Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

The final entry in the original PlayStation 3 trilogy is my favorite Uncharted game yet.

Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time. 

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: October 2015 (Originally Nov. 2011 on PS3)
Played On: PlayStation 4

backlogWe come to the last game in the original PlayStation 3 trilogy. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception builds upon all the successful story beats and action moments from the sequel and crafts an even more enjoyable cinematic action-blockbuster, easily creating my favorite Uncharted game (so far).

The third game takes full advantage of its larger, established cast of Sully, Elena, and Chloe, and even throws in a new character, the Guy Ritchie-esque British gangster Cutter. While the story may have lacked the opening flash-forward of the train escape in the second game, I loved the alley brawls and underground tunnel excursions in London, leading us to our new villains in Marlowe and Talbot.

This time around Drake and company are back to investigating Nathan’s namesake, Sir Francis Drake, and the lost City of Iram of the Pillars. If you’re thinking this is very much like finding the lost city of Shambhala last game, you’re correct. A running theme here is that it apes much from the last game, but frankly does everything a bit better. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

How well does the original Uncharted hold up a decade later?

Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time. 

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: October 2015 (Originally Nov 2007 on PS3)
Played On: PlayStation 4

backlogAnd so begins my grand backlog adventure into the Uncharted series.

I’ve never held any dedication or fandom toward Sony or Microsoft. I dabbled in the PS1, loved my PS2, and then skipped the entire PS3 generation in favor of the Xbox 360.

With this console generation I’ve returned to Sony with noticeable gaps in my gaming history. Thus much of my current backlog gaming will be dedicated to playing catch up some of the biggest PlayStation games of the last and current generation.

You already read my Final Thoughts on The Last of Us: Remastered. Now it’s time for Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, beginning with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – SteamWorld Heist

Does the turn-based tactical combat of XCOM work in a 2D game?

Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time. 

Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Release Date: December 10, 2015
Available On: 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, iOS, Switch
Played On: 3DS

gaming backlog final thoughtsIt’s been far too long since I was able to properly start and finish an older game from my backlog. My workload as a freelance writer continues to increase (and part of my job is to play new games), and 2017 in particular had a bunch of long games that have taken up a big chunk of my personal play time, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 (consequently, the #1-3 games on my Top Ten list).

But thanks to waiting in line every day to pick my daughter up from school, I’ve been slowly plugging away on my Nintendo 3DS, finishing a lot of recently released games like Pokémon Moon, Metroid: Samus Returns, and Monster Hunter Stories.

After those I fired up an older game that had been sitting in my digital library for so long that I accidentally purchased it again during a Steam sale at some point: SteamWorld Heist.

SteamWorld Heist is a spin-off of the SteamWorld Dig series that takes place in the same steampunk-robots-in-space universe. But instead of another action-platformerer, it’s freakin’ 2D XCOM, and it works brilliantly. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – SteamWorld Heist”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Carmageddon: Reincarnation

Frustrating controls and frequent crashes prevent this nostalgic remake from stepping out of the shadow of the original 90s car-smasher.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Stainless Games

Publisher: Stainless Games

Release Date: May 21, 2015

Carmageddon-Reincarnation

In the immortal words of Dr. Ian Malcolm (paraphrasing): just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes that applies to remakes of classic 90s video games.

I was a big fan of Carmageddon back in the day. The violent destruction derby combined standard racing with large, fully explorable zones. Racing through checkpoints was only one of three ways to win.

The others involved either destroying your fellow racers, or running over every poor pedestrian that wandered into range of your four-wheeled death machine. It was silly, over-the-top violence that was very 90s and very fun. An expansion pack added more fun, while a middling sequel suggested that the magic may have already died a bit.

