video games Tag

How the XBox Became My Favorite Video Player

Xbox One X

I just finished reading Dennis Burger’s ode to his Roku Ultra, and it inspired me to write one of my own—to my Xbox One X gaming console, which has positioned itself as the preferred video playback device in my everyday home entertainment system.

 

I reviewed the Xbox One X for HomeTheaterReview.com a few months back. As I stressed in that review, I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have reviewed my fair share of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, as well as many generations of streaming media players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Nvidia. My approach to the Xbox review was to answer this question: Does this gaming console succeed as a complete all-in-one media player? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the review: It does.

 

What’s my proof? Well, four months later, the Xbox One X remains the sole set-top box connected to my living-room TV, while an Apple TV 4K, Roku 4, and Amazon Fire TV sit idle in a box in my office/test studio. Sure, I’ll pull one of those players out when I’m reviewing a TV or projector, along with my Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

But the player I choose to use on an everyday basis is the Xbox. Why? Because it really does give me everything I want in one box, with one common user experience.

 

First of all, the Xbox One X is the only gaming console to sport an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, so I can pop in UHD Blu-ray discs when I want the highest-quality video experience. I use a Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar in this everyday space—but if I had a surround sound/Atmos system here, the Xbox One X could accommodate it, too. I can also pop CDs into the disc drive . . . and only listen to them halfway through.

 

Second, the Microsoft Store includes all the streaming apps my kiddo and I use on a regular basis. That includes Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, Vudu, Tablo, PBS Kids, YouTube, and Pandora. Here I will confess that I do miss the convenience of voice search offered by Roku, Amazon, and Apple . . . but apparently not enough to make a switch.

 

As a cord cutter, I no longer have a cable or satellite set-top box. If I did, though, I could pass it through the Xbox’s HDMI input and unite that source into the user experience as well.

Xbox One X

And then there are the games. Over the years, the kiddo and I have casually enjoyed the simple, family-friendly games that are available through platforms like Fire TV and Apple TV—such as Crossy Road, Pacman 256, and Hill Climb Racing. But now my daughter’s eyes have been opened to a glorious new world filled with Minecraft, Super Lucky’s Tale, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure—and I’m afraid there ain’t no going back to Minion Rush.

 

As I said in my original review, if you look at each of the above categories individually—UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, or music player—of course you’ll find better performers. Products that deliver a higher level of AV performance or a better user interface. But the Xbox One X does it all quite well, and for me the convenience of being able to jump from a game like Minecraft to a streaming source like Netflix to live TV through Tablo and then to Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray—without having to switch inputs or remotes—is just too darn enticing to pass up.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

PS4: Celeste

As is the case with any form of media, nostalgia is a strong selling point with video games these days. Interestingly, the nostalgic push that has permeated the gaming market for the past few years has taken a few radically different forms. One example is the recreations of classic consoles with HDMI ports slapped on and built-in collections of classics pretty much in their original forms. Then you have popular games of the ‘80s and ‘90s being re-released for modern platforms, complete with remastered high-definition graphics, re-recorded audio, and modern conveniences like game-save options.

 

The most curious way nostalgia has crept into the video game market, though, is by way of brand-new offerings that look like they could have been released a quarter-century ago, including all of the pixelated graphics and controller-throwing difficulty that defined games of the 8-bit era.

 

At first blush, Celeste looks like one of the latter. Despite debuting on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam, the game looks as if it could have just as easily been ported to the original Sega Master System. And that blocky, pixelated look complements its gameplay quite well.

 

At its heart, Celeste is what’s known in gamer’s parlance as a “platformer”—and if you don’t speak the lingo, just imagine the dominant genre from that era of gaming, in which you spend most of your time jumping from platform to platform as you work your way from one end of a flat 2D world to another. Think Sonic or Super Mario or Super Metroid or some other game with “Super” in the title, and you’re at least on the right track in terms of the gameplay.

Celeste

In this case, though, Celeste’s hook is more of a lure. And I’ll admit, even I was drawn in by the premise of recreating the gaming memories of my youth without actually having to actually suffer through one of the unforgiving actual games of that bygone era.

