Uncharted 4

Uncharted™ 4: A Thief’s End_20170819222834I brought into the hype when Uncharted 4 was released, everything I read indicated that it would be high on everyone’s game of the year list, and having missed previous “Game of the Year” games I tired not to repeat the same mistake. Though as I hadn’t played the previous 3 Uncharted titles I purchased these with the intention of finishing them before starting Uncharted 4. While I enjoyed the stories, character progression, puzzles and game play of the first 3 the final third of each game always left me with a sour feeling as all the murder and gun fighting I was forced into didn’t fit with the rest of the games character. My original intention was to play Uncharted 4 as close to the release date as possible but try as I might I could never bring myself to enjoy the ending of each of the Uncharted series.

So twelve months after Uncharted 4 was released I finally made it though the first 3, so I finally got to insert the Uncharted 4 disk into my Playstation, however I did so with a apprehension as I didn’t want Naughty Dog to release another game that was basically the same at the others. All those glowing reviews though got me through and I started the game but always wondered if I would be thrown into another blood bath. But I need not have worried, Naughty Dog had solved most of my issues by introducing a stealth element of the game. No longer did I have to clear every bad guy from each area Nathan Drake entered to progress in the story. I could simply skirt around the areas and remain in cover, killing only as required, and progressing the game forward. Of course this didn’t always go t play and I often would be spotted or heard. This of course was my fault Uncharted™ 4: A Thief’s End_20170730134101and I had no issue with gunning down the people until I was able to return to cover or they were all dead. The fact that I was given the option simply solved the biggest issue I had with the Uncharted series of games.

The story of Uncharted 4 remains similar to the first 3 games, hunt treasure, beat someone else to the treasure, hold off enemy army and save humankind at the same time. Naughty Dog did however feel the need to get out the crowbar and try to wedge a new character into a pretty complete Nathan Drake back story. This somewhat undermined the relationship between Nathan and Sully however I’ve seen worse things done to stories on day time TV before and really once the initial shock of the new characters involvement in Nathan’s past has been band aided over the story unfolds quite well and wraps up nicely, leading the assumption that the Nathan Drake stories are finished (Naughty Dog have said as much).

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Being the first Uncharted game purpose made for the PS4 Naughty Dog have made huge steps in terms of the graphics and game play over the first 3. While there are certainly games out there that look better Uncharted 4 looks fantastic and a lot of thought has been put into every level. The game also introduces open world type levels which is a nice change from the previous games, which are all linear plat forming levels. It’s a nice mix of both that does get repetitive or boring. In saying that a map for these open world levels would have been a nice inclusion. It also makes getting all of the collectibles reasonably difficult however as there are areas of the levels you just don’t explore. But really I’m sure that this was part of the idea Naughty dog had when they designed this game.

Overall was a pretty clear but fitting finale to a brilliant series. Naughty Dog ironed out most of the flaws of the previous games however it’s s shame that this happened in the last Nathan Drake adventure. Nathan Drake is a great character that has been introduced over the 4 games, he is a fully developed character that is not always the case in some series and it’s clear that Naughty Dog have put a lot of time and effort into making him a character that will be loved by many gamers for years to come.
Do I believe that this is the last time we will see Nathan Drake? No I don’t. Nathan will be back and Naughty Dog if you need ideas I have plenty.

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Song of the Deep

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Song of the Deep was released by Insomniac Games in 2016 and follows the adventure of Merron, the daughter of a fisherman, as she seeks to find her father after he fails to return from a fishing trip. Merron’s grew up listening to her fathers stories of the sea and in her hastily built submarine she discovers that maybe not all of the stories her father told her were fiction.

