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

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Wallpapers | Devil May Cry

Resolution – 1920 x 1080 | Aspect Ratio – 16:9

Space Marine

Info:

Developer/s: Relic Entertainment

Publisher/s: THQ

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

Genre: Third-person, action

Release Date: 2011-09-05

The Warhammer 40k universe has been around since 1987, in the form of a turn-based, table-top war game (and is still going strong to this day), and with twenty-four years of canon to draw inspiration from it’s not surprising that video-games would be made and though there have been some in the past like Space Hulk (1993), Chaos Gate (1998) and Fire Warrior (2003) to name but a few, it was only until Relic Entertainment‘s Dawn of War series that the 40k universe received the recognition it deserved (as far as computer & video-games are concerned).  With a nightmarish, futuristic setting, the 40k universe is prime gaming fodder and Relic Entertainment is well aware of this fact, and with years of experience under their belts, Space Marine proves to be an authentic experience true to the franchise, simply put – Space Marine is brutal.

Unlike Relic Entertainment’s previous Warhammer entries, Space Marine has forsaken the real-time strategy genre in favour of a more up close and personal experience in the form of a third-person hack-and-slash/shooter game that focuses more closely on the Space Marines, in particular the Ultramarines – one of the strongest and most honoured Space Marine Chapters.  When Graia, one of the Imperium’s Forge Worlds (planets designated for mass industry to fuel humanity’s war effort) is besieged by millions of the Ork Horde, a small group of Ultramarines are sent to dispatch the Ork menace and secure a precious commodity – an Imperial Titan, Invictus (a building-sized, bi-pedal war machine).  You play as Captain Titus (voiced by Mark Strong) together with two of your  trusted Ultramarines – Veteran Sergeant Sidonus and the young Battle-Brother Leandros, as you make for the planet’s surface in order to purge the world of the green masses of Ork.

Space Marine manages to be quite immersive as the way the plot develops feels much the same as reading one of the Black Library 40k novels and while the overall storyline isn’t overly complex it manages to remain interesting nonetheless.  When Titus and his marines discover a distress signal sent by Inquisitor Drogan, it soon becomes apparent that the Orks are merely paving the way for something far more sinister and threatening.  Space Marine is dissected into long stretches of game-play and short in-game cinematic sequences that progress the plot.

Space Marine does an admirable job of bringing the harshness of the 40k universe to life, all the characters look faithful to the source material and you actually feel as if you are in the Space Marine armour as controlling Titus feels powerful and weighty, this is accentuated with the heavy-footed stomping sound the Space Marines make when they move around.  One thing I liked about this game in particular was the feeling of continuity, because Relic Entertainment developed Space Marine, all the Orks, demons and so forth sounded like they do in the Dawn of War series – case in point with the Orks who once again sound like hoodey-wearing yobs while behaving like football hooligans running around causing untold amounts of destruction and carnage.  The addition of Mark Strong as the deep-voiced Captain Titus is a welcome one indeed, as Strong portrays Titus as commanding and authoritative.  There’s a definite feeling of authenticity here as Relic Entertainment has faithfully created the Forge World to a tee, a Forge World is a planet stripped of its resources and covered in industry, so don’t expect to see lush forests and green hills as players will be met with towering buildings, factories, streets, vast corridors and landscapes of dusty mountains devoid of life.  While the locales may sound somewhat dreary, it compliments the subject matter beautifully.

And not forgetting the Space Marines themselves – all their armour and weapons have been faithfully recreated here, down to the chipped paint and dents, and speaking of weapons, there is a vast selection to choose from so while you start out with a bolt pistol and combat knife, as the game progresses you will soon lay your hands on more effective and destructive weaponry such as the chainsword, power axe, meltagun, lascannon and my personal favourite, the heavy bolter.  The game allows you to carry one melee weapon and up to four ranged weapons simultaneously.  Space Marine uses a hybrid combat play mechanic, allowing players to engage enemies in brutal melee combat in third-person or ranged first-person mode well-suited for sniping weapons like the stalker pattern bolter or the lascannon however players also have the option of shooting from the hip (third-person) which definitely has its advantages when faced with hordes of enemies.  The most satisfying aspect of Space Marine is without a doubt the game-play, dispatching your foes with a well-placed bolter round or chainsword to the stomach feels very satisfying, and one of the most impressive combat features are the ‘execution’ moves which can be done after stunning an enemy (a prompt will appear above their head), there’s nothing quite like knocking your enemy to the ground then putting your boot through their skull.

