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 31st May 2020.
Minecraft Dungeons (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, £19.99)
MINECRAFT is a phenomenon that has entertained gamers of all ages since it was released in beta back in 2009 with its sandbox of infinity possibilities to create. Fact. So it’s surprising that it’s not had that many spin-offs set in its blocky world. Beyond a Telltale series there hasn’t been much. Till now that is — with Minecraft Dungeons the new kid on the block. It’s best explained thus. Take an action role-playing game like Diablo and pass it through a Minecraft filter. But has the jump in genres worked? Short answer is yes. Longer answer is with a but. The game isn’t as deep as the titles it’s trying to mirror, though that’s a good thing in an odd way as the series has a HUGE young gamer fanbase. Minecraft Dungeons very much feels like a perfect starting point for beginners in the dungeon crawling world.
And this is reinforced by the overall look and the enemies you’ll face on your adventure. You’ll battle everything from Creepers to Enderman, surrounded in the signature and iconic Minecraft visuals. Unlike the core game, there is a story that runs through the game. You are tasked with saving the world from a villager turned bad the Arch-Illager, whose goal is to take over the over world. The story isn’t the most-gripping yarn told ever told, granted, but it’s light-hearted and fun. But the game gets its claws into you with its simple but satisfying game loop — smash bad guys, earn new loot, upgrade and repeat. Plus, with each item dropped there could come a more-powerful weapon or artefact that gives you a magic power. Although everything feels overly simple in a way, as you have a melee weapon and a ranger as well as armour and three artefacts — and that’s it. So you’re always going to be swapping out old kit for newer kit.
Oddly it never gets to the depths, in the way the likes of Diablo becomes an exercise in stat-juggling. Again, it makes this feel very much aimed at the younger gamers. But once you’re kitted up you’ll want to start upgrading (or enchanting as the game calls it) using points you earn when you level up. This is a nice addition, though (once again) it’s very basic as gear only has three enchantment slots so you can totally upgrade any item with just seven points. Having upgrade gear will come in handy as you search for newer and shinier loot or are pushing the story forward. And as the difficulty steps up, the way you play does have to adapt a little — running in weilding your blade may not cut it and you’ll have to think about picking off a few enemies at range with your bow. It does take a bit of cranking up to face a real challenge, although you can attack the game with your mates in co-op as well if you’re feeling the pinch or just looking to have a bit of dungeon-crawling fun.
If we were to highlight any issues with the game it’s that it’s all a bit light in the end. Yes, everything works well and is enjoyable and fun, but there is a real lack of depth in both the combat and dungeon selection side of things with only ten main ones to raid just now. There are plenty of hidden goodies to find in them by exploring off the beaten path but that will only hold your attention for so long and not everyone will replay the game on the two additional difficulty levels you unlock after completing the tale. To conclude: Minecraft Dungeons is, well, it’s a “nice” game. It’s easy-going, never too hard and is very much a love letter to its source, as you would hope and expect. But it ultimately feels targeted at the younger audience, which is no bad thing. Thirty-somethings, though may get very different mileage compared to a 13-year-old.
Ion Fury (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, £19.99)
MORE and more we are seeing titles that are retro throwbacks to classic games but built with modern tech. The latest to join this pack is Ion Fury. It is very much in the vein of classics Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior — even being built using the same engine as them. Developed by Voidpoint LLC, the game is a true love letter to FPSs of the past but it’s had an interesting journey so far. It was originally called Ion Maiden until a certain 80s British rock band threatened legal action on the team. But putting that to the one side, what you have here is a blast of 90s-style shooting fun that is hard as nails and will give any CoD fan a run for their money.
You fill the boots of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison who finds herself having to battle the evil Dr Jadus Heskel and his hordes of cybernetically-enhanced nasties. It’s not deep but it does the job as you blast everything that moves from area to area. And this is pure FPS action without the safety net of modern tropes to back you up across its 16-hour run time, where quick save and strife running are your only hope. Throw in a fun and interesting arsenal to keep things fresh with limited ammo, and a mix of bad guys to blast getting to the boss battles (which are insanely hard).
