Forza Horizon 4 is a Delightful Arcade Driving Thing

I have only barely dipped my toe into Forza Horizon 4, but it’s already a fun and goofy open-world driving game just like the last few, with the notable addition of changeable seasons affecting the greater British landscape this entry takes place in.

The Horizon offshoot of the Forza series have always been odd games. I don’t really enjoy the racing aspect because I’m terrible at it. Maybe it’s because even the simulated experience differs so much from the regular-ass driving I do in reality, I don’t know. Despite that, I just turn the game down into easy mode and love blasting through town and country hunting for bonus boards to knock down, hidden barn finds, and the absolute thrill that is the missions the game puts you on. The missions have specific goals that sometimes, and the most fun times, turn the game into an almost Tony Hawk Pro Skater-like experience and attempt to get a high score in flipping your car over five hundred times. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I can spend an hour flying around a construction site and not make any progress but still have had great fun.

The cars are all well rendered and beautiful, I play on my desktop computer or streamed to the TV for big screen car drivin’.

Horizon 4 also includes real-time multiplayer in addition to the Drivatar ghost cars that populate your game and races with your Xbox friends in addition to randos.

It also still has the silly customizable skins you can download or create that can turn your ride into An Anime car or apply a livery full of advertising from your favorite race-mobile as-seen-on-TV.

Perhaps the most ridiculous new thing in Horizon 4 is the addition of unlockable dances for your avatar that appear before a race, after a race, and most ridiculously, whenever you find a vista in the game and you’re offered the chance to stand on or about it and dance.

The one change that is a little concerning is that I understand you can’t just download a new tuning for your car on the fly. That little bit in Horizon 3 let you turn a mediocre cheap ride into something approaching a supercar just before a race.

Keza MacDonald was moved by the seasons while reviewing Horizon 4:

The game even turns our weather into something beautiful. As the seasons change, so does the climate and the nature of the light, along with the driving conditions. Edinburgh’s New Town shimmers in pale spring sunshine, and in winter the snow in the Highlands sucks all the light out of the sky. The cottages in Ambleside are prettiest in the summer, when the trees are so bracingly green you can almost smell them. If you have a 4K television, this is what it was made for. Now and then, such as the first time I drove past Edinburgh Castle in the perfect twilit blue of a summer night in Scotland, its beauty made me quite emotional.

The Forza series meaningful to me for a different reason, the first Forza Motorsport was the last game I tested at Microsoft Game Studios before quitting that job, and I’ve never returned to play the Motorsport line. I’m just not cut out for more serious racers. Horizon’s got what I want in something slightly more earnest than Burnout.

Forza Horizon 4 is out now on the Xbox One and Windows. I recommend getting it digitally downloaded if you can so that you can play on either platform.

Cheese’s Thoughts on Steam Play (Proton)

Josh “Cheese” has a ton of thoughts on the latest developments with Valve’s Proton Windows pretendulation software for Linux gaming through Steam. Cheese is always good reading, but he provides some especially useful historical context for this conversation.

I am still extremely concerned for where Linux gaming is going with Valve-controlled pretendulation as the default mode for new and old games, instead of native ports. It isn’t something many people playing those games will care about, if the pretendulation is good enough for them.

Katamari Damacy ReRoll Announced for December on Switch & Steam

Katamari Damacy is almost unplayable today. You can’t buy it online through any platforms or services.

The 2004 PlayStation 2 original game is out-of-print. The Xbox 360 sequel isn’t backwards compatible on the Xbox One. No Katamari has ever been available forWindows or any other desktop computing platform.

Mobile versions of the real Katamari existed on the iPhone, but aren’t available anymore. The only Katamari games that you can download on an iPhone today are free-to-play explorations of other game formulas like the modern clicker game or the endless runner. Those seem to exist solely to siphon off our shared nostalgia.

Katamari Damacy is just a great example of the difficulty in preserving original games in their original format. Hooking up a PlayStation 2, 3, or Xbox 360 is the only way to experience it today without walking in the harsh desert of emulator country and I haven’t even begun to explain why anyone who hasn’t played some version of Katamari would care about it.

