have just one sound, a loud BONK. Imagine a guy hitting a large plastic bottle. Its an awful sound, I really wonder what the heck went wrong, its such a joke. It doesnt even sound like anything remotely similar to any sound a car would make coming into contact with anything, its simply amazing they put this into the game.  Regarding the game music, most of it didn't do much for me. It is a mix of  classic themes used largely when navigating the menues that work well enough, and the race music is what I'd call a mix of light pop music, very uninspiring. It didn't matter that much to me though, I soon turned the music down anyway to hear the engines better. If I could just turn off the damn BONK sound....

Back to the game play itself then. There are a wide variety of modes to play in, and first and foremost is the A-Spec which is your career mode, with single races and cups spread across different levels of skill and car requirements. I found this game mode the most fun compared to the rest, but the difficulty varies wildly. Most races you can just take any car that meets the requirements, tune it up a bit and leave all opposition in the dust off the starting grid. Other races require you to use certain cars that can be damned hard to get hold of. In many of the classic car races especially this becomes a problem, but the cars that fit specific races can also vary wildly in performance, making it sometimes very hard to get not only the required car class, but also one that will actually do well. On the whole though, I could appreciate the wide variety of races for anything from classic cars of various types and pickups up to supercars.

Following this mode is B-Spec which offers the same, except you act as manager instead. Here the AI drives your car, but the player instead directs the driver on how agressive pace he should keep. An interesting idea, but all you really do is tell your driver to increase pace or slow down, based on how "hot" he is getting. When your driver has other cars near and there is overtaking going on, it makes him lose his temper more easily which leads to him making more mistakes, so really the only thing you're doing is watching how agitated he is getting and adjust him accordingly. I like that B-Spec is in the game, its not a bad idea, but I think they should have done a lot more with it as it really isn't that involving for the player, and bottom line it gets rather boring, pretty fast.

There are other races and game modes as well. There are online races of course, and time specific seasonal events, some with online leaderboards which is a very good idea. There is also a very extensive Licences system where you learn the finer details of driving well in races like proper braking, cornering, drifting etcetc. Passing these licences are relatively easy, but getting gold medals in all of them is nightmarishly difficult and require perfect understanding and timing when handling your car. This is all excellent stuff in my book. Finally there are special events which feature things like special races on the Top Gear track, NASCAR driving school and some rather awesome rally events, and more.

In short, game play wise there is a staggering amount of content to enjoy in Gran Turismo 5, easily the most full featured racing game I've played. If you want to get everything out of this game you are in for a long and mostly very enjoyable ride.

There is one more thing I need to bring up that for me is another drawback of the game, and that is the presentation itself of the game through the menu system and some other quirks. I wish the interface would have more functions to help you find the cars you need for the events you want to take part in on the car market. As it is now, unless you have a very good memory you will need to write down specific models of cars allowed in some races before heading to the car dealerships to search. The dealerships could also use more options for sorting and searching cars. Its an inconvenience, admittedly not a huge one but I at least got rather annoyed with how cumbersome it could be to find the right cars needed.  Next is the menues themselves, they are a mess to navigate with buttons all over the place in glorious chaos. I get that they GT mode menu was designed to look fresh and colourful but it should have been a lot cleaner laid out. Also, the load screens... There is loading screens for just about any single menu item you enter, sometimes rather long ones, and then when done ? Just as long load screens to get back to the previous pages. Annoying, this should have been done so much better! The load screens before races are long as well, but that I can live with as I understand there is a huge amount of data to load for them, but the menues?? This may seem like a minor gripe, and perhaps it is, but when I'm playing the game it throws me off a bit with how much time it takes to do everything thats not actually in the races.

So, I think thats about me summed up for my review of Gran Turismo 5. I had as admitted huge expectations. The game itself was a king size mixed bag. It does almost everything right when it comes to the actual racing action, its darn fun to play. It is also extremely full featured, there is so much content here I don't think I will ever truly finish it, and that's totally awesome. But it also has its number of flaws. Some odd design choices, poorly implemented B-Spec mode, very variable quality on the cars, tracks and audio all drag my rating down a bit.

