Need for Speed: Most Wanted! Halo 4!

Pick it up, dust it off, switch it on and by jove the old blog still works. I've been playing some games over the last few months. Well, quite a few, really. So I thought it would be a good idea to type what I thought about those that currently inhabit my play time.

So, here we go for the week starting Monday the 5th of November 2012.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

The folks at Criterion have been assured of my money in exchange for Most Wanted for a long time, it was merely a matter of what platform to spend it on.

The most illuminating fact I gleaned from the buzz around its release was that Most Wanted aimed for 30 frames per second rather than 60 (like Criterion's last similar effort, Burnout Paradise). I wouldn't say it's a make or break deal, but 30fps is certainly noticeable when compared to 60, and in driving games I find my enjoyment is immensely boosted by double the number of frames. In most cases it really doesn't matter all that much, but there's something buttery smooth about 60, it really helps with the sense of speed in an arcade racer. Same goes for giving animations a sense of fluidity necessary in fighting games.

With this new knowledge, the PS3 and 360 versions both suddenly looked a lot less appealing - and so too the allegedly power-hungry PC port - when stacked next to the Vita. The Vita version, I was told, was a straight port of the regular game. Really, how rarely does that happen with a game of this nature? Big franchises like NFS put out handheld versions alongside the big-boy releases as a certainty, but usually they're the same game in name only, farmed out to dedicated portable studios to churn out something superficially similar in theme but hollow on the inside. I heard that the framerate was further compromised beyond that of the home console versions, but I find that framerate differences are of incremental importance all the way up until you hit that sweet sixty, when they improve the experience a great deal more suddenly.

To squeeze Most Wanted onto the diminutive Vita, I had read from various sources that Criterion had made three primary compromises: they'd slashed the amount of traffic on the world's roads, pop-in of obstacles was so drastic that it made crashes unjustly inevitable and the player limit in multiplayer had been halved.

Two of these are true, one is not, neither of the truthful ones are deal-breakers. Here's why.

1. The roads are deserted.

Unlike the majority of reviewers whose articles I gleaned this information from initially, I haven't had the privilege of playing the home console version alongside the Vita port. I can only speculate as to the congestion on Fairhaven City's streets there. In isolation though, it doesn't matter. It's not noticeable and it does not affect my enjoyment in the slightest. There are cars bumbling about the roads going about their business, enough to be comparable with Burnout Paradise, which is the closest comparison for me (Paradise, if you played it, was rather desolate but it didn't matter in the slightest). The only time the contrast presents itself is when you're being pursued by the police and the radio mentions upcoming traffic which never appears. Considering the blistering pace I'm maintaining around most corners I'm thankful there's no gridlock to navigate, especially as I'm not finding myself lacking in vehicles to smack into.

2. Pop-in affects driving.

Not true. Not any more, anyway. I bought and downloaded the game Sunday night, two days after launch. Upon running it for the first time I was asked to download a patch and, I faintly remember, the notes mentioned something about draw distances. This may explain why my conclusions fail to match those of reviewers whose words went up on Friday. Cars don't render until fairly close, it's true, but when they're further away they're represented by their head or tail lights which show up as a smudgy blob of white or red pixels indicating their position. It looks a little ugly, sure, but it's a practical and sensible measure and does the job effectively. After first noticing it I stopped caring and it almost started to feel like a UI implementation. It works, is all that needs be said, and not knowing where stuff that can hit you is is not a problem.

3. There's a lower player count in multiplayer.

This is true, regrettably. Multiplayer in Most Wanted takes the form of a series of challenges strung together around the world. It's immense fun. Incredible fun. Everything becomes a competition, a game. When a challenge is beginning, rather than just transporting you to a starting line the game puts a way point on each player's map and simply asks you all leg it there as quickly as possible for a handful of points. When you're hanging about in an intermission between rounds you're not booted to a lobby screen, but left to dick around the place crashing into one another and hunting down billboards to smash through. Even the game modes are fun, asking you to tear past a speed camera as fast as possible to see who can get clocked the highest, or to all make a massive jump onto the top of a building together, or to see who can drift the longest round a landmark, as well as just plain racing to a finish line. Unconventional tactics are not only allowed, but encouraged. Post the fastest time past the speed camera? Stop trying to beat it and concentrate on crashing into your rivals to prevent them from topping it, instead. Park your car at the prime drifting spot to interrupt their drift. It's all ridiculous and gleefully anarchic.

