Weedcraft Inc Review – I Got 5 On It

Marijuana. The Devil’s Lettuce. Sweet Mary-Jane. All words for the same thing rolled up and smoked as a jazz cigarette. In Weedcraft Inc, you’re not a smoker, but an entrepreneur tasked with making sure your floral-smelling empire expands beyond its rinky-dink beginnings.

Weedcraft is a management sim, and a fairly complex one at that. While it seems a bit sparse in scope at first, you’ll be experimenting with temperature, humidity, and mineralized soil before you know it. At the same time, you have to make sure your electricity output isn’t suspicious to the keen-nosed authorities hellbent on sending your delinquent bottom to a cold jail cell. Unless you’re willing to bribe them, of course.

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When you boot up Weedcraft, you’re treated to a soundtrack composed of percussive hip-hop beats and instrumental vocals. Next thing you know, you’re Johnny, failed MBA student who has turned to drug dealing. In order to make ends meet, you need to sell astronomical amounts of weed. At the start you’re only selling a couple of grams at a time, but you’ll be shifting top-quality greenery for tens of thousands of dollars a pop before you know it.

Weedcraft’s management sim systems are designed quite well. As your business expands, you start to spend less time growing weed and more time managing employees, all of whom have three stats: growing, selling, and interpersonal skills. These workers can grow weed for you, sell it on the streets, or run a front business designed to make your operation inconspicuous. As you progress through the game and go national, they can run weed from cities where it’s legal to cities where it isn’t–for a small fee, of course. At the same time, they can slip up and get arrested, at which point you’ll need to decide what to tell the cops. Maybe you’ll play dumb and let them take the hit for you; maybe you’ll lie on their behalf, saving their skin and earning their gratitude (until they ask for a raise two days later). Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll go down with them, your empire of dirt collapsing inwards on top of you. Although this sounds interesting in theory, there’s not much to it in execution. You assign your employees jobs by dragging their portraits into a little box and then just leave them be. Every couple of minutes they’ll ask for a raise, even if you’re going under, and every other day they’ll mention that they were threatened by a rival gang member, which decreases their motivation to work for you. Because they only come to you to discuss money or threats, there’s no real sense of building a relationship with them. The management sim mechanics in Weedcraft are clean and intuitive, but not in any special or new way.

You’ve got your own list of perks, too, which are separated into two strands: decent and shady. These can provide you with bonuses when you’re bargaining with employees over wages or assist you in convincing a cop that there’s no smell coming out your chimney. You unlock these very gradually throughout the game, but their effects are usually significant enough to make even slow progression worthwhile, as the benefits they provide can have an astronomical impact on day-to-day dealing. You can headhunt the best growers in town, or get better at convincing rivals that you’re genuinely trying to help them before you bring them down.

A lot of Weedcraft’s core play comes down to property management. You need to pay leases, rent, utilities, wages, and materials on a monthly basis. As you progress through the game, employees notice the rate at which your empire is expanding and ask for raises. Properties in new cities are fancier than the ones in the small town you started out in, and people are used to more experimental strains of weed that cost a lot more money to cultivate. The prospective employees you’ll come across are usually a little more skilled too, and they know it. While you may have gotten away with paying an ex-con $250 a month for holding the fort in your front business in Michigan, hiring someone to sell weed outside a church in Colorado can amount to as much as $750 a month, and that’s before they start making demands.

After a while in Weedcraft, you’ll stop selling outside diners and flea markets and start to take larger orders, reflecting the way empires are built on weed on the silver screen. These will come from people who are coordinating events, celebrities, and politicians who don’t want to be seen at a dispensary or in a shady alley. Naturally, these gigs pay a lot more than the minor deals you were doing when you started out. They’re also harder to work up to though, and clients are a lot pickier. If you want to avoid bankruptcy and prison, you’ll have to be crafty in your attempts to balance the legal and the illegal, and the minor and the major. In theory, larger orders should work swimmingly. In execution though, they’re a bit deceptive, offering more bang for your buck in the short term, but also drastically undercutting the prices of your day-to-day sales. I got several consecutive game overs from neglecting my clients at the burger joint to grow 800g of top-quality Grandaddy’s Purple. Because you’re micromanaging employees instead of growing your own weed at this point in the game, getting high-quality pot mostly boils down to good RNG. And if you consider buying a basement to set up your own personal operation, you’ll miss out on employee prompts, rival threats, and police warnings. It’s just not really worth it, and that’s an issue. If these people want to buy your best strains in bulk, they should offer something more enticing than market value to make it worth your while.

