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Life Is Strange: Reflections and Discussion

This article will be a little different to most of my others. As I hinted at during my Life is Strange review I felt there were lots of aspects to that game that I couldn’t discuss in the spoiler free context of my review. So here I will take an in depth look at some of my key experiences and interesting questions that remain after playing this truly excellent game

DISCLAIMER: The following article contains major spoilers for Life is Strange, do not read this if you are planning on playing this game. If you want more information on the game, I’d recommend looking into my aforementioned spoiler free review.

(Find it here: https://nickpjenkins25.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/life-is-strange-review-spoiler-free/)

Kate- A Turning Point

Whilst I was about an episode and a half into Life is Strange, I was still wondering if the game was for me, it was clear it would deal with serious topics and contained incredibly well written characters. But I still had my reservations, I didn’t feel that invested. But little did I know that was about to change completely. Now the final part of the story in episode 2 revolves around Max’s attempt to stop Kate Marsh from jumping off the roof of Blackwell. Now sadly in my first play through of the game, I failed this and sadly Kate jumped to her death. I was certainly struck by this and felt a great deal of guilt regarding my actions. But as the episode progressed I began to wonder if Kate’s death was a scripted moment in the game, designed to always occur no matter what the player does. You may say that’s ridiculous in a game all about player choice, why would it take away a major choice from the player? But actually if you look a bit deeper it doesn’t seem quite so crazy and would fit the themes of the game. First and foremost being a very obvious example of how Max’s (and by extension the player’s) actions can have massive consequences. Secondly that despite her newfound power Max simply cannot save everyone. Either way as I was coming to the end of episode 2 I was beginning to come to terms with the events of that episode, then a get delivered an emotional punch to the stomach. When reviewing my choices for the previous episode the game informs me “You failed to save Kate”. I was so taken aback by this revolution I literally switched off my PS4 and sat as the realisation hit me about what I had done. Situations like this prove just have well-constructed the game’s characters and story is. In the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, you’ll kill countless hundred if not thousands of people. Why are people not effected in the same way? Those characters are deliberately designed to be little more than bundles of pixels with which the player forms no real attachment. So perhaps there’s a little bit more to it than the clichéd ‘video games desensitize you to violence/emotion’ argument.

Chloe’s Relationship With Rachel

This is an interesting area of discussion for the simple reason that we never see Rachel and Chloe directly interact we only hear about her through Chloe. But most significantly the game never explicitly states their relationship was a romantic one, but it certainly throws a great deal of evidence in the direction of that suggestion. The language Chloe uses to describe her throughout the game implies perhaps more than friendship “she was my angel”. Lastly consider the scene showing Chloe discovering Rachel’s body, she is utterly utterly destroyed. Admittedly it’s impossible to know how one would react to discovering a close friend had died, but yet again the strength of her response, to me at least, points to something a little more complicated.

 

 

Chloe’s Relationship With Max

Chloe and Max’s relationship is perhaps the most interesting as it is what the game revolves around. But even more so than with Rachel the game throws huge amounts of contradictory information so it is impossible to pin down weather they are merely good friends or perhaps lovers. I’ll shall now consider some of the evidence for both sides of the argument.

Good Friends

-Chloe clearly states she finds Mr Jefferson attractive, admittedly this merely could imply Chloe is bisexual, leaving the door open for a romantic relationship with Max

-Chloe’s response if you elect NOT to kiss her when given the choice- her reaction is much more normal, whereas if you do kiss her so is incredibly taken aback. However the latter may not mean she didn’t want it to occur merely that she never expected Max to do it

Lovers

-The language in the exchange between Chloe and Max before the player makes the final choice, again the language and feeling involved her seems to go a little beyond good friends “You are my number one priority now” “You are all that matters to me” “Don’t say that.. I won’t trade you”

– (Credit to this theory goes to the Almost Better Than Silence Podcast, they’ll be a link at the end) During Max’s nightmare sequence in episode 5 Max imagines Chloe in a relationship with numerous characters, Warren, Victoria and others (once again raising questions about Chloe’s sexual orientation) If we take this to be a nightmare then clearly we are being shown Max’s fears. Thus I raise this question, does Max fear Chloe being in a relationship with someone else because she wants that relationship?

-Max’s lack of commitment to Warren/The limit to which the player can ‘romance’ Warren- The game makes it very clear from the start that Warren has feelings for Max that Max doesn’t share, the evidence is numerous. When pushed on the issue by Chloe, Max’s response is merely that he’s ‘nice’ and little more. Furthermore Max is puzzled as to why Warren would wish to keep a photo of him and Max. Lastly even if the player chooses the positive options with regards to Warren (ignoring the final choice for the moment) then all this develops into is the option to kiss Warren during their final meeting. But firstly there seems to be little passion here on Max’s part and seems more done out of pity/ because they were about to possibly die. Secondly it is possible to not even have the option to do this, depending on earlier choices made. All this also means we are given no concrete answer regarding Max’s sexual orientation either.

