Video Game Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Action/Adventure/Platform
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 1, 2011

Past adventures of Nathan Drake, star of the Playstation 3’s best-selling Uncharted series, have taken him all over the world. The Amazon Rainforest, Tibet, Istanbul, Borneo, Nepal. The dude has been everywhere. With Uncharted 3, Drake can now scratch even more locations off his list, including an extended run in the Middle East.

Uncharted 3 begins with a massive bar-room brawl. Drake and his long-time pal (and mentor) Victor Sullivan (“Sully”) get caught up in a deal that quickly turns sour, forcing them to fight their way through dozens of enemies, complete with broken whiskey bottles and snapped pool sticks. This works as a tutorial of sorts, as it demonstrates the slightly modified combat system while throwing our heroes directly into action.

This is the core of Uncharted 3 — moments of intense action interspersed with cutscenes to help flesh out the story. The opening bar-room brawl is only the tip of the iceberg. This time around, the big adventure set-pieces include a dashing escape out of a rapidly burning building, frantic manuevering out of a sinking cruise ship, and an elongated trip through the stifling Rub’ al Khali Desert with no water to speak of anywhere. These exaggerated sequences are the biggest reason why most gamers have fallen in love with the series, and they do not disappoint in the trilogy’s conclusion.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

For those looking for a bit of back-story about Drake and Sully, you are in luck. The mysterious relationship of our favorite treasure hunters is elaborated on in a series of flashbacks, even allowing gamers to play as a teenage Drake. The overall story arc is still relatively simple, but fans of the series will be pleased with this further insight.

The Uncharted series has always featured a seamless transition between its platforming and third person shooter gameplay. Naughty Dog are known for their excellent platform skills, and Drake’s jumping from ledges to chandeliers to poles or whatever else he can grab onto is flawless in execution. The gunplay, however, remains a bit of a burden on the series.

Simply put, little has changed with the game’s combat system, so the same annoyances remain in place. The shooting system feels dated and rough around the edges, and there are a few too many set-pieces that rely heavily on long gunfights. The new addition of being able to throw back tossed grenades is a welcome one, but it does not excise the occasionally awkward shooting controls. Thankfully, the campaign is spaced out with good variety for the most part, making these moments a minor annoyance more than a burst of frustration.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Unfortunately, while Uncharted 3 boasts a beefy multiplayer mode, it requires an online pass ($9.99) to use it (unless you buy the game new). Outside of the co-op missions, I never really fell in love with the online features in this series, so I cannot justify spending an extra $9.99 on something I will not get maximum value for. If you are into the multiplayer aspects, you might be better off just buying this new.

Even though Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception still suffers from minor gameplay issues, the single player campaign is still a blast to play. This is as close as you’re going to get to a *good* Indiana Jones game, complete with outrageous action scenes that will make your heart race. This also may be the best-looking game I have seen yet in this current console generation, as the attention to graphical details is impeccable. If you have been following the series, you ought to do yourself a favor and finish the trilogy. I would consider it a toss-up between Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 2 as to which is the best, and both are absolutely worth playing.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: MLB 11: The Show [Playstation 3, 2011]

MLB 11: The Show [Playstation 3, 2011]

MLB 11: The Show
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA San Diego Studios
Release Date: March 8, 2011

One of the biggest reasons I bought a Playstation 3 last year (other than for Blu-ray and a handful of exclusives) was to finally be able to play MLB: The Show in its full-fledged glory. I had played the pint-sized PSP versions in years past and heartedly enjoyed them, but I knew its PS3 big brother would deliver all of that and more. It is rare that I buy new sports games, but I made sure to pick up MLB 11: The Show right before the actual season started.

This year’s edition boasts brand new analog controls, a huge change to the series and something that seemingly all sports games have been moving toward. For the most part, these analog controls work well. Pitching in particular feels more natural than ever before, and it’s about as close as you can get to actually throwing a baseball with a video game controller in your hand. The hitting and fielding controls take some time getting used to, especially the hitting, which has a steep learning curve that is bound to frustrate all but the most patient gamers. Still, even if you end up disliking the new controls, you can always revert back to the traditional style of gameplay. The allowance of a change in control schemes is just one of many, many tweakable options that MLB 11 provides.

