Tag Archives: microsoft game studios

Project Gotham Racing 4 [Xbox 360] – Review

PGR4

Project Gotham Racing 4 was ostensibly the final game in the series. For the sake of this article, I’m going to pretend Ferrari Edition for the Zune HD doesn’t exist. I have past experience with the series, having sunk a material amount of time into the third entry early on in my Xbox 360 ownership. My memories of that playthrough are gone now, but I’ve always associated quality and differentiation with the series. My recent playthrough of this title backs that claim up further and highlighted a game that has held up, and I presume, will hold up for many years to come.

Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by Microsoft, the series was their answer for an exclusive Xbox racing series before Forza Motorsport. Debuting as a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001, PGR was an extension of Bizarre Creations’ Metropolis Street Racer, released a year prior on the Dreamcast. After Forza’s debut in 2005, the two coexisted for a few years before Bizarre Creations was acquired by Activision. While Turn 10 Studios was chasing realism with the Forza series, Bizarre Creations was always melding the realism of supercars with the sensibilities of a more approachable racing game.

I spent most of my time racing like I do driving, looking out through the interior of my ride.
I spent most of my time racing like I do driving, looking out through the interior of my ride.

In my eyes, one of the most prominent differentiating features of the series are the settings. Rather than rely on established racetracks like most racing games, the developers instead use well-known cities for backdrops. Courses take place throughout city streets and as a result, variations are bountiful. After my dozen or so hours with this title, I had remembered the routes I’d driven throughout the cities, and could piece together the components that different variations shared. When one variation might take a left, another one might go straight, for instance. This practice was an efficient use of the cities, as I was able to race on many variations, with different objectives, and in different weather, making each event feel unique.

The cities themselves were rendered with impressive detail too. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but after a season in the Gotham Career mode, my eyes began to take in the scenery as I’d become more familiar with the courses. The skyscrapers and landmarks that lined the courses weren’t two-dimensional, like the set of a classic western. No, you could look down the intersecting roads and alleys and see well into the distance. The many logos and name brand storefronts that lined the more populous areas made me wonder what went into the licensing process.

Speaking of a headache-inducing licensing process, this game features the largest roster of automobiles in the series, including the addition of motorcycles. Altogether, there are more than 130 available in the game with more added through DLC. Unfortunately, after the studios closure at the hands of Activision in 2011, all DLC was removed from the Xbox Live Marketplace, at least, that’s probably why. Another association I make with the series is a reliance on supercars and this release has them in spades. However, it also fills its roster with a more varied lineup of automobiles that highlight notable examples of many “scenes” with the exception of Japanese tuners.

The cities truly were rendered with a fantastic level of detail. I haven't been to Shanghai, but I know for a fact they have KFC there.
The cities truly were rendered with a fantastic level of detail. I haven’t been to Shanghai, but I know for a fact they have KFC there.

Returning to differentiating features, one of the aspects of this title that kept me hooked were the varied race types. Whereas typical races may comprise the majority of other racing games, they’re only a single event here. Other genre staples are present such as passing checkpoints to keep the clock alive, but I had the most fun with cone-based events, where I was tasked with slaloming through arranged cones. These and many other modes kept my quest for the top rank in the Gotham Career mode fresh, even when that effort got long in the tooth. With that complete, a whole other single player mode was available and went mostly untouched by me.

The game’s arcade mode featured heaps of one-off events where success was graded on a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum basis. These played up the driving with style aspect the series is known for more than the Gotham Career mode did. This aspect being the ability to earn Kudos points for performing stunts on bikes, drafting and drifting, and in general driving balls to the wall. In other words, there’s a lot to keep someone occupied here. And as best as I can tell, the multiplayer component is still available, at least as of a 2013 TrueAchievements forum thread. So the popular Cat and Mouse game type would be available via that method, although finding players may prove difficult, even on boosting forums.

Apparently, John Cena has a side career as an enthusiast motorcycle racer and no, you still can't see him.
Apparently, John Cena has a side career as an enthusiast motorcycle racer and no, you still can’t see him.

I started playing Project Gotham Racing 4 as a change of pace while I sunk seventy odd hours into Lost Odyssey (I still haven’t written a write-up of that!?). It was able to hold my interest enough to branch off into a full-fledged playthrough afterwards, and was enjoyable enough that I’m considering diving into another racing game sooner rather than later. I can walk away from my time with PGR4 impressed with the efforts exerted from Bizarre Creations. It’s still a sharp-looking game today with fantastic backdrops and beautiful interior and exterior car models. Gameplay was fast and crisp, especially from the first-person perspective and I encountered visual hiccups maybe once. Most importantly though the game itself was a joy and there was no shortage of things for me to do.

