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 14th July.
Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions DLC (Xbox One, PC, £15.99)
PLAYGROUND Games took fans by storm when they teamed up with Hot Wheels for a Horizon 3 DLC. That raised the bar and expectations for Horizon 4 — especially after the lukewarm reception for Fortune Island. But no one anticipated a link-up with Lego to combine the much-loved construction bricks with high-speed arcade racing. The Lego Speed Champions expansion adds about 15-20 hours of gameplay. The story sees you head to the new Lego island and is utter nonsense. You are there to prove the Lego festival is real or something, but it is of no value to the overall experience.
The island is wonderful — a place filled with detail. It is broken up into areas themed around original Lego sets, so there are pirates on the beaches and a UFO crash site. It’s all good fun, but it is strange that none of the Lego- licensed properties are there — like Star Wars or Marvel. We get a Horizon first — an actual race track. It is made of Lego so it isn’t quite Silverstone or Nurburgring, but it’s fun. When you land on the island your aim is to become the Lego Speed Champion. That’s standard Horizon fare but, in a neat twist, as you go through the ranks you unlock bits for your Lego house.
There is a healthy array of challenges all based on Horizon core skills — winning races or doing stunts. The more interesting ones have unguided point-to-point races or having to smash stuff up or do tasks. Again, it is pure fun. A big expectation was being able to drive Lego cars — but you only get three. That’s a shame when you think that the Lego Speed Champion toy series has everything from Ford to Porsche and Bugatti. In fairness, the three are a 1967 Mini Cooper S, Ferrari F40 and the McLaren Senna. All have to be built in perfect blocky goodness and they make you smile.
The developers have kept the core Horizon look but you can smash 70 per cent of things into hundreds of little bricks. That never gets old. This is also the first Horizon expansion to add a radio station but it plays Everything is Awesome — from the Lego Movie — on constant loop. This is a winner — the Horizon we know and love and the fun Lego world. The challenge system and the island are brilliant fun. It may not be for grown-up sim racers, but they are the ones missing out.
Slap On A New Coat
PAINT master Stuart Baird is no stranger to stunning liveries in Forza. He even brought one design to life with a Gamescom-winning Ford Focus RS. But seeing his design on a Ford Ranger Raptor at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is a new high. He told me:
“I was contacted by Turn 10, asking if I’d be interested in designing a livery for Ford. Of course, I said yes. I was happy the design was for the new Ford Ranger Raptor, but I would be happy with any car because getting a virtual livery onto a real car is a big deal — whatever the car.”
The Scot spent hours online researching the car and found it was inspired by desert racing. He added:
“I used that as a starting point. I had free reign, but I discussed it all with Ford before I began anything. I spent around six hours sketching and researching before I began any painting work. Overall, the livery took almost 40 hours to design and create. When my livery was put on the Focus RS at Gamescom, I won that through a contest. This time it was different — I was working for Ford.”
It was a tight deadline, but the effort was worth it. Stuart said:
“Having the PTG logo on the Raptor was awesome. The fact that it was at Goodwood leaves me beyond words. Goodwood is like automotive Mecca.”
Stuart even got taken for a spin by stunt driver Paul Swift. He said:
“It was bumpy but the Raptor took it all in its stride.”
Don’t Judge Him
YOU may not know the name, but the odds are that you’ve played a game or watched a film where Greg Chun has voiced a character. Now the Los Angeles-based actor voices Takayuki Yagami in Judgment — the Yakuza spin-off. He was determined to keep the flavour real to the series. He told me:
“Any time you’re working on an IP that has a loyal following and you’re going to be doing something that sort of piggy backs that, there is a lot of pressure and expectation but the best thing to do was not to stress about it because it’s not going to help my performance. As voice actors I feel that is something we try to do with every performance we do, but it was especially important with this one because of all of the preconceived notions around the game.”
Greg is delighted the fans seem to have taken Yagami to heart. He added:
“I am pleased to say, for the most part, I feel like it has been pretty glowing and I couldn’t be happier. The reason we do this job is for the fans to enjoy the game and have a good time. As a gamer myself, I know the importance of feeling connected to the characters and voice acting is a big part of that so I am really thankful people are enjoying it. And people have said I fit Yagami and that’s all you can really ask for.”
