The Crew - Desert

Greek Alphabet – The Crew [Closed Beta]

The Crew (PS3, PS4 (Preview system), 360, One, PC; Reflections; Ubisoft)


 I’ve been watching this game like an eagle since it was announced last year at E3. Here we are, the developers of my favourite driving/racing game of last generation (Driver: San Francisco) creating a game that basically fits one of my life dreams and one of my favourite racing subgenres, the open-world driver. And I was very much hoping I could get my hands on one of the console closed betas so I could see whether this game is everything I hoped it would be and am still hoping it will be. What I really wanted from this game was a next-gen Test Drive Unlimited, with the taut driving of Driver San Francisco and the joys of driving across the US in a Ford Mustang for hours and hours while ignoring my friends who want to me to actually do productive things in the game.

What I wasn’t hoping the game would be was a mess of server failures and issues and no-one in my ‘session’. For a game so built around online infrastructure and the social experience of exploring the US in cars, playing it as a solo game feels weird. Its not the biggest issue to me, because I will quite happily play it on my own (when the servers will let me in), and there’s more than enough to do (when the servers will let me in), and the world still feels alive with just me in it (when the servers will let me in), but for this game to really represent the continuation of the idea of social open-world racers like Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited and things like that, it needs to have that netcode down. I get this is a beta, so its designed to stress-test these things, and the game is still a month from release, but it feels more like the netcode is non-existent than that its not tested, which is a bit of an issue at this point. I’d really rather not have the game come out to some Battlefield 4, or even Driveclub, level server issues, especially if Ubisoft won’t be letting me get onto the game without being able to access the server, as they currently do with the beta (obviously, I understand they will likely change that for release because there will be offline players, but still).

But now I’ve got that negativity out of the way with, its time for me to gush about the game because barring the online failings that I’m hoping they’ll fix up, I am already in love with this game. I’ve basically only spent time in Detroit, with brief drives through and in Chicago and St Louis, so I’ve not even really come close to leaving the Midwest portion of the map, and the scale of the game is already astounding me. Just this small area felt bigger than a lot of open-world games I’ve played in my time as a gamer. Which I just find crazy. And there’s even some room for environmental variety as well even just in the Midwest, considering the cities all felt different and I was driving a truck over dunes on a beach in one of the early missions and I’ve spent plenty of time driving through gorgeous forests, and I know there’ll be deserts and plains and hills and everything else tucked away all over the US. I’m going to be trying to drive from Chicago to (New York to Miami to LA to) Seattle during the weekend, which I’m reckoning will be a good solid 2-3 hours of straight driving, and the prospect of seeing the slightly compressed US over the course of such a trek sounds so nice to me, as someone that always loved just cruising on Test Drive Unlimited or loved picking the absurd 10 minute courses on Gran Turismo just to get into the feel of the driving and immerse myself.

On that idea of immersion, this game kinda reaches Euro Truck Sim levels of that for me. Test Drive Unlimited often felt very aimless because generally you weren’t given much of a sense of where you specifically needed to go, whereas Euro Truck Sim is a very clear ‘cruise from A-to-B’ kind of game. And I think The Crew really hits that nail on the head. Just get into the gorgeous cockpit view and put an objective on the map, and follow that blue squiggly line in the sky and enjoy the ride. That’s not to say the game doesn’t do things other than cruising well. Its just that I know I will spend my time in this game cruising; racing is cool and everything, and time trials have some appeal, but I just want to drive around the US in gorgeous muscle cars. I am a simple man with simple tastes like that.

Of no surprise to me, the gameplay itself is pretty tight. The cars have this wonderfully balanced handling that feels like a better Need For Speed, honestly. Its drifty, but not excessively unrealistically drifty. It makes you feel like you’ve really pulled off something impressive when you throw your car around the corner without really fucking it up by hitting stuff or under turning or losing speed, and then you just throw down your boost bar and pull some Fast & Furious style moves to flick yourself into the lead. It feels fun and arcadey enough to not be another competitor to Forza Horizon 2, but still realistic enough to make pulling tricks off feel satisfying and not like its just Giant Burnout Paradise. Honestly, I had been worried after people had said they didn’t think much to the handling in the PC beta and the first console beta, but proof is in the pudding and the pudding was delicious.

