Tag Archives: cars

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Toy Home

There was a time when Sony was really pushing the Sixaxis controller as the best way to play some of its big name games, such as Lair and Heavenly Sword. Well, Toy Home also uses it, forcing you to tilt left or right to steer your racing vehicle…or shake it violently to get your vehicle to flip over after a crash landing. I’m sure I looked a bit ridiculous doing all of this, but thankfully no one was around to watch me play. It’s gimmicky and not something I’d every really want to use, but alas…I had to.

The goal of Toy Home, which is a digital download only for the PlayStation 3 that came out in December 2007 and does not contain Trophies because it predates the inclusion of ’em, is to simply collect coins, discover hidden medals, and pass every checkpoint, earning 10 seconds for each checkpoint, before times runs out. You also win points by jumping, smashing, and flipping around. There are a total of eight racetracks in the game, all of them taking place in one of the rooms of the house and are filled with obstacles. It initially does feel like you are a kid’s bedroom like in Toy Story, with larger-than-life toys around you to smash into, and the bouncy music really makes you feel like a kid just goofing around with your toys.

There’s a single player mode, along with a multiplayer mode, where up to eight players can battle against each other online, as well as leaderboards, where you can view high scores. Naturally, I didn’t bother trying to play online because I just know how it’s going to go; I can only imagine how empty and lonely that digital realm is for a…twelve-year-old game.

I don’t have much more to say about Toy Home. It’s not a complicated game. It is what it is, a driving collectathon, and that’s fine. The only part I wasn’t enamored with was the control scheme, but I probably could get over it in time. Still, my goal with this project is to play what I can and see if the games hook me hard or are only interesting enough for an hour or so of my gaming time. I don’t see myself devoting much more of my life to Toy Home, sorry to say to all those at SCE and Game Republic.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Smuggler’s Run

To me, Smuggler’s Run was probably my first dip into an open world environment. The fact that I was driving a vehicle and could leave the road at any point for a zip through the desert, going left or right as I pleased, felt revolutionary at the time. In fact, this type of driving was encouraged, especially when the U.S. border patrol began chasing after you. I wasn’t locked into a course with walls and barriers or even invisible walls, forced to follow the path that the developer wanted me to follow, doing the same thing as anyone else playing the game was doing. I was a smuggler on the run, running how I saw fit.

Like I just said, in Smuggler’s Run, you play a smuggler who needs to prove himself in this underground world and has a number of different vehicles at his disposal to do so, including dune buggies, rally cars, and military vehicles. These vehicles are used to smuggle assorted cargo through three different large, open levels. It’s a fairly weak plot to begin with, and your mission objectives are spelled out for you via some quick narrative before each mission. The missions  range from basic smuggling operations that involve moving the contraband from point A to point B, to customized versions of a checkpoint race and the loot grab modes, to completely original objectives like destroying a series of radar towers.

Smuggler’s Run had a couple of different modes to explore, and I’ll cover ’em briefly here because, honestly, I really only played one mode over and over again before eventually using this game and some others as a trade-in offer for…well, I have no idea what I got for them, but that’s beside the point. Smuggler’s Mission mode is basically the story campaign I described in the previous paragraph, seeing you go through three consecutive levels (forest, desert, and snow) with about ten missions per level. Turf War mode had three different mini-games, two of which involved smuggling cargo while fighting against a rival gang; the final mini-game involved a race through a popular spot in a level. Lastly, Joyriding mode allowed you to freely roam to and fro in any level without having to deal with the U.S. border patrol or CIA, and it was a great way to get to know the ins and outs of any level before taking it on via the story missions.

If I recall correctly, your vehicle will take damage not only from collisions with other vehicles and objects, but also from bouncing all over the particularly rough terrain. When your damage meter runs out, your engine stalls, and if a police vehicle touches you while you’re stalled, you’ll be placed under arrest. If no cops are around, you can restart your engine and continue on your merry way…though chances of that were seriously unlikely. The AI-controlled police were absolutely relentless, chasing you everywhere you go, which is why I mostly spent my free time in the Joyriding mode, free from such hassles.

