Battlefield: Hardline – Review (PS4)

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The Battlefield series has consistently been one of the better multiplayer shooters out there in terms of gameplay, rivalled only by Killzone which has a more sci-fi tilt. Battlefield games are all about spectacle and while Battlefield 4’s ‘levolution‘ is hideous marketing-speak, the concept of having huge set piece moments erupt around you is a sound one. With Hardline’s setting changing to the police rather than the military, will it lose any of the identity Battlefield has worked so hard to cultivate?

Let’s start with the online. Hardline is just as bombastic as its predecessors at times, with cop cars, motorcycles and helicopters all thrown into the mix for bigger maps. As well as the returning Conquest and Deathmatch modes you have a host of new ideas to play with. Heist sees you trying to break into the opposition vault, and is very reminiscent of Rush from previous titles. Blood Money is more fun, a pile of cash in the middle of the map that both teams fight over and return to their getaway vans… the twist being that each team can also rob the opposition van! This leads to some great back and forth gameplay, a hallmark of the series. Another new mode is Hotwire, which I also greatly enjoyed. Like Conquest you have to capture and hold points on the map, the difference being that each control point is a vehicle you’ll need to keep on the move to accrue points. It leads to some frantic car chases and putting in a few ramshackle ramps lends the mode a Smokey and The Bandit/Dukes Of Hazzard feel.

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Gameplay wise this is the best the shooting has felt for a while (for veterans as well as noobs – there is a generous auto aim function for new players) and there is a pretty good variety of weapons, which you now buy with Heist money rather than unlocking by rank. Vehicle control is fun and the addition of radios in the car makes a huge difference to the immersion – jumping in the car as a criminal to the strains of KRS-One’s ‘Sound Of Da Police’ still hasn’t gotten old! The music selection is fairly good, although I hope if they return to this for future games they increase the track count so you get less repeats.

Moving on to the single player campaign, which is set around a cop called Nick Mendoza. In true cop show fashion, the game opens with you on your way to federal prison and a guard on the bus berating you for being corrupt. Then we jump back in time and you’re back with a badge and a gun. The most intriguing thing for me about Hardline is that you almost always have options. Some levels have multiple paths through and even those that don’t at least offer the choice of stealth or all out attack.

One of my gripes with the game is that the stealth is a little clunky at times and there were occasions when I felt I had been unfairly spotted. The game works with a Far Cry style awareness meter, so at least you know when you’re about to be spotted! I also felt sometimes that the AI was quite poor, often just filing into a room one by one for me to shoot rather than doing anything tactical to flush me out.

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The campaign plays in episodic format so it feels like a TV show, and even lends the ‘Previously On…’ trope that Alone In The Dark used to keep you update on what happened in the last few episodes. I liked that this doesn’t play if you go straight into another episode so it wouldn’t get annoying for people ploughing through the game in one sitting. Personally I played it an episode at a time almost exclusively, it was well paced and I had fun with each episode. The game might have become slightly repetitive if you were playing it in longer sessions.

Graphically for the most part the game looks good, especially in single player, but in multiplayer sometimes the distant skylines seem quite sparse compared to other Battlefield games. There are exceptions of course, the burning town in the background of Hollywood Heights is a real highlight. Facial animation and motion capture for the campaign is great and while I never fully believed I was watching real people, it came close on occasion.

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Overall then it’s a pretty good package, but with regards to multiplayer that’s on the basis that you’re done with Battlefield 4 and want more of that Battlefield experience. There are some new modes and the gameplay is improved, so if you’re looking for more then this is the game for you. The campaign is easily the best since Bad Company 2 and while it does have some shortcomings I really enjoyed the way Visceral lent into the cop show vibe.

Rating: 8/10

The Order: 1886 – Review (PS4)

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The Order: 1886 had been on my radar since that amazing first trailer reveal – the graphical fidelity of the game coupled with an alternate history plot and Victorian London setting had me hooked. As more trailers arrived it seemed to just get better and better.

And then I played it. Last year’s EGX gave the public the chance to get hands on and I was very keen to do so. It certainly looked great but the animation felt lacking and the gunplay wasn’t what I was looking for. I walked away feeling a little deflated. However two friends that also played the same demo really liked it and came away impressed. I figured maybe when I was playing it at home it might click with me.

