If there’s one game that you should buy a PlayStation for it’s Uncharted. Naughty Dog made a name for themselves by being a premier developer on Sony’s flagship console and each subsequent release of Uncharted was simply another demonstration of how they were a cut above the rest. Of course that would be nothing if the actual game itself wasn’t any good but the Uncharted series has been consistently good over it’s almost 10 year life span. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the final instalment in Nathan Drake’s story and the last title in the series that will be developed by Naughty Dog. True to their pedigree this last hurrah is a fitting end for the series and another testament to Naughty Dog’s exceptional craftsmanship when it comes to PlayStation titles.
Uncharted 4 explores the somewhat blurry past of the main protagonist, taking you back and forth between the present and the past. It’s set some time after the events of Uncharted 3 where Nate has settled down with Elena. He’s taken a job doing salvage and recovery work, a far cry from his adventuring days of years gone by. However adventure still calls to him with tantalizing prospects always nipping at his feet. It’s not until his past comes back to haunt him that he heeds the call once again. This last adventure could be the end of him or at least all the things he cares about but Nate’s obsession is a hard thing to ignore.
Uncharted 4 is an absolutely stunning game, one that clearly demonstrates just how powerful the PlayStation4 can be when it’s fully utilized. Everything from the wide open vistas of the gorgeous tropical islands to the dark, cramped caves that you explore is brimming with detail. The extensive use of modern lighting effects, particle systems and an incredibly detailed physics system makes for some of the most realistic and immersive environments that I’ve seen to date. This is shown best by the screenshots I captured below, all of which are done in-game, not during a cinematic. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise honestly as this is what Naughty Dog is known for doing but, once again, Uncharted 4 sets the bar for all future PlayStation4 titles to beat.
For long time fans of the series Uncharted 4’s game play will feel very familiar, retaining all the core mechanics of the previous games. You’ll be running, jumping and climbing your way through all sorts of environments, most of which will be falling down around you while you do it. Combat comes in the tried and true 3rd person shooter format with the same 2 weapon limitation and infinite health regeneration. The stealth system has been improved somewhat, allowing you to tag enemies before making your way around the level to take them out. There’s also extensive vehicle sections which allow you to 4WD yourself around various places giving you a nice change of pace from the usual running and jumping. Lastly you’ll be solving various weird and wonderful puzzles, some of which do require a good deal of lateral thinking to solve. All in all Uncharted 4 is, at a game play level, a final evolution of the series more than it is a revolutionary one.
Combat largely feels the same as its predecessors as you’ll be going from cover to cover, seeking out enemies and taking them out as you see fit. Weapons in the same category as each other feel largely the same, with the only differences being in special weapons like a grenade launch or a sniper rifle. Variation in the enemies you’ll fight is also relatively low with their toughness directly related to how much armour they’re wearing. This isn’t to say that the combat isn’t exciting or satisfying, it most certainly can be when you make it through in one go, it’s just nothing we haven’t seen before. However it is one of the most polished versions of this kind of game play that I’ve seen.
Stealth feels a little better than it did in previous titles however it’s still missing a few additional mechanics that would polish some of the rougher edges. For instance whilst you can run away to regain “stealth” status there’s no other way in which to regain it. It also seems like there are no silenced weapons in this game (I couldn’t find any at least) which means that there are some situations where doing it all by stealth is either incredibly difficult or just flat out impossible. Lastly since there’s literally no benefit to doing everything quietly you might as well just run and gun your way through it all since that’s so much quicker and less prone to mistakes. Indeed if you asked me what I think Uncharted 4’s weakest point was it would be this one mechanic as it’s just not up to the same standard as the rest of the game is.
Exploration has been augmented in Uncharted 4 by the addition of a grappling hook, something which strangely didn’t make an appearance in previous titles despite the story showing Drake using one often in his earlier days. This opens up a lot of the environments, allowing the developers to make them far more expansive but still enabling the player to explore them. The grappling hook also allows for some ludicrous action movie-esque scenes to take place, something which I’m definitely not adverse to. The climbing is the same as it always was which is not to say it’s bad, just that climbing in these games is a pretty passive affair. Again it’s like many elements of Uncharted 4’s game play: unoriginal but refined and polished.
