Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth (Review)

Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth by Christopher Golden is the first novel to be written for the Uncharted video game series, and in all honesty, it almost feels like there’s a PlayStation controller in your hand and you’re playing.

The novel starts out with Drake escaping through some jungle as he was hired to retrieve an artifact of some importance to a tribe, and he has a girl he’s saved with him in the jeep he’s driving, and there’s bullets everywhere, normally what you’d expect from an Uncharted title. Moments later, Drake and the girl he’s saved are surrounded by their pursuers and about to die, until some tribesmen come in, save the day, and drake returns the artifact to the tribe, and the girl to her father. Fast forwarding a bit, Drake is going back the the US, when Sully calls him to go to New York with a very vague explanation, Drake gets to New York as Sully meets him and explains to him that his lifelong friend Luka Hzujak has been murdered in the most gruesome way possible, they get to an apartment where Drake meets Luka’s daughter Jada Hzujak, Sully’s god daughter as well, which will explain through out the novel why Sully is so protective of her. Jada starts filling Drake in on more details of her father’s death, as much as she could anyway, they then decide to take a trip to a nearby museum to meet Luka’s friend and the curator of the museum they’re going to, Professor Chenney, only when they get their, he’s dead, and they flee the scene before the police come and ask way too many questions, on the way back to the apartment, they find the entire building on fire, and they’re being chased by a few vans with people shooting at them relentlessly.

In the interest of not spoiling this outstanding novel, I’ll stop there so you get the gist of what to expect. The novel is amazingly well written that it feels like you’re playing another Uncharted title, which is an awesome thing since I can’t get enough of this series personally, even after playing the recently released Golden Abyss Vita game, this novel came as a welcomed addition. Everyone in the novel is instantly recognisable, Drake is just as snarky and sarcastic as he’s always been, Sully’s undeniably awesome ego and sarcasm is instantly recognisable too, and even the new characters are all very well thought out.

The novel will take you to Egypt and Greece in search of  labyrinths buried by thousands of years of history, and being an Egyptian, the Egypt part was particularly interesting, while Christopher Golden nailed the description of Egypt down to every detail, he fell short of giving an authentic Egyptian name to Sully’s liaison in Egypt, I mean, seriously, the easiest name that comes to mind would be “Muhammed” or “Ahmad” or anything, instead Christopher Golden opted for a name that I have never personally heard before, and have forgotten because of it’s ambiguity. Greece’s description is wonderful and breath taking, even though I’ve never been there and don’t actually know what it looks like, but Christopher Golden painted a really nice picture illustrating the beauty of Greece.

As I’m not an avid book reader, it took me a while to finish this book, but it is not by any means boring, it is extremely engaging and exciting with the action never stopping throughout every chapter. It’s not a big book anyway, it’s only 322 pages long, and I found Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11 album to be a particularly nice background music to listen to while reading the novel, it captures the essence of Uncharted nicely.

If you folks have read the book, let me know what you thought of it, it is certainly a must for any Uncharted fan!

What makes video games memorable?

A few days ago, I started wondering, what made all those games I remember from my childhood and teenage years so good and memorable! And taking into the consideration that I have the attention span of  a gold fish, something REALLY impressive must have made a big impression on me back then for me to still remember exactly where the NPC positions were in the first Diablo, how Griswold’s shop was next to Ogden the tavern owner’s, right in front of Cain which was in turn in front of Peppin the Healer’s hut, or how that one extremely frustrating Terran campaign mission made me quit playing Starcraft altogether (it was one with a 30 minute count down timer where you had to defend your base against hordes of Zerg), then I realized, it was all about the music, it’s always been all about the music! And when I gave it some more thought I came to the conclusion that video games have some of the best musical scores you’ll ever listen to, and I’m going to list some of my favourites, and some which some friends recommended.

To the Moon is a game that has not been released for so long, yet is probably one of the most incredible games in terms of story telling and soundtrack, one of the few games that actually made me tear up.

Diablo has always been known for it’s dark, grim music, and here are three fine examples from the three Diablo games spanning a development duration of 16 years! And it’s all still dark now, that’s why I love these games.

Torchlight II may be a Diablo clone, it may have taken an idea here, and idea there, maybe even waited long enough to be released just so Runic wouldn’t make the same mistakes Blizzard did, but that definitely does not make it a lesser game, or have a lesser soundtrack, by all means, this is a fine example of how Torchlight II is reminiscent of Diablo II while keeping it’s own identity.

Bayonetta was one of the fastest, most intense, weird hack n’ slash I’ve had the pleasure of playing, ever. EVER. Ever. Ever. Now that we have that out of the way, let me show you exactly why I loved this game so much.

