Category: Third-Person Shooter

The original Uncharted was, I believe, the very first game I bought for my PS3. The PS3’s launch was infamous for its lack of quality titles at the beginning (at least games you couldn’t get on the XBox as well), and this was the big ticket item to hold me over as I waited for Metal Gear Solid 4 to come out (the reason I bought a PS3 in the first place). It was a fun game. It was gorgeous and it allowed me to live out my childhood fantasy of being Indiana Jones (except with a different name and new friends), but the kill fest of endless waves of enemies got old as did the sloppy combat mechanics. However, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves remains one of my top games of this console generation. It obliterated the line between game and movie like nothing before it, and it never sacrificed fun to do so. That said, my expectations for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception were understandably high which is why it’s sad to say that in several key ways, the game is a step back for Sony’s premier franchise.

Unlike my Mass Effect 2 review (which required an obscene amount of context for newcomers to the story), the Uncharted games are fairly stand-alone. Nathan Drake is a world-scouring adventurer/treasure hunter on the look for the next big prize, and his best friend and mentor, Victor Sullivan, is never far behind. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception delves into Nate’s history as we embark on the quest that got him in the adventuring business in the first place, the quest to find the fabled “Atlantis of the Sands” which was how Nate and Sully met in the first place. Now, they’re up against an old nemesis, Katherine Marlowe, to beat her to finding this fabled city in the middle of the desert.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Uncharted 3 is the same mix of Tomb Raider style platforming and puzzle solving mixed with third-person shooting galleries that it’s always been. Broken up into chapters like they’re scenes from a movie (and let’s face it, the game is just an 8 hour movie that you happen to be playing), you take Nate and his various companions through one intricately designed set piece after another in search for the Atlantis of the Sands. Whether it’s an epic bar brawl to start things out, a harried escape from a burning 15th century French chateau, or a shoot-out on horseback in the middle of the desert, Uncharted 3 finds an endless supply of action-fueled sequences to get your blood flowing as you bring yourself closer to discover the secret of “Iram of the Desert.”

The series is considered one of the industry standard-bearers for graphical fidelity and Uncharted 3 is even more gorgeous than its predecessors. Though no game on this current console generation (and I doubt the next’s either) will pass the so-called “uncanny valley,” this game’s facial animations manage to nearly match L.A. Noire without making as many concessions in other graphical areas that game did. The environments are stunning which is par for the course for the series. What makes it impressive though is how the game often leaves its comfort zone which are usually lush jungles and forests and crypts. Those places make appearances, but Uncharted 3 has a much more urban feel (as well as desert) and it arguably sets a new bar for how to capture the look and feel of cities. This is without even getting into the huge strides forward the game made in movement animations (although ultimately, it did too well there and sacrificed gameplay to look better).

For the first time in series history, I actually think I’ll remember the story details of this game six months now. As much as I loved the first two games, I often felt like the stories were just excuses to have the player do incredible things. Instead, Uncharted 3 has a real emotional resonance. The characters grow in unexpected ways, and it usually feels like the gameplay and story are servicing each other equally (rather than one part taking over as is the case for most games). Add in that the game sets a new high-water mark for insane things that it has you do, and you’d have had a recipe for one of the greatest games of all time if it just played a little better.

Because sadly, the gunplay in this game is not up to snuff. The platforming is as great as always (although at times, it’s painfully obvious how you’re supposed to proceed) and although the game doesn’t have as many puzzles as I’ve come to expect from the franchise, the ones that are there are top-tier (especially a truly devious one involving casting a shadow on a wall to finish a mural). Unfortunately, the gunplay is more stiff than Keanu Reeves’ acting. There are newer, more realistic motion animations for Nate this time around which look astounding, but the gun reticle doesn’t move nearly as quickly as it should (and you have zero aiming assist. if you’re off by a centimeter, you miss). This results in far too many deaths that I felt were caused not by my lack of skill at the game but simply because it was throwing too many enemies at you and not giving you the proper tools to kill them efficiently.

The game has a multiplayer component, but I didn’t play any of it so I can’t comment on its quality. I’m glad it’s there though because no matter how phenomenal the eight hours in your game are, $60 remains a steep price to ask for a game with limited replay value in terms of its single-player campaign. Like the rest of the series, Uncharted 3 is an essentially linear experience with some variation here and there on how you attack the platforming or the combat scenarios. Still, if you get can past the less than commendable shooting, Uncharted 3 stands as one of the definitive cinematic game experiences of this console generation, and I can only imagine what Naughty Dog will be able to accomplish in the next console cycle.

