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 11th November 2018.
11-11: Memories Retold (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
TODAY marks 100 years since the Armistice that ended World War I — and 11-11: Memories Retold is a gaming tribute to one of the most brutal conflicts in history. The collaboration between Digixart and Aardman Animations — in a move away from their usual Wallace And Gromit fare — provokes thought with a moving story and is an excellent way for younger gamers to understand the reality of war and appreciate the complexities. It is no shooter. In fact, you never hold a gun in the whole game. And, while we all would agree that the people who fought on both sides should be honoured and remembered, this game never glorifies the act of war itself.
You play as a young Canadian photographer called Harry and as a German, Kurt, who has been told his son is missing in action. Kurt is hell-bent on finding his son — no matter what the cost or where it will take him — while young, idealistic Harry has believed the hype in joining up but soon discovers the brutal reality. The power of the story comes when their paths cross. The tale isn’t based on any real-life events, but it isn’t scared to touch on what was happening — and probe what family and friends really mean to you. You find yourself in locations across the war— from Arras and the trenches at Vimy Ridge on the Western Front to the streets of Paris. This is more of a third person walking sim than a battleground — you will need to solve light puzzles to move the game on or just talk to people. It is inevitably a heavy-duty game, but there are lighter moments where you play as a bird or a cat. Both are key to the story and they add an extra layer to the gameplay.
So to the thought-provoking bits. Harry takes photos to send home. Kurt has to write letters to his daughter. Do you sugar-coat everything or tell it like it is? You’ll also find fragments of letters and photos along the way. They unlock interesting collectables that flesh out the real-world side of things like gas masks or tunnel systems. The story is told with a striking style — like an oil painting come to life and the soundtrack carries a fitting tone to what is happening on screen. The voice acting is also top-notch, with Elijah Wood and Sebastian Koch in the lead roles. This is a game that dares to turn the spotlight on a truly historic time in world history. It could even teach a younger generation with the heart-wrenching tale. Hard-hitting scenes like dragging a young German’s body through No Man’s Land or the impact of famine on Germany thanks to blockades can shock you. But this is a seven-hour tale that should be told. It will live with you long after the credits roll — and it will make you think about 11-11 and what it cost those involved to give us what we have got today.
Grip: Combat Racing (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £32.99)
YEARS ago the Rollcage series thrilled race fans. Now Caged Element has brought it right up to date with some shiny new clothes. Grip: Combat Racing blends arcade racing with kart combat. It has all the standard modes you’d expect, but adds an obstacle course where you have to survive an ever-changing track. It is fair to predict that you’ll spend most of your time in the career mode to start with. It’s the best way to learn the ropes, customise your ride and attack championships. It gently adds in new mechanics like speed boost, then offensive and defensive weapons. Where Grip differs from other arcade racers is your car can run UPSIDE DOWN. The flip mechanic is a game-changer because, technically, you never have to stop and it paves the way for some really fun tracks.
You can climb walls in tunnels, even race across the roof and, if you flip during a big jump, you just keep rolling without losing speed. It’s a fun way to mix things up but you may need some practice and older gamers will feel that classic PS1 Rollcage vibe. It has a chunky futuristic look from the cities to snowy mountains. The cars look pretty cool and the soundtrack is suitably over the top. We would have liked it to be less stingy on the unlocks — it should be fast and furious, yet sometimes it takes too long to bag the next reward. The tracks near the end also become more of a dodge fest than a high-speed battle for victory. The game has some rough edges but there is no denying the fun factor both off and online and the modes provide plenty of challenges.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Xbox One and PS4, £49.99)
WHEN we look back at 2018 it will be remembered as one of the truly great years in gaming history. We have already seen the likes of God Of War and Forza Horizon 4 rip up the quality rule book and set the bar stunningly high. But one title loomed on the skyline and had such a threat and potential that the industry was left quaking in its shoes. Some firms put releases on hold. Others hit the buffers as they attempted to ramp up the quality. Yet more decided they could not compete and simply opted to look at a 2019 release date. If you don’t believe us, just check the planned releases between January and March next year. The reason? The gaming juggernaut that is Scottish-based Rockstar Games.
Their latest tour de force, Red Dead Redemption 2, sent a shot of fear through the whole industry. This is a defining moment in gaming history. From the way it tells its western tale to the world you explore and the sheer level of detail that has been built into the whole experience — Red Dead 2 is mind-blowing. The main story is a prequel to the best-selling first game . . . but you play as Arthur Morgan instead of John Marston. You are part of the legendary outlaw gang before things went wrong, so you get to pull bank jobs, carry out rescues, have shoot-outs and take part in hold-ups. We are in Wild West 1899. Dutch Van Der Linde’s gang is on the run for a bank job that didn’t go to plan and they have escaped up into the snow-covered mountains. You become Dutch’s right-hand man Arthur for a 70-plus hour slice of western fun.
There is a hefty slice of The Hateful Eight at the start, but it works well as a tutorial for you to learn the ropes and the basics of the game without ever feeling forced. You will need to work through the first few hours before, suddenly, you get given the keys to the party and let loose on the HUGE map. And we mean huge. It is epic. You can attack main missions or side quests, go hunting to earn cash, play dominoes or just get into a good ol’ bar brawl — it’s up to you. You can also decide how you make Arthur grow in the world — are you going down the good, the bad or the ugly route as you pick the outcome of most situations. Do you want the last bandit to escape? Do you want to do something to help the poor? Your actions all have an impact on how you are seen in the world.
Rockstar have crafted a breathing world that has its own pace. It has a leisurely feel as you ride from town to town and that gives you time to admire some truly epic backdrops. You’ll see everything from wildlife running free in the woods to coming across people needing help. They often evolve into full-blown side missions so it pays to take your time. You might expect a lot of open plains but Rockstar have filled the game with a mix of areas from farms to swamps and cities with that new-fangled tech called electricity. You can also marvel at how the developers have built the look — from the mood lighting at night to the way characters look. You can actually grow facial hair in real time and the action of firing and reloading weapons is simply awesome. They have also mixed in a western-inspired soundtrack that gets better the more you hear it. It is the perfect accompaniment to the outstanding voice acting. Put it all together and it all adds real heart and soul to the game.
There is a host of tasks to complete — like cleaning your gun to stop it from jamming, brewing coffee if you want a drink or taking a bath when you get dirty. They all have a stunning amount of detail beyond what you would expect with the shooting and horse riding. But even they are pretty special. They play a huge part in the adventure. You have to bond with your horse so that it will stay cool in firefights or come to your rescue when you call it. Building that bond is just like real life — feed them, pat them, keep them clean give them a few words of praise. Your horse needs to be your four-legged friend. It is easy to see why other firms are not keen to go up against Red Dead Redemption 2. Most titles would suffer in comparison and the fight is on for Christmas sales. This just shows why Rockstar is the benchmark. No studio comes close to the levels of detail they have put into the game. Game Of The Year? This could be Game Of The Generation.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…