Optimising The Fun Out Of Video Games

Civilisation game-designer, Soren Johnson, once wrote on his blog, “Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game.” This was something that I originally considered to be an alien concept – until I realised that I do this, and so does everyone else.

It comes down to an interesting question – what is the objective of a person playing a video game? Why do they do it? Will they take actions in the game specifically to have fun, or will they choose to forgo fun for the sake of making the game easier so therefore to ‘do better’? Johnson, in this quote, argues that the player cannot be trusted to play the game in a fun way, but rather a fashion where they will play better. Some would then argue that the feeling of doing well in a difficult video game provides a kind of enjoyment – which is true. However, I’d argue that this is only a feeling that many players have when they’ve been playing a game for a while, and they initially struggled with it. The feeling they are enjoying is a sense of achievement and progression – it’s good to know that you are getting better at something you once found challenging. If there was no challenge to start with, it is unlikely that any such feeling will be experienced; it’s boring because the game is too easy (of course, some games aren’t supposed to be challenging, and the enjoyment comes from other elements). I’d argue, then, that the feeling of doing well in a game does not correlate to enjoying the game.

My personal story regarding this started about three months ago when I decided to replay Bioshock: Infinite. When this game came out in 2013, I considered it hands-down one of my favourite games – but I could never put my finger on why. I’d been coaxed into reinforcing my resolve that this is a good game when I saw several game reviewers I respected discussing how they didn’t like this game and that they didn’t know why anyone does. I, instead of being stubborn, decided to replay the whole game and reaffirm my opinion – as well as, hopefully, finally put into words what it was I liked about it.

My result? Well, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I remember liking it. I still enjoyed it and managed to play through the whole game in less than two days, along with the Burial At Sea DLC in the following two days. But the interesting thing I found about this game, and what got me thinking about this topic, was the fact that I remember the combat being really fun and engaging. This was not the case on a replay – I found the combat ludicrously easy and, not exactly tedious, but certainly somewhat mind-numbing. You see, the world in this game has a system of ‘skylines’ which are a set of suspended rails above the maps that can be used by the player to quickly traverse around the map in combat scenarios. The idea is that the player can swoop in over a group of enemies to fight them, and then swoop away as soon as they’re in too much trouble. This promotes a fast-paced, aggressive combat style. It’s really fun and was a great feature for the marketing of this game. The devs really wanted players to be flying about the map using the skylines and fighting aggressively and quickly.

The problem is that the skylines are completely unnecessary when it comes down to it. I don’t mean that you can play the game without really ever using them, just that there really is no advantage to using them, apart from when they’re the only way to reach a location of an area. In fact – the game is much easier if you don’t spend your time swooshing about, and actually just stand still – against a wall, with the carbine, head-shooting enemies as they approach.

It’s shocking how many maps in this game allow you to do this – and it how well it works for that matter. The game mechanics even reward this behaviour – unintentionally, I’m sure – with the ‘Booker, catch!’ mechanic. Booker is the name of the character you play as, and so this phrase is shouted at you by your AI companion, Elizabeth when she throws you supplies. Early on in development, she (in an attempt to make her more of a feature of gameplay rather than a cut-scene only type of character) would actually path-find through the local area to supply drops around the map, and then throw them to you as you need them. This was changed – for a variety of reasons – to a system where she just spawns in whatever you need and throws it at you. If you’re thinking that this would surely ruin the combat – seeing that you no longer need to look for ammo or health packs when you’re low on either – then you’d be right. It entirely promotes a slower, more defensive combat style, which this game does not suit because it simply wasn’t designed for it. It is further worsened by the fact that enemies have the aim of a loose garden hose on full blast, providing no immediate threat to anybody. I died once in this game – due to a glitch.

So, as stated the game is easiest played by standing in a corner, behind some amount of cover, and just blasting the enemies with the carbine, which is the ultimate long range, and mid-range weapon in the game. Combined with the shotgun, which is obviously great for short range, and you’re unstoppable if you play the game slowly and less aggressively – which was against the intentions of the developers. There is a boss battle about three quarters through the game involving a ghost woman. It’s supposed to be really hard because it spawns other ghosts that attack you – but you don’t have to worry about them, you just have to go for the main ghost. My strategy? Use charge (which is a kind of superpower you get that allows you charge into an enemy at great speed and do some damage to them) to get really close to the ghost woman ASAP, and then shotgun and charge repeatedly until she teleports away. Only she didn’t have a chance to do that, because I had her dead before Booker and Elizabeth had finished their ten-second dialogue about how we need to kill this ghost-lady – which was kind of funny; the dialogue at the end of the battle started overlapping with the dialogue at the start if the battle.

Because I had anticipated that the shotgun and charge combo was the way to go, I’d spent all my upgrades on maxing both out, so by the end I was an unstoppable killing machine – which is actually less fun than it sounds – there was no challenge to it anymore. There is a fun way to play the combat, and then there is an effective way to play the combat – the circles do not overlap in this diagram. By developing these strategies, I’d optimised the fun from Bioshock Infinite.

While Bioshock has these problems, I also consider my attitude towards games to be at fault – to an extent. With the new Tomb Raider coming so soon, I decided to replay Rise of the Tomb Raider in preparation. Now, this game isn’t supposed to be unreasonably hard or anything – the focus of the experience is in its exploration and puzzle solving, with some stealth and set-piece combat sections breaking the experience up. The thing about this game is that the combat sections are frustrating in a way that I don’t really enjoy that much. Perhaps it’s due to my playing the game with a controller and the lack of auto-assistive aim, but I’m not such a fan of the bits where you need to shoot people. I don’t hate it, I’d just rather avoid it if possible.

Well, it turns out that sometimes it is possible. In some sections, it’s entirely possible to simply run past all the enemies until you reach the next checkpoint location – it’s not mind-blowingly easy because you’ll probably have to make a few attempts due to all the enemies shooting at Lara, but I found the challenge of doing that was more fun than the challenge of having to fight all these enemies with the frustrating combat system. Once you reach the next checkpoint, just let Lara die, and when you reload at that checkpoint the game will assume that you killed all the enemies behind you – or at least successfully snuck past them.

This is not the intended way to play the game when it was designed, it’s more me being lazy. But you can’t blame the player, you can only blame the game. There doesn’t need to be a system to prevent the player from doing this.

Halo’s checkpoint system prevents it, but it often leads to what I like to call ‘stingy checkpoints’, where the game will only give you a checkpoint under very specific conditions. I consider the checkpoint system of all the Halo games, from one to four, to be broken (I haven’t played five). It leads to the player legitimately playing the game the way it was intended to be played, but still being in situations where they die and then reload to a checkpoint twenty minutes earlier. I recently played Halo 4, and it’s a big problem still, successfully making my experience with that game worse than it needed to be.

If Crystal Dynamics, when developing Rise of the Tomb Raider (RotTR), had made the combat and sneaking mechanics more compelling and less tedious, I might have felt more inclined to not try to skip those parts of the game – the simple fact is, my method of skipping these sections is legitimately more fun than the way the developers intended me to play the game.

Having said this, I do still believe that I, overall, had a worse experience playing the game improperly than I would, had I had just persisted. I felt little satisfaction, or much of a sense of achievement, in skipping combat sections altogether – and I was messing with the pacing of the game. RotTR is a very linear experience that has been painstakingly tuned to be just right. So while skipping was more fun in the short term, it was probably not as fun as finishing the game more legitimately.

The two examples I’ve given here are very different in nature. My ‘optimisation’ of RofTR felt distinctly cheaty – I knew I was breaking the system. Bioshock was different in that I didn’t feel like my ‘optimisation’ was illegitimate, nor was it breaking the game. Bioshock’s problem was a lack of incentive to play the game any differently to the way that I was, other than a few prompts telling me that I should use my powers and the skylines more – but when my strategy is working really well, why would I change anything? It’s not like I had no fun playing Infinite, it was just significantly less than I remember back in 2013. Although I was a dumb sixteen-year-old back then so my opinion might have just been plain wrong.

I don’t think you can really ever blame the player for ‘playing the game wrong’, you can only incentivise them to play it in the way you want them to. XCOM 2 has a controversial system that limits the number of turns a mission can be played in. This forces the player to think more about what they’re going to do in order to not waste any turns – and more importantly – it forces them to take risks. The game is said to be a lot more fun when the player is using a dangerous strategy, so Firaxis (the developer) made it part of the game. This has been met with some pushback from fans, because it forces everyone to play the game in one way, in a strategy game where the player should be able to handle any mission in any way they want.

When Blizzard was developing World of Warcraft, they wanted to make sure players were taking regular breaks and not playing the game for unhealthy numbers of hours, so they provided an incentive to players for logging off. The ‘Rest’ bonus gives players an XP boost for players who are logged off, which wears off over time when they are logged in. This also makes it fairer for players who don’t want to commit as much time into the game as hardcore players who may never stop playing the game.

Unlike the XCOM example, this is a well-liked feature of the game. The reason? This is an incentive that acts as a reward for doing something, rather than as a punishment for not doing that thing. When people are playing a game they want to have positive experiences rather than negative ones. The XCOM example punishes players for being slow in the most extreme way it can – failing the mission and making the player start it again. It would be better if the game gave a big reward for players who completed the mission quickly, such as a research bonus or more equipment, but was more forgiving for slower players who don’t want to take too much risk. Players would be more inclined to choose to play the game in the way the developers would like them to, rather than feel like they’re being forced to play the game in a way they don’t want to. The game should dangle a treat in front of your face and tells you that if you want it, you need to play the game like this.

TLDR; the most effective way to play the game should be the most fun way to play the game. That is the goal of a game designer. Unless it shouldn’t.

If this interested you, here’s the video that inspired me to write about this topic:

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – It’ll Stress You Out And You’ll Love It

It was only relatively recently that humanity even started to understand the concept of mental health, and only very recently that people have really started to take it seriously – and we still have some way to go in that direction. Back in the days of tribal people, where healthcare, in general, was not even really understood – people might have thought of people suffering from mental disorders as being slow, evil, or even an oracle who can see visions. They might have shunned these people or even burned them as witches out of pure fear.

