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 November.
The Surge 2 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £39.99)
THE original Surge was Deck13’s take on what would happen if you took the core gameplay of Dark Souls and passed it through a high-tech filter. And it was a solid title with some really interesting twists on the formula. Now the German studio is back with the sequel and ramps things up… a bit. The Surge 2 picks up after the events of the first game which have now changed the world. You start by having to break out of a prison you’ve just woken up in after surviving a plane crash. Oh, and everyone wants to hurt you in some way. Also, in a bold and interesting move, you play as a custom character instead of being thrust into the boots of a lead one.
The earlier levels really teach you the ropes as it cuts you lose in Jericho City. It’s here where most of the action will be taking place across five different districts, each with their own feel and vibe. And so begins the fun and addictive play loop of finding quests, bagging XP and ultimately upgrading your exosuit to become a badass hybrid man-machine. But with the risk-reward system, if you die before banking your XP you’ll have a limited time to get back to your body to grab it before it’s gone.
On the combat front the game retains that slow, weighted style where timing is king as you swing a huge lump of steel around. Also returning is the system that lets you tear off parts of enemies and bosses and bolt them to yourself to become the ultimate killing machine. The baddies are a real mix of being a cake walk to being hard as nails. But even the weakest enemies will be able to kill you if you take your eye off the ball. The menus and systems are all streamlined with three main stats to focus on to upgrade. It never gets in the way too much as well as being easy to use — plus you can build three loadouts which you can set to what the situation demands. The Surge 2 builds on a lot of what the first game did and for fans this will be a huge plus, though it never truly moves things up to the next level and feels like its holding back sometimes. That said, if you’re in the mood for a Souls-like game with a robot twist you could do far worse than The Surge 2.
Rigging the Deck
TO build on the success of the first Surge game, Johannes Bickle, head of production at Deck13, reckoned fans wanted the sequel to give them more options. He told me:
“We gave the players more choice. It starts with the character generator where they can choose gender, age, and a lot of other features. Then, they’re able to choose from a wider range of different weapon styles to find out what they like most. We also added more features to ranged combat, and finally, by opening up the game world, more choice in what tasks you want to do first and how you want to tackle them.”
But choice is just the start of it as Johannes feels that the game has grown too big for the setting of the first and the move to a city scale title was just too tempting. He said:
“While it was cool to start off our story in an abandoned factory complex in The Surge 1, we wanted to go wider, more open, and give the player more freedom. So the idea to transfer the setting into a city felt very tempting. Of course this had many more implications than what we originally envisioned.”
But the move to the city setting has also changed more than just the game’s backdrop. Johannes added:
“First of all, we exchanged the claustrophobic environments that we could fill with scare jumps and the likes with a more open environment, and yes, I’d say that the city is the real star in the game. We tried to feature it as much as possible, offering widely differing environments and much more verticality in gameplay. The game world is much more open and non-linear, as you would expect from an open environment, resulting in more freedom regarding where you would like to venture next. Switching to a more open city environment meant that enemies had to become cleverer, use their combat space better and be more attentive to what the player actually does. So we upgraded their AI in a way that they’re now able to work together in groups, dynamically change their behaviour according to the situation, and follow the player up and down lifts and zip lines.”
But Johannes admits it wasn’t just his team’s ideas that shaped The Surge 2 as the fans and the community really helped guide the development. He added:
“We tried to listen an awful lot to player feedback, and from the first impressions it seems that it was a good to do so. We removed features that people didn’t like, for example the ‘weapon proficiency’ where you improve your skills with a specific weapon by using it a lot, which led to people feeling being stuck with that type and switching to a different one later in the game didn’t make sense. Also, we offered more choice in combat with the feature to block in several directions, and we offered more ranged combat using the player’s drone companion.”
Fan feedback also helped the team set the accessibility of the game in terms of the setting of the skill bar and the overall difficulty of the game. Johannes said:
“We noticed with The Surge 1 that although many players generally enjoyed it, some didn’t advance very far into the game, in part due to a high difficulty of the bosses and only few options to overcome them. And while we didn’t implement an easy mode into The Surge 2, we gave the players many more options to shape the experience according to their favourite playstyle. You can now use the drone to cause significant damage, you can use different ways of evading or blocking, and, due to the more open game world, you can just come back later when you have better equipment and a higher level instead of just banging your figurative head against the wall.”
GreedFall (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)
SOMETIMES you find a real diamond in the rough that nails most of the main points to make it a great game… but just ends up falling short on the level of polish and overall quality you would be hoping for. French studio Spider’s latest game GreedFall very much falls into this camp with its blend of Dragon Age and Witcher-style gameplay which makes for an epic RPG to get lost in. You’ll easily sink 60 hours into this beast of a tale that combines a realistic historical feeling with a very healthy dash of fantasy, creating a truly compelling world to explore.
