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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [PlayStation 4] – Review

Uncharted 4 A Thief's End - PlayStation 4 - North American Cover

Early in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it’s evident that life’s changed for Nathan Drake. His days of globe trekking in search of lost treasure and fending off cunning thieves are behind him, relegated to artifacts and journals in the attic. Nowadays he works as a recovery diver and spends evenings at home with Elena, discussing their day-to-day lives in a pedestrian, unfulfilling manner. When his long lost brother turns up unexpectedly, this allows him an opportunity to quench his thirst for adventure, but at what cost? Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony on May 10, 2016, Uncharted 4 tops the efforts of its predecessors in every way and nearly two years later, stands in my mind as a masterpiece. Continue reading Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [PlayStation 4] – Review

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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [PlayStation 3] – Review

Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception - PlayStation 3 - North American Cover

Spurred on by my recent purchase of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I’ve returned to the series after a yearlong hiatus. Picking up where I left off, I’ve now completed Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the final installment on the PlayStation 3. Debuting in North America on November 1, 2011, Naughty Dog attempted to top its predecessor, which I deemed a “greatest hits of the action-adventure genre.” In many ways, this entry does. The set piece events and ancient mechanical puzzles were more frequent and extravagant than ever before. Nate and company explored a variety of new, visually impressive and incredibly detailed environments. Gameplay was enhanced by an increased emphasis on melee and improvements to stealth takedowns. And, per usual the acting and storytelling was top notch. All that said, the multitude of “one-shot” cliff-hanger moments and the dependable presence of a perfectly placed ledge was wearing thin and eroding the veneer of realism. Continue reading Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [PlayStation 3] – Review

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [PlayStation 3] – Review

Uncharted 2 Among Thieves

When I began writing about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I considered it the high-water mark of the PlayStation 3’s library, at that point in the platform’s lifecycle. Having completed its sequel, Among Thieves, I can testify that it unquestionably usurped that role, and deserves recognition as one of the best games of the contemporary cinematic era. Originally released in North America on October 13, 2009, Naughty Dog maintained the excellent blend of third-person, cover-based shooting and wowing traversal that put the series on the map with the first game. What carried my interest however was the engaging narrative. Characters both familiar and fresh intertwined with Nate’s search for Marco Polo’s lost fleet. Danger and drama kept Nate busy across the game’s dozen hour runtime and the numerous set pieces often had me in disbelief and culminated in an experience that played like a greatest hits of the action-adventure genre. Continue reading Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [PlayStation 3] – Review

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [PlayStation 3] – Review

Uncharted Drake's Fortune

Something clicked. With the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End this May, purportedly the final entry in Naughty Dog and Sony’s acclaimed action-adventure series, I knew it was time I checked it out. The first game that is, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Yes, after nearly ten years of opportunities, I finally got around to playing the Uncharted series in typical fashion, by starting at the beginning. Released on November 19, 2007 for the PlayStation 3, a couple days past its one-year anniversary on the market, Drake’s Fortune was arguably the high-water mark of the platform to that point. Continue reading Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [PlayStation 3] – Review

The Last of Us [PS3] – Review

Naughty Dog's ending the generation with a showstopper.
Naughty Dog’s ending the generation with a showstopper.

Before BioShock released, I knew very little about it. I heard murmurings that it was going to be an “important” game, but I didn’t pay any mind. Until the week it released. At that point, the hype surrounding the game was deafening; it was a literal echo chamber in the video game portion of the internet I frequented. I went from an ambivalent position regarding BioShock, to one where I needed to play it. Almost immediately, I knew I made the right decision. As you might already intuit, I approached The Last of Us in much the same way, and again, I made the right decision.

After the half-hour introduction, it was already apparent to me that The Last of Us would go down as another “important” video game. In that time span, Naughty Dog gave me a view of what day-to-day life might be like for the primary protagonist Joel, his daughter Sarah and his brother Tommy. This normalcy was brief though and within minutes all hell broke loose in their suburban Texas town. The group was soon on the run in order to survive against their mutated, zombie-like neighbors and townsfolk. Just when it appeared that they had escaped the town to safety, Sarah was accidentally murdered by a man following orders above all else. Whatever semblance of a normal life had already ended for the group, but much of Joel died that day.

Fast forward twenty years and the country, and most likely the world, has seen humanity consumed by a viral fungus that transforms the host into a violent zombie-like creature within days. Although it’s never directly explained what happened in that twenty year period between the introduction and the remainder of the game, it was easy enough to piece together information and interpret the rest. Some pockets of Americans live in complacency in government-controlled quarantine zones and others hoof it in the wilderness. Alone, in groups, or within the ranks of the Fireflies – a revolutionary militia squad wanting a break from the government’s status quo – it’s a tooth-and-nail fight for survival.

