DiRT Rally 2.0 does nothing but improve the reputation of the purest, modern rally series out there. Codemasters' flagship sequel retains the same uncompromising sense of difficulty and challenge as seen in the original, but achieves it with a new-found sense of finesse and variety. The expanded and evolved Rallycross experience offers something equally visceral, but in a more quick-fire format and with exciting contact-based racing. This is an excellent counter-weight to the more gruelling and linear experience found in Rally events, and it may serve as the better jumping-in point for lesser skilled players. Overall, Codemasters have outdone themselves with one of the greatest rally packages ever made. Whether it quite out-manoeuvres Richard Burns Rally where it counts, the physics and handling through the wheel, is a matter of opinion, but it certainty hits that mark. One thing is for sure, rally fans everywhere must play DiRT Rally 2.0!
Monster Energy Supercross 2 is a mostly fluid and enjoyable two-wheeler experience, which hasn't been reinvented, but has been polished just enough to be a decent follow-up. The standard cynicism of incessant iterative cycles still applies here, because if Milestone gave themselves two years for this follow-up, it would be drastically better, rather than the usual half-step. However, at least the studio's commitment to the Unreal Engine 4, and their policy of providing an accessible driving experiences for all skill-levels, ensures Monster Energy Supercross 2 is still fun and engrossing for fans of Supercross, as well as those of the genre at large. Improvements to air-control reduces some occasional handling frustration, but doesn't erase it. Likewise, whilst throttle and front/rear brake application appears to me a little more tactile, the general handling and physics still leave a little to be desired. Good acrobatic fun, but with ample room for improvement.
Football Manager 2019 Touch is a fantastic package, that makes just enough incremental improvements to the UI, and the general flow and functionality of the experience, that fans who enjoyed and got plenty of mileage out of last year's edition, will be tempted to update. For newcomers to the series, there couldn't be a better time to jump in. The Touch series knows how to mediate the overwhelming nature of the experience, with a friendlier interface and some hand-holding that helps level out the initial complexity. With that said, the most avid of fans, who play the PC releases religiously, may find the spirit of this experience to be too watered-down. It really depends on whether they can tolerate the compromises, which have been made for the sake of functionality and accessibility, particularly with newcomers in mind. Overall, Football Manager 2019 Touch provides hundreds of hours of football strategy fun.
Yo-Kai Watch 3 is a fantastic last hurrah for the series on the 3DS platform, which is also an ideal jumping in point for new players. Although it's very much in the vein of a Pokémon-styled adventure, it's a franchise with its own interesting quirks. The battling system, which has been much improved here, offers something different, with its fast-paced special-attack mini-games and new Tactics Medal Board. On top of this, the universe of Yo-Kai Watch is very imaginative and vibrant in its own way. The concept of these creatures, influenced and based on Yōkai, is very interesting and with 600 Yo-kai in this version, that sense of discovery is palpable and ever-present. Although on a mechanical level, Yo-kai Watch 3 isn't as polished as a Pokémon title, it makes up for this in droves with its flexibility, not to mention its sense of charm and adventure. Great fun.