The biggest issue though is navigating levels. It’s just too old school and relies on finding key cards too much. Ion Fury is brutal and fast-paced. Some will welcome a return to a time forgotten. Others will be grateful they live in the era of Fortnite.
Saints Row The Third Remastered (PS4, Xbox One, PC, £29.99)
LIKE it or not, we now live in a world of remasters. For every classic hidden gem that gets the treatment there are those games given a reboot that leaves you wondering why. Saints Row 3 Remastered is definitely in the latter as it throws up questions such as: Who was asking for this? Why not use the cash and time making a new game? Volition have already confirmed there is a new Saints Row in the works so is there really any need to tart up the old one and send it back out? Saints Row 3 is by far the high point in the series history as Volition nailed the balance between over-the-top action while keeping it sort of grounded. Well, more grounded than Saints Row 4 which totally jumped the shark. And like most remasters it follows the well-used script of bundling all the content together and giving it a nip and tuck to make it look fresh. This means there is no new content to be found and some elements of gameplay that haven’t aged well have not been updated.
The complete package is great if you have never played it before as you’re getting a chunk of game to get your teeth into. But if you’ve already sunk hours into it first time around there is very little here to hold you as the shine of the updated visuals wears off quickly. Saints Row 3 delivers an open world in which to lose hours as you battle to rebuild the Saints and take down the Syndicate (which is, let’s be honest, only just a tiny bit more bad than you) to reclaim the city of Steelport. And like all open world games, when you’re not battling to rebuild your empire there are loads of side activities to get lost in — from running riot in the city on Mayhem missions to committing insurance fraud.
And this is where Saints Row 3 really starts to shine with the overall variety it gives you — there is so much going on your never really get time to be bored. One of the biggest selling points for buying a remastered title is how well has it been upgraded. To be honest, this is very so-so. Yes, you can see it’s been worked on in the lighting and some textures but arguably a remaster today should at least look like a game released in 2020. This doesn’t. And for a nine-year-old game there was lots of room for more work to be done — from your AI gang mates and the way you gun down hordes of bad guys (they all look the same as there are only really two enemy models — a male and female for each gang). Plus the controls could have done with being looked at — especially the driving.
Saints Row 3 Remastered is very much a game that knows what it is and what it is doing and you’ll like its brand of humour or not. If you have never played this instalment in the series it’s worth the look. But if you’re a hardcore fan hungry for more tongue-in-cheek gangster antics you’ll find little new to keep you in Steelport.
Golf With Your Friends (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, £14.99)
RIGHT now any chance to play a game with your mates is a welcome one. From battling to win a Battle Royale to messing around in supercars, the ability to party up is always welcome during lockdown. Golf With Your Friends is, as the name hints, perfect for spending a few hours having a laugh with your mates. Blacklight Interactive have created a very social crazy golf title. You get nine different courses to hammer your ball around with up to 12 of your mates battling it out. And before you start to worry, this is a super-easy title to pick up and play. Although sinking that perfect shot will take time as in the middle of all the mayhem you have to plan your shots in the hope of getting that hole-in-one. But you only have to worry about aiming the ball and how much power you hit it with.
The nine courses deliver a host of themes (as you would expect for a crazy golf game) from an oasis to a haunted house. Each has their own challenges to overcome, often found on the later holes which match the setting — such as black holes on the space station course or dodging bombardments on the Worms course. There are also settings and modes you can play around with to make custom rules, from letting your ball jump to changing gravity. You can truly throw the R&A rule book out the window — you can even change the shape of the ball. As you play the game you’ll unlock different hats and speed trails for your ball which adds a nice layer of extra fun to the game as you compete with your mates in the lobby as to who’s going to be red or blue.
The game is a little bit rough around the edges, especially when you go out of bounds, and clipping is in full effect with objects that you would think should be solid being totally hollow. But this is just a minor issue that a bit more polishing would have fixed. If you’re looking for a fun night of gaming with your mates then Golf With Your Friends is well worth grabbing and heading to the virtual fairway.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…