Scotch Corner – Averages Assemble

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 13th September 2020.


WRC 9 (Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, Switch and PC, £39.99)

DON’T fret if your last attack of the world rally stages left you revved-up and gagging for more, the next instalment will get your motor running.  French studio Kylotonn have got down and dirty with WRC.  Fans will love it, but it does show the narrow window for yearly updates in series like this.  This is the ninth game and it has been tweaked and polished to a level where it can truly stand alongside the DiRT series.  So, it wins on quality, but the real question is whether there is enough here to splash the cash just 12 months down the line.

At first glance there doesn’t look to be much to convince you that this is any more than WRC8 — a fact made worse by the fact that a lot of the issues have made the jump too.  The clunky menu system should have been sorted and the loading times are still too long.  Those gripes aside, there is tasty new stuff such as the manager/ driver-focused career.  You run the team AND try to get it into the WRC.   There are also new rallies including New Zealand and Japan.  The driving is as solid as before.  You bomb around different terrains in a mix of over-powered monsters, each with their own feel.  Then the weather and conditions kick in.

It is fair to say that WRC9 doesn’t reinvent the steering wheel.  This is a winning formula so it just builds on the foundations of the past eight titles.  If you’re a rally fan then this is a must because of the updated teams and rallies.  Newcomers will also find that this is a great starting point . . . well, it is until WRC X comes out.

Score: 4/5

Get Your Motor Runnin’

MILESTONE are heading back out on-track with the fourth instalment of their RIDE series.  The tribute to bike fans is becoming a bit of a cult hit. We were lucky enough to see the new game in action at a private presentation by the Italian studio.  They have teamed up with Yamaha and tyre firm Bridgestone to help develop the game.  That move meant they had total access to the Japanese manufacturer’s back catalogue of horsepower to scan and recreate in the game.  On top of that, Bridgestone have helped with perfecting how the tyres react and change handling during races.  It all adds an extra layer of realism of the sim.  The game will also feature ANNA — Milestone’s new AI mechanic system.  The studio has been teaching it to play the game — clocking up 16 million hours’ playtime so expect a real challenge on-track.  RIDE 4 will be released on October 8.

Crofting a Legacy

THE big challenge for Marvel’s Avengers was to steer people away from their Marvel Cinematic Universe expectations and realise this was a totally new take on the action heroes.  But Crystal Dynamics’ head of studio Scot Amos reckoned they were always up for the fight because they had gone through the same process with Lara Croft.  Scot said:

“I would look back to Tomb Raider in 2013 when we announced we were reimaging Lara Croft.  The first reaction was ‘This is really exciting’ but then we showed it.  People looked at Tomb Raider and were like ‘You’re ruining my Lara Croft’, ‘Where are her short shorts and her ponytail and two pistols?’  There was about a six-month window where we sort of bread-crumbed people along the path to show we really love Lara Croft and Tomb Raider and we’re trying to give you what we call the ‘Crystal lens’ on the world.  We want to reimage it for a new audience in a new way that still pay homage to that thing you love.  It worked out really well in the end.”

He added:

“I think that’s true across a lot of franchises.  You see it with the Bond series, with Sean Connery all the way to Daniel Craig.  People are like ‘Who’s this blond guy?’ but once they show him they were saying he is an amazing Bond.  We are not the video game of the movies or show.  We are the game of 80 years of Marvel and, specifically, the Avengers world, so it’s important for us to say we’ll have some heat because people know how they want things to look and I get that.  But this is what’s next for the Avengers.  That’s why it’s really important for people to understand that, from the beginning, Marvel is a collaborator.  Stan Lee said that any comic book could be someone’s first — that’s a really important point.  Marvel editor Bill Rosemann would ask why did we want do this or change the story but having that understanding of the why narrative wrapped around it was always central to any choice we wanted to do.  We have been at it for years — working closely with the whole Marvel group and trying to strike a balance between the new-look Kamala and Terrigen as well as staying familiar with the five core heroes and AIM from the comics.”

Some people might have found the Marvel juggernaut intimidating, but Scot reckoned he was more like a kid a sweet shop as he picked which heroes to put in the game.  He said:

“There are some 1,900 odd in the universe.  It’s insane, and most of them have been an Avenger at some point or other.  We had access to lots of them and there are more heroes than we could possibly build in a life time so, for us, it was cherry-picking and working out what made the best sense for our world.  Just having characters for the sake of it made no sense.  It needed to be about how the campaign ended and the world that sets up.  We looked very closely at who would be the right characters to help push the world and universe in the direction we wanted for the years to come.”