For its time, Smuggler’s Run looked fantastic. The game’s terrain is large and detailed, and pop-up and fog were nowhere to be found…though that giant green arrow pointing you to your mission objective was then and is now beyond fugly. Each of the three maps are massive, with the missions taking place in smaller sections, but you aren’t limited in where you can roam. There’s also quite amount of small details everywhere, such as tire marks, active wildlife, train tracks, and actual hiking trails, which are just things you expect nowadays, but really helped add a bit of realism to the game on the PlayStation 2.

Evidently, they made a sequel with Smuggler’s Run 2, though I never played it. The only interesting factoid I know about it is that the game was originally supposed to take place in Afghanistan, but following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as well as the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, the developers changed the Afghanistan levels to the deserts of Georgia/Russia instead. Rockstar also later released downloadable content for Grand Theft Auto Online named Smuggler’s Run, which added a customizable hangar and additional vehicles to play around with. At least they didn’t completely forget about this IP.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Midnight Club: Street Racing

This might be hard to believe, considering my long and well-documented love for all things racing games, but I willingly bought a copy of Midnight Club: Street Racing for the PlayStation 2 some time back in that wacky, inexplicable decade known as the aughts. I suspect I got it for cheap at the Blockbuster near my college’s campus when they started selling used games–or rather “previously rented”–but that’s just a suspicion, based mostly on the fact that that is where I got a small chunk of my early PS2 collection during my poorer days eating ramen noodles and working a few hours during the week in an art gallery. For the record, and yes, I just looked, here are all the games still in my collection rocking a “Previously Rented Game – Quality Guaranteed” label from the now defunct Blockbuster business:

Yup. Quite a super-squad there. With that said, let’s get on to the star of today’s show. Everybody, start your engines. Vroom vroom vroooooom…

Surprisingly, for a game centered around driving speedy cars quickly and aggressively, Midnight Club: Street Racing kind of had a story behind all its engine-driven action. Granted, around that timeframe, my experience was fairly limited to car-related adventures through things like Vigilante 8, Super Mario Kart, and Crash Team Racing, where vehicular combat was the central element, and it didn’t matter who was behind the wheel so long as they could toss projectiles out like everyone else. So, taking place in both New York City and London, you’re a bored-as-bored-gets cabbie looking for some street-style racing action…for reasons. Magically, you stumble across your first challenger named Emilio and are then invited to join the titular Midnight Club to continue proving your worth and burning gang leaders in races. There’s no real introduction, and the dialogue sections are flat images with character portraits speaking while two cars sit idly next to each other. Look, it’s not Great Expectations, or even Fast Five, but it’s something.

Not shockingly, when you see that Rockstar had a hand in this, but Midnight Club: Street Racing is a bit open-worldish. Y’know, a genre just starting to hit its stride then. You’re able to cruise around the respective cities, looking for trouble in the form of hookmen, which are visible on your mini-map, which, when you glance at the screenshot above, defies the definition of the word mini greatly. I mean, that was the UI for the era–big, bright, and loud. Anyways, once you get behind them, you’ll have to keep up with their ride until they feel that you’re worthy of a race, which is you against that driver’s entire posse. Also, you can call up these hookmen on your cell phone–a novel concept back then–for a more fair one-on-one race. If you win the race, you get to add your opponent’s car to your garage, which I guess is akin to carving up a dead animal and wearing its skin as a prize. I don’t know a lot about cars.

I remember being initially impressed by the scale of Midnight Club: Street Racing offered, but do remember the cities feeling lifeless and empty. Now, I’ve only ever been to New York City, and I remember a lot of cars and honking while there, as well as swarms of people; here, it is just mostly empty streets, with little traffic to deal with, and that just wouldn’t cut it today. Still, one must consider that this game came out before things like Grand Theft Auto III and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It was also frustrating that, to even start a race with another member of the Midnight Club, you needed to follow them to the starting line first, weaving through traffic and praying they didn’t get too far ahead of your slow whip, which was often more challenging than the race itself.

