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 17th May 2020.
Predator: Hunting Grounds (PS4 and PC, £20.99)
TAKE a beloved 80s sci-fi movie with one of the sliver screen’s most iconic monsters and turn it into an asymmetrical multiplayer. Cook up a story then you and three mates can drop into the meat grinder. Predator: Hunting Grounds is developed by IIIFonic who have done the hard yards when it comes to asymmetrical multiplayer and 80s movie licences. They cut their teeth on the Friday The 13th game. This is a game of two halves — you play as the big baddie or as a member of a four-man special ops team that finds it has been set up. On paper this should be a smash hit. It should be a no-brainer, but it actually falls really short of hitting the levels you expect.
The team is dropped into a random South American jungle with a number of objectives to achieve, like finding files or setting up spying kit and all while fighting the dumbest AI enemies we’ve seen in a game for a while. Succeed and you then have to get back to the chopper and get out. Easy. Err, no. One of the other players is the Predator and their goal is simple — hunt down and take out the team. And, just like the silver screen version, he’s packing all his toys and tricks. You would imagine that most players will be desperate to be the Predator, but you never feel as powerful as you should. The ops team can find you too easily. It seems the hunter is the hunted more often than not. That means the ultimate game of cat and mouse falls flat.
If you can’t split the ops team then the Predator will go down. Once that happens, the team can capture the body — starting a horde mode against the dumb AI. But if you are too slow then the Predator can set off his nuke. Then you are faced with running, or sticking around to try to defuse it. But we have never seen anyone successfully manage that. The more you play the more toys you’ll unlock which gives you some sort of goals. And kudos where it is due. The Predator really nails the movie vibe and the soundtrack is good. However, the ops team are more like CIA pencil-pushers than beasts. There is a strong core idea, but the game needs re-balancing so that the Predator is the top of the food chain and the ops team fear what might happen. This could be a must-play title but it needs work. It is rough, but it is still a fun night with a few pals.
Deliver Us The Moon (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £19.99)
THERE Is a huge social element to gaming — but, sometimes, the only interaction is chatting about what you have just played. This creation from Dutch studio KeoKeN Interactive is the ultimate social distancing game. You play alone. You explore alone. You win alone. It starts in 2030 and humanity has messed up the planet. There was hope when a new energy source was found on the moon, but we messed that up as well. Fast forward to 2059 and it’s your job to get the moon complex back up and running and find out what went wrong in the first place. The journey begins with you prepping and launching your rocket on your own and that sets the tone for what’s to come. Beyond a few scientists talking to you over the air waves you are really on your tod. This earlier section gives you a taste of the puzzle-solving and info collecting you’ll need to do in the search for answers.
It is all a sort of walking/floating sim, but with a bit more involvement than the run-of-the-mill titles in the genre. It all comes to life once you reach space. A robot can help you complete puzzles because it can squeeze into tight spots and replay holograms left by those stationed in the complex. That’s a neat touch. However, the game never loses that feel of isolation. In fact, it thrives on it. It’s like a high-tech tomb where the rooms offer scraps of information about those who lived there. It works because you start to care about them as the tale unfolds. You almost make friends with the ghosts.
The gameplay is decent, but it does become a bit repetitive as you move around fixing kit and doing the same tasks. It does fit the vibe that you’re on a hulking abandoned moon complex but it grates after the 20th time. At a time where we all feel alone in one way or another, Deliver Us The Moon embraces the core emotions and uses them to make every puzzle solved or door open feel like an epic victory.
Streets of Rage 4 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £49.99)
IN A world of remakes and remastering, it actually makes a change for a studio to go with a proper sequel in a series. And they don’t come much bigger than Streets Of Rage. French studio Dotemu have just served up the long-awaited fourth game and — SPOILER ALERT: it’s brilliant. It’s been 26 years since we last got to brawl on the mean streets and it is fair to say that the world in general — and gaming in particular — has changed a lot in that time. But there is an air of expectation about Streets Of Rage 4. It is not just a game — it is a full-blown superstar series. First up, you have to recognise what made the game a hit and then don’t change it. So the core is very much the same as the 90s classics — you move from left to right punching, kicking and special attacking everything that moves. Second, you make it better. This has wrapped that core in a stunning art style and ramped up every element to 11.
