Driver 2 – The Gamer’s Choice

Driver 2 has a lot of spark but little zoom. It’s been over a year since the original Driver was released and everyone expected the same model, only with a few extra gadgets and enhancements.

Unfortunately, the time spent delivering an animated Tanner, curved roads and extra vehicles might have been better expended on building a driving game which actually moves with convincing speed. The real shock for those who loved the original game is that Driver 2 is not nearly as speedy as the original.

Yes, curved roads were a great idea but not at the expense of a swift frame rate. On one of the very first missions in the game, Tanner is tasked with chasing a fleeing train through Chicago. The scene is reminiscent of Gene Hackman’s frantic chase through New York in The French Connection – only re-shot by the Warchowski brothers.

The slowdown, provoked by giving the PlayStation too many polygons to push around, is worrying and merely underlines the feeling the Reflections have attempted something which is simply too ambitious for the hardware.

The sense of speed is better conveyed in other cities such as Las Vegas and Havana, and then the game really begins to impress. Weaving in and out of the traffic as Tanner tries to lose his tail is one of the more electrifying aspects of the game. There are other fundamental problems though. The pop-up is absolutely atrocious. The fact that Ridge Racer managed to all but avoid this problem five years ago only serves to highlight what a technical disappointment Driver 2 can be.

Such problems clearly have a direct effect on the gameplay. Steering becomes a case of trying not to overcompensate too much when slow down occurs. While walls, trees, even skyscrapers suddenly appearing in front of your vehicle makes escaping the police or gang members more difficult than it needs to be.

But it is not all bad. There is a great game lurking under this somewhat battered shell if you persevere enough. Thankfully there is more variety in the mission objectives than in the first Driver. Tanner’s ability to exit the car adds much to the game and the developers have put some thought into altering the game from mere A to B driving. Jumping on to a departing ferry, avoiding exploding missiles falling from the back of a van and wrecking a series of enemy vehicles in a very short time limit adds a great deal to the diversity . Driver 2 will be bought by many but may disappoint. An enjoyable two-player game does make up for some of the technical problems which have failed to be fine tuned before release. Yet given the original’s success even Arthur Daley would have little trouble flogging this over hyped vehicle. Though Driver 2 can be fun on certain missions the slowdown can spoil the overall experience.

Someone Shut This Guy Up!

Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd., has become legendary with his tendency to comment on the state of the games industry, Nintendo’s plans and the abilities of other companies. Always harsh, always honest and always a bit kooky, Yamauchi’s latest tirade in the Japanese publication Sankei Shimbun sounded as if the cocky president of Nintendo wasn’t as sure of himself as he usually is. As we reported last night, here’s what Yamauchi said:

“Right now, Nintendo’s development teams are working on the creation of a totally brand-new type of game, tying together the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance. Our goal is to introduce this product during the Christmas rush of 2016… The main problem is Gamecube software. We won’t be able to get any user support if we continue to release games on the brink of missing release dates. Our major goals are centered around Christmas 2016, but the Gamecube will fail if nothing interesting is released for it before then.”

Now, his statements can be taken so many different ways. Let’s pretend we’re in college and analyze the paragraph sentence by sentence:

1. “Right now, Nintendo’s development teams are working on the creation of a totally brand-new type of game, tying together the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance.” This sounds great — a game that unifies both of the upcoming exciting systems. And the fact that it’s a “totally brand-new type of game” reminds us that Nintendo is nothing if not innovative, and we expect a new genre-breaking game to come from uniting the GBA and Gamecube.

2. “Our goal is to introduce this product during the Christmas rush of 2016.” Christmas 2016? Well, obviously new types of games using new technology take time, but that’s more than a year and a half away — when did production on this new game begin? And does this mean that the Gamecube won’t be out this year? That might be indicated by later statements.

3. “The main problem is Gamecube software. We won’t be able to get any user support if we continue to release games on the brink of missing release dates.” Okay, that’s two sentences, but they go together. The actual Gamecube system is technologically complete. Now it’s just a matter of making games for it — many of which have been underway for over a year now in the Nintendo internal studios. What exactly does Yamauchi mean when he says “release games on the brink of missing release dates?” We think he’s referring to the fact that Nintendo consistently pushes back its products and releases them later than initially announced — and it appears that Yamauchi knows that the fans don’t really care for that kind of thing. Yamauchi sounds a bit concerned about getting user support, as well he should be. But what’s really interesting is the last sentence:

4. “Our major goals are centered around Christmas 2016, but the Gamecube will fail if nothing interesting is released for it before then.” How could Nintendo’s major goals center on (and the proper form is “on,” not “around” — you can’t center “around” something, you can only revolve around it. You center “on.” Sorry — personal pet peeve) Christmas 2016 when the Gamecube supposedly will launch in July of 2015 in Japan? That’s a year and a half of nothing! Wouldn’t Nintendo want to focus on making the Gamecube the biggest and best system on the market during the Christmas 2015 holidays? The system is supposed to launch in the US in time for Christmas 2015 as well — wouldn’t Nintendo want to make sure that the Christmas season is predominately Gamecube-centered, especially since the Xbox is also supposed to launch in time for Christmas 2015? And then there’s the “if nothing interesting is released for it before then” statement. The only games that will be available for the system immediately at launch will be Nintendo games — is Yamauchi saying that the launch games won’t be interesting? What happened to his bravado? And what about the new Mario/Luigi game, or Pokemon game, or Wave Race game that should be available at launch? We all assumed that these games would be mind-bogglingly entertaining, just like previous launch titles for Nintendo systems. Is this not the case?

