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 Witcher3 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.
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.
Oh, right, there’s 2 mods I can recommend for this game, one of which is mandatory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 no 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 nobobody 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).
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 isn’t enough 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, slightly 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.
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.
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. And 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 devestation 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.
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 Nights? Gothic II? System 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.
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.
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.
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 Witcher2, 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.
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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
So I was playing through The Witcher 3, with all the DLC installed. And after, I don’t know, between 50-60 hours of playing, as good as that game is, all I could think was, “Goddamnit, isn’t this fucking game over yet? How fucking long is this thing?” I feel bad saying that, because it is a really good 5/5 game I plan on reviewing some time down the line so I can say I reviewed the entire trilogy. But I guess epically (I don’t give a fuck if that isn’t a real word) long games and me don’t always mix. I’m the kind of guy who prefers game lengths (as in from beginning to end of one play, not including replays) to be between 8-20 hours, maybe 30 hours if it’s good enough. And I knew what I was getting into, because I played it a long while back and I remember clocking in at just under 80 hours of playtime. Throw in a couple DLCs that each add an additional 6-8 hours of playtime, and you see why it is that game is so goddamn long. The Witcher 3 is one of those games that I just can’t power through like I normally do for most games, it’s too long for that. It’s more like one of those games where you just do 1 quest (either a main quest or a secondary quest, maybe throw in a few treasure/monster hunts for the hell of it), savor it and the details, and then stop. Rinse and repeat for another 50 sessions or so, and then there it is. Otherwise someone like me gets burned out. Granted, it didn’t start to happen until I was about 40 hours into it, but that’s 40 fucking hours! I thought about holding off on reviewing that game until I play it through again on New Game+ mode, but fuck that. That’s like doing a marathon of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended cuts, and then saying you’re going to do it twice in a row. Not me.
So what does this have to do with Resident Evil 7? Well, for starters, it’s an easier to digest game that clocks in at an acceptable 9-10 hours on a first playthrough on Normal difficulty, which gave me a sigh of relief compared to the daunting task of finishing a Witcher game. Snack time.
The Actual Review
Ok, so first of all, I have played most of the previous Resident Evil games.
Ok, maybe not most. Just Resident Evil 0 (GCN), 1 (GCN remake, which is the best way to play it, minus the dumb fucking decision to throw in the crimson heads), 2 (my personal favorite out of all the games, but that’s another story), 3 (arguably the best one next to 2), Code: Vernoica (the first Resident Evil game I didn’t really care for all that much next to RE:0, plus I hated them bringing back Wesker and making him and the protagonists come straight out of The Matrix), 4 (the main reason people like this game is because of the updated third-person gameplay which is done well, and the self-awareness at how ridiculous it is; I thought it was just ok, albeit an entertaining time regardless), 5 (played it co-op with another real human being too; otherwise the only memorable thing about it is finally seeing Wesker die, though he should’ve stayed fucking dead in the first fucking game), and a couple of the spinoff games which aren’t memorable enough for me to even remember the titles. As for Resident Evil 6, I skipped out on that shit. As far as I’m concerned, it got over-the-top enough with Code Veronica and 5; the franchise needed to die rather than keep coming back to life (which I guess makes the Umbrella Corporation a metaphor for Capcom).
And then this game comes along. So it’s more or less a reboot for the franchise, moving away from the superhuman heroics (thank fucking Christ), and turning to a more immersive 1st-person horror-shooter (not on-the-rails like House of the Dead or those mediocre at best Wii games). And it didn’t star any of the leads we’ve become accustomed to. And I’ve heard positive reviews about the game. So I decided to snatch it up off of Steam while it was on sale, but didn’t start playing it until about a week ago, when I found out that about a couple months after purchasing it they released a Gold Edition of the game. Well fuck you too Capcom! You see why I’m hesitant to purchase any brand-spankin’ new game within the first year it comes out (patches for bugs aside)?
So how was it? Eh, it was ok. I don’t know man, I don’t know if its because I’m getting too old for most games, or because I’ve played so many that it becomes very difficult to please me outside of nostalgia-baiting. Or maybe it’s because the current state of the game industry makes me a little sick to my stomach, more so that all the gross-out moments this game shoved in my virtual face.
I will say that, by the end of it all, it did feel like a Resident Evil game. But at the same time, it also felt like it took as many steps forward as it did backward, which frustrated me. The main thing to discuss in that regard is the one thing I usually play games for nowadays, and that’s the story and/or characters. Because games nowadays focus more on the look/feel/flash than they do on the gameplay. And when it comes to first-person-shooters (FPS), that’s probably all that genre has left going for it. Gone are the days where you could just play something like Doom I and II (the newer one from 2016 does not count) or Duke Nukem 3D, or Painkiller: Black, or Descent I-III. You know, shooters with virtually no narrative or story outside the instruction manual (back when games came with those), where all you had to do was get weapons and blow shit up. Those are a-dime-a-dozen, and it’s not exactly a high bar to meet when it comes to crafting an FPS game. So we need to have story and characters to help stand out from the rest and get us gamers more easily immersed into the game.
So, story. You play as some random dude who’s wife has disappeared, and you receive a message from her to stay away and forget about her. So rather than forget about her and get another smoking hot wife to bang, he decides not to heed her advice and go out into the middle of “I buttfuck my daughter; redneck swamp land” nowhere, and decides to approach a house that looks like it’s been abandoned for a few years, if not a decade, crawls through swamp water and sewage and bugs and rotten food and other shit (maybe literally) until he finally finds a backdoor into the house where she is supposedly located. You know, it might be because I’m not the heroic type, but I would’ve decided that she’s not worth this, and drove out of “I buttfuck my daughter” land back to “I buttfuck any hot chick who isn’t related to me” land (though with this franchise there would probably be a twist to that). I mean, at least in the other Resident Evil games, the protagonists were thrust into these sorts of situations against their will, and usually due to extreme circumstances demanding extreme measures. Either that or the protagonists were so muscular and heroic and martial arts masters that it just seemed by-the-numbers by their standards.
But I digress. Our protagonist eventually goes on to find his wife, who then goes berserk and kicks the crap out of you and saws your hand off, before you get captured by some redneck dad named Bubba who introduces you to the rest of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family (seriously, the parallels are impossible to ignore unless you haven’t seen that movie; the original Tobe Hooper movie from the 70s, none of the remakes you smart-asses). Well, it got me a bit interested.
