Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Feeling the Hot Pursuit As I'm the Most Wanted

With the recent news that Criterion are back onto Need For Speed, I’m hyped. The team might have seen some change since Burnout Paradise, but they are a great studio. That concept they had for the extreme sports game never got off the ground, but there was promise within it.

And you’ll note that I said back to Need For Speed. Once finished with Burnout Paradise, the Criterion team were put onto EA’s other long-standing racing series to make Hot Pursuit. After the success of that game, they followed up with my personal favourite of the series in Most Wanted [2012].

While they did help with Rivals, their time on the series looked as though it was done, with Ghost Games [now EA Gothenburg] being the main developer of Rivals and taking on the series since that time.

With the news that Criterion are back, I’ve been revisiting those old games they have to their name to see what it is I liked about them. And though they differ greatly from the other, they both have something to enjoy.

Hot Pursuit took the cops and crooks concept and ran with it for the whole game, offering a mission structure that followed both sides. As the cops, you’d be hunting down racers, smashing into them and using the equipment on hand to arrest them. While the racers also had equipment, these were more defensive blocks to the police’s powerful force as you tried to complete the race.

The mission structure allowed both sides to be playable from one career, earning experience in the form of bounty to unlock new cars and equipment for that side. At first, you would start off with little in the way of power or speed, but through gaining experience would become a force to be reckoned with on whichever side you chose.

While there was also a freeroam mode, it felt a side feature to the missions. Despite not getting far with those missions, I could be found within the freeroam often, riding around in a police cruiser just taking in the scenery. The map might not be the most refined, but there’s still a decent amount of things to explore within it.

With Hot Pursuit’s map being more natural, the bustling city of Fairhaven is where Most Wanted takes us. And this time, the freeroam was the main attraction. Taking cues from Burnout Paradise, billboards and security gates are around to smash, with speed cameras also being placed around the streets.

The difference with Paradise are jackspots – the way to gain new vehicles. Scattered around the map are plenty of these spots that grant access to new vehicles, being in both easy to spot and hard to find locations. Once you’ve found a vehicle, it gets added to the list to warp to for future use, though you can swap at that location.

Each vehicle has six events tied to it to unlock performance upgrades for that car. The reason for doing so is to encourage swapping vehicles to build up your Most Wanted level, as there’s ten drivers who will only challenge you once you have enough Most Wanted reputation.

I love exploring this world more than the one in Hot Pursuit, with the cops always on the lookout for wrong-doing and some very great chases able to be had. This was one of my most played games on the PSV, such was the fact I had double the Most Wanted level of the highest on the list when returning to it on PC.

Neither game has the size or variety in their maps as latest games, but those latest games lack something in terms of mechanics when driving. I’ve still yet to play Heat, but it is one I’m wanting to get to. As Ghost Games’ last, it will be interesting to compare their first solo effort to their last.

As for Criterion and the newest game they are working on ready for the next generation (for a release in 2021, I expect), I hope it can be as great as these two games rolled into one. Featuring the exploration of Most Wanted with the tightness in mission structure (and the cops and crooks concept) of Hot Pursuit, and a map that I’ll want to be exploring featuring plenty of variety.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Review

It’s been a long road of wondering just how a Sonic the Hedgehog movie would play out, and just what the focus of such a movie would be. As the years went on, we got some news and a trailer showing… the thing. But since the backlash and redesign, things have been feeling pretty positive for it.

Sure, it was probably never going to be a massive standout in terms of plot. Never breaking any ground or giving unexpected twists. But what is here is a joy to watch and gives plenty of action and laughs for an audience to experience. Even non-fans of Sonic can find things to enjoy about it.

As is the standard for bringing a character into the movie world through CGI, the plot of this one focuses on an origin story. That being the enmity between the titular hedgehog and Doctor Robotnik. The personalities of the two seem similar yet different enough, so while this is its own universe, it does feel as though the two have been built from their main universe counterparts.

Sonic within this universe has the reason for his abilities changed slightly, with his speed coming from the unlimited energy his quills possess that are charged through his emotions. This is the main hook of the story, being the reason he comes to Earth in the first place as well as the reason Robotnik is drawn to wanting to capture him.

Despite not being anything groundbreaking in terms of plot, the emotion within the scenes is still done right. The first emotional scene seems a tad rushed, but it is the crux of Sonic’s emotional state through most of the rest of the movie. Only in the climax does his stance of run and hide change, bringing out the hero he’ll soon become (though still with the boundless energy fully in place).

Robotnik is cool and calculated, being quite eccentric but not yet manic. Having never being wrong or lost a battle, it is the actions of Sonic and the unpredictableness he brings that forces Robotnik’s manic side as he gains a thirst for winning against this unbeatable foe. Jim Carrey worked his magic in making this version of Robotnik work, just as Ben Schwartz does for Sonic.