You well may be wondering, why is the game so ambiguous about the relationship between the game’s central characters? Well honestly, I think the answer to the question is told to us numerous times, in the opening paragraph of each episode: We are told this is a game about player choice. That’s exactly what the game is doing here, it’s given us the choice to perceive their relationship as we want. Honestly I think this was a very smart move by the developers, with such deep and relatable characters involved, to force Max and Chloe to be one or the other would be very likely to anger and upset people.

Alternate Timeline Chloe- A Personal Connection

The end of episode 3 and continuing into episode 4 Max discovers the terrible consequences her powers can cause. After unexpectedly being thrown back in time many years, she resolves to save Chloe’s biological father William from dying in a car accident. She succeeds in doing this, but is shocked to discover in this alternate timeline that Chloe herself was in a car accident leaving her paralysed and confined to wheelchair. This was undoubtedly a shocking and thought provoking period of the game for all players. But for me personally it hit home that bit more, for those who don’t already know this I too use a wheelchair. Whilst I am nowhere near as seriously affected as Chloe, my mobility is still limited and I rely on a wheelchair in my day to day life. Going through this part of the game really made me reflect on my own life and looking back I’m staggered that the writers found areas I related to. Firstly, like it or not and people will never directly admit this, but people look at me differently. Not just for the obvious reasons but because my situation naturally raises questions, and they often feel too uncomfortable to ask. (I’d like to say here, if you do ever meet me, don’t feel uncomfortable, come say hi! for me personally I’m happy to answer any question you like. I won’t be insulted by it, you just have to ask.) Secondly there really are times when life can suck, little things get at you and it can be tough at times but honestly I just feel it’s part of the hand I’ve been dealt and it’s my job to deal with it. So in this case Life is Strange deserves special praise for two reasons, first it dared to go quite deeply into a subject that most video games wouldn’t go near. Secondly it has changed how I view video games, never before has a game made me reflect on this aspect of my life before. Hence why I’ve never felt the need to reveal it until now. As cliché as it may sounds I often use video games as a sort of escapism. If I’m having a rough day I’ll stick Uncharted in my PlayStation so for a little while I can be the dashing action hero that saves the world and gets the girl. Trust me, anyone that knows me even slightly knows my life is not anything close to that. (See, making light of my situation is a key way to get through stuff)

 

 

Max’s Nightmare- The Power of Emotional Storylines

Episode 5 finds Max on a journey through the many realities she has created through her choices and decisions and perhaps even a journey through her own subconscious. This segment has no official title but the fandom has come to referring to it as ‘Max’s nightmare’ and given the dark and twisted nature of it, it’s not hard to see why. But enough context, why am I discussing this? Well the segment contains a rather aggravating stealth segment and I spent more time there than normal as I believed you had to spend a great deal of time collecting the bottles scattered around. The truth is you don’t really, it merely unlocks an achievement. Long story short, despite the dark and emotional nature of episode 5 I was getting really rather frustrated with this one section and I was feeling pretty angry. But as soon as the segment ended, Life as Strange delivered a masterstroke, as soon as I entered the lighthouse I jumped to the other end of the emotional spectrum, once again the game had got me right in the heart. Those scenes are truly harrowing perhaps most of all the twisted messages that appear on your phone. Most chilling of all, if you chose to help Chloe die in episode 4, you’ll be informed by Chloe’s mother that she has proof of what you did and that there’s no reality in which you can hide. Needless to say here began one of my defining gaming experiences, as I shall now explain

 

The Final Choice 

The game’s final choice is startlingly simple:

Sacrifice Chloe

OR

Sacrifice Arcadia Bay

Look at the language used here, it would seem more logical to use the word ‘save’. So why not do so? Personally I think it’s all about connotations, the word save has a much more positive feel to it, but the developers clearly didn’t want us to tackle this terrible decision and feel positive about it. A subtle thing, but it makes all the difference, this game gets in your head.

Anyway next I’ll take you through my reasons for picking the first of those two options:

-Logic: Chloe is just one person, whilst the population of Arcadia Bay is never stated we can estimate it to be tens if not hundreds of people

-A Perfect Week: During Max and Chloe’s final interaction, Chloe talks of how perfect the last week had been. If you allow Chloe to die then those moments can never be spoilt. However given that the other option has Chloe and Max driving into the sunset. Imagine this, they drive off and then their relationship collapses. We’ll never know if this would happen, but it’s certainly an interesting thought

-It fits thematically: The game repeatedly tells us that our actions have consequences. I somewhat feel that but saving Chloe you are essentially saying your actions have consequences unless Chloe is involved that is. Thus limiting th emotional impact of previous choices in retrospect

The end of episode 4 presents the cliff-hanger of Chloe shot dead and Max now unconscious. After getting over the shock of this reveal I began to rather cynically think ‘Oh dear they are going to deus ex machina a way to keep Chloe alive and give everyone a happy ending. But importantly the game sidesteps this convention. Even if you choose to save Chloe, this is far from a happy ending you’ve doomed a large number of people to death. But these aren’t just any people, like I mentioned earlier the residents of Arcadia Bay are not one dimensional collections of polygons. They are people that you create a strong emotional bond with and you’ll genuinely mourn their deaths. It is because of these facts and an incredibly poignant set of final scenes that meant for the first time I can remember: a video game had me in floods of tears.

