Phantasy Star I-IV (1988-1995) review

A couple months ago I felt this urge to go back to retro gaming.  I don’t mean retro PC, I don’t mean downloading an emulated game on the PC.  I mean actual old-school console gaming.  But I found myself in a predicament.  I used to own a Sega Genesis, and a decent game collection for it.  But it was taking up so much space.  So I gave the whole thing away a few years ago, as a gift to some podcast guys I no longer listen to.  A part of me was tempted to purchase one of those “system and controllers plus collection of games” on eBay, but I knew that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, at least not currently.  That would just put me back in the same situation as before, and I need to be more efficient with my space.  So I opted for the next best thing, one of those classic retro gaming systems that had a bunch of games built into it, the the NES Classic, the SNES classic, or the recently released Genesis Classic.  I would’ve to go for the SNES classic, if it had the games I wanted.  But they didn’t, not all of them.  Then I found out it could be modded.  So I had two choices.  Either purchase the console mini and work on putting emulations on a USB drive and go through this somewhat complex process of adding more games to the console myself.  Or I could purchase this version I saw on eBay where the console was already modded with 7000+ games; this included not just every SNES game ever made, but also every NES and Genesis game ever made, plus a large selection of Arcade, Famicom, Sega Master System, and Atari games.  For about $200.  I decided just to purchase it.  I wasn’t sure myself if I could find good emulations of all the titles that this thing included, so I figured it was worth it to go for it.  Several sellers on eBay currently do this.  While there were some versions that had more or less the 7000 number, I opted to stick with that version for one reason only.  I wanted the entire NES, SNES, and Genesis collection.  Everything else was just a bonus.

So far, despite a couple minor nitpicks here and there (mainly due to cropping of the screen on some titles), it was worth the investment.  And aside from revisiting some games I played during my childhood, I went for the ones I hadn’t experienced.  One of the main ones being the competitor to the Final Fantasy series, Phantasy Star.

 

 

Phantasy Star

Rated: 3.5 / 5 *

* This score depends on whether it’s played modded or unmodded.  See mod note below.

So this game wasn’t technically released on the Sega Genesis.  It was released for the Sega Master System, the system Sega utilized (outside of their arcades) before the Genesis came out a year later.  And this is arguably the best-looking game on that console.  Hell, it’s better-looking than some of the games on the Genesis system.  Because they packed in a lot of memory space into the cartridge, to the extent where it became a selling point.  At a price above the average Sega title.  And it shows.  The animations of the characters when you’re wandering the world screen, the monster animations on the battle screen, and then the infamous dungeons themselves.  They all push the limits of what the Master System (in all its 8-bit glory) could handle.

And it’s the dungeons themselves that give this game the biggest entertainment factor.  And there are 3 ways to go about it.  One way is to use graph paper to track the layout of the dungeon.  Yes, this does mean purchasing a stack of graph paper, and marking out the squares to indicate how long a hallway is, space by space, knowing when the turns are coming up, tracking pitfalls, stairways (and marking where they lead, up or down, and using another graph paper for that level).  This will no doubt put off some people, and I have to admit I didn’t do this for the most part.  But I eventually decided I should try it for at least one of the dungeons, and I found it more immersive that way.  These games carry an extra weight of immersiveness when you utilize objects in the real physical non-digital realm to track your progress in a digital game.  That, and I also used a notebook to track important conversations with NPCs so that I would could reference what I should do and where I should be going (it also helps with the immersiveness if you do that rather than rely on an in-game journal, which old-school games like this don’t have).  These dungeons are a very fun maze when approached in this manner.  It helps to make you feel like you’re really in one.

The second way is to get a hold of the maps (which can be easily found online) to assist you.  This is what I did for most of the game.  If I ever replay this, I’m going pencil-and-paper.  But for those who don’t wish to do that, this is an option.

The third way can be used if you have a Nintendo Switch (which I don’t, and even if I did it feels wrong playing a Sega game on a Nintendo system, even though I did that anyway on an modded SNES emulator).  Which contains the Sega Ages mode.  They did a respectable job with their semi-updated game version, where they track your progress of the dungeon, and automatically map it for you the further you progress.

Whichever version you choose, you’ll also experience the iconic dungeon music.  And there are two versions of this track.  First there’s the regular version, which was the only one gamers in America could get a hold of.

And then there’s the FM enhanced version, which certain Sega Master systems contained in Japan, but nowhere in the U.S.A.  We got a bit screwed over, but it’s still a great track no matter which version you listen to.

All that aside, the story is minimal in this game.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a story there, and it opens up with one.  Plus I highly recommend the game manual to further enhance it, as it tells you more about the world you inhabit, plus the solar system itself.  ‘Cause you’ll be traveling to a few planets in this game.  You don’t just stay one one planet.  That is also an ambitious feature.  Plus the manual gives mandatory descriptions of the spells and items in the game; which is must-have information considering the game doesn’t exactly explain what they are or what they do.

Back to the story.  Once you get past the intro, and you get the other 3 members added to your party, things stay largely minimal for the most part.  You have an established goal and character motivation, and you do learn more when you talk to the NPCs (something you have to do to gain an understanding of things, and learn what to do next, unless you’re using a walkthrough).  That’s right, talking to NPCs isn’t optional just for thematic fluff so they can tell you their life story and how the world is mistreating them or something like that.  They give you a grasp of the situation of the town you’re in, and the world, and give you need-to-know information required to take the right actions to progress through the game.  And there’s no map guide to tell you where to guy, you have to figure it out yourself until you get familiar with the environment.  The way a game should be, not holding your hand, and trusting you to find the information yourself.

But there are a couple instances where it definitely doesn’t tell you enough about what to do.  The first major instance is on the ice planet (Dezo for short) where you need to purchase an Icebreaker mobile to break the ice around some frozen mountain ranges so you can get to a dungeon.  The problem is, the machine doesn’t break just any ice wall, only a specific area.  And no one tells you where the fuck that area is.  That is when I had to utilize a guide to help me out.  The second time was with the very last dungeon, where I kept going in circles until I found out I had to turn to face a wall at this one spot, where a door will be.  And there’s no indication a door will be there until you turn to face that particular section.  We’re not talking optional hidden areas that are in some dungeons (where you have to walk through a wall to know they are there), this is a spot that you have to find in order to progress through the game.  Some rubbish!

As for the monotonous combat typical of J-RPGs like these.  I have to admit, one of the reasons I went for this game was because I part of me felt like going back to these simplistic repetitive combat systems.  I’m not 100% sure why.  Because I felt like re-experiencing these systems to see if I hate them as much as I did in hindsight (prior to playing this)?  Or some nostalgia factor for this style of gameplay calling me back in, despite how much I proclaim to despise these types of J-RPG turn-based battle systems?  Or because one game in the series was brought up in my Nostalgia for the 90s retrotrip series?  Or because I was this desperate to experience a quality RPG in a franchise I have never played out of spite for the quality of games in the current industry?  Who knows?  But in any case, the system in this game is a bit different than what I’m used to in turn-based battles.  Rather than having a character select an attack/spell type and who to target it with, you just select the attack/spell type, and they attack a random enemy on screen.  Now, there will only ever be one enemy sprite on the screen, but in the upper right corner it will specify how many enemies of that type there are, and your character randomly attacks one of them (unless it’s an attack that hits all of them).  I actually rather enjoyed this quaint little feature.  Gave my mind less to think about in these turn-based systems I already found a bit mindless.

The leveling and grinding.  At the start of the game, you will be doing a fairly good amount of grinding.  Because you’re character starts out as an absolute wimp.  You have to pick and choose your battles (ie knowing when to run away, when to fight, and when to realize you’re going to die so you better hope you saved the game prior to the battle starting).  Each time you level up will feel like a major accomplishment.  Eventually you will get tough enough to not need to go back to town and rest at a home after just one battle.  Then after just two battles.  Then three.  Eventually you will get tough enough to where you can make a trek to another town.  And once I got through the first major dungeon, I didn’t need to do anymore grinding for the rest of the game.  So leveling and grinding wasn’t much of an issue.  In fact, you become capped at level 25, a level you’ll most likely reach before you even hit the final dungeon, let alone the final boss.

Aside from going into areas with enemies much stronger than you (ie, you likely went there too soon, or forgot to acquire superior weapons and armor), the fights really aren’t all that difficult.  For the most part, you’ll just be doing basic attacks, with the only spells being cast after combat to heal your party before you continue on.  That all changes when you get to the last two bosses, especially the very last one.  They will definitely give you a run for your money, and will force you to put more thought into your battle strategy (of which you likely had none beforehand).

All in all, I rather enjoyed the pacing of this game.  You start on a quest for vengeance, get some allies along the way to fight a tyrannical leader, get some legendary destiny weapons and armor prior to the final battle, and bring peace not just to the world, but to the star system.  But it does have that extra added element to it about an evil force that corrupted the mind(s) of the ruler(s) to do its bidding, which is a theme I appreciated (as subtle as it was handled).

It was a worthwhile playthough, in spite of those two progress-halting problems.

 

Mods

However, it is worth noting that there is a modded version of the game that comes recommended, especially if you plan on playing the sequels.  The translation of the game was a bit on the problematic side when it came to names (let alone the dry dialogue delivery).  For instance, a character named Noah in the English version is referenced as Lutz in all the sequels.  So a fan-translation was made that is more faithful to the Japanese version, and more consistent with the names of some characters in the sequels, especially 2 and 4.  And having played just the first minute of this English translation patch (not to mention having the Japanese version downloaded as an .sms file includes the FM music, which grants superior sound quality all around), I can already state that this is the definitive way to play the game, and absolutely the way I would play it if doing so again.  I wouldn’t revisit the official English version after experiencing it this way.

First you’ll need a Sega emulator.  I prefer Fusion:

https://wowroms.com/en/emulators-software/181/Kega%2BFusion.html

Then you’ll need the Japanese version of the game:

https://wowroms.com/en/roms/sega-master-system/phantasy-star-japan/57928.html

Then you’ll need the English translation patch:

https://www.romhacking.net/translations/1069/

Then you’ll need the Lunar IPS patcher:

http://www.romhacking.net/utilities/240

After unzipping all those files, make a copy of the game .sms file, and the english patch .ips file, and put them in the same folder as the Lunar patcher, though it’s recommended just to have it all on the desktop (always keep a backup of the original sms and ips files in case something goes wrong).  Run the patcher, clicl the “Run IPS Patch” button, select the sms file, then the ips file, and it will patch the sms file just like that.  Place the .sms file in whatever folder is convenient for you (somewhere near the Fusion emulator folder), and run the game.  If it runs and it’s in English, you did it correctly.

Since this version won’t come with any fancy Nintendo Switch mapping, you’ll be forced to play the dungeons either as pencil and graph paper style, or downloading images of the dungeon maps and using them as a reference style.  Either way, this is the most immersive way to play.  Having great quality dialogue (not to mention superior quality music) will help A LOT.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star II

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* This score could go up a notch with the right mod.  See below.

So this game makes up for the first one in the storytelling department, in that more plot developments occur as the game goes on (plus more cutscenes).  And there are some major colossal events that happen in this game that even took me by surprise once they unfolded.  Though I do take issue with this one aspect of the ending, more on that later (I will give a spoiler warning, indicating when I’m about to spoil, and when I’m done spoiling).  But it’s not only an overall improvement in terms of storytelling from the first game, but also contains themes much more relevant to today, if not altogether more necessary to hear.  It’s about how the planets on the Algo system are run by an artificial intelligence known as Mother Brain.  And how those on your home planet of Motavia have become lazy and overly reliant on this AI technology that runs things for everyone.  Life doesn’t seem to have much meaning, especially since death has no meaning, thanks to clone labs which can revive anyone after they get killed, for a fee.  And space travel is now banned (it’s deemed unnecessary and dangerous; much like certain books banned from Amazon).  And once incidents begin to occur (starting with monsters appearing and killing people), it’s up to you to do something about because you’re one of the very few people motivated enough to actually do something (plus you’re an agent).  That’s about all I’ll say about it, but you could imagine where the relevance can go from there.

There’s also level design that accompanies this theme.  How the overworld itself is relatively easy to navigate, how each section of the planet with a town is divided too neatly, because Mother Brain designed it this way.  It’s efficient, but uninteresting (which is the point).  But once you go to another planet, then things open up considerably.  You’re now in a world not run by Mother Brain, without reliance on an AI system, and you have to navigate on your own without much ease of reference.  Highlighting the pros and cons of independence vs. lack thereof.  You’re independent, but life is more difficult, vs. your dependent for the sake of an easygoing life, but you’re at the mercy of those who rule over you or any unexpected catastrophes.

That would seem great and all, except for one very fucking annoying thing that practically ruins this game for me.  The goddamn dungeons.  It’s not that they no longer have that first person view of the first game that bothers me (none of the other Phantasy Star games even tried to replicate that; shame).  Oh no.  It’s how insanely complex these goddamn levels are.  And it mostly has to do with the fucking teleporters.  It’s so fucking annoying going into dead ends and getting lost, it’s no wonder the game came with a fucking player guide to help you through these things.  And you’ll need it.

Cover
“Your adventure would be very difficult without this guide.”  No fucking shit!

Those dungeons are so insanely complex, it tends to defeat the purpose of an easygoing world.  On the other hand, maybe they are supposed to be that way as a metaphor for how complex a computer mind works.  Either way, I don’t care; playing through them is a pain in the fucking ass without the guide.  And no mod I know of has dealt with that.  Whatever.  Fuck dungeons with teleporters.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, though this would likely explain why the dungeons are designed this way, the amount of grinding you have to do in this game is ungodly.  If you’ll recall my description of the amount of grinding you had to do in Phantasy Star I, and how that was mostly limited to just the beginning of the game, this game is like that, except the entire way through.  However, I did know about this ahead of time (I had a little experience playing this years ago), so I said, “Fuck this,” to that, and used an easy mode mod (more on that later).  It helped with the problem, considerably (I don’t have THAT much patience for monotonous J-RPG turn-based battles).  So yeah, compared to the first game, the leveling and grinding is fucking atrocious here, without an easy mod!  At least the battle music is decent.

So, dungeons aren’t that fun, the standard game grinding is horrible for those who aren’t into that sort of thing (you fucks who are into that will grow up into BDSM fanatics who pierce your tits with cacti and shove spoons up each others’ asses).  The other downgrade this game suffers compared to the first is also in the battle screen.  In that there is only one background, in total, in the entire game, without ever changing.  Some digital square thing like you entered Tron world or something.  With no fucks given about even trying to hide the fact that combat is monotonous.  The designers were probably thinking, “Oh, you spoiled rotten prick bitches thought combat was monotonous before?  Well then we won’t give a fuck about the background images.  See how you blue-balled virgins enjoy it now!”  Now, that’s not the real reason the battle system is like this.  The developers were pressed for time, so they had to make concessions (this wasn’t the only one, but it is the one that hurts the game the most).  This game is like the polar opposite of its predecessor, where there was such a thing as too much grinding, the dungeons were fun, and the battle screens had actual backgrounds.

