Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Donkey Kong Country: A Retrospective Roundup

As appeeling as ever.

By Patrick "The Law" Morris

            Donkey Kong came from humble beginnings born into a family in which his grandfather was a kidnapper and his father had mysteriously gone missing but in 1994 the ape put on his tie and decided to make a name for himself. And make a name for himself he did as the Donkey Kong Country games became three of the best platformers the Super Nintendo had to offer. On my fifth birthday I got the Donkey Kong Country Super Nintendo bundle and unbeknownst to me my life was about to change forever. As I played through the rage inducing masterpiece for the first time I fell madly in love with video games as a whole and began to experience the uncontrollable urge to play as many of them as I could get my hands on. Donkey Kong Country was my personal catalyst into the world of video games and with the latest entry in the series having just been rereleased on the Nintendo Switch I thought it appropriate to rank all the country games from worst to best and see how this series that spans five games, three dev teams, two development studios and two radically different eras of video games stack up against each other in 2018.

5) Donkey Kong Country Returns.
            In 2010 the Donkey Kong IP had been through dark times with games like the Donkey Konga trilogy on GameCube, Donkey Kong King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance, and the incredibly regrettable Donkey Kong Barrel Blast on the Wii. The simian needed a shot in the arm and after the cancellation of DK Racing (still sour about that to this day) it appeared as though DK and friends would be joining Fox McCloud and Captain Falcon on the island of forgotten Nintendo IP. After resurrecting Metroid and bringing Samus back to prominence with the Metroid prime trilogy developer Retro Studios was looking for a different challenge and as result players everywhere finally got the long sought-after Donkey Kong Country 4. While it may be the lowest game on this list it’s important to consider that DKC Returns is the worst on a list of games that are all 9+/10. 
            DKC Returns brought the series back to prominence by harkening back to everything that made the original DKC trilogy great while at the same time stepping out and making it their own with a new art style and modernizing the side scrolling platformer to perfection. Tight platforming and incredibly responsive controls make movement in a game that is all about movement endlessly fun with the perfect feeling of weightiness. But Retro didn’t stop at just making a great side scrolling 2D platformer that would have crushed all but the best competition during the 16-bit era; they went the extra mile and reimagined the genre to make it more fitting for modern times. Animations in the background give the game a sense of depth and makes it more interesting to look at but when the player is barrel cannoned into the background and expected to continue platforming is when the game really steps out and shows that it isn’t just another platformer. In a time when 2D platformers were making a huge comeback Retro set a new standard and started the groundwork for the best 2D platforming gameplay ever made.

4) Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
            The third and final installment in the original DKC trilogy of games that launched on the SNES DKC3 refined everything the previous two games had introduced (except for the music) and provided not a revolution but an evolution of the series. With the varsity team at Rare that had made both of the previous DKC games hard at work on their new IP for Nintendo’s new 64 bit console the JV squad was taking over the helm of the series that had propelled the studio into the stratosphere. All things considered what they made was quite impressive for the situation they were in and the monumental task they had been given but where DKC 1 and 2 had blown our doors off DKC 3 left us feeling as though the series had overstayed its welcome on the SNES.
            Taking all the lessons and techniques learned from the first two games and applying them to their work on DKC 3 the team wasn’t left with much room to innovate so what they wound up doing instead was refining an already polished engine and the result was some of the most enjoyable DKC levels to this day. At the outset of the game Diddy Kong’s absence is jarring and a bit uneasy but luckily Dixie’s familiar face is there and if we are all being honest with ourselves she is everyone’s favorite playable character in the series anyway. Changing location seemed like a bit of an odd though understandable choice as we had trekked all across DK island multiple times at that point but monkey’s in Canada didn’t make much sense. Everything in DKC 3 is polished to perfection but the change in setting, addition of Kiddie Kong as the side kick character, and lack of anything new to do makes DKC 3 essentially an expansion pack on DKC 2 but with less attitude. 

3) Donkey Kong Country
            Players were first introduced to Donkey Kong in 1981 and after several games including a game that featured DK Jr. the original Donkey Kong’s son the ape characters of the Mario universe went into hibernation for a while. Hibernation lasted until 1994 when Rare Studios awoke the sleeping beast and released one of the greatest video games ever made. Using Silicon Graphics work station rendering machines Rare was able to leave the sprite art work of previous Nintendo titles behind and they released the most graphically impressive console game to date. Donkey Kong accompanied by his nephew Diddy had been robbed and they were about to set out on a quest to get their banana hoard back.
            Donkey Kong Country broke so many rules in the 2D platformer genre and executed with such incredible fines that Rare made other players in the genre even on more powerful hardware look like fools by comparison. Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Crash Bandicoot, all fell to the unbelievable performance and visual fidelity that is Donkey Kong Country. With tight controls, slower more deliberate platforming, unparalleled graphics, great level design, and an art style that had all the edge of Sonic with none of the desperation Donkey Kong Country easily earns the number three spot on this list. 

2) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
            The follow up to the wildly successful Donkey Kong Country Returns was launched on the Wii U in 2014. That’s right, the Wii U; it’s no wonder the fifth game in the series (excluding the Donkey Kong Land games) was the worst seller in the series. Nintendo was able to sell about as many Wii U’s as I have been able to sell mattresses which means two things: one Nintendo really didn’t sell many Wii U’s and two I was a wildly successful mattress salesman. All kidding aside the Wii U severely underperformed which is a damn shame because it is a really fantastic console full of gems like Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, and Hello Kitty Kruisers. 
            Tropical Freeze took everything that made DKC Returns great and turned it up to 11 and at the same time took everything DKC Returns could have done without and threw it in the bin. Gone were the forced motion controls, and the repetitive gameplay that came as a result of only being able to play as Donkey and Diddy, and of course I don’t think any of us weren’t pleased to say goodbye to the tiki villains. Joining Donkey and Diddy this time around two more companions to ride on Donkey Kong’s back: Cranky Kong whose capabilities are incredibly circumstantial and making her triumphant return Dixie Kong who once again uses her hair to glide players through the levels and regains her throne as queen of the jungle. Retro was able to create the same depth of exploration usually only found in 3D platformers and inject it into a 2D side scrolling platformer and created depth and deployability never before achieved in the genre. Tropical Freeze is so rich and full of life. Where DKC Returns felt like it overstayed its welcome and began to feel samey Tropical Freeze offers variety and interesting and hilarious enemies. The gameplay is fantastic, the art is fantastic, the characters are fantastic, the story is fantastic, and Tropical Freeze is home to the single most beautiful level I have ever played in a video game. In any other series a game of the same caliber of Tropical Freeze would easily be in the top spot and it would be if it weren’t for one other game…

1) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
            I was gifted this game when I was five years old thought it was called Diddy Kong’s Quest into my early twenties, the pun on the word conquest escaped me for almost two decades. Donkey Kong Country 2 is as close to a perfect game as has ever been made. Every single thing the game seeks to achieve it does so in spades. Radically changing gameplay by using Dixie’s hair to allow the player to cross gaps never before possible. Speeding up the action by having the two player characters be fast and agile rather than one strong and slow. Adding verticality to the level design to introduce new and interesting challenges and forcing players to approach enemies from literally an entirely new direction. Perfecting the boss designs and fights so they are all so incredibly memorable. A musical score that creates atmosphere through subtly and restraint but still knows when to hit hard and fast. And throwing all story tropes out the window by having Donkey Kong himself be ape napped at the outset of the game. Donkey Kong Country 2 did all this and more while enhancing the already nearly perfect art with a consistent pirate motif.
            Without playing the game it can be hard to understand how much of a pure and simple masterpiece Donkey Kong Country 2 is. A perfectly ramped difficulty curve that results in a game that is incredibly difficult while still being approachable, DKC 2 is perfection in a video game. While there aren’t many more ways to say it without simply screaming at everyone reading this to play DKC 2 there are multiple versions of the game and it is of the utmost importance that when you do decide to play it you play the SNES version of the game that can be found on the SNES itself or Wii U or 3DS virtual console. The genius of David Wise and the team at Rare was at their best in 1995 when they released Donkey Kong Country 2, I am confident that there will be a day when Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest will be taught in college classrooms, it is nothing short of art.

            So that’s the rundown of DKC games from worst to best. What do you think of the DKC series as a whole and are there any changes you would make to my list? If you would bump DKC 2 from number 1 please DM me your home address so that I can come to your house and fight you. Make sure to check out our podcast HardReset you can find that to your right or on iTunes or heartrate and follow us all on twitter which is also on your right. Now all of this DKC talk is interesting but in all my research I have failed to find out who Diddy’s dad is…tweet me your theories. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Far Cry 5 Review

Making Far Cry Great Again.

