Saturday, 25 October 2014

FORZA HORIZON 2 (Xbox One)

If there is one racing game to play this year then Forza Horizon 2 is that game. Open world driving to six locations set against the lush countryside of France and Italy.


From the outset as the ferry docks and you drive a Lamborghini Huracan from the shadows out into the blinding Continental sunshine there is that feeling that something special is coming. A race to the Horizon Festival that is the hub of all that follows - where organiser, Ben, greets you and gives you the offer of three rides. It is back to where you started with four types of race before you get the chance to race that Huracan against Italy's version of the Red Arrows - once complete you get to keep the car.
There are four more similar challenges - race a steam train, beat 37 hot air balloons, chase a crop duster and, best of all, run down a cargo plane (this is scary as this plane is coming in to land over the top of you).


Okay, so that is just the tip of the iceberg.


The more championships you win gets you to a finale and as you think that that is it - all you have done is reached the end of Part One; Part two sees Ben decide to join in which leads to a second Finale where you have to beat him. Even then the game has not come to an end because there is a nice fat achievement to be picked up when you have completed 168 championships.
Added into the package are head to head racing; rivals' times to beat; reward boards to discover and smash - Forza Horizon 2 is an endless game.
Even the races are no longer confined to the usual stick to the road route - driving a Ford Raptor off road through a field of lavender or red poppies; or a dirt track in a rally car you 'feel' every bump and grind.


This game comes from Playground Games (based in Cambridge) for Turn 10 creators of Forza. A couple of years back the first Horizon was set in the scenic countryside of Colorado where you raced against some obnoxious characters. Happy to say that they have gone.
Despite the addictive gameplay there are a couple of quibbles - the off road Cross Country is in need of better sign posting; and sometimes I have found that even though having gone through the centre of a checkpoint the computer says that I missed it and the penalty is being put a fair way back from last place (if that happens then just click re-start).


A lot of work has gone into this game from the scenery down to the cars themselves. Classic racers through rally and monsters to everyday saloons; retro and modern American muscle cars - this is a world where you can live the dream in endless fun. And the weather fluctuates between hot cloudless days to the crack of thunder that heralds a downpour and when the rain has gone and the sun starts to shine a rainbow appears.


So where next? May I suggest that as motor racing comes to the streets of Coventry as it has done before in London that the UK could be a good location.


There is an Xbox 360 version from Sumo but it is a different game style.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

AGEISM IS ALIVE AND WELL

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Thursday, 18 September 2014

OUT OF THE PAST

Tucked away in our house is an old, black solicitor's Will box. Once upon a time it held things like birth and marriage certificates but nowadays just filled with bits and pieces. So, out of curiosity we decided to empty it and see what it contained - and, yes, mostly memorabilia like my dad's R.A.F. cap badge - some photos of the ships that hunted the German battleship 'Bismarck' but buried at the bottom was an envelope with two floppy discs inside.


The discovery of floppy discs were nothing new. I had already found a few, some years back with a couple of started westerns, a fantasy style story and a small collection of short stories. Expecting more of the same I connected my external disk drive to my laptop and fed the first disc in.


Back in the early Sixties I wrote a book called 'The Rebel' which told the story a young Rocker in the aftermath to the Mods vs Rockers beach battles at Brighton, Hastings and Margate. As it was written at the time it was dead accurate. I had been to Brighton that Bank Holiday so I knew what happened and how it was reported in the papers.


Agents who read the finished novel thought that while the writing was good I needed to do more research and get my facts right. It was even suggested that I read some of the newspaper accounts of the time. And this could be done via various newspaper archives. The other problem was that the hero was wrong. Mick Hood (the hero) worked in an office - he should have been a factory worker at best or a manual labourer.


The Rocker would always be type-cast as the forever baddie. Read comics of the day and beyond they were always there to bully or disrupt until the 'goodie' sent them packing.