Most races are checkpoint races, which means you can veer off the beaten path so long as you hit all the checkpoints and cross the finish line before anyone else. That might sound like there’s a ton of freedom at hand, but this is a condensed city-scape and not miles of Smuggler’s Run‘s open terrain, and there were generally only one or two ways to get the job done efficiently. If rubbing and racing isn’t your thing, well…there’s an arcade mode, which lets you set up head-to-head, checkpoint, and two-player races. Also, some sort of capture the flag mode where you need to bump into the car carrying the flag to steal it and then deliver to some hotspot on the map. I don’t believe I ever took down the gang champion of New York City, thus never even seeing the second half of the game set in London.

I have no idea if Midnight Club: Street Racing hold up in 2018, and I’m not interested in finding out. Still, if I had my copy around, I might pop it in randomly one night for a zip down memory lane, but oh well. Much like Blockbuster, this franchise stalled years ago, and newer, more efficient racers have taken the lead, like Burnout Paradise.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

The top five greatest things about L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is not Grand Theft Auto IV set in the 1940s, and for that I’m eternally happy. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted that open-world feel, but more guidance, more direction, and that seems to be the case here, pun intended. A linear game set in an open Los Angeles that, if you want, you can go explore and get lost in and attempt to run citizens over. But you’re a good-natured detective, and a detective like that moves slowly, meticulously, combing crime scenes for clues and interrogating suspects and musing with partners over possible plans of action. Sometimes action takes precendence, with Cole chasing suspects on foot or car, or trying to survive a shootout, or desperately trying to keep his hat on during a fistfight. But it’s the detective work and questioning of suspects and branching paths that make L.A. Noire its own game, and not just Grand Theft Los Angeles.

Oh, and here are five other great things about L.A. Noire:

5. Make a face, any face

This might surprise some to find my praise of the facial animation not number one of this insignificant list of mine, but that’s how I roll. I like the face work, I do. It’s very impressive, especially considering that both Tara and I immediately recognized Greg Grunberg as Hugo Moller just on his face alone. We were like, “Hey, it’s that guy!” And we were right. It was that guy. And we recognized him before he spoke, whereas it is often the opposite that confirms a suspicion about a voice actor in a videogame. And then Hugo began to talk, and it was like I wasn’t even in a videogame anymore, just a show on TV, where a guy was being questioned, and he was answering accordingly, twitching and looking away and furrowing his brow as we all do, and we had judgment calls to make.

4. All that jazz

In the late 1940s, after the horror of World War II, music reflected American enthusiasm tempered with European disillusionment. Jazz and solo singers breaking free from big band ensembles ate up the limelight, and Rockstar took it a step further for L.A. Noire‘s soundtrack, utilizing the remixing skills of some of today’s best DJs to create new versions of the old. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton are re-imagined in spectacular ways. Take a listen, I promise you that the songs are intoxicating and hypnotic. It’s a shame that I don’t drive around more to listen to them, but more on that in a bit.

3. That carrot is not irrelevant

When at a crime scene and searching for clues, Cole can pick up and inspect a number of items, many of which are either red herrings or simply inconsequential to the case. My favorite pick-ups are inside a suspect’s house, where Cole will meander into the kitchen, pick up a carrot, and stare at it for minutes before finally deciding that, yes, it’s most likely not the murder weapon. I’ve also noticed his love for picking up boxes of laundry detergent. Either way, it’s nice that they kept these items in, as it does give the feeling of truly examining a crime scene, no matter how silly they ultimately are. Always examine shoes, too.

2. Baby steps up the stairs

Y’all might think the facial motion capturing work in L.A. Noire is its greatest achievement, but you’d be wrong. Somehow, after seven years of programming and coding and researching, the people at Rockstar and Team Bondi were able to perfectly capture the way people climb stairs. If you don’t hold down the run button, Cole will climb a set of stairs in itty bitty steps, bobbing his head all the way up, like a jogger running in place. It’s hilarious and at the same time instantly recognizable; we’ve all gone up stairs like this at one time or another, placing both feet on each step all the way to the top, and it only helps to nail down immersion and authenticity.

