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 21st June 2020.
Desperados III (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £54.99)
SADDLE up, cowboy, it’s time to ride. It’s been 14 years since the Desperados galloped across our screens and this third adventure is a welcome return to the action. German studio Mimimi Games has taken inspiration from a number of games — there is a definite flavour of the likes of Hitman and X-com. And kudos to them for making this a western version of Commandos. Mimimi obviously have a penchant for Bon Jovi too — we couldn’t escape humming the band’s I’m A Cowboy music through the whole game. Mimimi pitches it as a real-time tactics game but there is more to it than that. Spotting the nods to other games is actually a fun factor. This is more of a prequel to the first game from 2001 rather than a third outing. That said, it could be seen as a sort of soft reboot in the same way as Call Of Duty Modern Warfare.
That all means a story that sets up the series’ main hero John Cooper and, like all good Westerns, he’s out to avenge the death of his father and leaves a trail of bodies from Colorado all the way to New Mexico. Over its 16 missions — which will easily clock in at 30-plus hours — John builds up a bit of a posse. That’s where the tale really takes off because this ragtag band of outlaws have some real character and add life to what could easily have fallen into the run-of-the- mill cowboy caper category. There are only a couple of goals in the missions — make it to a certain point or kill everyone — but the hook is laid in how the game lets you attack it. You are pretty much thrown into it with a wave and a see you later. Then it’s up to you how you progress. More often than not you will spend more time working out your next move than exercising your trigger finger.
Things get even deeper because each member of your posse can join you on a mission and they have their own skills and abilities which adds even more to the tactical side. That means that a 10-minute in-and-out job actually becomes a half-hour slow-burning tactical battle. That is where the game is a real joy — there is never a wrong way to attack things. You could use a disguise to lure out bad guys or cast a voodoo spell. There are plenty of fun and interesting options. You can even flip a coin to scare a bull into kicking an enemy. And, of course, you have the option to go shooting or adopt a more stealthy approach. It is quite a thrill to clear a mission without anyone knowing you were there. You can pause the action and command your posse to do things such as synchronised attacks. We dare you not to make your bad boys all hit the floor at the same time and not have a smile on your face. That said, you will, need some patience — you will fail more often than not and there isn’t an auto save system. To be fair, the game reminds you to save often and a lot.
Graphically, the game has an interesting style with the classic Commandos look. You have an eagle’s eye over the action so it’s like playing with a superbly detailed diorama and a bunch of toy cowboys. The soundtrack backs up the Western vibe and the voice acting is handled very well across the tale — especially the posse and John. On the downside, the camera is a bit hit and miss and the number of moves you can plan during the pause command mode is a bit inconsistent especially when it can vary between four and eight. But for a series that’s not been seen for some 14 years this is a strong return to the very wild west. It’s a blast that will have you thinking four moves ahead or you’ll be more dead than alive.
The Catch: Carp & Coarse (Xbox One, PS4 and PC)
IT’S time to be a big fish. We recently reviewed the delight of being a shark in Maneater, but we don’t want to carp on about that. This fishy tale is a real catch. The Dovetail Games creation sees you don the waders and become a master angler on the hunt for apex predators in a number of locations such as Malaysia, Rotterdam and even Scotland. It sticks very much to the Dovetail sim programme but it is strangely addictive. We saw the latest build in action with a group of the developers at the helm as they hunted some monster-sized fish. There are 35 species in the game — from trout, salmon and pike to rarer fare such as pacu, mekong and redtail catfish. But the legendary “Boss Fish” is where the real challenge is to be found. If you want to land one of these wild beasts of the deep you’ll need strategy, skill and . . . patience. Lots of patience.
You need to choose your angling spot, time of day, weather conditions and equipment set-up and that’s before you even cast a line. Executive producer Darren Potter said:
“There is no better feeling in fishing than catching the legendary beast of the lake and that is what we’ve replicated in this game. We have taken carp and coarse fishing to the next level. It’s all about the catch!”
It looks like an angler’s dream but has a real po-faced vibe as Dovetail sticks to its sim roots. It might just take itself a little too seriously. It’s out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC later this summer.
KartRider: Drift (Xbox One and PC)
THE karting realm bossed by Mario and Crash Team Racing has a new kid in town. KartRider: Drift looks to take all the fun of those arcade racers and blend it with the free-to-play model. We have been lucky enough to get hands-on time with a closed beta to see how it is all shaping up. The beta has been developed by Nexon Korea and lets you play with most of the elements that the final game will feature. It even goes so far as to let you unlock items on its version of a battle pass which is a staple in the free-to-play games. You would expect some fun tracks and this delivers with colour and charm. There are a number of options across the different modes all with a cute art style. But the driving side is what raises your eyebrows — it is actually quite tough and will take time to master.
