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 23rd August 2020.
Marvel’s Avengers (Xbox One, PS4 , PC and Stadia)
CRYSTAL Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers is heading our way at the end of next month but to help build hype and to give fans a taste the firm are running a beta test. After a number of closed/limited access sessions this weekend, we’ll see the beta going free to play for all. We were lucky enough to jump in on one of the closed session to see how things are shaping up. And the beta is a very generous look into the title. You get to play the expo demo from last year before diving into a vertical slice of mission and gameplay with the cast. The beta mainly focuses on Hulk and Ms Marvel in a story sense. Being Hulk is tonnes of fun, smashing the place up and facing off against bad guy Abomination.
But once the story side is done you jump into a number mission that will see you and three mates team up as the Avengers — although Captain America and Thor were missing in action with Iron Man, Black Widow, Ms Marvel and Hulk taking the stage. It was still great fun as each has different powers and skills. The beta also showed that loot will play a part in the game, as well as earning skill points to level up your character. That hints at gearing the fighting style to your taste. Marvels Avengers beta was a deep dive into the upcoming main event. It was fun and hinted that a really good game is on the way.
EA Sports UFC 4 (Xbox One and PS4, £54.99)
EA have been climbing into the octagon for a good few years now with their official UFC series. It is now on its fourth instalment after first appearing in 2014 — but will this new outing be just an update or have the team at Vancouver built of the solid foundations of the past? Well, right off the bat, the game could easily have been built with just the hardcore fans in mind, like so many sports titles now, which take for granted that you’ll know everything and what’s going on right away. But UFC 4 actually feels more accessible than past efforts and actually tries to show and teach you how its complex systems work. This is a HUGE plus as it would be easy for the game to just deep dive into the brawling world without teaching newcomers the ropes. And where UFC 3 was a huge shake-up to the series in terms of changing the game’s striking system, UFC 4 doesn’t quite make the same power moves as the last instalment. Instead, it tweaks and polishes the systems that were set in motion last time out, making it all more natural and organic feeling.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table as it has reworked the submission system. It has been split into two mini-games — one for choke and the other for joint submissions where you have to fill up a bar to submit or escape depending what side of the lock you are on. Also worth a shoutout is the new grapple asset system which is designed to teach you what you can and can’t do when you hit the mat. Again, this is a good thing as it improves the overall accessibility — the game takes care of all the transition, leaving you to learn what moves you can take to get to the all-important submission. But don’t fear, hardcore fans. You can play the game with the legacy control scheme, which is a full-on kick to the head, or you can go for a cheeky hybrid system that is a bit like the best of both worlds.
But for all the good that’s been done there is one area that could (and really should) have seen a bit more work — and that’s on the deck. It still lacks real impact when yo’re whaling on an opponent — it’s more a guessing game than a test of skill when online trying to guess the next transitions as the hand indicators are removed. Away from the core mechanics, the game has a solid selection of modes. Career is worth a whirl — especially if you’re totally new to the game as it wraps a so-so tale around an in-depth tutorial which sees you failing and getting coached back to strength before hitting the UFC circuit and climbing the ranks. And on the whole, it all plays the same as UFC 3 — although the fighter evolution system is a cracking addition which sees you levelling up the more you use them. This not only makes you try new things but also lets you custom your brawler to your taste. Also worth mentioning is that the Ultimate Team mode has been binned. This is another HUGE plus as it was a microtransaction fuel mode in UFC 3 that wasn’t wanted or needed. In its absence there a few new modes, but nothing quite as weighty as it was originally hoped.
Visually the game looks good and is packed with details. It uses its official license to the max with very impressive likenesses on show from the UFC’s current roster. Even more impressive is when you’re beating seven bells out them. It’s not a huge jump overall from UFC 3 but still solid. It’s true that UFC 4 isn’t a huge leap forward for the series. It’s more of a refinement with some core system tweaks and improvements to accessibility. It delivers a hard-hitting blow often but falls just short from being the undisputed champion.
IT’S been a while since we last saw an EA Fight Night game. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see UFC 4 getting two bonus boxers who are very much heavyweight contenders. Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua have joined the roster to provide the ultimate “what-if fight” for now until we get the real thing between the two titans. Both Fury and Joshua are free to download just now for the game.