 

Spend a few hours getting sucked into this delightful little slice of neo-nostalgia, though, and it becomes apparent—not quickly, but undeniably—that Celeste isn’t merely trying to feed you a dose of the feel-goods. There’s a point to all of this: The look, the feel, the simple three-button controls. Even the luscious piano and synth score, which isn’t exactly held to the same retro standards as the rest of the game’s aesthetic, is true to the spirit of music from ‘80s and ‘90s games, thanks to its deceptive simplicity and undeniably hooky melodies.

 

All of these retro trappings combine, in a weird way, to keep you focused on the task at hand, which is jumping, dashing, and grabbing onto platforms, with a level of precision that my teenaged self never would have dreamt possible. And the thing is, due to that intense concentration on running and jumping and not dying, you sort of end up missing the point of Celeste until you’re a few hours in.

 

Masterfully woven into all this platformer action is a rich and nuanced, slow-burn story about depression and ennui and the consequences of constant aspiration. It’s not heavy handed at all, and if you’re the type of person to skip dialogue sequences, you can easily nope right past it all. But you’d be missing out on one of the most heartfelt and gripping stories I’ve encountered in any form of media in quite some time.

 

Oddly enough, it’s a narrative that’s so tightly interwoven with the presentation of the game that I can’t imagine it being quite as impactful if Celeste had been a beautifully rendered, fully modern game with 3D graphics and 14-button control schemes. In other words, all of this isn’t merely nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, no matter how much it may look like such. The real brilliance of Celeste is that with its form, it sets up expectations of a silly narrative about saving princesses or whatever, then sucker-punches you with the sort of substance that would have been nearly unimaginable back when games had no choice but to look like this.

 

If you have access to a modern gaming console or computer, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. At $19.99, it’s practically a steal, and although you’ll probably burn through it in seven or eight hours the first time through, Celeste is a game with a heck of a lot of replay value. I can’t imagine putting it down anytime soon.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

I Think, Therefore I Game

mind control games

You’ve probably seen segments on programs like 60 Minutes that feature a disabled person with a bunch of electrodes attached to their head and shows how they can control a computer screen just by thinking about a letter of the alphabet or something like that. You might have even heard about using mind control for virtual reality gaming.

 

Recent articles in IEEE Spectrum, Wired, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere have made me realize mind-control gaming is closer than you might think—as in, it’s already here.

 

A company called Neurable (sounds like something out of a William Gibson novel) has created a game called Awakening where players can move and affect objects in a virtual environment just by concentrating on them. It works via a brain-scanning headband and related software that read and interpret EEG signals from the brain to control the gaming elements. The headband is compatible with existing VR headsets like the HTC Vive.

Neurable will be introducing Awakening in VR arcades throughout the world this year. While there are currently only a handful of these arcades in the U.S. and Europe, they’re already wildly popular in China and parts of East Asia.

 

There’s no doubt VR arcades will proliferate. I was impressed by both the size and scope of the Virtual Reality installation at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which I happened upon during CES 2018And there’s already a VR arcade called Virtual Realms near where I live on Long Island. (Lay that waiver and release form on me!) 

 

While mind-control games are just beginning to appear in arcades, it’s a sure bet they’ll soon enough become as commonplace at home as your TV’s remote control. Neurable isn’t alone. Other companies like Looxid Labs (which exhibited at CES 2018), Qneuro, and InteraXon are working on or have already demonstrated some type of brain/computer interface (or “BCI”). And games like Throw Trucks With Your Mind (I’d love to try that one!) have been shown at events like the Experiential Technology Conference & Expo in San Francisco. 

 

Heck, there’s already at least one discontinued BCI gameMindflex, produced by Mattel from 2009 to 2011, which purported to sense brain activity to control objects. (There was some question as to whether the headset actually measured brain activity or something like muscle activity instead.)

mind control games

True, the current mind-control games only let you do simple things like push numbers on a keypad, and it will probably take more advanced technology like brain implants to give you more control. But I’m confident BCI headsets will improve.