Senua is a tribal woman living in what I can only guess is northern Britain who suffers from psychosis – meaning she hallucinates through psychedelic visions and sounds in her head. This game tells of her quest to bring back the life of Dillion – a man she loved before he died of spoilers. The game is told through the eyes and ears of Senua – the player experiences her visions and hears what she hears, and Senua isn’t having a good time of it. She’s seeing visions of scary monsters trying to kill her and occasionally of being set on fire. She doesn’t cower in fear, however, she instead fights through in her determination to reach Helheim to beg the God, Hela, for the life of Dillion.

Nothing is handed to you when you’re playing Hellblade. The game only acknowledges your presence once, when it tells you about the black rot mechanic – which is an unintrusive life countdown mechanic. Everything else is left for you to work out through trial, error, and experiance. I didn’t know I could block attacks until I accidentally pressed the corresponding button. Over the course of the game you’ll do better naturally, rather than artificially, through augmentation of stats. It should be said that the game does give you a list of controls when you pause, but that’s just a reference for if you forget. The effect of this is that every visual, which would normally be a UI element, can be explained as something that Senua is actually seeing due to her psychosis. Nothing is allowed to be intrusive and everything appears to be real for the player.

This is also true for the audio. Senua hears voices in her head, and to communicate this to the player, these voices have been recorded using binaural microphones. If you’re not familiar with the concept, I would highly recommend you listen to the Virtual Barber Shop, wearing headphones. This microphone system uses two specialised microphones with ear-shaped covers on them, placed a head’s width apart. The result is an illusion in which the listener can tell where the sounds are coming from – it sounds like noises are coming from in the room with you, rather than through your headphones. In this game, the effect used is to unnerve the player. In stressful situations, it can really throw you off if someone starts whispering right by the back of your head. This game does that a lot. Also, everyone whispering in the background is kind of creepy. A really creative use of the voices in this game is in combat – you’re friendly head voices like to warn you about enemies coming up behind you, and they like to remind you to evade some attacks rather than block them.

The atmosphere of this game is its strongest asset. If you’re going to play this game, play it with the lights off and headphones on. It’s a spooky experience to behold. From the sound design to the wild and creative visual effects, this game has got its tone nailed. I felt stressed as Senua did, felt calm when she did, and even felt a bit traumatised at times. This isn’t an experience you can get in most games; it takes real skill to get it right, and Ninja Theory must be praised for it. A lot of this, I think, comes from the authenticity of the experience – Ninja Theory worked with several mental health experts to ensure the experiences present are true to that of psychosis. There are sections of this game that are simply frightening. When atmosphere alone makes you tense up and get’s your blood pumping – that’s when you know you’ve got something good going.

This atmosphere is craftily built and very delicate – anything could destroy it, like a bug or a glitch, for instance. This game isn’t AAA. That’s something which, in the interest of fairness, should be established before continuing. This is an independent project, focusing on creating an AAA experience, but shorter – meaning it’s cheaper and less of a risky investment for publishers. It’s clear to see where they skimped out with the budget. I encountered many small glitches and bugs which ranged from negligible to very frustrating, sometimes requiring the game to be restarted. I got a couple which just meant that things didn’t trigger when they should’ve, but, because of the no-hand-holding nature of the game, I wasn’t sure whether I had just done something wrong and ended up wasting a load of time trying to solve a puzzle that doesn’t exist. These glitches weren’t too often, however, and they were easy to get past – but not good for maintaining the atmosphere.

Speaking of combat – this game has it – and this game’s combat is, like many elements of the game, very stressful. The combat style is what I would describe as being ‘half-Dark Souls’ in nature. Movements are fairly slow and deliberate, letting the player really feel the weight and brutality of this kind of combat; but it’s not as unforgiving as Dark Souls. It’s hard but not punishing – and there is an easy mode (although the game does a good job of setting the difficulty automatically). You can do all of the usual things like dodging, rolling, heavy attack, light attack, and block. The enemy types are not particularly varied – you have the usual ideas for enemy types like sword boys, shield boys, mace boys, and so on. It honestly wouldn’t bother me if the combat sections didn’t have a tendency to drag a little due to the game’s habit of throwing waves of enemies after you endlessly. I feel like more could have been done with the combat sections to make them more interesting.

Similarly, the puzzles can suffer from an over-abundance of repetitive mechanics. This game has a few really creative puzzle ideas, but once you get used to the idea of one, you won’t struggle to solve more of that one as it occurs. That said, solving them the first time can be fairly frustrating, especially when the style of puzzles has not been well established enough – you need to remember that interacting with things in this game isn’t always about pressing a button, sometimes it’s a matter of perspective. I’m not saying the puzzles are bad – they’re actually pretty good – but you’ll be in the dark for some of them until a lightbulb pops up above your head, and others can feel like they’re the same as each other, deminishing the challenge somewhat.

Playing this game has been an experience I’ll probably remember for a while yet. It evoked fear, stress, anxiety, and hope in me. The ending touched me with its message about loss and greif. It ended up being a far more profound experience than I had anticipated. Well worth whatever I paid for it.

Jak and Daxter: An Uneven Bridge

Crash Bandicoot was an incredible series for Naughty Dog. It was insanely popular and skyrocketed their studio in the industry in terms of status. So, when the PS2 was on the horizon, what else was Naughty Dog going to do but scrap the whole thing and start afresh on a whole new franchise. Many people at the time thought this would be the biggest mistake Naughty Dog would ever make. But it wasn’t. What it was, was Jak and Daxter.

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was built on a simple ambition – no loading screens. The whole game would be a big open world which can be explored to one’s heart’s content and at no point be broken up with loading screens. Quite an ambitious feat when you consider the hardware they were working with. But, because it was Naughty Dog, they managed to do it.

The game they came up with is about a young lad named Jak – because no one needed a ‘c’ in that name to begin with. Jak is mute, so the person who does all the talking is his buck-toothed friend Daxter. While not following the instructions of Jak’s guardian, Samos, they sneak off to an island and find a big pit full of an ominous liquid substance called dark eco. Daxter promptly falls in and is transformed into an ottsel. If you’re confused, an ottsel is not a real thing. An ottsel is a mix of an otter and a weasel. Predictably frustrated by his condition, the two ask Samos the sage for help. He respectfully informs them that he is unable, and they would have to go to the other sages for advice. Unfortunately, the teleportation rings aren’t working for some unknown reason so they will have to go the other sages on foot. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that the only way to get to the next sage is across a lake of lava. Keira, who’s like the sexy young woman who works for Samos (she’s the love interest), suggests using a sort hoverbike heat resistant thing that she just happens to have. To get it working, however, Jak and Daxter need to find 20 power cells.

That’s the premise which sets up the whole game. And also a description of the main gameplay – collecting. To collect the power cells, you have to complete a series of side quests for the villagers, as well as purchase them with these egg things that are just everywhere, and most of all – platforming. The power cells are basically just lying around the place just waiting for someone to come and get them, and all they need to do is jump around some obstacles for a bit. Once you get the 20 power cells, you get across the lava lake and fight a boss battle, and then some plot happens which means you need to now find another 20 power cells. This is the format of the whole game. To complete the game, I think you need about 80 in all – 100 if you want to 100% the game.

The game is fairly relaxed. It’ll take a long time to finish it because it is a hard game – some of the platforming is only reasonably described as a challenge, to say the least. It seems a good time to talk about eco. Eco is a magical substance which bestows upon a person a mystical property. Green eco heals, blue eco gives speed, red eco gives strength, yellow eco gives the ability to shoot projectiles at people and dark eco hurts you until you die (unless your name is Daxter apparently). Now, this is all fine in Jak 1 because it is very limited and you can only use one kind at a time. The only issue I have is that green eco serves no purpose whatsoever. Jak has a total of three hit points throughout the whole game, and the only way to regain a hit point when one is lost is collecting green eco. The thing is that you need to collect fifty balls of green eco to get one hit point back – which takes a while – and on top of that if you get hit again you’ll lose all the eco you’ve collected. I think I managed to restore a hit point about twice during my time playing the game. So it’s often easier to just die.

That’s not to say that dying matters particularly in Jak 1. It’s an important point to look at the number of checkpoints in each game. In Jak 1, they’re everywhere. You jump to a platform – that’s a checkpoint, you kill an kill an enemy – that’s a checkpoint, you walk a step forward in any direction – that’s a checkpoint. The result of this is that death no longer really matters at all apart from in boss battles. This doesn’t make the game ‘easy’ but it means you don’t ever really have to redo anything when you die – just the thing that killed you. Not that failing a section of the game is always death; a lot of the time it’s because you fell off of a precarious platform and have to go back to the start, or you took too long on a timed segment or missed the target on one of the hoverbike sections. The interesting thing about this format is that it allows you to start again as soon as you realise you failed. How many times have you played a hard game and got into a pattern of pausing and restarting the section at the slightest screw-up? Jak 1 feels like it was built on that mentality. Screwed this bit up? Just go back to the start again. This, for me at least, does so much to avoid making me frustrated at the game, because it always seems fair and every failure feels like my own. It’s just nice to play a game that’s so forgiving is all. It is a game for children after all.

Jak 2: Renegade is a dramatic departure from everything that Jak 1 is. Released only two years later, Jak 2 says goodbye to the child-friendly Disneyland style of Jak 1 for a more mature style and a teenage audience. Set after the events of Jak 1, Jak 2 begins with all the main characters driving into a portal thing and then Jak finding himself alone in a strange place called Haven City (it’s an ironic name because Haven City is actually not very nice at all). He’s tortured by Baron Praxis (the man in charge of the city) for two years until Daxter (who is still an ottsel for reasons which would be spoilers) comes to rescue him. Jak speaks for the first time, “I’m gonna kill Praxis!” Not following the colourful child-friendly fun atmosphere from the first game at all.

