Friday, 15 June 2012

PS3 Review: Uncharted 2 Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 Among Thieves (UC2) developed by Naughty Dog and released in 2009 for the PS3. UC2 is a sequel of 2007's Uncharted Drake's Fortune (UC1) and features the original's team of characters. Like UC1, UC2 is an action-adventure platformer with an ample helping of cover based shooting. Has Naughty Dog found hidden treasure with UC2?

Once again you play as treasure-hunting wiseguy Nathan Drake as he is solicited into stealing one of Marco Polo's relics. Two new characters are introduced, Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer, both of whom have a murky history with Nathan. It doesn't take long before you are leaping, shooting and puzzling your way through the wonderful story. The story seamlessly unfolds as you play the game and successfully keeps you directly in the action.

UC2's levels are much more complicated and much larger than UC1's. The whole world is larger and the environments are much more diverse; this time around you are not restricted to ruins and jungle levels. As usual, the platforming is seamlessly integrated into the environment and is often used to great visual effect. You may literally feel dizzy looking down in UC2; people who are afraid of heights have now been warned.

The artwork is fantastic, the Tibetan/Buddhist mythology is spot on and UC2's story has greater depth and length compared to UC1. Buddhist mythology is a vast subject with many facets and I think UC2 manages to balance the elegant artwork with mythological significance without bogging our minds in the depths of Tibetan/Buddhist spiritualism. Many puzzles are quite large, ornate and directly feature interesting Buddhist artwork and themes.

The new cast of characters, especially Claudia Black's Chloe, add so much more to UC2's story. UC2's new characters not only add depth and tension to the story, but they also add to Nathan Drake's backstory. The villain of the piece is also very well crafted, both monstrous and full of memorable evil. UC2's story and characterization strongly demonstrates the superb writing and creativity of the UC series. UC2 also contains some very good lines of resonating dialogue throughout the game.

I have no problem writing that UC2 is a truly amazing game and one of the best sequels ever made. A complete upgrade from UC1, UC2 has lusher visuals, lingering music, improved gameplay and a more engaging story; even the malingering gunfighting elements have been thankfully tweaked. And although gunplay elements could be further improved, they're probably fundamentally hampered by the inaccurate console controller. Hopefully UC3's gunfighting will be further mastered and will be as satisfying as the rest of the game.

In summary, UC2 should easily be a contender, if not winner, for GOTY 2009 and deserves every award it receives. The developers are obviously aiming to be closer to a blockbuster movie than an ordinary run, gun and jump console game and it shows in the final product. Console game designers could learn a lot from UC2's core design elements and lofty goals. If you have a PS3 and love great videogames don't miss UC2, buy it now. I'm going to tell random people in the street how good this game is.

-I take back that Nathan Drake is like Indiana Jones, he is more like Jack T. Colton from Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile.


A warning to players - just like UC1, I still had stuttering problems during cutscenes with UC2. After searching the Interweb, it (probably) turns out my replacement harddrive is too fast for the PS3 to handle, causing sync issues with audio and video. If you have upgraded your internal harddrive with a faster drive you may also experience sync issues, which will wreck your enjoyment of the game a little. Even with this problem it is plain to see that UC2 is GOTY material.

Monday, 11 June 2012

PS3 Review: Uncharted Drake's Fortune

Uncharted Drake's Fortune is an action/platformer/puzzle/shooter released in 2007 and developed by Naughty Dog for the PS3. You play as treasure hunter Nathan (Nate) Drake as he follows the lead of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, in the search for the lost city of gold El Dorado. Nathan is joined by his compadre Sully and the nosy reporter Elena Fisher. The trio's search for El Dorado has not gone unnoticed by the usual fare of pirates, scum and fortune hunters.

Uncharted's gameplay is a mixture of platforming, puzzling and gunplay. 

The platforming elements are solid and are often used to effectively show off the fantastic level design. The high production value of Uncharted's art, design and textures really immerse the player into the game's environment. Hidden treasures are often stashed around platforming areas of the game.

The puzzling isn't challenging, but I think it's adequate, as hard puzzles would break the flow of the action. You won't feel like a genius solving the puzzles in Uncharted, but they're a nice change of pace from the platforming and poor gunfighting.

