Game Review: HyperParasite

Well this is it, the start of a new year. A quick outline for 2021 from me before I get into this review. I have quite a lot planned for 2021, more books, with a new gaming book to be published this summer. My first gaming book, MICROBRITS is still available on Amazon. More articles, including me finishing my gargantuan GamesMaster retrospective that I started last year. More writing in general. I’m also currently messing around with giving this blog a facelift too, a new design just for a change, which (when I make up my mind) will be ready in a week or so.

But my first blog post of 2021 is a game review… a game that is several months old already as it was released back in April of 2020. I do have a reason why I’ve only just gotten around to this though. The truth is that I never really intended to review HyperParasite at all. In fact, I never even really knew about it until my pal Badger over at Stoffel Presents (his review is right here) kept going on about it. He reviewed the game back in April, 2020… that’s how behind I am with this. Anyway, I kept seeing Badger talking abut HyperParasite on social media, and his continual praising of it. As of writing, I’ve not even read his review yet, I want to get mine done first before see what Badger thinks. But as for the last eight months, he has been lauding the game a lot, even calling it the best indie game of 2020. So, I just thought that I may as well give it a go myself. With that out of the way, on with my review.

As I get older, I find myself less drawn to the big AAA games released today. Instead, I find most of my gaming enjoyment comes from smaller indie titles. I mean, the side-scrolling, action rouge-lite game, Dead Cells was released in 2017, and I’m still playing it today. For an indie game, that’s a hell of a lot of longevity. There are some really great games in the indie market (some not so good ones too) that often get overlooked, but is HyperParasite one of those great gems?

From developer and publisher Troglobytes Games comes this fast-paced, action packed shooter with a very eighties flavour. Using the now very much ‘on trend’ rouge-lite gameplay mechanic, HyperParasite is a top-down, twin-stick shooter where you play as a parasite. Basic? Yes. But like an alien taking control of a human, there’s a lot more going on under the skin.

So the plot for this is (as mentioned) you playing as a parasite, an alien with the ability to take control of humans. As the alien is pretty weak (one hit deaths) you seriously need those human host bodies to complete your mission. And your mission is it to take control of the POTUS and then press the ‘big red button’ to take out the human race. Oh yeah, you’re the bad guy… or bad alien. With this being a rouge-lite game you will die… a lot. That is the very nature of the sub-genre, you die, you make a little progress, you die, you learn more of the game, you die, you get a new upgrade, you die. Rinse and repeat… and die. It is this trial and error gameplay mechanic that turns a lot of people off, if they don’t understand what a rouge-lite game is like. It can be frustrating, it can be annoying and many games in this sub-genre get the balance wrong between being frustrating but also fun. Thankfully, HyperParasite strikes that balance right, almost perfect in fact.

If you’ve ever played a twin-stick shooter before, then you’ll know what to expect. The controls are simple, one stick moves your character, the other aims your weapon, then you have a button to shoot. But don’t let that simplicity fool you, cos HyperParasite is tough, very tough. Every time you die (and you will), you go back to the very start of the game. There are no save states, no checkpoints, this is permadeath territory. So this is where the whole being a parasite comes in handy as every time you take control of one of the humans, that acts as an extra life. Each of the humans have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own unique weapons and stats too. This element of taking over humans adds a wonderful element of strategy to the game. Do you go for a long range human, who will be less accurate with their attacks, or do you go for a close range/melee and stronger attack putting you closer to the danger? Then you have to take into account you target’s speed, some humans are quite nippy, others lug about, but may have other talents that will prove helpful. Then there’s the luck stat, as the higher the luck is, the more likely they are to find decent loot, loot that will come in very handy. I love this aspect of HyperParasite, this level of thought instead of just running around gung-ho. You really do have to think about which human to take control over for specific situations, be very aware of each of the character’s unique skills. For instance, I tend to like using the fast ninja character with high luck to get my hands on some much needed in-game money. But his attack isn’t great and going up against an end of level boss with the ninja will often result in death, so I’ll swap out with a more robust and weighty character for a big showdown.

HYPERPARASITE TITLE CHARACTERS

Aside from the basic shooting and taking over humans, there are a few other tricks at your disposal. You can dodge, use special attacks (when in control of a human) and more. There are upgrades to be found or purchased from the in-game shop. It is also this shop where you can unlock new humans to take over. You start out with only four, but as you massacre your way though the areas of each stage, you’ll find the brains of those you have killed dropped by stronger versions of those characters. Take said brain back to the shop and that will unlock that human, but you then have to use in-game money to buy the human to make them available to take control of. You can also store up to three human bodies at the shop for use later (see my swapping out the ninja point above). This is an extremely handy feature as you can keep hold of some of the harder to find characters for use when needed. Speaking of the humans, I think this is a good time to talk about the game’s setting.