Built around doing quests and playing a number of different factions against each other, GreedFall really tries to tackle some weighty issues that you wouldn’t expect and it will throw up a few moral conundrums along the way. And for the most part, the quests (yes, even the side ones) are well-written and can also be attacked in a number of ways. You could just simply go in blade swinging or you could take more of a stealth approach, with more interesting angles of attack opening up to you if you take your time to look around. And how you have spent your upgrade points has an impact on every outcome of the gameplay. It adds a real weight to how you’ll build your character, as well as a real value to upgrading. But fear not as you can also re-roll your skills during the game at any time. Combat-wise things are a little bit stiff, although you can plan your moves using the tactical pause menu to give you a bit of time to work things out.
On the downside there are a few glitches and bugs you’ll see along the way — such as lip-syncing and textures not popping plus some typos in the subtitles which show that aforementioned lack of polish that holds the game back a little. GreedFall does feel at times like it’s picking up the sabre from the once-great Bioware games Mass Effect and Dragon Age. If you have been hungry for a beefy hit of Western RPG action it’ll deliver but you’ll need to overlook a few rough edges.
The Outer Worlds (Xbox One, PS4 , Switch and PC, £44.99)
WHEN a king grows old and loses his way, it’s fair to say you can expect a few challengers to his throne. And in this instance, the failing monarch is Bethesda’s Fallout series and the young pretender is Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds. The plot thickens even more as Obsidian Entertainment were the team behind what many see as the best Fallout game in the series — New Vegas — so it’s safe to see they know what they’re are doing. And The Outer Worlds is a powerful challenge. It is very much a Fallout game that fans have been crying out for— just that it has nothing to do with that series.
You fill the boots of a human ice pole frozen in stasis aboard a forgotten ship along with a few thousand of your friends. That is until a mad scientist pops you out to defrost and tasks you with finding the kit he needs to wake up the rest of the ship’s crew. From there, the epic adventure begins as you explore space, talking to different people, doing quests for them and, most interestingly, shaping each encounter how you want based on your decisions. This has an impact on how the game will play out, depending on what you do and what you say you may get extra quests or you may close off storylines. The killer with this is none of these key moments are sign-posted so you’ll never really know.
The galaxy of Outer Worlds is a very interesting one. Huge corporations own everything and everyone and this puts a real spin on the people you’ll encounter, as some are true company men while others are more free-thinking. Gameplay-wise you can recruit companions to join you on your adventures and help you out in a pinch. The game has a healthy amount of combat which you can attack however you wish — from melee to firearms or level your stats up and talk your way out of trouble. A healthy upgrade tree lets you really build your own character to your own taste. Plus there are random perks called flaw offers that you’ll pick up along the way but these are based on how you’re playing. If a firefight breaks out, things are handled well and you have the power to slow time down a little — like the V.A.T system in Fallout.
The Outer Worlds is a vast title that is very easy to get lost in and is packed with lore to help build the universe. It will scratch that Fallout itch and more with its depth of characters and interesting new worlds. The king is dead. Long live the king.
Return of the Obra Dinn (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £16.74)
IN the world of indie gaming, Lucas Pope is shaking things up. He is very much a one-man studio and his breakout title Papers, Please was a hit with players and critics alike as you filled the shoes of a border crossing security guard in a truly bleak tale. So hopes were high for his next game after the 2013 smash — and Pope delivered once again with Return of the Obra Dinn. Once again you are thrust into a truly mundane role, this time as an insurance claims adjuster for the East India Company who has to find out what happened aboard the ill-fated Obra Dinn ghost ship.
In a neat twist you have a magic pocket watch that lets you look at snapshots of the past as you have to piece together what really happened to the crew. As each snapshot shows the exact moment that each of the 60 onboard died, it’s up to you to join the dots in what is at times a brutal puzzler on your grey matter. The game’s art style is also striking. It’s rendered in 1-bit graphics and is all monochromatic — a real blast from a bygone era of gaming. Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the biggest indie hits of the past few years. Now it’s made its way to console it’s well worth a look to see what all the buzz is about.
Cat Quest II (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £12.99)
CAT Quest by The Gentlebros was a cute and charming tale of swords and cats which was packed with cheesy puns and RPG action thrills. Now the Singapore studio is back with the sequel which takes the fun foundations of the 2017 game and builds on them. You once again explore the world, embarking on quests and meeting the locals before you get stuck into battle — which is a mix of dodging, sword fighting and using a range of area-based spells. The new co-op feature lets you team up with a buddy. Or if you’re going lone wolf, you can switch between the two characters during the game.
As you move through the adventure you’ll level up your furry hero. This system, like most of the game, is clear and easy to follow. There are plenty of caves and dungeons to get stuck into in the hope of finding some shiny loot as well as hidden secrets. Returning fans will be left wondering why the power to fly has been removed though it may be added down the line. Cat Quest II is a light and enjoyable tale packed with real charm. It gets its claws into you over its 10-plus hour tale and is the purrfect stepping-on point for younger gamers looking for RPG kicks.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…