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 26th January 2020.
REBELLION is set to revive the undead Reich once again with Zombie Army 4: Dead War due out in the next few weeks. And marketing and PR chief Robbie Cooke has warned fans they are in for a real horrorfest. He said:
“This is a massive upgrade to the series and so much of it is bigger and better than the past game. We have a new campaign that is set after the events of Zombie Army Trilogy and you’re going to new locations for zombie games. We also have a new cast of characters, enemies and an upgrade system that has new powers and abilities for your weapons. The game is set in Europe and there will be some Mediterranean locations as well as places like Milan which is the beginning of the game where the menace from Zombie Army Trilogy returns. You thought it was all over as all the zombies sort of deactivated and became husks, but something is happening and the dead are all coming back to life. It is all after World War II and the first zombie war, so civilisation has recovering to do and there are a lot of bodies about. Trouble isn’t far away as it all kicks off with a train crashing into Milan Station — and, from that, new threats abound.”
The game shares DNA with the Sniper Elite series, and Robbie feels that gave the team a solid base to build from. He added:
“The beauty of building the game with our own engine is that it can be a bit of a hotch-potch between different things. Yes, your ability to move and overall flexibility in combat is more like Sniper Elite 4 than Zombie Army Trilogy, but there are new elements that you couldn’t do in Sniper Elite 4. We have taken a few elements that are only a few years old and added a lot of new ideas to the mix. Sniping feels a little bit easier to handle and is a little bit less simulation-based because we want people to be having fun with the rifles. But a big thing for us is focusing on the close combat — especially the melee side which has had a massive upgrade. As in past games we had this fun ‘Cossack kick’ we called it. It was a very basic animation where you could kick an enemy forward. Now, you can barge and slide and when you slide you can go into a kick so you can rescue a situation when you are surrounded instead of it being game over.”
Rebellion released a new Strange Brigade IP last year, leading many fans to believe there would be a brand crossover, but Robbie shot that down and insisted Zombie Army 4 could stand on its own rotten legs. He said:
“I wouldn’t say the DNA is a straight lift from Strange Brigade because both games were in development at the same sort of time and we always knew we were going to do this project. Strange Brigade is very much its own thing — one that came out of Sniper Elite 3 and its core technology. We knew we were going to do a big Zombie Army game down the line and a lot of the team on Sniper Elite 4 have worked on it while Strange Brigade had its own team. That said, there will definitely be some crossover. I would say Zombie Army 4 feels different to Strange Brigade. It was a real step up for us in terms of middle to close-range combat. Zombie Army 4 also takes a huge step forward as the feel of the shotgun is like the AAA shooter you would expect rather than the Sniper Elite spin-off effect we had in Zombie Army Trilogy.”
One of the biggest surprises was a zombie SHARK. So was one member of the team a big Resident Evil fan? Robbie laughed and said:
“I don’t think Resident Evil has the trademark on zombie sharks. There are a lot of zombie fans on the team. If you’re going down the really nerdy film zombie route, Tim Jones our head of creative, can tell you a zombie fact for films way back in the 70s. Our head of audio, Nick Brewer, did the soundtrack for Zombie Army Trilogy and he can talk to you all day about the likes of film-maker John Carpenter. So there is a lot of love going into the game from that perspective, but I don’t think there is one single source that inspired the team. We have a lot of new enemy types, including the shark which is a trap in the game. There are a few surprises to be found, let’s say. We just thought, when we were in Venice, having something scary in the water would be cool — and the shark stands out.”
Gunnar FPS Designed By Razer (£79.99)
GET ahead of your gaming rivals by keeping your eyes on the prize. We all know we can spend hours in front of a screen as we win titles, save the world or solve puzzles. And we are all searching for the upper hand with the best of kit from controllers to consoles and keyboards and chairs, but what about protecting your eyes? There are a number of sets of gaming glasses on the market but Gunnar are head and shoulders ahead of the pack. Now the firm has teamed up with Razer to develop a set of specs that help your eyes during those extra-long sessions. There is an RPG set, but we tried out the FPS ones. They are designed to filter out harsh blue light that is emitted from all electronic devices such as monitors, TVs and phone screens. It has been proven to be the colour that causes eye strain and fatigue. And, let’s be honest, a six-hour stint online with Call Of Duty — or a day job with computers — will give you sore eyes, so any help is welcome.
They look just like a normal pair of glasses. They are very light and have a few signature Razer-themed touches including the logo cut into the legs and the green hermoplastic rubber grips. The tinted lenses help cut out the blue light plus help with focusing and clarity and they are properly comfy especially when you are wearing a gaming headset. We tested them with Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, Battlefield V and Rainbow Six Siege across the Xbox One, PS4 as well as Astral Chain on the Switch and they do make life easier. We found you still had a crisp, clear vision gaming at night, even after a day working with a computer. However, it is worth noting that a pair of Gunnars won’t improve your eye sight nor should they be seen as a substitute for your normal glasses if you wear them. They are an aid to combat eye strain and fatigue. Check out the full range at overclockers.co.uk.
