Scotch Corner – Rammed to the Hilt

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 20th May 2018.

 

Conan Exiles (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £39.99)

SURVIVE, build, dominate — not bad for an afternoon’s work.  Norwegian firm Funcom have taken the survival model and mixed it with an established franchise in Conan.  Conan Exiles drops you into the Robert E. Howard world of high fantasy and you simply have to stay alive.  But don’t expect to see much of the big man.  He frees you from a cross at the beginning and that’s it.

You have to hunt for food and materials to build weapons and other items to make you stronger.  However, this is Conan’s world so expect some pretty big beasties to take a dislike to you.  The huge spiders and the like come at you pretty fast and the fighting with other tribes is quite good fun.  There is a deep Dark Souls vibe about it.  Your first base is key to searching for materials and farming.  You could just wander around, but that strategy may be short-lived, so you need to be clever in your approach.

But even that may not be enough because the hunt-and-build technique also gets harder as the game goes on.  It is borderline impossible at times as you have to collect hundreds of items and then manage the whole situation.  Even hunting for meat isn’t just landing a kill — you need a special tool to harvest the meat then you need to start a fire and so on.  It’s about four steps too long — and that sums up a lot of the game.

You want to make progress but you will need to put in the hours if you want to enjoy the high-level play.  There is no quick fix to success in this game — it demands your full attention and there is no corner- cutting.  The graphics are a mixed bag, ranging from very nice to muddy and flat, although the soundtrack hits all the fantasy notes.  The rough edges will annoy you, especially as you have enough on your plate putting stuff, err… on your plate.  Seasoned survival games fans will love the challenge but any newcomers may find it very heavy going.  Conan Exiles is a rich universe and adding the survival aspect is a neat trick.  They work well together but it could have been a bit simpler.

Score: 3.5/5

Raging Justice (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £8.99)

CLASSIC gaming fun always puts a smile on your face and Raging Justice is a tribute to epic side-scrolling beat ’em ups like Streets Of Rage and Golden Axe.  MakinGames have teamed up with Team17 to serve up a classic 80s B-movie plot as you play one of three vigilantes trying to sort out the gangs on the streets — but, to be fair, the story never gets in the way of the action.  You just work your way from the left of the screen to the right beating up punks and thugs until you reach the end-of-level boss.  You can pick up different weapons, from pipes and bats to knives, to help you dish out the damage.  But you can also arrest thugs once they are stunned, instead of knocking them out, and that bags you extra health items.  There is a special move that uses up serious health levels, so you need a bit of strategy or you will die because it opens you up to one fatal punch.

A few of the sections break up the brawl-fest.  Then you have to fight your way out of a pit- style arena or jump in a tractor and mow down the bad guys.  It’s fun but a little under-used distraction.  Spice things up with challenges ranging from arresting certain thugs to completing the level in a set time.  They add a bit of replay value after you have cleared the main story.  You can play in couch co-op mode, which is fun but there is no online co-op or three-player option.  There is an early 90s feel to the graphics which suits the retro vibe, but the soundtrack is largely forgettable and the combat lacks any real depth, especially as the bad guys seem like the same people — just with different coloured tops.

Overall, it is a fun but flawed blast from the past that will fill a weekend, especially if you play with a pal.  It just lacks the attraction to hang around in the city.

Score: 3.5/5

Trailblazers (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £21.59)

SOME people just like to race — others want a deeper experience.  Step forward Trailblazers.  The Supergonk creation is a multi-layered challenge that mixes fast and frantic Wipeout-style racing with Splatoon-esque teamwork and then throws in a tactical element that keeps you on your toes.  There are eight cartoon racers, each with different stats, and 10 tracks which can be raced in both directions.  You can’t win story, custom or online mode without working as a team to create boost pads to get much-needed surges during a race.

Story mode sees you race all the other cars, while trying to score points, finish in a certain position or just beat the other guy.  The tactics come in when you can paint the track in your team’s colour.  Those areas then become boost pads for your team.  However, the other racers can also use paint to break up your pad and make you spin.  The game is full of colour, even if the tracks are a little flat, and the AI can be a bit full-on at times, but the awesome soundtrack feels like it has been lifted straight from the PS2 era.

This would have been the ultimate 1990s racer.  Trailblazers has taken the best bits of that era and blended in some new ideas to create a fun racer that will stand out from the crowd.

Score: 4/5

On The Stream

LETITIA Lemon may be the new kid on the streaming block but she is rapidly rising up the ranks.

She says:

“I took up streaming about two months ago because I decided that in my free time I should be more productive.  As an entertainer, I wanted it to help get me out there a little more as a presenter/host… plus I love games!”

