The illustrious year of 2017 is upon us and a proper moment of reflection is in order; 2017 will be a bountiful year and hopefully deliver a slew of fantastic new titles ripe with limitless potential. All three major parties – being the Big N, Sony, and Microsoft – have their own particularly unique plans for the New Year, each filled to the brim with their own resounding highs and unfortunate lows. Nintendo has an innovative console/handheld hybrid on the horizon, Sony is assertively pushing their bevy of exclusive content throughout 2017 and beyond, and Microsoft suffered an insurmountable blow with the cancellation of Scalebound, which was my most anticipated Microsoft exclusive of 2017. Let us begin with the most pertinent publishing company of the three shall we?
Immense quantity for the sake of meaningful quality…
No Man’s Sky will undoubtedly serve as a stern lesson for the entire gaming community moving forward; it’s a clear cut example of excellent ideas wound together into an underwhelming package which unsurprisingly fails to live up to the insurmountable hype. My expectations were relatively shallow to begin with as I honestly could not understand the pure obsession pertaining to developer Hello Games’ latest project; yes, its technical prowess and sheer scope are noteworthy to say the least, but its moment to moment gameplay – what little of it that was brought to light – left much to be desired. Cosmic exploration and a personal sense of discovery is a rather enticing premise on paper, but the gargantuan scope of an expansive world – or universe in the case of No Man’s Sky – is absolutely meaningless if the core gameplay lacks intriguing purpose and doesn’t properly foster a rewarding sense of progression. No Man’s Sky is the literal embodiment of monotony and repetition; its quintillion procedurally generated planets are aesthetically gorgeous and while some planets vary in terms of visual diversity, perilous weather conditions, and collection of wild life and vegetation, each meticulous activity you partake in on one planet is a carbon copy of what you’ll do on the next. While Hello Games were so fixated on constructing a technical marvel that would surpass the scope of the modern competition, they simply forgot to make their game fun in the end. At its core, No Man’s Sky is a resource gathering experience, clearly taking inspiration from Minecraft’s addictive and accessible nature, but is clearly unable to grasp, let alone match, its profound social prominence and sense of ownership. While No Man’s Sky gives you the necessary tools to discover a vast array of different planets, star systems, and unidentified species, what’s the point of discovery if you can’t share that sense of glory with anyone else? For a procedurally generated galaxy with infinite possibility, I’m quite surprised by the empty, lifeless, and uninspired aura the collective package emits. While Hello Games should definitely be commended for the technical achievement that is No Man’s Sky – its sense of scale and technical performance is astounding and unprecedented – their bold new cosmic sandbox is the perfect reminder that bigger isn’t always better.
Greatness from small beginnings…
Very few experiences are capable of capturing the essence of adventure, let alone doing so with a resounding sense of polish; this honorable achievement in production and execution is conspicuously present in Naughty Dog’s flagship series. The fourth, and arguably final, entry in the series, entitled “A Thief’s End”, is an immaculate culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured into this journey for the past nine years. Both the player and Naughty Dog have grown with these characters for nearly a decade and Naughty Dog appropriately honed in on that premise to create possibly the most personal and melancholic Uncharted experience to date. To close things off, Naughty Dog decided to slowly dig into Drake’s past, providing much needed context, and ultimately closure, for this character who has essentially become an icon to the PlayStation community. While I’d normally advocate the traditional “gameplay over story” mentality, Naughty Dog’s repertoire would be an obvious exception to the rule. Naughty Dog has always excelled in their ability to construct well written characters and the impeccable development present in their latest triumph is further proof of the fact. Their attention to detail, excellent writing, intriguing character development, and production quality are second to none and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is yet another successful notch on Naughty Dog’s impressive belt. While Uncharted 4’s gameplay is unable to match its sheer presentational brilliance, every minute element is pooled together to create a masterful experience that is equally thrilling as it is emotional. With a heavier emphasis on exploration, new implementation of storytelling, one of the greatest Easter eggs in gaming history, and an exceptional ending that mirrors the poignancy of Persona 4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the slowest entry in the series, but it’s arguably the best and undoubtedly my favourite. Nathan Drake’s final adventure is a worthy end indeed.
A revitalizing surge of energy to an old, but beloved franchise.
The Playstation 4 remake/reimagining of 2002’s Ratchet & Clank is an exceptionally gorgeous painting in motion which re-establishes the series’ initial quirky charm and personality. Not only is Ratchet & Clank arguably the best game in the series – I’d have to replay A Crack in Time to truly weigh in on the superior title – but it’s also my second favourite Playstation 4 exclusive, trailing right behind the impeccable Bloodborne. While the game may trail on the safe and familiar in some regards, it ultimately adds a wide array of new variations which weren’t present in the 2002 original, resulting in an engaging experience for both veterans and newcomers alike. What Ratchet & Clank on the PS4 ultimately does is reassure the gaming community that the dynamic duo are still relevant and not only justifying exist in the modern era of gaming, but stand its ground amongst the robust quality of the eighth generation as Ratchet & Clank is a stellar experience that is arguably the greatest game that Insomniac has ever dished out.
