Tagged: PS3

Welcome To Last Week… The Last Of Us: Left Behind

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I would not usually plan to cover DLC within my blog entries, but for The Last Of Us: Left Behind, I will make an exception.

Many regular readers will no doubt have read my enthusiastic embrace of the original PlayStation 3 release from a few months back, and as you can imagine I was rather keen to download and play the additional one player content Naughty Dog released on February 14th. Left Behind is set up as something of a prequel to the main game, and while part of its story is set prior to the events of primary story, the bulk of this chapter actually plays out in a time frame set during the main story, albeit quite late on. One really needs to have completed The Last Of Us before embarking on following the story of Left Behind, and if you have yet to play main game, or have not yet completed it, you may wish to stop reading now as there are some minor spoilers ahead!

The Last Of Us: Left Behind is essentially split in to two stories, which flash backward and forward as you play through. One part of the story explains the events of how Ellie is propelled to prominence within the main story; and the second part tells the story of how Ellie cared for Joel in the immediate aftermath of his near fatal incident at the University of Colorado. The two halves of the game fall into two contrasting styles of play, but neither will be unfamiliar to those that have played the main game – the story strand focusing on Ellie and her friend Riley is a fairly pedestrian affair, whereas the strand focusing on Ellie’s care for Joel is very much action based.

As you play through, the game flips back and forth at intervals between the two settings, and although the two stories are not directly related for the purpose of the overall game, they help contrast the flow of the action with that of a more character driven experience. The action based scenario sees you trying to find a medical kit for Joel’s injuries while holed up in a shopping mall, avoiding Infected and Hunter’s who do not take kindly to your presence. Those of you who have played Ellie’s strand in the main game will be instantly familiar with the gameplay, and in essence, nothing is remarkably different. However, one interesting element is that in areas where there are both Infected and Hunter’s, you now have the opportunity to play one off against the other, or eliminate both as you see fit. Sending a pack of Clicker’s running into a team of Hunter’s is most satisfying, and the end result will lead to less work for yourself – handy when ammunition is at a premium, and bearing in mind that Ellie is not particularly strong with melee attacks.

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The other scenario showcases Naughty Dog’s story telling talents to the fore, carefully crafting out the relationship between Ellie and her best friend Riley and cleverly showcasing the life a young teenager would be expecting to lead in this dystopian future. While you control Ellie throughout, this strand is all about the dialogue and the interaction between the two friends. To go into more detail would probably ruin the story for those who have yet to experience it, but look out for the film references that perpetuate around the shopping mall.

This new mini-chapter in Joel and Ellie’s primary tale is certainly worth experiencing, and has all the production hallmarks of the main game. However, at approximately two-half hours gameplay (at the most), I felt that charging £11.99 for the privilege of admission to be veering into the unreasonable. Sadly, from a purely cynical point of view, I dare say Sony are riding on the coat-tails of the main game’s success and thus justify their premium for this DLC. Ultimately, I feel it is definitely worth downloading, I just do not feel that it is particularly good value for money given its length.

Left Behind is most likely the only additional extension to Joel & Ellie’s adventures, and so the waiting commences to hear if Naughty Dog decide to release a sequel on PlayStation 4 at some point in the future. Naughty Dog have proved they can produce quality sequels with the Uncharted series, and so I am confident that the sequel when it comes will not disappoint, but I am not expecting a release anytime soon!

The Last Of Us: Left Behind

Version Tested: PlayStation 3 (download only via PSN)
Also available on: N/A

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Harmful Park – Sony PlayStation

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The late 1990’s saw a slew of shoot-’em-ups hit both the arcades and home consoles, some good, some bad and some truly awful. The Sega Saturn is renowned for its comprehensive shoot-’em-up library and saw many of the era’s best arcade shmups successfully ported over. The Sony PlayStation also saw some of these arcade titles ported, but, by-and-large saw more in the way of exclusive console only titles to pack out its shmup library, arguably the most famous of which is SquareSoft’s one and only foray into the genre – Einhander.

