Over the holiday weekend I binged a bit. Certainly on food and good beer, but mostly on video games. I've been on kind of a XBox rejection lately. Ever since I finished Red Dead Redemption (amazing game by the way), I've not found anything interesting enough to actually turn on the console. But over the past few weeks I've been lucky to get not one, but three really good games. What follows are my thoughts on each, and as always, I can't wait to hear what my readers think. (As a reminder, the product links are affiliate links. If you purchase through them, I get a little kick back.)
Before I got my XBox 360, my primary console was the PS2. I owned an original XBox, but didn't play many games on it. One of my favorite games for the PS2 was Gran Turismo. To be honest, before Gran Turismo, I didn't know there were other forms of racing outside of NASCAR. I had heard of F1, but it never really entered my mind. Thirty minutes into Gran Turismo and I was hooked. And when I discovered rally racing? Holy crap. How could anyone watch NASCAR after that? (And to be fair - I've seen grown to appreciate NASCAR quite a bit!) Switching to the 360 meant I had to leave GT behind, but I was encouraged enough by reviews of Forza to give a try. I loved it. In fact, I thought it did things better than Gran Turismo. I've gotten the most recent GT for my PS3, but it simply didn't excite me as much as Forza did.
When I heard that the newest Forza was doing the "open world" thing, I was a bit worried. In terms of "serious" racing, I definitely had my favorite games. In terms of "arcade" racing, I was a huge Burnout fan. When Burnout went open world, I was pretty disappointed with the result. As an example of where I thought they failed, imagine this. You spend a few minutes driving to a race. You begin the race and are kicking ass when all of a sudden you make a wrong turn. Since the race is in the "real world", that's actually pretty easy to do. With one mistake you've ruined your chances of winning or even getting a decent place. And here comes the kicker - no restart. From what I remember, the developers said they felt race restarts made the game unrealistic (because racing in a city at 100+ MPH is realistic) and they intentionally left the feature out. To me, this just made the game frustrating. Pretty much every time this happened I simply gave up on the race and did something else.
So as you can imagine... I was worried. But luckily I didn't have to be. Forza Horizon is an incredibly fun game. So fun that even the task of driving to events is made fun. Every bit of driving you do in the game is full of opportunities. While exploring you can earn popularity points which increases your rank among other racers. You can find hidden items that reduce your part costs. You can challenge random racers for an on the spot competition. You can get records with speed cameras. And again - this is all non-event stuff. The events are pretty damn fun too. You've got standard lap races, point to point races, "illegal" street racing, even exhibition events that have you racing against air planes.
I found the game's difficulty to be a bit odd at times. I'd do races that were just the right level of challenge, and then do a supposedly "easy" race against a computer opponent and find myself smoked quite soundly. Races are typically divided by classes of cars, so you don't have a MINI Cooper going against a 500HP+ Dodge Viper. In most games, if I tuned my car to the very tip top of the class, I found the races easy to win, but in Horizon, even at the max for the level it was pretty hard to win. To be honest, I ended up setting the difficulty down to easy and that made things a bit more simple.
The graphics are top notch as well as the sound track, but after playing for 10 hours or so you will hear the same tracks. (Yeah, I can't really fault them for that.) I'd use this opportunity to once again point out how sad it is that video games have better music than terrestrial radio, but, yeah, I'm old, get off my lawn, etc.
Over all - this is definitely my favorite Forza yet.
Black Ops 2
This one is a bit of a mixed bag for me so far. I really enjoyed BO1 because of its historical nature. Sure, Modern Warfare is, well, modern, but I actually preferred the missions in BO. Maybe it's more my age than anything else, but it just felt cooler. BO2 continues this trend, but mixes in missions set in the future as well. I believe I'm about 20% through the single player campaign and so far the modern missions aren't really that exciting to me. The historical ones still kick ass though. The mission in Afghanistan was especially cool. I kept waiting for Sly or Arnie to show up as a co-star.
I've spent more time in multi-player though and I'm really enjoying it. MP in BO2 isn't majorly different then the last few COD games. This is an incremental update rather than a huge change. But the changes that were made are pretty damn smart. As an example - your class has a certain number of things it can select. This includes weapons, attachments, and perks. You can imagine it like an old school inventory system. When I first ran into this it was a bit disconcerting, but then I realized I could actually remove things I never use. So for example, in terms of thrown weapons, I use my grenades, but I never use my tactical option. (Mainly because i can never remember what button to push or what I even have.) When I first maxed out my inventory, I simply got rid of that option and I was all good. I love that. I feel like i have more control over my class now than other CODs in the past. The maps are decent, but more different than spectacular. I also like the fact that you can do games by yourself with robot opponents. Since I'll never get some of the better score streaks going on, this gives me a chance to play around a bit. (And pretend I'm really, really good. Which I'm not.)
Over all, I'm not quite sure I'd recommend this. I know MP is huge for some folks, but I expect both a strong SP and MP in a COD game. (Note I said in a COD game, not all games. I very rarely do MP outside of COD.) I'm definitely going to finish the SP for BO2 and hope it improves a bit.
Of all three, this is my favorite so far. I've only done SP so far, but the graphics, the art, the game play, is just awesome. The game still has some of the frustrations I've seen in earlier Halo games. For example, on multiple occasions I've finished a hard fight, looked around, and realized I had no idea where to go. You only get "objective arrows" on a few occasions and that just annoys the heck out of me. But luckily I don't get lost all the time and the action is enough to make me get over it pretty quickly. My biggest worry is that I may be almost done. I'm about 5 hours in and I've heard of one person finishing the game in around 6 hours. To me, the story feels like it's just begun, so I'm going to assume that I've only around 1/3 or 1/2 of the way.
As I said, the art is amazing. Multiple times I've found myself stopping and just looking at the scenery. The amount of detail is outstanding.
I do have one big complaint though. The game doesn't auto-save. Don't get me wrong, if you die, you restart in a fairly recent location. (Although with some battles lasting 10+ minutes, it can feel like a bad loss when you die.) But yesterday I had been playing for about two and a half hours when the plug fell out of the socket. (Damn cats.) When I got back into the game I had lost everything from that morning. Seriously. I thought maybe I was imagining things. There is a Save option in the menu, but it forces you to quit your game. I have no idea why the designers did this. Perhaps saves were too slow.
And what about MP? To be honest, I don't like Halo MP. I know I said that for COD I expect a strong SP and MP experience, but frankly, I'm fine with just doing SP with Halo. I've tried to get into Halo MP and people I know and respect love it, but I've found it just a bit too - well - difficult. If that makes me less of a gamer, well, so be it. I'll definitely give it a try once I finish SP but I don't expect to be playing much MP in this Halo.
Finally, Halo 4 was purchased via my Amazon Wish List. Unfortunately, Amazon does a pretty poor job of telling me who gets me what. So if you are reading this and your purchased this for me, thank you!