Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception

Info:

Developer/s: Naughty Dog

Publisher/s: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform/s: PlayStation 3

Genre: Action-adventure, platform

Release Date: 2011-10-28

Review:

In 2006, Naughty Dog released the first Uncharted game, entitled Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune, setting a precedent for action-adventure gaming which the likes of Tomb Raider could never possibly match.  In 2009, the bar was raised even higher with the fantastic sequel Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, which was awarded game of the year and is to my mind, one of the greatest games ever made and the best of the trilogy.  The first game set the rules, the second built upon that, improving upon absolutely every aspect – game-play, visuals, story-telling and what have you, and now we have Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception.  So what makes the second installment better…?

To make it very clear, Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception is an amazing achievement in terms of gaming, and is a prime example of cinematic gaming done right.  However, the reason why I reckon that the second installment is superior is due to the fact that with Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog have played it safe in that rather than try something new, they’ve essentially used the second game’s ingredients as a template for Drake’s Deception.  Needless to say, this is far from a bad thing as Drake’s Deception is an exhilarating experience (especially in the later levels and one scene involving a plane…), it’s just a shame that the developers didn’t try to raise the bar even further.  Then again, it is rather difficult to top an action scene where one is on a moving train trying to gun down a Black Ops Hind-D with an anti-aircraft turret.

So in Uncharted 3, the man with the incredible grip (he climbs everything) Nathan Drake returns once more with faithful companion and mentor, Victor (Sully) Sullivan as they embark on a quest to find the legendary lost city – The Iram of the Pillars.  Needless to say, much like Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, Uncharted 3 is a globe-trotting adventure including locations like London, Yemen, Colombia, Rub’ al Khali and the Arabian Peninsula, which nicely contrast the Asian locales of the second game.  Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception has received a multitude of awards as critics praised every aspect of the game, however the title of  ‘Game of the Year’ was snatched from it in 2011 by Skyrim respectively.

The game starts off in a seedy pub located in London, where Nathan and Victor have agreed to meet a man named Talbot who’s interested in buying Nathan’s ring.  However the transaction gets derailed when the pair accuse Talbot of trying to pay them with counterfeit bills and needless to say, this erupts into a bar-room brawl which then escalates into the back-alley variety.  Nathan and Sully are then subdued by one of Talbot’s associates – Charlie Cutter.  After Talbot’s client – Katherine Marlowe, takes the ring, Cutter then guns Nathan and Sully down, supposedly leaving them for dead.  The story then begins with a flashback to 20 years earlier, where a 14-year-old Nathan is exploring a museum in Colombia in search of Sir Francis Drake’s ring (obviously the ring he intends on selling in the present).  The museum is also where Nathan meets the 39-year-old Sully as well as Marlowe.  From here, Uncharted 3 becomes a globe-trotting and gun-totting adventure that further expands on the Uncharted mythos, in spectacular fashion I might add.

As per usual, this third installment of the Uncharted series, boasts some of the most impressive visuals seen in a game, due to impressive motion capture and voice-acting.  Using 2 motion capture studios – a smaller one in their studio as well as a dedicated stage at Sony Studios (responsible for the motion capture and audio), Naughty Dog were able to raise the bar for video-game motion capture, as Uncharted 3 was shot in the same fashion as a major Hollywood production.  It is the reason why Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series is so fluid and realistic.

Uncharted 3 uses an ‘upgraded’ version of the engine they used for the first 2 games, resulting in better visuals, environmental effects, physics as well as environmental deformation.  The game also includes new innovative technology that makes elemental effects such as fire, smoke, water and moving sand (the desert sequences look unbelievable) all the more realistic. Six years down the line, it’s impressive to see what Naughty Dog have managed to squeeze out of the PlayStation 3 hardware,  even though Uncharted 3 is undoubtedly graphically superior to Uncharted 2, the graphical leap is far narrower than between the first 2 games, simply because the developers were unable to push the hardware any further.  When you consider that Uncharted 2 is just below 25Gb whereas it’s sequel hovers in at around 50Gb, if developer’s wish to make ‘bigger and better’ games in the future then we may start to see PlayStation 3 games being spread over multiple Blu-Ray disks.  The PS3 hardware has really been put to the test with Uncharted 3 as players are led from one epic scene to the next.  From escaping a burning chateau as fire creeps up the walls, to wandering around an expansive desert landscape as sun and fatigue threaten to undermine your efforts, Uncharted 3 is a beautiful looking game.  Throw in an Indiana Jones style chase sequence on horseback and a daring escape as players are thrust from an aircraft as the hull tears itself apart and you know you’re in for something special.

