Monday, 19 December 2016

The thieving end of uncharted tombs

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

To be completely honest I've never really been that into the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog's PlayStation exclusive brand of extremely Tomb Raider inspired action adventures. Admittedly the only releases I've tested in the series is the very first game and the PS Vita version. Having recently won a ton of swag from a PlayStation competition I was lucky to receive a promotion copy of Uncharted 4 alongside a neat steelbook cover. I was destined to finally play Nathan Drake's latest adventure. So with Lara Croft's latest Rise Of The Tomb Raider expedition fresh in my memory, how does this uncharted adventure stack up?

Luckily for me UC4's story spans between Nathan's childhood, his years before the PS3 trilogy and after. As such, it's story stands quite well on it's own without prior knowledge to the series. The main part of the game is before and after the original trilogy, but the flashbacks to his orphan childhood are a welcome change of pace and well crafted ones at that. They're atmospheric, character building chapters if you like. The game is mostly about Nathan's relationship with his old brother Sam. The voice-overs and general dialogue between these two siblings is extremely well done. Probably one of the most natural dialogues I've heard in games and the sublime animation of movement and facial expressions combined with them, result in an extremely high level of quality to the story.

Gameplay in Uncharted is pretty straight forward, and reminds me somewhat of the previous Tomb Raider reboot franchise as such (Legend, Anniversary & Underworld). Quite a close resemblance of Tomb Raider Legend rather than the new TR franchise in fact, with it's more linear exploring. Areas are corridor designed, but fairly wide and offer some small choices of routes. Combat largely rewards stealth as an alternative, while the actual shooting becomes quite a challenge when the guards are alerted. The AI works deviously at outflanking you, giving most shooter fans a good challenge, though I feel the actual gameplay of the combat is a little floaty. I suspect a sort of input lag here making them so.

I would have preferred tighter shooting mechanics and more feedback as to when you're hitting people. It often makes the firefights an annoying affair with the AI being so aggressive yet your controls not being up to par for fast reactions. If this was intentional to make it harder or not is difficult to say. I would also have liked some areas to be inhabited by wild animals rather than constant killing of random mercenaries. We have seen these same boring mercenaries in so many games now, enough already!

Visually the game is jawdropping. Each level almost surpassing the previous one with incredible detail and visual effects. I've seldom seen jungles, caves and ancient fallen cities so pretty before! The sheer amount of foliage surpasses most other games too, tons of leaves, grass and plants everywhere. If comparisons are to made, then yes, Uncharted 4 looks, directly compared, prettier than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Offering even some huge open views of landscapes to rival Lara's latest.

However, it's a far more restrictive world, with none of the freedom ROTTR boasts. Uncharted 4 is a beautiful walk from A to B, while ROTTR offers a Metroid-like structure with a large free-roaming design. I much prefer the latter as it lets you find new equipment and traverse areas that were previously closed. I like familiarising myself with environments rather than simply passing through them as visual backdrops like in UC4. Both are pretty games and do each their visual appearance beautifully, but UC4 quickly feels restricted when it comes to it's linear path structure.

There's no denying that I really enjoyed my playthrough, and perhaps my most memorable moments where the times the game dared to open up it's levels a little and left me exploring rather than engaging tedious firefights. Of the many breathtaking locations the level where you traverse mountains in a jeep or islands with a boat spring to mind as especially great and less linear structured. The gunplay left a flat feeling though, and while the AI made the battles challenging, the actual gameplay left me wanting something better.

Uncharted 4 is one of PS4's finest offerings, though for me that often means graphics pushed before gameplay sadly. Previous to Rise of the Tomb Raider arriving on the PS4 recently, I'd say this was your best bet for a great action adventure on PS4. ROTTR though, is the better game all in all, and should definitely be prioritized before UC4. Some differences of opinions here, I'm sure, and it will depend on your taste and previous experience with either franchise for many. ROTTR feels in it's aftermath a more memorable playthrough from last year, while UC4 although played more recent, blurs into a more forgettable experience altogether. Absolutely a recommended buy for your PS4 collection if you've played ROTTR already and like I've said many times already; stunning and cinematic visuals!



    + Plus points

    • Absolutely stunning graphics.
    • Fantastic dialogues and voice acting.
    • Amazing scenery locations and variation.

    - Minus points

    • Very linear A to B structure, the player is hevily guided through the game.
    • Gunplay isn't as polished or fun as it should be considering the many firefights.
    • More freedom would have been nice with open ended locations.

    Tuesday, 13 December 2016

    Overstressed chefs, burning stoves and tomatoes on the floor


    Platform tested: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

    "Send me the damn salad, a clean plate and let me serve this bloody burger before the time runs out!!"

