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 15th November 2020.
THE next generation of gaming is finally here — and it rocks. Microsoft got the ball rolling with the Xbox Series X and S machines. Predictably, there has been a lot of talk about teraflop and SSD and loading times but don’t get caught up in all the detail. The success of a new console is all down to the games you get to play — there is no use for raw power if you can’t use it to the max. We take a look at the games up for grabs from day one for Microsoft’s new machine. The big green armoured guy may have missed the launch but here’s what to grab or leave on the shelf . . .
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (£54.99)
UBISOFT are the kings of the open- world kingdom and they were always going to give us the next-gen technology shine. Their outstanding Watch Dogs: Legion is perfect for showing off what the new console can do — but Assassin’s Creed was a guaranteed starter. Valhalla sees the action head into Viking territory with a typically huge sandbox based in Dark Ages England. You get to loot and pillage to your heart’s content, but it is all backed up by a darker and more grounded tale than in the previous titles in the series.
Core focus has moved from side missions and collecting items to quest chains and a new icon-based system. But the real thrill is in raiding for new riches to build up your camp. Upgrading is a bit of a gamble because you can only find core skills by exploring areas. You can pick more passive abilities from the unlock tree but it can be a right pain. It is fair to say there are a number of rough edges at the moment, but we expect most issues to be fixed with patches in the same way as previous Creed games have been. This is refined and shows off the new console — it’s brutal and lands a killer blow.
Gears Tactics (£54.99)
ALL launches need something to prick up your ears and make you pay attention. It is no secret that, for consoles, that something is a top game. However, Halo is lost in space and Forza is stuck in the pits, so it seems like a bit of a no-brainer for Xbox to turn its sights on the Gears Of War world.
Disclaimer 1: if you are a PC owner then you will be a bit miffed by this offering. If not, then this is a spin-off of the guts and glory series that is well worth your time.
It moves things from a third- person view to a squad-based strategy shooter with a strong X-com vibe. You have to protect yourself but also look after your troops. The idea may raise eyebrows initially but it is actually a really good marriage — this is a Gears hit for the thinking man. The tale is also an opportunity to fill in a bit of the backstory to the series because it is a prequel to the first game where Sgt Gabriel Diaz — yes, Gears 5 Kait’s dad — is dragged back to the frontlines once again whether he likes it or not. He is sent on a mission to take down a high-ranking Locust scientist called Ukkon, who if killed could save millions of the Cog from the oncoming war.
Disclaimer 2: if you have played a Gears game before then it is a safe bet you know how things turned out.
If you’re a big fan of the series then this will scratch an itch. The turn-based gameplay moves at quite a pace and you make the most of the abilities and skills that you pick up along the way. Make it back and you can upgrade your kit if you find it on the mission as well as develop your squad from any Cog survivors you find during your journey. This may be a rehash for some Gears fans, but that takes nothing away from its grey matter-challenging take on the combat. It is a tough challenge but it will put a smile on any armchair general’s face.
DiRTying Up The New Generation
YOU need to unleash your inner James Bond to work in the gaming industry — especially when a next-gen console is on the horizon. Every aspect is under strict embargo. Every move has to be done in secret. David Springate, the technical director on DiRT 5, admitted they even used code words and secret handshakes to keep everything under wraps. He said:
“Launch on a new generation of console is exciting, not just for the gamers but also developers. The advances in technology and processing capabilities create a great buzz with the possibilities and new gaming experiences they offer. It’s very difficult to keep things under wraps. Friends and family constantly pester you for updates and we are sworn to secrecy — both from hardware and game perspectives. Early on, when Microsoft and Sony share their specifications with us, it really is on a need-to-know basis. We can’t even share widely within the team. We have to use code words to refer to them in conversation, not share the development software and keep the hardware locked away. It sounds weird but we’re used to working this way.”
That didn’t stop him getting blown away by the possibilities. He added:
“The new consoles are monsters. DIRT 5’s 120fps mode is just not possible on older hardware. The new CPUs in these machines provide so much computational power that we’re now going to be able to take games into previously unexplored territory. The fast NVME/SSD drives also provide a lot of opportunities. There are no other consumer computing devices that are this fast. I’m looking forward to pushing them to their limits. Loading 10GB in two seconds — that’s the kind of speed we’re talking about. That means we can refill all of RAM very quickly. Loading textures within a single frame means the way games are made in future will be very different. Players have a lot of amazing experiences to look forward to.”