Arise: A simple story (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £15.74)
THERE seems to be an endless stream of multiplayer battles and epic single player campaigns saving the world, but every now and then one stands out from the crowd and hits you right in the feels — to quote the cool kids. This creation from Barcelona-based Piccolo Studios is just that game. The simple story is a fitting sub title, but it doesn’t come close to covering this charming adventure. The core tale is built around an old man but it actually starts at the end — when he is ceremonially cremated. He wakes up in a dream-like place with the goal of making peace with the life he has lived. Pro tip: grab a box of hankies.
Across the 10 main chapters, you’ll revisit key points in his life — such as childhood and reliving moments of joy and sadness. There is no dialogue, but it will tug the heart strings. Each chapter works on the tone of the moment and is reflected in its design — light-hearted ones are a lot easier than the more serious sections. That is a really clever piece of game design. The gameplay is also interesting — you can fix time which lets you solve a number of platforming puzzles like changing the seasons to control fading daylight to help you get past demons that lurk in the dark. But this is more than just a cheap gimmick. It is central to your adventure because it will open up new paths for you to explore. On top of that, there is just the right level of difficulty to some of the challenges and the game raises the bar as you complete each chapter.
The later levels demand that you use all your skills to solve tricky puzzles although the camera is a fixed system so can be a bit hit and miss and the controls can send you in the wrong direction at times. The minimalist style is very clean but fully embraces a colour palate to reveal whether the moment is good or bad. That may seem simplistic but it works really well in setting the mood and tone. You also don’t miss the dialogue. The soundtrack makes up for that and more by creating a fable-like vibe throughout that knows when to kick in for maximum effect. Arise: A Simple Story is probably not a game that featured on your wanted list. That is a crime. Put it right now. This game has real emotion from beginning to end. (Sob) (Wipes tear away).
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £49.99)
THEY say lightning never truly strikes twice but sometimes in gaming you get a perfect storm where two companies come together and the result is electrifying. So when CyberConnect2, the Japanese developers of the .hack series, joined forces with Dragon Ball Z, one of the most iconic animes ever, you can expect fireworks. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is aiming for the same success as Dragon Ball Fighters Z, the last real smash based on the hugely popular series. But Kakarot isn’t a straight-up brawler — it’s more of an action role-player but you do still have some epic battles along the way. The game, for the most part, follows the tales of the first sagas in the Dragon Ball Z universe. From the very beginning in fact, which is ideal for a newcomer as you’ll get a well-rounded education of all things Dragon Ball Z.
You’ll bounce between fan favourite characters such as Goku, Gohan and Piccolo which helps to keep things fresh as each has their own moves and special attack. And on your journey you’ll meet the seemingly never-ending number of support characters such as Krillin, Master Roshi and Yajirode. If you’re a die-hard fan most of this will feel like a repeat of what you saw years ago in the show — but the real kick for that crowd is the fact you play out the epic battles in that tale. It’s worth noting there is new content to be found that fleshes out some parts that the show missed and even adds to the overall backstory which is a nice touch. Fighting-wise you’ll battle series bad guys Frieza and Vegeta and the endless forms of Cell, the true main events of the game and most likely the biggest draw for fans but in-between you’ll be on side mission and activities like fishing and just exploring the well-crafted world.
Gameplay falls into two camps. Firstly exploring — even though it’s not a true open world it does enough to trick you into feeling it’s bigger than it is though, oddly you may hit an invisible wall or two if you stray too far from the path. And the second side of the game is the fighting. This feels more like a standard Dragon Ball game as you face off across the areas doing more and more powerful attacks as you level up and learn new skills. But, just like the show, the battles are often broken into different sections so it’s not just a “one and you’re done” as there can be four or five stages to the battle. The controls take a bit to get your head around — you can punch and kick easily but more powerful attacks need bars to be filled and some navigation though menus to pick the one you want. It’s also very much a style over substance fighter which isn’t a huge issue but it’s far from a combo heavy game. On top of that there are some light RPG mechanics that add some real depth especially the community board side of things where you can unlock bonuses on the fly thanks to the connection you have with characters you meet.
The team at CyberConnect2 clearly love the source material and it shows as the game looks like the actual cartoon and not since Dragon Ball Fighters Z has the series looked this good. As for sound everything hits the mark pretty much, though some sections are not voiced — just a few grunts and the odd word here and there. With a game based on being a super powerful fighting machine, very few enemies will stand in the way of your full-blown Super Saiyan and you’ll blast through even the highest level boss. That’s great, but it lacks that really satisfying feeling you get from a true challenge. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a true time sink but if you have a love for all things Dragon Ball Z you’ll have a blast and it’s a must as a starting point for new fans.
I’ll be back next year with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…