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The story is told via a narrator, a literary device not widely used in video games but one which is used to great affect as some cut scenes are more about the story that is being told than the visuals on the screen. The player primarily controls Merron’s submarine in a 2D platform. As the game is set under water vertical movements are possible as well as the side scrolling used in traditional 2D games. Through the use of modifications that can either be purchased or found Merron’s submarine develops weapons and tools to outsmart the enemies and access different parts of the under water world. The ability to leave the submarine is also given to Merron so that she can explore the areas of the maps where her submarine cannot fit or manipulate items to unlock doors and areas.

The 2D graphics of the game are presented as very much in the same vein as a children’s picture book. There are bright and bold colours that contrast to the blue background of the sea. While this may put some people off this game is one for all games, albeit some younger gamers may need adult permission to play first. The controls are also simple enough for gamers of all ages, each buttons controls as aspect of the submarine, with no sequences needed to be memorised in order to release attacks or pick up items, when dropping items near enough is often good enough as well, this speeds the game up as well as keeping the frustration levels low.

Song of the Deep_20170706213409Overall Song of the Deep is a great little game that tells us a story that could have easily been told in book or movie form. However we should take great pleasure that the developers chose to include us in the story by allowing us to direct Merron and discover her world below the sea at our own pace. Hopefully there are more stories told this way in the future.

Horizon Zero Dawn

IMG_20170301_214134It’s been a long time since I’ve played an RPG like Horizon Zero Dawn, so long in fact that I was overwhelmed by the shear size of the game. RPG’s have increased in size dramatically in recent years not only in the physical size of the maps but also the number of main quests, side quests, errands, crafting items, people to interact with and other things to do. So when I started Horizon Zero Dawn for the first time and saw the size of the map I got the impression that maybe games had gotten too big, had we reached the point where the amount of things would have a detrimental effect on the games enjoyment? However after 55 plus hours of exploring the world my fears were brushed aside, no, they were violently dismantled and shelved away in boxes for at least another few years.

IMG_20170325_003429Guerrilla Games isn’t a developer that has been known for its epic games or genre changing titles, Killzone was a good shooter but never set the sale charts on fire. So when Sony announced that their next Triple A, exclusive title would be developed by Guerilla games there were murmors that maybe Sony had lost the plot. However what the Dutch developer has put out has been a visual and story telling masterpiece that will not only sell consoles for Sony but also ensure that a new Sony franchise will bring plenty more games and gamers to Playstation in the future.

Horizon Zero Dawn centres around Aloy, an outcast of the Nora tribe on the planet Earth aIMG_20170306_215604 thousand years in the future. Exiled from her tribe at birth Aloy is brought up by Rost, himself an outcast. The story at first establishes itself around who is Aloy and why is she an outcast but evolves quickly into a story about how our civilisation can go from it’s current heights to the world that Aloy knows where robot animals rule the land and Humans have resorted back to living in tribes surrounded by the ruins of those that came before them, and that’s really how the story sucks you in. There’s that human curiosity that nags at you to keep the story mode turning over, what happened to us and is it avoidable. Not only is the story entertaining but the side quests and errands have enough back story and involvement that it doesn’t feel like a chore to complete them. The robot enemies are challenging enough that defeating them gives you a real sense of achievement as well as enough loot to craft all the items you need and enough cash to buy all the weapons to make the game that bit easier. While the world is so beautiful that you can spend hours just exploring the landscapes looking for collectibles.

This brings me to how the game looks. One world, amazing. The people, the animals and the robot beasts all look fantastic however it’s the world that Guerilla Games has developed where the true beauty of the game can be found. The landscapes whether they be mountains, deserts, forests or cities are all picturesque and could easily be taken for real backdrops. This can be exploited best in the photo mode the game has which allows to you control just about every aspect of the game to find that perfect screen shot. Even allowing control of the time of day so you can get the moon or sun right in the perfect position. The user interface with in the game works well with the controls. Selecting between weapons is made easy even in battle with the preloaded pin wheel, even allowing you to change the pre-selection of your weapons from the pause menu at any moment. The heads up display can get a bit crowded on the screen however this can be changed in the menu allowing certain items to be added or removed. Overall the heads up display, user interface and controls all work well together and seldom leave the user frustrated or making mistakes.