As I mentioned at the start, HyperParasite is set in the eighties… and it’s not shy about that either. Aside from the very neon looking 16-bit stylised graphics, there’s also a rather impressive electronica/synth-pop soundtrack, it sounds like something from a Chuck Norris/Cannon, direct to VHS film… and it’s glorious too. Then there are the sixty-odd humans in the game you can control. Some of them are fairly generic, but a lot of them are obvious (but non-copyright infringing) eighties pop culture character references. Each of the five acts in the game have their own unique setting and graphics. As an example, the first being ‘Downtown’ with its grimy and sleazy back streets, where you will cross paths with the likes of Delivery Girl (Paperboy from the game), Ghost Hunter (Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters) and Drug Lord (Tony Montana from Scarface) to name a few. Each act has three sub-bosses that needs taking out too, and yes, these are also eighties pop culture references. Just sticking with the Downtown area for this bit, you will have to face the likes of an off-duty detective (John McClane from Die Hard), a Rocky Balboa parody and my personal favourite sub-boss character, Michael Jay Wolf, and if you need me to point out who that’s supposed to be, then you didn’t grow up in the eighties. The eighties references even extend to the background details, posters on the walls parody famous films of the decade, there are some really cute little details in the in-game shop from eighties toys to film and gaming references.

HYPERPARASITE TITLE CHARACTER ALMANAC

Being a rouge-lite game and the fact you will die… a lot, could begin to grate after a while. But like all good rouge-lite titles, every time you do restart, everything is procedurally generated. So each time you play, you play a different game. The act layouts are different, the items found are different, upgrades are different, the stock in the shop is different, the sub-boss you will face is different and so on. What you basically have to do in HyperParasite is it make your way though the acts, which are split into multiple different areas, kill all humans in an area and move onto the next. Clear all areas, all humans and the sub-boss character to go onto the final area, which will be the main boss of that stage. Kill the end of act boss and move onto the next act… simples. But you have to lose to advance, it’s straight up impossible to go from the start of the game to the end on your first try, it’ll be pretty damn difficult to do it on your hundredth try to be honest. I’ve lost count of how many times I have died and restarted, and I don’t even care to be honest.

With five different acts to clear, each with their own set of unique characters to unlock based on each act’s setting. You’ll find yourself going from Downtown with it’s grimy back street look to Chinatown with a certain Kurt Russell film influence (and yes, Jack Burton is even in the game… sort of) and an Industrial area where you’ll meet a Robocop, Mario and a Toxie The Toxic Avenger parodies… and I don’t know what the last two acts are as I’ve not got to them… yet. But I can use the in-game almanac to see the characters you’ll meet. There’s Crocodile Dundee, Rick Deckard, Xenomorph, Ash Williams, Mr. T, John Matrix and so many more fun eighties pastiches to unlock. It’s also worth reading their bios for some funny references and jokes. Each of the five acts also has a loads of secrets to discover along the way, like underground areas and hidden upgrades. There’s plenty here to keep you coming back an exploring, even if you are playing the same (procedurally generated) areas over and over again. 

HYPERPARASITE ACTION

Well now I’ve got how HyperParasite works out of the way… did I enjoy it? Let me put it this way, when I got my review code, I put it on for an hour just to see what it was like. Played that hour and that was it, I got an idea of the game. The next day, I played for another hour and that’s when I began to get a feel of the whole rouge-lite mechanics and unlocked a few more characters. The next day, I told myself I’d play another hour then begin to outline this review. I began this hour long play at 8PM, the next thing I knew, it was 3:30 in the morning. HyperParasite is one of those ‘just one more go’ games that sucks you in, and that ‘one more go’ often becomes several dozen more goes, and an hour becomes seven hours. Since getting my review code, I’ve been playing the game every day, hours at a time… I’m officially hooked. Even more so, though I was given a review code for the Xbox (thanks to Troglobytes Games), I still bought the game on Steam regardless. I tend not to buy games that I’ve been given for free as there is little point, but I have with HyperParasite because I really want to support these guys and hope to see more from them in the future… and it means I can have a cheeky play on my laptop when I should be working.

I adore this game, adore it. Seriously, I have fallen in love with this beautifully crafted piece of software. It is sublime, balanced and frustratingly hard… in a good way. I mentioned my friend Badger at Stoffel Presents at the start of this review, he has said that HyperParasite is the best indie game of 2020 (a lot) over the last few months. That’s a statement I simply can not argue against, but I’m willing to go one better. I think it’s the best game I played in 2020, indie or otherwise. If the team over at Troglobytes Games can keep updating this with new features, areas, weapons, enemies, etc, then just maybe this could be my new Dead Cells and I’ll still be playing it three years later?

I may be late to the party with this one, but it’s a hell of a party to be at. My only niggle is that I had to stop playing HyperParasite to review it. A niggle I’m going to rectify as soon as publish this.

HyperParasite is fast, frantic, frustratingly-fun, frolicking fare. A must buy for anyone who enjoys a good, well balanced rouge-light game. Just buy it now.