So Uncharted 3 has the graphical goods but what about playability? Those familiar with the first 2 games will be well-adjusted for this third entry as the controls are just as responsive and fluid as one would expect them to be.  Apart from the usual run-and-gun game-play, Naughty Dog have taken the time to expand upon the melee combat which now includes a counter system – extremely useful when going up against a wily foe.  Needless to say, quick-time events make a return, but they’re so well-placed and implemented that even the quick-time haters will have to appreciate them.  Once again, various treasure pieces are hidden throughout the entire game, and if you don’t manage to find them all the first time around, they will entice you to play the game through again.  Further adding to the longevity of Uncharted 3, is the online multi-player mode that will keep you playing long after you’ve completed the game, though personally I don’t really care for competitive modes in games as the single-player story experience will always be my primary interest.  At certain sections in Uncharted 3, you will be required to solve puzzles in order to progress the story, though the puzzles themselves are relatively straight-forward logic problems and if you do get stuck one can always check Drake’s journal for clues or, if you’re really stumped or just lazy, after a certain amount of time, a help prompt will pop up, offering to solve the puzzle for you (lame).  One thing that I did find irritating about Uncharted 3 was the difficulty curb.  Naturally as you progress through the game, the enemies become more challenging and better equipped – completely understandable, but when the game decides to place you in a room with minimal cover and multiple bad guys engaging you in melee combat as a platoon of overhead snipers and grenadiers take pot shots at you, forcing you to break from cover (resulting in instant death in most cases), then it just becomes frustrating and absurd.

Much like Indiana Jones, Uncharted 3 has an established main musical theme, instantly recognizable and wonderfully catchy.  From the trademark intro music to the exhilarating action sequences, Uncharted 3 ensures that you feel like you’re the hero in some epic Hollywood film.  But it’s not only the score that makes the game so engrossing.  Uncharted 3 has some of the best voice-acting I’ve ever heard in a game.  Nolan North returns once again to voice Nathan Drake, and as expected the dialogue is as witty and humorous as ever, as Drake comes armed with his usual amount of sarcasm and wry wit as he dishes out the quips left, right and centre.

If for some or other reason, you required further inclination for getting yourself a copy of Uncharted 3, do yourself a favour and track down the Explorer Edition, which includes a Nathan Drake statue, life-size replicas of his belt buckle and ring/necklace (with leather strap), a 3D lenticular image,  Special Edition of the game including the DLC and pre-order bonuses, packaged in an art book, made in the fashion of Drake’s journal.  All these items come packaged in a stylish wooden ‘travel case’ which has space for 19 PS3 games.  Talk about value for money *phew*.

Conclusion

Uncharted 3 has done the series proud and is a worthy addition to any gaming library.  Once again, Naughty Dog have outdone themselves by pushing the PS3 hardware even further to create a near-perfect gaming experience, with some of the best and most cinematic game-play and visuals you will encounter in modern gaming.  Uncharted 3 is the definitive adventure game, and I say that confidently even with the new Tomb Raider on the way (though no Tomb Raider game has come close to Uncharted, so won’t exactly hold my breath), so even though it’s not without its faults, I highly recommend it to anyone whoever wanted to experience an Indiana Jones style adventure.  Get it…get in now.

Grade: S

Rage

Info:

Developer/s: id Software

Publisher/s: Bethesda Softworks

Platform/s: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows

Genre: First-person shooter, adventure, semi-open world

Release Date: 2011-09-04

id Software is one of the heavy-hitters in the computer and video-game industry, perhaps best known for Doom, a game that pretty much pioneered the first-person shooter genre, Doom has been the influential building blocks for games of its ilk for decades now.  With Doom came the first id Tech engine which would eventually pave the way for id Tech 5, the engine used by Rage.  Since id Software only releases a new game once every few years – their last game being Enemy Territory: Quake Wars which was released back in 2007 – the company always builds excitement and much anticipation with each new title.  And so, almost four years later, Rage has been released showcasing the new id Tech 5 engine (which will be used in the forthcoming, Doom 4), but will it live up to the high expectations or be crushed beneath the myriad of other first-person shooters available?

The premise is this –  a huge asteroid named Apophis impacts with Earth on August 23, 2029.  The planet is devastated, the few remaining pockets of humanity rejoin to create settlements in the remaining habitable locations.  These settlements are fiercely defended from the mutants and bandits that now populate what is referred to as The Wasteland.  You play as an Ark survivor – Ark was a scientific faction that froze scientists and other prolific candidates in underground cryo-pods so that they may survive the catastrophe and rebuild civilization.  You awaken from your Ark pod 106 years later, in a world populated by madmen, mutants and The Authority – the de facto government faction, and having no memory of who you are or what your purpose is, it’s up to you to discover the truth…and stay alive.

Persistent low-resolution textures prevented the game from actually looking this amazing...

Rage draws a lot of inspiration from the Mad Max film series as it’s set in a dystopic future setting where the world has been reduced to a desert-type landscape after a huge cataclysm and rampant factions are in control.  Rage even acknowledges its similarity to the film with various references throughout the game, a nice touch indeed.  Much like Mad Max, driving plays a large role in Rage.  Starting off with a simple quad bike, you will soon upgrade to a souped-up vehicle of destruction as you navigate from one town to the next, all the while fighting off bandit doom buggies and Authority tanks.  Racing also plays a large role in this game, as winning races earns you the means to upgrade your vehicle into something truly formidable.  Though the racing is entirely optional (save for a few sections requiring you to race in order to progress the main plot) it is highly recommended as the landscape is populated by outlaws that will attempt to kill you as you navigate The Wasteland.  The benefits of purchasing upgrades for your vehicle will allow you to dispatch your foes more easily and the driving component of Rage is an extremely fun one drawing heavy influence from games like Borderlands and MotorStorm.