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Horizon Zero Dawn is definitely the type of game that you get out of it what you put in. The game can be played in a straight and linear fashion only concentrating on the main story quests and while I’m sure you will still enjoy the game and the story if you put in the effort to explore and complete the side missions then you will have a truly magical and rewarding experience, because that’s where the true beauty of this game lies. It is a world that you can get lost in and involved in so many aspects of and that’s why this game is a true masterpiece. The fantastic story, game play and beauty of the game all form part of a world that Guerilla Games have developed, it’s much more that a game. It may be early on in the year and there are plenty more games to come out but I already get the feeling that this game will be very high on my game of the year list.

E3

It’s that time of the year again where people who live in far away lands awake up at all hours of the night and tune into the press conferences given on stage in Los Angeles, California to see what adventures they’ll be taken on through their console in the year(s?) to come. Yes that’s right. It’s E3 time again.

Given that I have a full time job I haven’t been able to tune in to all the press conferences at this years E3 but I have managed to watch the three console developers and while the general feeling has been that this years E3 hasn’t lived up to previous years, I believe there were still some golden games shown.

Microsoft came out swinging hard finally releasing the details of project Scorpio. The Xbox One X as it will be known from here on has been promoted as the worlds most powerful console however it was not a brand new console some had thought it would be. It sits along side the PlayStation Pro in the range of the consoles albeit more powerful. Given that the Xbox One X will produce 4K graphics at 60FPS (for some titles) this puts it up with the PC in terms of gaming experience, given you have a good enough TV. However I don’t realistically think that the PC master race will be swayed to convert to console, especially given that they have access to the same Microsoft library of games, and at $649 AU ($499 American) I honestly can see many people picking up the console. It’s a large expense for better graphics and smoother running (along with all those flops!) of the same experience that you’ll get on the standard Xbox One. But that’s how I view it and I’m happy to be proven wrong. Microsoft also had games to show us, 42 to be exact, with 22 “exclusives” which when announced certainly sucked us all in. In real terms most of these exclusives were referred to as ‘console launch exclusives’ which has since been clarified that it means the games will launch first exclusively on the Xbox One and then at a later point be released on the other consoles (PlayStation and the Switch). Given how poorly this panned out for Rise of the Tomb Raider and Square Enix I though that might have been the last we saw of these timed exclusive games however it appears that they are still hanging around. At least as gamers if there is a game that is timed exclusive then we can live in hope that one day we will be able to play it on the console that we have.

Microsoft started by driving a brand new Porsche on to the stage (the only thing cheaper than the Xbox One X on the stage) to reveal a new Forza Motosport title. Driving games are always good to show off a new console so this wasn’t much of a surprise. The game certainly does look good and hopefully the driving mechanics are of a high enough quality that the game feels like a well rounded driving game and not one where they spent too much time with the graphics.

Cup Head finally gets a release date which will appease the many people who have been waiting years for this release. We also got a sneak peak of the Life is Strange prequel Before the Storm. This along with Life is Strange 2 are two of the most anticipated games around at the moment so it’s great to see some footage to know that it is coming out.

Xbox also had the world first showing of the new Assassins Creed title Origins. While this game looks fantastic and the story should be able to fill in some holes left in the other titles I was a but disappointed in this release, Ubisoft took a year off the Assassin’s Creed franchise to refresh a series that had become stale and predicable, ironically after the best game in the series they had produced in a while. However the game looks and felt like an Assassin’s Creed game, one which followed the same formula as the others with minor changes. They also had removed one of the best aspects of the game introduced in Syndicate, a playable female character. Evie was what made Syndicate so great and not having either the choice or requirement to be able to play as a female is a huge step backwards for Ubisoft.

