Sunday, 10 September 2017

Lost in the female legacy

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

Review: I enjoyed my playthrough of last years Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy was intended as a singleplayer DLC expansion. However, it grew into a small standalone title of it's own. Having bought it on launch, I played through it quite intensively on it's first weekend after release. I'd read some previews that indicated the approach this time around was less linear than UC4's. Therefore my interest sparked me into a pre-order deal which included another Naughty Dog favourite of mine; Jak and Daxter. More on the latter in another review! Now lets talk a bit about how the ladies of Uncharted do a better job than the men!

My main complaint about UC4 and that goes for quite a few of Naughty Dog's story driven and cinematic focused games; is that they tend to be extremely linear. There's basically a game going from A to B, and while the travelling and varied locations is a positive experience, it also brings down the need to explore. For a series that's heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, missing the exploration freedom is a downer for me. The newer TR games have shown that larger, less linear and more exploration focused hub worlds work quite well with the formula. Luckily, Lost Legacy has taken the complaints about UC4 to heart and perhaps the delivered the best Uncharted experience I have come over.

ULL takes place after UC4 and leaves Nathan and Sam Drake to focus on Chloe Frazer from UC2 and Nadine Ross from UC4. Unlikely partners in personalities, they find themselves needing to help each other out to retrieve an artefact named "the tusk of Ganesh" in India. Chloe is the master thief and archaeology expert, while Nadine is the weapons specialist. Their conversations bring some really memorable and funny moments to listen to, much like how Nathan and Sam chatted away together in UC4. Although you only control Chloe, you are often in need of Nadines help. It's a great sense of frienship building up along ht way, with small story pieces of the their earlier lives. Chloe and Nadine are some fantastically written, strong female leads. 

Apart from the opening cityscape of an Indian town set at night, the game is set in one location the rest of playtime. While this is a slightly more budget title, with a large reuse of visual environments from UC4, it makes up for itself by introducing a fantastic open-ended gameplay structure midway. It opens into a fairly large open area with a large tower in the center. Here you need to explore different locations surrounding it and activate triggers to gain access to an ancient door. This open structure leaves lots of hidden places to find and tiny tombs to be solved. It's a small but wonderful nod towards the two last Tomb Raiders. This part alone made up for the linearity that brought UC4 down for me.

While the open-ended structure doesn't last through-out, there's enough breathtaking places to find in the latter, more linear, half of the game to make up for it, for one reason alone; the game focuses on solving ancient puzzles in a larger degree. ULL understands where it's heritage evolved from and embraces it. Focusing less on generic shooting and more on good old tomb raiding without an obvious linearity. With this focus on exploring freely, the gunfights actually felt more welcome this time around.

Don't get me wrong here though, this is not a full sized game unlike UC4, the vast location variation and grander build up of story is at a lower end of the scale here. Look at it more as an indie sized title with a triple A budget in development. In fact, it's a generous one at that, clocking in at around 8-10 hours of gameplay. UC4 was about 16-20 hours in comparison. ULL lasts longer of course if you go searching for secrets, and in fact it rewards you so in a better way. The exploring in the open-ended area is highly recommended and kind of the essence of this expansion. I would recommend playing UC4 first in any case though, to get your head around the UC4 world and gameplay, but this is a absolute must-buy afterwards.

Once again, like UC4, ULL delivers some of the most beautiful visuals in the genre around- Showcasing that Naughty Dog are some of the best when it comes to character animation especially. This game is a welcome surprise and a fantastic experience that fixed that itch for a new Tomb Raider game. I guess exploration is just better when women take the lead role!



    + Plus points

    • Less linear than UC4 and a welcome open world approach.
    • Fantastic main characters, Chloe as a newcomer in the UC4 universe is a great heroine throughout the game.
    • Breathtaking visuals and locations to explore, this game engine is just incredible visually.

    - Minus points

    • New designed areas, but lends a lot of the visuals directly from UC4.
    • Shooting mechanics and enemy AI still feel simple.
    • Climbing still feels a too automated at times.