Ride 3 is a definite improvement upon its predecessors in various domains. Of all of Milestone's recent projects, the move to Unreal Engine 4 pays off most here. The previously washed-out visuals have been replaced by something more high-fidelity, bringing it up to par with the standards of other racers of its type today. It's more polished elsewhere too, with distinctly cleaner menus, a better soundtrack and crisper on-track audio too. The title features an impressive range of different types of bike, but unfortunately, it's still difficult to discern any handling differences between bikes within the same class. It's a bit disappointing that Ride 3 doesn't step things up more in this department, but it's still a much better-tuned instalment. With not a lot of competition in sight, Ride 3 is something of a Forza-equivalent for bike racing enthusiasts, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Despite the addition of four-player online games, improved matchmaking, head-to-head three-point contests, new Season and Playgrounds Championship modes, all-new playgrounds, plus a roster of over 400 past and present NBA players, it's difficult to recommend NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. The title sticks with last year's established formula too much, and doubles down on the microtransactions aspects whilst it's at it. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay just doesn't justify such an extravagant ecosystem wrapper, so only real NBA and collector fans will see the appeal in potentially putting more cash down for the best players. Overall, Playgrounds 2 is lacklustre and feels too much like a mobile game franchise. It takes advantage of its audience and never offers enough satisfaction in return for the money, or the grind sessions. Ultimately, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a bad game, and certainly no spiritual successor. Stick with NBA 2K19 or NBA Jam itself.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 is solid enough in its footballing fundamentals, but it seems to have regressed in terms of its polish and immersion. Picking up nine more minor league licences is a consolation, but now that football games have reached a point of extreme high fidelity, with lifelike player models and animations, the fickle issues of its lack of aesthetic consistency is more jarring than ever. With the loss of the Champions League licence, it might have been expected that Konami would nurture the neglected elements of the series, such as the Master League, and the sloppy presentation and online connectivity issues. That doesn't seem to have happened, though. Consequently, it's difficult to sing the praises of the core gameplay as much as last year. That's especially the case as the AI isn't as sensible as it was previously, with too many reckless challenges and questionable keeper decisions. PES 2019 underperforms, despite its quality.
It's hard not to have strong feelings about the laziness of Nickelodeon Kart Racers. The cynic might suggest that Bamtang Games and publisher Maximum Games were never all that bothered about producing something of quality to begin with, so long as the title could still cash in on the lucrative Nickelodeon licence. This is a crying shame, and not just because the PS4 and Xbox One currently lack a Triple-A kart racer. Since the title doesn't even attempt to hide its shortcomings, it feels like its creators are perhaps aware that parents might not read up on the title's shortcomings before purchasing it for their child, safe in the knowledge that it's a recognisable brand. That, if true, is something to really take issue with. Thankfully, the world is full of people with a conscience, who will deter folk from this monstrosity and tell them to go play Mario Kart instead.
Overall, GRIP Combat Racing is a fantastic spiritual successor to Rollcage racing that doesn't just pay tribute to the series, but also carves out its own nuances. It's a highly intense and visceral experience, which pulls no punches in terms of both its challenge and its depth. The visuals are amongst some of the best within the arcade racer genre, whilst the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment for the action on track. Better still, the handling is surprisingly detailed and easy to appreciate in conjunction with the imaginative tracks, which are full of gravity-defying labyrinths and heart-stopping jumps. The lack of in-air weight-balance modification and performance enhancing upgrades is slightly disappointing but, overall, the fundamentals are so addictive that these minor drawbacks are neither here nor there. GRIP Combat Racing is a highly concentrated experience, with a wealth of single-player content that's only complemented by its multiplayer components. Brilliant.
While no single element of Red Dead Redemption 2 is revolutionary, due to its ambitious scope, it's greater than the sum of its parts. Few single-player experiences excel simultaneously at telling a deep and poignant story, whilst also providing the player with such a huge extent of freedom and possibility.
There's some cross-country joy to be found in Dakar 18, but it could have been much more rewarding and successful considering the unique brand of rallying it represents. It is fun endlessly launching over sand dunes, hopping out of the car to be sporting by towing a competitor out of a jam, and finding one's way back on track after getting lost. Unfortunately, the fundamentals are out of whack. Vehicle classes are not distinct, terrain all feels the same to drive on, and both the handling and physics are more arcade than they are simulation, dampening what could have been a very visceral experience. The co-driver is infuriatingly annoying, his instructions often being confusing and ill-timed, whilst the graphics are not up to the standards of the genre. Many technical issues are also present, which reduces the sense of polish. There's fantastic potential here, but Dakar 18 as it stands is just average.
Overall, Overcooked! 2 - Surf 'n' Turf is a fantastic dessert for players already full on the core experience. Its island theme is a refreshing aesthetic contrast to the main game, with brighter and more vibrant visuals and a soothing island resort soundtrack. Not only this, it conjures some interesting new mechanics. The managing of barbeques with bellows creates even more time management chaos. Also, the addition of the water pistol, used to extinguish fires and spray the dishes clean from afar, adds a new layer of freedom, teamwork, and versatility. At a meagre price, Surf 'n' Turf brings a lot more to the table than might be expected. It may only be a handful of stages, but they are well-crafted and provide a challenge that fans will salivate over. This sets very high standards for the future inbound DLC of Overcooked 2. Get your island gear on!