Playstation tried to keep surfing that wave of success that was last years E3 conference and went with games, games, games. While there were certainly some very impressive games shown there was slight disappointment in the lack of new games or release dates on the ones shown. That said the trailers for the Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn and Detroit: Become Human all looked very impressive. They will be games I will be looking forward to finding out more about and hopefully more information is forth coming over the remainder of E3.

Days Gone certainly had an impressive trailer detailing an open world experience to the zombie apocalypse. Revealing different ways to interact with the world and the environment to complete your goals. This will certainly appeal to many gamers out there however I am not one.

I’ve never played a God of War game but the trailer for the new game definitely had me wanting to dive deeper into this world. It’s possible that the game is trapping into the success of the format from The Last of Us with the older character guiding a child through the game however this can be successful when done right and the information shown certainly shows enough to suggest that this has been done right.

VR, of course, had a very heavy showing as you would expect as Sony tries to push it’s technology to sell more units. The In Patient, Star Child, Bravo Team and Moss all had teaser trailers that didn’t show off too much information. The In Patient is that game that appeals the most to me but realistically to spend the sort of money the VR set up costs it would need to be pretty good, along with more titles than what they have at the moment.

While there were some people who were not satisfied with the games and details Playstation put out there in their press conference when Shawn Layden came back on stage to reveal an hour had passed it was hard to believe. The presentation had my attention the whole time and revealed enough information to make me keen for the years ahead. The press conference of course finished with the new Spiderman game as many had predicted. The problem with super hero games is there’s often too much to do in them and they become very complicated which doesn’t translate to an enjoyable experience. However if Spiderman plays like it looks then this could be a fantastic game, however only time will tell.

Nintendo for me had the best conference of all. Whilst the games that both Microsoft and Playstation showed looked fantastic, entertaining and worth my money neither of the conferences left me with the feeling that I needed to go out and buy an Xbox One or a Playstation Pro (I already own a PS4 so I may have been tempted if I didn’t) but the Nintendo conference left me with a feeling on needing to own a Switch. My main reason behind not buying a Nintendo Switch was the cost verses the games that are available to play on it. Whilst I am aware that games will come out in time and there will be plenty of titles to play the cost to play the few games out now isn’t worth it, I’ll buy one in the future. Well maybe that future is now, Kirby and Yoshi are all getting new adventures and there was news that a new Pokemon RPG title is in the works.

Xenoblade Chronicles is getting a sequel which looks fantastic with great story and mechanics, Metroid Prime 4 is coming, Fire Emblem Warriors to be released in the fall of the north hemisphere and the announcement of two new DLC packs for Zelda: Breath of the Wild have been revealed. While fan favourites like FIFA and Rocket League are either returning to the Nintendo fold or coming for the first time.

Nintendo finished their conference with a massive trailer for Super Mario: Odyssey. I haven’t felt like this about a Mario game since Super Mario 64 (which still ranks as one of my all time favourite games). Super Mario: Odyssey sees a return to the 3D format along with some interesting side scrolling 2D as well. Mario’s hat plays a very big roll in the trailer allowing Mario to take over and control other characters within the game, including enemies allowing you to use their powers to your advantage.

Super Mario: Odyssey matched up with Zelda: Breath of the Wild gives me reason enough to buy a Switch and the other game titles that we have been shown only serves to make me believe after those two games I’ll have plenty more to play. Nintendo have done a much more successful job of selling the Switch at E3 than at their Nintendo Direct where they launched the system and I’m sure they’ll sell a lot more consoles after E3 because of it.

Life Is Strange

IMG_20170124_200247Every now and then a game comes around that makes you say this game is the reason I play video games. Life is Strange is one of those games for me. As a white male in his Late 20’s who spent his formative years on a building site I don’t have many feels, but Life is Strange got me right in the few feels I do have. The game transported me back to when I was an 18 year old girl at high school struggling to fit in. I rode every bump with Max Caulfield along her journey and then cried myself to sleep when I realised the consequences my actions would have on the rest of Max’s Life.

