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 15th July 2018.
Bomber Crew (Xbox One, PS4, PC and Switch, £14.99)
BOMBER Crew looks like a cute war game with colourful graphics and loud guns, but it actually has a conscience. The Runner Ducks Games SIM is all about building a WWII bombing crew and looking after them. You start to care for them. And, like the real thing must have been, it really hurts when you lose one of them. You get your team then have to handle a heap of missions behind enemy lines in mainland Europe.
It’s a game of two halves — the prep stage and the mission stage. At the start you pick your crew and kit them out in new gear — and they will need specific equipment for different missions. On long escapades you’ll want to fly at a higher altitude to save fuel, so your crew will need cold-weather gear or else they will start to freeze. You can change their looks and give them names and that increases the attachment you’ll feel. You also need to prepare and gear-up your bomber, from adding armour and better systems to even designing a livery. Finish prep and it is down to work. You take control of your seven-man crew and head into battle. The missions get tougher and they are full of tension. It is like spinning a hundred plates at one time, and all while trying to hold it all together. You are flying and spotting the enemies, keeping the gunners stocked with ammo, trying to heal any wounded and then you need to try to fix damage to the plane. At first it is all a bit overwhelming but if you keep a cool head then you’ll make it back in one piece . . . even when you lose two engines and the third bursts into flames.
The gut-wrencher is the permadeath system. If any of your crew die then they are gone and you have to recruit a new member and train them up. You feel the loss. You have named him and may even have given him an RAF-style moustache — and he’s dead because you chose to reload the gun instead of giving him first aid. But then your actions saved the rest of the crew. Moral dilemma time — and it was an aspect we certainly weren’t expecting when we loaded up the game. It adds real weight to the game — it’s less about victory and more about survival.
That cute look is built on the pixel art style and the soundtrack fits the weight of the task, with bouncing sounds at the barracks to tracks that set the mode during fights. The difficulty of some of the missions will catch a lot of people out, but the more time you spend with it the better you will become. It’s a real test of skill, management and nerves and there’s an emotional twist in the tale.
GAME designer Dave Miller had the perfect inspiration for Bomber Crew — his great- uncle was a navigator on World War II missions. Now Runner Duck Games co-founder Dave hopes the insight they have brought to the game can turn it into a massive hit for the indie studio. Dave joined coder and co-founder Jon Wingrove to tell me about the past, present and future of their latest title. Dave said:
“I’ve always been fascinated with WWII aircraft, as my great- uncle was a navigator on a Whitley bomber. I loved playing games like B-17 Flying Fortress when I was younger, but coming back to them in recent years, I felt a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a focus on the crew. Jon and I discussed some ideas for a crew-focused bomber management game, and the core concept for Bomber Crew was born. The huge popularity of games like Faster Than Light also helped convince us that it was an idea that would find an audience, which, luckily, it did!”
“The campaign is largely based on real raids that took place in Europe in WWII. We’ve taken some liberties for the sake of gameplay, but you can look up most missions and find out what really happened. Some are almost stranger than fiction, like Operation Chariot — the raid on the dry-dock at St. Nazaire, where an allied ship rigged with explosives was rammed into the occupied docks by a crew of commandos. They disembarked and fought a heroic battle and kept the presence of the explosives secret until they detonated the following day, rendering the dock unusable. There are many other incredible lesser-known stories from WWII, so we had plenty to draw from.”
Bomber Crew started life on the PC but Jon admits they spent a long time working on the controls to make the move to consoles. He said:
“That was something we actually prototyped even before the PC release. We showed a demo version of the game at a few events, and a lot of the refining of the controls came out of just watching how new players managed. We’ve made a few other improvements here and there, but we haven’t had to cut back or simplify the game in any way. On both Xbox One X and PS4 Pro we run at higher resolutions compared to the base consoles. Xbox One X is full 4K. The console version will launch with an all new Challenge Mode. PC players will receive a patch which will add this mode on the same day. In Challenge Mode, you play to get a high score by completing as many challenge waves as you can before your bomber is destroyed. It’s great as a break from the pressure of campaign mode, as it doesn’t risk losing your main campaign bomber or crew.”
The team is already working on the next stage. Dave added:
“We’re getting close to finishing the next piece of DLC for Bomber Crew — it’s far more substantial than the Secret Weapons mission pack DLC. We will reveal more soon.”
Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £26.99)
WELCOME back to the playground of destruction. The Red Faction series has had an interesting journey from first-person shooter on the PS2 to third-person open-world game with Guerrilla and Armageddon. Now THQ Nordic have given Guerrilla the HD treatment and hammered in the best pun in gaming history — calling it the Re-Mars-tered edition. Well, we liked it anyway. The interesting aspect is how the game evolves from a sandbox game in 2009 to a major hit in 2018.
