Scotch Corner – Bringing Down the House

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 17th February.


Down, But Not Out

MICROSOFT legend Joseph Staten has an epic list of titles on his CV — Halo, Destiny, ReCore and now Crackdown 3.  The senior creative director told me how the challenge was to constantly push the boundaries.  He said:

“Crackdown 3 takes all the elements that made the first games special and brings them to new heights, literally.  In Crackdown 3, players will explore a city that’s twice as big and twice as tall—and filled with tons of different enemies, from armoured troopers to robotic hordes to towering mechs.  The campaign has lots of other activities, including jumping and climbing to collect fan- favourite Agility Orbs!  And then we have Wrecking Zone, our explosive multiplayer mode that utilises Azure cloud in a totally new way to enable fully destructible battle arenas.”

The series started life with Dundee-based Realtime Worlds in 2007 and Joseph reckons they have kept some of the Scottish DNA.  He said:

“Franchise creator Dave Jones served as the original thought leader for Wrecking Zone.  Based on his vision, we’ve brought Crackdown’s classic action- platforming to a totally unique multiplayer mode.  Dave’s vision for cloud-powered destruction and his team’s technology live on.  Crackdown 3 is doing something that has never been done before by running Havok physics in the cloud.  We’re really excited that all players, even if they have older hardware, will get to have the same explosive fun in Wrecking Zone.”

Another bonus is working with Hollywood star Terry Crews, who is back voicing Commander Isaiah Jaxon.  Joseph said:

“Terry is amazing.  His involvement in Crackdown first came from our marketing team as a way to help promote the game.  But after working with him and seeing his authentic excitement for gaming and for Crackdown 3, we knew we had to make him part of the game itself.  Terry is like a Crackdown Agent come to life.  Crackdown is essentially a Terry Crews simulator — explosive, over-the-top, and totally ‘extra’!  Terry’s character, Commander Jaxon, has an important role in the game’ story but he’s also one of 21 playable Agents.”

He added:

“We’ve added a new feature to Crackdown 3 where each Agent has different skill- levelling bonuses, which is great for players who want to maximise their skill progression.”

Crackdown 3 (Xbox and PC, £46.99)

“DEVELOPMENT hell” are two words all gamers fear — and the past is littered with titles that could have been contenders but never saw the light of day.  But, once in a while, a game gets through the hard times — and Crackdown 3 is the latest to break the “development hell” chains.  It’s no secret the game has been through the mill.  Some even questioned whether it would make it, and why the multiplayer side was split from the main campaign at launch.  But kudos to UK-based Sumo Digital for pulling it out.  Well, sort of . . .

Disclaimer alert: as yet the multiplayer powered by Microsoft Azure cloud tech is still not available.  It is still being tested so this is all about the campaign.  The plot has moved on ten years from Crackdown 2.  A terrorist attack kills power across the globe so the Agency sends a squad of their best agents, led by Hollywood star Terry Crews, to New Providence the new city controlled by the mysterious Terra Nova.  You are blown up, found, cloned and sent back.  There is no real mission structure other than beat up the bad guys, so the rest is up to you.  The map is split into areas controlled by different enemies, who report to their boss who in turn reports to the head of Terra Nova.  You need to bring them all down.

The gameplay is very similar to Crackdown 2 — you earn orbs to buff your powers and grow your skills.  You shoot, drive and bash your way through side missions to get access to new toys like weapons and vehicles.  That said, the driving side feels a bit redundant because you can jump up buildings and travel around the map through spawn points you unlock.  And that sums it all up — it has not really moved on from the last game.  This is Crackdown Reheated.

It is neat having a pool of agents to pick from but you never hear them talk.  That is a shame because there is a Glaswegian.  That could have been fun.  The graphics are cool and full of colour, but the highlight is world at night as the city is bathed in a neon glow.  The soundtrack is OK and Michael McConnohie returns as the Agency voice while Crews is wonderfully over the top.  Fans will love it but, ultimately, it is a forgettable journey.

Score: 3.5/5

Leaving The Last Light On

THE Metro series made its name in the maze of Moscow tunnels after a nuclear war, but 4A Games executive producer Jon Bloch has warned fans that Exodus will be . . . a BLOCH-BUSTER.  In a chat with me, Jon insisted:

“The Redux games were a sort of remaster of Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light — Exodus is a move to a more open sandbox style of gameplay and levels.  The Metro titles had been very linear, story-driven tales where we set the pace and craft the experience the way we want the player to play it.  In Exodus we have let the player set their own pace in places which gives them more opportunity to explore the world.”

Jon admits they have kept true to the lore and the best-selling book, but tried to make it easy for newcomers to join the adventure.  He added:

“There will be information about the past about what sort of world they are stepping into and what sort of experience they are about to begin.  That can be a refresher for people who have played before.”