Her goal is to see her channel continue to grow and reach as many like-minded people as possible, giving them something fun to watch for a few hours every couple of days.  Catch her at twitch.tv/letitialemon or follow @LetitiaTHELemon.

eSports

FORMER F1 driver Jean Alesi is setting up his own eSports academy in a bid to take SIM racers into real- world racing.  The academy will focus on games like F1, Forza and Project Cars and hopes to bridge the gap between sim and real racing.  There is a strong vibe of the successful Gran Turismo academy, and the Frenchman hopes to find and train new talent.  Get picked and you’ll be trained by Alesi and Matteo Bobbi on track.

For more info head over to jeanalesiesa.com.

‘Cos Full Price Online Only Shooters Have Done So Well In The Past…

THE wraps have gone off the new Call Of Duty game.  Treyarch used a glitzy event in Los Angeles to reveal some tasty titbits about Black Ops 4.  It WON’T have the traditional OTT Michael Bay-style campaign, preferring solo trials.  You’ll also be able to play the Zombies mode with bots.  The multiplayer will be a “boots on the ground” experience like CoD WW2 and the core gameplay will have a Rainbow Six Siege vibe.

There’s no automatic health regeneration, you’ll get a heal button.  Zombies has been beefed up with three maps from launch.  The most interesting is set on the Titanic, giving an undead slant to why the ship sank.  But the headline was that CoD will join the Battle Royale ranks with a Blackout mode.  It will include characters from across the Black Ops series and Zombies modes as well as air, sea and land vehicles.  It gets the largest CoD map ever — said to be 1,500 times bigger than Nuketown with the best parts of the past 10 years of Black Ops multiplayer worlds.  Out October 11 after a beta run for those who pre-order the game.

State of Decay 2 (Xbox One, £24.99)

THE zombie frenzy seemed to have died down — but no one told Undead Labs.  They are aiming to breathe new life into the . . . err. . .  undead with State of Decay 2.  And they have shown they are up to the challenge with what is, in many ways, the best non-Walking Dead game ever.  This is all about survival and making it from one day to the next in one piece, so the core story is not really the driving force although you will have to clear out zombie nests called plague hearts which are dotted around the world.

The real hook is the unknown — every time you venture out you don’t know what you’ll face.  You start by picking a pair of characters who are either friends or related.  One is infected by the “blood plague” and you have to set up a base.  It’s a clever way of teaching you the ropes and it also gives you a taste of what is to come.  You can set up camp in one of three areas, then it is all about staying alive.  You’ll have to build a community of people you find and help.  Each one has different skills, but you also need to search for food, fuel and medicines.  That means a lot of game management because you need to look after your community — keep the place supplied, stop your people getting scared when the zombies get close and give everyone space to live.  You can also switch between members when they are tired or need time to heal.

Then you have to leave the community to forage for food, trade with others or take on side missions.  That cranks up the tension because you never know what is coming next.  It’s gaming on a knife edge.  What seems like a simple situation can suddenly turn as a horde gets nasty.  Combat is split into armed and unarmed.  You have to weigh up the pros and cons of what you are about to do — guns may be great but firing them will only attract more zombies, whereas a melee will use up energy and mean you have to rest.  That’s not advisable when you are facing a mob.  You also have to work out which zombies are trying to gate-crash your party — there are special-duty hardcore dudes who put up a real fight.  One bloater explodes into a poison gas cloud while another is a hulking juggernaut.

A key factor is your community.  If they die, then they are gone for good — and that can be a gut punch particularly if you have played a lot of missions with them.  You grow attached to them . . . and you will miss their skill.  The story is all drawn out on an excellent canvas of colour.  There is a real-world feel to the graphics and some of the lighting is superb — especially the sunset shots.  However, when the night falls you are in real trouble because it is so dark that you can barely see three feet in front of you.  That will really crank up the terror factor.  You hear a thud.  You suddenly see eight pairs of eyes glowing at you.  Are they friendly or not?  What tactics do you use?  Are your people safe?

The soundtrack ebbs and flows in the background — it is great when it is there, but there are long periods with no music.  Fans of the first game were desperate for a co-op feature in the sequel and it is sort of there.  You and three pals can team up, but it is all fairly limited to helping the host.  You can’t build your own community alongside their one.  Co-op playing was hit by rubber banding — or jerky movement — at times, but we should say that this was a pre-launch game so that may be fixed after launch.  Overall, State of Decay 2 is a brute of a game — stressful and fun in equal measures.  Zombie fans will love it, but don’t bite off too much at a time.

Score: 4/5

ADD some bite to your State Of Decay 2 with the Collector’s Edition.  It adds a host of undead themed goodies like an exclusive SteelBook case and a USB “thumb-drive” as well as a DLC bonus.  But the standout feature has to be that you get a Latex Zombie Mask so you can scare your cat or… the postman.  Strangely, the Collector’s Edition doesn’t include a copy of the game but retailer Game has bundled it with a copy of State Of Decay 2: Ultimate Edition for £84.99.

See game.co.uk for more info.