By Patrick "The Law" Morris

Ever since Ubisoft acquired the Far Cry IP and the first game in the mainline series under the Ubisoft banner was released as Far Cry 2 in 2008 the formula has become increasingly refined. While many enjoyed the formulaic experiences the series offered, there have been many more that criticized the sameness that came with each new entry. Far Cry 5 being the latest entry in the long running series borrows a lot from the previous games, but it is also very evident that Ubisoft Montreal worked hard to buck the trends of the past in an attempt to revitalize a franchise that has rapidly grown stale. Far Cry 5 is not without its flaws but what it has to offer in the single player story, development of the open-air style game, a subtle political message, and a fan driven multiplayer experience is extremely ambitious. Did the team in Montreal do enough to give the series a much-needed shot in the arm or is Far Cry 5 simply too little too late? 
Far Cry has become known for its iconic villains starting with the Jackal in Far Cry 2 and continuing the tradition with Vaas and Pagan Min in Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 respectively. The Seed family is no exception to this rule of captivating villains that have become the main characters of the Far Cry games and drive a compelling narrative. What differentiates the Seed’s from previous villains is that there is a whole family of them and each one is different and can offer a different personality in the villain role allowing for more variety. John Seed (my personal least favorite) comes off as a follower that has risen to the top of the Seed family cult as a result of hard work and longevity. John’s character and region are the least memorable of the bunch which is a shame because it’s the direction the player is pushed in the beginning of the game. Faith is a tortured soul that was taken when she was just a teenage girl who didn’t know any better. Faith’s character work forces the player to regret their actions during her boss fight as it became startlingly real that she is a victim of Joseph’s as much as anyone else that the player character was fighting for. And Jacob was presented in the older brother role throughout his region and came across as smart and manipulative, Jacob evokes genuine fear throughout the entirety of his portion of the game. 
Bringing all these villains together and embodying without bias the evil and fear that extreme religiosity can create is Joseph Seed. Joseph appears throughout the game making his presence known in a more intimate way than previous Far Cry villains have. While previous Far Cry villains have had incredible dialogue that seared itself into the player’s mind Joseph instead communicates through body language. By moving in very close and forcing himself face to face with the player the developers were able to make up for a sense of tension that wasn’t built through dialogue but instead a feeling of discomfort as though the player’s personal space is being invaded. Many others have criticized the game citing Joseph Seed not being as captivating or memorable as Vaas or Pagan Min; yes, Joseph does not project insanity the same way that Vaas did or hold the raw charisma that Min did, Joseph spends so much time in the players face that his body language and feeling of presence is what makes him stand out and what makes him great. 
Story in Far Cry 5 is entirely character driven making for a story that is not particularly deep or complex but compelling none the less. The narrative is simple: Hope County is a corner of the world that exists and we the player are tasked with liberating it from the oppressive Eden’s Gate cult. Where the story lives and dies is with the villains appearing as evil enough to convince the player that they need to be stopped and order must be restored in rural Montana. And in doing this the story telling in Far Cry 5 is wildly successful, managing a massive cast of characters and making them all unique individuals that the audience will care about is no easy task and Ubisoft has done a fantastic job with creating an entirely character driven narrative.
Trends come and go in video games and from time to time new games come that introduce new concepts and change the way we perceive games altogether, last year the legend of Zelda took the open world concept to new heights with the open-air concept that allowed players to play the story in any order and any way they would like. Naturally there were going to be imitators and initially Far Cry 5 looked like it was going to offer an uncanny valley impression of the open-air environment created in Breath of the Wild. After playing Far Cry 5 I am happy to eat some crow on that one because the way Far Cry 5 tells its main story in an almost modular way is so incredibly satisfying that I would argue it is done better than Breath of the Wild. 
For a game to send the player through a relatively short tutorial section then set them loose and trust that no matter which direction the player moves in there will be compelling story material is a bold and confident move. Breath of the Wild let the player off the great plateau and then simply suggested they head to Kakariko Village to meet Impa; in a very similar fashion Far Cry 5 lets the player off of Dutch’s island and then simply suggests they head south towards Fall’s End but ultimately the player is in control and they can choose where they want to go. This style of openness is so incredibly liberating in the game and building the world and the story modularly so that any part can be done at any time still allows for the player to have a sense of progression while at the same time maintaining the freedom to pursue their own ambitions within the game. Far Cry 5 is a modular story that is crafted so well that it feels like a linear one. While initially it appeared as though the open-air story telling in Breath of the Wild would be nearly impossible to top one can easily argue that Ubisoft has given Nintendo a run for their money with Far Cry 5.
Exotic locales and treacherous adventurous territories have become a staple in the Far Cry games and while Montana may feel a bit too close to home to hold its own when compared to the other locations featured in the franchise Hope County is no slouch and comes with the added bonus of the political chaos that the United States is currently enveloped in. During the approach of Far Cry 5 radicals on both sides of the political spectrum were nearly frothing at the mouth waiting for their murder simulator that would prove their position unequivocally right and satisfy the bloodlust fueled by the 2016 Presidential election. What was released instead was a fairly centrist game that didn’t try to preach any specific political ideology. Far Cry 5 should be commended for its politics and its refusal to take a stand in either direction, not only did it allow the game to avoid the standard pitfall of ham-fisted writing that comes with all politically motivated stories but in a world full of people on both sides of the aisle that are ready to burn anyone at the stake at the drop of a hat Far Cry refused to bow to either of them and simply depicted flawed characters, some good, some evil, just trying to do their best to achieve their goals. In a world that is overflowing with political opinions Far Cry 5 is decidedly non-political which in and of itself is a thought provoking statement. 
On the surface Multiplayer and Far Cry seem as though they would go together like peanut butter and jelly but historically creating an interesting multiplayer experience is something that has been difficult for Far Cry to capture. From Far Cry 3’s generic attempt at PVP to Far Cry 4’s incredibly lackluster cooperative mode the series has had difficulty finding its footing when expanding the gameplay experience to more than one player simultaneously.  What the developers did this time around in their attempt to finally catch what has alluded them for years is both an improvement on something already attempted and something radically new. Drop in drop out co-op is a welcome addition and the fact that the entire game can be played co-op as opposed to only select missions like in Far Cry 4 is something that shouldn’t need to be praised because that is simply how it should have been previously but credit where credit is due it’s improvement. Where the Far Cry 5 multiplayer experience really steps into uncharted territory is with the Far Cry Arcade granting players access to assets from several different Ubisoft properties and allowing the community to build whatever multiplayer experience they want with it. While my own experience with the Far Cry Arcade is limited what I did play of it was bland and uninteresting. This will undoubtedly be the reason to come back to Far Cry 5 in six months to see what the most dedicated and creative Far Cry fans have come up with. 
With the rapid fire of releases since 2012’s Far Cry 3 the series has started to feel stale and repetitive, Far Cry 5 does a fantastic job of mixing things up while still being distinctly a Far Cry game and breathing new life into the series. Capitalizing on the popularity of open-air style storytelling and once again crafting a villain that simply takes all the air out of any room he is in and pairing that with a far more competent cooperative multiplayer experience Far Cry 5 is able to shine as the popcorn blockbuster it is. Far Cry 5 changes a reliable formula just enough to refresh the series and leave me thirsty for more essentially making Far Cry great again. 


