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 19th January 2020.
A Class Double Act
FEW people have CVs that read quite like Troy Baker and Nolan North — name a game and one or both of them will have voiced a character in it. In fact, they are credited with more than 750 roles between them. From heroes to villains and super soldiers to explorers, it’s safe to say the pair know their way around the world of voice acting. But their latest roles are a true Marvel as they will play members of the Avengers, despite news this week that the game had been delayed — Nolan voices Ironman/Tony Stark and Troy is Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. Marvellous stuff even if the reveal didn’t actually go quite to plan. Troy said:
“People had a hot take and a quick reaction because when we announced the game they were ending the MCU movies. They were just coming off the End Game high and they just didn’t know how to respond to it. But the narrative Marvel and Square and Crystal Dynamic are doing is its own thing — it’s an original tale that hasn’t been told before. We are not doing End Game the game or MCU the game. For me, as a comic book nerd, we are doing more Marvel Ultimates, especially with Bruce being at the centre of the tale instead of the Hulk. We’re getting to explore how he feels about the Hulk and about being an Avenger. No one has done that on the big screen yet so that was a cool challenge.”
“As far as Tony Stark and Ironman is concerned, of course Robert Downey Jr was amazing in that iteration. But now it’s my turn to put my stamp on it. I never thought I would get to play another iconic character like Nathan Drake but then, BOOM!, in walked this role. It’s a great challenge and great fun especially as I get to work right away with Troy, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey and Jeff Schine and we are in there doing motion capture. It’s amazing for all of us to play these characters but the luckiest people are fans of gaming and the Avengers. In all my years in the industry, making AND playing games, the gameplay in this is second to none and the transition between gameplay to cinematic is seamless.”
Troy also voices Joel in The Last Of Us and it’s safe to say the sequel one of the most anticipated games of 2020 — especially for Nolan, who regularly plays the game on the duo’s YouTube channnel Retro Replay. He didn’t know Troy was returning to the series. Nolan said:
“I am not because my character David is dead, but I am really interested in playing the second game because, by the time I comes out, I will have finally played the Last Of Us and finished it. As a gamer I am really looking forward to playing it because Troy’s purposely not told me a thing about it. We spend far too much time together to know who’s playing what role — I don’t know anything he’s done, I don’t know his storyline and, most of all, I don’t want to know. Whatever Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog have in store for us I’ll be first in line.”
Troy has been thrilled by fan reaction to The Last Of Us 2 news. He said:
“We show just a second of Joel in the trailer and people are like ‘He’s not dead!?!?!’. There was a picture Neil posted on Instagram that had certain things in it and immediately the internet exploded. What it shows is that people are really into the game. The point of a good story is you can extrapolate something that is far beyond what the creator intended.”
The pair regularly travel the world meeting fans and that is becoming ever more important to them. Troy said:
“We had dinner in the former building of the first newspaper ever published in Glasgow and it had such a cool vibe. It was the same in Johannesburg and New York. For whatever reason there is a lot of division in the world — politically, geographically, socially — but I think that’s why we are seeing more people attracted to the community as a whole. We went into caves and found a place to be protected but we couldn’t just live there. We had to hunt and gather. I think the things we are doing with Retro Replay and Critical Role are great examples of people finding a cave where they can find shelter, community and warmth. And, no matter where we go —South Africa, Scotland or the US — it’s cool to spend some time in that cave.”
With the rumour mill in overdrive just now about WB games teasing a new Batman game we had Nolan, who was Penguin, and Troy who played the Joker in Arkham Origins, if they’ll be returning. In his best cockney Penguin voice, Nolan barked:
“Am not saying nothing mate or they could take the money away!”.
Star Wars Battlefront II: Celebration Edition (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £34.99)
TIME is a great healer. Just look at the disastrous launch of Star Wars Battlefront II and the whole loot crate saga it created. But DICE had created a solid shooter in a much-loved universe, even if many players had given it a hard pass. In the two years since then EA and DICE never stopped working on the game, and you can see that in the updated Celebration Edition.
New modes, weapons, classes and heroes and a levelling system totally re-worked from the ground up, making it easier to rank up and bank match points so you can get your hands on more powerful units such as Republic Commandos and playable heroes including Finn and General Grievous. A great example is the new tug-of-war mode Capital Supremacy — full of fun and fast panic, it makes for some real tense moments. With Star War fever at an all-time high just now, the latest edition comes with all past content so there is a bucketload of stuff to jump into here plus Rise Of Skywalker is getting a DLC adding a new map and skins for the likes of Rey and Kylo Ren. It’s the perfect stepping-on point for returning fans or newcomers after an epic battle in a galaxy far, far away.
Jalopy (Xbox One and PC, £12.49)
GAMING can take you to a point in history and really let you get lost in it. Bristol-based studio Minskwork’s latest creation lets you do just that during the Cold War — but not as a global leader with your finger on the nuclear button. Instead, they’ve given us Jalopy, a road trip simulator set in June 1990 just months before the end of the conflict. You and your uncle have to drive from East Berlin through a number of countries in the eastern bloc in a bid to get back home to Turkey. And your vehicle? A BMW? Merc? No, it’s your uncle’s trusty Laika-based on the Trabant 601, the East German-made family runaround which, to put it politely, is full of character.