It’s a game where you roll a big-ass ball around, it’s extremely weird, the ball collects things in a fictional version of our world and the things all have a kind of low-poly aesthetic. The ball is called a Katamari and it is being pushed by the Prince of the Cosmos under orders from his father, the King of the Cosmos. As you collect things the ball grows larger and larger until it’s finally going to roll up entire continents and at some point the level ends and the King is either satisfied with your work as the Prince or you can repeat the level. Some levels had annoying goals, it wasn’t perfect, but Katamari Damacy is missed by everyone who loved it. I still listen to some of the soundtrack with my family because it’s fun music that is approachable even to people who haven’t played a Katamari game.

I’m eternally grateful to whatever print magazine or 1UP.com show that told me about the original, because I wasn’t hooked into anywhere else that was talking about it when it was released in 2004.

All that said, this remaster of the original Katamari Damacy will finally be available on December 7th, 2018. Katamari Damacy ReRoll (it’s strangely an all-caps REROLL in the press release) on the Nintendo Switch as well as Steam for Windows. I don’t have a firm price available yet. ReRoll will also have new motion controls on the Switch. Very curious to see how well this game caps off our year of remasters and remakes as Katamari takes one more roll through the ephemerality pipeline.

New Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch in 2019

Pocket Camp didn’t stick with me, maybe it was too obviously a mobile free-to-play exploitation machine, but I am glad that Nintendo announced a new Animal Crossing for the Switch for 2019. They did it with a goofy bait-and-switch during the most recent Nintendo Direct by announcing Isabelle as a playable character in the upcoming Smash Bros. Ultimate first.

The Nintendo Switch Online Service Is Ready to Exploit You Now

The Nintendo Switch Online service is now available to lock you out of the multiplayer functionality in video games you’ve already bought or might buy in the future.

Nintendo Switch Online $20 for a year which seems fine until they raise the price, or when you think about how well Nintendo has handled any kind of online systems in the past.

That $20 gets you the online multiplayer, cloud saves, access to a rotating library of old NES games, access to the Nintendo mobile app for voice chat because Nintendo refuses to allow voice chat through the console, and access to some kind of special members-only offers to purchase things.

It’s up to publishers and developers to decide what games get support for cloud saves. The upcoming Dark Souls 1 remaster/port won’t have it because people might cheat, which is a lame excuse but it also might be understood as because the game was already in development for some time. All games should support cloud saves if they can or the service should change to support games with limitations on cloud save restoration to prevent cheating. Anything is better than losing your Dark Souls save.

Cloud saves should be free for anyone buying a Switch. That service is kind of free on Xbox Live (or at least they won’t drop your saves if you don’t pay for Gold). Cloud saves are entirely behind the Plus paywall on the PlayStation 4, and they’ll be dropped after 30 days of a Plus account expiring.

There are 20 NES games at launch and Nintendo promises more to come. Nintendo’s website has a list. You can also interact with a friend playing a NES game by controlling an onscreen cursor while they play. It lets you clap for them or point to things that are important. I’m going to go ahead and predict that this feature is gone within two years or at least never added to any future online service that Nintendo does.

Access to old NES games is another feature that might help make this service worth money to someone. Nintendo have also locked the ability to buy a set of ($60) wireless NES controllers behind the service. The controllers look kind of nice and hook up to the Switch like Joy-Cons by sliding onto the sides of the console, but having to pay for the ability to buy something else is lame as heck.

I’m probably not going to pay for online access to Splatoon 2 or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe anymore, but I didn’t play them online enough while multiplayer was ostensibly free. There are enough other ways in my home to play old NES games, and I don’t care enough about those NES controllers to buy them. Cloud saves should be free for everyone and Nintendo should provide more ways to backup your saves.  This service stinks and the only good thing about it is that it exists as an example of how every console and platform is trying to pry money from us on a recurring basis. They’re parasites who want to exploit us at every turn.

Spelunky 2 Has a New Gameplay Trailer & A 2019 Release Window

Derek Yu’s Spelunky sequel is coming out next year, and we now have confirmation from this trailer that the game will feature Ana Spelunky, the daughter of the first game’s protagonist. Ana apparently has access to either a cat launcher, or a cloning device that can clone felines. New for this sequel is online co-op, ride-able animal companions, dynamic fluid physics, and more.

Yu and Co’s UFO 50 mega game compilation is still expected later this year.