Conclusion

My experience with Life is Strange will not be leaving me anytime soon (my recent tweets will attest to that) and frankly I’m a better person for playing it. Not only would I recommended playing the game but try and play it in the shortest span of time possible. When the game first came out there was a wait of months between episodes meaning it’s tough to keep up and be as emotionally invested. Whereas I got through the game in about four days and it meant everything was fresh in my mind and those big scenes had the emotional impact they should have

If you have enjoyed reading this piece, I’d let to point you in the direction of a couple of podcasts, if you want even more Life is Strange related content.

First is the previously mentioned Almost Better Than Silence podcast, they had an entire episode dedicated to an in depth discussion of Life is Strange.

Find it here: http://almostbetterthansilence.com/2015/11/abts-066-life-is-spoiled/

Secondly my good friends over at the One Track Gamers podcast, were very lucky to recently interview the fantastic Hannah Telle, none other than the voice of Max Caulfield herself. She is able to give some very interesting and personal insights into working on the game.

Find it here: https://onetrackgamers.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/one-track-gamers-podcast-episode-60-life-is-fun-with-hannah-telle/

As always you can find me on Twitter @AnotherGmgBlog

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Life Is Strange Review (Spoiler Free)

Disclaimer: Given the story centric nature of this game, I will be keeping my views as spoiler free as possible. At most vague references to the plot may be made. As everyone’s sensitivity to spoilers is different, you have been warned.

Whilst looking for a new game to play, many people pointed me in the direction of Life is Strange. I was very aware of the game and heard positive comments about it. However I was unsure if the game was for me. But I put my unease behind me, mainly thanks to the limited edition, containing the entire season having just been released and very reasonably priced too.

Anyway, the game follows photography student Max Caulfield who after a certain ‘event’ discovers that she has the ability to rewind time. Over the course of the next 5 episodes you begin to discover the consequences of changing past, present and future. Now whilst that may seem cliché and vague, I’m reluctant to go into any greater depth to avoid giving anything away. The plot itself may not seem like much, but it uses this premise to delve into themes that video games as a genre normally wouldn’t touch and that is part of this game’s charm and last impact. One of the best way the rewind mechanic is deployed is to allow Max to navigate the best case scenario in social situations. This is an example of the game’s mechanics fitting the setting and characters perfectly. Let’s be honest if you gave this power to an 18 year old, their first instinct would not be to change history for the better but is likely they would be used for such selfish reasons

Its other headline feature is that much like the Telltale games, Life is Strange centres around choices the player makes throughout, that as the game reminds you, can affect the past and future. The game will clearly call back to your previous choices and thankfully not too heavy handed about it and avoids basically winking to the camera. The combination of the choice and rewind mechanics allows it to avoid a major pitfall of the decision based game. In most games, the only way to see all possible options to play out would be to replay the game multiple times which is time consuming. But Life is Strange’s rewind allows you in most cases to view all possible consequences before making your decision. Furthermore Life is Strange allows you to view the choices you made through your play through when you have finished. Thus if you did wish to replay the game to see what you missed, it would easier to make sure you make the alternative decision.

Due to the game originally being an episodic, digital only game, the physical collection is classed as the limited edition, containing an art book and soundtrack. The latter of those is the more significant factor. The soundtrack is a mix of existing music and original music created for the game. I elected to listen to the soundtrack when I was around a fifth of the war through, so I had yet to hear all the music in the game and in context. Despite this omission and the fact I’m not a hugely musical personal, I was struck that every song seemed to just ‘fit’, both in the world and the characters. In addition let me say this, once you’ve finished the game, some of those songs take on a whole new dimension.

Its biggest shortfall is that if you take the word ‘game’ to refer to purely gameplay mechanics, then Life is Strange is not a great game. On multiple occasions it deploys some of the least liked mechanics in video games, the fetch quest and insta-fail stealth segments. Whilst the mechanics are grating, a slight redeeming feature is it sets it apart from games like Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain predates Life is Strange by a number of years and also deals with more mature and darker themes. But many argue that aren’t games in the traditional sense and closer to interactive films. I would say that Life is Strange is enough of a game to earn that title.

The first episode in particular drew a large amount of criticism for the extent that slang is present in the dialogue. This isn’t necessarily a huge surprise given the age of the characters involved and the setting the game is going for. It is something of a shame given how great and well written some of the other dialogue in that game. But it didn’t bother me as much as other people and it reached a point where it just became funny as you thought, no one actually speaks like this do they?

Before coming into this game, the consensus I’d heard was basically, episode 1 was a struggle but get through it and it gets better. I don’t agree quite with that, episode 1 is probably the weakest episode, it’s not bad and the reason is it probably the weakest is that it has to set the characters up, thus the plot doesn’t advance a huge amount. Seemingly another case of ‘first episode syndrome’.