The addition of vehicle sections is one of the nicer touches that Naughty Dog added to Uncharted 4 as it further opens up the environments that you’re able to explore. As a result Uncharted 4 feels so much more expansive than its predecessors did. Of course this also makes looking for the various bits of hidden treasure just that little bit more frustrating as there’s so much more area to explore. I mostly gave up on doing that unless I saw what looked like an obvious hiding spot as you could lose dozens of hours trying to find everything. I’m sure there’s a non-zero percentage of players that will love that however.
Uncharted 4’s story is everything it should be, from the writing to the voice acting to the motion capture. All of the performances in Uncharted 4 are top notch which helps to bring the on-screen visuals to life. Each of the elements I’ve discussed so far are great on their own however Naughty Dog has managed to combine them all together seamlessly into a great experience. The only gripe I have is that the story starts to drag around the last quarter or so but the finale is worth it. I really don’t want to say much more as you really should just play it, especially if you’ve been following the series since inception.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End yet again demonstrates Naughty Dog’s domination of the PlayStation 4, showcasing their expertise in creating experiences on this platform. It is by far the best looking game on PlayStation 4 to date and will be for a while to come. The core game, whilst evolutionary and familiar, is extremely well done. The improvements might be formulaic but the entire experience is tied together so well that it’s easy to overlook those aspects. As always the story is well done with the writers, voice and motion capture actors all coming together to produce a great performance. Uncharted 4, in my opinion, is the flagship title for the PlayStation 4 and a must play for anyone who owns this console.
Uncharted 4 is available on PlayStation 4 right now for $77. Total play time was approximately 12 hours with 11% of the trophies unlocked.
It’s nigh on impossible to miss the hype that’s been surrounding The Last of Us, the latest game to come out of Naughty Dog studios who’s been responsible for other PlayStation 3 exclusive hits like the Uncharted series. I tried my best but it the sentiment among the reviewer crowd was hard to miss: this game was shaping up to be everyone’s game of the year. However the interesting part about it was that it wasn’t something like revolutionary game play or top end graphics that was sending the review scores northward, it was the confronting story. I had been sold on the game since I saw the short gameplay demo that was released last year and had already lined myself up to play it despite it being a survival horror so all that was left was to fire it up and see if my impressions of it lined up with the hype that surrounded it.
You play as Joel, a single father who’s been working hard to provide for his daughter Sarah. Everything seems to be good in your world, heck she even manages to scrounge up enough cash to buy you a watch for your birthday, but soon an epidemic starts to sweep the nation, one that enrages people and turns them into vicious beings that attack anything when sighted. Tragedy befalls Joel, turning him into a bitter person and he then spends the next 20 years in a quarantine camp, finding work as a smuggler who gets things into and out of his camp. His world is shaken up after he seeks revenge against someone who’s wronged him only to find himself tangled up with a rebel group who’s only request is that he smuggle a girl to one of their camps.
Her name is Ellie.
With this current console generation coming to the end of its life the games are taking full advantage of the hardware platform that’s available to them and Naughty Dog’s expertise on the PlayStation 3 shines through in The Last of Us. All the environments you’ll explore are incredibly detailed, showing the world in glorious ruins. It’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s skill that all of this runs without a hitch as well with the game remaining buttery smooth even during intense action scenes. What I did like though was the distinct lack of environment porn, I.E. scenes that were deliberately designed to make you gawk at the rendering engine. Sure there were a lot of impressive moments but I never felt like any of them were created specifically as screenshot bait, they were just emergent based on the great level design and detailed environments.
The Last of Us is a survival horror game where resources are scarce and death almost certain should you not play your cards right. Now traditionally I’m not a big fan of these titles as they tend to do things that violate my rules for being a good (but also challenging game) and The Last of Us is no exception to this. It’s made up for somewhat by the inclusion of other mechanics that allow you to negate some of the more annoying aspects of survival horror game play through the use of skill and simple curiosity but there are still some issues that remain unresolved that I will take the game to task for. However I do understand that this is part of the survival horror schtick and is probably considered a great example of the genre so I’m more just trying to make my biases known so you don’t feel the need to lambast me in the comments.