There are many reasons why Yamauchi’s statements might not mean what they sound like. It could even be that when he says “Christmas 2016,” he means “Christmas 2015,” which would make much more sense. Also, it could be that the translation is a bit off, or even that some of his comments were taken out of context. Until we hear an official announcement from Nintendo Japan that the Gamecube is definitely pushed back, we’ll assume that there’s something we’re missing here.

As he does in nearly every interview, Yamauchi also had a response to the question of retirement and Pokemon Omega Ruby rom. This time, he said, “Right now I’m intending to leave after I see how our new systems do this Christmas.” That answers a big part of the previous questions — he wants to see how the systems do this Christmas. not next Christmas. Whether the old man retires or not right now is of little concern to us — his parting words have assured us that for now, we can still count on the Gamecube hitting the market this year, hopefully by July in Japan, and by Christmas in the US. Why was he saying “Christmas 2016?” Well, he’s old — maybe he’s just a confused, senile old man who has a tenuous grip on reality. He certainly sounds like it, sometimes.

ThoughtCaster Plays With Your Head

Ever since Darth Vader was able to virtually choke people to death just by thinking about it, game players have wanted to have “The Force” at their beck and call. Although the technology to read brain waves has been around since the 1960s, it’s always required the “patient” to be hooked up to refrigerator-sized machines and have all sorts of wires and electrodes attached with some conductive gel. It usually meant a trip to a doctor’s office and often cost several hundred dollars per session. East3’s controller, called a ThoughtCaster (pictured to the left), works more like a bike helmet. It’s wireless, requires no conductive gel and it’s fairly comfortable. Best of all, it works.

First, let’s separate myth from fact. A player cannot think, “Go left and open the door” and have an onscreen character do that. Instead, what the ThoughtCaster does is capture various levels of concentration, how calm the wearer is, and similar electromagnetic waves emitted by the brain. These waves are then wirelessly passed to a base station that sits near the computer. The base (pictured to the right) communicates through the USB port to the computer and a program can take these numbers and translate them into something meaningful onscreen. In the example we saw (and tried), the more the ThoughtCaster wearer concentrated on the game, the faster a bike racer went. It wasn’t exactly a thrilling game, but it opens up all sorts of possibilities.

What if, for example, a game were created that allowed players to actually use “The Force?” Everyone remembers the scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke tried to raise the X-Wing from the swamp, only to sink it; later, Yoda raised it completely out. Using the ThoughtCaster, a similar experience could be incorporated into a game. The player would have to concentrate hard enough on the game to raise the ship out of the swamp, all using nothing but the power of the mind. That alone would be so incredibly cool that it makes the ThoughtCaster and SimCity Buildit a viable product for every RTS gamer of today.

So how does this thing work? The user simply puts on the helmet, calibrates the gear and is then ready to start casting thoughts. Instead of conductive gel, three specially designed sensors (pictured to the left) inside the helmet pick up the user’s brain waves. These sensors pass the information to a small PC board located in the front of the helmet, and this board then processes the information and sends it to the base unit. The model we used (and the one shown at the top of this page) is designed specifically to appeal to kids. However, it can also be made more “adult friendly” by using sleeker colors and design. The shape of the unit itself is not too important — it’s the sensors and the PC board that do all the work.

The initial rollout of the ThoughtCaster will be as an “Attention Trainer” to be used by kids who’ve got ADD or other problems focusing. Children with this problem can use the Attention Trainer software in their own home — no doctor’s visit needed. The software has the same functionality as the refrigerator-sized machines of yesteryear. The entire package will be less than $1000 — it’s important to keep in mind that this price is not the price at which the product would be offered to the public. A public release primarily for use as a game controller would obviously need a much more consumer-friendly price point, but one has not been announced.

So, will the ThoughtCaster change the way we play games? Probably not. Will it offer an alternative to the standard mouse and keyboard controller? It depends on the game. Some games simply won’t benefit from this. However, what if there was an action/adventure-type game where, using the ThoughtCaster, the player could create an aura of protection around the onscreen character? What if the player had the choice of five paths but concentrating hard enough would highlight the right path? The possibilities are there, and although it’ll be a little bit before it’s released, it does give us something to think about. Just don’t concentrate too hard.