Be Like Water: 80 Years Of Bruce Lee

Eighty years ago, on the 27th of November, 1940, Lee Jun-fan was born. The world didn’t know it then, but a legend had graced the Earth. ‘Legend’, a word I’m not very keen on using myself, as I often find it is over and very much misused by so many…

CHICKEN LEGEND

Still, when talking about Bruce Lee, legend is the absolute perfect descriptive to use. Today marks, what would’ve been, Bruce Lee’s 80th birthday. Now, there’s pretty much nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written and said about the Little Phoenix a hundred times over already. I see little point in writing up a mini-biography to remember someone who’ll never be forgotten. So what to write about? Well, seeing as this is a movie and gaming blog… that’s exactly what I’ll look at. Bruce’s legacy on both the silver screen and in digital form too. So here it is, Bruce Lee’s legacy on film and in gaming.

The Movies

Okay, so I’m not going to get into Bruce’s very early career. He was in quite a few films as a child actor in China before becoming world-famous. Bruce also featured in several T.V. shows when he continued his acting career in the U.S. Most notably, playing Kato, the sidekick to The Green Hornet, which featured an awesome intro tune. Lee’s role may have been relatively small, but it made a hell of an impact. In fact, when shown in Hong Kong, the series was retitled The Kato Show. Lee struggled to find main acting roles in the U.S., so he returned to Hong Kong in the early seventies to star in his first ‘proper’ feature film, The Big Boss.

THE BIG BOSS POSTER

Now, I can’t remember exactly how or when I was first introduced to Bruce Lee as an actor. My dad used to be big on martial arts and my middle name is Lee, named after Bruce. I’m sure he must’ve watched Bruce Lee films a lot and I most probably watched them with him when I was a toddler. No idea what was going on or who that Bruce Lee fella was at the time. Still, I most definitely became a fan as I got older. Anyway, in The Big Boss, Bruce played Cheng Chao-an, a young Chinese man who moves to Thailand to live with his extended family. Cheng gets a job at an ice factory and when an ice block is accidently broken, Cheng’s cousins discovers drugs hidden within. The Big Boss of the factory wants to keep his drug smuggling ring quiet, so he has Cheng’s cousins killed. When Cheng learns about all that has happened, he goes out for revenge.

FIST OF FURY POSTER

Next, Bruce starred in Fist of Fury, and right now, I’m just going to say that this is my favourite Bruce Lee flick, I’m watching it as I write this article. Bruce plays Chen Zhen, who upon returning to his old martial arts school, learns that his master has died. During the funeral, Japanese students taunt Chen Zhen and the others. Not wanting to disrespect his recently deceased teacher and under the scrutiny on the school’s most senior student, Chen does not retaliate… yet. After the funeral, Chen goes to the school of the Japanese students and gives all of them a damn good kicking. This starts a war between the two schools that leads to more violence and Chen Zhen learns exactly what happened to his master.

WAY OF THE DRAGON POSTER

Way of the Dragon was Lee’s third major film… and the last released while he was still alive. Bruce Lee as Tang Lung travels to Rome to help out his relatives, who are being harassed by a local crime boss. Tang, who has lived in China all his life, is very much a ‘fish out of water’ in Rome. His family that he has been sent to help think he’s next to useless. But when the gangsters turn up to cause some trouble at the family restaurant, Tang Lung sends them packing. Of course, this just annoys the crime boss who hires a world renowned martial artist, Colt (Chuck Norris) to take Tang out.

ENTER THE DRAGON POSTER

Finally, we have Bruce’s most famous picture, Enter the Dragon. Bruce plays Mr. Lee, a Shaolin martial artist who is asked to take part in a high-profile martial arts tournament by a British intelligence agent. Crime lord, Han is the person holding said tournament and Lee is tasked to find evidence that Han is involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. He also learns that one of Han’s henchmen was responsible for his sister’s death. Which sloppy synopsis does a bad job of describing one of the most important films ever made. Enter the Dragon premiered in Los Angeles just one moth after Bruce’s untimely death in July of 1973.

And that was it, no more Bruce Lee starring films were ever released. Well okay, there was one I guess. Honestly, I’ve sat here debating if I should include the atrocity that is 1978’s Game of Death. It’s not that it’s a bad film… more so the fact that it’s just a really fucking disrespectful insult to Bruce Lee fans, his family and even the man himself. For those not in the know, Game of Death was a film that Bruce was working on before he died. In fact, he was working on it before he filmed Enter the Dragon. The film was never finished, but Bruce planned on it being a deep and insightful look into Lee’s beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts. But what happed after Bruce’s death was that people got greedy and wanted to make money. What footage Bruce had shot for the film before his death was heavily cut down to almost nothing. The deep and meaningful plot Bruce wanted was thrown out for a bog-standard kung-fu flick. Actors were hired to replace Bruce to shoot the film. And what we got was a cheap and lousy hack-job of a flick that bared no relation to Bruce’s original script notes and concept. Oh yeah… it also included actual footage from Bruce’s real funeral. That’s how disrespectful this film was.