It may not seem like it, the game does possess a solid amount of replay value. It’s true the twists and emotional moments certainly won’t have the same impact as first time around. However unless you examine every little thing in your first play through, you will have missed things not to mention seeing how alternate options for key choices play out. Thanks to how well constructed the world and these characters are, you’ll find yourself wanting to know everything about them.

 

Due to the depth of Life is Strange and the fact I’ve had to keep this review quite vague. I’m considering a follow up article which will be a much more in depth retrospective look at my experience with the game that will contain spoilers.

Life is Strange, with its somewhat inconsistent gameplay mechanics as well as struggles at times to be a ‘game’ in the traditional sense. But the underlying fact is that misses the point of Life is Strange. The story, characters and themes that game deals with set it far away from the mainstream off games.

+ Deep and mature story

+ Very well fleshed out characters, with great performances by the actors/actresses

+ Great soundtrack

-Mechanically lacking in some areas

90/100 (100/100 for story alone)

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this, just a small note to say I’m currently trying something new linked to the site: live streaming. I am currently live streaming Life is Strange on Youtube around once a week. Here I’ll have a bit more of an in-depth discussion about the game, so I’d recommend only watching the stream if you’ve already finished the game.

To keep up to date with new articles and to find out when I’ll be live streaming, follow me on Twitter @AnotherGmgBlog

The Future of Just Another Gaming Blog?

Don’t panic, despite the ominous sounding title I want to make one thing clear, the blog is NOT shutting down. However due to the fact my life is set to become very busy, how and when I deliver content on this site will change.

Firstly, I will no longer be able to guarantee posts all throughout the year, posts will be more likely to appear during holiday periods.
Secondly, the frequency of reviews will change, reviews take the longest of all types of articles to write and require new games to be written about, two resources that’ll be in short supply.
But they won’t be gone forever, I’ve actually had two reviews waiting to be written, Terraria and Batman: Arkham City. Honestly they would have been released already, but I could never quite settle on what areas to tackle in the review.
If all goes to plan, one or both of those should appear perhaps before the end of the year
In future I’ll be moving towards more non-review articles, such as my thoughts on major gaming news/conferences or a look back at an old console.

While the blog may not be as active as it was, I will still be around in a couple of ways:
Follow me on Twitter, @AnotherGmgBlog moving forward I’ll try and tweet more with my opinions on news stories, new releases etc

You’ll also find me making appearances via email every week (and very occasionally in person) on the One Track Gamers Podcast, do give it a listen, they’re a great bunch of people with a real passion for gaming.

Thanks to everyone who reads these ramblings of mine and for your continued support.
I hope to be delivering some brand new articles to you in the near future 

Thanks For The Memories, But Your _____ Is Evolving!

We all possess gaming memories of some sort, but the question is, how much have our memories and nostalgia warped our perception of these games? Secondly what does the evolving nature of online games mean for this? Trust me this is one evolution you can’t stop by Pressing B.

So how has this all come about? Well one of my favourite games of the PS2 era was Ratchet and Clank, it was a great little action platformer with some unique weapons and environments. So understandably I was overjoyed to hear that a HD collection of the first 3 Ratchet and Clank games existed so I very quickly got myself a copy (This article will act as something of a review of this game)

As I started playing the first game, the illusions I’d built up for this game were completely shattered and it really started to annoy me. Don’t get me wrong it’s still a great series but it has some pretty major flaws. Its greatest problem is the check-pointing. Throughout the games you’ll find yourself running gauntlets full of enemies, you make it to the end, then accidently die and bam, and you’re right back to the start and without any more ammo. It just really sucks the fun out of the game and ends up artificially extending it. Furthermore Ratchet and Clank suffers from an issue similar to my problems with Ocarina of Time 3D: the saving. Instead of remembering your exact position in the level/planet the game will behave like you have just started the level, meaning large chunks of time are wasting getting back to whatever point you were at. Another gameplay issue, the camera, as well as attempting to automatically adjust, it can also be manually adjusted with the analogue sticks, the problem? It’s never quite right, it’s allows just a bit out. In some types of games this isn’t really an issue, but with platformers that isn’t the case, you need decent camera positioning to help time jumps etc. This is an issue is exacerbated in the Ratchet and Clank series, on a number of occasions you’ll have to walk on walls and the ceiling, at those points in particular it’s a real nightmare.

What struck me most replaying this game, is something my nostalgic memory of the game obviously didn’t include is how much of a Metroid-vania style game this is. Quick explanation, Metroid-vania, style games named after the Metroid and Castlevania series refer to games where you’ll often be in the following situation:

At the moment you can’t open this door, you go to the next level and find something that allows you to open said door, if you go back and open the door you’ll find an item of some sort, you might not need this item straight away to progress in the story but at some point in the you’ll will have to go back and get it.

