Archive for March 2012
Platform: Playstation 3
Genre: Third Person Shooter, Action/Adventure.
Time Spent: Around 20-30 hours.
Completion: The main story & some amount of multiplayer (level 18 of 75)
Review Spoilers: Nothing worth noting.
Back in October of 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – a sequel to the now-classic Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – was released, and to extremely high praise. The game not only provided another brilliant single player experience, but also added an interesting multiplayer aspect that was instantly praised due to the unique style of gameplay that it brought to the generation. There really isn’t much else to say, the game was brilliant and many wondered if Naughty Dog could possibly improve upon it.
Since then, a couple of years have passed and Naughty Dog have recently (kind of) released Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.
Does the game live up to the reputation that its predecessors created? Read on…
Introduction to Uncharted 3’s story:
Uncharted 3 continues (somewhat) from where the previous game left off. Nathan “Nate” Drake and Victor “Sully” Sullivan are still treasure hunters of sorts and have their eyes set on another prize. This prize comes in the form of Sir Francis Drake’s biggest secret, the “Atlantis of the sands”.
Why is this such a large secret? Well, Sir Francis Drake apparently spent an unusually large amount of time in a certain region of the world before reaching his assigned destination by Queen Elizabeth – but left no real clues as to what he was doing or what he found during this time.
Forget that, who is Sir Francis Drake anyway? Whilst I believe liberties were taken here, the game paints him as a brilliant sea-man/navigator/treasure/artefact discoverer that used to serve Queen Elizabeth. Sir Francis Drake’s findings were also Nathan’s main motivation for his journey in the first game of the series.
Anyway, since Nathan is well-versed in pretty much everything involving Sir Francis Drake, he is able to begin his great clue-finding journey to find out where – or even what the “Atlantis of the sands” is.
However, as expected, Nathan and co. are not the only ones with enough knowledge to pursue this secret goal – and this other party is far from friendly.
In order to avoid spoilers, I had to warp the events a little – but the general story is in-tact.
So, how enjoyable is the story?
Uncharted 3’s story retains many of the storytelling quirks from the previous games, such as jumping back and forth through time (which is used to show how events lead up to a certain moment), having Nathan go through multiple insane action-movie situations as well as using various plot-twists and revelations throughout. As with Final Fantasy XIII-2 (the previous game that I reviewed), these techniques equate to an immersive and gripping experience that is likely to keep you playing to find out what happens next.
That said, there is a negative point to be had from using the same story techniques – some things became rather predictable. During my time with this game, there were a few instances where I was able to correctly guess the next few turns of events, simply because things had been handled in similar ways in the last two games – mostly the second game. Naturally, this detracts from the experience.
Another negative point is that the main villains seem to suffer from James Bond-syndrome, in that they will clearly have ideal opportunities to be rid of Nathan Drake and his allies forever, yet for some reason choose not to – only for it to inevitably bite them in the ass later. Although, maybe some players will like this cliché display of criminal cockiness.
In terms of the good guys, whilst rather generic-looking, all of them are very likeable and absolutely full of character. The voice acting is also very natural-sounding and is riddled with improvised/unscripted lines. This is further augmented by the fact the voice actors themselves provided the motion-captured animations for their respective characters as well as the fact that hardly anything was recorded solo. This all leads to some of the most realistic exchanges I’ve seen between characters in a videogame and that alone is a large reason as to why you’ll enjoy the story.
Unfortunately, the main bad guys kind of got the short-end of the stick. On one hand you have a generic British lady with an eye set on obtaining power/riches, and on the other hand you have a generic British guy in a suit – that apparently utilises a whole army of other generic guys in suits in order to help fulfil the British lady’s goal. In short, outside of learning about their ambition of power – there is pretty much nothing else to them. At least the villains in most other games (Uncharted prequels included) have personality to go with their usually-uninspired goals!
Overall, whilst I believe that the story is generally somewhat gripping, lengthy and interesting – it does have a few points that let it down. This is mostly on the grounds of predictability, villain stupidity, and overall lack of character motivation. Although, I’m glad that the game finally showed us the back-story of Nathan and Sully – including how and why they first met. With regards how it compares to Uncharted 2, I believe that the prequel has a much better story due to the magnitude of its twists, its overall pacing, and how much more the characters are fleshed out.
