Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review- A Bang or a Whimper?

6 Jul

Nathan Drake has lied to us all. Regardless of the relentless strain he subjects his body to by stretching his arms to grab ledges, tumbling over and through structures, snapping his body back and forth from left to right against exposed objects, and leaping, sprinting and scraping away from certain death, he told us he was done with this life. After three gruelling mainline servings of Nathan Drake’s exploits through a skittles palette of natural and sinister environments riddled with all sorts of antiquated treasures and historical etchings, it would appear the fourth entry brings the journey of the legendary treasure plunderer to a close; but not before he bounds through one more scrumptious circus of puzzle-solving, action-adventuring, wise-cracking and antique scavenging. The final exam for Drake turns out to be every bit as delicious as its predecessors, but has it lost something sacred along the way?

After an action sequence eerily similar to Drake’s fortune, we find that Drake has given up on his adventurous lifestyle. He works for an excavation firm, has receded to a peaceful life with his wife Elena, and it would appear that he sucks at playing a certain PS1 era videogame, not to mention he plays in the attic with a plastic gun and a few targets. You’d be forgiven for thinking all this tomfoolery in the early chapters is misleading, but with a title in a franchise this prestigious, you should expect a feathery calm before a blighting hail chucking thunderstorm.

Once business picks up and Drake embarks on a fourth whistle stop tour. You and your brother are off to uncover Henry Avery’s lost treasure and literally follow in the footsteps of the dead. Along the way you are invaded by mercenaries sent by the two villains Rafe Adler and Nardine Ross, who are also after ancient riches too. Ross is a super tough woman who can whip Drake’s backside if he so much as pop a cheap wisecrack her way, and Rafe is a disgruntled man bloke dude guy, who has a desire to have all the riches he wants like a spoiled rat.

The finale of Uncharted 4 is both strong and startling in how disappointing it is. The closing chapter isn’t difficult at all, and isn’t fuelled with as much malice as the best videogame finales, in other words it doesn’t make you bubble with the same visceral drive that you’d expect, especially from Uncharted. Maybe it’s because the central villain is comparatively weak compared to the other games, or maybe the poor construction derails any potential excitement, in any case Uncharted 4 leaves something to be desired. Luckily the epilogue redeems the disappointment somewhat by reigniting the familial aspects that specially characterise Uncharted 4, parting with us in a warm and comforting way that is much needed and appreciated.

The opening few chapters of A Thief’s End play like an imminent reunion leading to an actual reunion. When the opportunity arises thanks to Sam, Nate’s brother, Nate reluctantly but confidently obliges for one more globe-trotting go round because American Pie’s cast reunited, so why can’t a treasure hunter and his pals? Despite the cliches, Uncharted 4’s story is set to its usual high standard of production values including great voice acting, a pair of interesting villains, wonderfully realised natural landscapes, the usual Naughty Dog sheen and who can forget the eye-gasmic sight of Drake’s sopping damp clothes after taking a dip in a river? It’s like he rubs baby lotion all over himself. Save for the thoughtful inclusion of a literally dirty Drake adding to a calender’s worth of images of Nate being peppered and engulfed in the elements, Uncharted 4 doesn’t add a lot of surprising newness for a series that revels in it.

This time Drake is off to an assortment of idyllic locations such as the green and grimy pastures of Madagascar and up to the shivering highlands of Scotland. Along the way he will pause and embrace crisp horizon views, dive underneath vast teal and aqua blue oceans and swim with the corals to unearth hidden treasures and discover crumbling ship wrecks. If this description didn’t clarify it enough for you, Uncharted 4 is a glorious visual spectacle, dripping in detail off Drake’s weathered brow. Similarly the sound design is right up to standard with the series’ best, so no surprises, the production value has always been of the charts.

By this point we’ve bare witnessed to a plethora of exceptional chair-gyrating moments from Uncharted. Admit it, your head bolted through the ceiling when you saw Drake almost getting swallowed up by the front-gushing wind as he desperately and narrowly clawed onto waving plastic mesh, whilst cargo boxes flip and role past you. Your veins almost slit through the skin as you fired your way upwards in the train section in Among Thieves. Oh, and you got giddy when Drake was dangling from a rope, getting dragged along concrete and dirt. Ok, ok the latter demonstrates Uncharted 4 does possess a few exceptional moments, but the momentum is downplayed somewhat in the service of emphasising the importance of the narrative. Uncharted 3 was like a heart attack because it threw you recklessly into setpiece moments like a carnage strewn symphony, and that’s what made it incredibly special to some, whereas the story felt like a backdrop. Uncharted 4 by comparison is more conservatively paced and provides a workable balance between the action and the story, but in trying to harmonise its components, it doesn’t excite as much as it should, yet it does offer a more fleshed out story because of its decreasing bombast. Whether you are experiencing medias res, or taking on a flashback sequence with Nate and Sam as kids, the story flexibly and conveniently ebbs with eloquent intrigue and funnels you through some really tense and climactic moments.

Where Uncharted 4 does succeed is with its puzzle sections. A chapter that takes place in a clocktower has you contending with climbing up cogs, gears and even messing with the hands of a clock face to proceed forward. Another great puzzle involves you walking carefully across wooden boards and trying not to combust yourself by walking where you shouldn’t. Sure, there are an array of familiar symbol matching puzzles as well, but it is clear that Naughty Dog has managed to think outside the box again in refreshing new ways, creating a bigger scope without the need for guns and explosions, therefore helping to alleviate any potential lingering disappointment elsewhere in the campaign.

