EXPeriencing ‘Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection’

Cover image via NaughtyDog.

There weren’t a ton of games I felt I was missing out on by having an Xbox 360 instead of a PS3, but the Uncharted series was one of them. I knew they had Assassin’s Creed-like puzzles and an Indiana Jones-like story line. What’s not to like about that?

When Terry and I got a PS4 for Christmas this year, Terry also bought me Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, a remastered version of the first three games. I dove right in.

Was it worth the wait?

The Gameplay

This part was not worth the wait. The only word to describe the gameplay in the first three Uncharted games is “linear.” The first game was particularly bad: kneel behind a crate, shoot at a bad guy, kneel, reload, dive to another crate, repeat. There was no strategy to how to take down enemies. They would rush you and you would shoot them. Sometimes you would shoot them with an AK-47, sometimes with a 9mm, sometimes you’d throw a grenade. Once you cleared the area, on you went. It was more mindless than anything.

As the games progressed, the combat got a little better each time – more stealthy takedowns, more weapons, more vantage points. It was still very linear overall, but it felt less like being led down a tunnel, and more an open-air hallway.

I also found the instructions could be a little vague. In the first game, for instance, I had just gone through a section where you were speeding along in a jeep and would shoot the bad guys if you had a chance. The following area saw you on a jet ski, and I was trying to book it through enemies shooting at me. Well, turns out, this particular section was the opposite of the jeep section: take cover and shoot down the bad guys before they can shoot you. Didn’t realize that ’til I’d been blown out of the water about three times.

It’s very jarring when you die in Uncharted. The screen goes black and white, a discordant brrring plays, and one of your allies yells, “Nate!” Whereas in some other games when you drop down too far, they just force you to climb up again. But when Drake falls too far, he falls outside of the playable area and it’s game over, back to the last checkpoint.

And you will die a bunch. There are a lot of times where you only really know which way to go next by dying. Either you’re running as fast as you can along a crumbling walkway and you jump in the wrong direction, or there’s a guy hiding behind a wall with an RPG that you just didn’t see until he blew you up. These types of deaths can be especially frustrating. The few sections I had to attempt over and over and over again were where these games definitely weren’t my favorite.

The gameplay aspect I liked most was the puzzles. I had been looking forward to these the most, but they weren’t as amazing as I was expecting. They really fell on two ends of the spectrum: trivial and obscure. A lot of the puzzles I was able to figure out before the NPC bantered hints. But there were some where I fumbled through by guessing and was about 5 minutes from Googling it before I got it right. There wasn’t really much middle ground. Frankly, I think some of the memory-type puzzles in Skyrim and the skill-based jumping puzzles in Assassin’s Creed were more deftly crafted.

The Story

Before you think I despised the games because I wasn’t a fan of the gameplay, I actually did really enjoy them overall. While every time I died was super frustrating, the story was incredibly compelling, well acted, and entertaining. I liked Drake and his roguish Indiana Jones-style treasure hunting a lot, especially through his excellent portrayal by voiceover extraordinaire Nolan North. Sully, his BFF, and Elena, his on-and-off again flame, are equally entertaining; the three of them make a great team. The other allies and villains were fairly well-rounded, too, although the cast was pretty whitewashed throughout the games. I could have done with more main characters of color, though I do believe there are more in the subsequent games.

I also like the Indiana Jones/X-Files mystical/alien-meets-real-life aspects of the story. They’re hunting for historical treasures, but there’s always some magical element that defies logic on top of it. It provided a good framework for the shooter-meets-crumbling-puzzle mix of gameplay.

Ultimately, like any good entertainment, you don’t play Uncharted for the mechanics, but for the story. The mechanics improved with each game, but I often found myself lamenting that I wasn’t playing Assassin’s Creed every time Drake made some physics-defying leap – or fell two feet and died. The story, however, was compelling enough to drive me forward to finish each game and relish in the cut scenes rather than scowl at the quicktime events.

I’m glad I played the games, but I’m also glad it was only $20 to do so. If you haven’t played the first three Uncharted games, now is a great time to pick them up – just know that playing through the first game might be really rough if you’re coming from Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Overwatch. If you’re a diehard Uncharted fan, I absolutely see why, and I’m glad I got to experience this story.

