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 18th August.
Sea of Solitude (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £19.99)
WE all love a blockbuster, but a game that makes you think long after the credits roll is a real piece of art. Sea Of Solitude, by Berlin-based Jo-Mei, is just that. It is from the indie side of EA, is part of their Originals range and follows in the footsteps of Unravel and A Way Out. It is a very personal tale that touches on a number of real emotional issues you could face in your day-to-day life — we’re talking depression, loss and anxiety as well as the fear of being alone.
Kay is a teen who wakes up in a dream-like world ruled by monsters. She has no idea where she is or where she is going. Till you come across a girl who is very much a light in the dark. She sets you on a voyage of discovery as she reveals a sunken city. You need to scour it for answers as well as taking the opportunity to grow as a person. You’ll come cross a number of monsters along the way as well as being hounded by one that is always chasing you. Each creature is an embodiment of one of Kay’s loved ones — from her brother to her parents — and each has a tale. Kay has to learn from each story if she wants to save them as well as herself.
It’s fair to say that this can be heavy-duty stuff. Sometimes the developers get it wrong and it seems a little ham-fisted, but they still deserve praise for trying to tackle mental illness in a game. That alone makes this a journey worth taking. The gameplay is split into two sides. One is exploring the city in your boat and on foot to find extra details on Kay’s life through a number of collectables. The second sees you helping the monsters which will open up the road ahead by removing darkness. This is a platformer at heart, with a bit of light combat that is the weakest aspect of the game. You can never get too lost — you can always fire off a flare that will guide you to your next destination.
Graphically, there is a real charm to the world when the light is shining, but the darkness and the storms are very foreboding. The sound is also handled really well — all the characters are well voiced even if the monsters are a bit dubious at times. That said, there is a reason for this which you will discover as you play. The soundtrack sets the scene very well and follows your actions. There is a real melancholy to the tone. Sea Of Solitude tells a strong tale that will have an impact on you. Jo-Mei has been brave enough to tackle real issues and provoke answers. It may not be the longest game in the world but it is well worth an evening or weekend of your time.
Redeemer: Enhanced Edition (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £24.99)
AFTER the challenge of a game like Sea Of Solitude, above, sometimes you just want to let off steam. Redeemer: Enhanced Edition lets you run around smashing things and beating up the bad guys. Developed by Russian firm Sobaka Studio this is a top down brawler-come- shooter where the story very much takes a back seat to the action. You battle through 16 levels looking for revenge. That’s it. Story spoiler alert over. OK, that may be a bit harsh but it never gets better than wafer thin.
You fill the sandals of one-man army, Vasily. He has given up his past as a special ops solider to be a monk and is in search of a peaceful life. Well, he is until the bad guys come to the door and massacre all the monks as they hunt for him. From that point, you will never stop swinging punches and reloading until you’ve had payback. With such a light tale it’s up to the gameplay to save the day and it almost manages it. You have a number of ways to despatch the enemies — from bare fists to using the environment to give you an upper hand. You also have an unlock tree which is a bit basic but gives you combat options especially in the later levels. You can get powerful electric punches or incendiary rounds for SMGs as well as the other weapons in the health arsenal. If that wasn’t enough, there are a number of teeth-grinding finishers.
That’s pretty much your lot. There are a few boss battles, but things never really change for better or worse. A horde mode where you can attack with a friend in local co-op spices things up but there is no online side. The graphics are OK given the top down view but they are a little rough around the edges and sound never gets above the average. While playing we ran into a handful of technical issues like doors not opening or the upgrade tree not properly doing its stuff. That was a pain and that was before the framerate shenanigans when you go full auto with the shotgun. Look, this doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and, in a lot of ways, it’s the ultimate bubble gum game. It’s fun but soon loses its flavour. But then it is a budget-priced game and that is a plus point.
FIA European Truck Racing Championship (Xbox One, PS4, Switch & PC, £39.99)
PICK your favourite racing game and there is a fair chance that truck racing won’t be in pole position. Most will name F1, Moto GP or WRC Rally, but the new kid on the block has some serious pace. FIA European Truck Racing Championship may be a mouthful but it’s the first truck racing game in years and it is a winner. We know the truck SIM market is huge on PC but that’s all about long-haul journeys. And we know Forza has had a truck or two across the series, but this is the full-fat fully licenced premier truck racing series. Developed by N-Racing the game looks to shine a light on a lesser-known motor sport and to give horsepower fans a real rush by getting behind the wheel of these behemoths of the racing world.
