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 3rd May 2020.
MotoGP 20 (PC, Xbox One, PS4, £49.99)
WITH the real world MotoGP series in the pits just now due to the Covid-19 pandemic it’s safe to say fans are chomping at the bit for some high-speed, two-wheel, thrills. Good news. Italian studio Milestone have just delivered this year’s instalment of their official series for the premier bike championship — MotoGP 20. But with a yearly update, there is a fine line to be walked between keeping the game feeling familiar and also pushing things forward and adding in new content. It needs something fresh to justify an annual layout of £50 from the punters. And this year’s has a bit of a mountain to climb as MotoGP 19 shook things up a lot compared to past entries — so the bar is set high before we even start.
On a racing front this is very much a sim title once again. It aims to teach you how to ride a bike like a pro and even teaches you different ways to do it. But beware if you simply run into the game and turn of all your assists — you’ll be tasting the kitty litter in no time. Though turning off said assists can be its own separate challenge. But unlike other bike racing sims (we’re looking at you TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2) the game has a solid rewind system that looks to have been lifted from the studio MXGP systems. This is a huge plus. You start out by creating your rider and then picking what class you want to race in. Do you start at the Moto 3 level and work your way through the ranks or just jump in with both feet and go full-fat MotoGP racing? Starting in the lower classes will pay off in the long run as you learn how to race (often the hard way) and get to know the tracks (arguably just as important).
Then it’s on to the new elements, which are to be found away from the track, as you pick a team to sign for. And then… well, it’s up to you how things go. You not only have to hire and fire the guys on your team but watch the purse strings as you focus on R&D for the season. This can reward you with some much-needed go-faster bits mid-season. But things are never very clearly explained. This feels like the game’s biggest issue — unless you’re a “fan” there is a lot of sucking and seeing to be done here. And it’s all across the board, which just isn’t fun. Would a set of rounded tutorials really have killed you, Milestone? When your R&D is done you’re then thrown in the deep end with hundreds of options to get your bike ready.
You can spend hours tweaking settings and tyre compounds. It’s all very anorakish, to be honest, as most people will just want to drop the throttle and get going sideways at 100mph. The game has the official license once again so you get all the bikes, riders and tracks from across all the championships as well as the historic riders and machines returning too. And love him or hate him, Keith Huewen is on hand again with commentary. The ultimate question is always going to be: Is MotoGP 20 worth splashing the cash on this year? The game does what it says on the tin and is the best MotoGP title to date — but it feels like Milestone have forgotten that not everyone playing is Valentino Rossi.
A Passion for Racing
KEEPING things fresh in a game that sees a new instalment year on year is a challenge, but MotoGP 20 producer Michele Caletti thinks his team have struck the right balance thanks to some good game management. He said:
“There are two major factors — physics and managerial career. I really cannot put it down to one because one impacts the playability, while the other the longevity of the game. Two aspects, so different, and so important. The physics, for those who want the maximum realism settings, are more challenging and detailed. The braking now has to be really careful, and the newly added fuel management and 3-zone tyres increase realism and strategic level during the race. On the other side, the managerial career extends the depth in the long term, with engineers to hire, R&D to carry out and teams to customise.”
But Michele, right, also admits that fans have really shaped the game and they keep asking for new features. He said:
“Much of what I’ve told you about has been requested by the fans, but it’s pretty obvious that we’re all huge MotoGP fans so it’s good to discover we’re on the same page. Another thing that pleased the fans a couple of years ago, and that’s returning to MotoGP 20, is the option to run a ‘custom’ team. Using official bikes and real sponsors you can enter a team that doesn’t actually exist but blends in with the rest in a fantastic way.”
But it’s not just the fans who have a hand in helping — Michele’s team also get input from real riders on how the game performs. He added:
“During the years we’ve had the opportunity to chat with riders, have them test the game and gather some feedback. We’ve worked with Colin Edwards to Aleix Espargaro, younger riders such as Alex Rins and Alex Marquez, to some secret ones too! Not all the riders are good players — to get a lot of data we study onboard cameras, lap time tables, but what you can get from riders are ‘impressions’. Things like ‘make the wind noise higher’ or ‘I’m not braking here, but there’ are important too and cannot be deduced from cold data.”
It’s safe to say Milestone Games have a way of handling music in that there is often none during races — but Michele reckons the game has the best soundtrack in the world. He said:
“Yes we have music, it’s made with 1-litre, four-cylinder, four-strokes instruments — didn’t you notice? We put music where it belongs — cut scenes and menus — but for action we leave it to the sound of the bikes to keep players immersed and concentrated.”
