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 13th January 2019.
Forza Horizon 4: Fortune Island (Xbox One and PC, £15.99)
YOUR mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow the Game Of The Year with a spellbinding DLC. Fortunately for Forza fans, the Playground Games dev team were up for the fight. Unfortunately for Forza fans, the size of the task was just too big. The first Horizon 4 expansion pack, Fortune Island, takes the action away from the UK and onto a island that could easily pass as being off the coast of Shetland or Orkney. It is a stunning location with a real mix of coastal and rural A roads snaking across the island — these are some of the best drifting roads ever seen in a Horizon game. And that is a tick in any Forza fan’s box. Add in a new sky box where the Aurora Borealis lights up the night sky, and a storm weather system and Playground have crafted a fun and welcoming new site.
As for gameplay, you don’t break something as successful as Forza. Of course the aim is to race to be crowned champion through a number of race types across the island. All the usual ones are there, but a few new ones have been thrown in for good measure. Think point-to-point events where you have to get there to the finish any way you can — and all within a set time. But therein lies the dilemma. If you’re a fan then you’ll have done all this before — many times across the series. There is nothing that will blow your mind. The best chance is the new treasure hunt system where there are 10 hidden chests, each containing a cool million credits. You simply have to solve a riddle by doing something in the world like setting a drift goal or a jump in a certain car and then you’ll be shown an area where the loot can be found. It’s a fun addition to the game and walking away with 10 million credits at the end is a great way to help unlock core content as well buying castles or certain high-end rides.
You’ll also get a few new cars for the treasure hunts, in addition to the fleet that comes with the expansion pack. They include an interesting mix of off-road monsters and full-on hypercars such as the 2002 Koenigsegg CC8S and Ram 1500 Rebel TRX Concept. There is a lot to like about Fortune Island, but there is a real feeling of “been there, done that” at times — especially if you put time into the past titles’ expansion, Storm Island. It is just more of the same, which is great in one way, but it never really goes anywhere. After Horizon 3’s mind-blowing Hot Wheels expansion, fans were eager to see where the new game would go. Hopes and expectations were high. Instead of hitting it out the park, it seems that Playground have played it safe.
Newcomers will have a ball and enjoy every minute, but long-term fans will suffer those déjà vu moments and will ultimately feel a bit short-changed. Yes, there are new elements but the shine soon fades after you bag your new riches. Unless you’re a drift nut, your time here may be limited. That said, Fortune Island is a perfect weekend break. Just don’t go house hunting there.
Who Said There Were No More Heroes?
GOICHI Suda is the king of cool and razor sharp — the Quentin Tarantino of the gaming world. The 51-year-old from Japan — more commonly known as Suda 51 — has been a designer, writer and director as he has crafted cult classics such as Shadow Of The Dammed, B-movie pulp Lollipop Chainsaw and the No More Heroes series. Like Tarantino, Suda goes big and brassy. His latest game, Travis Strikes Again, is out on January 18 exclusively for the Switch, and I was granted access to the inner sanctum to chat to the games guru . . . He said:
“The game takes place seven years after the second game, but it doesn’t have Travis fighting against assassins so it won’t be a numbered entry to the mainline series. It’s more of a spin-off.”
But, in a bold move, it is also a prep step for a new No More Heroes game. Suda added:
“The outline for No More Heroes 3 has been created so if Travis Strikes Again is a success it will lead directly to the creation of the third game. Travis is up against some really crazy enemies, so he needs some new powers and to power himself up and he goes into video games to get them.”
The first challenge was setting a game within a game, but Suda reckons his team stepped up to the plate. He added:
“It really challenged the team to come up with lots of different styles of gameplay within a single game. Usually, you create one style then build on that throughout the game. Here, they were creating six all-new and completely different styles. It allowed them to do a lot of stuff they could never do before. The biggest change is that Travis isn’t fighting living assassins. He’s not fighting flesh and blood, he’s in a game world fighting with dots and pixels — the lack of gore will be a big change from the past games in the series.”
