All posts by Travis Young

I somehow managed to turn my doorman job at The Improv in Dallas TX into a writing career for CBS. When I'm not adding my geek culture to your favorite sitcoms I'm slowly adjusting to California life and enrolling in just about every racing driving school available. So far I've driven NASCAR, Indycar, F1, and Rally Off-road and like to compare the "real thing" with video games.

Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5 Review – PlayStation 5

I’ve been a huge racing fan for over 30 years now, and for the most part I stick to racing on four wheels, but I have been known to take a dirt bike for a spin, both in real-life and in video games, but even when a game like MX vs ATV shows up, I almost always head straight for the ATV.  Needless to say, I was a bit uneasy going into my review for Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5.  It’s been years since I played a dedicated motorcycle racing game, and even when I did, they were more arcade in nature than something that aspires to be a true simulation.  Thankfully Supercross 5 offers up enough variety in difficulty and control assist options that I was able to find my groove surprisingly fast and then it was off to the races…

Obviously, this is the fifth installment in a series that I’ve never played, so I had no assumptions going into the game based on anything other than a somewhat exciting trailer I watched while the game installed itself on my PS5.  Starting the game greeted me with a menu that you’d expect to find in any racing game with a Home screen, hubs for Single and Multiplayer racing, and a page to customize your bike and rider and access to the Track Editor where you can create your own tracks or download tracks from the community. The Home screen is a bit of redundancy as it offers quick access to all those other pages only with fewer options.  Pressing the DualSense touchpad opens up your Profile screen with access to player and race stats for all the various modes, as well as special SX challenges.

Starting with the Single player component, you have options for Career, Single Event, Championship, Time Attack, and Free Roaming as well as the Futures Academy.  The Futures Academy is home to both the main tutorial for the game as well as numerous riding lessons that cover everything from the basics of riding to more advanced lessons like Jump Flow and Scrubs and Whips.  Once you have mastered those tactics you can test your skills in the Theory Lessons across multiple events.  Ironically, the game doesn’t really enforce or even suggest the tutorial lessons, which actually help a lot.  Many of my frustrations would have been eliminated or lessened if I had even done the basics at the academy before diving into a career.

Multiplayer consists of either joining a public lobby or creating your own public or private lobby, and there is even support for split-screen racing for a local challenge.  There seems to be a fairly active race community and finding races to join or racers to join my events was seldom an issue.  The multiplayer component plays heavily into the Track Editor where you can challenge others to test your tracks and get feedback.  The track editor is surprisingly easy to use and reminded me of my childhood putting together those slot racer tracks.  The controls and HUD were simple enough and once your creations are uploaded to the community you can start tracking downloads and likes.

The core of the game is the Career mode where you start with creating your rider by tweaking some variables such as build, height, country, and first and last name and a nickname and number for your jersey.  Outfits are pretty simple but you can customize through sponsorship affiliations that will add decals to your jersey and bike.  There is also an amazing helmet editor that allows you to create some true works of art, but after seeing what was already available in the user-created content I was content to enjoy the works of others rather than try to figure out how to create the perfect multi-layer design of decals and logos.  For those moments where your character appears without a helmet you can customize hair and beard style and color, eyes, and a variety of tattoos and piercings.  And for the final touch, choose from any of the available Celebration animations for your victory lap.

All of the events fall into one of three classes, 450, 250 West and 250 East, which basically determines the power of the bike and where and what events you are participating in.  Most tracks are indoors but some stadiums have open roofs that might allow for rain and wet track conditions.  Other events take place outdoors and there are even challenges and free roam potions of the game where you basically get to ride in large non-track environments.  Tracks all fall into similar design with plenty of sharp turns, long stretches of bumps known as whoops, and larger hills and ramps where you need to nail the speed and timing to achieve a perfect rhythm so you don’t crash into the front side of a bump or hill.  Clean riding and skillful moves earns your points that fuel your riders XP and leveling system that ties into tiered rewards and unlocks.

A racing game is only as good as its controls and coming from a genre where I almost exclusively use a racing wheel and pedals I was left with no choice but to learn how to play this on the DualSense, and for the most part it was pretty intuitive.  You can go into the options and make this part of the game as hard or as easy as you’d like with various assists for steering and balance.  Motorcycles have front and rear brakes that are controlled independently in real-life and that is a valid option here, but you might want to share those brakes; at least until you have mastered everything else.  Optimal use of the clutch is also an important part of maintaining your speed every time you reconnect with the track surface.

One critical aspect of MX racing is mastering your rider’s weight and balance with the right-stick.  Leaning side to side helps with sharp turns and moving forward or back will determine how you fly through the air and more importantly, land.  Again, there are assists to help you out and you can play the entire game without having to worry about balance and pushing or pulling on the handlebars.  While there is an aggressive rumble in the DualSense it doesn’t quite connect you to the action, and the lack of any haptics in the triggers was disappointing.

Supercross 5 looks nice enough but certainly not as next-gen as it could be; obviously due to this being a cross-platform and cross-generation release.  The riders look at least a generation old and the dirt tracks aren’t as 3D as they should be.  The grooves look painted on and don’t seem to worsen with each lap and certainly don’t affect bike handling.  No real dirt is getting kicked up; more of a volumetric tan cloud.  What does look incredible are the detailed bike models, especially if you pause and go into Photo mode where you can spin the camera around the bike and appreciate all the detail and even accumulated dirt and mud on the bike and rider.

The presentation is excellent with an overview of the track complete with fireworks and crowds cheering and good commentary, but it all grows repetitive after a few races and you’ll likely skip through these pre-race segments.  There is also a good replay system with numerous camera views from both in-game and TV-style shots.  In-game views include two chase cams, a handlebar view, and a fantastic helmet view where your visor gets obscured with dirt.  The two first-person cameras are as close to VR as you can get without wearing a headset and can easily cause motion sickness.

If you are into MX racing you don’t have a lot of options, although there is a new MX vs ATV coming out later this year.  Until then, Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5 is pretty much the only game in town and while it’s not exactly my cup of tea, I did have some moments of fun, most of them not in the actual racing.   I did enjoy the challenging lessons of Futures Academy and collecting the letters to spell SHAPE in the outdoor levels was always exhilarating, always coming down to the final seconds for the final letter.  My biggest complaint with the actual racing was finding that balance of difficulty for both myself and the racer AI to keep things fun.  Most of the time I would shoot to the lead and win by two or more laps, but if I increased the AI difficulty I would come in last place almost every time.  The AI is either idiots or unbeatable, and moving through the career that difficulty would scale with progression, making it even harder to find that sweet spot.

I’m not going to say not to buy Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5, but just be warned that it is a very acquired taste and unlike most other racing games, even motorcycle racing games.  It’s also a $60 title on the PS5, so if you are on the fence you might want to wait for a sale.  There is a bit of fun to be had with this game, but you’ll spend more time learning to play than actually playing.  On the bright side, if you enjoy creating stuff then the track and helmet editors are second to none and will offer hours of enjoyment.

GRID Legends Review – PlayStation 5

As I approach my 20th year writing reviews for Game Chronicles, it is only fitting that I find myself reviewing yet another great racing game from veteran publisher/developer, Codemasters.  Some of my early racing reviews were Codemaster games including TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator, and while I didn’t actually review the original GRID back in the summer of 2008, I certainly played the hell out of it.  GRID was the natural evolution of the TOCA franchise, and this game would spawn a decade of future hits in both the GRID and DIRT lineage.  Not many current games can trace their roots back to 1997, but GRID Legends is here to put some next-gen polish on a much beloved racing series.

Currently available on current and last-gen consoles as well as PC, I had the pleasure of reviewing the PS5 version of the game, and yes, your powerful PC can most certainly outperform Sony’s new hardware, but you’ll need a video card that costs twice as much as a new console to do so.  Out of the box, GRID Legends is a stunner from menus and UI to presentation, game content, and certainly technical proficiency.  Play this game on a giant TV with a racing wheel and pedals in surround sound and you basically have a multi-faceted racing simulator.