    You would imagine that four stressed chefs in a kitchen screaming at each other while chopping up endless tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, with dish washing and serving in between, sounds like something you'd avoid to do for fun. Well not in Overcooked! It's probably one of the best local multiplayer games I've played in years, if not ever!

    I had absolutely no knowledge of this game prior to a showing at E3 this year. Watching the preview build I realised this was going to be on my watchlist. Released in late July this year, I went out and bought it. It took the wife and me about 10 minutes and we were glued to the telly for hours. We played the game on each of our profiles for the PlayStation 4, then went and bought the Xbox One version and did the same. Addictive you say?! Alarmingly so!

    Overcooked's premise is simple, the day of "peckining" has arrived and you must feed a a huge spaghetti monster tons of food. The problem is you need to cook and prepare it before serving. Something that requires skill. After the first level, which you are doomed to fail as default, sends you back in time to 1993. Here you are taught how to become an excellent chef through lots of levels with increasing difficulty to give you enough cooking skills to beat the monster. Sounds crazy?! Well that sets the mood for the game perfectly!

    Each player controls their own little chef. There's an action button which lets you chop, pick up plates or wash dishes, and there's a running boost button. This simplistic controller layout takes newcomers only a few seconds to learn, making it an instant pick-up-and-play game for any gathering of friends. Regardless of their skills to gaming in general, it could even serve as a cool party game!

    The orders will fly in, and all the chefs must work together to get each meal out in time. Doing so will give bonus points for the fastest delivery. Each level completed will give you a star rating from 1 to 3, collecting stars unlocks new levels and so on. A familiar structure as such. Every level is a new kind of kitchen layout with obstacles such as ice floors, moving furniture or separated areas where you'll have to pass ingredients and cooked food back and forth between players to fully prepare one order. It's a simple premise, but it gradually opens up a lot of variation and difficulty. Almost every level requires a new type of strategy and collaboration between players, resulting in som manic shouting as you play.

    To nitpick on some smaller things though, I would have preferred a more catered for singleplayer experience. It's a tedious and confusing swapping of two characters when you play alone and actually a quite bad game to play this way. It's a game built for multiple players and the collaboration, which is sadly lost on your own. I would also have liked to see some sort of quick game generator, allowing for randomised levels. This way, the game could have extended beyond the campaign map, helping it from going stale once you've played all the maps over and over. An endless mode perhaps with increasingly complex orders at the very least!

    Get together with one person or a group and play this game with no hesitation, it's a ton of fun and laughs! Yes you will probably be shouting at each other, but in a energetic and engaged manner! I cannot state how entertaining it becomes when the pace picks up and the orders start piling up, even worse is when the game throws some difficult obstacles in your way.

    Overcooked is another of those amazing small indie or arcade games that just show up out of nowhere and become one of my favourite titles of the year. It's one of those fantastic ideas that you think "why didn't someone make this ages ago for like the Nintendo 64 with four players?!" only to realise that they really have made something unique that no-one has done before! A must buy party and multiplayer game!



      + Plus points

      • Hilarious and original concept and gameplay.
      • Lots of variation within it's concept.
      • One of the best coop and party games around.

      - Minus points

      • Lacks a survival, endless or randomised mode.
      • Singleplayer is a fairly lame experience.
      • More types of food?!

      Extra: They have now released two nice little extra DLC packs, one for a low price and the other for free! Named The Lost Morsel and Festive Seasoning. The first contains six new jungle themed levels, the latter has eight Christmas themed ones. Both are great little add-ons for those craving more Overcooked madness! They contains some really challenging and tricky levels, though they sadly have no new boss battles or modes. The Lost Morsel can be bought in a Gourmet Edition  bundle with the main game too. A must for videogame chefs out there!

      Friday, 2 December 2016

      Four gear manual chainsaw

      Gears Of War 4

      Platform tested: Xbox One

      Excitement grew as the release date for the next installment of Gears of War grew closer. Microsoft's new and dedicated Gears-only developer The Coalition gave us a fantastic remake of the first game last year, something new to feed hungry fans like me while waiting for the fourth game. The result was an incredibly well crafted remake and inspired the developers to return to the darker and more creepy atmosphere of the first game. The larger scales of GeOW 2 and 3 are still present in GeOW4, albeit more subtle as the game focuses on a closer, more intimate depiction of the four main characters. This game is more about isolation, survival and loneliness. This shift back to the first games style is a very welcome one and a much wanted approach.

