Monday, May 26, 2014

Uncharted 2 Is So Much Better Than UC1

The first Uncharted is one of the worst games of the previous console generation that I've ever played. I absolutely hated it. If I had to decide whether or not to play the sequel based solely on my experiences with the first game, I never would have given it a chance -- but since I'm a glutton for punishment and everyone insisted that the second game was better than the first, I figured I'd give it a shot and see if the general public would be wrong about the same series twice in a row.

As it turns out, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a competently-designed game. Basically everything that was wrong about the first game (which was basically everything) has been fixed and improved in the sequel; the story has more momentum behind it, the puzzles actually require some thought to solve, the platforming requires careful timing and precision, the combat feels much more fluid, there's much more variety, and the different gameplay elements are balanced much more appropriately. This is what I expected (and did not get) from Drake's Fortune.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Sucks

When it comes to PS3 exclusives, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune may be the most overrated, most over-hyped game in existence. This game was so immensely popular and successful back in 2007 that it instantly became a flagship series for Sony and a prime selling point for the PS3. This was the game that you absolutely had to buy if you owned a PS3, and it was reason enough to consider getting a PS3 over an Xbox 360 just to be able to play this game. I have no idea what people saw in it, because it's absolute rubbish. 

The thing that annoyed me the most is that I was expecting a fun, lighthearted action-adventure / puzzle-platformer game in the style of the Indiana Jones movies and the early Tomb Raider games -- that's exactly how the game was marketed, and those are the exact comparisons everyone made when describing the game in reviews and forum posts. What I got, however, was a straight-up action shooter that only borrows the general theme from Indy and Lara's adventures. That would be fine, of course, if the game were actually any good as a shooter, but it simply isn't.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tomb Raider 2013: "It's Not Terrible"

How do you describe a game that lies somewhere between "mediocre" and "decent"? If you can think of an appropriate adjective, please let me know, because that's the kind of word I'm looking for to describe the recent Tomb Raider reboot. Nothing about Tomb Raider 2013 is overtly terrible -- the gameplay, story, and pacing were all good enough to keep me going for long stretches of time -- but things that should have been great turned out to be kind of bland or just never lived up to their full potential. As a result, for every time I felt really impressed with the game, I also found myself feeling like I wasn't having as much fun as I should have been.

I was cynically expecting the new Tomb Raider to be as shallow and overrated as most "AAA" games are these days, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was actually enjoying the experience. Having never played any of the previous Tomb Raider games, the reboot felt to me like a cross between Resident Evil 4 and The Last of Us, and it was, at times, as deeply satisfying as either of those games. With the added benefit of the series' traditional puzzle-solving and platforming, Tomb Raider 2013 seemed like the best of three worlds and made me eager to like it. As I played, however, I started to realize how subtly disappointing the game really is. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bulletstorm: Pure, Simple Fun

Once upon a time, a Polish developer by the name of People Can Fly created a game called Painkiller. During a time when first-person shooters were shifting more towards gritty realism, People Can Fly decided to make a shooter that harkened back to the good old days of fast-paced, cathartic action shooters, wherein the only goal was to kill everything in sight. Featuring a wealth of exotic locales, varied enemy types, and unique multi-function weaponry, Painkiller was a breath of fresh air in a genre that had seen most of its creativity stripped out in favor of copying the growing trend of military shooters, and it was awesome.

In 2011, People Can Fly came to the rescue once again with Bulletstorm, this time working in conjunction with Epic Games. Like Painkiller, Bulletstorm has no pretense about being anything more serious than a fun, chaotic romp. Eschewing the popular modern cover system, Bulletstorm is all about getting you directly into the heat of combat. In this game, your goal is not only to survive and make it to the end of each level; it's to do it in the most stylish way possible. In this game, you're rewarded with skill points for finding creative ways to kill your enemies using the game's elaborate "skillshot" system.

The skillshot system alone is enough to set Bulletstorm apart from the crowd, but it has a few other tricks up its sleeve that lend it a unique personality. The environments are simply outstanding, the weapons have cool, original functions, the levels feature their own specific gameplay mechanisms, and the humor is, well, also rather unique. I'm not sure that Bulletstorm has enough lasting impact or sheer, rounded quality to survive the test of time -- it has a few significant flaws that bother me -- but it's pure, simple fun, and definitely worth playing if you're tired of mainstream shooters and want to try something a bit different.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dark Souls 2 Sucks: So Much Disappoint

I don't like to consider myself a "hardcore" Souls fan, even though I've played each game in the series (in order, multiple times each, starting with Demon's Souls) and consider them among the most satisfying, entertaining games I've ever played. Demon's Souls was a real gem of a game, and its cult status made it easy to love and praise, but when Dark Souls came along and everybody started jumping on the bandwagon, I found my interest and appreciation waning a little. The community's obnoxious fandom ruined certain aspects of that game for me, but the whole thing just felt a little underwhelming compared to Demon's Souls.

Since Dark Souls proved to be such an immensely profitable venture for publisher Bandai Namco, it was inevitable that they would seek to produce a cash-grabbing respect-worthy sequel, and thus, nearly three years later, we have Dark Souls II. If the first Dark Souls felt "a little underwhelming" to an avid Demon's Souls player, then Dark Souls II can only be described as an outright disappointment. Don't get me wrong -- there's a lot to like about Dark Souls II, and it's worth noting that a "bad" Souls game is still a much better gaming experience than the average video game -- but there's an awful lot to dislike as well.

With Dark Souls II, my hope was to play a game that blended the cohesive world style of Dark Souls with the tight mechanical precision and bleak atmosphere of Demon's Souls, in a more refined package that cleaned up and improved upon some of those games' notable shortcomings. In a way, Dark Souls II feels like a faithful blend of those two game styles, but it's a lukewarm, half-hearted mixture that never achieves the brilliance of either of its predecessors while also feeling significantly sloppier in the process.

My intention with this article is to review Dark Souls II in direct comparison to its predecessors, but this isn't going to be a thorough "Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls vs Dark Souls 2" type of article because I've already done that with my Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls article. It would be redundant for me to make an entirely new article of that sort to include Dark Souls II in the comparison, so instead I'll direct you to read that article for some background on my thoughts going into this review, which will focus mainly on Dark Souls II using examples from the previous games to compare and contrast Dark Souls II's relative strengths and weaknesses within the series.