Skip ahead to our current Kickstarter-addled, nostalgic fueled age. Stainless Games bought back the rights to their beloved car-smashing series and jumped onto the Kickstarter bandwagon back in 2012. An official remake was in the works.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation was finally released three years later after a hefty dose of time in open development via Steam Early Access. The result was a buggy, poorly optimized mess that I initially shied away from, despite being a Kickstarter backer. Thankfully a few months of post-launch patches and support have stabilized the gameplay and the result is a briefly nostalgic, but ultimately forgettable experience. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Carmageddon: Reincarnation”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Hand of Fate

Despite some frustrations, Hand of Fate successfully layers in 3rd person combat into a highly randomized card-based tabletop adventure.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Defiant Development

Publisher: Defiant Development

Release Date: February 17, 2015

Rogues Adventure

The indie gaming scene is full of brilliant, innovative ideas and genre mashups. Many of them bury a cool concept deep within convoluted gameplay or “retro-homage” graphics. Final execution is just as critical as having a cool idea, and so many games fail – or are quietly forgotten because of it.

Thankfully Hand of Fate is not one of those games. By layering a 3rd person arena-fighting game on top of a card-based tabletop adventure, Hand of Fate creates a truly unique and infinitely replayable experience. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Hand of Fate”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Gunpoint

Rewiring security in this 2D stealth-puzzler is a blast, but it’s too short to fully embrace more advanced levels.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

 

Developer: Suspicious Developments

Publisher: Suspicious Developments

Release Date: June 3, 2013

Gunpoint-title

There’s an old joke that all critics really want to be creators – game critics want to be designers, film critics want to be screen writers, music critics want to be rock stars, etc. Occasionally a critic does successfully make that leap. Even late film critic Roger Ebert wrote an odd X-rated pseudo-sequel to Valley of the Dolls in the 60s. Former PC Gamer editor Tom Francis may not be a Roger Ebert, but his one-man stealth-puzzle game Gunpoint is a triumph of simplistic but effective 2D puzzle design.

Gunpoint stars Richard Conway, a private investigator that lives in a pixelated world full of guards, security cameras, and breakable windows. During the opening sequence Conway witnesses the murder of a potential new client while trying out his new Bullfrog brand Hypertrousers. The pants allow you to charge up super jumps, breaking through windows and falling from any height. This allows you to concentrate on the puzzles in each level rather than any tedious platforming.

Conway is suspect #1 in the murder investigation, and the story follows a funny tale as he’s hired to first erase the data by one party, then try and recover it by another. The story unfolds through a simple text-based dialogue between a pair of pixelated faces. It’s a rudimentary as you can get. Thankfully the writing is particularly amazing. I laughed out loud throughout the unfolding noir drama that maintains its self-aware snarkiness. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Gunpoint”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse

A satisfying, if overly long, fifth entry that has the fun characters and varied puzzles of the venerable adventure franchise.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Revolution Software

Publisher: Revolution Software

Release Date: April 17, 2014 (Episode 1 December 4, 2013)

rogue's adventures

I want to take a moment to celebrate my 50th completed game since I began Rogue’s Adventures in the Fall of 2012.  Motivated by an ever-expanding backlog thanks to constant and amazing Steam sales, I was drowning in games, and never knew which ones to play. Rogue’s Adventures helps me create a schedule and stick to it, and I’ve played (and completed) dozens of games in the last few years.

Broken Sword 5 is a neat game to have for number 50. The first three games were a major reason I began Rogue’s Adventures. I had a particularly large backlog of point and click adventure games at the time. Most of what would become Season 1 of Rogue’s Adventures were adventure games, including the first three Broken Sword titles (which I undoubtedly bought in a discounted bundle). I usually prefer my adventure games with fantasy or sci-fi flavoring but the modern thrillers with lovable characters and varied puzzles resonated well with me.

While Broken Sword 5 is far from the best entry, it does effectively bring back the characters, themes, and fond memories of the originals – a nostalgia factor I’ve only had for a few years! Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Ori and the Blind Forest

With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: March 11, 2015

rogues adventure

In many ways Ori and the Blind Forest has become the new standard for typical indie games; gorgeous 2D art, hardcore platforming, and a whimsical, faerie tale-like story. It also helps to be published by a giant like Microsoft. Thus it’s easy to initially dismiss a game like Ori. I know I initially felt a been there-done that vibe, even when the great critical reviews started rolling in.

I finally decided to take the plunge when it went on sale during the Steam Summer Sale, and now I’m ashamed at myself for dismissing it so quickly without ever having tried it. With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

rogues adventure

The story centers on the titular little spirit creature that becomes lost from its parent tree during a great storm. In searching for Ori, the great tree ends up burning through the forest, and the giant owl named Kuro fights back by stealing away its light source. It’s up to Ori and little tree spirit companion Sein to gather together the other elements around the forest and restore the tree’s light.