      Friday, 1 September 2017

      The kind of Ex you don't mind returning

      Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

      Platform tested: Xbox One

      Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution caught me by surprise back in 2011 on the good old Xbox 360, with vibes from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell combined with great stealth based, shooter action in third person. Unique atmosphere and gameplay I gladly rewarded with five stars out of six. I actually didn't realise how much I missed the original until I replayed the first level prior to diving into it's sequel; Mankind Divided. To my great surprise the new game retains all what I loved in the previous game, but somehow still manages to be uniquely different from anything else, putting Deus Ex in a kind of style of it's own.

      There's a nice twenty minute summary video of Human Revolution you can watch prior to playing the actual game in Mankind Divided, recommend for newcomers and veterans alike. It gives you a nice way of coming up to date with the story. You can dive into this game without prior knowledge of Human Revolution but I recommend playing it first though, it's even backwards compatible with the Xbox One! If you have a good gaming PC though; both games in 60 fps must make them even more fun, fast and precise to play!

      Mankind Divided throws you into a sniping mission in Dubai with it's first area. This whole scenario and layout teaches you the basic controls along the way. Easing new players into the rather heavy control scheme. This first mission even ends in a quite challenging "boss" fight, perhaps throwing new players a little into the deep end. However, this mission perfectly sums up everything that's good about the modern Deus Ex instalments; blendning stealth and action perfectly. From here on the game moves to a slightly more open ended approach in Prague, reminding me of City 17 from Half-Life 2 visually. This small hub world lets you take on side-missions, which I recommend strongly as there aren't that many, as well as the main story missions.

      Much like in HR, the main missions sometimes take trips outside of Prague to distant locations. I love these little field trips and they really help mix up the variety. It's a smart way to offer some vastly different visual areas too! Completing missions, shooting down or stealthy knocking out enemies, hacking computers and locating hidden areas rewards the player with experience points. These points carry on to upgrade points for the game hero's augmented body. Adam Jensen, as he is named, has a large set of skills he can learn and upgrades to his augmentations. There's also crafting parts to find, these can be used to upgrade weapons with new sights, larger magazines, silencers etc.

      I enjoyed the more open reward system for taking down enemies this time around; gone are the stealth-only rewards, and it's it's place are experience points for both loud and stealthy approaches. It helps the game feel less linear and welcomes all kinds of players. Personally I don't mind some stealth in small doses, but I'm a little impatient to do so all the time, as such this new rewards system for both was a very welcome feature. Don't get me wrong though, it's still a slower type of third person shooter, but then again Deus Ex isn't about guns blazing. The enemies are few in numbers, the fighting takes place in confined spaces and it's difficult to succeed in a full on firefight, it's a perfect balance for this kind of game.

      On one hand I really appreciate Mankind Divided for being so much like the Human Revolution experience, there really aren't many other titles like them. On the other hand I feel there's things that could and should have been improved for the sequel. Controls are still stiff and kind of clunky, I would also have liked to see far more improvement to the button navigation. Swapping weapons, using power ups, going in and out of cover etc. feels cumbersome; sure there are shortcuts but they're too many and they feel unsatisfying. There's also nasty slowdown occurring when running through the open hub world, as if the game can't cope with streaming fast enough. A glaring issue that should have been resolved by now through patches.

      I'd still put Human Revolution over Mankind Divided. HR just felt more memorable in places, the complete removal of boss encounters, and the fewer distinct locations make Mankind Divided somewhat forgettable at times. Sure the locations look great and ooze atmosphere, you'll be hard to find more detailed indoor environments crowded with so many small details, but it could do with more unique gameplay moments. I truly enjoyed playing through it though, and it's a title that deserves far more attention. Even to this day HR and MD are very unique experiences that very few games compare to. If you loved HR, go for this game, it's more of the same and prettier, if you haven't though; begin with HR.



        + Plus points

        • Equally rewards stealth and action approaches, opening for more styles of play.
        • Environments are cleverly designed, tons of depth to small areas and optional routes throughout.
        • Unique game style that offers something few other titles do.

        - Minus points

        • Controls are over complicated, with one too many shortcuts.
        • Nothing fundemantally new here, very alike the previous game.
        • Fewer memorable moments and locations than previously.