The thing is though, there’s something about these graphic styles for these games that put me off. Something about the 3D modelling, the way they talk, the way they act, how they can never smile right. And most important of all, how hard it tries to be realistic with the graphics. It’s just something about that sort of emphasis on realism in a videogame that just doesn’t suit me. I just can’t help but have the attitude of, “Who are you trying to fool? You could have the effects as bad as Goldeneye on the N64 or as good as, I don’t know, whatever game exists now that people consider to be top of the line in terms of graphics, and it would all be the same to me.” Bit of an exaggeration, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at. It might just be a personal thing, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in thinking this.
Side-tracked again; back to the story. So let’s just say that as the game goes on, the main villain/monster turns out to be some Ring/Grudge/Ju-On/F.E.A.R. chick. Alright, you know what? If this game is going to pull cliches like that out of its ass, it really should do so with a more tongue-in-cheek attitude. But it plays things straight. That trait is endearing in the first 3 Resident Evil games, but that doesn’t appeal to me here.
The last thing I’ll mention about the story, kind of. There’s this moment in the game where you have to “make a choice.” Whoah, a choice? Where your decision affects the events in the game as well as the ending? Do tell! There’s nothing to tell. Like most games that do this, it’s not really a choice. It doesn’t matter who you choose to save. Sure the choice does give you a different ending in the long-run, but it’s really stupid how saving one kills them both, saving the other gives you a happy ending with one of them living. Would’ve been more intriguing if saving one gets you that girl at the end, while saving the other gets you that girl. Not going to work that way, so the game just kinda beats you up for making a choice that seems more ethically wrong, I guess. So it ends up being a waste of time inserting this so half-assedly into the game. But it could’ve worked well if it had that tongue-in-(butt)cheek attitude. Hey, if this game is going to be immature about this shit, then so am I. On that note, when the decision came up, I chose the non-wife (Zoe). Why? Well because Zoe kept helping me in her own way with getting out of the place through a good portion of the game, while the wife (Mia) did nothing but do spouse abuse so extreme I’m surprised she didn’t resort to slicing my dick off.
There is a problem with this game, and I’m pretty sure I heard about it well-before ever purchasing it, but I think I chose to forget about it thinking, “No, that just can’t be.” But it’s definitely there (poor choice of words). So here’s the problem. There are no zombies. There’s not one foot-stepping, undead-moaning, dick-sucking zombie in this entire game. Nothing in this game qualifies as a zombie as far as I’m concerned (anyone who says otherwise is stretching the definition too far). Sure there are people who aren’t normal people, but they’re not normal in the same sense that all the regular enemies in Resident Evil 4 aren’t normal. You know, in Resident Evil 4, all those not-zombie people had a decent enough awareness, they could talk, they could run a bit, and they could weld weapons, and they could mutate and shoot black stuff out of their heads. Pretty much the same thing here, except the not-zombies in this game can pass off as normal people (at least as far as isolated hillbillies in a swamp can go for normalcy) . They walk and talk like normal people, but they’re just stronger than average and are almost impossible to kill by any regular means (but in a Resident Evil game, nothing is regular). And there’s only like 3, maybe 4, of them. The rest of the time you’ll either be against these black gooey man-alligator things, giant mosquitoes, fat blubbery fucks, and the lickers (when they show up). So boss fights aside (which are just mutations of the not-zombie people), there’s only like 4 different enemy types. And that’s it. Even the first Resident Evil game had more variety than that: zombies, zombie dogs, zombie spiders, hunters, zombie birds, zombie snakes, zombie wasps; and those aren’t even the bosses.
And speaking of bosses, yes, this game has enough variety in bosses to satisfy me. But Jesus Christ do they go over-the-top with these boss fights. Granted, they’ve been over-the-top ever since Resident Evil 2 (and it’s hard enough to resist a jumping the shark joke with the first game), but this game was aiming for more gritty realism goddamnit! The fights get more over-the-top as the game goes on, and so do the mutations and monster forms.
There are some nice nods to the first Resident Evil game. Once you get involved in this “game” section where you go through some traps and such, some old-school Resident Evil music plays, and some nostalgic sound effects will go off when you press some buttons. I appreciated the nostalgia. Also didn’t hurt that it was one of the more memorable parts of the game, going through these Saw-like sections. And the game almost convinced me that it was tongue-in-cheek. But only for that section, the rest of the game thinks it’s too good for satire apparently.
At a few points in the game you get to watch some VHS tapes, which treats you to some lost footage films done in the same vane as The Blair Witch Project. Now, the first time this happened I was interested, and there’s one other time where it does serve a legitimate purpose. But for the most part I found them to be irritating distractions. These should be sections that are cutscenes, but instead the game has you play as the person shooting the video (which makes zero sense for the last “video”), which gets even more annoying when you realize you can still screw up and die and have to start over.
As the game went on though, once you’re finally able to grasp what exactly is going on and how things got to be the way they are (ie why there are monsters), the game actually wasn’t half bad. Plus I also became sympathetic to the swamp family, noting how they were before and after the incident, and how they’re crying out for their souls to be freed. A bit of a touching moment I wasn’t expecting from a game like this.
So, despite my gripes, I can say the game is fun enough to be worth a play.
Now, with that all being said, I’d like to take a moment to talk about gaming in general, my personal opinions on the matter. As I said earlier in the review, I fear my tastes in gaming have changed. I fear I may not really be all that much of a gamer anymore. Honestly, I try to do board games more than video games simply because I prefer playing against other human players, face-to-face. You know, for face-to-face social interaction, something I believe society is in dire need of, rather than isolating ourselves and using social media as an illusion for legitimate social interaction.
Gaming to me should be fun. And fun games for me personally, from what I’ve determined when looking back over the years, come in 3 categories:
1.) Short and sweet. Basically games from the Sega Genesis and SNES time period, where the games were short, the difficulty was high, and you had to play it multiple times to get good at it. There are plenty of games that are that old that I would still play to this day, like Contra (practically any of them, especially Hard Corps), Castlevania I III and Bloodlines, Starfox 64 (or the SNES version), among others.
