Forza Horizon 4 PC Review

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Forza Motorsport 3 was the Forza title that sunk its hooks into me. The rewind function, adjustable difficulty, driving lines, and sublime controls were instrumental to my enjoyment of playing the game. The sleek presentation made races exciting compared to the calm melodic stylings of a Gran Turismo. But as with all things, things began to grow stale. Forza Horizon took the Forza Motorsport formula and injected it with even more excitement. I thought Playground Games’ spin off looked neat but not enough to warrant a purchase at the time.
 
It took a new generation of consoles, a PC release and a new game subscription service model before I finally gave another Forza title a chance.  
 
The other reasons I took the plunge was the ability to run the game at 60 FPS on the Xbox One X and PC. I heard of the troubles with attaining higher framerates beyond the default 30 FPS in Forza Horizon 3, so the 60 FPS mode for Xbox One X owners made the decision to jump in even easier. Racing games are playable at 30 FPS but they come alive at 60 FPS and Forza Horizon 4 was no exception.  
 
I tried to run the game at 4K 60 FPS on my GeForce GTX 1070 but it would dip far too frequently. After some tinkering, I settled with 1440p and a variety of adjusted settings. The Xbox One X version ran at 1080p and an unwavering 60 FPS. I switched between both versions and I was really impressed by the console’s output. I also have to commend the cloud save support which was seamless. 
 
Forza Horizon 4 followed its predecessor’s footsteps of unleashing the Forza Motorsport driving into a large open world. For this installment, they chose a chunk of England to carve up for our racing pleasure. Dirt roads, long winding courses, and open fields were all used as courses for players to race through. The inclusion of seasons gave all those tracks different aesthetics and feel making variety a non-issue.  
 
Like other open world games, there were tiered content. In Forza Horizon 4, a variety of races peppered the map including dirt rallies and street races. These came in the usual point-to-point or lap variety. The Story missions came with window dressing like light cutcenes and voiceovers setting up the crazy scenario in which I ended up behind the wheel of a extravagant hypercar. The crème of the crop were the Showcases which is just the over-the-top Top Gear races involving trains, planes, and bikes were pitted against cars. 
 
I had my fill of Forza Horizon 4 before finishing all those Story or Showcase events. The inclusion of Seasons added a level of dynamism to the world that sounds awesome in theory but a bit disappointing in execution. It turns out that I just don’t like driving in the rain or snow very much. Playground Games changed the seasons on a weekly basis. As a result, if I only enjoyed racing in the Summer or Autumn seasons, I would be sitting out two weeks while I wait for the seasons to change again.  
 
I preferred how they handled the seasonal changes during the first 25 or so levels where I could trigger when to change over to Winter. If I wanted to bang out more long epic races in Autumn, I could do so at my leisure. With the live nature of the game, I have to schedule my choice of events around the seasons.  
 
The material changes between the seasons meant that I was slipping and sliding on wet roads without winter tires, but it also meant I could drive on frozen lakes to reach new areas in the winter. I found these details to be incredible additions. 
 
My only other gripe with the fast travel system. Charging precious in-game currency to warp around the map is annoying. I realize it’s a bit silly to want to exclude driving in a driving game but sometimes, I just want a change of scenery without having to drive across the map. The annoyance was exacerbated when I forget to change my “home” and end up back at the other side of the map at the beginning of the next session.  
 
Those quibbles aside, Forza Horizon 4 was a blast to drive through. I’ve set it down for the time being but there’s a whole lot of game waiting for me if I decide to revisit. It’s one of those games that’s just bursting at the seams with both quality and quantity. It’s easily one of the best racers I’ve played in years.  

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Until Dawn

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My Until Dawn impressions as a whole align with my impressions of Rami Malek’s performance and of his character, Josh. It began a little awkwardly with hints of unsettling creepiness and then just devolves into unconvincing lunacy that provided a healthy amount of goofiness.

Horror themed games like Until Dawn and Amnesia: The Dark Descent were most effective when they hid away their monsters and left my imagination run rampant. The monsters were defanged as soon as they’re revealed. Akin to a fool wearing a poorly made Halloween costume, these sideshows hailed the beginning of a game’s rapid decline in scares.

I start to notice faults and the seams unravel. And before long, I stopped playing with mindfulness and welcomed risk with open arms.

Despite its inability to retain its horror hold over me, I found Until Dawn was one of the better branching path adventure games I’ve played. I enjoyed the fact that the decisions I made had a fairly large number of immediate outcomes. There were eight characters who can survive or perish because of my decisions. Little missteps during quick time events or just making the wrong choice, could result in a dead teen. Some decisions were obvious but many were a total mystery which made for a more exciting experience.

Not so exciting or flattering were the visuals which wobbled between looking great and unintentionally grotesque. The environments, objects, and essentially anything non-living looked as they should. Human characters appeared distracting features like Chiclet teeth or overly animated speech. A lot of the faces didn’t seem natural and excessive. Uncanny valley was in full force.