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Nintendo Switch A Year Later

Nintendo's greatest hits album.

By Patrick "The Law" Morris

            Prior to its March 6th2017 launch everyone but the most diehard Nintendo fans were skeptical of the Nintendo Switch and whether or not Nintendo still had a place in the hardware development industry. Almost a year later all those people have eaten mountains of crow and Nintendo is rapidly closing the gap on Microsoft to become the second biggest dog in the fight. After only 10 months the Switch had already outsold its predecessor the Wii U that filled the role of Nintendo’s home console offering for four and a half years and what was once the little console that could has become an unstoppable juggernaut. So how did we get to this point? How did Nintendo develop a console that is now poised to overtake the Wii as Nintendo’s top selling home console and will be setting its sights on the likes of the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation 2 next? 
            The strategy is simple yet incredible, when opening Spotify and searching for an artist one is almost always immediately greeted with that particular artists greatest hits album because that’s what gets listened to by other Spotify users more than any of their other albums. To be reductionist and simplify to its most basic level the Nintendo Switch is the greatest hits album of Nintendo’s console history borrowing a feature from almost each console past to make one little tablet that hits all those beats. 
            The Super NES was home to some of the most beautiful and artistic games ever made that were a direct result of the limitations of the hardware available to developers at the time. Games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, Earthbound, and Battletoads created some of the most memorable and polished experiences in video games to date. Short of spending a small fortune on a Silicon Graphics Workstation pixelart was the best way for a developer to illustrate their game in the early nineties and as a result those games have held up remarkably well. 
Switch was designed from the ground up to be a console to be played on the go in 15 minute bursts during a morning commute or for hours on end while on your couch in front of a 60” TV.  Because of the multitude of ways the machine is meant to be played there is a huge variety of games available on the console from massive epics like Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to much smaller more contained experiences like Celeste and Owlboy. The latter games are the ones that harken back to the beauty of the 16 bit era and drive that nostalgia for the days of the super Nintendo. When remembering video games from the early nineties everyone’s mind immediately envisions gorgeous pixel art that evokes memories of waking up on a snowy Friday morning to hearing on the radio that schools are closed and realizing that the entire day that was supposed to be a school day would now be a day spent hunting down powerups in Super Metroid or collecting pendants in a link to the past. The Switch tugs at our heartstrings and takes us back to those glory days of the Super Nintendo with games like Owlboy that look and play as well as our rose-colored lenses have preserved those super Nintendo classics in our memories.
In late 1996 Nintendo completely changed the entire industry again with the release of the Nintendo 64. While there were so many features that made that hideous curvy dark gray box revolutionary the most glaring new addition that at first seemed so incredibly unnecessary was the hallmark third and fourth controller ports on the front of the console. To this point games had had very limited multiplayer functionality but by slapping two extra controller ports on the front of their 64-bit offering Nintendo was sending the message that you were going to buy four controllers and you were going to play video games next to your friends on the couch damn it! Four controller ports completely changed the landscape for multiplayer games and as games have evolved multiplayer has evolved with them for better or for worse. 
In 2018 the idea of four player local multiplayer is one that died years ago for the likes of Sony and Microsoft but not Nintendo. Building a handheld console typically means building a very intimate personal experience to be had by one person, Nintendo managed to buck this trend by creating a multiplayer experience that can be had anywhere with a controller that functions incredibly well split in two to provide that oh so sweet multiplayer throw down. Friend says they’re the best at Mario kart? Settle it right here right now. Bully on the bus won’t move their bag off the seat next to them until you beat them at street fighter 2? Well that won’t be a problem for long. In a world built around the online multiplayer experience Nintendo still focuses on those diehards that prefer the local multiplayer experience…there aren’t a whole lot of people that have fucked my mom in local multiplayer.
While Nintendo is beyond a shadow of a doubt the best first party developer, the last time they had any relevant third party support at least in the form of multiplat titles was in the early 2000’s with their little purple box called the GameCube. During the tenure of the sixth generation of consoles Nintendo wasn’t the weakest kid on the block from a hardware perspective and as a result they weren’t automatically ruled out when it came to the multiplat titles like they would be in the ensuing generations. The GameCube attracted a lot of third party support and was able to provide a parallel experience when it came to local play from third party games. The argument could be made that the GameCube was the last time Nintendo was a direct competitor with Sony and Microsoft and it resulted in what is truly the golden age of video games.
For the first time since the GameCube third parties are taking a serious look at Nintendo but not for the same reasons as before. Nintendo has always been the king of handhelds and as a result third parties have pumped out watered down versions of their big budget titles to create the illusion of a similar experience on the go. Games like Max Payne on the GBA, Call of Duty Modern Warfare Mobilized on the DS, and Monster Hunter 4 on the 3DS have all been developed to provide a compromised version of the larger experience in order to make it portable. Now third parties are seeing a handheld console that requires minimal compromises and everyone but EA seems to be tripping over themselves to bring their big budget titles to a handheld experience. Nintendo is welcoming third parties back into the fold with open arms and we should all be thrilled about that.
At the launch of the Wii the world was enthralled with motion controls and for good reason; while the PS3 and Xbox 360 were leaning into a more hardcore crowd Nintendo began to forge their own path and make games accessible to the masses. While 12 year olds were 360 no scoping each other Nintendo fans were enjoying games like Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess that utilized motion controls in truly fantastic ways. Everyone that was in high school at the time had an Xbox 360 but all those people’s parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents had a Wii because the Wii was the first to do motion controls right.
In 2017 when it looked like motion controls had run their course the big N came crashing through the walls like the Kool-Aid with two very small and very brightly colored controllers that once again showed the world that when done right motion controls are still really fuckin cool. The Switch isn’t built around the motion controls in the same way that the Wii was they have taken a backseat and play more of a supporting role and when used sparingly they truly do enhance the overall experience. Motion controls on the Switch get a 5/7.
The Switch is the sum of everything that has made Nintendo so great in the past all rolled into one; it introduces almost nothing new it simply takes the elements that have made past consoles a success and polishes those features to near perfection. It has been a long time coming but Nintendo is finally out of the home console market and has embraced the fact that in the handheld market no one can touch them. I will almost certainly be wrong about this because Nintendo is about as predictable as lactose intolerant stress eater on a dairy farm, but I will be very surprised if Nintendo ever moves back into the home console market in the traditional sense. They wrapped up everything they have ever done that we loved and put it in one neat little neon package but at the end of the day there are still no cloud saves and it has an incredibly delicate usb-c port, so we definitely know that it’s still Nintendo, they’re just not as drunk at the wheel as usual.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Submerged Review

Just hold me under until it's over.

