Scotch Corner – Should We Really Have Saved Shenmue?

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 22nd December.

 

Dead End Job (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £12.10)

THE new Ghostbusters trailer has just landed and that has put spook-chasing front and centre in people’s minds.  Scottish studio Ant Workshop have taken inspiration from that for their latest title Dead End Job.  It’s a twin-stick where you have to bust ghosts and make money as you work your way around areas of the city — saving people from the ghouls as you go.  A core tale ticks away in the background — basically, you have to save your partner’s soul and you only have a few days to do it.  But, on the whole, the tale takes a back seat because the action steals the limelight.

You blast your way through each job, trying to level up, get faster and stronger and find different pick-ups that can help or hinder your mission in equal measure.  Each level is procedurally generated so you never really know what the level has in store for you beyond the theme, and the enemies are also randomly picked.  WARNING: If you get killed, you lose all your upgrades.  That is a huge pain but it does give the game a real risk- and-reward vibe because you can do the job and get out of the level or risk it all by hanging around getting more cash.

There is a real 90s Nickelodeon cartoon look and the soundtrack is full of solid rockabilly tunes but special mention for the theme tune.  It’s epic.  We know this isn’t the deepest title of the year but it’s a very moreish titbit once it gets its hooks into you.  Short, sharp blasts will put a smile on your face.

Score: 4.5/5

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £27.99)

WE may have had an election but, without getting too political here, the country is not exactly united.  We are sure there are plenty of you out there who reckon you could do a better job than Nicola or BoJo.  Well, you’re in luck — Civilization VI has just hit consoles and it will bring out the real ruler in you.  The Sid Meier turn-based strategy series has been a smash on the PC for some time but the jump to the consoles is the first time a full-fat Civ has been ported so there is plenty of interest in how it gets on.  On the whole — beyond using a controller — the game is a mirror copy which is a huge plus.  It’s fair to say that, in the past, turn-based ports have not been so tied to the source.  Now, if you’re going to set out on a Civ VI journey you’ll need time — lots of time.  This is not a fast- paced title and is a big grey matter workout.

If you’re new to the world of Civ you can play through a full tutorial campaign which will show you the ropes as well as teaching you what you’ll need to do.  That’s a very welcome addition and, overall, there is a lot of help at hand for new players.  You start out as a basic tribe of people and your goal is to try to raise them up to be a dominant superpower, going down a variety of paths one turn at a time using trade, force and negotiation.  It’s really up to you how you forge your people’s future.  That is harder than it sounds because you’ll face off against real historic leaders, each with their own goals, so diplomacy plays a huge part in the game because you may end up going to war — and the whole campaign is narrated by Yorkshire’s finest, Sean Bean.

There is no hiding from the fact that this is a monster of a title with a lot of moving parts.  And that means it WILL take time to master and is a true time sink as you’ll lose hours falling deeper and deeper into its wonder of rule.  And that’s before you head online.

Score: 5/5

Astro C40 TR Controller (PS4 and PC, £189.99)

ASTRO have made a name for themselves with high-end headsets and audio kit, but you might not immediately think about controllers.  They have just branched out into that market and the C40 TR for PC and PS4 is a stylish first outing.  They aim to fill the custom controller hole left by Sony not making an official counterpart to the Microsoft Elite.  It is fair to say that just having the Astro name on the box is an indication of quality and the C40 TR doesn’t disappoint.   It feels like a solid bit of kit and is well-weighted and chunky.  It weighs in at 314g compared to 209g for the standard PS4 controller, but we are not weight shaming.  The Astro makes those grams work.

You get a neat carry case which comes loaded with goodies like replacement thumb sticks and wireless dongle plus a trick screwdriver that is key to changing the controller’s layout.  The front has a carbon faceplate that locks in the sticks and d-pad but, once you unscrew it, you can swap and move them around till your heart’s content.  However, it is worth saying that the face buttons can’t be moved.  Turn the controller over and you’ll see a grip texture as well as physical trigger locks.  That’s a mega plus because you can flick them on the fly instead of having to use your PC to set them and, unlike other controllers, it only has one set of back triggers instead of two.  You can switch wired or wireless use, which is another nice touch, plus you can connect it to your PC to create your own pre-sets for bottom layouts using an Astro programme which is clear, easy to use and packed with other settings to tweak as you hunt for that perfect set-up.

The C40 TR controller isn’t a cheap bit of kit but it’s a solid, well-rounded controller that really hits the mark as a first outing for Astro.  Make no mistake, this is a real challenger to the other custom controllers out there.  You’ll need to drop a few hints if you want a special last-minute Christmas gift from Santa.

Score: 5/5

Shenmue 3 (PS4 and PC, £44.99)

TIME travel normally needs a mad scientist, a blue phone box or an 80s gull-wing sports car.  But what if we said you just needed a PS4 or a PC?  That would spark your explorative curiosity.  Well, Shenmue 3 is like a portal back to the 2000s.  It was a different era in gaming and that will be the defining factor for many when they play this long-awaited third game in the series.  The 18-year-old tale was left on a cliff-hanger and fans have been chomping at the bit to see how it all pans out.  The wait has succeeded in turning the series into a cult gaming classic, but time doesn’t stand still for anyone and, first and foremost, it has to show that it has transferred to the modern-day game arena.