 

And here’s another wrinkle in mind: Consumer Reports says future games could change content based on a user’s mood. Imagine the possibilities: A game that could sense whether you wanted an apocalyptic zombie shootout after a bad day at work or a relaxing session of mind-control Tetris.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Dennis Burger’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist--Battlefront II

More than anything, I’m hoping both the gaming industry and Hollywood do some serious soul-searching in the coming year. The conclusion I hope they reach? We consumers have reached a breaking point when it comes to being screwed over. My evidence in this argument? The fact that Battlefront II, the latest Star Wars video game release, currently sits at a 0.9 rating on Metacritic. Not a 9. A zero-point-nine. Nine-tenths of one point.

 

The reality is, it’s not that bad a game. Not mind-blowingly amazing, but certainly solid. Were I to slap a score on it, it would be a minimum of 7.5.

 

So why the abysmal user reviews? Because the game’s developers burdened the release with cheap money-making tactics that fall somewhere on a spectrum between extortion and gambling. At the behest of Lucasfilm, these money-making mechanisms were shut down right after the game launched, but the damage was done. Gamers had had enough. To pay full price ($60 to $80) for a game only to be nickel and dimed to death when attempting to advance through the experience at a reasonable pace is an insult that simply has to end.

 

Gamers feel as if the only way to force an end to such shenanigans is outright revolt. Only the game publishers have the power to decide whether 2018 is an apology tour or a bloodbath.

2018 Wishlist--The Last Jedi

What about Hollywood? I’m not breaking any new ground with this revelation, but we consumers have had our fill of double-, triple-, and even quadruple-dipping when it comes to non-streaming home-video releases. I worry that Disney will attempt, in typical fashion, to release Star Wars: The Last Jedi as a relatively standard Blu-ray early in the spring and follow it up with a deluxe bonus edition late next year. They got away with it for The Force Awakens. They’ve gotten away with it on so many major releases in the past. I’m not sure they will for much longer.

 

Give us the goodies up front. Give us a UHD Blu-ray, for goodness’ sake. Throw in an audio commentary exploring The Last Jedi’s deep and numerous subversive themes. Give us the tribute to Carrie Fisher we’re all longing to see. Give us all of that without holding back, and we’ll snatch up the physical discs gladly, perhaps even in record numbers. But if Disney gives us the standard tease, or forces us to buy multiple retailer exclusives to get all the bonus features that exist out in the wild, it will simply be putting yet another nail in the coffin of physical media.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is either the 9th or the 11th game in the popular anti-Nazi video game series, depending on how much of a purist you are in your counting. And if that statement strikes you as somewhat confusing, well—welcome to the world of video game series reboots. The New Colossus is a direct sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, a soft relaunch of the franchise that was followed up by the 2015 release of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, which was equal parts expansion pack and standalone prequel.

 

If that seems like too convoluted a history for you to even bother with at this point, rest easy. All you really need to know about the Wolfenstein series is that the Nazis won World War II, they’re taking over the world, and it’s your job to shoot them. Imagine The Man in the High Castle if it had been written by Paul Verhoeven instead of Philip K. Dick. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. This new game draws on characters and themes from much earlier entries and manages to tell a quite personal tale about identity, parental relationships, and indeed the very nature of freedom.

 

But at its heart, the real draw of Wolfenstein II is in shooting Nazis. Tons and tons and more tons of Nazis. Sometimes you shoot them with big guns. Sometime with pistols. Sometimes you have to sneak up on them and whack ‘em with an ax. But in the end, dead Nazis is the first, second, and only meaningful objective in the game.

 

The biggest thing setting The New Colossus apart from its forebears is that this time around the action takes place in the United States—one overrun by the Reich, whose citizens have, for the most part, acquiesced to or outright embraced their goose-stepping overlords.

Wolfenstein II

That has led to criticism from those who see the game as a critique of our current political environment. It’s not intended as such, mind you. Games like this take years to develop and its developers aren’t prognosticators. But the fact that a game about killing Nazis is seen as a commentary on American politics at all, accidentally or not, is certainly worth mentioning. As much as this is a silly, brutal, over-the-top violence-fest, the central message here is that racism is bad. Fascism is bad. But also key to the narrative is the fact that most people aren’t badthey simply play along with their own tribe.