By Patrick Morris

     Indie titles have made a habit of overpromising and under delivering of late and no I’m not talking about that one that Murray guy made; I’m talking about a title called Submerged. This game had everything good going for it, a fantastic aesthetic, unbelievable music, what looked to be an intriguing story, and an atmosphere that would rival the likes of The Last of Us and Journey. Unfortunately for me and everyone else who foolishly bought this game on Sony’s mid-summer sale it delivered on none of its laundry list of potential.
     As always I will try to look at the glass as half full and address the good in the game first but I’m sorry to say that almost everything good that came from Submerged was before I ever played it. Marketing can make or break a game and Submerged falls into the strange territory in which the marketing gave me significantly more enjoyment than the actual game. In two minutes the trailer convinced me that this was going to be an incredible fairytale like experience the likes of which I hadn’t enjoyed since Windwaker. It took two minutes to convince me that I was going to absolutely love submerged and I still believe I could if Uppercut Games would just finish it.
     What really bums me out about Submerged is the list of things that is wrong with the game. I walked away from it feeling more upset about the fact that the list was so long than I was about any one thing on that list in particular. The sound design was generic and repetitive, the graphics looked like an up-resed PS2 title, the world was small and empty, the story was abstract and not in a good way, the characters experienced almost no development, and the mysterious creatures had no resolution. I could go on and on about what Submerged does wrong but we will just concentrate on the few that I felt were most misleading.
     Atmosphere is what hooked me in the trailer. This game was sold as an incredible story driven narrative that was set in post apocalyptic world in which human history had been forgotten. What I was expecting and excited for was a story in which we uncovered the mystery of an ancient race that had been wiped from the planet only to watch the characters as they came to the realization that the race responsible for all the ancient ruins and architecture was in fact their own species. I hoped for an adventure that started as a quest to save my brother and ended in uncovering the secrets of how the world had wound up in this state of abandonment.
     Sound and level design were also major letdowns. A massive city that was literally Submerged in water leaves almost infinite interesting possibilities for both sound and level design experimentation. The ocean makes about eleven different sounds on a loop throughout the entirety of the game and the fact that I am exploring a sunken city and there are a grand total of zero underwater levels is simply ridiculous. I know that everyone hates water levels but I have always been of the belief that when done right a water level can offer an experience that cannot be achieved in any other environment. I wanted to be tasked with getting to the ocean floor and feeling claustrophobia set in as the light grew dimmer and dimmer and the weight of the water on top of me made me feel as though I would never see the sun again. 
     Submerged plays like a PS2 tech demo; it’s what would have been considered a huge open world in the sixth generation of consoles that is completely empty and provides nothing but visual fidelity to show off. For a PS4 game Submerged doesn’t stack up against even the flimsiest of competition and the entire time I was playing this hurt even more because Uppercut had the makings of a truly amazing game on their hands that they refused to finish.
     Did reading this make you feel like wasting your money on buying this game so you can revel in how glorious I am by always being right? Donate your money to us at patreon.com/doomcatproductions and follow us on twitter and subscribe to our youtube and send us locks of your own hair or vials of your own blood taken from your hand you cut as a sacrifice to me and those two idiots on the podcast. Thanks. 

Alien Isolation Review

By Patrick Morris

The truest Alien sequel.

     When I was six years old there was a torrential downpour during the summer of 1997 in Boulder Colorado. Having three kids on summer vacation cooped up in the house for three days straight my dad finally broke and took us to Target to get a new video game for my Nintendo 64. Considering it was my console I got to pick the game and I knew exactly what I wanted, I tore the plastic off of 007 Goldeneye as soon as we got back into the car while shouting “Mom wouldn’t let me have this one!” After Goldeneye my mom gave up on the censorship approach and took the much more realistic road of teaching me right from wrong and ensuring that I knew that it was just a game and real life violence came with real life consequences. With this lesson the ban was lifted and I was very suddenly allowed to play any game I wanted and watch almost any movie I wanted. This sequence of events is what led to me watching the Alien movies when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. Ever since I have always been of the opinion that Alien was far superior to Aliens and all the sequels that followed and I had been waiting for a proper sequel for years; in 2014 we got that sequel and it was called 