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EXPeriencing Console Wars & Rekindling a Love for Console Gaming

Cover photo via Pennyworth Reviews

Twelve years ago, Sony and Microsoft were engaged in a battle that still wears on today, though thankfully with less internet yelling. Nintendo dives in occasionally, too, but when I think about “console wars,” I’m taken right back to 2006 when Microsoft released the Xbox 360 and Sony fans were impatiently waiting for the PS3.

My relationship with gaming consoles before then was kind of erratic. My dad introduced us to gaming when he bought a Super Nintendo for Christmas one year. I played a lot of Disney side-scrollers in those years. I also watched my dad play A Link to the Past a LOT, as well as the original Tomb Raider on PC. Years later, we got an original PlayStation that I played until the PS2 came out, which I played until mine got stolen, then got a new one which I played until it became outdated.

That was right around 2006 when Terry and I were dating and he got an Xbox 360. The first game I played on Xbox 360 was the first Assassin’s Creed. I was hooked. From there, every new game that came out we got on Xbox 360 and called it a day.

But, not every game.

Not all games are available on all systems. That’s obvious in the case of Nintendo’s IP – Mario, Zelda, you know the drill. But while Xbox and PlayStation may have quite a bit of crossover, they do have system-exclusive titles. While I would have kept right on rolling with PlayStation, you couldn’t get Halo on that system. And while you could get Assassin’s Creed on both, you couldn’t get Uncharted or God of War for Xbox.

So, you either bought both systems, or, because you were 17 and your mom wasn’t about to spend $800 on gaming systems, you bought one, and you chose.

In 2006, we chose Xbox.

Rarely did I wish I had a PS3. Occasionally I’d go to a friend’s house and we’d play some PS3 fighters, but there was never anything I was dying to play that I couldn’t play on Xbox. Even a few years ago when we decided to invest in an additional system, we got a Wii U because it was super cheap and we wanted a Zelda machine. (Yes, we probably should have held off until the Switch, but that’s another blog post.)

It really wasn’t until Terry and I started watching Outside Xbox and Outside Xtra religiously on YouTube that I even realized how many PlayStation exclusive games I had and was missing out on.

So, this Christmas, Terry and I bought ourselves a PS4 and a slew of games to go with it: Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Nier: Automata, Journey, The Unfinished Swan… AAA titles and indie gems alike are loaded up onto this baby, and it’s been really fun going back to games that defined a generation of the consoles.

Now about some of those old games…

We’ll talk about those in another post.

“But this does not define you…”

Cover image from Moana. Screen cap via. An approximation of how I’ve felt the past few weeks.

I’ve had a rough few weeks. Personally, professionally, mentally, emotionally, physically… you name it. It’s been difficult to fire on all cylinders. After a particularly trying week, I gave myself permission this weekend to just be.

Terry and I had a productive Saturday and spent time with friends, but I knew I needed today for and to myself. Based on my activities, here are some tips for a rejuvenating Sunday from someone who allowed herself to have one:

  • Sleep in.
  • Drink coffee.
  • Sink into something methodical—preferably with a goal or something easy to achieve—for a few hours. For me, this was crafting gear in Guild Wars 2 and listening to a podcast. I was playing an open-world MMO, but doing tasks with clearly defined crafting guidelines and a numerical goal to reach. This is not fun for everyone. I don’t even like it a lot of times. But it was perfect for today.
  • Eat lunch. Or a snack. Drink water. Just don’t forget to nourish yourself.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time with your person. Or a person or creature who doesn’t make you make an effort to spend time with them. I’m fortunate to have a husband I can cohabitate with and not have to do anything. Most of the day we were within sight of one another, but we weren’t doing things together. We could just do our thing and have a good day.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Watch Moana. I suppose you could theoretically watch any Disney movie, or any movie that makes you happy. But I highly suggest Moana for empowerment, good music, tears, and happiness.
  • Do Yoga with Adriene’sYoga for Depression.” Again, you could do any workout or yoga you like, I suppose. But Adriene just posted this today, and it was exactly what I needed. More so than I could have thought.
  • Bathe and pamper yourself. Take a bath, take a hot shower, put on a face mask, shave your legs, pluck your eyebrows. Whatever gets you clean and makes you feel a little special.
  • Dance and sing to the Moana soundtrack while you write a blog post. Okay, maybe that’s just for me.

Take a deep breath and get out there and kill it this week.

EXPeriencing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

Cover image via.

The Legend of Zelda is my childhood, but not for the same reason as most of my peers. In 1992 when I was three years old, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released in the United States. Like many families, mine had a Super Nintendo. My dad liked video games (my interests are genetic), and he picked up A Link to the Past in the early ’90s.