But I will say this.  The monster animations on the battle screen are certainly improved compared to those of the first game.  And there is more detail to the characters, both in battle and outside of battle.  And now there can be up to four different enemies on the screen at the same time.  On top of that, combat can now go into full auto mode once you select FGHT (ie Fight).  You don’t need to hit any other buttons as you watch your characters fight.  You could interrupt at certain points though by hitting the B button (if using a Genesis controller), at which point you can customize the attacks/spells/items used in a round of combat.  Otherwise, you’ll be targeting the left-most enemy group first before going after the other enemies.

On top of that, this game is deliberately trying to piss me off.  In the previous game, you could save anytime anywhere outside of battles.  In this game, you can only save at save points in the city.  At first.  But if you get a certain character, level her up enough, and then take her to a certain place to steal a certain item, you’ll then be able to save anywhere outside of battles and dungeons.  That’s cock-teasing bullshit!  And on top of that, someone had the bright idea of having each character hold items separate from the party.  So when you acquire an item, it doesn’t go into a general item supply, it goes to the character who picked it up (or to the next in line if they reached a limit).  So now you have to micromanage who’s holding one, especially when you have to switch out party members.  And the process by which you do this is fucking painful (open menu, select item menu, select item, select “Give,” select party member to give that one item to, rinse and repeat).

Plus the instruction manual (separate from the hint book) for this game sucks compared to the first game’s manual (not enough descriptions of the spells/items).  This is an unfortunate problem that is maintained through the rest of the games, including IV.  You’ll need an online guide for the spell descriptions in those.

So, with that out of the way, the ending.

SPOILERS START

So it ends with you first encountering the Dark Force from the first game (implying it was influencing someone, or something, for an evil purpose; possibly Mother Brain itself or those who programmed it), and then take on Mother Brain herself.  Afterwards, you encounter a bunch of people in another room.  It is learned that they are a race of humans from a distant planet in another galaxy, known as Earth, and that they are responsible for coming to this system, creating Mother Brain, and using her as a means to take over each planet in the Algo system, making the occupants subservient, and then planned to colonize the planets for their own deeds.  Why do this?  Because they ruined Earth with their pollution and scavenging of all minerals/food/greenery/etc.  The main problem that I have with this is that these people are from Earth.  By trying to make this plot hit that close to home, it made me disconnect with the story a bit.  Plus it negates the appearance of Dark Force a bit.  Sure, we can assume Dark Force influenced the Earthers to destroy the Algo system, but it seems like they intended to do that from the start.  It just seemed forced, this message of warning us about creating our own destruction, when the same thing could’ve been accomplished by having people from one of the Algo planets create Mother Brain for similar reasons because Dark Force influenced them to do so.  In fact, one of the mods for the game did precisely that (see below).

SPOILERS END

So overall, despite the more ambitious and better told story (despite my caveats with the ending), ultimately I found this inferior to the first game simply due to the grinding (a problem non-existent with a mod or two), the dungeons, and the lack of a background in the battle screen.  With that out of the way:

 

Mods

Numan Revolution: Changes up the script a bit, and some revelations near the ending.  Plus it also makes the battles and leveling easier.  I haven’t tried this mod yet, but if I ever feel like giving this game another go (it will be a while before that ever happens), I’ll likely give this mod a spin.

Easy Mode: I played my runthrough with this mod.  You get more EXP and Meseta (game currency) with each battle, leveling you up faster and gaining money quicker so you can get the necessary weapon upgrades sooner.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t play without a mod that did something like this.

More can be found here: https://www.romhacking.net/games/66/

 

 

 

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* Even with mods I’m not so sure the rating could be higher than this.

This one is notorious for being the black sheep in the series.  And it shows.  On the positives, it brought back backgrounds for the battle screens (thanks Christ), some improved movement where characters will automatically move around sharp corners (it’s subtle but welcomed), much more reasonable dungeons compared to the 2nd game, allows 5 party members at a time, had an insane ambition of multiple choices for multiple paths to take in the game and allow for up to 4 alternate endings, and a fairly good music track for the opening prologue.  Plus it has the usual Dark Force making a return to influence people to do evil again (a tradition in these games).  And that opening prologue music track, it’s pretty damn great (see video above).

The overall quality of the game suffers from rushed production (let alone a different team working on it).  The character and overworld quality looks a tad worse, the towns are very monotonous, many empty rooms where there should be NPCs, terrible monster animations (I’m not kidding, the attack animation for one monster is literally him flexing his pecs, another just flicking his wrist), irritating sound effects, battle music that causes some gamers’ ears to bleed, and poor presentation of the story, especially during the final arc.  For instance, after you collect the final legendary/destiny/prophetic weapons and armor (a tradition in these games), and take it to these priest guys to get enchanted or something, all that happens is you talk to a priest, he says something like, “Go forth and kill so-and-so,” and that’s the only indication you get that the weapons have been enchanted.  There’s no sound effect, no special effect, nothing.  I had to check my inventory to see if something changed, and that’s when I saw that it did.

And on top of that, it still has that “each character holds a bag of items” annoyance from the last game.

Weak.

It’s like this game took one step forward, two steps back.

Seriously, don’t those red things on the lower right look like a bunch of dicks?

The only reason this is worth recommending is because of its ambition.  You play as one protagonist for a while, then you’ll eventually have to choose one of two women to marry.  Not much is really said about either of them, so I didn’t really know what traits either of them had to make me attached to either of them.  They have no character.  I blame the rushed production on this, and the lack of insight into any of these characters.  But anyway, you pick one, then you continue the game later on as the son of that couple.  Rinse and repeat one more time, then you play through the rest of the game as a 3rd generation.  So yeah, this was quite ambitious and commendable, but the presentation of it is so poor it becomes difficult to appreciate.  At least you can save anytime again (and there’s no jerking you around like the 2nd game where you have to acquire a mcguffin first in order to do that).  And you won’t need to grind too much either (just at the beginning, like the previous games).

But the absolute worst thing about this game, almost as bad as the dungeons in the second game, is the goddamn backtracking.  Which is exacerbated by the fact that you no longer have those spells from the last game that can teleport you to the nearest town (no items that do that either, best you’ll get is something to teleport you out of a dungeon), which is a dick move.  You will backtrack through this cocksucking world a lot.  And I’m not just talking going back and forth between the same areas in one generation.  No.  All 3 generations travel the same paths, except the next generation explores a couple more areas each time.  This was a fucking chore.  At least the battles are overall easier than in all the other games.  Seriously, even the final boss is easy to beat.  First game got pretty damn hard, the 2nd game’s Dark Force Boss was very very hard, and this one is easy compared to both.

And honestly, that’s all I really have to say about this.  It could’ve been one of the best, if not the best, in the series if they had more time to work on it, or maybe had a better writing/animation team.  But they didn’t.  And it ends up being one of the worst.  Disappointing.  But playing through it, at times, you can really see that potential.  It’s there, it really is.  It just wasn’t tapped into.  On top of that, this doesn’t contribute to the main overall storyline of the series as much as I, II and IV do.  That being said, IV makes some references to it, so it could still be worthwhile.  And there is that opening prologue music…

 

 

Mods

Well, having not tried any of them, some look like they could address some of those presentation problems.  Only other thing that would be great is if they could improve the music and the speed of movement.

Nial Edition: Dialogue has been improved (yay!), but equipment is weaker (boo!), but the amount of EXP and Mesenta gained from battle is doubled (yay!), but I’ve heard you can’t marry one of the women, thus cutting down the potential paths and endings by half (boo!).  A mixed bag, but it’s known among the modding community for those who play this game.

General Improvement: Improved/expanded dialogue, more NPCs to give them so that the towns are less empty, and overall makes the plot, characters, and development more clear.  Doesn’t mess with the gameplay at all.

More Accurate Translation: Basically like the mod for Phantasy Star I, in that you need a Japanese version of the ROM, and this patch, and a patcher.  Worth noting because the General Improvement mode states that it never bothered to look at the original Japanese translation, and doesn’t care.  But hey, if you enjoy the game enough, maybe you’ll feel like playing it through once with one version, and again with the other version.  Assuming having 4 paths to take leading to 4 endings isn’t good enough, for a game of this quality.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium

Rated: 4 / 5

Oh man.  This game made playing through the others feel worthwhile.  If you enter this game coming off the heels of the previous three, the upsurge in overall quality is going to hit you fast and hard like a bag of bricks to the face.  It all led up to this, which provides an ending to the franchise, and ending to the Dark Force arc, and all the while references characters and events from all the other games (though only minor mentions to the 3rd game, but it is brought up enough in this one side quest that made plowing through it feel worth it).  And it’s considered not just the best in the series (though some people who are fucked in the head would argue the 2nd one is better), but one of the best J-RPGs of all time.  And after having played it, I’d have to agree.  This is easily the best Phantasy Star game, by a mile.  The presentation blows the others out of the water, the leveling is perfect, the difficulty in combat is perfect, the callbacks to the other games are great (and are only really impactful if you’ve played through the others; you could get away with skipping the 3rd game though), it nails the pacing…

… gotta stop with the praising if I want to review this properly.

The graphic style has returned to the form of the 2nd game.  The monster animations in combat are better than ever, and it’s got loads of different backgrounds.  And there aren’t only cutscenes of people walking around, stopping, then having a dialogue box pop up.  Oh no.  This has cutscenes of images popping up ala comic book style.  The amount of detail, and the quantity of detail, going into those alone is insane for a 16-bit game.  This game was expensive (and a bit difficult to find) when it first came out, and you can see why when you play this.  You wouldn’t think a Sega Genesis game could look and feel this great.

Plus the characters walk considerably faster in this game compared to the others.  Some have argued that they move too slow in II and III (especially III, with all the backtracking).  You will not have that problem here.  Some might say they move too fast.  Though I do see a potential consequence of this.  Sometimes, when you try to talk with an NPC, you move into this position where you end up talking to a blank space, and your lead character will say something like, “There’s nothing here.”  One of the lead characters will even berate you for doing that.  Other times you’ll do that auto-move around sharp corners thing, when you really want to just press up against some object to get more details on it.  Minor inconveniences like that.  But honestly, I’ll take those irritations over moving too slow.

The combat system has some changes to it (aside from removing the whole, “each character holds a bag of items” shtick from the last two games; it’s back to a general supply bag, thank Christ).  It’s more traditional, in that now you select an attack/spell/item from your character, and select a target for them to hit with it.  But it also brings in something else to combat more unique to this game (though others have sort of copied the essence of this idea).  There’s a system where you can program which type of attack a character will make, in which order.  It’s possible to form some technique/spell combos when doing this, though you’ll likely be discovering them by accident.  It’s possible to play through the game without ever utilizing this system to that effect, but it allows for a nice system of discovery and exploitation.

As for the story themes, honestly, despite my praise for the presentation and the pacing, even though the plot is very solid, there’s a lack of that tradition of Dark Force influencing people to do evil.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s there.  But it goes away before the game is even halfway over.  It becomes a more typical good vs. evil type of game, without really playing into the faults of humanity and giving in to temptations and the lust for power.  On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure the game should be faulted for that.  After all, the previous three games go over all that, and the only way to really raise the stakes is to elevate the significant of Dark Force itself rather than the people it influences, and put the fate of the galaxy in your hands amidst the conflict.  I think it’s because I just wanted epic perfection to go along with this presentation (which is the best presentation anyone could’ve asked for from this series).  A little more of the human struggle.  But that’s just me.  The story is still solid, and it adds considerably to the lore that was setup in the first game.  Come to think of it, aside from the development and evolution of the population of the Algo star system, nothing much is really developed about Dark Force in II or III, other than it returns every 1000 years (sort of like The Fifth Element).

Unlike the other games, there are some legit side quests here.  With the other games, anything given the appearance of a side quest is more of a mandatory quest in the end.  Here, there are some honest-to-God sidequests that are completely optional to winning the game.  Some of them are meh (specifically some of the Hunters Guild quests), but overall a nice addition.

The music is also some of the best this series has ever gotten.  It has an amazing remix of the dungeon theme from the first game, a decent remix of the battle music from the second game, and has plenty of its own great tracks.  The dungeon music in this (for the cave dungeons anyway) is hypnotic.  Almost as hypnotic as the look of the game’s final dungeon (try not to get hypnotized with that).  Seriously, you’ve gotta give those dungeon tracks a listen.

And lastly, the difficulty of the combat.  There are about 4 boss fights (well, 3 boss fights and 1 side-quest boss) that are definitely challenging.  The first 3 will really make you work for it.  They are worthy in their difficulty.  The last one, well, that one is more of an endurance test than anything else (so long as you have the means to heal certain members of your party and keep doing damage at a consistent rate, you’ll be fine).  And the regular enemies seem to stay at just the right amount of difficulty the whole way through.  A bit difficulty at the beginning (need to do a small amount of grinding), average stuff through most of the game, then they start to get a little more difficult during the final act(s).  This game nails the difficulty and leveling better than the others.  If the first game had you level too fast (in that you reach the cap too soon), and the second game had you level too much (plenty of grinding required), and the 3rd game it didn’t matter because the final boss wasn’t that tough, then this one is nearly perfect in its execution.

All in all, it’s worth going through the others just to get to this game (though 3 is a bit on the optional side, especially if you find it insufferable).  This one comes recommended.  But you’ll only feel the emotional impact if you’ve also experienced the other games.  This is the game that proves the Phantasy Star series should’ve been on equal footing with the Final Fantasy series.  In fact, I’d argue that I and IV were better than the Final Fantasy games put out during those time periods.  As for II, well, having not played any of the older Final Fantasy games outside of IV and VI (Or was it III and IV?  Or III and VI?  Fuck if I know, North America really pisses me off sometimes with how they mess with foreign games), I wouldn’t know for sure how it stacks up with Final Fantasy II in terms of story and dungeon crawling (I’d imagine it’s on-par when it comes to grinding).  Either way, the Phantasy Star franchise is worth experiencing.

 

Mods

They exist, but I don’t find myself ever using any of them.  So for those who are curious:

http://www.pscave.com/dow/hacks/

Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun (2016) review

shadow tactics

Rated: 3.5 / 5

I question how much I actually enjoy stealth games.  Aside from Thief I and II, I don’t normally go out of my way to play these sorts of games.  On the other hand, certain RPGs like Deus Ex, while not primarily a stealth game yet can be played as one, do end up causing me to take the stealth-tactic route.  Mainly because it seemed more logical to me to not try and be a one-man army, since games like those try to have a sense of realism.  Plus they subtly encourage you to try more pacifist tactics, lest you risk causing hostages to be butchered or something.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because of some subliminal shit that causes me to take the stealth approach in those games.  Or because I’m not that great of a shot (at least compared to online players), so I just play like a pussy.  But since this game was getting rave reviews, I thought I’d try it out.  And overall, it’s not too bad.