The Red Faction series has all been set on Mars, even if it was a loose connection in the second game. Guerrilla sees you back in the boots of Alec Mason, who has just landed on the red planet to see his brother. It is now a mining planet and the air is breathable so there’s no need for spacesuits. Shortly after arriving, Mason is faced with a difficult choice — be captured by the bad guys, the EDF, or become a guerrilla with the Red Faction and fight to liberate Mars. The tale does an OK job at framing the game, but the key aim is to blow things up — that destruction playground.
There is a mix of tasks from main missions to challenges to helping out the freedom fighters — but the bottom line is blast, blast and more blast with a heavy arsenal of weaponry. The highlight is that you can up the ante. If enemies are hiding in a building, then destroy it. You can attack it with a sledgehammer, throw blast charges at it or just hit it with a two-tonne truck. That really does ramp up the fun factor and change the flow of the play. The graphics are nice and crisp, but they are showing their age a little and, being set on Mars, there is a lot of reds and browns. The soundtrack is OK and Troy Baker leads the voice acting well.
On the downside the AI is dreadful. The friendly ones get in the way more than anything else and the game has infinite spawning enemies when it’s all kicking off. That is not funny and not clever. Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered edition is a welcome return for a classic title. It is a decent shout if you have never encountered the series before. Hopefully, it is a sign that the series is set for a return but, until then, just get your a**e to Mars.
Unravel 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £16.19)
ONE of the surprise announcements at this year’s E3 was that Unravel was getting a sequel. The bigger news was that Coldwood Interactive released the game after the EA conference. Yarny is back but this time he is part of a couch co-op game, so you and a friend can tackle the journey together. Fans of the first game will know what to expect — a blend of light story-telling and solid puzzle platforming.
The tale focuses on two young runaways, but the story often fades into the background over the seven levels. And the co-op doesn’t prevent you attacking it on your own. However, the most fun is when you have a friend — it raises the game a few levels and there is no better feeling than beating a puzzle through team-work. You jump, swing and climb your way through some truly beautiful levels from grim, rain-soaked streets to lush forests. It’s all backed up by a soundtrack that delivers awe and a sense of tension in equal measures and you can’t help but fall for Yarny’s charms. You can even customise his colour and the shape of his head to personalise your adventure. Finish the main tale and there are 20 challenge levels that will test your skills to the limit. They add a wedge of replay value.
This a strong return. It has built on what was good in the original. The only down side is that it is crying out for online options. Couch co-op is fun, but not everyone has friends close by.
Far Cry 3 Classic Edition (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
FAR Cry 3 has been lauded by many as the best game in the series so far, so it’s no surprise that Ubisoft have given it a re-release with the Classic touch. You and a group of friends are on a gap-year holiday but your pals get kidnapped by pirates. Meet Vaas, one of the best bad guys in gaming history. To say he has a few screws loose is an understatement — he shoots your brother and you escape into the jungle and launch a 16 to 17-hour bid to release your friends.
There is all the usual fare, like climbing towers to unlock maps and having to hunt to get skins to upgrade your kit. If you played Far Cry 5 then you will have a dilemma. That game evolved the core gameplay, so this is a trip back in time. That is a bit of a pain because constantly climbing towers just feels like you are filling in time. As this is a re-release the HD treatment is very light so don’t expect stunning new looks, and it is a shame that the Blood Dragon DLC is not included.
It is a halfway house — it is still a good game in its own right but there is nothing new. However, if this has passed you by in the past then you’re in for a treat.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (Xbox One, PS4 ,PC and Switch, £15.99)
SHAQUILLE O’Neal has had a rollercoaster ride when it comes to gaming, but the larger-than-life basketball player is back with a bang here. This started out life as a Crowdfunding project at Indiegogo — and raised $458,884 from just 1,339 fans. It is a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the same vein as Streets Of Rage, but this has no pretensions — expect lots of cheesy one- liners and dodgy gags over three hours.
You are a Shaq who has been raised in China and is a kung-fu master. Your village is attacked and you are out for revenge over a number of stages and boss fights. It’s justice Shaq-style. It is good fun but, like similar games, it can get repetitive fairly quickly. They have tried to freshen it up with sections where you can turn into a robot and a . . . er…cactus. The motley group of enemies include kilted soldiers with GERMAN accents. There is plenty of chunky cartoon colour in the graphics and the animated cut scenes and the main theme being sung by Shaq is a highlight.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn will make fans smile but some of the gags could upset a few people. This won’t blow you away, but it is a short, sharp blast of fun to be had, even if the price is a bit steep at the moment for what you get.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…