One of many bandits you will encounter...aim for the face.

The driving aspect however is a secondary component to what is fundamentally a first-person shooter.  Like the majority of id Software’s creations, you play as a lone warrior who navigates the game environment (for the most part) in first-person along a somewhat linear path.  Though The Wasteland is quite open-ended, and there is a decent amount of exploration to be had, it serves as a conduit from one locale to the next (kind of like the word map in an old Final Fantasy game) as you will most likely navigate the landscape quite quickly in order to get on with the main plot.  You will also find that while the maps seem to be expansive, in actuality they are quite linear, allowing very little chance for players to become lost or frustrated.  The game is linear by design in that, you go to a town, meet a person (be it a mayor, sheriff, resistance leader or what have you), are given missions and then set off to do them in order to progress the main plot.  Thankfully, I found the story to be quite engrossing, and because the game mechanics are just so satisfyingly fun, the linear game design never deterred from the game’s atmosphere and overall enjoyment.

When these rush you, don't be shy with your bullets.

Though entertaining, the game-play mechanics are somewhat predictable in that Rage works with event triggers.  To elaborate, for example you could be in a section devoid of enemies until such a point where you reach a switch or entrance-way that will trigger a barrage of enemies for you to dispatch (much like Doom 3).  The number of enemies is always finite and oftentimes you will be required to kill all of them before you can progress.  Thankfully, Rage employs some pretty good enemy AI and proves to be quite challenging at times, with enemies strafing, ducking for cover, flanking and sometimes when they’ve received too much opposing gunfire, they’ll retreat all together.  The enemies are also rather diverse, ranging from bandits, mutants, armoured enforcers and so forth and in the traditional id style, expect to contend with various imposing end of level guardians.  Apart from the main quest, there are a myriad of sub-quests to partake in as a lot of the world’s denizens have favours to ask or jobs that need doing.  Whether you’re required to escort a convoy, snipe mutants or destroy outlaw buggies, there is always something to do in The Wasteland, rewarding you with either money, guns and ammo or some rare and useful item.

The striker crossbow, brilliant for stealth kills, though shooting enemies pointblank in the chest works too...

So what would an id shooter be without a huge array of destructive weaponry?  Well, fear not, because Rage delivers in spades with an arsenal ranging from the usual stock pistol, shotgun etc to more exotic weaponry such as wingsticks (a three-pronged sort of boomerang), striker crossbow (complete with mind-control arrows), Authority pulse cannon and more.  While your ‘fists of rage’ are rather effective in a brawl, you’ll want to upgrade to some sort of firearm fairly early into the game as it’s just so damn satisfying to unload a clip into some mutated degenerate or outlaw reprobate.  Weapons are intuitive, fun to use and have a satisfying oomph to them.  Be sure to have a fair amount of coin though as large quantities of dough will be spent upgrading your guns or purchasing untold amounts of ammunition.  I also highly recommend that you stock up on ammo before each mission as you’ll be needing it…

Unfortunately, Rage is not without flaws and though there are only a few problems, the most frustrating of all is definitely the terrible amount of pixel-popping present throughout the entire game.  Basically, you will be looking at something in the game, be it a mountain, weapon, person or whatever and it will appear low resolution until the proper textures kick in a few seconds later.  I’ve never seen textures delayed to this degree before and it really kills the overall enjoyment of the game.  In fact, some of the textures never pop up in certain sections (like the urban environments or dark corners of a building), with the result that one is left staring at a blank, non-detailed piece of scenery resembling something from the PSX era.  Disappointing indeed, as well as unexpected as id Software is known for its highly impressive game-engines.  Though it seems that Carmack is aware of this problem and I read an article stating that the game was originally over 100gigs, but that the developers had to compress it down to something ‘workable’ so that it could be stored onto DVD and Blu-Ray.  I imagine this was a cause of much frustration to the texture artists who spent years working on the game.  The general consensus is that the PS3 version looks the most impressive with PC a close second (PC version has had a myriad of problems) and then with Xbox 360 placing last.  Though I imagine that realistically the PC version (given the available hardware) would be the best-looking in the end.  As far as I know, there has been no patch or update released for the PS3 version addressing the pixel-popping bug.  Apart from the low-res textures , the game-engine is truly beautiful – the skies look amazing, the environments are richly detailed and interesting and the character models are brilliant.  The id Tech 5 engine is truly a masterwork and I look forward to seeing what other third-party developers will be able to squeeze out of it.

Authority troops in action.

The only other gripe that I have with Rage is that the game ends too abruptly, with the final level being a complete cake-walk, I spent every last penny I had on ammunition expecting a final battle to end all battles only to be left feeling cheated and disappointed.  Rage could really have benefited from another 10 – 15 hours game-play but oh well, what can you do?

Conclusion

Rage is a highly addictive, engrossing game and a worthy addition to id Software’s library of kick-assery, unfortunately, some unnecessary (for today’s standards) texture problems and a half-baked ending detract from the overall enjoyment of what could have easily been the best first-person shooter of the year.  Otherwise, Rage is a worthy addition to your gaming library, I just hope that id Tech 5’s texture problems don’t carry over to future releases.

