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 25th October 2020.
Let’s Sing Queen (Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, £29.99)
DON’T Stop Me Now but The Show Must Go On and this is a game that is a Killer Queen with a Bohemian Rhapsody. Next month marks the 29th anniversary of the passing of legendary frontman Freddie Mercury. His legacy lives on — especially in Ravenscourt’s Let’s Sing Queen. This is a collection of the band’s most iconic songs with a heavy karaoke vibe. This is a pure party game in a lot of ways so it’s more one for the future when we resume some sort of normality. If you have played any of the Let’s Sing games then you know the score — this is basically a standalone expansion to the core game. You get a handful of modes mostly built around singing with your mates — you pick a track, the video plays and you try to belt it out and score points by hitting the right notes. You can use a mic or headset but the clever bit is there is an app that turns your phone into a mic so everyone can play.
Any singing game lives or dies on its track list and when you opt for Queen then there is plenty to go at. Yes, Don’t Stop Me Now is there. Of course you get Bohemian Rhapsody. This is, in a lot of ways, a greatest hits anthology although we were disappointed to see that there was no room for a Flash rendition. Build up your confidence and you can head online to battle some of the “best” singers which takes things a bit further than the party focus. It is also worth noting that all the songs are from the Freddie era so you’ll need a powerful range — and there are no Paul Rodgers or Adam Lambert tracks to be found. This is a niche title. You have to be a Queen fan to enjoy it. That said, this can be such a laugh at parties that it could set the Mercury rising in a whole new generation of music lovers. This game rocks.
T.Racing Scuderia Ferrari Edition-DTS (£89.99)
FERRARI is one of those brands that has the ability to get your motor running and rev your heartbeat. So news of the Scuderia teaming up with Thrustmaster was always going to be a big deal.
Ferrari oozes passion and everything they are involved with has to embody that spirit. So here’s a shock — the T.Racing Scuderia Ferrari Edition is not in the hyper, or even supercar, league of gaming headsets but they are still not cutting corners. They look exactly like the headset the Ferrari pit crews use at race meetings but the real deal from the likes Sonetics Apex would set you back over £3,000. These, on the other hand, come in at just a fraction of that price — just £90. They are solid and feel like they won’t break easily, and they come with a few interesting features. If you want to adjust them, you need to unscrew a set of metal locks that hold everything in place when you are happy. There are also exposed wires which look cool but could be a concern down the line.
The mic is solid and locks into place with a very satisfying click. The headset is rocking 50mm speakers which pack a real punch. We tested them on Xbox One and Switch games like Forza Horizon, RIDE 4 and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and they have a good level of bass and clear sound across the board although there was a little muffling at the higher end. The mic was OK, if a bit compressed in parties. The 2.5 cm memory foam ear cushions are good for long gaming sessions but the in-line mic controls are a bit fiddly and the cable isn’t removable. Style over substance in a way, but still a winner.
Star Wars: Squadrons (Xbox One, PS4 and PS4, £29.99)
ONE of the greatest thrills in the Star Wars Battlefront series was being able to control some of the galaxy’s most iconic spaceships and dog fight in the stars. So it’s no surprise that EA have taken that treat a step further and joined Battlefront 2 developers to create this standalone game. If you expect a full-blown arcade hit, then you are in for a surprise — this has a flight sim heart that beats strongly. However, you can’t have a Star Wars game without an epic tale. This delivers with a story after the events of Return Of The Jedi. You get action from both sides of the galactic war as you play as an X-wing pilot and a Tie-fighter and the campaign flips between each side. That creates some interesting perspective, especially with your pre-mission chat with your squad in the hangar. Both sides feature a mixed bunch of characters. There isn’t much depth to them, but they help to flesh out the details.
Once the chat is over, you get to roam the skies on an all-or-nothing mission that really makes you feel like that epic pilot. This is easy to play but take the time to learn the skills and you rise from rookie to an ace who can manage a ship’s power between shield, weapons and engine. That’s a major plus n battle, especially when you can DRIFT your Tie-fighter. The game is great fun in VR. You really are thrust into the action. But it is also good fun in the more traditional format. Each side has access to four main ships and you can customise parts and the look. This game looks simply stunning — the work that has gone in on the action scenes in space is staggering. It is full of epic moments as you get up close to the underside of a Star Destroyer. The look is backed up by the sound. The soundtrack and voice acting — which includes Scot Denis Lawson back as Luke Skywalker’s buddy Wedge Antilles. You’ll get off to a flier with this, but a lack of content may cause you to lose steam.