My story rating: 7.75/10
The gameplay of Uncharted 3 is largely unchanged from that of the previous entry, which was already rather solid and well-polished. However, I’ll still go into the gameplay with some amount detail.
In the single player, gunplay is kept interesting as the game gives you a rather low amount of ammo for each weapon you pick up – which leads to frequently needing to change or scavenge weapons. Aside from this, overall, gun-play mechanics are generally enjoyable, no problems, yet nothing groundbreaking either.
Another enjoyable single-player (and online co-op-only) factor is the melee. This not only looks and feels impressive/satisfying due to various heavy-strike animations, but it also has a degree of challenge as there is a “counter” button that must be timed when the enemy takes a swing at you. Whilst this is made easier than it sounds due to the game applying a slight degree of slow-down as the enemy attacks, it is still an aspect that keeps you on your toes.
Whilst it could be listed as a melee aspect, the game actually has a stealth an assassination system. This aspect is highly enjoyable to correctly pull off, especially against real people in a multiplayer game. Also, given the sheer level of potential mobility in this game, you can exclusively aim to use this stealthy style of gameplay and actually have it be a viable tactic – to a certain degree at least. In short, this system grants the player multiple ways to approach a situation.
On the opposite side of the spectrum to stealth, the game also uses grenades. A lot of them. Whilst I don’t have a problem with them as far as the single-player is concerned, I believe that they are a detriment to the multiplayer side of the game.
Generally, Uncharted 3 mixes terrain traversal with combat seamlessly, which is a large part of what makes the multiplayer-side feel more interesting and unique than most other games of a similar genre. For instance, flanking a group of enemies from a high angle whilst they are hiding behind cover is a rather rewarding experience.
The cover system is also pretty decent and doesn’t leave you nearly as impervious to harm as many other games tend to with their respective cover systems, such as the one in Gears of War. Furthermore, the AI-controlled enemies will instantly recognise the player’s use of cover and will shortly begin using grenades to flush you out. This trains the player to keep moving whilst giving advantage to those that can creatively manoeuvre around somebody in cover.
The Wall-climbing feature is generally enjoyable due to its fast and somewhat precise nature, although jumping on the other hand has an overall flaw. The problem with jumping in all of the Uncharted games is that sometimes you have no idea where to “aim”, as some “possible” platforms look closer than the one that the game wants you to jump to. This issue is made even more troublesome by the fact that many of the jumps in this game are scripted, and usually create very inconsistent jump distances. Ultimately, this creates a lot of “trial and error” or “leap of faith” moments that can be very frustrating to have to deal with.
The single-player exclusive portions that involve puzzles are usually pretty interesting and are completely different each time. These puzzles are also accompanied by cryptic notes in Nathan’s book, so referring between the book’s notes and the actual puzzles themselves is interesting and somewhat unique in a game. Furthermore, friendly characters will give off-the-cuff advice in a very natural way if you are having trouble, instead of subjecting you to an immersion-breaking assault on your ego – which can be experienced in some other games. If however you do find yourself being truly stuck, the game will offer the option to have the solution completed or solved for you.
In terms of the difficulty, the game starts off fairly easily and then gradually gets harder. This is accomplished by adding tougher varieties of enemies as well as increasing the amounts that you generally have to deal with.
All together, I think that Uncharted 3 is one of the best third-person-shooters out there.
My gameplay score: 9.0/10
Graphics and Audio
Graphically, the Uncharted games have always been a marvel to behold at the times of their releases and Uncharted 3 is definitely no different. It is simply outstanding and perhaps the best looking console game of this generation. The game even flaunts this fact by incorporating an extremely diverse set of locations, from a cruise ship in the middle of a ferocious storm at sea, to a rich jungle-esque area in France – to a vast and empty desert. Each location is sure to visually mesmerise the player in some way.
The effects are also amazing. From progressive model changes as characters are introduced to varying amounts of beautifully-rendered water, to the realistic adjustments between entering/leaving bright or dark areas, to even seeing grains of sand blowing in the wind. The game really is beautiful and polished beyond belief with regards to presentation.
