Monthly Archives: May 2016

Opinions on… Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece. There’s no point in me hiding that fact, or trying to debate it; it’s so simply and categorically true that I might as well just stick it at the start of this article and potentially be done with it. That would certainly mean that in most cases you’d be free to go off and do your own thing, but I want to really explain why it’s so good. Well, that, and I get lonely without you here. In short, Naughty Dog has just excelled at every component that shapes the end of Nathan Drake’s journey – it’s a combination of so many finely tuned and elements, it becomes almost ridiculous to behold.

To begin with, let’s take the purely external appearance of A Thief’s End; that is, what you immediately see when the game is in action. Graphically, Uncharted 4 is simply breathtaking to behold – this is something I say this about lots of games, true, but this game takes it to another level. Everything just feels so vibrant and alive, every new vista causing you to stop and just drink it in with awed wonder time and time again. Everything is so intricately detailed, something that boils down to even the finest of details – flowers dance and sway in the breeze, rocks tumble and fall down mountainsides so realistically it’s frightening, and so many more examples besides. Photo mode here doesn’t just feel like an optional bonus, it feels like an intrinsic part of the game, something you’ll want to mess around with time and time again. After all, you only need to glance around the web to see the hundreds upon hundreds of amazing screenshots other players have taken. You’d be forgiven for thinking trickery is at play, but you’d be mistaken – that’s just what the game looks like all the time.

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This isn’t just all gloss and no substance, however. After three games following Drake and friends, becoming invested in their adventures and their hardships, Uncharted 4 delivers a gripping story that’s less about treasure hunting and more about looking at each character and who they really are. I should point out it’s a story that’s slow to get going, to the extent I was starting to get a little restless at the slower pacing that makes up the first few chapters, but when it truly gets going it never stops. There are so many moments where I felt the highs and lows the characters themselves were feeling on screen, making me rapidly come to realisation of how much I actually care about each and every of them. That’s something that’s not easy to achieve by a long shot, and the fact the game manages to pull it off so easily (And end the whole Uncharted saga with a satisfying conclusion to boot) only adds to its impressive nature.

Completing the package, of course, is the gameplay itself. Anyone who has even touched an Uncharted title before will know to expect the hearty mix of platforming, puzzles and action that the games have delivered in the past. Here, though, everything’s polished to an ever finer shine. There’s very few moments this time around that are in any way dull to play – everything just flows and feels so brilliantly and naturally it reaches the point where it’s almost unnoticeable. I’ll avoid spoilers, but chapter 11shows this off perfectly, and is perhaps the pinnacle of Uncharted gameplay in compacted form. It starts off with some excellent platforming in the kind of locations you’ve come to expect to see, then throws one of the cleverest puzzles the series has ever had at you, and ends with perhaps the best action sequence of all the games to date. That chapter in microcosm alone is sure to be held in high regard for years to come, but the crazy thing is it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. The whole game is just pure fun to play from start to end, with nothing there to sour the experience.

This extends to certain gameplay elements I was wary of going into the game, but which fit so perfectly I honestly question why I ever thought otherwise. Take, for instance, the jeep and boat sections – after the clumsy Jet Ski sections of the first game, I was worried the same fiddly controls and issues would rear their ugly head again here. It’s actually the opposite that holds true; both vehicles provide some unique gameplay and exciting moments that simply wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It also allows the world to open up to a bigger extent that it has ever done before, which is a very good thing. The same holds true of the grappling hook – it feels like a weird addition to begin with, an unwanted intruder into the familiar, but by the end of the game you’ll be wondering how the series ever functioned without it. Even design choices, such as a noticeable reduction in the amount of set pieces and gun fights that disappointed me initially, end up making perfect sense. This time around, there’s no reliance on certain scripted moments to get the blood pumping; the action is more widely spread out to keep you focused, and when a set piece does arrive, it’s all the more grander for it.

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If there’s one final thing to mention, it’s the multiplayer, and if I were to be honest it’s here that I can fire off the only major issue I have with the game. There’s nothing actually wrong with it – it’s accessible and exciting to play, and in my short time with it so far I cannot deny I’ve had some exciting matches and memorable moments. It just feels like there’s not much to keep you coming back to it. The whole experience is geared around unlocking new costumes and animations, but after completing the one daily challenge you get a day, progress towards doing so becomes incredibly slow. There’s nothing truly exciting to work towards, and which the thrill of victory is nice enough, it just feels like there needs to be something more. The fact micro transactions loom over the whole affair can’t help but makes you feel like that this was an intended design choice as well – and with the rest of the game being so welcoming and exciting to the player, that’s not a nice feeling at all.

Seriously, though, that’s the only fault of any substance I can level at the game. Any other issues – such as the unexpected gameplay shift in the final boss fight, for instance, or the fact combat as a whole can still feel a tiny bit loose of times – quite simply does not detract from the final product in any noticeable way. From the very start of this article I’ve been gushing about how good Uncharted 4 is, I’m well aware, but that’s simply because I simply cannot get across how honestly and truly amazing a game this is. You need to play this. Seriously.

