Uncharted Collection: An Absolute Must Play

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

I sometimes feel silly reviewing these older games, especially when they’ve long been heralded as amazing and I was simply too oblivious or stupid not to try them when they came out. Even though the first game came out nine years ago, let me tell you now that it’s never too late to play these games — especially since they’ve been remastered and the newest game just came out.

I’m going to approach reviewing Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection by giving my brief thoughts on teach of the games, and my overall thoughts on the series so far.

Uncharted PS3 vs. PS4

Remastered for the PS4

Part of me rejoices in the fact that I waited so long, because playing all of them on one disc in the PS4 in HD looks a heck of a lot better than it would have back on the PS3. The graphics for all three games look great. I was telling Graev (who played them all originally when they came out) that if I didn’t know the original game came out in 2007, I would have pegged it more around 2012’ish. The graphics in Drake’s Deception are as good as many games released today on the PS4.

Drake' Fortune

Drake’s Fortune

The first in the series kicks things off strong by tickling that treasure hunter itch. You’re the descendent of Sir Francis Drake (one of my favorite historical figures since I was 7, btw) looking for his long lost treasure. This starts you down a journey that continues to unfold throughout the rest of the series.

Drake’s Fortune features a lot of puzzle solving, jumping puzzles/navigation scenes, but most of all lots of shooting scenes. Back in 2007, the cover mechanics and climbing would have been really quite a feat and were probably pioneered through this game. The story is intriguing, though definitely takes an Indiana Jones turn when it goes a bit sci-fi — a turn that manifests itself in many ways throughout the series.

Overall a very catch story that sucked me in right away.

Among Thieves

Among Thieves

The story continues, sort of. This time Drake is in a new setting. Instead of islands and pirate ships, Drake is navigating the snowy Himalayas and Asia while following the trail of Marco Polo. Unfortunately, there’s very little connection at all to the first game’s plot except for the characters and their relationships. These relationships, however, are a huge element of the game for me and kept me going.

Among Thieves featured waaaaay more puzzles and climbing with relatively less shooting than the original. The story was slightly less intriguing because my interest in Marco Polo’s adventures pales in comparison to Sir Francis Drake. Once again the series takes on a mystical plot twist that I actually feel is sometimes at odds with the rest of the game. Uncharted 2 had a weird resolution for me. With so much build up, I feel like it ends relatively short of the huge story it built up.

Drake's Deception

Drake’s Deception

Easily the best in the series so far, Drake’s Deception brings us back to the story of Nathan Drake’s ancestor and more about the treasure we may find at the end of this long adventure. We see a change of scenery once again. In fact, we see lots of scenery changes in Uncharted 3. The game begins in London and travels all over from France to Yemen to the Rub’ al Khali desert.

Uncharted 3 introduces a lot more fist fighting and a heck of a lot more emphasis on sneaky gameplay. There’s also a lot of quick time events which make for more cinematic gameplay, but aren’t necessarily my cup of tea. Gameplay overall finds a very healthy balance between puzzles, climbing scenes, and fighting. By the end, I did wish for more puzzles. Thankfully the mystical nature here ends up working a little bit better than Uncharted 2, but it still resolves too quickly to have built up for so long.

Uncharted 3 has so many breathtaking moments where the gameplay had me on the edge of my seat. Bri (who is watching me play the entire series) and I would often be like “OH CRAP!” and all sorts of exclamations at scenes where the game threw me into these perilous intense moments that somehow manages to transcend the feeling of a game. It’s crazy what they’re able to enact on the player; On more than one occasion I was awestruck by how the game was so fluid and seamless in its ability to make me feel like I was doing all of these amazing things on my own, when in reality I know that’s the course they meant for me to take.

An Amazing Journey

Playing all three games back to back in less than a month was a blast, and now I’m ready to start the newly released Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (look for my review in a couple weeks tops). Uncharted is now among the top games on my all-time favorites list, right up there with Warcraft RTS and Assassin’s Creed.

The shooting, sneaking, climbing, jumping, cinematics, etc., all of the mechanics are all superb, and only a few times was I ever frustrated by the actual ‘playing’ part of the game. The story is top notch, yet predictable at times; Yet in its predictability it still manages to be told extremely well. All-around a near-perfect series. If you like shooters mixed with historical fiction, a little mysticism/scifi, and and puzzles… don’t make the same mistake I did by passing on these for so long. All 3 games with PS4 graphics at half the price of ONE game? Yeah, that’s a no-brainer.

TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan Review

Mutants in Manhattan Review

Graev and I have been TMNT fans since we were little tykes running around with plastic swords wailing on each other. We loved TMNT on the NES back in 89, Turtles on Time back in 91, and a few of the other games in the 92-93 years. But since those days the Turtles have had a rough go of things, and unfortunately that doesn’t really change with Mutants in Manhattan.

