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Art versus state of the art: Cuphead and Forza Motorsport 7 preview 27.09.17

Microsoft have a lot riding on the next few months. The gains made in 2016 have faded away to a point where the last six months has seen Nintendo and Sony pass the number one console sales spot between themselves in the US, Microsoft’s home turf.

The Xbox One X lurks on the horizon, promising native 4K and carrying the ‘most powerful console ever’ tag. This may have paused potential customers from in investing in the standard Xbox One S, waiting to see if the Xbox One X delivers on 4K for €499.

However it’s likelier that Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation 4 have been offering highly acclaimed titles while Xbox One critically and commercially successful output was much lower. The dimming of franchise stars such as Dead Rising, Gears of War and arguably, Halo have done nothing to help Microsoft.

Awe-inspiring hand-drawn beauty and a series known for being at the bleeding edge of visual fidelity are the Redmond giant’s answer.

 

Cuphead

(I played Cuphead for an hour at Gamescom 2017, both single player and local co-op)

One of the most anticipated games of the last four years is a retro-style title with surreal 1930s animated cartoon visuals recreated entirely by hand.

The plot is suitably vintage. Two living cups gamble with the devil and are forced to do his bidding to have their souls spared. Satan’s bidding, thankfully, is a series of boss fights.

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Cuphead’s run’n’gun gameplay is notably fast, frantic and frustrating, harking back to the arcade glory days of the shoot ’em up sub-genre, the late 1980s. Titles like Contra, Ikari Warriors and the Cold War baiting Rush’n Attack were notably difficult in an era when coin-munching arcade games were the norm.

Cuphead has grown up in an era of instant respawns, difficulty levels and Youtube scrutiny but doesn’t turn down the difficulty or bring you back where you were slain by the variety of handcrafted foes. It stays true to its roots.

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It’s worth noting that our playthrough at Gamescom saw journalists play with an extra life-point, cementing the opinion that we are actually awful at video games. While I can’t argue with that after playing Cuphead; it doesn’t ever feel unfair nor does it deter a player from smashing headlong into the beautifully graffiti-ed wall that the game truly is.

The aforementioned boss fights are the game-play’s biggest lure. For many fans of the genre, the brief pause as the mayhem of the journey subsides is a familiar feeling. As is sizing up the challenge while taking in the spectacle of the boss.

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Cuphead doesn’t use a host of weaponry but rather a simple choice of a short-range spread shot or auto-fire. Reactions, motor control and ability to learn patterns are the main guns and you are supposed to bring your own. Cuphead has a double-jump or ‘parry’ mechanic for reaching higher platforms, activating switches or reviving your co-op partner which are all easier said than done amidst the bouts of bullet-hell.

Cuphead is the sort of game you could happily watch or just look at in a series of stills. From the thick lines of the characters and their saturated colours to the hand-painted watercolour backgrounds, Cuphead is stunning. 

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The game displays at 24 frames per second to match cinema but it plays at 60 frames to keep the game-play sharp and responsive. The result fits in perfectly with its influences, mechanically and aesthetically.

Cuphead releases September 27th

 

Forza Motorsport 7

(I played Forza Motorsport 7 on Xbox One X at Gamescom for just under one hour, taking in two tracks, Nurburgring and Dubai, and around half a dozen cars)

The Forza Motorsport series’ brand of accessible realism and attention to detail have kept it at the forefront of public esteem when other Xbox staples of the same or lesser vintage have receded. Forza Motorsport’s sister, Horizon, has only helped by filling in off-years with an open-world arcade experience to ease casuals from the open road to the racing track.

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Racing games have always been at the cutting edge of visual innovation. From the scan-line trickery of 2D racers like Atari’s Pole-Position to the texture-mapped fluidity of Sega’s Daytona USA, the genre fuels visual innovation like no other. For over a decade now, Gran Turismo and Forza have been benchmarks for the capabilities of their respective systems.

With Forza Motorsport 7, Turn 10 Studios is attempting to show us what Xbox One X is capable of from Day One. Utilising 4K textures and High Dynamic Range (HDR) luminosity in native 4K resolution at a full 60 frames per second, Forza 7 is hard to show off over YouTube clips which compress the video but is still worth looking up.

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The weather system harnesses the improved lighting and colours very effectively, creating skyscapes that border on real, eye-searing glare and deep shadows that are simply impossible without HDR. The faintest details, previously unobservable, are present in the 4K textures. The scuff marks, the cracked glass or the specks of dirt all get a step closer to photorealism.

The Forzavista vehicle showcase is now available on-track. You can now inspect the game’s 700+ vehicles on each of its 30 tracks, all in the ambient weather and lighting conditions. Even within the few cars I looked at, it’s still impressive how much much detail is crammed in down to such a small scale.

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I played Forza Motorsport 7 with ABS and TCS on but the other assists disabled. I found the demo build we played to be a little more forgiving than I remember Forza 6 being on dry tarmac. However, the other weather conditions and the temporally exaggerated fluctuations in track moisture were larger variables in the races.

A less trumpeted but very welcome addition are the live loading screens. A player can tune their vehicle or select mod cards to alter race rewards while the game loads.

Forza Motorsport 7 releases October 3rd.

 

With a crowded approach to Christmas in the games market, Microsoft will be looking to impress the power of their upcoming machine while giving players worthwhile gaming experiences for their current Xbox One S console. We’ll be reviewing them as they release to let you know if the final products live to their promise.

Players.ie will be announcing an exciting range of playable content in the lead-up to #PX2017

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