Weedcraft also has another game mode in which you start off as a 50-year-old man who has just been released from prison. Formerly a junior brand manager, you’ll end up meeting with your old friend Matty after deciding that legal weed is a business you’re well-equipped to take on. In this mode you’ll start off with a decent amount of capital, including a hefty amount of weed to sell straight away. However, this is much more advanced and will involve you sycophantically dismembering the competition. This mode is a lot more difficult, and the assets you’re gifted at the start are deceptive. Here you’ll probably need to take out a loan just to get by, which you’ll need to repay within 30 months at 8% interest. This might seem like a long time, but weed takes a long time to grow, so naturally there’s a fast-forward setting that powers through months in minutes. Bankruptcy is never too far away so long as there are competitors desperately seeking to undercut you for an inch of your territory. This mode is a lot more engaging than the other one because it makes use of the game’s full systematic ensemble. Here you spend more time combining strains in a laboratory to create the next big thing than you do on the streets, which gives you an insight into where the easier mode will end up about 10 hours in.

Visually, Weedcraft finds style in simplicity. As with most management sims, the overall area you’re operating within is viewed from a top-down perspective. Cars drive along the roads wrapped around shady neighborhoods, rundown burger joints, and sky-kissing hotels, all of which serve as hubs for operations you wouldn’t want your parents to know about. In your growing rooms you actually get to watch your budding trees bloom, which is very satisfying with fast-forward enabled. These rooms are the most dynamic places in Weedcraft because the progress is meaningful. Most of the time, zooming cars just boil down to background noise designed to convey the passage of time. They become furniture almost immediately, before being interrupted by fleeting conversations with police officers and rival dealers. When these dialogue encounters occur, characters appear on either side of the screen, still portraits with clear, if not caricatured, personalities.

None of the personalities in Weedcraft are remotely nuanced. You’ve got maniacal metalheads, somnolent stoners, and highfalutin hipsters, all of whom are paired with their own preferential strains of weed

Caricature is an important word here. The thing is, none of the personalities in Weedcraft are remotely nuanced. You’ve got maniacal metalheads, somnolent stoners, and highfalutin hipsters, all of whom are paired with their own preferential strains of weed. People known as “vagrants” prefer whatever’s cheapest, whereas a hipster is more than happy to pay above market price if the quality is there. Sometimes, these people will utter a short line after you sell them a bag. Most of these are generic, something along the lines of, “I’ll take the usual, Super Lemon Haze.” And in the case of talking to other dealers, every time you’re met with a prompt to ask them about a certain point of interest, the exchange will literally consist of, “Let me ask you about…” and “Well, what can I say about that!” Here, the ellipses are used to make this generic conversation applicable to every dialogue encounter with potentially major characters in the game. Because of this, none of them ever become particularly intriguing, which is not to say that they even were in the first place. From Los Muertos in Michigan to the health-loving businessman living in an “eco-house” in weed-permitting Colorado, every character you meet is a character you’ve probably seen in a movie 100 times before.

While it’s relatively harmless to write tropey characters like the ones above, some of Weedcraft’s clientele is horribly designed. Alongside the kinds of people you’d expect to find in a game like this, you’ll find people who suffer from cancer, PTSD, and epilepsy, all of whom are accompanied by very unflattering portraits. The cancer patient is doubled over, ghostly pale with bags beneath their eyes, and attached to a drip. The PTSD patient is wide-eyed and open-mouthed with both hands on their head, wearing an expression torn between fear and confusion. People who smoke medicinally in Weedcraft will only buy from registered dispensaries, so you’ll need to get a license to sell before they’ll do business with you, but their representation in the game is extremely distasteful. It may be true that people suffering from illnesses are sometimes prescribed marijuana to help them deal with pain, but to present them in such an appalling way in a game is nothing short of shameful.

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This really did sour the game’s initial tongue-in-cheek charm. The beginning of Weedcraft starts to get towards something interesting, presenting itself as an experience capable of playing with the cultural and socioeconomic impacts the devil’s lettuce has had on society since it assimilated into the mainstream. Blending such a polarizing substance with the management sim genre seems ingenious, especially because of how significant property is. In one of the first lines of the game, your younger brother explicitly mentions issues with gentrification, but the problem is that the idea is almost immediately dismissed thereafter. With weed being legal in some US states, but not in others, Weedcraft could be a remarkable way of studying the impacts of the drug in legal and illegal settings alongside each other. You learn about creating artificial climates to support optimal growth, checking soil quality to determine strain strength, and combining seemingly immiscible substances in order to invent something new. At the same time, you’re faced with the case of buying the proper licenses to adhere to legislation and establish a legitimate business. It’s obviously not as in-depth as I imagine the real-life process is, but the fact that it attempts to replicate it even in a minor way gives us a little insight into how these intangible things work. It places you, an ordinary person, in a highly unusual string of circumstances, and allows you to waltz your way through the sale of the most controversial plant on the planet. But it does it in a way that lacks nuance, commentary, and maturity. From terminally-ill patients to hackneyed depictions of dealers, it relies more on stoner symbolism than genuine critique.

