Scotch Corner – Fighting for Your Time

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 24th February.

 

Apex Legends (Xbox, PS4 and PC, Free to Play)

IT’S no secret ‘Battle Royale’ games are a BIG hit.  From Call of Duty’s Blackout to the reigning champion Fortnite, gamers of all ages love the format.  But it’s time for a new challenger for the throne as EA and Respawn Entertainment have just released Apex Legends.  This FREE TO PLAY shooter sees you pick one of eight different heroes, each with their own skills and abilities.  Bloodhound has the power to spot enemies through walls while Bangalore can call in powerful airstrikes. Impressive.  But this isn’t a lone wolf affair.  You are teamed up with two other players as you fight it out with ANOTHER 20 three-man teams to be crowned top squad.  And it’s this hook that sees the real focus of the game shine through — it’s all about teamwork.

Running off alone will only see you greeted with a respawn screen sooner rather than later.  To help with the teamwork side the game has an outstanding conductive ping system which lets you tag anything in the world for your team to see.  Spot ammo, tag it.  Spot a cool gun, tag it.  You get the picture.  It’s pretty slick.  Another big difference over other ‘Battle Royale’ titles is that if a teammate falls you can grab a chip from their body and run to a respawn point dotted around the good-sized map (made up of different style areas) and bring them back to life.

Graphically the game looks and feels like Titanfall (no bad thing) and the sound is solid throughout with a good level of voice acting.  So far Apex Legends has made a huge impact.  It has knocked Fortnite of top spot as the most-viewed game on Twitch as well as boasting over 25 million players so far.  It’s early days but this looks like the next big thing.

Score: 4.5/5

Kingdom Hearts III (Xbox and PS4, £49.99)

THERE is nothing worse than having to wait for something — and if you are a Kingdom Hearts fan it’s been an arduous 17-year journey to get to the final instalment.  But sometimes the wait is worth it.  Kingdom Hearts III is an epic crossover between JRPG masters, Square Enix, and the house of mouse, Disney.  Hardcore fans will be eager to get stuck back into the adventure and I’d advise newcomers to jump onboard too.

The game sees you filling the boots of series hero Sora who is out to save, well, everyone and is aided by classic Disney characters Donald Duck and Goofy.  We suggest heading to YouTube to watch a few complete recap videos (which often run well over the half-hour) as there is a LOT of story here.  It’s easy to get lost and really not understand what’s going on.  But that said, heading to each Disney-themed world is a joy — Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tangled and Hercules to name but a few — and each really does have that trademark House of Mouse charm as you meet iconic characters and help them with their own individual tales (which are way easier to understand than the main one).

Combat is bags of fun, if a little easy, as you wield your key blade and cast a host of different spells.  There are also tonnes of mini games and activities in each world to keep you busy when not pushing the tale forward.  Graphically the game is amazing — it’s as simple as that.  Soundtrack and voices are also outstanding throughout too.  Kingdom Hearts III is the end of a tale fans have been waiting for.  For newcomers — stick with it and this is a joyful game.  And if you’re a Disney fan you’ll have a blast catching up with old friends.

Score: 4.5/5

Master Ex-Chief

MICROSOFT maestro Joseph Staten has been one of the lynchpins behind the Halo series — but has insisted he WON’T be heading back.  He said:

“The team at 343 Industries is doing terrific work and, these days, I’m happy just being a fan of the franchise.  It’s been terrific to play the remastered versions of the original Halo games and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it with Halo: Infinite.”

Halo and Joseph’s latest project, Crackdown, will always be linked after the first game was made the exclusive gateway to playing the Halo 3 beta in 2007.  But Joseph told me he has kicked back the idea that Halo actually set up the Crackdown success story.  He said:

“Certainly, the beta for Halo 3 helped draw a larger audience to Crackdown but the original game absolutely stood on its own as a terrific action-platformer with a unique, over-the-top, sandbox experience.  I fell in love with Crackdown back when I was working on Halo 3 and it’s been a real pleasure helping to bring the newest game to life.”

Joseph also likes the comic series link.  He added:

“The comic book story takes place right before the events of Crackdown 3, during a devastating Blackout attack in San Reno.  We’re always looking for ways to tie extended universe stories together, so San Reno is actually the setting of one of the Wrecking Zone multiplayer maps—and you can see the Blackout attack taking place as you play the game.  This kind of connectivity makes the world feel deeper and more cohesive.”

But he insisted the links with actor Terry Crews won’t lead to silver-screen action.  He said:

“We’re excited to release the four-issue comic, but we aren’t sharing any other franchise plans at this time.”

It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

IMITATION is the sincerest form of flattery…or so they say.  The team behind Far Cry certainly got the point when rival post-apocalyptic first person shooter Rage 2 issued a very similar marketing poster ahead of the game’s launch.  Ubisoft Montreal narrative director James Nadiger insisted they got the joke, but all the games had to find their own identity.  He said:

“That Rage 2 poster gave us all a good chuckle.  The cool thing about the apocalypse genre is that everyone gets to put their own signature spin on it.  For Far Cry, that’s a lawless, but colourful open world, filled with dangerous predators, strange people, and random dangers as you take up the fight against Mickey and Lou.”

