Impressions: Uncharted

•November 10, 2007 • 6 Comments

Ah, Uncharted. The second shell in Sony’s double-barreled Holiday assault (the other being Ratchet and Clank Future). When you’re swamped with grizzly marines (in space or otherwise) and loads of fast cars, it’s hard not to notice a game that takes us back to a simpler time — the days when a guy could just, you know, go find a jungle or ruins somewhere and hunt for treasure while getting shot at by ruthless, but comically inept mercenaries. It’s enough to make you dig through your collection and pull out your old copy of The Last Crusade, or maybe Romancing the Stone? Uncharted’s Nathan Drake channels good old Dr. Jones more than he does Michael Douglas, prone to folly as much as he is skirting through rough situations by the skin of his teeth. But a good-natured and resourceful hero is key to any adventure yarn worth its weight in gold. When you hear Drake sigh “Ohhhh boy” as a recently-tossed grenade tumbles to his feet, you know that Naughty Dog’s done their research.

Like many, I was skeptical that such a generic-looking hero could carry such an interesting premise, but Nathan really does have a likable personality that comes out not only in the dialog, but in his animations and facial expressions. His eyes widen as fear as he’s forced to leap from a crashing airplane, screaming “Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!” all the way down. Sometimes he kicks down wrought-iron doors like a badass only to recoil and duck behind the nearest cover when neutered by the gang of badguys hiding just beyond it. If you try to leap up a slick wall, he’ll try to grab at it in a manner that’s endearingly pathetic. Nathan huffs and puffs after running around for awhile (like a girl, I might add) and his clothes actually get wet when submersed in water. The way he reacts to the environment really sells that this is a relatively ordinary guy stuck in an extraordinary situation; there’s the idea that maybe he really has bitten off more than he can chew.

Naughty Dog clearly spent as much time on the atmosphere as their character models. The jungles look fantastic and the lighting is amongst the best I’ve seen. There was one particular moment where I stopped and watched as the shadows shifted with foliage swaying in the wind, appropriately shading objects beneath. Everything feels organic, too. It’s never too tough to figure out where you need to go, but traversable surfaces blend with the environment just enough to break the artifice that they’re only there to get you from point A to point B.

For all of its visual splendor, gunplay is a big part of Uncharted, as well, and seems like it’ll make up a bulk of the game’s action. You’re thrown into several firefights throughout the demo and the first thing you’ll notice is that it feels a lot like Gears of War (though it’s technically not the first game to feature the “stop and pop” gameplay that it popularized). Drake can use just about anything for cover, and it’s advisable to do so, because sitting out in the open is almost always going to get you shot dead. Moving from cover to cover is painless and, quite frankly, necessary. Instead of always setting you up across from the enemy, the game regularly throws you into areas where the AI can easily maneuver around you, and it’s usually smart enough to do so.

It’s the kind of flanking and tactical prowess you’d expect out of a tactical, squad-based shooter, not an adventure game. The baddies will attempt to duck and dodge your fire, and if they feel that you’re turtling behind a wall for too long, they’ll get impatient and try to smoke you out. Naughty Dog’s set things up so that every encounter is as engaging as the last and there seems to be plenty of variety in terms of how you might approach any given situation.

Drake can also engage in fisticuffs if he gets close enough to an enemy to do so. The combos are simple, but satisfying, and usually take enemies down in one hit. The problem is that it can leave you vulnerable. Unlike other games, they don’t just sit around and wait for your animation to play. If there are other bad guys around, they’ll have no problem continuing to shoot your ass as you plant your knuckles on the face of one of their comrades.

Sad as it is, the demo ends quite suddenly and feels like it’s over just as it’s begun, but the game is only about a week-and-a-half away and it’s already left me aching for more. If there’s one thing I can say against it, it’s that I hope there’s a bit more actual platforming/puzzling in the final game. While gunning down enemies feels great, clever level design and acrobatics really make an adventure game. The balance just felt a tad off in the demo, but I assume that it isn’t terribly far into the game (Chapter 4 of ???).

Give it a shot for yourself on PSN. For foreigners who initially had trouble running the demo (it hit the US Store region-locked), give it a second chance. Naughty Dog has already fixed the download and it should now be accessible no matter what country you live in.

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PSA: 40 Gig On Sale Today!

•November 2, 2007 • 1 Comment

Remember everyone! If you’re looking for a new Playstation 3, the new $399 SKU packed in with Spider-Man 3 (Blu-Ray, not game) should be available starting today. The new model, of course, lacks backwards compatibility with Playstation 2 titles (due to the complete removal of chipsets on the motherboard that deal with such things) and two USB slots. Sporting a mid-range hard drive with 40 gigabytes of space, the new machine reportedly runs even quieter than other PS3 SKUs.

Though it may lack certain features, it finally puts the system closer in price range to the Xbox 360, which makes it a good opportunity for people to “jump in” if they’re interested in the games the Playstation 3 has to offer.