2.) Games with an engrossing story and good characters. The first one to really pull this off for me, which I still maintain to be the best (even if this is predictable) is Final Fantasy VII. Memorable characters in storyline so fucking good I was willing to bear through the typical issues plaguing J-RPGs (random battles, some grinding, repetitive combat). I’m not sure how I’d feel about this one today, but Skies of Arcadia on the GCN wasn’t half-bad either. Tales of Symphonia had decent enough characters and story, and a pretty solid real-time 2D combat system to go along with it. Kane & Lynch (the first one) I consider to be underrated. And Spec Ops: The Line, whew, that whole game is designed to be a huge gut-punch to those who play third-person shooters regularly and don’t think much about the people they kill (look at you Uncharted). Silent Hill 2 is probably one of the best, if not the best, character study games of all time. And, of course, Metal Gear Solid 1-4 and The Witcher 2. Starcraft is arguably the best RTS game in terms of storylines (especially if you read the background story given in the game manual), though I do need to play Warcraft III. Mass Effect 1-3 (though less so for the first one just because the side missions make the game’s pacing suffer considerably). So, in other words, games that you talk about like they were movies when you’re done with them. But God help you if you play a game solely for this reason, and it ends on a cliffhanger with no sequel ever happening (fuck you Valve for not wrapping up Half Life 2).
3.) Games that are paced well and do something right with the overall design, especially level design; and maybe throw in some semblance of a story as a bonus. Super Mario World could arguably be the best designed out of all the traditional Super Mario games in regards to level/game design. Resident Evil 2 is the go-to horror game for me to this day, mainly because it absolutely nails the zombie sounds, both the moans and the footsteps; and how it gets under my skin during the portions where no music is playing; it’s paced pretty damn well too, and has tremendous replay with different bosses you can face; and it really knows how to time a couple of those jump-scares; plus I believe limiting the player’s view to fixed camera positions works to the game’s advantage when it comes to horror and creating tension with the player. Doom I is the best Doom game in terms of pacing and progression, both in terms of level design, the weapons you acquire, and the types of enemies that appear. Doom II isn’t half-bad either, especially with the level design, but the pacing isn’t quite as there, and exists more as a reason for you to just go insane with the shooting, to just unload all those bullets into all those hordes of enemies. It’s one of the reasons why I believe level design is the most important aspect when it comes to crafting an FPS, the second-most important aspect being pacing (types of enemies that show up on each level, which weapons you have each level). Usually the one genre I cut a bit of slack are RPG games, especially The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, mainly because of the mods. Valkyria Chronicles I think is pretty damn good too in terms of gameplay (plus I think the story and characters are so unintentionally hilarious it should be a case study; they have practically every anime cliche/stereotype in the book thrown into that game). And there’s the Dark Souls games; these are games that aren’t afraid to challenge you, and it’s the kind of challenge that I like. And then there’s Master of Orion (the first one, from 1993), which I firmly believe is the best 4X-civ game ever designed to this day, despite the dated graphics (at least it’s not Atari graphics and older, my tolerance for dated graphics doesn’t really extend further back than the 90s). Lastly, I’m terrified of getting into X-Com: UFO Defense again, not because it’s a scary game (though it is tense as hell), but because of how addicted it is; first time I played, I started at like 9am, and next thing I new it was dusk; that scares the shit out of me if a game can make me lose track of time like that.
But anyway, there are some game genres I’d rather not touch just out of personal preference, like sports games and racing games (Grand Theft Auto V I guess could be considered an exception). Aside from those, I’ve become quite picky when it comes to games. Probably because I’d rather use my free time doing something else now. Then again, it could be because the people I used to converse with about gaming in general are no longer around, giving me no one to talk to about this stuff once I’m done with it. And no, writing reviews about games and bitching about them and/or praising them isn’t enough. Or it could just be I’m going through a phase. But considering how much less frequently I’ve been playing videogames over the past couple years compared to how often I’ve played in the past, I doubt it. I guess it’s possible to reach a stage in your life where you’re gamed out, and are only willing to game on things you know for certain are of high quality (ie suited to your preference).
As for Resident Evil 7, it’s just going to be another one of those games that isn’t really all that special to me. Entertaining and fulfilling, sure, but so is a burger from Burger King or Jack in the Box or Carls Jr.; just because it’s fulfilling doesn’t mean it stands out compared to the other games/burgers that are out there. And at this point in my life, I’d rather indulge myself in games that do stand out. As far as I’m concerned, most of those games are in the past, not in the present or future (with some potential exceptions, like Cyberpunk 2077).
I backed this game on kickstarter, and I believe I can say this could turn out to be my favorite kickstarter backed game next to The Lord of the Ice Garden (which also originates from Poland, along with the novel series which that game is based off of, which currently doesn’t have an English release, sons of bitches). There are expansions that are coming out for this, which last I checked are still being tested and developed, let alone not released yet. I have played the core set 10 times at all player counts (though have only done a 4 player game once), and can safely say the game plays well whether it’s with 2, 3, or 4 players (though it does play best with 4).
The first thing that attracted me to the game was the theme (which is the main thing I tend to go for in games now, as my collection is covered in the gameplay department at this point, for the most part). It’s not enough that this takes place in Ancient Greece, with the mythological heroes, gods, and monsters present; they had to make it sci-fi too. Which I think is awesome, and something to consider next time they release a Cthulhu-based game by making Cthulhu turn his tentacles on his face into missiles that shoot out and blow shit up (or something like that). Certainly makes it more unique, as I don’t think I’ve seen this done before. Not only is Hercules (or Heracles, as this game likes to spell it) still strong and buff, but he’s also enhanced with cyberpunk technology, enhancing his strength.
The second thing that interested me, and this is what sold me on it (as it should any serious gamer) is the gameplay. Having multiple paths to victory, and none of them involving accumulation of victory points. Because let’s face it, games that allow for winning a competitive game in a manner that doesn’t involve victory points doesn’t happen often enough; same thing with games that have multiple ways to end the game. In this game, you can win by traditional area control (control 2-3 lands), by gaining control of specific regions (control 5 temples), by killing 3 mythological beasts (kill 3 monsters), or by controlling a region with a fully-built monument. Not to mention you get a choice of 4 unique characters, with unique starting conditions and unique abilities.
It reminded me of Runewars, which plenty of users on boardgamegeek.com have mentioned. It’s similar in that controlling regions can net you certain resources to help you win (in this case, controlling temples can get you priests which can upgrade your hero, and in essence your army), but the main similarity comes with the heroes. In both LoH and RW, heroes are sent to go on quests, and gain artifacts/treasures that give the hero and/or army special advantages. However, heroes play a more prominent role in LoH compared to RW. In RW, it’s perfectly playable if heroes are removed. In this game, heroes are mandatory. They’re needed to allow hoplites to moves around faster, so it becomes easier to gain control of regions, and to reorganize to defend your borders against other player’s hoplites. In RW, your army operates optimally regardless of what the hero does (though the hero does allow for a minor impact in combat in that game, plus some items they gain can help you win, but it’s very downplayed in that game compared to this).
