Uncharted The Lost Legacy: Life without Nathan Drake

The guys and gals at developer Naughty Dog must be sorcerers of some kind because they keep creating magic with the PlayStation when it comes to the Uncharted games.

I mean, man, is there any other game on a console out there right now that looks as good as Uncharted The Lost Legacy? I seriously mean it. It’s as if Naughty Dog has turned up Uncharted to 11 on the visuals scale then added another few notches to the dial just for good measure. Just look at these images captured from the game. See what I mean?

The Lost Legacy is the first Uncharted game not to feature Nathan Drake, the main character of the previous games in the series – and I think it’s all the better for it. This time Chloe Frazer (who you control) and Nadine Ross are front and centre as they explore temples, caverns and ruins in jungle India to find the legendary Tusk of Ganesh. Oh, course, it’s not plan sailing: There’s a fellow treasure hunter and bad guy out to get them – and the Tusk of Ganesh – at the same time!

Gamers familiar with the Uncharted games will feel right at home with the game play, which is a mix of combat, traversal and environmental puzzles, with many of the ones in The Lost Legacy requiring a little bit of thought to crack them. They’re not impossible but with a couple I had to work through things one step at a time before things clicked. That said, a couple of puzzles did frustrate the hell out of me, requiring me to take a break, take a deep breath and come to it later with a clear head. That seemed to work.

Combat is generally solid, although I was frustrated at times when the game seemed to throw loads of enemies at you all at once, often meaning I’d die in quick succession before overcoming the odds. As you’d expect with an Uncharted games, you’ll be guiding Chloe through some jaw-droppingly gorgeous environments that made me second guess that I was playing the game on a standard PlayStation 4. It really does look that impressive.

The story is pretty solid, the motion capture and voice acting outstanding, and there’s a good relationship developing between Nadine and Chloe as they explore deeper and deeper into the jungles, trading one-liners and quips. Naughty Dog seems to be masters at those little things that make their virtual characters seems so real: The way Chloe cocks her head to the side as she plucks a bobby pin from her hair before she picks a log, the way a character brushes their hand along a rock face as they squeeze through a gap, the way they get covered in grime and scratches as the adventure unfolds. Magicians, I tell you, magicians!

At times in the combat I thought enemy numbers seemed to overwhelming (I was playing on normal difficulty) and I died a few times, mainly after I’d mistime a jumps (something that happened quite frequently when it involved rappelling over gaping chasms using a rope), sending Chloe plummeting metres to her death. There are plenty of treasure to collect for those who like to be a completionist when it comes to finding all there is to offer, as well as spots where you can take photos of your adventures that Chloe can view on her smart phone later.

The Lost Legacy was originally slated as downloadable content for Uncharted 4 but Naughty Dog decided it deserved to stand on its own feet rather than become DLC: I’m glad it made that decision. I didn’t miss Nathan Drake once in this Uncharted adventure and it shows that an entertaining romp in the Uncharted universe is possible without the wise-cracking Indiana-Jones like Drake.

Here’s hoping more adventuring from Nadine and Chloe is on the cards. Sorry, Nathan Drake, but I think your days are numbered.

Competition Time:  Thanks to the kind folks at PlayStation NZ, I have one (1) copy of Uncharted The Lost Legacy to give away. The game is PlayStation 4 only so you must own a PlayStation 4 to play the game. I’m not providing a PlayStation 4 for you to play it on.

To enter, simply tell me what legendary treasure you’d love to go on an adventure to find. Post your answer below or post your answer on the Game JunkieNZ Facebook page. The winner will be contacted via email or FB message and the prize delivered to them by PlayStation NZ. The competition closes next Friday, September 1.

Conditions: The competition is only open to New Zealand residents (the disc will be mailed to a New Zealand delivery address); One entry per email entry or Facebook post; The judge’s decision is final.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy media kit

Uncharted 4 (PlayStation 4) was one of my favourite games of last year: I always like the action that Naughty Dog crafted into the games featuring the likeable rogue Nathan Drake and its Indiana Jones-style of adventuring.

One of the new characters introduced in Uncharted 2,  was Chloe Frazer, a fellow treasure hunter.