On top of that, execution moves rejuvenate a portion of your health bar but be weary, these moves leave you vulnerable to attack so if you attempt to execute an enemy while surrounded by a horde of his friends they will inevitably gun you down before you can restore your health.  As you progress through the game you will unlock the Fury meter, which once filled allows players to dish out brutal melee attacks (earning you health simultaneously) or ‘bullet-time’ slowdown allowing you to hit many targets over a short amount of time with your ranged weaponry.  As one would imagine, Space Marine is insanely violent, as blood and viscera fly in all directions, whether melee or ranged combat, there is invariably geysers of blood and getting in close and personal will remodel your ‘ultramarine’ blue armour to a deep crimson.  Space Marine has some impressive visuals, with solid textures, some awesome lighting/pyrotechnic effects and no noticeable glitching or screen-tearing.  A reasonably powerful PC will be required to play this game with maximum settings (unless of course, you purchased either of the console versions).

The game-play is pretty straight forward, you shoot, stab and bludgeon and you stomp around…looking for things to shoot, stab and bludgeon..respectively.   There isn’t a whole lot of different combinations of melee combat, and one would be forgiven for thinking that the two or three different attack moves would make for a tedious experience but it is instantly overlooked since the game is just so much fun…dumb…but fun nonetheless.  Space Marine is not a very tough game and given that you are an eight-foot tall super human running around in power armour it’s understandable, however the game is absolutely relentless as you are almost always engaged in combat, which is the point as Relic Entertainment wanted players to be thrown into a warzone.  Even though the game is geared towards melee combat I found myself using the ranged weaponry for the most part.  So while the game is relatively easy, the last chapter becomes quite difficult before the final boss encounter which is a complete cop-out which left me feeling cheated.

While Space Marine has a wonderful presentation and is extremely fun, it is also decidedly short being able to finish the single-player campaign in just over two days.  There is multiplayer mode allowing players to customize their Space Marine (colour scheme and so forth) and then duke it out online.  The multiplayer functionality adds some much-needed longevity to the game but that’s not saying you wont play through the campaign again, as I stated before, Space Marine is a lot of fun.

Conclusion

Space Marine is really one for the fans as Relic Entertainment have created a satisfyingly-fun Warhammer 40k experience that is faithful to the original subject matter.  While there isn’t a huge amount of melee combos and so forth, the game never lets up with its relentless pace and the large variety of Orks and other antagonists (not going to give everything away) ensure that the game never stagnates.  Though definitely not for everyone, Space Marines offers a somewhat mindless, hack-and-slash adventure with a relatively straight-forward storyline but the characters, antagonists and addictive game-play make up for these minor short-comings.

Grade: B

Limbo

Info:

Developer/s: Playdead

Platform/s: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Windows Platform (via Steam)

Genre: Puzzle-Platformer

Release Date: 2011-08-02 (Steam Edition)

As one of this blog’s readers pointed out sometime ago, it seems that attempting to quantify something like a video-game by singling out and rating it in sections (graphics, lifespan, etc) in order to give it an overall score can be somewhat confusing as it raises constant questions as to why, for example,  one aspect of the game scored a ‘4’ instead of a ‘5’.  In the end though, this is a self-interest blog and most of the articles written here are solely my opinion.  However, in light of this, I have revised the way in which I shall review computer & video-games and will employ a ‘unified’ method whereby the review shall be one streamlined ‘opinion piece’ with a final rating at the end.  The score system will work as follows – games will be rated as either S, A, B, C, D or F (See the Rating Systems page for more information).  Okay, so now that that’s been covered, on with the review.

Limbo has been around for quite some time now, however due to Xbox exclusivity, it took over a year before PlayStation and PC gamers could get their hands on this game.  This review is focused on the Steam (a digital distribution platform) version of the game as this is obviously the version that I have.  There really isn’t much of a plot to Limbo, and before reading the wiki page, it really never occurred to me that there was a plot to begin with – turns out there is, you play as a nameless protagonist (a young boy) who is searching for his missing sister.  However, it is rather apparent that the wafer-thin plot only serves as a staging ground for the myriad of lethal puzzles that the player has to solve in order to progress through the world of Limbo.  The lack of a typical narrative (text or cut-scenes) also leaves the plot open to much interpretation, but this was done so on purpose by the developers allowing the player to make up their own mind as to exactly what it was that they’ve experienced.

Every so often you come across other children, be wary - Lord of the Flies comes to mind...

