Scotch Corner – Balancing the Simulation

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 6th September 2020.

 

Project CARS 3 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)

PROJECT CARS 3 faces a mountain of Everest proportions to help Slightly Mad Productions move on from their Fast & Furious fandango.  That game was so disappointing that it left a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who played it.  Now, less than a month later, Project CARS 3 needs to salve the pain.  The cause certainly wasn’t helped by rumours that the third instalment of the racing sim had Turn 10’s Forza series in its headlights.  That’s fighting talk.  If you’re going to take a shot at the king, then you had better not miss.  This is a very different beast from the previous two outings.  They were fire-breathing, rock-solid sim racers that took joy in seeing weekend warriors heading into the wall time and time again.  Now they have gone soft and put on a few extra pounds during quarantine.  But we like the new look.  It’s a good move.  It makes the whole thing more approachable for all racing fans.  That has to be a good idea — if only for the general sales.

They have reworked the handling and controls to move it from hardcore sim to a more casual affair which is more forgiving.  There is actually a vibe of last year’s Codemasters Grid only dialled up a little more.  But that move is a big Catch 22 situation.  As many gamers will join in the fun now, others will switch off because it is no longer the training tool for real-world racers.  The career mode has been re-built from the ground up.  There are no more long and boring grinds where you get trapped in one racing series for way too long.  Now you get a real Smörgåsbord of racing opportunity.  You battle through a 10-tier system where you start on more run-of-the-mill fare before getting into the elite series.  It keeps that Grid feel in that no race outlives its welcome and you can attack them however you want.  You also have three goals in each race — achieve them and it helps to unlock the next events.  They are never too challenging and often add a little extra flavour to the race.

Wins bank experience and coin that you can spend on new cars and shiny bits to strap to them.  However, there is a kicker because the cash you bank is never quite enough to really buy the number of cars you need to push yourself forward — we definitely felt a grind coming on.  That said, you can just stay in one car and upgrade or downgrade it as needed from race to race, but that can get very messy.  You have to navigate through a barrage of menus to get to the garage and you get the feeling that it all could have been a little more elegant.  There is a healthy selection of rides on show — something for every petrolhead, from America muscle to import tuners and even Formula E machines which is a welcome addition.  You can also leave your mark on your car.  As well as tweaking and tuning under the hood, you can customise it with a livery.  It is fun but nowhere near as inclusive as the one in Forza. . . .  unless you have a thing for tyres.  Again, it does the job in a Grid sort of way.

A lot of the issues here surround the change in focus.  The racing purist in me is outraged at the thought of mixed-class races with Mustangs and 70s Escorts on touring car grids.  We also moaned a bit at the depth of weather but the legendary tyre system has all but been binned.  This is a strange beast.  The legacy from the first game casts a huge shadow over it and its sim heavy roots have almost been forgotten.  Slightly Mad have done a full 180 on the series.  That may be a result for casual fans, but it’ll be a car crash for hardcore racers.  This could be the most Marmite game of 2020.

Score: 4/5

Censoring the Hardcore

THE new Project CARS may have taken a few unexpected corners, but the Slighty Mad team reckon their more inclusive route will get them the best results.  Marketing and eSports manager Joe Barron believes the move will be a winner for ratings and enjoyment levels.  He said:

“Our general approach has been to make sim racing friendlier and more inclusive while continuing to provide an authentic experience that will satisfy hardcore fans.  The game, in general, is a more polished experience — with the career mode and player progression particular highlights.  The career is far more engaging and rewarding, thanks to the introduction of XP systems, car ownership, as well as car and driver customisation.  All of this adds up to your driver journey being a far more personal experience than ever before.”

The changes mean the sim roots of the game have changed.  Joe added:

“The backbone is a refinement of the authentic simulation and physics that millions of fans around the world have come to expect from our games because we want to create new sim-racing fans.  To that end, the introduction of all-new experience systems and customisation options will help gamers of all abilities to engage more deeply with the simulation.  We’ve also completely rebuilt our gamepad controls.  It’s now one of the best ever seen in a simulation racing game—and that’s not just hype, we’ve really knocked it out of the park for Project CARS 3.  The driving assists have been improved.  They now behave in a more lifelike manner and are less intrusive to the driving experience.  Seasoned sim-racers will have no problems turning them off right away, and newcomers will find that they are not there to hold your hand, but to teach you how to be a better driver.”