Final Score: A-

(Quick aside before real review. It has been a long damn time since I’ve done a video game review. The last game I reviewed was (unless you count my failed attempted Review in Progress for Persona 4) back in October of last year and it was El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. Considering how anally I reviewed every bit of pop culture I consumed up until about two months ago when I finally pulled the cord on TV, this means I haven’t beaten a game since then. That’s sad. However, it’s par for the course for me because I have a bad history of not beating video games that I start. Especially RPGs [which are weirdly my favorite genre despite me rarely beating them)] because I just don’t have the attention span to stick with a game for 40-80 hours. I started this particularly playthrough of Mass Effect 2 on August 6th, and I put about 40 hours into the game. I’d beaten it before on the PC [more on that later and why this is strictly a review of the PS3 port] so I’m really surprised I actually stuck with it. Hopefully this is a sign of me actually maturing and being able to finish things I start. One can dream.)

I can remember in the old days of Game Informer that they used to post a separate review for each console’s version of a game. There were such vast differences between the PS2, XBox, and Gamecube that it was mandatory because the games simply weren’t going to be the same (and multi-console releases weren’t the overwhelming rule of the day at the time). They’ve stopped doing that and generally only include a minor aside saying whether one version of a game suffers in the porting. I bring this up first and foremost in my review of Bioware’s science fiction opus, Mass Effect 2, because having played the game both on the PC and the PS3, I can easily say that the PS3 version of the game is one of the worst port jobs that I’ve ever seen in my entire life to the point that it nearly ruined one of the greatest RPGs of this generation of gaming from the undisputed masters of the Western RPG.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise (or who were PS3 owners that didn’t have access to the first game when it was released only on the XBox 360 and PC), the Mass Effect universe is an intricately crafted and indescribably ambitious effort by Bioware to create an epic science fiction saga in the vein of Star Wars or the new Battlestar Galactica. Implementing player decisions over the course of three video games (the third was released this spring and was the impetus for me to go back and beat the second game on the PS3 since that was the system I bought the third game on for complicated reasons), Mass Effect is an experiment in maintaining player choice at a grand and meaningful scale over multiple titles, and it’s a huge success. Only one other game (Heavy Rain) has ever made me weigh all of my choices with so much painful attention or punch me in the gut so strongly with real consequences for the things I’ve done.

This game is like two and a half years old now so I’m not sure if it’s a huge spoiler to delve into some initial plot points. After stopping rogue Spectre Saren Arterius from destroying the seat of galactic government and his army of evil A.I. known as the Geth, Commander Shephard is “killed” when a ship from a race known as the Collectors destroys his vessel, the Normandy. Commander Shephard is brought back to life by the pro-human splinter group known as Cerberus and tasked by its leader, the Illusive Man (Martin fucking Sheen), with discovering the nature of the Collector threat to humanity as well as come up with proof that a race of sentient machines known as the Reapers are on their way to wipe out all of galactic civilization. The game is the second in a trilogy and focuses on your attempts to build a team to stop the combined Collector/Reaper threat.

If you can’t tell from the assorted screenshots gathered here, Mass Effect 2 is a gorgeous game. Although facial animations (even in gorgeous games like Final Fantasy XIII or Heavy Rain) will always be ruined for me now because of the phenomenal work in L.A. Noire, this game’s use of lighting and color is — dare I say it — cinematic in scope. The humans are impressive if not the most realistic in gaming (I’m now playing Uncharted 3 as a break between this and Mass Effect 3 and it’s really setting a bar for overall graphical fidelity) but boy do the alien species look amazing. Whether it’s the salamandar-esque Salarians, the more humanoid but just as amphibuous Drell, or the impossible to describe in animal terms Turiand and Krogan, all of the alien species pass the uncanny valley tests that the human characters sadly fail.

I also hope that the broad plot description above didn’t sound too dull or cliche. The Mass Effect franchise is famous for its mature and philosophical storytelling. Over the course of your nearly 40 hour adventure, you will be faced with choices where what is right and what is wrong is almost never clear. In the first game, you had to choose which one of two crew mates (one potentially being your lover) would have to die to save the galaxy. Here your decisions are just as tough. Do you kill a daughter because she refuses to live by the code set for her by her mother and Asari society (and also kills because she’s genetically coded to)? Do you convince a scientist that his role in sterilizing a species was wrong even though his actions clearly saved trillions of lives? Do you effectively brainwash and pacify a sentient machine race or destroy them? You face decisions like that the entire game.

There were many cries of “Foul!” when Mass Effect 2 was initially released because it toned down many of the RPG elements of the first game to instead make the sequel a choice-driven third person shooter with RPG elements. It was the right call. Combat in the game is smooth and satisfying, and you never feel like you lost a fight because of a poor roll of the dice (which was far too common in the original). The guns handle smoothly and with a healthy selection of powers, you have plenty of ways to attack a situation (though you may come to rely on a few key abilities). Your allies’ A.I. is competent (if not amazing) and the enemy does its best to flank and outmaneuver you although patience is as much the key to victory as twitch shooting ability. Getting rid of the horrid inventory system and the clunky shooting did not harm Mass Effect 2 in the slightest.