Playing Ratchet and Clank I forever found myself having to go back to the same places just to open a single door to get something new which felt kind of repetitive. Worst of all the game never informs you if this item you’ve got will be needed at some point or if it’s just some random extra item. While I can certainly take a step back and see why some people like the Metroid-vania genre of game, I personally don’t, I prefer my games a touch more linear and structured so I know exactly what I need to do next time I want to play. Now credit to Insomniac games it appears they may have listened to people like me, when we reach Ratchet and Clank 3, affectionately called ‘Up Your Arsenal’, in which missions are clearly marked as part of the story or optional. Is this an improvement? Frankly no, it feels like they went too far the other way, abandoning the Metroid-vania aspects for a much more linear progression, shame really.

It appears I’m not alone when it comes to nostalgia giving you false impressions about a game, I got in touch with my friends over at the ‘One Track Gamers’ podcast (Details will come later) and they had much to say.

Cory fondly remembers playing Donkey Kong 64 and its “awesome gameplay” What about now? I’ll let him explain: “the controls are just garbage […] camera is bad” Oh dear he seems to suffering from a similar problem as me. He went on to rather perfectly explain reasons identical to the ones that made me want to write this, “the nostalgia doesn’t live up when you play it ever, just better off in your memories” Is Cory right, should we leave old games in the past and not ruin our memories? Well game publishers don’t seem to think so, re-releases of games are incredibly common these days and frankly getting a bit excessive. Recently announced was Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for PS4, a HD re-release of the first 3 Uncharted games, and let’s be honest those games aren’t that old, the first one came out in 2007, I could understand re-releasing a game after a significant anniversary like Nintendo did with Pokémon Gold and Silver, but Uncharted? I don’t think so.

Although fellow One Track Gamer, Amanda highlights the other side of the nostalgia debate “I still appreciate it (an old game) with the flaws. This is certainly true and I somewhat subscribe to the theory, for example the first thing I bought in the PlayStation Store on my PS3 was the PS1 classic Crash Team Racing, yes by modern standards the graphics are terrible but that doesn’t bother me because I had so much fun with that game while I was growing up.

So perhaps the answer about how does nostalgia affect games is simple, it depends on the game. If it’s a game we love and treasure, we’ll continue to love it and overlook it flaws, while if it was a game we just liked we’ll probably find ourselves picking holes in it.

Now at the beginning of the article I mentioned the evolving nature of games, you might be thinking, games don’t really evolve, I buy a game in a shop play it, could come back to it in five years and it’ll be the same. Frankly you’re pretty much right, yes we have internet connected consoles these days, but those updates are usually bug fixes or bits of DLC, the fundamental basics of the game don’t change. But there’s one type of game where that’s not the case, they constantly evolve and change, yes, I’m talking about online games.

To help illustrate my point, I’ll be using Valve’s Team Fortress 2 as my example to show just how much a game can change.

17th September 2009, a momentous day, why? It was the day I bought Team Fortress 2, in the early days I loved that game, it’s art style, the range of classes and weapons led me to put over 300 hours into this game. One particular fond memory was a little server running a map called ‘Breakfloor Sawmill’ I couldn’t tell you how much time I sunk into that one server with a little group of friends, but sadly for reasons unknown that server is lost to the mists of time.

December 17th 2009: The evolution of TF2 with the introduction of in-game crafting. This was one of the major new features added into the game that I actually supported, yes it devalued some of the rarer items but for the most part it meant those dozens of Force-a-Nature’s in your backpack finally had a purpose. (This is a plight any TF2 player can sympathise with) However from here onwards, things go horribly, horribly wrong.

March 18th 2010/May 20th 2010/April 7th 2011: These 3 dates mark the ‘Community Contribution Updates’, players could now have weapons and items they’ve made be added into the game. Now I’m not saying involving the community of a game is bad, it really isn’t, it’s just this led to the game being flooded with items, thus the influence of the in-game economy starts to grow…

June 23rd 2011: TF2 goes Free to Play. This was one of the contributing factors for me abandoning the game, I really don’t agree with the F2P model. Yes I not going to lie gaming can be an expensive hobby, but Valve didn’t need to do this it had a huge fan-base of people who paid for the game. Why don’t I like F2P? Firstly it devalues the contribution of the players who previously bought the game, yes we got an game item (Woo-hoo) (!), really think something like an old, cheap Valve game i.e. original Counter Strike might have been better. Secondly, it creates two tiers of players, the paid and the F2Pers and let me tell you to this day there is still animosity between the two groups. It’s not beneficial it’s made the community divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’

September 6th 2011: In-game trading is introduced. Now once again in the early days this wasn’t really too much of an issue, if you wanted to trade items you could go to dedicated trade servers and do just that, perfect. But then the influence of trading started to spread beyond the confines of trade servers, you could be playing a nice game of Capture the Flag, you get a new item, you just kind of ignore it. You are then bombarded with trade requests from players asking if you up for a trade, ruining the game experience. This was a sad day for TF2 in my opinion, the day the game became less about having fun and more about the in-game economy.

