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 September.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £39.99)
COMPUTERS have been the proving ground for strategy games down the years, but they are now having more of an impact on consoles. Age Of Wonders: Planetfall has been developed by Dutch studio Triumph Studio and you take control of six factions waging war across the galaxy. It’s a fun blend of the standard 4X strategy staples, but with a few fun twists. We are very deep in the future where a number of races are battling for control after the fall of the mighty Star Union following the cataclysm.
Each faction has a campaign mission that reveals more about the race and their role on the larger stage. But then the game cuts you loose into an endless battle for power. Ranging from humans to cyborgs, you’ll find a race to suit your play style and there’s a good mix of heroes and units. The gameplay is two-fold. First, you command your troops, build your base and manage resources and growth in an overview where you can see things unfolding. But then you get up close and personal as the action switches to an X-com style battler where lines of sight are king and flanking can be the key to success.
Each faction has a very different flow of battle that often opens up new ways to attack — from melee rushes to bio viruses that can corrupt enemies into super-deadly monsters. However, you need to take your time to upgrade and tweak your troops ahead of a battle. There is a very healthy tech tree that gives you a wide array of powers to play with and they expand into letting you upgrade all areas of your base. The campaign map is a good size with lots of areas which will impact your growth and how you fight. It’s worth knowing that it’s procedurally generated so no two games will be the same. We like that.
When you are on the war path you run into the locals — which adds an interesting spin because you can do deals with them or wipe them out. Your decisions will affect the upgrades you get and how the game develops. Controls are a big thing in strategy games. Thankfully, these are clean, easy to understand and backed up by a well- designed UI. That is usually the historical bugbear for strategy games on the console rather than the PC mouse-and- keyboard system. From the outside, this seems a weighty title and you do need to do the hard yards to learn the best way round it. But it is well-paced and you get help. Don’t be afraid of being daunted. Embrace it.
PC Building Simulator (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £14.99)
THERE is a big thrill in unleashing your creative juices with a good sim. Over the years we have had everything from racing to firemen and even fishing and being a rock. So how could we resist PC Building Simulator? Yes, you read that right. Claudiu Kiss and the Irregular Corporation have teamed up to make a game about building computers. Now we know you want to get stuck into the gorefest further down the page, but stick with us.
PC Building Sim is a true oddity where you get to build your dream machine by using an array of fully licensed kit from the likes of Asus, Nvidia and Razer to name a few. But there is more to than just picking graphics cards and cases. You get a story mode where you run your own PC workshop and must do repair jobs to keep the lights on as well as enabling you to buy shiny new parts. In a lot of ways the story mode plays out in the same way as Car Mechanic Sim in that you get a steady flow of jobs to take care of. They add new gear and challenges to the mix and it is all strangely addictive as you aim to be the ultimate virtual IT guy.
But you also get to know a bit about the inner workings of a PC — it’s an interesting gateway into a world that is often very daunting. The well-rounded tutorials are great at showing you the ropes. Visually, this isn’t the most extreme title but it does have a nice real world style if it is a little a bit sterile. PC Building Simulator is one of the strangest games to hit consoles this year, but if you have a passion for PC building or are a real tech- head then this is the perfect chill title. If you want to see how to build a PC then it also does that job. Other than that, we’re afraid it’s a play-once-in- a-while title.
The Sinking City (Xbox One, PS4, Switch & PC, £49.99)
THERE are fun games then titles that hit you in the face like a bucket of ice cold water. Ukrainian studio Frogwares’ The Sinking City has heavy roots in the world of HP Lovecraft. He definitely seems to be flavour of the year as a game based on his dark tales seems to be released virtually every other month just now. But Sinking City cranks things up a level by throwing you into the shoes of a private eye trying to get to the bottom of a pulpy 1920s tale. It doesn’t take long for you to notice that things are not as they seem — you’ll chat to fish men and ape-like mob bosses.
You are Charles W Reed, a veteran navy diver who is hunting clues to the cause of terrifying visions he has been having. He travels to Oakmont, a city that is all but lost to the sea after a huge flood. Oakmont is an impressive location. You wander around on foot or in your trusty beat-up little boat and, as you’d expect in a flooded city, things are a bit grimy and there is a feeling of dread at every turn. There are plenty of threats hiding around the streets and you’ll need to see them off although the combat feature is not that slick. However, that’s just one side of this tale. The core will see you having to solve cases and get answers by quizzing people and hunting for clues.
But you are totally thrown in at the deep end — there are no helping hands here. Some will love that, but many gamers may be put off. You can use a power to get more information by going into a spirit-like realm which adds more depth to cases as well as giving you more to work out before you can come to a conclusion. It basically means you have to be your own jury and that adds a real depth to the proceedings because there is no truly right or wrong choices. It is a smoky grey. Having to track from area to area takes a far bit of time but, eventually, you can unlock a fast travel point. That’s probably where you will realise that the whole game has been a slow-burner. Mix that with the vague outline for the cases and you have a lot on your plate — ultimately, there is a lot of trial and error.
If you are able to stick in there then the game opens up but we reckon it is fair to say that many will have long given up the ghost by that time. If you do then it is a shame because the world and the tale are both compelling. It is just too open-ended for its own good as well as committing the greatest crime in gaming — not being a fair use of your time. A little help would have gone a long way to saving the day. It is a fresh take on HP Lovecraft’s much-loved works and, on paper, it should be fun. The reality is that it’s a slog unless you are truly desperate to be an amateur detective.
The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan (Xbox One, PS4 & PC, £24.99)
LIFE is all about choices and the direction you pick can echo long after the event. Guildford-based Supermassive Games love that notion in their games. And the Until Dawn firm has also been making a name for itself as the master of all horror. This is their next title off the production line and it looks to ramp things up to the next level. It is a collection of tales based around different horror themes. And it works best when you get online or gather the troops on the couch. The first tale is the Man Of Medan. Think Friday night, midnight, old-school horror movie and you know what’s in store. It’s a gripping if a bit predictable cinematic tale where a group of college kids are out looking for adventure and things soon go a lot wrong. To be fair, it’s a bit of a slow burner to start with. You have to bond with the gang then the action starts. There are plenty of jump scares and those choices.
As you pick your route, each decision sparks a different outcome ranging from failing jumps to cast members dying. And there are 69 ways to pop your clogs. Those choices are not all life and death, but they do help you create that bond with your gang. The characters who play the gang members are hardly household names — although they are headed by X-men star Shawn Ashmore. That doesn’t stop them putting in solid shifts and bringing some depth to their roles. When you’re not in the thick of it you’ll be having chats with The Curator — played by Pip Torrens. They actually turn out to be a kind of guide to your misadventure. He will not help you much but he does pass comment on your choices and he can give you a couple of helpful hints if you need them. But, beware, there is more to this genteel character than meets the eye. You’ll spot him in the background — adding to the mystery of who he really is. We are pretty certain he is going to have a bigger role in the coming instalments of the Anthology.
For all its cinematic polish, the playing side is a bit of a drag. Your character moves around like a plank of wood and it is very easy to get lost. However, the whole experience is better with friends — and the online side here is an absolute star. You and a friend pick your own paths and then you see how they play out across your joint tale in the shared story mode. Now, if you really want the full-fat fright night vibe grab a few mates on the couch and plug into the movie night mode. Up to five of you can play but it can quickly descend into a shouting match if you get a failed quick time event. This is an interesting first instalment for the anthology but it is bogged down with pacing issues across the five-hour run time. We also thought the tale was a bit signposted at times and that affects your replay value because you know the pay-off just not who’s going to get to it. But if you want a late-night thriller then it can be a scream.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…