Best in Class Part: Two / 27th of February 2015
Following on from Gordon’s look at the racing and FPS genres last week, the duty has now fallen upon my shoulders to select another two types of videogame and pick what may very well be the best examples of each. It has taken me a considerable amount of time to decide what genres to tackle, let alone what games to pick, yet, after much head scratching, I think that I have finally made my decisions…
The Sports Game
For this area, I could very well have opted for Visual Concept’s NBA 2K15 (if I’d actually played it, that is), they’ve produced a remarkably consistent series since it made its debut back on the Dreamcast, and whilst NBA Live 15 has made some serious improvements over its predecessor, it’s still simply not polished enough to warrant it being declared the best around (cue Karate Kid music), not as a basketball simulation, and certainly not as the best sports game in the world. Madden was certainly solid as always, and though NHL 15 was a great hope for me, the sheer lack of content available at launch was certainly not cricket (as the English might say), which invariably left me with a far easier choice than I would have initially had anticipated. The honour, therefore, falls upon the stalwart sports game in EA’s oeuvre, FIFA, which again pips the much improved PES yet again for me.
Now, all is not rosy in the FIFA camp as far as I’m concerned, its bias towards English football is quite frankly vomit inducing, but in the developer’s defence, they have at least seen fit to capture the likenesses of the Scottish players who perform there, so Darren Fletcher, despite his many years at Manchester United is finally in the game instead of a generic player model (he’s still very underrated though). It really needs a much higher amount of animation, the blending must be improved, the commentary is diabolical, the soundtrack is an affront to my ears (FIFA ’95 had a cracking score by comparison) and close control/first touch needs some more work to make it easier to beat players without relying on skill moves. The balance of the action on the pitch is off, there’s still far too much reliance upon speedy players to simply leg it past players that the game deems to be too slow to keep up, regardless of how fast they may be in the real world, and on top of this, manager mode is far too simplistic, but – having said all that - it does get some things right!
Scripting has always been a major problem with FIFA, and whilst it definitely doesn’t feel as though it has been taken away entirely (as the team claimed), it definitely doesn’t impose severe handicaps upon players for embarking upon a series of wins as it used to do. The presentation has come on leaps and bounds, visual improvements are rife, crowd audio is excellent, Ultimate Team would be brilliant if it didn’t rely too much upon pay-to-win mechanics and the game’s physics engine is unsurpassed in its field (pun intended). The “living pitch” makes for a more engrossing experience, with a superior crowd, movement around the pitch and a playing surface that deforms over the course of the game, one day, it might even affect the movement of the ball and therefore the flow of the game (one day…).
Ultimately then, FIFA 15, for all of its many flaws is still the finest recreation of the beautiful game on current-gen platforms, until September (or October) that is, when EA deliver us the latest version of their best-selling sports franchise. This one, I hope, will feature an appropriately rated, and head scanned version of Scottish starlet Ryan Gauld, now is that too much to ask? I think not.
The Action Game
When Crytek first showed off their Kinect project, Ryse, for the Xbox 360, gamers were shown a demonstration of Roman warriors doing combat with the player controlling their actions through a limited range of movements that the camera device picked up on. During development, the project shifted platforms to the Xbox One, and Kinect controls were dropped (save for the odd shout of “Fire Volley” and such like) in favour of the redesigned control pad, with the game finally emerging as a launch title for the console, and powered – as it was – by the very latest build of the company’s award winning engine, CryEngine.
Upon its release, the gaming press were more than a tad unkind towards the game, with very few reviewing the game in an honest manner, it seemingly being the in-thing at the time to simply bash the Xbox One for any reason whatsoever, a prime example being the inclusion of micro-transactions in both Crimson Dragon and Forza 5, games where these options exist solely for those too lazy to play them properly. In the case of Ryse, a great deal of the derogatory comments that were levelled at it were directed towards its combat system because it didn’t swell to offer the preposterous combo counts that one would expect from fantasy themed hack and slash titles like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, completely ignoring the fact that the game’s combat system was based entirely upon authentic fighting styles of the Roman army. Likewise, whilst the story may be predictable, Ryse: Son of Rome still presents another progression in Crytek’s ability to craft narrative driven gaming experiences, from its excellent voice acting to the direction of the cut-scenes, Ryse was a significant step forward for the company, but as one would expect from those Frankfurt based geniuses, the strongest area of Ryse was its incomparable visual allure.
When demonstrating early character models for the game, each was comprised of a gargantuan 130 million polygons, this is obviously far too high to feature in an actual finished product, and the poly count for the game’s protagonist, Marius, prior to optimisation was reduced to just 150,000 (to put it in perspective, The Order: 1886 features characters comprised of 100,000 polys), and then further optimised down to 85,000. Where Marius truly excels is in the sheer quantity of blend shapes and joints in his face alone, with somewhere in the region of 26 of the former being present – the higher the number of blend shapes, the more natural it appears when the character changes expressions – making the principal characters of Ryse among the most complex character models ever created.
Of course, the world that the development team crafted around their creations is equally as impressive, with sumptuous, highly detailed environs that vary from the splendour of Rome, to the misty forests of an offensively backwards Scotland (I’ll let it go though as it really is gorgeous), Ryse is a genuine visual spectacle. The lighting is beautiful, especially as the rays of the sun catch the metal of Marius’ uniform or filter through the branches of a stunning looking woodland area, nobody can create foliage quite like Crytek (Remedy come pretty close though), and again it shows here. Whilst The Order: 1886 gets simultaneously slated for its gameplay, yet praised unanimously for its level of visual quality, I cannot help but go back to Ryse and be more impressed by it, not least of which by the fact that it was a launch title and that it was originally in development for the Xbox 360, so what exactly could Crytek really do with the Xbox One hardware given the time? We’ll have to wait and see.
Like The Order, Ryse’s campaign is comparatively short lived, Marius’ tale does seem to miss out a great deal as he makes his way from England back to Rome, where he finds the city is in dire straits, I always felt that Crytek had planned to release additional single player content to fill in the blanks, but sadly that was not to be. However, unlike Sony’s maligned new title, Ryse does offer a multiplayer experience on top its campaign, set within the coliseum, players must slaughter wave after wave of barbarian warriors whilst satiating the crowd’s demands for constant action, doing so will result in higher levels of bonuses that allow the player to purchase additional gear through the money that they earn and level up faster due to a boost in the XP that they garner. There have been several packs released for this mode since launch, though the highly anticipated map editor was not included among them, this would have enabled each player to create their own playlists for the coliseum and distribute them via Xbox Live. At present, Crytek have no plans to follow up this under-appreciated title with the sequel that it deserves, so the chances of this feature ever making it to market are now achingly slim, especially with the company now focused on an array of new IPs, such as their take on the MOBA genre, Arena of Fate.
Well, that’s another two genres tackled, I think, so come back next week to see what we’ve got left to tackle and obfuscate with dimly written observances about a couple of games that we’ve actually enjoyed playing. Not that you’d think that about FIFA…