Overall, V-Rally 4 is quite a decent experience that is no blemish on the legacy of the old series. It's pleasing on the eye, features a good amount of discipline contrast, and the split-screen multiplayer is great fun. Fans of the series will feel at home with the handling model, which recaptures the feel and behaviour of the original in a new modern context with surprising success. It's not a sim-heavy experience, but it is an appropriate challenge that asks more of the player than the average arcade rally affair does. The car list is lacking in terms of modern options, but existing fans will have a soft spot for the classics on offer. It's just a shame that the career mode fails to distinguish itself, and the online multiplayer is sparsely populated. Any future iterations will need to be more inventive, but V-Rally 4 is a surprisingly fun throwback.
Some aspects of NASCAR Heat 3 are well done. The challenge mode is absorbing and addictive, thanks to its quick-burst nature and the interesting context of the scenarios. The career mode, too, has been improved somewhat from last year's offering, although it's nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, these elements don't make up for the rest of it. The visuals are sub-par. The engine audio and the sound of the tyres squealing are some of the worst around. The physics, the collision detection, and the damage model are all terrible. Worst of all, the force feedback is so bad it performs like a Playstation 2 era driving game. This was the major issue with last year's iteration, so it's unacceptable that this hasn't been addressed. There was little point in adding new features like dirt racing, with these issues still present. Overall, NASCAR Heat 3 doesn't have its priorities in order.
F1 2018, unsurprisingly, is better than last year's outing. There are no drastic overhauls to speak of, but thanks to another array of tweaks and minor additions, it's the best F1 title to date. Its biggest strength is in the single-player domain. The career mode features a lot of unique elements, like the R&D skill-tree, which can't be found elsewhere, and it successfully approximates what it's like being a championship-pursuing Formula 1 driver. However, in terms of its fundamentals, despite the improvements to AI behaviour, the force feedback, and advanced elements such as tyre-degradation, this remains too much of a work-in-progress. F1 2018 will likely test the patience of the sim-racing side of its audience, who have increasingly high standards. Ultimately, whilst being drip-fed improvements in incremental fashion, it seems unlikely that Codemaster's F1 franchise will make any grand leaps towards meeting the lofty standards set by dedicated racing simulators.
State of Mind is an interesting project that prioritises its story beyond all other aspects of the experience. Unfortunately, while it does feature a very interesting narrative and a lot of compelling ideas, they are not executed very well at all. Even those acclimatised to the pacing and narrowness of other more successful 'interactive stories,' such as The Walking Dead, will find State of Mind to be inextricably rigid and overly linear. Everything encountered is positioned there to further the story. Both Berlin and City 5 lack proper secondary interactions and spontaneous encounters. Even the most linear of adventures cannot completely ignore the player's implied sense of possibility and wonder, without seriously affecting the immersion. For this reason, it's hard to feel engaged in State of Mind, despite its highly compelling story content. It might even be more enjoyable to watch a streamer play through it, than do it for oneself. Ouch.
Overcooked 2 is more of a second helping than a brand new concoction, but that's not to be sniffed at. It features more dynamic levels, with better scope, a wide array of new restaurant themes, recipes and chef costumes, not to mention another very meaty story mode. The real evolution, however, comes in simply addressing the biggest failing of the original - its lack of online multiplayer. This addition expands things significantly in terms of its longevity, allowing friends and strangers to gather when a local session isn't on the cards. Moreover, it enables lone cooks to experience the true core experience, specifically, the unique brand of chaos that comes with running a kitchen co-operatively. Overcooked 2 is a fantastic combination of excellent music and vibrant visuals, with gameplay that is as addictive as it is dizzying. While it's not a huge leap beyond the original menu, it brings plenty to the table.