However, Einhander benefited from securing a release in both North America as well as Japan, ensuring that it did not just become another Japanese only curio for hardcore gamers to “discover” later on down the line. Still, many of the PlayStation’s “exclusive” shoot-’em-ups do fall into the category of a Japan only release and have thus fallen into general obscurity. Mentioning games like Stahlfeder, Two-Tenkaku and Air Grave will probably bring blank responses from many a gamer, as will bringing up Sky Think System’s 1997 release – Harmful Park.

That’s right, that Japanese powerhouse of arcade action Sky Think System, the geniuses behind games like Harmful Park, and, um, Harmful Park. Okay, so they released a couple of obscure puzzle games prior to this, but otherwise Sky Think System’s legacy kind of begins and ends with Harmful Park, which is a damn shame really considering how good Harmful Park is. For what appears to be, on the face of it, Sky Think System’s one and only foray into shmup territory, this is really up there with Einhander as a truly awesome one-hit shoot-’em-up wonder for any given developer.

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Harmful Park is split into six stages, with each stage representing a different area of a large theme park which has been invaded and taken over by a mad-scientist type. Each stage is filled with a variety of wacky enemies to shoot down, with some stages having a mid-stage boss, before reaching the main boss fight for that particular level. There is an incredible number of different enemies that will approach you on your quest, many with their own unique way of attacking you, and each superbly animated and drawn. Some of the larger enemies are very well presented, and very memorable. You certainly won’t forget fighting the giant gorilla, eating bananas, riding on the rear of a train which looks like a cow in a hurry!

To help you defeat the weird and wonderful opposition thrown at you, your character comes armed with no less than four different weapons – a potato gun, a jelly gun, an ice cream laser and a gun that throws pies. No, I am not making this up. Honest.
At the beginning of the game all four weapons are set at level 1 power, and each will level up to a maximum of four when you collect on screen power-up icons. Each weapon must be levelled up individually, adding a bit of strategy into the mix, and if you die the weapon you were using at the time will reset to level one, the other weapons not affected. Each weapon also has its own smart bomb, each of which has a different effect, again adding to the strategy element of the game.

One of the nice things about Harmful Park is its simplicity. You can play for score, there is a score multiplier for chaining successful enemy hits, plus a hefty end of level bonus if you clear 100 per cent of enemies for that particular stage, and there are also green gems and hidden icons to pick up to increase score too. Alternatively, you can just play for fun and enjoy the amazing detail of the sprites and backgrounds while the cheerful background music plays. The only on-going strategy you need to employ is deciding which of the four weapons you wield and how you wish to power them up. After each stage a small animation plays detailing your progress through the “story”, but sadly this is all in Japanese, so I have no idea what they’re saying!

The game defaults to easy difficulty setting, upon which most proficient gamers will glide through the game on a 1CC; however, once you up the difficulty the game starts to bite back, and on the harder settings Harmful Park presents a stern challenge. I quite enjoying playing on easy, it’s an entertaining challenge (nothing more), and it gives you more opportunity to enjoy many of the site gags and little quirks that have been lovingly programmed into the game rather than having to focus on dodging waves of bullets. The sound is of a good quality too, sound effects are spot on with the action unfolding before you, and the background music fits each stage’s area character perfectly.

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In many ways it is a perfect shmup for the more casual shoot-’em-up fan, but the high price for the PlayStation original is likely to shut out this type of gamer, leaving the game to either more hardcore fans of the genre who don’t think twice about dropping big bucks for good games, or the collector who is just going to buy it to fill another space on a dusty shelf. There are, of course, many “rare” and “obscure” games out there that are expensive for just being one or either of those two descriptions, and the games themselves are far from enjoyable to play. Thankfully Harmful Park does not fall into that category, because all though the price of admission is steep, it is worth every penny. However, if you happen to own a PlayStation 3 and can get your hands on a Japanese PSN voucher, you can download Harmful Park from the Japanese PlayStation Store for next to nothing – comparatively of course!

Once you have finished with the main game, there is an in-game option to go back to play for score, and there are also three mini-games also thrown in aimed at multiplayer competition, including support for Sony’s four-player adaptor. Sky Think System certainly try and give you plenty of game for your money!