Grade: B+

Dante’s Inferno

Info:

Developer/s: Visceral Games

Platform/s: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & PlayStation Portable

Genre: Action, adventure

Vintage: February 2010

Plot:

Dante – a devout Christian crusader, must traverse the nine levels of Hell in order to save his beloved Beatrice and at the same time redeem his soul for past sins.

Graphics: 3/5 – Dante’s Inferno does not represent the pinnacle of video-game graphics as the character models aren’t the best that I’ve seen and tend to look a bit flat at times.  Though the game is set in Hell for the most part, the developers have managed to do a fine job of representing the nine circles of Hell as each circle looks different from the last.  The environments have some nice textures and lighting, setting the tone for the morbidly disturbing horrors that you will see throughout the game. It must be said however, that the prerendered FMV sequences were outstanding and it was nice to see the use of prerendering again in a modern game as most of the time developers

Though the in-game character models are graphically lacking, the prerendered sequences (pictured above) are breathtaking.

opt for using the in-game engine to render movies.  In between the game and FMV, the use of a more traditional hand-drawn style of animation was incorporated for the flashback sequences which reminded me of the Spawn animated series.  So while the environments look quite nice, I found the human characters to be somewhat lacking in the visual department.  Thankfully, the myriad of gruesome creatures that you face in this game are animated quite nicely (good detail and textures) and make up for the short comings of the mediocre human character models.

Gameplay: 4/5 – This is the aspect of the game that has garnered much criticism.  Dante’s Inferno plays exactly like God of War, when I purchased the God of War Ultimate Trilogy Edition (will review it soon) there was no learning curve because I knew all the controls already thanks to Dante’s Inferno (I never got to play the GOW games on the PS2).  Even though the gameplay is a blatant rip-off – the controls are the same, the way you gain health and magic is identical, Dante’s scythe handles the same as Kratos’ chains and so on – this is what makes the game so fun, in traditional GOW style, controlling Dante is easy and fluidic and executing combos, magic attacks and QTE finishing moves is very satisfying.  A feature I found to be quite nice is the Punish/Absolve play dynamic that the developers have incorporated,  certain opponents can be grabbed giving you the option to either punish them by stabbing or ripping them apart or absolve them with your cross thus sending them to the heavens.  Either choice will earn you experience points that will be allocated to unholy or holy allowing you to ‘purchase’ new abilities.  At certain points you will encounter ‘famous’ characters of history such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and so on, these pleading souls will provide much experience so choose wisely before sending them on their way.  Initially the unholy and holy experience levels are equal so it’s up to you in deciding whether you want Dante to focus more on unholy or holy abilities.

Characters: 4/5 – There is a strong storyline running throughout Dante’s Inferno, this is made possible thanks to the myriad of interesting people and creatures strewn throughout the game.  As you traverse from one circle of Hell to the next, new and bizarre creatures (like guardians or old friends) make their presence known.  From unbaptized babies, spirits and hellish she-demons to Lucifer himself, one can never be bored with the diverse denizens of the fiery pit of Hell.  The FMV and animated sequences throughout the game strengthen the storyline with nice character development so much so that Dante’s Inferno is almost like playing an interactive movie.

Soundtrack: 3/5 – Dante’s Inferno is filled with morbidly creepy tunes that are for the most part overshadowed by the endless cries and moans of the countless damned souls trapped in Hell.  Visceral Games have done an excellent job in ensuring that Dante’s Inferno not only looks the part, but sounds it too.

Lifespan: 4/5 – After playing through the game once, you’d probably be compelled to play though it once again in order to find missed items or perhaps to focus on a specific path (holy or unholy).  The addition of downloadable content such as the Trials of St Lucia has added a map-editor as well as cooperative online play thus greatly extending the shelf life of this game.

Overall: 3/5 – Visceral Games/EA’s ‘God of War’ clone is an enjoyably disturbing and action-heavy title filled with satisfying amounts of carnage and hours of intense gameplay.  Though there was initially speculation as to whether or not Dante’s Inferno would be the God of War 3 killer, it is indeed far from it and acts merely as a filler to keep players busy until the real champion emerges (and what a game it is!).  Thankfully, Dante’s Inferno is a great game in its own right and should be played by anyone with a passing interest in kicking ass.

Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves

Info:

Developer/s: Naughty Dog

Platform/s: PlayStation 3

Genre: Action, adventure, stealth

Vintage: October 2009

Plot:

An artefact found in one of Marco Polo’s lost ships leads fortune hunter Nathan Drake to the Himalayas on the trail of the Cintamani Stone.  But he’s not the only one searching for it.  Hunted by an army of wild mercenaries, Nathan and his allies must risk everything to unravel history’s darkest secret…

Graphics: 5/5 – With visuals that rival Metal Gear Solid 4 (though there seems to be a lot of debate on various online forums as to which game looks superior, even I can’t quite decide) the sequel to the acclaimed Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune is a graphical masterpiece.  It’s not just the lighting, textures or environments that make Uncharted 2 look so amazing (however I do think the textures are superior to MGS4) – the camera angles that the developers