There are 13 missions in the game, each one getting progressively longer, complex, and challenging.  First mission is a great intro to the game system, the 2nd mission is a decent progression.  But from the 3rd mission and onwards, it doesn’t pull any punches with the difficulty.  You have to learn the capabilities of the characters inside and out, just as you’ll need to learn to utilize the controls for quick maneuvers to get the timing right, plus to utilize the ability to see the line of sight of specific soldiers/samurai/civilians.  Shadow mode for simultaneous character actions, each of their special abilities, knowing when to move by quickly, or crouch and move; when you should kill someone, when you should just try to avoid them, etc.

In other words, I strongly recommend using a controller for this one, rather than a mouse and keyboard.  This game seems more designed for control pads.

If it wasn’t obvious, this takes place in medieval Japan, during a time when the way of the samurai was ending.  So of course there’s going to be some challenge to their traditional ways, especially with the questions asked to or about the Mugen character (one of the five party members you’ll have through much of the game).  And, of course, they have to throw in a bit of women power (mainly with this one character who can disguise herself to blend in with the enemy), but they thankfully don’t go overboard with it.  It’s the same kind of thing you get with the film The Last Samurai, except the war-mongering samurai are given a more antagonistic light this time around.  Two significant events happen in the game to thematically represent this way of life coming to an end, signified by two major characters having their lives ended.

Theme aside, the game controls fine for the most part.  I found myself frustrated at points for not being able to pull off these plans I had in mind to get through a section, but that’s mostly on me.  Overestimating the capabilities of my characters, underestimating the number of enemies and their patrol routes (I needed to learn more patience, even if the whole thing seems like trial and error), and just getting angry knowing that, in hindsight, there was a better way to go about completing a portion of a level (if not the entire thing).  However, there were a few times where the NPC movement seemed glitched, with one or two guys being stuck together or to some object on the map and being unable to move.  This was rare, and I think it only happened at 3 points throughout the entire game, but it was noticeable when it did.  Nothing game-breaking, thankfully.

There are some caveats though, which I noticed during the last 3 missions.  Sometimes there’s a portion of the map that juts out just enough to stop you in your tracks unless you go around.  I’m not talking about a section of a cart or something, I’m talking about one or two fucking pebbles that your character should be able to just fucking walk/run across, but can’t, so you have to learn to go around these things and not hug the walls too much or else you’ll get stuck and then get caught by the asshole NPC you thought you were about to avoid until that shit happened.  So, you know, little frustrations like that, which again aren’t game-breaking, just irritating.

After the first 2 levels, I’d say each stage took me roughly 2 hours each to beat (on Hardcore difficulty mind you, I’m not that much of a pussy to settle for normal mode, especially when it felt like the game was pulling it’s punches, let alone beginner mode).  Which gives this game a playing time of roughly 25 hours.  A solid enough length for a game of this type.

And even after you finish a level, you can replay it again to complete challenges (of which there are 9 per level).  If you beat a level on hardcore mode, there’s a chance you will have completed at least 2 of the 9 challenges on a first try.  For the first level, I completed 8 of the 9 challenges (including a speed-run of beating the level in under 11 minutes).  I enjoyed them, at first.  But then I came to realize some of these challenges are just downright stupid.  For instance, one of the challenges in the first level is not to kill anyone.  You can knock them out, but they’ll come-to after about 40-60 seconds (I never timed it).  And it seems impossible to get through a level only by knocking people out.  But then I figured out the trick.  Knock someone out, dump their body in a well (I think there’s only 2, at most, in this level), rinse and repeat for everyone else in the way.  But this gets really fucking tedious when you realize there’s only 1 well that you can use for this purpose for a good portion of the level, so you’ll be knocking guys out, carrying their fatasses for up to a minute at a time trying to get back to this cocksucking well, dumping them, and doing it again and again, having to travel further and further distances while doing this.  When a challenge gets that tedious, I tend to stop giving a shit about them.  Seriously, don’t worry about the challenges, at all, during your first playthrough.  Don’t go back to those missions and repeat them just to do those challenges until you’ve completed the game.  These challenges have the potential to increase the amount of times it takes to complete a mission exponentially, sometimes for ridiculous reasons.

Or so I thought.  But then it turns out there was a way to do this quickly without needing to KO all that many people.  This hot shit Korean gamer (you fuckers and your god-mode Starcraft skills) makes me look bad:

So it’s watching this video that made me realize I’m nowhere near close to being a master at these types of games.  I may be capable of beating them, but I’m not capable of being great at them, at least not on my own without looking up how someone else “did it.”  This is one of those games that every stealth game ultimately ends being in a glorified sense: a puzzle game.  It’s not just about figuring out a way to progress though a stage, it’s also about figuring out the best most efficient way to do it.  And I will admit, I am not the best at figuring out that stuff on my own.  It infuriates me, but that’s on me, the game isn’t to be faulted for that.  You hearing me you asshole game journalists who bitched about the difficulty in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!?

But anyway, if stealth games like these seem right up your alley, I say go for it.  It seems like one of the better ones released in recent years that I’ve learned about.

 

bq-5cbe1b02b3a88

System Shock (1994) and Quake (1996) review

So in celebration of cocksucking California passing bullet legislation, I figure I’d talk about the best defining first-person-shooters ever made, outside of Doom (made after Doom).

Surely everyone has heard of Doom being the first major defining first person shooter game, which is still awesome to this day.  True, Wolfenstein came before it, and was made by the same company (iD).  But let’s face it, Doom in superior to Wolfenstein in every way.  But there are at least 2 other first-person-shooters which have defined the genre and made it what it is today (well, one would hope; plenty of today’s games could take lessons from these).  Recently played through both these games.  So let’s start with the earliest one.

System Shock (1993)

Rated: 4 / 5

While Doom may be the first major first person shooter, it was limited in how the player could move.  In that the player could only turn on a 2-dimensional plane.  They couldn’t look up or down, only side to side.  Well, System Shock not only allows the player to look up and down, but also to crouch, to lay flat, to lean left or right, and even enter a virtual world where they basically get full 360 degree freedom of movement.  All this just one year after Doom hit the market.  Quite a feat, even if the controls were clunky as hell (this has since been mostly rectified thanks to the Enhanced Edition which grants the ability to play in a fashion more similar to shooters of today; believe me, you’ll want to play it this way).

And what else did this game accomplish?  It’s arguably the first FPS game to have narrative immersion.  You aren’t just playing the game just to get guns and ammo, and rack up a body count, and discover secret rooms, gain a high score, etc.  In this game, you are actually involved in a developing plot, with a flawed protagonist (you) against an antagonist partly made because of your past misdeeds.  It has warnings of the future, about AI, about cybertechnology (in the same vane as the Cyberpunk universe, except in space, on a space station).  And it’s also likely the first game to have “logs” littered throughout to give you insight as to what happened on sections of the space station prior to your arrival (just about every FPS game nowadays incorporates this).

And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t invested into what was going on.  The last third of the game is quite a ride.  And it’s great when you’re first starting out, because it’s like a survival horror.  Especially when you learn of the fate of the crew, and what SHODAN did to them, and what the origin of these mutants are.  But you get stronger as the game goes on, becoming more of a threat to SHODAN (the AI), which initially thought of you as insignificant in the grand scheme of eliminating all human life from the world, and replacing it with a new race of machines.

Honestly, when it came to the “Grenade” and “Patches,” I don’t think I even used half of all the available options throughout my entire playthrough.

If there’s any fault I can give this game, aside from the clunky control scheme and interface, it’s the level design.  Don’t get me wrong, it works just fine, but you can’t help but think that it was designed more for gameplay-sake than narrative sake.  In that the designs don’t make all that much sense in terms of how one would want to design a space station.  Alien: Isolation did a much better job by comparison (to make a more recent example).  That, and you could find yourself lost on what to do and where to find something if you miss it early on (like some notepad that has a passcode on it, or the numbers on certain screens).  That being said, the stuff that you can get stuck on isn’t anywhere near the worst I’ve seen from FPS puzzlers, especially from that time period.  Even Doom and Duke Nukem 3D had levels which players would find themselves stuck on for a while.

Regarding the difficulty (at least on Normal mode), it started out challenging, but after a while the game mostly feels like a breeze until the last couple levels.  If you spend enough time picking up ammo from each enemy you take out, and each crate that you find, you’ll have more than enough for whatever meets you later on.  Especially once you get the lightsaber (yes, this game has lightsabers).  You’ll be using bullets, and energy (the latter of which can be recharged through one-time use batteries, or an energy core located in various areas).  Every now and then, there will also be a first aid station that fully recharges your health (and you’ll be provided consumables for health as well).  Overall, it took me roughly 15 hours to beat.  That being said, there is a hard mode where you are given a time limit for beating the game.  7 hours.  Go longer than 7 hours, you lose.  Good luck with that.

Aside from the historical impact this had on gaming, it’s still a solid experience to this day.  Though it does end a little too abruptly once you beat the final boss (I mean, there’s no epic explosion or anything; it literally cuts to the epilogue after you hit SHODAN with the last bullet).

And did I mention they’re remaking this game?

 

And for the next step in the evolution of FPS games:

 

 

Quake (1996)

Rated: 4 / 5

This was the game that set the standard for every FPS game made afterwards, in my opinion.  Especially if you play with the HD graphics.  That’s a bit tricky to do though, for a few reasons (more on that later).  You move around like a normal modern FPS, shoot guns and collect ammo like a normal FPS (none of that “press a button to pick up the ammo pack” bullshit, you just walk over it to collect it), etc.  And it doesn’t try to be as ambitious as System Shock control-scheme-wise.  There’s no laying prone, or leaning left or right.  It’s just move, run, and jump, and that’s it.

Source

While there is a story, it’s not something that will be at the forefront anymore than it was in Doom (made by the same company, iD).  This game is all about the gameplay and shooting the shit out of demons, pure and simple.  Over the course of the game you get more guns to shoot, and more enemies to shoot at.  However, it’s not as diverse as Doom.  By comparison, the variety of enemies will seem limited.  In Quake, you get 8 weapons and 7 enemies.  In Doom, you basically got 8 weapons and 10 enemies.  But what it lacks in diversity compared to Doom it makes up for in some of the best level design (and enemy placement within said levels) I’ve ever seen in an FPS.  The design is tight, every door, hallway, secret, platform, enemy; it all seems designed with intent, with everything very well thought out.  Masterminds designed the levels for this game.

And while there isn’t a story per-se, you do get the sense that you’re in a sacriligious place.  A place outside of your world, your own dimension.  Why are you even there?  Why even visit a place like this?  Well, reading the instruction manual, pretty much for the same reason you visit Hell in Doom: demons are invading through a portal, so it’s time you return the favor and invade their world, and throw them a very big hello party, courtesy of humanity from Earth.  Our protagonist doesn’t like illegal aliens invading his fucking turf.  So, naturally, he decides to gear up and blow some of them away.  It’s a challenge of his manhood and masculinity, which is why the gun is always front and center, like it’s your massive erection, blowing out bullets and beams and shells and rockets.  And if you’re into it enough, you might also get a stiffy and cream yourself in the ecstasy of all the carnage.  At some point you’ll probably scream like you’re having an orgasm.  Like Trent Reznor does.

And to stand apart from most other shooters, this is more of a gothic horror.  It’s like you’re in a fucked up medieval castle that’s out of time in some hellish realm with hints of sci-fi thrown in.  It’s rather unique.  And to make it even more unique, the soundtrack was done by Nine Inch Nails (NIN).  And to make their presence even more significant, there’s a Nailgun, with ammo packs containing the NIN logo.  It’s more atmospheric rather than in-your-face; it conveys a more subtle horror and disturbance that slowly seeps into your skin.  The music is every bit as important as everything else contained within the game.  It would feel incomplete without it.

Unfortunately, incomplete is the standard version people tend to get nowadays with this game.  Whether you purchase it on Steam or GOG (I prefer the latter), the soundtrack is missing (because of rights issues).  Well, that’s no completely true.  GOG did manage a workaround, though you are forced to play it with the inferior graphics (more sprite-based than 3D model based).

So on that note, here’s the 3 main ways you can play it once you purchase it on GOG (assuming you’re not using an alternative method):

Quake GIF
Quakespasm mod, which allows the music to be played, with tweaks (see below).  Full 3D models.
Game GIF
Standard GOG version, with no music.  Sprite-based models.
Quake GIF
Horrendous GOG workaround that doesn’t look great at all, but does allow the music to play.

Otherwise, if you can manage to play a version of it with the best graphics and the music thrown in, it’s a great experience.  The only downside to it is that there’s only 2 boss battles, when clearly there should’ve been 5.  There’s basically 5, uh, “dimensions,” with each dimension having a certain number of levels.  Only in the first dimension is there a boss at the last level, and the fifth dimension is basically a glorified (get to the final boss of the game) level.  There were some production troubles that prevented them from having the time and budget to program in the other bosses, so they scrapped them and made the last levels of dimensions 2-4 basically be like any other level, except progressively more difficult.  Not necessarily bad, as the challenge is still great and the level design is impeccable as always.  But it’s just tragic to think of what could’ve been.

 

Mods (for Quake only)

Ok, so first things first.  While there are a couple bits of software out there that basically do the same thing, this is the one I used.

Quakespasm

Download this, put in the files/folders (from the GOG download) needed in the Quakespasm folder, and you’re good to go.  Will run in the best quality.  However, it still won’t include the music, not right off the bat.  Still needs some tinkering to get that to work.  You’ll need to either copy-paste over the mp3 music files the GOG game has stashed away in one of the folders and put them in the Id1 folder; each music file should be titled track02.mp3 or track02.ogg (.ogg is the best format), with the “02” number being anything from 02-11 (there is no track01, there isn’t supposed to be).

how to use quakespasm

And honestly, that’s really the only mod you’ll need.  However, if you want more levels out of quake, there are several fan-made campaigns which add a crapload of content, including cutscenes (in a similar vane as Red vs. Blue, except these guys try their best to take it all seriously).

 

Nehahra

This is a fan-made campaign that is absolutely massive.  If you want to check out fan-made content, this is the absolute best place to start (though the cutscenes do run for too long in my opinion).  There are others in existence, to be sure, but this is the best starting point.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it works with Quakespasm (at least I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work with it), so you’ll be dealing with the more sprite-based graphics.  It’s still good.

 

 

PS: And yeah, I know, I didn’t really have much to say about these games other than just recommending them.  I’m not the best when it comes to video game reviews, I’ll admit.  Difficult to summon the willpower to discuss the graphics, audio, gameplay, story, and replay value.  I tend to be more about philosophical aspects, or food for thought, when it comes to my reviews, and games tend to be difficult about that stuff because they’re more about challenging yourself, and seeing if you can take on that challenge and succeed, and have fun along the way.  Adding a narrative is a bonus.  If you want a solid review for each game, I provided videos to LGR.  He is second to none when it comes to reviews for games like these.  So consider this article a recommendation for the games and the LGR reviewer.  That being said, there may come a day where I come across a game that is so narrative dependent, so devoid of any real gameplay, that I may just end up reviewing it like a movie.