The game is in fact so different from the first one that you could say that Naughty Dog basically dumped all they had established with the franchise up to this point in the bin and only carried over some small components. You still have the same base four characters, but Jak 2 adds some more – well over doubling the cast. These characters are conflicted, deep and interesting (most of the time). Yes – Naughty Dog has officially entered its BAFTA-winning story writing phase. The plot is interesting but isn’t exactly going to blow you away or anything, but it did hold my attention and I found it easy to follow. Gameplay is still the focus here.

Gone is collecting. There is only one mission in the game which involves collecting anything at all (as far as I remember) and that is only to send the message that collecting is dead and Naughty Dog killed it. So, considering that Jak 1 was all collecting, what is the gameplay for Jak 2? Shooting! Violence! Platforming! (They kept that part in) Jak 2 gives you four weapons to use – a shotgun, a rifle, a mini-gun and a rocket launcher. Using these weapons, Jak must fight off hoards of creatures called metalheads (I have no idea why they have this name – nothing about them is metal) as he completes missions for the resistance who are trying to take back the city from Barron Praxis and liberate the people while also discovering Jak’s origins and uncovering the secrets of the ancient precursor civilisation. It’s cool.

Or it would be cool if it weren’t for what Naughty Dog did with the checkpoints. Where Jak 1 had a checkpoint for every step you take (and every move you make), Jak 2 goes for the polar opposite. One single checkpoint at the start of every mission. One! You have to complete every mission without dying at any point because if you die you start the whole mission again. The game does not give you enough hp, you can only heal up with health packs which are found sparingly throughout a level, and you can never level up your hp – what you have at the start is what you have at the end. Combine this with the instakill sections of quite challenging platforming coupled with the sometimes endless waves of enemies and not enough ammo for all your guns and, well, it takes a certain amount of monk-like patience to complete every one of the “65 stunning missions”.

Sometimes it’s not even dying that causes you to fail. There are a number of escort missions where your companion doesn’t even have a weapon in most cases so they die very quickly because you’re having a hard enough time keep Jak alive let alone whoever you’re supposed to be protecting. You can also fail these missions if you walk just slightly too far away from your companion. One mission involved platforming while escorting a man and protecting him from random enemies. I kept falling off of the platforms, which wouldn’t actually kill me but I had no way of getting back up without failing the mission so my only option was to restart the mission from the pause menu. This frustrated me many times and prompted me to have a civilised ‘discussion’ with my controller where I introduced it to the floor – on several occasions.

There are loads of examples I could give of what I would (in polite company) refer to as “quite unfair” missions. The racing missions are a little bit annoying but manageable. The street race mission, however, is completely ridiculous. In typical video game style, Jak must settle an argument by winning a street race with this random person. The problem is that there is no obvious path to take in order to win the race – so you have to just keep failing and eventually you’ll learn the route because it will be engraved into your memory. That’s okay, I’m not complaining about that. What I am complaining about is the wriggly twists and turns you have to execute perfectly on this quite long course. If you crash at any point – it’s over; you’ll not be able to catch up. If you don’t travel at the speed of light, however, you might avoid crashing but you won’t win the race. The incredible precision you have to perform with a PS2 controller combined with the difficulty of trying to remember what the course is going to require you to do after the next turn just makes this mission the worst. THE WORST I TELL YOU.

Missions like these normally frustrate the hell out of you until you manage to get past them using ninja gaming skills at which point you feel amazing and nothing can stop you – you’re Superman with the wind at his back, but when over half the missions in the whole game are like this it makes you question whether it’s even worth you’re time anymore; you complete a mission that you struggled with and then you just know you’re probably going to struggle just as much with the next one. That being said, finally finishing the game felt pretty incredible but I can’t decide whether that was because I was just glad I no longer had any obligation to keep playing that game or if I just genuinely was enjoying myself and not knowing it. I think I’m happy that I played the whole game and looking back at it I did enjoy the world that Naughty Dog had created. But if the game were a little easier I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Jak 3 is almost exactly the same as Jak 2 – but with a few important differences. The world is even bigger and now featuring a quite large desert area which is used for driving around in – yes Jak has cars now! Just what we all wanted. I’ll get to vehicle combat later. Where Jak 2 had a mere 4 weapons, Jak 3 has 12! It’s not that hard to keep track of them all because it is the same 4 from Jak 2, but now each has 3 versions which alter the weapon’s behaviour. Also, the only gun you’ll ever need is the second tier rifle; it shoots bullets which bounce off of all the surfaces of the room until they hit someone. Goodbye aiming. Now when you enter a room with a load of enemies in it, just spin around in circles while shooting until everything in the room is dead. It is actually that easy most of the time (until you run out of ammo).

Aiming is now also improved. Where Jak 2 had sort-of half auto-aim, requiring you to slighting move towards to the enemy, which ultimately just means you’ll slowly nudge around the area in an annoying way, Jak 3 has much more controlling auto aim which is actually usable.

Jak 3 also keeps up with the trends with the option to invert the x-value of the camera control stick. This was something more and more games were doing at the time. Previously, third-person games camera system had the player push the analogue stick in the direction they want the camera to rotate around the camera. In practice, it feels more like you have to push in the opposite direction you want to look. Games started defaulting to the, what we now call, modern camera control system. I am very pleased they did.

The most important change to talk about is the checkpointing. Jak 3 features many checkpoints throughout missions rather than just one at the start. This makes the game so much more enjoyable to play and I was so pleasantly surprised whenever I died in a mission, dreading having to do the mission from the start again, only to discover that the mission had a checkpoint so I only had to do the final third of the mission. It just makes the gameplay so much better. You no longer need to train in the art of patience from ancient monks in a mountain temple in order to complete the game. That’s not to say that the game is ‘easy’, however. The checkpoints feel like a compromise between Jak 1 and 2. Not quite everywhere, but also not nowhere. For many, this is the right balance.

Vehicle driving features heavily throughout the game. Many missions involve Jak driving through the desert to do various odd jobs that don’t seem to be that important when compared to the world ending peril that Jak is also supposed to be single-handedly preventing but whatever I’ll go and heard a bunch of leapers into a pen for you ‘cos that’s important as well I suppose. For some reason, there are a bunch of randy buggers driving cars of their own who seem to have nothing better to do than literally drive directly in front of you while blasting machine gun turrets in an attempt to destroy your whole self. To avoid this you must shoot forward while swerving out of the way of any other vehicles you may encounter. The thing about swerving in this game is that the vehicle physics just loves flipping you over and sending you on a car rolling journey which will see you rolling down the entire face of the hill as the game tries to flip you over back onto your wheels which causes the car to just flip back over again until you are on flat ground – of which there is not an abundance. This can cause some frustration when you are doing a timed driving mission and you fail just because someone dodgemed into you. The driving missions in this game are easily the worst thing about it.

You know what’s better than platforming? Platforming in a car. Did I say better? My mistake. Having to platform while travelling at characteristically PS2 fixed, very fast vehicle speed is less than ideal. Jak 3 features a temple area in the map which you must go to on the regular and can only be reached using the jump car. The jump car has a button that propels the car in an upwards direction entirely to powerfully. Using this, Jak can leap over large gaps. If you’re a bit careful, you can quite easily get to the temple. Getting back from the temple is a nightmare. I’m not sure why, but leaving is just so much harder. If you fall off of the platforms (which is quite easy) the game puts you back to the temple. It doesn’t even feel like this is supposed to be part of the game, it just feels like a mistake. It’s not fun, it just stops you from getting to where you need to go. It normally would take me quite a few minutes to free myself from this section of the map. Until I discovered that you can just shoot your car and cause it to explode. It turns out that if you do that the game just takes you back to the desert city. I discovered this the final time I needed to leave the temple island. Because I am a very rational person, I got very annoyed by this.

Naughty Dog used this game as an opportunity to expand its trademarked BAFTA-winning story writing and it really comes through in this one. The story in Jak 3 is actually pretty good and features one of the best plot twists I’ve seen in a game. That being said it’s still pretty clear that for Naughty Dog, the gameplay still takes priority – which is a good thing; all I’m saying is that sometimes a character will ask Jak to do something that makes no sense at all but will lead to a standard type of video game quest, which is most of the time quite fun.

Since we’re talking about Naughty Dog and I’m a nerd, we can’t not mention how impressive it is what Naughty Dog can do with that PlayStation 2 hardware. Jak 3 is the first game that actually made me realise how impressive the game looked that the time. Not only has Naughty Dog build this quite impressively large world with absolutely no loading screens (pretty much), it can also have an amazing number of things going on on screen at a time. In Jak 3, large sections of Haven City have become a war zone, and Jak needs to fly over it to get to places. The war is played out in front of your eyes as the streets are filled with enemy AI and friendly AI characters dynamically fighting with each other – in impressive numbers (for the PS2). Everywhere you look you can see different battles playing out with different groups of people and different stories going on. The animation and graphical quality Naughty Dog has achieved is also just so spectacular – especially when you compare the game to others released for the PS2 at the same time. In my head, I was picturing how not good looking Beyond Good and Evil looks in comparison, and how small the world is before you need to go through a loading screen.

I find the Jak and Daxter series quite interesting because it connects the Crash Bandicoot Naughty Dog to the Uncharted Naughty Dog, but the transition is not linear. Jak 1 is like Crash Bandicoot with an open world and a bit more focus on storytelling. Jak 3 is like Uncharted but cartoony and less grounded in reality. But Jak 2 and Jak 3 are essentially the same game in lots of ways. You could say that the Jak series is a kind of uneven bridge that has a big gap after one-quarter of the way through it. The leap taken here was startling – almost like a whole new franchise entirely. So what happened there? The answer is simple – GTA 3. GTA 3 came out and had an effect on every game around it. Loads of games at the time tried to emulate it in some way, and Jak 2 was one of those games. I think that Naughty Dog also wanted more of a focus on storytelling anyway, but GTA 3 definitely inspired the move to a more mature, darker tone. Also the open world city and shooting and all that stuff. Naughty Dog does a good job of taking that stuff and making it feel a bit more unique to Jak 2 and it doesn’t just feel like a GTA clone. Jak 2 is more ‘inspired’ by GTA 3.

