GRID 2019 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £44.99 (Ultimate Edition £64.99, Upgrade to Ultimate Edition £29.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Codemasters. Purveyors of racing games since… Well, as long as I can remember. No, that’s a lie, I grew up with them publishing Dizzy games. But for a while, at least. Sometimes a little simulation-like, mostly arcadey, with fairly good music, a fair few licensed vehicles/teams/racers, and this time…

Rolliiiiing START!

Three races before you even hit the main menu for the first time. Three races, and something like five interminable cutscenes. Oh, GRID 2019 is off to a rolling start, and… Wait, what are the keybindings again? Oh… Oh… Suffice to say, even though I understood part of why, I was less than impressed with how my experience started.

Was I impressed with the game itself? Weeeelll… It honestly isn’t bad. The cars are somewhat tunable, and there’s a moderate variety of them, with the most in the Invitational category (presently, at least, as the game has a Season Pass and some car DLCs already… hissssss…) Aesthetically, it looks good. The menu music is solid Racing Game music, of the kind you hear in racing recap segments, or, indeed, earlier Codemasters games (in mood and motif. Not exactly the same music) But when it comes to the races themselves, it’s the cars you concentrate on, and they, also, sound good. A Camaro sounds different to a Mini Metro, and when you’re pushing them to their limit, they sound like they should… Straining and buzzing angrily at the treatment you’re giving them.

When in doubt, I trade paint. Epilepsy aside, this is probably why I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

The tracks, the racers, the cars… They are, for the most part, the popular ones. Oh, there’s Silverstone. There’s San Francisco. But there aren’t that many of them (although, as with many racing games, extra variation is added with track weather and driving the course in reverse), and… Well, even though I’m sure there will be some free tracks, the purpose of that Season Pass becomes clear.

But this, also, I could somewhat forgive, because what there are are some interesting and technical tracks. And, if you’re not a great racer, one who makes some pretty nasty mistakes, the flashback feature from past Codemasters games is alive and well, on a rechargable basis rather than “You have this many.” These are nice. It even allows you to unlock races without actually winning them. And, of the race styles, there’s a fair few, which, overall, is the most varied part of it for me (With Invitational taking up the most room in terms of both cars and events)

The customisation system is also alright. A limited pattern set, but I wasn’t expecting Picasso, and I managed to make something I’m happy with easily enough.

Hell, the AI is at least alright, reacting to you, playing aggressively if you’re anywhere except in first and speeding the hell ahead, although if you qualify, then get first, you’re going to have a much easier time of it, and some racers… Well, here we get to what’s not so great. Specifically, the nemesis system, and the team system.

The nemesis system, on the face of it, is a clear one: If, like me, you race dirty, and trade paint, or even bits of your frame, to gain advantage, you’re going to piss other racers off. And you have a team member, who can be ordered to attack (try and move up), and defend (try and help you forward.) There’s even purchasable team members, but, to be honest… Neither feature seems to play much of a role. Nemeses (for lo, I often have multiple on any given lap) don’t seem to be more willing than usual to trade paint with you, or screw you over, and team-mate orders don’t really help all that much with your position over, say… Having a good line, and being aggressive.

Okay, okay, so maybe that’s trading more than paint. I got a decent position, alright?

As such, buying team members isn’t really a purchase I’ve bothered with, to, basically, no effect on how I’ve enjoyed the game (which is “Somewhat”) The UX is that understated style you often see in racing games nowadays, and, in and of itself, it’s not bad (although damn, do the visuals on cars seem to take an Ice Age to load in those menus!)

And this leaves me uncertain where I stand, precisely, with GRID 2019. It’s alright, for sure, but it’s made some odd decisions, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Ultimate Editions, Season Passes, and whatnots, and some of its features seem under implemented, despite being seemingly flagship features. I also can’t deny that it feels like less than its predecessors. And, as such… I’m erring on the side of “Not really.”

The Mad Welshman is not, after experimentation, as bad at arcade racers of this style as he feared. Turns out he’s just aggressive.