GAME OF DEATH

The only saving grace of Game of Death is the edited footage that Bruce actually shot himself… of which, there really is very little in the final film. Still, a few years back and all the footage Bruce shot was found in archives, restored and shown. It’s available from several places if you look around. Trust me, this raw, unedited footage is far, far superior to the actual released Game of Death film. In fact, the only reason I finally decided to mention this monstrosity of a film was just so I could highlight this footage. It’s very much well worth a view. 

The Games

BRUCE LEE C64

Surprisingly , given the man’s massive influence and attraction, Bruce hasn’t been in many video games over the years. The first was the 1984 game, Bruce Lee. A classic action-platformer where you control Bruce who has to navigate the many chambers and obstacles of an evil wizard’s tower. Look, plot-wise, it make no sense (yet still better than Game of Death), but it’s gameplay was top-notch stuff. Fast action and one of the most fondly remembered games of the era.

BRUCE LEE LIVES GAME

Next we have Bruce Lee Lives: The Fall of Hong Kong Palace from 1989. Playing as Bruce, you fight various martial arts students and henchmen of the evil Master Po. It’s a one on one fighter that pretty dull to be honest. Interestingly, the game came bundled with the biography book, Dragon’s Tale: The Story of Bruce Lee, which was written by Linda Lee.

DRAGON BRUCE LEE GAME

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story from 1994, was a game based on the biographical film of the same name. Another one on one fighter… or more accurately, a one on two fighter. The game follows the main action of the film closely with little snippets of the plot in between fights. It was actually a pretty decent fighter, depending on which version you played. Plus, you got to whip out Bruce’s trademark nunchaku and smack people in the face with them.

QUEST FOR THE DRAGON

2002’s Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon was a scrolling beat ’em up that plays out like an unreleased Bruce Lee film. Basically, Bruce has to take on an organized crime organization known as Black Lotus. It’s also pretty damn awful too. Terrible controls, awkward camera angles and more make this a real disappointment.

RETURN OF THE LEGEND

The last ‘proper’ Bruce Lee game was Bruce Lee: Return of the Legend also from 2002. Again, presented as a movie with Bruce playing a character called Hai Feng. It tells a very basic ‘you killed my teacher’ revenge story that’s rather bland. But the game itself is actually pretty damn great. A side-scrolling, platform, beat ’em up thing that has a lot of character. Bruce, or Hai has loads of moves at his disposal, including iconic Bruce Lee moves. Easily the best Bruce Lee game ever made, as well as being the last one too.

Seriously, that’s it. Only five games based on this legend… five! Though Bruce did feature as a fighter in EA Sports UFC 2 from 2016. But still, only five games starring Bruce Lee? The man needs more games based on him. Well I guess I could just quickly mention a few Bruce Lee-like characters from other games. Fei Long from Super Street Fighter II, Marshall Law in Tekken. There was Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat and Kim Dragon in World Heroes. Oolong from Yie Air Kung Fu, plus Jann Lee from Dead or Alive. The list goes on and on. There are actually more Bruce Lee inspired characters in games than Bruce Lee games. That’s both brilliant and disappointing at the same time.

As a keen gamer and Bruce Lee fan, I want more Bruce Lee games. Here’s an idea off the top of my head. Seeing as every one on one fighter has been inspired by Enter the Dragon, why not an actual Enter the Dragon game? Or maybe a game where you follow Bruce’s film career? A game that actually delivers on Bruce’s original concept for Game of Death? Come on game publishers and developers, give this legend a game worthy of his name.

Anyway, that’s about it for me on what would’ve been Bruce Lee’s 80th birthday. I don’t really have a suitable sign-off or clever, insightful remark to leave you with… so I’ll let Bruce handle that for me.

BRUCE LEE WITH HIS KIDS

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

– Bruce Lee

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Anti-Snowflake Rant

Now, I’m all for equality and believe people shouldn’t discriminate against others. But recently, it has started to become increasingly more and more tricky to maintain that ideology. The rise of the snowflake generation is seriously something I believe that needs to be fought against.

See, I recently came across this article. Please do give the article a read, but I’ll give you the general gist anyway. So, basically some waste of sperm on Twitter has said that a description of a fictional character in the game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla  does not promote equality, that the character’s facial disfigurement is wrong, that using the word ‘disfigured’ is unacceptable.

There was a little extra to the message, where the idiot claimed their girlfriend, who just also happened to have scars on her face from burns, saw the description in question and was upset. Accusing the description as being ‘ableist’. but that follow up message seems to have disappeared, or at least I can’t find it now. Worryingly, Ubisoft, the makers of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla have folded instantly promising to remove the ‘offensive’ descriptive in an update. 