MLB 11: The Show [Playstation 3, 2011]

Basically, this is a baseball simulator in video game form. While not entirely as in-depth as text-based PC titles such as Out of the Park Baseball, MLB 11 still offers detailed statistics, including several that are mainly only of interest to sabermetricians. This is a game that is catered toward hardcore baseball fans, although it remains accessible for the more casual as well.

Typically in sports games I spend most of my time building a franchise and watching it progress over the years. While MLB 11’s franchise mode is excellent and worthy of many gaming hours, I found myself playing Road to the Show more than anything else. In this mode, you create a player of any position and then work your way through the minors before hitting the big time. Along the way, you can train and build up your stats via in-game experiences. If you’re a hitter, you can gain more “XP” by not just getting base hits, but by working the pitch count and getting a strong at-bat out of the situation. This is similar for pitchers as well; getting an MVP-caliber hitter to single after a long at-bat is better for you than letting him do so on the first pitch. It’s a lot of fun watching your created player work his way up to the big leagues. Just like in reality, once you hit the big time you never want to go back.

MLB 11: The Show [Playstation 3, 2011]

I would be remiss if I did not mention MLB 11’s stunning presentational values. This is a gorgeous game, and it’s easily one of the most lifelike sports titles ever. Every player is modeled after their real-life counterparts, complete with accurate batting stances and pitching mechanics. The stadiums are simply beautiful, and the game really makes you feel as if you are there. The game’s announcing crew of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Eric Karros is solid for the most part, although their comments sometimes feel disjointed and a lack of chemistry is apparent.

For baseball in this generation of video games, you cannot do any better than MLB 11: The Show. While the game is not without its flaws — namely, the steep learning curve for hitting/fielding and an abundance of lengthy loading screens — it is still a great effort that will please any and all baseball fans. If this is your first time playing Sony’s franchise, you are in for a treat.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: November 30, 2010

Dead Nation is a top-down shoot ’em up game in which you play as one of two survivors in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Your goal is to survive through ten different levels while slaughtering countless zombies along the way. Early on, you are given basic weapons – a rifle with unlimited ammo, an SMG and a shotgun, to name a few. As you progress, you can obtain new weapons and also upgrade anything you get your hands on, including grenades and armor. This upgrading system is a great addition and adds some depth to what is otherwise standard shooting fare.

The game uses the analog sticks as its primary controls — the left stick is used to move, the right is used to aim. Unfortunately, where Dead Nation differs from other similar titles (Zombie Apocalypse immediately comes to mind) is that it requires the use of another button, R1, to shoot. This takes a little bit of time to get used to, and it never really feels natural. I’m not sure why the developers didn’t just allow the right stick to control aiming AND shooting.

Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation is a challenging game, and it has a tendency to get absurdly frustrating. Housemarque made bold claims before the game’s release date that this would have more on-screen zombies than any game ever made. While it is true that an impressive number of zombie hordes come out of nowhere (and the variety in enemies is equally strong), the game’s top-down view is sometimes too high up and distant to get a good view of all of them. There are occasional problems with straggler zombies coming out of nowhere and getting in cheap hits. The extended camera angles and generally dark atmosphere make it hard to see these loners. On higher difficulty levels, getting hit with these cheap shots can be a major problem.

Although Dead Nation is a solid single player game, it is best played co-op, especially on the higher difficulties. Housemarque put together a well-made zombie shooter, but the odd controls and occasional frustrating gameplay hold it back from being a step above the rest. I got the game on sale for $7.50, and that’s not a bad price. If you can find a similar deal, go for it, but otherwise I would hold off unless you are a big fan of all things zombie.