So there was the book still there only, at some stage, I had taken the time to type it all out and save it to a disc. A book written fifty years ago, finally buried twenty years ago in an old will box. I say twenty years ago as my wife thinks that may have been when we bought out first computer.


The other disc contained a story that left me a little gobsmacked. The reason for this is that it didn't dawn of me that I had ever committed this to paper. I can recall that it was an idea, at the time. There are two main characters who first appear in 'The Rebel' but this time the timescale is greater - 1958 to mid Sixties. What is poignant about this is a) I know the girl's story; b) I know how the boy re-acts because it echoes mine. Child abuse was not headline news back in the fifties and sixties (I say that more in relation to the book's setting) and, therefore, I can see that could be why the novel was never finished.


Maybe, it was the criticism of the first book that put me off - or, far more of a possibility, that such a story would be unacceptable at the time. That things like abortion were mentioned in novels like Bill Naughton's 'Alfie' or Nell Dunn's 'Up The Junction' or the attempt in the bath scene from 'Saturday Night And Sunday Morning' - these are sort of glossed over. Not like when a girl turns up at your front door with blood stained jeans, sweating and out of breath because she had nowhere else to go - and why, because her mother had yanked out the foetus with the hook of a wire coathanger.


And while I may smile at the at the way that the two books read they do need a lot of revising without losing the political incorrectness of the period. I hate that 'accurate of the period' tag when the language and attitudes of the time say different.


The world has moved on since those two books were written. The facts behind both are better known and having watched a documentary recently about the Mods and Rockers where it was shown that the first novel was closer to the truth - then I feel confident that I can resurrect it. As for the second - tempted - but time will tell.

Friday, 29 August 2014

THE RISE (OR FALL) OF THE TOMB RAIDER

Way back when Lara Croft hit the games consoles she did so on the Playstation One. From that moment on Crystal Dynamics started one of the biggest grossing game franchises that spawned adds and two movies.
Over the years the adventures of Lara Croft have evolved to the point where, under Square Enix, Tomb Raider was re-invented without losing her appeal. Old and new generations of gamers were united in their approval.
So.... a sequel was on the cards.
A trailer gave some inkling about Lara Croft's next adventure...about becoming 'the person that was meant to be'.


Then at Gamescom 2014 came to big announcement...."Rise Of The Tomb Raider" was to be an Xbox console exclusive.


What?


Square Enix says that their fan base is important to them BUT the deal with Microsoft will enable the developer to invest more money into the next generation of gaming.


Much is written on the net about this....but I don't believe, for one minute, that developers do really care about their fan-base. It is all about the money (except no one likes to say it out loud).


What it really comes down to is that the Xbox One is still being outsold by Sony's Playstation 4 (and ditto is happening with the Xbox 360 by the PS3). What better way for Microsoft to attempt to turn the situation around than by harnessing one of the top game franchises.


Truth is that this situation will have no winners - only losers.


I doubt if Xbox sales will improve....and they want to build a community where your friends can jump into your game whether they own it or not.


Square Enix will not garner the expected profits and their rep will drop.  Will the fans go for a 'Tomb Raider 3' should it come back to it's real home on the Sony Playstation.


Finally, the fans....neglect them too much and they will become unforgiving. It is one thing for developers to realise their dreams and go ahead and do their own thing. And while developers go 'yay, we done it' nothing is achieved when the fans don't part with their cash.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

J. T. EDSON - R.I.P

Sadly, one of the great western writers, J.T.Edson, passed away on the 17th July 2014.
No one who has read his books can forget the likes of Dusty Fog, Mark Counter and the Ysabel Kid - characters that were brought to life in strip form in the Lion comic of the sixties.
J.T. Edson paved the way for many other British western writers and will be missed.

Monday, 14 July 2014

1952: TEX RITTER'S TEXAS WESTERN SPECTACLE

Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon Cinema in North Finchley was packed out most times. A cartoon, a serial and a movie. More often than not there was a western as the main feature starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. For 6d (two and a half pence) that was real value for money.