That being said, I would say that I am one of those who thinks that the series definitely suffered some losses in the transition. There seems to be some debate about which game is the best. Most people go for the third one, and I can see why – it’s like Jak 2 but more balanced and less of a pain to complete. Some think Jak 2 is the best because they like the challenge of it and, arguably, the story is the best in Jak 2 according to some people. I think Jak 1 is the best. Neither of the other games in the series held the same charm and attitude I enjoyed so much while playing the first game. Yeah, it’s a game primarily designed for children, but I that doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy it as well. It’s just a nice game to play and I have the fondest memories of it after completing it.

Overall this series took me ages to complete, made me very angry and I constantly complained to my friends about it during my time with it. So, yeah, I enjoyed them – a lot. I would even recommend them to my friends. The trilogy was recently released on PS4 in a kind-HD remastered format. I got Jak 1 for free with another game. It’s like playing the game on PS2 but in 1080p and with a DualShock 4. They haven’t changed the button prompts so the game will ask you to press the non-existent start button on occasion, but this can be achieved by pressing the right side of the touchpad. I didn’t know that there even were PS2 games that can be emulated on the PS4, so that’s cool. The list is quite short though and doesn’t have many classics I’d like to play, like the Simpsons Hit and Run. If you’re in the market for a series of classic adventure games that are also pretty old at the same time, this is a great series to go for, and probably best experienced on the PS4 because of the HD and the non-inverted camera controls.

I apologise for the length of this and also the fact that it is twelve days late. I had a lot to say and not enough time to say it in. So I’m sorry I care about quality.

Mass Effect: Andromeda – Not Actually the Worst Game Ever

Mass Effect: Andromeda came out a few months ago, but if you wanted a quick review from me I can only disappoint you. When the game came out, it was bombarded by the internet because of the animations and glitches. In fact, EA managed to unwittingly create a perfect storm by releasing the game early to some people – so for the majority of people, the marketing of the game was stuff like this:

Which was a bit of a disaster for sales in an environment when so many things can go wrong, and if any of them do, the sales of a game can completely fall over. Big games like Mass Effect: Andromeda need to sell well because they cost so much to make. A lot of casual fans dismissed the game because of the footage of the animations and glitches they were seeing all over YouTube, and while the reviews of the game weren’t actually bad in general, they were just not as good as most people need. At least it got over 70% on Metacritic, which is the threshold it needs to cross in order to be not a complete disaster, but it was just not good enough for casual gamers – especially at the £50 price point. The game didn’t sell well enough and it’s no surprise to anyone that EA has (apparently) ‘shelved the series’.

I would love to go into the details of why the game failed so badly on a technical level, but other people have already done that a lot more effectively than me, and with better knowledge. Firstly by Jason Schreirer of Kotaku who did some excellent investigative reporting on the subject, and secondly, there’s a great video which also covers animation in RPGs generally:

But if you can’t be bothered with that, here’s a summary: EA is in love with their Frostbite engine (and has been for years) and recently decided that all their games must use it because then they’ll all look really good. The problem with that is Bioware had barely used the Frostbite engine in the past, and because the engine is only really a graphics rendering engine, they had to rebuild a lot of the systems they had before for the other games when they used the Unreal engine. A combination of poor management and staff changes throughout the project lead to everything falling apart. A lot of the animation ended up (probably) being untouched by human hands and was left mostly to the computers to work out using advanced cyberspace computer magic. I’m surprised EA didn’t delay the game again, but I suppose this is EA we’re talking about, who would throttle a starving orphan to get an extra £10 in sales of FIFA.

Considering the nightmare of a development Andromeda had, I was genuinely impressed they managed to get such a complete game out the door. Yeah it was glitchy and the animations were often hilarious, but overall the game is playable, and I only encountered 2 game-breaking bugs, causing me to have to reload from an early save and redo some bits. It’s even quite fun. Yes, even after all the bad press it got, I still bought it (for cheaper than the normal price) fully expecting to find that I had made a horrible mistake. Given my expectations, I was very quite surprised by the game – in a good way.

Andromeda takes place after the events of Mass Effect 3, although none of the characters are aware of the events of Mass Effect 3 (probably a good thing). This is because, as the narrative dictates, after Mass Effect 2 the council decides that just in case the galaxy is wiped out by the Reapers after all, they should send a few colony ships to the nearest other galaxy: Andromeda. They all set off just before Mass Effect 3 begins, and arrive 700 years later. Thorugh some kerfuffling, you become the human Pathfinder – the person who is in charge of establishing new colonies throughout the galaxy and also sorting everything else out because apparently, no one thought to send any kind of military with the colonies to do the dangerous stuff. But that’s fine, I think all government officials should be trained in the art of combat and sent into war zones – it would more fun that way. Some stuff and things happen – you meet an alien race who are hilariously called the ‘Kett’ and some purple humanoid lion people who are all quite nice but don’t really trust outsiders. The story, in general, is okay – nothing too interesting or engaging but at least it drives things forward. I could fairly well predict the plot points that were coming up as I played through the story.

Getting into the characters for a minute, it’s worth setting this up by mentioning that the characters in the original trilogy were definitely one of the strongest points of the games. They were all interesting, varied and had rough edges – like real people. They could joke around but knew when to get serious. You knew you could depend on them in a crisis. Through the games, you got to know them very well – if you spent enough time talking to them – and because of this, I got to quite like some characters that I had, at first, disliked. This was only because I actually talked to them and helped them out with their loyalty missions. It was all very well done. Andromeda’s characters are all a lot more childish and light-hearted. The majority of the characters are people in their early 20s and not from a military background, so they aren’t hardened and they often joke around, sometimes inappropriately. I don’t want to give the impression that I hated this, I was just a bit confused by it for a while and I definitely don’t prefer it. It’s a little bit jarring if, like me, you’ve come straight from the original trilogy. I suppose it was an attempt to distance this set of characters from the characters of the Normandy. I can respect this direction, even if it comes off a little bit cheesy at times. My biggest problem was the lack of variety in the crew. Nearly everyone failed to interest me at all. I didn’t really want to get to know my crew particularly in the same way that I wanted to get to know my crew on the Normandy as Commander Shepard. Ryder (the Pathfinder) is much less of a leader on the ship than Shepard and more of a friend to everyone. I’m not such a fan of this direction, personally.

One thing I am a fan of is, however, is the new dialogue system. The original Mass Effect series had a dialogue morality system where one could choose either the good option or the bad option for what they want to say to people. If you do a lot of good things, you will be able to do special good things which will mean you can persuade other characters to do stuff – and the same for the bad dialogue options. It doesn’t amazingly matter whether you pick good or bad, It’ll just affect whether Shepard is nice to people or not. The problem with this system is that one only has to choose at the start of the game whether they want to be nice or nasty and then from that point on simply only pick the relevant dialogue options in order to unlock the late-game persuasion options. This system is abandoned in Andromeda and replaced with what emotion you want to respond with. Do you want to respond to a person emotionally, logically, professionally, or casually? This means that you’ll end up spending a lot more time thinking about your options rather than always going for the good or the bad option. In the originals, it would sometimes even point out to you what the good option and bad option is for a moral choice. Would you like to do the good thing or the bad thing to these people? Oh no! How am I going to decide?! What a conundrum!

The original idea behind Andromeda was to go back to the roots of Mass Effect, which was fantasy fulfilment and exploration. While I think the term ‘fantasy fulfilment’ sounds dodgy, I can confirm my fantasies were fulfilled by this game more effectively than in the first three games. I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation recently, and I’ve got to say, Andromeda got me feeling like I was in charge of a little spaceship, like in TNG, and that’s a great feeling. I loved the idea of flying around the galaxy and visiting new planets with my loyal crew at my heel, ready to take a pounding whenever they fail me. But that’s just my fantasy, I don’t know about you.

As for the exploration part, well I dunno about that. The game features 7 planets to wander around. They are very large areas and I only found the border of one once. However, these planets are all a bit empty. One planet is literally just a big sandy desert a la Tatooine or Jakku from the Star Wars franchise of movies. Originally, there were going to be infinite planets like No Man’s Sky, but people in Bioware questioned how that would possibly make a good game and how they could tell a story in a game world like that. The idea was scrapped and the number of planets was eventually reduced to 7. I feel as though they could have trimmed it more if it meant more variety and features on the more important and interesting planets. I didn’t feel at all compelled to properly explore the planets I was on. I quite quickly got bored of all of them before even the game would allow me to move on to another planet. I found I was rushing through the missions just so I could go somewhere else. In open world games, I’m a strong believer in ‘density over size’ of a game world. Just Cause 3’s world was big and empty – I got bored pretty quickly, the same is true for the Mad Max game. You can try to impress me all you want with how big the world is, but if there’s not a lot in it, I don’t care – I would even prefer the world were smaller. This is why open world games like Skyrim, The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn work so well – their worlds are only as big as they need to be in order to comfortably fit all the actual stuff in them. The reason I wanted to move on to a different planet in Andromeda was that I wanted to see a different horizon and be somewhere else. I would say Bioware didn’t do an excellent job of the exploration part of things.

They didn’t screw up combat too badly at all, however. Well, that’s not entirely true – the biotics wheel is gone and you can only equip two powers before a mission which you’re stuck with. This was probably an attempt to streamline the combat, but I just think it makes the combat a lot less varied and a lot more shooty. Strategy is no longer much a concern in Andromeda and combat is a lot messier. That said, I think it still is very fun in its own way – it’s certainly more fun than a lot of third person shooters I’ve played, and a lot more varied in terms of the enemies you’re fighting, which need you to do different things in order to take them down. It’s quite like Destiny. I had fun with the combat, but I did still miss the strategy and planning involved with the previous games. I suppose you could explain it away by saying that Commander Shepard was an actual military commander and Ryder has almost no military training at all – but that just leads you to question why Ryder has been put in charge of a military team when there are people on the ship who are actually qualified to do that very thing. What are they even there for?

