All round gaming fan, visit my site at www.TeamVVV.com the site is aimed both at the motor racing enthusiast and the gamer, we'll strive to cover every racing title on every format both past and present in unrivalled depth supported with both guides and analysis. So if you're a gamer or a motor enthusiast new to gaming, everyone is welcome to get stuck into the community and share the passion be it 2 wheels or 4. Team VVV will be following all key racing titles through their release and beyond maintaining the community and aiding developers with feedback and support. This will combine with news on all of the major racing, a monthly round up of notable news in both cars and bikes while focusing on major events surrounding both industries, we'll also be cherry picking the best from the world general gaming. Offering news, in-depth features and interviews with major players from both the motor and games industries asking the questions you want answered and putting real gamers and motor enthusiasts in front of the new products rather than just journalists who have no real passion at ground level.
This year we've seen a significant stage in the evolution of the Need For Speed franchise, its now grown to such a level that one game simply can't please all and so the decision was made to break the franchise up enabling a wider range of experiences. This also gave the opportunity to focus those experiences to directly suit the target customer. Barring that in mind the decision was taken to separate the Wii version from the other NFS titles, aimed at a slightly younger audience this will represent yet another new step into virgin territory.
Kicking off with a brief presentation we went straight into a hands-on session and graphically the title is very nicely presented, sharp and bold while running at an impressive 60fps, backed up with a fantastic feeling of speed. The first thing that strikes you about Need For Speed Nitro is its striking artistic approach, combining a well implemented fusion of design, colour and general feel. Cars are all based on real models but altered to fit this slightly surreal racing universe. Featuring a comprehensive car design garage, the colours and designs painted on the car actually alter the environment around you, so whenever a player takes the lead the environment changes to match the colour of that car. You also design your own design / graffiti style which literally paints the town as you drive along. Its a great effect and really makes it worth while when you take the lead and begin overwriting the previous race leader, giving a real urge for competitive racing.
Note how the players car colour and design are reflected in the local environments.
As for handling the game is a complete arcade racer, with car control being basic but effective, simply drive fast, turn in and hit the brake with the car gliding in a very Ridge Racer esque on rails style. So no realism here though there is a car damage system, which racing damage will affect the performance of your car so keep an eye out for the giant floating spanner pick-ups dotted around the course, these are vital to your survival. The other pick-ups you'll see are giant police badges, grab one of these and you can redirect the heat on to a competitor, so while the cops bash them about and damage their car in the process you'll be able to make a few places, of course that swings both ways to prepare for a bumpy rides and some very aggressive cop action. Of course the distinctive art style leads on well to the games many environments, all based in major cities around the world but with a Nitro twist, we look forward to seeing more in the final release including more details on the many vehicles available.
The Wii remote has two forms of implementation, you can either race one-handed then twist the remote from side to side or use the nun chuck to steer, suffice to say I did better with the latter, being rubbish at the twisting motion and feeling like I was straining my admittedly powerful wrists. The game also features some fun 2 player split screen modes, demoed was the Eliminator mode. With the car in last place turning into a cop car and then chasing the field, every 30 seconds another player would become a cop until it all became too much for the front runner, always an exciting mode but the cop element that players always had something to achieve despite being eliminated.
Overall the game looks solid enough, great graphics combined with gameplay carefully tailored to the Wii audience means that this new direction could be the best way forward and demonstrates the quality of EA's support of Nintendo. The length or depth of the game could be its only true weaknesses but as ever EA tend to have these things worked out and Nitro looks like it has the potential to be another Wii winner this Christmas season, Nitro is due out in November with a full review in due course.
But then realised I couldn't embed it :/ so I thought I would list my impressions here and if you're interested you can see my brief hands on video here.
2009 is fast becoming one of the greatest ever years for racing fans but surely it's now an unenviable time for publishers and developers as development costs rise and rivals eat up potential market share, and in particular on the PS3 we have the looming cloud of Gran Turismo 5 hovering over the horizon, the racing landscape is about to change significantly. It's also tough for the smaller developers, last year System 3 released Ferrari Challenge as a exclusive for the Playstation 3 console. With little or no direct competition the title fared well, receiving critical acclaim, it was a solid well constructed racer and supported with regular DLC. This year the plan is to recapture that success with Supercar Challenge, similar in structure to FC but adding a wide range of new motor manufacturers.