There’s 3 main mechanics that drive the game play of The Last of Us. The first is good old fashioned 3rd person combat which has been tweaked with a stealth mechanic that you’ll make good use of if you don’t want to be reloading the game every 5 seconds. The second is a form of simplistic puzzler/platformer where you’ll have to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next stage. Lastly there’s a customized RPG like system of crafting, upgrades and upgrades that allows you to improve your character and create consumables that you’ll undoubtedly being making heavy use of throughout your play through. None of these are particularly unique, and indeed I’d argue that the the gameplay isn’t the strongest characteristic of The Last of Us, but they do make for a challenging game.
You’ll spend the vast majority of your time exploring the environments that you’re in for bits and pieces that you can use to craft items to help you along. You don’t have to do this but the less you do it the harder the game will get for you as, no joke, that piece of rag you picked up 2 hours ago could be the very thing that saves your ass. It can get a little laborious though as pretty much every section you go through has to be inspected with a fine tooth comb to make sure you didn’t miss everything and, once you get past a certain point, you might stop doing it because you’ve managed to max out your inventory. However even if you do manage that there’s still another reason for you to keep searching: for the other upgrades.
There’s 2 ways to upgrade your character with the first being through “supplements” that affect Joel. For the most part they just make the game easier, giving you more health or decreasing the time it takes to heal for instance, but some of them can make the difference between life or death like the ability to save yourself from a clicker attack with a shiv. If I’m honest most of them apart from the Shiv Master one didn’t really impact on the game that much, usually just giving you a little more leeway with which to accomplish the same things. I also found that the supplements were scarce enough that I could just drop them into skills to max them out so the choice is usually based around your play style and what seems to be hampering your progress the most.
There’s also the upgrades to your weapons which can improve things like reload speed, clip size and fire rate. There’s unfortunately no way to upgrade the damage of any particular weapon which means they’re just as effective when you first get them as when you last fire them which, honestly, gave me the shits. The awful aiming coupled with the relative ineffectiveness of shots that hit anywhere but the head means that most of your weapons feel like they’re having no impact whatsoever with the exception of the shotgun and shorty (which are only close range, not so great for things that want to bite you). The upgrades make up for this somewhat by allowing you to fire and reload more rapidly but when you don’t have a lot of ammo (and you can’t carry that much even if you save every bullet) it’s kind of a moot point. Even upgrading the bow, something which is typically super bad ass in any survival game, doesn’t increase its usefulness that much, especially against moving targets.
Which brings me to the combat of The Last of Us which is quite typical of the survival horror genre. There’s 2 modes that you’ll be playing in: stealth and out and out firefights. Now the former is actually quite well done as the environments are strewn with little nooks for you to hide in and wait patiently for your prey to walk by so you can snag them and choke them out silently. You also have the rather awesome ability to “concentrate your hearing” which essentially enables a wall hack that allows you to see where enemies are. They have to be walking or talking for it to work, which becomes something of an issue later on, but it’s enough so that you can get a feeling for where they all are before you strike. Of course one mistake means that your prey will alert everyone else and then you’ve got two choices: run or start shooting.
This is where I feel The Last of Us starts to fall down a bit as the guns don’t feel effective at all unless you get a headshot and lining one of those up while under fire is nigh on impossible. The human AI is smart enough to not run blindly around corners where it knows you’re hiding (and it will try to flank you) so you can’t do the usual rounding up and then gunning them all down sort of thing that’s possible in other 1st/3rd person shooters. With the wonky controls of the PlayStation3 the only effective guns I found were the two I mentioned earlier although they still suffer if not aimed somewhere near the head. Of course the stealth aspect of The Last of Us means that there’s opportunity to flank people out although the AI has a rather terrible habit of suddenly figuring out where you are when you pop your head out to start shooting at them.
