Uncharted 4: A Thief`s End review
Are they going to kill off Drake? Is this the last in the series? Is the multiplayer going to be any good? These questions and more have been doing the rounds endlessly since Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was confirmed.
That’s not to say that everything the game does is perfect. The basic premise, that Drake is drawn out of retirement for one last job by his imperiled long-lost brother, is a cliche as old as cinema itself.
Brother? Why yes; despite having never been mentioned in four other Uncharted games. You see, it turns out that Nathan Drake has an older brother called Sam, who he witnessed being shot and apparently killed during a prison break 15 years before the events of Uncharted 4. Considering how dramatic this whole episode turns out to have been (you get to play it) and the apparent guilt Nathan has been carrying ever since, it seems ludicrous that it hasn’t come up before. Especially as Nate’s sidekick Sully also knew him.
Even putting the rewriting of series history to one side, suddenly introducing Sam Drake and making him such a key part of the new game means a lot of backstory needs to be crammed in, and while much of this is playable, it’s not all brilliant. Controlling a young Nathan as he and his teenaged brother break into and explore a house full of archeological treasures feels especially long-winded. What’s more, despite the efforts Naughty Dog has gone to in padding out the brothers’ relationship, I never found myself particularly caring what happened to Sam.
The good news is that Nathan Drake and his wife, Elena, more than make up for Sam in the empathetic stakes. Their relationship feels very real, and because she’s been in the games since the very start, there’s a history between them that doesn’t need explaining. The scenes at home where we get to see the pair enjoying a normal life simply add texture and context to that.
It’s clear that Nathan’s pretty bored with retired life, but it’s also clear why he’s hung up his holster for a peaceful life with the woman he loves. And also why he doesn’t tell her the truth when he leaves town to help Sam hunt down the legendary lost treasure of pirate Henry Avery.
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Let’s put multiplayer to one side, though, because surely it’s the cinematic, single-player swashbuckling that we all look for in an Uncharted game. We want characters oozing charm and funny one-liners, an intriguing, treasure-hunting story and breathtaking set pieces, all wrapped up in the highest fidelity package imaginable.
In short, we want the moon on a stick, and Uncharted 4 delivers. This could well be the most beautiful game ever created, and as Nathan Drake’s story finally comes to a close you’ll be sad to say goodbye to this seminal gaming series, but also satisfied with its conclusion.
Farewell, Drake. Here’s to all the good times.
XCOM 2 review
The first XCOM was heavily inspired by the Gollop brothers’ UFO games of the early 1990s, but its slick blend of tactical turn-based combat and over-arching grand planning made it a crossover hit. Even with an audience who previously wouldn’t have touched a strategy game with a ten-foot pole.
As with 2012’s XCOM, this sequel puts you in charge of a secretive organisation fighting against an alien menace, but this time the tables are turned.
Rather than being funded by the world’s governments, you’re now a rag-tag resistance group struggling to wrest the planet back piece by piece from an alien-infiltrated government. The premise here is that you failed to stop the invasion in the first game, and now 20 years on the aliens are running Earth in the guise of benevolent protectors.
But, of course, they’re not actually benevolent at all; they’re actually engaged in some nefarious, mystery-shrouded scheme known as the Avatar Project. The specific details are revealed over the course of the campaign but suffice to say, should it reach its intended goals, it’s curtains for humanity as we know it. So you need to take the fight to the aliens, disrupt their scheming and unite pockets of resistance around the globe.
With enough combat nous, you’ll help humanity rise up and kick this extraterrestrial menace off the planet once and for all.
XCOM‘s difficulty curve has always been one of the series’ hallmarks, and it has been ramped up to a deviously challenging level here. In previous games, there was always a “tipping point” where you felt the strategic balance turn in your favour, giving you breathing room to build up before embarking on the tougher missions.
If such a point exists in XCOM 2, I haven’t found it – this time, you’re always feeling stretched and hounded by an implacable foe on the strategic level.
The game’s other layer is its turn-based mission mode, in which you control a squad of troops on a 3D map, completing objectives and fighting alien units. Likely to be viewed by most as the true meat of the game, this is incredibly involved, and will push your tactical thinking to its limits – not to mention your composure.
Taking the strong foundation of the first game and adding a more involved story, greater variety of missions and maps, XCOM 2 is a refinement and a distillation of everything that people love about the series.