VVV Gamer has had a lengthy hands-on an almost final build, again with a polished and classy front end backed up with the usual rousing soundtrack taking you into the initial menu options. Moving swiftly into the racing and of course handling is always key, in many respects it's a similar feel to Ferrari Challenge but with fine tuning, again we'll be looking at this in more detail but FC did a decent job at conveying weight and we'll expect this to do the same. For those of you new to the genre, this feel is critical in the way the car reacts under braking giving the handling more depth and enabling expert players to find new limits within any given cars performance.
Enter the System 3 games room and you're faced with a pretty impressive set-up, 60" TV, playseat and G25 steering wheel (see videos below), it gave a great opportunity to test the real racing pedigree of this new contender, alas the gearstick wasn't attached on this occasion and with limited time to alter button configurations I opted for automatic gears. Kicking off with the Time Trial Mode, jumping into a Zonda and hitting the F1 Nurburgring Circuit it was initially an uphill challenge, the Zonda suffering massive understeer when any power is applied, combined with rubbish brakes and terrible oversteer at slow speeds. Very much a tip toeing experience but switching the wheel to a higher sensitivity yielded greater results and improved lap times, though this was still a mighty and somewhat frustrating challenge.
Following a few installation laps I hit the arcade mode and swapped to an Aston Martin DBR9, with ABS, TRC, and STC on, the first track being Monza, turn 1 resulting in the usual 1 mph carnage but swiftly sorting it out as we got up to speed. However the difference in handling was profound, better grip, more control and more fun to drive. The wheel combined with a decent car suddenly brought Supercar Challenge to life, through the chicane then the long right-hander before the second chicane, this being an area that many FC owners will be aware that a great line here with aggressive exit can get you through at a mighty speed, again you'll see more that in the video I managed to smuggle out below. Towards the end of the lap the biggest challenge and weakness at this stage was keeping the DBR9 straight at high speed, the car beginning to feel light and twitchy creating an imbalance. This makes some bumpy or off camber braking zones very difficult to master in a short time, though the general rule will usually keep you on the road "slow in, fast out", keeping the car as straight and balanced as possible under braking, while barring in mind that as a stock set-up there could be greater performance with some tuning.
Further testing revealing the 599XX as being the car of choice on this occasion, great power, controlled power-slides and more stable down the straights and fantastic in Simulation mode. Choosing the right car will clearly be critical to your enjoyment out of the gaming experience.
As for the graphical approach, there have been a range of alterations, though its debatable at this stage whether they will be better or different? They certainly are solid but some course representations still appear to lack vital undulation and gradient changes. Car models are again decent representations but lack some of the polished shine of potential rivals notably lacking in metallic and alloys, however notable effects such as smoke, dust and rain have real impact and I look forward to testing more in our final review. The sound too was very impressive, accurate and individual engine sounds with a range of gear changing effects, this is supported by detailed ambient sound including both crowd and trackside commentator effects.
A possible jewel in the crown is the inclusion of 16 player online racing, the first racing title this console generation to be so ambitious and a daring step that step should be applauded, but will it work? Over the last 6 months System 3 have been running a beta test for the title and so far so good, of course we'll have to wait for the finished game to see how this stands up to the pressures of mass demand. Not too much more to add till we play the title again but expect a detailed review of the final release, handling analysis besides interviews with key figures involved in the project, in the meantime the official System 3 press release is added below featuring many of the keys aspects you can expect to find, Supercar Challenge is released in the UK on the 4th September.