The game is split into two series — the ETRC and the World series. For the most part they are the same. There are just some tweaks to the power of the trucks and the licence means you get all the teams and drivers. That could also be your first problem because they are all race -suited and booted with helmets on, so causal gamers may struggle to pick a star — you’ll more than likely go on which one has the neatest suit. More familiar are the tracks — 14 locations from Laguna Seca, Nurburgring and Fuji Speedway to Autodrom Most in the Czech Republic and Winton Motor Raceway in Australia. Then we have the stars of the show — the trucks. There are an eye-watering 45 rigs to pick from including Volvo, Mercedes, Freightliner and Western Star to name a few. This is very much on the SIM side of things and when you’re going over 100mph in a five-tonne truck into the first corner, be prepared for a shock because it’s going big, heavy and very tail happy.
Unlike most other racers the brakes are key to victory so you must look after them. That is almost a game within a game as there is an extra gauge on your HUD which shows when they are over-heating and you need to spray water on them to cool them. That takes a little time to get your head around. You have a limited amount of water and cooling them in a braking zone and knowing when to push is key to you getting on the podium. The other thing that will shock you is the ride height. You feel like you’re in a high chair when you are in cab view — and that is the way to play this game. There is no rear mirror. Instead you have a camera showing you what’s happening on a screen on your dash.
The trucks look and sound great, but they seem a bit flat when they hit the crash barriers. It is smart when it rains and we loved that meaty grunt of the engines. On the downside it’s safe to say this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The career mode does become a bit of a grind and, bizarrely, the handling of the truck goes all over the shop when you change the camera view and that takes a bit of time to dial into. This is an interesting addition to the racing genre. There will be a core fan base who will love the idea of their favourites making it into a game. The mechanics of the game are really good and it is clear that the dev team researched the series and know their stuff. If you’re looking for a racer that is slightly different then get trucking. But this could be a Marmite title.
Keep on Trucking
DEVELOPER Filip Hautekeete has revealed they were offered the chance to create the official European Truck Championship game — but they had never even seen a race. So the team scoured YouTube and went to some events before becoming big fans. Neopica MD Filip told me:
“After seeing a few truck racing clips on YouTube we were convinced about it and excited by the idea. While nobody in the team had attended any truck racing events before, it was very cool to go to some live races for research. It was a great experience and I would recommend everyone to give it a try — the atmosphere is superb and what surprised me most is the accessibility to the teams and drivers. Anyone can basically just walk in the paddock and have a chat with any member of the team.”
Filip admits the truck racing scene has been the forgotten arm of racing. He added:
“It was probably ignored because it is a niche market and most people associate racing primarily with sports cars. The European Truck Racing Championship has a great format and we anticipate it getting much more traction in the near future. We hope the game helps to introduce the genre to racing fans all around Europe. The UK is home to some great drivers, and they can use all the support they can get when competing internationally.”
The game has the licence for all teams and drivers and Filip was happy to take advantage of the access. He said:
“We had numerous sessions where we were able to take photos, video or audio reference materials, even between the races, as we endeavoured to recreate the trucks as faithfully as possible. The level of co-operation from the organisation and teams was excellent. At the start of the project we had many interviews with the drivers and their mechanics to identify and pin down all the peculiarities of truck racing. It must not always have been easy for them, but they were always patient.”
But the input didn’t stop there — the team also got help from a two-time champion in Hungarian Norbert Kiss. Filip said:
“Norbert spent hours setting up and tuning the configuration of the truck physics. There is a plethora of values that can be modified in the engine and he did his best to recreate the handling of a race truck as close to reality as possible. We think he did a great job — thank you Norbi! — and the result is very noticeable in-game. Jamie Anderson also assisted with the layout of the track racing lines as they are rather different from regular car racing lines. With the help of Norbert Kiss we tried to approximate what truck racing physics feel like in real life. Hence the truck racing leans more towards simulation. We kept other aspects such as the water cooling relatively basic so those aspects lean more towards arcade. Overall, we wanted to make the game accessible to a wide range of players and the design choices were made accordingly.”
But when it comes to the tracks, Filip feels there is a real variety in the game. He says:
“The European tracks are the official tracks from the European Truck Racing Championship with the exception of Hungaroring, which unfortunately we have been unable to license. For the World Championship we tried to include a nice variety of interesting tracks from all around the world. For some circuits we worked with laser-scanned data, for others we recreated the location with photo and video material.”
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…