 

https://media.tenor.co/images/a2f1e259c2476b72ad4f3845efcef461/raw

Thief: The Dark Project (1999) Gold edition review

thief poster

Rated: 4 / 5

This is a game I’ve been interested in trying for years now.  Back in the early 2000s, a few friends of mine tried to get me into it, but to no avail for a couple of reasons.

1.) Every time my mother or father had purchased a computer, it was never one capable of running modern games.  That was fixed when I personally bought the components to build my own computer, but that was a decade later.

2.) I was a fucking idiot who didn’t understand the appropriate way to play, nor did I fully appreciate the pacing and playstyle, or the intelligence.

Cut to about a month ago, and I see a Youtube video (yes, as much as I hate Youtube, there are too many good content creators using that platform to ditch it) which discusses the problems with AAA gaming today.  Long story short, the problem is style over substance, too much repetition, too much hand-holding, too few chances taken.  AAA games today are made more for profit than they are for longevity and creating fans who will continue to revisit such a game decades later.  Because think about it, of all the AAA games that have been released over the past, um, let’s say from the X-Box 360 and PS3 and Wii generation of consoles and onwards (roughly 2006 to the present), how many do you often revisit?  Why do you revisit them?  What is it that makes them appealing and stand out from all the other games of the same genre and playstyle?  What makes one Call of Duty game different from another?  What makes open-world games so unique and appealing?

Well, many of them suffered from similar problems that I was aware of subconsciously, but couldn’t put into words or fully comprehend.  Then watching the above video, and after playing the game, I am now aware and can comprehend why the status of many games today is totally fucked.  It’s the same thing that made The Witcher 3 tiresome for me after a duration of time (despite how much I wanted to love that game more than I do), the same thing that plagues The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim, and many first-person and third-person shooters.  Map markers, mission markers, waypoints.  Whether it’s on the main screen or on some mini-map at the corner of the game screen, they do the same fucking thing.  They distract the player.  They dumb down the player and the experience.  It makes the player focus more attention on the marker and moving from point A to point B completing one objective after the next and being guided while doing so rather than thinking for themselves.

The version for taffers.

But it’s not the hand-holding alone that makes it bad (well, ok, maybe it is, since it promotes laziness and practically letting the game play itself; more on that later).  In fact, it could be used as an optional hint/cheat for players who are lost in the game who don’t want to be challenged in that way (pussies).  Rather, it’s the hand-holding combined with the distraction.  Players more often focus on the waypoint rather than the world itself.  The environment, the buildings, the people, the conversations, the subtle indications that are sprinkled in various areas (assuming that much attention to detail was given).  Whenever I play Skyrim or Witcher 3, or any such game similar (hell, even Jak II and III is guilty of doing this, but it’s more justifiable in those games because the open-world environment is less interesting than the destination of the waypoint when you do start platforming and shooting), my attention is focused more on the dot/arrow/icon that indicates what direction to move in rather than anything else around me.

Playing Thief: The Dark Project (aka Thief: Gold, which I’ll refer to as just Thief from now on; and don’t you dare confuse it with the 2014 version, fanatics of the old franchise will sneak into your house and murder you in your sleep for that), it got me to see why it is those waypoints take away from the game.  Which seems contradictory if you think about it, adding in elements to a game actually taking away from the experience; sometimes less is more, even in videogames.  Without waypoints to guide me, I was forced to try remembering portions of the level, utilize the map to some extent, as well as the compass to determine where I am and where I should go.  You also may not even want to reference the map or the compass ever.  In this way your attention is held entirely on your immediate surroundings.  You are forced to memorize the level up to a point.  You are forced to look for your goal(s).  And there are details worthy of your eyes.  Not just the shadows to hide your presence, or the types of floors which are safe to walk/run quickly upon vs. those that make too much noise.  No, there’s also the subtle story elements.  Not just the books you come across, I’m talking about the items and materials strewn about around the map.  They give indications as to what the place is like, what the occupants of the place are like, how things are run, hints at some room being the optimal location for riches to loot; plus the occasional secret door to come across.  Not having a waypoint ultimately allows one to be more immersed in the game world itself.

This isn’t to say its not without its headaches.  One can get easily lost in a level once you get to mission 4 and onwards (out of 15 main missions).  It may take you longer than your patience allows to find some obscure item necessary to complete the level.  Hell, there were a few times I had to resort to looking up youtube videos and/or game guides on gamefaqs.com to figure out how to get myself unstuck (I probably could’ve figured out how to get through it if I put enough time into it; but when I started clocking in at 3 hours on one level, that starts to make me think about what else I could be doing with my time).  Many games from 1999 and earlier suffer from similar situations, even the first Doom game from 1993.  But while the frustration is there, it also accomplishes something else I hadn’t felt in a while.  A sense of accomplishment.  While I did utilize guides at some points, later on I forced myself not to for the sake of trying to complete it all on my own.  And at some points, I succeeded.  This sense of discovery and solving the puzzle, getting through the maze, is more invigorating than simply being guided from one point to another.  Plus it adds to the length of the game.  15 levels, where you’ll be spending anywhere from 1-5 hours on each level depending on how good you are at this sort of thing, or if you’re replaying it.  You won’t feel like the game is too short to say the least (hah).

Which brings me to another point.  The whole getting lost in a level and learning your way around the place.  It does something else.  It makes the level memorable.  It makes each level feel like its own stand-alone experience.  Where the enemies are placed, how they patrol, what enemy types there are, the look of the level, where the lights are and whether or not they can be extinguished, certain areas you can use the rope arrow at (if anywhere), learning the paths to take to sneak past enemies, or how you can knock them out one by one until you have free reign of the entire area.  On that latter point, I found it hilarious in the context of this one level where I had to infiltrate this opera house (to steal shit of course).  I could’ve tried doing the level without knocking anybody out and hiding their bodies somewhere.  I could’ve, but considering I’ve been knocking out pretty much everyone I came across in previous levels, why stop know?  So I ended up knocking out most of the security guards, all the ballerina dancers and opera singers, and all the upper class nobles who came to watch the play.  I couldn’t help but chuckle at this, considering the context.  It’s a great moment that the game doesn’t force onto you.  It’s something you can choose to do of your own accord, without even being told it’s an option.

And on that note, this is a game that’s a stealth-thriller.  You’re not meant to just go in and butcher everyone because the sword-play aspect of the game is intentionally fiddly, and just about everyone else can wield a sword better than you can.  If you try to fight a bunch of guards, you’ll most likely get killed.  In fact, on the highest level of difficulty, the Expert difficulty (which is the level of difficulty I recommend to all, it’s the way Thief was meant to be played), you’ll automatically lose a mission if you kill anyone (well, anyone who’s human anyway).  So you’ll be forced to play like a thief.  You’ll be forced to feel like a thief.  You will be encouraged to play in such a way as to stick to the shadows and avoid combat wherever possible.  However, the last 3-4 levels eventually do away with this.  You are eventually allowed to let loose on these monsters and undead that wander around.  You can still sneak, to be sure, but there are some places where combat becomes unavoidable in later levels.  In some cases, it becomes mandatory to kill off certain enemy types.  It does offer a change of pace, but its subjective as to whether or not it’s a welcome change.  Some like it, others don’t.  Personally, I was just ho-hum about it.

So yeah, there’s more than just regular humans in this game.  There are undead and supernatural beings in this, and they become relevant to the plot, and are foreshadowed in documents and discussions, should you choose to read/listen to them.  And the undead make an appearance as early as level 2, so they are established as existing within this world early on.  Despite that, the game sticks closer to stealth-thriller rather than stealth-horror, up until you reach this one level titled, “Return to the Cathedral.”  Once you get to that level, holy Jesus-aged-titty-fucking-Christ almighty.  That level is one of the scariest fucking things you’re ever going to experience.  The game suddenly turns into a survival-horror game in that level.  You will want to hide not just because you don’t have the means or the ability of wiping out these demons that show up early on, but also because they are scary as fuck.  You hide because you don’t want to encounter these things.  And if they spot you and chase you, God help you, even though it’s likely he won’t considering how often you’ve stolen religious artifacts and desecrated holy sites.

Outside of that, there’s this other level called The Sword, which many state is their favorite level in the entire game (it’s not my personal favorite, by I can see why it is for others).  It starts out like a normal mansion level, until you go deeper and deeper into the mansion where the level design gets bizarre and unnatural.  One would wonder how it’s possible for someone to construct a mansion like this.  There are documents you can find in the level that indicate how it could be done, but it doesn’t fully explain everything witnessed in the most logical sense.  But it makes more sense later on when you learn more about the owner of the mansion.

Like I said, each level has it’s own unique and memorable aspect.  It’s something that can be overlooked if one were left focusing on a minimap and/or waypoint.  But there’s also an aspect that, well, I won’t say is unique to this game, but isn’t utilized anywhere near enough as it should be.  Sound.  Listening to the footsteps of guards to get a general idea of where they are and how far away they are, if they’re coming closer or moving further away.  Using sound to determine if it’s safe to come out of hiding, or if you should stay hidden for a while longer.  This is a very crucial element of this game, something that makes it work as well as it does.  The only other stealth game I can think of which utilized something like this is Alien: Isolation.  Other than that, most of the time, games go for visual cues rather than audio cues.  I mean, look at how the Uncharted games evolved between Uncharted 3 and 4.  Uncharted 3, yeah, you could sneak around and knock some foes out before having to get in a shootout.  Sometimes you could clear out an entire area stealthily, though it’s optional to do it that way.  Uncharted 4, fairly similar, except it’s easier to sneak around and take people out silently.  It becomes easy because you can mark your targets, and always see their location even when they’re not in your line of sight (because you mark them with waypoints).  Games today prefer visual cues rather than audio cues, and it cheapens the experience.

All these elements make this game stand the test of time precisely because of how much it does with what little it provides, though it is most likely intentional that they left some things out, restricted what the character is able to do, precisely to make it more realistic.  Because realistically, people can’t mark targets and then always know their location just by marking them visually with eyesight, as opposed to listening for their footsteps.

Most modern AAA games sacrifice immersion for more bling, more waypoints, more handholding, etc.  Open-world games somehow tend to be the worst of this.  Sometimes they offer the ability to turn off waypoints, but then you run into another problem.  Some games aren’t designed well enough to work without the use of waypoints.  Which is another thing that allows games like Thief to stand the test of time.  Level design.  While they can be headache-inducing, they at least offer challenge and actual exploration (moving to an objective via following a waypoint/minimap is not exploring, that’s riding an escalator).

As for the specifics to that game, you play as a thief named Garret, who is trained by a secret organization known as The Keepers, learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to thieving, but decides to abandon the organization and go independent.  Then he has occasional run-ins with other thieves and the organization known as The Hammers.  His way of life isn’t easy, as he needs to steal constantly and attempt to avoid being double-crossed and cheated, just to pay the landlord, nevermind having suitable living conditions.  But as the game goes on, his skills become noticed by devious figures who want him involved in their schemes.  In the end, he goes on missions he doesn’t entirely want to go on, including those pitting him against the undead and some mages.  But the potential reward is worth the insane risk.  But then he begins to realize he has underestimated what he’s been getting involved with, how supernatural things he put off as superstition end up being real, and begins to suffer for it.  By the end of the game, he wants nothing to do with the Keepers, the Hammers, or anyone else that big.  Only for it to be indicated that he is still being used for some organization’s purpose, as he had been used during the second half of the game.  The narrative is subtle, but good.  There are some plot elements (and/or treasures) you may have overlooked on a first playthrough, which encourages a second playthrough.  While Razorfist (see video above) doesn’t care for this game as much as the others, I found it to be just fine.

The game comes highly recommended.  Rough around the edges, sure, as anything from 1999 is likely to be.  But it does more things right that should be taken for granted, but have been tossed away through the years.  One of those things includes being a game that doesn’t insult your intelligence and try to lead you like a sheep.

Mods

Oh, right, there’s 2 mods I can recommend for this game, one of which is mandatory.

TFix

An unnofficial patch the fixes some bugs, and makes the game more compatible for modern engines.  This is the mandatory mod.  It’s less of a mod and more of a fix, though you can’t use the next mod without this one.

Thief Gold HD Texture Mod

If you think the graphics look too dated (ie too 90s), then there’s this mod.  It’s not going to make it look like a modern graphics game so much as it makes it look 1 console generation better in terms of graphics.  Works for me.  The only things I found iffy were the gas cloud effects of the gas bomb.  They looked too good for this game.  They stood out too much compared to the other special effects.  I prefer the graphics to be consistent.  It’s more of a minor nitpick than anything else, as the pros far outweigh the cons.

PS: Now I’m eager to play the sequel, The Metal Age.

Sonic Generations (2011) and Sonic Mania (2017) review

Sonic Generations

Rated: 3 / 5 (good, but may be a while before I play it again, if ever)

So I haven’t played a Sonic the Hedgehog game ever since Sonic Heroes (2003) on the Nintendo Gamecube (GCN).  Up until that point, I enjoyed virtually all the games found on the Sega Genesis, which is why I’ve purchased a few retro Sonic Collection discs for a few systems off and on.  The best 2D Sonic game being Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and the last decent one being Sonic CD.  I did play Sonic Adventures 1 and 2 on the GCN, and enjoyed them at the time, but I’m not so sure if I’d enjoy playing those 2 nowadays.  Those games work when the levels are designed for Sonic and speed, but they were still a bit finicky and glitchy even when those levels were being played.  But regardless, it showed potential in what the 3D setting had to offer, more-so than Sonic Blast.

Right there, during the landing, I should’ve been able to hit that wire and grind on it, but didn’t.  That’s just 1 of several things that bugged me about the 3D platforming segments.

Unfortunately, it also showed everything the 3D setting had to offer.  Playing Sonic Generations, it doesn’t seem like anything has really changed since Sonic Adventures other than getting their priorities straight in knowing what the best things have been about putting Sonic into a 3D platforming environment.  Restricting movement so it’s more 2D-ish.  The jump-spin-dash.  Grinding on rails.  And that’s pretty much it, and even now they seem unable to make it glitch-free.  There were numerous times playing this 2011 game that I got pissed whenever there was a glitch, a bug, a misstep and a cheap-shot with the level design.  Moments where I should’ve been running along the wall until I hit the speed ramp only to either fall off the wall for some reason, miss the speed ramp due to circumstances a bit beyond my control, or the speed ramp launching me on the wrong direction.  That’s just one instance in one level where things irritated me.

Witness it go from 3D to 2D right before your eyes.

And the game has at least one moment like this in every other level that involves the 3D gameplay.  It never got as bad as that one abomination that came out on the PS3 and X-Box 360, not even close.  But still, considering how much practice they’ve had at this, and considering how much it rips off levels from older 3D titles, you’d think the experience would be more slick.  It doesn’t ruin the game, but it provides needless irritation.  And at this point, this seems to be the best they can do when putting Sonic into a 3D setting.  This is it.  The limit has been reached.  3D platformers aren’t meant to be this fast-paced.  They can’t handle it without resorting to some form of 2D restriction, which defeats the purpose if you ask me.

