Scotch Corner – Of Ducks and Men

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 10th February.

 

A Rush of Blood

IT’S all fright on the night when Supermassive Games get their teeth into a project.  The Guildford-based Supermassive Games sent chills down the spine with their Until Dawn series so there is much anticipation and no shortage of apprehension with their new title, The Dark Pictures Anthology.  Games director Tom Heaton told me how it all came about.  He said:

“It’s a series of games all with an intense cinematic horror. Each game is standalone with big branching narratives and the first one is Man Of Medan.”

Heaton is proud of the fact that his team refused the cheap shock route.  He added:

“We wanted to look at the different horror sub- genres.  When you think about a horror game or film, there isn’t just a horror film it’s always a sub-genre like teen slasher or haunted house.  We actually got to 39 sub-genres.  An anthology gives use the chance to explore them, understand them and maybe subvert them but really create an entertaining game.”

The result of that research suggested true stories served up treats.  Tom said:

“For Man Of Medan we looked at ghost ships — from myths or folklore to real events.  We found there was a ghost ship called the Ourang Medan which gave us the idea.  Then we developed the story.  A ghost ship gives us a real sense of claustrophobia and we ran with that.”

They are used to working with Hollywood talent like Rami Malek and Peter Stormare and Tom admitted:

“We want something that looks and feels you are watching a horror movie but that, at some point, you can take the controller and inspect the world.  One very important side of that is getting recognisable actor which gives you a sort of stamp of approval.  People see the likes of Shawn Ashmore and think ‘I am going to play that’.  But they also give outstanding performances.  Someone like Shawn takes the time to understand the character and the role in the game and we give him the space to give it a really good performance.  That builds empathy.”

A key part of the game will be letting the player have choices that will shape the tale.  Tom said:

“Every single choice counts.  Some may only effect tiny things like the relationship between characters, but some have massive impacts like death or adding branches to the game.  One of the things we don’t tell you is that when you get to a choice you’ll not know if it’s a tiny one or a big one.  The choices drive the story.  There a lot of outcomes and lots of ways to get through as well.”

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £15.99)

THIS started life as a pen-and-paper role-player in 2014, but Swedish studios The Bearded Ladies have brought it to life in the digital world.  It is a strategy game a la X-com but with a heavier focus on stealth and planning before you let rip with the guns.  A post-apocalyptic world is in ruins.  Almost all of humanity has gone thanks to war, global warming and a plague.  You play as a group of mutant animals — a duck, a boar, a fox and others — trying to find resources before going on a rescue mission.  You can explore areas to get the lie of the land before a fight.  It is done in real time.  You’ll need to use stealth to get around and hunt down enemies without getting spotted.

As well as bagging a few cheeky kills, you can find items and bonuses to get new kit, so it’s worth taking your time.  Then, when things kick off, it becomes very X-com.  You have a tile system where you and the enemies battle it out in a turn-based system.  In many ways there is strong puzzle vibe with a number of solutions to each encounter.  Planning is the key to success — you can’t just run into conflicts.  You need to manage your team and their abilities.

The game has a nice style as you fight through forests and more built-up areas.  It is all backed up by a soundtrack that amplifies the tension while the voice acting is good.  It adds personality and charm to your squad.  Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a change from the standard well-worked formula.  The stealth focus with the animals may catch a few gamers out if they think this will be a carbon copy of X-com.  Fans will welcome the change to the core gameplay as well as the challenge.  Newcomers may find it a bit more welcoming to start with, but ultimately this is rock solid.  It is well worth checking out.

Score: 4/5

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch, £34.99)

INDUSTRY legend Suda 51 loves playing his new game — and you can’t get more of an endorsement than that.  OK, he made it so he is always going to say nice things but, in a recent chat on these pages he insisted:

“The fights are going to be a lot of fun and very different.  Even I am taken back by how enjoyable they are when I play test the game.”

Those words prompted eager anticipation here and our sweaty hands could hardly get the game loaded up quickly enough . . .  did we have another cult classic on our hands?  Well, yes . . . and no.  In many ways this is a love letter to Suda’s past works but the huge array of unlockable indie game T-shirts adds an extra layer.  As the name suggests, you fill the boots of Travis Touchdown about seven years after the second game.

Travis lives in a trailer and plays the Death Drive Mk II, a legendary console with a questionable past.  Everything is great until Bad Man — the father of Bad Girl, the an assassin killed by Travis — hunts him down.  During an intense fight everything goes a bit Tron as they are sucked into the console.  From there you face different challenges based on classic gaming styles.  It should be a winning formula but, in practice, it all feels a little unfinished.  You spend most of your time slashing a seemingly endless horde of enemy “bugs” and you can’t move on until they are all wiped out.  The combat starts off well with a mix of light and heavy attacks and a host of unlockable skills.  You have a super move which builds in power the more you use it, but you lose the boost if you get hit too much.  Then there are Suda’s boss fights — no two fight are the same and they are very challenging.  The look changes from a cell shaded affair to more retro wireframe and it is outstanding while the soundtrack adds some extra spice.  You can play co-op, but only locally as your friend controls Bad Man to help you clear the six Death Drive games.  That said, co-op ramps up the fun factor.

One of the biggest issues is the camera placement.  It’s often too far away from the action.  It all adds up to a mixed bag — there are some great battles and Suda fans will love the throwbacks to his past titles and his indie infatuation, but the bits in-between may leave you cold.  Fans will call this a welcome return for Travis after 10 years missing in action.  Others may feel this is a stop-gap before No More Heroes 3.

Score: 3/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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