The same applies to the infected as the AI behaves very differently when you’re near them, to the point where sometimes they’ll make a beeline straight for you even when they’re not supposed to be aware of your position. There’s ways to counteract this, of course, but I don’t like the feeling that I’m making up for the shortcomings of the AI by bugging it out with other game mechanics. I remember one particular challenge (starting the generator in the basement so you can use the card reader door) where after causing a ruckus I’d run to a dark area to hide so I could then plan my escape. Should I not place a bomb somewhere else that then gets triggered by an infected a bloater would then, inexplicably, find me even though I was nowhere near that particular spot. The bloaters also appear to have eyes despite them apparently not being able to see and don’t get me started on the one-hit-kill nature of the clickers which requires 75 supplements to avoid.
The Last of Us is also not bug free either as I had several times when triggers simply failed to load, locking me in the current section being unable to progress until I reloaded from the checkpoint. Additionally the checkpoint behaviour isn’t reliable as manually restarting it often means restarting from a point faaaaaaaaaar behind your current checkpoint, meaning it’s better to just die rather than try to reload it. There’s also the rather irritating feature of spawning enemies in rooms that you’ve already looked in and cleared, ones that don’t have any entrance path to them (like on the second story of a house). For the most part they’re manageable but when you’re dealing with the 100 other stressful things the game throws at you this can be enough to stop you playing.
But the thing that Last of Us is receiving so much praise for isn’t it’s gameplay it’s the detailed and very confronting story that drives you through it. Credit where it’s due for the voice and motion capture actors for portraying it so well as I’m quite intolerant of bad performances in either aspect but the people behind The Last of Us do a top notch job. Whilst I won’t put a plot analysis here (that’s something for the spoiler section below) suffice to say that the story evokes heavy feelings of empathy, sorrow and strong cognitive dissonance over how your characters play out. The Last of Us is one of the few modern games where you have absolutely no control over how the story plays out, something that I enjoy but may frustrate some players.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
I felt a deep sense of empathy for Joel, despite his obvious character flaw of not wanting to care about anyone (from fear of getting hurt). With that in mind the ending felt like the one that I wanted to happen, because fuck anyone trying to hurt Ellie, however in doing so I had to bear the costs associated with doing that. The final scene between Joel and Ellie was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch as it’s clear that Ellie knows Joel is lying, as evidenced by her simple reply that echoes her initial character before it’s developed over the course of the game, but she’s accepted he has his reasons for doing so. Whether he’ll ever reveal them to her is something that’ll be left up for discussion (or possibly a sequel, although bonus points to Naughty Dog for not leaving us dangling) but it’s almost at the point where it doesn’t matter.
Whilst Ellie’s fate was somewhat expected (although I question its validity, it’s not like we can’t do brain surgery without killing people) I had more expected Joel to be the tragic hero, especially considering the origin story of the first couple hours. His survival was somewhat counter to what I expected which I was glad for and ultimately it enabled the hollow hollywood ending which is what The Last of Us is being widely acclaimed for. With that in mind the lack of a choice system, one with a lot of games shoehorn in at the end to give the player some sense of control over the ultimate ending, is a smart move by Naughty Dog and something I commend them for.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
The Last of Us is an exhausting experience physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s one that will test your limits of what you think is right and wrong, making you question what ideals you would compromise when faced with the same situation. Whilst I might not enjoy some of the gameplay mechanics due to their survival horror roots I can’t deny the gripping story that’s well portrayed by the actors involved. Whilst there are many that would recommend getting a PS3 just to play it I won’t count myself among them however should you already have one it’s certainly one of the exclusives that shouldn’t be missed, no matter what kind of gamer you are.
Rating: 9.5/10 (includes +1.0 reviewer’s bias to counteract for the fact that I routinely rate survival horror badly)
The Last of Us is available right now on PlayStation 3 for $78. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with around 17 hours of total play time and 7% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s that time of year again when the Electronics and Entertainment Expo (commonly known as E3) brings about all sorts of tech demos, teaser trailers and usually a swath of speculation of what the upcoming year holds for the gaming community. Whilst I usually shoot a curious glance its way whenever a company I’m following announces something I tend not to talk about it too much lest I work myself up into a White Knight Chronicles-esque fervor only to be disappointed once again. Still with the drip feed of information that I’ve allowed myself I’ve noticed something of a trend in many of the news articles that I’ve been reading.
