PlayStation – 1998
This is one that probably slipped under a lot of people’s radars on this side of the pond. Based on the 1998 IndyCar series, it features 16 drivers and 12 tracks (10 in Championship mode and 1 unlockable track). It was developed by Studio 33, who would go on to make Formula One 99. The game has three different modes: Single Race, Challenge and Championship. It has four difficulty settings and the ability to adjust both steering assist and braking assist. You can turn on fuel, tyre wear, damage and flags for a more realistic race. Like the other Psygnosis’ published games, you can also adjust the race length, however certain tracks will have their own number of laps based off the length you’ve chosen. For example, Milwaukee Mile would have 10 laps vs Surfers Paradise’s 3 laps. Graphically, the game looks superb. It handles well and passing other cars is a joy (and a great feeling too!). The analogue sticks can be used but I found them a bit too sensitive. The sound effects are what you’d expect from a racing simulator (engine noises galore) and the commentary is a nice touch if repetitive. I spent my time in Championship mode and while I could go through Practice, Qualifying and the Race, having only 10 rounds made it feel a bit on the short side compared to Formula One 97’s 18 rounds. Overall, I’d recommend racing fans hunt this one down instead of Formula One 98.
Formula 1 97
PlayStation – 1997
The sequel to Bizarre Creations 1996 Formula One, this racing sim is based on the 1997 season. It features all 11 teams (MasterCard Lola is mentioned in the manual but doesn’t appear in game). Unlike the first game, it only has the 22 drivers that started the season so there’s no Wurz or Marques here. It also has the 17 tracks featured in the 1997 season, along with Estoril (this was originally the final race of the ’97 season). There are also four bonus tracks, including a 1950s Silverstone. The game is split between Arcade and Grand Prix, with Grand Prix being a more racing simulation. The graphics have improved, with the draw distance being much better although I did notice a bit more screen tear this time around. The Grand Prix mode has a lot more depth to it this time, with new features such as flags and tearaways being added. Car setup is also more in depth this time around, with the option to adjust several settings to get the most out of your car. The game does feature a range of difficulty settings and driver assist to help you tailor it to your style. You can have full rules on and carefully navigate the pack, or turn off flags and damage and drive like Schumacher at Jerez, it’s up to you. The AI sticks rigorously to the racing line, which can often lead to collisions, so be careful if you have damage or flags on. One thing I could not find was what the weather would be like before the race, so I couldn’t adjust my car accordingly. Speaking of weather, it does have a variable setting that can change during the race. The AI tends to be fine but you’d need to make it to the pits quickly or you’ll be sliding off the track! One last warning, be careful of steering assist. It will pull you towards the racing line at all times, even if the line touches the grass.
PlayStation – 1996
It can be difficult to look back on old sports games (especially ones nearly 25 years old) and review them objectively, especially when there is a new one released every year. Well, here we go anyway. Based on the 1995 season, Formula One allows you to take choose from 35 drivers across 13 teams. The game also faithfully recreates the 17 tracks used by the FIA that season, starting at Interlagos and ending at Adelaide. It’s great to experience some of the long gone tracks from Formula One’s history. The game also has a host of customisable options, allowing you to tweak the difficulty to your liking. This is a welcome for both new and returning players to F1 games. You can even change the controller layout to have the accelerator and brake mapped to the shoulder button. Sadly, it does not support the analogue sticks. Despite having a wealth of options, flags are absent and damage is minimal. The Grand Prix mode also has some nice little touches, such as Simtek dropping out just before the halfway point in the season just like they did in 1995. The season length can also be adjusted just in case you don’t feel up to playing the full 17 races. My main criticism comes from the draw distance. Often, I found myself relying on memory to navigate the tracks as you can come upon corners incredibly quickly with little warning. This did present a problem on certain tracks I wasn’t familiar with (most notably Argentina) but it’s something you can overcome with practice as the game is incredibly forgiving, especially on the easier settings. I’d recommend this to any die hard racing fans just to get a taste of when the 3D F1 games were finding their feet.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
PlayStation 4 – 2017
The first thing you’ll notice between this and Yakuza Kiwami is the graphical overhaul. Kiwami 2 uses the Dragon game engine from Yakuza 6. Kamurocho returns as the setting for the majority of the game and it feels larger than ever before. You can now access more buildings without the need for loading screens, the city is more alive with the addition of traffic and the combat transitions are a more lot smoother. Sōtenbori also makes a welcome return. It is slightly smaller than its Yakuza 0 predecessor but this is made up for with more internal areas to explore. The combat is now more streamlined, with only one fighting style available. However, this can be upgraded through exp and side missions. Exp has also received an overhaul, with it being split out in to five different categories, with each one being used to unlock certain abilities. Heat moves have also received an upgrade. Although not as impactful as the previous two games, they do utilise the environment around you more. The story is probably the best so far. Not only is Kiryu fighting for the Tojo Clan’s survival, but also the whole of Kamurocho as well.
