Game Review: Uncharted 4

“Greatness from small beginnings…”

I spent the week before the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, replaying the original trilogy. I must have played these games at least a half dozen times each by now and I can’t help but be in awe of them yet again. The Uncharted series are arguably  among the greatest games ever created.

Nathan Drake’s adventures are like being part of an Indiana Jones film that goes on for 15 hours. These are beautiful, well written games, filled with characters who you immediately fall in love with and root for. This series always has it’s small share of minor annoyances…and after playing all of them consecutively, I can say that the first Uncharted can be a bit jerky control wise, sometimes making finding cover a chore. Uncharted 2 is rather flawless and EASILY my favorite of the series, with some of the most amazing action set pieces and well balanced gameplay. Uncharted 3 while smooth playing and filled with great moments, is very clunky in the shooting aspect of things, with a rigid cross-hair that you never quite get used to, making combat a genuine chore. These are very minor grievances however, as the pros of this magnificent series far outweigh the cons, making Uncharted an absolute delight to revisit over and over.

Which brings us to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End…Naughty Dogs final adventure with Nathan Drake. And what an adventure it is.

Let’s just get the most noticeable aspect of this game out of the way first, it is absolutely breathtaking visually. Never have I seen visuals on any platform that come close to the level of detail and beauty on display here. This is one gorgeous video game. The sheer amount of time it must have taken to bring this creation to life is unfathomable. This is truly the first “next gen” game to truly showcase what is possible with the power of the Playstation 4. Lush jungles, sandy beaches, ancient castles, all stunningly created and interactive. On more than one occasion, I would stop just to take in the scenery around me and marvel at it’s beauty. It’s that gorgeous.

Uncharted 4 is also the best the series has ever played. Never before has taking cover, shooting and scaling walls felt this good. Some minor button placement changes took a little adjusting, but after a while it truly felt how this series should have played this entire time. New elements such as the grappling hook and sliding down steep hills are a welcome addition and handle wonderfully as well.

My only real problem with Uncharted 4, is a bit hard to put into words without coming across as too critical…and that’s with the pacing. This adventure (like all Uncharted games) is very story driven, but there were times where I felt I was doing a bit too much cut scene watching and not enough playing, a first in this series. Action set pieces, while spectacular as always, do feel a bit few and far between here. There are also some gameplay elements that feel repetitive and tedious…I mean, how many times do I really need to push a crate? I felt myself being taken out of the game quite a few times due to some very oddly placed elements. I also feel that the story being told here, while engaging, well written and furthering the story of young Nathan Drake is kind of a wimpy Macguffin for a final adventure. Nathans brother Sam is a great addition and the chemistry is really great. I also enjoyed the villainous Nadine, who is an absolute badass. Also returning are Sully (who has less of a part to play here) and Elena, who now married to Drake brings a whole other level of complexity and understanding to their already great relationship.

Beautiful, perfectly controlled, wonderfully acted and as marvelous a game as they come, Uncharted 4 stalls a bit here and there, but a bittersweet, yet satisfying ending really wrap things up nicely for this now decade old series.

As much as it makes me sad that there will not be another Uncharted game to look forward to, I am feverishly waiting to see what developer Naughty Dog creates next. After the success of Uncharted and The Last of Us, they have proven they understand that gaming is a medium that can transcend a narrative driven experience in ways that books and cinema cannot.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune 4/5
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 5/5
Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception 3.5/5
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End 4.5/5

-Sock Talk Jon-

Sock Talk Jon’s 2013 Video Game 1UP Winners

With some especially strong titles from Nintendo and a completely new set of consoles from Microsoft and Sony, 2013 was a pretty good year for gaming.

1) The Last of Us (PS3)

The Last of Us seamlessly melds the mediums of cinema and video game to create an experience unlike any other. Utilizing the survival horror genre like you have never played it before, The Last of Us keeps you feeling frightened and alone in a world that is every bit as terrifying as it is beautiful. Easily the best game of 2013 and one of the best I have ever played in over 27 years of gaming.

2) Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

The Nintendo 3DS is fast becoming one of my favorite gaming systems ever and games like Fire Emblem: Awakening are why. Crushingly difficult, well plotted and with more optimization than your standard strategy/RPG fare, this is an absolute must for any fan of this genre.

3) Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Just…wonderful and one of the best reasons to go out and buy a 3DS.

4) Diablo III (XBOX 360/PS3)

I love the Diablo series, but the PC iteration of Diablo 3 felt very lackluster to me…it was unbalanced and just didn’t give me the desire to play it as intently as I did the others. Blizzard released a console version of the game in late 2013 and completely fixed everything that was wrong in the PC version, (including the terrible auction house) making this the infinite time suck it was truly meant to be. You could legitimately play this game forever.

5) Tomb Raider (XBOX 360/PS3/PC)

I was never much of a Tomb Raider fan, but with the reboot of this now classic series, Square-Enix has managed to get it right. Borrowing heavily from the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider is perfect in its execution. A gripping narrative and constant sense of foreboding helps to keep you enthralled the entire time.

6) Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

Not quite as good as the 2001 original for the Gamecube, Luigis Mansion: Dark Moon still manages to be a fun adventure title nonetheless. Gorgeous graphics, challenging puzzles and plenty of side quests kept me hooked.

7) Mario and Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)

Yet ANOTHER 3DS title makes my favorite list with Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. Visually stunning, perfectly balanced and full of all these great little Nintendo fanboy jokes, make this one of the most enjoyable RPG’s I’ve played in a long time.

8) Batman: Arkham Origins (XBOX 360/PS3/PC)

Batman’s third outing takes form as a prequel, with a new developer, and new voice actors for both Batman (Roger Craig Smith replaces Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (Troy Baker replaces Mark Hammil). The result is pretty damn good actually. I really couldn’t even tell the difference with the voice actors, especially Troy Baker who nails Hamill’s now classic Joker voice. A great narrative combines with equally great visuals, but I still couldn’t help but feel that maybe it might time for this series to take just a couple years off…as the formula is now starting to get that “I’ve played this same exact thing” feeling to it.

9) Crysis 3 (XBOX 360/PS3/PC)

The 3rd entry in developer Crytek’s visually beautiful, original sci-fi shooter series, Crysis 3, is just as solid as Crysis 1 and 2. These games (while decent story wise) were never narrative powerhouses, but the gameplay/difficulty level remains just as fun as ever.

10) Grand Theft Auto V (XBOX 360/PS3/PC)

If you’ve ever played a GTA game before, you know what to expect…hookers, guns, car chases, shootouts, etc…but with Grand Theft Auto V, all of that is elevated to an entirely new level of interactivity. It is flat out scary how large and alive the world in this game is. As tired of this series as I might be, I can’t deny its level of brilliance and narrative wonderment.

GAME OVER
The stinkers

God of War: Ascension
An absolute travesty of a game, God of War: Ascension manages to take what isn’t broken, try to fix it, and as a result, smash it to bits. This once flawless franchise gets it’s first ever stinker.

Resident Evil 6
Now, I only played the demo for this, but that was MORE than enough…terrible on so many fronts.

Bioshock Infinite
Someone over at Irrational Games must have forgotten that games are supposed to be, well, FUN. I cannot argue the fact that this game as a narrative, is fantastic. It is. But as a game, it is a repetitive, dull, predictable hunk of garbage.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
A clunky, boring beat em’ up that had so much more promise than the final product delivered…10 back flips now!

With 2014 already here, it’s time to look at what newcomers XBOX One and PS4 have to offer, which as of right now, isn’t much. In fact this year as a whole, seems rather dull gaming wise. However, it’s still early and the bigger announcements usually come out around E3 time, so we’ll just have to wait and see. What say you?