You’re in the driving seat as your uncle chats about current events and how things were better back in his day. You travel from town to town, passing through checkpoints and picking up provisions on the way before stopping at motels for the night. It all sounds fairly straightforward, but first you do have to get the Laika up and running. And that’s good practice for what comes later as, just like the real-life Trabbie, they are not the most reliable cars on the road. So you’ll be doing a good few roadside fixes. Few things are automated. Say you have you change the oil— well, you’re going to have to pop the hood, head to the boot to get the oil bottle then judge when there is enough in. It’s very much trial and error.
You can buy upgrades for the Laika — they cost a lot — but on your way you may find boxes on the roadside which you can sell for cash. Warning! Depending on what’s in the box you could be charged with smuggling and face a hefty fine. The boot is tight so you need to weigh up if a box is worth carrying or taking up space which could be used for something else. This is a really interesting game, if a bit rough at times — it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a unique journey.
Story of a Gladiator (PC, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One, £9.99)
YOU don’t always need a gripping story to hook you into a game. London-based studio Brain Seal Entertainment proves the point with it’s arena brawler. There’s a hint of Street Of Rage where you just wield your sword until nothing is left, but this also has an underlying strategy that you must master. The light tale sees you through the non-stop action where everyone you know is dead, you’ve hit rock bottom and are thrust into life as a gladiator. Most of the action is battling lots of enemies in the three main arenas — in Greece, Africa and Rome. Each has its challenges and enemies to overcome and you’ll have to adapt to each round even if some of the enemies look a bit familiar.
It may all seem like a mindless guts-and-gore special, but there is a healthy skill tree which you unlock as you progress, but having a limited set of points to spend on skills means you need to focus on the best ones. As a gladiator your main job is to entertain the crowd. Do a good job and they will throw you food or stones to stun enemies. We liked the crisp art style with a cartoon vibe and the sound backs it all up. It’s fun and challenging but never really evolves beyond the hack and slash. A multiplayer would have been a good idea, but it will fill a few hours.
AO Tennis 2 (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £44.99)
IT’S that time of year when tennis fans turn their attention to the signature blue courts at Melbourne Park. The best players in the world will fight it out for the first Grand Slam of the season. But this year will be different — Australia has a lot more to deal with than a few rallies as bushfires have devastated the country. It’s fair to say that gamers won’t have to deal with the poor air quality if they want to get on the virtual court. It is also true that there have not been many real-world titles in the past, but Melbourne-based Big Ant Studio served up Australia Open AO Tennis. It was a bit rough and light on options but the community rallied around it. Fast forward to now and the firm has just released AO Tennis 2 which aims to be a more refined version of the original.
If you tried the first game then you will recognise the core element — it has barely changed. That is a shame because, although the overall mechanics are good, a few tweaks could have made them really shine. Most of the new elements are to be found off-court as you now do press events and talk to your coach. That can all affect your relationship with sponsors so it almost mirrors the system in the likes of F1 2019 and adds a bit more depth to the career side. Again, like the first game, this can be truly brutal at times. If you want to beat the higher level players then you’ll need to grit your teeth and put in the hard yards. On top of that there are a few issues with player animations which mean the AI player can hit the ball when it’s three feet away from the racket. Much grrrrrness because this is a game that is all about timing and reading your opponent.
It is interesting that the Australian Open is the only official tournament willing to attach its licence to a game, but there is a cool if rather questionable loophole that fans have been quick to explore and exploit. It has access to the first game’s community created content and an outstanding suite of editing tools. Needless to say the gamers have been quick to create their own tournaments — one even built Wimbledon. Even more cheeky is the fact that you can also create players — rather than aliens and rabbits which is probably what the developers had envisaged. So, even though Andy Murray isn’t officially in the game, you can download his clone and play through the career mode with him. The morals of all this and whether it is a good or bad will depend on how much you want to play as a particular player or at a special venue. Whatever your view, it makes the game virtually a one-stop shop for tennis fans looking for the most “complete” roster. This is a strange beast. Yes, it moves the series forward. But it stops short from really shaking things up. It needs a few more coats of polish to take game, set and match.
Helping Fan Back The Flames
THE bushfire crisis has prompted the gaming industry to back the fundraising effort to support the Aussie firefighters. US indie studio Crytivo has pledged two months of its revenues. Call Of Duty fans can download the Outback Relief pack and the firm will donate 100 per cent of all DLC sales across all platforms until January 31. Bungie have created a limited edition Destiny T-shirt. Buy one and you’ll also get an exclusive emblem for use in-game as well. Ubisoft Australia has donated $30,000 to the Australia Red Cross Disaster and Recovery Relief Fund. There is also an online auction of rare gaming gear organised by a group of Aussie developers led by Morgan Jaffit called Game Devs For Fires.
I’ll be back next year with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…