Gone Home – Review (PS4)

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I was quite excited to get the chance to play Gone Home, which had arrived on PC last year. I’d heard lots of good things about the game’s setting and atmosphere. It’s a title reminiscent of older adventure games, there isn’t a great deal of gameplay per se, it’s about unravelling the story by exploring around the environment.

Set in 1995, you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar who returns back after some months away travelling to find her family moved into a new house. To make things even weirder there is no-one home but a note on the front door from her sister Sam begging her not to look for her.

And then you’re off, first finding a way into the house and then trying to work out what has been going on in your absence. Along the way you’ll uncover clues about not only your sister but also your parents, each strand delivering more intrigue as you delve into places you probably shouldn’t – and wouldn’t under normal circumstances.

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Gone Home does a good job of making you feel this, that voyeuristic vibe that should accompany rooting around in other people’s private stuff. In a lot of games it’s sometimes easy to forget that whoever you’re investigating is a person with a history and feelings, not so in Gone Home and there were a few instances that I felt genuinely uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing as it shows they built a believable cast of characters that you know only through clues.

I loved the design of the house itself, which was interesting and quite a big area to explore. The only downside, not unique to this game but exacerbated by the freedom to move around large swathes of the house, is that there is a lot of ground to cover if you miss a clue. Which is what happened to me.

Let me preface this by saying I appreciate that I might be the only person in the world this happened to, I’m not sure what the odds are for missing clues in the game as a lot of them are signposted well. This clue came fairly deep into the game and I, essentially, didn’t click one thing in the room. Now, that is not the developers fault – I missed the clue – but I found it really disappointing there wasn’t any sort of hint system at all. Surely after an allotted time (10/15 mins) a prompt could pop up, even if it’s asking if I want a hint as opposed to just revealing it?

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Instead what happened was I knew I’d missed something so went right back to the start of the house (more than once) and scoured every room again. For 45 mins. Just to put that in context, Gone Home is 2 hours long. So I spent a further amount of time the equivalent of almost half the game aimlessly walking around, frustrated. Eventually, thinking the game might be broken, I checked online, discovered what I had missed, went to the next clue and activated the following sequence. As I said earlier missing the clue is my fault, that’s a part of adventure games but I do feel if I’m turning to the internet in the belief your game is broken then maybe you should consider a form of hint system for next time.

And this broke the game for me. My immersion was shattered and I had lost any interest in the story. I walked away from the game and returned a few hours later to finish it but the experience was soured. Which is a shame because I imagine in a ‘clean’ run through this would be a short but interesting title.

Rating: 6/10

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Review (PS4)

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know about my love for the Uncharted series. Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan remains one of my favourite game characters of all time and the dynamics of the relationship between Nate and Elena, among others, keep me coming back title after title. But after the release of Uncharted 3 and a teaser trailer for the fourth instalment, it was all change at developer Naughty Dog – the driving force of the series Amy Hennig left and The Last Of Us team took over the reigns. The game was rebooted and reimagined. So could they continue the good work laid out in the previous games?

The Last Of Us had a huge impact on the gaming landscape both in terms of design and character development in games. The concern from some corners was that the devs might make Uncharted too ‘serious’. I don’t feel that happened and, actually, I believe toning down a few sections really helped the characters shine. Uncharted 4 still has the bombastic, action filled set pieces I’ve always loved but now includes a few options to use stealth for battles if desired. There are still plenty of one liners and quips but also real conversations and moments of downtime. It’s a slow start compared to other Uncharted games but I think it benefits the game in the long run.

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The story this time is your typical ‘one last job/coming out of retirement’ fare, all based around the reappearance of Nate’s long thought dead brother, Sam. For me, Sam was an interesting character but led to a few issues with the overall Uncharted universe. I don’t recall him having been mentioned much previously but if you ignore the ‘retcon’ of back story and just enjoy the plot it isn’t too much of an issue.

Graphically the game is a powerhouse, I’ve not seen anything like it and it’s definitely one of those games (like Driveclub or Star Wars: Battlefront) that you can use to show off what a PS4 can do. Gameplay remains largely the same, lots of climbing and firefights, although the addition of the grappling hook also gives you a lot more freedom of movement to escape from (or rush to) enemies. The AI of the enemies seems much improved and there were a few occasions that felt genuinely challenging on the Normal setting.