The visuals in Uncharted 2 are amazing, with action scenes that rival any Hollywood film.

incorporated for the action sequences is what makes this game so great to play or even watch.  The complexity of the visuals (fighting on a moving train, chase sequences through the Himalayas or escaping from a Hind D assault) are of Hollywood standards and the experience is so immersive that oftentimes it’s easy to forget that you’re playing a game as opposed to watching a film.  Many players will be pleased to know that Uncharted 2 is almost devoid of quick-time events (apart from certain close-range hand-to-hand attacks), had no noticeable glitching or screen tearing to speak of and it is also one of the few games to use Screen Space Ambient Occlusion.  What makes this game so superior to the first installment is that rather than being isolated to a single island (for the most part), Uncharted 2 is a globe-trotting adventure so Naughty Dog really get to show off their Naughty Dog 2.0 Engine with the myriad of different locations you will find yourself in.

Gameplay: 5/5 – Navigating Nathan Drake though the world of Uncharted is a breeze and somehow Naughty Dog have managed to make an already near-perfect navigation/combat system even better.  As expected, there are a myriad of weapons at your disposal – handguns, rifles, automatic weapons, grenades and so forth, all of which are dead easy to use thanks to the intuitive control system.  Hold down L1 to aim your selected weapon and press R1 to fire, pressing down L2 will ready a grenade and releasing L2 will allow you to throw it.  Press left or right on the D-Pad

The textures and lighting in this game is astounding.

to select your weapon (you can only carry two at a time so choose your weapons wisely) and press down to reload.  As I previously mentioned, you are able to engage in hand-to-hand combat as with the first game as well as sneak up on your opponents and take them out silently Solid Snake style.  Though the enemies can be quite formidable, cranking up the difficulty will reveal some brilliant AI as enemies will try to outflank you or make the best use of the cover offered to them as you attempt to take them out.  There is also an expansive online multiplayer mode as players can partake in both competitive and co-operative modes of play.  Multiplayer includes Death-match, Plunder, Elimination and plenty more.  Once again, various treasures are hidden throughout the game (a total of 100 pieces) which I’m sure all fortune hunters will be happy to search for and once you’ve completed a chapter you are able to go back to it within the menu screen just in case you didn’t find all the hiding places the first time around.  Being an adventure game, needless to say there will be puzzles to solve (which are usually fun) and as always – plenty of climbing.

Characters: 5/5 – With the sequel returns familiar faces as well as some new ones, Nathan, Sully and Elena return and thankfully the original voice actors reprise their roles.  The new antagonist Zoran Lazarevic, a Soviet war criminal is your main rival in the game however newcomer/femme fatale and love interest Chloe Frazer acts as the ‘Cat Woman’ type character whereby you’re never really sure whether she’s trying to kiss you or kill you.  What makes the characters in Uncharted 2 so brilliant is that the voice acting never sounds forced or silly and character interactions are pulled off wonderfully, be it playful banter between Nathan and Elena (which is genuinely humorous) or death threats from Zoran.

Soundtrack: 4/5 – Though Uncharted 2 lacks a truly epic score, the Indiana Jones-style adventure themes complement the game perfectly and no tune sounds out-of-place, creating an immersive atmosphere.

Lifespan: 5/5 – The main game will give you about 12 – 15 hours worth of gameplay and it is a longer, more expansive adventure than the first game and you will want to replay levels in an effort to obtain all of the hidden treasure.  What really adds to the longevity of this game is the online multiplayer mode which can potentially provide hundreds of hours worth of gameplay.

Overall: 5/5 – Uncharted 2 is one of the definitive games for the PlayStation 3, it’s no wonder this game was Game of the Year 2009.  Uncharted 2 oozes style from every pore, though the storyline may seem a bit contrived at times, the graphics, gameplay, presentation and execution of the plot more than make up for this minor short-coming.  This is a fantastic must-have game for every PS3 owner out there.

Final Fantasy XIII

Info:

Developer/s: Square Enix

Publisher/s: Square Enix

Platform/s: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Action, RPG

Vintage: 17 December 2009

Plot:

Some 1,300 years ago, a group fal’Cie constructed a paradise for humanity: the shell-like city of Cocoon, which floats high above the surface of Pulse under the power of the Cocoon fal’Cie Orphan. Then, the Cocoon fal’Cie created life forms and machines for Cocoon’s inhabitants to use, and humanity flourished. A war was fought between the fal’Cie of Pulse and the Cocoon fal’Cie, and Cocoon prevailed in what was eventually known as the War of Transgressions. However, fear lingered in the hearts of the people of Cocoon, for the day another invasion might come from the world beneath again – wiki (I’ll stop there because it gets a lot more confusing and I couldn’t be arsed to try to explain it).

