Category Archives: Adventure

[Game Review] Uncharted: Drake’s (Mis)Fortune

I can’t help imagining that if I were to walk into an archeological college program with only my knowledge of the field from movies & videogames, I’d probably get expelled.  I can’t say I’ve ever studied the field in great detail, but I’m reasonably certain it’s frowned upon to blow up ancient structures & priceless artifacts.  And who keeps bringing in all these explosive barrels, anyway?  The natives?  Shouldn’t the gunpowder be inert by now?  And why do these greedy mercenaries never realize the value of the ruins they’re destroying?  It may not be as immediately profitable as a giant gold statue, assuming you can find a buyer for that in the first place, but you gotta think long term; books & television appearances & all that good stuff.  Stop blowing everything up!

In my substantial free-time while transitioning to a new job, I finally got around to playing the remastered version of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, part of The Nathan Drake Collection, a collection of remastered version of the first three Uncharted titles.  Having never played any of the Uncharted games before, I was interested to see if the games were as good as everyone says, so I put this female Lara Croft to the test.

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Uncharted probably needs no introduction, but I will regardless.  In his first outing, we take control of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter following the trail of Sir Francis Drake, hoping to discover the legendary golden city, El Dorado.  Things become complicated when several rival treasure hunters show up, forcing Drake to try to outsmart the mercenaries while dragging along a reporter.

Uncharted is very much an action-adventure game, leaning more toward the action end of the spectrum.  Drake will encounter many gunfights, broken up by some platforming, sprinkled with a dash of simplistic puzzle-solving.  Cover-based shooting in the name of the game, & most of the playtime is spent crouched behind a wall, picking at enemies with a variety of weaponry.


Narrative: I might’ve joked earlier about Drake being the female Lara Croft, but honestly I got more of an Indiana Jones vibe.  The game feels a lot like if someone made an Indiana Jones movie today with all the modern action movie tropes (Or maybe like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?  I never saw that one.).  So instead of having punch-ups beneath a moving airplane, Drake just shoots a lot of people & drives around on a jet ski.  Drake is more light-hearted to Indy’s dry straight-man act.  He even gets a somewhat-shady sidekick & nosy female co-lead.  And in the end, the bad guy gets killed by some supernatural curse, & the story ends with a helicopter crash followed by a punch-out on a boat.

EAvcck6XoAAgnZSIn case it doesn’t come across, I did enjoy the story… what was there, at any rate.  It’s very classically campy.  I found the main characters likeable, & their goal interesting; however… The plot as a whole felt a bit threadbare.  It’s very easy to forget your current goal as you get strung along from one open shooting arena to another.  I would’ve liked the story to have a bit more player interaction with it.  The usual pattern is that Drake will decipher something & conveniently find said contraption in the next room.  It kinda takes the fun of exploration out.  I don’t mind a linear story, but it just felt a bit passive.  There’s no finding clues or anything like that.  Drake will just comment on something, prompting you to pull out his handy-dandy notebook, then follow along the only path available.  It’s more Drake’s story than the story of the treasure, which makes sense, it just feels a bit rushed.

I’ve heard someone people complain about the sudden addition of supernatural enemies toward the end of the game.  But if we continue with the Indiana Jones comparison, most of them had a supernatural element as well.  I think the problem goes back to the lack of fleshing out details that plagues the rest of the game.  They could’ve done more to build up the plot & mythos, rather than just being like, “Oh, by the way, the statue’s really a coffin that curses people in some nondescript, never touched upon way,” in the penultimate chapter.  It’s just poor pacing.  I don’t think it would’ve been as much of a problem if there’d been some hinting along the way — some foreboding.

Overall, while a bit threadbare, the plot is serviceable enough, evoking memories of old adventure movies but lacking some of the pacing.  The characters are likeable enough & you’ll want to know what happens next to push through.

Score: 3


Mechanics: I don’t think I ever noticed before how boring cover-based shooting can be.  It’s strange, because one of my favorite games of all time is Mass Effect, where the combat is pretty much nothing but cover-based shooting.  I think the difference is there’s more to do while behind cover in Mass Effect.  If enemies aren’t cooperating, I can command a follower to blast their shields, or go invisible to flank them.  In Uncharted, you can’t do that.  You can only stay behind cover until someone pops out, like aggressive ADHD wooden ducks.  Even grenades don’t seem to be that effective at flushing people out.