Original Microsoft SideWinder Gamepad

Sometimes, mouse and keyboard just doesn’t cut it. Whether you’re jumping from block to block in Tomb Raider, piloting your ship in Allegiance or zapping mechs in MechWarrior, you’re going to need a little extra help. Don’t buy a lame stick, go with PC Radar’s choices.

It’s hard to believe that in the span of only a couple of years, Microsoft has gone from not bothering with PC gaming hardware to just about dominating every aspect of it. One of the very first products that the foundation was built on is the original SideWinder gamepad. Years after its release, it is still the best gamepad on the market.

What’s so great about it that it’s still at the top of its game? Tons. For starters, no other pad on the market is as comfortable to hold as the SideWinder. After a recent trip out to Microsoft’s headquarters in Washington, we aren’t surprised: Microsoft has some of the most expensive and thorough testing procedures and labs ever heard of for the development of gaming peripherals. Many months go into the planning and design stages before a SideWinder product ever sees the light of day at Microsoft. Because of the money and manpower at its disposal, it’s no wonder that Microsoft continues to pump out the world’s best controllers time after time.

The SideWinder gamepad is not only comfortable to hold, but its buttons are laid out in such a way that any person with normal sized hands – and even most with large or small hands – have no difficulty in reaching them. As you might expect on a console gaming system, the SideWinder comes complete with six primary buttons on top, as well as two trigger buttons on the underside. There’s also a secondary “M” button that allows any of the SideWinder’s eight primary buttons to serve secondary functions.

A feature that many sports fans are sure to appreciate is the SideWinder’s ability to link up to four SideWinder gamepads together without the need for any additional hardware — accomplished via the male gameport connector found on each gamepad. Anyone who’s ever hassled with getting multiplayer games functioning while having to plug in to add on game cards should recognize the instant benefit.

Microsoft’s programming utility is one of the best around and is every bit as good a tool as what its competition offers. And while programming utilities from companies like Logitech, Gravis and Saitek tend to be a bit more robust in terms of raw features, no one can compete with Microsoft’s Game Controller software when it comes to ease of use.

As straightforward as the SideWinder gamepad is, no other pad on the market can compete with Microsoft’s simple, yet elegant, design. Among this gamepad, this is the one that works well with Fifa 17 hack. It has been tested and so far it works flawlessly.

The sequel to Pod finally arrives – Pod 2

Well, there was, unsurprisingly, a Pod I. It was called, simply, Pod, and, to be honest, it wasn’t what you’d call a classic but it was one of the first big PC titles to use 3D acceleration. But since 1997’s original release, things have moved on and so has Pod, hence Ubi-Soft’s latest… Pod II.

What’s the background, then?
Well there’s quite a bit, actually, about how it’s all tied in with some universal ‘Pod’ related antics, but hey, this is a racing game, so let’s get the hell on with it. There are six tracks of varying interest, and eight cars to choose from with the usual mix ‘n’ match characteristics to suit your particular style. All the usual suspects are here, dressed up in slick, futuristic body work and paint jobs, going by such noble titles as Viper, Cougar and, er… Crab(?)

More on those tracks, please..?
As mentioned, there are six and, given that you can’t really put less than that into a race-‘em-up these days, they had better be good. And to be fair they’re a mixed bunch. At least there’s a bit of variety, including the ol’ mirror mode, and each of the circuits has a fair few optional twists built into their non-linear asphalt. The good tracks are great for kicking up some hard racing, but unfortunately there are a few too many circuits that just don’t really make an impression, choosing instead to remain anonymous and predictable.

How’s the gameplay?
Not quite as fast and furious as you might have hoped, but quite remeniscent of the addictive, yet largely sterile Zero-G – a kick-ass motorbike racer on the N64 all those years back – but without the break-neck speed and insane circuits that made that game such enjoyable lunacy. But as far as vehicle control in Pod II is concerned, it’s best described as muddy. Sure, it’s easy enough to get the hang of sliding your wagon round those hairpins and the occasional bit of chicanery, but there’s an omnipresent sluggishness that robs the game of any full-on dynamics. Switch to the ‘in-car’ view and things look up, quite literally, as you scoot along apparently inches from the road surface. Throw in an a collection of power-ups that afford access to regenerating shields and an under-powered arsenal for distracting the competition and you’ve pretty much covered it.

So to sum up then…
Well. Given how long we’ve had top-quality futuristic racing games, it’s become difficult to live up to the high standard set by games like Wipeout and Zero-G, but it’s never a surprise to see another off-the-peg kind of game like Pod II making an appearance. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, mind, and this is still a preview. Ultimately Pod II’s got some cool tracks, some good-looking cars and some great, smooth animation, yet it rarely grips the imagination or immerses the player(s) as a great racing game should. There will undoubtedly be the usual band of fanatics, as with any game, but as for ‘Pod II fever,’ sweeping the country? Bring on Pod III!

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