In The Lost Legacy, the standalone campaign (which, I’m guessing, means you don’t need Uncharted 4 to play it – but it’ll certainly help with back story), Chloe is on a quest for a famed Indian artifact: The Golden Tusk of Ganesh. In order to find it – and keep it out of the hands of a ruthless war profiteer – she enlist the help of former paramilitary leader turned gun-for-hire Nadine Ross. The pair venture deep into the mountains of India’s Western Ghats to find the ruins of the Hoysala Empire and recover the legendary Golden Tusk of Ganesh.

The Lost Legacy is out next Wednesday (August 23) and will set you back $NZ69.95 (It’s PlayStation 4 only). Any impressions of the game are embargoed until tomorrow but I’m allowed to share photos of the media kit that PlayStation NZ sent me. PlayStation have always excelled at media kits when it comes to its marquee titles – and the one for The Lost Legacy doesn’t disappoint.

Look out for some impressions on The Lost Legacy next week – and details on how to win a copy of the game, thanks to PlayStation NZ.

 

Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End: Saving the best till last

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has been responsible for me losing sleep.
It turned out it was one of those “A few more minutes then I’ll go to bed” games. Most gamers would have been there. All gamers will know a game like that.
city_09I finished Uncharted 4’s narrative campaign in 16 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds on moderate difficulty (I’ve heard things are fairly tough in the hard and above difficulties) and loved it. According to the in-game stats, I spent 2 hours 14 minutes and 34 seconds of that standing still, I climbed 5652 metres, collected 25 of 109 treasures and defeated 583 enemies. I plan to play through it again (I haven’t gone near the multiplayer yet. If I do, I’ll do it when the servers go public but Uncharted has always been about the campaign for me).

During two late night sessions when I played until 2am in the morning (one of them Monday night) I remember looking at my watch at 11.30pm – I was the only one up: My family had long gone to bed – and saying to myself “OK, a few more minutes and I’m off to bed”. The next time I looked at my watch it was 2.10am – and I had to be up at 7am to get ready for work.

ope_01I can’t remember a game that has hooked me so much as Uncharted 4. It’s good. It’s very, very good.
Set three years after the events of Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake, the intrepid adventurer from the previous three Uncharted games, has apparently left the world of fortune hunting behind him but when his older brother Sam turns up, he’s convinced to head off on a quest to find the treasure of fabled and feared pirate Henry Avery.
What follows is a roller coaster ride of adventuring globe-trotting that is, to me, the best of the series.  Naughty Dog have definitely saved the best to last. Uncharted 4 might not have the big set pieces like Uncharted 3 did or the unforgettable opening of Uncharted 2 but it’s all the better for it.

dive_01Visually, the game is stunning – I think that will come as no surprise – with locations including lush verdant valleys, abandoned towns, underground tombs and the depths of the deep blue sea, but for me, the Uncharted games and Naughty Dog have always been about the narrative, about the relationships between characters. There is a reason that ND’s other stellar game The Last of Us is so good: The relationship between its two lead characters – and it’s the same with Uncharted 4. The relationships are front and centre.

The main thing that really hit home for me with Uncharted 4 is that it’s about the relationships between Drake and those he loves, especially the relationships he has with Elena Fisher (who he is now married to), and his brother Sam, who Drake thought was dead. Sure, Uncharted 4 has gunplay  and climbing and bad guys and treasure but it’s all about the characters. This may sound really weird, because we’re talking about digital actors here,  but at times I almost believed they were human: They looked and behaved so realistically.

home_01Case in point: During one late game cinematic, I watched Elena who was standing in the background as Drake spoke and her mannerisms and body language felt like I was watching an actor and not a collection of pixels rendered on a TV screen.

I felt more connected to Drake and Elena more than I had in previous games and they look older too: We’ve been through a lot together and I put that connection down to ND’s Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who both skipped Uncharted 3 to work on The Last of Us. It shows: This is probably the best narrative I’ve seen in an Uncharted game – or perhaps any game in recent memory – and I felt invested in the characters. Not many games do that to me.

The game’s environments are more open, too, allowing you to reach an objective using a variety of paths, and combat feels more weighty than in previous Uncharted games and while at times the odds seem stacked against Drake, using the environment to your advantage works beautifully here.