Stealth is a property of Uncharted 4 that has seemingly unchanged, yet probably for the better because it was brilliant anyway, but there are a few annoyances. Firstly, why is it that Uncharted 4 insists on loving the shrubbery as relates to hiding? To be an avid stealth assassin, Nate nestles himself amidst the foliage with Sam and the old fart Sully, and you all move about without suspicion within it. This is fine because The Last of Us had Ellie roving about unseen to the AI, but why are there green shrubs and long tall grasses everywhere to hide in? Hasn’t stealth moved past this since MGS3? As a result Uncharted 4 can feel too boxed in, with each hostile area a zone for a couple of different play styles, though the versatility is limited as the story anchors you in, appropriately ensuring you’re on the right path, so silent stealth sneaker or bullet banzai are your only true personae on Uncharted 4’s battleground. Not that this is a bad thing, far from it because you now have the ability to mark targets a la Splinter Cell, making espionage about rapid planning and executing, fast like everything Uncharted is known for, still holding up well on PS4.

The multiplayer is in a word needless. There is value here and it plays exquisitely, but there’s barely any sense of progress or competitiveness to it. Two teams have at it, both killing members of the opposing side for treasure and the team that reaches the point threshold once the time limit expires wins. There is some fun to be had when the grappling hook comes into play, but for the most part the offering is a straightforward shooting and clambering affair. There simply isn’t the replay value in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, so your experience may be relatively short lived, unless you just can’t get enough of Uncharted’s often irresistible gameplay flow.

Uncharted has held up to almost a decade of continuing existence. There are spectacles in Uncharted 4 that wouldn’t have been possible before and this old dog has learnt several new tricks, so there’s no need to take him out back and pull the trigger. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still has the moxie to impress after eight years and it does so with its own panache. Some might dispute its quality amongst the series’ elite, but there is still no denying it has everything a Playstation gamer could ever want. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is truly the end for Nathan Drake and his entourage, then the send off is a fitting if slightly disappointing one, but remember you’re still in for a hell of a ride nonetheless.

+A worthy conclusion to an outstanding videogame franchise,

+More intimate and familial than before, making for an especially touching and inviting tale,

+A far more open and expansive Uncharted than previously seen.

-Multiplayer is ok but feels like an unneeded tacked on extra,

-There’s not a lot surprising here,

-The final chapter is underwhelming and disappointing.

85%

Firewatch Review-This Fire Burns Bright

28 Jun

Life on your own can get you down. Henry, the main character in Firewatch sets out on hikes as he is permitted to do as a fire watchman, embarking on this lonely job just so he can gather the funds to visit his seriously ill wife in Melbourne Australia. But don’t fret, though he is almost literally on his own, he carries a walkie-talkie which he uses to converse with a woman called Delilah and the two banter back and forth like they were genetically related. Firewatch is more than just about two humans verbally exchanging with one another though, as you will find out as the plot thickens and the drama starts to vigorously shake proceedings up several notches, so that you start feeling a sense of unease and helplessness as the narrative slithers towards its peak.

Firewatch is a dazzling game first and foremost, drenched in a mixture of bright yellows and reds, it’s easy to think of its visual identity as the most eye-bleedingly beautiful Indie game on the PS4. The vistas are gorgeous, encouraging you to slap that share button on your controller, but the eloquence of the verdant horizon views echoes the closeness and familiarity Henry feels in this environment, so his surroundings hold a purity beyond sight to accentuate simultaneous feelings of homeliness and isolation.

Without his wife by his side, Henry treks along Wyoming’s wilderness with his backpack and a walkie-talkie. Along the way he can nix supplies from several cache boxes by first opening them with a simplistic combination code; the contents of these typically includes map locations, notes and pointless tat like pinecones and rocks. The most meaningful item in the game are strands of rope you can use to abseil up and repel down rocky cliff sides to reach otherwise inaccessible surfaces. You can also utilise an axe to chop down trees and cut through branches to reveal pathways, but is used to minimal effect like most of the other items in the game.

You aren’t challenged when playing Firewatch, all you do is follow instructions. Delilah will ask you to set out across the map where something important has happened, but when you get there you’re often disappointed to find nothing you hiked there for, then you follow more instructions and proceed to travel to another point on the map where the story progresses, but again nothing exciting takes place. You feel like a voyager, a traveller who witnesses some impressive sights but the engagement with your environment feels minuscule because the narrative demands your fullest attention. When you have vast opulent landscapes to explore, you don’t want to keep following objective markers. In this way Firewatch fails to provoke your curiosity because a lot of the time you are too busy trying to progress through the story than interacting with the world around you.

Compounding the issue is the awkwardness of using the map. Whipping out your map and finding the location of where you need to go is easy, but navigation is fiddly and you can’t look at the map and explore at the same time because if you attempt to do so your treading will shake the map, so you can’t simultaneously walk and find your footing. Another annoyance is that getting from one spot to the next fails to alert you to obstructions and Firewatch is too linear to give you the leeway you’d need to make travelling easier. Being met with an unexpected mountainside on your journey is a hassle and when you don’t have the equipment you need to traverse the environment with ease, you’ll realise that finding and searching are more integral to the gameplay experience than immersion and fun.