But since this game calls itself Generations, it also let’s you play as Sonic in the 2D setting.  And guess what?  It has less bugs and cheap shots compared to the 3D segments.  Easier to play, and still challenging in all the right ways (but it never got too challenging, or arguably not quite challenging enough by the end).  It reminded me of why I enjoyed these Sonic games in the past, but it never got to the point where I thought this succeeded in being its own thing.  Mainly because a good portion of the levels were straight up ripped from previous Sonic games, both that I’ve played before, and those that I haven’t (Sonic Colors being one of them).  But at this point, I missed playing good Sonic games badly enough that I was willing to give the game a pass like I did Star Wars: The Force Awakens and just enjoy it for what it did provide.  Though it had nowhere near enough boss fights considering how often they showed up in previous games.

There’s only 4 boss fights, and the constant hints dropped on “how to beat it” got really annoying considering how self-evident that it is, and that the game doesn’t have as much faith in the players as old-school games of the past did.  Fuck you and your faggoty-ass hints.

Oh, and the cutscenes were a bit annoying.  I never really got into any of the new characters past Sonic Adventure DX (even that one brought in some annoying side characters).  Shadow is an emo only millennial retards who think they’re Generation X believe is cool.  Don’t know or care about that white/silver hedgehog.  And most of those individuals who are supposed to be friends of Knuckles all suck.  The only solid characters in this franchise has ever been Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik/Eggman, and Metal Sonic, and that’s it.  I’m willing to cut Amy a small break, but everyone else I just tolerate as best I can while enjoying the gameplay.

So the game is fun, but it could’ve been more if the bugs were worked out and it tried to be more of its own thing.  The 2D gameplay worked far better than it did in Sonic 4 Episode 1 (I didn’t bother with episode 2 considering I wasn’t digging the way the mechanics worked in Episode 1), but it just made me miss the gameplay in Sonic 1, 2, and 3 & Knuckles.

The semi-boss fights between Shadow and Metal Sonic and some other white emo-hedgehog trying to out-emo Shadow aren’t half bad though.

That being said, it is worth noting that there is a mod for this game that allows you to play the Sonic levels from Sonic Unleashed, which many say was the best part about that game.  I haven’t tried it myself, but if I ever get the urge to play this again, I might give it a spin.

Anyway, I found out about another Sonic game that I ignored for a while until the praise for it became deafening.  So what was this one all about?

 

Sonic Mania

Rated: 4 / 5

I don’t fucking believe it.  They got it right.  This shouldn’t be possible.  A Sonic game that has sprite-based graphics released in this day and age?  A Sonic game that finally replicated the gameplay of the old classics perfectly?  Feels like the old games?  Just as long as the old games?  Has more content than the old games?  That just might be better than the old games?

Don’t let the opening fool you, there’s plenty of new content to be had here.

Well now I believe in miracles.  The hype and word-of-mouth is true.  This is the best Sonic game to be released since Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  Sonic accelerates and runs and jumps just like his old self (fuck you Sonic 4, this is how it’s done!).  There is a boss fight in every act (making this the most boss-heavy Sonic game in existence).  And the challenges move gradually in an upward curve with perfect precision.  This game offers the challenge that’s been missing since the first 2 Sonic games (as much as I love Sonic 3 & Knuckles, it lowered the difficulty level down a notch or two compared to the first 2 games), while building upon the perfection in gameplay with the 3rd Sonic game.

Now, like Generations, this game has a decent number of levels that are rip-offs of the old levels from the old games.  But unlike Generations, it tweaks the levels in such a way that they feel more fresh, and isn’t afraid to add in brand new additions of their own that fit the classic setting like a glove.  I worried that I’d just get another Sonic game that people praised just because it’s too much like the classics.  But my worries began to go away after getting through Act 2 of the first level, and completely evaporated by the time I was halfway through.

And the bosses, for the most part, are something different compared to what I’ve seen in previous Sonic games.  Sure there are those that are a bit familiar, but none of them are carbon-copies of those from the old classics.  They all feature Robotnik, or Metal Sonic, or on of Eggman’s creations as usual, but they are all implemented in a way that is fresh and challenging.

I’m not showing any other bosses beyond this.

The levels are pure Sonic design.  All begin and end at the same point, but there are at least 3 ways minimum per level to get from point A to point B.  And to further encourage repeated plays, there are 2 elements.

1.) If you got to a checkpoint with the minimum amount of rings (I think it’s 30 rings), you can jump into the stars and go to the classic “Get all the blue spheres” level, just like in Sonic 3.  As brain-burning and adrenaline-pumping as ever, and they get hard as hell too.

2.) But then there’s something completely new (unless I missed some 2D Sonic game that did something like this).  When you jump into a hidden giant ring, you enter into 1 of 7 levels where you can get a Chaos Emerald.  And this is the most challenging part of the game in my opinion (though some of those Blue Sphere levels may have a say in that).  It becomes semi-3D, in the sense that it feels like a classic 2D system emulated 3D using sprites, where Sonic has to run around in a seemingly 3D environment that’s a bit on the rails.  Racing around a track, speeding up each time you collect a set number of spheres, needing rings to stay in it while you lose a ring each second, and catch the balloon/ship/thing holding the emerald before time runs out.  And you can’t catch it until you boost your speed twice.  Trying to find each spot in each level where this giant ring is at increases the replay value enough as-is with the game.

Similar to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, if you don’t have all 7 emeralds by the end, you just fight the end boss and treated to a decent ending.  But if you do get all 7 by the end, in addition to being able to go Super Sonic (with 50+ rings), you gain access to a final secret boss and the true ending (which doesn’t add much more than the original did, but it’s enough so as not to get taunted by Robotnik after the credits).  I’ll admit I haven’t collected all the chaos emeralds (have only done 4 so far, and I got too stressed out trying to get the 5th, so I bowed out and watched a video to see what’s supposed to happen).  This game really makes you work for them, and really makes you work for that ending, more-so than Sonic 3 made you work for those emeralds.  Which is why it’s optional in terms of making it through to the end.  You won’t reach the secret final boss, but that’s the breaks.  This is a game that isn’t afraid to make players work for the reward.

No shit new generation Sonic.

And there is more.  After playing through a game, you unlock the ability to play as Knuckles, like you could in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  And as usual, the game is more difficult when playing as him.  On top of that, there’s DLC which adds 2 new characters into the game for you to play as for even more challenge (I haven’t purchased the DLC yet, but I’m currently job-hunting right now, so I’m intentionally limiting myself in what I will purchase).  The game offers everything an old-school Sonic fan can want, and offers everything current videogamers need in a game with platforming at sonic speed.

If there is one thing that I can dock the game for, it’s with the story it tells.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to lower the score for this, as this isn’t a game where the story matters all that much.  It’s more of a comparison to the story told in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  Eggman seems to have come across some emerald that can alter time or dimensions, and Sonic is forced to go through various places to track Eggman down, all the while he’s building up a giant mecha.  It’s a bit difficult to determine the story from what is shown in the gameplay, which is reason enough to hold the story told in Sonic 3 & Knuckles in higher regard.  The story is told in a more straightforward manner, shown more simply (Sonic and Tails fly to the last known location of Eggman after destroying the Death Egg in the previous game, but run into Knuckles who impedes them every way he can, because he’s working for Robotnik, but is deceived by him as Robotnik only wants his chaos emeralds, something that belongs to Knuckles, and the emerald is used to repair the Death Egg and to be taken off-planet for some unsaid purpose; all the while there are hints here and there indicated that the chaos emeralds making Sonic go Super Sonic is etched in legend among Knuckle’s people, as shown in an ancient image carved long ago, Super Sonic being a being that can save the world from the evil that invades it).  Sonic Mania tells the story in a more confusing abstract manner, allowing for only vague understanding outside of reading the story online somewhere.  Again, nothing I’ll bash the game’s score for, but it’s one thing that Sonic 3 & Knuckles did better.

In fact, now that I think about it, this game seems to be missing that one other element that Sonic & Knuckles provided.  Lore hints dropped within the game.  We see Knuckles and his secret chaos emerald temple early on, and we see all that stuff in the Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic & Knuckles.  It’s only 2 brief bits in the entire game, but they’re there.  With Sonic Mania, it opts more for just telling the story through sprite cutscenes at the end of each level.

Outside of that, this game is better in almost every way.  Though I will say this regarding the music.  The new music scores are fine, and renditions of classic tunes are fine.  Except for one.  The music from Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic & Knuckles, that is a classic theme that is easily my favorite among the classic Sonic games.  The remix is a step down from the classic beat in my opinion.  I don’t think many, if any, 16-bit scores are going to top that beat for me personally.  That being said, this remix is still good in its own right, providing its own epic feel with that guitar riff.  I think it’s just the nostalgia factor in me that overpowers the new stuff.  You be the judge.

And lastly, this game did the one thing I wasn’t sure was possible.  It made me enjoy playing videogames again, and not just make it feel like a chore being done in the hope that I would find the spark to rekindle that joy.  This game is a gamer’s game, and it’s the game that Sonic fans can’t point to for all the non-believers and say, “This is Sonic!  This is why Mario can suck our dicks!”

 

Highly recommended game, for both Sonic and non-Sonic fans.

 

Uncharted quadrilogy (2007-2016) and Jak trilogy (2001-2004) review, and the downward spiral of Naughty Dog and Gaming

Uncharted: The Characters and Story

It took a long while for me to give a console game a shot again.  I have played the previous 3 Uncharted games a while back, and enjoyed them, so I’ve been curious to try out the 4th and final one (and yes, I am aware of that 5th spin-off game; and no, I’m not interested in playing it) ever since it first came out.  But I must admit, my reasons for wanting to play Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End extend beyond just simple gaming fun (there are hundreds of other games out there that can be played for simple gaming fun).  Aside from being interested in seeing an end to the franchise (like I said, not interested in that spin-off), I’ve also become worried about the path Naughty Dog has taken recently, what with their virtue signaling with The Last of Us 2, and a little bit of that with the Uncharted game that followed the 4th one, I fear this game company is going down the SJW path.  So I wanted to see if there were any hints of that permeating within this game (2015 was the year virtue signaling became a trend, that has only grown up to this point in time, and shows no signs of slowing down for the next few years, unfortunately).  Or if I’m just being overly paranoid and just becoming too political for my own good.

“This makes us lesbians, which someone probably exploited in a CG animated porn short somewhere on the web.  We can’t win against Rule 34 can we?”

Because let’s face it, the main games that have come out over the past decade have been memorable more for their story and characters than for their gameplay (but if the gameplay sucked to the point that it’s broken, the story and characters aren’t going to matter; it just had to be adequate at the very least).  This franchise is very much aware of this at this point, and maybe to a lesser extent in Uncharted 2 and 3 (which were both fun games in their own right, for the same reasons, but they had some minor faults as well).  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is easily the most story and character-focused out of the franchise up to the point of its release.  One cannot ignore this aspect if they are to get the fullest enjoyment out of the game.  If such a focus is made on this, then it can suffer similar flaws that films do, but can also gain similar successes.

Regarding adding the brother Sam into the mix.  He isn’t a bad character per-se, and there’s enough explanation to provide a reason as to why he wasn’t mentioned in the previous games.  And the flashbacks with him and Nathan give reason as to why Nathan took on the Drake name, and how their mother was an archaeologist who inspired them to take on that work trade (albeit in a manner that is less legal).  However, his presence comes at the expense of other characters. Sully is given more of a backseat and loses that whole “father figure” element which was built up in the 3rd game.  Chloe Frazer and Charlie Cutter are nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be mentioned.  Their existence is dropped completely.  In fact, you could play Uncharted 4 right after playing Uncharted 1 and not miss a single goddamn thing that would make you lost in this story.

Although there is this one moment where Drake looks longingly at this picture in his house, longingly remembering the adventure times (with Jake the Dog and Finn the Human).  I found this a bit fucking hilarious considering how similar it is to imagery found in Uncharted 2, when Nathan and Chloe are having sex with each other on a bed in some hotel.  Cut to Uncharted 4, Nathan looks longingly at this picture while Elena Fisher (who has been the romantic interest in all of the Uncharted games, to the point where they hooked up, broke up, got back together and got married, broke up again, then got back together again to live a calm city life at the start of Uncharted 4) is talking to him and trying to have a conversation, or at least small talk, with her husband.  Wishing for the good old days.  Taken in this context, it seems like he misses both adventure and having sex with Chloe.  Fuck Elena, Chloe is who he should’ve gotten married to.

But aside from that and maybe one or two very subtle nods to the 2nd and 3rd games here and there, it pretty much acts like those don’t exist.  For a franchise finale game, that seems like a serious misstep.  A franchise finale is supposed to take into account all that was built up previously, unless there is a very good reason to ignore some tidbits here and there, address them, expand on them, wrap them up, and then overall conclude the main protagonist’s story and/or character arc.

28142

But let’s focus on the main protagonist for a moment, Nathan Drake.  Consider how his character was in the first game, and what his story is, and what drives him.  He’s an Indiana Jones rip-off (not saying that’s a bad thing) with the smart-ass level ramped up to 11, who can shoot and brawl just as well as he can explore archaeological sites and find valuable objects and decipher languages and goods and solve ancient puzzles, while doing some mountain-climbing and parkour for good measure.  A basic caricature, a basic adventure character stereotype who’s pretty much a Gary Stu (but the game and anyone playing it is aware of this).  In addition, he is shown to care more about his livelihood than the treasure he is after, even if its a treasure that links to his so-called father he descends from.  When the bullets start flying and so many people start getting involved in going after the treasure, Nathan doesn’t care about the treasure or the Drake legacy anymore, he wants to get the hell out of there.  But not his partner in crime Victor Sullivan (aka Sully), who has debts to pay (which doesn’t matter much at the end of the first adventure considering all those he owes debts to got killed, so that worked out).  And not Elena, who is so desperate and passionate for coverage on a major story that she’s willing to take major risks to get it.  They want to press on when Nathan says they shouldn’t, and he has very good reason to not press on.  But in the end the fate of the world is in their hands, so Nathan is obligated to stick around and save everyone at the end of the day, while Sully gets plenty of gold afterwards.  So they end the adventure filthy rich and debt free (well maybe not Elena, but that’s easily remedied).  There’s also a hint early on that Nathan Drake may not be a Drake descendant, with a brief mention that will get built upon later, primarily in the 3rd and 4th game.  But he also learns to respect his supposed lineage in the end, thinking Francis Drake did nothing significant and died a nobody who never found the treasure, to realizing he gave his life to keep the treasure secret from everyone to prevent a catastrophe from occurring, thus dying a hero, which earns Nathan’s respect, as he learns that there are other types of fortune besides literal treasure (though they still get some literal treasure by the end).

uncharted-3-meme

Cut to the 2nd game, Honor Among Thieves.  It’s pretty much the same old story but with a few new characters thrown in, and a more interesting and ambitious villain (though no less 2-dimensional; “I want power, muahahahah!”).  We are introduced to the only real significant addition to the franchise, Chloe.  An ex-lover, an ex-partner in crime, a thief archaeologist just like Nathan.  But she has more questionable ethics compared to Nathan, is more selfish, but still has a good heart hidden in there somewhere.  Nathan is once again pulled into an adventure he’s all on-board with at first, especially since it relates to Sir Francis Drake (just like the adventure in the last game).  But eventually Nathan realizes they’re way in over their head (even though he’s been proven as capable of being a one-man army), and tries to convince everyone to leave, but circumstances prevent them from doing so, because friends get captured he needs to rescue (like in the last game), and the treasure ends up being something that could change the world for the worse (again) and so must kill the bad guy and save the world (again).  Drake doesn’t have an arc in this so much as Chloe does.  She becomes a bit better by the end.  And then there’s fucking Elena.  She should’ve had an arc, mainly because her reporter obsession is still there, chasing the villain internationally, only for it to result in her film partner to get killed by the villain.  She does seem to have some regret over it, and over her being partly responsible for the violence that is caused upon some native mountain people.  But nothing much comes of this in the later games, which would eventually start to piss me the fuck off.  Almost as much as Nathan not going with Chloe, the more badass chick with more character and personality.