Assassin’s Creed II was hands down the best of the Assassin’s Creed series so far, ask anyone and I doubt they’ll argue, the story was engaging throughout, the cliffhanger was as irritating as it could get, and it wouldn’t have been that good without the good guys at Ubisoft making an epic soundtrack for it.

Another Ubisoft marvel was Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within, it was my favourite of the trilogy (Yes, I don’t consider the last one part of the franchise, it was THAT awful), and for good reason, it had an amazing score behind it! Being a bassist myself, I especially loved that one track.

Now who in their right mind would make a blog article like this and not post The Elder Scrolls in it? At least Skyrim, I mean, it had one of the most epic soundtracks in a video game!

If you own a Playstation 3, you must have at least played one of the three Uncharted games, if not all of them, and you might have also noticed how the menu theme is persistent in all three games, and for good reason, it’s freaking awesome!

What sets a certain game apart from the pack though is how the development or distributors decide to go about the soundtrack, and thankfully, Valve are saints, proving time and again how Portal 2 might very well be the greatest puzzle based game to be ever made. (P.S.: Science IS fun.)

MAG has taken quite some time from my life, this game has 3 separate soundtracks for each faction, I personally have played both Valor and SVER, never Raven, so I don’t know much about their music, but here you go.

Now for a game that had me practically in awe for how amazing its music was, I would honestly just start Dark Souls, and leave it in the load screen, and listen to the music for hours on end, the load screen music, Gwyn’s music, and Dark Sun Gwyndolin’s music.

I haven’t yet played Killzone 3, for OCD-ish reasons (I absolutely need to play the first two before this one), and I’ve heard all sorts of rants on how bad the story is, but this, this here, more than makes up for it.

Without mentioning how purchasing Gravity Rush justified my Vita purchase (No sarcasm there, it actually did, game is fantastic), or how hot Kat is, the game has one of the jazziest tracks you can here in any video game out there!

Rayman Origins on the other hand, takes another route from anything you’ve ever heard before, the music is actually extremely funny that you find yourself hysterically laughing over it, or just have a wide smile on your face, which made this game an amazing platformer! (Also better played on the Vita than console or PC!)

Continuing on the Blizzard glory, we have Starcraft! That irritating son of a bitch game that kicked my ass so many times over the years, yet I always remembered that Terran theme and how it made me just want to go slaughter more Zerg.

Now for something truly old, the first Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack, who didn’t love that? Seriously?

Duke Nukem. Megadeth. I don’t think I need to say more.

Back in my Playstation 1 years, I loved Megaman X5, absolutely adored this game and it’s main menu music, I loved it so much I actually recorded it on my old (yet extremely cool at the time) Nokia 3650.

My cousin owned a Dreamcast, and Sonic Adventure on it, and before he forsake gaming, he actually had the potential to be a hardcore gamer, anyway, him and I would play Sonic Adventure all day long, and sing along to this track, it was awesome back then, it still is now!

Bastion is one game that took the Diablo formula, and twisted it in its own, marvellously addictive way, it does not have dark gritty music, instead it has some very memorable fight music that will make you really wanting to go back and play it some more.

Last in my recommendations is a game that I have mastered, and wasted SO many years of my life playing, Red Alert 2, I loved that game so much! And it was mostly because of the Hell March track!

Last but definitely not least, some recommendations by my Facebook pals.

ATV Offroad Fury:

Trine 2:

Zone of the Enders 2:

Shadow of the Colossus:

Metal Gear Solid:

Let me know what your favourites over the years were, or if I’ve missed an absolute essential 😉

PlayStation Vita review

So I went to GameStop last week and got myself a little treat, actually, it was a treat with a marvelous 5 inch OLED screen, and I can’t stress that enough, but I’ll keep rambling about it some more in the review here, I got myself a PSVita!

 

First off, I bought the Wifi only version, though let me assure you, by the time I’m writing this article, the launch edition is still available for sale, or at least the box was still up for preview in all GameStops I went to, for those of you that don’t know what the launch bundle is, it’s basically a 3G/Wifi vita + an 8GB memory card + a month of free 3G from AT&T I think, and a free PSN game, though a little research will show you that the free 3G month is only redeemable after you pay for your first 3G month, and the PSN game is redeemable after a month of activating the card, all of that was for $300, which is the price of the 3G/Wifi alone, now I don’t know what possessed me and kept me from buying that one, but I just didn’t, the Wifi only version costs $250, though how can it be Sony’s without some hidden charges here and there! Well, my dear readers, those charges are well present, you NEED to buy a memory card since apparently Sony cheaped out and didn’t implement a small amount of memory on the device for game saves, which is very stupid in my book, but anyway, I bought the 4GB card for $26 I think, a starter kit, which comes with a carrying pouch for your vita, a case for your games which can carry up to 32 game cartridges, a screen protector, and a tissue to wipe the screen with, I also bought the Mad Catz Armor Shell, which is really nice, albeit being a bit of a snug fit, as well as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Rayman Origins.