The other main character of Tom Wachowski fits the bill just fine. He’s a cop who dreams of going big within his job, feeling that his time within the small town of Green Hills is done. The main reason for his existence is as a friend and partner to Sonic, and that role is something James Marsden plays well.

The coming together of Tom and Sonic is believable through the actions that happen, as is the start of the battle that runs through most of the movie. From that point on, there’s plenty of action and character interaction that present a lot of fun. The emotional stakes are interspersed within all this whimsical action, and mostly works. Several points do fall flat, but nothing that seriously affects the overall quality of the movie.

Sonic moves fluidly and is full of life, so I have to give the animators credit for that. The music adds to the experience, with some references in both music and other areas that Sonic fans are sure to enjoy if they spot them.

Overall, this is worth a watch. As already said, even if it isn’t groundbreaking, it is still a competently made movie with action and character. Sure, it rushes through some things, but everything it sets out to achieve is still able to be recognised and understood. Sonic the Hedgehog's first foray into the movie world has gone successfully, and I hope a sequel can continue to offer more within it.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Sending Sparks Fly For Some Sonic Concepts

Last month I offered up some ideas for games within the Pokémon franchise, with the three fitting roughly into the labels of main game, side game, and spin-off. This month I am doing the same for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.

Now, it would be easy to say for a main game Adventure 3 – specifically Chao Theory (that old concept of mine from back in 2013), but I’m not. What I want to see from a main series game these days is something that Lost World failed to execute beyond basic implementation.

That being free-form movement, otherwise known as parkour. It was a system in Lost World that was rigid and restrictive, but showed a lot of promise had it been expanded on in future games. Instead, we return to the boost formula with Forces. A boost formula that was watered down greatly from Generations. I’m proposing a return to the Lost World formula, but opening it up a lot more. There’d still be two speeds, but instead of jog and run, it would be run and boosted run.

Not boost as already known, but a way to go faster that poses a risk if you run into enemies while using it. This greater speed is what is needed to access the freeform movement options, but to a greater degree than Lost World offered. As you run up walls, you will naturally lose momentum, so the greater the angle of ascent up the wall, the faster that momentum will be lost.

There would also be more freedom in the other moves Sonic could perform, with the ability to air dash off walls, and then into a bounce. Or perform a bounce into an air dash to a wall, where you’d then be able to launch higher up by jumping. Even enemies can be used in such a fashion, where homing into them and pressing the dash button at the right moment will see Sonic launch away from them rather than destroying them, allowing greater forward momentum should you need it.

That’s the main game, but what of the side game? I consider the Rivals games to be side games, since they rely on platforming as well as being a racer. Those were 2D platformers, using multiple characters that shared roughly the same moveset trying to win out against the other while using powerups to hinder the opposition or help themselves gain an advantage. Remind you of anything?

I certainly seemed to think so in 2013 when first proposing the idea in the first What I’m Waiting For. Helped along a bit by using a current rumour that was going around, I made the proposition that it sounded similar to not only the Adventure games, but also to Rivals. From there, I created the idea of having a Rivals game in 3D, though left it at that. The idea hinted at was to use Adventure 2’s multiplayer – specifically the action races – as a base to create this new 3D Rivals-like game.

And this is where I borrow some parts from that Adventure 3 idea I mentioned above. The fourteen stages from that concept would be halved, giving just seven stages with three zones each. Two regular race zones and a boss zone. The gameplay would stick closely to Adventure 2, and being in 3D there would be multiple routes through levels offering varying levels of distance and difficulty. The AI opponent would make decisions based on your own position as to which path it would take.

That’s all I’ll mentioned with that one, as there’s the spin-off game to mention as well. And that spin-off game is building off what Forces gave us in the Avatar system, but turning it into an action-RPG. It’s been suggested plenty of times around – or at least in terms of giving the Avatar characters their own spin-off series, and I’ve been thinking about that and this is sort of building off an unreleased concept I’ve considered for the main games.

Yeah, a main game built as an action-RPG sounds crazy. But it was something I was thinking of a few years back, and then Forces happened which changed the tack of the idea. The Wispons would be expanded to give greater capabilities than what Forces offers, giving varied movement and combat options that would be expanded as your character levelled up. The grappling hook would also play a part in that, and would be able to freely be used, going into bullet-time whenever you aimed it.

The story wouldn’t need Sonic to be a part of it, or any of the main cast. Eggman wouldn’t even need to be the villain. It allows a different view of the world that we never really see. And if you say that doing such a story breaks the flow of continuity, I’d say that’s just being limiting. Sonic can’t be everywhere at once, and while he would be the hero of any situation he comes across, it also stands to reason he wouldn’t hear about everything that goes on in the world.

That’s three ideas within the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, each offering something new while expanding on things previously seen within the games. There’s nothing ground-breaking or wacky about these ideas, but I feel all three can work. What about you readers, though. Do you feel these ideas a re worth pursuing, or do you have something better? Sound off down below.