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Lost Odyssey and My Seeker of the Deep Woes

Lost Odyssey - Nooo!

So, after roughly 75 hours, I’m finished playing Lost Odyssey. That game had me engrossed like few other RPGs before it. I could’ve beaten the game around the 50 hour mark, but thanks in no small part to achievements, I found myself compelled to eke everything I could out of the game. I literally did everything that could be done in the main game save one thing – obtain all items from the treasure chests strewn about the world. This was an achievement, and the only reason I didn’t pop this one was because I fucked myself over roughly halfway in. Most items that are missed later appear in an auction house, and unfortunately I lost the first auction I entered and didn’t realize the consequences of that until much later. Likely, I missed other items too, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten this one anyways.

That’s not the point of this article, although it does provide additional details on my experience with the game. The main point of this article is how I fucked myself over in another way! After beating the final boss and enduring fifteen minutes of ludicrous cutscenes, I was prompted to save the clear data. Actually, I may have been prompted to save beforehand and I’d like to get my facts straight, but no enough to research it, I just wanted to let you know. Anyways, I saved right over my primary save not thinking twice about it. A day later, I decided it was time to do the very last thing on my Lost Odyssey agenda – play through the Seeker of the Deep DLC. But I saved clear data over my primary save. CLEAR DATA!

For those uninitiated with RPGs, and more specifically Japanese RPGs, clear data is generally an unplayable file only certifying that you completed the game. And really, what is the fucking use in that!? Lost Odyssey uses it for new game + purposes, so at least it’s put to use for something. It does me no good however. Reading online, the recommended levels to complete the DLC hover around the 90s, maybe the mid 80s. With party levels in the 70s, it would take me hours of grinding with the other saves to reach a comfortable party level, while loading my primary save starts the game at the very beginning, with a few perks. So, instead of spending a few more hours with Lost Odyssey, I’m finished with it.

Lost Odyssey and My Disc Four Woes

Lost Odyssey - Japan

“Are you kidding me?” I sat there and thought as I kept failing in my attempts to install the fourth disc of Lost Odyssey to my Xbox 360. You see, in the hopes of reducing load times and allowing my Xbox 360 to take it a little easier (less disc spinning should mean moving parts are being used less) I prefer to install any game I play. And, this tactic worked just fine for discs one, two, and three. The fourth disc on the other hand was being a bugbear and dampening my good feelings upon reaching it after 35 hours of traditional JRPG excellence.

So, when I had the opportunity, I took the troublesome disc to a local game shop to have it resurfaced. This, being Friday after work (aka payday) and accompanied by my closest gaming equal Jeff, we made an evening of the trip. As I always say: “it isn’t a weekend if I haven’t bought a video game!” The first stop – Tulsa’s midtown Vintage Stock – was a bust. Their disc resurfacing machine was out of order, but we took a look around nonetheless. Were it not for his suggestion to choose this Vintage Stock location, I wouldn’t have added Rippin’ Riders (Dreamcast), Murakumo: Renegade Mech Pursuit (Xbox), Battle Fantasia (Xbox 360), and Space Invaders Extreme 2 (Nintendo DS) to my collection. In other words, the trip wasn’t completely unfruitful.

Thus we headed to the Tulsa Hills Vintage Stock, with the foreknown knowledge that their resurfacing machine was in order. As it was getting late (around 9:00 at this point) and both he and I (as well as Jenny, back home) were ravished with hunger, I quickly scanned the walls and only walked away with Ferrari F355 Challenge for the PlayStation 2 and the strategy guide for Infinite Undiscovery. The former, in the hopes of comparing/contrasting it alongside the Dreamcast port, and the latter in the hopes of… well, we’ll see if I actually ever get around to playing that game; I mean, I’ve owned Lost Odyssey for a couple of years now, have wanted to experience it since its announcement, and I’m only now getting around to it!

With food retrieved (Chinese, if you must know) we enjoyed our meal with a humorous selection of videos courtesy of YouTube. Afterwards, we proceeded to play the first episode of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones adaptation. Wait… what!? Well, Jeff had just played through it himself and was curious to see how my decisions contrasted with his. Personally, I very much enjoyed what I played. This was my first experience with the newer style of their games, and was a strong reminder that I NEED TO PLAY THE WALKING DEAD! When he vacated the premises to return to his abode, I sat down and set about installing the final disc of Lost Odyssey. And it got no further. Heck, I even tried multiple times, again.