With two players, it's decent. With three, it's a hoot. With four, it's chaos. To try to fathom how much more enjoyable it would be with five, six, seven or even eight is why I'm debating buying the PS3 version right now.

Most Wanted is a great game and, most importantly, for me, it is wholly a Criterion game rather than a NFS game. The Vita port, produced in-house at Criterion, is exceptional, and the best game I've got for that system so far (and I have most of them). Its game play is perfectly balanced for quick ten minute spurts on the subway where you can only jam in a race or two or smash through a few gates and equally satisfying for an hour or two lying in bed. Yesterday, I was sitting in a café connected to its wifi network and disturbing fellow coffee enthusiasts with manic cackling over the takedowns I was achieving on my fellow online competitors. Can't do that on my PS3.*

*Without a significant amount of cabling, sturdy rucksack and understanding staff.

Halo 4

Thanks to Most Wanted's many delights I haven't been able to spend as much time as I would like with the Master Chief this week. Having picked it up Tuesday, I've done a couple of campaign levels, gone through one Spartan Ops mission (stag) and pumped about three or four hours into War Games/multiplayer. I'll probably have a lengthier opinion next week, but some preliminary thoughts follow.

It's good. It's really good. I'm hardly Halo's most ardent supporter, but I like Halo 4 a great deal, at least its first impressions. The single player is pretty and even in the first two levels it's showing more character than all of its prior entries combined (save for ODST and Reach, which I was similarly enamoured with).

Multiplayer, which has taken the lion's share of my time, is great fun. Getting in on the ground floor is important, based on my prior experience of Halo multiplayer. Except for Combat Evolved's PC version I've always lagged behind when signing up for service as either the Reds or Blues, and as such my time has mostly been one of agony and frustration over the skill gap between my peers and I. One thing, one big thing that even I can see in my relative lack of understanding of Halo's multiplayer, is that randomising weapon drops in the maps has made a big difference. No longer am I being dominated by a territorial sniper or a hermit who's taken the only crevice wherein spawns a rocket launcher. Now their luck is as good as mine and, through ordnance drops, the good Lady sometimes even smiles upon me. I can understand the complaint from veterans that "map control" is a thing of the past with this randomisation, I listen carefully and nod my head appreciatively before turning round and saying fuck that. If you're so shit hot please use those skills to shoot me in the face without having to rely on overwhelming superiority in materiel. So it's a little more reckless and chaotic, I don't see the problem. The World Cup may be the peak of footballing skill incorporating finesse and precision but I'd rather watch a dirty scrape of Forest Green Rovers versus Dover Athletic any day.

Spartan Ops seems quite nice (I enjoyed the likely heinously expensive opening cinematic to the first 'episode'), though I hit an immediate stumbling block in my inability to use matchmaking. No public sessions? What about bastards like me who don't have any bloody friends? Maybe I just missed it, the menus are a bit overwhelming with all the information they try to display at once, and it's plausible I merely missed the 'PRESS X TO FIND FELLOW BILLY NO MATES' prompt.


Oh, speaking of menus, I've got a categorically unmistakeable criticism in these early hours (though admittedly not a big one). I have no clue what the majority of the game modes in multiplayer do. The playlist has their (ambiguous) names and zero description save for how many players each mode accommodates. So far it's been a slow process of illumination whenever I decide to try a new one and die enough times before I figure out what's going on. Coupled with the lack of a manual and my stubborn unwillingness to Google each mode's name, I think just a sentence or two would be nice to enlighten me. You can skip Capture the Flag. I've got that one nailed down solid.

Till next week!

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