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 26th July 2020.
Night Call (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £16.74)
LOCKDOWN has proved we love binge-watching a good crime thriller. From iPlayer to Netflix we’ve seen more cases than a New York cop has seen donuts. Gaming isn’t missing out on the fun either — Night Call is by French studios Monkey Moon and BlackMuffin and serves up a Parisian noir tale to feed your detective hunger. You play as a taxi driver who’s caught up in a hunt for a serial killer stalking the city’s streets — but you are also the only surviving victim. So, you are the prime suspect chased by the kops and living in fear of the real killer wanting to tie up some loose ends. You leave hospital and jump back in your cab and that’s where this becomes more than a straight sleuthing tale — your cabbie is a friend, confidant, therapist and even a voyeur on the night shift.
The game is a visual novel with a little brushing of gameplay on top — you pick up fares and drive them around the city, talking to them about all sorts of subjects. Each night your shift is limited by time and fuel — although you can fill up when needed if you have earned enough cash from fares. However, you can get caught out and find you have no money or petrol. Once back home each night, you try to connect the dots using the information you have collected, but you will find a few red herrings along the way and they will waste your time significantly. Night Call is at its best when it deals with the most human of issues — ones that we can really relate to. It’s a slow-burner that will draw you in if you’re looking for another case to crack.
Superliminal (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £16.74)
PERSPECTIVE is absolutely everything — how you see things is key to how you move forward. American studio Pillow Castle has served up a visual treat that alters everything you think about a puzzler. It blends elements of the likes of Portal and The Stanley Parable with Inception then throws in a dash of reality-bending grey-matter tests to craft a title that really sets a challenge. You play as a patient taking part in an experimental dream therapy programme. You never really know if you’re dreaming or in the real world — and the more you play the more complex the puzzles become and the more the lines blur. The biggest hook is the sheer scale. If you solve a room then you need to find an object that you can transform into a makeshift set of stairs.
Confused? Well, you could find a chess piece. It looks small, but look more closely and it will have grown massively because of the change in perspective. It is fair to say the mechanics in this game take some getting used to. They are not your usual fare. Then, even when you get a handle on them, you have to work out the light and shadow. That amount of change makes everything feel very fresh. Once you have learned the ropes, there is a three-hour run time, but that merely highlights the lack of a proper core tale. It still earns a shout-out to Scot Max Howarth who voices Dr Glenn Pierce. He serves up the breadcrumb trail of a tale as you clear each room. This is a short, sharp brain test. For fans of Portal and The Stanley Parable then this is a neat guest to the party. It is well worth a few hours of your time.
Rocket Arena (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
THE gaming recipe for success is not a difficult one — most players are creatures of habit. They find what they like and they stick with it. It’s the reason why they devour a staple diet of yearly updates. However, that knowledge and that desire can stifle creativity. You can play safe with an update. It also crowds out the marketplace for new games trying to break into the scene. Take multiplayer titles — there are many, many cracking games that could have been contenders but they burnt out too soon because of the lack of an online community to keep it driving on. That is the challenge facing Rocket Arena. Calling it a mountain to climb is an understatement. Yes, it is part of the EA family, but this one comes from the gaming behemoth’s indie section. Final Strike Games have created a game that, in its purest form, is a 3v3 class-based arena shooter. There is more than a passing flavour of Overwatch and Bleeding Edge. There is also a smattering of Super Smash Bros with its 10 heroes, 10 maps and handful of modes.
The rocket-fuel combat is fun and fast- paced, but it’s very simple and you’ll spend most of your time finding a hero whose style best suits you. Each one has two abilities which can give you the upper hand in a fight, but finding your favourite takes time — you’ll need to work through the cast. On top of that there is the artefact system. They are basically buffs you can attach to your hero and they can be levelled up to become more powerful. However, in an odd way, some of the best are available at the lower levels. The maps flow well and there are some fun backdrops — from space bases to a desert canyon. Each one holds a different vibe and is packed with choke points to force battles. That said, some of them are a little on the small side given that most of the cast can all but fly.