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Overall this is a cracking horizontal shooter, which is very often, and sadly, overlooked when people look back on the late ’90’s era of shmups. The level of sheer detail, not only in the main on-screen sprites but the backgrounds as well, oozes a quality rarely seen in late 90’s 2D shmups; the love and affection with which this game has been created is very evident, and the gameplay is there to go with it. From my own recollection, this is easily one of the most detailed 2D games I have seen outside of a Neo-Geo game. I would certainly rate Harmful Park above and beyond many of the games it is often compared to such as Konami’s Parodious series, and even the excellent Star Parodier on NEC’s PC Engine CD-ROM.

Harmful Park is easy to get into and enjoy, it will present a good challenge when the difficulty level is cranked up and I would highly recommend it to any fan of the genre if you can look past the price tag.

Harmful Park
Version tested: PlayStation NTSC/J
Also available on: PlayStation 3 (PSN download – Japan only)

Welcome To Last Week… The Last of Us

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PlayStation developer Naughty Dog was once best known for its part in foisting the PSX’s answer to Sonic The Hedgehog upon us with the Crash Bandicoot series of games. While not being my thing, the Crash games were well produced, sold well, and generally received favourable reviews from critics back in the day. However, in the last 5 or 6 years Naughty Dog has somewhat reinvented itself as a developer of high quality cinematic action adventure games with the critically and commercially successful Uncharted series on PS3.

The Uncharted games certainly provided a very good reason to consider buying a PS3 over the Xbox 360 at retail with their exclusivity to Sony’s console, and to my mind, while there are some good 360 exclusives out there, Microsoft’s console never really came up with a serious rebuttal to Nathan Drake’s modern-day take on Indiana Jones. Nevertheless, I do not think that Uncharted alone would have been the tipping point in most gamer’s decisions over which console to pick up, assuming one was initially ambivalent over which of the seventh generation consoles to buy. I had already long bought a 360 by the time Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released in late 2007, and while I admit that it looked quite good, and sounded promising from the coverage I caught in Edge at the time, I wasn’t tempted to break out my old flexible friend and pick up a PS3 for this alone. However, you cannot deny the quality of production values that Naughty Dog have been injecting into their PS3 releases and the impressive way they have moved away from pseudo-“kiddies” games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter to the mature content of the releases we’ve seen since (and including) Uncharted.

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In the Spring of 2013, with the next generation of consoles only months away from launch, Naughty Dog delivered what could be rightly described as the PlayStation 3’s swan song – The Last of Us.

The back drop to the game is nothing that we haven’t seen before.
A global pandemic has all but wiped out modern civilisation, and those that have survived are living in heavily fortified zones protected by the military. Outside of these zones are other remains of humanity, pocketed in small areas of once thriving towns and cities surviving to live amongst the decay and detritus, but away from the order laid down by the military. The virus that has wrecked humanity starts life as spores getting into the brain and then developing into a fungus that turns the host into violent zombie. Over time the fungus grows deforming the head and other parts of the body, and there is no cure. These poor souls are referred to as the “Infected“, and there are a lot of them still out there looking for fresh victims as the virus can also be spread by being bitten.

After a short prologue to the main game, which sees the last hours of our world before the virus begins to spread, you take control of one of the survivors, Joel. Set twenty years later, Joel has become a smuggler of guns and pharmaceuticals with his partner, Tess, and through a twist of events get involved with a resistance movement called the Firefly’s, whereby they are entrusted to escort a young girl, Ellie, across country to a Firefly stronghold. As the game progress a strong relationship between Joel and Ellie forms which helps them drive forward, against the odds, to their ultimate destination.

The action elements are formulated of confrontations either with hostile human opponents, or the Infected. Weapons are not available in abundance, so fortunately Joel can look after himself, and many enemies can be dispatched by hand in ways not entirely dissimilar to what you would expect in Uncharted. Weapons that are available come in the form of small arms and cruder weapons such as shiv’s or baseball bats. To make matters more interesting not only are bullets in short supply, but non-ballistic weapons can only be used a few times before they will break and become useless. Therefore scavenging becomes a key part of the game process when not engaging in combat or avoiding enemies. You will find yourself searching high and low for the parts to make a shiv or Molotov cocktail, if you’re lucky you may find some bullets, but you’ll search everywhere for items so that you can survive.