7/10

Video Game Review: LittleBigPlanet [Playstation 3, 2008]

LittleBigPlanet [Playstation 3, 2008]

LittleBigPlanet
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: October 27, 2008

Never before have I played a game that provides so many customization options and thrives almost entirely because of user-generated content.

LittleBigPlanet is a side-scrolling platformer that comes with eight themed worlds of pre-made levels, as well as a handful of unlockable mini-games. You control Sackboy (or Sackgirl/Sackperson, depending on your gender), a charming rag doll that can be decorated in any way imaginable. This is a common theme because nearly everything in the game can be edited. The ultimate goal in each level is to go from beginning to end, racking up points and finding sticker bubbles that can be used for further customization. All of the levels can be played with 1-4 players, both online and offline.

Although many of the game’s provided levels are imaginative and full of life, the platforming aspects aren’t really anything new. Sackboy only has three functions: running, jumping and using the action button (to grab onto objects, hit switches, etc.). The game uses three levels of depth on the 2D plane, meaning Sackboy can move from the foreground, middle and background while moving from left to right. While this is an interesting dynamic to basic platforming, the controls are a tad too touchy and therefore cause unnecessary problems with perception. There were many times when I would attempt to jump onto an object, only to have Sackboy go off to another plane and miss the jump altogether. I appreciate the depth provided by this feature, but it could have really been more polished.
LittleBigPlanet
LittleBigPlanet excels for one reason: its creative community. The game provides the option to create your own levels with a surprisingly in-depth yet easy-to-use system. Gamers have really taken this option and ran with it, as the online community has thousands of uploaded levels, many of which are absolutely brilliant. Some people have made truly innovative worlds of varying themes and difficulties. There are also countless fan-made homages and tributes to other games, everything from Super Mario to Dead Space to Fatal Frame. You name it, there is probably some sort of LittleBigPlanet version online. Seriously, this is where the game becomes worth its cost.

Don’t let LittleBigPlanet’s “cutesy” look deter you from giving it a shot. The “Play, Create, Share” idea works out very, very well here. Even though the platforming gameplay isn’t all that original, the sheer amount of customization and community output puts this on a whole ‘nother level. With more polished controls, I would be an even bigger fan of the game. I didn’t spend too much time creating levels simply because I prefer to play them instead, but if that’s your thing then feel free to bump up my rating even higher. I am eager to play LBP2 to see how much the sequel improved upon the original’s ideas.

LittleBigPlanet is very cheap these days, and if you have the option then make sure to pick up the Game of the Year Edition. This comes with additional levels (including an awesome series of Metal Gear Solid missions) and some clothing packs for Sackboy.

8/10


Video Game Review: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: August 31, 1996

It is easy to see why Crash Bandicoot caught on as the Playstation’s mascot in 1996. Crash was charming, quirky and charismatic, and he fell in line with other popular offbeat animal mascots at the time (Sonic the Hedgehog, Tasmanian Devil, etc.). His first game, aptly titled Crash Bandicoot, is a platforming adventure that is a hybrid of both 3D and 2D styles. The graphics are strictly 3D and hold up surprisingly well today, but the game plays more like a 2D platformer than anything else.

Crash has 32 levels set on three islands, and there are a good mix of styles as the game progresses. Some levels are traditional horizontal side-scrolling fare, whereas others have Crash moving vertically instead. Every now and then a different spin on these levels will appear. For instance, an early level has Crash running frantically toward the bottom of the screen while avoiding obstacles in order to outrun a giant boulder. This variety keeps things fresh from beginning to end.

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

For the most part, the gameplay is fairly formulaic. Each level has enemies and crates scattered throughout. Enemies can kill Crash in one hit (unless he is powered by the popular Aku Aku character), although they can be taken care of either by performing a carefully timed spin attack or by simply jumping on them. The crates bear helpful items, including fruits (collect 100 for an extra life) and extra life tokens. Pretty basic stuff, but it works.

