Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Uncharted 3," "Battlefield 3" dazzle

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Developed by: Naughty Dog
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available: NOW
Available on: PS3 exclusive
Rating: T
Price: $59.99 regular edition, $99.99 collector’s edition

There are several ways to describe a Nathan Drake flavored adventure. Comparing him to the old skool Indiana Jones is a safe choice and rather fitting. One thing is for sure – the world’s hidden gems and their protectors need to get insurance from Lloyd’s of London when he appears on the scene. Why? Just like Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel - when they appear, stuff blows up. Literally.

Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony, Uncharted 3 follows our antihero, Nathan Drake from a London dive to the mean streets of Colombia to the fabled “Atlantis of the Sands” somewhere in the Mideast. The entire single player really plays out like a movie. If you are not paying close attention, you’ll find yourself enjoying the story and then realize it’s time to play again. Never before has a game been just that visually stunning where you never really know when the cutscene stops and your game picks up. That gets a +1 in my book. That is what all developers should aim for – give players a game where we can’t immediately spot the difference.

This time, you’ll even get a chance to play as a young teen version of Drake, who meets a much younger Sully and Marlowe and ends up running for his life. Cornered, orphan Nate ends up finding a partner – and friend - in Sully.

The story is strong – from the flashback sequences to the intense challenge of escaping a sinking cruise ship. You won’t have to wonder if Nate will catch a break. Nope. In one hour, I faced – a burning building, getting shot at constantly, escaping said building as it literally crumbled around me – to escaping these flesh-eating spiders. Did I mention the guys constantly shooting at moi?

The visuals are simply stunning. A few times, I panned Nathan to see the beauty in Yemen, the amazing environs of the Atlantis of the Sands or even admire the crumbling beauty in a French chateau. Even the rooftop chase in Colombia was sick. The animations aren’t flawless, but visually, you are looking at one of the best looking games this generation. The lighting in the Syrian stage in the early morning was painfully detailed and impressive. Give Naughty Dog another bone for awesome eye candy.

The sounds and dialogue are good, just not great. Nathan is a man of many words, including some funny cliches. Sully’s old skool wisdom is great and never really boring. The enemies can be redundant, but they are dumb blokes, right? Their vocabulary isn’t huge, right? The score is impressive. Each track plays out the same – stirring and story driven. Again, give Naughty Dog another bone.

Controls are good though you have to realize this game has hella puzzles to figure out to advance. If you aren’t skilled at cryptology, you may have to refer to the Hints given throughout the game.

Multiplayer is good but I wasn’t really impressed. You can also play special co-op only missions that seem to take place during the main mission, in the background. The co-op missions score based on kills and how awesome they are. Up to four can team to take on Drake’s enemies and rivals.

As far as online goes, there’s Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Hardcore, Plunder and a few other modes, including the co-op modes. It’s not hard to find an online match. Multiplayer also features a channel of sorts where you can watch and share your recorded multiplayer games. It’s called Cinema. Really cool feature if you are great online. If you fail at multiplayer, skip it.

You can also use your loot you get online to buy multiplayer skins – Drake in a suit, Sully, even the young Drake and Scuba Drake. However, even if you have the cash, you still have to reach certain levels to unlock skins to buy.

With all of this online fun, here’s the bad news – Sony has made the online modes a premium feature for anyone buying this game – and recent games like Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. If you buy the game new, you can use a single-use code to enable online play. You also score a beta invite to Starhawk in early 2012. However, if you want to be thrifty and get the game used, be prepared to pay $10 on PSN to use the game online. Trust – an op-ed blogpost about this is incoming.

Overall, even without the online pass, Drake’s far-reaching, almost swashbuckling adventure is mighty strong without online.

The verdict? 9.75 (out of 10) It was hard to NOT give U3 a perfect score. The visuals? Stunning. The audio? Awesome. The gameplay and plot? Epic. And yet, I gave it a 9.75. For just one reason – the challenging puzzles. No, I didn’t experience a glitch once. No, I didn’t experience lag online. But what I did experience was mild frustration at a few of the puzzles. To call them challenging is an understatement. From moving blocks around a wall, to placing a map to match a room, it was fun at first but got old AND frustrating very fast. As much as I wanted to move to the next scene, the puzzles slowed my roll. I’m not a casual gamer – I’m a vet – and if I got frustrated, no matter how cool the adventure, you don’t want your audience to walk away due to the challenges. Offer them an easy out after two failed attempts, not 10 or 12.
That’s my only gripe. Overall, it’s an awesome tale of a man who is a walking disaster to anyone close enough.

