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 23rd June.
Layers of Fear 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
THE first Layers Of Fear was a psychological dive into the mind of a painter who was trying to complete a masterpiece but whose demons drove him to madness. Polish Studio Bloober Team took a walking sim core then added an interesting, if slightly unnerving, horror spin. Fast forward three years and the team is back with a sequel . . . well, sort of. The old Victorian mansion is gone and we now have a luxury cruise liner. There is a new lead character — an actor who is being hounded by a mad, on-edge director. It all has a real vibe of classic Hollywood glamour. The tale has a few different threads to sort out — from what has happened to the crew and passengers and why you are there in the first place.
We won’t spoil the fun, but we will admit that the tale will make you think. It plays heavily on symbolism and makes you come to your own conclusions about situations. That makes it a great talker — you and your pals will discuss the best route through the game. And there will be plenty of chat because we found a number of endings after the eight-hour run time. If you have played the first game then you’ll recognise a lot of the tricks — like walking through a door to find it leads you to a different room — and the sound builds the tension. There is a fair few “jump” scares so you had probably play this with the lights on. You never know what’s behind that door. That tension is amplified by the fact that you are very much defenceless as you investigate what’s going on. There are some puzzles to solve but they are not too taxing and are a welcome break from the terror that is definitely coming your way.
The whole game has a real-world feel but the Hollywood theme adds a neat touch as sections change to black and white segments and the like. But, as we suggested earlier, sound is king. It adds depth, builds tone, vibe and tension and it is all backed up by some great voice acting for the mad director and some of the other characters. If you were a fan of the first game you’ll enjoy this. But the real treat is for newcomers as you push for the truth. This is a great game on its own merits, not just as part of the series. The story is fast-paced and it WILL scare you.
MotoGP 19 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £49.99)
IT is a tough gig for developers to make yearly updates of top sports series. It’s a fine line between keeping it familiar but adding enough new content to convince fans to pay out another £50. But Italian studio Milestone has earned its two-wheeled stripes with the MotoGP series. This year’s offering, MotoGP 19, has shaken things up and breathed some fresh life into the overall game. So there’s no in-depth bid to go from rookie to the next Valentino Rossi like last time. Now you get a choice of four series under the MotoGP banner. You can cut your teeth in the Red Bull Rookies Cup, or if you prefer Moto2 or 3 then fill your boots. Or you can embrace the future with the MotoE electric bike series. However, if you want to attack the full-fat MotoGP series, climb aboard and hold on tight. There are two flavours of career mode — standard holds your hand a little while Pro throws you in at the deep end and keeps its foot on your head.
Each championship has its own career where you complete a number of goals across a standard race weekend. It’s a good way to let you dial in your skills on the bike as well as learning the tracks. But the challenge comes before you ride — you can spend ages setting up your bike, sorting out tyre choices and checking out the performance. If that sounds too much like hard work, you can describe how your bike is handling and the game tweaks things. In a way, that is how the pros do it. You don’t see Marc Márquez or Danilo Petrucci with a spanner! The racing is very SIM-based and it is tough because each bike feels and handles differently. Being the official licenced game you get all the bikes, riders and tracks as well as a few historic treats.
The game looks and sounds better than it has for a good few years. The detail is hugely impressive although the crowds are a bit cardboard cut-out. Dynamic weather systems have lit up racing games, so it is a shock not to see one here. In fact, it is a bit too SIM-like for its own good and newcomers will find it hard going. The ultimate question will always be whether it is worth paying out for an upgrade of last year’s game. It’s polished, classy and gives you new ways to attack the game. Is that enough?
Void Bastards (Xbox One and PC, £24.99)
YOU know you have a hit when you are still thinking about the game days after the credits roll. So hats off to Blue Manchu for their latest offering — although maybe next time name it something that won’t require asterisks in a family paper. The team cut their teeth on System Shock 2 and Bioshock so you know you’re in for a treat. It may seem like a run-of-the-mill roguelike game, but that is selling it very short. The tale sees you fill the boots of a number of inmates aboard the Void Ark — a big prison ship that is trapped in space. The AI that runs the ship, called B.A.C.S., wants the prisoners to get the bits needed to get them home. The story was written by Scot Cara Ellison. It’s an interesting take on just how disposable people are to large corporations and how, ultimately, you are no more worth than a light bulb in an office — both are there to do a job and are just numbers on a spreadsheet.
You are a number of characters — each with their own positive and negative traits which impact the gameplay. You could be very short, colour blind or have the ability to open locks quickly. It’s a real roll of the dice, but once you are up and running B.A.C.S. sends you out into the darkness to find resources, food and fuel . . . and those parts you need to complete the mission. Just like the characters, each ship is a gamble and success lies in how you read where and when to dock. Some ships have friendly aliens, others are deadly and you have limited weapons and ammo. You can find scraps to build into new weapons or armour and each death makes you stronger, faster and better.
But it is never easy — once the AI spots you, it never gives up and you are basically a magnet who anything that can shoot. If that wasn’t enough, there are space whales that will eat you, black holes that shift you to other areas in space and Scottish pirates — complete with juice that is fake Irn-Bru cans. Void Bastards looks stunning with a comic-book tone. The sound adds to the fun, with B.A.C.S. voiced by Kevan Brighting — remember Stanley Parable? — so expect a few good laughs. Ellison also adds her voice talent to the pirates. It is a brutal and unforgiving game but if you think and act smart you’ll get the most out of a space epic which has more than a few cheap comic thrills. It’s a must-play.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…