Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) is one of 2016’s biggest games and it is finally upon us. Naughty Dog is back with the fourth installment of this beloved series. It seems as if Nathan Drake can’t get enough globetrotting adventure, even after settling down and getting married. All of the beloved characters are here, including Elena, Victor and Sam. Of course, Nolan North and Troy Baker lend their voices to lead a superb cast of personalities. This fourth iteration is the icing on the cake for the long-running, critically-acclaimed series. The story takes place several years after Drakes’s Deception and follows Drake on yet another grand adventure spanning many continents.
Right when you begin playing, the first thing you’ll notice are the beautiful graphics. It may be the best looking game ever made. The broad color palette spreads from top to bottom. Naughty Dog pulled out all the stops and it truly shows. It helps that you will be adventuring all over the world. You’ll see sweeping tundras, giant snowcapped mountains, tropical locales with crystal clear water, exotic mansions, ancient ruins and more. It’s pretty awesome. The gameplay of A Thief’s End is very similar to its predecessors, but even more fluid than ever before. The controls remain mostly the same from the PS3 era. Nathan Drake may have actually taken some notes from Lara Croft in the form of grappling to walls. The combat is as fun as ever. Gunplay feels tight and responsive, whether you’re toting a rocket launcher, rifle or pistol. The one thing that A Thief’s End does better than any Uncharted title yet are the cinematics. This time around, you’re even more engaged in the story and characters. The downright jaw-dropping visuals have a lot to do with it. The more the story unfolds, the more emotional things get. You get to see Nathan Drake as a young kid and as a somewhat older man. Things come full circle and that is what really pushes the dramatic envelope. It’s a bittersweet end (maybe?) to one of the best game series of all time. The game has a few flaws. The exploration is mostly linear and the gameplay not have enough depth for some players. The entire game revolves around running, shooting, climbing and collecting. There isn’t an upgrade system of any kind, as seen in other games like The Last of Us and Tomb Raider. Ultimately, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is an outstanding game, arguably the best in the series. It sticks to a well worn formula and doesn’t break new ground, but on the flip side, it caps off a series we all love in amazing fashion. It has unforgettable characters, breathtaking visuals, fun locations to explore, a great story, lots of emotion and more. I highly suggest playing the other games if you want the full experience.
Mad Max is an open-world action title for Ps4 and Xbox One from Avalanche Studios, very much in the style of the Far Cry series. The game comes hot on the heels of Mad Max Fury Road, the astonishingly good, award-winning film starring Tom Hardy. You play as Max, the bearded wastelander we have all come to know and love. He is on a mission to reclaim both his car and glory from villain Scrotus in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, with the help of his trusty friend and mechanic, Chumbucket. Don’t expect much on the storyline front. It’s simply not all that enthralling. We’ve all seen it before. Even the characters aren’t very memorable or unique. This adventure is all about gameplay. It’s all about checking the boxes, upgrading your weapons, car and equipment, that sort of thing. This approach actually works really well here. That’s the sticking
point. You never run out of things to do, whether it’s conquering a new boss, clearing out some underground mines, defeating a convoy or doing errands for leaders in various territories. Some of it can get repetitive, but the constant feeling of improvement and accomplishment make it worthwhile. Upgrading various components at each stronghold proves to be very helpful. By doing so, you will gain access to free water, free fuel and improved weapons and accessories. As far as weapons go, Max has only a few toys in his arsenal. These include the shotgun, harpoon, thunderpoon, sniper rifle and a couple others. It is the wasteland after all. It is also noteworthy that ammo is very hard to come by.