I feel like a broken record this year, every time a new bit of racing info comes out I go on about how competitive this scene is becoming, of course one of the front runners has now shown its hand. Colin McRae Dirt 2, this being a new evolution of the Dirt franchise and yet again moving further from the games rally routes. Now with the recent announcement of the X-Games partnership it all begins to fall into place, introducing a new style and perspective of where the rally genre is looking to expand its audience to new demographics. I have to admit I'm not a massive follower of the X-Games and hadn't been following the development of the racing scene within, Ken Block is well known as a quality driver but seeing old BMX champs such as Dave Mirra make the leap into automotive racing shows the growing importance of the genre. Of course X-Games is about as American as you you can get, nothing like the standard WRC we all know, they've basically taken the Super Special Stages, combined that with the Race of Champions and then added additional over the top glam with jumps and fireworks, so bigger and bolder than anything you've seen before, and there's no doubt this approach works in finding new audiences. Indeed Codemasters have looked at how best to differentiate Dirt from its rivals in more ways than one going to great lengths in redefining its corporate identity.
The home menu (top) Rally Action (center) Battersea Power station (bottom) but with a hue not unlike the US based courses
So onto the presentation with a commentary by Game Design Manager Ralph Fulton, explaining the basic layout of the game and revealing that this is the result of just 1 years development, a staggering achievement and by the same team that brought us last years commercially successful GRiD title. The game also features the 3rd generation of their in-house developed EGO engine, this clearly becoming a hot property both for racing and fps as demonstrated in the forthcoming Operation Flashpoint, both versatile and impressive in its development and execution. He was keen to point out the artistic approach and design philosophy besides announcing that the feeling from within Codemasters is that this is the strongest racing title they have ever produced, we've had a one to one interview with Ralph and will be putting that up in the coming weeks.
Entering the game and there's a similar 3D world menu process as we've seen in titles such as Grid, every year these are refined and improved, this is no exception with a very polished front end though sometimes it would be nice for the simple menu systems but maybe I'm just being too picky. A range of modes to be revealed in the game and of course we'll go through those in our eventual review.
Moving on to my hands on and I can announce I'm very pleased with the complete redevelopment in the handling, the game now feels much like the older titles in the series, controlling slides with power and and all round a more intuitive feel within the car. I don't feel at this stage that the car conveys weight in the way I would like but that might depend on the different vehicles so its something we'll analyze given more in-depth play. Having said that I did have great fun, the graphics are stunning and provide a fantastic sensation of speed, the final package will no doubt provide a considerable challenge.
This play session also gave the opportunity to test out the 8 player online play and again great fun it was too, rally stages are a good example, you now start with all 8 cars in a queue with 1 released every 5 or so seconds. It reminded me of going to a water tube theme park, seeing your friends dive in and waiting for your shot before meeting them all at the bottom, I sit there seeing everyone power off round turn 1 then bang I'm away. Often gaining on rivals but this style really gave you something to aim for. Next was the full on 8 player races, as you might expect turn 1 can be a tad messy but somehow always entertaining, again something to test more in a relaxed gaming environment.
Overall a very positive event, Dirt 2 looking like the step back to form but walking a very careful line, on the whole I'm very pleased with the handling improvements though can't help but miss the standard rally stages of the earlier titles, of course I could go into huge detail there but instead I'll leave that to our review and interview with Ralph Fulton, in the meantime I've added a video below which gives a good idea of what to expect and I'll be adding a video diary of my progress through the game in the coming weeks.
It occurred to me that I still don't have any friends on here, its must be that that gaming nerd recluse from the 1980's that still lurks deep within or perhaps I'm just too lazy but I will get to it eventually and follow the forum process.
Anyway, more importantly I finally got a long awaited and much anticipated opportunity to have a decent and uninterrupted hands-on at Forza Motorsport 3, I have to admit I've been pretty excited about this game but at the same time not entirely convinced that the package had moved forward. Yes the graphics look superb but what progress had been made with the handling? Had the complete package taken a step forward or was it a little bit of smoke and mirrors? Like all aspects of technology and gaming the benchmark moves very quickly but occasionally something comes along that really exceeds expectations, visually Forza Motorsport 3 is one of these, resulting in a product that simply wasn't possible on the hardware two years ago, but before I ramble on any further its time for some brief reflection around the heritage of the series.