Crash Bandicoot has two glaring problems that hold it back from potential greatness. 1) The save system is royally fucked. In order to save your progress, you have to find three unique items in a level and then finish a brief bonus round, some of which can be tricky to complete. This is a very off-kilter system, and it is not very effective. Crash is not an easy game, and it is possible to complete 2-3 levels, die, and then have to start right back from square one because you missed out on the bonus round. It’s amazing that someone thought this was a good idea. 2) The controls are so finicky that they can cause cheap deaths, and this happens far too often. Since the game can only be played using the D-Pad, this setup is far from optimal. Thankfully this would be rectified in future games.

Even with these two weaknesses, Crash Bandicoot is definitely enjoyable. There may be times when you will want to smash your controller, but the game has such a fun atmosphere that it’s hard to stay mad at it for long. This is an admirable first effort for a once-great franchise.

7/10

Video Game Review: Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 20, 1999

Back in 1999, Crash Bandicoot was still reigning supreme as the Playstation’s mascot. Looking to branch out from the series’ standard platforming games, developer Naughty Dog released Crash Team Racing, a kart racing spinoff very similar to Mario Kart. If you have played a kart racing game before, then you have a good idea of what to expect with CTR. The controls are largely the same and are very simple — the buttons for accelerating, using powerups and the “hop” function are all you really need to know (power sliding is key). The powerups are standard fare — there are speed boosts, rockets that take out the leader, TNT boxes that are dropped immediately behind you, etc. There really is not a lot in the way of originality, but this is not an issue simply because CTR is so well-polished. Naughty Dog took the best elements of previous games in the genre and molded them together to make something that truly stands out on its own.

When I think of kart racing games, I immediately think of multiplayer. Playing split-screen with friends is usually the best way to go with these types of games, and while CTR offers plenty of fun via its battle and versus modes, it really excels in its single player adventure mode. This feature has an absurd amount of depth. You select a character from the world of Crash Bandicoot (Coco, Neo Cortex, Tiny, etc.) and then proceed to race in a variety of worlds while battling bosses along the way. You are given free reign in an open world in which you drive to whatever race you want to participate in. Once you have completed a course’s standard race, new options open up that bring additional replay value to the game: Relic Races and CTR Challenges. The former option requires you to race the track alone in the fastest time possible while smashing crates that temporarily stop time. The latter option puts you in a standard race, but your goal is to find the hidden C-T-R letters while still finishing in first place. Beating all three styles of races for each course provides you with gems/emblems that open up more levels. It really is a lot of fun going through each course while trying to get 100% completion.

Although the graphics shows its age, CTR is still one of the better-looking games from its era. Its kart racing formula is timeless, and even though it is not original in the slightest, it is still a blast to play. In fact, CTR is one of the most well-rounded kart racers I have ever played. I liked this game a lot when I was younger, and I still enjoy it to this day. If you are looking for a simple racing game with surprising depth, I highly recommend Crash Team Racing. You can’t beat its $6 price tag on the Playstation Network either.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [Playstation 3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune [PS3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 16, 2007

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a hybrid action/platforming game that plays out as if it were a summer blockbuster movie. High production values, top-notch voice acting, over-the-top cinematics — its got it all. The game has a similar storyline to Indiana Jones movies and Dirk Pitt novels. You play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who claims to be a descendant of English explorer Sir Francis Drake. Nathan is on a quest to find the famed artifact known as El Dorado, a giant golden idol hidden somewhere deep in the jungle. As any good fortune-hunting movie would have, Drake is accompanied at times by two supporting characters: Victor Sullivan, a grizzled cigar-chomping veteran who has a penchant for telling old travel stories, and Elena Fisher, a snarky reporter trying to land her next big news story. The plotline is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it is entertaining enough, especially since it is aided by some strong fleshed-out characters.