There are three modes — knockout is a beefed-up team death match, Rocket Bot Attack is where you take on the AI. Finally, the objective mode is where things are split into three different tags. Rocketball is a sort of capture the flag affair, Mega Rocket is like headquarters from Call Of Duty. Then Treasure Hunt is a new take on Halo’s oddball mode. They are all a good laugh to start off with, but they don’t last the test of time. After a few hours the cracks start to show because the game’s biggest issue right now is balance. Some heroes boss the battles, end of story, and it’s not easy to get these powerhouses at the start of a match. Another point — if a player leaves and the teams are unbalanced, the one with the fewest players is on a hiding to nothing. And that happens far too frequently. Rocket Arena has charm and is fun — at least initially. It needs work to sort out the balance and it needs it now. If this isn’t fixed, then it may not retain its player base before they drift back to more well-known pastures. And that’s before you question why this game costs £25 and is not free to play.
Ghost of Tsushima (PS4, £49.99)
THE PlayStation 4’s days may be limited — but it has had some cracking titles during its lifetime. Sony have smashed it out the park with their single-player forced content — with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, Spiderman, God Of War and, most recently, The Last Of Us 2. Even some of the weaker entries, like Day’s Gone, have still produced epic journeys. But all good things have to come to an end. And Ghost of Tsushima gets to bring the curtain down in spectacular style. This final act of an epic series of games is worthy of the accolade. This has been developed by Sucker Punch Productions — the team behind the Sly Cooper and Infamous series. The Washington studio turned to the Far East for inspiration this time out and have finally delivered a game many players have been crying out — especially as other big-hitters have ducked the feudal Japan challenge. Yeah, we are looking at you, Ubisoft, and the Assassin’s Creed options.
You get to fill the wooden sandals of Jin Sakai — a man who has been raised to be a samurai and lives by their code of honour. He guards Tsushima Island with his clan of samurai brothers. The development team used the real-world Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274 as a loose basis for the game. It all kicks off with an epic battle where things do not exactly go to plan for Jin. Once the dust settles he finds that his uncle has been captured and all his samurai troops are dead. On top of that, the island is over-run with Mongol forces so Jin has to work his way back to strength and assemble an army that can force the invading troops off Tsushima. That all adds up to a meaty main course, but the game is also about a battle between Jin and his way of life. That is where it really shines — Jin is a samurai and their code restricts how he can fight. He can’t use dirty tricks like sneaking up behind enemies for a kill. It creates a dilemma — how far is Jin willing to go to save his people and at what cost to his beliefs. That is a really interesting hook for the tale because gaming actions you might consider as second nature, like stealth kills, are seen as dishonourable here.
You are a samurai so your sword will play a vital role. You can cut down everything from weeds to various enemies. There is a real Dark Souls and Batman Arkham vibe to the combat — you face off against a foe and you have to time your attacks and look for openings. It is all very tense, but it does stumble a little when you are trying to creep around because it all feels a bit stiff and the AI is geared towards you dropping in “uninvited” but it is not a deal-breaker on the whole experience. Throughout your journey you’ll level up but, again, not in the usual way. This is based on you getting better at the game, not banking style points. You’ll unlock a number of attacks and techniques. It all means the game is open level so you never face a massively high-level opponent, which is a sigh of relief because the whole affair is skill-focused. You will be blown away by the look. This is classic samurai cinema with stunning detail, in the way the wind blows the leaves from the trees to epic backdrops. On top of that there is a black-and-white filter and a sensational photo mode.
The soundwork deserves an award of its own — it fuels the Japanese tone and builds the action into a crescendo as you go into battle. You actually feel your heart racing faster. The characters are handled well and the inclusion of an original Japanese voice track is nice, although the animation dubbing is a bit wild at times. The best word for Ghost of Tsushima is “epic” — simple as that. It’s packed with detail and is a real tribute to the source material. It’s a fitting swansong for the PS4 and one hell of an outing from a new IP that has more stories to tell.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…