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Hot Lava (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

When I first looked at Hot Lava, I very much enjoyed its first person platforming. I even expressed that it was one hell of a shock that I was, because, generally speaking, first person platforming puzzles are bollocks, and most people remember them unfondly. But no, I stand by that. The first person platforming is fun. I also stand by the GATS theme being bad. Sorry, Klei.

You will perhaps grow to hate this sister. But it’s not, strictly speaking, her fault.

So… Several areas now exist, each with 6 levels to complete, and, in each of them, you are, essentially, trying to get to the end by jumping on things that aren’t lava. Jumping on, or into lava is obviously bad. Falling too far is obviously bad. Being fast is good. And, to be fair, there’s a fair few ways you can go faster, each with their pros and cons.

For example, you can use Hot Lava’s variation on the bunny hop, where you leap, then both turn and strafe in a direction to pick up speed . The downsides of this are that it takes skill to pull off consistently, and it changes your route precisely because you’re going faster. Then there’s the usual thing of a tighter line (can I skip this tiny jump for this slightly bigger one that gets me where I need to go), and the final one that, so long as you know where the final checkpoint is, you can go straight there, skipping checkpoints along the way (The problem being, of course, that it’s longer between checkpoints, or maybe no checkpoints at all, so I hope you got it right!)

The fake loot boxes have, as far as I’m aware, been removed, replaced with “You get customisations for getting stars in missions”, although the collectibles are still there: Cards, both in lava world, and the normal one, and hidden GATS comics and golden pins in the levels themselves. You can even, once you’ve found the mini science-project style mountain, enter the lava world to just explore and get those cards, with no time pressure.

The Gym is, honestly, not a bad place. Especially since the pole collisions have somewhat improved. Ignore the time, I was just here for a collectible.

Still… The mention of the two in-level collectibles reminds me of one gripe about the game: a biggie. Chase the thing levels. Always last in the level order, and always painful, even in Early Access, they’re actually somewhat worse now. Before, if you got too far away, you’d lose, but you could still take routes that would catch whatever you were chasing, or even get in front of them. Now… Well, they have a pretty good route, although they all seem to be your sister, constrained by the same things you are, and catching them because you actually got in front of them? No longer counts. It’s a fail state. Not gonna lie, if I was clever enough to get to a route that actually beat said sister? I want that reward.

Without that objective, it’s basically an endurance match: No checkpoints, do it all well in one try, try and do elements of the characters route well enough that you catch them from behind. And the last one in particular, “Chase the Meaning” , can fuck right off. When I’m shaking from trying to do the same first segment twelve times, and know there’s no checkpointing, I’m not having a good time with your obstacle course.

Global Action Team: Bad Idols To Look Up To.

So… Aesthetics and narrative time… Oh, that’s right, there’s a narrative, of sorts. See, the prologue has you going to bed via… Well, playing the game of “Floor is Lava” with your sister. Except… There’s something horrible. And that something horrible scares you on the very last part of your journey… Which happens to be the balcony over the living room. The Global Action Team comics show them to be failures, misinterpreting situations, being gulled easily… Even stealing. And then… Well, suffice to say, I won’t spoil it, but you can possibly guess.

Aesthetically, apart from the aforementioned theme song, the game works well. Everything is clear, including those bits you wish weren’t, the environments are plausible and well crafted, the character models are fun, and the music shifts pretty well from the playful tones… To darker ones… To hard driving ones… To, in some cases, almost silence. And all of them thematically work with the level in question (Oh, and the music is quieter when you’re not running all willy-nilly, a sign you should maybe get moving, squirt!)

Overall, Hot Lava is good, and I would recommend it. I would, however, repeat that the “Chase the” segments can go to hell, and I don’t say such things lightly.

The Mad Welshman will, one day, get all the stars. That day, however, is a long way off. But he has a fair few.

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Hero Express

Source: Review Copy
Price: £4.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Superhero(in)es are, as has often been proven, less powerful without folks who support them. Without Alfred, the Bat Family, and, of course, Ace, Bruce Wayne would have had a much harder time of things, possibly an impossible one (not to mention the many other folks who helped over the years.) And not all of them are in glorious roles. Mo Schreibnitz, for example, is… taxi driver to The Shadow.