You can now use a grappling hook to help take enemies down as well as swinging across gapping chasms and, yes, ledges and handholds still crumble when Nate is climbing a precarious cliff face or building but I never grew tired of it.

city_06I liked that I could tackle the combat situations all guns blazing, if you want, but that will attract the attention of every enemy in the vicinity, of  course, or you can creep through long grass (yes, creeping through long grass is now a feature), taking out as many enemies as you can quietly. I tried to handle as many situations as I could this way: Take out a handful of enemies quietly by pulling them off ledges or from the vantage of vegetation then using the grappling hook to swing across a gap, punching down an enemy from above. It’s so satisfying, believe me.

Uncharted 4 is also a game full of little details that help you feel that the game world is a living, breathing place and the characters have conversations amongst themselves while Nate is off climbing a ruined building. It’s those little things that give the game more grounding in reality and makes the characters more believable, more real. Driving through Madagascar,  I knocked over several rock piles, prompting Sam to say:  “You do realise that someone probably took hours putting those rocks there?”
The puzzles are back, and they’re not too taxing if you pay attention to sequences and clues you’ve picked up and I could go on for hours about Uncharted 4 but I’m going to stop.  You’ve realised by now that I loved Uncharted 4 and it’s the best  of the series because its characterisation is front and centre.
If I had any niggles it would that I felt there were perhaps too many “Oh, can you find something to help get me up to that out-of-reach ledge” moments. Generally that something involved a large crate on wheels.
Uncharted 4 is a triumph of narrative and proves Naughty Dog are masters at creating characters you can believe in. It is a fitting farewell.
Thanks to PlayStation NZ which provided me with a review copy of Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End. 

Somebody pick up my jaw from the floor, please

I’m just going to leave this – the newest trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – here, OK.

Try not to drool on your desk/floor/kitchen table/lap too much, alright?

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is out on the PlayStation 4 at the end of this month. That’s not far at all in May.

 

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection review [PS4]

Over the course of three games, adventurer Nathan Drake, the star of developer Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, has climbed a lot of cliff faces and shimmied down a lot of drain pipes, all in the name of finding ancient treasure, most of it done with a witty quip or a punch or three.

Drake is undoubtbly one of Sony’s leading men and has been given the re-master treatment by Bluepoint Games in Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection,  and the company has done a great job breathing new life into a series that debuted on the PlayStation 3.

Among the improvements are all three games are now targeting 1080p/60 frames a second, improved environment lighting, character models and shaders, and increased texture detail. There’s also now a speed run mode, if you’re the type of player who likes to run-n-gun it in the fasted time possible.

BluePoint has also added a photo mode, which is common for PS4 games these days, and reduced screen tearing. It’s a nice package.Oh, another nice touch is that the games keep a tally of how well you do in certain aspects (headshot, melee takedowns) and let you know how you’re doing against your online friends.

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A shot from Nepal, in one of Uncharted 2’s most thrilling levels.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves  was always my favourite game of the series, especially its Nepalese locations and its unforgettable opening moments, and if this remaster has done one thing, it’s shown me how badly the original Uncharted has fared since it’s release in 2007. Despite the remaster treatment, Drake’s Fortune hasn’t aged well, especially in terms of game play and when put up against Uncharted 2 and 3.

Talking of game play, any niggles I have are nothing to do with BluePoint but with the Uncharted series in general. Enemies sometimes seem like bullet sponges, even when you think you’ve got them square in the noggin, and at times Nathan’s punches seem weak as a wet teabag. And whoever at Naughty Dog thought it was a good idea having chase levels where you had to guide Nathan towards the player (ie pulling down on the left analogue stick to make Drake run forward) to escape a chasing threat, needs to be slapped with a wet fish and told it was a bad, bad idea.

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Nathan Drake and Sully discover the German U-boat from Drake’s Fortune.

The three Uncharted games look great, especially Uncharted 2 and 3, with the environments now lush and vibrant (unless Drake and his pals are exploring underground catacombs or caverns so things are a little gloomier) but the The Nathan Drake Collection poses the same question that all re-masters of last-generations do: Is it worth your coin if you’ve played it before?

If you haven’t played them before then, yes, the collection is worth owning (and to be honest, the collection is worth it for Uncharted 2 alone), but if you’ve played the series before it’ll be a harder sell answered by this question which you no doubt will ask yourself several times:”Do I want to play the Uncharted games again?”