The early fifties was quite an austere time work like food and clothes were still on ration. Days out were for the most part free. A whole day could be spent in Friary Park - but when an event like the Festival Of Britain in 1951 occurred it was a great day out. Likewise, Trooping The Colour and The Lord Mayor's Parade in London were all free days out just as were visits to the museums.


So, when mum took me out for a trip to Haringey (North London) I expected to be wandering around the shops. At seven years of age - even then it was boring. But the shops were not to be our destination - but the massive arena. This was a total new experience. The place was packed out with kids almost outnumbering adults and the air was electric with expectation. I just sat there staring down at a sawdust covered arena - gobsmacked.


I had walked into the place so mesmerised that (I do believe even to this day) none of the posters outside registered. I was that unprepared that when the first horseman rode in I jumped as the entire audience screamed their delight.


This wasn't cinema - this was the real thing. Cattle thundered across the arena as cowboys demonstrated herding and driving. Roped them in for branding. Rodeo riders bucked on broncos and bulls. And the gunfights - I don't think that anyone had experienced the euphoria and the magic of that day - so much happening; so much to take in.


And the finale - who can forget that. The stagecoach running around the arena, kids on their feet roaring it on. Behind, rampaging Indians ever threatening to kill all on board - the tension rising until that bugle call that announced the arrival of the cavalry. And how we all stood and cheered.


In the midst of it all was Tex Ritter - the singing cowboy himself - astride Flash. The spotlight began to swing around the audience and when it stopped one lucky child received a twin holster and a pair of guns.


When it was time to go we left our seats and went to meet my granddad. He was a master carpenter and joiner and had been working behind the scenes - looking back that has to be how we got the tickets. Then granddad beckoned to me to follow him - he spoke to one of the cowboys who turned around and smiled at me. He said something but my tongue just got tied up in knots and just couldn't speak - fortunately, my mum spoke me - but, I mean, this was a celluloid hero. This was Tex Ritter. However, as I shook his hand I managed to stammer out a 'thank you'.


Tex Ritter's Texas Western Spectacle remained at the Haringey Arena for six weeks.


I have never been out West but I have not forgotten that day in 1952 when the west came to me.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

HOMEFRONT: THE REVOLUTION

Some time back I wrote about a game and a book called 'Homefront' that came from the pens of John Millius (Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now) and novelist Raymond Benson. Both came under heavy criticism from games reviewers - the 'Homefront' game recoding an average score of 7.
And sure it could have been a Call Of Duty clone - with a demoralised America invaded and under the thumb of North Korea. Makes a change from the Russians but, still, the format was the same. Even some of the dialogue was the same......"I've got your six"; "Pick up those grenades", "Take out that tank." and this from a man who looks after himself by hiding. At least the other character knows what a gun is for.
For all the flaws and lack of originality in most places - 'Homefront' managed to do something that was a touch different and that was a world that was structured. Weapons have to be salvaged and survival depended on behaviour. The background story builds into a coherent reason for America's collapse with echoes of Iraq, Afghanistan and the recession.




Although there was a vague hint, at the time, that another game 'Homefront: London' could be forthcoming the whole idea died a death. With the demise of 'Homefront's' developer THQ - the story should have been over.




Now 'Homefront' is about to rise, phoenix-style, from the ashes. Crytek UK has not only breathed new life into the franchise but expanded the whole experience into open world. Early reports say that 'Homefront: The Revolution' may be streets ahead in design, depth and concept than the first games that were released with the new consoles.


The storyline picks up four years after the events of the original game and moves to the deserted streets and ruins of Philadelphia. The hero is Ethan Brady who is just an ordinary guy who has had enough of the draconian rules that he has been living under. Weapons are not his forte - his first weapon of choice is a Molotov cocktail - but he is a man determined (in the first place) to survive.
The premise looks good; the graphics atmospheric - even those that dissed the original seem to be impressed. Like they say there's still life in an old dog.


CrytekUK's 'Homefront: The Revolution' is scheduled for a 2015 release on both Xbox and PS4.