AC TWITTER

My question is… seriously? 

This is an Assassin’s Creed game right? An adult series of games that use historical settings and characters to tell the story. Games that are notably full of violence, murders, blood and gore… but describing a fictional character, who has been horrifically burnt as being ‘disfigured’ is a sore point? Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, as the title suggests, is set during the Viking era. The Vikings weren’t exactly known for their pleasant behaviour. I mean, here’s a little taster of the kind of gameplay the game has:

Notice the rating at the start for mature audiences? If you want to just skip to the 3:55 mark and the ‘fight’ part of this video, you’ll see just how bloody and violent the game is. People being murdered with a hatchet, throats get cut open, swords are used to decapitate people, axes are thrown into bodies, animals are hacked to death and so much more. Here’s a quote taken from that very video:

“Making a game about Vikings, we really wanted to deliver on the brutality of the combat.”

And they do indeed do just that, brutal is the perfect way to describe the fighting in the game. It’s full for blood and gore… yet the describing of a burn victim as being ‘disfigured’ is an issue? The word disfigured is the absolute perfect descriptive to use here too. Not just perfect, but also, not in any way offensive, nor does it suggest ableism either. Not once in the deception in question does it even slightly imply that the character is in away way impeded by the disfigurement… so where is this alleged ‘ableism’ then?

SIMON WESTON

Allow me to introduce you to Simon Weston. A man who fought in the Falklands War, where he suffered horrific burns after the ship he was on was bombed. Forty-eight men were killed and ninety-seven wounded. One of those being Simon Weston, who suffered burns to almost half of his entire body. Long story short, and Weston went on to be one a huge personality on TV and radio, he’s done amazing work for charities, become a spokesperson for veterans and been awarded countless awards and honours. A man who suffered some truly horrific burns… yet he refers to himself as being disfigured.

Now I know one was hero does not speak for every burns victim on the planet. Just as one idiot on Twitter also doesn’t speak for every burns victim on the planet either. I just wanted to show that being a burns victim and being disfigured does not equate to ableism.

Even more insulting is that, if you want to check out the Twitter profile of the delicate little snowflake who ‘complained’, they’ve promised to ‘ruin’ other games (his words, not mine) in a similar manner. This prick isn’t fighting for equality, he just wants to throw his toys out of the pram, cry and be noticed. Certainly someone who shouldn’t be playing an adult rated game. And yet, Ubisoft have given in without even the slightest argument, apologised and said they will remove the ‘offering’ description. It’s pathetic. Yet, as I write this, Ubisoft have not responded to my similar complaint about the game…

What kind of example does giving into Twitter idiots set? All Ubisoft are doing is opening the door to more and more asinine complaints. Now, I’m not saying that genuine complaints shouldn’t be made or investigated, cos they should. Just that, this kind of crap should be thrown out by  companies like this. It all reminds me of another Twitter idiot who got a sandwich pulled and then renamed from a shop because it was ‘sexist’ because it dared to use the word ‘Gentleman’s’ in its name. .. but products with female associations were fine? Just getting back to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, so if someone with facial scaring can not be correctly described as being disfigured, where does it end? Will we no longer be able to describe people as having ginger hair, no longer can we call people short, describe their gender (we’re almost there anyway), can’t mention eye colour?

I actually have a sneak-peek at the next Assassin’s Creed game, an exclusive for my readers. It’s going to be called Assassin’s Creed: Snowflake. It’s set in 2020 and you don’t play as a ruthless assassin any more, you play as a Twitter user who pretends to be offered over nothing just to get attention. There are no weapons in the game, just a laptop that you use to send inane Tweets to game publishers and their employees  in order to get them to censor their work. In fact, I even have an exclusive description of the first target you go after in the game:

Human, no features, no gender, no  hair, no height, no anything. Just a human.
FACELESS

This is seriously worrying. You don’t dictate to artists or pressure how they should create and present their art. When things like this happen, it’s another step in the wrong direction. I’m against censorship on any level (legalities aside) and giving into an obvious pathetic Twitter troll is not the way forward. But here’s the thing, I’m not so much annoyed at the Twitter knob who started this whole thing, but more annoyed with Ubisoft themselves for just rolling over and taking it up the arse from said Twitter knob. There is NOTHING offensive about the description used for this fictional character in this overtly violent game. And if anyone is going to be offended by correctly describing a factional character in a game as being ‘disfigured’, then you seriously need to get a new hobby. One prat moans on Twitter and changes have to be made… but what about the other several million people playing the game… or does Twitter set the standards now?

“Writers for games and otherwise need to do better.”

No, Twitter wankers like you need to just fuck off, you snowflake twat.