Weedcraft is a well-designed management sim with stylish art and catchy music. Generally, it does its job well. Managing things is hectic and engaging, and you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for too long, lest someone take advantage of your ignorance and kick you out of the market and into prison. However, its characters are stale, its dialogue is boring, and its depiction of ill people is really disgusting. These aren’t minor flaws by any means and they drastically affect play. I felt particularly uncomfortable when I saw the picture of the cancer patient because of how grossly caricatured it was. For these reasons, Weedcraft really shot itself in the foot. For a game that could have engaged in a globally-significant discourse, all Weedcraft really amounted to in terms of cultural and socioeconomic discussion was a jaded look at stoners and the people who sell them drugs in the back alleys of dodgy neighborhoods. In doing so, it fails to say anything meaningful about the human cost of weed and relinquishes the opportunity to grapple with weed’s impact on the zeitgeist. It’s the kind of game Ashton Kutcher would laugh at in Dude Where’s My Car, which means it’s not the kind of game that has anything of merit to say in 2019.

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning Review – Attack Of The Clones

You certainly can’t say that Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is not unique. How many other games out there are first-person, real-time, tile-based roguelike horror dungeon crawls featuring in-depth survival mechanics, ensemble character drama, and a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story about clones and the last remnants of humanity? I definitely can’t think of any. But unique doesn’t always equal good, and in the case of Zanki Zero, its interesting, genre-melding concepts wind up a bit hobbled by some not-so-great execution.

Zanki Zero begins as a rogue’s gallery of eight characters find themselves on a strange tropical island with only a few rundown facilities. They all have no idea why they’re here, how they got there, or what connection they all have. But things soon take a turn for the even weirder: TVs across the island start playing a bizarre educational cartoon at set intervals, explaining that the eight are the last remnants of humanity and must work together to survive and build a new future for the human race. Oh, and they’re all actually clones, experience rapid aging, and die after 13 days of life–assuming nothing else kills them first. But it’s okay, because one of the few functioning things on the island is an Extend machine that can clone them after they die, effectively meaning they can live and die forever.

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And die they will, because survival in this dilapidated paradise is no picnic. When you begin the game, you barely have any functional facilities to do things like cook and sleep, and you need to collect material in order to build them. Not only that, but you need to effectively micromanage the health of every character. On top of a typical health meter, they also have a stamina meter (which drains from merely existing and goes down faster when doing strenuous activities or carrying lots of items), a stress meter, and even a bladder meter. Letting one element get out of control can have cascading effects; if a character can’t hold it anymore and wets themselves, they become embarrassed and stressed, which makes fighting enemies tougher, which leads to more rapid stamina loss for them and their teammates, which leads to health loss, which leads to death. Scavenging and using food and relief items and facilities like toilets helps, but carrying too much leaves a character overburdened and unable to move, and as time passes, characters age, and the amount they can carry changes.

If that all sounds like a lot to take in, that’s because it really is. The heavy survival elements of Zanki Zero get dumped on you quite early in the game, and with little in the way of resources and experience, managing everything can get extremely rough. And that’s all before you factor in exploration and combat. The game offers multiple difficulty levels (that can be changed mid-game to your liking) to help offset this, but it’s still pretty rough waters in the early game as you try to come to grips with how much you need to micromanage. While there are some tutorials, they are inadequate, amounting to info-dumps that are tough to take in when you’re already struggling with juggling everything else. Once you finally have all of the island’s facilities built and can stock a small safety net of resources, the constant micromanagement becomes far less daunting and even quite enjoyable as you watch your ragtag bunch grow from helpless castaways to capable survivors.