As objectively as possible then, from me this game recieves a 9 / 10, just barely. What you get with this game is so much, and the love for racing shines through in every aspect of the game from the developers. If all of those minor gripes I've touched on in this review were improved on before the game shipped, this would have been a 10. This may seem a high score considering my negative points of the review, but really, some of it is just nitpicking, the game is great, and if you haven't already got it, and want a feature rich, deep and fun to play car racing/"simulator" (still won't call this game a full fledged simulator), then go pick up Gran Turismo 5!

As always, I would love to hear comments about my reviews! It doesn't matter if it was a great read or if it made your face red with rage, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to reply with any comments or questions you might have.

Official launch trailer:

Mar 25, 2011

What's up next, and thoughts on game security measures.

Just a quickie post about the upcoming reviews. I got Gran Turismo V a while ago but haven't had the time to get into it much until now so there's a review coming soon on that. Also, I bought Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year edition on wednesday from steam at 75% discount, so thats next as well. Only got a few hours on Batman so far but I can easily see why it recieved such praise from the press, apart from the ridiculous Securom and Games for Windows Live stuff required to play the damn thing on the PC..

While on that train of thought, I was getting rather pissed off installing Batman and getting past the security to be able to actually play the game, I am curious what others think about these barriers of security even for strictly single player games?

My own take on it is that games that require you to be online, should actually have some online content in them. It is completely unacceptable that a 100% single player game requires continuous online connection to Steam/Games for Windows/Ubisoft etc. I can tolerate a one time authentication of your game version online, but that's it.  Also, as long as these security measures fail completely in the sense there are always stuff like cracked versions, no-cd executables and windows live disablers, these barriers against piracy are only really hurting the legitimate customers who has to cope with getting past them, sometimes getting faulty errors even in the process hindering them from enjoying the games they've bought.

From what I read on Steam forums, a lot of people who bought Arkham Asylum on wednesday recieved securom codes that didn't work. Supposedly fixed now, though and fortunately I didn't have this problem myself.

I did however have so much trouble getting Games for Windows Live set up for Arkham Asylum I felt royally screwed over, all the while I know there are very simple to use cracks that disable Games for Windows Live completely on some games (I used this for Fallout 3 myself just to get rid of the useless thing that actually made the game perform worse). When these systems serve only as intrusions and obstacles to overcome for paying customers, and all of these systems are so easily bypassed just doing a quick google search, why do we have them ? Because it feels like they are just here to make their customers miserable!

Mar 20, 2011

Review: Darksiders

Darksiders: Released 2009 for Xbox and Playstation 3, Released Sept. 2010 for PC

I picked up the PC version of Darksiders from Steam this weekend at 75% discount. If my review sounds like something you might enjoy then I strongly recommend hurrying over to Steam to get this title while the discount lasts, it currently goes for $10. This review is also somewhat hastily written as I wanted to get it posted while the title is still offered at a discount.

My first encounter with this game was the demo released for the consoles a good while ago, and I admit I dismissed the game very quickly as just another God of War clone. This weekend though, it was on sale at 75% discount on Steam, and the combination of a pretty sweet price and the fact this was something as rare as a God of War'ish game on the PC triggered a buy for me. I should also point out again that this review is based on the PC version of the game. Without more delay then, on to the review!


In Darksiders, you take the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The horsemen are part of  a neutral force called the Council in the eternal battle between heaven and hell, and they step in when needed to make sure neither side gain too much ground. The war between heaven and hell has raged for ever, but a truce was signed when the race of Man emerged. While a puny race, they also seemed cunning and could have a major role to play in the war. And so, both forces agreed to stay their assaults while the race of Man developed until they were prepared to play their part, the uneasy truce bound by seven sigils that when broken would signal the beginning of the final war.

As the game begins, the battle has seemingly begun again with the forces of heaven and hell duking it out on a modern time Earth, and War enters the fray to oversee, and make adjustments here and there where needed. However it becomes soon becomes evident that the sigils are still intact, and War is thus placed on trial before the Council for misconduct. By misconduct we mean triggering events that led to extinction of mankind. War is victim in a divine conspiracy plot, and has to make things right again on an Earth ravaged by the forces of Hell where mankind no longer exists, or accept death in failure as his punishment for his crime.

Bad Steam screenshot, 1280*720 with weird scaling by Steam uploader. But I least I got a scythe!


