NASCAR Heat 2 Made Me Get NASCAR… Sort Of

NASCAR Heat 2 Made Me Get NASCAR… Sort Of

A large part of my childhood was spent in Winder, Georgia—a NASCAR town, through and through. One of the more successful local businesses was a NASCAR-themed boutique. You could gently toss a stone and hit a car emblazoned with a “3” decked out with a little halo and wings (pour one out for Mr. Earnhardt.) But I, for the life of me, didn’t get it. Sure, I watched some by proxy, and got a passable knowledge of it—even respect for it as a sport. Yet I didn’t get the appeal. Loud cars driving in circles for hours on end, with occasional crashes? Yeah, no thanks. Yet getting behind the wheel of NASCAR Heat 2, I walked away with a greater grasp on why people like it.

NASCAR Heat 2 Made Me Get NASCAR… Sort Of

Saying that I have barely any knowledge of Monster Games’ past NASCAR work would be giving myself too much credit. It’s a team I only know from Excitetrucks, a game that I dug a lot but most people don’t seem to remember. So I was basically going into NASCAR Heat 2 blind, which I almost feel was for the best. It gave me the full experience of the developers trying to pitch it to me from purely a gameplay perspective, and I have to say, it worked.

Players will have access to three different series, one of them being a collection of off-road rallies. For my demo, I got to try out a handful of standard tracks and one dirt track. Each standard track brought something new to the table, with one placing a heavy emphasis on braking and the other one actively screwing over players who try to slow down for a second. Just these two had such a contrast to each other that I could tell this wasn’t just about driving around in a circle for lap after lap—there’s a degree of strategy needed here, and a bit of track knowledge required to get the edge on your opponents. If you’re playing single player, though, your opponents will always be one step ahead thanks the game’s adaptive AI.

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But personally, I don’t think I’d be spending much time in single player, despite there being a seemingly robust campaign that involves winning sponsorships and climbing the ranks of the racing world. Because what impressed me most was the online gameplay, which allows every single car you race against to be controlled by a real human. That means over forty players can be on a track at one time, whipping around at terrifying speeds and trying to wreck each other. The potential there is huge, and even as someone who doesn’t care about NASCAR, I kind of want to experience that—especially when the product Monster’s put out feels so good to play.

What struck me most, though, was how much it feels like Monster cares. The developers in the room with me spoke at great length about the painstaking effort they made to recreate the tracks, to adapt the gameplay strategies needed to actual racing tactics, and to make sure to include a variety of multiplayer modes. The studio co-founder told me that one of the major reasons they included splitscreen was because he loved playing games with his kids. None of it seemed like PR speak, or if it was, it gave the impression of genuine, heartfelt effort to make something more than an assembly line product. These are some devs that seem to really care about their players, and care about making a product that both consumers and themselves would want to play.

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So while I doubt you’ll see a “3” sticker on my car or find me drafting a fantasy team anytime soon, I actually think I’ll be checking out NASCAR Heat 2 when it launches this coming September. It has the makings of a good racing game, and the capacity for such large multiplayer matches has me interested to put my (hilariously incompetent) skills to the test.

Aquanox: Deep Descent Preview—Topical Dystopia

Aquanox: Deep Descent Preview—Topical Dystopia

Major global superpowers can’t cooperate on anything. Earth is dying thanks to rampant pollution. Key resources are dwindling to comically low amounts. War is breaking out on a daily basis. This isn’t a blow-by-blow recap of our current state of affairs—it’s the setup for Aquanox: Deep Descent.

Yeah, a little too close to home, isn’t it?

That’s by design, though. One of the lead designers described the process of updating the Aquanox series, which dates back to the mid-90s, as being a little tricky considering how dated some of the material was. For example, in the old titles, China and Japan team up to become a global superpower. Both the designer and I laughed for a good minute about that happening, because let’s face it, that’s one of the most unbelievable things about a game in which humanity colonizes the ocean floor.

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For the uninitiated, that’s the basic elevator pitch for Aquanox—humanity has fled underwater to escape the polluted and decimated surface. Through this, new alliances have been formed, and all of them basically hate each other from what I picked up. The struggle for resources is still a reality, and different superpowers duke it out on the daily for them. Each of these struggles could mean the difference between life and death for both the fighters and the colonies they represent.