The game requires you to think, and in many cases will allow you the opportunity to squirrel yourself away to one side while you consider what the best plan of attack will be, if indeed attack is a genuine option. Early on in the game, when ammunition and weapons are probably at their most scant, if you decide to become a one-man zombie-Terminator you are going to come unstuck very quickly indeed. As in real life, you use your intelligence to pick and choose your battles. Do it wisely and you’ll progress; the alternative usually results in death or making the next encounter ever the more tricky. The computer AI is excellent, and you will be quickly hunted down should you even accidentally give your position away. There are a few battles where a direct approach is required, but they are few and far between, and thus generally the action is of a cerebral variety as you eliminate those that block your path. The game is not easy, and there will be plenty of deaths before you pass certain areas. Indeed, some encounters really crank up the tension as you potentially face being overwhelmed if you do not enact a suitable strategy or respond quickly enough.

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Of course the action is not entirely the primary driver of the game; it is the narrative and the relationship that forms between Joel and Ellie, and the action constantly plays second fiddle to the story being told. This cannot be highlighted more than in the dying minutes of the game where you would be rightly expecting one thing to happen, and your resilience is rewarded with something else entirely. In fact the game’s concluding minutes are very clever and I applaud Naughty Dog for taking the route they took to bring the story to a close.

The graphics are of the highest quality, well drawn, everything has character, and the lighting effects are just beautiful. The animation is some of the best I have seen, with lots of detail in facial expressions bringing the characters more to life and further enhancing the relationship building that goes on between them and between you and them. Sound, both music and audio, is first rate as you would expect if you’ve ever played any of the Uncharted games. Technically this must be pushing the PS3 to its limits, and it’s doubtful we’ll see anything of this quality launched on the system again now that the PS4 is centre of Sony’s attention.

The Last of Us is not perfect (criticisms I do have are all very minor), but within the genre that it sits in, it comes as close as one can get to gaming perfection in my opinion, and it will be interesting to see which developers try to copy or surpass the game, within its kind, as time moves on.

One developer who should take note of The Last of Us gameplay and narrative is Capcom. In many ways Capcom have spear headed the zombie genre’s rise to prominence in modern media with the Biohazard (aka Resident Evil) series, but they have lost their way considerably since the brilliant Biohazard 4, and perhaps ever more so since Biohazard 5 as Biohazard 6 is just a complete mess. Biohazard 5 has many redeeming qualities for me, even if it is not as good as its predecessor. I cannot say the same for the abomination that is Biohazard 6. If Capcom can extract just some of the essence of The Last of Us, combine that with the characters and story strands of Biohazard, and refocus on the one player element instead of fixating on the need to pander to multi-player, then they may be able to inject some credibility back into the franchise. After all, Naughty Dog have gone on record as saying that Biohazard 4 was a big inspiration to them during the development of The Last of Us.

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With the cost of PS3 hardware now plummeting as retailers look to clear their shelves for additional space for PS4, there has never been a better time to pick up a brand new PS3 on the cheap so that one can play this game. While it may seem a bit extreme, the investment will be worth the experience that will unfold and you can then of course take in many of the other PS3 exclusives like the aforementioned Uncharted, plus Gran Turismo and others. I have no idea how many individual video games I have played since I was born, but there aren’t that many I really wanted to sit down and play through again immediately after completing them for the first time. With The Last of Us I did not get that feeling. The feeling I got was sadness, I was actual sad that I had completed the game, that my journey with Joel and Ellie had come to an end and there was no more story left to tell. I do not think I can say that about any game I have ever played or completed before; and I think that, more than anything else, that sums up the emotional impact of the thoroughly good story told by The Last of Us.

I shall, of course, be returning shortly to experience this epic once more, and I look forward to the forth coming single player DLC. I can only hope that if Naughty Dog decide to continue Joel & Ellie’s adventure, that the game is every bit as good as this; they have left themselves a mighty high mountain to climb… indeed a part of me would like to see the game as a stand alone title. Alas, I am sure commercial pressures will dictate otherwise. Still if any developer can trump their previous lofty achievements, on their record so far, it would be Naughty Dog.

