Scotch Corner – Scraping a Knee

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 5th April 2020.

 

The Division 2: Warlords of New York Edition (Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia, £24.99)

LOOTER shooters live and die by their post-launch content.  Fact.  Ubisoft blew everyone away with The Division 2 when it first landed last year.  They threw a fair amount of support at it, but it is fair to say they did not manage to continue the wow factor.  That must have hurt because they have hunkered down, worked hard and bounced back with Warlords Of New York.  Boom.  It adds a healthy chunk of content, tweaks the original game and flings a new campaign story into the mix.  So far, so good.  However, the elephant in the room has to be where the game is set.  The timing of a game built around a world that is devastated by a killer virus is insensitive at best — and a poor sales decision at worst.  Who wants to spend months in lockdown playing a game about a killer virus putting us all at risk?

But we went that extra yard and took on the challenge.  We delved deep into our inner lockdown spirit.  Well, we did have time on our hands.  The result is that, if you look beyond the backdrop, you’ll find an enjoyable take-on-your-mates shooter and a world full of elements that make you think — especially in the current climate.  As the name suggests, your agent heads back to where The Division started.  And that is a big plus for fans.  Washington DC is cool, but the Big Apple is the true home of the game.  You have to help agents fight Aaron Keener, the former agent who has gone rogue.  Recent bite-size DLC has been building up to this story, but he comes with added threat — a gang of lethal rogue operatives.  Each has their own skill set, making any challenge tough, but it takes The Division gameplay up to a new level.  You can choose the order of your attacks.  However, Keener’s men are backed up by two returning factions— the Rikers, who escaped from the Rikers Island prison, and the fan-favourite Cleaners, a band of sanitation workers gone mad who pack flame-throwers.  So there are plenty of challenges and firefights in store across the new and highly detailed streets of lower Manhattan.  They are full of secrets and cool things to see and find.

The main tale will clock in at around the six-to-seven-hour mark but (SPOILER ALERT) once you start this fight you’re there till the end.  You can’t return to Washington until the last of Keener’s forces are defeated.  That is actually a pain if your mates call on you to play in the core game.  But once you have completed the tale, you can travel back and forth between the cities at will.  Which brings us to the loot-and-shoot fun.  In truth, it is a mixed bag.  Yes, there is plenty of both and the looting is really top-tier as you hunt ever more shiny kit.  But the shooting is a bit less exciting.  Bullet-sponge enemies are here in force — you can empty three clips into a bad guy’s head and he’s still got enough to kill you.  On top of that, your low time to die decreases your survival odds and increases your blood pressure.  Once you clear the campaign and start raising the difficultly stakes, this issue really start to affect things, especially when you team up with pals.  The real pain is that Ubisoft had sorted this in the core game so it is annoying that it is back here — with a vengeance.  The Dark Zone has also undergone a lot of changes since the first outing.  It is well worth a trip and the new season content helps to keep things going long into the end-game battle.

It’s also worth noting that the whole pack can be a little rough around the edges with more than a few glitches and gremlins popping up, but we accept that Ubisoft will fix them like they have in the core game.  But it may all be too late for some fans.  This adds meaty goodness to The Division 2.  The gameplay tweaks are very welcome.  The solid looter-shooter is back.  Let’s just hope they fix the technical issues because New York is still one helluva town.

Score: 4/5

Turning Practice into Reality

DAVEY Todd obviously has several loose screws — and, in the nicest possible way, is a couple of sandwiches short of picnic.  That can be the only reason why he flings himself around the stunning Isle of Man TT course.  Davey is already a bit of a hero on the island — having clocked a lap at an average speed of 131.491mph to become the second-fastest newcomer to join the 130mph club.  And Davey credits the first instalment of the TT game as playing a vital role in learning the track.  The 25-year-old Yorkie, from Saltburn, now has 10 TT finishes under his belt but still believes the first game helped pave his road to glory.  He said:

“I can’t remember how I came across the first game, I think it might have been at the TT press launch, but I was just searching for every possible aid to help me learn the course ahead of my first time.  It was a massive help when the game was released.  I put an insane amount of time into the first game to help me learn.  I was pretty much playing every day for maybe six months in the run-up to the TT.  My favourite part of the course on the game is the first section because it’s so fast, but in real life I love riding the flowing nature of the mountain section.  There are definitely a lot of guys using the game to learn the course, especially after finding out I used the game so much before my first TT.”