So, I’ve decided that if Ubisoft are going to pussy out and change the non-offensive and completely correct descriptive of a fictional character in an overtly violent game set in the Vikings era, chock-full of killing, that I’ll not be buying the game or any Ubisoft title now. I have my own moral compass and I quite honestly can’t give money to a studio who panders to snowflakes like this. This also goes for any other publisher who wrongly decides to give into Twitter bullies. I’ll spend my money elsewhere instead.

 

Game Review: Dirt 5

As one of the world’s greatest radical free thinkers, moral philosophers and finest word-smiths ever once stated:

“Wanna get rowdy.
Gonna get a little unruly.
Get it fired up in a hurry.
Wanna get dirty.
It’s about time that I came to start the party.
Sweat dripping over my body.
Dancing getting just a little naughty.
Wanna get dirty.”

– Christina Aguilera

Yes, I do ‘wanna get dirty’ Christina and I am going to too, as I look at Codemasters Dirt 5, the latest in the Dirt franchise of racers.

This series of games has a bit of a confusing past. Originally a spin-off from the successful Colin McRae Rally franchise and called Colin McRae: Dirt. The Colin McRae name was dropped after 2009’s Colin McRae: Dirt 2 following the tragic death of McRae in 2007. The games then just became known as Dirt (insert number here). But just to make things that little bit more confusing, the Dirt series had it’s own spin-offs too, Dirt: Showdown, Dirt Rally and Dirt Rally 2.0. All in all, there have been a total of seven Dirt games (even more if you include the original Colin McRae titles) in the series, not including this new one, Dirt 5, which is the eighth game. Make sense? Anyway, about the game itself.

The Game

As the title may suggest, Dirt 5 is not a ‘normal’ racing game. You won’t find a showcase of exotic supercars and famed race circuits here. No tearing around Monza in a Ferrari F-50 à la Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. This is all about off-road racing, not necessarily rallying as such, just not racing on roads and race circuits. In fact, there isn’t any actual proper rally mode in Dirt 5. What you get instead are various disciplines/events based on off-road racing, but more on those later. First up, what does this game offer?

Well, if you’ve ever played any notable racing game in the last few years, then you’ll pretty much know what to expect here. You’ve got your basic game modes. Arcade gives you both Time Trial and Free Play. Time Trial gives you the choice of any of the cars and tracks, then it’s just you against the clock, going for fast times. This is a great way to get used to the tracks and cars without having to worry about winning (or losing). Free Play races are a single race events on any of the tracks. With both Time Trials or Free Play, you’re given a decent amount of options to customise your experience too. There are ten different locales to choose to race in including (but not only) Brazil, Greece, Morocco, USA and South Africa. Then each locale has from four to twelve tracks/events to race. You can customise each race with what class of car to use (super lites, modern rally, cross raid, 80s and 90s rally and more), with each class having multiple cars to choose from. Then you can change the weather, clear skies, rain, snow or dynamic weather. Select the time of day from dawn to night racing, you can also choose the speed at which time passes.

You can even customise your chosen vehicles. Change its base colour, add patterns, decals, sponsor logos and more. It’s not exactly Forza Motorsport levels of car customisation, but to be honest, that kind of deep car design isn’t really needed here. What is here, is quick and easy to use. You’ll be making your own custom liveries in no time with little to no fuss.

DIRT 5 ACTION

There’s a great mode called Playgrounds, here you get to drive around and have fun in custom made Gymkhana arenas. Don’t know what Gymkhana is? Well just click this link, but to put it in basic terms, Gymkhana is an event where you can take a car and throw it around an open area full of obstacles. Slaloms, jumps, donuts, drifts, anything you really want to do all in the name of big fun. In Playgrounds mode, you can try out other people’s custom created Gymkhana events and areas, of which there are already plenty of, even though the game has not yet been released (as of writing). Or if you feel up to it, you can create your own. There’s a very simple, easy to use creator mode which allows you to knock up your own OTT events with a pretty intuitive build mode. Place a start gate, fill the area with jumps, banked turns, flaming rings to jump through, barriers to help create a tight turns, numerous obstacles… even loop-the-loops and so much more, then place a finishing gate and enjoy. With very little time and effort, I was able to knock up a fairly rudimentary, stupidly silly but enjoyable event. I think those who love to create will get a real kick out of the Playgrounds feature.

So it’s on to the big one, Career mode. For me, this is where the real meat of any racing games lies. I’ve played a few racers in my time, and very few of them have a truly engaging career mode. Dirt 5‘s is actually pretty damn good. There’s a lot here to unwrap. You start be creating your avatar, nationality, race number. You can even create a player card, a kind of ID for your character. Choose a backdrop card from various designs, a lanyard, nickname, a sticker and an effect to give the whole thing a bit of pizzazz. But the main course are the races and events.