 

One thing I can say about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that isn’t even remotely controversial is that it’s an audiovisual tour de force. It’s a game that positively begs to be experienced on as large a screen as possible, with as many channels of sound as you can throw at it. Developer MachineGames has managed to shake up the series with entirely new environments while also hanging onto the same art design and overall aesthetic flair that made the last two games such stunners. And the Hollywood-caliber sound mix is, without question, the most dynamic and raucous I’ve heard in quite some time. Attempt to play this game on your tinny TV speakers and you’re just betting to blow a driver or two.

 

Truth be told, there are times when I wish I could just pop a big bowl of popcorn and watch someone else play the game. It truly can be that compelling. Whether you experience it from the firsthand perspective or as a passive bystander, though, you owe it to yourself to experience this game.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Getting Up To Speed On Games

As research for what I need to know to create gaming room designs for commercial use (such as inside a sports bar), I brought together a group of people who consider themselves serious gamers.

 

The first thing I found out is that nobody would go out to play video games by themselves. My new friend Brendan wrote to me the day after we got together:

 

There are two main forks in the target audience of gamers: casual vs. serious gamers and individual
vs. group gamers. Casual gamers might want to play a “wii bowling” type of game while more serious
gamers might play competitively/watch others play competitively. Groups will want to play on one
screen together, but individuals might want a high-performance computer to play on without
distraction. Individual gamers tend to prefer playing on a PC, while groups generally prefer a console
(Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Wii/Switch).

 

The idea of designing a gaming pod for a single player stopped exciting me after that comment. You can see why, knowing that my main goal is to design something for a sports bar.

 

Brendan continued my “education.” He wrote:

 

I think the ideal situation would be to have both a way for groups to play and an individual seating
area to attract the widest swath of people possible. But the best thing I think is to create a space
where people can come out and watch “professional gamers” together, similar to how people watch
sports now. There are groups that watch these games together now, but they don’t have a dedicated
home in NY at least.

Brendan told me to check Twitch, the most popular online streaming platform for watching esports (professional gaming). Twitch is a billion-dollar subsidiary of Amazon with hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers at any given point.

 

If you scroll down on the site, you’ll see featured games like League of Legends and Dota 2. Brendan said these are the most popular games to watch if, as a starting point, I want to understand what’s going on. That means more research on my end.

 

In my next post, I’ll discuss the other ideas we talked about that evening.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

How Video Games Changed the Movies

video games changed movies

One of the laziest and most ubiquitous criticisms leveled at movies these days is to say they’ve been somehow corrupted by video games. It’s a dismissal based primarily on ignorance—the assumption that video games are nothing more than flashy computer graphics and frenetic action. And while it’s true that more and more movies rely on such crutches (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay), I would argue that video games aren’t to blame. Movies like Transformers are simply a result of cheaper digital-rendering effects and lazy writing.

 

If anything, the influence of gaming on movies has been a net positive, but not in the ways you might expect. The biggest change Hollywood has made in response to the overwhelming dominance of the video-game industry—it is, after all, bigger than the music and movie industries combined—is in the way movies tell stories. Specifically, the way they draw you into the narrative experience.

Video games have long had an immersive edge over movies. With games, you’re an active participant, not merely a distant spectator. Can there be any denying, for example, that the aesthetic of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down was, consciously or not, influenced by video games? And I don’t merely mean its action sequencesI mean even the film’s most pedestrian dialogue exchanges, which are often framed in such a way that the character being spoken to is so close to the camera as to spill out of the screen. The film’s over-the-shoulder cinematography sometimes so closely mimics the camera angles of third-person action games that you almost feel your hands reaching for a phantom controller.