1. You drive, I’m lazy

Most cop-work is done in pairs. Partners are not just a stereotype of the cop genre, but an integral aspect of working the streets and solving crimes. Plus, they can act as a personal chauffeur. At just about any point, you can hold down a button and have your partner drive to the next location. This is wonderful. You still get to listen to the interactive dialogue you’d hear if you yourself drove, but now you can listen without worrying about running into another car or careening off a cliff. If there’s no dialogue to be had, you simply warp to the desired location via a short loading screen. Again, this is wonderful.

One of my biggest gripes with Grand Theft Auto IV is how sadistic the mission structure was, often having you drive across two bridges and many miles to start a mission. Upon death or failure, you’d have to do all that again. It was even hard to stay on track in games like The Saboteur and Red Faction: Guerrilla. Here, in L.A. Noire, arrival at your destination is guaranteed. Occasionally, I do drive, but it’s always messy, and I rear-end a lot of cars, which gets my partner all huffy and puffy. Not needed. Hopefully this is something every open-world game can implement though how is not a quick answer to me. The fact that you are constantly paired up with a second person surely helps.

Don’t think I’m 100% sweet on the game though. There’s plenty I dislike, and if y’all are good and enjoy this post and share it with Reddit and Kotaku and StumpledUpon and the whole Interworld so that I can get rich and famous fast, then I’ll do a post on the five worst things in L.A. Noire.

All Achievements Achieved: Harm’s Way

Harm’s Way is one of two finalists for the Doritos Unlock Xbox competition where developers created Doritos-themed games. The other game is Doritos Crash Course. Ironically, both games are not, um, Doritos-themed, but full-fledged arcade titles with their own strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate winner of the competition was rightfully Doritos Crash Course, but the mega-chip company also tossed $50,000 at the Harm’s Way‘s creator for a job well done. Not too shabby. It’s definitely better than a lifetime supply of their All-nighter Cheeseburger chips. ::barfs::

Right. So, Harm’s Way is a racing game, but with a twist. One can try to beat their opponents by manning a turret and blowing other cars to bits before they cross the finish line. Conversely, if you’re controlling a car, other opponents can do this to you too. And that’s it. You race, you shoot, you explode, you swing around corners, you admire the above-par graphics, you sit in a turret and wait for cars to come around the corner, and you unlock Achievements with ease.

The hardest Achievement, surprisingly, was this one:


Affiliation (10G): Join a multiplayer game for the first time

Yup. Both Harm’s Way and Doritos Crash Course accounted for more than two million combined downloads since being released for free on Xbox Live Arcade, but it took me weeks to actually find enough people to start up a multiplayer game. Funny, that. Now that all 12 Achievements have been unlocked, I don’t really foresee myself playing this one ever again. Racing games, even ones with twists, aren’t my thing, and I’d rather work on my timeliness over at Doritos Crash Course. I mean, that game won for a reason–it’s a ton of fun!

I’m going to try to make All Achievements Achieved (AAA) a thingy. I’m really close on 100%-ing a few other games as you can see from the sidebar list. This will also help immensely with the backlog slack and my overall mental stability.

A short spurt of success in GTA IV

Something strange happened recently; I beat a couple of missions in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Now, I had not played the game since admitting to the rage it caused me back at the end of April 2010. Other games became my distraction, and I soon lost interest in moving Niko’s revenge plot forward. But then, recently, Red Dead Redemption was released, and all the buzz about it reminded me that I really do love an open world and that Rockstar can make a decent game, and so I popped GTA IV back into my Xbox 360, totally expecting to just drive around a bit and see the sights.

