Imx Fix in my experience
April 2004 Archives

April 27, 2004 11:34 AM

I have played thru 27% of the solo campaign and have played a few multiplayer races in Toca Race Driver 2 for the Xbox (Toca2) and I think the game is "better than I thought."

I have been playing Project Gotham Racing 2 (PGR2) for months now and have almost all of the cars unlocked. Almost. You have to play the game a lot and win the solo campaign on increasing difficulties to earn token and unlock cars. I'm unable to win all of the races on the most difficult settings which means I won't ever be using the two top cars in the game. But that's ok because I can still whip Action Replay lamers with my GT1.

Toca2 takes a approach to this by allowing you to just buy your way into all cars and tracks. For three quid (or a little less than 5 bucks) you can buy unlock codes. The game is good enough that I expect I will be playing it online enough to want to have all cars unlocked, so I bought the codes. I paid money for less than 50 characters of data.

A nice thing about this is that the solo campaign isn't won by paying for the unlock codes. It keeps that separate so you can play thru that campaign, which is, for the mast part, enjoyable. You go thru many races in various cars and tracks to become a racing superstar. The cut scenes are 'well produced' or so I'm told, but I think they are dumb and add nothing to the game play. Maybe I'm just more objective based when it comes to games and just want to know what that objective is without some story line matrix.

The races are not easy, and there's no difficulty setting (that I have found yet; more on that later) like there is in PGR2 (where you can do each races in one of five difficulty levels). But, you aren't expected to win each but instead get objectives like 'place in the top three' or come within two places of these other racers. I like that because it makes it possible for the race to be set up with many more cars and it places in back in the pack, so there's lots of overtaking (out braking your opponent is how to win) in the races. Overtaking is fun.

It's a racing sim instead of an arcade racer like PGR2. When you make a mistake, it costs you, especially if you break the wheel off of your Formula Ford (an open wheel race car). Power sliding is something to master just like it is in PGR2, but it's a more delicate art than the brute force, point grabbing slide-a-thon in Gotham. The different types of cars in the games this tough to do, because just as soon as you get used to the slow turning Formula Ford, you get into carts that turn on a dime. This variety is one of the major underlying features of the game and gives it at least as much depth as Gotham in the 'each car is different' category. I think Toca2 may do this better than PGR2.

Another variety factor in favor of Toca2 is the types of cars available to you. Open wheel racers, rally cars, classic street cars and modern super cars are all there. So, in one session you might be on the world renowned Nurburgring F1 circuit and the next may be a rainy, muddy Rallycross sprint over the moors of England (on and off road). PGR2 offers pavement in the day or night, or in the rain.

What Toca2 doesn't do better is the menu systems. The UI is nice and clean, and the loading screens are clever, but navigating around is confusing with odd names for some menu options (to get to Xbox Live games, you have to hit the 'Simulator Modes' menu). Also, one menu with 5 options might have three of them on the top of the screen, and two on the bottom, then when you select one of them, the next menu may be along the top of the screen in a horizontal row. There's a confusing quality to the menus that requires you to learn them.

Menu systems are not gameplay though. We buy and 'play' games, and Toca2 is certainly worth buying and playing. Since it's a budget title ($29.99) it makes the purchase of unlock codes easier to swallow and raises the 'value' of the game higher than if it was the typical $50. In an ocean of racing titles on the Xbox, you may overlook this one, but you shouldn't.

April 5, 2004 3:24 AM

Splinter Cell: Pandora TomorrowI can't imagine there were conscious 'UI decisions' made (I assume that the disease of familiarity played a part) about the process that makes it necessary for me to go thru the following to see if any friend's games on Xbox Live are joinable in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow...

Push the 'on' button on the Xbox, wait for Ubisoft logo to play IN FULL, then hit "start" which is the only button you can push to get past the first screen, then push "a" again to interrupt the movie already watched (why doesn't it remember that?!? I have 50,000+ sectors available on the HARD DRIVE), then wait for the movie I don't need to see again to be flushed from memory and then wait for more loading, then hit "left" on the D-pad for the multiplayer option, then "a" to select it, then "a" AGAIN to interrupt the multiplayer movie that is useless that I have also already watched, and then "a" to select the one and only profile, then "a" again to confirm that I want to use the one and only profile I have, then "a" AGAIN to start the login process (which could be happening in the background because the profile for the game is decoupled from the profile used for my Xbox Live login) and then wait for login to succeed, then D-pad "down" twice then "a" AGAIN! to select "Friends" from the menu, then scroll down thru the list of friends using the D-pad.

This last screen is where it gets a little smarter because there are two portions to the screen. The list of players name and status area giving me a range of options when I highlight a player name. I can infer from that status that "Join Game" means it's a join-able session and that a lack of that choice means the session is full. Now, there is a little bit of making me think in there, but it's WAY much less than the conscious effort I have to put forth to get to this screen (and use of this screen is typical of all users).

In Tribes1 and to a lesser extent in Tribes2 the amount of clicks to get into an online game was minimized and also lined up on one critical path. There was no moving thru menus to do what you would most likely do so you could just click like mad without thinking and that would eventually land you in a game. Also, if memory serves me correct, after you went thru the menus once, it remembered which option you selected last time expecting that your behavior would likely not deviate.

An underlying issue to all this all is that multiplayer gamers will replay the game more than solo gamers which puts the burden of menu navigating on the online players and multiplies the time spent in menu jail by the number of players multiplied by the typical amount of replay sessions.

April 1, 2004 1:28 AM

The first day of April brings out the inner dork of many content producers on the Internet, and to be honest, I think it's just a wasted day out there on the net with April Fools jokes that aren't even worth a "heh"... Please be funny instead of bitter (savor the recursive irony please), obvious or annoyingly incoherent.
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