-Sock Talk Jon-

Game Review: The Last of Us

TheLastofUsPoster

For me the zombie/end of the world genre has (literally) been done to death. Endless movies, tv shows, toys, comics, games, zombies, zombies, zombies…we get it. Enough already. So it was with great hesitation that I dove into The Last of Us, yet another foray into the tired flesh eating end of the world category. Admittedly, the only reason I did was because of the games amazing developer, Naughty Dog, who are responsible for one of my favorite gaming series of all time, Uncharted. And I’m glad I did give The Last of Us a chance, as it is easily the most cinematic and ambitious video game ever created.

Naughty Dog is in top form here with The Last of Us, creating a complex, character driven story, that never hesitates to punch you square in the gut. Also, there are zombies…but the zombies in this game are unlike any previously brought to the mainstream so far. In The Last of Us, zombies are a direct correlation to a naturally occurring fungi called cordyceps, which infect the brain of its host via spores and create a sort of madness in it. As a consequence anyone who is bitten by these “zombies” or exposed to the spores becomes infected.


(The very real cordyceps fungi infesting an ant colony)

There are various types of infected, all of which are extremely fast, deadly and eerily clever, but, zombies aside, you also have to deal with an even greater threat here, human beings. With civilization completely destroyed, people have become merciless survivors that form raid parties or gangs to stay alive. Betrayal is common and trust is hard to come by. Killing is no longer a moral conundrum, it’s merely a survival reflex action. As the gamer along for this ride, this helps create a very intense sensation of being alone in this giant world. With all of the dangers of parasitic monsters roaming around, you still have to worry about a seemingly normal passerby who might be even more of a threat to you. The Last of Us, NEVER gives you a second to let your guard down, you constantly have to be alert and the feeling of impending doom this creates is palpable.

the_last_of_us_Infected_853

(clickers are an extremely deadly form of infected who use a type of sonar to locate their prey)

While the plot of The Last of Us could simply be described as “escorting a girl who is seemingly immune to the infection, to an underground organization to harbor a cure” it is so much more than that. Protagonists Joel and Ellie are wonderfully brought to life in this game through a brilliant script, voice acting and facial animations. Hell, the initial 10 minute introduction to the game kicks things off with such an amazing display of pacing, urgency, character development and soul crushing tragedy, that it rivals what most big budget Hollywood movies can do with 2+ hours of screen time.

The Last of Us in terms of game play is very similar to Uncharted, as such, it’s 3rd person perspective is flawlessly executed control wise, largely in part to a beautifully responsive camera system. Weapons and ammunition are extremely difficult to come by, so every combat scenario has to be treated like a chess match and requires copious amounts of forethought. There is a also a brilliant upgrade system for your weapons which make a tremendous impact on damage, handling etc. In addition, strong stealth mechanics are implemented to make up for the lack of ammunition and while this is also flawless in its execution, it can also be frustrating when facing off against multiple armed opponents in close combat situations. I went through my first play through on the hard setting and found myself dying frequently in combat, not due in any part to a flaw in the game, just the brilliant a.i. of my attackers. As someone who enjoys a challenge, I absolutely relished in this. Gameplay is not without its minor complaints however, as you can only push someone on a pallet across water (because Ellie can’t swim), or boost someone up onto a ledge so many times without finding it a bit mundane and repetitive.

All in all, The Last of Us is without a doubt, an absolute must have for any Playstation 3 owner and one hell of a good reason to go out and buy one if you don’t already own one yet. Developer Naughty Dog continues to show their dominance in creating uniquely gorgeous cinematic gaming experiences that are full of believable characters, living, breathing worlds and unrivaled realism.

The Last of Us wondrously manages to take a tired and played out genre and make it relevant again, it’s a beautiful and terrifying journey into tragedy, survival, loss and letting go. It could very well be the most important video game ever created in terms of narrative and character development and shows that this uniquely immersive form of entertainment needs to start being given the respect it deserves.

Sock Talk Jon gives The Last of Us a 10 out of 10