All those important survival elements aren’t even the core focus of the game, either–it’s also a first-person, real-time dungeon crawler. At the behest of the mysterious TV characters, the cast explores urban ruins that drift to the shores of the island to find new parts for their Extend machine and finally remove the fatal rapid-aging flaw from their cloned selves. Each of the ruins is tied to one or more of the cast members’ lives, and you’ll see glimpses of traumatic events from their pasts in each one that reveals more about who they are and, perhaps, why they are here. The unfolding story and revelations throughout the varied environments push you to move forward and discover the secrets of the characters’ hellish situation. You won’t get more story without a struggle, however; the ruins are laden with hazards like mutated animals and trap switches. If the challenge of basic survival and rapid old age doesn’t kill you, the threats in the ruins certainly will.

But character death can have its advantages. Sure, you have to drag them back to the Extend machine and spend your limited stash of “points” earned from dungeon exploration to revive them in a child body. But when you revive them, you can also give them a bonus called “Shigabane:”: based on their life experiences and how they died, they get advantages in their new clone form. For example, dying at middle age from being gored by a giant boar while poisoned will result in the revived clone taking reduced damage from boars, getting poison resistance, and adding an extra day to their lifespan at middle age. It’s a great system that doesn’t remove all of the sting from death but still leaves you feeling like you’re making progress through your efforts.

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Unfortunately, Zanki Zero’s combat is easily the worst element of the game. It attempts to marry turn-based, tile-hopping roguelike combat with real-time elements like charge attacks, group combos, and attack cooldowns, but it winds up constantly feeling sluggish and unresponsive. Worse, there’s not much in the way of strategy in most of the fights; you usually want to maneuver behind or to the side of an enemy while charging attacks, whacking them when opportunity strikes, then scurry away to avoid retaliation, charge again, and repeat. (Or, if you have a ranged weapon, you plink away with that.) An additional element where you use an aiming reticle to target specific body parts of an enemy just makes things messier, as you have to spend valuable time fidgeting with awkward aiming controls. It’s the same reticle you use to examine things in the environment, so if your reticle isn’t in the right place (say, you just examined something else not long ago), your attacks can simply miss entirely. It’s a shame that combat’s such a weird-feeling mess, because it drags down the fun of exploring these urban ruins, finding interesting items and bits left behind, and learning about the characters and the world.

Uniqueness is one of Zanki Zero’s biggest selling points, but its myriad ambitions and ideas aren’t enough to obscure the elements that don’t work as well. While the novelty of the game, its interesting story, and engaging exploration do a lot to carry it, it falters in some crucial spots that drag down the whole.

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Dangerous Driving Review – Don't Try This At Home

It’s impossible to play or talk about Dangerous Driving without comparing it to Criterion’s seminal Burnout 3: Takedown. This is by design, of course, as developer Three Fields Entertainment–a small indie studio comprised of former Criterion alum–set out to create a spiritual successor to the dormant racer; latching onto the groundbreaking Burnout 3 as a clear and popular focal point. Everything about Dangerous Driving’s design, right down to small details like font selection and the phrasing used in its loading screens, is distinctly Burnout 3. It foregoes the advances made in its sequels–like traffic checking and the introduction of an open-world–to hone in on what made Takedown so special.

My first hour or so with Dangerous Driving was fraught with bewilderment, however. There’s a single song that plays on the main menu, but other than this there’s a complete absence of music throughout the entire game. Licensed tracks are a crucial component to the Burnout formula, and after playing a few events in near-complete silence, their monumental importance can’t be overstated. Obviously, this is true of most games, but particularly one where high-speed exhilaration is on the menu. After initially thinking this was either a bug or that music would eventually find its way into the game via a day one patch, I hopped into the audio settings and discovered the reason for its omission: Spotify integration.

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This is a smart idea for an indie studio that might not have the budget to splash out on licensed music, and after finding something suitably upbeat and aggressive myself, the experience of tearing around the track and wrecking other cars was improved tenfold. Yet asking people to own a premium service just to get music in their game is a fairly excessive compromise. It’s an understandable trade-off for gaining access to popular music in a budget-priced game, but beyond the monetary requirement, it also has an effect on gameplay. Three Fields can’t manipulate Spotify music in any way, so songs will just play through from start to finish without the incorporation of any interactive elements. This means that the music doesn’t change its tone when you boost, or slow down and warp during takedowns, and that robs these moments of some of their potential impact.

When you’re out on the road, the handling of each car will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played Burnout before. While most contemporary racing games are wary of fully embracing an arcadey style without featuring some kind of simulation element, Dangerous Driving is a full-blooded, balls-to-the-wall arcade racer. You’ll hold down the accelerator ad infinitum until your finger aches, careen around corners by either scraping across the steel guard rails or tapping the brake button to effortlessly drift around, and weave between oncoming traffic at over 200-miles-per-hour as the nitrous oxide flames spewing out of each exhaust pipe propel your car forward.