Darksiders is a pure hack and slash action game with some light puzzle elements, very similar in style of gameplay to the God of War series and all its clones. To be fair, I feel the game is closer to Dante's Inferno than God of War, in parts both for the somewhat simpler combat than God of War, and more focus on story and lore.

There are some differences though. Where in God of War and Dante's Inferno you have light and heavy attacks, your main attack and secondary attacks in Darksiders use different weapons, leading to some fairly interesting combination options. War also has powers and spells he can use, such as different kinds of attacks and abilities to heal himself or briefly become resistant to damage.

The main focus of the game is battles which are fast paced and typically involve any number of fairly weak enemies, 2-3 medium strength ones or a strong enemy. There are also of course a good variety of boss battles, and some light puzzle elements. You are also rewarded for exploring the enviroment as expected of games like these, with a number of secret areas or places that require pixel perfect timing or positioning to reach.

I have to admit, a large part of the reason I went and bought this game was a firm disbelief that this kind of game could work well on the PC at all. To put it to the ultimate test I also played it with keyboard and mouse controls instead of a gamepad. And boy was I mistaken! I really couldn't believe it, but Darksiders has showed me that action games like God of War CAN actually work on a PC. With my keyboard and mouse setup, the mouse constrols the camera from a 3rd person view behind the character like any typical action game of its ilk, and left and right mouse buttons are used for primary and secondary attacks. In addition the middle mouse button triggers item use, and Caps Lock+numbers 1-4 is used for spells and abilites. Shift is used for locking on enemies and modifier for certain attacks, Alt is used for block, dash and also attack modifier. E uses stuff in the enviroment, and space jumps. And it works, really, really well. It would be better to have a gamepad still, as the capslock abilities in particular can be somewhat uncomfortable to use as quickly as you need to, but still, I was very surprised with how well it works!

Woops. My bad.


So the control scheme is wildly reworked from the consoles, but what about the rest of the game ? Graphics wise, there are literally no video options. You can set the video resolution, and thats it. No low-medium-high sliders, nothing. But! The game is actually well ported for the PC, believe it or not. I tested this on a rig with a puny Geforce 220 (lowest end of graphics cards really) but still it plays pretty darn well at 1440*900. I had low framerates and a game crash at 1920*1080, but really, I can thank myself for that. At 1440*900 and lower the framerates were very smooth, and pretty good quality as well. On the whole, despite the complete lack of customization I was impressed with the performance of the game. The graphics are through and through good quality, and it doesnt look overly jaggy at lower resolutions. Even going down to 1280*720 everything still looks pretty decent.

The battles are fluid, gory and feel 'meaty'. War has a lot of devastating attacks, combos and finishers that all feel crunchy. I will however point out that the sound work is only decent, nothing out of the ordinary there. I would also sometimes have the audio wildly out of sync with the video on the ingame cutscenes. This could very well be a problem with my system only, though.

The game UI is what you would expect from a game like this, non intrusive and minimalistic. Menues however are actually a bit poor, they can be confusing to navigate and dont respond well to mouse input, I really had to use shift and ctrl+arrows to navigate. This is poor for a PC game but not only that, many console games have far cleaner and easier to understand menues. This is however the only drawback I can point to that shows its console origin.


For a PC game, this title is almost a must have especially if you can get it at a low price like this weekend's Steam discount! I was hugely impressed with how damn well this game actually works, being what it is, and being on the PC, especially when using standard mouse and keys controls. This game is fun, good looking, and pretty long. I havent been through the whole thing yet but can already tell its longer than Dante's Inferno which gave me many hours of entertainment. If you're thinking of getting it for a console instead, you probably wont feel disappointed either, it really is a good game, but there are already other really good games of its kind out there as well, so it would be down to which game you prefer among the myriad of good games out there. On the PC, this is the best action game since Tomb Raider, and thats no small accomplishment. It has way tougher competition on the console market.

I must also mention the story of the game which sucked me in right away once I started playing the retail game, it is pretty much 100% bad ass. Never understood much of what was going on when I played the console demo, I bet I'd have bought this game a lot sooner if I had any idea how interesting the story and concept was.

All in all, I give this game a good 8/10.

If you have thoughts on the review or the game, feel free to leave comments below as I'd love to hear them.

Official trailer: