Scotch Corner – Pulling on the Strings

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 17th November.


Afterparty (Xbox One, PS4 , Switch and PC, £16.74)

EVER enjoyed a killer night out but paid heavily for it the next day?  Well, Afterparty takes that to a whole next level.  The follow up to Night School Studio’s first hit Oxenfree retains a lot of that vibe but has added a tale that is honest, funny and based on friendship.  Best pals Lola and Milo unfortunately find themselves in Hell and, to escape, they have to beat the devil in a drinking contest.  That is good enough but there is actually far more to this than a neon-soaked Hell as you stumble from district to district tackling a handful of mini games.

The gameplay is very talk-focused and is genuinely funny as you travel around the underworld meeting a host of demons.  You also have to drink different cocktails that give you “abilities” though your choices can make things better . . . or far worse.  This is very sharp, very witty and the writing is outstanding.  It is one hell of a night out.

Score: 5/5

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, £34.99)

THE Monkey Ball series is a bizarre and much-loved puzzler that lets you tackle a number of courses as you bag as many bananas as you can in the fastest time.  Oh, and you are a monkey on a big plastic ball — a bit like a hamster only a lot faster.  There has not been much series action recently — with some of the characters playing cameo roles in other titles.  Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is the latest step in the journey.  It was originally a Wii exclusive but has had a shot in the arm.  The question most fans are asking is: why?

This isn’t the highest point in the series and, as a port, it has lost motion controllers which still have a legacy in the HD version.  A lot of the levels are geared to help you with rails and the like.  Without the motion controllers it makes the whole thing very easy until the later levels.  If you have never played a Monkey Ball game this is a solid if too easy entry point, but long-time fans will be left wanting.

Score: 3/5

It Means Nothing to V…

HIDEO Kojima is considered one of the top minds in gaming — but the great man has his own hero . . .  Scottish singing legend Midge Ure.  The 56-year-old from Tokyo even engineered a meeting with the Vienna star.  Midge said:

“I didn’t know who Hideo was, only that he was a games designer/director and that he was a huge Ultravox fan.  He pulled a few strings to get to meet Ultravox backstage before a concert 10 years ago.  He told me through a translator he wanted to use my version of Bowie’s Man Who Sold The world in the final episode of the Metal Gear Solid series.”

But the singer was even more surprised to discover that Hideo credits his music with helping boost his gaming creativity.  He said:

“He explained that he used to listen to us when he was younger and that would help him imagine the worlds he would create.  The music resonated with him and aided his creativity.  I think the term ‘fan boy’ might be a bit extreme!  Hideo has a great mind and superior imagination.  He also has a good sense of humour.  He took great delight in showing me round the Konami headquarters in Tokyo before he moved on to form his own company.”

Hideo got his wish in using Midge’s song on MGS V, bringing the band’s music to a new audience.  Midge admitted:

“Out of all the songs I have written and recorded Man Who Sold The World is the most streamed by more than double anything else I have ever done.  That is totally down to the gaming generation discovering a piece of music which has none of the usual periphery attached to it… no history, no hard sell, not current, not cool… just a piece of music they have discovered thanks to the game.”

Midge isn’t ruling out another collaboration.  He addded:

“I wouldn’t like to speculate but I have worked with and will hopefully continue to work with artists I respect and admire and I certainly have respect and admiration for Hideo.”

Midge’s new album Soundtrack is available now.

Death Stranding (PS4, £49.99)

YOU know what you will get from a Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick film before you even sit down to watch it.  And the same is true with gaming — Hideo Kojima’s aura resonates with a lot of gamers as the man behind the Metal Gear series as well as classics like Snatcher.  So there is always going to be a stampede when he brings a new game to the table — especially after a messy year-long divorce from Konami.  Gamers are chomping at the bit to get their hands on Death Stranding and it is certain to create a ton of debate throughout the community.  This is by far his most ambitious project yet as it blends gaming and movie tropes together with an all-star cast featuring Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner and Guillermo del Toro to create more of an experience than a game.  But, right off the bat, this will easily be seen as the most anticipated game of 2019 AND the most Marmite.  Some will see it as a true tour de force of game design and a work of art whereas others will see it as a creator’s ultimate lesson in self-indulgence.

There are a lot of moving parts in the game and a lot of story to get your head around so we have cut it into its base elements so even we can fully appreciate the true scale of this epic.  The world has been ripped apart by a cataclysmic event that has changed life forever.  You are Sam Porter Bridges, played by Walking Dead star Norman Reedus.  Put simply, Sam is a delivery man who has to take shipments around what is left of the US.  But he is also a broadband engineer who will hook people up to a network so they can help each other as well as communicate on the internet.  Sam must trek over vast open areas often on foot and that takes time.  A lot of time.  It is fair to say that Death Stranding falls very much into the Red Dead Redemption 2 camp when it comes to a player’s time management.  It progresses at its own pace and you just have to go with the flow.

None of that is overly surprising, but this is a Kojima title so be prepared for the twists and turns. Kojima has devised some really strange and interesting mechanics.  For instance, in a post apocalypse world, it wasn’t Twinkies that survived but an endless supply of Monster energy drink.  And that is just the tip of the obscure Kojima iceberg.  There are two main enemies.  The mules are human nomads — basically bandits out to steal your deliveries.  Then there is the BTs — a sort of ghost enemy that only appear when it’s raining and are by far the most challenging of the two as you have to stealth your way around them.  Fail and they will take you to the other side.  But, fear not, you have a little buddy to help you out.  BB is . . . well, a baby in a jar that senses the BTs.  We told you.  It’s Kojima.  BB also does one of the weirdest things we’ve seen in game for a good while.  He starts to cry when BTs are near but it’s not through the TV — no, he cries through the speaker in the PS4 controller.  And when the little guy is upset you have to calm him down by rocking your controller up and down.  If he gets too stressed he stops working.  Classic Kojima.

This is just a taste of what awaits you.  You’ll also have a gun that fires blood bullets and grenades made from your poop and pee.  And then there was silence in the review room.  The multiplayer side gives everyone the power to build post-boxes to watchtowers and bridges which can help you and others get around.  You can also leave notes in the world and even lend a hand in combat.  It’s a truly interesting take on the multiplayer idea as everyone works together and this creates a Facebook-style like system where you can show your appreciation to others.  There is no denying that Death Stranding a strange mix that is, at times, epic and stunningly breath-taking then boring and a grind.  There are a lot of ideas in play and they are amazing when they click, but those joyous moments can be few and far between.  Kojima fans will find no fault, but more fairweather players may find it just too heavy going.

Score: 4.5/5

Voice of a Generation

FEW voice actors have a gaming CV like Troy Baker.  He has starred in the likes of Batman Arkham games — as Arkham Knight AND Joker.  He was Joel in the Last Of Us and Nathan Drake’s brother in Uncharted series.  So it was a no-brainer for Hideo Kojima to want the 43-year-old Texan for Higgs, the gold mask-wearing big baddie in Death Stranding.  Troy admitted working with Kojima had been a ground-breaker.  He said:

“He’s not insane but, if it was a normal person, they would be red-lining — but he’s just operating at like 2,000/3,000 rpm ranges.  It is crazy”.

There is a real mystery surrounding Kojima in general but Troy feels the creative visionary took it to a whole other level.  He added:

“He’s constantly clicking.  There was never a doubt for me as we shot the game like I did for Uncharted and Last Of Us where we were on a sound stage for the mo-cap.  You could tell that he wasn’t in the same space as we were.  This guy was looking at the actual game world in front of him.”

Death Stranding’s launched was swathed in mystery but Troy insists he was stunned when Kojima even admitted he didn’t know what the game was really about.  He said:

“What’s really funny is I have been saying I thought the only person in the world that knows what the game is about is Hideo Kojima but now Hideo is saying he doesn’t.  But, more than anything I know that there is an end goal that he really wants to accomplish with this project and there is a real concept behind it — to be more than just a game people will play.  I am like ‘If he pulls it off it will totally change things’.”

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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