Unfortunately, the physics can be fairly wonky at times, often bringing your vehicle to a complete stop because you brushed against a wall; while other times it will shoot you straight up into the air, or force your car into a complete 90-degree turn. This can be incredibly frustrating during the latter stages of an event when one mishap is enough to send you tumbling to the back of the pack. Collision detection is also inconsistent; numerous times a head-on crash resulted in my car clipping through the floor and appearing unscathed on the other side. The face-distorting sense of speed, though, is genuinely electric, and the PS4 Pro version maintains a stable 60 frames-per-second with one notable exception: It has a tendency to hitch rather egregiously when you’re driving through tunnels.

The crux of Dangerous Driving’s racing is centered around the need to drive recklessly and constantly put yourself in harm’s way. By hurtling towards incoming traffic, performing near misses, nailing drifts, tailgating, and taking down your opponents, you earn variable degrees of boost that will help fire your chosen vehicle towards the finish line. There isn’t a discernible difference in how each car handles, other than the fact that some go faster than others, but their pinpoint responsiveness coupled with the high framerate ensures that you’re fully capable of serpentining in and out of danger if your reactions are quick enough. Again, this is quintessential Burnout, with the destruction of your fellow drivers doubling your boost meter and incentivizing the most perilous behavior possible. These takedowns are reminiscent of those that debuted in Burnout 3, although the slow-motion crashes in Dangerous Driving are surprisingly underwhelming. They’re not bad, but they’re also not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail.

There are exceptions to this rule, but vehicle collisions actually look a lot more violent when they occur near you in real time, with broken cars hurtling across the road in a furious cascade of fire and sparks. A wrecked car doesn’t signal the end of its lifespan either. While Dangerous Driving unabashedly riffs on Burnout, it has its own ideas, too, like persistent wrecks. Now, if you’re driving on a track with multiple laps, any takedowns that happen will leave the battered husk of that car out on the road as a smoke-billowing obstacle. This is rather ingenious, as subsequent laps gradually evolve the track until it’s veritable minefields of dead vehicles.

The slow-motion crashes are not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail

The problem with this–and it’s not a problem with the mechanic itself, but rather one with the game’s overall structure–is that these multi-lap events, and the most stimulating moments within them, are too few and far between. Dangerous Driving excels when you’re in the middle of the pack, trading paint with other cars, and fighting tooth and nail to move up the field. It’s here where it’s at its most exciting, and really latches onto what made Burnout 3 so brilliant in the first place. But reaching first place is relatively easy–I was taken down by the AI twice in all my time playing–and once you’re there the rubber banding isn’t aggressive enough to ever compete with your driving unless you crash. Rivals drivers will hover just behind you, waiting to capitalize on any mistakes, but there are far too many instances where you can take a leisurely drive in first place, resulting in a feeling that you’re missing out on all the action.

It doesn’t help that the track design is bland. Visually there’s a lot of variety with a cohesive theme of North American National Parks that encompasses sunswept canyons, beachside cliffs, snowy mountain ranges, and so on, but the tracks themselves are made up of the same kinds of long, winding corners that it almost feels like they were copied and pasted from one track and into another. They rarely deviate from this standard blueprint, and there’s nothing that sets the tracks apart from one another either. This compounds the issues with difficulty and AI during race events, and also results in a dearth of engaging racing in other game modes. There are face-offs against a single opponent, the takedown-centric Road Rage, time trials, a survival event that tasks you with reaching checkpoints to stave off an ever-depleting timer, and even a nod to Criterion’s work on Need for Speed in the shape of police pursuits. Again, there’s a decent amount of variety here, with familiar modes returning from Burnout (including one that was previously its namesake, re-titled to Heatwave here), but the lack of interesting courses and a scarcity of racing events depletes much of the excitement.

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Online multiplayer is being added in a future update, and playing against other people might allay some of these problems. But the more I played the more I began to realize Dangerous Driving lacks that magic spark the Burnout games had in abundance. That kinetic energy, palpable sense of danger, and the heart-racing thrill that something could and would go wrong at any moment. The AI was aggressive–competitive–and the satisfaction of taking them down was born of more than just getting to watch their car crumple against the nearest brick wall. The tracks were inventive, too, more interesting in their environments, and full of diverging paths and risky shortcuts.