The animations (as mentioned earlier) are all realistic – and the voice acting matches this (also mentioned earlier). The guns and other sound effects also sound very well done.
With regards to frame-rate, I believe this game runs at a respectable and consistent 30fps – or at least something close.
In terms of music, the score is a fantastic combination of some of the most fitting orchestral pieces that I’ve heard in a videogame. Whilst I don’t believe that the music was catchy by any means, it was definitely a joy to listen to.
As for potential improvements, the only thing that I could hope for is the game to run at a silky-smooth 60 fps, but that is simply not possible with the current console generation, not without graphical sacrifice anyway.
All together, Uncharted 3’s presentation is outstanding and probably won’t be beaten by another console game until the next generation (although, the original Final Fantasy XIII could be argued to be on-par with this game).
My graphics and audio score: 10/10
Uncharted 3’s multiplayer successfully brings most of the aspects from the single player onto the competitive stage. It is generally an enjoyable experience that is absolutely packed with a whole host of modes and features as well as both a shop and an unlock system. Anybody with a lot of time on their hands, an appetite for competitive play, and a desire to make friends with like-minded people may easily find themselves spending hundreds of hours here.
As far as competitive modes are concerned, you will find your standard deathmatches/team deathmatches here as well as multiple objective-based modes. My favourite competitive mode was a best-of-five, round-based, team objective mode – whereby the objective seamlessly changed at the end of each round. This kept things interesting, whilst requiring the use of solid teamwork to prevail.
Further modes include a co-op versus AI-controlled waves style that also incorporates accomplishing certain objectives as well as a co-op adventure mode.
The co-op adventure mode is different and deserves its own segment here. It is basically a three-player, six-or-seven-part (20-30 minutes each) mini-story that comes complete with many traits of the single-player campaign – including its main cast of characters. You’ll generally be using teamwork to accomplish various objectives whilst battling groups of enemies – at the same time as listening to more enjoyable dialogue between the characters. Although, despite believing this to be a great addition to the overall content of the game – there is one huge issue with this mode, actually finding people to play with. You cannot play this mode without at least two people and the ideal experience is had when there are three of you (for various reasons). Your only options are to add friends that are also willing to play through it, or to rely on the complete random chance that the online matchmaking will partner you up with two people that are set to play through the same part of the story that you want to play through – which is rather slim.
With regards to the competitive multiplayer gameplay, there are a couple of things that I need to mention. Firstly, the melee combat is watered down as there are no combos and no “counter” system. All you can do in terms of melee is perform a one-off punch, or if you sneak up behind somebody – earn a stealth-kill animation. Secondly, grenades are a complete joke – in my opinion. You spawn with one each time, it is thrown instantly (uninterruptable from what I can tell), has a large deadly explosive radius, and even if it doesn’t kill you – it throws you into a vulnerable animation so that something else will. It is actually a viable tactic to drop the grenade at your feet before you die a close-ranged death since they’re unlikely to escape. I just don’t see why they were so necessary, Gears of War (for example) doesn’t give you lethal grenades with each spawn, and there are far less ways to get behind somebody that is in cover in that game. So it begs the questions of why they decided to make them so predominant in this game.
Another issue I have with the game is weapon balance, as there is one gun that everybody uses as it quite simply dominates the others due to its proficiency at so many ranges. It also requires you being level 16 to unlock, which is a good few hours of gameplay into multiplayer – so until you unlock it, you’re pretty disadvantaged. Furthermore, as you reach higher levels, you can further improve the weapons that you have unlocked by purchasing various attachments – further widening the advantage in favour of the higher levelled player.
Speaking of which, I believe that I should also expand upon my previous mention of the shop and unlock systems. These aspects are built around two statistics – the amount of cash that you currently have, and the level of your character (both increased through doing just about anything). The shop is used to buy anything, from new characters to weapon improvements, to new perks. As you level up, you will unlock the right to buy certain things. You are also able to improve your perks by accomplishing in-game feats, much like the recent Call of Duty games. The level system in this game caps out at 75.
Whilst respawning is an issue for a lot of games these days, Uncharted has a clever way of dealing with it. You have an option of spawning “naturally”, or next to a teammate that is out of combat. You will still get some unfair spawn-deaths, but at least you have an option in this game.