As mentioned earlier, Uncharted is a combination of an action/shooting game and a platformer. Since the game was created by Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter), the platforming sections are designed rather well. While some platforming games get beyond frustrating due to touchy controls and mistimed jumps, Uncharted really excels in that department. Nathan is able to make some pretty incredible jumps, and the game is more forgiving when you are off by just a little bit since it usually allows him to desperately cling to the edge and pull himself up. The platforming areas are genuinely fun, as Nate traverses some large rooms by jumping along the walls, using vines, ledges, chandeliers and whatever else he can land on.

The combat, however, is where the game could use some work. The main enemies are pirates who are racing to get the treasure first, and they are all over the freakin’ place. The enemies themselves are not the problem, although some more variety would have been nice. I was more disappointed with the actual shooting aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I emptied a dozen rounds of an AK-47 into a pirate just to see him stumble around like he was drunk. Really, it should not take more than a few shots to down an enemy. Not a huge problem, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

Where Uncharted really excels is in its presentation. It is no exaggeration when I say that this game truly feels like you are playing a movie, and it is helped greatly by its impressive visuals. Even for a relatively early PS3 title, Uncharted’s graphics are stunning. The jungle comes alive with lush green colors, the animations are virtually perfect, and the attention to detail is just remarkable. One neat aspect that stood out to me: if you end up in the water, Drake will emerge with his clothes soaking wet. Cutscenes are interchangeable from the regular graphics, as the same engine is used for both. Throw in a strong musical score and high-quality voice acting and you have a memorable experience.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is simply a blast from beginning to end, even with the occasional repetitive combat and agitating shooting mechanics. You are going to have to suspend disbelief with this one — which shouldn’t be a problem if you enjoy Indiana Jones at all — because Nathan Drake does a lot of things a normal guy couldn’t do. But hey, this is a video game, and playing games is all about having a good time. Uncharted is a fun ride and doesn’t require much thinking, just like a good summer blockbuster movie. I greatly enjoyed playing through the game, and I can’t wait to play its allegedly even better sequel.

8/10

God of War III [Playstation 3, 2010]

God of War III [2010]

God of War III
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 16, 2010

God of War III is the grand finale to Sony’s hack ‘n slash trilogy, and it is the first venture using the PS3 and all of its technical prowess. GOW3 makes full use of its new system — this is easily one of the best-looking video games I have ever seen! It really is quite amazing to play through this trilogy in order, just to see how much it has improved over time, especially in the graphics department. The attention to detail is phenomenal. There were times when I was watching a cutscene in the game, didn’t realize the scene was over, and stood there for a good minute before realizing that I was now in control. Seriously, this game looks THAT good. Kratos has never looked meaner, and the violence is gorier than ever before.

As always, God of War III opens with a huge fucking bang. Picking up right after the second game’s cliffhanger ending, GOW3 starts with Kratos climbing up Mount Olympus in order to slay Zeus. This introduction is just unbelievable, as Kratos is fighting off enemies while riding on top of the giant Gaia, who in turn is slowly climbing up the mountain. Throw in a massive boss battle during this opening segment, and it rivals the insane boss fight with Colossus that opened GOW2. The game doesn’t let up from this point either. There are epic bosses all over the place, including another batshit crazy battle against a Titan.

The core gameplay remains the same other than some small tweaks to the presentation. A handful of new weapons are introduced, including the ever-brutal Cestus which is acquired from one-tough-mother of a boss. The puzzles this time around are improved, and do not feel as out of place as the ones found in previous games occasionally did. Kratos’s journey is full of action and literally takes him into the depths of Hell.

If I were to have a complaint about the game, it’s that this is the shortest entry in the series. I finished the game in just over 8 hours, which is less than I spent playing the first two games. Still, I can’t complain too much because the overall experience was just amazing. This is a game that I am proud to have in my collection, and it is one that I plan on replaying at some point in the future.

Sony really went all out with God of War III (even going so far as to have Kevin F’N Sorbo do the voice of Hercules), and the result is that this is one of the best games of 2010. If this really is the end of the trilogy, GOW3 is one hell of a note to go out on. Simply an excellent game from beginning to end. Highly, highly recommended!