Battlefield 3

Developed by: DICE
Published by: EA
Available: NOW
Available on: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Price: $59.99 for regular and limited editions
Rating: M

There’s a term to describe the relentless action in Battlefield 3 – full spectrum. From tank battles to getting shot off of an aircraft – all rolled up into one pretty package, there’s something in this game for every military tactical shooter. But is all of that enough to dethrone the King of the Hill of first-person shooters, the Call of Duty series? Keep reading.

Developed by DICE and published by EA, Battlefield 3 puts players in the role of a Marine Staff Sergeant Henry "Black" Blackburn, jumping on a speeding subway and blasting baddies until he is staring down the barrel of an assault rifle. The game comes on two discs – the first disc is multiplayer, the second one is the single-player campaign. The story is one that’s built purely around flashbacks. The flashbacks include people you have history with – from a tank gunner, to a RIO – on an F/A-18 Hornet – to a Soviet special forces soldier – you don’t have to worry about getting bored with the lack of innovation. DICE was very ambitious with making this shooter as far-reaching as possible.

The plot is all over the place. I was able to follow most of it and actually enjoyed it. I really liked being a grunt in Tehran, Iran and fighting for my life. I enjoyed riding along for a dogfight. I loved doing a HALO jump out of a Russian cargo plane. But then, things were introduced without any real reason why it was occurring to begin with. The chief offender? The earthquake. Why mention it? What did it have to do with the story at all? I won’t mention the biggest stretch – how blackburn knew the RIO, Hawkins. Seriously, what did she have to do with the main story? Yes, the level was cool, but the entire time, I was asking myself ‘Where does she fit into the story?’ Exactly.

The game will cost you about 8, 9 hours. It is fast moving and engaging, but in the end, you’ll feel a big letdown when everything comes together at the end.

Online multiplayer? Stay tuned.

Controls are solid – you don’t have to worry about not being able to negotiate a corner that you are running around or finding cover. The controls, online and offline are superb.

Audio is good – the soldiers are very vocal and sound great. The bullet rounds whizzing past you will make you pause. The rumbling on crumbling buildings in Tehran are eerie. The intense breathing during the dogfights are impressive.

Gameplay is very good. You can snap between target quickly and controls are responsive to your wishes. It’s easy enough to duck into cover to recover health and get back into the fight.

The graphics? Depends on whom you ask. When you first fire up the game, Xbox 360 version here, you will be greeted with a 167mb install. Finish firing up the game and you will be prompted to install the HD graphics. Do what? You can play the game without the HD graphics, but I wasn’t that brave. The total install for the HD graphics, which requires the first disc – the multiplayer disc – is 1.5gb of space. Really? Yes, the graphics, the lighting, all of that looks great, but is it really worth the 1.5gb of space?

Online multiplayer has not been the most stable guy on the ward. DICE and EA reported online problems. Players reported they were able to get online and other issues. I didn’t suffer these issues, thankfully. I could understand neither DICE nor EA were truly ready for the flood of gamers who put down BLOPS long enough to play BF3.

Online, however, requires – gasp – an online pass to play. If you buy the game new, you get the single-use code, as well as a free M1911 Silenced Colt for use in multiplayer AND an early access to Mass Effect 3. If you buy it used, you’ll have to buy an online pass. EA is smart with this – the first disc is for multiplayer and know most gamers will skip the SP campaign and opt for online.

There are a slew of multiplayer game modes. There's Rush, Squad Deathmatch, Squad Rush and Team Deathmatch makes it return. It was reported MIA after Battlefield 1942 hit years ago. You can bet the DLC will be plentiful, including a free map, weapons and vehicles for those who bought the Limited Edition of the game.

There’s also a free Battleblog feature. According to DICE, players will be able to build a network of friends, communicate with other gamers, and compare their Battlefield stats with friends and foes alike. In the main menu, the Battlefeed is your main window into Battlelog, showing current events around your network in real-time, giving you a live snapshot of what those in your network are doing in the world of Battlefield.


And yet, as slick as this game is, it still tries hard to push Call of Duty aside. It gave an honest try, but I will find out in a matter of hours if it’s really better than MW3.

The verdict? 9 (out of 10) The game was designed primarily for online players, with a good story attached to the single-player campaign. However, the plot holes really hurt its almost perfect score. The online woes have been fixed, but the damage has been done. Even though the game sold over 5M copies, this is all ahead of MW3, which drops Tuesday. We’ll the knife fight up close and personal. Are you ready to rumble?

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