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 16th August 2020.
Maid of Sker (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £19.99)
HORROR games that actually make you jump are a big buzz. Get it right and you can feel the goosebumps as you approach items or walk into dark rooms . . . then, bam, you need new underwear. That’s what Wales Interactive have gone for with their new creation Maid Of Sker. The studio needed a pick-me-up after a largely negative reaction to their announcement of the upcoming Gamer Girl — an Full Motion Video horror title set around streamers . . . if you have a spare few minutes, just Google it for the fallout. So they have a fair bit resting on Maid Of Sker. It is a first-person survival horror game that sits somewhere between the likes of Outlast and Resident Evil 7 but with a few interesting twists to keep things fresh.
The tale is set in 1898 and is inspired by the Welsh legend of Elisabeth Williams and Sker House. It found fame in a 1972 novel written by RD Blackmore — no surprises in finding it was called The Maid Of Sker. That all means there is some real Welsh folklore to be found — the tale focuses on a family empire driven by torture, slavery, piracy . . . and the supernatural. Tom is having a rare old time . . . until he gets a letter from his girlfriend Elisabeth. The love note changes everything because she is trapped in the Sker Hotel. Tom does the right thing and sets out to rescue her but he soon finds that things are very much out of the ordinary — everyone has been turned into blind monsters. Tom has to save the day by collecting a bunch of bits and bobs that will end the madness, but he also has to discover just what happened at the hotel through a trail of notes, messages and telephone calls. You will soon work out that you are actually playing the B-side of this tale. Elisabeth is the one who gets to see and do most of the cool stuff. You are very much being told what happened instead of getting stuck into the action.
The gameplay is basically a walking sim with a few upgrades and a heavy dose of stealth as you explore the hotel and its grounds. Every scrap of information you can pick up will help solve the mystery and the items you find will help you solve an array of puzzles that block your way. The game steps up a gear when you go into a room and find that you are faced with a gaggle of monsters. Their lack of sight means they are very receptive to sound — one tiny noise can set them off. You even have to hold your breath to try to sneak past them because you don’t have any weapons. Your only defence is a sound sphere which stops them for short periods. These are the jump moments in the game — it gets tense as you try to survive. There is a bit of backtracking which means having to repeat sections you just spent 15 minutes walking through very slowly. That is a pain. The visuals are a mixed bag. From a distance, it is OK but get closer and the textures are not the best. It is also a very dark game . . . literally. This is an interesting story that takes around five hours to tell. However, like Elisabeth, it’s trapped in a so-so game that tries to refine current horror tropes but really just needed some extra polish.
Fast & Furious Crossroads (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £49.99)
THE Fast & Furious films do want it says on the tin — over-the-top action that will wile away a couple of hours. We have now had nine outings on the big screen — each more outrageous than the last. And each one rakes in billions more cash for Universal Pictures. They are worldwide smashes — even Glasgow and Edinburgh have starred in scenes as “doubles” for busy London streets. So it was a surprise to virtually no one when Vin Diesel’s screen antics made the jump to the gaming world. It is perfect gaming fodder — action-packed driving fun from start to finish. Over the years we have had a mixed bundle from the outstanding Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious to the utterly forgettable Fast & Furious: Showdown. Slightly Mad Studios went for the ultimate Fast game with this effort.
On paper it should be a blast of full-on arcade racing fun and a real treat for film fans because it ticks all the boxes you could possibly want. Epic licenced cars? Tick. Tale based on family and revenge with just the right amount of melodrama? Tick. OTT set pieces that give the films a run for their money? Tick. All-star cast? Tick. Really interesting multiplayer that tries something new? Tick. Thumping soundtrack? Tick. But we all know games are never won on paper — and this one had a stinker. So where did it all go wrong? Well, we could overlook the sub-par graphics, the horrible texture popping and the super dumb AI. We could forgive the fake open world feeling — each mission is scripted to within an inch of its life — and let the constant framerate dropping slide. We’ll even let it off with voice acting that was clearly phoned in at certain points (sorry Vin). And we’ll even turn a blind eye to the online operation where the net code is so bad it is borderline unplayable at times. But the straw that breaks the camel’s back is the criminally poor handling. That is a huge blunder in a game that wants to be an arcade drift racer. Push too far and you’ll do a 90° turn and hit a wall. End of mission. Be too soft and the car won’t turn and you are in the wall anyway. It’s a nightmare system. Even once you’ve tried to learn its way of drifting, there’s no guarantee you’ll not be pinballing your way around the world.