Overall, the multiplayer is decent and provides the player with a lot of customisation. It has a large amount of content to unlock and enjoy and is definitely a bunch of fun to play. It also has a great variety of modes and definitely has a rewarding skill curve. Although those that do not like games that automatically give high-ranked players such large advantages may be put off.
My multiplayer score: 9.0/10
Amount of content
Uncharted 3 has an above-average length story (8-10 hours I’d say) and also boasts a very large amount of multiplayer content filled with many goals and great variety along the way.
There is also DLC available for the game, but it is pretty much limited to multiplayer content right now, such as characters and map-packs. They also cost money.
For a game of its type, I have to say that Uncharted 3 has quite a lot of content and if you’re a competitive gamer, you are likely to get an insane amount of enjoyment out of this game – however the opposite also stands true.
My content score: 8.5/10
Things I liked:
– Seeing Nathan Drake’s past.
– Beautiful graphics where the environments greatly vary throughout the game.
– Like the previous titles, some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a game.
– Astounding character interaction.
– Satisfying gameplay.
– Interesting puzzles.
– The sheer amount of multiplayer content, great variety of modes, great amount of customisation.
Things I disliked
– The grenade-obsessed side to the multiplayer. Too easy to gain kills with them and too easy to be killed by them.
– The fact that one gun in multiplayer is used by 95% (made-up statistic) of the players due to its effectiveness and not having access to it myself.
– Being a low-level in a high-level multiplayer match.
– The random scripted jump distances that confuse the player and lead to a lot of trial-and-error deaths.
– Plot predictability, mostly due to following the overall pattern that was established in the previous game.
– The somewhat boring and idiotic villains with cliché motivations.
All in all, I believe that Uncharted 3 is a solid entry to the series that is highly likely to charm most that play it – especially fans of the genre. Whilst I don’t believe that the game lives up to Uncharted 2 with regards to the single-play experience, I believe it surpasses it on the multi-player front with its vast amount of polish and customisation.
My overall score: 8.5 – Definitely worth playing through and trying out the multiplayer.
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© Copyright SteadiestShark
and SteadiestShark Gaming, 2012
All images and trademarks are property of their respective developers.
Platform: Playstation 3 (also available on Xbox 360)
Time Spent: Around 60 hours.
Completion: The main story & all side/extra content
Review Spoilers: Nothing worth noting.
Back in March 2010, the original Final Fantasy XIII was released – boasting a long development cycle and plenty of funding, which allowed for some of the most beautiful presentation that had been seen in a videogame this generation. However, whilst the game sold extremely well, many people (mostly fans of previous Final Fantasy games) believed that the game was rather poor and forgettable. Four of the main complaints consisted of the following:
– The game was too linear.
– The characterisation was poor and had so much more potential.
– The story was confusing and poorly told.
– There was a lack of towns, side-quests and general interaction with NPCs (Non- player Characters).
So now we’re in 2012 and Square-Enix has released Final Fantasy XIII-2. Does the game rectify the problems of the prequel – or do the same problems appear? Continue reading and find out!
Introduction of Final Fantasy XIII-2’s story:
Final Fantasy XIII-2 continues from where the original Final Fantasy XIII left off, although three years have passed. (The story of the previous game is available to read via the main menu, although I strongly believe that the game should be experienced first-hand)
The timeline of the world has been changed by an unknown foe, and due to this, there have been multiple cases of space-time distortions and paradoxes being reported, many of them bringing dire consequences. This issue causes two heroes – Noel and Serah – to embark on a quest that involves travelling through multiple time periods in order to correct and restore the original timeline, which will supposedly save the future from an impending doom that the changed timeline is heading towards. Confusing, right?
Naturally there is a lot more to the story than the travels of our two heroes, such as pretty much everything involving Lightning (who is Serah’s sister from the original game) and the main villainous party.
I would further elaborate on this, but I wish to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
So, how enjoyable is the story?