Alien: Isolation.
     Fair warning I am biased and I would never claim not to be unless I was actively trying to take an objective approach. Another fair warning most of my friends and family get annoyed because often times my opinions are not the popular ones. That being said Alien is infinitely better than Aliens, Alien is a masterpiece and Aliens albeit good is for the most part a by the numbers action flick with nothing particularly special about it. Alien has atmosphere, it’s a claustrophobic horror monster movie in which anyone could die at any time. What made Alien great was the detachment from the characters, the audience wasn’t made to fall in love with any of the flawed characters they were very simply real and not necessarily likable and it was because of that that Alien was much more of watching a group live in fear of imminent death as an unknown monster terrorized them rather than joining the group through a heroic journey. I was 11 or 12 and massively disappointed in Aliens and wanted a sequel that did Alien justice, Alien: Isolation is that sequel. 
     In case you hadn’t already figured it out the driving factor towards greatness for A:I is tone. Creative Assembly is clearly devoted to the original movie, which can be seen through the constrained almost simple gameplay; standalone story, and pure terror the player experiences throughout the game. From the moment the player sees the Alien it is abundantly clear that this is not a fight but a hunt, running will be the only option. This masterfully crafted concept gives the player a feeling of complete hopelessness because no matter how long you run you will still be stuck on a space station with this animal. This is the point at which the game separates itself from the movies and truly takes advantage of the fact that it is a video game and not a movie. The player is forced to experience the feeling of helplessness and take part in hatching the plan to escape the beast’s cage. 
     One of the main contributing factors to the tone and atmosphere of A:I is the stunning visuals and incredibly accurate alien model. Everything that I loved about the first alien movie has come alive and is happening on screen under my control in an all-new fantastic story. While the graphics aren’t the best I’ve ever seen the direction of the art style chosen by the team fits the tone of the first movie so perfectly that the graphics never had to be completely state of the art to impress me. It is when I never even notice graphics that I feel the graphics are best. 
     Gameplay in A:I is simple almost to the point of walking simulator with a few shit your pants then run and hide moments peppered in. Without a doubt the most valuable item the player will acquire is the flamethrower as it is the only weapon with the power to actually keep the alien at bay. The gameplay is simple and the walking simulator almost becomes a crawling simulator out of petrifying fear created by the setting and the enemies that occupy that setting.
     A:I is a fantastic game in everything it set out to do but where is shines brightest and really shows us that it is a diamond in the rough that was 2014 is in the artificial intelligence. Players will come into contact with several different enemies as they travel through the space station Sevastapool and almost none of these interactions are scripted, so the alien dropping from the ceiling not five feet in front of you before goring you through the stomach will more than likely not happen again on your next try. This alone makes the enemies feel more organic and allows the game to maintain its unbelievable tension from start to finish. By not allowing the player to fail one section over and over again in an attempt to perfect it creative assembly forces players to develop and hone skill rather than just learn the sequence of the game.
     A:I is the sequel I expected as a kid and the sequel that any fan of the first movie deserves. Continuing the story of the first movie and moving us along through Ripley’s arc without ever even seeing Ellen Ripley was a stroke of genius. Creative Assembly has done more for the series than any number of movies or big name actors and directors including James Cameron, Danny Glover, Adrian Brodie, and even the great Danny Trejo has ever been able to do; here’s hoping that Sega is smart enough to not give it the Lennie treatment that they have given to so many things like the Dreamcast and even Sonic, here’s hoping for a sequel that continues the greatness of the first.
     Making life decisions is difficult for people like you, luckily you have much better and cooler people with washboard abs like me to help. A:I is a must play so go play it then thank me on our Twitter @doomcatteam and donate to our Patreon at patreon.com/doomcatproductions as a way of thanking me for being such a fantastic life coach.