Once the world and the stars were sorted, Scot’s next task was to bring the characters to life.  Fortunately, creative director Shaun Escayg had an extensive little black book of contacts and was able to sign up some mega names such as Nolan North and Troy Baker.  Scot said:

“Shaun Escayg worked with a lot of these guy back in a previous life — not to mention any company names.  He knew these guys and they knew him, so having Shaun was key to us being able to pull these guys together.  They are the best of the best in the games industry for this type of vocal talent.  We just said we have a rock-star cast and looking at them all together is brilliant.  I think it took about a minute after we asked Nolan if he wanted to play Tony for him to say ‘Absolutely’.”

He admitted there was no talk about liaising with agents to get the paperwork done.  He laughed and said:

“It was ‘Hey, I get to play *bleeping* Iron Man’ so for us that was an exciting moment.  We got to see the characters having life breathed into them by the actors who have had some huge roles.  To be able to see the character through their original lens and see what they could bring was great.  They really got into the spirit of what we were doing with the game.”

Marvel’s Avengers (Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, Stadia and PC, £49.99)

COMIC book heroes make megabucks for movie bosses, so it is a no-brainer for gaming firms to grab a little slice of the action.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved into a movie juggernaut and there is a real buzz around the second series of Amazon’s The Boys.  Crystal Dynamics were determined not to miss out — they set their sights on an epic gaming tale in a new vision of The Avengers universe — and they almost pulled it off.  They take the characters we all know and added elements from the comics and the bigger Marvel universe to craft a story with genuine heart and soul.  The main tale follows Kamala Khan — aka Ms Marvel — as she gets her powers and comes to grips with being a superhero, and all while trying to hold together the Avengers and stop the evil forces of AIM.  However, the event that gave Kamala her powers also boosted others and the Avengers have to go on the run.   So, five years after the events of A Day, our heroes are actually on the world’s most wanted list.

It’s a well-written tale worthy of the heroes it stars and the game starts well .  You can have fun smashing things as the Hulk or soaring through the sky as Iron Man and you can swap between the heroes as you like at the start of each mission.  But you soon realise that there are two games here — the one Crystal Dynamics wanted to craft and the game the publisher Square Enix wanted.  In short, the latter was a Marvel version of Destiny where loot is king and you have a lot of mission replaying, especially on the multiplayer front.  There are lots of missions, but only a handful of types.  This is quantity over quality.  Most of them see you having to beat up so many bad guys or hack a system.  And that’s a pain because you have to hold a circle yet enemies can beat you out of it.  And have you ever seen the Hulk standing still?  You also run through the same secret labs backdrop repeatedly while the enemies come in very few flavours.  You expect more from a Marvel game because the comics have hundreds of thousands of them to pick from.

If you simply attack the campaign then you’ll have a good time but the “as a service” approach kills it.  The repetition is painful and it has a weak gear-drive loot system . . . and many technical issues that will need patching.  This should have been a special game.  Some parts do shine through, but the bad bits over-power the good.

Score: 3/5

Wasteland 3 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £54.99)

“THE end is just the beginning” is a corny tag line true but it fits for Wasteland 3.  Life as we know it may have all but ended but there is a stunning adventure in inXile Entertainment’s post- apocalyptic epic.  A nuclear holocaust has left the world in a fragmented state where outlaws and factions rule.  Initially, this has a fantasy tale look but dig deeper and there is more a passing nod to current life.  You play as two of the last surviving members of Team November, a Ranger Squad from Arizona.  After the events of the second game, they are in the freezing wastelands of Colorado.  Your convoy is attacked then you are contacted by a mystery figure called Patriarch.  They offer help but there’s a condition.  And it won’t be grabbing them a pint a milk and loaf.  Oh no, you must deal with the Patriarch’s heirs who are fighting among themselves to succeed him and plunge the land into unending warfare.

From there it’s a 60-hour epic that you shape by your actions.  You can talk your way out of a fight but that may lead to an ambush by a larger force led by the person you talked down.  None of the decisive moments are clean cut because you’ll never know when it’ll come back to bite you.  There are a few light-hearted touches, such as MacTavish, who got his “Scottish” accent from watching a copy of Braveheart he found.  It reflects the game’s dark sense of humour.  You must build a squad of six in role-playing turn-based combat — think XCOM.  Levelling up has a real impact on conflicts so you need to think about what can really benefit your squad.  This is an epic adventure set in a world full of a******s.

It is tough going, but funny and satisfying in equal measure.  And that’s before you touch the co-op where each player can play faction off against each other.  If you are looking to get lost in a world that’s worse off than ours then this is a must.

Score: 5/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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