I think the problem is an issue of balance & vision.  The game wants to be all action-oriented, with blazing gunfights & Drake ducking behind cover before jumping out, so enemies literally crawl out of the walls & swarm around you like angry bees.  Yet they had to keep with the growing trend of cover systems, so you end up stuck behind some rock if you don’t want your head blown off.  It’s poorly balanced, tedious, happens too often & goes on for way too long.  I dreaded any time I came to an open area after a platforming section & spied all the convenient chest-high walls.  In most cases, I adopted the pattern of running up to the closest enemy, using a brutal combo, then hiding until my vision stopped going gray simply to speed up the process.

417b9e2f0a0a2931ccce7846b9b0d816The shooting isn’t bad.  It works… it’s just not interesting.  Honestly, the most fun I had with the combat is when the supernatural enemies showed up & I switching to run-&-gun.  Because they’re the only enemies without guns & don’t use cover, they’re the only ones you can use this tactic with, & it’s a blast.  I had more fun running around like a crazy person just shooting wildly in the general direction of the swarm chasing me.  Why couldn’t they do more of that?  Or when I got to use the sniper rifle against just one far enemy?  The mercenaries are just a slog to get through.  And why can I shoot them three times in the face with a shotgun & they still don’t go down?  You’re not wearing armor on your face.

And then the quick-time events… I’ve never been too down on QTE’s in the past, probably because most the games I’ve experienced them in integrate them reasonably well.  But Uncharted shows its age in this regard.  They really do come out of nowhere, & with no consistency.  Obviously they’re meant to engage you in a quick action, like rolling out of the way of a falling pile of bricks, but there are more times when you have no control over the cutscene, or you use regular controls.  For example, there’s a few times when a platform starts to break & you use the same in-game controls to run & leap before you fall to your doom.  And don’t get me started on that final boss fight.  They’re just poorly implemented all around.

I wished the game was more adventure than action, because the platforming sections definitely fair better.  Both the camera & level design do a good job showing where you need to go next.  The controls are responsive, though I did jump to my death more than a few times because the controls hadn’t quite caught up with the camera & Drake jumped the wrong way.  The puzzles, while not difficult, helped break up the monotony of the combat, though I would’ve liked them to be a bit more thought-provoking.  And I appreciated the devs’ attempts to mix up the set pieces.  The jeep section was a lot of fun.  But not so much the jet ski.  It’s hard to pinpoint my exact problem with them in Uncharted, but I think I was expected more natural movement — like having to swing out & around to turn — only for it to just do a hairpin 90-degree turn into a wall.  I really came to appreciate the generous check points after that level.

Overall, while the platforming & set pieces are fun, there’s way too much monotonous cover-based shooting to slog through.

Score: 3


maxresdefaultAesthetics: Having never played the original version, I can’t attest to any uprezing, but it does look nice.  The scenery & architecture are great to look at, & really immerse you in the setting.  A shame the camera wants to look at the floor half the time.  There’s also something odd about Elena’s model in-game.  I can’t tell if it’s poor facial animations making her look flat, or that fact that even at the end her model is as pristine as in the beginning & that looks odd next to Drake’s battered model.

The voice acting is, of course, good, with a lot of recognizable actors.  I can’t say much for the music outside the opening menu theme, because none of it stuck out to me.  So that’s not great, but at least what’s there wasn’t obtrusive.

Score: 4


Replay Value: Average-ish.  After you beat the game, you unlock the ability to play individual chapters, so you can replay sections you like.  I did that to find all the treasures.  And there are a lot of rewards & tweaks you can earn for completing various challenges to mix up future playthroughs.  Personally, if I do play it again, I’m sticking it on Explorer mode & breezing through the combat to get to the fun stuff.

Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Uncharted has a reputation for being a cinematic series, & it certainly lives up to that; however, Naughty Dog failed to remember that those old adventure movies has more slow pacing & atmosphere than action.  The first game’s a bit too much cover-based shooting to slog through & not enough fun exploration & interesting scenarios.  It’s not bad, by any stretch, but definitely feels like the first in a series.  If you’re not a fan of shooting, stick it on Explorer mode to speed through to the fun parts.

