Growing up with video game magazines in the early 2000s, it always stuck out when writers would mention the film noir genre. It didn’t happen often since there weren’t many comparable video games, nonetheless when they did, it was universally positive. Whether referencing typical themes, character traits, or distinct audio/visual elements, the writers conveyed to me that films belonging to this genre oozed a classic cool. It took many years before I actually watched a noir film but once I did, I was sold. Accordingly, when I finally got around to playing L.A. Noire I fell head over heels. Continue reading L.A. Noire [Xbox 360] – Review→
In an effort to begin a new tradition, my friend and I decided to kick off the New Year by completing a “bad” game. We’d done this previously, completing Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror at my behest back in 2012. It was a barely competent first-person shooter that was otherwise unremarkable, save for the ludicrous fistfight against Osama Bin Laden that capped it off. This year, we compiled a list of suitable titles from my collection, paired them against each other in the Tournament of Terribleness and wound up selecting Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard as the game we’d start 2017 with. Oh boy.
When I began writing about Uncharted: Drake’sFortune, 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→
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→
Touting itself as one of the most critically polarizing games of recent times, the Director’s Cut release of Deadly Premonition highlights a quirky game with many inspirations. When it was originally released stateside for the Xbox 360 on February 23, 2010, the game was met with critical reception that ran the gamut of the traditional 1-to-10 rating scale. Almost every aspect of the open-world horror game caused a rift that placed players in a love it or hate it camp. Released on April 30, 2013 for the PlayStation 3, the Director’s Cut rectifies nothing and instead doubles down on the cult following it created. Having played it myself, I can safely say I’m in the love it camp but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed every bit of it.
Set in the fictional town of Greenvale, Washington, the game follows FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan as he investigates the grisly murder of a young woman. The case deepens as more young women are murdered by the mysterious Raincoat Killer. At the crime scenes and around town, York encounters a recurring symbol and the presence of red seeds, both of which play an important role and portend an otherworldly quality to the plot. In regards to the general plot, setting, and characters, the developers at Access Games, and likely the game’s director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro, seemed to have drawn heavily on another instance of cult entertainment: Twin Peaks.
Besides the similarities listed above, many of the townsfolk that York deals with through his investigation are representative of characters from Twin Peaks. So much so there’s even a Log Lady equivalent! Most everyone has a ludicrous trait that keeps the experience from feeling like a representation of the real world; such as York’s tendency to monologue about famous movies and directors to Zach, another personality of his – the result of his dissociative identity disorder. Or the fact that York finds himself in otherworldly versions of the real world while profiling his suspect. On the other hand, Emily Wyatt, the deputy sheriff, came off surprisingly grounded, in part because of her girl next door portrayal. The relationship between her and York depicted a budding romance that culminated in a wrenching conclusion, one that really made me sympathetic for the two.
The significance of the ritualistic killings, symbology, and red seeds are eventually made apparent and everything relates back to a gruesome night in the town sixty-odd years prior. The pace really picks up around this point and I didn’t want to stop playing the game. I spent about fourteen hours playing in the weekend leading up to its completion; a feat that I haven’t done in a long time. It was also about this point that all semblance of reality began getting stripped away as the game’s true villains were revealed, leading me to find commonalities between the final third of the game and Inuyasha.
The final sections showed off an array of noteworthy boss fights (I had to call Jenny in to see some of them), although the rest of the combat was defiantly rote. Combat sequences took place in closed off areas, usually with the objective of finding clues to aid in York’s criminal profiling. While trying to push the narrative forward, York dealt with innumerable zombielike creatures that populated these otherworldly versions of existing locations. Combat was highly derivative of Resident Evil 4, down to York planting his feet while I aimed. A lock-on feature reduced the ire caused by the troublesome aiming but couldn’t help the combat from growing tiresome after a section or two. The few run-ins York had with the Raincoat Killer did result in tense and stylish escape sequences, with a fair amount of quick-time events for good measure.
When not in combat, York was free to explore the town of Greenvale and perform a wealth of favors for the townsfolk, totaling fifty sidequests in all. This fact didn’t dawn on me until about halfway through, coincidentally, about the time the plot was striking my fancy. Completing the sidequests not only broadened my understanding of the characters and their relationships, but also served as the open-world “collectible” to obsess over. It doesn’t take much to convince me to collect everything of something (thanks Pokémon!) but the fact that trophies were tied to these meant I was going to collect them all, and “platinum” the game in the process.
For the most part, the sidequests were very simple, although their variety and outcomes were immense. They ranged from block-pushing puzzles and collect-a-thons to the retrieval of specific items strewn about Greenvale. Starting them was simple, just talking to the quest giver but finding them at a given point wasn’t so simple. The town of Greenvale operated no different from ours, with individuals performing tasks and working based on the time of the day and the weather conditions. While I could solicit tasks from the owner of the Milk Barn grocery store during the day as he was working, I wouldn’t be able to at night when he was home resting. The criteria for these were openly displayed and I found the overall structure to be reminiscent of the Bomber’s Notebook from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
It’s somewhat surprising to think about the quantity of influences that this game draws upon. I’ve made mention of so many at this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t compare the open world qualities to be evocative of Grand Theft Auto, by way of Shenmue. Overwhelmingly, these influences come together with a surprising degree of competency. Despite this, it’s hard for me to walk away from my time without criticisms. I felt many of the combat sequences dragged on far too long considering how unrewarding the combat itself was. And, not to stigmatize too much but this was a budget game originally, and the quantity of “open-world jank” I encountered is a testament to that; not to mention the near-PS2 quality of the graphics. There are so many other grievances I have with the game, but I still spent forty largely enjoyable hours with it and if that’s a testament to anything, it’s to the redeeming and endearing qualities of Deadly Premonition.
Arguably, video games had their strongest hold on me when I was in high school. It was the middle of the 2000s before the disappearance of practically all video game magazines in the United States. My friends and I were glued to them almost more than the games themselves. For us, it was hard to ignore Advent Rising, even if none of us had an Xbox, nor had the ability or the desire to get one. Particularly, Game Informer’s cover story comes to mind, along with EGM and Play’s coverage. When I finally played it a couple of years ago, I was able to experience the lackluster sci-fi epic myself. The story was undoubtedly the high point, and I did eke some enjoyment out of the combat, but it was a mediocre affair overall. I’m glad to have played it but feel no need to return to it.
Advent Rising was the sole game GlyphX Games developed. It wasn’t their sole output however. Curiously, it appears they also designed many box arts in the late 1990s/early 2000s. When the studio floundered, key personnel went on to form Chair Entertainment and they’ve produced many noteworthy titles since. The game was published by Majesco and is perhaps most infamously known for the million dollar contest that never materialized. It was released on the Xbox and PC in North America on May 31, 2005.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.