After a few logos you are greeted by the grid-like menu system with a Home screen offering up curated challenges and special timed events that offer their own unique reward.  While Career mode is still the heart of the content the new “Driven to Glory” Story mode is the game’s soul.  This brilliantly designed component features an immersive story filmed with real actors on real sets telling the story of an up and coming race team, Seneca, trying to make their mark in the world.  The dramatic story bounces around from your own teammates to an egomaniacal opponent and rival team suspected of cheating to an injured teammate that we all end up rooting for in the end.  These FMV HD cinematics are part reality-show, part sit-down interviews mixed with the standard creepy cameraman lurking behind a bush filming a semi-private conversation.  It’s all quite convincing.

Naturally, you’ll be playing the voiceless Racer 22, newly discovered in part one of the story after winning the first of many races.  There are 36 chapters in the story, each with 1-3 race events and a few minutes of FMV story between to advance the narrative.  Obviously, since this is a scripted story you’ll have to finish within the required standings of each event to advance, but coming in first place is only required in the game’s epic final race.  All other times you have some fairly attainable goals.  Even podium finishes aren’t required until the final few events.  Of course in the spirit of Ricky Bobby, those who accept nothing less than a first-place can replay any story event with no penalty or change in the script, and if you fail to meet the required objective you will be forced to replay the race.  Expect a good 5-8 hours to finish the Story mode depending on your skills and chosen difficulty level.

Moving on to the Career mode you have four tiers of events ranging from Rookie to Semi-Pro and Pro and each with a varying number of Classes per tier totaling 64 Class events.  Tiers and Classes within those tiers are unlocked through progression through unlocked portions of the career; for example, the first Rookie tier opens up to 8 Classes, several of which are locked until you complete enough events from other accessible content.  Classes will have a percentage completion based on the events won, so if you go to Rookie then Electric class you’ll find three events (only two of which are unlocked) you’ll need to finish for 100% completion, which is only 1/8th of the total Rookie tier completion.  It’s kind of crazy how this is all laid out and how things are slowly unlocked, but it does keep you hopping around so you don’t get bored or stuck on one class type or event series.

The Social blade offers up Quick Races with random players or you can search for your ideal race situation or even create your own session, and now that EA has acquired Codemasters you also have easy access to your EA Friends list for private matches.  The Race Creator panel gives you complete control to create and customize every element of your event from classes of vehicles or even just one type as well as modifiers, disciplines, location, day and weather conditions, laps, and more.  You can then save these to any of four slots for easy recall.

Next up is the Garage where you can buy new cars from any of the ones you have unlocked through gameplay.  Cars have their own set of stats, and each car even has its own odometer which tracks how much you drive it, which in turn unlocks three sets of upgrades based on mileage, almost like a loyalty bonus. The Team options let you customize settings like team name, driver name, as well as a team logo and banner.  Anyone who played last year’s DIRT 5 will know exactly what to expect here; hundreds of unlockable graphics you can choose to personalize your profile.

An important part of the team settings is choosing a Sponsor from a growing list of companies that will give you various milestone challenges in exchange for cash rewards.  Some of these challenges are passively easy like finishing five nighttime races, while others will require driving certain car classes or performing certain actions like drafting or handbrake turns.  Once you have completed all the sponsor goals you can pick another, but there is actually some strategy involved in choosing the appropriate sponsor for what you plan to be doing in the game.  If you are about to go through the Touring car events then you might want to find the sponsor that rewards for driving Touring cars, etc.

Also in the Team menu are Mechanic Development upgrades; basically a three-level skill tree where you spend race earning to buy perks like car discounts, cheaper parts and repairs, or bonus earnings or even access to more sponsors.  Similar to this tech tree is the Teammate Development screen that offers another three-tier set of unlocks that will help you customize your Seneca teammate.  While your teammate plays a critical part in the Story mode you can also use your teammate during races by issuing commands with the D-pad; things like blocking or pushing an opponent.  The settings in this tech tree enhance those abilities as well as other passive skills like driving better on wet pavement or even just getting out of your way if you are coming up behind them.

There is a staggering amount of content buried in GRID Legends, and this review only covers the major stuff.  There is a whole screen of Progression Stats that track XP earned in each driving class as well as event completion.  There is a whole currency system in place that rewards you with winnings while deducting expenses such as car repairs and general overhead fees, most of which can be lessened by those Skill Tree perks.  Early on you might win 10,000 credits and pay out 5,000 in fees, which makes earning credits slow at first, but once you have purchased all the developmental skills there is nothing left to buy but cars; over 100 cars at launch and more on the way.

So now that we’ve covered the content how about that presentation?  GRID Legends looks incredible, even if it is slightly constrained by being a cross-generation title.  Everything about the game from the menus to the story presentation is clean and efficient.  Jumping into the game you get a flawless 60fps experience regardless of the track or how many cars are on it.  The locations are stunning, many of which have appeared in other racing games, so some might seem familiar but have never looked better.  The level of detail is off the charts with confetti and colored spotlights, and fireworks that are dangerously distracting.  The draw distance is to the horizon with no pop-up, no visual texture detail shifts based on range, and no shadow fluctuations.

You have multiple camera options ranging from near and far chase cams to bumper, hood, windshield, and dash with and without a wheel.  Interior views offer functioning rearview mirrors and working instrument clusters and the ability to free-look with the right stick.  This is without a doubt one of the most realistic driving experiences from a cockpit perspective I’ve ever played, with ultra-realistic lighting effects that create glare and reflections just like in real-life.  I suffer from photic sneeze reflex and there were certain events that had me driving into the sun, and the HDR was so bright it was triggering sneezing.  I literally had to wear sunglasses on some events based on the time of day.  It’s also worth mention that the rain races are some of the best I’ve ever driven, with reflective streets, droplets on the hood and lens of external cameras and realistic rain and wiper effects from inside the car.

The audio package was outstanding with a typical assortment of “race music”, great sound effects for engines, scrapes and crashes that are realistically muffled based on camera choice.  Rumble strips from the cockpit are much different than the hood or bumper cam as are the engine sounds.  And we can’t overlook the awesome voice acting for the Story mode actors; some of which were so convincing I thought they had managed to get a real mechanic to act.  One thing that puzzled me was all of the in-race commentary taking place while you are driving.  I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a super-realistic attention to detail but the sportscasters can only be heard over the trackside PA system once the race starts, so if you are driving from inside the car you can’t hear any of the commentary, but it is subtitled if you dare to look down and read it while going 150mph.  Even driving from an outside camera view you can only hear this commentary when passing PA speaker poles.  Admittedly, this is totally realistic, but from a gaming perspective I wish there was a way to change this because the bits I did manage to read were pretty accurate play-by-plays of what was happening on the track.

Controls are also excellent with the DualSense providing some superior control and a minor amount of rumble; certainly nothing as robust as the feedback in DIRT 5 which actually popped a spring in my controller.  There’s no use of the controller speaker for radio conversation or even a clutch noise.  I only used the DualSense for a few races before sliding behind my G923 racing wheel and pedals, and the game came alive in new ways, offering the ultimate immersive experience.   As with previous Codemasters racing games, there is a nice assortment of driving options and assists to tailor the experience to your liking.

EA managed to smartly get this game launched a week ahead of Gran Turismo 7, so everyone who wanted had a full week to experience this fantastic racing game.  While I am also playing Gran Turismo 7 (not for review) I find both experiences drastically different, and for all but the most diehard sim-purist I would have to tip the scale in favor of GRID Legends; especially when it comes to mass appeal.  The engaging Story mode, massive Career mode, along with the robust skill trees, and online racing makes this one of the best Codemasters racing games to date.  Plus, as an added bonus there are no micro-transactions or constant online connection required for single player.  There will be paid DLC coming in four drops over the next year for those who want to enhance their core game experience.   I look forward to when the GRID franchise is no longer constrained by last-gen support. I’ve been a fan for almost 15 years and can’t wait to see what they do next.  Until then, I’ll see you in my rearview mirror…

If you’d like to see GRID Legends in action you can check out our First Look video with commentary.