Opinions on… Ratchet and Clank

It’s weird to think that the first Ratchet and Clank game came out almost fifteen years ago now. Yet even with this in mind, I still have vague memories of young me marvelling at the game’s wondrous worlds, and all the shiny weapons I could use. I can even recall my desire to get the infamous “R.Y.N.O”, and grinning to myself when I used it to shred the final boss into pieces in a matter of seconds. The point is this; I’ve not played another game in the series since then, but those memories have still stuck with me, in the same way similar memories of the series must have stuck with thousands of others. So it was with curiosity that I wondered this new reboot could recapture the good old days, or whether it was the worst attempt at cashing in on a film ever.

Happily enough, the former holds true; while the game itself is not perfect, there’s certainly enough here to make everyone happy. For one, the required array of weird and wonderful weapons that define a Ratchet and Clank game are all present and correct – sure, you’ve got your fairly run of the mill blasters and sniper rifles, but then you have such oddities as a shotgun that turns things into pixels, or a laser that transforms things into goats. Each of these devices of death are satisfying and fun to use, and although one or two of them do feel a little inferior when compared to other weapons, you’ll have to keep using them all to even stand a chance to survive. This is partly due to limited ammo resources and the situation in hand, but one of the biggest incentives simply comes from the fact that each weapon can be levelled up and upgraded to become even more kick ass. Everything is cleverly designed so you’ll want to keep using weapons just to get the satisfaction of seeing them all get stronger and stronger. The ability to combining the effects of two beefed up weapons drives your motivation even further – soon enough, you’ll be causing a metric tonne of damage at an incredible pace, and loving every second.

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Speaking of pace, it’s safe to say this game runs at one that can be described as “blistering”. It screams along incredibly quickly; you can land on one planet, clear it out, and be on the next within 20 minutes. Wave upon wave of bad guys stream out from practically every corner, the screen lights up in a beautiful (and slightly confusing at times) Technicolor spectacle almost instantly, and before you have time to obtain victory and draw your breath you’re on to the next encounter. It gets even more ridiculous when you unlock challenge mode after completing the game; with all your weapons available from the start and the ability to upgrade them at a much more rapid pace, things just get even faster. Some puzzle sections with Clank provide necessary breathers that ensure things don’t get too repetitive, which are fun in themselves – although I have to say they do get a little dull upon repeat playthroughs. It’s the light speed action that’s the true highlight of the show here, and something that is well worth the price of admission.

Credit must also go to the developers Insomniac Games for making it so not only does the game never chug or stutter when true mayhem is going on, but actually remains looking smooth and stunning overall. Each new world is a joy to behold; they’re vivid, crisp and clear, and full of attention to detail. Hovercars zip across the skyline on some, steam and lava spurt and bubble from the ground on others. Some will moan at the lack of 60fps in play here – but really, shouldn’t matter when the overall picture is this damn good.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the general path you take through these meticulously crafted and beautiful worlds remains so strictly linear. I suppose this is an odd thing to critique considering the nostalgic nature of the game – I doubt the classic Ratchet and Clank or any title in the series has let you wander freely, after all – but it does feel a bit of a shame that everything is on a strict path all the same. On the rare occasion you’re actually let off the leash to wander to your heart’s content, it’s really fun; you’re given the chance to soar around with a jetpack on one planet, for instance, or to plunge the ocean’s depths on another. It does, however, raise another problem – there’s very little of worth to actually find.  Sub-quests essentially boil down to a dull “collect them all” type of affair, there’s a few gold bolts where one gadget will happily just point them out to you on a map without you making any effort… And that’s pretty much it. Perhaps I ask too much, but a little bit more freedom (And the incentive to take advantage of that freedom) would not have gone amiss.

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Something that is much more of a major issue, however, and one that is incredible to see considering this game is meant to coincide with a movie, is that the story is incredibly weak. It gets in a few good jokes, but apart from that it’s predictable and at points just seems downright weirdly written. For example, there’s very little notable interaction between Ratchet and Clank themselves, even though the game itself is named after them. They seem to end up paired together without any thought, there’s basically one scene where they have any sort of meaningful conversation, and that’s your lot. The side characters would also be completely forgettable if it wasn’t for the fact they never shut up over comms, often with pointless updates and advice. It’s reached the point on my third playthrough where I want to reach into the screen and strangle some of them, which I seriously doubt is the effect the game was going for. As an incentive to make me want to go and see the film itself, this fails miserably.

Overall then, Ratchet and Clank isn’t perfect – however, it’s still incredibly fun to play, and brings back the same sense of enjoyment and excitement I felt playing the original so many years ago. Overall, it’s worth checking out – because for all the time you’ll spend creating chaos and explosions within the game, you’ll certainly also be having a blast outside of it.