So it seemed a no-brainer for the guys at Kylotonn to tap into that knowledge and show how real and digital tracks can lead to the same road.  Davey added:

“I first met up with the guys from Nacon on the Isle of Man at the TT and I explained about my experience with the first game — how I was in second place on the world leaderboard on PS4 as I’d played the game that much to help me learn the TT course for my first real race.”

But he is far more than just the cover star for the second game — he worked hard on the development process too.  He revealed:

“There are many big changes in the new game.  The realism of the rider and bike physics is a massive difference, and it’s really cool to see how close it is now to doing it in real life.  The developers asked about many details to do with the physics improvements, the bike set-up, handling and the variable factors you have while riding.  They also asked a lot about the finer details of the course — braking markers, bumps and other reference points.  The biggest difference from the game to real life would be the feeling it gives you of going that insane speed — it’s the best feeling in the world.  The game does a good job of giving that sense of speed, but without the risk and danger.”

Davey may have been a star on the first title, but he admitted he doesn’t really spent much time gaming.  Although he loves the occasional blast.  He explained:

“I actually wouldn’t say I’m a gamer although I really do enjoy playing lots of different games.  I simply don’t have time these days.  But if I did, I love racing games and first-person shooters.”

But given how tough the game is, the real question has to be how often did he crash when he first started playing it?  Davey laughed and admitted:

“Unlike most people, honestly I didn’t crash that much when I first started playing.  I tried to play like it was in real life, so I just went as slow as I needed to, to not crash, and I often did complete laps without crashing.”

We reckon he’s on his Todd there — literally.

Quit Whining and Get On With It

KYLOTONN producer Sebastien Lebourcq has little sympathy for gamers who reckon Ride On The Edge 2 is too tough.  He actually laughs at the idea of people giving up because he wants the game to reflect the real-world achievement in lining up for the big race.  He reckons the race is so tough that it demands any game to match it.  Sebastien wants you to feel the pride if you master the game rather than handing you a snap-shot of the famous race.  He said:

“The game is very difficult.  It’s not an arcade game, it’s very much a sim where we ask the player to master the bike as we aim to get things as close to a real TT bike as possible in handling and behaviour.  So, if you start at the beginning, your first few games are about learning how to handle the bike.  As time goes on, in our opinion, when you master a certain bike like a BMW or Kawasaki it’s an even bigger pleasure than winning the TT.  You have achieved something that is really quite hard.  For example, if I make a turn in an arcade game there is no reward or merit because it is easy, whereas in TT you have to really understand how the bike rides and works so it’s more rewarding when you take that corner at speed and carry on.  But you can dial it down a bit to the amateur setting where it’s bit ‘easier’ but if you want to perform well in the career against the AI or to have a chance on the multiplayer leaderboard then it’s a tough challenge that will need time investment.”

Sebastien and his crew have totally reworked the career mode to focus on seasons instead of instant wins.  He explained:

“The career is based on playing different seasons and at the end of each series you can possible take part in the TT race.  A season is about four hours of gameplay.  Then, if you want to improve, you can do season two, three and so on.  I have played four seasons so far because I wanted to try new bikes and settings — that’s about 20 hours on the career mode.  You are never stuck in the new career like you were in the first game.  You always win cash with each race because our objective was to make an economic management game.  You can always carry on, but it your performances are not so good then it will take longer.  We wanted a career where you can get the top parts if you persevere, improve and learn.”