Life is Strange is produced by Square Enix and developed by Dontnod, a small time developer who have poured their heart and soul as a company into this title. The game follows a week in the life of Max Caulfield. An 18 year old girl who has left her family in Seattle to complete her schooling town she spent the first 13 years of her life in, Arcadia Bay. Not only does Max have to deal with a new school, new class mates and the turbulent period of everyone’s life when they turn 18 she also has to figure out her newly discovered ability to rewind time. The first time Max decides to manipulate time is to save a strange girl from being shot in the Blackwell Academy bathrooms. This strange girl turns out to be Chloe Price, Max’s childhood best friend from the period in her life before she moved away to Seattle. After reconnecting Max confides in Chloe about her newly found ability and the two pair up to solve the missing persons case of Rachel Amber, one of Chloe’s friends and other mysterious events that are happening at Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay.

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The game was released as 5 episodes with each episode being broken down in to the chapters of the story. The story is the key element of this game and how it unfolds is based on the decisions that the player makes during the game, with every decision effecting how the story plays out. Where it be immediately or several episodes later. Ultimately though there are only two different ends so while the story path you take may be varied you will end up facing the same last decision regardless. The game also have a heavy exploration element with the answer to key questions and moments in the story being found within the other characters rooms, computers, diary’s etc. giving the game a detective feel that also touches on a trust issues as you reveal aspects of these characters back stories that they are trying to keep personal.

IMG_20170201_230900The unreal engine that the game runs on does look a bit tired when put up against recent releases such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Catalyst: Mirror’s edge, but this in no way affects the game. Some games built around their graphics will date quickly and fall over whereas games such as Life is Strange will have no such problems and will be able to be enjoyed many years from now.

While it’s easy to see why this game isn’t for everyone it certainly is one of the top games in it’s genre. For me it really hit deep even though I’ve never been in a similar situation to relate to what Max and Chloe are experiencing. Playing through really helped my connect to my teenage self, something which I try and distance myself from as much as possible, however playing it with less than 12 months to go until I turn 30 meant I could also relate to the adult figures that Max and Chloe need to deal with. I think that’s one of the strengths of this game and it’s probably best played after you have have left that rebellious stage of your life behind. It is of course the story that really makes this game. It’s a story that could easily have been a book, movie or TV series and as gamers we have been very lucky to get to experience the interactive version of it.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