Drown Tactile Earphones (£155)
WHEN you think of gaming audio, odds are the likes of Astro and Turtle Beach will come to mind but there is a new kid on the block looking to shake things up. Drown are an Edinburgh-based company who have their eyes set on challenging the big boys in the audio gaming world with their own innovated-designed earphones — and while they may not look like much, believe us, they pack a real punch. The Scots firm used crowdfunding to help get their new earphones off the ground — and after after raising £33,964 from 401 backers the first set of earphones are now available. We were lucky enough to get some hands-on time with an early prototype unit a few years back, which didn’t have all the bells and whistles of the final build, but even at an early stage the audio performance did not disappoint so hopes were high for the full-fat production version.
First thing that hits you when you have them in hand is that the box says ‘Designed in Scotland’. Nice touch. Once you open the box you are greeted with the earphones and an array of rubber cups (more on that later) plus an eight-step fitting guide, as it’s not as easy to use as you would think. . . at first. You will have to spend some time dialling them in to your personal fit (which is where the four sets of rubber cups come in) and you’ll have to play around with them. If you’re like us, you’ll more than likely head to YouTube as the earphone actually LOCKS onto your ear. It’s a struggle to get fitted the first few times but you soon get the hand of it. When locked in place they are very lightweight, which is surprising given the overall size, and you soon forget they are even there. We have been playing with them for a good few weeks now across a number of titles — Last of Us 2, Call of Duty Warzone, Rouge Company and Tetris 99 — and they never miss a beat, both online and offline, and raised the overall audio across the board. They create a solid sound sphere with real depth to it, which helps with find out where the bad guys are coming from so you can get the jump on them.
Overall sound was rich and booming with a real sense of depth as it picked up hidden audio levels we had never heard before. Now, if you’re looking for technical reasons why this all happens then head over to Drown’s website where you can fill your boots on the how’s and whys with tonnes of technical jargon and textbook-style diagrams (acoustic waveguides, bone and cartilage conduction, spatial awareness, etc). In short these earphones are great at what they do on the audio front. They also come with a bendy plug-in mic . Though the real question the £155 price tag — is it enough to fight off the other headsets at that price point? Honestly, the high standard and quality of audio is very impressive and they work well across all systems. Drown’s earphones are very different to anything else on the market due to its tech. If you’re looking for something different, check them out.
MARK O’Callaghan, the founder of Drown, started out as an independent filmmaker and audio engineer before turning his focus to the world of gaming sound and creating his earphones — but he reveals he had the idea brewing for some time. He says:
“The idea came from the design of custom-made in-ear monitors which use balanced armature drivers capable of delivering a monitor-like audio quality. If you have a set with multiple drivers then bass and treble can be added, but they do not produce much vibration due to their size. As an independent video producer/video and audio editor, I have worn many earphones in the editing suite, and they all became uncomfortable after hours of use. I always wanted something I could wear for eight or 12 hours straight and still be comfortable. I made the first pair of tactile earphones for myself, and drew the concepts by combining the following custom-moulded silicone hearing protectors as the delivery system for the audio wave. I was extremely fortunate that the first time I fabricated a set, the result was remarkable and unique enough that it inspired me to keep trying to improve it. There was no thought on making them on a large commercial scale as each pair took me a couple of hours to sculpt, so it was mostly for my own use.”
But Mark admits nailing the tech was the easy part — it was the manufacturing side that was a real challenge. He says:
“The tech side was figured out five years ago. The manufacturing side has been a much more difficult process. It took almost eight years from the first prototype, for us to develop a way of making the different size seals. It was really important that we perfected the technique before we could consider producing them on a large scale.”
Given the price point of Drown earphones, they are in league with the likes of the Astro 40s — but Mark doesn’t fear the challenge. He says:
“The biggest selling point compared to any headset at any price point is the radical new experience delivered by Drown’s new approach to audio hardware and the tactile delivery system. You can finally feel like you are actually there, in the worlds of your favourite games. Every other headset on the market today uses hardware that has been around for decades.”
But Mark admits the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the firm’s plans but he is proud his team have overcome the challenges to deliver the earphones to the market. He adds:
“The world situation has been terribly difficult for everyone on so many levels. For Drown, our partners in China shut down in February which delayed our promised delivery date. Our head of our design/engineering team, Joe MacKechnie, has been instrumental in delivering the product to market. He has unfortunately been unable to visit the China factory onsite to do our own quality control. However, our team still managed to deliver an outstanding first product during lockdown.”
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…