I’ll understand if that little story causes a hefty amount of eye-rolling. It’s difficult to convey how well the relatively simple tale is effectively told using poetic narration (translated via text on screen by the tree spirit – who sounds like an operatic Jabba the Hut). There’s very little dialogue; Sein is the only one that really speaks to explain about new abilities or tasks, while Ori’s journey and Kuro’s backstory are told via beautiful cutscenes. The presentation is just fantastic.

The gameplay is pure metroidvania. The beautiful forest can be easily navigated thanks to the lovely in-game map, probably one of my single favorite feature of the game. It’s a really great map. If you’re game has a great in-game map, chances are I will love it.

rogues adventure

Ori steadily gains new traversal abilities, allowing it to climb walls, float, bash through rocks, and stomp through the ground, gaining access to new areas and previously unreachable goodies. Collectibles come in just three flavors, life and energy cells that give you more…life and energy, as well as ability cells that are essentially big experience point boosters. These can be spent on three different skill trees to grant Ori various passive buffs and help, like revealing secrets on the map or granting double and triple jumps.

Without any loot or weapons, Ori’s sole means of attack is through the spirit Sein, a constant hovering point of light that fires off a rapid burst of fireballs at the nearest target, not unlike Dust’s companion in Dust: An Elysian Tail. Enemies are auto-targeted once they’re in range, allowing you to focus on avoiding their attacks as well as the many traps and pitfalls that remain a constant threat.

The game is challenging as hell, and it knows it. The biggest innovation comes from the ability to expend energy to create manual save points called Soul Links. In the early game I was quite nervous about hoarding this ability, but by the midpoint I had so much energy it was never an issue. Good thing because creating constant Soul Links becomes imperative if you want to minimize redoing a particularly difficult section over and over. The stats screen ominously keeps track of your deaths; by the end of the game I had over 150.

rogues adventure

Though the gameplay is metroidvania, the actual structure is more akin to The Legend of Zelda. Each of the three main areas you travel to after meeting the tree first has an object you must acquire, followed by a dungeon that must be completed. Each of these dungeons has a unique hook that utilizes a certain ability or feature in all its puzzles and platforming challenges, like the shifting maze of the Misty Woods or the gravity-defying orb of the Forlorn Ruins. It made each area have a really unique spin on top of its lovely aesthetics.

Pretty much the only complaint I had while playing was the complete lack of fast travel. Most metroidvanias have some sort of limited fast travel between certain areas, allowing for some quicker means to backtracking and gaining previously missed collectibles. Ori and the Blind Forest has no such convenience, and the world is just big enough to make me really miss it.

Ultimately it prevented me from going back to some of the more remote areas to gather the last few pick-ups I had missed (I left most areas at around 95% completion). At least one area you were prevented from returning to after beating due to story reasons – an aspect I wish we would’ve been warned about.

rogues adventure

The story ends up being predictably sappy and sentimental but it’s wrapped up in such a beautiful package that I couldn’t help but be swept up in Ori’s plight. The scripted and challenging gauntlet sequences with Kuro are the right mixture of stressful and fun, though the shine wears off when you have to repeat them more than half a dozen times. The final one is especially brutal, allowing little room for error. I found it annoying that I was simply prevented from using a Soul Link to at least create checkpoints for myself.

At around 10 hours Ori and the Blind Forest never wears out its welcome. New abilities come quickly and the world is a joy to explore, discovering new secrets and gameplay mechanics. Wondering how the hell you reach an unobtainable goodie, only to smugly return later armed with your handy new ability is par for the genre, but Ori really creates a satisfying experience with its intuitive map design and streamlined experience.

rogues adventure

Pros

  • Beautiful artwork and world design
  • Perfectly balanced and steady ramp of challenge and difficulty
  • Effective story-telling and presentation
  • Streamlined experience focuses on all the best parts of the genre
  • Soul Link mechanic is brilliant

Cons

  • No fast travel or teleportation system
  • Numerous scripted chase sequences are especially difficult, and offer no checkpoints or Soul Link usage

Final Say: Beautiful, poignant, challenging, and fun, Ori is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

An amazingly fun open world pirate adventure that would better served without the Assassin’s Creed franchise trappings.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

AC 4 Black FlagDeveloper: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: October 29, 2013

 

Assassin’s Creed is one of many major game franchises that I have never played, and never had much interest in (see also Metal Gear Solid, and any horror franchise). I didn’t have anything particularly against it (other than Ubisoft’s terrible treatment of the PC) but the historical settings didn’t really excite me, and the themes seemed a bit dour and serious for my taste.

