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 1st November 2020.
Space Crew (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £17.99)
WE love a game that makes you think long after the credits have rolled. Runner Duck have shown themselves to be past masters — Space Crew will dig into your deepest psyche. The firm has form — their last game, Bomber Crew, was a World War II take on the Faster Than Light formula where you build a flight crew, bond with them then have to think about the mistakes you made that cost your tail-gunner his life. Space Crew taps into the same levels of guilt — this takes the Bomber Crew core and gives it a space theme. On paper, this is a roguelite spaceship managing sim — and that is way too dull a tag for this particular treat. We reckon it should be tagged as the greatest copyright-dodging Star Trek game ever where your mission is a whole new episode in a long-lost classic sci-fi TV show. Or you could just agree that it’s guilt sim 2020 — but that’s down to how good a captain you are.
Like Bomber Crew it’s up to you to pick all the little details on your adventure — from the crew to their uniforms and even the colour of your ship. You can really get invested in things and that’s before you even leave the space port. Again, like Bomber Crew, you’re also in charge of every aspect of running the ship, but you will need to fend off little green men and complete a mission. So there’s plenty going on and it is not eased by the fact that you need to do it all in real time so there’s no chance of catching your breath when it all kicks off . . . and, trust us, it will get hairy out there.
There is a bit of a learning curve here — you’ll need to be careful as you pick up the tricks of the trade or else your mission could be short-lived. Once you get to grips with your ship there are a number of mission types — from rescues to proper blast fests. If there is a gripe, it’s that the missions do become a bit repetitive, as does the overall gameplay. This is a very worthy successor to Bomber Crew. If you liked that then you will love this. Newcomers are in for a brutally unforgiving blast through the stars — just don’t get too attached to the crew.
Ducking and Diving
RUNNER Duck Games are driven by teamwork — from development to the subject of their creations. It is a philosophy that has served them well — with two cracking titles from the little studio. Co-founder and Space Crew art director Dave Miller believes their mission statement helped shape Bomber Crew and enabled them to transfer the same skills to the new game. He said:
“Moving the gameplay of Bomber Crew to a sci-fi setting was an easy decision to make. Much like the crew of a WW2 bomber, the crew of a spacecraft relies on the vehicle’s systems to keep them safe from the hostile environment. Challenging players to maintain critical systems such as the oxygen generator and reactor while battling alien fighters is ideal for the ‘plate- spinning’ gameplay of the Crew series. As huge sci-fi fans, we took inspiration from a wide range of classic movies and TV series. We aimed to create a universe that feels immediately familiar to the player, so they can get on with commanding their ship to victory.”
While teamwork is key, Dave, above, insists they did shuffle the pack. He added:
“We’ve focused on more on-board action, such as repelling boarding parties. There is more space in which to move crew around, and more areas that can be damaged and require repair. There is an emphasis on the reactor and balancing its power output to systems such as weapons, shields, engines and the gravity generator. We have streamlined the tagging system and made it quicker to use. The crew will unlock special abilities as they gain experience — using them at the right time is critical to survival and success. For example, commanding the security officer to replenish the ship’s shields just as an alien fighter wing closes in can mean the difference between victory or a critically damaged reactor core. However, once a crew member is lost their abilities are lost with them, so be sure to install ample escape pods and know when to abandon ship.”
The team also learned lessons from Bomber Crew to evolve the process. Dave said:
“We’re giving players a wider range of choices as to how they approach difficult situations. They may choose to stop dead and divert all reactor power to weapons to quickly destroy attacking fighters, or keep the ship heading towards the objective, evading incoming fire with the captain’s abilities and fully-powered engines.”
The biggest thrill for the team is that Bomber Crew fans have been chomping at the bit to try the game. Dave said:
“We’ve found that Bomber Crew fans can see the possibilities that a sci-fi setting offers. After all, the trench run sequence in Star Wars was inspired by the climactic sequence from The Dambusters movie. We also hope the move to a space theme will bring a new audience to the Crew games.”
He is also delighted with the campaign tale, adding:
“It will take players from our solar system across the galaxy in search of a way to prevent an impending cataclysmic invasion by malevolent aliens named Phasmids.”
But the last word on teamwork is for the Runner Duck gang in the midst of a Covid pandemic. Dave said:
“Being a team of just three, all working from home, we are fortunate that our day-to-day work remains ‘business as usual’. Our publisher, Curve Digital, took action early on to ensure their staff could work comfortably and safely at home so the impact on production was minimal.”
