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 2nd June.
Fade to Silence (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £44.99)
WE all love a heatwave, but we also want to stay cool. Chill out with a world covered in ice and snow where you face a titanic battle to stay alive. German developer Black Forest Games has just the job in Fade to Silence — a survival game set in a post-apocalyptic world that is frozen in an eternal winter. You are Ash as he tries to take his daughter across this bleak land and keep them both alive. Things get a bit more spicy when a demon is awoken and places a curse on you which sees you brought back to life again — but there is a limit to your do-overs depending on which of the two difficulty levels you decide to play.
The story is broken into pieces across the world, but you never really know what’s really going on at any time other than that you need to fight and keep your daughter safe. Oh, and if you get time, you can be the Good Samaritan and help others on the frozen world. Staying alive is a challenge — there is your usual range of nasties in the wasteland and you need to find loot, keep warm and eat. The combat can be a bit dodgy, but it follows a Dark Souls style where you have to read your enemy’s moves and time your attacks. Go in swinging and you’ll burn through your stamina bar and be open to attack. The game also has a roguelike vibe, so don’t expect to clear it on your first sitting. Get strapped in and try, try and try again. Each re-run makes you stronger and that helps you get deeper into the world and the tale.
It is fair to say this is a slow-burner — in more ways than one. You need to walk some really long distances to get to your objectives, especially at the beginning, before you unlock your dog sledge. Even then you need to unlock a skill to be able to bring it back when you die. That, in a lot of ways, sums up the game. It could be really good but, in reality, it is rough and very unforgiving. It will give you a kicking before you start to get to grips with things and there is a fair chance you will just give up. The graphics are OK. They carry a no-hope fear and the enemies are standout, although the look and movement are rough. The soundtrack carries the mood but does miss a beat at times. The voice acting is not a highlight.
The biggest issue with whether you’re hungry, cold or hurt. There is just a wall of sound. It’s just irritating. We also got hit by a few forced reloads. This is an interesting idea and there are some bright spots but it just feels awkward. A small amount of hand-holding at the start would have paid big dividends. You don’t need the barrage of left hooks before you get anywhere. This is tough. Very tough. If you fancy that then give it a go. If you want an easier life, then maybe give it a swerve.
Team Sonic Racing (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £29.99)
YOU need a good game to rival Mario Kart in the arcade race stakes. The 2010 Sonic & All-Stars Racing gave it a good, if somewhat surprising, go. Then the sequel Transformed ramped things up to 11 by adding a boatload of Sega history to the traditional karting mix. Fast forward seven years and the blue spiky legend is back for a second bite at the arcade karting cherry. As the name suggests, Team Sonic Racing looks more focused on the hedgehog side of the Sega legacy but this is all about working together. Sheffield-based Sumo Digital know their way around an arcade race. They cut their teeth on the likes of the Outrun series and Split/Second as well as looking after Sonic since he started racing. The latest shift may seem like a step back but it dishes up a refined offering in terms of content and gameplay.
One of the biggest changes from the last game is that the core idea of transforming rides have gone. That means you’ll be stuck on four wheels for the whole game. But don’t let that put you off because this is a complex game that needs timing and teamwork. You have teams of three racers and four teams are battling for the title. Team-mates have different skills like being able to lay down a boost track to help those behind, or grabbing a drift boost to sling shot around them. The teamwork will require most of your attention. While you race you also fill a bar that will give you a special move which sees the team become unstoppable for a bit and shoot to the front. There are 21 tracks all ideally suited to the Sonic look and they are all challenging. Think sweeping turns or pin-point timed drifts. You need to master them all to be successful.
Being an arcade racer, there is a power-up system so hitting pick-up gives you weapons and boosts. It is all a bit standard and nothing you haven’t seen before. Then there are lots of boost pads to aim for to milk that extra bit of speed out your ride. There is a good selection of modes, with all the ones you would expect in a kart racer, plus a story in team adventure mode. That is OK without ever stunning you. Then there is the online side of the fun — and that’s where this title really lights up because the challenges come thick and fast as you try to prove you are No. 1.
If you’re a Sonic fan then there is a fair chance your favourite character will be in here in some way. They all get themed karts, which is an interesting move. You can upgrade and customise them by unlocking goodies through an in-game loot box system powered by credits you earn through the racing and not real money. The game is bursting with colour and Sonic charm — with a real Saturday cartoon vibe. The soundtrack is catchy with some real earworms. The voice acting can be a test — yes, we are looking at you Big The Cat. Another frustration was the ability for people to repeatedly use cheap tricks online to spam the ultimate move. For a game that’s aimed at the younger generation, that isn’t fun.
Overall, it is a fun, charming and joyful kart racer that looks easy but has a real skill-based heart. Sega and Sonic fans will be straight in the queue to get it and they will have a hit. And we all know the blue spiky one needed a boost after that live action movie trailer was panned so brutally.
Unruly Heroes (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £17.99)
THE gaming world loves reworking a legendary tale, but Wu Cheng’en’s 16th Century Journey To The West has had the treatment more than most. You know this story — remember the late 1970s TV show Monkey? Yep, baldy monk Tripitaka and his disciples. And yes, he was played by a woman Gaming wise, there has been Enslave: Odyssey To The West and DragonBall Z among others, but the latest is this serving from French outfit Magic Design Studios. They are mostly ex-Ubisoft members who worked on the Rayman series so have a real pedigree. They have turned the famous tale into a side-scrolling adventure with a dash of multiplayer and a cracking sense of humour.
The main story sees the sacred scroll that keeps the world in balance ripped apart and thrown to the corners of the globe. The forces of darkness are unleashed. Enter our gang of four Unruly Heroes — Sanzang, Wukong, Kihong and Sandmonk. Each has their own powers, skills and character. They need to cross 29 stages battling evil, grabbing scroll pieces and saving the day. It can be a solo game — swapping between the gang — or play with three friends solving puzzles, finding secrets and opening new paths. It’s a fantasy side-scroller but there are some really interesting levels. One sees you become babies, another lets you take over enemies. It keeps combat fresh. Then there are the bosses. Cue the excitement. The developers have produced a visual treat. There is a real magical charm and the soundtrack and voice acting back it all up well.
If there was a gripe, it’s that the controls are not as tight as you’d want and that can cost you a cheap death. But, given time, you can master the timing. It isn’t enough to stop this being an amazing game with a great look, lengthy levels and bags of ideas. A great debut.
Steel Rats (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £12.49)
THE world is about to end again because of (you guessed it) another robot invasion. Steel Rats, by Polish studio Tate Multimedia, sees you jumping on your bike and fighting off the evil techno hordes in an interesting take on the 2.5D action arcade genre that blends a bit of everything together from combat to puzzle solving. The main game is split into five different cities as you and your biker gang fight to take them back one district at a time.
Gameplay sees you riding from left to right, which does take a bit of time to click, but this is no run-of- the-mill machine. It has a saw blade strapped to the front which lets you cut through things as well as climb walls! Each mission has a set of side objectives, ranging from doing a set number of flips to not taking damage. Completing these will get you bonus points to pimp your ride. Graphically the game is very stylised with a 40’s noir feel. Sound-wise everything hits the mark — the bike sounds extra beefy and the voice acting is of a high quality throughout.
Steel Rats takes a well-used formula and shacks it up by adding in the bikes but it’s held back by controls that are hit and miss. But, overall, it’s worth a few hours of your time.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…