However, upgrading your hero’s leadership to allow more hoplites to move isn’t the only option. It’s not always that easy. There are 2 other stats to upgrade on your hero, strength and speed. So sure, you can focus more on hoplite area control and focus primarily on upgrading leadership (you can move 1 hoplite per leadership point your hero has). But then you could upgrade your hero’s speed so he can move around further, and thus get to quests and monsters faster, or in the case of Athena and Achilles, move to a strategic position to prepare for or dissuade combat from happening in a region. Or you could upgrade your strength so you can draw more combat cards when facing monsters. What you may want to upgrade depends on the hero you choose, and the current state of the map (and how the other players are threatening to win).
The other decision-making point comes in where you wish to start off on the map. At the start of the game, you place your hero along with 2 hoplites in one region. From what I’ve seen, it’s best to start in a region that you can immediately gain control of, as in a region that only requires 2 hoplites for initial control. There are choices of whether you want to start in a region where a temple can be built, or a region that has a city. If you start off in a region (and control it) where a temple can be built, you can build a temple early on to get a priest who can be sent off to a monument to pray and upgrade one of your hero’s stats. On the other hand, if you start in a city, it becomes easy early on to gain hoplites (especially if you get control of a second city on your first turn, and then use the Recruit special action on the next turn to recruit multiple hoplites in each of those cities). Both are good options, and your threat level for winning will increase either way. And, once again, it depends on the initial state of the board and your hero when determining what the best path to take is. And it will take multiple plays to figure that out. ‘Cause, you know, replay value is a nice trait for a board game to have.
I had a few concerns with this game prior to playing it. The monster combat. Now, one of the other things that attracted me to this game was card-driven combat. No dice. There is only 1 die in the game, and it’s only used for monster movement or attack (or doing nothing), which I’m fine with. However, I worried that battling monsters could get too easy. Each monster has a sheet with wound slots on it. Each monster varies, some having only 5 wounds, others have as many as 8 (sometimes more if they get upgraded due to an event). Each combat card you have (save for 2 types, one of which is a wild card) has a symbol on it, indicating what type of wound it can deal to the monster. Each monster takes different types of wounds. So you can get involved in a hunt by prepping ahead of time by building up your combat hand until you have combat cards of the right type (each card representing a weapon; heroes have to go through a lot of weapons to take these beasts out), or go in without the right cards but hoping you’ll draw the right ones. But you’re limited to a hand size of 4, unless you get a blessing that increases it (more on that later). At the start of a hunt, you draw cards into your hand equal to your hero’s strength (that’s why that attribute matters), going over your hand limit, which is legal during a hunt. So the more strength your hero has, the more likely you’ll draw cards of the right type to discard against the monster and kill it before it has a chance to counter-attack.
From my experience, monster hunts actually work better than I anticipated. Assuming you do wind up with the max strength of 5 and draw that many cards into your hand, and holding 9 cards in total, even then, there’s a chance you might not win the battle. First, there’s no guarantee that you have all the cards needed to deal all the wounds. Second, while most monster attack cards tend to be 3-5 strength, indicating you must either discard a number of combat cards which strength number adds up to that amount or greater to block the attack (which results in you adding 2 more cards into your hand, giving you extra incentive to block), there are a few curve-ball cards in that deck to make sure victory isn’t guaranteed. For example, there’s a card who’s strength is greater the more cards you have in your hand, or one that is stronger when there’s less wounds on the monster, or stronger when there’s more wounds on the monster. That being said, more often than not, a hero with a strength of 5 who has the right type of cards in hand initially prior to the hunt is usually going to win.
On the other hand, it’s also possible for someone who doesn’t have max strength, or even a max hand size, or holds cards of the right type(s), to still defeat a monster when starting a hunt against it. At that point, it becomes a push-your-luck battle. Sometimes a player may want to defeat the monster, in which case he must consider which cards to discard for dealing wounds, and which cards to hold onto so that he can brace for the monster’s counter-attack. Battles can be prolonged by successfully blocking attacks with 1 or 2 cards, which allows the player to add 2 more combat cards to his hand for the next round, thus making for an interesting back-and-forth feel. Alternatively, a player may just start a battle just to deal specific wounds which could allow him/her to gain a priest or artifact (each monster has at least 1 wound slot of that type), thus providing another reason to fight a monster outside of just defeating it (though another reason for defeating it could be so the monster stops messing up their army by killing of their hoplites, that can get annoying). And then there’s the 3rd reason to fight a monster, though this isn’t something used often (most games I’ve been in went by without anyone doing this): starting a hunt just to draw combat cards in preparation for a battle against other hoplites, and having no intention of using any cards to wound the monster. Sure, this results in the hero taking a wound (which happens at least once when a hero fails at a hunt), but it is worth it if it helps out the hero’s army. Let alone going after a monster so that another player trying to win by monster kills has one less monster to kill, assuming you wipe out the monster. Because if you fail to kill a monster and deal plenty of wounds to it, those wounds stay, making it an easier target for every other player/hero in the game. Plenty of reasons to engage a monster, and plenty of tough decision-making to go along with it.
There are ways to slow a hero down when it comes to accumulating strength. Each monument only has 2 slots to place a priest. Once 2 priests are on a monument, no more can be placed there until things basically “reset” via the Build Monument special action. So having other players dogpile on the monument can prevent a potential monster hunter from gaining the strength necessary to make hunting monsters an assured way of winning the game (yet another reason why I recommend playing with 4 players, greater chances of blocking off priests at certain monuments). But that’s not the only way to slow a hero down. You can also intentionally start combat against their armies, forcing them to play combat cards they may have wanted held for hunting monsters and using them to help their armies win instead (a great game design example of having cards with multiple uses). After all, controlling lands/temples is an alternate way to win, and you can’t just let a player run away with victory via land control anymore than you should allow someone to run away with a monster kill victory. And lastly, there’s the Zeus monument artifact, which can be used to wound a hero who is in the lead. Thus the early-mid-game is a very important part of the whole thing. How you start out, and how you choose to slow the others down while attempting to get ahead of them, is all part of the game. Thus you shouldn’t allow a player to get their hero upgraded too far too fast (easier to do in a 4 player game).