The evolution of the Forza Motorsport franchise
Back in 2004 Forza Motorsport was announced to the world as Microsoft's answer to Sony's behemoth Gran Turismo franchise, a huge project that would tie in XBox live to every aspect and demonstrate the flexibly of online gaming. So important was this that even Bill Gates played the title on stage at the CES 2005, further backing if it was needed and indeed it didn't disappoint, presenting a level of detail detail which blew away any opposition on the Xbox format. It may have only been running at 30fps but exceptionally detailed graphics combined with the most advanced handling model ever seen on a home console title helped Forza Motorsport to exceed all expectations. Sales wise the title did well too but this came at a point very late in the life-cycle of the Xbox, so perhaps wasn't entirely representative of its potential.
VVV were among the first to play Forza Motorsport 2 and helped produce this handy beginners guide
However the franchise quickly built a solid fan-base and with no serious racing titles on the 360 the result was putting even higher expectations on Forza 2, indeed on first playing it I was excited for the prospect, handling seemed a little off, perhaps a bit floaty but with a short few goes and stock set-up it was very hard coming to any meaningful conclusion, suffice to say it was the best racer on the Xbox 360 for that period. But the package didn't match that of the prequel, handling issues and glitches affected its early life, on the whole Forza 2 felt rushed and on meeting Dan Greenawalt I got the impression it wasn't all he wanted it to be with the cost of development weighing heavily on its development process and possibly rushed release.
Move on two more years and we see Dan on stage at E3 2009 presenting Forza 3 with absolute confidence, he conveyed the level of enthusiasm we all know and expect, this is the game he's always wanted to bring to the 360 and it's going to be something special. Now was my first chance to get stuck in and really analyze the improvements this package brings to the table.
The three screen set-up for my hands-on and an Audi R8 I decided to sit in without the owners permission for a laugh
Sitting myself down in the racing seat and starring at the 3 screen set-up I felt like a big bag of excitement, playing on the E3 build, I selected the longest of the Monserrat circuits and opted for a 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, ABS on, TCS on, Racing line - Brake Assistance on, Manual Gears with everything else off. We see the cars revving on the grid briefly before the race starts, the vibrating camera building the intensity of the scene and away we go. Jostling for position before diving into the the dark shadows and tricky mid corner apex of turn 1, I loose a few places before accelerating hard down hill (curiously picking up a penalty for getting some air), braking into a longish hairpin at the bottom I gain a place but suffer some understeer. It was at this point that I felt the feedback for the first time, as the car lost grip I felt a detailed response in traction and relative grip, the car felt good and traction response was superb, back up the hill before two more slow corners and I already felt at home with the controls, relative grip combined with the cars limits of performance for my short term experience were giving great feedback and enabled me to push harder in really getting the most out of the car, already this demo capturing that racing spirit, I was enjoying the driving and pushing just felt like more fun.
Great views and an unparalleled level of detail present in the car models
Following a quick run about on the other circuits in the Ford GT40 I decided to go back and really have a pop at honing the longest of the 3 courses, taking out a Porsche 911 GT2 (997) and turning all assists off. Of all aspects I hoped to see fixed, the ABS would probably be top of my list and thankfully Forza 3 didn't disappoint, indeed it again exceeded my expectations. Racing down the hill to the first hairpin I snatched a wheel and it sent me wide, typical when you change from ABS assistance but in making that mistake I felt clearly when the wheels were turning, going round and up the hill I broke early just over the crest, again feeling the wheels locking under braking but not locking my steering, off the brake, wheels turning and the car was gripping well. Up the second part of the hill and I was really building some speed, this game giving an unparalleled sensation of motion that only 60fps can provide. Braking into the final corner and it was a tricky late apex, the wheels again locking slightly making me cautious and with the Porsche's big ass wanting to overtake me its a corner that seemed to go on longer than you ever expect, round onto the final straight and I was again finding a comfortable balance, 10 laps later and it was time for a muscle car.
Three shots here of the long hairpin at the bottom of the Monserrat hill
Having a search and I opted for a 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8, all assists off I leave the grid and the power is obvious, this car has torque and plenty of it. Taking turn 1 and my back end steps out immediately, quickly counter steering and reducing the power I straighten out down the hill, braking into the apex and the the back end again comes out sending me into a full on powerslide, I hit the opposite lock to control the slide but it's too late and the car spins out. It seems at this point that the car really needs a different set-up to slide comfortably, the stock car giving a driver two options, either come off the power or spin out. Either way it was great fun racing this beast around the track and it gave the opportunity for some really aggressive driving, coming up to the final few corners and I almost loose it but the road is in a heavily positive camber, giving me the grip for a save from a possible heart stopping accident, camber really affecting the cars as it should.