All this negativity might paint Firewatch as trite and unconvincing, but the minor decisions you make throughout do craft the lightest sense of you having any impact and agency in its world. For example, before you know what’s going on at the start of the game, you get the chance to read reams of text, not only setting up and contextualising the game’s narrative, but offering you some options pertaining to your relationship with Julia and how you respond to Delilah when bringing her up. Do you want kids? Do you want to take care of Julia yourself? Player involvement goes beyond you acting as a surveyor and participant, but when no other characters matter besides you and Delilah, you’ll end up feeling everything and everybody else is superfluous by comparison. There are other characters in Firewatch, but your investment in them is very limited. Case in point there is a boy you get to know towards the end of the game though you never actually meet him. Something happens to him and any emotional weight carried by what you learn is soft because you weren’t given enough time to know him as a person. As a result, Firewatch seems persistent in ensuring your interactions with others aren’t as strong as the bond you have Delilah, making you wonder why any of the other characters matter at all.

Let’s cut Firewatch some slack, it’s clearly a beautiful Indie adventure title with two entertaining characters and a lushly constructed setting. The ambience and the nature of exploration make Firewatch a trip worth taking as the drama is pulse-raising and there are a myriad of flourishes that accentuate Firewatch’s presentation. There is a calm presence about patrolling Wyoming’s forests with nothing but the voice of another human muttering through an interactive radio device at you. If the story could have somehow made your presence more expressive in this world, we’d have a truly marvellous title that would rightly place Firwatch amid the upper echelon of PS4 titles; alas it doesn’t quite achieve the excellence that it clearly had the potential of grabbing and hoisting proudly because of a few bruising gameplay stumbles. Still worth splashing out for though.

+A gorgeous and refreshing setting,

+The drama is very compelling,

+Henry and Delilah’s banter is exceedingly good.

-Traversing has a few problematic kinks,

-The map is awkward to use,

-The story tends to cut off the sense of wonder and openness of the world.

73%

Gone Home Review- Gone but not Forgotten

15 Jun

Gone Home is the cat’s meow, you’ll see what this means when you’ve discovered the foreboding interiors of Gone Home’s titular house. You begin your exploits facing a couple of huge double doors, behind them lies a Resident Evil-esque hall with a staircase just ahead of you and branching doors off to the left and right. The house is quite aptly yours, as you see it through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl named Kaitlin Greenbriar in the year 1995. Within this perspective lies a compelling, exciting and voyeuristic mini-adventure in reading and listening. You’d be a total quack if you love literature but don’t get on with this game, it’s a wonderful experience that bolsters the PS4s Indy specialisation.

Some detractors will say in obvious frivolity that Gone Home isn’t a game. Such lethargic remarks should be ignored because Gone Home is most certainly a game. The game in question is voyeurism, the act of watching, or more appropriately in this case reading. By reading and interacting with the world, you uncover artefacts of a teenager’s life, her parents and her journeys abroad as well as her social interactions and interests. The stylishness is rooted in 90s girl culture, the excitement of misadventures and the difficulties of teenage life. You might be walking slowly most of time and picking up junk, but this is a world you inhabit and you can tamper with most things in this world. So to clear things up, this is indisputably a game, and a pretty damn good one at that.

Your central objective in Gone Home is to find twenty-four journal entries around the house so you can piece together the story on your own. You’ll be rummaging through the place like a noir detective, trying to grab every piece of insight you can in order to understand the story and the characters. Some places are hard to locate and you might be searching around a lot to find all the diaries, but the payoff is worth the effort.

Gone Home doesn’t take long to complete, only a couple of hours tops, but there is much to see and discover. School reports, books, posters, fanzines, tape recorders, tapes, notes, safes and more can be found by moping about and massaging your curiosity. The rooms themselves are like sanctuaries of youth and kinkiness, check out the parents’ bedroom for some titillation and Katie’s for teenage angst. Hidden areas and lockers provide giddy motivations to unlock secrets that enhance the story, so there’s always an incentive to explore.

You can access modifiers to improve your experience in Gone Home too. You can start with all the lights turned on and all the doors unlocked or you can turn on developer diaries, which you’ll be able to listen to whilst walking about the place. You should take it all in because there is a great slice of intrigue if you decide to listen to every single diary and read and listen to everything in the game. Gone Home is as short or as long as you make it, not so long that you’ll top up more than five hours mind, but you can do a lot of digging to make those hour go beyond a couple if you’re willing to. There are even hidden references to videogames and films in here, showing the nuances and influences of Gone Home.

Don’t be fooled by the length of Gone Home, divert and you’ll find a house stuffed with 90s ephemera and plenty of nourishing documents and paper with words on them. There is no question that Gone Home is inspired, but it manages to have a personality and beauty all its own, characterised by the place and time in which it is set. For the Playstation 4, Gone Home is right at home as an Indy title fully capable of arresting your inquisitiveness. Play it and find out that Gone Home isn’t merely a slight walking simulator, but a full story composed of pieces if paper and assembled into a whole by the player.

+A Home full of ephemera is nostalgic grace,

+Many influences beautifully integrated into the home,

+Developer commentaries are a delightfully generous inclusion.

-Ok, it’s too short……for some,

-Not for the illiterate or those who hate to read,

-The girlie upward inflections can irritate.

86%

Unravel Review- Thread For Success?

15 Jun

You have to forgive Yarny, the cute little cat-eared figure in Unravel, he’s been pulling the wool over our eyes. Yarny is not simply a piece of yarn, he is a living yarn sewn creature, Furthermore, the abilities possessed by this living spool are conspicuously tethered to his frame. He revels in thread-swinging, latching onto objects like his meagre body depended on it and dabbles in the occasional waltz through dark caves, gloomy forests, abandoned factory machinery and snow blitzed terrain. He is quite the avid explorer but for all the jaunting about he has managed to get himself tied up in a few knots along the way.