There are probably better examples of the ‘evolution’ on online games, this just happens to be an example somewhat close to my heart.

I really hope you enjoyed the article, just want to say a big thank you to the ‘One Track Gamers Podcast’ for their contributions, they’re a great weekly gaming podcast, find them on iTunes, Podbean and many other places. Secondly if it all goes as planned, yours truly will be making a guest appearance on ‘One Track Gamers’ , where I’ll be discussing a few things I’ve got planned for the site in the coming weeks, you’ll have to listen to find out…

Uncharted Trilogy Review

First of all, big news I’ve recently come into possession of a PlayStation 3! Although you could have guessed that given the title of this review, which means that my next few reviews throughout the year are likely to be PS3 games. But fear not I haven’t forgotten my 3DS or PC, so hopefully there will be some non-PS3 game reviews. This year I’ll also been attempting more smaller articles, but I can’t promise anything at the moment as I’m rather busy with other things.

Secondly I’ve elected to combine all 3 Uncharted games into a single review, from a gameplay perspective the 3 are not radically different and it gives me the freedom to discuss the series as a whole.

The Uncharted series follows Nathan Drake, history buff turned treasure hunter, think of him as Indiana Jones minus the hat and whip or a male Lara Croft. The plots of the 3 games are relatively similar with Drake searching for a different treasure each time. Apart from some allies of Nate’s who return in the 2nd and 3rd games, the games are relatively self-contained; while I urge you to play all 3 games, it’s not the end of the world if you can only get a copy of Uncharted 2 or 3 and you haven’t played the first game.

The gameplay of the series has a few interesting quirks. First let me talk about platforming in games, fundamentally there are two types, the Super Metroid style: miss your jump by a single pixel and you’re dead. Conversely there’s Uncharted’s style: leap in the general direction of a platform and your nigh-on guaranteed to land on it. Now this is going to divide people, some will argue that it makes the game too easy. However I feel this style of platforming fits the theme of the games, as I was playing them I got the sensation this could very easily be a film, it’s no surprise then that a film adaptation is set for release in 2016. In order to keep this cinematic style the game needs to be rather fast paced, furthermore I feel if the developers had used Super Metroid platforming, then sections of platforming that take 5-10 minutes could take 20-30 minutes and the whole flow of the game will be ruined. The cinematic feeling of the game is reinforced through the major action scenes, they almost feel like they should be in James Bond films, in a scene reminiscent of ‘Skyfall’ Drake must battle enemies on a moving train during Uncharted 2.

The AI in this game deserves a quick mention, not the enemy AI but the AI of your allies. During particular chapters when you have someone working with you, they don’t just passively follow you but actually shoot and the bullets aren’t for show, your allies can kill enemies for you. I admit it’s not revolutionary, but it simple makes a nice change to the normal useless, passive friendly AI in games.

Moving on to the combat system, at any one time Drake can carry 2 weapons, a pistol and a larger gun, that may be a rifle or even an RPG, along with a maximum of 4 grenades. When it comes to Uncharted cover is the name of the game, you won’t succeed by charging directly at the enemy, you have to think tactically, giving yourself time for your health to recharge. Cover systems can be done badly, but I feel Uncharted has found a good balance. On the other hand the melee combat system could do with some improvement; you can at any time defeat an enemy using hand-to-hand combat. My issue, it’s just too simplistic, in the first two games, you simply pressed square to attack and triangle to counter, and it was absurdly clear when enemies were about to attack making countering in no way difficult. During Uncharted 3 they did try to expand the melee combat, you could now throw your enemies in any direction and when applicable use objects such as bottles in your attacks. While I’m happy the developers tried to improve things in the third game, I think there’s still room for improvement and that’s what I think a lot of fans are hoping for in the upcoming Uncharted 4 on PlayStation 4. While I’m personally not a fan of it, I know many people are, so I felt I should mention you can play Uncharted stealthy if you wish. Creeping up behind enemies undetected not only stops others flocking to your position but also gives you the added bonus of picking up double ammo from that enemy. There are times when stealth may be the superior tactic, but thankfully there are very few occasions when stealth has to be used in order to progress, in fact I believe it’s only required in a single chapter of Uncharted 2. I don’t mind games having stealth options in them, but it has always annoyed me when games force you to be stealthy, I’m surely not the only gamer out there who isn’t a fan of stealth.

Now I’ve seen the series attract criticism for the games being too similar to one another, sticking to the same formula and not trying anything new. Frankly I see nothing wrong with that, a game series can be ruined when after a successful first game the developers go in a completely new direction for the second so that it feels in no way related to the first. Naughty Dog realised they hit upon something good with the first Uncharted and continued using that blueprint just with minor changes for the sequels and I’m glad they did.