So now that I’ve had the full experience of playing the game, did The Order turn out to be a disappointment? Or did Ready At Dawn deliver on the initial promise of the game?

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Well the good news is that the animation problems I had previously with jerky movement of NPCs were almost non-existent so you could lose yourself in the game without being dragged out of the world every time someone would stammer across the screen. The issue with enemies not flinching from gunfire sadly remains, although this too is reduced. For such a film-like experience it does jar to have enemies not respond appropriately when hit by bullets. I mean if you look at games like Killzone 2 and 3 it can make a huge difference and make taking on enemies a lot more enjoyable.

Much was made of the game’s length before it’s release, with some people citing playthrough times of 5 hours. While The Order isn’t a long game, my initial playthrough took around 7 hours which I felt was a decent enough length. Whether or not you feel that sort of campaign length is worth £50 is up to you but it certainly wasn’t quite as short as was reported previously.

Another issue some people had was the amount of cut scenes and time spent not in control of the character. This definitely could be a problem for some, I personally felt ok with the way it was handled and enjoyed the story. Again I was happy just looking around the environment and exploring little pockets of the game world, enjoying the stunning job the developers had done. It almost verges on the ridiculous, with items in the world (like chairs or books) fully fleshed out and gorgeous looking, even when there is a good chance players won’t actively stop to look at them. There is no doubt The Order is a truly stunning looking game and between this and DriveClub you now have a couple of titles that can showcase the difference between PS3 and PS4.

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Unfortunately for all the talk of how wonderful the game looks it simply isn’t that exciting to play. The gunplay, while having a certain heft doesn’t match titles like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Max Payne 3 or even Grand Theft Auto V. It’s such a shame and it means those sections where they are throwing 20 or 30 enemies at you can be a bit of a drag. Of course I did have fun with some of the encounters, it was just those longer ones that tested my patience. There is also a stealth section that drove me mad, wherein you need to kill a set amount of guards but have no indication of where they are. If you are seen it’s insta-fail and right back to the beginning. Not including a checkpoint in there and having to restart every time meant it really broke the flow of the game.

It’s not all bad though, there was a lot of talk about there being too many QTE’s in the game but I thought it was handled ok and the addition of a few new mechanics thrown in for some helped to make some of the encounters feel different. The music is also superb, with Jason Graves delivering once again. Having such a dense, heavy score really helps to colour the game world and give you a sense of the atmosphere and feeling of this alternate London.

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The Order: 1886 certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I felt that the plot was good and the gameplay was enjoyable enough for the most part. When I got to the end and the credits rolled I thought to myself, ‘I’d play another one of those if they made it’ and I hope Ready At Dawn get a chance to refine this experience and give us a game that delivers on all fronts.

Rating: 7/10

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You’re Playing It Wrong Or: How Ratonhnhaké:ton Helped Me Enjoy Games Again

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As things have developed for me over the last year or so, both professionally and personally, I have found myself having a little less gaming time than before. For one, as I creep into my mid 30’s, I just don’t have the energy to game until 1am or 2am like I used to. Add to that mix having children (no daytime gaming at weekends), the fact that I’ve been watching more TV & reading more books and it’s easy to see why. So am I in danger of giving up on my favourite hobby?

Nope, far from it, in fact. While my time has been cut down a bit, I’m actually enjoying games more than I have for a long time. A decision I made last year about this blog was that I wouldn’t rush through games just for the sake of getting a review up quickly. I’ll review games as and when I finish them, which eases the unconscious pressure a review deadline can bring. What has happened is that over the last few years my gaming style has changed from mainlining most games (just sticking to the main plotline) to fully delving into the wonderful worlds created by game devs. And in the last 6 months the scales have finally tipped fully in favour of exploration.