At the outset, we are introduced to a nameless old woman sitting and staring mawkishly at a picture frame. Her frail, time-weathered lips pull a smile and a mild nod, before retracting into a serious look as though under a realisation that what she sees doesn’t exist anymore. She then stands up and heads towards an erect staircase, pauses and gazes at a photo of a baby, then proceeds up a few steps before a red ball of string tumbles out and rolls along the floorboards, thus Yarny is born. After somehow managing to clamber over some wooden furniture and pitter-patting across a green table layered with photographic iconography, a plant confined in white porcelain, a metal teapot and a small lit candle, Yarny somehow wonders outside as a ropey red trail marks the passage of stringy and stretchy wanderings.

The eloquence of visual storytelling along with its rousing orchestral score is most impressive, evoking and manipulating the heartfelt themes. The feeling of lonesome wondering is made even more inspiring as you witness Yarny traverse a symphony of environments through the seasons, occasionally juxtaposed by office and factory settings to bring the mood closer to what you would see in Flower and Journey. Natural landscapes are sometimes swapped for murky structures ensuring Unravel’s tone is as flexible as Yarny himself.

Correlations to the aforementioned ThatGameCompany titles are where the problems begin for Unravel. When Yarny is subjected to dangerous obstacles like electrical wires, you’re reminded of Flower as you attempt to steer petals through gloomy fields avoiding electrical cables. Likewise, when Yarny unites with his yarn sewn emblems at the end of each level, you’ll feel an aura akin to playing Journey. Unravel has a hard time trying to find a distinctive voice despite having its heart stitched in the right place.

Unravel is a straightforward platformer where you’ll use Yarny’s spools of yarn to lasso onto objects to swing across chasms, solve a variety of basic puzzles and create makeshift trampolines by tying up yarn between two points for Yarny to bounce and leap upwards in order to grab onto exposed ledges and higher ground. Sparingly there are breathtaking moments where Yarny ties himself to a kite as it sails across the sky, and takes a ride on a sled across a stream, but such moments are agonisingly rare. Now if Unravel directed its attention towards these potent moments instead of constantly incorporating simplistic yarn puzzles with irksome physics, it would be a more splendid adventure. And as far as those object pushing puzzles up a bespoke rope ramp is concerned, they are so tedious, yet you’re required to do these several times which- like the gameplay in general, leans on familiarity and basics to get by, ironic when you consider the sentiments represented through its presentation are anything but basic. The final level of the game is the most irritating, let’s just say you are going to need some patience here otherwise you’ll want to throw those specially woollen socks your mum made at the TV screen, they possibly stink anyway.

If you go into Unravel with expectations of an emotional rollercoaster ride, you won’t get it. However, it is still full of heart and sweetness that it is hard not to fall in love with Yarny because he’s such a jumpy little explorer. Yet these emotional harnesses fail to contain the gameplay like the woman’s straw basket failed to contain the red ball of yarn that falls out birthing Yarny. Inspirations trump unique ideas here and if you are happy with Unravel swaying this way, you’ll find solace. For the rest of us, we would be blundered by blunt-force deja vu and gameplay so repetitive and simplified it grates on the nerves.

+Lovingly sewn together just like Yarny is,

+Some joyous moments to be witnessed,

+Its sentimental value is easily appreciated.

-Takes cues from other similar games without much uniqueness of its own,

-Basic and repetitious gameplay spoils its potential,

-Physics are ropey to say the least.

66%

Quantum Break Review- Quantum Conundrum

25 May

No, no before you get waylaid by the cringe express train, this new sci-fi action title from Remedy entertainment certainly isn’t advertising a product from a popular dishwasher cleaning detergent. You won’t complete the game and utter the words “finish Quantum” because if you did you’d be finished too. Anyway this action title has been a long time coming, but now it’s here and it feels less like a cutlery cleanser and more like an amalgam of clothes bundled into a washing machine. You’ve got your third person shooty action, some time bending powers to upgrade and use prominently, platforming sections where you jump a lot and solve environmental puzzles, and maybe most deliriously of all- you get to watch a TV show that bridges the narrative of the main game. Suffices to say Quantum Break throws around a lot of ideas and it can become too ambitious for its own good, especially considering all the cliches. Ignore what your mind is telling you though, and you will find a unique and fresh if mildly overblown action title.

Playing as everyman dullard Jack Joyce, you start out by heading to a university campus, the students of whom are in the midst of a subversive campaign against an evil corporation called ‘Monarch’, who are shutting down various important buildings to make way for new developments; when they invade the university’s library, the students get pissed (no not in that manner) and they protest by sticking fliers up and leaving information and e-mail accounts open for all to ogle.

The real story lies inside a research facility on the campus, where you meet your supposed best friend Paul Serene as he tries to demonstrate to Jack his discoveries in the realm of physics. Paul has stumbled across an invention, a time machine that utilises chronon particles. Unfortunately this experiment goes awry after a jamming of the machine, and Jack’s brother Will comes by to ratchet the tensions up further. Things get a bit more exciting when the chronon radiation spills onto Jack and Paul, who both now possess time manipulating powers and wouldn’t you know it, they are protagonist and antagonist too. So as ludicrous as it sounds a botched experiment leads to two friends becoming enemies just so a hero/villain dynamic can be put to work.