Bombslinger (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £9.59)

SADDLE up, cowboys, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.  It’s fair to say most Western fans are waiting for the new Red Dead Redemption, but don’t miss out on Bombslinger.  Belgian developers Mode4 have created a blast fest — this is roguelike with a classic Bomberman twist.  Bombslinger is a legendary outlaw who is trying to give up the old life, but returns home one night to find his house a charred ruin and his wife dead — and his old gang was behind it.  Cue an old-fashioned revenge tale as he grabs a bag of bombs and hunts down each gang member.

You have to charge around levels using bombs to clear your path as well as kill your enemies and find loot.  The gameplay is largely straightforward but you will need some cunning to beat the different bosses.  Then it feels more like a puzzler than anything else.  You will also need to unlock new abilities and skills for each run so you can build up your powers, but die and you lose your power-ups.  The developers have given the game a nice retro vibe — everything is 3D but has a 2D pixel art style.  Some of the character designs are outstanding and the soundtrack really fits the Wild West with a mix of country and rock themes.

The multiplayer lets you and three pals fight it out in classic area- based combat.  That ramps up the fun as you bid to be the last cowboy standing.  Bombslinger can be a challenging roguelike game that will test you.  It has that addictive “just one more shot” feel when you get killed.  It will certainly scratch that cowpoke itch until October and Red Dead 2.

Score: 4.5/5

City of Brass (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £15.99)

DON’T mistake City Of Brass as a simple first person shooter — it’s far tougher.  Developers Uppercut Games — who were originally in the team behind Bioshock — have thrown a roguelike element into the mix in a risky move.  It seems simple enough — a vagabond finds a cursed city in the middle of the desert and needs to collect the loot.  Unfortunately, the former locals — now spirits — do everything they can to lay traps and kill him.  And that is the first roguelike frustration because, if you die, you lose everything.

The combat system is pure Bioshock.  You wield your blade in one hand with your bullwhip in the other.  It may feel a bit basic at times but is great fun once you get into a flow of triggering traps with your whip and fighting with your blade.  There are loads of skeletons, evil genies and other nasties who lead the way to the boss fights.  As you move through the city the difficulty ramps up — the enemies stop using swords and start using fireballs and magic.  The traps are more deadly.

The art style is neat over the 12 stages, as you move from sun-kissed markets to creepy crypts, and the enemies look the part.  The soundtrack also backs up the desert adventure vibe.  You may find glitches with the hit registration and the speed of movement, but Uppercut are already working on patches.  It’s an interesting take on FPS and there are good bits, but overall it’s more frustrating than exciting.

Score: 2.5/5

Rumour, Speculation and a Few Hard Facts

E3 always sparks rumours — and there is a frenzy of guessing games about new titles and developers letting out little teasers.  There has been a deluge of nuggets of information and fake news ahead of the big Electronic Entertainment Expo convention in Los Angeles next month.  The party line is to take everything with a pinch of salt at the moment, but we have lined up some of the juiciest titbits and rumours doing the rounds at the moment . . .

Walmart Canada might have gone a step too far by publishing a list of games for pre-order.  What’s wrong with that, you ask. Well, none of the games have actually been announced.  The list includes Forza Horizon 4, Splinter Cell, Just Cause 4 and Gears Of War 5.  So was it fake or real?

It might have been dismissed as rumour but Rage 2 was also in there and, out of the blue Bethesda suddenly announced that Rage 2 was in the pipeline.  They even issued a teaser and gameplay trailer.  They give a neat clue as to what we can expect from the new game.  Bethesda certainly believe bigger is better as you fight your way through a sunbaked wasteland with an army of glowy-eyed mutants out to get you.  The setting seems to be straight out of a Mad Max world.

Avalanche Studio is the development team behind the sequel and they are mixing things up a bit with hints of forests and mountains in the trailer.  You’ll also face off against some truly towering giants of enemies.  It is safe to say it’s got bags of attitude as well as Bethesda say “That’s right, this is a f****ing AAAAAA game”.  There is no world of a release date just yet but expect more at the Bethesda conference.

So if that was true, what else of the Walmart list was correct?  We bet there have been some frantic marketing meetings ahead of the E3 convention.

Elsewhere, EA have been hinting at the next chapter in the Battlefield series, but they chose an neat way to deliver the treat —there was a message hidden on one of the maps in Battlefield One which leads you to a website.  Go there and you will find the phrase: “Never Be the Same” and a blue screen with the date May 23 and hashtag #battlefield.  If you send that link through social media you will see a preview image that contains a watercolour painting of a white horse.

OK, we admit that is not exactly giving much away but, in our lunchtime,(honest), we did some closer examination and it does look like there is a tyre mark across the painting.  The plot thickens.

There was also much excitement when an image of a new Xbox One controller showed up online — with just two main buttons.  Was it real or fake?  The image was leaked by twitter user @h0x0d, but Microsoft have now revealed that it is a “first-of-its-kind device as an easy-to-set-up, and readily available Xbox wireless controller designed for gamers with limited mobility”.

It has been produced after talks with charities and hospitals in a bid to help make gaming accessible.

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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