My mom and I would spend hours watching my dad play A Link to the Past in our basement. We’d pull up chairs between his desk and the tv stand and watch him run around as Link swinging his pixelated sword at long grass, shooting little arrows at knights, and catching fairies in bottles. A Link to the Past has always been one of my favorite video games, but not because of my memories playing it.

In fact, I didn’t try playing it myself until sometime in early high school when I found a copy of the game at a resale game shop. Now, I had fully adopted the PS2 at this point. Going back to a Super Nintendo, which doesn’t have analog sticks, was abnormally difficult for me. I didn’t get past the first dungeon before I abandoned my first attempt at nostalgia.

Occasionally someone would have a Super Nintendo and A Link to the Past and I would attempt to play it. I would fail miserably ever time. I eventually gave up in my quest to defeat the game.

You may be wondering if I played any other Zelda games growing up. The answer is actually no. After Super Nintendo, I moved on to PlayStation, PS2, then Xbox 360 and Xbox One. I never even owned an N64 until I bought one second-hand in high school. My sister got a Wii for Christmas one year, but the only games we ever played were Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Fit. It wasn’t until I bought a Wii U for myself and Terry for Christmas last year that I had actually owned a new Nintendo tv console.

And you know what Wii U has? A Virtual Console. Do you know what’s in the Virtual Console? Just about every Nintendo game ever created to buy and download and play right away. Finally, finally I would play  A Link to the Past and beat it!

I was so naive.

link-to-the-past

The eternal frustrations are real. Image via.

A Link to the Past is a hard. freaking. video game. Top-down, 8-bit, retro games are hard to adjust to in the age of hyper-realistic first-person shooters, 3D movement, and analog sticks. I think I made it through two or three dungeons this time around. I abandoned it this spring.

But, the  Wii U Virtual Console has other Zelda games, too! Like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time–the Mecca of Zelda, Link’s Holy Grail, everyone’s favorite Zelda game. $10 and a download later, I started my quest.

There was just one problem. The games on the Virtual Console aren’t optimized for the Wii U. They’re straight copies of the original games. So nothing has been updated or reconfigured or adjusted for the Wii U.

Which can be problematic. Remember those analog sticks I love so much? Yeah… Enter the Fire Temple.

In the Fire Temple, you have to carefully make your way around a narrow ledge to get the hammer you need to complete the rest of the dungeon. The kicker? It’s timed. So you have to gently maneuver Link around the narrow ledge so you don’t jump down two floors and have to make your way all the way back up to the hammer room.

Because Ocarina of Time wasn’t optimized for the system or controllers (yes, I tried two different types of controllers–the Wii U GamePad and the Wii U compatible GameCube controller), there is no “gently” with the analog stick. Link is either standing still or running full tilt. You cannot gently maneuver him to do anything, meaning I cannot proceed with the Fire Temple. Ocarina was abandoned. I was annoyed.

With the upcoming election (deep breaths two days we can do it), I was looking for a story-packed new video game to play for distraction and escape. Knowing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had been remastered for Wii U, Terry suggested we run to Target and get it so I could finally try my hand at a Zelda game on its intended console. When we got to Target, I saw The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD was also remastered for Wii U. I remember my best friend playing through the original Wind Waker on GameCube, and even though most people I know give it grief because “it’s not really Link,” it was also only $20 to Twilight Princess’s $60. So I got that instead.

Two weeks later, that is some of the best $20 I’ve ever spent. After 27 years of my life, I am proud to report I have finally beaten–and loved–a Zelda game. Of course there were frustrations, a couple deaths, and more than one “How do you ____” Google searches, but I did it! Link and Zelda beat Ganondorf and I was able to tune out reality for a few hours every night.

Wind Waker HD‘s cell-shaded animation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it made all the stakes feel just a little lighter. It was still very much a Zelda game with all the same puzzles, a dozen different special weapons and items, and a big open world to explore with plenty of dungeons, fairies, and magic. There’s even a dragon.

While my childhood memories of Zelda are likely very different than most people’s, I finally have one to share with everyone else: the satisfaction of beating all the dungeons, beating Ganondorf, and having more than three hearts.

link-selfie

You know a game’s updated for modern times when you get to take selfies in it. Image via.