Regarding the monument control victory, this one doesn’t happen very often, and it especially doesn’t happen if all players know what they (and their opponents) are doing. It mainly exists if all players are at a stand-off, unable to gain victory via monster kills, and very good at preventing the taking of certain territories. Thus getting a monument built triggers a sort of end-game timer, where whoever controls the monument at the end of a certain number of rounds wins the game. One way in which this can become problematic, indicating a broken system, is with the Glory tokens, which can be gained by killing a monster or completing a quest (thus you gain the glory token that matches the color of the regions you completed the quest or killed the monster). When a hero has a glory token, they can do the Usurp special action to immediately take control of a region, and recruit a hoplite in that region, and force any enemy hoplites there to retreat to an adjacent region. If the player who built the monument has the glory token for the land the built monument is in, then victory seems assured assuming no other victory condition is met up ’till then.
However, as I’ve learned from experience, one shouldn’t attempt to rush towards the monument victory. Because this causes more and more events to get drawn, and thus allows for more quests and monsters to appear, which provides opportunity for a quest/monster to appear in the region with the built monument, which provides opportunity for another hero to complete the quest or kill the monster, and thus steal the glory token from the player who had it. And that’s assuming you don’t cause more monsters to appear for someone attempting to win via monster kills. And the more often you do the build monument action, the more opportunities you give other players to upgrade their heroes and do the same special action multiple consecutive times. On top of that, the monument build action can be utilized by other players for the purpose of drawing more monsters/quests and adding them to the map to gain glory, or just to move a monster into the land with the monument, kill it there, take the glory token from the player, and use his own strategy against him. Thus the monument victory doesn’t seem broken either, considering the dangers of rushing it, and the risk factor of usurp. It’s more of a long-term plan, just in case all else fails.
As for the other 2 conditions, controlling 2 lands or 5 temples, those victory conditions can be pulled off suddenly and surprisingly with well-executed maneuvers. You have to keep an eye on players who control 1 entire land and a couple regions in some other land, and keep an eye on players who control 3 temples (and when there’s at least 5 temples built; you built temples to get priests so they can be sent to monuments to upgrade your hero in case you’re wondering). Because if you overlook that, then they can use a combination of normal hoplite movement and a march action to take the regions needed to win the game. While these victories can be the most surprising, they are also the ones players can most often see coming if they’re paying attention.
I’ve noticed that the easiest way to win via controlling 2 lands is in the lower lands, the green and brown lands, both of which are adjacent to each other. The reason this allows for an easy victory is two-fold.
1.) The city of Sparta, where 4 hoplites can be recruited there at a time rather than the regular 2. Thus your army can be built up faster if you control the region with that city.
2.) The brown land only has 3 regions, while all other lands have 4 regions, thus requiring more territory to take in order to control the entire land.
So one shouldn’t allow Sparta to be taken too easily, else they risk the player controlling it to build up forces quickly and start flooding the lower regions with troops. However, this can be mitigated, as invading from the blue and yellow regions can allow for territory takeover. It also helps that each player has a limit of 15 hoplites, so you won’t have an insane amount of hoplites on the board to flood territories, which helps out against whoever winds up controlling Sparta (assuming they don’t lose it via Usurp, or a regular battle). That’s why region control markers are necessary, so you can maintain control even when you have no hoplites in the region (heroes can’t control regions). However, if you leave a region vulnerable like that, all it takes is for 1 hoplite to move in there to steal the region, or have an opponent’s hero move into there to do the Prepare special action and recruit a couple hoplites into the region to steal control that way. And on top of all that, even with the high number of troops, if they keep fighting multiple battles, sooner or later, that player will start to get drained of combat cards.
Despite the fact that this game was still in-development and being play-tested during the kickstarter campaign (and I believe briefly after the campaign ended too), it has turned out remarkably well. The game developers responsible for this game (Marcin Swierkot, Adam Kwapinski) seem to know what they’re doing. This game isn’t just good looks, there’s some real depth to it. How deep it goes, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the base game is this good, and there are expansions on the way, which will definitely increase the replay value. Each time I think there’s a way to break the game, I discover some strategy/tactic that proves me wrong. And while it does play best with 4, with 2 and 3 players, it still seems surprisingly balanced, even if I question the land change-up for control with 3 players (the blue land doesn’t matter for land control victory; I still wonder why they don’t just make brown the irrelevant region, but it still seems to work fine regardless; but I still need to get more plays to determine the strength of the Sparta city strategy). But most importantly of all, I find the game to be quite fun.
Highly recommended game.
PS: If you’re wondering why there isn’t a monument for Ares, the god of war, I honestly don’t think that’s necessary. Here’s why: war is already being fought all across the game. So Ares is already being entertained by all this, just sitting back, relaxing, and chowing down on his popcorn that’s been dipped in blood and wine (rather than caramel, because he’s too good for cracker jacks) and cooled in his cyberpunk refrigerator, and enjoying the whole show.
Note: I have only played this game with the Full Combat Rebalance (FCR) mod. Any input I provide based on the combat gameplay will be a reflection of this, as this mod does give the game a significant overhaul.
Yep, regressed from the 2nd game into the first one. Why? Because I recall from playing it years ago that it was decent so long as you were patient about it. Also because I wanted a refresher on some of the characters before getting back into The Witcher 3. And like in my previous review, I did a (modded) playthrough which I recorded, edited, and uploaded as videos in a movie-like format (currently ongoing). This proved to be more difficult than editing footage for the 2nd game because:
1.) I was nowhere near as familiar with this game as I was with the 2nd.
2.) It’s longer. Five chapters plus a prologue and epilogue vs. the 3 chapters and prologue/epilogue of the 2nd game. This game can easily run you 50 hours of playtime, and unfortunately not all of those 50 hours is fun (more on that later).
3.) Much of the stuff that I wished was a meaningless sidequest, uh, isn’t, exactly. Some of the minor stuff in some of the chapters ends up playing into the main quest of each chapter. That may sound nice, but it isn’t, because most of these side quests just aren’t very interesting (something rectified to the extreme in the 3rd game).
Gameplay and Comparison to Witcher 2
So here’s the thing about this game vs. it’s sequel. Aside from this being graphically inferior (that’s expected), the gameplay is also considerably different. This isn’t an over-the-shoulder (sort of) run-around hack-and-slash like the 2nd game. It plays more like a top-down point-and-click hack-and-slash ala Diablo and Titan’s Quest and Torchwood. You click where you want to move to, your character moves to that spot. You click on an enemy to attack, Geralt will proceed to do a sword combo on it (a combo that increases in sword swings and damage the more you upgrade Geralt, assuming you spend time upgrading his swordsmanship). And there’s 3 different attack styles: fast, strong, and group. Strong attacks are effective against enemies who are unarmored, fast attacks are good against those that are armored, and group attacks are great for when you’re surrounded by foes (though it’s usually best not to get surrounded or flanked). Of course, there’s also magic spells to cast, but I used those rarely in my playthroughs. Granted, if I played on a higher difficulty, that would likely force me to adapt to using spells more often, but the game isn’t worth putting that much effort into in my personal opinion. Others may find it more to their liking.