Donut County is Good & Available Now

Ben Esposito made a game called Donut County about being a hole that drags other stuff into it. There are also characters, like BK who is a racoon and kind of a dick.

Donut County’s good so far, but I hear it is pretty short. Also I keep thinking it’s Donut Country, which should be the name of any sequel.

Donut County is available almost everywhere for $13. Here’s a link to it on Steam for Windows and macOS. Here is it on the PlayStation 4. Your gog link. An iOS App Store link where it’s $5. This is the macOS App Store link where it’s $13.

Zachtronics’ EXAPUNKS in Early Access

The latest programmo-puzzler from Zachtronics, EXAPUNKS, is available in Steam’s Early Access home for wayward and incomplete games. This is another game in the style of TIS-100 and Shenzhen I/O, with this one focusing more on explicitly hacking the system, man.

There’s something wonderful about Zachtronics’ programming games. Each one has a special theme, and unique puzzles to solve.

In this adventure you’re an ex-hacker with a bad case of the phage who made a deal to hack for the cure. You’ll be programming your EXAs, which are the viruses that you’ll use to attack different institutions.

Just like Shenzhen’s take on Solitaire, there are other games buried inside EXAPUNKS, like HACK*MATCH.

EXAPUNKS is $20 on Steam or through the Humble store for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Unfortunately the feelies I mentioned back in July are no-longer available, so you’ll probably get a PDF or something with the game to read Trash World News.

Windows Pretendulation Is Bad Even When Valve Does It

Valve’s Pierre-Loup A. Griffais announced that they’re including their brand new fork of the WINE Windows pretendulator in a new beta product for Steam. They call it Proton. WINE is an open-source Windows API emulation layer that lets Linux users play Windows games without rebooting into Windows. I call this process “pretendulation” because it isn’t emulating the entire operating system, but it is still far from native.

That sounds good, more games for Linux, right?

Well, when I started writing about Linux gaming 18 years ago there was a commercial, closed-source, fork of WINE called WineX. WineX had a lot of fans, it was developed by people who had been working on Wine, which was a more generalized product for Windows software, to target game software. These developers of WineX (later called Cedega) did a good job at writing the software, but it had a number of issues.

One of those WineX issues was that Windows compatibility is a moving target. Any progress the WineX developers made to support new versions of Microsoft’s DirectX game software programming interface were usually still years behind where modern games were. If the latest Battlefield game came out and it only worked with DirectX 8 and WineX was still on 6 or 7, it was going to be a while until they could support that new game.

Even though new DirectX versions are less of a headlining feature in Windows these days, compatibility with a wide range of games is going to be a problem for Valve’s Proton as well. 

Any emulation, or translation, layer, is also going to introduce some amount of performance overhead. You can’t emulate a PlayStation 3 or Dreamcast at full speed on a lot of expensive computers today, but you can buy the original console for $50 that plays those games perfectly. The same issue happens with emulating Windows APIs under Linux. Some games will only have a very small hit to performance, but others might be more of a problem and you won’t get the same framerate that you do under Windows.

So there are compatibility and performance issues, that’s it, right? Nope, there’s one more technical hurdle. When something breaks, you’re not going to know if it’s the game or the emulation layer. I imagine this will infuriate some developers.

Valve claims that games they’ve tested and whitelisted in this beta have an almost identical gameplay experience to Windows, and they acknowledge the performance overhead. Valve doesn’t acknowledge the negative effect this will have on real native ports of games. Back in those WineX days there were some developers and publishers who cancelled their plans for native Linux ports because Windows pretendulation was “good enough” for them, even when Wine or WineX didn’t provide a great experience for players.

“Good enough” Windows API emulation eventually turned into developers porting their games with Wine wrapped up into a library, giving Linux players some of the half-assed ports they have today.

One additional issue that wasn’t a problem with WineX, these improvements to Wine are only designed to work with games on Steam. You won’t be playing Battlefield  5 with Proton. Although Valve’s fork of Wine is open-source, unlike the old WineX fork which had its source closed behind an agreement that the executives at Transgaming later deleted and refused to acknowledge.

Proton is an interesting technology, but a bad thing for anyone who loves Linux gaming and wants native ports of games brought to Linux.