Key events in the plot take place that fracture the relationship between Paul and Jack further, but what’s more interesting is you get to control Paul towards the end of each gameplay episode and decide what actions you are going to take. The choices only give you A or B type scenarios, but the feeling of control as you the player make these decisions gives you more of a personal investment in what is going on, as well as gifting Quantum Break with a reason to replay the story beyond a single sitting. The TV episodes attached to the gameplay portions serve to build intrigue into the world of Quantum Break, but appear to be designed to draw attention away from the ‘game’ aspects unto the visual, because maybe Remedy thinks planting a television drama next to gameplay segments is a cerebral thing to do. In actuality however, this marriage of film and game is jarring and although the idea is quite fresh, as gamers we should pay to play not pay to watch. It doesn’t help that the characters and the story of the show aren’t much better than in the game itself, but hey at least there is a consistency to the mediocrity. To give the production some credit though, it adheres to all its tropes with avid consistency. As for all the logs, diaries and e-mails you’ll happen across, it’s all needless excess, padding out a world with more information and less depth. How can we care for what is happening within the world if all we actively do as gamers is read lines of text? You’ll simply collect every factoid and diary in the game for the sake of collecting, which is the antithesis of how Quantum Break should be explored.

Much like Remedy’s previous title Alan Wake, Quantum Break (yeah it rhymes) is a third-person shooter, platformer and sci-fi action title, sharing more than a few canny resemblances to its spiritual brother. One of the most notable of the similarities is how both games play like episodes of a TV show thriller, with interludes and lulls in the action so you won’t be contending with prolonged shooting sections. Both games also centralise the narrative around complex subjects such as the subconscious in Alan Wake and time in Quantum Break.

Where Quantum Break aptly breaks off and drifts away from the Alan Wake is in how limiting the space around you is. You are usually tasked with operating in cramped environs, making shootouts claustrophobic with little room to manoeuvre. The enemy types too are run of the mill with hazard suited goons and swat team members giving you the majority of trouble, oh and a few heavies with Chronon tanks strapped to their backs. The Monarch squads are the most interesting because they exclusively attack you when time has frozen and plus they can teleport at a moment’s notice, making them a bit tougher to gun down. As you’d expect, late game scuffles are particularly difficult but if you play on the normal difficulty you can get by just fine after a few retries.

Though the range of enemy types don’t impress, the abilities you possess can keep the action sequences engaging. By collecting Chronon particles, you can level up your time abilities to protect you when you’re pinned down. From a teleport dash to a vortex Jack can summon by using his bear hands, messing about with time allows you to feel greater dominion over your foes. QB is far from a superhero action game, seriously who would plaster Jack’s stern face onto a superhero costume and make him look believable in it? But the powers are such that they nurture and uphold the intricate sci-fi elements of the plot without making them seem tacked on, though the upgrades are superficial when compared to other similar action games because all of the augmentations present you with marginally improved stats such as extending the duration and destructive field of your time powers.

Environmental puzzles consume another part of your gameplay time. You’ll press Y to interact with silhouettes in order to obtain important narrative objects, unlocking your progress towards the next area, and there are several anomalies you’ll have to trounce with your time bending powers. For example, you might have to use your transportation ability to help you avoid obstacles such as evading collapsing shelves and zipping rapidly to enter through doors that continuously bash together like a demented toddler smacking two Rubik cubes together. Then there are platforming bits where objects shift in and out of reach as you climb up crates, boxes, stacks and strewn vehicles, calling back to Alan Wake’s strange shape shifting environments and twisted ambience.

In truth, all of this time manipulation feels rewarding and there is more than enough of the stuff to make Quantum Break a rewarding alternative to its fellow contemporaries. The implementation and the variety of ways time is used to advance the narrative and flexibly contract the gameplay are even more reasons to acknowledge Quantum Break as a premier XBOX ONE exclusive. At the same time, it still feels lukewarm when the weapons that shoot bullets are in your hands. As ambitious and ultimately successful as Quantum break tries to be in offering multiple avenues to test your fantastical time tinkering tools, you might feel short changed by how infrequently they come to excite during firefights.

The visual flare too is quite pompous. Like every big triple A game released this generation-it looks very sharp and it is a show piece for the XBOX ONE if you can stop thinking about FORZA or HALO for a second. The TV show and its impact on the game’s visual personality seems to demonstrate the importance of looking ravishing alongside the need to innovate and stand apart from the competition. Couple the looks with the voice acting and the writing, and you will find the best and worst parts of your average TV show. Great voices and dumb lines of dialogue go hand-in-hand in Quantum Break, but this uneven quality feeds into the game too despite how refreshing a game it is.

Don’t go into Quantum Break with the feeling you know what to expect. There are many elements at work in its design and they are full of the good and the bad. This mishmash of quality coalesces to accentuate the uneven nature of its existence. Developed with the hubris of mimicking a TV show whilst making the characters inside and outside of that show flat and generic, Quantum Break plays around with your expectations so you feel fully immersed. There is a certain level of genius in how it manages to play like a sci-fi TV show whilst aping one also. You can’t however, ignore the main problem, it isn’t a TV show. When Quantum Break remembers that it’s a game, it delivers an intriguing mixture of puzzles, platforming action and problem solving on top of the cover-based shooting action. The A or B method of shaping how the story and the TV show is also commendable and layers in the depth of the story, along with all those e-mails and narrative objects you find strewn throughout each level. This all allows Quantum Break to flourish and become a top-tier XBOX ONE experience. But If you were to strip off everything which makes Quantum Break a TV show without the delectable voice acting, and place more personality into the upgrade systems, then Quantum Break would be the best XBOX ONE game out there. As it stands it is impressive and different but also a confusing hodgepodge of things and ideas escalated by a TV show format it relies too heavily on to make Quantum Break stand on its own two feet as a videogame if videogames had feet.

