Monday, November 23, 2009

Uncharted 2--further thoughts.

I've previously talked about my initial impressions of Uncharted 2, but now that I've completed the game I figured I would write about my final impressions of the whole game.

The game is solid from beginning to end, there is no denying this.  The dialogue is superb, the story is very intriguing, the game play is perfectly balanced between action, jumping and stealth.  As the story progresses each game play element increases in intensity to end with a frenetic mash of battles over the Cintamani Stone.  It's not unexpected, that the closer you get to the goal or end point in a game that the difficulty would ramp up, but I found myself getting almost hopelessly frustrated with the endgame.  Knowing that I was very close to the end, but fighting off wave after wave of killer zombie/native/beast like mobs was almost a deal breaker.  I played through on Normal but by the end it felt like I was playing on Crushing.  I'm sure that is just my lack of experience with console games or something, but seriously if that was "Normal" hard I don't want to play it on "Crushing" hard.  At what point does playing a game for challenge become an exercise in self control so that you don't throw your controller through your TV?

I enjoy a challenge, but combine that challenge with poor motor skills with a controller, which then translates to really poor aim, which translates to scads of wasted ammo, which translates to relying on the least powerful weapon for taking out said challenge, and you end up with either a shattered TV or a broken controller and a divot on the floor (or both).  Games should be fun.  Games should be challenging.  Games should entertain and enlighten (that is debatable).  But to do all those things should a game lose sight of each for the sake of being a "game"? 

This is a weird loop to ponder.  At what point does a game stop being a game (taking you out of the moment of enjoying the resolution to a great story) and become a series of button mashes, swearing, and unnecessary aggravation?  Does a "good" game constitute great story with little challenge?  Can a challenge overshadow and completely break any story that may have otherwise made a game perfect?  I can think of a few games that I've played recently that fall on both sides.  Killzone 2 has a moderately good story (the game play mechanics worked well), but the end boss kept me from ever finishing the damn game.  Pixel Junk Eden has no story to tell and has a very simple game play mechanic, but add additional challenge as you move through gardens and the game becomes virtually unbeatable.  (With PJ:E, the question begs to be asked what exactly is the ending--and that is something that is up to the individual player and whatever goals you may want to accomplish).  Star Wars Force Unleashed is another game that has a fantastic story and relatively good game play mechanics, but add in wave after wave of bad guys with deadly aim, shields that block lightsabers (WTF?!?) and you break a game in order to make it a "game".

Maybe I'm too old.  I don't think I am though, as my nine year old finds games that are too challenging for the sake of making a game "more game-like" a complete bore.  Challenge is one thing, but excruciating exercise in frustration is another.  Will I continue to play Uncharted 2?  Sure.  There are more treasures to find.  I found 50/100 on my first play through, plus there are additional trophies to get for killing bad guys with different guns.  The multi-player is a blast as well (both co-op and death match).  But will I play Uncharted 2 to get a Platinum?  Not very likely.  Good, fun games shouldn't make you cry yourself to sleep at night. (I kid of course)  That's what real life is for.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Long Time no Post

It has been a while since I have posted anything and there are several reasons, namely Borderlands, Uncharted 2 and Netflix.

First off I finished the "story" to Borderlands and absolutely love the way that the game allows you to play through a second time from the beginning but with everything leveled up to give you a new challenge. I have to admit that I feel a bit silly for not realizing how to kill the final boss on my first attempt on the first night I encountered him, but I'll chalk that up to being tired. Borderlands is such a fun game that has such Civilization mind-set of "just one more turn" with the notion that it only would take a few more kills to fill that last bubble to level up or one more kill to finish a quest. Since I've played the game through to the final boss with the Hunter Mordecia and still haven't tried the other 3 classes there is plenty to try in this game.

Unfortunately I've become distracted for the moment and can't seem to get into Borderlands to try the game as a second play through though because due to a little negotiation I now have Uncharted 2. Thanks Andy!