The last thing to discuss here I guess is the game’s presentation, as thats likely done by all accounts now. Graphically, it is the most beautiful game I’ve seen this generation, and really feels like a step up from all the last gen racers I put a lot of time into. Also, they’ve avoided crippling sun-blindness which EA never seem to dodge as they love the Frostbite engine so much. The UI is a bit imposing and a bit in your face, so hopefully there are options to reduce the size of that, but its a fairly minor complaint. The soundtrack seems good for the tone of the game and the feel and everything, but honestly, I’ve had the 70s Road Trip playlist lined up on Spotify for months waiting for this experience so I don’t really care. The sounds of the cars are gorgeous. Even though I’ve only driven a Mustang. But this is basically a Mustang simulator, and if you don’t believe that, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, your taste and your perception of cool.


Basically, this game is everything I wanted it to be, but its still got some room to fix up and look sharp in the next month. My pre-order is going seriously now though, and my hype will only continue to flow from my mouth and fingers like lava from an erupting volcano. Then, come December, I am going to drive and race in this gorgeous immersive world so much that I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to the real world.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

Open Arcade

Don’t Be A Pixel @ GameCity 2014 – Part One

This is part one of my two-part series on my experiences at GameCity. This part is primarily talking about the games I saw at the Open Arcade. To see the next part (live on Wednesday), discussing the experience and everything of GameCity, click here.


GameCity is an event that runs every year in Nottingham, UK, mostly happening in a fairly small building not far from the city centre, but tucked away down some smaller streets. It is a very unassuming convention, especially when you consider the size of events like PAX and E3, with their giant banners and their huge convention centres and how they shut down the places they’re in for the whole weekend. Its also a very different convention for the fact that it takes place over about 8 days rather than just 3, and it is absolutely free to attend. Its also very much geared to be for game developers and those looking to get into game development, as it is for people who want to go and see what games people are working on and how those are progressing. It is far from what you’d normally picture as a games convention, and it feels far more like an art gallery filled with games rather than a trade show around games like other events do. I would say that its just because its a British event, as its been going for 9 years now and has probably had some influence on things, but we still have our normal equivalents in Eurogamer and Reed. Nonetheless, I saw plenty of cool games and even got the chance to play a few while I was at the Open Arcade (where games are shown off across the galleries of the main building), and then I sat in a Subway with a sandwich to make some notes, ready to type this up for you guys, so here we go.


N.E.O (Near Earth Objects) – Jay Townsend (@JayExTee)

N.E.O. is a new asteroids-like game that Jay, a friend of mine from Twitter, had just put out. It was my first stop when I got into GameCity, because I wanted to play the game and I wanted to get a chance to meet Jay (I was at GameCity to meet people as much as I was there to play games, sue me). Anyway, I got the chance to sit down and play N.E.O. and discuss the game while doing that, and I want to report back that the game is really cool (yes I’m aware me saying that is biased, thats why this isn’t a review). The game has a really nice arcade-feel to it, with the short waves that you go through each time as a level, and with the progression working on more of a classic style where your ability to play the game is defined far more by your ability to deal with new enemies as they come up than it is by RPG systems and levelling up or getting new skills. The aesthetic style of the game is very neon and clean, with bursts of intensity as things pick up and you blow more stuff up; it made me call back to Beat Hazard, and as Jay pointed out, it has some influence from Geometry Wars. The visual intensity actually gives it this element of skill-ego-checking, in fact, as every time you kill 5 enemies or something and you want to be like ‘HAHA, take that game’, you’re pulled back a bit by knowing something might sneak through all the neon fireworks. The music also helps kick in to this arcadey feel, as it has this very electronic-heavy 80s sound that helps keep you in the flow state of the game and blocking out all your surroundings, even in a busy room next to people stomping away on a dance pad. Anyway, it is, in my (potentially biased) opinion, a real cool game, and its available now on Jay’s itch.io page.


Gunkatana – Geraldo Nascimento (soylentnoir.com) & CrazyArcadia (crazyarcadia.com)

