Checkpoint: Resurgence Edition

Checkpoint: Resurgence Edition

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The Game Awards have improved dramatically. So much so that I am considering watching more of it next year. I caught a very brief glimpse of it and I was impressed with presentation and production; it actually resembled a normal awards show. Congratulations to Geoff Keighley.

The two announcements that were of note to me SoulCalibur VI and Bayonetta 3. I hear SCVI is channeling the original Dreamcast release which is something that tickles my fancy. As far as Namco fighters are concerned, I have a stronger affinity towards this sword swinging fighter than the King of Iron Fist Tournament. Bayonetta 3 is coming out exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It’s truly amazing to see Nintendo go out and just grab this former multiplatform character action game and treat it like one of their own.

I will undoubtedly pick up the third installment but what about the upcoming Switch re-releases? I very much enjoy the idea of having the entire trilogy on one platform – especially if they all run at a near faultless 60 FPS. If I end up picking up Bayonetta 1+2 again, this would be the third copy of Bayonetta 1 that I own and the second copy of 2. Who am I kidding? If Bayonetta 2 ends up being a superior version of the Wii U exclusive, I think I’ll just pull the trigger and pick both up.

Capcom is on the upswing with a handful of announcements that’s slowly restoring my faith in the company. They’re making Mega Man 11 and it doesn’t look like a pure nostalgia grab like the 9 and 10. It looks a bit weird at first glance but I am warming up to the chosen art style. They’re also re-releasing all the Mega Man X titles on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch. I love the idea of owning all the X games on the Switch. If it’s a quality port, I might just pick it up there.

The same can be said for the 30th Anniversary Collection of Street Fighter which includes arcade ports of 12 Street Fighter games excluding IV and V. I understand not including Street Fighter V but what about IV? I would even pay closer to $79.99 for a version with that game included.

And finally, Street Fighter V actually piqued my interest this past Sunday with the reveal of the third season’s cinematic opener. Sakura, Blanka, Cody, and Sagat make their return and Capcom looks to be injecting some serious effort into the single player portion of the game. I don’t know if I would go as far as to buy this game again but I’m happy to see Capcom still trying with it.

I am still marching towards full completion of Super Mario Odyssey. By and large, I am enjoying the hell out of Super Mario Odyssey; there’s a lot to love but I am losing steam collecting Moons. Huge swathes of the moons feel like tedious collectibles like feathers in Assassin’s Creed. But for every frivoulous Moon, there’s a charming or clever one that makes it worthwhile. I think I’m ready to write up my review of it.

I started Uncharted: The Lost Legacy last week and it’s a bit of an eye opener. Going from playing Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to playing Uncharted highlights some glaring communication issues with Naughty Dog’s otherwise excellent game. Uncharted (and games in general) speak their own languages and despite years of playing Uncharted, I still mess up and drop to my death on occasion. My girlfriend asked: “How do you know where to go?” and I had to explain the subtle cues and other signposts that a hyper detailed game like Uncharted uses to her. It takes time to learn and adjust to the way games like this communicate but once you do, games like this become a cake walk.

Checkpoint: Uncharted Retrospective Edition

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Brad sat down with Naughty Dog’s John “Cowboy” Bellomy to talk Uncharted tech and how far this series as come since Drake’s Fortune. I’m about 1:15 in and so far it’s wonderful. I love hearing development stories and just how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished.

Much of the technical details flew over my head but I love the passion and reverence Cowboy shares for it. Moving from key set piece to key set piece and highlighting the challenges and solutions they came up with to tackle them. I loved hearing the proxy boat trick in Uncharted 3 for example.

After watching this video, I just want to go back and replay the Uncharted games. It’s easily become one of my favorite franchises ever.

Besides fawning over Uncharted, I’ve been chipping away at Odin Sphere. it doesn’t seem to ever want to end which is not a great thing.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Campaign Review

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Campaign Review

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The Last of Us will go down as one of the most important games in Naughty Dog’s history. It gave the studio clout and free reign to do just about anything they wanted. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the fourth Uncharted game by them but in many ways, it is unlike the trilogy that were born on the PlayStation 3.

A Thief’s End’s wasn’t afraid to take its time building towards its action scenes or allowing quieter moments enough room to breathe. It wasn’t deterred by the fact that I haven’t shot someone in X amount of time. The game felt like an adventure game punctuated by action instead of an action game broken up with exploration. It takes a strong and confident studio to make that kind of shift and I was happy they were able to do so this time around.