If you’re up for a supreme challenge that rewards risks and learning from your mistakes, I can’t think of a better title to sink your teeth into.
Battlefield 1 review
The horrific monotony of trench warfare and the Lost Generation it birthed doesn’t really sit easy with what we expect from a first-person shooter. It’s hard to really enjoy that headshot when you’re surrounded by mutilated bodies writhing around in a muddy abyss, you know?
Battlefield 1 does its utmost to sidestep these issues without trivialising them. It’s a game that relies on developer EA DICE having its historical cake and eating it too, and that’s a compelling paradox to spend time with. Even if it doesn’t always make for the most nuanced proposition.
Across both its single-player campaign and the multiplayer gameplay we’ve dug into so far, Battlefield 1 delivers a bombastic take on the ‘Great War’ that mixes stomach churning savagery with spectacular set pieces – and a generous lashing of artistic license. But hey, if it’s accuracy you’re after, there are plenty of documentaries that’ll do the trick.
Video games have done World War II to death, but it’s not hard to see why its predecessor has remained comparatively untouched.
Aside from the gruelling nature of the combat, this conflict doesn’t have the same indisputable ‘good versus evil’ narrative and ultimately served as a prelude to even more brutality. That’s some tough stuff for a game to get to grips with, let alone one that’s meant to be entertaining
Everything about the way DICE presents the pre-match is pure Battlefield, but smarter and shinier. The map immediately looks huge, but it’s far more detailed and animated than it’s ever been before.
From here you select where you want to spawn on the map (you’ll be limited to your squad mates, captured points or certain vehicles) and which loadout you want to take.
Even more so than before, the latter choice rests on how you want to play the game. Do you want to be a tank-busting badass? That’s the Assault class. A machine gun-wielding tank mechanic? That’s support. Or you can be a healer or long-range damage-dealer by selecting the Medic or Sniper class respectively.
As well as dictating which gadgets/abilities you have, your class also dictates which weapons you have access to. During my time so far, I’ve mostly played as the Assault class. Mainly because of my innate desire to be cannon fodder for someone else’s artillery gun, and the fact that I can’t handle a sniper’s scope to save my life. A shortcoming that’s punished hard in Battlefield 1
There’s an awful lot that could have gone wrong with Battlefield 1. An incendiary FPS that allows you to climb onboard tanks, trucks, planes, trains, zeppelins and more, and doesn’t end up as a total mess? That’s a tough ask.
From almost the first moment you step into DICE’s latest creation, there’s the overwhelming sense you’re in safe hands. This game is respectful of its setting without ever forgetting it’s supposed to be entertaining. And although its War Stories best pull off this high-wire act, Operations are a great way of bringing the same empathy and tension to a multiplayer mode.
In the battle for ‘Christmas console essential’, this shooter will take some beating.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review
Thankfully, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t that sort of game.
By which I mean that it is that sort of game in terms of being massive (around 50 hours for the main story, another 50 for the side quests, and perhaps another 50-100 for general exploring, investigating and tom-foolery), but its environment is so detailed and full of life, its story so engaging and its activities so interesting, that every hour spent in The Witcher 3’s company is a pleasure.
It’s the killing of nasty monsters that’s the bread and butter of any witcher worth his salt, and hunting your prey is more involved and interesting than before, frequently involving using witcher senses to find clues and track footprints or smells. The enemies are frequently truly, utterly revolting – wraiths with lolling tongues that would make Gene Simmons blush, and demon-babies wrapped in their own umbilical cords – but once you know what you’re up against you can use the bestiary to discover what its weaknesses are and prepare the relevant potions, bombs and magical “signs”.
Thankfully the preparation process is a bit more streamlined than in the previous games. Once you’ve brewed a potion once, it’s automatically restocked every time you meditate, and signs, bombs and other usable items (including the new crossbow) are available via radial pop-up whenever you like.
Those allergic to stats will likely still find there’s a little too much time spent in menus weighing up the +12 damage of one sword with the +15% critical chance of another, and there are issues with the AI’s pathfinding that means your horse seems to get stuck behind just about anything and everything all the flaming time, but these are minor flaws in a game that is otherwise something of a fantasy masterpiece.
Only the most RPG-phobic should avoid it – everyone else will find The Witcher 3 to be one of the finest games of recent memory.
“This is going to be our year.”