9.5/10

God of War II [Playstation 2, 2007]

God of War II

God of War II
System: Playstaton 2
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 13, 2007

WOW, now THIS is how you do a sequel! God of War II takes everything from its predecessor and increases it tenfold. After conquering Atlas in the first game, Kratos has taken over as the new God of War. Kratos’s bloodthirsty ways have not been kindly looked upon by the other gods, and the almighty Zeus has finally had enough and strips Kratos of his power. Now a down-and-broken man, Kratos sets off on the ultimate quest: to murder Zeus. A lofty task, to be sure, and the journey along the way is nothing short of incredible.

The original God of War is a great-looking game, but GOW2 is just beautiful (well, as beautiful as gory non-stop violence can be). The textures have been cleaned up admirably, and everything looks sharper as a whole. While I was impressed with the original GOW’s visuals, this is easily one of the best-looking games ever created for the PS2.

The game’s mechanics are largely the same. This is still a prominent hack ‘n slash brawler with platforming, puzzle and RPG elements. There are a handful of new traits that Kratos can acquire, such as the ability to glide and to fly atop the famed horse Pegasus, but the same principles remain. One of my biggest concerns with God of War was its lack of boss battles. This issue has been dramatically improved in GOW2. At the very beginning of the game, you are inserted into an epic battle against the massive Colossus, a boss fight that was forever immortalized by Penny Arcade. Boss battles are everywhere in this game, and some of them rank among the most memorable fights I have ever experienced in a video game. Some people complained about the first God of War’s length (about 8-10 hours). This has also been improved in GOW2, as now a typical campaign will last closer to 12+ hours. These enhancements really show that SCE Santa Monica listened to their fanbase, and you have to respect that.

God of War 2 has accomplished what sequels should do in the first place, and that is to improve upon as many aspects as possible. While I hesitate to say the game is “perfect” (there are still occasional camera issues, and some of the puzzles are absolutely frustrating), I would still consider GOW2 one of the best action/adventure games I have ever played, and it is easily among the best in the PS2’s gigantic library. Highly, highly recommended!

9/10

Um Jammer Lammy [Playstation, 1999]

Um Jammer Lammy [PSX]

Um Jammer Lammy
System: Playstaton
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: July 31, 1999

Um Jammer Lammy is a musical/rhythm game that is a spiritual successor to the popular PaRappa The Rapper. This time around, however, instead of rapping, you control a guitar-playing female lamb. Uh, yeah, and she just so happens to be in paper-thin 2D, just like the rest of the game’s characters. The game possess a unique style, this is for sure, and its storyline is even more bizarre. The main character, Lammy, is running late for a gig for her band, Milkcan. Along the way to the show, she continually gets interrupted and has to perform a number of amazing feats with her guitar. She puts out fires, delivers babies, and flies a plane, just to name a few examples. All of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it definitely adds to the game’s unending charm.

As for the gameplay itself, there are seven levels to go through. The stages are played by pressing buttons in conjunction with the rhythm of the songs. Easy mode lets you press any button you want, but normal mode requires using specific buttons. Some of these songs get awfully complex, whereas others resort to button-mashing (the pregnancy level is notorious for this with its “ma ma ma ma ma ma ma”). Thankfully there is room for improvisation, which is especially helpful for those who struggle at these types of games. Um Jammer Lammy can get pretty difficult, but the songs are catchy and the rewards for beating the game are worth it. Completing the game on solo mode unlocks the option to play as PaRappa and a new character, Rammy. There is also the possibility of co-op play, which adds to the replay value.

Um Jammer Lammy is challenging, and it has the ability to easily frustrate gamers, especially since sometimes its button-pressing recognition seems a little off-kilter. However, there is still a lot of entertainment to be had here, and there is a surprising amount of replay value despite only having seven stages. If you like rhythm games and have a knack for the weird, you will enjoy Um Jammer Lammy.

7/10