Scotch Corner – Watching the Fight

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 4th August.

 

God Eater 3 (Switch, PS4 and PC, £46.99)

THERE is no greater rush than teaming up with some mates to bring down a monster that’s 20-times stronger than you.  The Monster Hunter series would be most gamers’ first port of call but if you’re looking to scratch that itch with something different (especially on the move) then Japanese developer Marvelous Inc may have the answer.  Step forward God Eater 3, which has just made the jump to the Switch.  And how does this monster of a title fare on Nintendo’s pocket rocket?

In terms of story, mutant monsters are ruling the Earth and there are only a few humans called God Eaters who can battle them by absorbing their powers.  Oh, and there is a huge ash cloud covering much of the world which has forced what’s left of humanity underground.  But newer and stronger God Eaters have been found that can withstand the ash cloud as well as unleash some real power.  There is a real undercurrent in the tale as the God Eaters are treated more as weapons and slaves than heroes.   Gameplay-wise, if you think Monster Hunter then you’ll be on the money, just with a shiny anime wrap.

Your main focus is hunt monsters, bag loot and head home then make better gear and do it all over again against bigger and stronger monsters.  It is a fun and oddly satisfying game loop.  But there is also a real depth to the combat as strategy plays a part.  Knowing how to attack each beast you face is key.  Plus there are eight different short-range weapons, four guns and three shields to try out. When not in the battle you’ll spend most of your time crafting gear and ammo as well as talking to others.  It all helps flesh out the story, though these downtime sections do kill the pace of the game a little.  Once you have mastered your skills you can look to jumping into eight-man raids with other players for bigger and better loot.

Graphically the game looks great, with top-notch monster designs.  Soundtrack-wise, things hit some really epic tones and it’s nice to be able to switch between the Japanese and English audio on the voiceover side.  If you’re looking for something a little different on the Switch then God Eater 3 is well worth a look.

Score: 4/5

War Tech Fighters (Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC, £15.74)

BIG robots blowing stuff up in space — what’s not to love?  Well, that’s just what Italian developer Drakkar Dev has served up with War Tech Fighters.  You take control of a huge robot fighting against an evil empire in epic space battles while all the time upgrading and swapping weapons from skirmish to skirmish.  That’s effectively the storyline.  Picking from three different mech rigs to get you started, as the game progresses you get to build your own robot to your own spec.  There is a real depth of customisation here with over 180 weapons and parts to pick from plus a huge array of paints and decals.

The downside?  What feels like an endless number of menus to work your way through at the beginning is very daunting as you spend more time navigating options than the void of space.  But once you get out into the great beyond, the action really kicks off with you having to complete a number of different mission types — from hacking or stealth missions to just flat-out mech-on-mech brawls.  Your War Tech controls well during missions and, being armed to the teeth, you’ll be able to take on most enemies with ease.

Graphically the game is OK — the different mission areas look great while your War Tech and the enemies are passable if a little blocky.  Sound is more often than not drowned out by the constant sound of firing guns and cannons.  A personal issue I had was that I wished I could have transformed my War Tech into a jet or something to zip around the battle, instead of being a floating steel fortress all the time.  But War Tech Fighters is worth a go.  You’ll have hours of fun building your dream battle suit and blasting everything that moves in space.

Score: 3.5/5

In Space No One Can Hear You…

WHEN it comes to telling an interesting story No Code co-founders Jon McKellan and Omar Khan think taking a tale and flipping it is the way forward.  Jon told me:

“I read an article years ago about Alien.  It was about telling the story from a different perspective, as the alien.  In the film the alien is born, it kills everyone and gets blown out the air lock.  But the alien was born in this weird place where all the humans were set on hunting it down.  When you step back and look at it you end up going ‘Yeah, the alien didn’t really do anything wrong other than being born’.  It’s really the humans that were after it and what it did was in self-defence.  I was working on Alien Isolation before that and it turned everything upside down and made me go ‘The alien was the good guy, sort of’.  So that really clicked with me because I’ve been a fan of that film for years and I never thought of it that way.  It made me start thinking of other things that it could apply to such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hal.”

Omar added:

“I think that a lot of people look at it as ‘What would you do if you were Hal?’, whereas with Observation it’s more about what Hal would be feeling and how would it feel if you discovered you were self-conscious.  And that was the starting point of the game.  It’s a fascinating concept that you can only really do in a game because you play a role which wouldn’t really work in a film so it really grows out from that point.  The game is about working with the crew.  It’s not about trying to kill them or being an evil AI but instead trying to help them and work out what’s happening to not only you but them as well.  It felt like a really compelling story was waiting to be told around the core idea.”

