Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 26th May.
Sniper Elite V2: Remastered (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £29.99)
THE ultimate aim of the remaster is to improve on the original or give a hidden gem its moment in the spotlight. It is also a chance for games firms to wring the last penny out of a title. The latest on the remaster production line is Rebellion’s Sniper Elite V2. It’s had a touch-up and a nip and tuck that actually shows how far the series has come. You fill the boots of series hero and one- man-army Karl Fairburne, who is out to stop the Nazis during the final weeks of the Second World War. He also wants to prevent their V2 tech and scientists falling into Russian hands. As tales go, each level links well as you have to stop someone or destroy something, often while looking through your scope from about three miles away.
The biggest improvement is visual — everything looks nice and sharp. That is the good. The bad is that the gameplay is still a mixed bag. There is much excitement when you are lining up targets and popping them like blood-filled piñatas. And there is a special thrill at nailing that perfect shot and being treated to the series’ signature X-ray kill cam. That sees the bullet fly in super-slow motion then graphically shows the damage done to a Third Reich officer. There is a new photo mode which lets you capture that moment. But things start to fall apart when you are not sniping — and that is about 60 per cent of the time. The game is also showing its age, especially when you are fighting at close quarters. The simplest way to describe it is . . . murder.
Being forced to do stealth sections with an aiming system that is patchy at best is a real grind, especially as most fans will have played Sniper Elite 4 and will expect all these issues to have been ironed out. There are other features missing, like being able to break machines to make a noise that covers your shots, plus the overall quality of the AI needs work. It all makes you wish Rebellion had taken the extra step and gone for more than just a facelift. You do get all the DLC — that means the mini-campaign where you hunt Hitler down as well as a host of multiplayer bits and bobs. For the most part, the multiplayer is fun but the games can be a bit hit and miss. Overall, this is a strange beast. It really is a thrill when you are pausing over a shot. You almost hold your breath because timing is everything. But everything else is really dated and has been done a lot better in Sniper Elite 4. And you can probably pick that up for less money. If you are a diehard fan, then you might still fork out for this but the lack of improvements to the core gameplay make this a hard game to recommend.
Katana ZERO (Switch and PC, £11.39)
THIS is a perfect test for those gamers wanting to see just how good they are. American studio Askiisoft have served up a game that is all about that one hit. Get as far as you can, then start again. You have to plan moves, think fast and land killing blow after killing blow as you battle through each level. Katana ZERO is set in a dark tech noir future with you as a hitman known only as the Dragon. You have to plan hits which adds a nice layer to the game, so you are not really playing levels but more working through them. If you get to the end you’ll see a film of how the hit will play out based on your actions. You also get a bit of back story about the Dragon between missions via different characters. The story is quite deep, but the real thrill is in the gameplay.
You have to clear a number of scenes to get to your target — but get hit and you are dead. It’s all about timing and planning — a la 2D Hotline Miami. Die and the game rewinds to the start of the scene and you have to go again — hopefully, doing it better and faster. You learn a few tricks along the way — like throwing stuff at your enemies or breaking through floorboards — but the best one has to be that you can slow down time by a few seconds when you burst into a room or face off with a gun. It all has a retro style but the pixel art is packed with detail and the synth soundtrack by Lodowic and Bill Kiley is pretty epic. This is not an easy game, but it is fair and fun. You just need to be the best possible you.
Rage 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)
BETHESDA are on a bit of a roll just now with Doom and Wolfenstein — but there was less enthusiasm when a new Rage was announced. For the record, we were big fans of the original in 2010 — although the ending was probably the WORST in gaming history. But it was a solid first-person shooter with great gunplay and a stunning look. So we were more than happy to give the sequel a chance. We are good that way. This one is made by Avalanche Studios, the Swedish firm behind the Mad Max game and the Just Cause series. That pricked our interest even more. They certainly look to have breathed life into the once-forgotten series — this is bigger, louder and more neon- fuelled than it was before.
You are a Ranger — a sort of peacekeeper in a post-apocalyptic world where things are deteriorating rapidly. The core tale is some seven years after the first game. A robot race is trying to kill anything that isn’t made of nuts, bolts and flesh so it’s up to you to join forces with three other leaders on a special mission called Operation Dagger. However, getting the other three to play nice is a challenge. Although this frames the whole game you’ll spend most of your time doing side missions and being distracted by new things to shoot at during its 20-plus hours’ running time. That’s where the gameplay comes into it — and it is good enough to give Wolfenstein a run for its money.
There are a number of special powers that add more of a Doom vibe. Yes, you can walk in all guns blazing but you can also air stomp through a roof blast, push bad guys then double jump onto a container before wiping up the rest. Or you can go into full blast and reduce anything that moves to a crimson cloud. Variety really is the spice of death in Rage 2. You have a toy box of powers and guns and all your weapons have an alt fire option that adds a bit more to your attacks. It is true that you don’t have all your skills and guns from the start so you need to build your way up to becoming the ultimate wasteland badass but that grind becomes more of a blast once you have conquered the first few obstacles.
You do have to look for cash and points to help ramp up your skills, but it gets a little boring when you’re missing one loot box in a camp and spend 20 minutes hunting for it . . . but that probably says more about us than the game. The Rage 2 world is full of fun with areas that have different vibes. The swamps and deserts are good but the world does lack an X factor that would really bring it to life when you are ripping it up in your Mad Max-inspired ride, the Phoenix. That will be a Marmite feature, but bear in mind that, once you have levelled up enough, you get access to a flying jet bike. Now, that’s fun.
The graphics are an interesting mix of weapon effects and gore bathed in neon smoke, but the world is a bit dull. That said, it is a wasteland. The sound is good, with a lead character that talks! That’s a welcome addition although the story and characters are a little forgettable, which is a shame. But when you are in the thick of it Rage 2 is an adrenalin-powered rush. It is a welcome return for the series but is a little bitty for its own good. It teases a huge pay-off like Doom and Wolfenstein but never delivers. But it is still a thriller.
Access Denied (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £4.99)
EVERYONE loves a puzzle box, so moving them into the digital world was a bit of a no-brainer. That’s what Russian developer Stately Snail reckon anyway. They have come up with a game that tests your grey matter over 36 levels of puzzling perplexity. The core gameplay sees you presented with a cube that has a number of puzzles on the sides. You have to crack them to open up taste data. You’ll be flipping switches and matching colours — and the challenges go from a breeze to staring at it for 20 minutes then hitting the skip button. And that is a very welcome way out because it means you’ll never get too stumped. A proper hint system might have been a good idea as well as it could link to a trail of clues.
Graphically, it’s very neat and tidy — you sit at a desk surrounded by tools and other technical bits and bobs. The sound is a bit threadbare — the only noise is rain lashing off the window and the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. The best bit is the beep and click of the buttons as you press them. The game is a port from a PC title so the dials can be a bit tough to work. And some of the puzzles are not very well signposted and there is no real tutorial to guide you. Overall, this is a short, sweet and cheap but welcome break from the run-of-the-mill action games. It is very challenging and there is more than a few evenings’ worth of fun to be had.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…