The combat system is reminiscent of the Arkham series. It doesn’t copy it though, it has its own unique style. The exceptional fighting animations make it satisfying to kick your foe’s tail. It is always a pleasure to run into some baddies while driving across the desert, because fighting is so fun. It never feels like a chore or drag. I like how you can finish someone off with a shiv too, Tomb Raider style. When Max gains enough momentum, he can enter Fury Mode. That’s when combat gets even more awesome. You essentially tun into a beast who can do wrestling moves on enemies, deal double damage and string together more combos. It’s pretty amazing. I did come across some control issues where I would hit the correct counter button but Max wouldn’t counter. These moments were few and far between though. The real fun in the game is simply scavenging. Looting every camp, nook and cranny is immensely satisfying, primarily because you know upgrades will soon follow. It never got old defeating enemies in each camp, looting everything in the area then darting off to the next location. It’s all about checking those boxes and it’s a ton of fun. One other gameplay element to note is racing. You can compete in races and challenge other players’ best times. It’s a cool diversion, but it doesn’t stand out as anything great. Visually, the game is beautiful. It’s the best-looking desert in any game to date, that’s for sure. The character models, vehicles and locations all shine with color and detail. In the audio department, I wish there was more music. It’s almost nonexistent. You’ll mainly hear the grumbling of your car’s exhaust, which can grow annoying after so many hours.
Mad Max is not without its issues. As I previously stated, the story isn’t going to pull you in and the characters aren’t anything special. One thing that does contribute to the story are things you collect called history relics. These are remnants left behind from the world you once knew and loved. The surrealism behind how different the world was and is now is what gets Max (and the player) emotional. It’s quite jarring and adds a lot to the experience as a whole. The combat system is great, but at times it feels like you’ve done it somewhere before (because you have). The wasteland is divisive because many gamers see emptiness, while others see that as simply the style of the game. I noticed a few bugs, most notably, vehicles randomly disappearing and Max’s car is sometimes without sound. These are minor technical issues but they need to be cleaned up. Mad Max seems to be a divisive game overall among gamers. Personally, I had a great time with it. That’s saying something, especially considering the fact that I like plot-driven games. The main story along with occasional side quests will take around 35 hours to complete, which is a hefty amount of gameplay, offering a big bang for your buck. Give Mad Max a shot. It may falter in some areas and become repetitive over time, but it’s fun and offers great replay value.
Ever since reading about Firewatch in a magazine months ago, I knew it would be a Day 1 purchase for me. After I hit “Buy” on the Playstation Store, I became very excited to jump into the Wyoming wilderness and explore not only it, but also the relationship between Henry and Delilah. Henry is the main character who decides to become a fire watch for a few months after learning his wife has developed dementia at a fairly early age. Delilah is the seasoned veteran fire watch, who’s tower is on the other side of the map, unreachable by the player. Henry has his cliches and he is a bit on the depressive side, but his circumstances may justify this for some. Personally, I would have liked to seen a little more life and flair. He is a great “Average Joe” with typical problems. The game revolves around exploring, performing various tasks and focuses a lot on narrative. The game is told through communication with Delilah via radio. While playing, you will find things such as notes, letters, books, keepsakes and more that relate to the story and help tell it. That is essentially the gameplay in a nutshell. It is a simplistic approach that works surprisingly well. From a graphics standpoint, the unique visual aesthetic and color palettes really pop and pull the player in, even if there are muddy textures abound. It is disappointing to see the frame rate suffer as you walk through the woods. It just happens to much and apparently it was never fixed.
This is Campo Santo’s first ever title. They did an incredible job given that fact, but it may not have been so great if it was their second or third. When I say that, I mean that the game does a lot right, but that simplicity can also hurt it. The wilderness really isn’t that large and you will find yourself backtracking quite a bit as you progress through the story. But to be fair, the story is the glue that holds the package together. The way the game begins instantly makes you feel invested in what is going on and does a fantastic job of putting you in Henry’s shoes from the outset. The emotional aspect of Firewatch is mainly what helps it stand out. The hook here are the mysteries that unfold along the way. They are the meat and potatoes of this plot-driven journey. The anticlimactic ending may anger some players, but I won’t spoil it. One thing I noticed and liked on the first day of playing was the fact that I couldn’t set waypoints and the game actually males the player think about which direction to take. I found that freedom liberating and fresh. I feel like we are so used to setting waypoints and fast-traveling. I completed the game in about 5 hours and that included some exploration time. It is a short game, but the $20 price tag justifies that. I think this is something many gamers can pick up, play and enjoy for a brief amount of time.