I played the game with the PlayStation 4 Pro and it’s Boost Mode but even then the performance was uneven. The dips in framerate did not get in the way of the life or death situations but they did make exploration feel sluggish. Couple with the plodding pace which the characters move, exploring the locales of Until Dawn felt like a chore.

It took me two Octobers to finish Until Dawn. Picking it back up was easy and the same could be said with putting it down. I never felt enough of a connection with the characters, story, or mystery to keep me coming back for more day after day. There were entertaining moments, a few scares, and moments of intrigue to string me towards the end of a chapter, but in the end, it was a forgettable popcorn horror flick.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
It was okay

Checkpoint: Japan & South Korea Vacation Edition

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I’ve just returned from a two week vacation in Japan and South Korea. We made our way through Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Seoul. It was a great trip with the girlfriend (now fiancee). We saw lots of great sights, ate lots of great food, and caught glimpses of what life is like in those great nations and cities. 

We took plenty of photos and videos but those we’ll likely remain on Facebook for now. In its stead, here are some thoughts in text form.

Tokyo

We landed in Tokyo first and experienced the best of modern Japan. I loved how exceptional the service was. Everyone was so polite, helpful, and patient with us English speakers. Getting around the city was initially confusing but careful reading of the English signage coupled with Google Maps, we made our way through Tokyo’s excellent subway system. 

We loved how clean the city was and how safe we felt. We visited Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Toyosu Fish Market, Senso-ji temple, Sumida Aquarian, and the Tokyo Skytree. All of those spots were wonderful.

Shinkansen

We made our way to Kyoto via the JR Shinkansen which was an exceptional way to travel. The reputation of timeliness of these amazing high speed trains was known but we just didn’t appreciate how timely everything in Tokyo was which resulted in us waiting around for over an hour. We didn’t have confidence in Tokyo’s public transit and our ability to navigate so we gave ourselves a lot of unnecessary buffer time. 

So we people watched and explored Tokyo station a bit before eventually zooming away to Kyoto. We got to Kyoto in 2 hours or so. The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is roughly the same as Ottawa and Toronto and it takes nearly double that time via car. Going by VIA Rail is even longer. I miss Tokyo’s transit but I will miss Japan’s Shinkansen more. I would gladly spend $150 to just zip into Toronto in 2.5 hours in comfort. 

Kyoto 

We spent approximately $100 – $120 per night accommodations in each city. As a result, we got to see how far our money took us in each city. The Comfort Inn in Tokyo was older but alright. Kyoto’s was like a mini modern day guesthouse full of some neat gadgets. I was particularly impressed with the LED lighting with adjustable temperature function. There was no complimentary breakfast here so we were forced to fend ourselves. It turns out, breakfast in Kyoto is a bit tricky. We eventually found a few solid spots near our hotel but our options were limited if we weren’t feeling coffee shops or western styled breakfast spots in subway stations.

Our time in Kyoto was spent seeking out more traditional Japan. We caught glimpses of two geisha in Gion, spent time with the monkeys in Arashiyama, and visited some picturesque temples. We also tried some kobe beef which was exceptionally rich and tasty. 

Osaka

A short 12 minute Shinkansen ride brought us to our final Japanese city, Osaka. Osaka was a bit of a shocker to me because it broke the mould in cleanliness in Japan. Osaka wasn’t filthy like other like Montreal or Toronto but it reminded me of downtown Ottawa. It was the first time I noticed a lot of trash and cigarette butts on the ground in Japan. A bit of research online suggested that Osaka is more laid back compared to Tokyo and I can see it. Still, that bit of uncleanliness didn’t dampen our food adventures in this great city. We spent more time out at night in Osaka, trying to soak in the lights and glamour of Dotombori. 

Our tatami style Osaka accommodations saw us spend some time sleeping on the floor. It wasn’t terrible but it certainly wasn’t preferable for more than a few days. 

Kansai and Incheon Airports

I don’t enjoy being rushed and as a result, Canadian airports like YVR and YOW irk me a bit with their security processes. Kansai and Incheon Airports on the other hand allow me to take my time to unpack my stuff into bins and still manage to process people at a brisk pace. They’re also friendly and professional without the hint of disdain for their jobs. They’re both also very modern airports with the sensible niceties to go with it — I felt I did more walking in YOW than in the other two considerably larger airports. 

Seoul

A short Peach airline flight later, we made it to Incheon and then eventually Seoul. Incheon was over an hour away from our hotel in Seoul but thankfully there were solid bus shuttle options. We were dropped off right at the doorstep which was very convenient. Our accommodations in Seoul were also the best of the trip. It wasn’t the newest but it was the most spacious, comfortable, and luxurious. Accommodation wise, our money easily went the furthest here.

Our money also went rather far in the food department as well, portions weren’t small in Japan but we both felt many places heaped it on in Seoul. This was especially true with kimchi and soups. 