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A shot from Drake’s Fortune using the photo mode.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed my time re-visiting the Uncharted series. They look fantastic and show how good the tech boffins at BluePoint games are but at times, the game play niggles frustrated me, especially with Drake’s Fortune.

That said, Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection is a lot of fun, despite the flaws and I’m looking forward to Uncharted 4 on the PS4.

We have to remember that this is a re-master of an already established series, not a remake, so it’ll still have some of the niggles from the the original games. I really, really enjoyed playing an hour or two of each game at a time, just to see the progression between the two. If you you do decide to pick it up, I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Here’s some capture of my playthrough of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune captured using the PS4’s share functionality. Enjoy. All of the screen shots for this write-up were capturing using the collection’s Photo mode.

 

Here’s 15 minutes of the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End E3 game play demo. You’re welcome

I have to say that I’ve always been a fan of developer Naughty Dog and what it’s able to do with Sony’s PlayStation hardware, especially in the later years with the Uncharted series.

I was impressed with the Uncharted 4 trailer shown at Sony’s E3 press conference but after watching this extended 15 minute game play trailer, which you can watch here, too, all I can say is that the folks at Naughty Dog must be possessed of some sort of wizardry that lets them do amazingly wonderful things with the PS hardware.

Uncharted 4 looks like the staple game play that fans of the series have come to love but the attention to detail (that mud, that flame) is impressive.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is out in 2016 sometime – so you have a bit of time to start saving. Thoughts?

Left Behind: a story of two girls

Left Behind: We find out what happened to Ellie and Riley before the events of The Last of Us.

Left Behind: We find out what happened to Ellie and Riley before the events of The Last of Us.

The Last of Us was one of last year’s best games on the PlayStation 3.

Heck, it was one of the best games of the year on all formats.

Left Behind is the first – and 0nly – story-based DLC for Naughty Dog’s survival/horror (can it be classed as a horror?)  game and while it’s not long – I think it took me about two to two and a half hours to complete – it’s probably one of the most emotive pieces of DLC that I’ve played in a long, long time. If you like strong narrative and some tying up of loose ends from the main game, then Left Behind fits the bill <There could be some slight story line spoilers here so tread carefully like your wandering through an abandoned house full of clickers>.

First things first, though: If you own a PlayStation 3 and haven’t played The Last of Us I really recommend you do. It’s well, well worth it.

Left Behind is split into two tales, each intermingled. It starts with The Last of Us’ Ellie and Joel in an abandoned shopping mall. Joel is severely injured, caused by an earlier incident in the game’s Winter section. It’s alluded to in flashback form at the start of the DLC.  Ellie has to search the mall for medical supplies to stop Joel from bleeding to death.

The other story is that of Ellie and her friend Riley, her best friend from a Boston military school, and the months before Ellie met Joel. Riley is mentioned in the main story of The Last of Us but we never knew what happened to her (well, we know she died but we aren’t told how). Left Behind fills in the blanks.

Combat is less than in The Last of Us: This is DLC that is more about an emotive story than body counts but when there is combat it has a nice twist in that both human scavengers and infected  can be “urged”to fight each other, making it easier for Ellie.

In situations where you find both, if you  attract the attention of a group of clickers to where a group of scavengers are – say tossing a brick where two humans are. sending the clickers to the source of the noise – then  you can sit back and watch the two factions kill each other, often only leaving one or two of each faction to take care of.

Time to be young: Some of the most touching moments in The Last of Us take place in an abandoned shopping mall, where Ellie and Riley get to be teenagers.

Time to be young: Some of the most touching moments in The Last of Us take place in an abandoned shopping mall, where Ellie and Riley get to be teenagers.

Some of the most emotional moments of Left Behind are with Ellie and Riley in an abandoned shopping centre. They explore, they laugh, they take snapshots in a photo booth, they joke around in a Halloween-themed shop.  It’s a far cry from their reality since the infection, and while, things turn to custard  by the end,   Left Behind shows what masters Naughty Dog and its creative director Neil  Druckmann are (incidentally, I found an old newspaper clipping of an interview I did with Druckmann about the Uncharted series. This serves no purpose other than to tell you that I’ve spoken to him).

Left Behind is a nice addition to the foundations that The Last of Us built and shows that done right, video games can be the ideal medium for delivering compelling, emotive narrative.