Unfortunately, Uncharted's gunplay is poorly balanced between player and AI. The AI comes in large waves and has god-like accuracy and toughness. Guns are hard to control and, because there is a lot of gunfighting over the course of the game, a general handicap to the overall enjoyment of the game. In comparison to weapon handling, melee fighting is well handled and generally satisfying.

The game's story is spot on for action-adventure and mixes humor and serious plot to perfection. Uncharted reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark and other Indiana Jones movies, but Nathan Drake is no Indiana Jones that's for sure. The characters in Uncharted are well crafted and, as the story is moved along, further developed as you play. The unfolding storyline concerning El Dorado, and the characters seeking it, is definitely a highlight of the game.

Uncharted also features a lot of small QTEs based on the PS3 controller which can be hit and miss - shaking a controller will be forever counter intuitive.

In summary, if Naughty Dog spent more time mastering the gun elements and weapon balance, then Uncharted would be an instant classic - hands down. Uncharted's gameplay will be forever marred because of the way weapons are handled. If you can see past the bad points, Uncharted is as a pretty fantastic and generally well-polished game. 

Uncharted has a number of sequels and hopefully the weapon handling issues have been fixed.


Did anyone else have stuttering issues during the cutscenes? I have the region 4 platinum edition of Uncharted and during cutscenes experienced sound sync and stutter issues. I didn't factor these problems into Uncharted's final ranking.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review: Warlords Battlecry 3

Warlords Battlecry 3 (WBC3) is a fantasy RTS game with role playing elements released in 2004 for the PC. The game allows players to fully customise their RTS gameplay and has become a cult classic for RTS gamers. WBC3 features extensive character customisation and a large free roam singleplayer campaign. Multiplayer and skirmish modes are also available outside the single player campaign setting.

Players begin by creating an army general/hero, really a mercenary leader, who commands your forces throughout the game. You control your general during battle, and dictate his campaign path using the overhead world map. During the course of the game, your hero will level up and you will have to decide which stats and skills to invest in. After numerous battles, your hero can potentially become a physical or magical wrecking ball, much to the ire of your enemies.

Hero Stats
WBC3's hero creation is what sets it apart from its RTS siblings. Featuring 16 different races and 28 characters classes, WBC3 has more in common with pen and paper character creation than a CRPG. 448 different combinations allows for very specific, player specified, gameplay customisation. Keep in mind that some race/class combinations are underpowered, some are overpowered and some are middle ground. If you want to play an insectoid warrior or minotaur wizard, WBC3 allows you the nth degree of customisation.

WBC3's single player campaign is extensive. There is a main storyline and story driven quests, but the game does not shackle you to it. The player is free to roam around the map, making friends and enemies as you go. The 16 races of Etheria inhabit the world and each are represented on the overhead map. Battles usually feature the local inhabitants and locals can be friend, foe or neutral to the player. Stealing from a race usually turns them hostile and the player will no longer receive missions from that race. Allied races become playable races that you can select to command before a battle starts.

Overhead Map
Once a battle or mission is selected from the overhead map, the player may then choose a few units to start with. Players can choose a standard racial selection of units or from a special retinue of hero units. The special retinue of units follows the hero and keeps experience from previous battles. After starting unit selection, the screen will then change to the RTS battle map.

Battles consist of creating race specific buildings and units to overcome your enemy. Racial units and buildings have different strengths, weaknesses and upgrade trees. Overall, it is a standard RTS featuring rushing, turtling, resource management, hero killing, fog of war, etc. Knowing your racial strength and weaknesses is often the key to winning. Your strategy will probably be rush building to your race's most effective units and then overwhelming your enemy with superior forces. Your leader and hero units offer flexibility when starting, building structures, maintaining resources and fighting. The enemy AI is adequate, but nothing amazing.

Battle Map
WBC3 also includes skirmish and multiplayer modes. Skirmish mode allows you to play heroes outside of the main campaign and test builds and units against each other. Multiplayer can be played over LAN or Internet and has a wide range of features and gameplay modes. WBC3 also contains a map editor which allows users to create maps that can then be used in skirmishes and multiplayer.