Seoul was also the most tricky of the places to navigate in the rain. A combination of questionable surface materials and slightly worn out shoes resulted in perilous treks in the rain. Thankfully it was just one day. 

My fiancee loved the fashion and cosmetic offerings in Seoul. She gorged herself in so much of it without making a huge dent in the wallet. The options and competition available Myeong-dong were staggering. 

Traffic & Bikes

There were a lot of takeaways from my trip to Japan and Seoul. One of the more prominent ones were the relationship between traffic and bikes. Japan was a nation of smaller vehicles with plenty of bike traffic on sidewalks and on the streets. Bikes were maneuvering between pedestrians and cars without issue. People from all walks of life were riding their bikes in Tokyo. Businessmen, mothers with children in child seats, and older folks were all riding. And these bike riders didn’t even wear helmets and we did not witness a single spill or accident. 

Despite the density of people and cars, patience and courtesy seems to have allowed bikes, cars, and people to coexist in relative harmony.

Common Trust

Many folks leave the bikes unlocked. Many store shops leave expensive items out in front with nothing but a camera in sight and sometimes not even that. The level of trust both Japanese and Koreans have of their countrymen and tourists is commendable and refreshing. Razors are being locked here in North American grocery stores while I’m seeing SKII Essence bottles being left out in front unattended.

Clean Chaos

Even at its most chaotic, the traffic jams and throngs of people funnelling through subway stations and busy streets, I felt safe and not at all annoyed by it all. The worst of it was in Seoul where the car horn was used liberally but even then I didn’t witness any outbursts of discontent like I would have in North America.

Will Return

This was my first big trip overseas and it was wonderful. I would love to go back to both nations and soak in more of what they have to offer. My expectations of Japan were set by the Yakuza and Persona games and they were largely accurate. I didn’t know what to expect of Seoul but it largely resembled a mix of North America and Japan. I don’t know when we’ll make it back there but I miss it already — there’s just so much you cannot find here. 

LTTP: Rise of the Tomb Raider [X1]

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With the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I thought it was about time to finally play Rise of the Tomb Raider. I didn’t like the second installment of this prequel trilogy as much as I thought I would. It played well, it was still able to hang with the best of them on the presentation front but I didn’t find Lara likable this time around

Rise of the Tomb Raider continued Lara Croft’s evolution into the Tomb Raider. In her 2013 adventure, Lara was depicted as an archaeologist thrown into traumatic situation. She was a bit hapless at first but by the end, she was taking out mercenaries like Nathan Drake. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft was a bit of an obsessed and selfish jerk who deliberately put her friend and others in danger in order to obtain the “Divine Source”. She even convinced herself that she was doing the right thing if she liberated the Divine Source and relieved the natives from the burden of defending it. Lara ultimately did the right thing but not before doing everything in her power to become very unlikable in my books.

The gameplay loop didn’t change much from what I recall of the last game. There were comparatively cinematic firefights, chases, and climbs broken up by larger open spaces for Lara to explore. These open spaces featured the hunting, gathering, crafting, and fetch quests that one would expect. Some fit the context of story well, while others required a long suspension of disbelief. Tombs were also unearthed in these spaces but this time they were a bit more elaborate and challenging compared to those of the last game.

Thankfully, Rise of the Tomb Raider was not as gruesome as its predecessor. Lara was still brutal with her executions but her deaths weren’t so wince inducing. It was unnecessary in their pursuit of grittiness. She still has a violent rage to her but at least, it matched her gruffer demeanor, this time around.

I played this game on the Xbox One X courtesy of Xbox Game Pass. The game looked very impressive with solid performance  early on but as soon as I stepped foot into the Geothermal Valley, the framerate suffered. I played it on the Digital Foundry recommended “Enriched 4K” mode and I was none too pleased by that experience. I would have preferred if they focused on getting the framerate to lock at 30 FPS. Rise of the Tomb Raider was supposed to be one of the Xbox One X showcase games and watching the game struggle was disappointing.

I continued to compare Rise of the Tomb Raider to the Uncharted series – I cannot help it. I played Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy before tackling Rise of the Tomb Raider so my expectations were inflated. I found Lara’s facial animation odd and distracting during dialog exchanges during (what was supposed to be) dramatic sequences.

One of the sillier aspects of these Tomb Raider games were the rewards. Lara found modern weapon parts deep in caves and knowledge to improve her survivability in texts at the end of tombs. I understand the desire to loop gameplay rewards into collectibles but at least try to make some sense of it. I also found the idea of her slaying half a dozen bears, wolves, and other wildlife to improve her equipment to be extreme. I felt they were stretching the survival angle thin in this game; it didn’t feel necessary once she met up with others.

Lara Croft was at her best doing what she was known to do and that was raiding tombs, solving puzzles, and occasionally fending off mercenaries and vicious animals. When she was interacting with other humans or skinning animals for their furs? I wish it was better realized.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

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