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster that uses a lot of anime-style elements in both the drama and dialogue, bringing the player many intense scenes. Furthermore, as the story progresses, you are kept on your toes through the use of various twists and therefore constantly desire to find out what is going to happen next. This is further amplified by the fact that the game revolves around time travel, where you’ll frequently come across things that you don’t yet understand the meaning of, which leads to further desire to continue – increasing immersion in the story. Another good aspect is that the game provides a decent villainous party – one of which not only sports a rather unique sense of style, but also frequently challenges the player’s perception of the story, all whilst giving you a solid reason to want to defeat them. Their voice is also enjoyably sinister – think along the lines of Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films), but with more of an American accent.
Above all else, the story much better told than its prequel was, and arguably more intriguing too. Alongside this, the game reaches deeply into the then-poorly-explained mythology that was created in the prequel, which adds another interesting element to the story.
Both of the main characters get fleshed out rather nicely in a story and background perspective. Not only this, but their voice acting is top-notch and always seemed to match the facial animations during the most intense scenes. Whilst it wasn’t as outstanding as its prequel in this department, the match of facial emotion to vocal emotion was generally a treat to experience. Design-wise, I have to say that Noel got the short-end of the stick, he looks so generic it’s painful, despite how likeable he ended up being. Serah on the other hand looks somewhat unique, although not as iconic as her older sister – Lightning.
Gamers may also rejoice at the fact that the game is far less linear than the prequel as you are able to choose whichever destination that you would like to travel to from a very early point in the game. This aspect carries throughout a large portion of the entire game and doesn’t begin to “herd” you into a single path until rather late in the story.
Finally, I need to point out something rather negative – this game doesn’t have an ending. However, it is said that Square-Enix are either planning a DLC (Downloadable-Content) or a sequel to remedy this, somewhat making it seem like the second part of a trilogy.
All in all, this game provides a solid story that managed to keep me gripped throughout.
My story rating: 8.5/10
Final Fantasy XIII-2 like its prequel, is a JRPG where the combat has an emphasis on fast-paced strategic decisions. Only this time, it also comes with an “easy mode” option – helping new or casual players alike by generally making their characters stronger, and the enemies weaker. Naturally, the game also includes tutorials to bring those that did not play the prequel up to speed.
The battle gameplay is pretty much identical to that of its prequel, in that it still utilises a “3-man” party, involving a refilling “Active Time Battle” gauge that is spent when using various offensive or defensive actions. The “paradigm” system also sees a return – a system that sees each character take on a certain role in the battle, each role having different actions and passive bonuses. Interestingly enough, the “stagger” system (a bar-based system that is filled by damaging a specific enemy and can eventually lead to causing massive damage) is still intact from the previous game, although it is not as prevalent here. Whilst these systems seem complicated at first, most will soon find themselves mastering them before very long.
These similarities aside, a couple of new aspects have been added this time around. One of which is the “wound” system, where certain attacks knock down your maximum health during a battle and requires item-use to restore this. So it’s a given that if you enjoyed XIII’s gameplay, you’re going to like this. That said, the opposite stands true as well.
Another new aspect is that instead of a “true” third member for your party, you are now given the option of using one monster that has been captured – done through defeating them in a previous engagement. These monsters can be “leveled up” in a similar way to the human party members and adds a similar concept to Pokémon, whereby you may try to capture as many of these monsters as possible in order to create the strongest potential party possible.
The combat-side of the game has another system that has been implemented – “Cinematic Actions” (or Quick-Time-Events). These are interactive cut-scenes that usually appear during important story battles and require the player to input a certain order of button combinations in order to succeed in whatever dangerous scenario that they are found in.
Outside of combat, the game also has a slight difference to its prequel as you’re now given the ability to jump (and later, glide). Although, this isn’t very important for the most-part. Aside from this slight change, navigating areas works just like pretty much any other JRPG/RPG. Furthermore, there are now puzzle-sections. These sections vary between three types, with the most noteworthy one being clock-based, which have been said to confuse even some of those working on the game!
Whilst the menus are clean and nicely presented, I believe that it is outdone by its prequel’s. However, with a much smaller budget and development time, it is understandable. One addition to the menu-side of the game is that items for the character inventory now contains a weight value. I believe this is a poor idea for one clear reason, items weigh far too much compared to how much weight can be carried by a character. You’ll soon find out that you can barely equip anything that you find, which is simply disappointing. Maybe they realised that the game would be too easy if the system didn’t exist in this form? Who knows.