It’s a phrase expectant football fans around the globe chime annually. That the start of a new season – and hopefully, one or two star signings – will pave the way for fresh hopes, dreams, and tantalising possibilities.
Fans of EA Sports’ long-running FIFA franchise are no stranger to the phrase either. For the better part of a decade, there hasn’t been a title challenger in sight. FIFA didn’t just get used to winning titles – it could stroll casually towards them without a care in the world.
Like Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, there’s been no stopping EA’s footie sim juggernaut – but times are changing. In recent years, Pro Evo has emerged as a serious challenger, forcing FIFA to work harder to keep its place at the top of the table.
If FIFA 17 is anything to go by, the EA Sports team really are starting to feel the heat, with some questionable decisions dragging the once unflappable champions back into the title fight.
They might still be on course to win this year’s metaphorical trophy, but there’s no denying it’s getting tighter at the top.
By shining the spotlight solely on one player, The Journey becomes a captivating, tense experience. You’ll become giddy whenever Hunter finds himself in possession, knowing that a moment of magic or a costly fumble could make or break the young star.
When you do score a screamer or serve up a world-class assist, you might just find yourself getting a little bit emotional. Hey, it’s called the beautiful game for a reason.
It’s down to you to write Hunter’s story on the pitch, but the majority of his tale is told through a number of polished, well-acted cutscenes, complete with Mass Effect style conversation options that let you mould his persona. It’s your choice whether to be a modest team-player, or an outspoken goalscorer with more ego than talent.
It’s clear EA has gone the extra mile to immerse players in the world of football – the studio even gets real-world megastars like Marco Reus and Harry Kane to voice their digital doppelgängers – but in doing so they’ve ensured that The Journey is the start of something special. I can’t wait to see where it goes next year.
Somewhat ironically, FIFA 17 isn’t too dissimilar from Alex Hunter. The game feels like a young superstar in the making, destined for greatness but also a little too desperate to impress.
It’s got all the essentials, more than its fair share of flair, and the potential to do some great things in the future. But at the same time, it tries to hard, makes too many avoidable mistakes, and becomes unbalanced as a result.
Consistency is what FIFA 17 lacks. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great game. It just means that the EA Sports team have plenty of work to do before they reestablish themselves as the very, very best.
God Of War 3 : Remastered
“God of War 3 is a great end to Kratos’ console trilogy. It’s not perfect, with some uneven storytelling and progression here and there, but it’s still a fantastic overall package. The combat is stellar once again, it’s bloodier than ever, and it is one of the best looking game ever released. I still think God of War II is the best in the trilogy, but Sony Santa Monica did a great job closing up Kratos’ journey for revenge.”
God of War 3 Remastered for PlayStation 4 recaptures the thrill of the threequel, thanks to the addition of 1080p resolution, a steadier frame rate that usually sits around 60 frames per second, and high-definition textures and lighting effects. These graphical touch-ups make Kratos’ final quest for vengeance against the Olympian gods even more beautifully gory (though not quite enough that it could pass for a game specifically built for the PS4). The “meh” plot remains a weak point, but the excellent combat and action-platforming reminded me why I love this ultra-gory series.
God of War 3 is a strange place for Sony to start remastering the series, since it picks up right where God of War 2’s cliffhanger ending left off, and assumes you’ve played all the previous entries (including Ready at Dawn’s excellent Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta for PSP). There’s a brief recap video, but it’s not quite enough to give you the context you need if you’ve never played before. That makes it tricky to recommend to the uninitiated, because newcomers may wonder why half the Olympians are already dead when the story starts, or why Kratos is so callous toward people who claim to be his allies.
God of War 3 Remastered also comes with all GoW 3 DLC (including a couple of fun Challenge Modes that handicap you to make destroying enemies tougher), plus a new Photo Mode that lets you pause and take screenshots of Kratos in action. The latter is a cool concept, but I hate how mashing the wrong button during battle brings it up; it interrupts the action. The good news is that I got a couple of pretty awesome photos of Kratos raining gory terror on his enemies.
God of War 3 was an impressive feat for its day, and it still impresses today in God of War 3 Remastered. Its beautiful graphics are prettier than ever, and a higher frame rate adds more fluidity to the action. The story will be confusing to newcomers, as it picks up right in the middle of the saga, but the exciting combat and epic set pieces hold up exceptionally well.