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Let’s rewind a little bit though as I can tell you when and where this all started, in the American Northeast back in 1754 – 1783. Or more precisely November 2012 while playing Assassin’s Creed III. There’s no nice way to say it but despite a few clever touches Assassin’s Creed III is the worst entry in the series of games. It starts strong but quickly loses its way after an interesting plot twist. The main character Connor, or Ratonhnhaké:ton to give him his real full name, was a whiny, uninteresting protagonist and midway through the game it became a slog that I simply wasn’t enjoying. But instead of either ploughing through until the end or giving up and playing something else, I took a road very much less travelled (at least by me)… I started doing side quests. Even hunting missions, stalking animals and taking them out. Next time I played the game I spent 45 mins doing side stuff, played a main mission and did a few more side bits before logging off. And suddenly over the next few weeks I found myself really enjoying the game! Sure the main story missions were still fairly terrible but by breaking things up with side quests they were a lot more palatable.

Don’t get me wrong, in some of the bigger/more interesting game worlds (Fallout, Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, The Last Of Us, GTA and the like) I have often explored the environment but those games were few and far between and while playing titles like Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, L.A. Noire or Mafia II I would usually just play the story missions and do one or two side missions. And some games don’t require you to do anything but the main story, titles like Uncharted or Killzone, which is great and I love those games also.

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It’s just that even with less time to play I find that I’m drifting in between story and side quests in a lot of titles. I’m currently breaking my own ‘only-have-two-singleplayer-games-on-the-go-at-once‘ rule spectacularly by taking on Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, Alien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4. None of these are small games but whereas before I would’ve burned through something like Shadow Of Mordor, I now soak up the world and enjoy simply being in it and travelling through it. It also helps in that specific case to have the nemesis system which helps keep the world feeling ‘alive’ and constantly changing. Far Cry 4 is another good example in that I’m more than happy to do a few side quests on the way to main mission sometimes. And I think a huge amount of credit has to go to developers for finding that balance between sparse pointless side quests and overloading the player with map icons in a lot of recent titles.

There are of course exceptions, I really enjoyed Infamous: Second Son but the world felt so… quiet. With side quests that were minimal and not that interesting, it left the game feeling empty a lot of the time. From the little I’ve played of Assassin’s Creed: Unity it seems to have the opposite problem. You can barely see the map for a flood of different icons (see below) and the kicker with that seems to be that when you try to do some of the side missions they are actually locked in the game until you sign up for some Ubisoft service or companion app. But that is a conversation for another time.

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I think it’s interesting that my gaming habits have gone in completely the opposite direction to how I would’ve expected. As my time playing decreased I would’ve thought I would be avoiding side quests just to get through and finish titles. Don’t get me wrong, even my reduced game time is probably still more than a lot of people that play games so I will still be completing a lot of games, I guess it’s kind of the best of both worlds? Perhaps stepping out of the review ‘arms race’ has given me a new perspective? Regardless, the simple fact is I’m playing less but enjoying it more – I believe quality over quantity is the correct term and its great.

Have any of you noticed any changes in your gaming habits over time – have you followed the same pattern as me? Or even gone the other way? I look forward to hearing in the comments below.

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Destiny – Review (PS4)

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Destiny is the first title from Halo makers Bungie since they moved to Activision and started work on multiplatform titles. Touted as having a ten year lifespan and being the pinnacle of online co-op games, it certainly had a lot to live up to. A successful alpha and beta gave players a sneak peek at what to expect both in terms of positives, like gameplay and negatives, such as the repetitive play areas. So how does the final product hold up?

Right out of the gate the biggest positive for me with Destiny is it’s great art style and the look of the environments. Certainly on the PS4 the game looks gorgeous and creates a real feeling of scale which adds a lot to the experience. Whether you are on the Moon, Earth or Mars you’re in for a visual treat. Another positive is the handling of the weapons, which feel weighty and fun to use. I mainly used Pulse Rifles for my playthrough and found them to be effective, with some good additional benefits depending on upgrades etc.

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As well as choosing weapons you’ll also need to select a race and class. The race is largely unimportant but obviously the class decision can affect what abilities/powers your character has, so choose wisely! There are a variety of abilities to use and these are also upgraded as you go along. It’s a wise move to break up the powers into classes as it means you won’t have all powers available to you in one playthrough. One thing I was disappointed with was the fact that there was no alternate dialogue for different races. On one occasion another character was explaining the basic beliefs/characteristics of my own race to me, without any awareness that I would already know all that information. It just breaks what little immersion has been built up during the lacklustre story.

