Sega GT

Gamestyle Archive: now we’re into Xbox territory and we’re kicking off with an import review from Alex who joined us from Gamehub when they decided to thrown in with Gamestyle and take on the world. This NTSC review dates from 2002.

Sega_GT_2002_Coverart

Sega’s last attempt to knock Gran Turismo off the top of the realistic sim-based racers was an ambitious but ultimately flawed title on the Dreamcast a few years back. Despite superiour graphics and a much better structured game progression people just couldn’t deal with the atrocious handling and sluggish first few hours.

Fast forward to 2002 and it’s looking likely that Sega’s brand new racer will suffer the same fate, but this time it really does deserve to do a whole lot better. Up against the likes of Project Gotham and Rallisport, regardless of Sega GT actually being a better game than both of them, it’s unlikely to fly off the shelves mainly due to the reputation of the original Dreamcast version. As with the original, Sega GT 2002’s main career mode features 2 distinct series of races – the Official races (which make up the majority of the game, split into several tiers of 3 races each, with license tests between each level) and Event races featuring such treats as drag racing, circuit battles and races divided up into cars from the last 3 decades, all good stuff and there’s plenty to do.

Again, the path through the game is far more structured (without necessarily being more linear) than the likes of GT3 – you certainly won’t be driving the top-end cars within a few hours in this game – you really do need to be both careful with your cash and more importantly – a good driver. Cash won from races and events can be spent in the much improved garage area – this is (at last) a fully 3 dimensional portrayal of your garage, complete with your current car selection and any medals and prizes you might have won on the walls and the desks. Another neat feature is the ability to purchase items that don’t actually affect your cars – plants, badges, guitars and amplifiers are the first few goods you’ll be able to dot around your own garage and these are in addition to the free photographs you’re able to take of replays after each race that also get pinned up on the wall.

Parts for your car can be bought brand new or for the budget concious there’s also a second hand section where mufflers and tyres can be bought cheaper, although be aware that they won’t last quite as long as the new kit would. And that’s another area where Sega GT excels – damage. Not only can you damage your car (not visibly, sadly) during the races, which then has to be repaired out of your winnings, but you also need to watch out for expensive bolt-ons actually breaking and wearing out. You might well have a highly specification turbo kit installed but if it blows on the final lap and the engine overheats you’ll be in trouble. Far from being frustrating, this just adds another dimension to the garage section of the game which offers you the chance to keep on top of the repairs as and when you need to. The engine parts do make a considerable difference to how the car handles (and sounds) – buy nothing but horsepower and you’ll find the car a nightmare to drive, but play safe with some decent tyres and suspension and a little engine tuning will pay dividends in the long run, and for the record, this version handles much, much better than the Dreamcast version.

Elsewhere there’s a superb Chronicle mode which gives you classic cars and classic challenges to overcome (complete with the colours drained from the display) from the yesteryears era of racing with points win in each stage allowing you to improves parts of the car you selected. The quick battle and time attack do exactly what they say they do and thankfully multiplayer is equally smooth as the single player mode with no noticable lack of graphical detail. It’s far to say that in game, Sega GT looks absolutely wonderful with some superb, incredibly solid car models and excellent environment mapping and whilst the courses themselves aren’t exactly expertly designed in terms of actually being all that fun to race on they are graphically rich and chock full of trackside details and high polygon features – lighting is also top notch and the heat blur from the engines is convincing too and unique to this game.

Sadly it all looks a little bit low resolution and slightly blurry (much like Wreckless) but it moves at a constant 60 frames a second without ever dropping a single frame, even when all 6 cars are on screen and with the game running in anamorphic 16:9 mode. Sega GT’s standout feature however is the sound – whilst the in game and menu music is the usual MIDI-jazz nonsense we always tend to get in these games (you can use your own soundtracks, thankfully) the actual engine sounds are second to none, surpassing even those found in GT3 on the Playstation 2. The sounds are realistic, meaty and clearly definable from one car to the next, and in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound the experience is delightfully encompassing and most definately draws you further into the game.