DIRT 5 ACTION 2

As I previously mentioned, there are various disciplines/events to play around with. Ultra cross, Rally Raid, Land Rush, Stampede, Ice Breakers, Sprints, Path Finder and of course Gymkhana. To be honest, a few of the events are fairly indistinguishable from others and just feel like lap or checkpoint races… just with a bit of a rally twist. But there are some pretty stand out events that really impressed me. From racing over the frozen East River of Roosevelt Island, New York to trying to make my way up Dadès Gorges, Morocco in a huge wheeled rock bouncer. The Career mode here will have you playing though all of the events as you progress to become champion.

Career mode also features sponsors, with different sponsors offering different pay-outs and bonuses. Pay you’ll ned to buy new cars for when the events get trickier later down the line. And there are a tonne of vehicles here to play around with. I was going to do a car count, but with all the different disciplines, each having their own set of cars… I kind of got lost in it all. But let’s just say, there’s a lot of cars here. I’ve not finished Career mode as I write this, not even close, but I have put a fair few hours into it and still not bored. Always looking forward to what the game is going to throw at me next.

DIRT 5 ACTION 3

Graphically, Dirt 5 is a real looker too. The environments can go from the lush greens and quite frankly, beauty of China with cherry blossom leaves falling, to the snowy slopes and icy climate of Norway and the Northern Lights, or the rugged rocks and very brown-ness but sunny climate of Arizona.

Then there’s the weather effects, for me, a true test of a racing game’s graphics and Dirt 5 does not disappoint. Dynamic weather means that you can start a race in the dry, but give it a lap or two and it’ll be chucking it down with rain. That rain affects the race too as the already muddy tracks get more and more wet, more muddy, to the point where they can become waterlogged. Puddles form and grow, the tyre tracks from previous laps fill with water. The snow is really effective too. There’s a race quite early in Career mode where you start on a track lightly covered in snow, the snow continues to fall. As the race progresses, the snow settles and by the time your on the last lap, the track has gone from a light dusting to several inches of the white stuff. Mud gets caked to the cars as they slide and drift around corners, pyrotechnics and lasers shoot into the sky at the side of the circuits, providing some great background effects and confetti cannons litter the tracks in bright coloured paper and more.

DIRT 5 ACTION 4

There’s also an online mode, but to be honest, I’ve not played it yet. I may update this review to reflect my views on that later when I’ve played it. But if the rest of the game is anything to go by, I’m sure it’ll be great.

Overall

Confession time, this is the first Dirt game I’ve put some decent time into. I’ve dabbled with some of the previous titles, but never really got onto them fully. Dirt 5, quite honestly, has really pulled me in. But there is a bit of a warning coming up. Dirt 5 is pure arcade action, previous titles did edge more toward the sim kind of racer. Never full simulation sure, but sim-like. This more arcadey approach could turn some Dirt fans off. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are no actual proper rally events. But on the other hand, others may find this one a lot more accessible to play.

Still, for me, this is the most fun I’ve had with a racing game for a while now. I’m really looking forward to finishing the Career, I’m sure I’ll also lose a lot of time making my own Gymkhana events. Plus, I’m pretty excited to see what Codemasters have planed for future DLCs. I think I’ll be getting a lot of play out of this one. If you want a bit of OTT rally-esque racing, then you can’t go wrong with Dirt 5. It’s fast, it’s frantic and it’s fantastic.

Game Review: Airplane Mode

Nonsense games (as I like to call them) have become rather popular over recent years. Titles like Goat Simulator, I Am Bread and Octodad: Dadliest Catch, et al. Those games that are really stupid and often offer completely pointless and irrelevant style gameplay. Games that put you in the shoes of weird and wonderful protagonists… or a slice of bread, and allow you to just play around with the game’s world and physics. While nonsense games have become en vogue recently, they’re not exactly new. Back in 1993 there was Monty Python’s Complete Waste of Time game, and it was exactly what the title suggested. I think perhaps one of the more infamous nonsense games came from the unreleased, Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD. While the game was never officially released, it has been leaked onto the interwebs. Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was a collection of pointless mini-games, the most (in)famous one being Desert Bus. In it, you have to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, around a 415 mile trip… and you have to do it all in real time too. The bus can’t go any faster than 45mph and the in-game journey takes around eight hours of non-stop ‘play’ to complete. There’s no racing, no interactions, no traffic. Just you, an open desert road and a bus.

Well, developer Hosni Auji has thrown his pilot’s hat into the ring to try and make a nonsense, long haul travel game for a new generation, Airplane Mode. In the game, you are a passenger on a flight in economy class… and that’s about it really.

The Game

Your flight is from New York to Reykjavik, which takes around six hours, real-time remember. But if you don’t fancy that, then you can opt for a shorter New York to Nova Scotia, a two hour trip… and yes, I’ve spent the last few hours as a virtual airplane passenger just to to this review. I went for the latter, shorter flight, but I did stick it through till the end.