Graphics: 4/5 – Final Fantasy XIII ( which I will refer to from now on as FF13) is without a doubt the best looking Final Fantasy game in the series’ long history, however it isn’t the best looking game available for the system.  Sadly, once again Square Enix has decided to create another high-gloss future-themed game that looks all too bright and glossy to be taken seriously.  I much preferred the dark, atmospheric tones of Final Fantasy VII.  FF13 uses some brilliant textures and the fully 3D backdrops can be quite impressive but the same can’t be said for the characters.  The characters in the game feel rigid and lifeless and the incessant

Lightning in action.

stomping noise of the protagonist’s feet as you walk around the environment is downright infuriating.  Once again, the text boxes of ‘ye old days’ have been abandoned in favour of painful-droning-dialogue sessions complete with miss-matched lip syncing.  So while the graphics are extremely pretty, they’re in no way perfect though the same can’t be said about the cut-scenes.  Like the last few games in the series, FF13 is filled with beautifully animated pre-rendered full motion video sequences which are absolutely stunning.

Gameplay: 1/5 – You can have the world’s best visuals but if you’re game lacks playability it will fail, case in point with FF13.  Let me stress that Final Fantasy XIII is not an RPG, it is an action game with role-playing elements.  You know there’s a problem when games like Uncharted and Dante’s Inferno are more open-ended than a Final Fantasy game.  There are no towns, no world map and no leveling up, instead the game employs a system called Crystarium which mirrors the Sphere Grid system in Final Fantasy X.  So instead of gaining experience points, your characters gain Crystogen Points (CP – guess the Japanese didn’t see the problem with that acronym) which can then be allocated to specific abilities that each character eventually has access to (so much for variety).  FF13 uses a modified version of the ATB (Active Time Battle, ref; FFVII, VIII, IX) system which seems to be the main focus of this game as you are almost constantly fighting. The play mechanics are as follows, start at point (a) and walk to point (b).  In between those points are monsters, slay monsters to reach point (b) and watch a cut-scene, repeat formula till game is complete.  There is no exploration as you are constantly being funneled through one tunnel-like map after the next. Ironically, the single ‘large’  area in the game (some 30 hours into it all) requires that you race through it as all the monsters are impossibly difficult to beat and are able to murder you in one hit.  This ‘open area’ is also where you’ll encounter the game’s only mini-game which I didn’t even bother to do because it’s painfully boring and will only earn you

Fang, the one character I didn't completely hate...

more useless items.  Usually the Summons/Eidolons are an integral part of the game (and spectacular to behold) but they’re quite useless in FF13 (and few in number, totaling six) and for some reason the developers felt the need to have them turn into vehicles, much like Transformers – wtf Square-Enix?? You also only get control one character in the game during a battle (whomever is selected as leader) and I absolutely hate that.  Due to the game’s terribly repetitive nature, it becomes very tedious very quickly.  I’m amazed I managed 30 + hours as near the end of it all I just wanted it to be over.

Characters: 2/5 – Those familiar with Square-Enix will know that their games are usually populated with unique and interesting characters, sadly FF13’s roster of playable heroes (six in all) are as three-dimensional as a NES game.  They have no personality whatsoever and are immediately unlikable.

  • Lightning – The lead protagonist, makes Squall Leonhart look like a happy-go-lucky Disney character.  Lightning shows no personality at all and her incessant droning is extremely off-putting.
  • Snow – the second protagonist, a character very much like Zell From Final Fantasy VIII only very irritating due to his overly optimistic can-do attitude seemingly mirrored on anime characters like Naruto.
  • Vanille – Horribly upbeat and quite possibly the most annoying character of all time.
  • Sazh – Stereotypical token black guy complete with Afro.  Lacks the coolness of Barret from Final Fantasy VII, and is utterly useless in a fight.
  • Hope – An emo, weak little fuck that breaks down in tears several times complaining that he is inadequate, blah blah blah…needs to be shot.
  • Fang – Arguably the most powerful character, easy on the eyes and not completely annoying.

So the playable characters suck ass and on top of it all, FF13 lacks an awesome antagonist as in the other games in the series.  There is no emotion in any of the characters, and I felt absolutely nothing for any of them.  Lack of character development in a ‘role-playing game’ pretty much signals immediate failure.  Not only that, there are about five NPC’s you encounter throughout your journey that you can actually interact with and even then they have nothing of interest to say.  There are tonnes of NPC’s littered throughout, but you can’t approach them and ask them questions and whatnot, instead they make a comment as you walk past them.

Soundtrack: 3/5 – Good music is synonymous with Final Fantasy titles and while there are a few good tunes in this game, the repetition of the central theme throughout the game becomes very annoying.  For a five-CD soundtrack there sure isn’t much to listen to.

Lifespan: 1/5 – If you actually have the time and patience to wade through this shit-fest and complete the game you will find that there is absolutely zero re-playability.  After completing FF13 there’s simply no reason to ever play it again as it offers no hidden secrets to uncover and the fact that all the playable characters have pretty much the same abilities means there’s no point in trying to play again with a different party.

Overall: 2/5 – As a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, I’m deeply disappointed in this latest installment in the series.  At best, Final Fantasy XIII is an overly drawn out, average action game that Final Fantasy fans will probably hate much in the way that I did.  I think the true Final Fantasy experience ended after Final Fantasy IX on the PSOne, and to all those critics who said the game opens up after five hours, what the fuck were you playing?