In any case, I found that I had to think more tactically in combat in this game compared to the sequel. In Witcher 2, I could mostly just hack-and-slash without much worry, especially on the later levels. In this game, I couldn’t do that, even when I was leveling up pretty high. The game succeeds at this partly by not increasing your vitality when you level-up, thus keeping things tense with each combat situation in each chapter. Plus it adds an extra level of interactivity by giving you a small window of opportunity to chain moves together by clicking on the enemy at the right time when the sword symbol changes to a certain shape/color. Click at the right time, you land more seamless blows. Miss it or click too soon, the enemy will likely get more decent hits in before you can start chaining sword blows again.
Leveling up is also different compared to the 2nd game. When you gain enough experience points to level-up, you don’t just gain “talents” to be spent on whatever, oh no. There are 3 types of talents, bronze, silver, and gold. Bronze talents you get on every level-up, silver talents occur less frequently, and gold talents less frequently than that. And these talents aren’t just spread across magic, swordsmanship, and alchemy like in the 2nd game, it’s more branched out than that. There’s a section for strength (increase damage), dexterity (increase dodging/parrying), stamina (increase resistance to poising/bleeding/etc.), and intelligence (making magic and alchemy stronger). That’s just one section. Then there’s a section for upgrading each spell type (Aard, Quen, Yrden, etc.). A section for upgrading silver sword attacks (good against monsters) in either fast, strong, or group style, and another section for doing the same with steel swords (good against humans). Don’t like it as much as the simplified leveling system in the 2nd game, but it’s decent enough. Did make for some somewhat difficult decision-making, which isn’t much of a bad thing, especially when you can see the results of your leveling choices and see where you may need improvement depending on your play-style. I don’t prefer use of magic, but others likely will.
And then there’s the potions and oils, which you make using an alchemy process. Potions strengthen you in some way, while oils are put on sword blades to make them stronger against specific enemy types (humans, specters, insectoids, etc.). Only 1 oil type can be applied to a sword at a time, while you can drink as many potions as you want (theoretically), but each potion you drink poisons you more, and if you go too far into the drinking, your health will start getting sapped, so you need to choose your consumption wisely. The main potion I consumed throughout most of the game is the Swallow potion, which regenerates your health faster than normal. So, yeah, you’ll be swallowing a lot.
Another thing about the gameplay is, like in Witcher 2 and 3, there’s a day/night cycle. Time moves, and NPCs will be in different locations depending on whether it’s day or night, or even dawn/afternoon/dusk/midnight. But unlike those games, this mechanic, while immersive, proves to be frustrating. It gets goddamn annoying when you realize time dictates when and where characters are that you need to interact with in order to complete quests, and you can’t fucking find them until you either wait or meditate to the right fucking time. This wouldn’t be so bad if this game had a tracking system as good as Witcher 2, where you see the destination/objective on the map which is tracked in real-time. Not so in this game. Each quest objective is always listed in the same static map position, regardless of the time of day, so you have to wait for that time of day to interact with so-and-so. This is why I liked Grand Theft Auto V, and least in that game, when you reach an objective and it’s no the right time of day, the game fast-forwards until it is the right time and lets you carry on from there. The day/night mechanic is more trouble than it’s worth, and it drags on the game length needlessly. The immersion is not worth this.
Another little annoyance is the running from one destination to another. Really wish Geralt could run faster from place to place.
Lastly, a lot of the NPCs are recycled. As in it won’t take long to notice that many of them look the same. Get’s particularly frustrating when some of the npcs that play a role in the main plot are hard to distinguish from some anonymous merchant on the street.
So that’s the gameplay. Then there’s the story. Long story short, it’s not as good as The Witcher 2’s story. Mainly because it’s not as intriguing with the plot and characters and political intrigue (though this game does still provide that albeit in watered down doses), but also because it takes a while for things to click into high gear. The prologue is typical introductory fluff. Chapter 1 is more of the same, with most of the events proving to be insignificant to what would come later, and is more of a stand-alone chapter to get the player more acquainted with the gameplay and the “decisions have consequences” feel. Oh, right, you do get to make choices in this game that produce different outcomes, but unlike the sequel, there are no alternate endings. Only 1 endings, and how you get there can alter slightly, and almost no decision you make will alter how the sequel(s) play out; save for saving or killing Princess Adda (whom you get to bang, of course), but even then it’s just a minor afterthought brought up in Witcher 2, and hardly even noticeable in Witcher 3 without a mod if I remember correctly.
So like I was saying, the Prologue does get the story going, giving you a goal and motivation. Chapter 1 more-or-less just gets you acquainted with the gameplay and only 2 other significant characters (for about 5-8 hours). Then comes Chapter 2, which is easily the slowest fucking chapter in this entire fucking game. So many sidequests that, to this game’s credit, do link up to the main quest. But in hindsight nothing really significant happens in Chapter 2. Chapter 2 exists to get you familiar with the main city you’ll be spending most of the game in, and those who live within it, and some backstory. The gangs, thugs, drug addicts, poor people, old people, the hospital, those infected by the plague, the knights of the Order, the town watch, the grave-digger, the humans and non-humans, some people from Geralt’s past, etc. It sounds nice and all, but not for 10 fucking hours with the plot progressing at a pace so slow even snails would be feeling sorry for you. Chapter 2 is a glorified detective/mystery, where solving it doesn’t really accomplish much or move the plot forward hardly at all. It’s just for atmosphere and getting you familiar with the world.
Thankfully, once you get past Chapter 2, it only gets better from there. The political intrigue picks up in Chapter 3, where you wonder about Triss’ intentions and ulterior motives, you get more involved with the conflict between the Order of the Flaming Rose and the Scoia’tael, learn some interesting things about the criminal organization the Salamandra, and how they link into different sects high and low, and how they are used by those sects. And it only gets better from there. And I have to admit, by the time it got to the epilogue, a plot twist came up that, to this game’s credit, I honestly did not see coming, even if in hindsight I should have.
