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 30th August 2020.
Noblechair Hero Black Edition (£399.95)
THE pandemic lockdown has seen millions of us have to work from home. We have had to adapt rooms to get the job done — and tried our best in difficult circumstances. Take us: this review was written on a kitchen table. It is safe to say that — four months down the line — cracks are starting to show and one of the biggest issues is a comfy chair. Dining chairs are great . . . for dinner, but doing an eight-hour shift isn’t great. The gaming world has the answer — especially when it is the Noblechair Hero Black Edition. OK, it’s £400 and that may seem extreme but your backside will love you for it. The chair comes packed with setting options to give you the perfect shape. We are talking back and lumber support and loads of dials and adjustment options.
It is easy to set up, but tip time: get a buddy to hold bits while you’re bolting it together. The chair comes in PU-leather, leather and the one we tested — vinyl/PU-hybrid leather. It is like the best of both worlds — softer and you don’t stick to it when things get hot. And, no, we have not adopted that other work from home practice of not bothering to get dressed. A full shift with this chair was night and day compared with what we were using. Yes, the padding is a little stiff and does take a few weeks to wear in, but that is a small gripe when you have been on a pine chair for hours. It also comes with a head support which is a nice addition. The armrests are solid but you can move and slide them although be wary of jumping up and knocking them out of position. This is not cheap but it is a king of chairs. Your body deserves this investment — especially if you are a gaming buff.
PGA Tour 2K21 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC and Stadia, £32.99)
MOST gamers would have said there was a fairway to go before anyone overtook EA as the golfing masters. But putt your hands together for 2K. They have quietly been building their sports portfolio with the NBA and WWE series. Now they have EA firmly in their sights as they unveil PGA 2K21. And, make no mistake about it, this is a game-changer that will have the EA guys and girls fretting about their golf licences. PGA Tour 2K is the evolution of The Golf Club series which was considered to be one of the most hardcore golf series ever. But 2K has taken that sim heart and rounded off the sharp edges. The core still remains but you now get a new set of assists and aids to help players of all skill levels enjoy a few rounds. That is a massive sales plus — the entry bar is lower but you still need the hard yards to become truly good. The different levels add or strip away assists although you can dive into the settings and tweak them to your taste and needs.
Having the PGA licence means you get to have a round or two on 15 of the best courses in North America. They have been stunningly recreated although we reckon they missed a trick in not having any signs of life apart from you whacking your ball about. There is also a solid course creator to be found so it is only a matter of time before a community artist conjures up the likes St Andrews or Royal Troon. The main meat of the game will be the career mode where you can take your custom player through the ranks one course at a time. Slightly bizarrely, there is an XP system where you complete challenges but, beyond a number going up, there is no actual impact on your skills that we could find. There is also a rival system where your skills are measured against the 12 pros in the game and they include the likes of Gary Woodland, Matt Kuchar and Justin Thomas. That is a cool idea, but it lacks any real depth and feels more like a check list than a true battle of skill. You’ll also need sponsorship deals. Roll in a few decent putts and the offers will be there. You can bag some nice threads from the likes of Gallaway, Adidas, Malbon and more by completing set challenges on each round. Sadly, the gear doesn’t include one of those iconic green jackets because the game does not have the licence for the Masters.
Another interesting point is that you can create a female golfer but you can’t play in a female-only tour. That’s probably because there are no licensed female pros or tournaments in the game. The licence issues do have an impact on the overall experience, but if you put them to one side and concentrate on the actual golf game then this is a winner. It could have done with a bit more polish but there’s more than enough here to keep any golf fan happy when hitting it straight down the middle.
DEVELOPERS take inspiration from many places but FuturLAB CEO James Marsden insists he was drawn to Peaky Blinders because of a Tommy Shelby one-liner. James, below, was blown away by Cillian Murphy’s character in the show as he recited The Soldier’s Minute in the first season. He said:
“It wasn’t a decision we took lightly, but, importantly, it was not an option for us to make a typical shooter. We’re a 23-person indie studio, so it’s more in our character to come up with a less obvious take on the franchise. At the project’s inception we watched Peaky over and over, and our thoughts crystallised around the theme of The Soldier’s Minute. A moment in season one when he says: ‘The one minute. The soldier’s minute. In a battle, that’s all you get. One minute of everything at once. And anything before is nothing. Everything after, nothing. Nothing in comparison to that one minute’. We are aware it may be a surprising choice not to make your more typical gangster shooter — but we believe our game better reflects what makes the show tick because of this. It’s about winning through wit, not force, and better reflects the essence of the TV series, where the shooting is actually a last resort and consequence of a grander plan that Tommy has in his head.”
The game has a Commandos and Desperados series vibe, but James revealed there was also a DANCE influence. He said:
“We love those IPs and I believe the Peaky Blinders design came from our wider team experience as gamers instead of a single IP. We love rhythm and dance, so the game has been designed to allow all the characters to play ‘in concert’ with Tommy able to conduct and orchestrate a master plan by ensuring each character is working in tandem with the rest of the group.”