With this being the team’s second game, Jon had his heart set on setting the tale in the void of space.  He said:

“It was always going to be set in space.  I have always wanted to do a contemporary sci-fi game as most sci-fi looks far into the future — like Mass Effect where technology has made a big leap.  I just liked the idea of creating a relatable experience.  OK, most of us will not get to go to the ISS (International Space Station) though we have seen lots of pictures and videos.  But no one was using that stuff to set things in.  You have some stuff like Gravity and Apollo 13 but not really games and I thought it was a cool setting.  It also has AI at the current level of AI — not some super computer thing which was something that really interested use.”

Jon’s past, working at Creative Assembly on Alien Isolation, helped shape the game as he loves designing a UI.  He added:

“I did learn a lot on Alien Isolation in terms of building that look and it’s become my calling card.  When we started Observation a lot of people I worked with said ‘I see you’re making a Jon McKellan game — a UI game where the UI is the star’.”

And the link to Alien Isolation don’t end there — Kezia Burrows and Anthony Howell have been reunited for Observation.  Jon said:

“We wrote S.A.M with Anthony in mind.  Kezia didn’t come to us right away.  We tried out a few others but nothing really sat right.  About a year ago we had to hit a deadline and we needed a bit of voice acting.  I knew Kezia has a home studio.  I messaged her for about five minutes of audio and it was just what we had in mind so I asked if she wanted to do the rest.  Now feels like she’s one of the devs.  She knows the role so well.”

Observation (PS4 and PC, £19.99)

IT has been said many times in the music industry that the hardest thing to pull off is a second album that lives up to a smash-hit debut.  In the gaming world, Glasgow-based developer No Code are aiming to do just that after their first glorious offering Stories Untold.  And they are looking to the stars for inspiration with their follow-up Observation, which is equal-parts puzzle-solver and thriller as you take control of a space station’s AI in a blend of thriller tones and sci-fi vibes.  You fill the circuits of S.A.M. (short for System Administration & Maintenance) who is in control of the station.  But all is not well as the game kicks off with you rebooting after an “event” has occurred and destabilised the station as well as wiping a chunk of your memory.  So it’s up to you and Emma, a survivor on the station, to find the rest of the crew as well as get the station up and running again and, ultimately, getting to the root of what caused the “event”.

This game is very story-driven so we’ll avoid the spoilers.  Let’s just say the seven-hour tale is more about the journey than the destination.  As for gameplay, it would be easy to say it’s a walking sim (well…floating sim) — but it’s not really as you’re an AI so you have access to a host of cameras dotted around the hulking station.  And being able to switch between them is the key to finding clues to help you move things forward.  But it’s not all about just jumping from camera to camera — you’ll get to stretch your circuits as well from time to time thanks to being able to jump to floating drones which you can use to move around the station more freely.  When not exploring you’ll be helping Emma out by doing a fair bit of puzzle-solving.  This is where the developers’ pasts shine through.  If you have played Alien Isolation you’ll find a lot of the menus and screens have a similar vibe — everything feels like a piece of kit from a bygone sci-fi age.

Overall, you do feel like you and Emma are working as a team throughout the game as you weirdly bond and tackle different challenges like putting out fires as well as opening up new areas.  And as you work your way through the station you’ll also find lots of details and nuggets of info on the crew and what your mission was, which really helps flesh out the story as well as add character.  Graphically the game is really split in two.  There is the station side filled with details from family photos to cans of Irn-Bru.  Each new area is like a treasure trove of info waiting to be soaked up.  Then there is the menu and UI, which is crisp, clean and always daunting — you never really know what each thing does or how you can interact with it so it often ends up being a case of pressing buttons and hoping.  Sound-wise it builds the mood and tension — plus there is a stellar intro song thanks to Nine Inch Nails’ Robin Finck.  Voice acting is outstanding across the board, with Kezia Burrows and Anthony Howell stealing the show as Emma and S.A.M (although developer Jon McKellan puts in a good shift as well).

If there are any downsides… sometimes it’s hard to tell what you have to do and if what you are doing is right plus the style of gameplay will not be to everyone’s taste.  And the faces of the characters, especially Emma, are… well a bit stiff-looking and a little dead-eyed.  But as a follow up, Observation does what you would want for a second outing.  If you’re a fan of sci-fi tales or looking for a thriller that will make you think, then it’s a must-play.

Score: 4.5/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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