Drifting was not easy in Crash Team Racing and that is the same here — this is very much based around straight-line drifting where you have to pull back on the stick while pushing left or right. It is easy for things to go wrong and you have to do the hard yards to get the best results. If you’re not going sideways you can still grab a few power-ups — like dropping a barricade on the leaders or calling in a UFO. Some are majorly over-powered just now but will surely be sorted by launch time. It is fun and hints at a top-quality free-to-play racer that could easily grow through updates.
The Last of Us Part II (PS4, £49.99)
IT is a tough gig producing a follow-up to a game that is considered to be one of the jewels in the Sony crown. So there was a lot of pressure on the Naughty Dog team to come up with something fresh, new and . . . just as important . . . worthy of the name. After all, the first game was so good that people were actually querying whether it needed a sequel. Alarm bells will certainly be ringing with the idea that they have started with a recap of the first game. It was good, but should you pay good money for a rehash? But it is not only clever, but vital. It answers some questions and poses others. It sets you up for a variety of twists and turns and you won’t see the vast majority of them coming.
So, to set the mood properly for you — The Last of Us was a hard-hitting tale where a virus destroyed society, gave birth to infected monsters and resulted in a dog-eat-dog world as the last remaining humans tried to survive. A smuggler called Joel admitted he had carried out some dark deeds to stay alive. He had to help teenager Ellie cross the US to a medical facility as she was the key to solving the virus outbreak. However, Joel found they had to kill Ellie to get the cure and he wasn’t up for that because his daughter had died at the start of the outbreak and he was forging a father/daughter bond with Ellie. So they drove off into the sunset. So that’s the recap without the revelations. Now for the real new stuff.
The tale continues the Joel and Ellie story with bold brush strokes. We are now four years on and life has changed for the duo. Ellie lives in a newly-founded town and is very much standing on her own two feet, but the effects and impact of the first game’s finale have taken their toll on the relationship with Joel. It is no great surprise that the action is a bit frantic. The twists come thick and fast and it all packs a fairly heavy punch as it sets the scene for the core tale — as you head to Seattle for answers, the truth and, most of all, vengeance at all costs. It’s a strong opening that doesn’t hold back and Naughty Dog once again delivers a master class in character study. You play mostly as an Ellie whose moral compass has been tested. Your personal ideas of right and wrong will also be put through the wringer as the brutality escalates. Just where do you draw your line in the sand? Well, wherever it is, it will be rubbed out and reset time and time again because that is the only way you can achieve your game goals. But the ultimate question you’ll be left asking is: are the bad guys really the bad guys or are you really the monster?
The gameplay is very much like a follow on from the first outing. It builds on the solid foundations of stealth and combat where you’ll fight both humans and infected beings and you will need your tactical wits about you because each opponent requires respect — from the blind Clickers to a group of bandits searching for loot. Combat is down and dirty. It is always a tense and messy affair which never feels like a victory — it’s more like you are just scraping by and the real achievement is staying in one piece. That adds extra spice to each encounter because you have to plan before you engage — and the brutality will make even the most hardened of players wince. The first game was epic, but the level design has gone up massively here. The combat arenas are connected by wide open areas where you can explore for loot and supplies. It’s a larger playground than the first game though not quite a full open world. You get enough freedom to explore and that is pivotal because you can uncover goodies hidden behind little puzzles that directly link to the game’s new movement options. That is a nice touch.
Visually, the game is stunning — from the open vistas to the dark, foreboding buildings and the detail on the weathered characters’ faces. Then there is a stellar soundtrack and outstanding voice acting across the board especially Ashley Johnson’s Ellie and Troy Baker’s Joel. So that’s the good stuff. We refuse to spoil the surprises. You’re welcome. But there is one huge elephant in the room. Alongside Cyberpunk 2077, this was probably the most eagerly awaited game of 2020. The fan debate had been endless. Could it possibly be as good as the first game? Was there any need for a sequel? Could Naughty Dog take the first game and make a better experience? The result is a brutal and beautiful game that has a strong tale running through its core. Yes, it ramps things up from the first game. Yes, it works as a sequel. Yes, it works as a game in its own right. Yes, it is worthy of the name. It is a gaming masterpiece.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…