The perfectionist also worked with Nintendo to maximise the game on the Switch. He added:
“Nintendo showed me the Switch when it was still called the NX. The biggest thing I took away was the Joy-cons. They really inspired the development — the team said they would be great for local multiplayer. We wanted to do something like that.”
Travis’s battle in the gaming world gave the team the chance to shine the spotlight on the indie community — with a string of T-shirts to wear in-game. Suda admitted:
“About three years ago I got the opportunity to visit PAX festivals more often. That let me get hands-on with a lot of indie games as well meeting and making friends with a lot of developers and creators in the indie scene. I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the creators were influenced and inspired to make cutting-edge games by playing some of the games I had made. So I started talking to some about whether they would be interested in T-shirt collaborations within Travis Strikes Again. It was hard to negotiate with a few of them but most were really up for it.”
Suda’s indie passion became central to the core of the story. He said:
“The biggest inspiration is that Travis is a gamer so he is focused on the indie scene. Those PAX trips really inspired me — I wanted Travis to go through the same sort of experience. Another big inspiration was Boneface, an artist who works in Liverpool. He make these awesome character designs which also inspired how the world came together.”
The tale also helps to develop Travis as a character. He now lives in a trailer and has less contact with his handler, Sylvia, than in the past game. But Suda has not gone soft. The “Tarantino” effect is still strong in the new game. Suda games are known for their outstanding boss battles. Strap yourself in for some more . . . He added:
“I think people should be very excited about the boss fights — they are all based of Boneface’s character designs so they will be coming to life and fighting. Even though the camera isn’t going to be super-zoomed in and close up, the fights are going to be a lot of fun and very different. Even I am taken back by how enjoyable they are when I play test the game.”
TRAVIS Strikes Again is a Switch exclusive and that opens up a string of possibilities for one of Suda’s greatest characters. Could Travis make a guest appearance in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros Ultimate? Suda refuses to rule it out. He admitted:
“I would love it but this may just be a dream just now. Maybe he could be a good candidate for the next Smash game. If he was going to be in Ultimate he would have likely been confirmed by now I think. But Travis Strikes Again has a low price point and I think it’s a great chance for a new generation to be introduced to Travis and get behind him. That is what you need to get a character into Smash.”
So could Grasshopper Manufacture break with their traditional fight vision to adopt a Smash style? Suda said:
“That would be real fun but what I would love to see is a 1v1 fighter like some of the Arc System Works games. My top four dream fights would have to be Travis, Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw, Garcia from Shadows Of The Damned and Dan Smith from Killer 7. If I was to pick just a 1v1 fight it would have to be Travis v Garcia.”
Atari Retro Handheld (£34.99)
MINI-CONSOLES are all the rage just now — and a big helping of retro magic makes things even better. Sega, Nintendo and Sony have all grabbed a slice of the nostalgia pie — now it is Atari’s turn. Their Handheld Console puts an Atari 2600 in your hands. You get 50 pre-loaded games. All good, but the competition is tough.
The first thing that hits you is the overall build and feel. It is more inspired by the 2600 than a direct copy so there is a neat fake wood effect and textured black plastic finish. It really does have a retro feel. The 2.4in screen isn’t the biggest, but it does the job. The buttons feel OK although the d-pad is a tad spongy. The sound is what you would expect and, if you have an AV cable, plug it into your TV and play it though. That is a neat touch, but the cable is not included with the console.
In an interesting move the console doesn’t have a built-in battery. You have to find four AAs to power up. That is old school and it adds a fair weight to the unit. There is also a Plug-and-Play Joystick version which is built for TV play. It has the same games and is a fiver cheaper . . . but you can’t exactly lug your TV around on the bus. The X factor will be the games. You get a real mixed bag of classics and duds, but bear in mind that the Atari 2600 is 42 years old and gaming has moved on a long way since then. Hits? Asteroids, Centipede and Missile Command. All addictive and fun. Duds? Golf, bowling and chess. Oh my. Best left untouched.
If you had an Atari 2600 when it first came out then you will get goosebumps playing with this console, but it is hard to see which modern young gamers would be tempted. In a world of Fortnite and Pokemon Go, the youngsters won’t go for it. That is a shame.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…