Not every aspect of the game (before I get into the porting issues) was perfect though. In order to get the best ending for the game (one where all of your teammates survive), you have to upgrade your ship. In order to purchase these upgrades, you have to farm materials through a boring and usually infuriating mini-game that continually slows down the momentum of the game. As wonderful as the individual stories are for the team members you acquire — which you deepen through loyalty missions and conversations between levels –, the actual main story is far more hit or miss. The Collectors and Reapers pose a grand existential threat to the universe, but the blandness of fighting a race of evil aliens as opposed to a clearly defined bad guy (like Saren in the first game) robs some of the impact and directness that the original’s plot had.

The game simply has one of the greatest casts in the medium. I put it in the same league as Final Fantasy X (which I think wins the title hands down) as well as games such as Persona 4 and the Metal Gear Solid universe. One of my biggest problems with the first game was that the main story was phenomenal but far too many of your crew mates felt poorly fleshed out. In Mass Effect 2, you should leave the game feeling as if you know Mordin, Tali, Thane, Jack, Miranda, or anyone else in your party as well as some of your less close friends in real life. They’ll make you laugh. They might make you cry (poor, poor Tali), and sometimes they’ll make you do both at the same time. You don’t know funny until you’ve seen a Salarian doing a modified bit of Gilbert & Sullivan. It’s comedy gold. How close you become to your supporting players really adds to the drama that any of them can die (for real and be therefore dead in Mass Effect 3) by the time the game closes.

Now with the real issues. The PS3 port is just a hot mess. Mostly, it can be inconsequential stuff like audio. Sentences will seemingly clip off mid-sentence (and if you don’t have the subtitles on, you’re fucked as far as knowing how the sentence ends). There will be no background noise during important cut-scenes. People’s lip-syncing will be obviously off. These don’t disrupt the gameplay itself, but it reminds you that you’re playing a game and not actually embarking on a grand science fiction quest. Other issues are more problematic. The framerate will drop to absurdly low levels. Enemies and players will clip through the environment. Occasionally the game will bug and keep you from finishing a mission and you have to reload. The texture pop-in is really bad (which might have been an issue on the PC too. I don’t remember). All in all, I noticed a million technical bugs on the PS3 that I just never encountered when I first beat the game on the PC.

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed games and I think I’ve lost my knack for it. It took me probably a year before I began to really feel proud of my movie reviews and it’s been nearly that long since I’ve touched games. Obviously, I have some work to do to improve. Thankfully, I’m going to make sure I keep practicing. If you have the chance to play the game on the PC or 360, you definitely should. Not only can you actually play the first game (instead of the interactive comic book at the beginning of this one on the PS3 to make key choices), but the game simply plays better. I would give the PC version of this game a 9.75. It’s as close to perfect as you can get without actually getting there. However, the Ps3 version of the game has enough flaws to at least partially lower the score but not enough to dissuade you from playing this phenomenal game if you don’t have another system to play it on.

Final Score: A-

I can remember the first time that I played Grand Theft Auto 3 with such vivid recollections that it’s almost like I’m back at my friend Barrett’s house in his basement and having my mind blown again and again by the revolution in gaming that game signified. While every entry since has improved upon the formula in major and significant ways to the point that replaying GTA 3 can almost seem like an antiquated experience, the basic thrill of exploring a wide open world at your own leisure and discretion hasn’t lost any of its charm in the ten years since GTA 3‘s release. There is only one flaw with creating such lavishly constructed worlds with such a wide variety of tasks to perform. Namely, it is far too easy for me to get distracted with all of the side-quests and exploration that I can forget to actually beat the main story of the game. I got Grand Theft Auto IV the day it was released back in my freshman year of college. I played it for literally dozens upon dozens of hours, but it wasn’t until now, nearly four years later, that I finally beat the game. I do not tread lightly when I say that Grand Theft Auto IV, upon its release, stood as one of the greatest video game experiences of all time, and four years later, age hasn’t diminished its power one bit.

Just like the previous entries in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV is an open-world action adventure game following the criminal exploits of a deadly protagonist. The series returns to Liberty City, the setting of GTA 3, but the city has grown massively and is now a picture perfect recreation of New York City in the early 2000’s. Much as in the past, the protagonist, in this game’s case Eastern European mercenary Niko Bellic, accepts missions from criminal contacts for cash as well as plot advancement. These generally fall into the kill all of these enemies, escort/protect this individual, or procure this car/item mission structures that are the bread and butter of the genre, although many missions are considerably more creative. With access to an arsenal of weaponry that would make a South American nation envious and the ability to steal/drive any of the seemingly endless vehicle varieties in Libert City, GTA IV gives the player a wide array of tools to either complete the story of spend dozens and dozens of hours causing havoc and mayhem in Libert City.