Unfortunately Bungie don’t seem to have included a great deal of material for the story – while the campaign missions are fun at times it really did feel like the developers missed an opportunity to flesh out the amazing new universe they have created. There were several characters I would’ve liked to have known more about that appeared in one or two cut scenes and then were never seen again. More story content has been promised in future DLC but while I enjoyed playing through the campaign it all just felt a bit lightweight. Also while the mission areas look amazing it can be a bit disheartening to continually be dropped off at the exact same point on a planet everytime you go there. It really would’ve broken the gameplay up to spawn in on the other side of the map, for example.

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Online co-op is a huge part of Destiny, with the developers expecting you to always have two other people to play with at all times. If you don’t you can still play but the game will spawn in two other totally random online players to join you. This can lead to some disjointed moments when playing solo as the people the game matches you with might be a much higher level than you, which can skew the action slightly. It’s not a huge problem, it just doesn’t create the vibe that they were aiming for.

As well as campaign and side missions, Destiny also has an addictive competitive element. Taking the form of various traditional modes (Team Deathmatch, Area Capture etc.) the game’s multiplayer can be both fun and frustrating. I really enjoyed the way the game is balanced to cater for normal weapons, ‘special’ weapons and character abilities. You are constantly earning XP for playing in matches and it is a really solid multiplayer offering – which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the people that made Halo!

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Overall this is a fun shooter with some nice weapon handling and an impressive art style. The content on offer is, sadly, lacking in depth or variety in the long term but as a title to play through and then delve into multiplayer, Destiny will keep you busy for several hours. It certainly feels like a grind at times but the core gameplay is solid enough and coupled with a ‘roulette’ style weapon unlock system should keep you coming back for more. I feel that Bungie have delivered a great foundation to build on but the story itself is lacking, which I hope will be addressed in the next Destiny title.

Rating: 8/10

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Watch_Dogs – Review (PS4)

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Watch_Dogs burst onto the scene at E3 way back in June 2012 and immediately became the poster child for PS4/XBox One games. With stunning graphics and some clever gameplay ideas, gamers marked it as a must buy purchase.

Unfortunately because the specs for PS4/XBox One weren’t finalised at the time, the trailer ended up showcasing a graphical fidelity that wasn’t possible to run in an open world environment. This led to lots of focus on how the game didn’t look as good as that demo. As it’s been such a big talking point I wanted to address this first – Watch_Dogs is a great looking game with some excellent animation. Does it look as good as that E3 trailer? No. But I rarely experienced any drop in performance when playing hectic sections so for me it’s a trade off I’m willing to accept.

The story focuses on Aiden Pearce and his desperate search for the people that murdered his niece while targeting him. While it was definitely nice to see a story like this from a slightly different perspective (it’s his family in danger but not his own wife/children) I still felt the damsel in distress trope didn’t need another airing at this stage. It probably didn’t help that it felt like each time the developers started crafting an interesting relationship for Aiden, the other character would then just disappear for ages. Nicky and Jordi were either underused or wasted and sadly most of the other characters were either a cliche or not that interesting (Aiden included). My favourite character in the game was probably T-Bone and that brings me onto the music of Watch_Dogs.

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Aside from one great moment involving T-Bone and a junkyard (I’ll say no more) that had a killer soundtrack, the rest of the game just felt… disjointed is probably the best word for it. There are no radio stations, just tracks, which means you never know what you’ll get next. While that works in a way, the good thing about the radio station mechanic games usually use is that you can at least tailor the vibe of music you’ll get to suit your mood. I also thought the selection was a bit too eclectic and could’ve done with some more focus.

A strange issue I had with Watch_Dogs was the fact that you can’t move doors once they are open! So if I ran into somewhere to evade an enemy the door to the room would just stay wide open and no amount of running into it/frantic button presses would have an effect. A master hacker/vigilante who can’t shut the door behind him?! It’s not a big issue but it definitely broke the immersion for me at times.

Something I did have a big problem with was the driving in this game – cars shoot away at the smallest hint of pressure on the accelerator and general control of vehicles is poor. This led to several ridiculous moments of (great) intense chases being ruined by my vehicle massively over/understeering (usually into a wall). Admittedly each vehicle did have a slightly different feel but for me personally none of them felt reliably comfortable, or fun, to drive.