I should warn you, this next section is entirely my own opinion. I feel Uncharted 3 is the weakest of the three. It doesn’t have huge flaws it’s just little things coupled with the fact the first two set the bar so high. My main complaints are at times it feels like enemies were coming out of nowhere and attacking, I found this a pain and I was only playing on Normal difficulty I can only imagine what it must be like on Crushing difficulty. Secondly (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) there are some sections where Nate has be drugged, all you have to do is get from point A to point B but the fact that everything is deliberately blurry makes these small sections a tad annoying

Overall I loved the Uncharted series, yes they are quite short and yes there’s not much replay value. But for that brief period I had a fantastic gaming experience, one of the best I’ve ever had, it reminded me what gaming is all about.

Super Smash Bros 3DS Review

Nintendo made a bold move, putting a console staple series on a handheld device, the question is: Did the gamble pay off?

It’s finally here, it’s taken some time but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Super Smash Bros on the 3DS, let’s get going.

I won’t lie I was immensely excited for this game when I first heard about it, I loved the previous instalment Brawl on the Wii, and I missed that fact that I no longer had my Wii to let me play Brawl, so I hoped the 3DS version would help to fill this gap. I’ll just give any new-comers a quick introduction to Smash Bros. It is a fighting game involving a range of Nintendo characters from throughout gaming with a range of items and weapons from a broad range of franchises, instead of having a health bar to go to zero in Smash Bros you have a damage percentage that will increase, as it increases you are more likely to fly off the screen, meaning you’ve been KO’d and have lost a life.

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Each character has about 8 attacks, however in a new addition to the franchise you can collect alternative attacks for the characters meaning you can customise your fighter to suit your style.

However I did have a nagging worry in the back of my head ‘How much depth is this game going to have, given the lack of any single player mode/campaign?’ Just for some context the idea of a single player mode was discussed and subsequently dismissed, the reason being that Nintendo felt as soon as the game was released someone would post all the cutscenes online and people would watch that then and not bother to actually buy the game. What a fool I was to think this would be a shallow game, there are multiple game modes, a standard ‘Brawl’, Classic mode makes a return, you’ll compete in a number of matches before reaching a boss fight with Master Hand. But by far and away the most exciting mode is the 3DS exclusive mode ‘Smash Run’. You and three others are placed in a level similar to a stage from the Subspace Emissary from Brawl, there will be a range of enemies for you to attack, as you defeat them they will drop items that increase particular stats such as speed and defence. You have five minutes to collect as many stat boosts as you can, at the end of that time, the four fighters will be placed in some kind of final battle, this can be a normal fight, or a race to the finish, where speed is an essential stat, best of all you don’t know what the final round is going to be.

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The two things that have kept me coming back are the unlockable characters (hint: play LOTS of standard matches….) Oh I forget to mention the game technically has infinite characters. Hear me out, in yet another new feature, you can now play as any Mii you like. You put your Mii in one three classes, Brawler, Gunner and Swordfighter, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses. The possibilities for who you can create are practically endless. Second the challenges, I dunno if this is because I’m a bit OCD or a completionist, but I am obsessed with completing these challenges, even if it just unlocks a trophy I MUST UNLOCK IT!!! *Appeal to my readers* I need tips for the Home Run Contest.

The stages in this game also deserve a mention, I love how almost all of them have a unique quirk to keep you on your toes. For example there is a stage based on the Spirit Train from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, at certain times the train will be travelling slowly, so if you get pushed on to the tracks it’s very easy to recover. But then just a few moments later the train has sped up, meaning if you hit the tracks it’s an instant KO. I feel that fact this game, like its predecessor has a level based on the old DS messaging system ‘Pictochat’ is just amazing. I love how that stage looks and how you interact with it, what I mean is shapes will be drawn on to the screen that become part of the stage, for example some fire will be drawn, which when touched will indeed burn your character. I also enjoy the fact that every franchise or series that all the different characters hail from is represented in at least one stage.

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I’d like to briefly mention the couple of factors I don’t like, and they relate to the fact that this game runs at a mind boggling 60 frames per second on such a small device. Simply, it’s a bit of a battery drainer, even on the lowest brightness it only lasts around 3 hours. Second and I admit this is a tad picky, but on all other 3DS games I’ve played, when I press the Home button to close the game, it occurs in about a second, 2 at the most. When it comes to Smash Bros you’re looking at 10-15 seconds, it’s just a little thing that annoys me, but I’m willing to forgive it considering just how well it runs. This may sound like a stupid thing to say if you don’t own one but still, really this game needs to be played on a 3DS XL, even on an XL at times I’ve find it difficult to see what items are onscreen, because the camera is quite zoomed out, that gradually moves in as the number of fighters decreases. I just worry it could become a rather frustrating thing that would ruin your experience on standard 3DS.

Some of you may be able to remember when I discussed in my Ocarina of Time review that it wasn’t really a portable game, as you had to sit down for 30 minutes to an hour to get anything done. Smash Bros on the other hand is the definition of a portable game, if you’ve got a spare 5-10 minutes you can easily boot it up and play a couple fights to pass the time, this is what games should be like on portable consoles.

Even if you’ve never played a Smash Bros game before, I urge you to try this it’ll appeal to causal and more serious gamers alike, but above all it’s just good fun.