PSN Update: 11-1-07

•November 1, 2007 • 1 Comment

I’m really, really sorry for the lack of updates, dear readers. It’s crunch time at school right now (god how I hate the end of term) and on top of that, I’ve got about four or five games on my plate. That doesn’t even account for those I’ll probably pick up in the next couple of weeks. Needless to say, it’s a bit overwhelming, and since I don’t do this for money, it’s even harder to justify spending time on it. Hopefully I can begin to catch up.

That out of the way, it’s Thursday, and that means Sony’s dropping another Network update on us. After a week of crap, demos are back. Oh how we missed thee, trial software! Though we’re still missing that RAW vs. Smackdown demo that was planned to hit a few updates ago, we are getting two “solid, if not spectacular” samplings: Need For Speed: Pro Street and TimeShift. I imagine you already know what to expect with NFS, speedy crashmobiles and EA Trax crammed up your tailpipe. TimeShift, by all accounts, is a generic FPS , but maybe the demo will change your mind? It’s hard enough to get noticed as it is with HALO 3, Orange Box, CoD 4, HAZE, Blacksite: Area 51, and possibly UT3 (did I get them all?) crowding the shelves, so best of luck to it.

The really great thing about today’s update is Twisted Metal 2! Finally, we’re getting somewhere with the Classics. Last week Spyro, this week TM2. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to support even local two-player games, so you’re up the creek if you want to play with a friend.

Rounding things out, there are a few new game trailers up today (Uncharted, Burnout) and some clearly long-awaited wallet rape from our friends at EA (Godfather cheats for money). This is one time I’m not sad to see content hitting PSN well after it pops up on Xbox Live.

As aways, for a more comprehensive list of what’s up on the store this week, click over to Playstation.blog.

For Whom The Guitar Wails

•October 29, 2007 • 1 Comment

I was in a bit of a panic last Saturday. You see, about a week ago, I walked into one of the many local Gamestops to pick up Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (fabulous game by the way), and decided that I might need to plunk a few dollars down on a pre-order for the new Guitar Hero. Pre-ordering is not something that I like to do very often, but availability looked like it might be slim for such a popular game. What can I say? People love their power chords. In retrospect, I’ve seen plenty of copies “around,” but that’s really beside the point.

I don’t know if it was mere brand loyalty or the fact that I had Playstation on the mind that day (once again, Ratchet and Clank and the imminent arrival of Eye of Judgment), but when asked which version I’d like to reserve, I jumped right to “PS3.” After I’d already walked out the store, I got the feeling that maybe what I just did was monumentally stupid. The thought passed for a time, until I was reading up on some threads on NeoGAF and noticed that several version comparisons had been posted. I think this was the first time that I really paid attention to these sorts of things. Beyond the fact that the Playstation 3 version of the game was going to use a wireless dongle, I had assumed up until that point that it was more or less the same as the 360 SKU. Oh, how wrong I was.

That’s not to say that they aren’t the same at the core, because they are. You get the same set of songs, the same note charts, the same gameplay. What makes Guitar Hero “Guitar Hero” is going to be there regardless of what version of the game you’ve bought. So what’s the striking difference, the crux of my decision to dump the Playstation for the Xbox? Infrastructure. Infrastructure. Infrastructure. This is the first game in the series to have a serious online component, and while PSN “does the job,” it still can’t stand up to the reliability of Xbox Live. Here’s what Microsoft’s service does right:

1) Friend invites – Right now, this has to be implemented on a game-by-game basis on the PS3. Eye of Judgment has it, but the integration feels a bit haphazard. It doesn’t tell you what games your friends are actually playing when you want to bug them for a match. Xbox Live, possible by virtue of experience, has got it down pat. We were really supposed to have good XMB integration at this point, which include easy in-game access to your fellow gamers, but firmware 2.0 (which is rumored to add it) is still in limbo.

2) DLC – New developer Neversoft has said that Xbox Live gamers will be the first to receive any downloadable songs or other content that might come along down the road first. Unlike say, GTAIV, this isn’t because of money hats and cash baskets, but because policy is holding up the approval process on Sony’s service. Check this from Chris Remo’s Guitar Hero III Buyer’s Guide over at ShackNews: “Also, Neversoft has stated it’s unsure how timely new in-game tracks will be delivered on the PlayStation Store–a legitimate concern, considering other parties have had trouble putting content up on Sony’s network as well.”

3) Achievements – Love ’em or hate ’em, they keep you playing the game longer and give you a quantifiable asset for comparing your skill to your peers, as well as your rivals. Guitar Hero is a series that has always had a big focus on topping the leaderboard. Look no further than the fact that the largest fansite dedicated to it is called ScoreHero. For the obsessed, achievements are another feather in their cap.