PlayStation 4 – 2016
Utilising the same game engine as Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami takes place in 2005. This time you only play as Kiryu in Kamurocho but the district is just as open as ever. Gone is the money level up system, replaced by experience points and Majima Everywhere. Majima Everywhere is an interesting concept that ties in well to the plot, even if it can feel a little bit over the top at times (Zombie Majima?) but that’s part of its charm. The Real Estate and Cabaret Club are also gone and there are a lot less side missions to take on. However, it has to be remembered that this is a remake of a 2005 PlayStation 2 game. I did find myself an over relying on two styles, Brawler and Rush, as Beast and Dragon were just too slow for my liking.
PlayStation 4 – 2015
Yakuza 0 places you in control of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima during the 1980s. It has you explore two unique maps, Kamurocho and the slightly smaller Sōtenbori. Game-play wise, the combat is fluid with a range of different styles on offer. Some of these you’ll use more often than others but it’s important to level them all up. The side missions are a fun distraction that never feel like an annoyance and there’s a ton of mini-games to enjoy, from dancing to darts. The game also features two unique side adventures, Real Estate and Cabaret Club. Real Estate is where you’ll make your money to help level up but Cabaret is more involved. Definitely worth starting here if you want to experience the Yakuza series.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
PlayStation 4 – 2020
Final Fantasy VII Remake really backs a punch. The combat is fast-paced and stylish, enabling you to switch between characters and their abilities with ease. The characters are fleshed out well in a lot of places and the expanded Midgar is a sight to behold (especially the Train Graveyard). However, textures can sometimes look poor for a PS4 game. The game also suffers from some unnecessary padding in side quests (get your own damn cats!) and in some chapters. Chapter 17 is especially bloated. Perhaps my biggest personal annoyance is the Whispers, but you’ll soon find out about them if you play it.
Resident Evil 3 (Remake)
Xbox One – 2020
Resident Evil 3 (Remake) plays very similar to RE2 (Remake). It has the over shoulder camera and uses the atmosphere to invoke dread. Similar to the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, this one takes a more action orientated approach. There is still a measure of item conservation but it is more relaxed. The game is also faster-paced and the dodge is an excellent new feature. The game does lack some areas from the original (most notably the Clocktower) which is disappointing. The game is also short which is more noticeable than RE2 (Remake) as there isn’t a 2nd run mode. The store system does encourage replayability as you attempt to purchase new items to help you beat the game as quickly as possible.
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
Xbox One – 2019
I am terrified of zombies. Absolutely terrified. And nothing invokes that fear more than Resident Evil 2 (Remake). The game is dark and dreary, with scares around almost every corner. The original instilled fear through its fixed camera angles, keeping things hidden from sight until it was too late. This remake does so through darkness and narrow corridors. Zombies will lie in wait and may not spring up the first time you past them, giving you the impression they are truly dead. Visually, everything looks stunning and the music adds to its haunting atmosphere. Game-play is over the shoulder now (similar to Resident Evil 4) but focuses more on conservation than gun-toting action. The main criticism I have is the lack of variety between the first play-through and 2nd run. There are some slight differences and a true final boss but the story beats are the same.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
PlayStation 4 – 2019
An absolute masterpiece from Koji Igarashi, Yoshitaka Amano and Ayami Kojima. A 2.5D Metroidvania that has you exploring a ruined village, a massive castle, an underground labyrinth and.. uh.. Giant Land from Super Mario Bros. 3? The game-play is great and both the art style and music are incredible. During the game, yu’ll collect shards from defeated enemies, each with their own unique ability to help you on your way. The shards can often make the difference between live and death in a boss fight (anything poison will be your best friend). The game encourages exploration and back-tracking, especially when you gain anew ability. There’s a tonne to find including an 8-bit Easter egg!