Breaking Down The Backlog III: Drake, Phelps & Kennedy

IN THIS month’s Breaking Down The Backlog: I shot hundreds of dudes in the head with a pistol whilst discovering the lost gold of El Dorado, cleaning up The City Of Angels and saving The President’s daughter.

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The first Uncharted is perhaps one of the most annoying games I have ever played. The game-play lets it down when compared to just how good everything around it is. But first I shall talk about what the game does right.

Well for starters, the game looks good. Admittedly, it hasn’t aged particularly well since its release in 2008, but the game is perfectly serviceable graphically. Each environment is detailed, if a bit low resolution. I can imagine that the graphics were mind-blowing six years ago, especially whenever water makes an appearance (which it does, a lot). The water technology Naughty Dog used in Uncharted still looks bloody good to this day and what is most impressive is how Drake, Elena and Sully look when they get wet. Their clothes get realistically damp and eventually dry off in real time. It is simple but very effective.

Speaking of the titular Nathan Drake and his cohorts: what perhaps shows this game’s age the most are the character models. They all look like they were made out of plastic. The uncanny valley is strong in this game! However, the writing and the voice acting make up for any graphical deficiencies. Drake is a great character – like a cheekier Indiana Jones – who goes through a suitable arch as he learns that Francis Drake, his hero and role model, didn’t live up to his expectations. Elena and Sully are both great foils for him as they trade light-hearted put-downs and sarcastic comments back and forth throughout the game. I wouldn’t call Drake’s Fortune a funny game, but it is certainly witty.

I didn’t find the villains particularly interesting, however. I found the bad guys to have an unclear motivation, one-note and boring. Whilst I found the overall story to be simple but effective with a horrible twist at the end. The El Dorado treasure being cursed and turning the Spanish conquistadors into weird mutant things was horrible. At no point is it even hinted that the world has even the potential for magic and it just stank of and attempt to artificially give the game some unneeded variation.

I had one massive problem with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune which, unfortunately, nearly ruined the game for me: the combat. All the guns and the hand-to-hand combat felt and sounded good, but the actual fighting was atrocious. The aiming felt overly sensitive, so actually hitting people with bullets was annoyingly hard. On top of that, Drake couldn’t survive getting hit with cotton wool whilst all the enemies, including the naked cursed mutants, took almost an entire clip to take down. This is, quite simply, terrible design as it made the combat a chore. What made it worse was that the A.I. In the game is actually really good; enemies would flush me out with grenades and flank me…which is fine, but when you have to empty out an entire clip just to kill one dude it just makes the game more frustrating to play.

Despite everything, I still enjoyed myself. The story and the characters were fun and the combat was serviceable at times. I hear all the problems have been pretty much fixed in the sequels. So I look forward to one day returning to the character of Nathan Drake and getting into some more shenanigans. Hopefully with less cursed mutants and more Sully being cool as fuck/Drake actually kissing Elena.

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L.A. Noire is the first ‘point and click’ game I have played and it was a great introduction to the genre.

The first thing I have to praise about the game is the motion-capture technology Team Bondi used to make the faces and the acting. All the major characters and suspects were superbly animated, so much so that I was able to recognise some actors from films and television shows. John Noble is especially noticeable as the real-estate magnet Monroe – but then again, that man’s jowls and voice are recognisable anywhere. There was hardly a bad performance from the huge cast, which is exceedingly impressive. But special mention has to go to Aaron Staton who plays the main protagonist Cole Phelps and Adam Harrington as Roy Earle, Phelps’ partner in Vice. The latter deserves praise because that character is a horrible, slimy shitbag. Whilst the former is simply phenomenal from start to finish. Phelps starts as an uptight douche, but by the end he is a shell of a man whose duty to the law is keeping him together and Staton just owns every facet of that character.

Just look at that technology!

Just look at that technology!

Generally speaking, the writing and the overall story is superb. But it isn’t perfect. At points it becomes rather disjointed, derivative and has a serious “WTF” moment that facilitates the ending. The individual cases are great, but the way the writers layer an overarching narrative over the top – particularly as the game draws to a close – feels jarring or repetitive as you constantly come across the same crime in order to be in-keeping with the narrative that particular desk has. On top of that there are story elements that unashamedly channel L.A. Confidential and Chinatown. But I guess, when your film is self-referentially called L.A. Noire, you have to pay homage to the classics of the genre. Finally, the way the story raps up is atrocious. What it basically amounts to is: a character discovers a film reel which has on it all the evil characters discussing their plan. I shit you not. That is not good story-telling and I just couldn’t suspend my belief enough to find it enjoyable. Luckily that is the only misstep the game has when it comes to the ending, which I overall found to be appropriately ‘noire’.