“Okay, what’s really wrong with this disc” I thought to myself. As they generally do, the quick Google search I performed yielded the answer and luckily enough, the solution. It turns out, for the North American and European releases of the game, the clamshell packaging was only made to contain three discs (which I always thought was odd considering the secondhand copy I acquired had all four in the disc slot clearly labeled three). The solution was to place the fourth in a paper sleeve, which, at some point during shipping or storage or whatever, a thin film of grime was produced on this disc, which has proved difficult for most to remove. As I mentioned however, my Google search also yielded the solution, although I was equal parts hesitant and flummoxed at the suggestions: boil the game disc.

As a layman on the structure of a DVD, I was understandably incredulous. However, many disparate sources were suggesting the remedy with as many or more claiming it worked for them. “I can always acquire another copy, or borrow Jeff’s. Surely he still has his copy.” I thought, placating my doubts. And so, I started to boil a pot of water on the stove. As the water was getting to temperature, I tried installing the game yet again in the hopes I wouldn’t have to take such a drastic measure, but no dice. So, with the water at a steady boil, the disc took the plunge.

I held it just at the top for the recommended ten seconds, dried it off on a nearby towel and forced the plunge once more. As it neared the water, the heat emanating from the pot caused it to warp slightly, inflicting second doubts in my mind, but it returned to normal after the plunge. After a moment for it to dry and return to room temperature, I went back to the living room to try yet again; all the while leaving the water on a low boil in case it was needed once more. I sat patiently as the percentage slowly climbed. When the 40% figure was reached, I grew tentative. The Xbox 360 was audibly having difficulty and this was always around the percentage the system gave up. The odd starts and stops soon disappeared and it smashed past 50% and never looked back. I could get on with my life again – problem solved!

Thinking back on it now, there’s surely another reason for the fourth disc to cause so many people issues. I mean, I’ve played games that have been kept in paper sleeves and they worked just fine. Perhaps there was an issue with the manufacturing of the mentioned regions’ fourth disc. If it truly was the paper sleeve, it still comes down to Microsoft as the publisher choosing to skimp on the clamshell case and jury rigging a solution. Whatever the case may be, I can now resume a damn fine JRPG. Plus, I got an interesting story out of this predicament!

Random Game #40 – Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding [Xbox]

Amped Freestyle Snowboarding

Now here’s a genre that has subsided as the cost of video game development has risen. Thinking back to the period that this game was released, both Microsoft and Nintendo had first party snowboarding games, while Sony had the original SSX exclusively, not to mention a few other third-party snowboarding games. This period also saw the bubble of extreme sports video games, which we don’t see as often anymore. I haven’t played Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding, but I recall it (and its predecessors) being well received. A quick scan of its Wikipedia page reveals that it made use of the Xbox’s built-in hard drive. It allowed for entire mountains to be played on (instead of single courses as in SSX or 1080°) and the ability to create custom soundtracks. I’ve always enjoyed this style of game and look forward to playing Microsoft’s answer to the genre.

Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding was developed by Indie Built. The studio had a long history dating back to the early days of commercial PC video games (then known as Access Software), and are perhaps most known for their Tex Murphy or Links series’ of games. This was a launch title for the Xbox, releasing November 19, 2001 in the U.S. Microsoft purchased the studio in 1999, and thus published this game under their Microsoft Game Studios label.

Random Game #13 – Forza Motorsport 2 [Xbox 360]

Forza Motosport 2When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Just yesterday I wrote about R: Racing Evolution and commented that until Forza Motorsport arrived on the Xbox, it was the best bet on that platform. It’s fitting then that I write about this game so soon afterwards. To date, Forza Motorsport 2 is the only title in the franchise that I’ve given extended playtime to. It was one of the earlier games I owned for the Xbox 360 and I played it a great deal. It’s something I still think about returning to in order to clean up some achievements. The game’s damage was something mostly unseen in this style of racing game, as was the graphical customization system, and the breadth of online functionality – including an auction house. It was a feature-rich racing game and one of the early greats of last generation.

Forza Motorsport 2 was developed by Turn 10 Studios and published in North America by Microsoft Game Studios on May 29, 2007.