      GeOW4 is the first Gears and the first huge budget title to feature the incredible Unreal Engine 4. While the Unreal 3 engine dominated many last generation games, there were literally tons of titles using it, UE4 has had a slow start this generation. PC gamers and Xbox One owners alike can finally get a taste of the new engine, even in coop playing together cross-platform! Lets take a closer look at the difficult task of continuing a highly regarded and loved series which rounded itself up last gen. It's a tricky one to follow both story related and technically.

      The story is set 25 years later from the the ending of GeOW3, following the son of Marcus and Anya; J.D. Fenix. While the introduction gives us a glimpse of how the humans defeated the Locust in huge battles, the actual game tones down this sense of scale. It's about going back to basics with small group of two to four Gears soldiers, stranded in enemy territory and just surviving at incredible odds. It's darker, and a more brutal approach injecting a much loved atmospheric vibe. You'll find yourself in terrible weather conditions on a brutal and more hostile planet than before. Throughout the game you have to battle not just enemies, but also weather conditions and harsh environments.

      Design wise the game focuses a lot on natural locations such as woodlands, mountains, fields and caves. It's a beautiful way of showing UE4's huge diversity, but also showcase some of the most incredible lighting, particle and environmental detail I have seen in games. At times the game looks like a playable tech demo to the eyes! There's also castles, ruins and post-war inspired buildings to traverse. They all lend this beautiful Gears design perfectly and show the developers have carefully designed the game to keep a Gears of War uniqueness to it's visuals. The darker areas also build tension in a better way, making you feel more vulnerable and scared as you are constantly attacked by vicious enemies.

      Gameplay is pretty much exactly as it has been before, with a focus on trench type of warfare. Often ending in standstills behind cover as you try picking out each enemy before daring to move forward. New types of enemies give series veterans new challenges and new weapons give fresh way to dispose of them. I really enjoyed the way you can manipulate a lot of the environment surrounding you, especially when you're in wind storms; loosening some heavy objects so they blow over and crush the enemy is not just fun to watch, but an incredibly satisfying gameplay mechanic! There are some subtle new and more smooth movement options to climb over covers, pulling enemies over them are introduced for example, merely perfecting a well tested and genre leading third person gameplay.

      Long-time multiplayer Gears fans will be pleased to know that GeOW4 has a ton on offer. All the popular modes are back and just like the Gears 1: Ultimate Edition last year, the multiplayer runs at 60fps versus the singleplayer 30fps on Xbox One. A clever choice as gamers require better framerate performance for multiplayer. I only tested leveling up a bit in King of the Hill, my personal favourite MP mode, and found it just as good as GeOW3. The much loved Horde mode, where you and three other friends are under constant attack from waves of enemies is back, with an even larger fleshed out base building options and equipment. 

      The only gripe I had with MP was the lack of true player customization and the fact that you either need to buy gear packs or play for endless hours to have even a chance at requiring certain outfits or weapons skins. It feels like a sell out in these microtransaction focused days. I wish they'd done this in another way.

      My love for the series has always been with the singleplayer though, and GeOW left me wanting even more! It's perhaps a tad short but the return to a darker and more creepy Gears left me happy nonetheless. The variation from action orientated levels to darker atmospheric ones were nice changes of pace throughout the game. I really enjoyed that they implemented horde mode during the campaign too, letting you build up defences as you're relentlessly attacked by tons of enemies. It teaches you how to use it in a discreet and incorporated manner woven inside the main campaign.

      The main characters are great too, the banter between J.D and his dad is funny and the new female lead, Kait, has a strong personality and looks the kick-ass part as a COG soldier. I also liked J.D.'s friend Delmont, which in a way replaces the much loved Marcus and Dom childhood friendship. All in all, the diversity of characters is fantastic, and the story surrounding them even more so. GeOW4 nicely switches from fun and light-hearted dialogue to some very dark and saddening ones, much the same convincing way the previous games managed to do.

      I found GeOW4 to be all what I wished a new start to Gears could be. To follow perhaps one of the best series last generation and continue it's trilogy of amazing games was always going to be a difficult task. GeOW4 does a solid and great job at it though, and does not in any way feel less of a game in comparison. More just like a normal continuation of the series.

      In fact it actually keeps itself a little too much to fundamentals of the series and one could accuse it of taking little chances of any sort. For me though, I really liked the throwback to a darker, more up close and personal combat Gears  I loved the natural environments with the weather conditions and all the atmospheric places it visited along the way. A fairly short, but beautiful beginning to hopefully a new trilogy of incredible Gears of War games.



        + Plus points

        • A darker and more creepy throwback to the original Gears.
        • Stunning visuals with an incredible amount of technical showcase effects.
        • Strong story and characters

        - Minus points

        • A tad short singleplayer.
        • Brings nothing fundamentally new to the table.
        • Micro transactions and lacklustre unlocks in multiplayer.