Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Review)

I’m very late to the party having just played and finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune while most people have completed Uncharted 2 and are anxiously awaiting Uncharted 3. Even though I’m a bit behind with Uncharted, I’m still going to review Drake’s Fortune because there may be others out there who, like me, never bothered to play the Uncharted games for whatever reason and would like to know what the games are all about. Well, to my fellow PS3 owners who are late to the Uncharted party, I can safely say that it is indeed a party very much worth attending!

In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you play as an adventurer and treasure hunter named Nathan (Nate) Drake who claims to be the descendant of famous English explorer and navigator Sir Francis Drake. The story involves Nate tracking the foot steps of his famed ancestor in an attempt to find the legendary treasure of El Dorado. Joining Nate on his adventure is long time friend and fellow adventurer Victor “Sully” Sullivan who is never short of cigars and wise cracks, and the spunky television reporter Elena Fisher who is looking for the story of a lifetime. Unfortunately for Nate and his motley crew, rivals of both Nate and Sully find out about the plan to locate the treasure of El Dorado and decide to beat the heroes to it. If 1980s action flicks have taught us anything, it is that treasure seeking bad guys are always pricks and have an unrealistically vast amount of gun tootin’ henchmen working for them. Drake’s Fortune does not stray from this as primary antagonist Gabriel Roman employs a huge army of pirates to deter Nate and company from reaching the treasure of El Dorado.

Platforming sequences will often lead Nate up and over walls.

Undoubtedly the best part of Drake’s Fortune is the fact that the game feels like an interactive movie. The cutscenes are truly among the very best out there thanks in part to the incredible script and voice acting in this game. Nate is voiced by the never-out-of-work voicing superstar Nolan North and he certainly gets the job done here very well. Emily Rose also brings the character of Elena to life, making her easily one of the most believable and realistic video game girls out there. Sully is voiced by the awesome Richard McGonagle, who has one of the best voices in the industry by far. The three main characters are so well written and so believable that, during cutscenes, it’s not unusual to view them as actual people rather than as video game characters. This is especially the case with Emily Rose, who happens to look pretty much exactly like the character she voices. Hollywood, you’d better cast her as Elena in the Uncharted movie if you have any sense!

The supporting cast is also fantastic. While there are three protagonists, there are also three antagonists. Eddy Raja is an apparent ex-friend turned rival of Nate, Gabriel Roman is a treasure loving crimelord who loaned Sully a great deal of money (which was never paid back, hence the hostilities), and Atoq Navarro is a smug archaeologist hired by Gabriel Roman to assist him who really comes into his own later in the game. Each of the antagonists are well voiced, with many fans still loving the cocky and energetic Eddy Raja to this day. “Don’t mess with Eddy Raja!” Indeed, Eddy. Beyond the three antagonists, the only other voices players will really hear are of the pirates who under the command of Eddy and Gabriel. Most of Nate’s encounters in Drake’s Fortune will be with these pirates and, for the most part, they are well voiced. I could not help but notice that they sound a lot like the terrorist NPCs in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same guy did the voice work for both Uncharted’s pirates and Vegas 2’s terrorists.

The supporting cast are not only memorable, but they're also handy as AI partners.

It is 2011 now and Drake’s Fortune is probably still one of the very best looking games on the Playstation 3. While the game does show a bit of age in some areas, it is still very pretty to look at and is certainly more pleasing to the eye than even many games released this year. This is a pretty wild accomplishment for a game that is four years old! The weakest point of Uncharted’s presentation is probably in the character models themselves. Facial animations look a little unnatural at times, and there are very obvious clipping issues with hair. Elena’s blonde hairdo in particular is prone to clipping quite a bit, and it’s painfully obvious whenever you see the back of her head in a cutscene. I’m also a little displeased at exploding objects in Drake’s Fortune. At one point in the game players must navigate a jet ski up a raging river that is, for some unknown reason, littered with exploding barrels. Ignoring how odd it is that there is a neverending stream of these barrels floating down the river, when you shoot one of these barrels to make them explode, the barrel will simply vanish and be replaced by an explosion. Even for a 2007 game, this is a really tacky looking effect which I thought we started to phase out during the last generation of consoles. Aside from these minor issues, the graphics are still very good for the most part. Jungle areas in particular are incredibly detailed and beautiful to look at. A few textures here and there look a little blurry or dated, but they are incredibly easy to miss unless you play this game with the intention of nitpicking and looking for graphical flaws.

