Forza Horizon! Far Cry 3! Asura's Wrath!

The last few weeks were fucking fantastic. You know what I did? Nothing. Productivity reached an all-time low. Why? Far Cry 3. Do I feel guilty? No, because Far Cry 3? It's fucking fantastic.

I started writing this a week ago, and then took a short break before I finished it off to play Forza Horizon, which had been sitting in its polythene wrapper for months. And now it's a week later and I don't know where the time went. So I suppose I'd better talk about Forza Horizon, too. Oh, and Asura's Wrath. Which I played all of Boxing Day because I was in bed with food poisoning and needed something undemanding.

So herein is the summary of the week beginning Monday the 26th of November. And the week beginning Monday the 3rd of December. And Monday the 10th. And, um, the 17th.

Forza Horizon

I'll start with Forza, as that's left a big impression and I'm yet to discuss it. After Far Cry 3 was done with, I spotted Forza Horizon cowering in its shrink wrapping, having successfully remained undetected for god damn months since I bought it (by no means the worst crime of my debaucherous backlog). So in it went, and for the next week I rocketed around the Rockies.

My enjoyment of virtual cars, or lack thereof, has always been a rather clearly demarcated split: cars that can hover, fly, shoot rockets and/or turn into sentient robots have always won my approval, whereas cars that are unmistakeably just... cars are anathema. I have chosen to think of the difference thus: do I need to brake when I see a corner? If yes, take a hike. If no, let's roll. The rest of the world, in its infinite wisdom, has deigned to characterise this split as being the difference between an arcade racer and a simulation racer. Forza Horizon has expertly sidestepped this binary categorisation by loudly declaring on its box that it is an "action racer." Stop sniggering at the back. It would be ludicrous but for the fact that it's somewhat necessary to escape the current labels: Forza Horizon will be immortalised as the broker of a historic peace treaty between brakes and fun. It's bonkers mad and still rather sensible in a leather driving gloves and good clutch control sort of way.

Forza Horizon's predilection towards sacrificing some of the tenets of simulation on the altar of fun makes it, in some ways, a very un-Forza like game. A bigger, and more immediate, change is the way the game is presented. It's an open-world racer. It's in Colorado, which looks immensely beautiful. Let me be clear: lots of racing games are good-looking, giving cars sleek lines and smooth paint coats, but Forza Horizon is the only racer I've ever thought of as having beauty, which is provided by the gorgeous scenery. Open-world racers may not be for everyone - I know some Burnout die-hards that detested the franchise's switch to the genre in Paradise - but I'm all for them. I suppose I prefer navigating roads to menus, which is what I always saw the genre essentially changing. Horizon has a fast-travel system which I never used simply because the joy of driving around its roads never dulled.

I can't say for certain how concrete Forza Horizon's simulation credentials are, only speculate; I never availed myself of them. There is definitely a wealth of tinkering options and "off" switches to driving aids that I never touched as the game does an incredible job of shielding the player from the technical side of things were he disinclined to touch them (I am). They aren't absent or even hard to find, however, just expertly arranged so you're never once inadvertently dropped in the middle of a screen asking you to tune tyre pressures or choose the shape, colour and scent of your dangly air freshener. They're hovering just below the surface, and I feel perfectly content to ignore them: if your car is unsuitable for a race you're trying to sign up for, the game will ask you if you want to tune it yourself, or just press 'X' to have the game do it for you. To hell with it, that hot air balloon isn't going to race itself and I haven't the time to sit around fiddling, game. Tune that machine up for me!

If I were to criticise any aspect of Forza Horizon, it would be the lack of diversity in its events. I know that its sim roots are a strong pull, but there's over a hundred unique events to try your hand in and they're either all circuit races or point-to-point sprints against seven opponents, and nine 'showcase' events which are either glorified time-trials (beating a hot air balloon, helicopter, biplane) or a circuit race with you and your (seven) opponents all in the same cars. Admittedly, the range of vehicles eligible for different events, as well as the mix of surfaces and environments add a monumental amount of variety, but I would have still liked something to break it up once in a while. Destruction derbies, or stunt jumps, or drift tournaments. There's a degree of that provided in the PR events, three of which are available at each of the ten Horizon 'Outposts' around the map, but each outpost has the same three, one of which is essentially broken (get to a scenic location for a photoshoot without damaging the car with no time limit. So... drive slowly?), and there's little reward for completing these events. Still, it's a small nitpick of an otherwise glorious game. It's excellent.