The game was a lot of fun and I did play it for thirty hours. However, the final four of those hours were rushed because I could feel myself getting very bored and I didn’t want to abandon the game when I felt so close to the end. The plot left lots of things unexplained – clearly setting itself up for a sequel which will never happen now (probably). Maybe the (potentially) forthcoming DLC will explain some of these things. I would say that the game is worth playing if you’re a fan of the series. And if you can get it cheap. And if you have nothing else to do – which you clearly don’t because you read all the way to the bottom of this.

Uncharted 4 – Best of the Bunch

Uncharted™ 4: A Thief’s End_20170214221601

I wrote before about Uncharted 1 and 2, remarking that if I ever got around to finishing the 3rd and 4th games I would review them as well. Well look what happened – I stormed through 3 and enjoyed 4. Here follows a collection of my thoughts on the matter.

Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 were a struggle. I enjoyed the story and the exploring but I didn’t enjoy the combat – not one bit. At first, I didn’t mind it. After a few hours, the repetitiveness wore me down. I dreaded a section of combat coming up, and I got very frustrated. The mere thought of getting stuck on another battalion of nasty people gave me the collywobbles I tell you. I needed to take regular breaks from playing to cool off, because as I got more frustrated the less patient I got, so I was playing worse, leaving me in a bit of an unending circle. At one point I took a break that lasted over a month, and because of these breaks, I didn’t get to the end of Uncharted 3 until almost a year had passed. I got very angry and I often questioned why I was bothering with it.

It was all worth it. All the struggle, the frustration, the shouting at my screen. I’m so pleased I persevered; Uncharted 4 is incredible. Without this instalment of the franchise, I’d have probably called the whole project of playing the series a boondoggle. Almost every complaint I had about the previous games has been resolved and that has made this game inordinately enjoyable. In short, Uncharted 4 is being added to my private, metaphorical hall of bloody excellent games that I love like a father loves his favourite child – and not my pit of games I despise like that same father might chain his least favourite child to a radiator and ignore them.

Uncharted™ 4_ A Thief’s End_20170215002217.jpg
PS4 takes a screenshot every time you get an achievement (It rarely looks good)

Combat – my main complaint about 1, 2 and 3. Combat in Uncharted 4 is actually quite good, however. In fact, it is very enjoyable. I actually, if you can believe it, really like the combat in Uncharted 4. Variety is rife and well welcomed. Level design is much more interesting, giving you different ways of tackling different groups of enemies in an assortment of ingenious and interesting approaches. And most importantly, stealth. Stealth actually exists in Uncharted 4, in an achievable way. You could sneak about a little bit in preceding instalments, but you were always doomed to failure. Someone would always spot you when most of the people were still about, and the games gave you no chance to get out of sight before every bad guy in the room knew where you were, and once they know that, they know forever – you can’t loose them. You’ve got one chance, that’s it. Uncharted 4 gives you the possibility of stealthing a level full of bad guys and gives you the tools you need to be able to do it – enemy tagging, awareness meters, bushes to hide in and so on. I found that it was a lot more fun to take each level slowly and sneak the whole thing, taking out each enemy at a time. When someone spotted me, I’d simply jump into bush around a corner and they’d loose me. I’d climb up next to a window and defenestrate the next fool who walks past. Being able to stealth all the time meant that I actually sometimes wanted to just run-and-gun some levels for some more variety. Combat in Uncharted 4 is what it should have been in all the past games and more.

Uncharted™ 4_ A Thief’s End_20170214221703.jpg
It does indeed

One of the things I really liked about the games of the past was the stories they told. The characterization and adventure of it all really are fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable. However, it must be said that 4’s is the best. It’s a lot less silly and more grounded in reality but in a good way. Somehow, the treasure not being some mystical and unexplained force made it all a lot easier to get into. In 2 particularly, it was about saving the world. 4 is about finding billions of dollars worth of treasure. I prefer the latter motivation if I’m brutally honest; it seems more human.

I also preferred the choice made to drop all the characters constantly questioning whether the end goal is worth the means. Every uncharted game has some point where a character asks Nathan, “This big pile of treasure or whatever you’re looking for is totally not worth risking your life for! Quit while you’re ahead!” It gets a bit tedious after a while. In 4, Nathan is only doing this because he has to. He’s not actually interested in the treasure because of money, he’s interested in the treasure because he needs the money for reasons that are explained in the plot. His motivations for risking his life in the way he does is much more relatable and that is another thing that makes the plot more enjoyable. You feel like you’re in it together and you can get right on board with it.

The game also admits that Uncharted is a bit of a rip-off of Indiana Jones. There are so many references I could point out. From talk of people being abducted by inter-dimensional beings to ‘bad dates’ while looking at some grave stones. I don’t know why I enjoyed this so much, but I really did. By the way, when the character in question mentioned the inter-dimensional beings, they also remarked that they thought this was a stupid idea. I liked that one particularly.

As always with Naughty Dog, the graphics are incredible when you consider the hardware the game is running on and will leave anyone in awe of how amazing and wonderful the world is. Uncharted 4 brings it to another level of incredible graphics. The world looks so real, the people resemble real humans to a startling level of accuracy. If only my PS4 would keep a little quiet, instead of imitating an industrial hair dryer, trying to keep cool while rendering these complex and beautiful images, but that’s a criticism of PS4 rather than this game.

It’s actually a little bit surreal. I was used to the thoroughly PS3 looking people in the prior games but in this new game, all the people look the same but so much more clear. It’s like when a character in a video game is based on a real person and the first time you see them is after playing the game they were in. They look so much the same but also different and it’s a little bit unsettling.

Some change must have happened in Naughtydog before The Last Of Us; they’re doing much more story driven games. I like it; they are very good at it. The best – no one better. Finishing Uncharted 4 made me excited for whatever games Naughtydog plan to do next. The Last of Us 2 cannot come quicker – if it’s anything like the first one and Uncharted 4, it’ll be a very compelling reason to get a PS4.

2016: A Review

I seriously considered not doing a post about 2016 – not because of the whole ‘what a terrible year’ trend that is cancerously infecting the internet and television since the end of John Olivers television program, where I believe it started – but because I’m sick of it. Was 2016 the best year ever? Not particularly; many bad things happened. Was it a year that couldn’t possibly get worse? No. Not at all. We’re all still here, and to be brutally honest, I had quite a nice year where some quite good things happened to me and also involved me in many strange and inexplicable ways. I am sick of people talking about 2016 being the apocalypse and the end of civilised society; life goes on and things are only as bad as you let them be (within reason – I mean if you have terminal cancer, I can’t imagine there’s much you can do to make things better than someone who is in perfect health). I’m also not a massive fan of my round up of 2015; it lacks a real purpose and it doesn’t have much to say, but that was a year ago, let’s see how writing a post every month for a year has improved my writing ability.

I’m certainly still leaving it to the last minute; the idea was one post per month and not necessarily a post on the final day of each month, so the fact that November’s was on the 29th doesn’t mean it was too early, it just meant I was at least slightly organised in November. I have managed to do a post every month for the year of 2016, so doesn’t that make the year just a little bit better for everyone in the entire universe? I’m writing this post starting from about 18:15 on the 31st of December 2016, so perhaps next year I could get a little more organised and write these in advance. I’ll also try to write more often a just do a post whenever I feel I have something to say but continue to make sure I write at least once a month; it’s a lot easier to do this when I have something to talk about, but much harder when I had something to discuss but I left it too long and lost interest – I think it’s easy to tell which posts I’m referencing if you just read them. Go on, read all of them – some of them are actually okay to read, and others you can just think about something else while rolling your eyes across the text, pretending to yourself that you are actually paying attention to what you are looking at.

Overall, 2016 ain’t been that bad for me; I did some nice things – I went to Vietnam and also Norfolk! I watched some excellent television programmes and read at least one book. I made some friends, caught up with others that I hadn’t seen  in a while, I’m supposed to mention Jeff at some point so here you go, I moved into a house for University with some pretty cool people and I’d say that honestly, I’m feeling happier than I did a year ago. So my personal life is going pretty well thanks. How are you? Uh-huh, yeah, yeah, really? Oka- yea- I don’t actually care that much, sorry, I was only being polite and anyway I can’t actually hear you.

In 2017 I want many things to happen, and since I’m talking to The Internet as a whole, and The Internet as a whole is definitely going to see this, I want to make my wishes for 2017 known to all. Reddit, Youtube and Twitter, please, please, please stop using the words ‘cringy’ and ‘cancerous’ to describe absolutely everything and anything you don’t like. I think this is a trend started by the YouTube channel H3H3 and the sheeple have followed. I’m not sure what it is about the word ‘cringy’ that irks me so, but every time I see it or hear it I LITERALLY CRINGE. I actually can’t think of a better description – I just hate it, I hate how overused it is – it tingles my teeth in a deeply unpleasant way.

I hope I don’t have to explain why the word ‘cancerous’ is a bit of an over-the-top, inappropriate word for something so small as an annoying meme or YouTube channel. ‘Cancerous’ suggests an entity which acts as an active detriment to the healthy existence of another entity – like, well… a tumour. Going a bit far, don’t you think? A little insensitive, too. You know, for people who are actively suffering from cancer.

All year I’ve been hearing these words to describe absolutely everything that is disliked on the internet. Leafy? Oh, he’s so cancerous. That Game of War advert? What cancer! What cringe! PrankInvasion? God, what cringy cancer! Please find another word. An appropriate word, a better word. Like ‘bloody annoying’, or ‘not at all very good, not at all, indeed’.

Also, could we make Bernie or someone the president and can we not Brexit, pls? K, thanks, bye.

P.S.

I still need to work on my endings.

The First Half of Uncharted: Schrödinger’s Franchise

Last month, I posted a day later than I should have. I know, unbelievable. So, to balance out this terrible crime, I’m posting this one a day earlier than I normally would. Satisfied, Ambrose?


Last Christmas, I received the Uncharted Collection as a gift. Just what I wanted, especially as I had asked for it specifically. I wanted it because of a simple reason: PlayStation fans won’t shut up about it and considering I bought a PS4 to play exclusives, I thought I might as well give it a go. The series was developed by Naughty Dog, who, of course, developed Crash Bandicoot, Jack and Dexter and The Last of Us. I really liked The Last of Us, and I grew up playing the Crash Bandicoot games. I think Uncharted is worth my time. However, I’ve only so far been able to play the first two, so I’ve still got two to go (I also bought the fourth one when I got the collection), but I feel now is the time to share my thoughts. If my opinion is drastically changed after I play the second half, I’ll update you.