These fights aren’t large-scale brawls, however. They’re tense, honestly horrifying struggles which only see a few underwater crafts shooting at each other at a time. During these fights, players will have to actively utilize cover like rocks and aquatic plants to juke their opponents and gain the upper hand. With the exception of the siege class, one or two direct missiles can completely bone players and spell a hasty death. This means rushing in with guns blazing is generally a terrible idea, and if at all possible, players are encouraged to take opponents from a distance or avoid them entirely.

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Your ship won’t always be peanut brittle, though, thanks to a robust upgrade system. In a mechanic remarkably similar to personal favourite Front Mission, players can manage every aspect of their ship. Armour, shields, weapons, speed, manoeuvrability, colour, and so many more facets can be tweaked to players’ liking. This being an open-world first-person shooter, players will explore the depths of the world and find the resources to make these upgrades happen. While the demo I saw had a wallet stuffed with 20,000 units of currency, the developer laughed and said plainly, “you will never have 20,000 in the real game.” Challenge accepted.

 

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In addition to the sprawling campaign, there are also deathmatches, which are a whole lot of fun. Players and their ships get thrown into an arena and have to zip around close quarters firing off shots at each other. This mode helped me get an idea of the weapon diversity, which is significant. You’ve got machine guns, shotguns, rockets, hot bolts of steel, sticky bombs, and so, so much more. While the single player looks significant and likely where I’ll get most of my playtime, the deathmatch mode seems really great and a good way to easily test the different loadouts. I was told that players can expect around ten maps to be available at launch, although that number is subject to change.

Aquanox: Deep Descent looks like a novel concept executed very well. It was surprising to me that the game is in alpha, and even more surprising that it doesn’t even have a tentative release date. What I saw was impressive in its current state, and I feel that it can only get better by the time it launches. With loads of content, a diverse cast of characters, and an intriguing bit of speculative fiction to complement its solid mechanics, I’m looking forward to the final product whenever I can get my hands on it.

Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Preview—Candy Eggs and Chocolate Milk

Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Preview—Candy Eggs and Chocolate Milk

The Harvest Moon series is in an interesting state. What we know as Harvest Moon now isn’t actually Harvest Moon anymore—the Japanese series we know under that title is now called Story of Seasons in North America. Harvest Moon is now its own thing, and has been for a few years at this point. Which is ironic, considering that the latest incarnation goes back to the franchise’s roots in a major way. But while Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is very much a sort-of homage to the game’s 16-bit origins, it also feels like a nudge in some bold new directions that I had a great time with.

My demo of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope gave me three days to mess around, which encompassed a pretty generous hour-long play session. I started as the default male character, with a small crop growing and a set of tools already upgraded to their maximum capacities. There were also two bustling barns, loaded with everything from chickens to cows to sheep. But despite a lot of stuff being set up for me, there was still plenty to keep me engaged throughout my time with the game.Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Preview—Candy Eggs and Chocolate Milk 2

The basic lore I was briefed on concerns an island that’s in a pretty sorry state. Fields are overgrown with weeds, there are dilapidated buildings everywhere, and worst of all, the island’s famous lighthouse is overrun with vines and missing magic tablets that power it. It’s your job to help your little dude or lady restore the island to its former glory, make friends with its inhabitants, and maybe even find the love of your life along the way. Unless you’re gay, as Harvest Moon still doesn’t support same-sex relationships—which the community manager said is something they are discussing for future.

While that’s a bummer, I have to admit that I was charmed by every one of the potential bachelors and bachelorettes I met while ambling around for three in-game days. While a cute mom that caught my eye wasn’t an option (much to my chagrin,) a nerdy herbalist and fashionable seamstress seemed like fun romance options. If you were to play as a lady, there’s a buff guy with a big grin that loves flowers and a cute hippy dude who loves animals. There are five options per gender in Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, and while it’d be great to mack on all of them regardless of whether I was a guy or gal, they all seem pretty great.

What also seems great are the mechanics this time around. I have an admittedly limited experience with Harvest Moon, having only messed around on a GameCube entry and maybe one or two 3DS titles. But I vividly remember wanting to like those games, only for the mechanics to smack me in the face and keep me from loving it as much as I wanted to. That wasn’t the case here. All of the cuteness I love about these games isn’t at odds with actually having to play it this time around, with things like picking what seeds to plant, watering plants, and selling off your crops being streamlined to an extent that puts even Animal Crossing to shame. Even in only an hour of play, I found myself slipping into a familiar groove that felt really nice, and I could see myself sinking hours upon hours into Harvest Moon: Light of Hope—especially with the Switch version boasting touch screen controls.