Overall, I believe this to be one of the most interesting and rewarding battle systems in a JRPG to date. This is due to the fact that it is not only fast-paced, but it is also extremely deep. You need to be constantly on your toes if you want to be in the right Paradigm/mode at the right time in order to survive a situation, and you need to pick your attack openings well so that you can capitalise on the stagger gauge as quick as possible whilst not allowing it to drop.
My gameplay score: 8.75
Graphics and Audio:
The game takes you through a wide variety of locations, from a quiet beach-side village to a giant city filled with people and flying cars. This frequent change in aesthetics is very welcome as you do not find yourself becoming bored of a certain location and its appearance. Although it may be perceived by some as lazy, the time travel aspect means that you’ll journey to the same locations multiple times – however they are given interesting visual makeovers to show the impact of the years gone by. These “makeovers” are usually accompanied by a different soundtrack too, generally fitted to the story relating to the location.
Speaking of the soundtrack, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. The music was instrumentally adventurous, very atmospheric, generally matches the locations as well as their associated story arcs, and is overall a pleasure to listen to. Sure, there are a couple of mundane tracks (or in one particular track’s case – annoying), but the vast majority is some of the best music I’ve heard in a game – especially for a JRPG. Final Fantasy XIII-2 also uses some of the tracks from the previous game, which personally was a delight to hear.
Whilst the visuals are not quite as fantastic as the original Final Fantasy XIII’s, they are still some of the best visuals that you will find in this console generation for a game of its type. This is somewhat evidenced by the fact that the frame rate drastically drops in the busier areas, a tell-tale sign that the hardware is being pushed to its limit. A visual technique that has been added this time around is the use of colour filters and weather effects. Whilst this is generally a welcomed addition, it has a couple of instances where it ends up taking away from the graphical beauty. Finally, due to some of the biggest areas in this game causing such a burden on the hardware, Square-Enix opted to use a distance-blur effect. Whilst I don’t like this technique at all, I’d hate to think of how bad the framerate would become in certain areas without it.
My graphics and audio score: 8.75/10
Amount of content:
Final Fantasy XIII-2 definitely has a respectable amount of content. The main story is around 25-35 hours with around 15 hours of extra content – made longer if you attempt to unlock all achievements or trophies. The extra content comes mostly in the form of side-quests and optional bosses, although there are a couple of minigames in the casino – slot machines and the ability to participate in a racing minigame. Square-Enix are also steadily releasing extra DLC for the game – which ties up some loose ends in the story as well as offering some interesting extra boss battles, although these all cost money.
In short, the value for money is rather good and is very likely to keep you busy for a long time, as is usually the case for this genre of game.
My content score: 8.5/10
Things I liked:
– Fast, fluid and complex battle system, still one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a JRPG.
– Interesting time-travel-based story.
– Likeable, fleshed out characters.
– Generally very nice graphics.
– Brilliant, atmospheric soundtrack filled with interesting blends of instruments.
– A fair amount of side-content that is accessible from the start.
– “Cinematic Actions” made certain moments feels so much more immersive.
Things I disliked:
– There is (currently) no ending.
– There is only one interactive shop throughout the entire game.
– An area filled with random NPCs doesn’t exactly feel like a town (towns in games usually have multiple shops, an inn, etc.) and can at times feel rather empty or souless.
– Frame-rate dives in busier areas are an eye-sore.
– The newly introduced “item weight” system is an annoying and generally detrimental addition.
– Overall it’s kind of easy, however JRPGs in general can be made easier/harder by choice.
All in all, whilst I don’t believe that Final Fantasy XIII-2 rectifies all of the problems of its prequel, I believe that this was a brilliant step in the right direction and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I just hope that the DLC or next sequel can bring a satisfying resolution to this series.
However, it is worth noting that those that do not care for Anime/Japanese-style values may dislike or even despise many aspects of this game.
My overall score:
8.5/10 – Definitely worth playing through.
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© Copyright SteadiestShark
and SteadiestShark Gaming, 2012
All images and trademarks are property of their respective developers.