Limbo was created by independent, Danish developer Playdead founded in 2006 by Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti.  The company is based in Copenhagen, Denmark and Limbo is their first title to date.  Limbo draws much inspiration from old-school side-scrolling plat-formers reminiscent of the NES, SNES and Sega Genesis era.  You control a character in a 2D sidescroller environment, and in the typical fashion, you are able to run left or right, jump, climb and manipulate certain objects (like crates) by pushing or pulling.  Your character can be manipulated fluidly throughout the game environment and is a joy to control with little to zero frustration due to the near-perfect game-style.  Perhaps a little less typical of the genre, Limbo employs the use of a physics-based game engine named Unity that governs the environment as well as the player character.  Limbo’s puzzles are all basically physics-based and are for the most part, downright insidious which is not surprising given the fact that Playdead designed the puzzles expecting the player to fail the first time around before finding the correct solution.  Playdead refer to the play style as ‘trial and death’, and what deaths they are, as this game is unexpectedly gruesome oftentimes seeing your character, decapitated, impaled, shot, shredded or electrocuted before a correct solution to a puzzle is found.  While the puzzles are initially simplistic  and singular in nature, as you progress, they become ever-more elaborate and multifaceted, forcing players to think outside the box.  Some of the ‘magnet-puzzles’ are particularly brain-melting.

The monochrome visual style is as eerie as the subject matter.

Moving on, the most notable aspect of this game is undoubtedly its visuals.  Limbo is primarily presented using black-and-white monochromatic tones and hues and incorporates a film grain effect to create an eerie game environment and overall visual style.  Critics have applauded the visuals having compared it to film noir and even German Expressionism.  The characters in the game, including the giant spider (creepy bastard) as well as the protagonist have no discernible detail to speak of, merely portrayed as black silhouettes (save for the white blinking eyes of the human characters) but this minimalistic aesthetic is a welcome breath of fresh air, especially in an age of highly detailed 3D-polygonal models that gamers have grown accustomed to over the years.  While Limbo is definitely game-play driven, the dark and creepy visual style compliments the game beautifully.  Limbo doesn’t have much in the way of a soundtrack, but the acoustic compositions (a form of electroacoustic music) of  Martin Stig Andersen, serve as the perfect ambient remedy employing the game’s environmental sound effects to build atmosphere.

Hate spiders, especially the giant variety that see you as a human happy meal...

Limbo is not a very long game, and can be finished in one sitting (provided you haven’t stormed off in frustration over some yet-to-be-solved puzzle) and being an independent game, created by a relatively unknown (and small) company, the game’s shortness is quite understandable.  My only real gripe with Limbo is its rather abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying ending, but it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience of the game and apart from that I cannot think of any other cons.

Conclusion

With the tagline – “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO“, Limbo is certainly an intriguing little gem amongst the myriad of computer & video-games available, winner of more than 90 awards, Limbo is well worth your time and given the small file size of this downloadable content (approximately 70MB) and the relatively light system requirements (though the game may struggle to run on systems with integrated graphic solutions) there really is no excuse to not play it.  But be warned, this is a puzzle-game through and through, and gamers unfamiliar of the genre, who spend all their time playing fast-paced first-person shooters or racing games will probably not like Limbo given that expansive 3D worlds have been forsaken in favour of a simple, 2D approach, be that as it may, Limbo is an awesome game.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A

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?

2D VS. 3D – A Gaming Evolution

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Back when I was a kid, I remember when games like Rockman and Sonic the Hedgehog were the pinnacle of what the gaming industry had to offer, with graphics and game-play that blew the player’s mind.  However, as this article is focusing on graphics I will rule game-play out of the equation

I no longer own any consoles, having long sold my Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo.  My PlayStation disappeared one day (I believe my brother gave it to his, now ex, girlfriend) and my PlayStation 2 suffered a horrible death at the hands of a faulty mod-chip (that’ll teach me, eh?).  Since then I’ve been a PC gamer and haven’t looked back since.  As much as I’d like to have kept all those consoles (for historic value), when you’re a kid often-times you need to sell the old in order to afford the new, such was the case with me.  One of the greatest things about PCs (in regards to gaming) is emulation.  Emulators allow you to replay those classic gaming gems, many of which I never got to play.  The thing I notice now while playing these games is that they still look pretty good, and the reason for this I believe is because they aren’t trying to imitate life like modern games.  Perhaps the reason for this is because the technology simply didn’t exist and for that reason, many things that needed to be represented looked ‘cartoony’.  Let’s take Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo as an example, the game looks like it’s been torn out of a colouring book, the visual effect is amazing, still to this day and the game was released in 1995.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island on the SNES.