Gunkatana is, as Geraldo told me and as became pretty clear when watching it, a top-down violent arcade game in the vein of Hotline Miami, but as opposed to the 80s setting and the story focus of Hotline, Gunkatana is a competitive arena combat game with a cyberpunk aesthetic. Basically, just an even crazier and, to me at least, more fun Hotline Miami. I only got the chance to play a 3-player game (the game has up to 4 player local multiplayer), but that still highly impressed me. The game feels very fast and sharp; you can die very quickly without even being fully aware what happened, which can certainly be an issue, but you come back in and can get kills again so fast that you don’t even really get time to get annoyed that you have died. The controls are also very good in a pick up and play style of way, as there are only 3 attack types which all have some degree of balancing; there is a laser you can shoot but that can kill you if it ricochets to hit you, a spin attack with your katana that can block lasers, and a stab move that requires you to get in fairly close but that can (if I remember correctly) defeat the spin attack. There’s also grinding on certain parts of the map, which helps to keep mobility as fast as the deaths and lets you catch up to enemies quite nicely. All of that helps to create a very nice feeling of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ that became pretty clear when I was beating the developer and another person on my first go at the game. The soundtrack feeds into the cyberpunk atmosphere and the swift violent gameplay quite well too, helping you to get into a flow state while not being too intense and loud to stop you from cursing at your killers either. All in all, something I certainly recommend if you can bring the local players together, and you can read more about the game before its release in early 2015 here.


[Untitled Wii U Game] – James Coote (@JamesACoote)

This was a game that I think I ended up playing the demo for mostly because I had almost no idea what I was looking at when I was watching someone else play it. I think the only way I can try to faintly describe the game to you is that it has defined movement along a wild path in a similar vein to Audiosurf, and you then control your character  by spinning the Wiimote a la Mario Kart Wii to move a square around the top of a circle with a colour wheel on it so you can match the colour that your square is on with the colour of the circle that you are going to fly through ((in singleplayer, it is to gain score, and in multiplayer, it is to gain speed to win the race). It is a very bizarre game, but its not really like anything else I’ve ever played, which is a very nice thing to find. The gameplay worked pretty well, even if it required some explanation from the developer at first to actually understand how to work it, and the music was tied very well to the example gameplay, which the developer was telling me is very much something he’s aiming to have as a mechanic within the game. The whole thing did still feel very ‘alpha’ though, if that makes sense, particularly the graphics, which had a very placeholder feel and not in a good way, and the gameplay still lacked some precision and sharpness, though that could be as much due to the fact that the game was being shown with normal Wii motes without Motion Plus attachments. Overall though, for a game that isn’t quite feature complete, which it will apparently be by around the end of the year, it was an interesting project with some promise. See a video of the game here, on the developer’s website.


Super Sword Sword Shield – John O Kane (@Johnokane)

Sadly, I wasn’t able to meet John and play the game while discussing it with him, but I did still get a good chance to watch and play Super Sword Sword Shield, and I was really pleasantly impressed. It’s very much a variation to the endless runner genre that has won so much favour on the mobile gaming sphere, but instead of the usual focus on dodging or evading things and moving around, the controls are used to beat enemies in front of you as you ride through on horseback. It actually had the effect of tricking me for a couple of minutes before I really picked up that it was essentially an endless runner game, which surely can’t hinder the initial views of the game because I doubt I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t have a bit of a groan at all the endless clones of that genre. There was also a fun levelling mechanic built in to the game, which got you a dragon to assist your fight if you did well enough to unlock it each run, and that pushes you to try out little tricks like juggling skulls when you kill skeletons (which I only realised when someone came over and gave us that little tip). It is a very satisfying game to actually play, and the pixel art for it is very pretty (even if I have some issues with how some models don’t have good outlines while others do) as is the music. If you want to have a play of the game, you can play it for free here as it is an in-browser Unity game.


Games that I got the chance to see but not play

Sure Footing – Table Flip Games (@TableFlipGames) – Essentially Bit.Trip Runner with a really cool looking neon aesthetic

Congo Warchild – Ollie Elliott (@PLANETdotHEAD) – Interesting looking isometric pixel stealth game where you play as a child in a warzone, trying to escape armed soldiers; not sure how the game will handle the themes, but looked like a solid stealth game

Lumino City – State of Play (@State_Of_Play) – Beautiful handmade art aesthetic, appeared to have solid platforming mechanics too but I didn’t get a good chance to see the gameplay in action

SimAntics: Realistic Anteater Simulator-game – Tom Francis (@Pentadact) & Liselore Goedhart (@lizzywanders) – Even without playing the game, the fun just EXUDED off it. The gameplay just had such a great bizarre competitive nature to it that it was impossible not to enjoy seeing it. The aesthetic style also just has this gorgeously simple and clear but still super colourful and childlike wonder to it that it only enhanced the whole feeling. I’m seriously quite sad that I didn’t manage to get  a good chance to play it, but the queue was there and it was the end of the day so there. But you can get your hands on it from the Super Game Jam set on Steam.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.