In terms of gameplay, I can pretty much say that if you’ve ever played a Tomb Raider game then you will know exactly what to expect with Drake’s Fortune. Simply replace Lara Croft with Nathan Drake and bang, you’ve got Uncharted! For better or for worse, the gameplay in Uncharted really doesn’t do anything new that we haven’t seen before. However, for everything gameplay related that Uncharted does, it does well. The gameplay can be divided up into three categories: gun fights, platforming, and puzzle solving. Since this is a third person game, the gun fights are a little tougher to get used to than they are in first person shooters and the aiming can be horrifically difficult to get used to. Making Nate point and aim his gun can be a slow process. This isn’t Resident Evil 4 or 5 where the character can whip out their gun and point it anywhere in a fraction of a second, no. Aiming Nate’s gun is a pretty slow process as he moves his arms around at a snail’s pace, if you are the kind of player who blindly charges into battle, you’re going to die because of this. Due to the aiming being fairly slow, pretty much all of your firing will be done behind cover. Pressing the circle button will make Nate leap behind any piece of cover nearby, protecting him from the endless onslaught of ammo being flung his way by Eddy’s pirate goons. The key is to find cover, wait for the pirates to stop firing, and then pop your head out and get off a few good shots. I would advise most players to go into the options and put the aiming sensitivity slider around the middle of the bar. I found that if you have the aiming sensitivity too low then aiming is pretty much as slow as molasses which doesn’t help when you have to pop out of cover to take down a sniper before he gets a headshot on you. In contrast, putting the sensitivity all the way up makes it too hard to aim well. Lining up a headshot is extremely difficult with maximum sensitivity, as even just the slightest tap of the analog stick will cause your crosshair to whip around further than you want it to.

Four years later and this game is still gorgeous. A remarkable feat by Naughty Dog.

The only other issue I have with the fire fights is that it is not uncommon to kill all enemies in the room only for half a dozen more to spill in from another entranceway. It isn’t so bad in games where reinforcements come once every five or six fights, but in Drake’s Fortune you had better expect a constant stream of reinforcements in any room that is larger than the typical school or work cafeteria. When almost every large opening or room becomes a five to ten minute long shoot out, things can become a bit tiring. Unfortunately for Drake’s Fortune, there are a lot of these rooms. Around the middle of the game when Nate is working through a series of ruins with Elena, there are several very long fire fights that really just drag on for too long. Gamers who decide to check out Drake’s Fortune primarily for the platforming and puzzle solving aspects will probably be a bit turned off with the repetitive gun fights. Thankfully, for most of the game Nate will have either Elena or Sully alongside him providing support in shoot outs. On less stressful difficulty settings, players who aren’t too exceptional at shooting games will surely love their AI partners who don’t just stand around or behave erratically like in most games of this game. Elena and Sully take appropriate cover and are pretty decent at taking down enemies on their own. It is entirely possible for the AI partners to clear out areas for less skilled players, though this would probably take a bit of time and I wouldn’t advise doing this at all unless you are a player who REALLY despises shooting games. Unfortunately for players of this kind, towards the end of the game everything is turned upside down as enemy encounters change drastically (I won’t go into details for the sake of spoilers) and you’ll be without a partner for the last few chapters. The change of pace in terms of how encounters work is actually very well done and will force pretty much everyone who plays the game to change their strategies. Everything the game teaches you essentially becomes irrelevant as the fights become completely different and it is a lot of fun adapting to the changes.

There is also melee combat which involves running up to an enemy and mashing the square and triangle buttons to perform what the game refers to as brutal combos. These are pretty unfulfilling overall and just feel really out of place for some reason that I can’t really pinpoint. I would advise avoiding melee combat if your gun skills are more than up to snuff. I’m not even close to being a good shot, but I only ran out of ammo a few times later in the game and had to backtrack for more, so the melee combat isn’t an essential aspect of the game and it can be beaten very easily without going all Rocky Balboa on every pirate you meet.

The platforming sequences are pretty much ripped straight out of Tomb Raider. Nate will scale tons of cliffs, fortress walls, and vines throughout his travels. Most of the platforming moments just involve climbing up walls, shimmying around a little bit, and jumping to adjacent walls and such to find a way past obstacles. These sequences rarely last long and are, in my opinion, very under-utilized. Drake’s Fortune could have potentially a very incredible platformer but instead we’re only treated to Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider-esque climbing moments once every twenty or thirty minutes and they rarely last longer than a minute or two. This is a shame because they’re often quite fun and I enjoyed having to stop and look around for things to climb and jump to.