The first thing you notice when taking out the Vita from its box is how big it is, but it’s not inconveniently big, just big enough to have you notice it, the screen responds very well, the new operating system is really nice and intuitive, Sony decided to take a step back from the PSP’s and the PS3’s XMB and go with a bubble based OS (not literally, I just can’t think of a better description off the top of my head), but it suits the whole “Touch screen” theme so well, oh, and you can only use the front touch pannel while navigating through the menu, it’s annoying, but you get used to it. Another interesting thing that Sony did was making a few applications for normal PSN functions, like for example, to view your friends list, you have to launch the friends app, to send a message, the messaging app, to see your trophies, you have to go jump through three hoops of spike and fire whilst singing killing me softly well, you get where this is going. You can’t be playing a game, pause it, and open your browser, it won’t work, the multitasking works mainly with group chatting and gaming, not all games though, if I understand this well enough, Uncharted won’t allow it, since Uncharted is one of the few Vita games (not that there’s many right now anyway) that closes all network connections while being played, saves more resources for the game, but I’m not complaining, the game looks phenomenal on the 5 inch screen.

More into tech specs now, we’ve covered the 5 inch OLED, though not HD, but rather qHD, same as the iPhone’s resolution (960×544), an ARM Cortex A9 4 core processor, a SGX543MP4+ GPU which is roughly 4 times as powerful as the iPad 2’s SGX535 (I think, just taking a swing here, correct me if I’m wrong), 512 MBs of RAM with 128MB of VRAM which makes it handle the whole “multitasking” nicely, and of course either Wifi or 3G and Wifi capabilities.

Now as far as how the handling of the handheld goes, the rear touch pad gets in the way, a lot, but I personally haven’t had any issues except for some mild discomforts while zooming in/out in Uncharted, but the place where you’re supposed to keep your hand doesn’t really help, I found my hand slipping to cover up the entire back of the vita as I was playing, thankfully, Uncharted offers traditional controls alongside touch ones, since I’m not the biggest fan of touch screens (or 3D for that matter, way too much of a gimmick in my opinion).

To all of you who have already bought a Vita, what do you guys think of it? do you think it’s worth the current price tag? and for all of you wanting to buy a Vita, I (personal opinion here, not trolling) would suggest you guys wait a bit for a price drop, or if a new vita comes out with onboard memory, though this won’t be happening anytime soon, since Sony usually gets out the “Slim” version of their consoles in like 4-6 years. If you can’t wait to play the new Uncharted, it IS a console seller, that you can be sure of, also Rayman is epic.

PSVita! YAY!

For those of you who don’t know what the PSVita is, it is Sony’s new entry in the portable gaming world, the PlayStation Portable’s successor, it was announced in this year’s E3, with a lot of speculations and rumors flying around before then, it was for a pretty long while codenamed the Next Generation Portable, or NGP for short, but Sony had shed the light on the newer, nicer name in E3 2011, with it’s pricing of $250 for the WiFi only version, and $300 for the 3G +WiFi version, but for those of you who, like me, don’t use 3G that often, $250 is an impressive price for a new handheld console, let alone a new Sony entry (Need I remind you of the $600 price tag that was associated with the PlayStation 3’s launch? That was nothing short of brutal).

I just want to hug it O.O

As you can see from the picture above, the XMB is out, and the new (bubble?) design is in, which is designed to be more touch friendly, since the PSVita sports a 5 inch OLED multitouch capacitive touchscreen, so you can basically draw noodles on that thing and it won’t mind… But you probably should not do so. An intriguing new aspect for handheld consoles altogether, is the Vita’s rear touch panel, while it may prove as an inconvenience at some points, for those with bigger hands, it is pretty innovative. This beast of a handheld has a 4 core ARM-Cortex A9 CPU, 512 MBs of ram, and 128 MBs of VRAM, and all of that for only $250 (in other words, Nintendo can go cry in a corner… Yes, even after the price drop).

Sony announced in the Tokyo Game Show 2011 that in the release window of the Vita, 100 games will launch, 26 of which will be launched with the launch of the Vita, while there was no mention whether the new Uncharted or Little Big Planet will be part of those 26 launch games or not, I’m guessing since it launches in Japan on the 17th of December, by the time it launches in Europe and the US, a good portion of the rest of those 100 bad boys will have been released by then.

Another cool thing is that the Vita is backwards compatible with PSP roms, and if you happen to have PSP UMDs, keep those, Sony is working on a way to get the digital version of the UMDs for you guys!

I’ll leave you all now with the trailer from E3 2011 to feast your eyes on.