Far Cry 3

So as I previously stated above the break, before Forza, Far Cry 3 had been the poison of choice. I picked it up at the end of November, played it solidly until mid-December and then ejected it from my 360. The disc was transparent, colourless. I'd squeezed every last pixel, every last line of code out of it, like a person with too few oranges who is determined to get a full glass of juice for his morning breakfast.

I talked about the game in greater detail in my review, so I'll go into an aspect I didn't mention there now. I played Far Cry 3, as stated, on the 360. When I grabbed the game, I did so under two conditions: one, it was newly released and I had heard little about the quality of the game, let alone the quality of the separate versions; two, it's a Ubisoft game, which historically means it's worth going extra lengths to avoid the PC port of. It seems, from what I've heard of the actual PC port for Far Cry 3 versus what I played on my 360, the modest personal computer is host to the best version.

What I played was a great game, but I'd be a fool to pretend that I didn't notice significant screen tear and a horribly sluggish frame rate. My eyes aren't the world's most accurate measuring devices, but having stared at enough choppy frames over the years tells me that Far Cry 3's 360 version often drops below 20 frames per second during combat, and rarely hits 30fps anywhere. It's a bit upsetting, but fortunately I never found it too bothersome after I initially baulked at the locked 20fps of the introductory cut scene. The controls, even in hectic situations, never feel noticeably more sluggish or less responsive than they do at any other time. And despite all the setbacks of having to run on seven-year-old hardware, the game still manages to look beautiful frequently (and often quite ugly, too, on the other hand).

As is standard with this topic, though, it's going to be something that bothers some people more than others, and I can by no means say that it won't bug everyone. Certainly, the PC port has been very well received, apparently playing host to a wealth of graphical tinkering options and being well optimised. So maybe I'll pick it up when it's a reasonable price to give it a try.

Asura's Wrath

Finally, I played through Asura's Wrath. I really haven't a whole lot to say about this game. It's not really a game. There's some simplified beat 'em up segments, a couple of Panzer Dragoon style shooter segments and a whole bundle of quick-time events. I'm not the world's greatest proponent of QTEs, but I grudgingly commend Asura's Wrath for making its QTEs somewhat entertaining, and therefore by default the best QTEs ever conceived. It helps - oh boy, does it help - that missing a prompt doesn't end in a game over, but just impacts upon a score received at the end of each of the game's chapters. I'm fine with that, I'm not here for scores. What I'm here for is what quickly escalated into one of the most batshit tales I've seen in the medium.

I punched a guy the size of a planet and he exploded (demo spoiler). I was stabbed so hard that the sword stabbing me drove through the world and came out the other side (big spoiler). I headbutted a dude so fuckin' hard the air for about fifty yards behind him turned to fire (spoiler, but too awesome to keep in). I find it hard to reconcile my feelings for Asura's Wrath. I care very little for the actual plot, or the melodrama that is so typical of anime (and is the reason for my disinterest in anime), but I do enjoy the spectacle and the audacity of the game's set-pieces. I understand the reason for the game not allowing me to play it too much, as that would just get in the way of what the game's really all about, which isn't about game play at all. On the other side of the coin, I can see myself becoming tired of it during the less insane moments were I just to watch it all unfold - Asura's Wrath works best as an experience, and one that absorbs you in its crescendos, when it's just asking you to waggle the analogue sticks and mash 'B' and occasionally tug the right trigger to watch something even more crazy happen.

With that in mind, I wish they'd thrown out the beat 'em up parts altogether, as they just seemed a bit of a time-waster, and never that impressive a visual feast. You're just beating up three or four guys over and over until your "Burst" meter fills and you can press the Right Trigger to advance the story. The shooting sequences are cool - they can stay. They serve a purpose, which is to look badass. Looking badass is 95% of what Asura's Wrath is all about. The other 5%, I would argue, is allowing the player to exhale slowly afterwards and reflect on how inconsolably upset Asura is.

I liked it. But no way in hell should it be a full price retail release. Buy it now, second hand, or rent it or something and play it on the sofa with one or two other like-minded individuals in attendance.

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