The search for realism brings its own challenges but the TT Zero electric race was a step too far.  Sebastien said:

“In any game you have to make a choice — we can’t do everything.  TT Zero is a very experimental race.  It’s not the most prestigious of the races at the TT so we wanted to invest in those.  We would like to cover it, but due to limitations we chose to go with Super Sport, Super Bike and Classic.”

Another issue surrounds copyright for the classic bikes.  Sebastien added:

“Many factors played into the picking of the classics bikes, like copyright of course, but then we love the TT and we have read and watched a lot of the history of the event.  We made a list of bikes and we had to have Joey Dunlop.  We also wanted a Giacomo Agostini bike too.  The rest of the list in there are history-makers in they own right.  We reached out to the manufacturers to see what would be possible because, at the start, we aimed for a tribute to the TT with iconic bikes.  It was possible to secure some of the bikes and riders’ leathers and the like but, unfortunately, we couldn’t get Agostini’s likeness so you’ll ride his bike as Dean Harrison — he raced it in a recent Classic TT.”

TT Isle of Man Ride on the Edge 2 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £49.99)

THE Isle Of Man TT may have fallen foul of coronavirus, but bike fans can still get their fix of the iconic showdown.  French developers Kylotonn have served up a realistic slice of Manx magic with Ride On The Edge 2.  This is the official game for the legendary road race and a sequel to arguably the hardest racing game we have ever played.  There is a case to be made for softening the experience down by giving mortal “riders” a chance and opening up the market to millions of casual racers.  But oh no, Kylotonn have stuck to their brutally tough “keeping it real” formula that does what it says in the title — Ride On The Edge.  In their defence, they WANT the most sim-like bike racer on the market.  Well, our French friends, we reckon you have done it.

The biggest change is in the presentation and core gameplay.  The career mode has been totally overhauled to deliver a more in-depth taste of the life of a road racer.  You start out by trying to catch the eye of a team then work your way up the ranks in a bid to secure a ride at the senior TT.  To achieve that you need to tackle a set calendar of events so this is no quick-fix game.  You need to put in the hours.  There is no one-season wonder here.  You will get beaten.  A lot.  More than a lot.  You will get “hurt” a lot as well as you smash into the Tarmac.  It is so tough that you wonder whether anyone actually makes it to the big race.  The gameplay has been tweaked to be a bit tighter, but you’ll still go sideways if you hit a kerb.  However, the overall feel is a lot more controllable than the first title.

The learning curve is Everest vertical.  You will bin it 20 times in the first 30 seconds, but learning the hard way is the only route to the top.  The tutorial helps, but doesn’t hold your hand.  And any lightweights searching for the rewind feature can think again.  If you bail out of a race, it’s game over and you are last.  After the 40th time, your soul-crushed being with be fluent in swear words.  There are a handful of online modes, as well as a time attack and a new free roam area billed as a practice zone.  But that’s only made up of the Irish tracks, which is a bit odd when you are aiming for the Isle of Man.  It’s also lonely because there are no other racers — just a few small challenges.  It all feels like an unfinished feature at the moment.

An official licence means a solid selection of bikes and riders, from Peter Hickman to Michael Dunlop, and they have added a classic bikes and riders element.  It is a bit limited at the moment but you can pick the legends that are Joey Dunlop and Scot Steve Hislop.  We love it and hope it grows in the future.  The developers wanted a tough sim and they have delivered.  Only a select few will get the most out of this game — we reckon it should have an element for the more casual gamer and be more of a tribute to the most legendary motorcycle road race in the world.  That could be the perfect home for the free roam mode, so Kylotonn really should give Manx firm Duke Video a call.  If you can cope with the brutal slide of this, you will love it.  But it takes too long to get there and depends too much on your skill levels.  It’s worth a look for race fans but your mileage will be based on your patience.

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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