Chapter 4 slows things down a bit, but not to the extent of Chapter 2. And, again, it slows things down so you can get familiar with a particular character who pops up off and on throughout the previous chapters (excluding the prologue). Then when it gets to Chapter 5, full steam ahead all the way through to the prologue. It becomes pretty damn difficult to stop playing the game once Chapter 5 hits. And it all leads to a potential “end of the world” scenario. You know, like just about every single fucking RPG game ever made because creators/writers/corporations think having the stakes set that high is the only way to have a rousing and intense finale. I always roll my eyes at plots like this about as often as I roll my eyes at forced love interests in both games and film, because both usually come off as cheap and easy ways to get the player/viewer invested in the character(s) and/or plot. If you want my appreciation, make the characters interesting via their interactions with one another, their motivations, their personal journey and character arc. Which is why I have an appreciation for Witcher 2’s plot because it accomplished exactly that. The plot isn’t about the end of the world so much as the fate of a nation (or several), and how the leaders have their own personal goals, how they each treat their own people, and how your character feels about that and if he will side with any of them, or none. On top of that, there are also character well aware of his amnesia who may or may not be trying to take advantage of him because of that. Is he being used? Is he choosing to be used? Does he (or anyone else for that matter) have free will? What’s the price to pay for existence? Did you do the right thing?
Now in this game, it does focus primarily on the purpose of Geralt, what’s his motivation, what’s his character. They make this simple by starting the game off with him as an unknown prisoner who breaks free to make a name for himself and save the world. Wait, I got that wrong, that’s like every Bethesda game ever made. They make it simple by starting the game off with him running through the wilderness being chased by some ominous unseen figure calling his name (like the opening to the Witcher 2, but with worse graphics and camerawork), and he awakens at Kaer Morhen (home to a school of Witchers), with no memory. Then the place gets attacked, and he is off on his own to find out about the attackers, get their Witcher shit back that was stolen from them, and learn about himself in the process.
Now, it’s the “learning about himself” that is key here, in an attempt to make the players become attached to Geralt. The player is faced at several points in the game to make decisions that not only have consequences, but determine just what kind of a character Geralt is going to be now. Will he be like his old self? Will he follow the Witcher’s code? Or will he choose a side in the ongoing conflict between the Order and the Scoiatel? This may seem a bit more common in today’s RPGs, and I can’t say this is the first game to do this (the earliest in current memory is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), but 2007 seemed to be a big year for games like this where this sort of “choose your own adventure” RPGs became more prominent. After all, this game was released in the same year as Mass Effect (though it doesn’t look as good from a graphic’s standpoint).
Now, while this “choose your own adventure” element seems nice and all, the game becomes a bit of a dick about the whole thing during the later chapters. If you choose not to remain neutral during the events of Chapter 4, characters in Chapter 4 and 5 won’t let you hear the end of it. Basically, the game is just straight up telling you, “How dare you play it your way! How dare you not stay lore friendly and true to the Witcher’s code! For shame!” Basically made me flip them the bird before reloading to an earlier save prior to one of those “choices” and go for the more neutral path. Yes, I’ll admit it, the game shamed me into doing it, and I was pissed about it.
So anyway, the story does get good, it just takes a while to get there. And by a while, I mean 15+ hours. This is not a short game. Hell, I positive it takes longer to get through than Assassins of Kings does. According to howlongtobeat.com, this game is anywhere from 10-15 hours longer than Witcher 2, and it feels that way during the early sections. But, again, if you have the patience, and can withstand some mediocre voice-overs and some slow slogs, the game does manage to feel worth it in the end.
Comparison to Mass Effect
It’s worth comparing the two (briefly) because, despite the fact that both games play completely differently and occur in entirely different settings, both games share similar flaws, and were released in the same year (2007). I’ll be the first to admit that Mass Effect is the better game compared to The Witcher. That being said, I’d be hesitant to play either game again in the near future, especially Mass Effect. Why? Because the decisions you are forced to make in The Witcher are more thought-provoking and intriguing than in Mass Effect, in my opinion. Plus, while the side quests aren’t THAT interesting in The Witcher, I’d take those over the monotonous side quests of Mass Effect. In The Witcher, at least the side quests involve some preparation and learning, where you have to prep yourself for the monsters to go after, and fight differently for each one. Some of the environments are similar (particularly the caves), but most of the time the encounters are in distinct areas to give them a different feel. In Mass Effect, holy Christ! The side quests sucked ass! Similar levels/rooms/buildings (to the point where I’m positive they were clones of each other), the same fucking enemies making the same fucking comments (which they took comedic jabs at in Mass Effect 2), and it became a chore real fast. But when it came to the main quest(s), I’d have to give the edge to Mass Effect. The story was told better and paced better, if you discount the side quests.
And also like Mass Effect 2, Witcher 2 could be played by carrying over your save file from Witcher 1 and have some influence over the plot in that game. However, it was much more significant in Mass Effect 2, just about everything you did in the first game had an impact in the 2nd game, a significant and noticeable impact too, even with those shitty side quests from the first game. In Witcher 2, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter that much if you carry over the save or not (again, something heavily rectified in Witcher 3). And that’s all the comparisons I’ll make for those 2 sequels.
In regards to the gameplay, Mass Effect is more involving, where you have to constantly aim and shoot (or aim and cast, depending on your preference), and had a greater variety of play-styles compared to that of The Witcher. Granted, Witcher has variety too, where you can focus on spells or swords, or a combination of both, but the variety is greater and more noticeable in Mass Effect. Plus Mass Effect had more tactics where you could direct squad members to attack other enemies in a certain way, or hang back, or use an item/ability, etc. In The Witcher, it’s only your character Geralt, and his fighting styles, and that’s it. But Mass Effect’s tactical play comes at the cost of pausing the gameplay so you can click on an ability, aim it at an enemy or ally, and then un-pause it. Some people like this style of play, and to be honest it didn’t bother me all that much in Mass Effect. But games like Dragon Age: Origins (released 2 years after Mass Effect and The Witcher) where you’re doing the same thing except from a top-down perspective just didn’t gel with me. So I probably would’ve hated The Witcher if it incorporated this aspect so heavily. Granted, you can pause mid-battle to get a better angle on things, but this didn’t happen very often with my playthrough.
I know that CD Project Red was a small-time indie company at this point, so they had less finances to work with when making this game, and it is admirable that it turned out as good as it did under the circumstances. But it is what it is, and I can only judge it by how I feel now, and I’m not going to take it easy on it just because of the circumstances surrounding the making of them game, I’m just going to judge the game as-is. Both games are good, both have faults, and Mass Effect is probably the better made one overall. But neither one is something I would likely want to revisit while it’s still fresh in my memory, especially when the sequels to both games are so much better.