Uncharted 4 Review

By Patrick Morris

How Sam Ruined Everything

     Reviewing Uncharted 4 this year is inevitable for anyone who wants to keep this type of job. That being said I am and have been a big fan of Uncharted for several years so I am happy to do it. My adventure with the everyman that slowly turned into a superhero so subtly that we didn’t even notice began in 2012 when I became the twelfth person in the world to buy a PlayStation Vita. With my brand new dust collector I bought Uncharted: Golden Abyss solely because it looked to be the most impressive handheld game I had ever seen. After playing through the incredible adventure that was only mini in the package in which it was originally delivered and finally defeating Guerro in a horrendous quicktime event that almost ruined the climax of the game (spoiler alert for the other eleven Vita owners out there) it was most definitely the most impressive handheld game I had ever played. Damn that was a long sentence, thanks for sticking with it. What interested me more than the incredible fidelity that Bend Studios had packed into such a tiny PlayStation was the adventure that they had just taken me on. Immediately after finishing Golden Abyss I went to the store and bought the other three games. I became so enthralled in the series that I didn’t stop playing but to use the bathroom and make short trips to the kitchen for shitty microwave food. Now that we have established the fact that I am indeed a fan of the series (in spite of my tardiness) it must be said that Samuel Drake should never have been created.
     From this point on you can expect spoilers for Uncharted 4 and you should absolutely not expect me to give two shits about spoiling the game for you if you keep reading.
     Naughty Dog has created a game that is truly fantastic; one could even call it a masterpiece but that game is not named Uncharted 4, it’s called The Last Of Us so finish it Nathan. The combination of tone changes, an incredibly slow beginning, lack of a major set piece, and not enough time spent with our beloved characters from the previous games leads U4 to not live up to expectations. Not saying that it's not a truly incredible game because it most definitely is but it certainly doesn’t live up to the greatness of adventure established by the first three games. 
     From a mechanical standpoint U4 is Uncharted at it's best, without a doubt a series high. The cover system was never frustrating on my first play through on the moderate difficulty and only occasionally on my crushing play through. Gunplay was fast paced and exciting and felt crisp the entire game due to the variety of level design throughout, and I never found myself in a situation in which I could post up in a corner and shoot anything that came close to me in order to progress. The game forced me to move and that felt fantastic. Stealth action was a welcome addition to the series as it allowed for that major mixture of play styles as now I wasn’t moving from climbing section to shooting section to a new climbing section. Naughty Dog was able to include stealth sections to throw me a curveball occasionally and while the stealth action was extremely basic it was put together well and created some fantastical memories. 
     The settings that U4 takes it's audience to and lets us explore are vast and expansive and in a single word: stunning. The semi-open world concept used in a few of the larger areas functioned as both a good and a bad thing for the overall progression of the game. On one side I loved how organic it made the whole adventure feel and it allowed me to explore and experience major parts of the game that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise had I not been pushed into these fairly open-ended environments. The Madagascar area in particular gave me some much needed face time with Sully and helped me feel that he was just as much a part of this adventure as he had been in the previous four. What cemented itself as the best aspect of the settings was something that didn’t even show itself until my second play through with the game, as I progressed through the story for the second time I found myself not recognizing areas and paths and after exploring a bit I realized that I had been taking entirely different routes through some of the major areas of the game making the whole thing feel like I was playing it for the first time again.
     There is a lot of good to be said about U4 and judging by the other reviews that good is pretty much anyone has any interest in discussing. What people aren’t saying though is that there is also a lot wrong with U4, not necessarily bad but a lot of things that could have been done in a much better way. So if you are a person that is as fragile as a museum exhibit or a modern day “activist” and you cant handle opinions that are different from your own then perhaps this is the time at which you should stop reading. However, if you’re a grown ass adult that understands that you’re not a special little snowflake please continue. 