Uncharted is about a man called Nathan Drake, who is supposedly a direct ancestor of Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer. Determined to follow in the great man’s footsteps, Nathan is basically Indiana Jones/ Lara Croft and he explores tombs, solves puzzles and fights the bad guys to stop some unholy evil from destroying the whole entire world etc. etc. etc. Fairly standard stuff if you ask me. Although I sound sceptical, I will admit that the writing in Uncharted is probably the best thing about the games; the characters are well developed, the story is, well, interesting enough to keep me playing, and as you’ll find out, that’s pretty impressive. There have been several times when characters have genuinely made my laugh and I can say that I do really care about most of the characters. The story is never anything groundbreaking or actively gripping and perhaps a little too complicated for me to bother paying that much attention to the finer points, but hey, I didn’t get bored and stop.

The visuals of the Uncharted games are pretty impressive. Even more so when you remember that these games were developed for the PS3. Naughty Dog somehow managed to work out a way of working unholy dark magic with the PS3’s complicated cell processor to make it produce graphics that, at the time, look absolutely face-meltingly, stunningly fabulous. I know I’m playing it on the PS4, and a version which has been optimised for the PS4 with improved graphics, but still, wow. Several times, especially in Uncharted 2, I had to stop just to have a look around and take in what I was seeing. Naughty Dog are wizards, and they know how to make this bit of hardware do magical things. Massive environments, colourful scenes and the small details which just bring the whole thing together.

The environments are the kind that you just want to spend all your time climbing about and exploring. It’s clear a lot of ideas have been taken from Tomb Raider here, and to be fair, the new Tomb Raiders have clearly taken some ideas back from Uncharted. I have had the most enjoyable time in Uncharted just climbing up the walls and solving the many, actually often quite challenging, puzzles. It’s not that it’s relaxing – it’s not like therapy or a spa day or anything – it’s interesting enough that if climbing and puzzle solving were over half the game, I’d be quite satisfied with it as a game.

I’ve played the first two hours or so of Uncharted 3 (I’ll get back to it when I don’t have so much coursework to do), and I got to a point where Nathan climbed out of a well and encountered about 20 bad guys. At that point, I sighed, heavily. I remarked to the world that I had been enjoying myself, and now I had to deal with this. Combat in the Uncharted games is many things: difficult, repetitive, irritating, but most of all, it’s tedious. When I started playing the games I didn’t mind the endless combat, but when I realised that it never changes, I started to loathe it.

Combat is the same format every time, and it never seems to end. Enter an area, get behind cover, shoot ten or twenty bad guys, despair as a second wave arrives, run out of ammo much quicker than should, scramble around getting more, get shot by three RPGs at once, die, start again. Do this a couple more times and you’ll eventually get through (assuming there isn’t a third and then a forth wave), but then feel your soul die as you enter a new area, get behind cover… It’s all just tedious, and there is hardly ever a break. In my Tomb Raider review, I said that one of the things about the game is that it never stops. To quote myself exactly:

The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended.

You’d think, then, that I’d like this endless combat in Uncharted, but the difference here is that Tomb Raider indeed didn’t stop, but it didn’t repeat itself too much – sometimes you’d be running, sometimes you’d be fighting, sometimes you’d be almost falling off a cliff. It’s tense, it’s full of action and – vitally – it never gets boring. Uncharted’s action gets boring and fatiguing, but Tomb Raider’s doesn’t. It’s called variety, Naughty Dog, and it’s very important to create enjoyable gameplay. The game isn’t even satisfying to complete, I felt glad, but only that it was finally over and I wouldn’t have to ever do it again. I felt like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I doubt he would describe his feeling as being ‘satisfied’ at his quest being over, but I’m sure he felt happy that it was all over. But at least Sauron didn’t make a sequel to the One Ring, so Frodo got off easy there.

It’s a real shame because the combat almost tips the balance against all the good things about this game and plunges it into a set of games I don’t want to play. If I’m brutally honest, if I didn’t already own the entire franchise, I’d probably not bother playing past the first game. Hell, I’d have probably not have bothered finishing the first one. It took months to do that because I got stuck on a particularly irritating combat section and got so angry that I decided I needed a break for a few months.

I’ll play the rest of the franchise because I own them and not because I would have bought each respective one after completing them. I just keep comparing them to the glory that is the Tomb Raider series. I’m very interested in the fourth installment, as it is post-Last Of Us, and I want to know how that game changed the series, probably not much considering it’s likely that they were working on both games at the same time, but I can dream!

Enderal – Just Fantastic

EDIT (28/09/16) – You may want to disregard my comments regarding the loading times, as it turns out it was an issue with my motherboard. I got suspicious when every one of my games started to have an eternity for a loading time. Blame me; I should have investigated further rather than blindly assume. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.


So, with the Elder Scrolls VI not coming to us until the year one million and a half, I suppose we’ll all have to compromise. And compromise we shall, with the new, highly anticipated mod from Sure AI, Enderal. Sure AI was behind such mods as Cube Experimental – for Fallout 3, Nehrim – for Oblivion, and now Enderal – for Skyrim. But what is Enderal? Enderal is a “total conversion mod for Skyrim” which literally changes everything about the game – the world, the story, the quests, the character system, levelling, skills, graphics, the UI – in short, it’s basically a whole new game using Skyrim’s engine. It’s incredible what this small team of twelve people, with no budget, have managed to achieve – they’ve created a game with “at least 30 hours of gameplay”, a massive, beautiful world to explore, and an epic story line. But is it actually good, and does my title allow for any kind of suspense? Let’s find out.

20160828004042_1
The Map of Enderal.

Enderal  is fantastic – it’s even beyond fantastic – it’s bloody impressive and I think I love it. I’m saying this although I haven’t had too much of a chance to actually play that much of it, but the amount I have played has really impressed me. Starting with the world, it’s actually quite large and very pretty – even without ENB enabled (you can’t use ENB with Enderal) – and a lot of fun to explore. I can see myself getting lost in the world in the same way I often get lost in Skyrim’s, the world is full of rolling hills and expansive countryside which gives you a real sense of being in the open world and being able to explore anywhere you like. To put it neatly, the world is pretty great, and on par with the beauty of Skyrim’s.

And then there are the cities. There is only one city, Ark, which sits roughly in the centre of Enderal, but I can tell you, Sure AI have addressed the many voices crying out for better cities in Skyrim. Many people, including me, were unsatisfied with the cities in Skyrim; they’re all very small and aren’t very complicated. Ark, on the other hand, is pretty damn large and pretty damn complicated – it involves five quarters (yes, I know, I was confused as well), a whole “under city” below ground and a large palace type place, where clever people live.

20160829180644_1
Pretty massive if you ask me.

It’s worth pointing out the Ark is, in fact, the only city in Enderal, but I don’t think I need another one – I can accept that with the smallish total size of Enderal that they’d only have one city. There are towns, however, about 4 or 5 of them, all of them quite big and are laid out in ways which feel unique to each place.

I will just quickly jump to Bethesda’s defence before you started thinking that Bethesda should have done the same thing with their many resources and infinite time, by saying this: the reason the cities aren’t unimaginably huge in Skyrim is because, A, Skyrim is not the kind of place to have humongous cities and vast towns; they’re a simple people up there and aren’t into that sort of thing, and B, the world designers were probably trying to keep the world feeling concise and neat, because I will admit that the vast size of Ark and the towns can feel a bit messy, and a little bit empty. The engine is not capable of having a crazy amount of NPCs hanging about and doing their thing – it was never built for that. It’s weird, then, that Ark is so large yet there simply aren’t very many people about – it’s quite like Aberystwyth in that way. I’m not the only one to think this.

Returning to things about the world I do like, I like seeing adventures hanging about the place. In Skyrim, it seemed that you were the single adventurer in the whole world and you never saw anyone else doing anything of the sort. In Enderal, I saw several people kitted out in gear for adventuring about the place, which is a nice touch. And speaking of characters, there are some. People seem much more alive and real than in Skyrim; people speak more casually and say things that, you know, a real person might say to another real person – the writing and voice acting is superb.

 

20160829172926_1
The Hero menu, where you can see your character and stuff.

 

It’s pretty clear to me that Sure AI share the opinion of many about what some refer to as “the dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls”, because they’ve made this game a lot more Morrowind-ey, by removing the ‘learn by doing’ system of Skyrim (which I think is actually very innovative and a great way to do character progression but whatever I suppose), and replacing it with a more traditional, “here are some skill points where ‘d ya wanna put ’em?” system, they’ve also completely removed the fast traveling system (which, again, fast traveling I think makes the game a lot more accessible and if you don’t want to use fast travel then just don’t but whatever), and replaced that with a more traditional, “just walk for hours on end” type system. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are these things called “teleport scrolls” which you can use to get to places, but there is a limited supply and you have to use the right one to get to the place you need to go. Also, in Ark, you can interact with sign posts to move around the city a bit quicker than by walking. I wish you could, like in the Witcher 3, use sign posts to fast travel to any other sign post in the game; I don’t feel like Ark is so big that I need to fast travel around it, but I suppose that’s to cut down on the number of loading screens you’ll have to endure.

 

20160829184916_1
You’ll see this a lot, for a very long time, and you’ll go mad looking at it.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my God! What is going on with the loading in this game? I have had serious problems with actually getting this game to load at all past the main menu. Just this morning I had problems getting the main menu to load at all – I eventually gave up. I’ve done some research to suggest that this is a common issue for many people, some saying that for them loading times are on average between 5-10 minutes, and that’s for every loading screen – not just the first one. I count that as unplayable. I can’t wait that long for the game to load, I simply can’t – show me anyone who can. I’ve more than a couple of times gotten out of my chair and leant over my window sill to contemplate life while the game loads the next area – I’ve come to some interesting conclusions in that time, but perhaps I’ll discuss this another time. You know how bad the loading time is? It’s worse than GTA V. Not even joking.