Flicking the Tail Out
INERTIAL Drift is obviously a labour of love for the Level 91 Entertainment team — but programmer Michael O’Kane revealed it had taken seven years to bring to the table. But their dedication has paid off with a stunning game. That is even more remarkable because Michael admitted his passion for drifting wasn’t that strong to begin with. He said:
“When I started the project, my interest in drifting was almost exclusively confined to ‘drift to go fast’-style games like Ridge Racer. I was introduced to Initial D relatively early in development when I happened across an old arcade cabinet in a cinema and watching the anime introduced me to wider internet drifting culture. Unfortunately, making a game with a tiny team is very time-consuming so I haven’t tried drifting in the real world, but it’s something I’d like to do now that the game is finished. At the very least I’m keen to take the 97′ MR2 I bought last year out to a track day.”
Those early PlayStation arcade racers fuelled ideas for the game but the team was also inspired by the EA Skate series. Michael added:
“My first console gaming experience was playing Ridge Racer on PS1 at the house of a family friend. Later, when I got a PS1 of my own, I spent a lot of time playing Ridge Racer Type 4. Around 2013, I was on my placement year from university at a small game development company and I had been thinking a lot about how racing games had changed and that I missed some of the older style ‘drift racers’ in contrast to what we have now, what I’d started to call ‘open world boost farmers’. That got me thinking about what kind of racing game I would make myself so I started prototyping in my spare time. Our twin-stick control scheme is a big part of the game’s identity. A big part of the inspiration for that was actually the Skate series. That genre had some established conventions about how skate-boarding games worked. Skate just threw all those things out the window and totally reinvented the controls. To me, that was an eye-opening moment because suddenly I felt like there was all this potential for weird control schemes on the controller that no one was exploring. I wanted to bring some of that philosophy to racing. I started thinking about, if I forgot how racing games, or even real cars controlled, what would be the most interesting way to control a drifting car. Twin-stick controls was my answer.”
Creating 16 cars without any official licences also provided a challenge. Michael explained:
“I’m a big fan of 90s sports car designs and I wanted to create cars that evoked that style, but our goal wasn’t so much to make imitations as it was to take inspiration from them. A lot of cars in the game are a mixture of influences. The Dragon, for example, takes cues from the various 90s GTRs as well as the Imprezas and Evos, combining elements of them into what is hopefully something that can stand on its own. Given the near-future setting, there are also some futuristic elements layered in there to differentiate them as well.”
Michael also hoped the game would reach out to the local Belfast drift scene. He said:
“That has been disrupted by COVID. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity over the next year if things begin to return to normal. The game development scene here is small but growing. We have great support from bodies like NI Screen to help us get projects off the ground and a handful of companies have grown to the point where they are starting to take on bigger projects.”
And the future? He added:
“At the moment I’m just looking forward to taking a bit of a break. After that, what we do really depends on the reception the game gets. At this stage anything is possible.”
Inertial Drift (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £16.99)
DRIFTING is one of gaming’s great treats — there’s a deep satisfaction in nailing an 80mph slide. There have been plenty of games offering drifting delights in the past — but it is having a bit of a renaissance. We have everything from full-blown sims like CarX Drift Racing to more arcade fare like Belfast-based Level 91 Entertainment’s debut game, Inertial Drift. This takes everything you think you know about drifting and flips it on its head. First impressions: the visual style is heavy on cell shading. There are mountain runs coated in a twilight magenta glow and neon-soaked city streets in the dead of night. It all has a strong manga vibe which feels like a tribute to the legendary Initial D, a long-running Japanese street racing series. That vibe also runs through the story mode which follows a group of youngsters getting ready for the big race at the end of summer and really serves as a bit of an extended tutorial as you get to grips with a few cars and check out a handful of locations. Stories are not usually the strong point of racing games, but this one is interesting enough for you to replay it to see all it has to offer.
The major difference between Inertial Drift and other racers like this is the controls. Most games want you to feather the triggers to go sideways. Here, it’s all about stick control — the left steers and the right whips the tail out and holds that all-important angle. That is a game-changer in the drifting world because it delivers a satisfying arcade hit but is also a new skill that needs to be mastered if you want to conquer the leader boards. That’s even more important because each of the 16 cars in the garage work slightly differently so you need to learn how to best use its drift power. That is a really slick system as it means each car has its own character — but you will soon find the one that suits you best. That’s playing it safe — live a little and switch between cars. It will challenge you and make you better at the game because each car is covertly teaching you new tricks.
There are 10 courses but they can be mirrored and offer point-to-point challenges or tandem ghost battles, while the arcade mode is the best place to perfect your skills and attack the global leader board. Or you could jump online and put your skills to the test. We actually thought there was plenty to get through before that, especially if you go score-chasing. It is a winner.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…