– GamerDame

Title: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Console: PS3, PS4
Rating: T
Developer: Naughty Dog, BluePoint Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: November 20, 2007 (original), October 9, 2015 (remaster)
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Filed under 3, Action, Adventure, PS3, PS4, Reviews, Shooter

In the Shadow of the Colossus: Game Review

The concept of solitude provokes many different reactions in people.  For some, it’s a fearful state to be avoided at all costs.  The thought of being alone provokes anxiety for those who draw energy from interacting with others.  Yet for some people, such as myself, solitude is actively sought out.  The quiet drowns out the chaos of the outside world, allowing for inner reflection and peace.  But even for those who enjoy it, too much solitude can drive one mad.  Even the most introverted person still requires some social interactions.  So what happens when a game tries to instill a sense of solitude into those seeking stimulation?

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Shadow of the Colossus was one of those games I’d been hoping they would remake, as while I missed out on it the first time around, I was quite aware of the game and studio’s reputation.  In Shadow of the Colossus, we take the role of a young man, not explicitly named during the game but referred to elsewhere was Wander, who enters a forbidden land to make a pact with a disembodied voice to resurrect a dead woman.  The voice, an ancient spirit referred to as Dormin, agrees… if Wander can release pieces of its power sealed away inside Colossi scattered about the land.  And by release, I mean murder.

Shadow of Colossus can be best described as an adventure/puzzle game, except the puzzles revolve around how to kill the Colossi.  These beasts are far too large or dangerous for Wander to take out by normal means, and must instead use his stolen holy sword to find their weak points.  But when the beasts are as big as buildings, getting to said weak points proves to be the biggest obstacle.


Narrative: On the surface, Shadow of the Colossus has a pretty bare, straightforward story.  Kill colossi, resurrect dead lady.  However, it’s surprisingly good at showing or implying details, leaving a lot of things to the player’s imagination.  For example, we’re never outright told what happened to Mono, the lady you’re trying to resurrect, or even what Wander’s relationship with her is.  Dormin mentions she had a cursed fate, so was she sacrificed?  Did she die from the curse?  Is she Wander’s partner?  Sister?  Condemning yourself and going against your clan isn’t something you’d do for just anyone.  What happened after the credits end?

SOTC-Screenshot-2018-01-31-13-53-33A lot is told simply by the action of the story.  We see the bond between Wander and his horse, Agro, who for the most part is your only companion during the game.  Not just any horse would charge under the feet of a raging giant.  At least my impression is that Wander isn’t really a warrior.  While good on horseback and with a bow, he’s a bit ungainly with his stolen sword.  Not to mention how he flails and trips around… at least when I was playing him.  We also see the growing cost of Wander’s deal with Dormin as we proceed, hinting at a sense of dread.  Some people might not enjoy this open-ended approach to storytelling, but it’s clear the developers wanted to leave a lot to the player’s interpretation.

Overall, while not the most nuanced story, it frames the actions of the game perfect, giving us all the motivation we need to continue even when we don’t want to.

Score: 4


Mechanics: As with the story, a lot of gameplay is simple.  Stripped down.  You hunt down your next target, find a way to expose their weak points if necessary, climb on,  & hang on for dear life as you stab away.  All you have at your disposal is your horse, bow & sword, but that’s all you need.  A good chunk of the game is simply riding around the beautiful but empty landscape to reach your next target, which admittedly is quite enjoyable.  As mentioned above, it really helps the lonely atmosphere of the game to have this vast, untouched space to move around in.  It’s beautiful, but you’re not supposed to be there.

DprCR5gWsAAX09ZThe majority of what could actually be labeled as “gameplay” revolves around slaying the colossi, which is where the puzzle aspect comes in.  Ultimately the goal is the same in each fight: stab the glowing glphys to widdle down their health.  However, getting on the giant beasts is easier said than done.  I appreciated that each colossi had its own strategy for getting to the weak points, starting simple and growing more complicated as the game progresses.  For the most part, I liked the progression in difficulty.  The colossi begin pretty docile, but become more active in combating the player.  Whereas in the beginning it’s just a matter of not getting stepped on & climbing up their leg, toward the end you’re navigating labyrinths of platforms.  And for the most part, with some observation and patience, it becomes clear what you need to do, though there were a few times when I was doing the right thing but in the wrong place.  I think my favorites were Avion & Cenobia (5th & 14th respectively).  While all the flying bosses were fun, Avion had some real speed, & was quite the adrenaline rush as I tried to hold on while it’s going upside-down, & while Cenobia is one of the smaller colossi, I liked having to lead it along a path in a game of The-Floor’s-Lava.