Obvious spoiler warning for Uncharted 2 and the series as a whole. You have been warned…
In honor of the successful reception and recent admiration of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, it felt appropriate to relay my thoughts on, what is easily, one of the greatest and my own personal favourite video game series of all time. More accurately, however, I’d like to dissect the unanimous favourite of the trilogy, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which also happens to be my preferred entry and unsurprisingly, one of my favourite games of all time. Originally released back in 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves arguably set a golden standard for action-adventure as its impeccable pacing, jaw-dropping set pieces, and exquisite character development were second to none, mirroring that pristine joy of a thrilling, quality summer blockbuster. The original’s under-performances and limitations are largely responsible for its sequel’s success as expectations regarding Uncharted 2 were manifested with the original being the standard. Naughty Dog desecrated its initial standard and unfathomably exceeded expectations, improving on every minute detail that the original Uncharted crafted, outclassing it in every way imaginable. Uncharted 2 is the renowned example of how to make a proper sequel; improving and expanding on the initial formula, catering to what exactly made the original so beloved, and never giving into the fear of working with the safe and familiar, upping the ante ten fold if needed. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves exceeded its brethren in terms of sheer scope, fantastic writing along with the exceptional development of their beloved characters, impeccable pacing that’s second to none, its gorgeously cinematic world that raised the bar for graphical possibilities, its bombastically iconic soundtrack, and riveting expedition that boasts a mirroring quality to some of Indiana Jones’ finest work. Even though Uncharted 2 is a masterpiece, it is by no means a perfect game; there are actually several inconsistencies that are notable to say the least, and although they never detract from the masterful experience that is Uncharted 2, they’re still prominent factors that ultimately make Uncharted 2 a flawed masterpiece.
A stone cold killer
I’m honestly at a loss with words from Until Dawn, a title that was admittedly on my radar but exceeded my expectations entirely. For the next few minutes, I shall sing its well-deserved praise as I feel many will overlook this underrated title; it’s not the greatest game ever made, undoubtedly lacking innovative qualities in the gameplay department and will be a polarizing topic in the discussion on what constitutes as a game, but when perceived with the right intentions and understanding its true nature and intent, Until Dawn is an amazing title that successfully achieves what it set off to do, it’s engaging, thrilling, intuitive, and most importantly, it’s scary. Until Dawn is a successful homage to the tried and true formula of the stereotypical slasher film genre, mirroring the likes of the iconic Scream series, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the recent classic, Cabin in the Woods. Every single trope, stereotype, plot twist and staple that are affiliated with the genre is present and developer Supermassive Games flaunt each idiosyncrasy with the utmost confidence which in return shows that game is, in and of itself, aware of these idiosyncrasies and further enhances its success. Until Dawn impressively weaves player choice into the overarching narrative with a unique “Butterfly Effect” system which will have small or, what would seem to be, insignificant decisions affecting certain outcomes of the story and determining the fate of corresponding characters. All 8 main characters can be killed or saved based on the vast number of decisions you make throughout your experience, and unlike many other games with similar intentions, Until Dawn’s decisions bare significant weight as the results are extraordinarily haunting and can shift relationships and interactions into multiple directions. Yes the story and characters can be one-dimensional and predictable at times, but this campy nature is part of Until Dawn’s identity and instead of desperately trying to justify it, Supermassive Games just owns it, not second guessing their intent for one second. Until Dawn is not a game for everybody though, at its core, it’s an interactive horror flick merging with the ideologies of a “choose your own adventure book”, the only instances of gameplay are the interactions which create those decisions. If you strongly detest the interactive gaming experience, then this title won’t change your mind, but if you’re a little more open-minded to its intent, then Until Dawn might surprise you. Although it may be too presumptuous of a statement, Until Dawn is the Heavy Rain of this generation and collects all the best parts from its inspirations, creating a wonderful experience.
This gem in particular is extremely hard for me to critique; Bloodborne is so massive in scope and presence that it’s almost too daunting for me to analytically approach it, but its unrelenting challenge and downright punishing nature deserves to be praised. Bloodborne will be marked down as one of the most challenging and rewarding video games of all time; it’s an idiosyncratic experience that will either make or break you. Bloodborne brutally tests the player’s insight and reflexes; with a deliberate lack of guidance, plenty of mistakes will be made and plenty of gruesome deaths will undoubtedly ensue, but it’s this “no risk, no reward” mentality that makes Bloodborne such an unbelievable experience. Despite the alluring appeal of its demented but gorgeous world, and viscerally strategic combat, understand that Bloodborne is not an experience for the faint of heart. It will continuously beat you to the ground, and once you feel stable and things are manageable, it will revert to beating you, again and again. The path of Bloodborne is not an easy one, but I implore you to stick with it, for your time and effort will be rewarded and its uplifting feeling of satisfying relief is a sensation like no other. Yes you will die a lot, and yes you will get frustrated consistently, but this experience is a trial of your patience and skill. Truly overcoming the insurmountable obstacles that are bosses, in and of itself, is a gratifying accomplishment. This is a game about learning from player error, overcoming the unfeasible odds, and continuously striving to live for just another minute. This is Bloodborne, and it’s bloody fantastic.
As we come to the end of the first quarter of 2015, a moment of reflection is in order. I’ll primarily be focusing on Sony and their current lineup and affairs. After the recent announcement of Uncharted 4’s delay to Spring 2016, the first thought that came to mind was: “is Sony in trouble?”
The Order 1886 is probably one of the most disappointing games I have ever played. Understand that “disappointing” does not correlate to mediocrity per se, it just means it didn’t live up to its potential nor my expectations. The Order 1886 was one of my most anticipated games of 2015 and it’s a damn shame that it won’t see the light of my game of the year consideration. For every one thing The Order 1886 does right, it does another three wrong. Yes the game is a visual marvel, but pretty graphics and polished environments can only get you so far; especially when all other integral elements of immersion are poorly executed. With only a single player campaign to offer, The Order 1886 is a disjointed look on history that is only worth visiting once.