Metal Gear Solid 4 – Guns of the Patriots

Info:

Developer/s: Kojima Productions

Publisher/s: Konami

Platform/s: PlayStation 3

Genre: Stealth, action

Vintage: 12 June 2008

Plot:

Metal Gear Solid 4 is set  in 2014, five years after the Big Shell incident. The world economy relies on continuous war, fought by PMCs, which outnumber government military forces. PMC soldiers are outfitted with nanomachines to enhance their abilities and control the battlefield.  The control network created through these nanomachines is called Sons of the Patriots (SOP), and Liquid Ocelot is preparing to hijack the system.  Snake accepts a request from Roy Campbell to terminate Liquid, with Otacon and Sunny providing mission support from the Nomad aircraft – wiki

Warning: the following contains spoilers, do not proceed unless you have completed the story mode of Metal Gear Solid 4.

Graphics: 5/5 – Metal Gear Solid 4 is the most technically stunning game I have ever seen.  Kojima and his team have created a virtual world with painstaking attention to detail, and both the characters and environments look breathtaking.  From Middle-Eastern urban war zones, South American jungles, Eastern European cities/cathedrals and beyond, each location is vast and detailed.  The game world, though somewhat linear in actuality, feels huge and open-ended and offers plenty of exploration.  The environmental effects are also impressive, the Middle-Eastern section will send sand hitting your screen and the icy island of Shadow Moses throws Snake into a snowy blizzard.  The textures and shaders employed are amazing and the game manages to retain its brilliant level of graphical quality from start to finish.

Gameplay: 5/5 – Solid Snake (though refered to as Old Snake in MGS4) has never been easier to control, and because you now have full control over the camera (using the right analog stick) navigating Snake through the game world is far more intuitive and fun than ever before.  As always with Metal Gear Solid, stealth plays a huge role in MGS4 and this time Snake is equipped with a camo suit that allows you to blend in with your environment.  So if you’re tired of hiding in a drum or cardboard box the camo suit is a vastly superior alternative to hiding in this game.  Snake’s age is apparent from the beginning and ‘Old Snake’ doesn’t move or respond as fast as he used to in previous games.  The new psyche meter is depleted whenever Snake is under extreme pressure (like being hunted by an enemy) and if it is completely exhausted Snake with be unable to aim properly, experience bodily pain and sometimes even black out completely if struck by an enemy.  Apart from the myriad of weapons (I didn’t even bother to use them all, there were so many) Snake has access to the ‘Solid Eye’, a bionic eyepatch with several different vision modes like night vision and so on as well as the Mk II (later Mk III) a small bi-pedal reconnaissance robot that can be used to stun enemies and scout the area.  The game world is strewn with countless enemies and generally you’ll be able to collect items and weapons off of them, what made the game a bit easier than previous installments is that you can basically never run out of weapons as after meeting Drebin (a gun runner) you always have access to his shop where you’re able to buy weapons and ammunition using ‘Drebin points’, Drebin points are obtained on the battle field whenever you find new weapons, they’re added to your inventory, duplicate weapons are sold to Drebin automatically sans ammunition so it’s basically impossible to run out of firepower.  The option to use Drebin’s store exists even during boss battles.

Characters: 5/5 – The return of Snake as protagonist is one of the reasons why this game rocks so hard, Raiden is present in MGS4 but isn’t a playable character this time around (Raiden was the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2).  Snake is a character with a rich background and other familiar characters (friend and foe) like Otacon, Roy Campbell, Liquid Ocelot and Meryl Silverburgh return in starring roles as well as a host of new villains that Snake must contend with.

Soundtrack: 5/5 – Since Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne, the Metal Gear series has always had an epic score, and MGS4 is no exception.  The soundtrack has plenty of fast-paced techno tracks (like during the boss battles) as well as a multitude of epic orchestral tracks and 2 vocal themes.  The opening theme (Love Theme) is sung by Jackie Presti and the ending theme (Here’s to You) is sung by Lisbeth Scott.  Many of the themes are quite haunting and serve as a kind of send-off for ‘Old Snake’.  Overall, MGS4 has one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a video game.

Lifespan: 5/5 – I managed to complete MGS4 in just under 20 hours, excluding cut scenes (of which there’s over 8 hours worth).  MGS4 is a lengthy adventure that offers loads of re-playability long after you’ve completed the game.  There are all sorts of titbits strewn throughout the game as well as several hidden surprises and an online multiplayer mode.

Overall: 5/5 – I’m giving Metal Gear Solid 4 a perfect score simply because it’s one of the best games that I’ve ever encountered.  The game has been criticized for having overly extended cut-scenes however I feel that they only serve to enrich the story further.  What people fail to realize is that cut-scenes as well as quick time events (though no QT events are really present in this game) allow game developers to include sections that would be overly complex to control in-game (like dramatic fight scenes).  On a similar note, cut-scenes can be paused and skipped so if you’re impatient the aforementioned options should appeal to you.  Overall, if there’s one game to get for PlayStation 3 it’s this one.  Hideo Kojima has really created something special with MGS4 and I highly recommend that anyone with a PS3 play this game asap, what makes it even better is that it’s available on the Platinum range so there’s no excuse not to partake in Solid Snake’s final adventure.

Solid Snake has become 'Old Snake' in Metal Gear Solid 4.

There is an entire host of characters in MGS4, new and old alike.