Reviews across the web have been pretty harsh. Graev and I both bought Mutants in Manhattan well before waiting to se what the scores would be, so we were a bit leery that we may have — in the words of Gob — made a huge mistake. Luckily things didn’t turn out quite so bad, but they’re still a long ways from great.

Mutants in Manhattan is developed by Platinum Games who brought us other titles like Bayonetta, Star Fox Zero, and the (hopefully) soon to release Scalebound. Pretty good lineup. Mutants in Manhattan (MiM from hereon out that’s just too many syllables) is a beat’em-up game similar to most TMNT titles. Art style is fantastic, animations are great, combat is excellent (if not a little repetitive), etc. Where the game falls completely flat is in its execution of story and flow.

TMNT Mutants in Manhattan Combat and Boss Fights

There really isn’t a story worth commenting on, as the narrative is completely nonexistent and skips around in an almost incomprehensible way. Levels are loosely based around completing randomized/serializes objectives such as beat up the foot, deliver the stolen cash, diffuse the bombs, or find the sewer hole. These little “side quests” become so mundane and linked together that it’s almost mind-numbing. But the have to be done because doing them spawns the boss of the level which is the only way to progress.

Boss fights are well done. Once you get the hang of each boss’ mechanics, the idea of having to eliminate 4-10 health bars isn’t so bad. All of your favorite bosses and then some are there.

As I mentioned earlier, combat is solid. For a beat’em-up style it has all of the combos I’m looking for, and even some multiplayer combos as well as special abilities to unlock. Each turtle feels appropriate to their fighting style.

I wish that the world was more open like a GTA game, and that I could just be a Turtle roaming the city stopping bad guys while following a cohesive story. That would have been a lot better than the fairly dead and lifeless world they toss you into.

Graev and I both agree that the game is fun enough to play together (co-op works great) and beat up some Foot. Go into expecting a whole lot more and you’ll be disappointed. Thankfully the game isn’t quite full price (Find it on Amazon and all over in the 40’s). Maybe this is a compliment… it’s the best Turtles game in a long time. I know that’s not saying much, but maybe a step in the right direction.

Overwatch: Proof Blizzard Can Sell Anything

My review and thoughts on Overwatch will be straight forward and to the point as many or most of you likely already own the game. Overwatch is a rather generic and mediocre shooter when you strip away the Blizzard logo and look at it critically for what it really is. If this were released as a brand new IP from an unknown company, Overwatch would have gone relatively unknown and stood no chance against its competition in the space; In fact I have a feeling most would have knocked it hard for its shortcomings.

Overwatch is a straight copy of TF2 from character mechanics to game modes and even down to the zany nature of its characters personalities. They innovated some on certain abilities and attacks, tossed in more characters, but left it very vanilla after that.

There’s not much to Overwatch, and unfortunately little room to evolve the model. I’m sure they’ll add hats and gimmicks to the cash shop over the years to keep things fresh. That should work.

Team composition matters too much — probably the only legitimate comparison to a moba that I’ll allow. Have a poor team comp and you’re done. There’s also too much cheese. For example, stack a bunch of Toblerones and it breaks certain maps. Certain heroes have abilities which just aren’t balanced — and no, I don’t count having to swap heroes to take them out as balance. I had this discussion with Graev tonight about playing what you want to play vs playing what you have to play or are compelled to play. I like Hanzo the most, but I simply can’t play him when the enemy team comp won’t allow it or my team refuses to play a comp that stands a chance. If you’re on a team where everyone only picks the one hero they love to play, you’re doomed.

Summary:
People aren’t going to stick with Overwatch long, but they’ll get their money’s worth (the single biggest positive influence on my scoring). Overwatch is a ‘good’ game, but it simply rehashes what has already been seen and done before. If you look past the rage-inducing balance issues, cheese, team stacking, and overly formulaic design, chances are you’ll have a blast.

Minecraft Wii U Edition & Mario Mash-up Pack

Minecraft Wii U Edition

Graev and I picked up Minecraft for Wii U over the weekend along with the newly released Mario Mash-up pack. That pretty much explains where my entire weekend went. The digital version is available for $29.99 on the eShop, and the physical version comes out June 17.

As a veteran to Minecraft, I’ve played a lot of what the PC has to offer. Graev is a purist and refuses to touch mods — he wants nothing to do with them, and says if he wanted something more complex then he would go and play Space Engineers. I haven’t played basic MC in years. I love Feed the Beast, Sky Factory, Tekkit, and all of the mods bundled with them. Minecraft on the Wii U is about as vanilla as it gets, sitting around v1.6.4.