Some will undoubtedly find the slower ramp up plodding and boring but I loved it. I soaked up every scene with Nathan Drake living the civilian life. Many games go down the path of the “retired” character falling back into his old life but it’s usually handled as a quick prelude before the action ramps up to full speed. There were set piece moments and firefights but they didn’t dial it to 11 until late.

Not since Drake’s Fortune has Naughty Dog introduced a new character as well as they did with Nathan’s brother, Sam. Chloe, Cutter and the cast of villains in previous games were always seen as the flavor of the game and were treated as such. They gave just enough backstory to frame the situation but the players never spent the time to witness the nuances and subtleties of a relationship.

I didn’t expect to spend as much time with Sam as I did. They showed how they interacted with one other and how much Nathan looked up to Sam. I even got answers to questions that I never questioned like how and why Nathan was so driven to hunt down treasures. I simply assumed that’s just what he did for a living.

A Thief’s End was a very reflective title. Nathan and gang spoke in reverence to their previous adventures but Naughty Dog also pulled from popular touchstones from the studio’s early history. Less overt but more important were the lessons and inspirations taken from The Last of Us. A more deliberate pacing and much less fantastical scenario for our heroes to face up against grounded the series like never before.

Make no mistake, the action and platforming was still patently Uncharted. It was unbelievable, bombastic and just the way I liked it. Time was very kind to Nate and company; they still had unbelievable upper body strength and all the luck in the world on their side. Nate did learn/recall a new trick though: the ability throw a hook shot and swing across giant chasms. Unfortunately he and his brother did not learn to use the rope to help one another up from hard to reach places so they continued to rely on pushing over bookcases, boxes and other platforms.

The last cover based third person I played was the Division and it allowed me to become complacent — I hunkered down behind cover for too long. Since I chose to play A Thief’s End on Hard difficulty, I witnessed many deaths as cover deteriorated quickly and the enemies weren’t afraid to lob grenades to flush me out into the open. New tricks like the ability to swing from up high while unloading a clip from midair were rendered ineffective due to the fragile nature of Drake on this difficulty.

I should have played the game on Moderate difficulty but then I wouldn’t have engaged in the stealth options as much as much as I did. Repeated deaths in these encounters weren’t frustrating because there were so many options and avenues of available to me. Being able to mark enemies like in Far Cry 4 made it easier to track enemies but it was still a bit tricky to find the ideal moment to strike. Naughty Dog teased rolled out these kinds of encounters in Drake’s Deception but they were few and far between. Now, nearly every encounter was setup with the mindset that I could tackle it in numerous ways.

For the first time in the franchise, the venerable jeep was used to do more than engage in fire fights — it was also an exploration and puzzle solving tool. Nathan wasn’t stumbling across the series’ trademark room scale puzzles on foot any more. He was exploring islands and vast spaces that required other modes of transportation. It was the closest Naughty Dog has come to an open world game and I liked it. Everything remained intricately detailed as I’d expect from them but it was in a much bigger space.

Naughty Dog wrapped up the Uncharted franchise in such a tidy bow and I would be perfectly content if we never see another title in the franchise again. There are still holes to be filled like how Sully and Nathan met but with how much Naughty Dog acknowledged in A Thief’s End, it would be incredibly difficult to shoe horn a title in without it sticking out like a sore thumb.

I’ve rarely felt old when playing a game. When I played Call of Duty: Black Ops III, it was just another game in a franchise that didn’t really age or mature per se. I felt differently while playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It resembled their PlayStation 3 games but it felt older and more refined. This game was the culmination of nearly a decade of world building, character development and stories in the Uncharted franchise. And as a tough a task as it was, they absolutely nailed it.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: Unreal Uncharted Edition

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It’s magical until somebody points it out. It’s even more impressive when somebody points it out.

And that’s how I feel about the recently released Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End extended E3 2015 gameplay video. Say what you will about the actual gameplay (I’m still excited for this kind scripted action) but you cannot deny the technical and artistic expertise at work here. Just keeping in mind the fact that the cutscenes are rendered in real-time is enough drop jaws. This NX Gamer walkthrough does an excellent job explaining the latest tricks in Naughty Dog’s arsenal. If you’re interested in in 20+ minute videos that scrutinize graphics, then give that video a look.

I’m equally impressed with Batman: Arkham Knight which is essentially this 2011 Unreal Engine 3.0 technical demo brought to life. I didn’t even put the two together until Digital Foundry pointed out in their Face Off.

These consoles are quite limited in horsepower but as always, it’s what developers do with that horsepower that matters. Arkham Knight looks good and runs well and it’s no wonder that people are focusing on the divisive Batmobile more than anything else. And that’s how it should be.

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