Circuit Superstars Review – PC

I know you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is Travis reviewing Circuit Superstars?  I thought he only played serious racing games.”  Well, actually I play most all racing games but usually only report on the more serious sim racers, so when Circuit Superstars popped up for review I decided to check it out, and boy I’m glad I did.  I’m old/young enough to have come in on the tail end of the arcade scene, but I still have fond memories of many arcade racing games like Sega Rally, Daytona USA, Outrun, and perhaps my favorite, Super Off Road; the top-down racing game with three steering wheels on the cabinet.  One of my guilty pleasures is top-down racing games; a side-effect of playing with all those electric slot-racers growing up no doubt, and I’m always eager to check out any games that fit into the genre.  Sadly, the offerings have dwindled over the years with Mantis Burn Racing being one of the last newer top-down games I’ve played, and that was in 2016.

Developer, Original Fire Games has created something very simple, straightforward, unique, challenging, and completely addicting with their new racing game, Circuit Superstars.  It’s one of those games that is easy to ignore when browsing the Steam store with screenshots and a trailer that don’t do the game justice.  I was blown away within moments of my first race with all the graphical flourishes, the great car designs, multiple game modes, and a unique arcade physics system that worked seamlessly with responsive gamepad controls.

The amount of content is staggering starting with the Grand Prix mode that is home to the main single-player experience.  This mode contains a dozen racing events spanning multiple disciplines, surface types, specific eras of cars and even trucks.  You have five difficulty modes that you can choose for each event, and all are separately scored and rewarded with their own trophies, thus incentivizing lots of replays.  Each event contains multiple races on a series of tracks chosen from the 19 venues spread across 13 unique locations.  These tracks can be raced in reverse and some even feature layouts that are modified through strategic cone placement that block off certain paths.

If you just want to explore the content there is a nice Free Play mode and those looking to mix it up with other racers will find a robust online mode as well as a fantastic 4-player split-screen mode that supports Steam’s Remote Play Together.  The online mode lets you join or create your own lobby and Circuit Superstars supports cross-play with Xbox gamers, which certainly boosted the player count in lobbies days after launch.  It also helps that the game has been in Early Access since March of this year, so there was already a lot of awareness for its official launch.  Another fun perk of the online support are global ghosts that allow you to see how other top-players are driving and mastering this tracks.  This ties directly into the eSports integration for Top Gear Time Attack and other competitive game modes such as the Weekly Time Trials.

There is a simple Garage mode that lets you customize your car and driver with any unlocked assets you have earned while leveling up.  You also have a few standard liveries available to choose from before each race.  While you won’t get to appreciate much of the smaller details while racing from the top-view there are numerous camera angles to play with in the robust Replay mode.  The pit stop animations were unexpectedly awesome for such a simple arcade racer.

Of course any racing game comes down to physics and handling and Circuit Superstars does take a bit of getting used to with its ice-like tracks that require deft use of the throttle, brake, and analog steering to maintain that perfect drift line while maintaining optimum speeds.  A good example is the 60’s GP Revival where you are driving authentic cars from that era that will spin out if you mash the gas, especially in tight turns.  And the way the disciplines are presented, if you play them in their listed order you then move on to Muscle Cars and then Super Trucks.  By the time you get behind the wheel of a big rig you have likely already driven five other car varieties that in no way prepare you for the shift in momentum or the increase weight of your truck that reduces is stopping distance.  All of these subtle variations across the disciplines do a surprising job of keeping the game fresh and challenging.

The one thing I did notice was an overall lack of rumble support outside of driving on the actual rumble strips in the game or actually hitting another car or trackside object.  There was nothing to directly tie the car to the track or hint at tire grip or loss of traction, and 95% of the time I felt I was driving on ice, which made it take twice as long to master the drifting mechanic.  You will figure it out and it feels great when you finally do, but better rumble would have helped.

Circuit Superstars looks fantastic and has reasonably good sounds for the various engine revs.  The music is surprisingly great, the menus and UI are easy to navigate and races are fast to load.  I enjoyed the distinct trophies for each skill level ranging from Amateur to Superstar and the actual progression of AI difficulty as you climb this trophy ladder.  Circuit Superstars is a classic example of an arcade racing game yet it does demand a bit of skill and clean driving.  The AI can be unforgiving, so don’t expect to mash the gas and bounce off of guardrails and other cars and earn a podium finish.  You really do need to learn proper racing lines and finesse that brake and throttle to stay competitive, especially in the higher skill levels.  In the longer races you also need to pay attention to fuel and tire wear and pit when necessary.

The single-player portion alone is worth the cost of admission and the online modes have a lot to offer if you are good enough to compete with some of the insanely good players already setting impossible laps times.  I really enjoyed my time spent with Circuit Superstars and I plan to spend a lot more earning those final few gold cups, but anyone looking for a truly fantastic arcade racing experience should definitely check out Circuit Superstars now on Steam (and Xbox) for only $20.

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HOT WHEELS UNLEASHED Review – PC & PS5

Ten years ago a revolutionary new game called Skylanders hit the scene; one that opened the floodgates for numerous toys-to-life video games like Disney Infinity two years later and LEGO Dimensions two years after that.  And we can’t forget Nintendo’s massive line of Amiibo collectible figures.  I remember this time vividly because throughout this five-year span I kept thinking to myself, “If only they did this with Hot Wheels.”  While the figures offered in all those aforementioned products were cool there wasn’t much to do with them outside of their respective games other than display them on a shelf and collect dust, but actual Hot Wheels cars could still be played with outside of whatever type game might exist.

While my dream of a toys-to-life Hot Wheels game never materialized, in 2017 we did get an amazing Hot Wheels DLC for Forza Horizon 3 that delivered a fantastic racing world created from authentic Hot Wheels track pieces along with ten classic cars.  It’s such an amazing part of the Horizon experience it still remains on my system even four years later, but that might change with the release of Hot Wheels Unleashed; a game I have become hopelessly addicted to over the past two weeks leading up to its release.

Most of you know me from my racing sim reviews, and while I do favor the more realistic racing games there is something refreshingly simple and rewarding about a pure arcade racer where you don’t have to worry about gear ratios and tire wear.  This game unleashes the inner child in anyone who plays, especially if you are of an age that had anything to do with actually playing or collecting Hot Wheels cars since they were first introduced in 1968.  Unleashed offers the perfect mix of tracks and cars while creating a unique “collectible” environment that fuels your own car collection as well as continually adding pieces to your construction set when you are ready to start designing your own tracks.  After all, playing with Hot Wheels is all about the endless possibilities of creating the ultimate racetracks.

Hot Wheels Unleashed offers a dizzying amount of content including a massive single-player experience that spans a large city map with branching paths full of races and time trials, challenging boss fights, and clever secrets that combine specific tracks with specific cars.  You also have local split-screen racing and thrilling online racing for up to twelve drivers.  Sadly, there is no cross-play support, so you are stuck with matchmaking on your chosen platform.  I played and reviewed this game on both the PC and the PS5 and based on my post-launch play the PC seemed a bit easier when it comes to matchmaking, but with no public lobbies, race settings, or matchmaking filters multiplayer is still a bit of a mess.

Luckily for me, I was here mostly for the single-player experience which is pretty awesome in an addictive and time-consuming sort of way.  The game starts by opening three containers to get your collection started and these three cars vary with each new game.  The cars I started with on PS5 were not nearly as good, statistically speaking, as the ones I started with on PC, which had me struggling a bit on the console until I was able to upgrade to something a bit more competitive.

Cars all come with various stats for speed, acceleration, handling, etc., and all cars can be upgraded once to improve those base stats by spending “gears” earned by winning races.  You can also earn coins by winning races, which are used to purchase car containers, unlocking new cars for your growing collection.  Hot Wheels Unleashed manages to dodge the tempting micro-transaction scheme I would have expected from such a game, but they do have some questionable pricing structures for their various releases.