Harvest Moon: Light of Hope was one of my biggest surprises of E3, really. I’m truly impressed with what Natsume’s done with this license and walked away feeling confident that this could be one of my biggest timesinks in the coming future. The producer seems really passionate about keeping the franchise’s signature slow pacing while modernizing its mechanics for a new audience. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the finished release when it hits stores in late 2017 to early 2018.

Funimation Being Eyed By Sony, Universal

Funimation Being Eyed By Sony, Universal

In 2006, the North American anime industry burned to the ground. Standing on the ashes was Funimation, the stalwart distributor best known for bringing for bringing perennial hit Dragon Ball Z to the West. Fast-forward eleven years, and anime is doing better in America that it arguably ever has. Funimation still sits at the top, with staying power far greater than ever anticipated. That staying power is starting to attract a number of high-profile companies – chiefly Universal and Sony.

As per Bloomberg, Funimation has received several acquisition offers from a number of large media companies. In an official statement, however, it appears that the company isn’t currently interested in being acquired.

“The Funimation management team is more immediately focused on continuing to create compelling experiences for anime fans through physical, digital/streaming and theatrical efforts with goals of continuing to expand globally and maximizing shareholder value,” the statement read.

The intent behind this statement is pretty clear. Funimation is focused first and foremost on the industry they’re sitting at the top of, and don’t want to put that at risk by being taken into a large company.

But why, exactly, would Sony and Universal have an interest in Funimation? The answer’s simpler than one might imagine, and it basically boils down to brand loyalty. The home video market is hemorrhaging money, in many capacities, but don’t tell Funimation. Since 2013, they’ve experienced double-digit growth in both their digital and physical sales. That growth has happened at a rate of ten percent per year since then, with an annual gross of around $100 million. They know how to offer something that other, bigger companies don’t and can’t. On paper, this expertise looks like a valuable asset.

That said, there’s something a company like Sony or Universal would be ignoring when looking at just the numbers. Funimation is in the anime business, and in the anime business, selling overpriced trinkets is the name of the game. Anime fandom is practically built around selling expensive collector’s sets and ludicrously expensive hunks of plastic. There’s a kind of slavish devotion to the medium that doesn’t really exist outside of anime fandom, with the exception of perhaps American comics. This kind of dedication doesn’t translate to selling copies of large Hollywood blockbusters. At least, not yet.

Still, one does wonder if Funimation will take a company up on the offer. After all, they owe part of their current success to Universal – the media giant has home video distribution rights to Funimation’s output, and even relied on them to get licenses for shows like Serial Experiments Lain and Tenchi Muyo!. They’re still an anomaly in an industry that’s had to make a lot of changes to maintain relevance, and this writer suspects that alone is enough reason for interested parties to keep an eye on the house that Dragon Ball built.

Porsche Coming To Gran Turismo For The First Time

Porsche Coming To Gran Turismo For The First Time

Gran Turismo is no stranger to luxury cars. From Aston Martin to Lamborghini, automobile enthusiasts have been able to get their hands on a wide variety of well-known prestige whips. However, there has always been one curious absence since the series’ 1997 inception — Porsche. The German company, in operation for over eight-five years, has long been considering a major trendsetter in the sphere of high-end cars, making their lack of participation all the more glaring.

But in the upcoming Gran Turismo Sport, players will finally get to experience something other than the Porche-based RUF vehicles. For the first time in series history, the company is loaning out one of its vehicles for use in the franchise: the 911 GTS R3.

Porsche’s official description calls it “an unadulterated sports car,” one that “that pushes its drivers into their Sports seats more firmly than they would ever have imagined possible.” The real-world vehicle comes with a price tag of almost $150,000 USD, making the $60 USD virtual equivalent quite the enticing offer for those without copious amounts of money to spare.

Currently, the 911 GTS R3 looks like it will be the only Porsche vehicle present in Gran Turismo Sport. That said, the game’s release is still a ways off, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see more of the company’s vehicles pop up later down the line.

With this announcement, too, it seems like Porsche’s exclusive licensing gig with EA is definitively up. After sitting on the video game rights to the vehicles for over fifteen years, EA dropped the license like a hot potato, leading to Porsche’s inclusion in the excellent Forza series. Because of aforementioned deal, one of the world’s most popular sports car brands has been curiously missing from the world of video games. But between Forza and this new announcement, it looks like players will finally be able to get behind the wheel of a Porsche without breaking the bank.

Gran Turismo Sport is currently slated for a 2017 release.