EXPeriencing Overwatch (and Why It’s Better than Team Fortress 2)

Last year I wrote about watching the amazing cinematic trailer for Overwatch. I also noted that while it was an awesome trailer, it looked like a Team Fortress 2 ripoff. I am here to report that after playing Overwatch in its first week, it may have similar elements to TF2, but it’s not a ripoff. In fact, I am having a blast playing Overwatch—more so in its first week than any time I’ve spent playing Team Fortress 2 in the past three years.

My husband will say I haven’t enjoyed playing Team Fortress 2 because I didn’t give it a chance. However, just like books, if a video game doesn’t hook me after a few hours, what’s the point in continuing? There are too many other good books/games out there to slog through one you don’t enjoy. And in TF2′s case where there is no story, no character development, and no objectives beyond obtaining silly hats and winning five-minute match, there was nothing to keep me playing it. (This is why I haven’t logged onto Steam in over a year.)

Enter Overwatch. There are 21 playable heroes in the game, eight of which are women (as well as two robots and one genetically-enhanced gorilla). It may not be perfectly even, but compared to TF2′s all-male line-up—and almost any other video game’s character pool, particularly shooters—this is something to get excited about. The women (and men) also all come in varying ethnicities and body shapes.

On top of that, each character has an in-depth background. Several have received cinematic shorts à la the trailer (such as Genji and Hanzo and Soldier 76), and some have even gotten comics sharing their background in the Overwatch program (like Torbjörn). These shorts and comics create another layer to Overwatch outside of the game itself that not only create more content to consume, but make you want to play these characters and get to know them in-game, too. Sure, “getting to know them in-game” equates to “what fun voice line can I unlock for 250 credits?” and “what does my left shift button do for this character again?” But this creates a good balance between throwaway characters and Hodor-level devastation when you get shot out of the sky by Bastion in turret mode.

One of the things I like most about Overwatch is that it gives you the tools to be good at it—or at least not completely terrible. You can play against AI and try out different characters and get their abilities under your fingers before you face real people. Nothing shakes my self-confidence quite like getting my ass kicked by other people in video games, so the fact that Overwatch has provided me an arena where I can learn how to not suck at all the characters is a nice touch. And with 21 characters, that’s a lot of abilities to get a handle on.

The game is also built on team collaboration. Unlike Team Fortress 2 where you more or less blindly pick a character and run in, Overwatch helps you compose the perfect team. It tells you if you have too many snipers or not enough support or low team damage. And, the best part, is that people actually pay attention to it. I haven’t witnessed many teams where one or two teammates haven’t switched to different characters after the game says the team composition is off. Every once in a while I’m stuck with a mediocre Hanzo and a crappy Widowmaker and we’ve done poorly, but I’m happy to report that’s rare. (P.S., I’m the crappy Widowmaker.)

My favorite thing about Overwatch, though? It’s just plain fun. As this article from Forbes details, even losing can be fun. Or at the very least, not devastating. Often when playing TF2, because I had no idea what I was doing, losing sucked even more. I was fumbling around, dying all the time, and ultimately letting my team down. In Overwatch, though, even if I really suck, I’m not shamed for my terrible kill-to-death ratio or for not having a bunch of solo kills. Sometimes, sometimes, I even get the play of the game! That’s really fun and makes me feel special, important, and like I contributed to the team.

If you’re at all curious about checking out a new team-based first-person shooter, I would definitely recommend Overwatch! I play on PC, so I can’t speak to the console versions, but shooters are always just better on PCs anyway. Happy shooting!

Traversing “Monument Valley”

I almost never spend money on apps. Case in point, I’ve owned an iPhone since 2011, and I’ve only spent money on two apps: a Couch to 5K running trainer app and “Monument Valley.”

I had never heard of “Monument Valley” until my sister texted me a screen cap of the intro screen (above) saying, “YOU NEED TO BUY THIS GAME RIGHT NOW!!! It’s the most beautiful game I have ever played.” Considering my sister hasn’t played many video games, I took that with a grain of salt. Also considering the app was $3.99, I was hesitant. Is $3.99 really worth it for a puzzle game? But when my sister texted me the next day saying, “Did you get it!?!” I figured I might as well check it out since 1.) my sister isn’t this adamant about anything that we have in common, e.g. video games, and 2.) it would make her stop bugging me.

MV 4

So I downloaded it this morning, and it’s a fun little puzzle game! It’s like ustwo, the studio who created “Monument Valley,” decided an M.C. Escher painting needed to be interactive and filled with pretty colors. And not only are the levels filled with creative puzzles, there’s an interesting little story line to go along with them.