But I took a chance again on that mission “Museum Piece,” which had previously caused me a lot of heartache after failing it three times. I prepared myself by loading up on ammo, grenades, and armor, and then procedded to take my time clearing out the museum. Once outside, I stayed in the park as I remembered that taking to the streets was instant death. Here’s where it got tricky…and I got lucky. I could not see the two cars trying to run me over, but they kept bashing into the park’s gated walls, and several cop cars had shown up to assess the situation. I tossed grenades like hot potatoes and took those two (of three) targets down. The third guy was on foot in the park, a shotgun in hand, but I made a mess of him quickly. Now to lose my three stars. I grabbed the car I drove to the mission with and hit the street, trying to find a Spray ‘n Pay shop. Luckily, I didn’t need it, and made it to safety before getting there. Ping, Achievement unlocked!


Impossible Trinity (10G): You completed the mission “Museum Piece”.

And then I took on the next mission from Italian Ray…and successfully completed it. And the one after that. I think at some point, I pinched myself, but all of this was happening. I was doing well!

Until I had to chase a guy on a scooter around a park…on a scooter, too. Scooters are motorcycles’ demon babies. They handle horribly, and one mess up and your target will escape with ease. Grrr. So I failed that mission…twice, saved, and shut off for the night.

Maybe I’ll wait two more weeks to play GTA IV again. I guess I gotta save up a whole bunch of success and then spend all in one shot.

Baby, you can drive my car…in Borderlands (cause I don’t want to)

I’m beginning to wonder what videogames with vehicles would be like without their vehicles. Most likely better, to start.

The Mako in Mass Effect was frustrating to control, and unsatisfying when you finally did get the hang out it because then you’re mostly standing still, bunny-hopping incoming rockets, and firing your own weaponry off into the great distance. Not fun, and it might have just been easier–and more fun–to walk the path from Mako point A to Make point B then drive like a loon. I was extremely glad to hear it got the ax for Mass Effect 2 though they seemed to have added in a flying ship of sorts. Not sure how it controls.

In Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, if a single block was off or the wrong type of fuel was attached, the vehicle would be classified in the local paper as 100% jalopy/clunker/hooptie. This made making your own vehicles un-fun, and using the ones provided by the game until you hit a spot where none of them would work. Wish it was a platformer again instead of a car circus.

And Grand Theft Auto IV‘s vehicles are just hahahahaaa ahaha ahahahahah ha. Ahem.

But I’m not here to harp on Mass Effect‘s shoddy future tank or Banjo Kazooie‘s pickiness. No, no. This blog post is all about the vehicles in Borderlands.

To start: WHAT ON PANDORA IS WRONG WITH THEM?

Actually, nothing. But there is something terribly wrong with the control scheme for them. So, once you’re inside the driver seat after accidentally climbing into the gunner seat a few times, you’re ready to burn some rubber around the wasteland. To do so, on the Xbox 360, you have to press forward on the left analog stick. Okay, weird. Old-school design. So how do you steer then? Oh, you also use the left analog stick. “But,” you ask, dear reader, “how can you effectively hold it forward to drive and tilt left/right to steer the vehicle away from sharp rocks?” You can’t.

I really had a lot of trouble figuring out how to use the vehicle once I got in it. And so far, after trying to use it on two missions to speed up travel time, I’ve found myself stuck on a rock or down a ditch thanks to hard-as-vault controls. It really boggles my mind, and I can’t seem to find a way to change the scheme myself. Why couldn’t you hold A for gas and steer with the analog stick? Makes no sense, I tell you.

Now I’m just waiting to unlock fast travel because driving vehicles, especially in a solo game where no one is watching my back or driving for me, is not a good time. Of all time. NOT A GOOD TIME OF ALL TIME. Shooting bandits is much more desired.

Yet somehow–and I assure you there was no skill involved here thanks to previous mentioned controls–I unlocked the following Achievement:


Get a Little Blood on the Tires (20G): Killed 25 enemies by ramming them with any vehicle

Seriously, at this point, I think the only game with vehicles I’ve ever greatly enjoyed is Super Mario Kart. Those things handled perfectly.