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.