It was also a great thrill to work alongside the team behind the show as they brought the game’s tale to life. He said:
“The game is set before the start of Season 1. We worked side by side with Endemol Shine and the production company, Caryn Mandabach Productions. They provided us with a lot of guidance and approved the story and authenticity of the game.”
The tale is told through storyboard style cut scenes but James admits they never looked at the cast voicing their roles. He added:
“The cast voiceover was never on the cards. The game is focusing a lot on thinking and puzzle-solving. We wanted a very agile structure in the initial design and in advanced development in order to allow us to implement quick gameplay balancing and rapid changes to the game flow/narrative. This is one of the bonuses of indie dev — it can be very agile. Had we used voiceovers, every change would have become very complex and would have changed our development timeline — especially given what’s happened in 2020 due to Covid-19. We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that the cast members are visually recognisable in-game, and we’ve worked with Caryn Mandabach Productions and Endemol Shine to ensure the TV show is beautifully represented. The script was approved by the production team of the TV show, and the actors’ likeness was approved by each cast member.”
“We are listening to the fans. This is not a blockbuster-style open-world game from a big name in publishing, but a proud indie, very ‘underground’ take on one of the biggest British TV shows.”
Peaky Blinders: Mastermind (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £19.99)
PEAKY Blinders is a hard-hitting, gritty show about a criminal gang in Birmingham back in 1919. So you would expect a game based on their exploits would be a Grand Theft Auto style affair or even a underworld crime management challenge. But Brighton-based studio FuturLab went for a puzzler — this is like a game of chess where planning is everything. Get it right and it all comes together in spectacular style. Mastermind actually acts as a prequel to the first BBC series as it follows the Shelby family’s rise to power in Birmingham. The tale focuses on an underworld conspiracy where one of the gang members is linked to a murder, so expect lots of revenge, betrayal and violence as you try to clear your name. If you’re a fan then you’ll get a kick from it but it never quite reaches the heights of the best episodes. It’s also worth noting that the tale is delivered through comic book style cut scenes where the cast likenesses are used. They are very well done but unfortunately none of the cast are used to voice the game roles. The writing is well done and the soundtrack sets the mood — it is handled by the rock band Feverist who worked on the first series.
The game is spread out over 10 levels that will take about five hours to battle through. You’ll need to complete a number of missions with an industrial back drop that does capture the gritty feel of the show. But it gets really interesting on the gameplay front when you have to complete tasks in a set time using each member of the gang’s unique skills. You actually control time and you need to sync each member’s actions so that they help one another. When you pull it off, it is great to see but it can be a tough journey with plenty of trial and error along the way before you find the perfect who goes where and when. That’s when the time control comes in. You are always against the clock, but you can fast forward and rewind. However, if things don’t work out rewinding doesn’t come with a penalty so, ultimately, it feels like a constant get out of jail card. That makes the first few missions a total breeze but things do get tougher in the second half because you need to put your stealth hat on. You also get more access to controlling extra members of the gang and the missions get bigger. The last two are standouts and are a real taste of how good this game could have been.
It is a unique take on a much-loved series. It does pay its respect to the show, but it never rocks the boat. Fans will enjoy it and there is enough to do to make it worth a Peaky peek.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £33.49)
SAMURAI Jack is one of the coolest cartoons ever produced. It has a real cult following that follows Jack’s adventures through time as he battles the evil Aku. He is so popular that it is a surprise that the tale hasn’t really made the jump into the gaming world. There have been a few attempts — the last was 15 years ago — but Adult Swim are all changing that with this creation. It apes the 2017 return of the show in that it wraps up the epic tale with an over-view of the man. That said, if you haven’t seen series five then you may be left wondering what’s actually going on in places. We recommend you hit All 4 where you can stream every episode, including the final series. The game follows the final battle where Aku opens another portal, sending Jack back through time to relive his most epic fights. It is a neat plot device for the developers to cherry pick the show’s best moments.
You play through some classic locations and meet old friends such as the Scotsman and his daughters and the excellently monikered Sir Colin Bartholomew Montgomery Rothchild III. The game is a hack-and-slash affair that is, in some ways, a throwback to the era of the original Xbox where you get an eight-hour linear tale, constantly pulling off combos until you reach Aku. Throw in a healthy upgrade tree for skills and abilities, a mix of fun and powerful weapons and a handful of collectables and there is just enough to keep you busy when you are not destroying hordes of enemies. The visuals blend cel- shaded action with footage from the show and it works brilliantly because of the programme’s strong art style. This is a blast for fans because it pays its respects to the show as well as delivering tons of action. This is perfect if you’re looking for a big hack-and-slash rush without being weighed down by overly powerful enemies.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…