The 4A Games team have drafted in series author Dmitry Glukhovsky to help with the tale.  Jon said:

“There is the main story of Artyom and the group of Spartans, but there is also what has happened in the world over the 20-odd years since everything blew up.  There has been a lot of detail put into crafting the environments to make interesting experiences.”

The game has already been compared by some to classic PC title S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl.  Jon admits there is a flavour, but it is definitely a Metro game.  He added:

“There are still those classic Metro moments when the sense of danger is around every corner.  There is a term I like to use — we like to create a level of managed anxiety so they always think ‘I need more resources’ or ‘I need to keep an eye on my ammo count’.”

A big part of any Metro game is the guns that you bolt together, and Jon feels they have gone the extra mile.  He said:

“The options have been carefully crafted to fit the weapon you want to mod.  There are some that can be used on more than one weapon but most core aspects of the mods are bespoke.  Some of the team have mechanical engineering degrees and the like, so they spent a lot of time to make sure the weapons are as real as can be.  For example, at last year’s E3 we showed off the crossbow which fires explosive arrows.  There was a big debate on the team about the arrow tips — the artist wanted to make it bigger so you can see it’s an explosive, but the guy working on the crossbow didn’t think it would fit through the barrel.  They would have to make it bigger to make it work, but that threw out another bit of the crossbow.  They were really getting into the mechanics of how a crossbow works.  That gives you an idea of the level of detail that has gone into the game.”

Metro: Exodus (Xbox, PS4 and PC, £49.99)

THE Metro series has built a strong fanbase over the years with its tales of survival in the Moscow subway tunnels.  But 4A Games have seen the light — literally.  The new game brings you above ground.   The scene is set in 2036 — two years after the events in Last Light.  Artyom is back on a post-apocalyptic Earth devastated by a nuclear war, but searching for life beyond Moscow.  However, he discovers more than he expected.  He flees the city with his wife Anna and a group of Spartan Rangers and they try to find the perfect spot to start a new life.

They travel in a train called the Aurora which serves as a hub on each stop but also lets the game breathe because you can visit locations never seen before in a Metro game.  Each stop along the way gives you a healthy-sized area to explore with loot and resources to find as well as pockets of humanity.  You can adopt an all-guns-blazing approach to bandit camps or sneak around picking enemies off . . . or even blend the two tactics together.  The biggest change is that you no longer have bullets as the in-game currency.  That led to a shoot-or-don’t-shoot dilemma.  Now, there is a workbench system where scrap is vital.

You can add new bits to your weapons as you move around, which is a neat move because it allows you to adapt your assaults on enemy towers.  You can snipe any guards, then change the 4x scope to a red dot sight as you close in.  Master the kit-swap and you’ll soon find which guns best suit the conflicts you’re facing.  You also need to time your moves.  Move around during the day and you WILL meet hordes of human enemies.  Venture out at night and the creatures WILL be out to play.  You’ll fight a mix of terrors from mutated wolves, dogs, huge prawn-like things and bears . . . and that’s before you get to what was once a human.  Kudos to 4A Games for taking the leap of faith and opening the world up.  The anxiety and tension is still strong and there are some real “jump” scares along the way.

The game looks stunning — from the reflections on your gas mask glass to the light and atmosphere of the underground sections.  The soundtrack works hard but you feel they could have done more with it and the voice acting is a mix of good and not-so-good with a truckload of questionable Russian accents.  And for a first-person shooter, the actual firing is a bit hit and miss.  It feels rough around the edges and is too stiff for its own good.  We also get a few frame dips during fire fights and it took ages to load the game from the main menu.  We opted to make tea and have a biscuit to pass the time.  But none of that hides the fact that Metro Exodus takes what was great about the series and refines it.  It adds new elements.  It may not satisfy the run-and-gun fans, but if you take your time then there is a great adventure waiting for you.

Score: 4.5/5

Horizon Chase Turbo (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, £15.99)

RACING games have come a long way with detailed sims and arcade fun but is there room on the grid for a retro blast?  Brazilian developers Aquiris Game Studio has harked back to the 16-bit days with Horizon Chase Turbo.  It has a strong feel of Sega’s Outrun and, if you loved that, you will be buzzing with this.

It is racing stripped back — press the throttle and steer.  It seems simple but you do need to master drifting to win later races.  You also need lightning fast reactions because the corners come at you very quickly and your rivals will take advantage of any mistake.  If that wasn’t enough, you need to keep an eye on your fuel gauge and grab fuel cans as you whizz past.

We loved the low polygon look.  It has a 16-bit feel but on a 4K TV so it’s full of colour.  The soundtrack is by Scottish composer Barry Leitch – of Top Gear fame.  Outstanding.

Score: 4.5/5

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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