With the game launching during the global pandemic and Milestone’s studios being based in Milan, Michele feel this year’s game will be crucial as the team will face some real challenges, especially on the eSports front. He said:
“I think that the virus lock-ins could impact it somehow. We’ll see how it develops. There’s always some exchange between eSports and games, to make both sides better. We’re all thinking short-term — we had some plans, we’ll see what we can get done. Did you see the eSport race with a full grid of actual MotoGP riders? That was great, it popped out of nothing and it was a breath of fresh air. We’ll see, it was a great sign. Obviously the real world is different, with races cancelled or postponed. We all want to get back to normality but we’re keeping up with this situation and we are as determined as ever to make this year’s game great.”
Hotline Miami Collection (Xbox One, £20.99)
GOOD things come to those who wait, so they say. And for Xbox owners a long wait is finally over as Hotline Miami is finally available on the Microsoft machine. It’s some eight years after it first hit the scene but it hasn’t returned alone as it came with Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, both developed by Swedish studio Dennaton Games. But the real question has to be: was it worth waiting so long for this collection? Answer… YES and then some.
This is a red-hot slice of brutal and unapologetic arcade fun which blends combat and timing to produce a really addictive puzzler of sorts, as you have to work out how to clean areas as fast as possible while also avoiding getting blasted. But you have a very healthy arsenal to use, from hand-held weapons to firearms, and then there are the masks you wear which can often save your bacon. But be prepared, you will die — and die a lot. One hit sees you back to the start but respawns are almost instant. In a lot of ways the game has a strong vibe of the earlier GTA games as you have a top-down view and everything is rendered in a pixel art style. Yep, this is an ultra-violent series. From beating enemies with bats and pipes to waiting on them with golf clubs, the art style hides nothing — making this, most definitely, not one for the younger players out there. The tale of the first game throws up more questions than answers really as you are left answerphone messages to do a job but it’s never clear if you’re a hitman or just a psychopath, or even if what you’re doing is real as reality starts to blur as you push though the 19 different stages.
As for the second game, the guys at Dennaton Games took everything that made the first great and turned it all up to 11 and then some. They added a few tweaks and new elements which, oddly, let the game breathe in a way the first didn’t. As you don’t just play as one character but a number, who again are tasked with cleaning houses at a number of different locations, there is a lot more story to sink your teeth into if you want to. But it’s not really important to the core rush of the gameplay. And just like the first, strategy plays a big part as you have to watch enemies, learn timing and know when to strike as you leave ever more crimson-soaked carpets in your wake. The second game is almost double the size of the first with 30-odd chapters which have more interesting level layouts as well as enemies that keep you on your toes, making Hotline Miami 2 very much all about variety.
Now, if you’ve never heard of Hotline Miami series, the odds are high you’ll have heard of the soundtrack, a techno fever dream of a thing. It is worth the price of entry alone, with track after track being a real banger — from Jasper Byrne and Perturbator to name just a few. If you have never played any of the series then the Hotline Miami Collection is a must — if not for the brutal gameplay then the neon soak style and thumping soundtrack.
DiRT Rally 2.0 Game of the Year Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One, £54.99)
DiRT Rally 2.0 was a masterclass in how to make a sim-focused racer that was as much about understanding the core ideas of rallying as well as building on your raw skills when going 100mph round a blind corner. But all was not well down in the DiRT forest because, as good as the gameplay was, the whole package was missing some core rally elements — like snow stages as well as some cars you’d expect to see. And this got the fan base fired up as Codemasters were being more than a bit cheeky and had to bring out a LOT of extra content that was added as DLC after the launch.
Now a year and a bit later we have DiRT Rally 2.0 Game of the Year edition which lumps everything that has been released together into a cheaper package than it would cost to buy it all separately. This, let’s be honest, is like Codemasters putting two fingers up at the hardcore fans just a little. After all, it is them who have supported the game since launch. But if you’re new to the game this is where to get on board because this is how DiRT Rally 2.0 should have been a year-and-a-half ago. It is packed with content — from cars to stages and, yes, you get to hit the snow as the Sweden Rally is back.
The package also comes with the new Colin McRae-focused Flat Out pack, which is worth picking up the game for in itself. You get a selection of his legendary cars to get behind the wheel of, as well as getting to relive 40 highlights across his career — often facing challenges he faced like finishing first with a broken radiator. The Flat Out pack also adds the Perth and Kinross Rally with its 12 different stages to bomb around. This is a welcome addition to the locations in the game. With it being 25 years since the late Scot became world champion the timing of the pack is perfect. Although DiRT doesn’t carry his name anymore, you can still feel the McRae bloodline running through it, harking back to the glory-filled PS1 days of the first game.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…