You seriously mean to tell me you forgot? Ohhh boy…

In this particular case, you are a delivery driver, getting items to a superhero who… Regularly forgets them. No, really, the conceit is that he’s forgotten something vital to beating a villain, somehow, and you are meant to deliver it to him. In a very real way, you’re keeping this hero afloat in the business. By driving in a horizontal, 2D environment made of lakes, hills, valleys and assorted other obstacles and physicsy things, trying to get to the end by accelerating, slowing down, reversing, and tilting your vehicle to make sure it doesn’t explode.

You must be this grippy to ride the rollercoaster, kid.

And I think my main problem with this game is that, from the beginning, it’s a tough job. Trials eased you in. Heck, most games of this genre ease you in. But nope, from the outset, the level you start in is loooong. While there are vehicle upgrades, on that old “Each level is more expensive than the last” deal… This isn’t as helpful as, say… Designing the levels around a vehicle? Because, of course, the faster your engine is, the more airtime you get, the more traction you have on surfaces… This adds to what already happens in such games, where a slightly different landing or jump snowballs into changes down the line. Also, a more powerful engine might let you clear a jump more easily… Or it might mean that reversing to get a better run up is too effective, and you fall down a ramp that was going to make you too slow to make that jump in the first place.

It makes less sense that some of the other tracks seem shorter, so… Should be first, right? Well… No, they all have problems. Not least because they’re all different vehicles. Normally, I would say “Oh, great, different challenges, cool!” … But they have little dirty tricks. For example, in the Mamba stage, there are big hills. Big hills, and your allegedly off-road beast… Can’t handle them without upgrades. There are power ups that help… Well, a jump that is sometimes useful, and a cleaning spray that’s only good for if you’ve been hit with rubbish… But mostly, this appears to be a case of “Awww, sorry buddy, only folks with Traction this high can enter!”

Ah yes, the old “replace the chicken in the ritual with a rubber one” trick. The one that’s worked, er… No, I’m sure there’s a pulp story where that actually happened. SIGH.

It is, aesthetically, pretty nice. The music’s good, the tracks clearly signpost what’s bad and what isn’t, what things do make sense, and the hero is rightly portrayed as a berk (Although that he’s a dumpy man is… I don’t know how to feel about that, honestly, and that yes, there’s a stereotypical “Voodoo Queen” villain is… Ehhhhh….) But in terms of play, while I’m sure fans of the harder games of this genre may enjoy it, it’s definitely not a great introduction to such games (Which, to be fair, are often frustrating whether they tutorialise or not. But still…)

As The Mad Welshman is a villain, well… You can guess who he’s rooting for, even if his pride won’t let him lose this damn thing again.

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Marble Skies (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back, in the mists of time, I used to play a wee game called Marble Madness. Good lord, it was frustrating, and was my first experience with a trackball. Many twenty-pences were lost, and, honestly, I never finished it. But hot dang if I had a love-hate relationship with that marble. Loved the idea, hated the levels.

The years have been somewhat kind to marble based racing games, thankfully, and, while Marble Skies is somewhat minimalistic, it’s also got its charm. It’s also got… Some demoralising best times. We’ll come back to those.

I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to get this down to 21 seconds, but, on watching the best time replay… So many edge leaps… So… Many…

Okay, let’s back up. Effectively, Marble Skies involves, as most marble games do, controlling an unruly, heavy marble along an obstacle course (sometimes needing to collect gems, sometimes merely needing to get to the exit) as quickly as possible, without dying. Want to get in among the speedrunners? Well, prepare to get acquainted with this marble’s physics, and jump segments of the course. Lots of them. Hell, at first, I doubted the current leaderboard times, but then I managed to get close enough to see how it could be done on a couple of levels. (I still doubt some of them, though, to be honest. But much fewer than I did…)

Aesthetically, like I said, the game is minimalist. It uses Unreal’s glows and gloss fairly well, but what it treasures more over looking pretty is clarity. Simple menus, clear differentiation of features.. The worst I could say, aesthetically, is that the music is rare, and that some of the main features are not really very clear (like jumps or gravity switches.) The sound of the rolling ball is nice, as well, and customisation is alright, all using points earned via play.

Mere seconds away from bouncing forward, past the grippy tiles, past the pillar, and into space. Eep.