It's going to be a long journey.
It’s going to be a long journey.

Joel, and his female cohort Tess, operate somewhere in between. As smugglers living in Boston, they transport goods in and out of the quarantine zone to make a living. Events quickly transpire and they’re confronted with a decision that they don’t get to make. The leader of the Fireflies, Marlene, has something they want, but she needs a favor. She needs them to smuggle a young girl, Ellie, out of the city and into the care of the Fireflies in a safer area. They reluctantly accept and before they make it out, they realize why Marlene wants Ellie to reach a safe haven – she is immune to the fungus. This is unheard of, making Ellie the Holy Grail in a world without hope.

Tess saw that. She bit the dust early on but urges Joel to finish the job and get Ellie where she needs to be. Despite being a hard-ass that wouldn’t take any scruff, Tess seemed idealistic and hopeful for the future. Joel is also a short-tempered hard-ass; however he cares little for anything related to hope. He pisses on the government as much as he does the Fireflies. All he cares about it making it to the next day and it seems the only reason for that was his relationship with Tess. Why else would he slavishly travel halfway across the hellhole that America has become with a girl he doesn’t want to care for? If he is one thing, he’s devoted.

Their relationship changed over the course of the game.
Their relationship changed over the course of the game.

That journey across America comprises the rest of the twenty or so hour campaign. It was a hellish trip for all parties involve; for Joel and Ellie and for me, the player. What made it so for Joel and Ellie were the impossible odds they routinely found themselves up against and the hostility they encountered from the country’s remaining survivors. The highlight of the game for me was probably these survivors they’d run into. The bulk of them were hostile but there were a scant few who allied with Joel and Ellie and aided them on their journey. So many of these characters seemed like real people, with, what I can only imagine were problems I could relate to in the post-apocalypse. That sounds strange – that I feel these video game characters are lifelike – but I guess that’s a testament to the talent at Naughty Dog and the evolution of the medium.

What made the journey hellish for me as the player was the difficulty I encountered. The game’s difficulty could be construed as a continuation of the philosophy present in From Software’s Demon’s Souls, which in turn was a response to criticism of Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted series and other blockbuster video game titles. Regardless of inspiration, the sometimes stressful difficulty is a spot-on match for the always stressful situations Joel and Ellie find themselves in. Through all of their run-ins with enemies, there wasn’t one where I was able to go in guns blazing and succeed. I might get one or two enemies, but their numbers would overtake Joel and Ellie quickly. I had to be smart when approaching a fight because the enemies were. They could hear and see Joel so if I guided him wrong, they’d group up on him and I’d be paying for it.

America has gone back to nature in the twenty years since the outbreak.
America has gone back to nature in the twenty years since the outbreak.

For the most part, I snuck around as much as possible and tried to quietly take out enemies by killing them with a makeshift shiv. If I was ever spotted, I’d use cover to break line-of-sight with the enemy, flanking them so I could use another shiv or resort to a handgun, rifle, or bow. I say that honestly too. Although I didn’t have any trouble coming across ammo on the normal difficulty, or any supplies for that matter, I was always very cautious. I wouldn’t use a health pack until I was able to craft another, unless I direly needed it. Same for the use of Molotov cocktails and smoke bombs; I avoided using these unless an encounter just called for them.

Although the entirety of the game was astounding, the last two sections in particular I thought were brilliant. The first begins with a role reversal for Joel and Ellie as she becomes the protector for a brief period in a harsh Colorado winter. Here the duo encounters David, the leader of a local pocket of survivors and an absolute madman who’s played by none other than Nolan North. The final section sees Joel finally delivering Ellie to the Fireflies but having a change of heart when the circumstances aren’t to his liking. The game ends in a provocative way that prompted my friend and I have long conversations about the decisions made.

This is why I wanted to take out enemies stealthily.
This is why I wanted to take out enemies stealthily.

Just as I felt after completing BioShock, I’m glad I decided to buy into the hype and experience The Last of Us. Naughty Dog crafted a riveting video game that has perhaps set a new high-water mark for video game narrative. The characters and relationships on display were qualitatively better than 99% of any other game out there. The game’s brutal, but honest, gameplay was nothing to warrant as much praise for, but was immensely tuned and enjoyable enough that it didn’t bring the experience down, but amplified it. This is a game that has to be experienced.