Scotch Corner – Happier Times

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 2nd September 2018.

 

Mugsters (Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, £9.99)

IF you need people to hold your hand and help you through games then move along please . . . nothing to see here.  If you enjoy puzzles and challenges that give you no clues then you and Finnish studio Reinkout Games are going to get on well.  They have produced Mugsters.  It has a deep end and you are invited to jump in.

The storyline is wafer thin, so no clues there.  You basically have to save people, collect crystals and kill aliens that have invaded the planet.  That’s your lot.  Reinkout don’t reckon you should get any more info than that.  The rest is up to you.  You will have to travel to various islands to face off against the aliens and do random side missions like lining up a laser or flipping a number of switches.  You get a drawn-out view of the islands where your characters are tiny, which is a neat twist.  Then each island throws up some interesting options — with cars, trucks or planes suddenly giving you food for thought on how to progress.  But the game never really reveals itself.  It never drops its defences.

At its core it’s a kind of puzzler and you’ll spend the early levels trying to work out what is going on and what could kill you.  Then it ramps things up and becomes much more of a challenge.  You can play the co-op game, which helps you find out how things work across the 24 main levels and the bonus ones that unlock after you complete the missions like collecting crystals or saving humans.  The game has a very clean and crisp style that is bursting with prime colours — although it would have been nice to be able to zoom in on the action at times.  As for music . . . well, there isn’t any beyond a track on the menu screen and that is a really odd choice.   So the sound effects are the only noises you will get to hear.  It all adds up to an intriguing game that is tough to master.  There are a variety of challenges to conquer and many of them are unexpected.  And they all get tougher the further you go.  That certainly means it doesn’t go stale because it keeps chucking new stuff at you — it’s just that you are never sure why.

Score: 4/5

We Happy Few (Xbox, PS4 and PC, £47.99)

THERE is nothing worse than a really interesting tale that doesn’t get the game to match.  And if you were handing out raspberries for the effort then Compulsion Games would have a full punnet for We Happy Few.  You fill the boots of three characters — Arthur Hastings, Sally Boyle and Ollie Starkey — who live in a world where Germany won World War II.  So far so good.  The core of the tale is in 1960’s Britain, but not one you may remember (if you are old enough) or you might imagine (if you are a bit younger).  It is a state-run country where everyone is forced to take a drug called “joy”.  As the name suggests it gets everyone happy . . . and makes them forget the past.

First up, you are Arthur — a redactor at a newspaper company where he selects what news the public can read.  It’s all a bit George Orwell and 1984.  Events force Arthur into not taking his drug as he bids to find his brother and the truth behind what is happening.  The first tale in We Happy Few is the longest of the three — clocking in at over the 10-hour mark, while Sally and Scot Ollie are just over five hours.  They each provide a new challenge which keeps things interesting and adds a sense of urgency to the game.  They overlap at times which is also a nice touch.  But then you get the gameplay and everything goes flat.

We Happy Few

It aims for a Bioshock style but falls short partly because of the procedurally generated world.  It should be a good game, but you end up with an endless stream of streets filled with the same five or six non-player characters.  This is an open-world action adventure with a splash of survival gameplay thrown in.  The main trick is the stealth, but you’ll need to follow the rules — like wearing certain clothes in some areas or acting a particular way in others.  It can be a real pain.  The skill tree that can remove that issue simply makes you run from point to point.  It’s like there is no middle — everyone either wants you dead or they don’t care what you do.

The combat is also a bit hit and miss.  The melee focus is OK as you block and swing at the heads of attackers, but nine times out of 10 you’ll find yourself getting swamped.  Running away is your only option — and we don’t like that.  The crafting system is a relief as it lets you create items to save the mission, so make sure you search everywhere.  The lovely art style is ruined by the framerate yo-yo.  The texture pops and interactive objects don’t interact.  We were forced to reload several times.

The biggest buzz was the soundtrack — the 60’s- inspired tunes and the biggest range of UK accents we’ve seen in a game are highlights.  We Happy Few should be a hit.  The tongue-in-cheek humour and the attempt to tackle dark subjects like drug use, depression, the meaning of family, deserve better.

Score: 2.5/5

Battle Zones

TOTAL War fans have been a bit twitchy recently — the 12th game in the mega series is out next year and they can’t wait.  Creative Assembly and Sega have been teasing them with Three Kingdoms titbits, but they want real news . . . so we went to Gamescom in Germany and tracked down senior game designer Dom Starr and Pete Stewart, the writer and narrative designer.  First up, the game is based in China in 190 CE.  Stewart said:

“In a lot of ways it’s the perfect setting for a Total War game.  The geography is dynamic and vibrant, which is what we like in a campaign map, and in terms of content it is one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in history with 13 million to 14 million people dying.  That is great for the scale of warfare we want to show, but also the dynamic characters and the events help create the backdrop we want.”

Starr admits the team aim to get the history as close to perfection as they can.  He added:

“Every encounter within the game is steeped in historical accuracy from the variety of units, the weapons they use, the tactics to the buildings that make up the cities and the culture at the time.  But there is also a bit based on the romanticised vision of the history which is reflected in popular classical Chinese literature.”

Stewart added:

“The sandbox nature of the game lends itself to the player creating their own narrative but we have the rich source that is the romantic three kingdoms and the history.  So while there are events and missions that may hint at the direction the player could take, it’s by no means binding.  We think of it as giving you the tools for your own story and you can use them any way you want.”

The game will be a typically weighty campaign.  Stewart said:

“We aim for the sweet spot between 150 and 250 terms.  Term length may vary but it is into the tens of hours.  You can still jump in and take a few turns and manage your economies or play a custom battle and not touch the campaign or sandbox.”

Multi-player also plays a key role, but it could lead to an eSports revolution.  Starr admitted:

“The Campaign can be two players facing off or working together to find how the world evolves.  We make it possible to have players come together and battle so it’s 2v2 or 2v the AI.”

Stewart added:

“In my opinion I don’t think eSports is impossible.  You see DOTA and Legend which have a strategic element and we also have Total War Arena which does lot of tournaments.  I have also seen tournaments of the likes of Rome 2 in the past and I find it always fascinating to watch.  They are always better at the game than I am so, yes, maybe in the future.”

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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