Dangerous Driving nails the basic feeling of driving a car in Burnout, but the lack of small details quickly begin to add up and peel away at everything that doesn’t feel quite right. The most damning criticism I can level at it is that it’s often dull and lifeless. There are too many events that fail to capitalize on its strengths, and those that do can only reach those heights in fleeting moments. I was concerned that maybe I’d feel the same way about Burnout; that one of the greatest racing series ever made just doesn’t fit in 2019. So I went back and played Burnout 3 again and it quickly alleviated all of those fears with a rapid combustion of thrilling vehicular mayhem. The potential was there for Dangerous Driving to latch onto that magic, and there are brief moments when it feels like you’re playing a brand new Burnout. But the truth is, I’d rather play a 16-year-old game than pick up its spiritual successor again, and that’s a disheartening outcome.

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Dangerous Driving Review – Burnt Out

It’s impossible to play or talk about Dangerous Driving without comparing it to Criterion’s seminal Burnout 3: Takedown. This is by design, of course, as developer Three Fields Entertainment–a small indie studio comprised of former Criterion alum–set out to create a spiritual successor to the dormant racer; latching onto the groundbreaking Burnout 3 as a clear and popular focal point. Everything about Dangerous Driving’s design, right down to small details like font selection and the phrasing used in its loading screens, is distinctly Burnout 3. It foregoes the advances made in its sequels–like traffic checking and the introduction of an open-world–to hone in on what made Takedown so special.

My first hour or so with Dangerous Driving was fraught with bewilderment, however. There’s a single song that plays on the main menu, but other than this there’s a complete absence of music throughout the entire game. Licensed tracks are a crucial component to the Burnout formula, and after playing a few events in near-complete silence, their monumental importance can’t be overstated. Obviously, this is true of most games, but particularly one where high-speed exhilaration is on the menu. After initially thinking this was either a bug or that music would eventually find its way into the game via a day one patch, I hopped into the audio settings and discovered the reason for its omission: Spotify integration.

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This is a smart idea for an indie studio that might not have the budget to splash out on licensed music, and after finding something suitably upbeat and aggressive myself, the experience of tearing around the track and wrecking other cars was improved tenfold. Yet asking people to own a premium service just to get music in their game is a fairly excessive compromise. It’s an understandable trade-off for gaining access to popular music in a budget-priced game, but beyond the monetary requirement, it also has an effect on gameplay. Three Fields can’t manipulate Spotify music in any way, so songs will just play through from start to finish without the incorporation of any interactive elements. This means that the music doesn’t change its tone when you boost, or slow down and warp during takedowns, and that robs these moments of some of their potential impact.

When you’re out on the road, the handling of each car will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played Burnout before. While most contemporary racing games are wary of fully embracing an arcadey style without featuring some kind of simulation element, Dangerous Driving is a full-blooded, balls-to-the-wall arcade racer. You’ll hold down the accelerator ad infinitum until your finger aches, careen around corners by either scraping across the steel guard rails or tapping the brake button to effortlessly drift around, and weave between oncoming traffic at over 200-miles-per-hour as the nitrous oxide flames spewing out of each exhaust pipe propel your car forward.

Unfortunately, the physics can be fairly wonky at times, often bringing your vehicle to a complete stop because you brushed against a wall; while other times it will shoot you straight up into the air, or force your car into a complete 90-degree turn. This can be incredibly frustrating during the latter stages of an event when one mishap is enough to send you tumbling to the back of the pack. Collision detection is also inconsistent; numerous times a head-on crash resulted in my car clipping through the floor and appearing unscathed on the other side. The face-distorting sense of speed, though, is genuinely electric, and the PS4 Pro version maintains a stable 60 frames-per-second with one notable exception: It has a tendency to hitch rather egregiously when you’re driving through tunnels.

The crux of Dangerous Driving’s racing is centered around the need to drive recklessly and constantly put yourself in harm’s way. By hurtling towards incoming traffic, performing near misses, nailing drifts, tailgating, and taking down your opponents, you earn variable degrees of boost that will help fire your chosen vehicle towards the finish line. There isn’t a discernible difference in how each car handles, other than the fact that some go faster than others, but their pinpoint responsiveness coupled with the high framerate ensures that you’re fully capable of serpentining in and out of danger if your reactions are quick enough. Again, this is quintessential Burnout, with the destruction of your fellow drivers doubling your boost meter and incentivizing the most perilous behavior possible. These takedowns are reminiscent of those that debuted in Burnout 3, although the slow-motion crashes in Dangerous Driving are surprisingly underwhelming. They’re not bad, but they’re also not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail.