Mass Effect’s strongest point is its story and universe-building, getting into the races, their interactions, and how the main character can impact all of them. The central character(s) tend to be secondary to that. This does not mean the characters are weak, they each have their motivations and such. However, they seem too influenced by what you (acting as the protagonist) do and want to happen, being less independent in their own right. The game cuts a fine line between them acting on their own and acting based on how you want, and it works fine as is. It tends to be on the fan-service side in regards to characters.
While the Witcher has a world-building aspect to it in terms of Temeria and its occupants, it’s focus is less on that and more on the character of Geralt himself. How much is he influenced by others? Should he be influenced by them? The characters in The Witcher come off as more independent and self-motivated than those in Mass Effect. While Mass Effect has the aspect of, “Your leadership and influences those around you.” In other words, the lives of most other major characters seems to revolve around the main character, and thus revolve around you. The Witcher seems to be the reverse of this. It’s more like, “How much are you influenced by those around you?” Because the game continuously jabs at you for the decisions you make, making you wonder if you made the right decision, or if there ever was a right decision to make. In this case having the game end the same way no matter what, while changing the way it gets there, fits perfectly because of the whole fate/destiny theme being brought up. The free will theme being an extension of the player pulling the protagonist’s strings. Or is it the player having their strings pulled by others in the game? Either way, the message is the same. You may or may not choose to get caught up in a cause, or to stay neutral to them all; but no matter what you do, do not forget about yourself and what really matters to you, what your principles are, and if choosing or not choosing a cause runs the risk of you being forced to violate your principles. The fact that Geralt is imperfect and is guaranteed to make mistakes (regardless of players trying to choose the lesser of evils, or not) is what makes him a fascinating character, and is what makes the game every bit as memorable as Mass Effect. That, and he’s capable of banging more broads, and of different races too (speaking of similarities to Mass Effect).
Plus the last act of the game will have you questioning whether or not you’re doing the right thing, and I love games that provoke that thought. Indicates it’s smart enough to make a lot of grey rather than keeping things black and white. Mass Effect tends to be more on the black and white side of things. If you make a decision that doesn’t involve saving/sparing lives, sometime down the road you will be punished for it. In the case of the Witcher, sparing a life or killing someone doesn’t always result in a good or bad thing. And even if it does result in a good thing, down the line it could lead to a bad thing, and vice versa. It’s what makes the better moments of The Witcher stick with me. That being said, the sequels took this element and did it better, especially in Witcher 3.
The Witcher is a more deep thought provoking philosophical and character study at its core, while Mass Effect is more of a fun sci-fi ride with plenty of story and lore and, dare I say, universe to keep it interesting. That being said, both games have a bit of both, I’m just mentioning the main narrative strengths of each. Looking back on both, the main thing that stuck with me regarding the Witcher was Triss’ mysterious backdoor political dealings in Chapter 3 (which ultimately made her a fully realized 3-dimensional character), and the whole finale from Chapter 5 and onwards which provoked a sense of guilt and wonder. With Mass Effect, I enjoyed getting introduced to the universe and all that lived within, how the races worked, what their personalities and traits are, the first appearance of Saren, the confrontation with Liara’s mother and the spider monster, and everything from when the original creators of the Citadel are revealed and all the way to the action-packed finale. Both games know how to put on a finale.
Why I revisited the game
I brought up earlier that one of the reasons I wanted to play through this again was to get familiar with the characters again. Because some characters who are in this game are not in the 2nd one, yet they make reprising roles in Witcher 3. Sure I could’ve just watched one of those 3-6 hour “movie version” videos online, and I was tempted, and that sure as shit would’ve been less time-consuming than this game, but I wanted to experience this game again, even if it’s for one last time. Plus I wanted to see if it’s still fun to play today. And I must admit, if you have the patience and are willing to invest into it and become immersed in the world, it is worth it. If you can get to Chapter 3, the rest of the game is a breeze in terms of pacing and progression. It becomes quite captivating at that point. Plus it does have some unintentional hilarity with the dialogue.
So, the game is flawed, tests your patience, but is a decent enough experience. If you’re to play any version, makes sure it’s the Enhanced Edition (like how Witcher 2 got an enhanced edition, and how Witcher 3 got a Game of the Year edition). Despite the annoyances and frustrations, there’s enough here to make it worthwhile. But it’s only worthwhile if you play all the way to the end. That will run you around roughly 50 hours.
* A good storyline with some intrigue and questions on morality and destiny, and will leave you pondering on some points.
* Some colorful characters.
* Combat on any difficulty above Easy can prove challenging in a fun way, encouraging tactics and positioning and timing, plus some prep-work that fits with the whole theme/lore of how witchers work.
* Great finale.
* Immersive and interesting world.
* The plot pacing is spotty, and requires much patience before getting to the good stuff.
* Graphics are dated, even with the mods.
* Too many NPCs that look exactly the same.
* Voice-acting ranging from acceptable to laughable.
* Running from one objective to the next gets tiresome.
* Uninteresting side-quests.
* The dice-poker still sucked as much as it did in the 2nd game.
* The brawl mini-game is really not that good (gets better with the sequels, especially #3).
* The camera angles during some of the dialogue bits are terrible some of the time.
And should you choose to undertake the endeavor of playing this game, I know of some mods that will make it less painful. Which brings me to the other reason I’ve decided to go through this again. None of the videos are of the modded version, at least not in terms of graphics mods. Well, time to bring them up:
This is THE main graphics mod to get. Makes the game and characters look so much better. I mean, look at the comparisons between the vanilla game and modded game version of Geralt:
[Geralt image comparison]
And it not only makes the major characters look better, but also enhances the look of the UI. There’s one other mod next to this one that I consider mandatory. The only thing I don’t like is what they did with the druid chick and the water nymph.
[druid image comparison]
Would not play this game without this mod. Makes combat more tactical and deep using a very simple method. It makes Geralt more susceptible to high damage when taking hits from the sides or the back (especially the latter). Something the developers liked so much they incorporated it into the second Witcher game. On top of that, enemies no longer just appear wherever just for the hell of it, they are more focused in areas they live in. Drowners stay near the water, swamp monsters stay near the swamp and/or islands in the swamp. In other words, enhances the immersion and lore, and gives a heavier dose of tactics to the combat.
Witcher High Res Character Models
Improves the looks of most other characters in the game that Rise of the White Wolf missed (though you will need to remove some files if you don’t want them overwriting that particular mod).
Stop the Rain
If you think it rains too much, you’ll be given access to a scroll that, when read, gradually stops the rain. Immersion-breaking in the sense that Geralt has the ability to control the weather, plus I’ve never personally used it. But hey, for those who are interested.