Melee combat is woefully unfulfilling and most players will probably opt to use firearms.

The puzzles of Drake’s Fortune are pretty straight forward and usually just involve flicking switches. The most advanced puzzle is one around the middle of the game when you have to point four statues in different directions to open a hidden passageway. Another puzzle indicates that you have to make two large church bells ring simultaneously to proceed. Well, that would be pretty hard in any other game, but in Drake’s Fortune Nate has guns. Yeah I just ruined the bell puzzle, but even a five year old would be able to figure that one out in approximately five seconds. Drake’s Fortune has very basic puzzles that will rarely, if ever, make you stop and wonder how you are supposed to even proceed. This isn’t all that bad since it keeps up with the steady pace of the rest of the game. It goes hand in hand with the quick platforming sequences, though the overly long gun fights usually bring the steady pace to a screeching halt for a few minutes.

Overall, there is no shortage of awesome things to say about Drake’s Fortune. It isn’t without problems, but the issues this game has are extremely minor and can be overcome, if not completely forgotten, by devoted players. The game only takes about eight hours to play through, but there are dozens of hidden goodies that will be missed on the first play through the game. By finding hidden treasures littered throughout the world and performing various tasks that award trophies, players will amass medals ingame which will unlock various bonus features such as playing with fun screen effects filters, using any gun in the game whenever you want, to even playing as Elena, Sully, or any of the game’s antagonists. There’s quite a bit to do in this game besides enjoy the fantastic story. The gameplay is blast, the characters are extremely likeable and memorable, and there’s tons of hidden goodies. Fans of adventure games will find lots to love in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Pros:
+ An unforgettable cast of characters who you’ll fall in love with.
+ Script and voice work are both among the best ever in a video game.
+ The game is still beautiful four years after release.

Cons:
– Aiming controls can be fairly sluggish.
– Melee combat feels out of place and depressingly bare-bones.
– Some shooting sequences can drag on for too long.

Final Score

9.5/10

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Bejeweled 3 (Review)

“PopCap goes back to their roots to give us a good reminder as to how they own our souls.”

It has been several years since Bejeweled was really even on the tip of anyone’s tongue, and after PopCap soared to even greater heights from the success of Peggle and Plants vs Zombies, it seemed like a strange idea for them to decide that making a Bejeweled 3 was the most logical next step for them to make. I was skeptical at first, but after playing the latest Bejeweled I can safely say that I’ve laid my doubts to rest.

Bejeweled 3 is everything we know and love from the numbered Bejeweled titles and more. While Bejeweled 2 prided itself in having two game modes as well as one or two hidden bonus modes, Bejeweled 3 boasts four standard modes and four bonus modes. This gives you quite a substantial variety in terms of how you’re going to play with your shiny little gems.

Classic mode is what we’re all familiar with. Break as many gems by aligning three or more of a kind together and amass as many points from doing so before you end up with no more possible moves. This mode has received little if any upgrades at all, but still somehow feels fresh. I attribute this to the improved graphics and catchy soundtrack.

The time attack mode in Bejeweled 3 is called “Lightning” and is fairly addicting. While the idea is to get the highest score possible before time runs out, it is now possible to extend your timer by breaking specific gems that grant time bonuses. They are plentiful at first, but as the time gems become more and more rare, Lightning becomes a very nerve-wracking experience.

Lining out the rest of the default game modes are Zen, which allows you to play for an infinite length of time without losing, and the Quest mode. I like the latter as it presents challenges to you that are always different from the last one that you tackled. There are quite a few quests to blow through and, predictably, they get harder as they go.

The four bonus modes are Butterflies, Diamond Mine, Ice Storm, and Poker. They all add quite a twist to the gameplay, and one of them I find to be so addicting that it could be it’s own game.

In Butterflies, random gems are designated as butterflies. These butterfly gems must be destroyed before they reach the top of the screen, due to a hungry spider lingering along the top of the game board. if the spider gets his eight legs on one of your butterflies, it’s game over. Butterflies starts off easy enough, but I found that it quickly became very frustrating and tense, and I haven’t enjoyed playing it much.

Diamond Mine is easily my favourite part of Bejeweled 3 and is the addicting part that I mentioned. In this mode, the bottom half of the screen is covered in dirt and the top half contains gems. You have to create combinations that are directly adjacent to the dirt, which destroys it. Players must get rid of all the dirt above a certain goal line. When all dirt above the line is cleared, the timer (which I forgot to mention) fills back up and the dirt increases yet again. It’s a fairly repetitive game mode that just involves doing the same thing over and over, but it’s very strategic and I like how there is always a very clear goal for the player.