We felt Shenmue 3 was the game fans wanted back then rather than a new cutting-edge title that has fully embraced the changes between then and now.  That will be a deal-breaker for many people.  It follows on directly from the events in the second game.  Hero Ryo Hazuki is still on a mission to avenge the death of his father and get Lan Di.  Being a Shenmue game, this means the core tale will involve walking around the good-size open areas asking the locals about anything that will give you the info to get to the next part of the story.  You will do a bit of training and get into a few brawls, but that just highlights the fact that the fight system feels like a downgrade from the past two games.

Then there are the distractions, like gambling, collecting figures from capsule machines and doing day jobs to earn cash — yes, you’ll be driving a forklift for way too long.  That sums up the gameplay — it is mundane and boring — although there is a certain charm in spending an age chopping wood or walking around in a circle to bag a health boost.  It is great but it just takes way too long to complete a lot of the tasks.  It’s certainly not a game where you race around at 100mph all the time — this is about taking the time to perfect a task and a pride in the achievement.  The QTE events from past games return to spice things up, but there is no real impact if you fail.

The graphics are a real mixed bag — the world looks great but the characters are all over the shop once you go beyond the main cast.  Then there is the voice acting, which is actually shocking.  It is also a blast from the past because it was awful then as well.  We get that this game is primarily aimed at the huge number of fans from the first two games.  We get that this is a love letter to the original games.  But this is a 30-hour hard sell to anyone who is new to the series.  Yes, it tells a story but its gameplay and the core are straight out of the year 2000 and nostalgia will only get it so far.

Score: 3.5/5

Kickstarting the Sequel

THE Shenmue series is a true labour of love for industry legend Yu Suzuki, who was awarded a lifetime achievement gong at this year’s Golden Joysticks.  Yu’s CV reads like a greatest hits of gaming — having worked on the likes of classics such as Outrun, Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA.  But the 61-year-old Japanese developer’s magnum opus is the Shenmue titles — a 12-chapter epic told over a number of media outlets.  It all began on the ill-fated Dreamcast in 1999 and soon became a massive hit with fans.  That said, it wasn’t all plain sailing — it was hampered by ballooning budgets and Sega suffering a rough patch.  It even raised fears that the saga would never get finished.  But salvation arrived at E3 in 2015 when Yu, right, used the Sony conference to announce a Kickstarter.  Speaking exclusively to me, the gaming legend said:

“There were few companies in Japan that had experience with crowdfunding, so it took a while to make the final decision.  I had been considering a number of options for quite some time, but I became convinced Kickstarter had the best prospects.”

It certainly got the support — 69,320 backers pledged a staggering $6,333,295 (£4,808,870).  Yu said:

“I didn’t doubt it would make it.  I know it happened because of how strongly the fans felt about it.  For fans everywhere, it was one long, continuous wait.  The game got made because of them.  And, for that, I am deeply grateful.  Of course, there was doubt, and I was relieved that it became something more than the initial goal we had for it.  With the long span in between, almost 20 years, I never would have believed it to become so beloved.”

But bringing an 18-year-old title to a modern audience had its own challenges.  Yu said:

“Shenmue I and Shenmue II have a lot of hurdles compared to mainstream games today, so with III we lowered the difficulty and picked up the game’s pace.  We also made the game generally more playable while keeping in line with the Shenmue aesthetic.  I would have concentrated on game plot without thinking about bringing the series to a completion.  Rendering is of a higher quality, textures are more finely detailed and along with employing a game engine we were able to achieve better performance for the cost.”

A huge part of the Shenmue charm — away from the main tale and the characters — has always been the mini-games and side activities, and Yu is happy with the selection this time round.  He added:

“There is fishing, betting games, capsule toy set completion, herb collecting and a lot more.  In some way or another, all have their own links to other game elements.  I hope players try out the variety.”

It’s fair to say that the fan base just wants to know if the third game will bring a close to the Ryo saga, but Yu insists a contrived ending would have wrecked the overall game.  He said:

“The story will not finish with Shenmue III.  I knew that, if an ending was forced here, it would not make for a good game.  If there would be a chance to make 4, I would of course want to continue.  As far as what is to come next, I believe there are ample opportunities.”

In the time since the second game Ryo Hazuki has made a few cameos in other titles like ESPN NFL Football, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Project X Zone 2 and SEGA Heroes.  Yu admitted:

“It is always great fun see him in other titles.  I hope Ryo actually gets more cameos.  I want him to do more work as the Shenmue PR point man.”

And he insisted there was no end to his hero’s talents.  He laughed and said:

“Cameo in any game?  Something like Tsum Tsum would be great or in something other than a game — a news programme would be hilarious.”

Sublevel Zero Redux (PC, PS4 and Switch, £15.99)

GIVING an old idea a bit of a spin can be a really gaming winner.  British studio Sigtrap have cast new eyes over 1995 classic Descent and come up with Sublevel Zero Redux.  This started on PC then headed to the consoles before finding a home on the Switch.  The core tale is never over-powering or actually memorable, but involves an event that busts the universe and everything has gone to pot.  As one of the few survivors, you must fly your ship into a relic of a base hunting the tech to fix it all and save the day.

What the story lacks, the gameplay saves as you fly through procedurally generated levels grabbing items and blasting away.  It is roguelike in that you’ll be doing a lot of runs and, if you fail, you are back to the beginning.  There are six main areas, but the replay value comes from unlocking new ships and challenge rooms.  Combat is fast-paced and satisfying, but it can get out of hand at times thanks to that procedurally generated nature.  It is neon bright and the soundtrack is bouncing.  One of the most striking elements of the game is the way your ship moves — you can go in six directions as well as rotate.  It does take time to perfect but it is fun.

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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