+Excellent variety and balance of downtime and action,

+The voice work is very strong,

+Time manipulation is awesome,

-TV show presentation obscures its videogame qualities a bit too much,

-Characters are uninteresting, the females in particular are portrayed negatively,

-After the first level, the game world starts feeling a bit shoehorned.

75%

EA Sports UFC 2 Review: Ultimate Frail Champion

19 May

Two years can change much in the world of UFC. Let’s see, in 2014 UFC fighters wore different coloured trunks to the Octagon, had multiple brands slapped all over them and yes, EA Sports UFC debuted on the XBOX ONE after Dana White had once claimed they’d never work with EA Sports. Here and now in 2016 the colours of the trunks are limited to black or white and black and white, the only endorsed clothing line is Reebok and EA Sports UFC 2 hasn’t learnt a heap of lessons from its debut. If something seemed uneven about that last statement then sorry but it’s mostly true. EA Sports UFC 2 has certainly improved in the gameplay department and the roster is enormous and varied, but tearing through the epidermis reveals familiar meat despite new bones in the form of modes and features.

Things get off to an immersion drenching start as you’re introduced to the highlight reel-filled UFC 189 co-main event Rory McDonald vs. Robbie Lawler for the UFC Welterweight Championship in delicious videogame cinematic form. Yes, it’s just a glorified tutorial like the Gustafsson vs. Jones Light Heavyweight title intro from the original game, only this time the shorts are black and white. So you slap Rory around for a bit just to “feel the fight” before you unlock your first achievement and the rest of the game. Holding a game to ransom just for a tutorial seems like a bit of a stretch, but at least UFC 2 doesn’t try to constantly hold your hand……oh wait the career mode.

Yes just like the last game the career mode doesn’t make you feel like a fighter, so much as it does make you feel like a regimented recruit committing to training drills and signing contracts for easy fights against average competition. But hey there is some relieving news, you no longer need to suffer the real time clips of UFC fighters encouraging you, so UFC 2 gets respect for omitting them. So just like the shortcomings of the career modes in EA’s Fight Night series, UFC 2’s career mode is repetition personified. You start out by creating a fighter from a diverse range of customisation options, though they feel quite limiting given UFC’s sponsorship deal with Reebok. You can create and fight as a woman for the first time which is neat and will stop feminists from nagging, but there isn’t too much difference between a male fighter and a female fighter besides the gender and that women wear bra tops. After you’ve created a fighter, you’re initiated as a cast member in the Ultimate Fighter, but unlike the show, there is no reality TV base around it, so you just engage in successive fights in a tournament-style format, then win a contract with the UFC; plain, boring and not what the Ultimate Fighter is really all about, but hey it is a sports videogame, it doesn’t need a career mode like Fight Night: Champion’s because that was too character-driven and immersion consuming. On the UFC roster you start off on the undercard and by winning fights, you gradually make your way up the rankings to fight for the title. Again, you’ll fight a lot of nobodies with nicknames like your fighter, but when you face the champion, boy does the challenge and feeling of an epic fight sync in. To think you go through a bunch of bum fights, levelling up, learning new moves to add to your repertoire just to be matched up against a champion like Robbie Lawler, who is leagues above you in overall attributes, and who has an ultra-hard brawling style, you will really feel like you have received a massive wake up call. For pro players this will be some of the best times you’ll have with UFC 2’s career, as the feeling of a steep challenge and the chance for closely fought fights become realised here. The tedium of accepting fights and going through training camps saps the appeal of the career mode and the few redeeming qualities are hamstrung by an inauthentic presentation, but if you want to build your own fighter and see him or her rise through the ranking with the chance of some truly great bouts, the career just about justifies the slew of negatives against it.

Modes and options elsewhere are relatively threadbare. Besides the dull career, you can participate in a curated set of training challenges designed to acclimate you to the intricacies of the fight game. Some are much tougher than others and they have three tiers of difficulty. Standing gets you fine-tuned on the basics of striking using your fists and feet, parrying and dodging to avoid dangerous strikes and the good ol’ input game, where a button sequence appears on screen, and you need to correspond with the right presses on the controller. The clinch tutorials have you learning the intimate body-on-body experience, transitioning and holding position, taking your opponent down and avoiding takedowns. Lastly there is the submission game to learn, getting you to use the same awkward system found in the first game,whereby you gradually synch the submission in, technique, your body and ratcheting pressure to force your guy to tap out by toggling the right thumbstick when a direction signal flashes up. While these sessions are useful to newcomers getting to know the ropes, you never get the feeling you’re anything more than Dana’s workhorse. Persistence after failure is the allure of getting to know the systems of UFC 2, but when you’re given arbitrary grades to reflect how well you did, then all you’ll feel is more grunt work and less overall satisfaction. You might ace a tutorial but you’ll be glad you’ll never have to face it again, which makes these challenges seem lethargic as they are more concerned about how good you are than rewarding your efforts.