Enter Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, my first Assassin’s Creed game. Black Flag takes place in the early 18th century, during the height of merchant trade, colonization, and pirates along the new world and the Caribbean. I adore the pirate theme – the ships that act as your mobile command center, the unique combination of swords and pistols, the dichotomy of lawlessness and imperialism. It translates so well to gaming it’s a shame we haven’t seen more pirate games. I still count Sid Meier’s Pirates! as one of the best, and the remake is over 10 years old.

Thus I finally decided to give an Assassin’s Creed game a chance, after a hefty Steam sale of course. Black Flag immediately immersed me into its fun world of pirate assassins, naval combat, and the open world of the Caribbean sea. In many ways it embodies the modern AAA video game – dumb story, cliché characters, incredible production values and tons of collectibles and modern gaming conveniences.  Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – South Park: The Stick of Truth

A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment (with South Park Digital Studios)

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 4, 2014

south-park-the-stick-of-truth

I was slightly late to my South Park fandom. The first season aired back in the ancient era of 1997, and I’d written it off as a silly Beavis and Butthead style adult cartoon. While it was quite silly and full of shock value, I didn’t begin seeing its incredibly clever social commentary and political skewering until several years later. Around the time South Park was in its fifth or sixth season I caught up on all the episodes, and I’ve been a diehard fan ever since.

To say I was looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth is a big understatement. Developed by beloved RPG developer Obsidian, they were tasked with directly collaborating with Matt Stone and Trey Parker in creating an epic RPG with the look and feel of the show. Licensed games usually fare poorly in their translation to gaming, but all the previews looked fantastic, and The Stick of Truth made it onto my Most Anticipated Games lists….for 2012, 2013, and 2014!

The game had been stuck in development hell for years after its proud announcement, partly due to the dissolution of then-publisher THQ and its acquisition by Ubisoft. Heavily licensed game plus long, tumultuous development typically results in disaster. I’m pleased to say that not only does South Park: The Stick of Truth defy expectations, but it’s easily one of the best licensed video games ever made.

2015-05-17_09-51-09

From the moment you jump into the character creator the art style and animations completely absorb you into the world of South Park. The show’s unique 2D cutout animation is in full glorious display, and for the first time you can actually walk around and explore the modest open world of the town. Exploring the town of South Park brought me endless joy (and made me pine for a Simpsons-Springfield equivalent game). Everything is right where you think it is, from the South Park Mall to each boys’ cookie-cutter houses in a row.

The initial hook of the story is related to Season 17’s “Black Friday” trilogy, which ended with direct teases to The Stick of Truth. Though South Park goes in some very funny and dark places with its social commentary and pop culture references, my personal favorite episodes are when the kids are play-acting extravagant events and adventures. They juxtapose their incredibly imaginative and increasingly creative adventures with the equally mundane and crazy backdrop of their lives and town.

The Stick of Truth runs with this theme perfectly as most of the kids in town are playing a Dungeons & Dragons style real-world fantasy game using costumes and household objects as weapons. Entire factions are drawn up, war parties are formed, and you as the new kid in town are thrown into the middle of it. In fact, much of the main story missions are heavily inspired from BioWare’s RPGs as you gather allies from other factions such as the goth kids, the kindergartners, and even the girls. Eventually you’re forced to choose a side between Cartman’s humans and Kyle’s elves, though an even darker event causes the boys to join forces in the end.

2015-05-17_09-45-29

Meanwhile you’re free to explore the entire town at you leisure, with only a few locations blocked off Metroidvania-style until you acquire new abilities. The town is a treasure-trove of recognizable locations and hidden goodies, with just the right amount of side quests to add some additional adventuring without overwhelming you with superfluous tasks. I did enjoy collecting friends on Facebook; not only is it fun to find and talk to people but acquiring friends unlocks passive perks.

