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 3rd February.
RALLY ace Jon Armstrong has won events and was also crowned World Rally Champion in the eSports arena last year. The driver from Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, reckons games are now so good now they could launch real-world careers. He has now helped develop DiRT Rally 2.0 with Codemasters and said:
“We have seen competitions where they look for a real gamer to bring in to be a real racing driver and it’s worked out really well. The drivers are still racing today. It’s a testament to just how realistic the games are becoming and how the principles of driving a car in the virtual world relates to the real world. At Race of Champions, an eSports player beat an F1 driver around a track in identical cars.”
“Effectively sim racing is becoming the grassroots of motorsport. It is a place where anyone from any age can sit down and compete against the best in the world and prove they are the best. There is definitely a path people can take if they don’t have the money to race in real life. eSports have a lot of prize pools up for grabs although motorsports is a bit lacking when you look at other games.”
The eSports path certainly helped him after his real-world bid hit cash problems. He said:
“You get so far in real motorsport then you get hit by budget. You have to lower your expectations or have a rethink. That was what I did and winning an eSport championship was great.”
He has been very hands-on with DiRT.
“I have had a lot of input in a lot of different areas. I have done pace notes validation with Phil Mills, the 2013 world rally champion who is the co-driver in the game. I worked closely with the handling team to make sure the physics are where they need to be and that the cars handle well on the throttle. I work with the whole team — whether it’s the environment artist asking about something looking right or the level designers checking the road camber. I have driven some of them in real life so it’s good to add my experience.”
Going to Rally School
IT’S one thing to go rallying in a game, but something completely different when you do it for real. Codemasters gave us hands-on time with DiRT Rally 2.0 — the 13th instalment in the Colin McRae Rally series — before letting us loose in a real machine in Wales. First observation: You don’t get rollcage bruises from the game. DiRT Rally 2.0 is split into two main parts — rallies like Argentina, New Zealand and Poland (although sadly none from the UK in the build we played) and Rallycross. The rallying is brutal. There is no rewind feature and, even with the aids turned up to the max, you won’t recover from many mistakes. Front-wheel and rear-wheel drive cars handle differently, but there is a lively selection of horsepower. The Rallycross is a bit easier, but go too wide and connect with a tyre wall and you will know about it. You lose all speed and your race is over because you won’t catch up. You can even end your race by damaging the car going over bumps.
The racing rig added to the thrill, even if the steering did take some time to get used to. You just needed the lightest of touches. So, after smashing up a host of motors, they gave us a real car at The Phil Price Rally School. They boasted that we would go sideways and manage the Scandinavian Flick — or a pendulum flick — to get around a hairpin bend. The interesting twist was that after playing the game and having a few spins in the real car things started to click. You can see a clear crossover in techniques. However, the virtual world may be good, but the rush from the real thing is bigger and better. And that stint will help me when the game launches on February 26th — even if it doesn’t keep me out the fields.
Onimusha: Warlords Remastered (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £15.99)
CAPCOM hit the remastering heights with Resident Evil 2, see below, but took a different approach with Onimusha: Warlords. You have probably never heard of it. The last main instalment was 10 years ago. The original title was eight years before that on the PS2. It was planned as a historical prequel to Resident Evil, but eventually went its own way. You play as a Samurai called Samanosuke who has to save his village and a princess from a horde of demons. Capcom gave it the HD treatment and changed . . . the visuals and the performance. That’s it. No joyous additions. No new content. Nada. Zilch.
It looks great. It runs buttery smooth. The TANK controls have changed to an analog stick to move. That’s great — it is how the game should have been played. It’s like Dark Souls now — timing is king. Button-bashing is a game-over certainty. You need to study enemies and time your attacks. You need to juggle when it’s safe to collect souls between fights. But no new content. No new thrills. The backgrounds are pre-rendered so some look a bit ropey and muddy and the game is not the longest — a situation made worse by the time wasted waiting for the cut scenes to play out.
Onimusha’s biggest problem is that it launches a few weeks apart from Resident Evil 2 and that highlights the differences between them. It might be that Capcom is testing the water to see if fans and newcomers are interested in an Onimusha return. If that’s the case, why not do an HD trilogy release of the series in the same way as Devil May Cry? Look, it is fun, if short. Fans will enjoy a revisit, but that’s about it.
Resident Evil 2: Remastered (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)
STAND by for a remastering master-class from Capcom. There is the Onimusha: Warlords way — tinkers and tweaks. Then there is the Resident Evil 2 way — a sumptuous delight of gaming excitement for a title that will feature on most people’s all-time favourites list.
That’s it in a sentence: One of your all-time favourite games has had the high-definition treatment. Rejoice. Throw yourself in. Enjoy the extra yards that Capcom have travelled to make this new version a shiny new game. Other than the core story everything else in the 1998 classic has been ripped out and replaced — from the engine to the way the game controls to even throwing in a cheeky few curve balls that even the most diehard fans won’t see coming.
You may think you remember a scene, but the Capcom team has re-scripted some key moments. When enemies attacked in 1998 they could come through a window on the right, for instance. Now, they burst through a door on the left. It may not seem much, but it throws the whole game up in the air. There are also a few new areas but we won’t spoil it by saying where they are. And again, that’s not a huge change in theory but, in practice, it adds to the fresh feeling. The story follows the same beat so you play as Leon or Claire. You have two campaigns plus a few bonuses. Clear them and it opens up another challenge. But, for the most part, you move around three beefy areas of Racoon City as you find clues to help open up the right path, all while fending off the zombie hordes and other big beasties.
You need to have a good grip on item management. That is key to success because you have limited space, so you face a choice of taking extra ammo or healing items. It becomes a mini-game within the main event. The gameplay has a very strong Resident Evil 4 vibe — so you have the over-the-shoulder view where you walk around often with your flashlight as the only thing to guide you. It adds to the horror feel and, we are willing to admit, there are plenty of full-on jump moments . . . especially if you play in the dark with a headset on. The new look is mind-blowing. Capcom have put so much work into the game — from fire effects to a lighting system that is one of the best we have seen in gaming. The facial animations are outstanding and backed up by solid voice action across the board, even if Leon and Claire are a bit wooden at times.
If you are a fan of the Resident Evil series this is a must. Capcom have flexed their muscles and shown what the studio can do with a remastering. This is the benchmark all others will be judged by. Fans will love it. Newcomers will have a blast. Now, when will Resident Evil 3: Nemesis get the treatment?
Smoke and Sacrifice (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £15.99)
YOU only get one chance to make a first impression — and new indie studio Solar Sail Games made sure it was the right one with Smoke And Sacrifice. It’s punchy from the off, you play as Sachi — a young mum who has to sacrifice her son to please the magic sun tree that gives light to the people. Jump forward seven years and the sun tree has been attacked and has fallen. Sachi stands on the spot where her son was sacrificed and is transported to another land.
You must try to survive and find answers to what’s happened… and whether your son is still alive. But you also come across smoke — deadly smoke that hides a horde of nasties that want to kill or eat you. There are quests and side missions as well as collecting items and finding recipes to help you craft stuff to ease your journey. It’s dark, moody and full of tension. A good first outing.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…