That being said, Shadow of the Colossus is not a perfect game, & I feel like most of the problems I had with it came down to control issues.  Even when the bosses were at their most frustrating, I feel it always came down to just a few issues that should’ve been tweaked in this remake.  Firstly, Wander needs some more weight to him.  I get that he’s supposed to be this little guy who’s not really a warrior, & he’s holding onto the back of giants, but he shouldn’t flail as much as he does when they start thrashing.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the colossus is, once they start shaking his legs go flying & you can’t move.  I can’t say I have experience riding something trying to throw me off, but can’t I have a button to make Wander dig in his heels or something?

Secondly, it can be oddly hard to move around just normally when holding on to the colossus.  I recall that in the original version, each bit of fur on them was essentially its own ledge, & while I don’t know if they carried that over with the remake, it certainly feels that way.  Wander doesn’t always move the way you want him to & sometimes has a hard time grabbing the correct limb.

I also have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Agro.  On the one hand, I liked that once you get him up to speed, you don’t have to control him.  Just point him in a direction & he’ll keep running.  I also liked that he won’t run off cliffs.  But it would’ve been nice if he’d also turn away from running into walls, especially in the one fight in a cave.  He also has the annoying habit of slowing from his run if you turn him, meaning that on some of the fights when you’re trying to keep up with the colossus, you basically have to hold his run key, the left stick, the button to stay focused on the colossus, & the fire key.  This might not have been so much an issue if the camera wasn’t complete crap most of the time, which appears to be a problem carried over from the original version.  Like Wander, the camera’s too “light”, & unless you’re holding the stick down, will automatically begin recentering itself.  You can’t look around, which is bad when you’re trying to find where to go during a boss fight.  Why can’t the camera stay where I put it?  The addition of a button that focuses on the colossus is helpful, but as I mentioned, it’s hard to hold that & all the other buttons at the same time.

So overall, while the adventuring and fighting with big monsters is a uniquely thrilling experience, the little but persistent frustrations with the controls keep it from being a perfect experience.

Score: 4


Aesthetics: Rather than simply being an up-res, the remake’s assets were built from the ground up, & the hard work is clearly on display.  This is a beautiful game in all respects.  I’m not usually one to take screenshots on a console, but I made good use of the feature while traveling around the valley.  The land teems with picturesque plains, artistically lit caves & dense, misty forests.  Even when I accidentally took the long way around to reach the next colossus, I never minded because I was too busy gawking at the scenery.  And given that half the game is riding around, that’s a good thing.  Even the areas you can’t reach only add to the ambiance.  The colossi are similarly stunning in their own right, really creating a massive scale.  While we’re never told their exact origin (did they always exist or came about from the spirits inside them) they appear molded from the very rocks, soil & grass around them.  And I enjoyed that each had their own unique design, which also hints at how to defeat them.

DprCRBJXoAE0bzPThe sound design matches the gameplay, varying from quiet ambiance to pulse-pounding scores.  When you’re simply riding around, there’s no music, only the sounds of nature & Agro’s hoofsteps.  But the music kicks in when the colossi appear, the beautiful orchestral tones setting the mood perfectly.  It really fits clinging for your life on the back of a massive beast.  The dialogue is all in Ico-brand gibberish, but for what little there is, it does its job of telling the story.  Though I do particularly like how Dormin’s voice is composed of multiple voices, both male & female, adding to it inhuman nature.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderately high.  Depending on how quickly you defeat each colossus, conceivably you could complete the game in a day.  But there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had through multiple playthroughs, with New Game+ letting you carry over upgrades you’ve earned, & Time Attack challenges that unlock new gear.  While sadly you can’t change the outcome of the story, it’s still work revisiting & enjoying multiple times.

Score: 5


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: I was not disappointed when I finally got to play this classic game.  It’s well worth any gamer’s time, even if there are a few persistent problems that hold it down from perfection.  While I never played the original, I feel confident that this is a great remake, as well as just a great game in its own right & a must have for all gamers.

– GamerDame

Title: Shadow of the Colossus
Console: PS2 (original), PS4
Rating: T
Developers: Team Ico & Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Studio (original), Bluepoint Games
Publishers: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 18, 2005 (original), February 6, 2018

 

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Filed under 4, Adventure, PS2, PS4, Reviews