This was just a taster of the final game, we've seen very little so far with a wealth of modes and game options still to be revealed but what I have discovered on this brief experience is that Forza 3 is going to deliver both in handling and graphics. It was exciting feeling just how different each car handled, weight distribution and traction all very unique in their response. Even at this very early stage the game feels right, it feels new and so it's difficult to compare with anything I've played before, that would simply be an injustice, so for now I look forward to getting my hands on future builds before our interview with Dan Greenawalt later this year, in the meantime check out the latest Forza Motorsport 3 shots in my gallery.
So after my Outrun recap I decided to have a bash on Outrun Online Arcade and write a little review too :)
Originally launched in the arcade back in 2003, Outrun 2 came as a refreshing surprise, it represented a brief respite to the failing arcade scene giving a new lease of life while taking a classic title and putting its simplistic gameplay values back in vogue. As for the gaming community, well lets just say everyone was suddenly an Outrun expert, even those who weren't seemingly born when it originally came out. Anyway back the game and it was a pretty straightforward race to the end using a similar structure to the original title. Wonderfully smooth 60fps and a perfect powersliding motion, it may not have been the most critically acclaimed title nor the most financially successful one but Outrun 2 did a solid job and was a worthy official sequel to the 1989 hit.
One of the largest XBLA and PSN titles to date, Outrun represents a new level of quality on what we'll be seeing online taking what is effectively a full game and using the growing direct online retail options. So moving on and the menus though basic are perfectly formed, again walking a strict path with the original title, players are given the choice of Outrun Mode, Heart Mode, Time Attack and online Multiplayer featuring 6 player races with the standard in-game options. Outrun mode being the classic race to the finish of course you can always try the endurance 15 stage option which encompasses every stage environment the game has to offer.
However some of the best fun is to be had on the Heart mode, this was first introduced in Outrun 2 and basically its about keeping your girlfriend happy. She sets a range of tasks and your level of completion depends on her love rating, these tasks include overtaking cars without crashing, drifting through coloured pieces of track, collecting coins or drifting through checkpoints amongst a range of other activities.
However gameplay is not all hunky dory, the control from the original conversion does not appear 100% converted, with overly sensitive commands making it very difficult to turn the car without massive oversteer. There is an option to reduce sensitivity however this brought in considerable understeer resulting in my play experience being unable to find a comfortable balance. Many of these hurdles can be covered with extended play but control is neither ideal nor inkeeping with the Outrun philosophy.
Graphically the game is a solid representation of the arcade but at the same time its somewhat underwhelming, the resolution just doesn't seem that high? There appears to be an odd mist covering the screen, this could be interpreted as a severe lack of anti-aliasing or simply a lower resolution, either way after the success of REZ this is disappointing in the technical department and could have just as easily been sold on the marketplace as an Xbox/PS2 Original and really doesn't appear upgraded to next gen hardware in any way. In essence this is just an emulation and even includes slow-down on the first stage of the Heart Mode, very disappointing and not what we expected.
Overall Outrun 2 is still a fantastic game and fans will always enjoy the challenge, a reasonable price for a full game but its a little bit cheeky to sell an Xbox/PS2 original in this way, I hope that future arcade titles do receive the upgrade treatment we expect, for now though my Ferrari and sexy though slightly moody girlfriend are waiting for a quick spin.
7 out of 10 Outrun Online Arcade is out now both on XBox Marketplace and Playstation Network.
With the recent release of Outrun Online Arcade I felt it would be a good opportunity to look back at the heritage of the series and the aspects of this title that continue made it a classic loved by fans of the genre to this day, besides my own personal and reflective take.