The crew always planned for the game to be a standalone sequel in the series, with the ability to attract newcomers to the fun.  James added:

“Far Cry New Dawn was always designed to be a “standalone sequel” to Far Cry 5, with a new player character, a new story, and new villains in Mickey and Lou.  We wanted everyone to be able to jump in and enjoy this game, even if you’ve never played FC5 or any other game in the series.”

Part of the development was creating new challenges.  James explained:

“We’re excited to introduce several new gameplay features — light RPG mechanics in our weapons and enemies, players can craft stronger weapons and we also have outpost escalation and expeditions, which are replayable challenges where players can get the best crafting materials and rewards.”

He added:

“When we decided that one of the endings of Far Cry 5 – which was centred around a doomsday cult – would actually be an end-of-the-world scenario, we got very excited.  It opened the door to take the series into the post-apocalypse, which we’ve wanted to do for some time now, and also gave us a chance to re-visit old friends but in a drastically different set of circumstances.”

The team also decided to ring the changes on the gameplay and maps.  Hope County no longer has a large population and the devastation is obvious.  James said:

“Mother Nature has reclaimed the space aggressively.  In addition, people are forced to build makeshift shelters using anything they can, which further transforms the scenery.”

He added:

“It’s a lot of fun to see how the locations have changed.  So much so that we actually included a side mission where you hold up photographs of what places used to look like before the Collapse.”

Far Cry: New Dawn (Xbox, PS4 and PC, £37.99)

THE post-apocalypse is all the rage just now in gaming.  Not wanting to miss out, Ubisoft has given their Far Cry series an end-of-the world makeover with New Dawn.  But with it being less than a year since the last full-fat Far Cry game and the number of fun DLCs that came with it the question is: is it too soon for another standalone title in the much-loved series?  Spoiler warning…

…New Dawn takes part some 17 years after the events of Far Cry 5 which saw nukes being dropped on the US.  The first thing that hits you is it’s such a short time since the bombs drop to be returning to the world as most titles like this are set hundreds of years after cataclysmic events.  But it does mean that there are a number of returning characters this time out from Far Cry 5 who have aged and lived through the nuking.

You fill the boots of a voiceless hero known only as Captain.  He is the right-hand man of Thomas Rush, who is a bit of a hero in the world as he helps the needy and rebuilds towns.  But all is not well in Hope County as a gang of outlaws called the Highwaymen rule the land led by twins Mickey and Lou.  While travelling to Hope County to help, Rush’s train is attacked by the twins and things go sideways.  From there it all kicks off as you fight to liberate the county and stop the twins in that signature Far Cry way.

As tales go it’s OK but not one of the best in the series.  The twins are good enemies but lack the ultimate bad guy vibe you got from past bosses.  Think more Pagan Min and less Vaas and you get the gist.  On the gameplay front, there is a definite Far Cry 5 feel (no bad thing) and it’s ultimately just a re-skin of last year’s release but the team at Ubisoft has added a few new mechanics to freshen things up.  You still do all the staple actions from main to side missions, as well as recruiting buddies to fight along with you, but you will spot the map is a good bit smaller than the main one in Far Cry 5.

In an interesting move the game now has an RPG damage system so each weapon can do X damage and some enemies will just soak up your fire and laugh.  It’s a strange feeling as it sees you having to find resources to upgrade to get to the high-tier weapons that do the real damage.  This system does mean that at times you’ll face enemies you can’t really kill.  This impacts on the new outpost system.  Once you have taken an outpost you can give it up to get some resources but with each return the enemies get stronger and then you need better guns.  You soon hit a wall that needs you to complete more side missions to get the gear needed to clear out the Level 3 elite baddies.  The perk system also returns — you’ll unlock new skills and abilities to help you get the upper hand in most fights — and there is a new tier of unlocks that makes you almost a superhero.  But this is linked to story and we’ll leave it at that.  The other big addition is the expeditions out of Hope County, which are fun.  They also give you a peek at how the nukes affected the rest of the US as well.

Graphically the game looks like Far Cry 5 but with the colour palette turned up to 12 as the “wasteland” is covered in lush growth and bursts of flowers.  Soundtrack-wise, it’s decent but not really a standout.  The voice acting is good with characters showing real emotions at times.  If you are a die-hard fan, odds are you’ll be playing it just now.  If you enjoyed Far Cry 5 this continues the journey, though you will feel like you have seen a lot of what’s on show already.  But that doesn’t affect the Far Cry fun factor, which is here in spades.  If anything it would have been nice for Ubisoft to mix up Hope County a bit more than what we got.  Maybe throw in a mutant or two.

Score: 4/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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