     Sam Drake ruined what should have been a farewell tour for the three main characters that we have all come to love. U4 focuses almost entirely on Sam, his struggles and his relationship with Nate. It is because of Sam that we didn’t get the end of the Sully and Elena character arcs that I personally felt we deserved. Every time that Sam was on screen all I could think of it as was missed screen time for Sully and Elena. Two characters that have become fan favorites were pushed to the wayside to shoehorn in a long lost brother that created more continuity errors than a modified Deloreon could have. 
     Tonally Sam’s presence completely changed the game from the well-established series. It has been a well-documented fact that when beginning work on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Naughty Dog was setting out to make a pulp action adventure. This created a sense of wonder and excitement in the previous games that U4 was lacking and once again I blame this shortcoming on Sam. The previous games were about hunting for treasure and exploring vast jungles while solving mysteries that had eluded humanity for hundreds of years. Sam’s presence drove the story in a direction of desperation and dire completely sucking all of the pulp out of the story. While playing it almost felt as though ND had forgotten that these stories were supposed to be fun. 
     Mechanically Sam’s existence also pushed the limits of suspension of disbelief. Early on in the game young Sam teaches young Nate how to use the grappling hook that becomes a fundamental gameplay element throughout the rest of the game. The grappling hook adds significantly to the gameplay and was an excellent addition that was added in the worst way possible. If Nathan had learned the grappling hook and the sliding mechanics from Sam at such a young age (12?) then why hadn’t he been using them throughout his previous adventures? Am I as a member of the audience supposed to believe that there was no viable place to use those skills in Panama (Nate spent a lot of time in Panama), Shambala, or the Pillars of Iram? 
     One more gripe about Sam and I will wrap this whole thing up: Story. How in the hell are we as the audience supposed to believe that neither Nate nor Sully mentioned Sam’s existence to Elena? Upon seeing Sam Sully mentions that is good to see him again implying that they worked together in the past. Nate appears to be about 26 in Golden Abyss, 28 in Drakes Fortune, 30 in Among Thieves, 32 in Drakes Deception, and 35-38 in A Thieves End. That means that Nate and Sully met Elena at least seven years ago and in those seven years they have been on three massive adventures together and Nate and Elena have been married not once but twice and I’m supposed to believe that they never mentioned Sam to Elena or around Elena? Not even once? That seems more like sloppy story telling than anything else. The idea that Elena had no idea of Sam’s existence is a suspension of disbelief that I simply cannot swallow and I’m a die-hard fan of professional wrestling so that’s saying something. Also I hated that Sam’s character forced the story to be more grounded and there wasn’t some sort of zombie Henry Avery waiting for us in Libertalia but that’s neither here nor there. 
     Overall the game was fantastic and is without a doubt a contender for game of the year here at DoomCat but in my opinion there are simply to many things wrong with U4 for it to be a lock like I once thought it would be. It seems as though the ousting of Amy Henning in favor of Neil Druckmann led to the final entry in the series suffering from taking itself to seriously. Druckmann is a fantastic storyteller that does hard drama in a way that has yet to be matched in the medium but when entering into a pre-established series it is the job of the director to adapt their style to fit the series rather than adapting the series to fit their style. Druckmann tried to turn U4 into Uncharted: the last of us and it simply didn’t work. The game was amazing but lacked what made the first four games so special.
     Since I promised spoilers: Nobody dies, there is nothing supernatural, Nate and Sam find Libertalia, Nadine is a bitch, the final boss fight with Rafe is a letdown, and Joel and Ellie show up after the credits if you beat the game on crushing.
     Did I help you realize how wrong you were about U4 when you said it was the best thing since sliced bread? Did you find yourself thinking “Wow this guy is much smarter than me and I should therefore give him all my money.” Well lucky for you we have setup a way of doing just that; donate to our Patreon at patreon.com/doomcatproductions and tell us about it on Twitter @doomcatteam, tell those pesky children that groceries can wait you have to donate to DoomCat.