The sheer number of little touches in the game only serve to highlight the amount of time and effort that went into creating the game, and whilst the loading times can get in the way a little bit (even between menu screens) we have no reservation in recommending Sega GT to anyone who has the ability to play US imports on their Xbox – it’s a superb, long lasting game and one that petrol-heads will no doubt enjoy from start to finish. This review formerly appeared on Gamehub.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Advertisements

Shadow of the Colossus

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a game that has grown over the years in stature. That’s Ico and the follow up which Usman reviews here with much praise. I’ll have to return to Colossus, after Ico I was expecting something else; such was the impact of the original. This review dates from late 2005 being an import version.

Sotc_boxart

Everyone remembers the pre-release hype surrounding the PS2 all those years ago, with buzzwords like ‘Emotion Engine’ ringing somewhat hollow for the first generation of games – well, all except for one: Ico. Its setting, graphical style and atmosphere made it more akin to a work of art than a game. In fact, it was one of those titles where Gamestyle would just stop playing to zoom out the camera and let out a long sigh (a reaction not dissimilar to gazing upon the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo or Da Vinci’s The Last Supper).

Shadow of the Colossus is no less breathtaking; if anything, it’s more so. Imagine taking your PS2 controller to the National Gallery and plugging it into any painting – because each scene and location is like a masterpiece come to life, thanks in no small part to the wonderful animation of your horse and the living architecture of temples, ruins and fortresses. And we haven’t even touched upon the Colossi – true giants that inhabit this landscape. Indeed, their appearance makes Shadow of the Colossus one of the most technically astounding games of this generation. It’s hard to describe the impact they have when you first lay eyes upon them; because it’s not just their overwhelming size, it’s their presence. So much so that when you carry out the main premise of the game (ie, to seek out and destroy these Colossi), each one feels like an epic conquest.

First you’ll stand in awe, just observing them in bewilderment, before realising that these creatures are coming towards you – sensing you’re a threat and driven to eliminate you before you do the same to them. It’s such an overpowering joy being so small, having to evade something so big and seemingly invincible, needing to hunt for their weaknesses; their Achilles heel. The strange thing is you’ll never feel like killing a Colossus out of desire, only out of compulsion (because you need to in order to progress). They come across as a greatly-endangered species, and each time one is taken down it feels like a sin. (And a little bit of Gamestyle’s heart crumbled with every creature’s defeat.) But therein lies Shadow’s strength. It’s essentially a game about riding though barren lands on horseback while fighting enormous bosses – that’s all, and there’s no denying that.

However, it achieves this in such an entrancing and delightful manner that it feels like more; a feeling that Gamestyle has yet to experience in any other game. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus breaks the mould, and calling it a ‘game’ feels like an insult. In fact, for the very first time, the ‘Emotion Engine’ could be justified – because that’s what makes Shadow special, its transparent yet subtle impact upon your senses. For instance, the soundtrack only plays in stereo, but it is so beautiful and captivating that it doesn’t need a surround mode.

The visual beauty, as has already been suggested, is a sight to behold even when viewed through a composite lens – and is actually quite a feat considering the ageing PS2 hardware. Further, in spite of the fact that it features a complimentary widescreen and progressive scan mode (in the NTSC version), Shadow of the Colossus’ normal display output manages to mock the whole hoo-ha about high definition gaming being essential for taking things to the next level, such is the subtle artistry.

For ten magical hours (which is roughly how long the game – er, ‘transformation’ – will last), it is an eye-opener as to what can be achieved with the interactive medium (well, apart from ultra-sharp resolutions of the same old thing). It manages to enlarge its scope from being something which entertains on a functional level to becoming something that emits enchantment and appreciation on a purely ’emotional’ level. Welcome to the next real dimension of the gaming world; welcome to Shadow of the Colossus.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Top Spin

Gamestyle Archive Intro: the joys of tennis were for all, during a brief span of a couple of years on the PS2 and Xbox. Sega of course had their own excellent series as Gopinath explains in this review dating from September 2005.

ps2_topspin

Can a game perceived as a Virtua Tennis rip-off on Xbox still do the business on Sony’s machine more than a year after the original was released? Gamestyle takes to the courts. Top Spin plays very similarly to Virtua Tennis, the least you’d expect from a tennis game these days.