 

20160828004012_1
This game is too cool for horses, apparently.

I should reiterate if I have not mentioned already, that I haven’t played a huge amount of this game, so how I should feel entitled to review it is anyone’s guess, but I’ll discuss the parts I have played. The game starts off with some very intense/creepy/disturbing gameplay, and then you end up on a ship with a friend. Through the dialogue, you discover that you and he are stowaways aboard this vessel. Anyway, plot, plot, plot, and you have a creepy vision and end up on a beach.

Before we continue I would just like to mention a few things. Firstly, damn these guys are good at the cinematic stuff, and second, I found the character creation to be a bit lacklustre; at the start, you are introduced to your father, who is most definitely a human man, which means you are forced into being half human. You can’t even be fully human – you have to be half human and half something else. The variety of something else includes four options: something that looks like an orc and an elf, something that looks like and elf and an orc, something a bit orkcey/elfey and something this is, I suppose, kind of a cross between an elf and perhaps some sort of orc. They each look slightly different from each other and they have different stats tied to them, but in terms of looks, you’re stuck with one. Although it should be said that the inclusion of ApachiiSkyHair was very much appreciated.

 

20160829174844_1.jpg
My character, Amber Stottlesworth.

 

What then follows carries the title we all fear, the tutorial, and it’s a long one. It is actually quite an interesting tutorial that sets up the story, the information about nearly all the gameplay and sets you up with the basic equipment you need to do your thing, before dumping you in the world. It involves crawling through a cave, killing some things and then wandering in the wilderness for quite a while, which is a good way of letting you appreciate the beauty of the world, but it is quite a lot of wandering at the start, a time when a game needs to hook the player and keep them going until they stop resisting and follow willingly.

Speaking of quite a lot of wandering, I want to discuss this issue of fast travelling. It’s not in Enderal, so you need to do a lot of walking to places, and probably getting ambushed on the way. In the world of this game, there is a thing called the “Red Fever” which basically means everyone in the wilderness hates you and wants to kill you. I’m not a fan of this, It’s not a good way of encouraging exploration when you’re worried that if you step your foot out the front door, a crazy loon will start gnawing it off. Makes a man want to just fast travel everywhere. I had a nasty surprise when I discovered that fast travelling wasn’t in the game. I had just run for miles as every creature and person in the world was trying to hack me to bits for whatever reason, so I could talk to a nice old man about something I wasn’t paying attention to because it wasn’t super interesting. After the conversation finished it told me I had to go back to the person I’d been sent by, which meant going all the way back the way I came. Needless to say, discovering that fast travel isn’t a thing upset me slightly, but luckily I know the following three commands to type into the console: “tcai”, “tcl”, “tgm”. With my new abilities of an infinite sprint, flying and being ignored by people who had wanted to kill me a minute before hand, I flew through the terrain to my destination. Cheating, I know, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to fight my way all the way back.

 

20160829174610_1.jpg
What I value is KNAWLEDGE!

 

Getting back to the point, while playing I noticed something I liked: Sure AI clearly have played Skyrim quite a lot because they’ve added some pretty cool features. For instance, if you have a follower who walks too far away from you or gets lost somehow (which happens all the time in Skyrim), the games puts a marker above their head. It’s simple, but it made finding my follower a lot easier than it would have been without it.

Another little nice feature was the way they’ve done dialogues. Some ideas have been borrowed from the Witcher, including how the dialogue options point out which options will move the conversation on, and which will just give you more information. It makes sure you don’t say something that you can’t unsay which might cause issues later. The other thing is the knowledge system. The knowledge system is one which tells you that this option will give you information  about the world. The interesting thing about is that it’s set up in a ‘collect them all’ type of system. This is good because I’d have never asked about these things otherwise, and I actually learned quite a lot about the world of Enderal this way. Now I’m looking for them and actively wanting to know these juicy, interesting facts.

 

20160829175917_1.jpg
Looks… familiar…

 

The whole theme of this game is a bit weird and conflicting; it looks like Skyrim, but it’s all a bit darker and more brutal. While playing Skyrim I never, for instance, come across a corpse hanging from a tree or had characters effin’ and jeffin’ all over the place. I quite like it, but I also don’t. It’s like a halfway point between the themes of the Witcher and Skyrim – I find that bizarre, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with many hours of playing.

After all that you might be wondering why it is that I said that I loved this game/mod. Well, it’s more Skyrim, innit. Between thirty and  a hundred hours of it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it. It gives me something to do with myself until Skyrim Special Edition comes to us in October. To sum up, play this mod if you have Skyrim; you’ll probably enjoy it. If the loading screens don’t bore you to death, that is.

 

 

Tomb Raider (2013) Is a Really Good Game

I was going to write this post a few weeks ago, but I got ill for a bit. Then I forgot about it. It’s a bit of a shame because I had replayed the game only a few days before so it was all really fresh in my mind. Now it is only a slightly vague memory. Oh well. On with the show!


Okay, unpopular opinion time: I really, enormously and with a full heart, love the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider – and when I type ‘love’ I am not exaggerating. I think it is one of the best games I have ever played. Now – before you lube up your maces and WD-40 you rusty pitchforks ready to track me down using Google Maps – you should know two things; my blog is hosted in America which is not where I live and don’t judge me until you have read this review.

What's she looking at?
What’s she looking at?

Okay, firstly let’s talk about the obvious thing that everyone complains about a lot. I wanna start this review by explaining the bad things about this game and telling you why you should get over them and play this game. Actual puzzles. Anyone who has played one of the original Tomb Raider games will know that they had no shortage of puzzles in them. Mostly athletic type things which involve jumping around, landing on buttons, weighing things down and stuff like that. They were often not super complicated, just hard to perform. It’s the kind of thing you have to have the patience of a monk to handle. I never didn’t like them, I just didn’t often have time for them and after a while would resort to the internet to get things moving again. In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, there is a distinct lack of these puzzles in the main campaign. I think off the top of my head there are about two or three.

There are other puzzles, but they are all optional ones which you have to seek out and solve to get something (It was never particularly clear on what I was getting out of solving them other than a sense of satisfaction). The puzzles in the main campaign are not too difficult to work out, and they don’t take too long either. They are easy once you know what you are doing. The optional puzzles are different. Most of them are kinda challenging to work out what to do, and I would have completely given up on a couple of them if it weren’t for the obviously-Arkham-inspired survivor vision (or whatever it’s called) which, at the tap of a button, marks your objective and makes anything you can interact with glow a bright yellow. Some would argue that this makes it to easy. That’s a fair opinion, and I have a solution for you: don’t use it unless you are completely and hopelessly stuck, and let the stupid people use the easy option.

The other problem with the puzzles is – as all the good ones are optional – it’s often a puzzle to find them. When you are kinda near an entrance to a puzzle room the game will notify you with a sound effect and a popup. It doesn’t actually tell you where it is, and survivor vision doesn’t highlight it for you (unless it does and I never tried that). Worse, some puzzles you can’t enter until you get an upgrade. This means you have to remember where it was (it doesn’t mark it on the map (unless it does and I never tried that)) and come back for it later. This puzzle thing isn’t the end of the world and certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me – it just would be nice if in the next game more of the puzzles are in the campaign or just easy to find.

Well - you screwed this one up, Lara
Well – you screwed this one up, Lara

So – if the puzzles are lacking in a Tomb Raider game, what’s left? Well, I’ll tell you: lots of mind-bending and exciting action. The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended. There are countless action sequences which have Lara jumping and flipping, hiding behind cover and being a super action hero as you run through an area shooting people in the face with a shotgun and sniping people with a compound bow as the entire world around you blows up and falls apart leaving you to jump wildly – desperately attempting to just cling on to anything you can to survive.

There is one – what only can be described as a ‘holy hell’ moment – where you’ve been fighting on a big old boat suspended in some trees, and when the flight is over, the ropes holding the boat up on one side are broken, and the whole boat drops sideways, leaving you to hang off tiny ledges in the ground – while a maniac is shooting at you with a mini-gun. It gets a bit intense at some points.

Yep - that's Lara swimming in a river of blood.
Yep – that’s Lara swimming in a river of blood.

One thing Crystal Dynamics really vamped-up from the original games is the sheer amount of gore. The first few Tomb Raider games were known for their gruesome death cut scenes, which some considered to be a bit much. This was a practice which eventually died out in the Tomb Raider series. Well, Crystal Dynamics wanted it back, and it really is back. There are many times in the game where if you make a small slip up, a jagged, rusty pipe will end up being lodged through the base of Lara’s head and come out the top, though the middle of her brain – and other things like that.

I don’t think it will be easy for me to remember the first time Lara shoots someone in the game; it’s pretty intense. Lara tries to escape from be captured by a load of cultist weirdos and hides inside a small gap between some huts. This part is done very craftily; you expect it to be the standard Lord of the Rings style moment where the pursuer almost finds her but is distracted at the last second. I was stunned when he grabbed her and pulled her out. In an intense button mashing session (which happens quite a lot in the game) you grab his gun and struggle to aim at his head where just at the right moment – you pull right trigger and shoot him right in the face which… almost kills him. Lara is a little upset at this – as you would be – staring into the eyes of the almost-dead shivering bloody man on the ground, who had friends and a family, and who was only trying to survive. He dies after a few seconds letting Lara pull herself together and get out of there. Yeah – it gets intense. That bit left me breathless the first time I played it. Even when I replayed it I felt a little shocked; I’d forgotten how brutal it all was.

Of course, as was pointed out by many reviewers at release, this representation of the horror and brutality that is murder doesn’t last long. Withing about thirty seconds of this you have to shoot four or five people in a cover shooting battle. It’s a little jarring, to say the least, and it leaves you not sure how to feel about all of this. You quite easily forget all of that when you get more into the game and the combat system gets quite fun.