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I was a little disappointed that Greg Edmonson didn’t return to score but I guess the new Uncharted Naughty Dog team wanted to put their own stamp on things. Henry Jackson’s score does the job and the opening theme does hit home as expected. The voice acting is, as always, truly superb. Additionally the facial capture is among the best I’ve seen, able to capture subtle expressions of thoughtfulness or glee. Newcomers Laura Bailey and Warren Kole (as Nadine and Rafe, respectively) delivered two more great characters to the series. Rafe might actually be one of my favourite all time videogame villains.

I’ve always enjoyed the shooting in these titles and Uncharted 4 delivers again, with various weapons all feeling different to handle and having a decent heft to them. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the hand to hand combat. Taking a more Last Of Us direction meant that close quarters fistfights became a mess of button mashing and hoping for the best. There were also a few sections when climbing that weren’t immediately clear on direction and I ended up falling to my death. Having said that, at least it added some (small) stakes to climbing, which hadn’t happened in previous instalments.

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Multiplayer is back and bigger than ever, with fast paced action set around a few core modes. Uncharted multiplayer has always been a bit ‘Marmite’ but I’ve always enjoyed the fun nature of it and this game really ramps things up by introducing computer controlled side kicks and mystical abilities based on items from the series. This feels like a good move to me, the game thrives on the magic artefact theme so why not lean into it for multiplayer? Players remain a touch bullet-spongy, again not an issue for me but others may not like that style of combat. The grappling hook also comes into its own here and it’s very satisfying to take out a human opponent from up high!

I don’t want to go into detail about the story but I will say it was the most enjoyable one in the series for me. Uncharted 2, with its triple-crossing, pulp action comes a very close second but the character development in 4 is truly great. They have the benefit of this being the final game, which allows them the luxury of tying up some loose ends and I’ll finish this short section on the story by saying, as someone heavily invested in the series and characters, that I was really pleased as the credits rolled – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a great way to wrap up the series.

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Another stellar title in the series then, as Naughty Dog continue their amazing run of games on PS4. With the increase of players on Playstation this generation lots more people will get a chance to experience Uncharted’s special brand of treasure hunting. If you haven’t already picked this up, I’d really recommend you do.

Rating: 10/10

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops III – Review (PS4)

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I quite enjoyed the last Call Of Duty game, Advanced Warfare, and Black Ops II was my favourite game in the entire series so I was really hopeful that Black Ops III would be another great experience.

In Black Ops II, I found that I enjoyed the story a lot more than the multiplayer especially with the option to change the outcome via decisions you make over the course of the game. With this new title I felt the balance had shifted in the other direction and when you’re not that into the multiplayer aspect of a game series, that can be an issue.

I fully expect to be in the minority here as I know the Call Of Duty series fast paced, twitch based, shooting is massively popular. It’s just never felt good to me. What’s on offer here for multiplayer is a solid set of maps (one of them even made my list of Top 30 Maps) and some new abilities/classes with which to play around with. In the wake of Titanfall and Advanced Warfare there is an added emphasis on movement, with the ability to jump boost along walls and gain some extra height quickly giving the game an even faster pace than before.

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Story wise, this tale of futuristic espionage treads a familiar path – you and your team take on various groups of enemies, now also featuring robots/cyborgs, as you try to unravel a mystery with the C.I.A (your employer) at its heart. One thing I did like about the campaign was that it gave you the option to play as a male or female operative, which is pretty cool. Something I didn’t like was the fact the game ran separate versions of the campaign for online and offline story modes. So if you played offline, when you returned and were online there was no way (other than switching off your internet) to continue your game… madness!

Graphically the game looks good, as you’d expect and there are no performance issues that I encountered. The campaign supports 4 player co-op play as well so if you have friends that also have the game that’s a neat way to experience the story. Zombies mode returns and there is also a new mode called Nightmares, unlocked by finishing the campaign, that puts a different spin on the story and replaces the usual enemies with Zombies.

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Overall I was a little disappointed with this instalment in the Call Of Duty series. Without an interesting story to compliment the multiplayer I didn’t feel there was enough there for me personally. In terms of the gameplay Black Ops III continues to evolve the series and brings some interesting ideas to the table but the campaign mode, while delivering something new with gender choice and co-operative play, also felt like a step backwards – especially after the way Black Ops II’s story played out. I suspect fans of the series will have loved it but there just wasn’t enough there to hook me in.

Rating: 6/10

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