It seems that the latest round of games look too good for current gen consoles and people are wondering if they’re all destined for the next generation. Taken at face value the games do look a whole lot more impressive than most current generation titles and here’s a few examples from E3 that have got everyone’s tongue wagging about whether they’re next gen or not.
Last of Us:
Beyond: Two Souls:
They are quite impressive looking titles, especially Watch Dogs which has managed to steal E3 away from all of its competitors. However I personally didn’t think they were outside the capabilities of the PlayStation 3, mostly because even though we’re a almost 6 years into its life developers are still wringing good performance increases out of it. The Xbox360 on the other hand is starting to run up to its limits but its still quite capable of producing some pretty good graphics (see my Mass Effect 3 review to see some screens taken in-game). The kicker of course is the answer to the question that everyone on the floor asked “What’s this demo running on?”.
For all the games in question it was a high end PC. Cue raucous cheering from the PC crowd who can feel the crown of best platform being placed back on their heads.
Of course many of the developers came out afterwards and stated that all the games would be running on current generation consoles. However the fact that they run on PCs doesn’t exclude them from running on at least 1 of the next gen consoles (Orbis, or the PS4) which will be sporting a good old fashioned x86-64 instruction set. Additionally any game that runs on a Windows PC and utilizes the Microsoft XNA framework has a very easy time being ported to the current Xbox and so it follows that the next gen would also have similar capabilities. So whilst these titles aren’t technically next gen they’re definitely indicative of what they’ll be capable of, at least at the beginning of their life cycle.
As for when those consoles will be making their debut I’d have to put my money on sometime next year for Microsoft’s Durango and the year after that for Sony’s Orbis. There’s not a lot of concrete evidence to back that up but with the Xbox360 approaching is 7th birthday soon I can’t see it hanging on for much longer after that. It then follows on that Sony wouldn’t want to be too far behind in its next gen console release although they’ve been very mum on whether or not they’re actually working on it yet. This is definitely a subject I’m going to have to revisit 6 months down the line.
Back in the early days of the Playstation 3 there wasn’t that many good games to be had on the console. The only launch title that was any good was Resistance: Fall of Man and that was enough to tide most people over until some of the big titles started to hit the shelves. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out in November almost 9 months later to a crowd of Playstation owners who were desperate for something new, exclusive and hopefully good. By all accounts Uncharted managed to fulfill these expectations completely and the wise cracking hero had his triumphant return announced a year later, and was on the shelves a year after that. In my first weekend off from various project work in well over a month I decided to sit down and play through the sequel from almost start to end (I caved when I bought it last year and played about 2 hours before putting the controller down) and thought I’d share my experiences with you.
The first thing that you’ll notice about Uncharted 2 is the absolutely stunning graphics that Naughty Dog has managed to cram into this game. From the jungle ruins to the mountains of Nepal all of the levels are carefully crafted to be visually stunning and not one of them fails to deliver on this aspect. I caught myself a few times just spinning the camera around just to look at everything and was always suprised to see those little details that you usually go wanting for in such games. You can see why this game was made exclusive for the PS3 as they needed the full 25GB of space on the blu ray disc in order to have such rich detailed environments.
The visual onslaught doesn’t stop there either. One of my gripes I had with Assassin’s Creed 2 (although I failed to mention it in the review) was that whilst the story was deep and thoroughly engaging many of the characters were stuck firmly in the uncanny valley. In Uncharted 2 however the motion capture technology coupled with the extremely well done character models made the characters that much more believable. Couple this with the amazing voice actors and exceptional camera work done for many scenes and you have a game that has an almost Hollywood feel to it. This is quite a feat for a game that isn’t part of my secret pleasure genre cinematic gaming.