Resident Evil: Revelations 3DS Review

Resident Evil, has been a series that in recent years has been criticised for abandoning it’s survival horror roots and becoming more of a shooter/Call of Duty clone, is Revelations a step in the right direction?

While I’ve always been aware of the Resident Evil series, I’ve never actually played many of the games, except some odd bits of Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition, but more on that later. Before this, may favourite zombie based game was Left 4 Dead 2 by a long way, but playing Revelations made me realise that L4D2 is rather shallow. Back to my original question, is it a step in the right direction? Simply, yes, they went back to the style of the early games by setting the game in a small area, in the case of Revelations the majority of the game is set on one boat. I really enjoyed that restricted environment, you might think that would make the game repetitive, but it doesn’t, you might be going down the same corridor 10 times, but every time I was thinking ‘what is going to be around this next corner?’. The restrictive environment also pays off when it comes to back-tracking, which is something you’ll do quite a bit in the game. This is because when you do have to back-track you don’t waste 30 minutes going back where you’ve already been, it’s closer to 5 or 10 minutes. Having to back-track in a game when the environment is large is just simply not fun, and gets very confusing, an example is ‘The Great Maze’ in Super Smash Bros Brawl, where it was very easy to get lost as you needed to remember which doors you went through. Anyway back to the L4D2 point, that game is a lot of fun, but in the easier difficulty levels, you basically have infinite ammo due to the frequency of guns and ammo available in each level, so there’s not that much skill involved you just gun down all the zombies. Revelations is the exact opposite and it’s frankly so much better, in this game you will basically never have enough bullets if you don’t go looking for them. Often I’ve been thinking, ‘I’ve only got 20 bullets left, that will only kill 4 or so enemies, I need to go looking for some ammo’ But I prefer that, as you get you get a sense of achievement, when you’ve got a stockpile of ammo, allowing you to progress through the game. An in game device called the ‘Genesis’ supplements this system of play as well that I enjoyed, if you scan around rooms with the Genesis you can find hidden items, and if you take the time to scan the corpses of enemies you’ll earn extra items. This is not a game that you should not try and finish as fast as you can, as you’ll miss out on a lot of the game’s charm. These are minor things but this game should also be commended such as the map and difficulty curve. The map is very simple to understand, aided by the fact that doors are colour coded, so you know where you have and haven’t been, this meant I very rarely thought, ‘where do I need to go?’ as the map would tell me that. I very much enjoyed the progression of the difficulty curve, it was nice and gentle, for example the first few enemies you’ll encounter will be singular enemies in a long corridor giving you plenty of time to dispatch them quickly, and there was never a point where I was dropped in a room and thought, ‘this is a lot more difficult then anything I’ve done before’ But also don’t get the idea that it’s an easy game, at times it’s fiendish for example there’s one level that contains underwater enemies that can’t been seen till they attack, so you have to creep forward to get them to move, and then attack them before they reach you. I know this will be a slightly controversial statement, but I think this is one of the best looking games on 3DS, it’s insane it looks like a console game, and whenever you then go to play something else of 3DS, you’re thinking, ‘why doesn’t this look as good as Revelations?’

Before you start saying I’m being overly positive about this game, I do have trouble with one aspect, the signposting.

If anyone doesn’t know what that is, signposting is basically how a game tells you how to progress. For example in a Zelda game an NPC may say ‘There’s trouble at Death Mountain’ which is a not so subtle way of saying, ‘Next you need to go to Death Mountain’ I’ll explain  where the signposting was a problem in Revelations. The first was getting the Shotgun, in one of the rooms you’ll find a shotgun on a wall, if you go over to it, it will say something like, ‘The Shotgun is attached to the wall, you need to put something in it’s place’ The way to get it is later on you’ll find an item called ‘Crest’ which if you put where the shotgun is, you unlock the shotgun. But the description of the Crest doesn’t even hint an it’s use.

Here’s 3 theoretically options for what the description could be:   

A: Here’s a crest, from the ship (no reference to it’s use)

B: Here’s a crest, perhaps it’ll fit somewhere (Hinting at it’s purpose)

C: Here’s a crest, place it in the room with the shotgun (giving you the answer)

Obviously B is the best answer, but it can depend. If you’re just an outsider considering the concept, they’d say well C would be a terrible idea, as the game would be no fun. However when you’re planning the game and everything is in the style of A, it’s frustrating as it would be very easy to get stuck. Resident Evil has done this in the past, I remember watching my sister play Resident Evil 4 on Wii, she’d defeated a boss, and collected it’s eye and had no clue what it was for. By chance I’d remembered that earlier on there was a door locked with an iris scanner, but if I hadn’t remembered that she would have got stuck.

In summary, this a fantastic game, even if you don’t think it’s going to be for you, give it a go, you’ll get a lot from it, and you get to experience a ‘proper’ survival horror game.

I’m happy to say, that my next review will be the long-awaited Smash Bros 3DS, I can’t wait!