All the writing and acting in the world would be null and void if the actual game-play of L.A. Noire was awful. Luckily that is far from the case. The combat, especially when compared to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, was perfectly fine. It is unremarkable, but it does the job. Although the car chases were infuriating because of some utterly blatant rubber-banding. The pursuee would always be slightly in front of you until the chase certain points. It was very noticeable in such a polished game. Whilst the on-foot chase sequences were much more fun because the rubber-banding was far less noticeable.

The main core of the game is the deductive work and the interviews you conduct. The former amounts to you walking around a crime scene and picking up/pointing at/looking at certain objects hidden in the environment. It is actually really interesting because some of the clues are fiendishly hard to find, the crime scenes were varied and doing it makes you feel like you are a detective rooting through bins and the like for incriminating evidence. The interviews you do afterwards are both the best and worst part of the game. You ask questions that Phelps has worked out through evidence and then you watch the interviewee’s face to see if they are lying. Once you have made your decision, you choose “Truth, Doubt or Lie” with Lie requiring you to use the evidence you have found, whilst Truth means you let them continue and Doubt coerces them through threats. Problem is, I feel that Truth and Doubt are labelled incorrectly. what Phelps says when you press those buttons sometimes doesn’t match up with the labels. This leads to some rather weird moments like screaming at an old lady for not immediately telling you about a robbery. It made slightly more sense by the end when you realise that Phelps is a very damaged individual, but at the moment it felt out of character. However when it all meshed together, the mechanics and the characterisation worked really well.

L.A. Noire is a weird game that ended up I loving. The mixture of 3rd person combat and point-and-click adventure game lead to something wholly unique. Not everything works as intended but it is bursting with ambition. Well worth my time

P.S. Make sure you have the DLC installed. It is fantastic.

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Before I played Resident Evil 4, I was told by everyone in real life and on the internet that it is one of the greatest games ever made. So when I started playing the game, I felt both excited and sceptical. However, my scepticism was unfounded. The game certainly lived up to the hype!

What makes this game so incredible is the gameplay. Sure you could argue that it is simple since you do very little in the game a part from shoot Los Plagas in the face and solve some very rudimentary puzzles. However, that ignores the hidden depth that lies within the act of shooting people and resource management, both of which needs to be mastered in order to survive. Choosing where to shoot the Los Plagas is probably the most important part of the game and it gets

Our hero Leon Kennedy - render by Snakeff7

Our hero Leon Kennedy – render by Snakeff7

more necessary the further you go. Head-shots are always useful as they temporarily stun your opponents and are an insta-kill when their head explodes; arm shots disarm whilst leg shots can make your enemies fall over or go onto one knee, which allows Leon to hilariously suplex them and obliterate their head. This becomes key as the enemies gradually find ways to subvert your expectations. They bob ‘n’ weave, when their heads explode a grotesque thing pops out which does even more damage or they are armoured in different areas. Resident Evil 4 has some superb enemy progression. They’re all similar, but the aforementioned variations really keeps the game fresh. And when the ‘Regenerators’ enter, all your expectations go out of the window as you empty magazines into this thing and it just doesn’t die.

Recourse management is a small, but very important part of the game it turns out. Sorting out your Attaché Case is like a mini-game on its own as you try to get the maximum amount of things in a small amount of space. It becomes less of a problem later in the game, but I have had some difficult moments where I try to fit in a rifle, a rocket launcher, a shotgun and a multitude of grenades into a very small case. It forces you to prioritise what is important and what can be let go. Money is also very important because of the upgrade system in the game – which is rather simple (there aren’t any branching paths or the like) but like the rest of the game it sure is effective. Upgrading your pistol so it does another “1” of damage seems ineffectual until you realise you can explode heads even easier. Plus, getting new weapons is incredibly important as the later stuff makes everything else look like crap in comparison. Luckily, as more powerful weapons become available, the previously mentioned enemy progression still keeps the challenge up.

Outside of the game-play, it was nice to see the same amount of detail and polish lavished on the combat applied to other parts. The simple and low resolution graphics for example were still impressive at points. The animation was fantastic throughout – the death sequences in particular – and so were the locations. Although I will say the starting village was way more interesting than the Castle or the Island, but the latter still had their moments. The gore was spectacular; Resident Evil 4 has some of the most satisfying head-shots ever. And the story, although schlocky and ridiculous (especially with that weird Napoleon dude), kept the story moving and had some cool twists. One final thing I have to gush about: Ashley, the president’s daughter whom you are tasked to save and protect, is the least annoying escort in the history of video-games. She kept out of the way and whenever she died it was normally my fault and not the A.I.’s stupidity. I can’t believe in the ten years since Resident Evil 4, escort missions are still atrocious. It seems developers didn’t learn enough from the game beyond how to make good third-person combat. And even then, in the case of Uncharted, they fuck it up.

As you can probably tell, I loved Resident Evil 4. The acclaim is well deserved.

Next month in Breaking Down The Backlog: Bioshock Infinite, Okami (fingers crossed) and Alice: Madness Returns

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