Other single player modes worth mentioning are K.O mode, which turns the UFC experience into a traditional fighting, just so you can purely revel in the multitude of ways you can knock your opponent out. The promotional tagline “finish the fight” is most referenced in this mode, where you are challenged to defend strikes and commit to well timed strikes to knock your foe unconscious. The glory of a Mcgregor spinning roundhouse kick or Denis Siver’s turning sidekick can be felt to its most epic degree here, so as a mode that creates thrilling and unbelievable knockout moments, there is no better mode on display in UFC 2. You can also create a custom fight card, pitting up to 11 fights, where you can choose the referee and location of where the card takes place. Again, much like the presentation of the career mode, custom fight cards lack spectacle and seem to be added purely as a way to feast on your UFC obsession. There are no post-fight interviews, no press conferences, not a lot of statistical information and a gross sense of dryness to it all. This mode is best sampled with buddies within your own vicinity, as you can really get a raucous fight party started, but with the inability to select fixed champions and the sorely restricted attention to detail, the custom fight card is still in need of some work. And please, don’t use a rolling ticker tape to inform us who Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night winners are, you remember UFC Undisputed had ace video highlight packages for that which were considerably better and proved that those games still reign supreme, even after four years since the last entry was released. Work harder EA!

Online modes and functionality is where UFC improves most in terms of modes. You can compete in online championships with your created fighter, only now there is a wrinkle in terms of UFC Ultumate Team. Though it’s easy to point out there is no team aesthetic in UFC, it’s equally contestable to say there is no I in UFC either hardy har! Here you can purchase cards using in-game currency which can gift you a raft of new moves and attributes for the fighters you create. You can become notorious by racking up wins in single player championships, or compete against others to maximise your team’s dominance. Unusually, you can only select a few of the weight classes for your team to compete in, but seeing your fighters improve and being able to manage them all to their own success carries great reward and time with it. It is the kind of mode EA have institutionalised into its own franchises, and while it might not fit entirely into the culture of UFC, it still creates and breeds a highly-competitive environment and more potential for great moments.

Another excellent addition are the Live Events. In these you can select predictions for real upcoming events, as well as fantasy cards set up by EA Sports. Just choose the fighters you think will win their individual bouts as well as the way and the round you think they’ll be victorious in. You can also play and attempt to make your predictions come true through the game. Getting correct predictions and meeting the terms of your prediction nets you some special Ultimate Team cards, the more predictions you get right the greater the reward. The mode is very addictive and feels like gambling without the loss and the monetary factor. Once you start you won’t want to stop, and the mode adds to the hype of the fight cards, so its inclusion is an exceptionally positive one.

Claiming EA Sports puts spectacle over quality is true in most cases, but besides the array of technical hiccups you’ll find, the experience of playing UFC 2 is delightful if you have the patience and give yourself time to learn the ins and outs. The stand up game packs a mean punch, and you’ll always know when you’ve dealt devastating blows because your opponent will react like a shot overwhelmed him or her as they grab their faces in pain or stagger around as awkwardly as someone who’s been to an all-night stag party with a farm of Irish human wildlife at a pub. One little oddity is when you do make your opponents wobbly, your player tends to go in for the final blows by smashing both of his fists together against the opponent’s face like he/she was taking part in an arm-slapping contest. Not only do you finish the fight in the UFC, you also feel it thanks to tremendous controller feedback. Most will prefer the standup game because there are so many techniques that can finish the fight in one blow, you’ll find yourself negating to tear yourself away from throwing hands, knees, elbows and feet at your opposition. Looking for a stylish knockout has never seemed so obsessively advertised as in EA Sports UFC 2.

When you succumb to the ground game things get relatively complicated, but unlike the first game, this entry makes the ground game a lot more technical and deep. Just like the previous entry, you initiate a takedown by holding a trigger and by holding left on the right analogue stick. From here you’ll engage in top position, with your opponent on the ground. You’ll notice there are a range of up to four options to choose from as to how you advance. Do you take side control and hammer elbows into your opponents cheekbones, do you posture up and lay a beatdown, do you press left trigger and see if you’ve got any submission options at your disposal? There are a handful of ways to engage on the ground, but of course the guy on the bottom is far from helpless. When you try to advance position, often times your opponent will block your attempts, which can lead to constant option spamming until you successfully form a highlighted yellow circle around the R toggle. Your opposition might even to reverse position on you, so you’ll have to fight off your back. At all times you need to ensure you’re not overwhelmed, because you can get completely battered if you don’t know how to get out of tight spots. You can get frustrated a lot, so try picking a Jiu Jitsu expert like Demian Maia if you’re having real problems, but when things click, the ground game works very well, even if the submission game is still largely the same, but you can switch holds and execute flying submissions like an MMA ninja, so those are welcome additions.

It is not often that a licensed soundtrack becomes a notable part of a sports game, that is why UFC 2’s soundtrack is fairly atrocious. Yes music tastes are subjective but thematically the songs are so cringe-inducing to this fighting game and serves to reflect UFC and MMA as a sport, which it is, but it isn’t FIFA. Too many of the songs just don’t mesh with UFC and it says something totally baffling about how EA Sports are targeting as wider demographic as possible, much like the UFC and equally monolithic businesses seem to be doing these days. And this whole fascination with spectacle is commendable in UFC 2, but given the technical issues, it isn’t as polished as EA pretends it is.