Mainly, the biggest turnoff for folks will probably be an actual feature, in that glass balls are actually quite heavy, and turn, generally speaking, like a heavy thing that rolls easily. They also bounce quite a bit, and so, quite a few times in trying to get a quicker time, all I’ve done is bounce into oblivion, and hit the restart button with a gusty sigh (as dying during a run will not reset your time, presumably for speedrunners who want to be faithful with their times to complete) The level design does ramp up moderately quickly (By the time gravity switches got introduced, near the end of the beginner levels, I was sweating), so I honestly wouldn’t say this was a beginner’s marble rolling game, but the level layouts are interesting and sometimes pretty cool.

Finally, there’s a mini golf mode, and, honestly, this is the weakest feature. It’s an alright mini golf game, if you like golfing with marbles, but, not gonna lie, marbles or other glass balls would not be my first choice of ball, and the control scheme for it is fiddly (hold left, then mouse up and down for power, mouse left and right for direction. Release to fire.)

Go in. It’s sloped, y’git, go… IN!

Overall, then, Marble Skies is mostly a “Does what it says on the tin” release. For fans of marble puzzle racers, it’s an enjoyable one, but it’s not really going to bring anyone who’s on the fence into liking this style of game.

The Mad Welshman was, alas, too young for marbles in the playground to be a serious thing. I mean, Pogs, sure. But not marbles.

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Team Sonic Racing (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Obligatory “Oh look, it has Denuvo” warning.

Ah, doesn’t Team Sonic Racing look pretty? Aren’t its tracks interesting, and its soundtrack gorgeous butt rock of the type we’ve come to love and expect? Solid voice acting, and a typically Sonic story with fourth wall breaking and silliness? Golly gee, this would normally make for a very positive review, wouldn’t it?

Exceeept… Team Sonic Racing, to me, feels like a case of “You had one job.” Because the racing… Is somewhat painful.

Oh dear. Knuckles got hit by something. Not my fault!

Not the team aspect. That was actually quite interesting and cool. After all, encouraging co-operation in a team racer is a good thing, and this, it does quite well, by giving benefits to those who slipstream each other, give each other little nudges forward, weapon boxes when they ask for them (The person heavily in first place rarely needs them, after all), and even for agreeing to use Team Ultimate at the same time. That is legitmately cool, so props where props are due.

No. It’s the rest of it. Let’s start with this whole drifting thing. If your drifting is painful, on both mouse and keyboard (and it was for me), then maybe, just maybe, it’s not a good idea to so heavily emphasise it. Or make it the star ability behind both the “collect things” challenge types that exist. Overall steering is, honestly, not terrible (not great, but not terrible), but, since the track design also has things for which a simple turn doesn’t suffice, er… That drifting is required. The same drifting that so badly gelled with me. Joy. It doesn’t help that the drift boost is… Disappointing, compared to the headliner team mechanics.

Attempted, a light drift: What I get… OH GOD WALL WHY.

And then… Customisation. Normally, I am a beast for customisation in racing games. I love me new parts. But when firstly, said customisation is based on gacha (That’s random drops, ala lootboxes), and there are a total of three parts of Speed, Technique, and Power type, along with gold versions of the exact same powerups… Well, that’s somewhat dull, especially as their boosts and maluses are… Middling, at best, not significantly changing play.

As noted, on an aesthetic level, it works just fine. Most things are clear (The only thing I didn’t find too clear was the quicksand v track segment of one track, but overall, it’s bright, with solid readability and good value shifts for clarity), the designs work well, and the music and VO are good, solid stuff. But this is, unfortunately, an at best passable racing game. At worst, its drift’n’collect stages are frustrating, and the online play… Well, it isn’t great. The ending animations become unskippable (and they are slow), reports come in of matchmaking problems…

AEAB. That’s all I have to say.

…Overall, TMW has definitely seen better kart racing. TMW has definitely seen better racing games overall. And this is a shame, because an otherwise glittering core element, and an otherwise shiny exterior sandwiches… Well, blandness and some irritation.

It is The Mad Welshman’s sad duty is to inform you that no, you do not, in fact, go that fast here.

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