The 3rd game, Drake’s Deception.  This is the game that changes Drake a bit.  In the previous 2 games, he was a treasure seeker but only up to a point to where he wanted to back out when it got too dangerous, even when others who are close to him encourage him to keep going.  This game reverses all that.  He becomes obsessed with going after the treasure even when things get dicey.  And his friends ask him why.  Why keep going?  What is driving you here?  What’s your motivation?  What’s the point?  On my first playthrough I couldn’t find a point where the game answers this question or even resolves this arc it set up for Drake.  But then thinking back on it, we do learn that there is a point.  It has to do with that ring Nathan has, a ring worn/made by Francis Drake (and yes, the adventure in this game is yet another treasure adventure related to what Francis Drake did in the past, thus getting Nathan’s attention yet again).  Aside from acting as a key to a mechanism that can interpret symbols etched in certain places (because of course it can), it also has to do with the backstory Nathan has setup for himself.  That he is a descendant of Francis Drake.  This was questioned in the first game, and now it is shown to be a lie in this game.  Nathan is an orphan, who broke out of the orphanage to take on the Drake name, but he’s really a nobody (sort of like Rey from Star Wars).  So Drake has not only deceived others, but deceived himself.  He considers himself worthy of taking on the Drake name even though he’s not related by blood, and now his worthiness is called into question in spite of his achievements in the past, let alone his current skills and knowledge.  By the end of the game, he states he has nothing left to prove.  Which I guess implies that he has accepted his position, that he is worthy of the Drake name.  Or maybe that it doesn’t matter if he’s worthy or not, because it’s not worth all the bloodshed he has done, to the point where he puts African warlords to shame.

The third game is when the character of Elena became problematic for me.  She acts high and mighty over Drake and what he does, yet her position of both moral high ground and literal geographic position rings false to the point of insulting.  First, she’s in a Middle Eastern city not wearing any burkas or veils, and seems to get around no problem in her casual American woman attire.  She acts like she’s above Drake morally, yet acts as having no regrets over the fact that she is in-part responsible for her companion in the 2nd game getting killed (something I normally wouldn’t bitch about, except it seems ok for her to threaten Nathan over losing friends through his obsessive actions when that hasn’t happened, and not once does anyone call her out on that).  Plus Chloe is better than Elena.

And on that note, this game does a major cop-out in what could’ve been a great gut-punch moment that would’ve made this game truly memorable.  Sully seems to get killed off, except it’s a psych-out moment.  This game pulled a major punch, the one punch it shouldn’t have pulled.  Would’ve been easier to swallow if Nathan was more sorry afterward on how he “almost” got Sully killed.  It would’ve been more impactful if he stated he was going to change his life after this.  Well, in the 4th game, I guess you can argue that’s exactly what he did as a result of this “almost” moment.

 

Cuntcharted 4: The Story/Character Stuff That Pissed Me Off

So finally, the 4th game.  Nathan has settled down, gotten married to Elena (goddamnit), and does a more safe job of working for some transportation company, and retrieves any lost cargo that falls into the sea via accidents.  Nathan’s long-lost brother Samuel Drake shows up, convinces him to go on an adventure to get some treasure to appease an angry drug lord who will kill him if he doesn’t get this treasure.  So, begrudgingly, Nathan decides to help.  However, he lies to Elena about why he’s gone off out of the country.  Why does he do this?

A. Well at first I thought it was because he didn’t want her to know about his long lost brother he thought died during a prison escape.  He didn’t want Samuel to be a part of their life because Nathan wanted to leave this old life behind, even though he misses the old life and doesn’t seem entirely content with the new life.

B. Considering how close she came to losing her life in the 2nd game, and how close Sully came to losing his life in the 3rd game, he didn’t want anyone he cared about to get involved in this adventure.

Either of those options seem good right?  Well apparently not, because when Elena eventually figures out Nathan lied to her and miraculously tracked him down and confronted him and seemed like she would leave him after making him feel guilty about lying to her and going behind her back about something this big, the reason Nathan gives later on is that he didn’t want to lose her.  Not lose her in the sense that she might die, but in the sense that she wouldn’t agree to this decision and leave him because he’s stepping back into this old lifestyle even after promising he wouldn’t.  This is dumb and cliched as fuck.  There’s no depth to this reasoning.  This isn’t anything like the Nathan in the previous games.  So from there the rest of the game is largely about Nathan feeling guilty while Elena keeps making him feel guilty and less morally superior to her because the writers decided to force the franchise to go this route for the finale, and Elena shows how she’s gotten more badass since the last few games even though she’s been living the calm life for the past few years.

So aside from that, the game more or less proceeds as the rest of the past games.  There’s a treasure, but something like love and/or friendship is more important than the treasure, so most of the treasure becomes lost along with the villain who dies in some ironic fashion.  But because Nathan was too much of a Gary Stu, and because no one is in this franchise that quite hits the Mary Sue mark, they decide to introduce this black African warlord bitch Nadine Ross, who can not only wipe the floor with Nathan Drake in a fight, but can also wipe the floor with Drake and Samuel in a 2-on-1 fight.  This fucking lady pisses me off more than fucking Elena.  I don’t care how fucking skilled she is in martial arts, no one can wipe the floor with 2 guys who are experienced street fighters who have decimated entire armies with their skill-set, and who have survived prison multiple times.  Besides, just because you have experience enough to be a blackbelt, or even a  redbelt in something, that doesn’t mean shit in a street fight.  Consider that fight which happened on that show (though I can’t recommend this series; despite this scene, this series is far-fetched and gets ridiculous at times; case in point, this criminal impersonating a sheriff doesn’t get any real repercussions from this incident, taking out a major MMA star, who is black; someone would’ve cried racism at the very least).  The MMA star trained to beat guys up for a living is clearly the better fighter in terms of technique, but street fighting has its own advantages and techniques, not to mention the endurance.  Hell, this broad even takes the mother of all superman punches and basically just shrugs it off.  Nathan got more scars on his face from taking less.

The worst part is that the game doesn’t allow Nathan to get any proper revenge on this woman who is responsible for killing a lot of people (among other things) during her time in Africa.  In fact, the game wants her to be a more sympathetic villain, more of a nice girl, who gets out of the whole damn thing Scott-free (fyi, that term originated in the mid-1800s with the Dredd Scott case; Great Scott!).  And let’s face it, this broad is put into the game for one reason and one reason only.  To subtly virtue signal.  Black people, especially black women, have been misrepresented or not given enough strong roles in the past in games, so they had to make up for it by putting in a woman who is far too fucking tough, even by villain standards (and she isn’t even the main villain, even though she should’ve been, because she’s more interesting than lame brain Rafe Adler).  I imagine they continued this trend with the game that followed Uncharted 4, and are continuing the virtue signalling in the upcoming Last of Us 2.  If you want a badass black chick in a videogame (excluding those RPGs where you can make a character of any gender and any color), just make a fucking game where you get to play as one.  It’s not that fucking hard.  Make some cyberpunk game where you play as a black female hacker, or a black female assassin.  You have options.  And for the record, I still would’ve hated this fucking character if it was a white guy, or even a white woman.  Or a Mexican/Middle-Easterner/Dwarf.

Anyway, they end the game by showing Nathan and Elena had a daughter (this was rewritten from them having a son), and begin to reminisce on the past.  Thus potentially encouraging players to revisit the older games until coming full circle all over again.  Seems like a happy ending.  Nathan has a family now, has settled down, runs a business with his wife that encourages them to travel around (though his wife coerced him into doing this by going behind his back a bit; hypocritical, all things considered).  But it may not be as happy of an ending as you think.  Consider what YouTuber Damien Scott had to say about it:

Not many people realise that Uncharted is actually a hidden tragedy. It’s one of the most depressing stories ever told, I was devastated after finishing U4. Most of the people think that it’s about last adventure of Nathan Drake, yay, woohoo, but it’s not. Center of the story is disfunctional relationship between Nathan and Elena. They had some kind of light sympathy through Uncharted 1, it didn’t work past that, they didn’t even kissed at the end. They met again half-way through Uncharted 2 – they both know that nothing gonna work between them, but they have FEELINGS which is called love addiction in psychology. In Uncharted 3 we know that they almost got married, but, of course, it didn’t worked out. Why? Because Nathan Drake is a infantile, hedonistic adrenaline junkie and, let’s say it, he is a criminal. Why? He was raised this way by Sully – hedonistic criminal who likes to steal shit and fuck hot bitches on regular basis. But it’s Nathan”s natual lifestyle, his personality, it’s what keeps him happy. Elena, on the other way, is a ‘normal person’ – a careerist, almost archetype of STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN who just thinks that she loves Nathan. She is mentally stronger than Drake, she undeniably more adult. Truth is – she don’t love real Nathan, she loves that Ideal Nathan, that she think she can make from him. They are incompatible as a couple (Chloe is STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN too, but she is a criminal, she had more in common with Drake and they make a pretty good team). There is some chemistry, but they just can’t be together. And at the end of the Uncharted 3, they decide to give it a shot, because FEELINGS. In Uncharted 4, we see so called “typical normal life” of Nathan and Elena – he is actually WORKING (what a tragedy) in the docks and she is doing some freelance shit, writing touring guide for Thailand. Of course, it just a facade of prosperity. Interactive elements of the house tells us that they were genuinely happy together at first. But when we finally see them eating that fucking salad in front of the TV and Drake just staring at that picture on the wall, not listening to Elena… At this moment we see the truth – it’s not love, it’s some kind of deeply troubled codependency and bad habit of being together just because there is nowhere to go for both of them. Nathan is spiritually castrated empty shell of himself and Elena is just a chronically unsatisfied woman (remember that joke about ‘mango’ being their stop word – casual sex is not working anymore between them, they are practicing some risky shit together to keep it fresh) with neurotic tendencies. I mean – she made Ideal Family Man Drake exactly as she intended and, surprise, he is fucking boring, he is not himself, he is miserable. She don’t love him, but she can’t leave. And when Sam appears, Nathan is not that happy to see him – he is happy that there is a justifible enough reason to escape this hell of ‘normal life’ for a while. In first three games, Nathan is alive, young and energetic man with immature impulsive behaviour, but nothing is wrong about it – it’s who he is and why we all love him in the first place. In Uncharted 4, he is broken graying shadow of a man in his mid-40s, you can physically feel some spiritial chains on his character – even his stupid jokes, which were fun at first three games, are awkward in U4. When Elena finds him after that car chase segment, she give him THAT LOOK, to make him feel guilty. Guess what? It didn’t worked as planned, Nathan decides to continue the journey. He even say to Sam that he maybe lost his marriage because of him, but that’s a lie – he don’t need this marriage himself, but he is scared to think this way. At this point I thought – thank god, Nathan is free now. He is still irresponsible son of a bitch, but he is free from her pressure. But no – Elena finds him again. And she continue to make him feel guilty, to preserve the strings that she pulls. She is putting herself in the position of a hero, saviour, who is given One Last Chance to Nathan, who is a ungrateful stupid man. At this moment we understand – Nathan is just fine on his own, but Elena just simply can’t be alone, she won’t let Nathan go. Through their shared chapters, we find out that they are happy together exclusively in extreme situations of danger (like, private army danger). They just don’t have any common ground in peaceful normal life, which are clearly exhaustingly boring for both of them. Final of the game is a real tragedy. Happy end would be Nathan and Elena getting divorced and move on with their lives separately, doing their things and be happy. But no, Elena is not willing to release her bitch Nathan from her thumb – she suggests some half-assed ‘compromise’ born in despair – to sell their shitty house and other goods and go TRAVEL, like it wil change something (in real life, it’s the final agony of relationship between two people – when they are starting to downshift – sometimes it helps, but only sometimes). Their marriage is all the way dead at this point, but she just can’t let go. Not on her watch. Nathan is her property, she owns him. He is still that immature, stupid man with psychology of teenager, so he even don’t mind, because FEELINGS. And epilogue is just a heartbreaking disaster. They have a kid. Do they look happy? They look old and tired, they even don’t look at each other at this chapter – they don’t care about each other anymore, but there is no way to run. Their daughter was the final nail in the coffin of the Nathan’s freedom and happiness. If you think that I’m just making this shit up – walk through the game again, knowing all this. It will be totally different game for you. Little details, body language, acting nuances will point out everything.
“Yep, I’ve got you by the dick and balls.”

I have to agree with him.  Except this wasn’t a blatant message, this was seeing the subliminal messaging, witnessing what wrath virtue signaling hath wrought upon a franchise’s end.

If there is one thing I’ll give the game credit for, it did have the most interesting and investing story to it in terms of the history behind the treasure they seek.  The story behind those pirates, what they did, what happened in their utopia.  For the first time, I was heavily invested in that, more-so than the treasure stories in the previous games, and more so than the Nathan/Elena relationship.

 

Uncharted’s Gameplay

Outside of the puzzle solving and the 3rd-person-shooter elements, the first 3 games don’t really offer much.  The puzzle elements are decent enough for what this game is.  The shooter elements, fun enough.  I’ve played and beat the first 3 games on their hardest difficulty.  And I honestly don’t recommend playing the games in that manner.  You’re better off playing them on Normal or Easy.  These are games where you should be able to run wild and run and gun how you want.  The cover shooter element can be fun, especially when you’re under pressure to take enemies out ASAP before they flank you, or force you to move with a grenade throw (though Uncharted 3 lessens this effect by allow you to toss grenades back at the enemy, which is fun, but takes away from the challenge element on harder difficulties, further enforcing the notion that this is best enjoyed on lower difficulties).