Welcome To Last Week… Gears of War 3

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Been off the ball a bit recently with the ole blog… Have been a bit under the weather and have had much of my spare time sucked from me by the awesome The Last of Us on PS3… I will most certainly share my thoughts on this brilliant game in due course. I had hoped to originally put all the posts on the 7th gen consoles systems and the new 8th gen in the Nottro section, but it will end up reading like one big post… so Welcome To Last Week! This will be a regular post article when I’ll discuss some of the 7th & 8th gen games I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

Whatever the game being discussed will be, you can rest easy that IGN, C+VG, GameFAQs, Edge, Kotaku etc etc, will all have done and dusted with whatever it is I’m bleating about… but I’m sure I’m not the only gamer out there who, for whatever reason (time? money? life? family? put your excuse here), cannot be queuing up at Game at midnight every time there is a major release, dashing home on a cocktail of ProPlus and Red Bull, playing through the game and then posting a blog and/or You Tube video before most of us have even had breakfast and put our underpants on.

With the image of breakfast and underpants lodged firmly in your minds we’ll swiftly move on to something that, frankly, has very little in the way of either – Gears of War 3. Released just over two years ago on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, this is, thus far, the final chapter in the original Gears of War story (last year’s GoW: Judgement is not part of the main story arc).

I really enjoyed the first Gears of War, and GoW 2 was a worthy sequel, expanding and improving on the original. I purchased both either at, or shortly after, their original release dates, so even I was a little surprised that I had not jumped on the GoW 3 band wagon a lot sooner. Why it took me so long to purchase it I’ll never know, but at the seemingly give-away price of £11.00 on Amazon for a new, sealed, copy, it looked like a bargain in the making.

Fortunately, the game delivered plenty of bangs for my bucks.

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Gears of War 3 throws you straight into the action, as you once again assume the role of Marcus Fenix, partnered with his bunch of motely crusaders, in the fight to save the planet Sera from the clutches of the Locust Horde.

The first half of the game has you mainly dispatching waves of Lambent, mutated forms of Locust, who have similar attack AI to the Locust but also have some new tricks up their sleeves too. There is also a section of the game where you have to face a new type of enemy (I’ll keep that bit quiet so as not to ruin the story), which helps throw a good twist into the plot and also sees a rather poignant end to one of the series’ main characters. New weapons also make an appearance to help you vary your attack strategies, my favourite being the awesome Vulcan. The duck and cover mechanic the series has become renowned for, remains as accomplished as ever – many have tried to imitate Epic Games combat system, but few can get close to the masters of this style.

The action is fairly relentless at times, which wouldn’t be so much of a criticism if the game was just a little shorter than what it is and therefore the action a little more varied. Although there are now the Lambent to deal with as well as the Locust, once you’ve hit your umpteenth wave of either you pretty much know what to expect. Now, if you’re going to end a popular trilogy you want to do it with some style, so GoW 3 does not fail on that count, but I do feel that making it like the sci-fi version of Ben Hur in scope makes it a little bit of a chore occasionally. The dialogue is also a bit naff, but seeing as the game was, for me, sandwiched between stints on Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us I am perhaps being a little snobbish… you’re not going to get Oscar winning material in a game of this ilk, but perhaps the dialogue is a bit too coarse for its own good.

The graphics are excellent throughout with some superb lighting effects and fluid animation, certainly some of the finest visuals I have seen so far on the 360, and well worth taking in when you’re not too busy dodging bullets. The musical score is also of a very high quality when the cinematics are called for at various intervals. The AI is also of a high standard, meaning that not only are the enemies no push over to defeat, but that the console controlled members of your team generally react in an intelligent and logical way to whatever you’re doing rather than running round like headless chickens and getting slain every five seconds, much to your own chagrin.
There is also, of course, a healthy dose of multi-player content, which really is not my thing, and therefore I won’t be going into further details on this. Suffice to say, those of you who like your multi-player action will not be disappointed; and there’s DLC map packs to add into the mix too.

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If you enjoyed either of the first two entries in the series then GoW 3 is a real no brainer. While not quite faultless, GoW 3 does provides a substantial and entertaining one player campaign, offers plenty of re-play value for Achievements or to best personal goals from previous runs, and has strong multi-player content to boot. Certainly one of the finest Xbox 360 action games you can buy, and overall the best game in the original trilogy – never easy to keep besting yourself, but, Epic have done a damn good job of achieving this. I just wonder how long it will be before Epic/Microsoft make an announcement about the franchise crossing over to Xbox One…