There are exceptions to this rule, but vehicle collisions actually look a lot more violent when they occur near you in real time, with broken cars hurtling across the road in a furious cascade of fire and sparks. A wrecked car doesn’t signal the end of its lifespan either. While Dangerous Driving unabashedly riffs on Burnout, it has its own ideas, too, like persistent wrecks. Now, if you’re driving on a track with multiple laps, any takedowns that happen will leave the battered husk of that car out on the road as a smoke-billowing obstacle. This is rather ingenious, as subsequent laps gradually evolve the track until it’s veritable minefields of dead vehicles.

The slow-motion crashes are not impactful enough–which the aforementioned issues with music contribute to–lacking in any real dynamism or metal-crunching detail

The problem with this–and it’s not a problem with the mechanic itself, but rather one with the game’s overall structure–is that these multi-lap events, and the most stimulating moments within them, are too few and far between. Dangerous Driving excels when you’re in the middle of the pack, trading paint with other cars, and fighting tooth and nail to move up the field. It’s here where it’s at its most exciting, and really latches onto what made Burnout 3 so brilliant in the first place. But reaching first place is relatively easy–I was taken down by the AI twice in all my time playing–and once you’re there the rubber banding isn’t aggressive enough to ever compete with your driving unless you crash. Rivals drivers will hover just behind you, waiting to capitalize on any mistakes, but there are far too many instances where you can take a leisurely drive in first place, resulting in a feeling that you’re missing out on all the action.

It doesn’t help that the track design is bland. Visually there’s a lot of variety with a cohesive theme of North American National Parks that encompasses sunswept canyons, beachside cliffs, snowy mountain ranges, and so on, but the tracks themselves are made up of the same kinds of long, winding corners that it almost feels like they were copied and pasted from one track and into another. They rarely deviate from this standard blueprint, and there’s nothing that sets the tracks apart from one another either. This compounds the issues with difficulty and AI during race events, and also results in a dearth of engaging racing in other game modes. There are face-offs against a single opponent, the takedown-centric Road Rage, time trials, a survival event that tasks you with reaching checkpoints to stave off an ever-depleting timer, and even a nod to Criterion’s work on Need for Speed in the shape of police pursuits. Again, there’s a decent amount of variety here, with familiar modes returning from Burnout (including one that was previously its namesake, re-titled to Heatwave here), but the lack of interesting courses and a scarcity of racing events depletes much of the excitement.

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Online multiplayer is being added in a future update, and playing against other people might allay some of these problems. But the more I played the more I began to realize Dangerous Driving lacks that magic spark the Burnout games had in abundance. That kinetic energy, palpable sense of danger, and the heart-racing thrill that something could and would go wrong at any moment. The AI was aggressive–competitive–and the satisfaction of taking them down was born of more than just getting to watch their car crumple against the nearest brick wall. The tracks were inventive, too, more interesting in their environments, and full of diverging paths and risky shortcuts.

Dangerous Driving nails the basic feeling of driving a car in Burnout, but the lack of small details quickly begin to add up and peel away at everything that doesn’t feel quite right. The most damning criticism I can level at it is that it’s often dull and lifeless. There are too many events that fail to capitalize on its strengths, and those that do can only reach those heights in fleeting moments. I was concerned that maybe I’d feel the same way about Burnout; that one of the greatest racing series ever made just doesn’t fit in 2019. So I went back and played Burnout 3 again and it quickly alleviated all of those fears with a rapid combustion of thrilling vehicular mayhem. The potential was there for Dangerous Driving to latch onto that magic, and there are brief moments when it feels like you’re playing a brand new Burnout. But the truth is, I’d rather play a 16-year-old game than pick up its spiritual successor again, and that’s a disheartening outcome.

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Tropico 6 Review – World Stage

Tropico 6 is not a fair game. It positions you as not only the head of a small island nation, but also on a political stage with far greater powers than yours. Be those forces colonial, imperialist, or capitalist, your job is to keep your nation stable against both the tides of external forces and the demands of the citizens in your charge. That’s a heavy premise that gets diluted a bit with tongue-in-cheek humor, but the parallels between your fictional country and many real-world iterations throughout history are extensive. Those frictions, in many ways, are what makes Tropico an interesting and vivacious playground for those who want some nation-building with their city simulators.

Your path through Tropico is a relatively simple one, given context and complexity by new systems that progressively stack on top of one another. In much the same way that our real-world economies are heavily influenced by trade, treaties, and demand, so too will your fledgling nation-state.