Raiden vs. Vamp.

MGS4 has some of the most astounding visuals ever seen in a video-game.

Star Wars – Force Unleashed

Info:

Developer/s:  LucasArts

Publisher/s:  LucasArts

Platform/s:  PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & Wii

Genre:  Action

Plot:

You play as Darth Vader’s young apprentice, Starkiller, sent to weed out and destroy the remaining Jedi in the galaxy to prepare you for the ultimate challenge; assassinate the Emperor.

Even though Force Unleashed is the best-selling Star Wars game ever, it has generally received negative criticism, due to lack of multiplayer options and a hack-and-slash approach to the game which ‘will allow players to never fully realize the game’s full potential’.  I find the aforementioned statement to be utterly ridiculous, Force Unleashed is not an RPG, it is not Knights of the Old Republic, while the game does contain role-playing type elements, it is an action game first and foremost and you’ll do well to remember that.

Graphics: 3/5 – While not the most brilliant looking game I’ve ever seen, Force Unleashed nonetheless is a good-looking game.  Great looking textures as well as extremely well-done character motion capture and likeness really adds to the game’s atmosphere.  When I first saw and heard Starkiller, I could have sworn he was Samuel Witwer from Smallville, and sure enough it was. The developers really captured Witwer’s likeness flawlessly.  The locations are detailed and varied and the starship interiors remain faithful to the Star Wars universe.  It’s also worth mentioning that the force powers and lightsaber battle animations look really awesome.  The game did have minor texture clipping and glitching and at times there’d be slow-down if there were too many people on-screen, though there was only one scene where slow-down made game-play cumbersome and that was in the Death Star.

Gameplay: 4/5 – Force Unleashed is an extremely fun game, Starkiller has fluid movements and is easy to navigate through the environments.  The force powers are dead easy to use and the combos add a refreshing break to the hack-and-slash mold, the more varied and stylish your attacks are the more experience you will receive enabling you to increase certain aspects of your character, like fortitude, regeneration and force power ability (there are many more).  After a certain amount of experience points have been earned you will be given force spheres allowing you to ‘purchase’ new abilities provided you have enough spheres for the specific ability.  There are times where the game can become frustrating whereby Starkiller may become ‘stuck’ in a certain area forcing you to restart from the last save point.  In one scenario I was fighting Vader and he cornered me into a wall which I then become lodged into and was powerless as Vader proceeded to stab me repeatedly with his lightsaber until I was dead.  The ‘Star Destroyer’ scene has received plenty of flak from critics who have stated that the section is overly frustrating and should’ve been removed from the game (which would have been impossible because a trailer of Starkiller pulling the Star Destroyer down to the ground was used to hype the game so you can imagine the outcry were LucasArts to have removed that scene), initially it was difficult but after a few tries you’ll get the hang of it, I think that modern gamers (this includes the ‘critics’) have it far too easy these days and I may sound like an old man but back in the day if you played a game (like Megaman) and died that was it, back to the start for you, there were no auto saves every five minutes.  The lightsaber combat feels solid and satisfying and the force abilities are loads of fun, force push and grab are two of my favourites.

Characters: 4/5 – Great time and effort has been taken in ensuring that the game is populated with rich and complex characters who could have been seamlessly integrated into any of the Star Wars films.  The brilliant voice-acting is particularly of note, oftentimes shoddy voice acting can kill the atmosphere of a game however Force Unleashed makes you feel like you’re playing in one of the films.  Matt Sloan provides the ominous voice of Darth Vader and Samuel Witwer is brilliant as Starkiller although I did think that the ‘love angle’ aspect was somewhat off-putting and uncharacteristic of an apprentice of a Sith Lord, you don’t see Darth Maul falling in love and oftentimes Starkiller behaved more like a Jedi Padawan as opposed to a cold-hearted Sith warrior.

Soundtrack: 5/5 – Force Unleashed is filled from beginning to end with classic Star Wars orchestral goodness, seemingly based upon the original trilogy although it does mix in some themes from the newer films.  The game is a joy to listen to and at certain moments the battle music can be awe-inspiring such as when you confront PROXY.

Lifespan: 4/5 – While seemingly longer than a lot of modern games, Force Unleashed is still relatively short (12 – 15 hours) but having to find force crystals adds to the longevity of the game.  The choice of two endings (Sith or Jedi) is a welcome addition and because I found the game to be just so damn fun, I’ll have no problem playing through it again to relive the experience.  If you do plan on buying this game, please note that Force Unleashed – Ultimate Sith Edition has been released and contains extra levels as well as a ‘boss battle’ against Luke Skywalker.

Overall: 4/5 – I award Star Wars – Force Unleashed a solid four out of five, it’s a good-looking game, with a well thought out storyline and character development as well as hugely fun play mechanics (force powers ftw), though it can be a little frustrating at times, it’s a solid game that expands upon the well-established Star Wars universe and a recommended purchase for Star Wars fans.

The motion capture technique used in Force Unleashed is brilliant with the digital characters mirroring their real-world counterparts perfectly.

One of the most satisfying things you can do in the game, use your force powers to render your foes harmless as you throw them hundreds of yards into the air or just let them drop to their demise.