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

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

LTTP: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

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Life is Strange was a captivating game. I genuinely enjoyed the tale and dark twists weaved by Dontnod Entertainment. I expected Square Enix and company to forge a sequel but when I heard a prequel by Deck Nine — a different studio — was on its way, I was very skeptical. Life is Strange: Before the Storm fleshed out the lives and events Life is Strange cast members prior to Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. It gave insight into Chloe Price and how she evolved and it gave Rachel Amber a voice. But were these good additions to the Life is Strange story thus far? I’m not certain. 

I found Before the Storm to be a surprisingly excellent self contained story of teenagers dealing with the real world. The influence of peers and parents were explored through the stories of Nathan Prescott and Drew North. They showed how familial pressures lead people down the wrong path or negatively warp their personalities. Some influences were direct while others were unfortunate circumstances.

Showing the origins of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship was fascinating and cute but it just raised more questions. Before the Storm spanned the nascent stages of their relationship but it didn’t address how Rachel and Frank Bowers got involved. The bonus episode, “Farewell”, explored the fateful day when Max left Arcadia Bay for Seattle but it didn’t share why she didn’t stay in touch. Situations and story threads left dangling like this highlighted more opportunities for Square Enix to introduce another sequel in-between but I think that would be a mistake. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Three full length episodes (about 3 hours each) and a one hour bonus episode was just enough time to explore the Max-less life of Chloe Price. Max’s time rewinding mechanic was replaced with a forced and unnatural feeling argument system where Chloe and I can start shit talking people to get our way. I think the only instance where it felt natural was within the tutorial.

For the most part, Before the Storm served to shore up my feelings and impressions of the characters from the original game. I felt a bit more sympathy here and there but as a whole, my feelings were largely unchanged. Max and her faceless parents, though? They altered my opinions of them quite a bit. Max failed to keep her promise to stay in touch and eventually gave up altogether. And considering the circumstances that preceded her departure from Arcadia Bay and how close Max and Chloe were, I was shocked that Max and her family didn’t even visit. They spent so much time together and to just disconnect like that was odd to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by Chloe’s sense of betrayal by her friend.

One of the most impressive aspects of Before the Storm was how seamless the switch from Unreal Engine 3.0 to Unity was. If that Unity logo didn’t make itself known, I wouldn’t have noticed that they were running on a completely different engine. I wasn’t too keen on the game’s performance on the default “resolution” mode but it ran quite well with the “performance” option. I didn’t fathom 30 FPS would be a problem in an adventure game like this but I was wincing during those camera pans.

I went into Life is Strange: Before the Storm filled with skepticism and left just the same. Was it necessary to delve this deep back into Chloe and Rachel’s lives? I did enjoy their rendition of the Tempest but did I need to see someone remark on that wine stain in the Price living room again? I was glad to see Nathan Prescott before he walked down his dark path but what happened to Samantha? For better and worse, answers and questions ping ponged themselves throughout. While its relevancy and necessity can be debated, its quality was undeniable to me. Deck Nine’s contribution to Life is Strange was solid.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

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