The first game is nowhere near as scripted as 2 and 3.  There are scripted moments, sure, but it’s a fairly basic shooter.  The 2nd game set a standard for the franchise, a standard the 3rd game copied.  A lot of scripted moments to create the feel of witnessing an interactive action-adventure game, that tries to make it feel like you’re playing a movie.  It succeeds, even if it loses elements of being a game in this regard.  What I mean by that is, outside of the shooter elements, the game is full of jump-scare moments that don’t amount to hardly anything on the gamer’s part.  Portions of a wall you climb on crack and break, bars bend and break, floors can fall from under you.  All to create the illusion that your character is in danger.  Most of the time, he isn’t.  You are perfectly safe and can take your time through these, I guess you could call them “platformer,” moments.  Because this game tries to fit in platformer gameplay along with the shooter and puzzle elements.  And as a platformer, it sucks.  The scripted moments primarily come from the platforming segments.  And it doesn’t really take much, if any, skill to get through the platforming portions of any of these Uncharted games (except for maybe the first one, but that is thanks in-part to the less-than-polished camera and platforming controls).  And a good portion of the first 3 games are platforming segments (again, at least somewhat challenging in the first, not so much in 2-3).  So what to make of the platforming when it doesn’t take much skill to get through it?  It makes it into a glorified walking simulator.  It’s just something to do rather than letting a cutscene transition from one gameplay segment to another, which would’ve been a more efficient and better choice in my opinion.  But these games are desperate to convince you that you have mad platforming skills in addition to shooting skills.  On the one hand, this does allow you to feel like Nathan Drake, to feel like a guy capable of mountain climbing and utilizing those skills to get across all sorts of walls and signs and obstacles.  On the other hand, there’s no real skill involved in doing so, which defeats the purpose of platforming from a gamer perspective.  They act as semi-breather portions until the next shootout.

To be fair, there are some portions of these games that incorporate the platforming into the shooting.  Such as the 3rd game when you’re climbing up the side of a ship and using these, um, things, jutting out from the sides as cover while you shooting guys above you.  Climbing around cliffs, walls, vehicles, ships, other structure to get an angle on enemies and flank them yourself while preventing yourself from being flanked.  So in a sense, the platforming outside of shooting is practice for when you need to implement it during the shooter segments.  Unfortunately, most of the time, you’ll just be doing a cover shooter ala Gears of War and Killswitch.  These games don’t take advantage of the platforming-shooter potential as often as they should, though the 3rd game improves upon the 2nd in this regard.

And then there’s the 4th game.  So let me get this out of the way first.  When the shooter segments happen, they are among the best the franchise has ever produced.  The car chase sequence is amazing (as is the clock tower puzzle).  There are bits where you can sneak your way up to a tower and snipe people from there until you run out of ammo and then you move back down to finish everyone else off.  You can swing on a rope and shoot from the rope (including shooting off RPGs).  The 4th game fulfills the potential the franchise has to offer from a gameplay perspective.

The problem, however, is that the shooter segments are very few and very far between.  The game decides it wants to be a glorified walking simulator.  They wanted to make it more like The Last of Us after that game’s success, hence the pacing change from the previous games.  It tosses aside what made the games gamey and focuses more and making it an interactive story.  And it gets fucking boring.  Not only that, but it gets fucking pretentious.  You can’t go 1 minute without some asshole, whether you or someone else, saying something.  The game complimenting itself on how beautiful it looks (and it does look fantastic, but it comes at a cost, not limited to characters saying something along the lines of, “Wow, what a view,” in every other chapter).  The characters constantly drop hints and what you should do and how you should think, killing the ability for you to figure out how to get past some of these platforming segments, as if the skill bar wasn’t low enough for those.  There’s only 2, maybe 3 sections, tops, that involved some amount of skill to get past them in terms of platforming skill.  That does not make this game exciting!  You have to get through loads and loads of boring bullshit and cutscenes and dialogue and fucking walking before you get to the only things that have ever engaged players in the franchise, the shootouts.

I would almost say that Naughty Dog has forgotten what it means to make a game be an actual game, to have more gamey elements than narrative elements (otherwise just make a fucking movie), except they haven’t.  They know full well what good platforming is.  They have it near the beginning of the motherfucking game!  They let you play through the first level of Crash Bandicoot.  The first one!  With original PSOne graphics!  And its more engaging than any other platforming segment in this game!  But they look at it as outdated old school, as stuff of the past.  There are bigger and better things to have nowadays.  It’s a metaphor for why Nathan is so bored with the way things are just as players get bored playing this fucking game, which is why he longs for the past just as many long for old-school.  Because the old-school is better than the new school.  The old school may be a bit rough around the edges, not as polished as the new games, graphically inferior, and demands more of the players, but at least they were more engaging, more fun, and actually required the one thing that makes a game a game, skill!  Honest to God skill!  The thing that makes some players better than others!  But Naughty Dog doesn’t want that anymore.  They don’t want to have people play the game who give up because they are frustrated at not being skilled enough to beat it.  They want everyone to be capable of beating the game.  They want hardly any skill involved.  They want everyone to be a winner.  But if everyone wins, no one loses.  If there are no losers, there are no winners, thus no one can win.  You can’t have winners if you can’t have losers.

Yes I’m exaggerating a bit here, but this does show the direction Naughty Dog has been going in.  By trying to appease everyone, they appease no one (which is why those who praised The Last of Us 2 for it’s virtue signalling lesbian kiss later cried foul when they see all the violence that comes after, making my point).  So let’s go back to a time where they had their priorities straight.

 

The Jak and Daxter Trilogy (ignoring the racing game and PSP spinoffs)

The first Jak and Daxter game (the only one that would be called Jak and Daxter before they drop Daxter out of the title) has a story, but it’s not much of one.  The story is used as a backdrop for the gameplay.  You could say there’s some shooting in this game, but only about as much as there’s shooting in Super Mario Bros. 3.  There are portions where you’ll be given a temporary gift to launch projectiles at enemies, but this game is a platformer through and through.  An honest to God one, not one that is platformer in name only.  You have to time your way running through obstacles, jumping on platforms, dodging projectiles, etc.  Timing!  Timing is what makes a platformer a platformer!  Knowing when to jump at the end of a run, and/or in reaction to some other moving obstacles.  Something that is largely absent from the Uncharted games!  And the game gets pretty damn hard at times, especially near the end.  The worst thing about this, and the other Jak and Daxter games, the camera.  Trying to rotate that camera to where you want it to until it runs into a wall and stops, so then you have to fight/jump semi-blindly.  It’s doable, but the camera issues make the games even more frustrating.  It’s less of an issue by the time we get to the 3rd game, but it’s prevalent through most games back then.  Wasn’t really until the PS3 era where this issue becomes largely absent from 3rd person games.

By the 2nd game (and pretty much carried over into the 3rd game), Naughty Dog brought the story and characters more to the forefront.  I began to give a damn about the characters, and the plot (which gets much deeper than you would expect compared to what the first game brought to the table).  Plus it became considerably darker, though it definitely kept the slapstick humor in-check, and ramped up the low-brow humor in ways I found delightful (the best the first game had in that regard was the evil sister with the big tits).  Daxter becomes more hilarious, Jak finally has character.

This game entered the market in a time when everyone was trying to be edgy.  No wonder it ripped off Grand Theft Auto gameplay with the whole hijacking cars aspect.  This is basically implemented for similar reasons as walking around in Uncharted, unskippable cutscenes.  The difference here, however, is that you do need to pay attention and keep up your reflexes, dodging security guards and vehicles while they chase you.  Plus it does serve a long-term purpose.  Outside of getting familiar with the whole city, you get to see full-on devastation during the last act of the game when the Metalheads invade, and they’re engaged in a full-on war with the security guards, and battles are happening on every block of the city.  Quite a spectacle, and it makes the whole “open-world” feel, and the long driving from one mission to the next kind of seem worth it when that goes down.

As for the platforming, it’s still there and as difficult as ever, but with 2.5 changes.  1.) You get guns that you can blast enemies with.  It’s doesn’t have the slickest implementation, but once you get used to it, it works well enough, though I get fucking irritated when having to shoot at flying enemies, especially when they’re out of view.  The camera angles are still a problem, and they remain a problem through all of the games.  2.) The jet board.  Oh Lord yeah, the jet board.  2.5) The racing bits were pretty damn fun too (except in the 3rd game when driving on the fucking sand randomly causes you to shift to the side and nearly guarantees you spinning out of control).  Tough, but fun.

And those optional side-mission, fuck my life those are hard.  So hard I decided not to do them.  I put up with them when I was younger, but I can’t take the stress of trying to be a perfectionist at those anymore.  Besides, there’s youtube for the bonuses they provide (even though I really hate Youtube’s fucking guts right now).  The challenges wouldn’t be so bad if I thought they were reasonable, but they kind of aren’t.  Primarily because the gameplay isn’t as slick as it should be for feats like this, and the camera control is tolerable at best during the frantic moments.  The side missions are do-able, but you usually need some online guide help to make it happen for a good portion of them.

The main missions get progressively more difficult as the game goes on, though some are more difficult than most (it’s not a smooth curve upwards in difficulty, there’s some spikes here and there).  The 2nd game will really test your patience (but it does feel rewarding once you complete each mission), and the third game eases up on the difficulty for the most part.

The point being these games challenge the player.  It forces the player to get better through trial and error, to gain skills, to memorize the way enemies move, what weapons to use for which situations, how to time the platforming, etc.  It may be rough around the edges compared to today’s games, but I found myself happy with the games by the end of it all.  Don’t get me wrong, there are platformers today that are more slick than this game, but none of them can really match the characters and stories told in this trilogy.  Naughty Dog knows this, which is why they’re re-releasing the trilogy (plus Jak X Racing) on the PS4.

Comparison

The Jak and Daxter games are platformers with some gunplay thrown in for good measure.  The gameplay is definitely there, and it has some nice narrative to keep you going (though it’s more episodic in nature as opposed to a constantly progressing story).  The gameplay flow isn’t smooth, but its acceptable.

The Uncharted games, on the other hand, went for narrative first and foremost (at least by the 2nd game and onwards) compared to the gameplay.  There are long segments in each Uncharted game where the player goes around obstacles by rock-climbing, but sacrificing the challenging platforming found in the Jak trilogy as a result.  The Jak trilogy implemented vehicle driving or animal riding as a means to travel around between missions, as opposed to borderline mindless rock climbing, but it can get tedious in its own right even if it keeps the player engaged via mad max vehicles coming after you, or security guards.

Games that emulate (or straight up are) open-world gaming are inevitably going to fall into this trap at some point, usually failing to strike the right balance between moving from one destination to another with no frills along the way (ala Shadow of the Colossus), or having something happen at every moment at the risk of the encounters not being anything special when they do happen (Jak 3 when driving in the desert).  What is strange is that the Uncharted franchise isn’t an open-world game in the sense that I’m familiar with (though it did make an effort to seem that when when driving in Madagascar in Uncharted 4), yet it spends the same amount of time doing similar tedious tasks between missions (aka setpieces).  But to fool the player into thinking it’s an exciting romp between missions, the Uncharted games implement scripted moments which amount to nothing more than “jump-scares.”  At least the Jak trilogy had the decency to not bullshit the players in this regard.

Many will appreciate the format of the Uncharted franchise more than I, and that’s fine.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy those games (but the 4th one is not something I’d ever want to play again, thank you very much).  But I’ve been noticing how the Uncharted franchise is picking up dangerous trends in the gaming industry.  Trends that suck out the “game” in videogame.

Now of course games are an activity, an activity involving at least one or more people interacting with something someone else has created, and adhering to the rules the designer has set forth while doing the activity.  And every game has a goal, whether that be a goal imposed on the player clearly, or a goal that is so vague it is open to interpretation by the player (for example, the Uncharted and Jak games are all about completing the main campaign, everything else is a bonus; but open-world RPGs, that could entail anything from completing specific missions, to leveling up your character in a certain manner to a specific threshold, to defeat a specific individual, to play for so many hours, to test a mechanic or theme within the game, etc.).  But when I say sucking the “game” out of videogame, I mean the competitive element.  The thing that makes the game a gamer’s game.  A true game in the sense that I’ve come to understand it is one where a player tests and improves his/her skill and mitigates luck, all to defeat an opponent and/or reach a goal.  The best example of this are fighting games, like Street Fighter, Soul Caliber, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, etc.  Or even racing games ala Need For Speed, the Formula One series, etc.  Games where players go head to head, and the more skilled the player, the more likely they are to win, to the point where there are leaderboards and player rankings.  Granted, some competitive games don’t have leaderboards or high scores either because they’ve never been implemented, or because they never got popular enough.  Or because they’ve been designed for a personal single player experience from the ground-up.  One may have a high record for playing Street Fighter, but no one really has a top tier bragging rights for games like Doom (the original) or Descent.  Yet all of the above can be considered games that are competitive, gamer’s games in their own way.

Those that lack a demand of skill and/or competition are more of what I like to call casual games.  Casual games are games that try to appeal to everyone.  And when appealing to everyone, that means the bar of challenge/skill must be lowered.  Sometimes this is mitigated with difficulty levels, but that can have it’s own issues and only attempt to fool the hardcore gamers into believing they are playing a game that demands skill.

Which brings me back to Jak and Uncharted.  Now while neither franchise is aimed at being designed for the most hard-core of videogamers (as opposed to something like Super Meatboy; good luck not smashing a few mouses and keyboards getting through that one), there is a distinct different when it comes to offering challenge.  Uncharted has varying levels of difficulty, but consider what the game forces players to do on the hardest difficulty levels.  It forces the “cover shooter” element onto the player.  It turns the game into a glorified whack-a-mole.  Stay behind cover until you see a target, shoot at said target and try to kill it before you start to take so much damage that you die, at which point retreat back behind cover until you regenerate to full health, rinse and repeat.  The only thing really being tested is the player’s accuracy.  Sure AI can try to flank you, but all that really does is impose a time limit on how long you have to kill a certain number before you’re either forced to move elsewhere to repeat the whole thing, or die.  There are some segments, primarily in Uncharted 4, which mitigate this a tad.  The level where you’re hijacking vehicles and being dragged by vehicles causes players to strategize on where to jump and what to prioritize when it comes to shooting, where to drive, who to ram, how many bullets to risk, along with accuracy.  And there’s the elevator level where you can hang along any side of the elevator, and/or run to a few cliff-sides.  The whole time you’re on a time limit.  You’re forced to consider where to run to and hang from more feverishly than in any other point in the entire franchise.  It’s about as good as the cover-shooter gameplay can get outside of something like Vanquish.  It may still be a sort of whack-a-mole, but it freshens it up enough to work.  But those are the only two real exceptions in the entire franchise.

As for Jak, the gun-play is so-so.  The only real strategy is knowing what weapon to use for which situation, and not blasting too many bullets.  You just need to aim in the general direction of the foes.  The main strategy comes with the platforming.  You’ll be running and gunning, and not using any cover most of the time.  You’ll be bullet dodging.  This was incorporated better in Ratchet & Clank, but at least it wasn’t glorified whack-a-mole.  Bullet-dodging is the main element that makes 3rd-person-shooter games work.  You can see the bullets coming, you therefore have to move out of the way.  Part of the skill is knowing where to move, where to jump, and not fall of a platform or get to close to another enemy as a result.  This also allows for boss fights.  Uncharted may have boss fights too on some occasion, but let’s face it, they’re just beefed up versions of similar enemies that move slower and/or soak up more hits.  The bullet-dodging mechanic allows for more skill on the part of the player.  Hell, even the first 2 Max Payne games managed to work well enough without a cover system.  Players had to react more quickly and implement bullet dodging at just the right time (though that being said, I wouldn’t play those games today, they didn’t age as well as Jak and Daxter).  Too many games are cover shooters that all play exactly the same.  Third person shooters with bullet dodging tend to have more variety, and more player options and strategies and tactics, compared to cover shooters (which really only have 1 tactic).