img_20170119_231043_578Rise of the Tomb Raider is the successor to the Square Enix 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. First released on the Xbox 1, PC 6 months later and the Playstation 4 a full 12 months later meaning that I had to wait 12 months before finally being able to play the game. After the events of the Tomb Raider Lara is convinced that there are things that cannot be explained out there waiting to be discovered. Realising that her father may not have been as crazy as she, and the media had thought Lara seeks to finish his work and search for The Divine Source.
So with Trinity hot on her tail Lara runs off on her next adventure with Jonah tagging along. The story does get a bit bogged down at the start, and while that could have been the way I was playing, I feel that it was never really explained who was who at the start and as key sections of the story were revealed later in the game the start made more sense. The story however does evolve and become very thought out and multi-dimensional, filling in all the blanks at the start and wrapping up nicely at the end, even if the after credits cut scene did leave us on a bit of a cliff hanger while hinting at what is next to come for Lara.img_20161210_151418
As with the previous Tomb Raider title the developers have put a lot of time in developing the world that Lara Croft journeys through. There seemed to be less of the linear levels and more areas to explore and locate documents, relics and crafting supplies however the game still has that linear feel to if and is certainly not a sandbox game which is a refreshing change to how most developers seem to be directing their games these days. The graphics are, as always, amazing but they don’t detract from the game play or the story which is always important because there is always more to a game than just the graphics.img_20161125_235111
The game play has little to no faults, the controls are easy to use and well thought out and even when climbing and scaling the landscape it quite easy to move Lara around. Very rarely did I miss the ledge that I was trying to grab hold of and more often than not it was me and not the controls that were at fault. This game also brings crafting into the equation a lot more than the previous title. Arrows and ammunition can be crafted on the run and Lara can also heal herself in battle which came in very handy. The optional side quests and tombs are also challenging enough that you feel a sense of achievement when you complete one however not hard enough that you get stuck on one for hours, there is though that sense of urgency in the main story that leads you to wonder if Lara really has enough time to explore the tombs and look for relics. That is however an issue that is common to most games and not exclusive to the Tomb Raider titles.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a continuation of the rebooted Lara Croft story, a while the last game made it very clear that Lara had to kill to stay alive and save her friends this game certainly shows us a different Lara who will kill to advance her own position and achieve her own goals, especially at the start of the game. The reboot has, to a certain extent, become more of an episodic game rather than stand alone titles and stories however than isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The exclusive early release for the Xbox is something that I hope Square Enix don’t try again. While the game was great and I will have long forgotten the 12 month wait I had by the time the next game is released, I feel that there was no hype around the Playstation release even though it was released to coincide with 20th anniversary since the release of the first Tomb Raider title. This must have hurt sales of the game which was voted one of the games of 2015 on the Xbox, which ultimately hurts the budget for the next title and the future of the game series. I’ve never been a fan of exclusive games and while I understand while the condole makers love them, I really hope that’s the last we have seen of it for the Tomb Raider series.img_20170114_001725_929

Tomb Raider

img_20151210_230746The 2013 reboot of the tomb raider, published by Square Enix, was always going to be hit or miss with the existing Lara Croft fans. The reboot set about introducing the current generation of gamers to Lara Croft, the world famous archaeologist and international bad as. The game takes us back to the times before any of any of this has happened for Lara. Back to when she was a junior member of an expedition lead by Dr James Whitman, a fame seeking archaeologist only out to better his public figure. We follow Lara on her personal journey from the ship wreck that strands her and the team on a mysterious island through her first kill in a kill or be killed situation to her realisation that in order to survive, sacrifices must sometimes be made, hard and dangerous work must sometimes be under taken and sometimes killing is the only answer. Laying the foundation for Lara to become the warrior we have known and loved for the past 20 years in the next few titles.
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Tomb raider looks fantastic, especially the Definitive Collection that I played on the Playstation 4. The developers have also sculptured Lara Croft as a more realistic woman, gone are the barbie doll dimensions of the original games, which can only be a good thing. The game also has a magnificent back drop of jagged peaks, wild storms and endless oceans which really gives scope to the idea that that Lara has no option but to fight her way off the island as there is no alternative for survival. Seeing the screen shots of this game is really the catalyst that convinced me to buy this game, they look beautiful and seamlessly create a fantastic experience for the player the whole way through the story.
After playing an ever expanding number of open world/sand box games recently, some very poorly, it was nice to play a linear game with objectives and areas to clear. There are various areas around the map that are larger and have an open world feel to them and allow you to search for hidden tombs, artefacts, documents and GPS coordinates. Satisfying that urge to explore driven by the beautiful island world. The objectives also require a fair amount of thought and problem solving which leaves the player feeling a sense of accomplishment lacking in some games which offer a run and jump element to their levels.
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Realistically only time will tell I’d the reboot was the right move in the Lara Croft series and a lot hinges on how they develop the next few games. The success of the previous Lara Croft titles was built on the strong relationship the gamers had with Lara and no doubt this game, a seismic shift from the the previous Lara Croft character, will have offended many existing fans. However hopefully this game brings in a new group of fans who weren’t around when the Tomb Raider games were at their peak, and in a world where women are (unfortunately) still under represented in the video game industry this can only be a positive thing as showing young girls and boys that women can be their own heroes and don’t always need saving is a good thing and a message that needs to be reinforced as often as possible.
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