Loot is everywhere. By halfway through the game I was equipping new weapons and armor sets just about every 15 or 20 minutes, and each one has slots for equipping patches and “strap-ons” to modify them further to suit your needs. It’s an embarrassment of riches and partly lead to the overpowered feeling I quickly gained for most combat encounters.

Combat is designed similarly to Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario games. When you run into an enemy, be they ginger kids, hobos, mongorians, or nazi zombies, the game shifts to a turn-based JRPG-style battlefield where you take turns using melee, ranged, magic and special abilities. Your magical abilities, of course, are powerful fart attacks that you acquire throughout the game, and are also used to access new areas in the world.

Combat is supported by active button-prompts, letting you dodge attacks and do more damage with the right timing. Abilities utilize active button prompts in various ways, like spinning the joystick to wind up Butters’ hammer throw, or mashing all the buttons to get Cartman to scream various obscenities when he unleashes his electrical V-Chip powers a la South Park: The Movie.

The emphasis on speed and efficiency over tactical depth matches well with the overall gameplay. That’s not to say there weren’t some deep systems involved. Multiple debuffs and status effects were very important in affecting opponents, such as Grossed Out and Pissed Off, and elemental damage could be added to weapons to further take advantage of a foe’s weakness. Armor and shields also played into the combat; often I had to adjust my strategies and weapon mods depending on the area and enemies I was facing.

2015-05-13_16-30-48

Once I learned the various combat systems I breezed through most encounters without much trouble. At the end of combat both health and power points are fully restored, allowing you to unleash your powers as much as you see fit. Consumables are also incredibly prolific, and since using one doesn’t take up your turn you can quickly pop a health or buffing potion and still attack.

You’re allowed one supportive party member from a familiar roster of the main cast to join you, and not only can you switch them out on the fly, you can switch them out right in the middle of combat. While you can’t change out their equipment, each hero comes with their own abilities, and I found them all to be fairly useful in different situations. Battles go quickly but the animations are so much fun, and the enemy variety decent enough that they remained enjoyable throughout my 15 hour adventure.

The main story takes place over three days, with each day ending in a large event resembling a dungeon crawl. The first day ends with the classic South Park aliens abducting you, complete with lots of anal probing – resulting in a new anal probe satellite dish to teleport to new places. The story goes in all kinds of really fun, really messed up places – very much appropriate to the series. From infiltrating an abortion clinic and fending off an outbreak of nazi zombie fetuses, to fighting underpants gnomes right under your very noisy, very graphic sex-having parents, the game never shies away from the hilarious shock value that the show is infamous for.

2015-05-17_09-59-25

In addition to the many, many references around every corner, dialogue session, and cutscenes the game even adds its own funny jokes, like an incredibly funny on-going gag about Taco Bell as the cover-up to the UFO crash and presenting Canada as a hilariously pixelated 8-bit overworld style map.

It all ends in a fantastic final assault on Clyde’s fortress of doom (a giant tower in his backyard). Throughout several big story missions in the game you’re pitted within the backdrop of an ongoing battle, and I loved how various environmental traps and abilities could be used to affect foes before ever engaging them in combat, sometimes taking whole groups out completely. Seeing the the various kids so passionately involved in their role-playing is pure fun, and the absurdity and seriousness of it all is a fantastic combination that is quintessential South Park. Fans of the show and RPGs rejoice, for we have been blessed with an amazing adaptation.

2015-05-18_00044

Pros

  • Art Style and animations are perfect recreations of the South Park style
  • Just as shocking and hilarious as the TV show
  • Surprisingly deep combat system that never wears out its welcome
  • Tons of loot and customization options
  • Exploring the town is sheer joy for fans
  • Perfectly paced, with just the right combination of linear story missions and open world exploration and side quests

Cons

  • Other than a few boss battles, combat is pretty easy
  • Summons and Fart Magic are almost entirely unnecessary
  • At 15hrs it’s a bit short for a standard RPG, and a few plot threads or events feel a bit rushed or edited (only one crab person in the whole game)

Final Say: A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.