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At the outset, you’ll have little more than a few shacks, shops, farms, and a lump sum to kickstart your nascent economy with infrastructure and business investment. Economic growth and innovation don’t simply happen, though. There are a few necessary components you’ll have to stitch together before you have even a rudimentary economy. Agriculture, roads, and teamsters are the absolute basics–grow the food and move it to the people. Creating and moving goods largely works the same regardless of what it is, but the complexity comes from layering the skeleton of metal or oil transport on top of the systems that keep people fed and healthy. Ports and supply depots, roads and laborers can only handle so much.

On their own, these mechanisms would work well enough. The basics of the genre have been honed for almost three decades now, and little has changed in the sense that most city builders use stocks and flows–moving some resource to its consumer in progressive stages. Tropico is distinct, though, in many respects beyond even its central premise because of its detail-oriented approach. It contrasts with its contemporaries by following not only each individual, but for simulating even small changes in living conditions.

Because this nation is dictatorial from the outset, you’re also given control over just about everything. How well are the teamsters paid? The houses furnished? Are you letting your people live in shacks? This moves down another level, too, because as time goes on, the populace evolves quite organically. Different factions come together on their own. Most of the time, they’ll support political moves that match their own self-interest, but not always. Propaganda, trade, international political movements, and even disasters will have marked effects on the social fabric, too.

Such detail isn’t for its own sake; how you play is critically dependent on the political forces at work. Corruption is useful, as it can be a cheap, quick way to consolidate power. But that risks exacerbating the underlying social issues. Still, because there’s an element of roleplaying–you create your own avatar, decorate your palace, and even have a private bank account to squirrel away cash–the mechanics are built out to support a variety of choices.

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You can, hypothetically, push people to their limit and bail on the country, but it’s a lot more satisfying to tackle the challenge of managing dynamic international political relations–avoid invasion, keep your people healthy and happy and lead the world in research. That’s not the only viable path, but the rewards are largely self-evident and act as a scalable difficulty curve that you are encouraged to approach. Many paths are intrinsically rewarding for those that like to see the productivity of their people or their nation climb, but transitioning into a vibrant, prismatic tourist hotspot can bear aesthetic marvels all its own. The island can feel a bit like caretaking dozens of Tamagotchi, and the satisfaction just as palpable.

While still couched in stylized humor endemic to the series, Tropico 6 is a bit less flippant with its political parallels. The vestiges of colonialism have always been present, but they weren’t treated too seriously in past entries. An emissary for some far-flung king would occasionally demand something ridiculous to suit his whims, and the joke was always that he was detached from reality and had no idea how people–especially his colonial subjects–earnestly lived. Those threads are still here, but the colonialism hasn’t been defanged quite as much. Instead, the Crown’s messengers are direct, stating that their exploitation is unfair and pretty cruel. But what are you going to do, fight off a superpower? At the same time, the revolutionaries, once treated as simply different brand of silly, are more grounded–offering a sympathetic lens to the fictionalized rendition of groups that often have little voice of their own.

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Beyond the increased fidelity of simulation, Tropico 6’s biggest change is the increased map complexity. You now essentially have access to whole archipelagos to settle. These are not only fascinating to explore in their own right often holding archaeological ruins or rare minerals, but offer brilliant mechanical challenges. Building out a whole new parallel infrastructure is no easy feat, and requires foresight, planning, and investment–but again, is rewarding to execute. Integration of the new systems, or even crafting self-sufficient settlements are challenges, made rewarding by the nuanced logistical challenges. While the underlying simulation is indeed, predictable, the island does evolve a bit on its own: economies and politics shift with time, providing a constant, low-level nudge to your work.

Even without that new addition–citizens are born, live, and eventually die and your islands’ culture changes accordingly. How you have and continue to balance policy and labor, exports and research will leave indelible marks on the psyche of the populace. The complexity of those petri dish layers can max out the user interface at times, particularly if you have a rather large or dense city and doubly so if you’re new to the series. As the city expands, and as public opinion and needs shift, tracking down influential individuals or logistical breaking points requires flipping through a dozen or so different pages of stats and maps.

Even so, you have more than enough tools to control just about everything that happens in Tropico. Failure and success, then, can feel quite a bit like a referendum not just on your policies, but on your rendition of El Presidente. The notion of dictatorship as a role that you play for yucks is still there, if that’s a hat you want to wear–though it’s harder to indulge your own selfish impulses when you can see how your actions are condemning Lydia the lumberjack to a lifetime of poverty.

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