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 8th November 2020.
Watch Dogs: Legion (Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, Stadia and PC, £54.99)
THE world of 2020 is a bit of a mess right now with Covid restrictions impacting on our freedoms and having an undertone of authoritarianism. So what better time for Ubisoft to release Watch Dogs: Legion — an open-world epic set in a ‘What If?’ London in the near future where government has been superceded by a private military firm which rules by force. It’s a police state surrounded by high-tech drones and driverless cars. It’s truly terrifying when it hits you this could be not a million miles from where the country is going. But hey, that’s for future me to worry about because I am going to have fun just now hacking drones, blasting round the streets of London on café racers and just generally sticking it to the man. Watch Dogs: Legion delivers all this in spades.
The series has had a bumpy road. From the over-promised original game to the too-cool-for-school sequel, there has been a real Marmite edge to it. But the guys and girls at Ubisoft may have cracked it with Legion. The main thing it brings to the table is a real game-changer — you don’t play as one hero, instead you play as a city of them (well, sort of, as you can “technically” recruit anyone you see in the world to fight with you and DedSec). It’s a really interesting idea as no two characters are the same. Each has different skills and abilities and the key is building a well-rounded crew that complements your playing style. If you’re going for stealth then team up with hackers and spies. If you’re going loud you’ll want hitmen and football hooligans with you. But this system comes at a price. If you play the game right you’ll have permadeath on, which mean if you die you’ll lose that operator. But, fear not, there is a city of new recruits to sell the dream of uprising to.
To get each new recruit on side you’ll have to likely complete a mission for them outside the core-game tale of freeing London (which is, oddly, really forgettable when we think about it). There are hundreds of thousands of missions and so far in our recruitment drive we have yet to see a doubler, which is a real surprise. The game plays like a Watch Dogs title so you’ll explore London hacking systems and causing anarchy, all while picking up an endless number of collectables (like any standard Ubisoft game). Visually the game is very impressive. London feels like a city that lives and breathes under the heel (for now). For the most part, the voice acting is solid though a few are a bit misplaced at times — there is a real smorgasbord of accents on show. And then there’s the swearing, which would make Roy Chubby Brown blush. Watch Dogs: Legion adds a new element to open-world gaming in the play-as-anyone mechanic and sets it in a city many will know as you battle to liberate each of the London boroughs and their people. Yes, it can be a little rough at times but that doesn’t stop it being a must-play.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
HALLOWEEN may be over for another year but that doesn’t mean the scares are getting packed away. The masters of all things virtual horror, UK firm Supermassive Games, have just dropped the second instalment of The Dark Pictures Anthology. And after the mixed reception to the first instalment Man of Medan, hopes are high that Little Hope will polish out the issues and deliver a real frightfest. Just like the first game there is a bit of star power behind this tale as Will Poulter of The Revenant and Midsommar fame takes a leading role. The tale sees a group of college students stuck in the abandoned New England town of Little Hope. They have to find their missing bus driver and escape but that’s going to be easier said than done as things go bump in the night. You wander around the town trying to complete a number of different tasks and find information to move things forward. The key word is wander as there are times where you honestly have no idea what you’re meant to be looking for.
It’s broken up with flashbacks to a witch trial which took place in the town in 1692. To avoid spoilers we’ll leave the tale there — but we will say the payoff was better than Man of Medan. A big part of the game is bonding with the cast and spending time developing their relationships as, like the first time round, your choices can impact the tale as a whole. A point we remember well from having Shawn Ashmore killed off in Man of Medan before the second act. So you really have to think how and what you answer during your chatting time. Also like previous Supermassive Games, sometimes all that stands between you and death is a quick time event. Although the window of time needed for these split-second moments has been lengthened — a welcome change, although they may be a bit too easy now. We’re hard to please.
Also making a return is the excellent co-op mode which sees you teaming up with a buddy and picking your own paths. This can not only cause conflict between yourselves but also in the game. Or you could join in on the couch with up to five mates by playing pass the pad if the real world horror of Covid-19 ever ends. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is a fun evening that has its fair share of jump scares and moments. But like Man of Medan, the tale just lacks real bite. Hopefully the next part of the anthology, House of Ashes, can sort this.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £24.99)
THE side-scrolling beat ’em up is having a bit of a revival just now with the likes of Streets of Rage 4 and River City Girl so having an angle that makes you stand out in the crowd is getting harder. So for their newest game, Russian developers Sobaka Studio have looked to the Far East for inspiration and classic 70s kung-fu flicks. However, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin tries to deliver eastern promise but falls a little bit short of that killer one-inch punch. You fill the bamboo sandals of Wei Cheng, whose family and friends are murdered in a pirate raid on his village. And that sets you out on a path of revenge as you battle your way through 1500s China after meeting a group of legendary Shaolin monks who teach you how to really kick ass. It’s an OK tale (not mind-blowing) but it does help to give you a sense of what you’re doing instead of just rolling from one fight to the next. Plus if you have ever seen a 70s kung-fu movie you’ll be hit by a strong vibe of them, from the tale and graphical style to the hammy voice acting.
As you battle your way across the game, 25 different levels are always swapping your backdrop. That helps keep things feeling fresh. Combat is a simple affair as you chain combos together made from three different attacks. Although you learn more moves as you go and level up the whole thing is a bit slow and stiff and makes fighting a grind at times. Basically, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a brawler that tries to embody classic kung-fu cinema and the end result is a real mixed bag which lacks that killer hit.
DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods – Part One (Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia, £15.74)
DOOM Eternal was like a brutal slap to the face when it landed earlier this year. It took all the elements of the 2016 reboot and added to it in every way to make a fast, frantic and over-the-top FPS even better. Now the DLC has landed — but in an interesting move Bethesda have decided to split The Ancient Gods into two parts, with the second planned for later down the line. This is a very different beast from the core game as it’s built around three HUGE levels that can easily take over an hour to complete — and that’s if you’re extremely good at the game. The levels are an interesting grouping. The first sees you on an offshore oil rig (and, yes, Doom Guy does get his feet wet) but there’s a real focus on combat here. The second marsh level sees you doing a bit more exploring with Doom’s take on platforming while dodging the local plant life. And the third level is a mix of both really. The game wastes no time in throwing you headfirst back into the action as you have to quickly remember all the skills and abilities.
Given time and more than a few reloads it’ll start coming back to you but even your past skills may not cut the mustard here as you’ll have to go above them. With this being a direct continuation from the core game you start off with your full arsenal of toys bar The Crucible. The combat is as smooth as ever and there are a few new enemies. The pick of those are the sprites who really mix things up the most. They can super-power standard enemies but to kill the sprite you need to go all Ghostbusters on it as it will move from host to host when you kill them unless you use your alt fire on the plasma rifle. The Ancient Gods Part 1 is more of what fans want. It’s that simple, rock-solid combat with a few new ideas but, beware, it’s devastatingly hard —like getting 12 rapid punches to the head from Anthony Joshua. Brutal, but also brilliant.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…