But that’s the thing.  Because cover shooters are so basic at their core, they are easier to use by a wider range of casual gaming customers.  Thus it’s more likely they will sell better.  And to compensate for lack of diverse strategy options, the games rely harder on narrative.  Thus they become glorified interactive movies rather than games with film elements.  But why not?  Hardcore gamers are there primarily for the gameplay, not for the story.

Or are they?

Many come back to old classics like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo II not just for the gameplay, but also for the world, the characters (even if that just means the game allows players to customize a character precisely the way they want), the environment, all that in addition to the solid gameplay.  Same thing with Thief I and II.  Fallout 1 and 2?  Neverwinter NightsGothic IISystem Shock 1 and 2?  Deus Ex?  While some hardcore gamers may only be there for the gameplay and not care about the story, there are games that strike a balance between narrative and gameplay well enough that even hardcore gamers enjoy it.  It’s not impossible.  And the games that manage to do that tend to live on longer than those that lack in the gameplay department.

Or Planescape: Torment

If Naughty Dog wants to eradicate the “game” element from their Uncharted franchise so badly, why not just get it over with and make a fucking movie?  Oh wait, they did, with Ratchet & Clank.  Guess that turned out well for them.

 

Conclusion

The Jak trilogy is better than the Uncharted quadrilogy.  Even when Uncharted implements narrative more strongly than in the Jak series, it faltered in its most narrative-driven game since The Last of Us and implemented bullshit character with contradictory motivations, plus empowering the female characters too strongly.  Maybe they should consider making their own Tomb Raider knockoff that actually stars a female protagonist as opposed to a male protagonist.  Or make a Metroid knockoff.  Heavenly Sword knockoff?
PS: Oh yeah, another comparison between the Jak trilogy and Uncharted quadrilogy.  By the end of it, Jak ditches the bland Keira (similar to Elena in Uncharted) for Ashelin (similar to Chloe in Uncharted) in the 3rd game.  Choosing the badass chick who has earned her place and has an actual personality over the bland semi-control freak.  Guess Naughty Dog has regressed in that regard too.  Next thing you know, they will remove “Naughty” from Naughty Dog.

 

The Witcher 3 (2015) review

Rated: 4.5 / 5

Nudity ahead.
Sex ahead.

Exhausted.  Weary.  Done.  Finished.  I first played this game when it first came out; finished my first playthrough after roughly 80 hours.  I enjoyed the experience, though I was glad to see it end.  3 years later, I got back into it again, knowing that there were expansions to play, updates that polished the rough edges (reducing the number of bugs and annoyances), and graphic enhancements which make the game look spectacular (something only the modding community provides, but CD Projekt Red is a beast of a game company that truly cares about its customers and its product, so they did the enhancement themselves with the update).  With the expansions, I think I clocked in at over 100 hours, maybe 110.  And I don’t intend to get back into this for a long time.  I started this up again soon after I finished a playthrough of The Witcher 2, which was several months ago.  I thought I could plough through this and then play on New Game+ and take that into account for this review.  But I don’t have the willpower.  I don’t think I can invest that many hours into something like this without taking so long of a break I forget some story elements.  I don’t intend to get back into this game for a long time, even though I enjoyed the experience.

Make no mistake, this game is a masterpiece. The gameplay has improved that found in Witcher 2.  They did away with Quick-Time-Events thank God (combat in of itself should be its own natural sort of QTE; come to think of it, aren’t all non-turn-based videogames QTEs in their own way without having to be obvious about it?  Press this button now or you die?  Jump now or you’ll fall?  Shoot this enemy or he’ll shoot you?  You know what, QTEs suck.).  The leveling system is as good (if not better) than it’s ever been.  The (open) world is more immersive than its ever been in any other Witcher game.  The diversity of choices and the short/long-term consequences they entail are numerous to the point of mind-boggling (there’s like, what, 20 different endings you can get with just the main story, never mind how the side quests can turn out.  And no rational individual will complain about the game being too short or lacking in content (as if they could bitch about that with the other 2 games).

While the story isn’t as good as that of its predecessor, it’s a solid enough conclusion to this game trilogy, and easily ranks among the best game franchises that has ever existed.  And it went out with a bigger bang than Mass Effect 3 (I’ve been comparing the Witcher games to the Mass Effect games so far, why stop now?).  The characters are all as memorable as ever, and some of the side quests are just as memorable, if not more-so, as the main quest itself.  And like the other Witcher games, you will be faced with decisions that will challenge you on an ethical level.  Many players have different experiences with the story due to the decisions they made, due to their thought processes, and it can be a real conversation-starter when discussing why they chose one path or another.

So why do I give this only 4.5 / 5 rather than 5 / 5 like I did the 2nd game?  It’s not because of the bugs and glitches, though they are there (no open-world game this large is ever going to be bug-free, not in this day and age).  It’s not because the gameplay is worse (it’s better).  It’s purely for selfish and personal reasons.  There are two reasons, and both have to do with the narrative (what can I say, the narrative is the main reason I play these games).

1.) The main story gets docked a partial point.  Why?  Because of Ciri.  Don’t get me wrong, her character is fine, the motivations she has and everyone has for seeking her out is fine.  But the whole, “She has powers greater than anyone else,” element got on my nerves at a couple points, especially when the Wild Hunt lays siege to Kaer Morhen.  Once a significant character gets killed, and it looks like the Hunt will finally get Ciri, she all of a sudden goes apeshit and scream forever (arguably to the point where it gets comical) and emanates this power that the Wild Hunt can’t take and are thus forced to retreat.  That’s the big eye-roll moment for me.  I was willing to take her powers of fast movement and exceptional strength.  She was strong, yet still vulnerable.  But once that bit happened, it just comes off as a deus ex-machina.  And the whole, “She can’t control her powers,” excuse just makes it worse.  I hate this shit of pulling magical saves out of your ass at the last minute.  The other two Witcher games had magic, but kept them firmly grounded with their strengths and weaknesses.  But that moment reminded me of the most irritating elements many animes contain.  Thankfully, this only happens once, maybe twice, tops.  But since it impacts the story, I can’t ignore it.

2.) The side-quests and in-depth lore.  Again, the side-quests are fine and all, and the lore is great.  But I can only stand delving into them for so long before my, “Can we just get this fucking over with already!” personality gets unleashed.  Perhaps I am to blame, I don’t tend to play these games in small doses.  I sprint through them for consecutive hours on certain days.  But just because I do that doesn’t mean I’m not invested and interested in all the little details the world has to offer.  But there was too much for me.  And the side-quests get monotonous after a while, despite the differences ins stories and characters, and the way some progress and how occasionally they throw a curve ball at you (like how taking on a monster contract usually has you tracking and killing a monster and going back to the one who posted the offer for a money reward, but sometimes something happens along the way the links to another quest, or takes an unexpected yet refreshing turn).  Patterns begin to emerge after playing for a while.  I suppose this is inevitable for any game that runs this long.  And I shouldn’t complain since the secondary quests are optional.  But some of them can have an affect on the game ending, including the choice of ignoring some specific side quests.  It’s what I call too much of a good thing.  Many won’t mind that the game has all this, and that’s fine, to each their own.  But I base my ratings on my personal experience and on my own personal tastes, and that’s just how it is.

It makes me compare this to Skyrim.  I enjoy all the side-quests much more in that game.  I can’t get enough of them.  So at some point, I had to ask myself why that is?  Why do I enjoy spending just as much time (if not more) in Skyrim (modded, mind you) than I do in The Witcher 3?  Then I figured it out.  It’s not because one is primarily first person and the other is primarily 3rd person.  It’s because Skyrim is more of a true RPG experience, where you have more control over your character, how he/she/it levels up, and what they do in the world.  You have more control, more customization, and aren’t playing as someone else so much as you are playing as yourself, or playing as someone you want to be in that world.  With the Witcher, you’re playing as Geralt.  You can decide which choices he is going to make, but ultimately it’s still Geralt making those choices rather than you.  Geralt will always act and talk in a way that is appropriate for that character and his personality, and no choice made in the game will contradict that.  In Skyrim, it doesn’t matter as much because you have more control, it’s more about you.  It’s also more immersive when comes to how you play and what your lifestyle is like.  Being a sneaky thief, a sneaky assassin, a blunt-force warrior, an all-powerful spellcaster who shoots fire/lightning, a spellcaster who heals, a chemist, a smith, a mixture of any or all of the above.  It’s a more personalized experience.  With Geralt, you can only play a Witcher.  Sure you can determine if you want to focus more on sword-based combat, magic-based combat, or being an alchemist who makes the swords or magics stronger due to alchemy, but you’re always going to play the same way in terms of fighting enemies in the open and slaughtering them in order to get things done (though some dialogue choice could prevent a couple battles from happening).

Because of those intentional limitations, the game is more narrative-based.  The narrative is good, but it’s long.  It’s not perfect, but it’s not disappointing either.  Too good to say it’s terrible, not good enough to justify the game length.  I felt a bit guilty when I stopped caring about what some of the books were telling me about the world and its history.  I felt I was missing out when I stopped reading every letter I got.  Because ultimately they all resulted in the same thing, go to point A to get this or kill that, then go to point B to see the resolution or see how to get to point C.  In Skyrim it’s not much of a problem because you can see yourself as a character who goes through the world not giving a shit.  But in the Witcher, it seems like you should give a shit.  And it’s exhausting to give a shit for that many hours, even with the breaks, because it gets monotonous.

So this will make the game experience different for some people.  Some will relate more to Geralt and the world, and will thus stay invested no matter what.  Others who don’t relate as much will eventually grow tired of this and start ignoring some books/letters, and start skipping through various dialogue conversations in many parts of the game just to get through it faster.

I sort of had that issue with the first Witcher game, had much less of an issue with that in the second Witcher game (probably because it’s the shortest, though 30 hours is nothing to scoff at; plus it had the best story that I can always get invested in), but began to have that issue again with this game after about 30-40 hours.  It sounds like I’m being ungrateful that there’s so many hours of content, but I would prefer to have every hour investing and enjoyable rather than just a certain percentage of those hours be enjoyable.  And that’s the risk of having so much in a narrative-based game like this that isn’t as personalized as Skyrim; the monotony becomes more apparent faster.

But regardless, when those great investing moments are there, they hit hard, and make it worth playing through to the end.  And the endings are a gut-punch in their own way.  Some are satisfying, others a bit more devastating.  It encourages replay to see how different decisions result in the different outcomes.  But considering how exhausting this game can be, I’d rather just see the alternatives played out on a YouTube video by players who are more into this game than I ever could be.  The two times I played, I was perfectly happy with the outcome (if you ask which ones I got, I’ll answer in the comments).  And yes, the outcome was different for each playthrough.

The rating is one of respect and admiration.  I wouldn’t feel good about myself if I gave it anything lower than a 4.5.  I feel bad enough not giving it a 5.  But a 4.5 is nothing to scoff at.  This game is a masterpiece in it’s own right, and it’s made by people who are passionate about it and who give a damn about their fans (because of that, I pre-ordered this game, and I never do that; and I will do it again when Cyberpunk 2077 comes out because CD Projekt Red has earned that much of my respect).  The game may be a labor at times for me to get through, but it does feel worth it in the end.

 

Mods!

Oh, right, there are mods for this game.  I’ll only mention the ones that I used for my playthrough.  There are others, but I don’t feel like re-researching through them all again to recommend what are considered the best.  Keep in mind, the ones I’ve downloaded aren’t likely the latest versions.  Some might have made mods that are similar but better or easier to implement with less work.  And I’m not going to lie, I thought the gameplay was pretty much fine without the mods.  The weight limit seemed right, combat was fine, the graphics were good, everything seemed perfect.  Except for the nudity and sex.

Ciri Bath Bandage Removal

I didn’t use this mod just because I’m a pervert (though I am).  It just always felt off going into a sauna covering your private parts.  Kind of defeats a bit of the purpose in my opinion.  Though this does relate to another issue I had with the non-modded version of the game.  Compared to The Witcher 2, there’s an awful lot of covering up and hiding the sex scenes and nudity.  Which brings me to…

Background girls nudes 0.4

Just seemed like some of the women in the brothels and whorehouses needed to be skimpier, or just altogether nude to advertise their assets.  But that’s just to see those you come across as you journey through some cities (and no, I don’t use the “all nude” version, just the version that alters specific women types).  It’s more for immersion, I swear.  But the nude mods don’t stop there…

The Wild Nudity Project and Vagina’s For Everyone and Naked With Genital and Naturally Bushy

I don’t remember if I used some or all of these mods, but at least two are needed to work together to overcome removing the bra and panties during the sex scenes.  There’s a few versions of these mods.  But because I’m only a half-assed pervert, I didn’t opt for the whole, “All females are naked everywhere,” version.  Just the one where it removed the undergarments.  I went for this mod after dealing with that one witch who sought a plague and/or cure for the plague.  The cinematic with her at the lake, it didn’t seem to fit the dialogue while she was wearing bra and panties.  They talked like she was fully naked.  It lead me to do a little research, and I found out they censored the game a bit to make it internationally friendly, mainly because some assholes in the Middle East won’t accept a game with that much nudity and blatant sex.  But I’m a fair man.  I believe in equality.  No anti-game-censorship would be complete without…

Naked Geralt

Finally, a proper naked Geralt mod.  Unlike the version in The Witcher 2 which made him dickless and without balls, his whole man-package is on display for everyone to see.  And there’s one last thing to take into account…

…which contrary to some opinions doesn’t require a mod.  It’s clearly obvious with the way the sex scene went with Triss that the camera angles got altered to the point where it’s distracting that there’s more going on than with what is being shown.  Too many close-ups and weird cuts.  If you don’t want to track down a video showing how raw they can get, you can enable Free Camera.  To do so, you need to edit a file titled user.settings.

[General]
DBGConsoleOn=true

Once you type that in under the [General] section (assuming you don’t just need to switch it from false to true), you can press the ‘~’ key to activate the camera, fiddle with where it’s aimed at, and try to capture the good moments.

So, yeah, those are the mods I use.  Feel free to do the same if you want more adult content (plus making it closer to the intended uncensored version that those pansy Middle Eastern people can’t handle).

Ah, but there is one non-adult mod I use, and it’s a simple but necessary one in my opinion.

 

Open menu during dialogues and cutscenes

This allows you to go to the menu during cutscenes, in case you need to answer a phone call, take a shit, or actually interact with real non-digital people (just in case you have a real social life).  This is a lifesaver mod.

 

And, so, there it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ending on full-pervert mode.