Outrun was originally developed by Sega Amusements for the arcade in 1986, a time when the vast majority or racers were either top-down view such as the Sega’s Monaco Grand Prix or simplistic 3D in the form of Namco’s Pole Position. The objective was simple, to take your girlfriend for a drive in your swanky new Ferrari Testarossa and go as fast as you can making sure in the process that she’s suitably impressed with your manly driving technique. Though for the eagle eyed of you, you’ll notice it’s not actually a Testarossa at all, Sega did not secure the official Ferrari license and opted for a cheeky duplicate, certainly not something a developer could get away with today, with the 2003 release of Outrun 2 featuring the full Ferrari license.
Developed by legendary designer Yu Suzuki, Outrun grabbed the attention of on-lookers with its bright bold and colourful graphics, while providing an exceptional interpretation of speed using Sega’s Super Scaler technology to great effect. As discussed within our feature The Art of Racing, the visual approach was one which dominated the era, the colour palette used within the new generation of Japanese developments giving games a bold and happy feel. The music too was a perfect fit, with this game being the first to give a player the opportunity to choose which track they would prefer to drive to. Sega were obviously very pleased with the result and even went to the extent of including an audio cassette with the home conversion featuring the full soundtrack, this meant players could play the actual theme tune rather than listen to the often appalling chip generated conversions. I have to admit I missed this cassette edition and had to suffer with the best my Amstrad CPC 464 could manage, which was rubbish.
So you’ve got the car, you’ve got the girl, now you need some serious speed and Outrun provided that in buckets, this involved driving recklessly fast on open roads through a wide range of environments split into sections with timed checkpoints. Toward the end of every stage the road would split into two, with the left track pointing to the easier section and the right to the harder more complex routes, fail to reach the checkpoint in time and it was game over. The in-game environments covering pretty much anything you can think of and with some of the tightest time limits ever in an arcade racer it was certainly challenging and on my first impression intimidating too. The furious speed and vicious crashes conveyed through the force feedback really made this a somewhat nerve wracking rush with a high level of skill and concentration required in reaching the games 5 route destination goals. Though I confess I never did manage to reach the goals, Outrun was always more expensive to play than any other cabinet and a tad costly for repeated play. However reach new territory and you could quickly attract large crowds, every section was a journey of discovery, it seems silly by today’s standards but the change in background colour really did cause an awful lot of excitement.
Home conversions were a mixed bag, usually rubbish. From Left: Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, MXS
Outrun immediately became a classic of the arcade marketplace, this was an era when the arcade experience far exceeded that of home systems while representing the beginning of a new era which would prove to be a magical and exciting experience for arcade goers, with cabinets ever increasing their complexity in making that experience as inclusive and immersive as possible. Outrun pushed these boundaries yet further with AM2 leaving no expense sparred in their realisation of cabinet design resulting in the first ever force feedback steering wheel and moving cabinet, a revelation in design, a revolution in execution and an evolution of the experiences arcades were going to be expected to provide.
Between the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s arcade technology would continue to strive forward and provide experiences way beyond that of home systems, the difference between the arcade and home conversion being poles apart. The Outrun conversions suffered too, often woefully inaccurate to say the least, some lacked sound while others lacked colour but all lost that critical feeling of speed. But this didn’t stop the title selling as Sega maximised their in-house development with the world’s first home conversion of the title to their Master System format in 1987, simple yet effective and highly impressive for the time.
Interestingly the Spectrum packaging (left) featured the Ferrari prancing horse
Outrun was a benchmark and though I loved the arcade experience, the home conversions never did it justice. Most were also impossible to complete, but despite that, it didn’t stop me trying and I was always being hopelessly conned when it came to box art, often screen shots of the arcade Atari ST and Amiga versions would be pictured on the back of the Amstrad, Spectrum and Commodore conversions with the now classic phrase “screen shots from various formats”, but it never stopped me wishing for better.
Since its release Outrun has been converted to a range of different formats, and took a further 17 years before we saw a proper sequel. But over those years a range of titles were released using the Outrun name, though none captured the magic of the original they all deserve their place in history and we'll report more on these in a later feature, in the meantime you can can find more in our Outrun gallery.
We've taken the time to find a few helpful videos, the first represents the original classic arcade machine in its original guise, the two offer a glimpse of the kind of conversion to the home you could have expected in that era, suffice to say gamers today have never had it so good.