Getting used to Vanilla MC again took me a little bit. I struggled to cope with going from wood to stone to iron, and there being no copper or tin in between. The resources are a fraction of what’s available. Nevertheless, these aren’t things I feel that I should ding the game for since I went outside the game to mod my experience on my own. After a few hours, I finally started to come around to what was available and began to realize there’s still potential to “make cool things that do things” (which is what I like to do in Minecraft), they’ll just take a lot more imagination and be a lot rougher.

My biggest gripe about the game is the lack of gamepad utility. It’s simply a duplicate if what you see on the screen. Huge opportunity missed here for easier inventory management or even gameplay like tapping blocks and placing blocks.

We got multiplayer up and running flawlessly in seconds. Minecraft Wii U edition comes with several texture packs, including the Mario Mash-up one which transforms a lot of blocks into Mario-themed goodies. Sheeps are Koopa Troopas on all fours, Zombies are Koopa Troopas, chickens are Goombas, plants are the Mario plants, flint and steel are the fire flower, etc. The music is also swapped out for all Mario music. It’s a TON of fun. More to come on this version soon.

Lots of other DLC packs and texture packs from with the Wii U version, but there are plenty of other bits of DLC for sale. The Skyrim pack, for example, costs $3.99 and the Star Wars Rebels skin pack is like $2.99.

Last night my wife and I also started our own split-screen world together. She’s never played Minecraft, but quickly started getting the hang of how it works. The hardest part for her is managing the controller. Two sticks at once in a 3D environment was a first for her, but she’s getting the hang of it. We made a little base underground, started mining, and getting the basics all set up.

I’m trying to figure out how to stream from my couch which is across the room from my computer. I think I’ll jerry-rig the laptop to try and stream through my Avermedia Live Gamer Portable. Should hopefully work, and I’ll be able to stream my awful vanilla MC noobiness.

Overall, tons of fun. I think 10 hours was gone in a second. I definitely recommend it for people like myself who enjoy variations on a game like Minecraft and won’t baulk at buying a game you already own on PC in order to experience it differently on a console. And of course the kids will love it too. I also enjoy the Mario goodies on the new Mash-up, and highly recommend you choose that texture pack when creating your world.

I’ll call this an early review, but I intend on showcasing the game more and talking more about the Mario texture pack once I have more experience with the game.

Kingdom Hearts Unchained X

Kingdom Hearts Unchained X

Kingdom Hearts Unchained X released in North America this past week for iOS and Android. Unchained X reveals the origins of Kingdom Hearts, taking place before any of the other games in the series. Unchained X’s story will connect to the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III game.

You are a Keyblade wielder — one of many — on a quest to rid the world of Darkness and fight with your Union over control of the remaining light.When you start the game you get to choose a Union. This Union is your faction of Keyblade wielders and each week your points are tallied to see which Union wins. There’s a neat multiplayer element to KH Unchained X where you get to fight raid bosses with members of your union, though it’s not truly playing with others in real time.

The presentation is in the form of a fairy tale. In the very beginning (while the game is downloading a good amount) you are presented a fairy tell in popup book format. Kairi’s Grandmother is telling her a favorite story from the past (the story you’re going to be playing) about how the whole thing got started.

KH Uchained X is free to play. The cash shop doesn’t appear to be too invasive. I’m not super far into the game by any means, but from what I can see it all appears to be cosmetic/”I want to be in the top 100 players” kind of stuff. It  doesn’t appear necessary for the story gameplay at all. Medals can be purchased with in-game currency in a form of random packs, and I feel like the game gives you plenty of in-game currency to avoid needing to spend money.

Gameplay happens in “quests” or missions. So far they seem pretty quick, taking no more than a couple of minutes to complete. These missions involve a main objective like killing a particular encounter. Combat is handled well. Tap the screen to attack, swipe to area attack, and drag medals off of your Keyblade to use abilities. Combat in general is somewhat turn-based. Each action you take rotates the medals in your Keyblade. When the enemy’s action comes around, they take a move. So you’re trying to utilize your actions knowing that the enemy’s action is likely to come around soon.

Customization is pretty good too. You’ll get to slot the medals you want, customize our character’s looks/outfit, and level things up with a bit of choice as to what you combine. Overall, a decent system. It’s like a mix of Days and CoM.

Kingdom Hearts Unchained X comes across very well on mobile devices. The story telling methods they use work for both mobile and the KH narrative. There are plenty of familiar faces, lots of Disney which is great, and the feeling of Kingdom Hearts is all there. The price is right, and KHUx is one of the most ‘complete’ feeling mobile games I’ve played.