Uncharted 2 is a strange mix of several different core game play mechanics. Initially it starts out as your not-so-typical 3rd person shooter, with Drake being able to carry 2 guns, some grenades and of course his fists. The variety of weapons isn’t huge but there’s enough for you to be able to handle any situation the game throws at you. The inclusion of special items such as riot shields, chain-guns and mounted weapons (ala the first Predator movie) also provide some fun with an almost comic relief quality to them. Whilst there aren’t any vehicle sections that you control in Uncharted 2 you’re not starved for vehicle hi-jinks, with many adrenaline fueled scenes to play through.
The next game play mechanic is that of a 3D platformer. Having just finished Assassin’s Creed 2 just a week before you’ll excuse me for making some direct comparisons between the two. With Drake the climbing is much less of a star than it was in Assassin’s Creed 2. Realistically it would be more appropriate to call the platformer sections of Uncharted 2 a mini-game as whilst there are many of them (and it has been integrated with the other mechanics seamlessly) all of them are quite linear with few opportunities for you to stray from the designer’s path. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t challenging, far from it. But if you’re used to being able to climb almost anywhere ala Assassin’s Creed 2 you’ll be sorely disappointed in Uncharted 2, as many of the surfaces that appear climbable simply aren’t. One advantage of this is there’s less chance for you to leap unknowingly off a cliff or into a deep abyss, although that can still happen from time to time. Overall the platformer aspect of Uncharted 2 is quite good and I won’t fault the game because of it, but that still doesn’t make the numerous falling deaths Drake suffered at my hand any less annoying 😉
The last is something that many games attempt to do and usually fail at: stealth combat. Whenever games have tried to give you the option of going stealth it usually ends up in a blithering mess. Games with it as a core mechanic such as the Theif series and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow usually do quite well but until Uncharted 2 I hadn’t had one that seemlessly integrated the stealth with its shooter aspect. They even give you “ninja bonuses” for taking out opponents in sneaky ways, something that lead me to try it whenever I could. Granted you’ll usually end up in a point where you can no longer do it by stealth and have to start spraying bullets, but that just seemed to be part of the fun.
There’s something to be said for a game that’s both visually gorgeous at the same time as having a plot to rival most blockbuster movies . Just like Modern Warfare 2 Uncharted 2 had a kind of hollywood action feel to it. In fact both of them share very similar lineage as both of them were new IP when they were released (MW2 had the edge here with brand name, but make no mistake MW1 was new IP for Infinity Ward) and both were leaps and bounds more successful than their prequels. Most of this can be put down to them building successfully on the groundwork laid by their predecessors, which is unfortunately the source of my biggest gripe with Uncharted 2.
It would seem that we as a gaming community have a very short memory in terms of prequels. For all the accolades that Uncharted 2 seems to pile up none of them seem to make the connection that the game is really not that much more different from Uncharted 1. The climbing mechanics are the same, the weapons are the same and whilst the levels are set in a different location they play almost exactly the same as they did in Uncharted 1 all those years ago. Sure the game is enjoyable and the plot is vastly different but when you had something like Assassin’s Creed 2 that managed to basically reinvent itself between releases you start to wonder why Naughty Dog didn’t attempt the same thing. Granted when you have a formula it’s hard to convince the investors to let you deviate from it but at its heart Uncharted 2 is the same game as Uncharted 1, which is why it is surprising to see this one so critically acclaimed whilst its predecessor’s reception was lukewarm by comparison.
To be honest though I don’t think I could’ve spent my first Saturday off any better than playing my way through Uncharted 2. I put off playing the first one for a long time until one of my long time friends (and fellow blogger, definitely worth a read) swapped me Uncharted for Assassin’s Creed. I’m glad I did as the first one was a refreshing change from the garbage I had been playing and Uncharted 2 is no exception. Whilst it may be almost the same game it was 2 years ago that doesn’t stop it from being extremely enjoyable and well worth a playthrough should you be a memeber of that not-so-exclusive club of Playstation 3 owners.
Uncharted 2 is exclusively available for PS3 right now for AU$78. Game was played on the Playstation 3 with around 12 hours of gameplay total and a paltry 37% achievement completion. No multiplayer has yet been attempted but from all accounts it appears good. Review may be updated should I ever attempt it 🙂