The base game is $50, even on PS5 which usually sees a $10 increase in price, but then you have the Collector’s Edition and the Ultimate Stunt Edition with prices climbing as high as $90 if you want the first two (of what I expect to be many) car collection Passes.  I still see a future where you can buy a physical Hot Wheels car and place it on a scanning pedestal and have it appear in a game…even this game.  The good news is that if you are immune to FOMO then you are still going to have a blast playing the base came which offers hours of challenging racing and plenty of cool cars.  If you are all about having the biggest and most complete car collection then crack open that wallet.

The core of Hot Wheels Unleashed has you exploring this massive city map dotted with dozens of racing events.  Paths follow the city streets, sometimes ending at a secret that must be solved before you can continue, sometimes a boss race, and sometimes you just reach the end of a certain path and claim your reward.  Each race has two completion goals, one for progression and an Unleashed objective that earns you even better prizes. Winning races will earn you gears, credits, car boxes, and a vast assortment of decorative components so you can customize your own basement game room.  You’ll also unlock various track elements and set pieces that can be used in the brilliant track editor to create infinite designs.

My only issue with this part of the game is that you cannot races your custom tracks against the computer, forcing you to go online for any competitive racing on your own creations.  Hopefully custom tracks get bot race support soon otherwise I see a total lack of incentive for creating tracks.  The track editor is simply inspired, easy to learn, easy to use, and you can construct amazing tracks in a short amount of time.  There is also a fun car editor where you can go in and change the color and material of various parts of the car and decorate it will all sorts of stickers and vinyl.  You can then share your design liveries online and use them in your own games to give your car a distinct look.

What surprised me most about Hot Wheels Unleashed was just how similar both games were across PC and PS5.  My RTX3090 card was pumping out smooth 4K/60fps visuals with all the settings maxed out and the game looked near photo-real in places, especially the textured plastic of the track pieces, and the cars were amazingly detailed and I really appreciated the way new unlocked cars were presented in their original packaging.  The PS5 version came up about 98% of the PC visual quality, and while the plastic tracks weren’t quite as shiny I found their duller texture actually looked a bit more realistic overall.  And these nominal visual sacrifices were more than made up for with lightning fast load times and responsive DualSense controls on the PS5 that had me more connected to the car and track.

There were a few nagging issues I had with the game; more developer oversights than anything I supposed.  I already mentioned the lackluster multiplayer support, and I found the lack of race views tragic.  The single view offered is totally functional, but I would have been interested to see things from other perspectives.  I REALLY wanted a free moving camera or at least a “human cam” perspective for the race replays.  Hot Wheels Unleashed does a fantastic job of creating a sense of scale from the micro/car perspective, but I would really like to watch a replay from a human scale seeing these cars race around the track in these immersive environments.  I also hated having to exit to the main menu and enter the Collection section to open blind containers.  I should be able to open a container the moment I earn it.

Hot Wheels Unleashed manages to create a quite addictive gaming experience with that “just one more race” mentality.  The timed rotation of store items also kept me playing longer that I would have.  During one session I was about to quit for the night and the shop had added the KITT car from Knight Rider for 1200 credits.  I only had 350 at the time and the car was only going to be in the store for another hour and fifty minutes, so I started racing all the events with the most prize money and just barely earned the 850 credits before the inventory got cycled.  I’m sure that KITT would have returned in a future rotation but there was something oddly compelling that I had to have that car NOW.  Ironically enough, I almost never use it.

And therein lies the biggest flaw in Hot Wheels Unleashed.  Not all cars are created equal and while many are fun to simply have in your collection and perhaps modify in the livery editor, many are simply not competitive.  The garbage truck has a zero speed rating.  The way the races are designed, especially the later races, you need to have cars with nearly maxed out stats and at least three nitro charges to even hope at winning.  The AI is brutally aggressive and there is no rubber-banding, so if you fly off the track on lap 3 you may as well start over.  While some tracks have elements like web-shooting spiders, acid-dripping scorpions, and giant snakes with snapping jaws that will stop your car in its tracks, the AI racers rarely seem to fall victim to these hazards.

Still, the racing is thrilling and fun with banked turns, loops, ramps, and even moments of driving across bare floors and tabletops lined with racing cones.  You can drift to fuel your nitro boost, and there are speed pads and purple turbo boosts along with magnetic track sections, and the most perilous; tracks without the side rails.  These butt-clenching sections can be terrifying because you have to maintain speed otherwise the AI will knock you off.  Tracks are all set within these magnificent real-world settings like a basement, garage, dorm room, and a skyscraper under construction where you actually drive across girders, and many have thrilling set pieces like a giant T-Rex head that launches the cars or the aforementioned Snake, Spider and Scorpion or even a fire-breathing dragon.  You also have track switchers and even moments where magnetic tracks will send your car floating to the next section forcing you to adjust your car’s pitch and yaw in mid-flight.  Great stuff!

Hot Wheels Unleashed offers it all; great racing action, addicting car collection, and creative design elements with the detailed track designer and livery editor.  Countless hours await whether you are simply trying to complete the massive single-player experience or lose yourself in designing future content for others to experience online.  Best of all, you can’t go wrong with either the PC or the PS5 version, as both are nearly identical in visual fidelity with maybe a few performance perks for the next-gen console.  Sure, there are areas that could be improved or enhanced, and the pricing scheme borders on anti-consumer, but rest assured the base game has everything you need to fully enjoy this next-gen Hot Wheels racing experience.

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WRC 10 FIA World Rally Championship Review – PC/PS5

Back in April of this year I had the thrilling privilege of being in Zagreb for the 45th running of the Croatia Rally.  Simply witnessing this event was an amazing experience, but the real treat was the day after the race when I was allowed to actually drive the course thanks to Team Subaru and some string-pulling from my racing school instructor. Until then I had only driven rally cars in a few locations around the States, but nothing could prepare me for driving an actual championship course that still had all the race trimmings installed.  The only thing missing was the cheering trackside crowds.

Five months later I am playing WRC 10 FIA World Rally Championship and that same track shows up in the career calendar rotation, and I am instantly transported back to the actual driver’s seat, gripping my Logitech racing wheel, finessing the gas, clutch, and brake as I navigated all the twists and turns of this near-perfect recreation of the real-world track.  There was an inexplicable euphoria that washed over me, and even though I only placed third in the event it was still a triumphant experience, and I am already looking forward to next season – I think New Zealand will be a fine destination in 2022.

I’ve been saying this for the past three or four games in this series but WRC 10 FIA World Rally Championship is just about as real as it gets without actually climbing behind the wheel.  The series just keeps improving on every element; physics, graphics, liveries, locations, and all the intricate back-office dealings taking place between the actual racing.  Like last year, I reviewed WRC 10 on both the PC and PS5 only this year the results weren’t as favorable when it came to the PS5 version, so let’s get into it.

I personally found the PS5 unplayable in its current state, and by current I mean 30 minutes prior to writing this review.  I had hoped some sort of patch would have fixed things but sadly no.  Clearly the developers are trying to push the PS5 beyond it’s already impressive boundaries, so while my RTX3090 card runs this game flawlessly the PS5 is so bad I got physically ill and had to quit playing.  Everything is okay until you hit that first Anniversary event, the 1973 Acropolis Rally.  There is something about that level, either geometry or texture complexity or perhaps just sheer scale of the course, but the framerate tanks hard and there is copious amounts of screen tearing taking place at every hairpin turn – and this track has lots of them.  Textures are fuzzy and there is some very aggressive motion blur happening.  The framerate is all over the place making it incredibly hard to steer with any accuracy using the DualSense.  I switched over to my Logitech G29, which resolved most of my control issues, but the game still looked really bad in motion.  The cinematic pre-race beauty shots of the course looked great, but once behind the wheel the fluctuating framerate and horizontal screen tear forced me to quit.  Even changing the various race views didn’t help.  Unless or until the PS5 version is patched or Sony figures out their VRR issues I cannot recommend anyone play this on the PS5.  Even an option for 60fps Performance vs 30fps Quality would fix this.