In Ice Storm, there are pillars of ice that slowly fill to the top of the screen. If one reaches the top and stays there for a moment, it’s game over. To prevent this from happening, players must make gem combinations, which destroys or lowers the ice pillars in whatever columns the gems were matched in.

Poker is a very interesting mode and I commend PopCap for coming up with such a neat idea, but overall this game mode isn’t very enjoyable. The goal is to make various poker hands using the gems on the board. The better the hand, the better your score. The problem with this mode is that it mostly forces you to constantly try for four of a kind of flushes. I found that this limited what I wanted to do in the game mode, and really wasn’t too enjoyable.

Aside from game modes, Bejeweled 3 doesn’t really change a whole lot aside from a new paint job and an improved soundtrack. There are fiery gems that destroy entire horizontal and vertical lines of gems, which is a pretty interesting change. Hypercubes also received a very nice visual upgrade as well.

There are various badges to collect (consider them to be the game’s equivalent to PS3 trophies or 360 achievements), but they are pointless and do not affect anything from what I’ve noticed. Perfectionists may want to try to collect them all, though.

So that’s it. Bejeweled 3 is, well, Bejeweled. If you didn’t like the previous games then you probably won’t enjoy this one either. However, if you do enjoy Bejeweled, then this game will probably amuse you, and the neat bonus modes will provide you with some much needed variety.

Final Score

8.4/10

Audiosurf (Review)

“An entertaining rhythm game that makes you appreciate your music library in a whole new way.”

Audiosurf is an interesting game to review, mostly because essentially determine what your gameplay experience will be like. I’ve played Audiosurf for a few years now, and I think that it’s about time that I review it.

Audiosurf was released in near the start of 2008 on the Steam platform and was a colossal hit, inspiring many rip-offs over the following two years. Audiosurf was such an appealing game for indie developers to mimic because it was the first popular mainstream game that introduced gameplay which changed based upon the beat and tempo of the user-selected music tracks.

In Audiosurf, players control a small space ship that is confined to a course littered with coloured tiles. The goal is usually to pick up and match coloured tiles much like in puzzle games such as Puzzle Fighter. Matching coloured tiles would eliminate all adjacent tiles of the same colour that the player has queued up.

The arrangement of the coloured tiles, as well as the speed at which the player’s ship travels, is determined entirely by the music that the player selects. Audiosurf was among the first games that allowed our own personal MP3 libraries to affect gameplay, and I maintain that it is still the best game at incorporating this sort of feature. If you select a gentle or slow song, then the gameplay experience will reflect that as the player’s ship traverses rather slowly, making it easier for them to collect the appropriate tiles and avoid obstacles. However, if the player chooses a fast song (generally anything classified as “metal” works), they will find their ship to be speeding along rather quickly, and obstacles will come fast and often.

The objective is to amass the highest score possible with whatever song the player has chosen. There are many different ranges that the player’s score can fall under due to the number of game modes present in Audiosurf. In one mode called “ninja”, players do not collect tiles and must instead avoid them entirely. Picking up one of grey tile will immediately hurt the player’s score. Clear runs are essentially the goal of the ninja game mode. Other modes let you control two ships, shuffle the order of your tiles, and more. There are quite a few different ways to play Audiosurf thanks to the impressive number of game modes and difficulties, so there’s something for everyone.

It is hard to comment on the sound in Audiosurf since the majority of what you hear in the game will be music tracks that you manually select from your own MP3s. The game does have it’s own subdued techno-ish music tracks on the menus however, but they’re not very inspired and are actually a little bit on the dull and boring side. Sound effects aren’t much more impressive, but they can be easily modded and replaced with whatever you desire. Overall, the game’s own default sounds leave a lot to be desired, but it’s fairly easy to forgive Audiosurf for this since the game revolves around your own tunes.

The graphics in Audiosurf are pretty neat for a budget game. The graphics themselves aren’t very special at all, but the way in which the game presents them certainly is. As you speed along your Tron-like circuit in your little space ship collecting coloured tiles, you will see pretty nice explosions of colours in the background, as well as effects that look like they came right out of a Windows Media Player visualization. The game is quite pretty with all the colours on the screen at once. It’s sort of trippy, and I dare anyone who feels glum to play this game and say that they don’t feel any better afterwards. Audiosurf’s visual displays are quite nice to look at, and I would certainly classify them as extreme eye-candy.