 

It’s not just aesthetics, either. The very narrative structure of games is starting to sneak into movies in inventive ways. Contrast, for example, two very popular “time loop” films—1993’s Groundhog Day and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow. Mind you, I realize they’re different genres altogether, but that alone isn’t enough to account for the radical differences in the way these films deal with the concept of being forced to repeat the same events over and over again. In Edge of Tomorrow—which, by the way, director Doug Liman has admitted was largely influenced by the storytelling experience of games—the protagonist isn’t merely there to learn one overarching lesson from his repeated days. He literally learns from every death, much as is the case with video games.

 

I would also argue that the upward trend in the length of films has at least a little to do with games. Before you scoff, hear me out. Video games, by and large, spread their narrative over eight, ten, thirty, sometimes even hundreds of hours of gameplay. They’ve trained us to sit for longer stretches of time to absorb a story—and in a way that’s not quite like reading or like binge-watching a TV series.

 

You could argue whether or not that’s a good thing, of course. But what it boils down to is that the influence of games on the current state of cinema doesn’t simply boil down to pretty lights that hypnotize.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Let The Games Begin

video game spaces

Everybody plays video gamesexcept me. I never got into the habit because I didn’t even have a TV growing up, much less a game console. It may be too late to start practicing nowbut nothing can stop me from figuring out how to make video game spaces exciting. So I’m on a mission to create a video-game “pod” for Rayva that, one, gives the player privacy and isolation and, two, has a visual design that’s as exciting as what’s going on in the game.

 

This will be the first in a series of short entries where I’ll describe my quest to create the perfect gaming space.

 

I started my research by asking seasoned gamers about the dos and don’ts of gameplay. My friend Dennis Burger—our resident gaming expert at the Roundtable—gave me some of his requirements:

 

• “No front projector. When I play a game like Rock Band or ARMS, I want to be able to stand
in front of the screen without blocking the image on it.”

 

• “I need to be immersed in the picture. Distractions can make the difference between
winning and losing.”

 

• “I love bass. A great, high-performance surround sound system adds a lot to the gaming
experience, but deep, hard-hitting bass really draws you into the game like nothing else.”

 

• “I need as many USB ports as possible to charge my game controller, peripherals, headphones,
etc., and I don’t want all of the charging cables out in the open.”

 

Because I’m exploring ideas for making a gaming pod visually exciting, last night I watched the 3-D Blu-ray of Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph. The moviean affectionate homage to video games of yesteryearis so much fun that I got carried away with the plot and forgot that I was supposed to be doing research. Ah well . . . I will have to see it again!

 

The next stop in my quest for the perfect gaming environment isn’t what it should bemastering my gaming skillsbut to get together with a group of avid gamers and find out what’s important to them. I’ll report my findings soon.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

How to Make the Perfect Gaming Room

I’ve written quite a bit lately about the value a high-end home theater system brings to the video gaming experience. One thing I haven’t mentioned, though, is the effect gaming has on such environments. In other words: What makes a high-performance gaming room different from your average TV and movie viewing?

 

In many respects, the answer is a simple “not much.” After all, the surround sound mixes crafted on the fly by most modern video games have fundamentally the same format and layout as movie and TV soundtracks. A 5.1 or 7.1 or even Atmos sound system that sounds great with Baby Driver will rock just as hard with Project CARS 2.

 

But there are some things that set a good gaming room apart. First up: Large projection systems are oftentimes a no-no, if only because a number of video games require you to actually stand up in front of the screen while you’re playing. Unless you’re going for the old MST3K look, there’s not much value in having your silhouette covering the screen as you try to play Rock Band or ARMS. If you want to go truly big with a gaming video display, a 65-inch or larger TV or perhaps one of the new breed of ultra-short-throw projectors is probably your best bet.

 

Oddly enough, seating is another area where a gaming-room system might differ from your average media room. The key here is flexibility. A single comfy couch may be great for the entire family on movie night, but different styles of game work best with different seating positions.

 

When my wife and I are clobbering each other in Mortal Kombat X, we both want the widest view possible, since we’re both probably concentrating on one edge of the screen or the other. In other words, the couch is perfect.