The good news is the PC version is amazing and highly scalable thanks to pages of video options; none of which were available on the PS5.  My RTX3090 was running this game flawlessly with all the settings maxed out at 4K and WRC 10 on PC is just about as photo-real as it gets.  The one thing I did notice where the PS5 had a slight edge was on load times that were about a third of my PC’s SSD, but that is likely third gen versus fourth gen drive technology.  It’s basically 10-20 seconds to load on PS5 and 30-60 seconds on my PC, but I also suspect I am loading in higher res textures as well on the PC.

So what could they possibly do different or add to what was already an excellent and complete WRC 9 game from last year?  How about a 50th Anniversary Edition that celebrates all the great moments from WRC’s impressive 48 years of racing?  Yes, it’s coming two years early, but we’ll overlook that.  The very first WRC event was in 1973 – that same fateful race I mentioned above that was unplayable on the PS5 – and you’ll get to enjoy that event and many more in this new Anniversary mode, or you can relive these events as optional races in your career race calendar.  My biggest complaint with these events is that they are mostly enhanced time trials where you are required to beat a certain time to win and unlock the next event.  If you are unable to do so then any future anniversary content remains locked, and this is disappointing, especially if that is why you are playing WRC 10 in the first place.

Like all games in the franchise WRC 10 is brutally hard and unforgivingly realistic.  Sure, there are all sorts of settings and assists and sliders to tailor the game to your own skill level, but many of these time requirements are quite daunting.  I play with fairly realistic settings and am using a wheel/pedal combo and frankly, I’m pretty good at these games; not at an Esports level, but I almost always get a podium finish.  It took me three attempts to beat that first Acropolis event.  I can only imagine how off-putting this will be to the more casual players.

WRC 10 doesn’t disappoint with its massive car collection and this year we get customizable liveries that let you modify just about every visual element of thirty cars from all the various leagues.  Edit colors, stickers, shapes, logos, and more to create infinite looks and personalize your career.  For those who place value on stats welcome back 52 teams from all the WRC categories with all the current season liveries.  This Anniversary Edition also packs in four new 2021 rallies; Estonia, Croatia, Belgium and Spain as well as six historic rallies; Acropolis, San Remo, Germany and Argentina, 120 special stages, and 20 legendary cars from Alpine, Audi, Lancia, Subaru, Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and more.

Play as numerous racing stars in the Season mode or create your own driver to seek fame and fortune in the elaborate and lengthy Career mode.  As always, you also have Quickplay, Training, a test area to test your setups, and dozens of unlockable Challenges that will test your proficiency with specific cars, earning you gold, silver, and bronze medals.  You can also create your own club or join someone else’s to compete in daily and weekly challenges or create your own challenges in this growing Esport community.  There is no shortage of racing in WRC 10.

Career mode is the cornerstone of the content allowing you to start in the Junior leagues and make your way to the WRC or just jump in.  In career mode you not only have to worry about what happens on the track but also manage your crew and team behind the scenes, worrying about things like fatigue, mechanics, business agents, PR, and even a meteorologist to predict the weather for your next event.  Keeping your staff healthy and happy is just as important as navigating the massive R&D tech tree that lets you customize your career by spending points earned through leveling up while racing.  It’s an amazingly intricate and often overwhelming multi-layer system that’s running behind the scenes and all visualized quite nicely with a fun and detailed isometric view of your racing HQ.

There can be a lot to micromanage if you want there to be, and sadly there is no narrative or story to carry you through the career.  You basically spend all non-race moments wading through various menus where you can populate your own race calendar with specific events, but make sure to put in “rest days” so your team can recover.  You have to maintain a staff of six professionals, often with backups in case someone decides to take off right before a big race.  You get to affect manufacturer reputations and setup season and short term goals that all factor into rep and team morale.  Your race results will all factor into money, XP, reputation, and morale and if you’re rep drops too low a sponsor could drop you.

Of course if you’d rather not worry about all the non-racing stuff you can just jump into the Season mode for pure racing and none of the paperwork.   Special Training modes let you practice and perfect the various key skills required for rally racing, and these are very similar to what you experience in an actual racing school.  WRC 10 also offers up a nice set of multiplayer options including online events, split-screen local play, and daily, weekly, and special challenges. Some are available for a limited timed only, encouraging you to check in with the game regularly.

The underlying physics engine is as advanced as it gets with plenty of setup options allowing you the ability to setup variations for race surface, temperature, weather, etc., and then save those settings to test or keep as presets for future use.  As I mentioned last year, WRC is a hard core simulation and as such does not play as well with a gamepad, and that is even truer this year as the driving mechanics have gotten even more realistic with mass transfer and tire grip playing much bigger roles in car handling.  Yes, you can struggle to play the game with a controller but you will never feel comfortable or in sync with the game until you switch to a wheel/pedal combo.  And it doesn’t even have to be a fancy or expensive setup; just something that offers a sweeping analog range of motion for steering and some nice travel distance for braking and throttle.  Given the crazy RPM’s of these mighty cars and the general lack of traction on these off-road tracks trying to use triggers for gas and break is a recipe for a wipeout.

Before each race you can dial in the difficulty on a percentage scale and to be even remotely competitive (and enjoyable) you’ll probably want to put that slider between 75-80% difficulty if you persist in using a gamepad.  You can also tweak the level of damage effects and toggle perma-crash for each event.  Reckless driving is discouraged not only with potential time penalties between rally race days while you repair the car but also the fact you have to pay for repairs after each event with your earnings…team salaries too.  Lose too many races and you could go broke.

WRC 10 has never looked better or more realistic; something you can appreciate in the Photo mode that allows you to setup and take stunning screenshots of your favorite cars in your favorite locations, or maybe you just want to document that dented fender or cracked windshield for insurance purposes.  When played on a large screen from the cockpit view with a wheel and pedals the level of total immersion is unparalleled.  The tracks and environments are photo-real and the lighting effects for nighttime and extreme weather racing events can be terrifying.  The way the light reflects off fog, snow, or sheets of rain is eerily realistic; both visually and how it impacts the road surface and the way your car handles.  WRC 10 demands a pretty hefty PC to recreate all this realism and my RTX3090 was definitely having a much easier time than my RTX2060 Super did last year.  For WRC 9 I had to make numerous compromises to maintain 60fps at 1440p, but my RTX3090 basically allowed me to crank up all the options on WRC10 and run the game at a locked 60fps at 4K.  Lighting and shadows, textures and particles, draw distance, vegetation, crowd density, and water quality all looked incredible. Your choice of camera can also impact your performance, as driving behind the car (shame on you) takes more horsepower than the hood or cockpit cam.

Having driven NASCAR, Indy Car, Formula F1, and now Rally in real-life and in video game simulations I can say that rally is unlike any other type of racing; a fact that this game clearly communicates through stunning visuals and incredibly realistic physics and driving mechanics.  While I would never discourage anyone from playing this game just please go into it knowing that this is a hardcore simulation that rewards patience and dedication and punishes casual racers who are coming to sightsee while crashing around corners.  For those up to the challenge grab that wheel/pedal combo and become one with the machine and the road.  WRC 10 FIA World Rally Championship continues to set the standard for reality racing.

RiMS Racing Review – PC

I’m a huge fan of all types of racing, and if you combined all the time I’ve spent in various driving schools and weekend race retreats I’ve probably logged more hours behind the wheel than I have playing the video games that mimic the sport.  Admittedly, all of my real-world racing has been of the four-wheel variety; NASCAR, Formula, Indycar, and Rally, and I can say with certainly that I have never once entertained the idea of straddling a high-performance motorbike.  After several hours playing RiMS Racing that opinion hasn’t changed.

On the surface RiMS Racing appears to be much like any and every other racing simulation you can play on PC and console.  You get all the classic modes, real-world venues, meticulously detailed career mode that puts you in charge of much more than just driving around a track, and all those other extras you associate with the sport like sponsors, liveries, and character customization.  RiMS Racing offers up the standard Career mode; the meat of this motorbike buffet, as well as Single race where you can customized every element of the race from bike, track, weather, track conditions, and rules.  There is a Private Testing area where you can customize your training and drive laps with no AI opponents and an Academy mode where you can replay challenges from the main Career calendar and try to earn Gold, Silver, and Bronze helmet rewards.