I keep saying “little” because for $3.99, the game was awfully short. Ten levels that I was done with in less than two hours. Granted that’s less than a movie ticket for the same amount of time in which I’d be entertained, but still, spending money on an iPhone game feels like it should be more of an investment than a quick Sunday afternoon play-through.

I wondered where my sister would have heard of this game, so I Googled it to see if it had recently gotten some publicity or if there was a compelling story behind it. Well, “recent publicity” is probably a pretty gross understatement. The game was featured in House of Cards Season 3. I’m way behind on HoC (I haven’t even watched Season 2 yet… oops), so clearly I had missed its mention there, but no one else did. According to IGN, since the game’s appearance on the show, “the game has soared into the top 10 top paid apps on iTunes, and is currently number three in the paid games category on the Google Play store. The game did not rank in the top 25 on either app store before appearing on the show.” Nothing like some political drama to get your indie puzzle game on the map! (P.S., Although my sister does watch HoC, she isn’t to that particular episode yet. She found out about the game on a blog.)

MV 2

If you’ve seen the game on House of Cards and are thinking about checking it out, or if you’re just looking for something to kill some time with on your phone, I would suggest “Monument Valley.” It’s a pretty game, it’s got great music and sound effects, and it won’t steal all your free time for days on end like “Candy Crush.” One word of caution: if you’re prone to motion sickness, pace yourself. Rotating Escher stairs for two hours maybe isn’t the best for one’s tummy.

I’m always an advocate for games with a story, though. Doing puzzle after puzzle can be entertaining, but when there’s a story–especially one with a princess, and especially one with a princess whose name is the same as one of my sorority’s founders–I feel compelled to reach the end. Although I reached the end of “Monument Valley” more quickly than I had hoped, traversing it was a treat.

EXPeriencing the Best Game Trailer I’ve Ever Seen

Trailers are an important marketing tool, obviously. For movies, video games, and even books, the trailer heaps on the hype leading up to the work’s release. Trailers are so important nowadays, we even have trailers for our trailers (lookin’ at you, Ant-Man).

Sometimes those trailers are good, sometimes they’re meh. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether they’re good or bad, just that they do their job of getting you excited for the upcoming movie/video game/book release. But it is pretty refreshing when you get a good trailer that does its job so well, something you didn’t really care about becomes something you can’t wait for. In this case, the cinematic trailer for Blizzard’s Overwatch. I’m not going to say anything else about it until after you’ve watched the amazingness that is this trailer:

I share the little boy’s sentiments completely: “That. Was. AWESOME!” Seriously. That is Pixar-level, not just in art and animation, but in storytelling, too. I don’t know much about this world they’ve created, but I want to learn more.

The only thing I knew about Overwatch before seeing the trailer was that it was kind of a rip-off of one of my husband’s favorite games, Team Fortress 2. If you’ve never heard of it, TF2 features nine (mostly white and all male) characters who fight each other for kicks. Maybe there’s more detail to the overall game than that, but you really don’t need to know anything else besides it. It’s a first-person shooter, and basically you just pick a character to play as and run around shooting bullets, arrows, and/or fire at your opponents. It’s pretty straightforward.

When Terry, my husband, first told me about Overwatch and showed me some initial release footage, yeah, it looked like a TF2 ripoff. There was the super-quick skinny character whose job is to run in and get back out, just like TF2’s Scout character. There was the big beefy character whose job is basically “destroy,” just like TF2’s Heavy. There’s a sniper. There’s a healer who heals with a magic healy-gun. There’s an engineer who builds turrets. Most of the characters line up so perfectly, they even have similar accents.

But there’s one major difference: NOT ONLY does Overwatch have female characters, but it ALSO has characters of varying races and ethnicities! So while yes, there is a super-quick skinny character, she’s a she. And the sniper is a she. And the healer is a she. And the characters aren’t all white! They’re Indian and Egyptian and Japanese and… giant gorilla. Yes, there’s a giant gorilla. Also, robots.

I’m not a huge fan of Blizzard, mostly because I just don’t like WoW. But, I am definitely willing to give this game a shot, thanks in no small part to the cinematic trailer. I’m not terribly great at first-person shooters, especially not TF2, but this game just looks, well, fun. And if that trailer doesn’t make you want to jump in and at least experience the world a little, I don’t know what would. Add in that I actually have the option of playing as a girl, and yeah, I’m definitely gonna check it out.

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see if Overwatch also has silly hats.