The serves are played using the usual power bar – pressing one button to start the bar going and another to play the serve. You also have the choice of different strokes, backhands, forehands and lobs, and both serves and normal shots are complemented by a risk shot. Pressing the R1 button just before you take your shot or serve activates the risk mode, and you have to aim for the centre of a moving meter. Hit the middle and you’re rewarded with a devastating serve or shot – and the further from the middle you hit, the worse the serve/shot gets (with you sometimes hitting it straight out). The better you’re playing in the match, the slower the meter moves, so when you’re playing with confidence you’re more likely to gamble and win. It’s a nice touch to the standard formula but because there’s always the chance of you horribly messing up a shot, it’s unlikely that you’ll risk using the option often.

Away from the actual tennis, Top Spin has several modes of play, although most of them are standard Virtua Tennis fare. There are the usual exhibition and tournament modes, which can be customised to a large extent (so you can play however you want – including the splendid four-player option). The game’s depth is provided by career mode – another Virtua Tennis throwback – where you can create a player and compete in different tournaments around the world, improve your player’s abilities and earn some cash. Your player can be customised to a large degree, so you can create a very good representation of yourself if you have a photo or mirror nearby; an excellent addition to the PS2 version is EyeToy compatibility, so you can map your actual face onto the avatar. The customisation even goes as far as allowing you to choose which hand your player hits with, your style of play (power, precision etc.) or whether you prefer a one- or two-handed backhand.

At the start of the career mode, you have several options: you can choose to train with different coaches to improve various stats already bolstered by the mini-games (unfortunately, the developers didn’t study Virtua Tennis enough, as the mini-games aren’t in the same league – although they are entertaining the first few times); you can also play in several tournaments (which are limited at the beginning) and the better you do the more tournaments you can enter. To stand a chance, however, you have to spend quite a bit of time playing the training games to improve your player’s stats. Lastly, you can also try and bag yourself a sponsor (including real companies like Reebok and Adidas) who will provide you with cash (to pay for those expensive coaches) as well as fame and some nifty licensed equipment. Virtua Tennis… erm, Top Spin features a good variety of stadiums to play in – and includes all of the expected playing surfaces (which range from large courts like Wimbledon down to local courts next to your car parks).

Top Spin was the first Xbox tennis game to feature online play, and although it is very similar on the PS2 version, it lacks the great support of an online environment like Live! (however, this isn’t the developers’ fault). Since online PS2 tennis games are few and far between, this feature could well prove to be a great selling point for Top Spin, and fortunately it is implemented well; you can choose to look for a particular game or you can just join wherever someone’s free. Sony’s ageing hardware has taken its toll on Top Spin, leaving this conversion with decent graphics but not much else. A lot of the court textures look flat and the players are slightly angular (although it doesn’t detract from their life-like animation and appearance). Finally, the light sources don’t always correspond to the nice-looking shadows they cast.

The sounds are perfectly acceptable, with all of the usual grunts and groans, and a point of note is that the judge sounds very similar to the one featured in the Megadrive’s Pete Sampras ’96 (or perhaps we’re having flashbacks). The biggest problems with Top Spin are the incredibly bad loading times. It takes far too long to load up a match, considering how average the presentation is, and the transitions between menus are tedious. The developers have done a decent job, but not much more than establishing this as a good Virtua Tennis rip-off (with added online play and longer loading times). The best feature and probably the biggest selling point of Top Spin (at least over Virtua Tennis) is the online mode, so unless you plan on taking this online, grab a copy of the other title – the one which Gamestyle managed to mention eight times in the course of this flattering review.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10