Whereas previous entries in the series were over the top parodies of the popular crime films of its particular era (GTA: Vice City = Scarface, San Andreas = Boyz N the Hood), GTA IV firmly cements itself closer to reality with a much more grounded and personal story. At the center of it all is the protagonist, Niko Bellic. Niko is one of the most well-rounded and fully developed characters this side of the Metal Gear Solid series and sets a new high-water mark for anti-hero protagonists. A jaded and broken veteran of the Serbian civil wars in the ’90’s, Niko is a man wanting to turn his back on his life of violence and despair but keeps finding himself pulled back into the fold to protect his cousin Roman whose gambling debts with mobsters keeps Niko knee-deep in trouble. Simultaneously, Niko has tasked himself with discovering the location of two former comrades in the military who may have had something to do with an incident where Niko’s entire squad is massacred. Through Niko’s regular recreational interactions with his friends in Liberty City, you get a compelling portrait of a man torn between loyalty to his family, his desire for revenge for his fallen teammates, and a simple thirst for the American Dream.

While the stories and settings of the previous games were always huge draws (San Andreas still has one of the largest and most populated game worlds I can think of), the actual gameplay of each GTA title could be a little weak. Specifically, gunplay was especially atrocious and nearly uncontrollable. Learning from such popular titles as Gears of War or Rainbow Six, Grand Theft Auto IV wisely introduces a polished cover system as well as improved auto-lock on which removes the annoying legacy issue of shooting a civilian instead of the bad guy firing at you. Additionally, cars control more realistically. So, while upper-level sports cars will allow you the level of speed and control that previous games have accustomed you too, cheaper cars are going to handle like cheaper cars. So, while you may decry the boat-like mobility of early vehicles, it will make you appreciate the later ease of control of end-game cars even more. Also, the game is chock-full of memorably constructed missions like a bank robbery straight out of Heat as well as some other large-scale missions that make GTA IV seem like your favorite blockbusters.

A Grand Theft Auto game wouldn’t be a GTA game without a seemingly endless supply of extra content to keep you busy and GTA IV is no disappointment. In addition to series staples like taxi driving and masquerading as a cop, you also get new missions like high-level assassinations, carjackings, drug running, and a myriad of other ways to keep you occupied in your lulls in the story. In addition to actual gameplay additions, the world itself is full of a million things to discover and analyze. There is a completely functional in-game internet with enough content for you to spend hours and hours just reading the hilarious web pages. Also, there are several TV channels with full-blown (and again hilarious) programs for you to watch and enjoy. Republican Space Rangers was a highlight. Also, you can hang out with your friends and engage in activities like darts, bowling, pool, and drinking as well as strip clubs and comedy shows.If you try and take in all that the game has to offer in one play through, you’re probably going to playing this game for months straight.

Grand Theft Auto games have never been the prettiest games to look at, and while GTA IV is a considerable step-up from its last-gen predecessors, it definitely hasn’t aged well in the four years since its release. However, it’s still a technical marvel. Liberty City is one of the meticulously constructed and well-designed environments in the history of gaming. From what I’ve read, it may be called Liberty City and it may be full of non-existent stores and brands, but it is also a practically perfect recreation of the Big Apple that many New York fans say is the truest recreation of their city they’ve ever seen. To add to that, the city is populated with a very large and bustling population that is constantly engaged in dynamic activity that makes it almost as much fun to people watch as it is to go around and kill random civilians. You’ll see them on cell-phones, having conversations, reading the news paper, and there’s so much diversity in the character models, that although you do see repeats, it is a much rarer occasion than in most games of this ilk. The only really glaring technical problem with the game is endemic to all Unreal enginge games and that’s texture pop-in.

I’m giving this game an A+, but that doesn’t mean its a perfect game. It simply means that it still stands all of these years later as one of the most ambitious and more importantly successful in its ambitions games that I’ve ever played. Sometimes, the checkpoint system can be extremely unforgiving and motorcycles, boats, and helicopters are all a bitch to maneuver, but that doesn’t stop the point that on the current generation of consoles, no game has managed to pull off the kind of storytelling and game play sophistication that GTA IV seemingly does with such ease. With easily one of the best leads in the history of video games and enough varied and polished game play to keep you more than interested throughout the entire adventure (plus online multiplayer to boot), GTA IV has a little something for everybody. A lot of people hated on the game for abandoning the the more over-the-top roots of previous entries and for Liberty City being smaller than San Andreas‘s world, but the sense of realism and emotional drama lends GTA IV so much of its power, and I’ll trade the meticulous attention to detail of Liberty City to the occasionally empty expanses of San Andreas any day. At the end of the day, this is the definition of must-own videogaming and it is a necessary addition to any serious gamer’s collection.

Final Score: A+