WBC3 was released in 2004 and I still have fun playing it today. The replay value of this game is immense, to say the least. If you are a fan of RTS games, and you missed WBC3 in 2004, you should probably check it out. The warlords series is definitely original and fun, and WBC3 offers a lot of gameplay and subtle depth for people interested in fantasy RTS games.

WBC3 is available here.

 -Did I mention WBC3 has 13 schools of magic?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is a AAA game released for the PC and Mac by Blizzard Entertainment. The previous Diablo games are generally well regarded as quality hack n' slash adventure games. A long time in development, no doubt due to World of Warcraft's success, Diablo 3's release comes with very high expectations due to its groundbreaking forebearers. Have Blizzard put out another successful game?

Blizzard has always released high quality and, due to long development cycle, very well polished games. Diablo 3 bears all the hallmarks of a quality Blizzard offering. Unfortunately, Diablo 3 features an online MMO style encapsulation that detracts from the enjoyment of the game, especially the single player experience. No connection to the Internet means no Diablo 3. You will encounter this always online MMO shell every time you start the game.

Starting the game involves creating a character, you have a choice of witch doctor, barbarian, wizard, monk and demon hunter. Classes are split between melee and ranged variations, each has a unique skill and rune empowerment system. You also have the option of both male and female characters of any class; an option that is severely lacking in most games. Assign yourself a family friendly name, as anything rude, racist or lewd will not be accepted. Diablo 3's cinematics are first rate and are used to tell the game's story, so make sure you stay awhile and listen.

You character's gamestyle will revolve around the skills you select to play and the runes you choose to empower them with, for example, barbarian's have shouts and bash skills, while monk's have mantras and fist based combinations. As you level your character, new skills and runes will be unlocked and you gain some arbitrary attributes and HP. Diablo 3's main character customisation comes through equipment stats and ability bonuses. Having quality equipment enhances your characters skills, damage, resistances and survivability.

As with all Diablo games, equipment is dropped randomly and you might find yourself stuck with the same piece of equipment for half the game. Equipment bought from the auction house is your best chance of finding something adequate for your level and is generally seen as a non-negotiable necessity in hell and above difficulty.  NPC equipment vendors, which are adequate during a normal playthrough, are useless for players on harder difficulties. NPC equipment level is based on region and not player level, so you could be level 55 while NPCs still vend poor level 40 equipment. When playing, equipment doesn't really start to define your character until the final stages of your first playthrough. Socketed equipment can be further customised with gem stones.

Gameplay is generally fun as you, either solo or multiplayer, smash through demon infested environs. The difficulty of a multiplayer game is increased or decreased according to the number of players present. A solo playthrough on normal is hardly challenging and it's only on nightmare difficulty or above a decent challenge exist. Solo players have the option of a henchmen to help them through the game. Having a NPC buddy adds some flavour and makes difficult opponents and situations even easier. Difficulty levels cannot be skipped, so joining your advanced buddy in hell is not an option. Diablo 3 is split into a series of acts, some which are better than others. Randomly structured levels help replay, but only in a aesthetic sense.

Diablo 3's story, told through cinematics and NPC dialog, is solid. Most of an act's story is a lead into the inevitable boss fight. Needless to say, after your initial playthrough, the story is just a nuisance getting inbetween you and the demons. The story can be skipped, but I find it a hassle that the story and main quest line can never be deviated upon, you will be undertaking the same quests to defeat the same boss monsters each playthrough. The story is definitely a linear, although action packed, experience.

Diablo 3 offers a few unique features including a real money auction house and custom equipment/gem NPCs which need to be invested in. The auction house sits outside the game, some could say tacked on, which allows players to auction their surplus items to other players. The auction house is still being fixed and the real money feature has not yet been implemented. I could only imagine the hoopla if real money was mixed with a buggy implementation. Investment NPCs are a mixed bag too. The gem NPC Covetus Shen, excellently voiced by James Hong, is probably the most memorable character in the game.

Diablo 3 is really a mixed offering. It's a decent hack n' slash adventure and co-op gaming with friends is always fun. Plagued by initial release problems, Diablo 3 still has some major issues that need to be resolved. It's arguable if always being online has hurt Diablo 3 more than it has helped it. I think the auction house will end up being a forever troublesome problem for Blizzard. Eventually, after a series of large updates, the majority of problems will be solved and we will finally have a solid game.

 -Stay awhile and listen...