Although DiRT 5 and DiRT Rally are in the same series, David insists they are very different beasts. He said:
“From the moment we announced DiRT 5, we communicated the clear split in franchise. DiRT Rally being the more serious simulation-based game while the numbered DIRT series is the amplified style game. The overall reaction from players has been very positive.”
“DiRT 5 is an arcade racing game that features real cars on semi-realistic tracks similar in style and gameplay to older DiRT titles. ONRUSH focused heavily on driving as a team and taking out competitors, but DiRT 5 is still a true racing game at heart. DiRT 5 is developed on a new and advanced version of the game engine used for ONRUSH, and it is natural that they would have some visual similarities.”
DiRT 5 (£54.99)
START your engines and hit the mud with Codemasters. Their rally series comes to life on the Series X and S machines. The racing game maestros have spiced things up this time. The series has been mainly forged on a traditionally tough sim, but has thrown its pace notes out the window and gone down the arcade route. You get to trot around the globe tackling 10 events in different countries. There is a feast of horsepower — from rally cars to more extreme off-road fare and even sprint cars from a variety of manufacturers.
It is typical Codemasters in that each car handles differently and you will find walls and ditches as you explore the best way to drive them. If that wasn’t enough, things go up a level when you hit the tracks because there is an evolution in conditions. The event could start dry then become a mud bath in the rain or a skating rink as the snow falls. Every aspect will change how your car performs and really spices up the experience.
You get all the standard modes, but the campaign will attract most of your attention. Gaming legends Nolan North and Troy Baker do the narration and the story does actually work. Then there is Playground — the game’s track editor. It will give racers endless tracks and offers a canvas to paint drift-fuelled visions. This will be the game’s legacy. DiRT 5 is truly stunning. It is a massive change from what you’d expect from the brand but it nails it. This is like what the Horizon series did for Forza Motorsport — it delivers the thrills of racing but with a cheeky arcade core.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (£54.99)
THE Yakuza series is huge in Japan and is attracting shedloads of fans in the west. That trend will continue with Like A Dragon because it shows off the best of the next-gen tech. This is basically Yakuza 7 so you could be forgiven for thinking rehash instead of inspiration. Forget those thoughts — Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has served up an RPG with a turn-based combat twist. It keeps the brutal battles the series is known for and lets you roam the streets of Yokohama. The gripe? There are some huge difficulty spikes as you progress through the game that will need you to grind.
The Falconeer (£24.99)
MIX the classic Panzer Dragoon gameplay with Sea Of Thieves and you get this — an open world “fight sim”. You jump on the back of a falcon and shoot everything that moves with its mounted guns. The tale is told from four angles, with each chapter letting you play as each faction with their own loadouts and war birds that will require different strategies. The fighting is great fun and keeps you on your toes but there are a few other mission types to add some variety. The story is OK, but the gameplay can get a little repetitive at times.
CYBERPUNK 2077 was one of the most- anticipated titles of 2020, especially on the next-gen console, but that is all on hold until December 10 at least. Here are a few futuristic thrills to hold you over . . .
IF the reboot of the DOOM series shows one thing it’s that nothing beats mastering the skills available to you. And nothing comes close to the feeling of causing carnage. The rules here are simple — run fast, hit hard and never stop. If you do, you die! It blends the combat and skill of Doom with the movement of Mirrors Edge. You play as a cyborg ninja who has just been thrown out of a tower. You have no idea about anything else that is going on — bar the fact that he wants revenge.
Cue a six to eight-hour challenge that lands just the right side of brutal. It’s truly brilliant once you get to grips with things as you dart off walls and cut down foes. There is a truly satisfying feeling when you link it all together. This is a Game of the Year contender.
THIS is cyberpunk fun with a story to tell. Berlin studio ION LANDS has received a Bafta Scotland nomination for this little treasure. You are a futuristic delivery driver who is working that grey line between right and wrong. You spend time delivering packages but that’s just a way of framing the tale.
It is deep and the characters have real soul. It is split between driving your hover car and exploring on foot so you get a proper feel for a stunning world in the future. The game is a bit rough around the edges on a number of levels — certainly enough for you to notice — and you never really get the pay-off you are expecting. That lets it down slightly.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…