4) Friends – Before you can challenge friends to a match, you’ve got to have them first, and with the majority of players already gravitating towards the 360/PS2 versions of the game, you can forget playing with them if you spring for the PS3. Unfortunately for Sony, this is a problem they can’t fix with a patch. It’s endemic to the perception of the system as a gaming platform right now. More than anything else, this played a key part in my final decision. Few of my acquaintances actually own a Playstation 3 (and some have even gone as far to say that they’ll never purchase one), which means that if I want to co-op with them, it’s 360 or bust.

It’s all the periphery features that make the sale, Sony. Most games these days cannot be confined the experience that comes on the disc and without the support for these sorts of things, you’re rapidly losing your place as the 3rd party wunderkind. Sure, you might say “it’s coming” or “we’re working on it,” but people are already tired of “paying for potential.” It’s time to pony up the goods, or you’re going to continue losing even dedicated Playstation fans like myself. After all, nobody wants the inferior version of a game or console unless it costs lest, and yours most certainly doesn’t.

So, instead of opting for my pre-order (which I tried to switch, but there were no Xbox copies left for reserve), I walked into Best Buy Sunday morning and picked Guitar Hero III up for the 360. Your loss.

PSN Update: 10-25-07

•October 25, 2007 • 1 Comment

With the Playstation Eye out this week, Sony’s giving us some extra software to go along with it. We’ve got Trials of Topoq, Aqua Vita, and Operation Creature Feature up on the PSN…oh wait, no we don’t. Despite being promised the titles (and, apparently, Europeans getting it), the only “downloadable game” we get this week is the EyeCreate editing software, which I’m surprised Sony had the gall to call a “game” in the first place. Hell, at least it’s free (and only 9 megs, so it shouldn’t take up much space on the old hard drive) and we’ve gt Eye of Judgment to justify the purchase.

Other than that, we’ve got some mostly superfluous DLC for Piyotama and Ninja Gaiden Sigma (and some old Spider-Man DLC has been discounted, as well). At the very least, Sony has tossed in PSOne classic Spyro, partially addressing the complaints I’ve had for the past few months. It’s not enough, though, unless they keep it up and also start offering some of the games most people didn’t get to play. After all, that’s the appeal for me – getting my hands on all the rare stuff that I couldn’t the first time around. Can we try for Bust-A-Groove next week, Sony? Pretty please?

If it wasn’t already evident, I think this week’s update is kind of a bust, but if you want to check out the offerings in detail (and what I didn’t mention here), follow the jump.

[Via: Playstation.blog]

Continue reading ‘PSN Update: 10-25-07’

Eye of Judgment Found!

•October 25, 2007 • 1 Comment

Hey everyone, it seems like a few more retailers are getting EoJ in today, even though it’s still a bit spotty. I picked up a copy at Toys R Us right as they’d arrived in boxes, so that might be your best bet. And despite what one Gamestop employee told me (call back Saturday), they seemed to get some in, too.

As most stores are probably only getting in three or four copies, I’d make the trip down to your local store as soon as possible.

The cruddy part is that *nobody* seems to have the stand-alone booster packs or theme decks yet, which means you may have to settle for ordering them online for the time being.

I’ve only had a chance to play a couple rounds against the computer so far, but it’s just so frickin’ cool! If you’ve read any reviews yet, certainly some of the complaints they have are there, but I think they’re worth dealing with. People ask, “why even bother with the PS3/Eye if they don’t add anything but cool visuals? Why not just buy the cards?”

Well, because it’s the kind of experience you just can’t get anywhere else. There’s nothing else like it. It’s fun and immersive and you could honestly say the same thing about the way the Wii operates. I don’t see any reason beyond the price of entry *not* to get excited about Eye of Judgment’s unique features.

Anyway, regardless of what the technology may or may not offer, there’s tons of depth to the game that will make it playable for a long, long time to come. Mana’s always at a premium and after the first few rounds, you’re almost always in a state of “check” with your opponent (for the unfamiliar, you have to control 5 squares on the board by the end of a turn to win), which is when it gets the most exciting. Positioning and tile elements really make it stand out from your average collectible card game, too.

So go out and buy the game already! If EoJ does well, I’m sure other companies will start seeing the value of using the technology to create even more interesting uses of the camera, card/board game clones and beyond.

Top Gear And Gran Turismo 5 In Unholy Union Of Awesomeness

•October 24, 2007 • 4 Comments

Do you love cars? If you do, you probably love Top Gear, the long-running British series in which motorhead Jeremy Clarkson takes various vehicles for a spin and then (usually) rips them apart. OK, there’s a bit more to it than that, but don’t worry because you’ll get to see it all when classic episodes of the show become available on Gran Turismo 5 Prologue’s in-game broadcast channel (GT TV) goes live!

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In addition, the final version of the game will feature Top Gear’s famous test track, which is laid upon the tarmac of an old aerodrome:

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This is all especially good news for American gamers and car enthusiasts who have never really had good access to the series, despite it being one of the most pirated around the world.

[Via: TopGear]