They... got in the way...
They… got in the way…

Okay, time for another unpopular opinion: the combat system in this game isn’t bad at all. I grant you it takes some getting used to and it’s not so fun when you aren’t very good at it, but when you are good at it and you unlock some of the combat upgrades, it gets deliciously exhilarating.

The combat first starts out as cover-shooting, which I normally find quite boring and I don’t really want to spend my time doing it. You start off with the handgun you stole from that guy you killed, but during the story, you find some other weapons. They’re all old, a bit damaged and kinda crappy. But that’s okay! Over the course of the game, you pick up salvage from boxes and crates. Sometimes it’s a puzzle to get it but it’s quite satisfying when you do. Using this salvage you can upgrade the weapons. They’re all themed upgrades and they’re quite realistic to the situation. For instance, you can’t attach a scope to the assault rifle; where would she have the parts to do that? But she can tape two magazines together to allow for faster reloading, she can bind the stock to reduce recoil, she can tape a flint to her torch to light it wherever she wants. All of these upgrades are realistic to the situation, and it’s things like this that I like.

The combat is brutal. It starts out as cover shooting, but evolves to more melee elements, in the most traditional sense of melee, meaning a confused fight or scuffle. Early in the game you acquire an Ice Pick for opening doors and as a general multi-tool – it’s surprisingly versatile. After a bit of upgrading, Lara learns how to throw dirt into the enemy’s eyes and drive the ice pick into their skull. Yup. You can unlock finishers which have Lara push them to the ground and pepper them with the assault rifle. Yup – it’s harsh. Fire arrows will allow you to set your prey on fire and a grenade launcher attachment to the rifle lets you generally blow stuff up. I like it. Some people don’t like how the brutality of Lara’s actions juxtapose the timidness of her character at the start of the game. I like it; it’s character development. She’ becoming the Lara Croft of legends (and video games) past. This is addressed in the dialogue at the very end. The bad guy (?) says this to Lara:

“I was only trying to save people’s lives. How many have you killed to do the same?”

(That’s not an exact quote; I don’t have super-memory) She starts out hating her experience, but at the end of the game it’ revealed that she grew to enjoy it – like Lara Croft is like in other games. The game ends with this cheesy line:

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you home soon.”

“I’m not going home.”

And then the music swells and the credits roll. She could just go home, but it’s probably better she doesn’t; she may well get bored and kill a bunch of the public for taking too long in a queue or something.

Is this a DV cam, in 2013?
Is this a DV cam, in 2013?

The story is… okay. It’s quite a puzzle because the whole big thing about this game was how Rhianna Pratchett came along and was all huffy and puffy about how games never have good stories because developers don’t care enough and are evil compiling machines who just want to kill people in a digital fantasy land. Pratchett wrote the story and was all proud of it, I remember her talking about it on the radio. Personally, I think the story ain’t bad. The main complaint I’ve seen about it is it being a little difficult to follow at times. I won’t spoil it, but play the game yourself and see if you understand it.

The main problem I have with the story is not the complexity of the plot, but of the characters. You see, there ain’t much. Every character is pretty two-dimensional. Lara’s companions are a multi-race 80’s power supergroup involving an Asian woman, a black woman, a Scottish stereotype, a nerd, a Hawaiian,  a clearly-going-to-sell-us-out-at-the-first-opportunity cowardly intellectual man and a trustworthy, down-to-earth northerner. They all behave the way you expect they would. This wouldn’t be so noticeable if it weren’t that Lara’s character is so three-dimensional. Do I care about these characters? Yes, I do. Well, most of them anyway; there’s a couple who you know are going to die from the start, so forget about attaching to them.

The antagonist is alright, though. He’s this sort of religious leader type who knows what’s up on the island because he’s been there so long. He’s become hardened in his old age and will do anything it takes to get off the island. By the end of the game I pretty much was sympathizing with him; by that point Lara’s body count is pretty much in the hundreds and he’s just trying to get off the island. Granted – the process involves human sacrifice, but he’s been there for about twenty years – he’s gonna do all it takes.

No Lara - it's not a good idea.
No Lara – it’s not a good idea.

The picture above was taken at one of my favorite points in the game. It’s quite early on where Lara is trying to radio for help. The only way to get the radio tower working is by climbing to the control panel, which is helpfully located at the top of the tower. I’d like to point out that there is no reason for any sort of control panel to be at the top of the tower, but this one is. When you get to the top, it just feels great. I don’t really know why – but it does. And then you get to zipline all the way back down it’s a bunch of fun. Climbing in this game is awesome. I can’t tell you why, but I just love the way Lara traverses around the place. It feels like an action film and I love it.

Two guns!
Two guns!

So then, to conclude, this game is great. If for any reason you have not played it, I must inform you that you are missing out, and we should all be excited for the new game coming out early next year (I’m not counting the xbone release in November because I don’t have an xbone). The new game is set to have many more puzzles in the main story line and some actual tomb raiding! Seriously, play this game. Stop reading this, stop doing anything else until you have played this game to completion.


Wow, you read all of that? Thank you very much for giving me your time. You deserve a treat. How about a look at my Tomb Raider screenshots folder (warning: very vague and minor spoilers!):

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

The Chinese Room is not new to this style of game. You may remember a few years ago when they produced Dear Esther. A game, I kid you not, I played for eleven minutes before getting bored and stopping. It wasn’t very interesting and I haven’t used to the style of game that it was. At the time, I was prone to immediately rejecting games which I wasn’t used to, and this was something completely new to me.

My opinion about this style of game changed radically when I played Fullbright’s Gone Home. If you have not played this masterpiece, stop reading this and play it now. It really is fantastic and it managed to completely change my opinion about this kind of games.

It was because of Gone Home that when I found out about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (ridiculously long title – I’ll just refer to it using the acronym EGTTR from here on out), I decided I wanted to give it a go. I wasn’t really aware that the game was by The Chinese Room when I started it, but when I found out I was willing to give them a second chance. I was ready to experience a story involving a bunch of Welsh(?) people who have all mysteriously disappeared.

What a lovely apocalypse.
What a lovely apocalypse.

The game starts off with you waking up in the middle of a road by a gate. From there you just start walking down a road. Along the way, the game teaches you the controls. Make sure you learn them; after showing them to you once, the UI clears itself from the screen and you just have to remember what buttons to press. Luckily, there’s not much to remember and you’ll probably get the hang of it quickly. It wasn’t entirely obvious to me that the game would stop prompting me so suddenly. In the game, there are some radios that are constantly emitting the sound of a woman reading out a random sequence of numbers. The first one you come across prompts you to press the X button to activate a BioShock style log entry recording. When I found the second one, I didn’t know to press X because it didn’t prompt me to do so, and I assumed that I couldn’t. It was only after about an hour did I work this out, which means I’ve missed a whole bunch of story. I may have missed some important things which would have helped me understand what was going on.

This wasn’t too bad a problem. The radios are simply an extra thing you can listen to which adds to the story. The main, important parts of the story are told by these strange, floating blobs of light which guide you around this village. At points they stop, and using some controller tilting, you activate some narrative. When this happens the world goes dark as if it were nighttime, and the light takes human form to represent a number of people and various objects they interact within the narrative. These narratives are meant to tell you about various people who live in the village and about what happened to them on one mysterious night, where everyone disappeared mysteriously.

The game is beautiful. It uses the CryEngine which is known for being good at making beautiful looking games with many lights and particle effects. What the most beautiful aspect of this game is not the visuals, but the enchanting soundtrack. It is relaxing and peaceful. It’s the kind of music which you can’t help but feel some kind of emotion for. It is great at relaxing you so you can simply sit back and enjoy the game. Frankly, it would be pretty boring without it.

On my list of things which really put me off games is slow walking speed and a lack of a sprint button. This game ticks both boxes in that criteria. You walk incredibly slowly in this game, it’s like your legs can’t move more than half a footsteps. You’re supposed to be following the strange balls of light but it’s quite irritating when they move so much faster than you. At times, I wanted to explore some of the houses and perhaps have a look at the vast open fields. Sometimes I got lost and needed to turn back. It’s quite annoying when you have to walk a long distance in a game very slowly. Perhaps the sprint button was not put in because it would ruin the mood of the game if people were just running around everywhere and rushing the game. I would hasten to disagree. Why? It took me three hours to complete the game and I’d wager that about half of that was walking and being lost. Let’s face it, walking around and getting lost does not make enjoyable gameplay. I wanted to get on with the story, not wander slowly through a village wondering where I’m going. I could do that in real life.

The big problem with being lost in EGTTR is that sometimes you don’t realize it. I had, on several occasions, lost my ball of light as I was walking, so I followed the path, trusting that the world design would guide me to where I was meant to go. You know, like a good game would. This did lead me somewhere else, but not where I was meant to be. The game is separated into following around different people (or blobs of light). You follow one person until you find out how they died, then move on to someone else. I had, twice, gotten myself so lost that I accidentally found the starting location of another story line which I can only assume I was supposed to find after I had completed my current story line. So without knowing it I had started another part of the game without completing the part I was on. I didn’t know this until much later in the game, so I had to go back and find the previous ball of light to complete their story line. I just went with it followed their story until I got lost again. This was very annoying. Not only because it meant walking back and having to find where the ball of light had gotten to, but it also completely muddled up the story in my mind. Everything I experienced was out of the order the game was supposed to happen in. The effect being that I was completely lost and couldn’t tell you what happen in the game at all. I still can’t.

After I had completed all the story lines (with great effort and determination on my part) I was catapulted back to the place I started but on the other side of the fence this time. I had one road to follow and had to walk into a big room where the final, revealing moment would happen. The moment where all of would suddenly make sense and I would finally understand what the game was trying to tell me. Alas, no. The conclusion made sense, I understood it, and I was completely underwhelmed. None of the previous three hours of gameplay mattered to the conclusion whatsoever. The ending was simply not very interesting and I felt cheated. My time had been wasted, and so had my £15.

This is what people look like.
This is what people look like.

So, in conclusion, I can’t recommend this game to you. You can get it for £15 on the PlayStation Store and I thoroughly recommend you spend your money on something more worthwhile. Like a really good toothbrush.