The result has been a win-win for Greg and the game, but he admits he tried out for some of the other roles. He said:
“There were auditions that went through my agent. We didn’t know what the game was at first — we were just sent the auditions and there were about 10 different characters at first. I auditioned for Kyohei, Ryuzo and Shinpei. I auditioned for everyone. How did I get the role? Well, I did the auditions and through the gods and good nature of the team, they picked me. It’s funny hearing what I did for the other characters compared to how they actually sound. I sound nothing like the people who ended up being cast in the roles.”
Once he got the Yagami role, he found a great script. He added:
“Most of it is planned. Scott Strichart and Dan Sunstrum on the localisation team put together a great script from the original. Then we worked in the studio — myself, Scott and Dan and Keith Arem, the director/producer. If a line isn’t working for some reason or it’s not really matching up with the character’s mouth movements then we can massage it a little to help it out but, for the most part, it’s very well-scripted.”
Greg was also helped by having the Japanese version close to hand. He said:
“We wanted to stay close to the original spirit of the game and the performances. So having the Japanese preview and then following with my English version is very, very helpful. I do have to be careful not to take too many technical elements from the Japanese reading, like the pacing and pitch. You are after emotion so once you distil what you can from the Japanese line, you need to put that emotion through your body and your character and be consistent with your performances throughout the game. We don’t have to memorise scripts. All my lines were laid out in front of me and we would plug through it until I was done. I believe we were recording for about six to eight weeks — maybe two or three sessions a week, each about four hours long. There were just shy of 6,000 lines to record.”
So was Yagami his favourite role? Greg admitted:
“Obviously, the best is Judgment and is number one, but number two I would say is AI: The Somnium Files, which is out in a few months. I also really enjoyed playing Adam in NieR: Automata because it is fun to be the villain now and again. On the anime side, there is a show called Megalo Box where I played a character called Aragaki. That was a tough role so it was ultimately really gratifying.”
Now he hopes there will be more Yagami stories in the future. He said:
“That’s in the hands of the powers-that-be but it’s a guy I would love to play till I have to retire from this business.”
Judgment (PS4, £41.99)
THERE is always a danger that spin-offs can’t match the highs of the original that inspired them. But Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio hope to buck that trend with their Judgment instalment in the Yakuza series. The timing is good — the series is already a huge hit in the East and is really starting to pick up in the West and break away from its cult classic tag. You play as Takayuki Yagami, a lawyer who becomes a private detective in Kamurocho — a favourite city in the Yakuza game. Yagami has to investigate a serial murderer who is eliminating high-level gangsters. A big part of the tale is the bond you form with Yagami. He is grounded and likeable and he’s backed up by a solid cast in a classic Yakuza way.
It is worth noting that Kamurocho and a handful of cameos are the only real links to Yakuza, so you can play Judgment without knowing a lot about the series. It’s also good that there is a full English dub which helps newcomers get into the swing of things. The action is in the main cases but there are side missions where you can use a number of tricks in your detective bag to help the cause. They help to keep things fresh but less cool are the tailing missions. In fact, they are a bit of a bore. Across the 30 or so hours you’ll spend as Yagami you get to the bottom of a good few cases and find out just how Kamurocho ticks. However, you never feel like you are making the choices, or finding your own path. That is a bit of a shame because it means you are mostly just following a trail of breadcrumbs.
Another big part of the game is the fighting. It is very similar to that seen in the Yakuza series — where you can switch between two different styles. The Crane is perfect for taking on groups of thugs while the Tiger is the one to pick if you face a one-to-one battle. And just like its Yakuza cousin, the fighting is fast, fluid and fun, though Yagami has a few tricks up his sleeve. He is very fast on his feet so he can do jumps and run up walls to help him get the upper hand in a brawl. You will have to be smart in the fights because some enemies really pack a punch and can rip your health bar apart with special moves called mortal wounds.
Away from the detective work, the Yakuza world includes tonnes of fun and addictive mini-games, from pinball machines to heading to the local arcade to play some classic Sega titles, throwing a few darts or heading to the batting cages . . . and that’s just the stuff at the start of the game. You can spend an awfully long time being distracted, but we really wanted karaoke. There was no karaoke. Sad face. The look is simply stunning at times — the city streets and the characters have a fine polish. The sound is handled well with some excellent English voice acting. That said, there are a few lip sync issues but they do not occur often enough to grate. And, if you want the full-on Japanese experience, you can switch the audio and have English subtitles. Judgment has a strong tale and an amazing world that is full of things to do. It will give newcomers a taste of the Yakuza thrills without ever feeling like they have been dropped in at the deep end. It’s also a strong enough game to stand alongside the best in the Yakuza series — and stand on its own.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…