The game takes place 10 years from the events of Streets Of Rage 3. Big, bad Mr X’s kids are hell-bent on revenge — the Y twins want to rebuild their father’s crime syndicate and you have to stop them. The story is wafer-thin so don’t expect an epic tale but it does frame the endless barrage of punches well. It has the same comic-book style before and after each level — and that was where we found our only gripe. These sections are not voice-acted. Why? Just why? A few characters, like Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding from the first game, make a return but they have aged a bit since their pixilated faces in 1991. They are also joined by new kids on the block Cherry, the daughter of Adam Hunter from the first game, and Floyd Iraia who is half-man, half-cyborg and full tank. Spoiler alert, the sequel: there are a lot of unlockable characters so it is a fair bet that, if you’re a fan of the series, your favourite will be here in some shape or form.
The studio has kept the same gameplay style. Some may dismiss that as simple button-bashing but all the critics are doing are revealing that they have only played it on easy mode. There is a real hidden depth in the combat thanks to a few tweaks to the formula. You have a powerful attack but it will damage you if you just spam it over and over. Another new tweak is that you can regain lost health by stringing together a combo of standard attacks. Word of warning: if your combo is broken you lose the health you could have reclaimed. That adds a real risk-reward mechanic. Get it right and you use powerful attacks more often, but if things get too heavy you have your star move. That’s a one-use combo that dishes out major damage. You can also catch objects you threw at an enemy if they bounce back. Again, that’s a small change that adds layers to combat.
If that is not excitement enough, you can spice things up with on and offline mates’ battles. If you played the series on the Mega Drive then you’ll know what fun this brings. The look is backed up by the soundtrack that, like past games, has a few standout tracks — but you can also swap to a retro soundtrack if that floats your boat. The expectations were high for Streets Of Rage 4. We wanted big, bold and in-your-face action. We got it. The studio has shown how to dish up nostalgia for established fans while creating a masterpiece for newcomers. This is a shiny polished brawler. It’s a knock-out.
Mastering His Rage
THE dedication of the Streets Of Rage 4 team is obvious — their love for the game is obvious within minutes of firing it up. Lizard Cube art director Ben Fiquet admits the series has played a defining role in their lives. He said:
“I have been a Sega kid all my life. I started playing games on the master system but the Mega Drive was my favourite console for a long time. Because it was the platform I spent the most time on, Streets Of Rage was obviously one of the best games I had on it. So basically we had an opportunity and the ear of Sega. We went to them with the idea for the project — trying to breathe life back into this much-loved series.”
But Ben admitted he was surprised that Sega gave them as much freedom as they did. He added:
“Sega have been very hands- off during the development of the game. They really let us do what we wanted, but they have been very supportive to the team right from the very beginning. They have been very happy with what we have created. But that was only half the battle — the team knew the biggest critics would be the fan base and it would be impossible to please everyone.”
“Most of the fans are very happy to see that there is a Streets Of Rage 4 and we have seen such an outpouring of support from the fans. But some of them aren’t looking for what we are doing — they want pixel art like the original games. They want their classic characters back. I can totally understand that but we wanted to do something new while still respecting the legacy of the series. It’s a very thin line to walk as you try to create something that has the feel of the old games but with a new and modern take so that it feels like a 2020 game. That’s very difficult. If you play Streets Of Rage 2 now it feels kind of slow so we wanted to make improvements to the core but still make it feel like a proper Streets Of Rage game.”
The biggest thrill for Ben was the chance to create new characters and he explained the thinking behind new recruit Cherry Hunter. He said:
“You start by thinking what is needed gameplay wise. Basically, it is set 10 years after Streets Of Rage 3 and, in those 10 years, Skate has grown up so we couldn’t make him come back. I still wanted a fast character so I looked at the Hunter family. Making Cherry Adam’s daughter worked because it was important to have a connection between characters.”
The series has always been home to some monster soundtracks and Ben is proud to have linked up with some of the original game’s sound team for the most recent outing. He said:
“We worked with Yuzo Koshiro, the original game’s composer, making tracks for the game, as well as Motohiro Kawashima, who was a musician on the original games. But we also have Yoko Shimomura, who worked on the Street Fighter 2 music as well as Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV, and Keiji Yamagishi, who worked on Ninja Gaiden. We had what I would call a dream team of Japanese composers and I think people will be very happy with the results.”
But fans had better not hold their breaths for another Rage outing. Ben admitted:
“Lots of things could be on the table but I don’t really want to be remaking Sega games for the rest of my life because I have so many goals — for example, I want to work on original IPs. This has been a very long project. I have been working on it for three years. I’m not really sure what I want to do after this — maybe we’ll look at another licence or maybe or Streets Of Rage again.”
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…