I knew I was in trouble when I crashed seven times on the single-lap tutorial, and then I realized most of this was due to poor controls.  90% of my video game racing takes place with my Logitech wheel and pedal combo while sitting in a racing chair.  This doesn’t translate very well to a motorbike game, so I ended up playing from a normal chair with an Xbox Elite II controller.  The problem that remains is the lack of variable input with the triggers used for braking and gas, plus the fact that by default you have independent brakes for front and rear; something you can combine in the options for simplicity.  I quickly learned that if you are mashing the LT while going into a sharp turn you are going right over those handlebars, and similarly, if you mash the throttle coming out of a turn you are going to wipeout.  There is so much finesse required for something as simple as brake and throttle and the LT and RT don’t seem to have an adequate range of motion to express that.

It turns out there are actual handlebar controllers out there for motorbike games such as this, and if you are the type of gamer who takes this niche sport that seriously then you should probably invest in one.  For the rest of us, you can muddle through the options and game assists and eventually find something that works, plus it doesn’t hurt to be using a controller such as the Elite II with additional buttons, as you will eventually want to split those brakes up for optimum racing and switch to manual transmission where downshifting proves to be more effect than braking in many instances.  I will admit that even after eight hours of playing this game I am still never totally comfortable riding these bikes.  There is always this uneasy feeling that at any moment I could apply too much brake or throttle and dump my ride.  Part of this is due to a lack of tactile feedback in the controller; something that could easily be remedied with haptics such as those in the DualSense controller for PS5.  Sure, you get some rumbly bits with an Xbox controller but nothing that informs your racing situation in real-time.

RiMS Racing delivers up eight superbikes that have been meticulously researched and collaborated on with their respective manufactures to create some of the most accurate and realistic bikes you can drive in a video game; a fact you quickly realize when you start to explore the interactive Pit Stops and incredibly detailed garage mechanic area…more on that in a bit.  And to experience these rides to their fullest, RiMS Racing offers up nine real-world circuit tracks and five road tracks that are reversible for a total of nearly 20 racing venues.

Diving into the career mode will not only present you with more than 70 seasonal calendar events, you’ll also be in charge of every aspect of your racing career as you explore your giant two-story facility that is home to Lodging, Management, Settings, Research, Calendar, and a Motorbike Stand.  The actual racing is handled through the Calendar that either has assigned events or lets you choose from a few options.  Events come in several flavors including; Academy events where you race for cash and helmet trophies, Brand events where you race for parts, Manufacturer events where you race for bikes, Cup events where you race for cash, Face Off events where you race for fame and respect, World Championship events which are the culmination of the other race events, Task events where you must complete various challenges, and Rest events where you just take the weekend off.  Your HQ is nicely laid out and reminded me of similar garage menu systems found in WRC and F1 racing sims.

One area of racing I have never cared enough to pursue beyond simple tuning configurations is the garage/mechanic elements.  RiMS Racing takes this to a whole new level and actually makes it fun.  At any point in a race you can pause the game and bring up a detailed status of eleven key components on your bike.  These are color-coded to show real-time wear and tear that can be addressed during pit stops or in much greater detail between events at the Mechanic area in your HQ.  Here you can buy new parts and sell off your used/old parts in what is perhaps one of the finest garage simulations I’ve ever experienced in a racing game.  It is so cleverly detailed and interactive right down to these mini-QTE’s where you spin the analog stick and perform simple button combo presses to remove and replace parts on your bike.

Other key areas of your HQ are the Research area where you can hire guys to research new tech to learn about parts or even learn about opponents’ racing setups – sounds a bit like spying to me, and even hire someone to track future weather and track conditions for upcoming events; again, very similar to the WRC and F1 tech trees.  There is also a Management area where you can unlock skills with Team Points to help you rise up through the career calendar.

RiMS Racing did have some performance issues; something I wouldn’t expect from a new release running on my particular setup using an RTX3090 card.  As trivial as it sounds, the splash screens during the loads are low-res and frankly a bit ugly with blurry images and jagged edges; almost as if it was a 1080p image being stretched to a 4K space.  Eventually the game switches to in-game graphics for the final part of the pre-race segment and things get better, but once the game was in motion there was plenty of poor performance in both dropped framerates and visible stuttering.  I was running with all options set to their highest settings and even after dropping to 1440p I still had performance dips with multiple bikes on screen or on more complex areas of some tracks.  As I was wrapping up this review I did read somewhere that playing the game in Borderless Window mode can fix this issue.  I haven’t tested myself, but it seems odd since dedicated Full Screen is always supposed to offer the best performance.  Clearly something needs to be patched or updated.

Some other visual observations included the poor perception of speed.  I even left motion blur active in hopes it would help, but I invariably was always going too fast into turns causing me to drift wide or turn too tight and flip the bike.  What looks and feels like 40mph is often 80-90mph.  I ultimately relied way too much on the color-coded drive line and even that wasn’t entirely accurate as my momentum would often send me into the gravel pits.  Other issues included some very long load times; some well over 30 seconds and this was with the game installed on a Samsung SSD drive.  At least it appears to be loading in the entire track because any future restarts or resets are near-instant.

Visually, the game is quite stunning, both in the HQ and all the racing bits including the TV-style presentation.  Weather effects are fantastic with realistic water on the pavement as well as drops and streaks on external camera views or on your helmet’s face shield.  You have six race views ranging from chase, fender, handlebar, and inside the helmet; the latter even realistically muffling the engine and track noise.  You get some great reflections in your side mirrors and some really immersive screen space reflections on wet tracks.  The audio is also quite nice with realistic engine noises and a phenomenal soundtrack that I typically don’t care about, but this was really good.  It also has a streaming option to filter out licensed tracks if you decide to broadcast your gameplay.

Races generally have 10 bikes and they all look distinct and are driven with reasonably intelligent AI.  There is also support for online PvP and local shared/split-screen racing, but I didn’t really get into those modes.  I might report back later if I do, and there is anything worth mentioning.  I was just happy to get a podium finish after a few weeks into my career.  Thankfully you can adjust the overall AI difficulty any time between races and you can always go into driving options and adjust a variety of assists to create something playable and hopefully winnable.

Much like F1 and WRC, RiMS Racing isn’t for everyone.  It’s a hardcore realistic simulation that asks you to do a lot more than just drive, and when it does come time to actually race you’ll find that having half the number of wheels can make the experience twice as challenging.  Aggressive throttle and brake might work with auto racing, but motorbikes require much more finesse just to stay upright let alone actually win races.  This is a whole different world of racing, and if you think you are prepared for it then it doesn’t get much better than RiMS Racing, especially if you love tinkering about in the garage.

Wreckfest Review – PlayStation 5

It’s taken nearly two years for Wreckfest to arrive on the new PS5 console while PC and Xbox gamers have been smashing their cars since late 2019.  But good things come to those who wait and I must say the PS5 version of Wreckfest might be the smoothest and most reliable port to date.  With the exception of three fatal crashes over the span of 18 hours of play, I was very impressed with my latest playthrough on Sony’s new console, including load times that are now less than 10 seconds.  PC and Xbox are still 30-40 seconds.

For those that haven’t read my other reviews I enjoy getting to drive race cars in real-life; everything from Indy and F1 to NASCAR and rally cars. The one thing you never want to do is crash one of these million dollar machines, so playing a game where the main intent is to smash into other vehicles goes against every fiber of my being, even if you are driving a piece of crap held together with duct tape and chewing gum. Wreckfest fills in the niche of a true demolition derby game and does so brilliantly with all sorts of race modes, track designs, and a massive garage of vehicles ranging from cars and trucks to riding mowers and farm equipment. You can even drive a motorized couch!