The eSports scene has been a big success for the game, and Joe has big hopes for the future.  He added:

“ESports has been an important part right from the first game, and we’re super-proud of the game’s ability to uncover the best new talent in the sim racing scene.  I was at Oulton park a couple of weeks ago watching sim-racer James Baldwin take victory in his first ever GT3 race weekend.  It feels like only yesterday that we first met him at a Project CARS tournament at Silverstone in 2018.  In Project CARS, 3 our new matchmaking systems and scheduled races go one step further to making competitive racing a key part of the game.  You choose a race from a list of daily events, and run qualifying laps until the start time arrives.  You’re matched against other players who have registered for the same event and split into groups based on your skill and safety ratings.”

The track roster is also pretty special.  Joe said:

“The vast majority of our previous track roster returns, alongside new additions such Interlagos, Shanghai, Havana, Tuscany and more.  All of the tracks carried over have had an accuracy pass to give them updated kerbs and run-off areas.  The availability of track data has also been a key factor.  Most of our circuits were completed before the pandemic began, but it’s much trickier to do reference trips to new circuits at the moment.”

The future is bright for Slightly Mad after their induction into the Codemaster empire.  Joe admitted:

“Project CARS absolutely has a future in the Codemasters family.  Project CARS is a simulation racing game, and that will always be its core identity.  It’s what we do best, and it’s what we love doing.  You can definitely expect lots more to come from Project CARS.”

He added:

“One of the great things about Project CARS is that it allows us to work in a variety of motorsport disciplines all at once — almost like a ‘greatest hits of motorsport’.  We are all big fans of F1, but we love sports cars, touring cars, and everything in between.”

Battletoads (Xbox One and PC, £14.99)

IT has been 26 years since Rash, Zitz and Pimple grabbed their spot of gaming glory . . . now they are back.  The return of the Battletoads sees the trio of rad amphibians fling themselves into an explosive action adventure that’s full of colour and over-the-top cartoon vibes.  Rare has taken the series that gained infamy for its brutal turbo bike and brought it up to date for 2020 — and managed to do the most important thing: turn a truly bad game into a really good one.   You get to switch between the toads and battle your way through a tale that sees them discover that the last 26 years have been a lie.  They are more zeros than heroes.  So they try to earn that adulation once again.

It all starts as a side-scrolling brawler where you bash aliens, beat monsters and trash bosses, but it gets more challenging as you clear the levels.  It keeps up the pace by throwing mini-games at you, including a new take on that notorious turbo bike section from the 1991 classic.  Half the fun actually comes from discovering which mini-game comes next.  You never know which direction it will take you.  However, take away the handful of collectables, the credits will roll at about four hours and that’s it.  It looks amazing.  You even get 30 minutes of animated footage during the play-through and the sound is top-notch.  It is challenging and funny.  A great return for the gaming legends.  It’s just too short.

Score: 4.5/5

Windbound (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC and Stadia, £24.99)

GREAT games often spawn a series of clones eager to grab a slice of the action adventure pie.  We were waiting for a horde of titles following the Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild formula, but they have actually been quite rare.  So fair play to Aussie outfit 5 Lives Studios for giving it a real go with Windbound.  On the surface it may look like a straight-up clone but give it five minutes and you’re in for a real surprise.  Kara is a young warrior who gets into a bit of trouble with a sea monster and ends up shipwrecked on a strange island with no pals, tools, weapons or food.  You have to craft your way home as the Zelda spin transforms into a full-blown survival game that may catch a few people out.  Fear not, there are a number of ways to attack things which make this a little easier than the usual survival classics.

Your main driving force is built around being hungry.   The more you have eaten the better you are at doing tasks.  Get hungry and everything is just that much tougher to do.  The world is also procedurally-generated each time you start so you never know what’s coming, but like all games of that ilk, the ideas sound better than the action.  Another huge element is sailing.  You’ll spend a lot of your time riding the high waves and crafting bigger and better boats to help you island-hop.  The wind is actually a vital factor if you want to actually get where you want to go — or you can just row.  This is a strange mix — it hints at more than that it actually delivers.  You start exploring with high expectation, but you have pretty much seen what it has to offer after the first chapter.  That’s not a deal-breaker but it is disappointing.

Score: 3/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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