A few other great examples of the 16-bit era include Comix Zone, which looked like you were playing in a comic-book as the player navigated from panel to panel and the Donkey Kong series on SNES, a series of games that, I believe, represented the apex of 16-bit graphical capabilities.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.  You really need to see it running to fully appreciate the visuals.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest on the SNES. You really need to see it running to fully appreciate the visuals.

Rare’s Silicon Graphics engine (pre-framed 3D graphics)  made the Donkey Kong series stand out from being just another platformer.  Rare also made use of their Silicon Graphics engine for their Killer Instinct series of beat-’em-ups, a brutal fighting game series that looked absolutely amazing and was the first arcade game to use an internal hard disk drive in addition to the game’s ROMs.  This allowed it to store massive amounts of data thereby giving it the ability to have more detailed graphics than other games of this genre.  Backgrounds were pre-rendered as a ‘movie’, which simply adjusted frames based on the current location of the players.  All this data was stored on the hard drive. Killer Instinct’s RISC R4600 processor was clocked at 100 MHz.

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In 1995, Rare entered an exclusive publishing agreement for Nintendo gaming consoles. In 2002, Rare was acquired by Microsoft.

The problem begins with 3D graphics.  The advent of the 3D graphics engine promised greater levels of immersion and realism as players were thrust from 2D environments into new ‘realistic’ 3D ones, and I believe that the developers have indeed succeeded in this.  But as the technology increased at an exponential rate more and more 3D engines emerged each one looking superior to the last.  This is where the trouble lies, 3D engines date far too quickly.  I’m currently playing the first Metal Gear Solid game that was ported to PC in 2000, while I remember it looking absolutely amazing on the PlayStation back in 1998, the 3D polygons now look awfully dated and simplistic.  Likewise with Final Fantasy VII, a game that had amazing cut-scenes in 1997 but compared to modern CGI, they look painfully outdated.  I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, progression is a constant factor in anything we do, it’s just ironic to see how modern and (arguably) superior graphical engines out-date faster than their 2D predecessors.  Going back to what I said earlier, the reasons for this is because modern 3D engines try to emulate life, a dubious task as human beings are constantly surrounded by the environment, especially other people and so when someone tries to emulate that, we are able to pick up on inaccuracies very quickly.  Recreating animals and human beings in 3D still remains a tough task to this day.  I’m convinced we’ve mastered water, lighting, artificial landscapes, vehicles and to some extent, naturalistic landscapes but when it comes to people and more specifically the human face, there is much room for improvement.

The transition from 2D to 3D isn't always a good thing...

The transition from 2D to 3D isn't always a good thing...

In 2004 the much anticipated sequels Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were released, Doom 3’s id Tech 4 engine was a force to be reckoned with, as was Half Life’s Source engine.  In my opinion though, the Source engine is superior and in regards to the aforementioned games, Source was implemented better than id Tech and made for a more realistic environment and experience.  At the time, Half Life 2 was the most amazing game I had ever seen and as a result it was utterly engrossing, Doom 3 however, was just too damn dark.

I remember playing F.E.A.R in 2005, back then my machine struggled to meet the heavy system requirements that the game demanded, it was an amazing looking game.  Since I really enjoyed F.E.A.R, I installed F.E.A.R – Perseus Mandate recently, with great expectations, unfortunately, the graphics engine looked so dated I was quite shocked and the overall experience wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous outing.  The current 3D engines available are quite impressive at the moment having given birth to such visual wonders as BioShock, Gears of War, Killzone 2, Devil May Cry 4, FarCry 2 and Crysis and as great as they look now, in a year or two, you’ll be scratching your head while wondering to yourself how on earth you thought these games looked so great.

The 2D era may be over, but while those games will retain a cartoon-like immortality, the 3D era will continue to change and games of yesteryear will be continually compared to newer, more sophisticated engines, which in a way is a bit of a shame as the more visually pleasing these games become, the more we expect things to look better and in doing so we forget how great the older stuff really was.

A few examples of the modern 3D engine:

2004 – Doom 3

Engine - id Tech 4

Engine - id Tech 4

2004 – Half-Life 2

Engine - Source Engine, Havok physics

Engine - Source Engine, Havok physics

2005 – F.E.A.R.

Engine - Lithtech, Jupiter EX

Engine - Lithtech: Jupiter EX

2007 – Crysis

Engine - CryEngine 2

Engine - CryEngine 2

2009 – Killzone 2

Engine - Deferred Rendering engine, Havok (game physics)

Engine - Deferred Rendering engine, Havok (game physics)

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Vectorman...