There are many things this year’s version of EA Sports UFC does very well. The Ultimate Team mode might not fit the UFC world, but is pulled off wonderfully. The online option are very strong, particularly the Live Events option, immersing players in the world of UFC like never before. On top of this, there has been a lot of love and care put into making EA Sports UFC 2, allowing it to be the most playable, diverse and dynamic UFC videogame out there, with a brilliantly implemented stand up and ground game, not to mention the biggest, most impressive roster to date. Yet a number of qualms hold it back from grabbing the brass ring such as a boring career mode, training minigames that seem designed to make you nothing but a tired workhorse, Custom Events lack the finer details of the sport such as press conferences and interviews, the same could be said about the aforementioned dull career mode as well. The deluge of technical issues are still present too even if some of them are chucklesome. If you love UFC videogames this one won’t change your mind, the same can be said if you don’t love them. This new entry is better than its predecessor in almost every way, but is still reeling from lingering issues stemming from it. So a worthwhile contender then, just not an ultimate fighter.

+Vastly improved stand up and grappling gameplay.

+Live Events are a cool immersive feature.

+Ultimate Team fits neatly into the UFC template.

-Same old technical problems.

-Career mode is boring still.

-Still not the ultimate UFC game.

79%

Amplitude Review- All Amped Up

6 Mar

If you’ve been in a coma for thirteen years, you’d be witnessing a double act from videogame music moguls Harmonix. Before you update yourselves and recuperate from your brain trauma, know that the latest Amplitude offering is all about harmonising the brain with electronically pulsed beats. So now that you’re confused and drowning in irony, you can feel confident in the knowledge of what’s on offer here. No plastic instruments, no super-hard rock solos, not even a box containing an optical disc, just a downloadable music game where you hit notes as they charge down a highway. So no, there’s nothing mind-shattering here, but it’s a pleasant way to start off 2016 in videogaming.

So we’ve already established the game takes place inside a human brain as you try to restart a patient’s inhibitions and wake her up, yes it’s a her, some purple deity thing and no, there isn’t a connection to Prince Charming and a magical kiss, but as you play the campaign you’d figure the 15-song selection picked for you has a collective power of a good peck on the lips. The premise is neatly tucked into the music experience, as you’re tasked with completing five songs in each sector of the brain. There are three normal songs, then if you complete those you’ll have to contend with a boss encounter-like track, which forces you to chain note-streaks together so you don’t enter the refill zones with half your health demolished. The final song in a section is an encore, which is some kind of reward for successfully completing the boss stages.

The difficulty of the songs scale progressively upwards as you beat one after another. This makes for a smooth increase in difficulty like walking up a few shallow steps before contending with glacier-sized rocks to awkwardly and painfully climb. You can select from four difficulty options, but to get the most out of your time, you ought to complete the campaign on a higher difficulty for greater rewards. If you can master the game and its ramped up gameplay, you’ll unlock Super-difficulty and Freq Mode, both are for the die-hards and die hard you will.

Outside of the campaign and quickplay options, Amplitude is rather bereft of modes and features. You can play with up to three others in a fun competitive spin on the single-player offering, but weight is something, nay perhaps the only thing Amplitude fails to capitalise on. The song selections are nicely varied in terms of tempo and sound, but there aren’t enough of them to satisfy those who’ve been weaned on Harmonix’s music games for over a decade. You could easily pass this off as a three-hour demo, though this probably isn’t fair given how thoughtfully crafted the rhythm-action experience is here.

From a gameplay perspective it’s dead simple to grasp. You choose one of a quintet of coloured miniature ships and you tap the L1, R1 and R2 to blast the notes with your lasers as they enter your target reticule. The string of notes only last temporarily on each highway, so you’ll be shifting from one to another and blasting them to clear highways in multiple succession. If you miss a note, your fuel meter at the top left of the screen will gradually deplete. To prevent this from happening you’ve got to clear every note on every highway, but if you miss a few you can redeem your fuel by chaining notes in other highways. Be aware of the glowing notes too, as they are signals for which highway you should attack next, though sometimes it’s difficult to correspond your inputs whilst changing highways and can be mildly frustrating. Another aspect of the game that’s introduced to you in the campaign are the power-ups. There are four in all including a multiplier, where you hit notes have briefly turned golden and double your score for each note hit. Sedate slows down the highway so you can hit notes more easily, best used on the most difficult portions of a song. Cleanse cleans up an entire highway and ramps up your score, again this would be best used when there’s an awkward note composition ahead of you. Lastly there is Flow which clears all the highways for several seconds and will heed you a raft of points in the process, best saved for when you’re struggling.

Amplitude still has the same tried and true formula from its debut, and while times have changed massively since, its perfectly accessible for those who want to jump in and play a few tunes. More songs would’ve greatly enhanced its value but as a return to its roots, Amplitude plays a convincing game of rhythm action and proves old formulas are still as reliable and absorbing as they always were.

It has been a long while but Amplitude is back and is just as good as it ever was minus a weighty package. If you love the music you’ll get heaps more enjoyment and enthusiasm out of playing this. If you don’t like rhythm action games or prefer Guitar Hero/Rock Band this isn’t going to sway you at all, hell it’s your problem if you don’t like the music on offer. By nature we always want more from returns made by classic games from the past, but if you could dispose of those expectations you’d be humbly rewarded with a decent rhythm action title that doesn’t aim to blow you away, it just wants to remind you of the genesis of this popular genre. No it isn’t great, but considering classic games are hard to come by in remake or kickstarter form, you’d be hard pressed to find a more generously designed game. Now please go and purchase this before you give yourselves headaches.

+A return to a cherished rhythm action game is always welcome,

+Nice music selection, not too shabby for a game we haven’t played in a decade,

+The gameplay is as frenetic as you remember.

-Not many gameplay modes on offer here,

-No real changes to the formula,

-A bit of a flash in a pan.

78%

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