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit (Switch £99.99)
THOSE guys and girls at Nintendo are rascals — they set up a gaming phenomenon then throw all the ingredients up the air and serve up a totally left-field treat. And, nine times out of ten, it works. They have been at it with everything from the Wii to Labo. The Japanese firm is the true dreamer of the gaming industry. And we love them for it. As during a time when the other firms are focused on the next-gen with 4K and ray-tracing, Nintendo couldn’t give two hoots about it. Their mantra is “it’s for the gamers” and they are sticking to it. Gamers should have nothing but pure fun — simple. That explains their latest game changer — Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit blends gaming with the real world in a truly magical way. But there is an elephant in the room. A big one. A big white one. It costs £100 and that is way beyond the stretch of most youngsters’ pocket money and is a serious ask for any parent in these Covid times.
Your £100 gets you a radio-controlled kart RC — either Mario or Luigi — four cardboard gates, two cardboard barriers and a charging cable. You need to power the kart which takes a few hours, but you get a healthy life out of the charge so you’ll not be hooking it up every five minutes. And you need to remember that the gates are made from cardboard. Treat them nicely when you fold them out or put them away because you can damage them and that is half your fun over. No gates — no tracks. So where can you set it up? You can run the kart on a carpet — we managed a living room showdown. The kitchen tiles also make a decent surface, but laminate flooring provides the best results. Final point of interest at this stage: if you’re looking for some multiplayer action then your mates will need their own Switches and karts.
The fun really starts once you are all set up — the game brilliantly blends AR tech, Mario Kart and RC cars together in an experience that will fill hours of fun. There is no actual game in the box — instead, you get a free download on the eShop. There are a number of ways to play — you can just link your Switch to the kart and race around using it as a RC car. The Switch becomes your window to the action thanks to the cam mounted on the kart. But that has limited appeal. The real challenge is building tracks. You could start with a circle and perfect your controls. You can add in bridges, bumps and small ramps — although Nintendo do warn you against that — to mix things up. Play for long enough and you will want to go hardcore — the tracks just get bigger and more demanding. So why not have an epic track that runs from the living room into the kitchen and back again — with tables, chairs and invading pets to steer round? Well, go for it. As long as you use the four gates anything is possible, but Nintendo have not finished there.
The game overlays your track with Mario Kart skins and power-up boxes that add a whole new dimension to the fun. If you hit a shell then your kart will actually stop on your kitchen floor. Hit a boost and you’ll get a burst of speed. It is an amazing feat of technology and it is pretty thrilling to see it in action. You do need a fair amount of space to get the maximum from this game — the connection has a 5m limit, but driving behind walls may affect the signal. This is an epic gaming piece of kit. It’s more than a toy and more than a game. It’s also more than your usual outlay in time to set up and cash to pay for it. But Nintendo has done it again. They’ve taken a unique idea and crafted a truly special, magical experience.
G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £34.99)
IF you are a child of the 1980s then you will probably remember the epic battles between G.I. Joe and Cobra. They raged in back-garden battlefields and bath-time secret missions. This was the toy to have back in the day. Kids, ask your parents. Now today’s kids can see what all the fuss was about — Hasbro are rebooting Joe with a 2020 makeover. Hasbro has a new line of toys as well as a live action movie based on ninja Snake Eye. So, a game was always going to be part of that marketing drive. G.I Joe: Operation Blackout may be based on the new figures but it has a good few nods and winks to its 80s roots. It flips between Joe and Cobra chapters and you can play as 12 of the series heroes along the way.
There are 17 missions but a lot of areas are re-heated, meaning you will soon have seen the whole battle apart from a few tank sections to break things up. The aiming system is very frustrating. The whole thing is a by-the-numbers affair that is sadly imminently forgettable. It reduces what should be a nostalgia travel treat to a painfully average outing.
Transformers: Battlegrounds (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £34.99)
CONTINUING the 80s retro trip, Hasbro’s iconic Transformers has had the gaming treatment. This one has been developed by Sunderland studio Coatsink and, where the Joes burn out, the bots have delivered. This may look like a kid’s title but dig a little deeper and you will find a neat turn-based strategy game. The tale is as old as the hills — the heroic Autobots have to defeat the evil Decepticons in their bid to get their steel mitts on the Allspark. You take command of the heroes and wage a very X-com turn- based battle across a number of chapters where you unlock more bots as you go — and that allows you to build your team.
It may be based on a newer vision of the robots in disguise but G1 fans will know a lot of the bots like Bumblebee, Grimlock and Megatron. They all look the part thanks to the stylised art. The game is very much like my first X-com — which is perfect for youngsters trying their hand for the first time. Old-timers can kick up the difficulty levels for more of a nostalgic challenge. Win-win.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…