What can I say about Uncharted 2 that hasn't already been said? I'm not sure that I can say anything new, but I'll give it a go. The game is so freaking amazing. The characters are phenomenal, the story (so far--I haven't finished the game yet) is griping, and the actual game play is a perfect blend of puzzles, climbing, jumping and shooting enemies. Visually the game just can't be compared to anything (except for the first Uncharted perhaps). Rich lush jungles meld with highly detailed city play. Lighting is amazing as well. Exploring caves you see sunlight pouring through cracks, illuminating details missed by many other games. Jumping from boulders or buildings is exhilarating and challenging. Many moments look like they are impossible but the animations used with Nathan Drake are done with such a level of detail that you expect Drake to miss a jump but he scrambles at the last second to pull off a true cliff hanger style escape from death.

Humor also plays a huge role in how good Uncharted 2 is. The subtle humor between Drake and Cloe as well as Elena and Drake are on par with great romantic comedies. Situational comedy also plays a huge role in the game. Whether Drake is getting the tar beat out of him from falling or the overwhelming odds against Drake, you can't help but laugh by how the game manages to put you into a situation and make it fun to survive. One of the early moments that I still get a good laugh from is when Drake is climbing around the outside of a museum and his temporary partner in crime is helping by talking through headsets to give Drake directions and alert when any enemies are near. Hanging from the edge of the roof, Drake is told to watch out, "Enemy above" and you pull the enemy down over the edge of the roof to watch him plummet to the ground four or five stories below. Your partner in the same urgent voice then says, "Enemy below". While it is dark, it is that same tongue in cheek humor that fills the cracks of the game to make every moment enjoyable.

Even though I have enjoyed playing Uncharted 2 for all of the humor, action and story, I also just received the Netflix PS3 streaming disc so I have spent a pretty fair amount of time using that feature now too. Having not used Netflix for any streaming before I have to say that this new addition to watching movies and TV shows on the PS3 is such a good thing. Navigation within each category is smooth and after selecting a movie or show the time to wait for the show to start is minimal. Some complaints have been made that the selection of streaming isn't that great, but for my money there is enough that I haven't watched to make Netflix worth the monthly fee. Another complaint that has been made is the fact that you have to put the disc in the PS3 to get the actual service to work. As a short term solution I can't complain. Granted "short-term" is still a year away before the service would be available as an installed app on the XMB, but the way I see it, if you want to watch a Blu-ray, you gotta put the disc in to watch that, so why not put a disc in to be able to access hundreds of movies to watch?

More later folks.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Old Haven Happiness

Last night I loaded up Borderlands figuring I'd play solo for a little while to hit level 30.  Little did I realize that I'd get sucked into the game for four hours.  I have been tooling around in the Rust Commons for several nights and starting to find that the game starts to feel a bit of a grind the further I got into leveling up while playing solo.  Last night though changed my perception of the game back to the original enjoyment that I felt the first night I played the game.

After playing through the first main area you end up moving into a new town called New Haven which butts up next to the Rust Commons.  New Haven is the starting point for many quests throughout the Rust Commons (East and West), as well as introduces you to many new characters to help drive the story along.  I had enjoyed the game as I explored New Haven and the Rust Commons, but it never dawned on me that there could also potentially be an Old Haven.

Well after finishing off a series of quests the other night I was able to cross a draw bridge that previously had been raised which allowed me to find Old Haven.  Old Haven reminds me of one of the better instances from WoW.  I say this because several of the points I've encounted in Borderlands up to this point felt very much like simple extensions of the rest of the world of Pandora.  Old Haven breathed life into action in the game that had started to fade.  Now granted I have not played Borderlands at all with any other people at this point but the action has become very repetitive and predictable (albeit enjoyable).  The premise of Old Haven is that a town has become over run by a group of mercenaries who have claimed Old Haven as their own after being paid to clear out a rival gang from the town.  My excitement for Old Haven is squarely from the fact that unlike most of the combat locations in Borderlands, Old Haven is chock full of street fighting with enemies coming from all sides.  Even when I thought I had cleared out an area I would find myself having enemies circle around me to try and ambush me.  This was a total blast.  I would love to see how Old Haven plays out with a full party and all the chaos that would ensue.

The best part of my whole Old Haven encounter was the fact that the story led me closer to the end of my journey to the Vault.  While the story takes a backseat to the action in some points, there is definitely a good reason for wanting to play through to the end.

If you haven't picked up Borderlands yet (for PC, PS3 or 360) do yourself a favor and buy this game.  Pick it up on PS3 and join me even. 

More later folks