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One of the good things Watch_Dogs does is give you control of the city’s huge technological infrastructure, allowing you to hack into security cameras (for a better view and also to hack other objects not in your line of sight), change traffic lights, burst steam pipes, explode electrical outlets and generally cause chaos. This can be done while driving or on foot, which lends chases and firefights a tactical edge. My only issue with this is that sometimes the game gives you the illusion of variety when really it just wants you to complete a mission in a very specific way. When the illusion works though it’s pretty damn cool. As well as hacking things to gain an advantage on the battlefield you’ll also be tasked with accessing computer software for information on targets and the like. This involves a fairly fun (and usually quite simple) mini game where you direct power to cells by turning corners in the mainframe to make the stream flow where you need it to.

Along with the single player component there is also a full multiplayer suite of options though aside from the ‘Invasion’ none of these were of real interest to me. Invasion basically involves the stopping of your single player game (not in mission) because you are being hacked by another (real life) player. They need to stay close enough to you to download your data and you need to track them down and stop them/take them out. It’s a fun mechanic and if you find it annoying it’s optional so you can just switch it off. There is also plenty of side mission stuff and random crime occurrences to keep you busy. I really enjoyed the side missions involving shutting down a human trafficking ring and discovering a crime was occurring in the vicinity and taking down the offender was pretty good fun.

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Watch_Dogs has some genuine moments of great gameplay throughout it’s (quite long) campaign. Unfortunately it shoots itself in the foot by making escaping from the police a chore that is only made worse by some really wonky checkpointing. Making me restart the mission from the beginning every time rather than just checkpointing from the moment I complete the objective and have to escape the cops became soul destroying towards the end of the game. It’s not just escaping from the cops either, several times I had to restart a lengthy firefight from the beginning, which is bad enough but to restart me *before* unskippable dialogue is almost unforgivable.

My experience with Watch_Dogs was equal parts fun and frustration. I’m glad it sold so well because I’m genuinely excited to see what Ubisoft come up with for the next Watch_Dogs title. I hope they can iron out the kinks and make the same kind of leap they did from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II. Watch_Dogs doesn’t live up to the hype but it’s a solid, entertaining game with some messy flaws.

Rating: 7/10

Infamous: Second Son – Review (PS4)

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I am a big fan of the Infamous series and Second Son was one of my most wanted games for the new generation of consoles. With Sucker Punch’s Playstation expertise, could this be an early killer app for the PS4? I wish the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ but despite some fantastic high points, and coming 6 months after the release of the PS4, Second Son still suffers from early console-cycle jitters.

Let’s start with a positive. Graphically I’m not sure I’ve seen a better game… ever. The lighting, the rain, the neon. I could go on and on and before I do stop, I must mention the cutscenes – Infamous: Second Son has some of the most well crafted scenes I’ve ever seen – a testament to the amount of facial motion capture they did. They are also among the best acted, with some great, believable performances.

Gameplay-wise the enemy AI is robust and will not hesitate to flank you and hide behind cover when necessary. Encounters felt challenging but enjoyable for the most part, although there were a few frustrating boss fights thrown into the mix. Luckily, Second Son does a decent job of giving you different options so that you can change tactics on the fly. You begin the game with smoke powers and as the story progresses you’ll unlock neon and a few others (which I won’t name so as not to spoil it). The powers each have a distinct look which is really cool but unfortunately all of them are essentially just the same set of attacks in a different art style. It’s a real shame because it feels a bit like a wasted opportunity – if they had given the powers a genuinely different feel it could’ve been a game changer. As it is they are still fun but you’ll likely find yourself finding a favourite and just sticking with that.

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Second Son tells the story of Delsin Rowe, a graffiti artist turned superhero. Delsin is, unknowingly, a conduit for superpowers – having the unique ability to absorb and use other conduits powers. Conduits have been labelled ‘Bio-Terrorists’ by the government and the D.U.P (Department of Unified Protection) are sent in to capture any conduits they can find. When the D.U.P endangers the local people, Delsin and his brother Reggie (a sheriff) find themselves thrown into a battle with this dark, government force. Along the way you’ll meet other conduits that Delsin can nurture or prey on as you look to sort out the situation he’s found himself in.