On October 24, 1995 a company called BlueSky Software, released a game called Vectorman.  Vectorman was pretty much the final word in Sega Genesis 16-bit graphics, employing the use of pre-rendered 3D models much like the Donkey Kong Country series.

A sequel, Vectorman 2, was released in 1996 and although both games look brilliant, they also look much the same with the sequel bearing no real improvement graphically.  Were it a 3D engine, a sequel may well have looked very different, as such is the case with modern gaming.  Perhaps there simply was no need for further improvement in the 2D arena although the more likely scenario is that developers couldn’t squeeze anything more from the hardware and had to create something new to take its place.  The jump from cartridges to compact disc played a huge role in what developers would be capable of achieving in the future.  Some companies however were rather stubborn much like Nintendo who used cartridges up until September 2001 when they released their first console to use the optical disc format, the GameCube.

...and the similar-looking sequel, Vectorman 2.

...and the similar-looking sequel, Vectorman 2.

Nintendo’s failure to switch to compact discs resulted in them losing one of their key developers, Squaresoft, who released Final Fantasy VII in 1997 on Sony’s PlayStation console as the Nintendo 64 simply did not have the hardware capable of running the game efficiently which is why the Final Fantasy series on the PlayStation looked vastly superior to the Legend on Zelda series on the Nintendo 64.  Likewise with the aforementioned Killer Instinct, due to memory limitations on the Nintendo 64 hardware and cartridges, the pre-rendered FMV-flipbook backgrounds of the arcade version were replaced with realtime-rendered low poly backgrounds for the N64.  The 3D era also signaled the slow death of the 2D beat-’em-up after a myriad of 3D fighters like Virtua fighter, Tekken, Fighting Vipers, Dead or Alive and many others arrived on the scene, classic games like the Street Fighter series began to fade into obscurity.  Although a fairly recent series of 2D fighting games have been quite popular, like Guilty Gear (though some of the later versions incorporated 3D background elements) but companies like Capcom have realized that in today’s market 3D is the way to go, having recently released the awesome Street Fighter IV, fully 3D and gorgeous to look at.  As wonderful as Street Fighter IV looks, it uses an anime-style 3D techique as opposed to a realistic one, this is an aspect that I like as rather than trying to create photo realistic models, the developers created a human model that looks more like a stylized cartoon than a family photo.

A series I think that has failed in recent years due to ‘3D’ is the Sonic the Hedgehog series of games.  In the ’90s Sonic was all the rage but when Sega started to release 3D versions of their popular franchise, things went to hell.  I feel it’s too difficult to control Sonic in a 3D environment as the camera angles are always terrible and it’s pretty damn difficult to control something that’s moving at mach 1 and happens to go off screen getting you killed.  Sonic looked great in 2D and did not benefit from a 3D makeover, not even Sonic could save the Dreamcast (which was a great system) so perhaps rather than releasing all these half-baked sequels Sega should create Sonic 2.5, 2D sprites, side-scrolling with 3D elements incorporated into the backgrounds, sure to appeal to die-hard Sonic fans.

Capcom’s Street Fighter evolution:

Street Fighter (1987)

Street Fighter (1987)

Street Fighter 2 series (1991 - 1995)

Street Fighter 2 series (1991 - 1995)

Street Fighter Alpha Series (1995 - 1998)

Street Fighter Alpha Series (1995 - 1998)

Street Fighter EX series (1996 - 2001) I can remember playing this on PlayStation, it look great at the time, but now it's rather primitive-looking.

Street Fighter EX series (1996 - 2001) I can remember playing this on PlayStation, it had great visuals at the time, but now it's rather primitive-looking.

Street Fighter 3 series (1997 - 1999) SF3 contained vastly improved 2D sprites and backdrops.

Street Fighter 3 series (1997 - 1999) SF3 contained vastly improved 2D sprites and backdrops.

Street Fighter IV (2008) Awesome game and graphics, while not photo-realisitc, Capcom has created a vibrant and detailed anime style 3D brawler.

Street Fighter IV (2008) Awesome game and graphics, while not overly realistic, Capcom has created a vibrant and detailed anime-style 3D brawler.

Eventually, video-games will cease to exist and in their place will be 3D simulations indistinguishable from reality, a virtual reality will exist for willing persons to partake in, the only refuge for nostalgic gamers will be their PCs and emulating software that will enable them to relive the ‘glory days’ of gaming while the rest of humanity are slaves to the Matrix, or at the very least, ludicrous system requirements.