So, the game doesn’t bore you with having to wait around in the departure lounge, nor do you have to board, find your seat and store your luggage. Airplane Mode starts with you already in your seat… but you do have to go through all the pre-flight safety, taxi to the runway, etc. You even have to endure the pilot’s chit-chat they always do. Being stuck in an airplane seat in economy class offers you a few options. There’s the screen in the back of the seat in front of you. Just like real life, you can use it to watch movies, play games, check on flight info. You can even order your in-flight meal… oh yeah, you get fed on your flight.

FOOD

Aside from the screen, there’s the pocket on the back of the seat that houses the safety card you always get on flights. The magazine that has articles to read, endless ads for perfume, etc. And it’s all recreated in the game too, yes you can casually flick through the magazine and discover all sorts. There are even puzzles you can enjoy crosswords, sudoku and more.

I must admit, I couldn’t work out how to actually fill in said puzzles as you can’t use the keyboard to type in. So I just put the magazine back, a bit dismayed that I couldn’t actually interact with the puzzles. See, the game doesn’t tell you how to do anything, you just have to move the pointer around and click, see what works. That’s when I discovered my carry on luggage under the seat. My bag was then placed on the seat next to me and I could open it… and there it was, a pen I could pick up and use. Honestly, I felt like I had just discovered the Ark of the Covenant. I quickly picked the flight magazine back up and found not only could I now write with the pen to do the puzzles, I could write, draw and scribble freely.

Putting the magazine and pen back, I explored my bag some more. A novel, an actual novel I could read in game. Against the Grain (À rebours) by J K Huysmans, it’s a real book too that you can buy in real life. There was a USB cable, no idea what it was for, but I plugged it on to the USB slot in the chair regardless, shortly after, I discovered that you have a mobile phone. Yes, you can charge your in-game phone, it has a battery life and everything. So I left my phone charging while I turned my attention back to my bag.  A pair of Bluetooth headphones that you can use with the previously mentioned screen to hear what’s being played. Oh, and there’s also a blank note book that you can use to write and draw with the pen,  anything you like too…

DICK

Now I had my headphones working, I played around with the screen some more. There are three (public domain) films you can watch and even a Buggs Bunny cartoon. I kept exploring, but that was when the flight attendant came over and told me to do my seatbelt.

I began exploring my cramped space and found you can interact with the light and air-con above the seat. Close the blind in the window, pull down the tray, recline the seat. There’s even a sick bag and yes, it is useable too. The PA system interrupted my enjoyment of the Bugs Bunny cartoon as the captain spoke to detail me in on the flight, then after the safety video, we were off into the sky. Honestly, I was really quite impressed with how much detail and interaction there is… for a game where you sit in a seat of an airplane.

When we were firmly up and away, I noticed a little toilet symbol further down the aisle of the plane and I clicked on it. Yup, you can go to the toilet in the game and there’s even more interactions. Turn on the taps, get some soap, use paper towels, lift the toilet seat, flush the toilet. Even the baby changing table can be played with. After which pointless playing around, I returned back to my seat. There was a baby crying in the background, a few minutes later and we hit some turbulence. All of theses in-flight events are random too. You can even sometimes get a faulty screen that refuses to work properly.

PA

Anyway, after the flight attendant dished out the snacks and beer, which I got to choose, it was soon time to land. That’s when I decided to play around with my in-game phone and found even more stuff. Music, a camera option so you can take and even view pics, podcasts. You can listen to podcasts via your phone. I mean, I have told an abridged version of events here, but that two hour flight (no pun) flew by as I was too busy enjoying myself, playing around with all the little things the game allows you to. I’m still not sure that I found everything.

Overall

You know what? I actually really enjoyed this. Just remove the concept of you being stuck on a long haul flight and you have a fun little toybox to play around with here. Crosswords, sudoku, real films, in-flight magazine to read, a book, music to listen to and more. There are a few things that let the experience down. More puzzles in the magazine would be great. It seems to be the same puzzles in the magazine every time you play. I did restart the flight several times to check, even launched the longer six hour flight too. Every time I did, I got the exact same magazine with the exact same puzzles. So it would be nice to see some variation in the puzzles that are there and even add more variety of puzzles too. How about some spot the differences, word-searches, etc?

BOOK

Maybe some more (public domain) books? There’s loads of great, classic short stories and novels out there that are free to read which could be included in the game with ease and at no cost. More PD movies would be great. If they got that Bugs Bunny cartoon as PD, then there are plenty more that could be included. How about different classes? Being stuck in economy is something many of us are used to. So why not let us experience business class or even first class flights?

In all honesty, I really enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. If they add more features in future updates (see my suggestions), Airplane Mode could really get very interesting. In all honesty, it really is just a façade for being able to enjoy public domain works or draw cocks in a notebook, there’s nothing wrong with that either. I had a load of fun playing around with what the game offered, it just needs a bit more meat on the bones to add to it’s value. But what is here is surprisingly fun. I mean, just how many games can you think of where you can watch Bugs Bunny cartoons while drawing a picture of some huge (if somewhat angular) boobies?

BUGS