The story is fun and the characters are definitely memorable which is why it’s all the more disappointing that great side characters like Fetch and Eugene are barely used. I would have loved to see more missions with accompanying characters so you had a chance to get to know them better. This for me was probably Infamous: Second Son’s biggest crime, especially with how well crafted the characters felt. It felt like a mis-step to introduce these cool characters and then just brush them aside until the final act.

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Infamous: Second Son is a graphical powerhouse that I had a lot of fun playing. It tells a good story in a concise timeframe (around 10 hours) and the animation in cutscenes is something to behold. In spite of all that I do feel that the side characters could have been developed more and while the gameplay is decent, it is more of the same from the last two games. That isn’t a big issue for me but people should be aware it is not with fresh gameplay that Second Son makes it mark… graphically however, it stomps most other titles into the ground.

Rating: 8/10

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MXGP – Review (PS3)

*This piece originally appeared on TheSixthAxis and can be viewed HERE*

MXGP is the officially licensed game of Motocross, featuring all the bikes and riders of the sport. The names were unfamiliar to me as I don’t follow Motorcross but by the time I’d created a custom rider and hit the track I was trying too hard to stay on my bike to worry!

As you would expect from a licensed product, the game has a full suite of modes that enable you to jump straight into a random race, hold a Grand Prix (race weekend), take part in the Motorcross Championship (as your favourite rider) or even start a career with a created rider. There are also online options for a single race, ‘Seasons’ mode or Time Attack, so you are well catered for across the board.

The racing itself is fun with a different take on control – here the left stick controls the bike, with the right stick distributing the rider’s weight. It’s an interesting system but you won’t need to use it much when on the ‘Base’ setting that the game starts you on. Even on the highest level of ‘Pro’ I found it wasn’t really needed for cornering but I definitely had to balance my weight to the front or back going uphill or downhill. If you don’t strike the right balance you will find yourself face down in the mud.

MXGP creates some great crash moments, where your rider will tumble realistically off his vehicle and hit the ground. However I do feel this could be a little bit more refined – on some occasions a very slight knock would see my rider thrown in a very over-the-top pratfall that just didn’t make sense in the context of the crash. Another issue I stumbled across on more occasions than I would’ve liked, was my rider coming off his bike without good reason. This was especially problematic at the edge of the track and caused me a few frustrating moments.

Graphically, the game looks good and you get a nice sense of speed from gameplay. The track deforms as you ride around it, which is a great touch because it can slightly change the racing line in later laps, and even the effect of the wind rustling under the rider’s shirt gives an impression that you are tearing around a racetrack. Unfortunately, on the PS3 version I played, there was some noticeable pop in – I suspect this may be down to the game having to keep track of the deformed race area. It wasn’t a game breaking issue but it did take you out of the moment at times.

As I mentioned above, aside from one off races or championships, the main crux of single player action is the Career mode. This allows you to create your own custom rider and work your way up from MX2 racing to the big time of MX1. This mode will be a big time sink for players because of the way MX rules work – as well as Practice and Qualifying, riders also race the track twice within the weekend (with points awarded for both races).

So, even if you decide to skip the preliminary rounds you’ll still need to get through two races to complete each event. My one complaint about the races was that at times they felt a little too long (especially having to do each course twice) but that’s a personal preference.

The Career mode is good fun though, with you starting out as a wildcard before receiving offers for different teams as the season progresses. You will get team objectives and an additional bonus if you finish ahead of a pre-chosen ‘rival’. The team manager and your agent will often drop you an e-mail to give you updates or set an objective. In addition to this there is also an option to check social media and see what the fans and other riders are saying about you. It’s a nice touch and, along with the post race info on how many fans you’ve gained/lost, lends some depth to the MXGP world.

As well as solo play there is also the option to take on fellow gamers online with a single race or ‘Season’ mode. In a single race you will be battling it out with up to 11 other racers and you will race with whatever number of people are in the lobby. The game also allows players to mix settings in single race, so riders are racing with whatever set up they feel comfortable with. This seems like a smart move as it won’t split the userbase straight out of the gate (excuse the pun).

For Season mode, if you don’t have 12 people in the lobby it will fill the race with AI riders so there are always 12 of you. Points are then distributed accordingly after races. The online was stable, I had one lost connection in 10 races, and there was no slowdown or other visual issues.

Rating: 7/10

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