Wreckfest offers a comprehensive solo career mode as well as some crazy multiplayer action. The career mode is divided into panel events that can be either a solo race or a short series. You’ll earn points for finishing in top positions and there are star challenges available that will really test your ability to smash and dash while still trying to win the event. You might be asked to spin out a car or crash them out of the race or merely inflict x-many damage points to the other racers. Some crashes might even trigger a rivalry with a specific racer.

Events take place on a variety of tracks with a mix of dirt, mud, and pavement. Most tracks are circuit designs but there are some figure-8 tracks tossed in to clench your butt cheeks when driving through an intersection with high-speed cross traffic twice per lap. And there are open arena designs like fields and parking lots or mud basins for those nerve-wracking last man standing events. The demolition derby battles are surprisingly strategic in that you need to stay alive until the end but also need to inflict enough damage to meet any star challenges and make contact with cars often enough that you don’t get disqualified.

In a world where casual racing games seldom depict damage I was blown away by the physics and damage model in Wreckfest.   Cars are constructed from individual parts which dent, crush and fly off, but they also impact car performance. If you bend a wheel expect your car to pull to the side. If you damage your engine expect your speed to decrease. Pop-up alerts indicate when damage occurs and a visual indicator shows damage on all parts of your car, so when that front bumper eventually falls off you might want to start driving in reverse.

The driving physics are really good, tipping in favor of arcade versus sim, but the vehicles definitely have a weight about them that makes each a new experience to drive. You can see cars tip on their suspension in tight turns and it’s easy to wipeout on a hairpin if you haven’t braked properly before getting there. There are some turns at the top of a rise where my compact will simply roll over if I’m going too fast. This same level of physics applies to collisions as well, which are some of the best and most realistic I’ve seen.

Driver AI ranges in quality with one or two cars always racing ahead giving you something to overtake while most of the pack falls quickly behind. Of course when you have goal that require crashing into other cars you can’t simply race to the lead and hold it. You have to let a few drivers get past you so you can smash, crash, or spin your way to those stars. Rubbin’ is racing so use those other cars as buffers or mobile guardrails on tight turns.

From a technical perspective Wreckfest looks fantastic with scalable support for 4K resolutions and all sorts of visual tweaks to lock down that 60fps that all racing games want. There are moments of photorealism in the game, especially in those golden hour moments where the sun is shining just right and the lighting and shadows are popping.   Tires leave tread marks, dirt and dust kick up behind the cars, and I never get tired of smashing into a stack of tires and watching them go flying and bouncing onto the track. You can drive from multiple views, and while I typically prefer the dash or hood cam, all too often car damage can obscure your view and make the game virtually unplayable.  Demolition derby events are best played from outside the car for strategic awareness, plus you drive these events mostly in reverse.  The DuelSense controller offered some great haptic feedback that really connects you to the track so you can feel your wheels slipping on the various surfaces.  Even brake damage was represented with vibration in the left trigger and the DuelSense speaker was used to play subtle sounds of the car interacting with the environment, making this the most immersive way to play the game without a wheel and pedal setup.  The audio was a bit off for me on this one. The engine noises for most of the cars were okay and varied enough, but didn’t really change with any of the upgrades you install; especially manifolds and exhausts, etc. The riding mower engine sounds nothing like any riding mower I’ve ever heard; more like a blender on margarita night. The soundtrack is purely subjective and personally I didn’t enjoy it but I didn’t mind it either. I turned that section of the sound down to about half and tuned it out. It’s mostly this angry heavy metal and grunge rock, which I suppose is appropriate for this genre, but in the back of my mind I wanted to hear the Dukes of Hazzard theme song.

The last true demolition derby game I can remember is Destruction Derby back on the PC and original PlayStation in 1996 (damn I feel old), and while many other racing games have included their own variations of the sport, Wreckfest is the first game in decades to embrace the sport of demolition derby and high-speed crash racing. If you’re tired of flashy supercars and pristine racing venues with towering grandstands then you might be ready for some true redneck racing where, depending on the event, your only goals are to finish first or finish last.

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WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship Review – PlayStation 5

A few months ago I reviewed WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship on the PC and found it a highly enjoyable and satisfying racing simulation that tackled the world of rally racing from both a driver and business management perspective.  Running on top-end PC hardware, the game looked and performed amazingly, so I was excited to see how close the new PlayStation 5 could come in matching the experience.

First off, let’s just say that the PS5 is a nearly identical match for the PC running on high settings with all the immersive lighting, dynamic weather, draw distances, and loads of texture detail both in the environments and the detailed car models that exhibit real-time damage, both in visuals and performance degradation.  WRC 9 is further enhanced by two PS5 accessories; one that everyone has, the DualSense controller, and the other being the 3D Pulse Headset.  Whether you play games with headphones or not, the 3D Pulse does an amazing job of immersing you in the aural aspects of racing, not only with the perfect mix of engines, road, and environmental effects, but also in their perfect placement within the 3D listening space.  Assuming you are driving from inside the car (and you better be if you are playing a sim like this) the sound of rain hitting the metal roof of the car inches above your head is perfectly recreated when using the headphones.

The DualSense controller is the real game-changer here, in many ways outperforming my racing wheel setup on my PC…almost…but it does come very close to replicating the precision a $400 racing accessory offers.  First, all of the road surface noise comes from the controller speaker which adds a bit more immersion to the soundscape.  Hearing gravel clinking off your undercarriage and the pop of your exhaust is pretty cool, but the real savior to the experience is the controls themselves.  The haptic feedback in the triggers combined with the rumble of the pad and the extra-long travel distance of the L2/R2 buttons provide an uncanny connection with the road.  You can literally “feel” when your car is about to lose traction, and the new trigger design provides much more variable input for throttle and braking, allowing for cleaner driving and fewer mistakes.  Compared to playing with an Xbox controller on the PC I was shaving 10-30 seconds off my times.  The DualSense is still a close second to an actual wheel/pedal setup but Sony’s new pad is coming awfully close.

The PS5 version also benefits from the snappy load times on their internal SSD.  Menu navigation is fast and fluid and event and stage load times are just a couple of seconds.  The PS5 version still offers support for up to 8 online racers (PS Plus required) and those who may have already gotten the game on PS4 can enjoy a free upgrade to the PS5.  But beyond the PS5 specifics, what’s going on under the hood of WRC 9?

As I stated last year, I play dozens of racing games every year, and I also drive these cars in real-life and nothing comes close to the level of complete and total immersion you will find in WRC 9, not just in the actual driving of the cars, but in every facet of what goes on behind the scenes of a professional race team.  For those who place value on stats welcome back more than 50 teams from all the WRC categories with all the current season liveries including fan-favorites Toyota Gazoo Racing, M-Sport Ford and Hyundai Motorsport.  Play as numerous racing stars in the Season mode or create your own driver to seek fame and fortune in the elaborate and lengthy Career mode.  As always, you also have Quickplay, Training, a test area to test your setups, and 50 unlockable Challenges that will test your proficiency with specific cars, earning you gold, silver, and bronze medals.  There is no shortage of racing in WRC 9.

Career mode is the cornerstone of the content allowing you to start in the lesser leagues and make your way to the WRC or just jump in.  In career mode you not only have to worry about what happens on the track but also manage your crew and team behind the scenes worrying about things like fatigue, mechanics, business agents, and even a meteorologist to predict the weather for your next event.  Keeping your staff healthy and happy is just as important as navigating the massive R&D tech tree that lets you customize your career by spending points earned through leveling up while racing.  It’s an amazingly intricate and often overwhelming multi-layer system that’s running behind the scenes and all visualized quite nicely with a fun and detailed isometric view of your racing HQ.  Of course if you’d rather not worry about all the non-racing stuff you can just jump into the Season mode for pure racing and none of the paperwork.  WRC 9 also offers up a nice set of multiplayer options including online events, split-screen local play, and daily, weekly, and special challenges. Some are available for a limited timed only, encouraging you to check in with the game regularly.,

There can be a lot to micromanage if you want there to be.  You can populate your own race calendar with specific events, but make sure to put in “rest days” so your team can recover.  You have to maintain a staff of six professionals, often with backups in case someone decides to take off right before a big race.  You get to affect manufacturer reputations and setup season and short term goals that all factor into rep and team morale.  Your race results will all factor into money, XP, reputation, and morale and if you’re rep drops too low a sponsor could drop you.