 

But when I’m playing first-person action games by myself, I like to scoot up as close to the screen as possible, since my focus is right in the dead center, and things on the periphery are, well, peripheral. I used to have a small, portable, dedicated gaming chair for exactly such purposes, but space constraints these days mean I more often than not just rely on a big ottoman to move closer to the screen when I want to.

the perfect gaming room

Speaking of space constraints—depending on a gamer’s individual preferences, a number of peripherals will probably come into play, so having ample storage space is crucial to any good gaming room that must also serve double duty as an all-purpose media room and family gathering space. In my case, I have full-sized tubular steel frame with a Sparco racing seat and Logitech G29 racing wheel, gear shift, and pedal set that needs to be tucked away out of sight when not in use. You might also have plastic musical instruments, a big HOTAS flight control system, or any number of other peripherals that need to be secreted away when you’re not actively gaming.

 

And with those peripherals comes the need for charging. One of the best additions I’ve made to my media/gaming-room setup recently is a rack-mounted cooling fan for my AV cabinet that also serves as a four-port USB charger. It not only keeps my gaming controllers and wireless headset powered up and ready to go when I need them; it also keeps them hidden away when I don’t.

 

Of course, every gamer’s needs are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to building the perfect gaming environment. If you’re a gamer who considers the high-end AV experience as essential to gaming as energy drinks and wrist braces, leave us a comment and let us know what makes your gaming room different from the typical media room or home theater.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Gran Turismo Sport PS4

Draw a Venn diagram of car enthusiasts and video gamers, and where the two circles intersect you’ll find a group of people who, without exception, have very strong opinions about the Gran Turismo series.

 

For most of us contained within that vesica piscis, the original “Real Driving Simulator” was far from merely a gameit was a religion. It taught us how to accelerate out of hairpin turns. It made us love mid-engine powertrains and AWD drivetrains. It turned us into oil-changing obsessives. Granted, many of us have graduated from Gran Turismo to more hardcore racing simulators over the years, especially since the disappointing sixth entry was released in 2013, but the nostalgia is still strong with this one.

 

In an attempt to win back the racers it lost to games like iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and Project CARS, GT developer Polyphony Digital is back with a wholly new and completely different effort dubbed Gran Turismo Sport. Don’t call it Gran Turismo 7. This is intended as the first entry in a newly revamped series whose emphasis isn’t on the single-player career mode that defined the franchise for the past 20 years but rather on eSports—ranked competitive multiplayer online gaming, that is to say. 

 

The results are a stunning mess, to put it mildly. Let’s focus on the stunning part first, because Gran Turismo Sport features without question the best use of High Dynamic Range video I’ve seen to date. And I’m not limiting the comparison to video games, either. Find me a movie with more lifelike use of shadows and piercing sunlight, and I’ll eat that UHD Blu-ray Disc. Without ketchup.

Pass alongside trees and other obstructions, and you can almost feel the shadows crossing your arms. Turn your car toward the west as sunset approaches and you’ll be scrambling for your sunglasses. This isn’t merely demo materialit’s the new gold standard for HDR that all content producers should be measuring themselves against.

 

Polyphony has also seriously upped the ante in terms of the game’s audio mix, likely in response to criticism of its previous games in this department. No longer does a supercharged V8 sound like a Singer sewing machine. The sound this time around is positively ferocious.

 

Sadly, in all other respects, Gran Turismo Sport is a rather hollow experience. At least for now. Long gone are the days when you could buy a cheap, beat-up four-cylinder car and scrape your pennies together to upgrade it as you slowly advanced through the ranks.

 

The single-player experience mostly consists of the game’s legendary driver’s-license challenges and a few driving-school scenarios. These are fun while they lastespecially with a good racing wheel like Logitech’s G29but they don’t last nearly long enough. And the online racing experience is sadly ruined by trolls who take pleasure from turning a good race into a demolition derby. What’s more, the punishment system set up to discourage such behavior punishes victims as harshly as instigators.

 

If Polyphony Digital can sort out such problems and add some more compelling single-player content down the road, it’ll have a successful game on its hands, if only on the strength of the audiovisual experience alone. For now, the lack of content and a middling online experience make Gran Turismo Sport feel more like an extended demo than a full-blown racing game.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.