This might all be forgiveable if it was from a studio that had no car experience. But this is Slightly Mad Studios — the team behind the Project Cars series. Real-world racing drivers use that to learn tracks. It is considered the best racing sim on the market. Even worse, this is the first Slightly Mad game since they became part of the Codemasters family. You fire it up and it shouts that it is part of the group that has the 5/5 F1 series, 5/5 DiRT series and even the overlooked OnRush in its garage. There has been a lot of noise from the studio about how the game is for the “fans”, but even the most die-hard Fast & Furious fan will struggle to put on a smile after starting this up. It’s not very fast because of the framerate dropping but it does get you furious. And you’ll be Slightly Mad at yourself for forking out £50.
Crafting the Gear
MINECRAFT may be 11 years old but it’s still a massive hit — especially with youngsters. The team at Gioteck are cashing in by giving a range of controllers and headsets a Minecraft makeover — although to dodge copyright issues they are called “cube design”. Gioteck kit is a fraction of the cost of the first- party offering, so is great for youngsters. We have run the rule over them to see what hits the spot if you’re a crafting fan AND does the job on the gaming front.
NSW JC-20 Controller (Switch, £34.99)
NOTHING scares a Switch owner like stick drift. It all but kills a Joy-con dead. The official ones will set you back upwards of £65 a set, so a cheaper option is great. The GioTeck JC-20 Wireless Controller may not have a catchy name but it’s a solid replacement for the official Joy-cons, especially if little gamers are playing rough. It comes in colours like pink and green as well as the “cubes design”.
First up, the JC-20 is a big unit — beefier than the Nintendo JoyCons, which are actually quite small. These bad boys feel much more comfortable. The controllers also support motion and vibration and can be attached to the sides of the Switch just like the official Joy-cons. That means you don’t miss out on any of the standard features. Small gripe: the buttons are a little on the small size. That is weird, especially considering the size of the controllers. JC-20s have 12 hours of battery life, which is fine and more than the actual console when not docked. However, you do have to charge them separately outwith the console, which is a bit of a pain. And you’ll need to link them up to your Switch every time.
Gioteck HC2 Headset (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £19.99)
PRICE is not everything when it comes to gaming headsets — some in the “budget” category really pack a punch. The HC2 Decal Edition is Gioteck’s jack-of-all-trades headset. It works across a number of platforms and, thanks to a bit of clever thinking from the Gioteck boffins, you can customise it. You don’t get anything special on the fit and finish front. They do feel a little plasticky but that doesn’t mean they don’t do the job.
The audio was solid, if a little weak on bass, and the mic was clear and crisp in parties. They were comfortable, even after a few hours playing Paper Mario: The Origami King. We also really liked the removable mic — great if you want to use the headset for music on the go. There are three sets of stickers for the side panels — Arctic or night camouflage or Minecraft-inspired block.
Gioteck WX-4 Wireless (Switch, £24.99)
THE WX-4 was a bit of a surprise when we reviewed the standard version a few months back — it delivered a lot of the features normally found on the official Nintendo Pro controller . . . but for a fraction of the price. It feels great in the hand and is very light — clocking in on the scales at just over 166g compared to the Pro’s beefy 249g. But the lack of weight doesn’t mean lightweight — the WX-4 has some bite with its rumble and gyro feature.
The layout of the pad almost mirrors the Xbox and that is no bad thing. That said, there are a few extra buttons — like the + and – functions. The next big surprise is that this is a wireless pad — that is a huge bonus at this price. That means it is very easy to link to your Switch — you just need to press a few buttons and navigate the menus on the Switch and you are good to go. This version also comes complete with a colourful Minecraft-inspired wrap which has a nice matt finish. That makes it stand out from the standard pad.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…