While much of this sounds the same as WRC 8 there is quite a bit that is new including three new rally championships in three new countries; Kenya with its stunning diversity of scenery and technical difficulty, New Zealand offering some of the most twisted gravel tracks in the game along with stunning coastal views and of course, Japan offering high-speed asphalt racing and crazy hairpin turns through small towns.  Naturally, you get the other 13 countries that are already part of the championship, all offering their own unique visual presentation and specific technical driving elements that can all change based on time of day and type of weather.

The underlying physics engine is as advanced as it gets with plenty of setup options allowing you the ability to setup variations for race surface, temperature, weather, etc., and then save those settings to test or keep as presets for future use.  Lots of player feedback from last year went into many of the changes we’re seeing in WRC 9, making this a game that is truly for the fans.  Before each race you can dial in the difficulty on a percentage scale, and you can also tweak the level of damage effects and toggle perma-crash for each event.  Reckless driving is discouraged not only with potential time penalties between rally race days while you repair the car but also the fact you have to pay for repairs after each event with your earnings…team salaries too.  Lose too many races and you could go broke.

Also new to WRC 9 is the highly requested Clubs mode that allows gamers to create their own groups with their own tournaments, members, and leaderboards.  You can choose up to eight stages in any of the countries with cars, categories, and conditions to create your own custom championship then either offer it to the public or invite your own friends for some private racing action.  Also look for lots of future extended content coming in regular updates to keep the game fresh.  A newly designed Finland is due to arrive shortly with six new stages and Portugal is two months out, not to mention new cars, teams, and game modes.  One of my most anticipated new features is still a few weeks away but will allow an online co-pilot to call out the track and pace notes in what promises to be one of the coolest co-op modes in racing history.  Best of all this is all free content and not reliant on a season pass or special edition of the game.  Look for the first big update in December.

WRC 9 has never looked better or more realistic now that it’s gliding along at 4K 60fps with PC-quality special effects.  If you have a supporting display you can even try out the 120fps performance mode if you’re willing to sacrifice some visual fidelity.  When played on a large screen from the cockpit view with a wheel and pedals the level of total immersion is unparalleled.  The tracks and environments are photo-real and the lighting effects for nighttime and extreme weather racing events can be terrifying.  The way the headlights reflect off fog, snow, or sheets of rain is eerily realistic; both visually and how it impacts the road surface and the way your car handles.  The god rays streaking through the trees and the improved shadows combined with water and ice reflections and glare, water splashing the windshield before being stroked away with a wiper blade, or even the droplets that sprinkle the external camera totally sell this experience.

A few months ago I was able to enroll in a week-long rally driving school in New Hampshire to get a feel for what these cars are like in the real world.  Before that I had driven NASCAR, Indy Car, and Formula F1 and I can say that rally is unlike any other type of racing; a fact that this game clearly communicates through stunning visuals and incredibly realistic physics and driving mechanics.  While I would never discourage anyone from playing this game just please go into it knowing that this is a hardcore simulation that rewards patience and dedication and punishes casual racers who are coming to sightsee while crashing around corners.  For those up to the challenge grab that DualSense controller and become one with the machine and the road.  WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship has once again set the standard for reality racing.

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F1 2020 Review – PC

F1 racing is without a doubt my favorite type of racing out of all the sub-genres, both in real-life and in videogames.  The official F1 racing game series has always been known for bringing that added level of realism to the experience, both when driving and recently, all of the behind the scenes business elements required to keep a car on the track throughout a season.  Every year this series gets better, both visually and in the exhaustive amount of detail that goes into creating a high-functioning simulation, and with a new year comes a new installment, and F1 2020 had me once again climbing into my bucket racing seat and calibrating my Logitech racing wheel.

It seems that every year I say “this is the most realistic F1 simulator out there”, and even though I didn’t review last year’s game I did play it and I would have said it then, but I will say it now about F1 2020.  The one big missing element with this franchise has been the lack of personal investment, but with the addition of the new My Team mode you now get to create a driver, choose your sponsor, build your car, hire a team, and manage every aspect of your racing career in and out of the garage.  If you’re a solo racer and don’t want to be bothered with the business side of racing you can also enjoy the standard Career mode or take part in the Grand Prix, Championships, and Time Trial modes.

Those looking to test their skills against human drivers will find a robust multiplayer offering with Weekly Events, Leagues, Ranked and Unranked matches both online or local using split-screen and LAN games.  There is also a nicely integrated eSports section so you can follow the various league events.  F1 2020 is all about choice.  Every bit of content you could possibly want is available and it’s all scalable to a large audience of varied skill levels.  You can go hardcore simulation or start tweaking a number of assists and difficulty sliders to turn this into an arcade experience.

Diving into the 10-year career mode was a surprisingly fluid experience with great instructions and pop-up tips to ease you into both driving the car and managing all the garage and business elements.  It was nice that they allow gamers to experience the F2 Championship as an introduction to the main game to come.  You can choose a short version or the full F2 experience or skip it entirely and go straight to the F1.   The game features all the official teams, drivers, and 22 ultra-realistic recreations of real-world tracks from all over the world including two new ones; Hanoi Circuit and Circuit Zandvoort.  In addition to current content that is updated regularly throughout the season you also have historic classic content to relive those special moments.

I spent way too much time stressing over all the little decisions just getting started.  What engine should I put in my car, what sponsor should I sign with; picking a teammate, trying to answer questions during a press interview…there is so much more to being a pro racecar driver than just driving.  But despite the initial stress, all these micro-decisions helped to create an unexpected bond with my team that made me want to be a better driver both on and off the track.

Once on the track it’s all about driving, although there is still a bit of systems management at play depending on how you have the game customized for accuracy.  In full sim mode you’ll need to worry about tire temps and wear, engine wear, fuel consumption, charging your ERS battery and so much more.  Conversely, you can turn on the new Casual driving mode and throw caution to the wind, banging your way around the track at full throttle – a definitely plus for the kids, especially in the new split-screen mode.  Your choice of controller also factors into the difficulty, and while I totally recommend a wheel/pedal combo – even a basic one – for the most immersive experience, F1 2020 is totally playable with a gamepad.  You just don’t get that added level of precision with steering and brake/throttle; something easily seen in replays as your car steers in more jerky movements and your wheels spin when applying too much gas using a gamepad trigger.

I was eager to try out the online aspects of F1 2020 and while the net code, matchmaking lobbies and other systems are all fairly stable I found that the community was lacking or at least sporadic during my month of gameplay.  You really have to seek out the proper modes and likeminded gamers to race with otherwise you get some crazy kid who has no intention of taking the game seriously and bangs his way around the track.  I still dip into the multiplayer menus once in a while but I mostly stick with the single-player experience.  It’s far more rewarding with all sorts of badges to earn or just going through my library of racing highlight videos.

The presentation for F1 2020 is nearly flawless with stunning video and incredible audio that will scale with your PC.  I had just upgraded to a 2080ti so I was able to run the game at 1440p with all the settings cranked and locked at 60fps on my ultra-wide ASUS screen.  There are lots of options for tweaking the graphics to get the game running smoothly on nearly any modern system.  The car models, pit crew animations, track scenery, and weather effects are simply incredible.  There is also great lighting and shadows and expert use of motion blur to enhance that sensation of speed. There is fantastic audio with realistic engines, music, crowds, commentary, and radio chatter from the pit.  Every part of the audio and visual experience is designed to totally immerse you in the experience of being an F1 driver.

Once again Codemasters has improved upon their iconic racing game, adding even more realism and choice to how you approach and play their game.  F1 2020 is the culmination of many years of development across numerous installments that have come before it, and with new hardware on the horizon for PC and console I can easily see this franchise climbing ever closer to perfection in 2021.  But until then, if you are looking for the best F1 racing experience in town, this is it.