In terms of replayability, there’s quite a substantial amount. Every single song plays in it’s own unique way, and given how many songs exist and are available to anyone with an internet connection, it’s not hard to see how the different circuit layouts are essentially infinite. Scores from the stages are also recorded and uploaded to Audiosurf’s servers, so there is a bit of a competitive side to the game. Have a favourite song that you play in Audiosurf? Well, you may find yourself feeling a little devoted to at least getting a top ten score for the song. Mainstream artists and bands have songs that have been played by thousands of people in Audiosurf, so breaking the top ten on some songs is actually quite an achievement.

Audiosurf is, overall, a very interesting experience. It’s a bit of a rhythm/puzzle game, though you could almost classify it as an action or platformer game considering how some of the game modes play. It’s a fun game that almost anybody could enjoy with the right music, and there’s plenty of replayability if you have a decent sized library of songs on your computer. The game is fairly cheap on Steam, roughly only $10 or so. For about 20% of the price of a commercial game, you really cannot go wrong here.

Final Score

8.5/10

Hamsterball (Review)

“A game that has perfected the art of making gamers lose their cool.”

I’ve been putting off reviewing this for quite some time, and I’m not exactly sure why. It may be because I know that a review for this game would inevitably be short since this is a fairly basic game. I’m going to give it a shot though, so here we go. Hamsterball for the Playstation 3.

Released earlier this year in March on the Playstation Store, Hamsterball is game that will try your patience and is also a good indication as to whether or not you need anger management.

In Hamsterball, you simply guide ball-bound hamsters throughout the most frighteningly complicated obstacle courses ever designed. I can only conclude that a mind such as Tim Burton’s could have come up with the maddening levels in this game, as they border on being completely bizarre and difficult to understand.

There are two game modes that you’ll spend a lot of time in, Hustle and Stunt. In Hustle, the camera is behind the hamster (like a racing game) and you have to navigate your little furry friend through obstacle courses that become frustratingly difficult after about the first dozen stages. The problem with this game mode is that you usually can’t even see where you are going, because the course that you follow dips, flips, bends, and turns in every direction you can imagine, and sometimes all you can do is hold the analog stick forward and hope that your hamster will make it through okay.

There are some terrible annoying obstacles in the Hustle stages. Giant spiked claws rain down on the you in several courses, and although they are mechanized and do have a pattern, you’re usually going to fast to even “try” to avoid them.

Hustle mode is where I spent most of my time because there are LOTS of stages and they each only take a minute or two to complete unless you fail to reach the goal before the time runs out. Thankfully there are power-ups littered throughout the stages that extend your time, and in some instances you will find yourself going out of your way to pick these up.

Stunt mode chooses to bring the camera up above the hamster, looking down from an isometric perspective. Stunt levels are generally slower paced and are much more difficult as you have to roll your hamster over twisty platforms that have no barriers along their edges. Sometimes these platforms even disappear and reappear. This is not a glitch and is just something the game will do to frustrate you and rush you through the stages. I know that I’ve used the word many times over in this review, but these platforms are just nothing but frustrating, and they serve little purpose other than to bother you.

Multiplayer mode isn’t terribly exciting. Several players (and/or AI bots) are plunked down onto a small circular playing field and must simply bounce each other off. It’s a lot less fun than it sounds and won’t keep you entertained for too long.

Regarding Hamsterball’s graphics, they are extremely dated and dont have a terrible amount of detail, but they do their job. The hamsters are sort of cute though, and you may find it hard not to chuckle when they do their little dances after you complete stages. If you do not like bright colours, then I suggest you change the colour and contrast settings on your television, because this is perhaps the brightest video game I have ever played. The game is so bright that many off-course objects stand out too much and distract you.

The sound isn’t terribly exciting, either. Hamsterball’s soundtrack and sound effects won’t win any awards, but they do their job well enough and I really don’t have any complaints about them. The tunes are a little catchy and memorable, but in a Saturday morning cartoon theme song sort of way.

Overall, Hamsterball isn’t a bad game by any stretch. Overall, it’s fairly average and you probably won’t spend too much time playing it. The levels are extremely repetitive, and the same graphics and sound repeat often. Unless you’re a huge fan of cute critters or puzzle games, you may want to think twice about laying down the money for this game, as I doubt that this game will be played for much longer than two or three hours in total. On the plus side, this game would be a great party diversion.

Final Score

6/10