Sunday, December 28, 2014

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) Review

Uncharted seems to be the PlayStation 3's crown jewel, so I made this my first target in setting out with the system. I'm a fan of Indiana Jones and the bits I've seen of the Uncharted games seemed to follow in that vein. The game certainly looks the part (and does its best to be), but it doesn't quite meet those aspirations.

I remember Uncharted being that game. The killer app that was supposed to turn a console's fortunes around. It does a pretty good job of coming close to that. The graphics are still impressive, even for a game from 2007.

The character models aren't as good as anything we have now, but the environments still hold up well. In playing this and some other PlayStation 3 games I've noticed that a lot of games use pretty low texture resolution with the lighting sort of pre-applied to the textures. This isn't as much of an issue in Uncharted since you're never really close enough to many objects to see this, so it all works very convincingly.

The story for Uncharted focuses on Nathan Drake, the self proclaimed descendent of Sir Francis Drake. When the game opens Drake has tracked down Francis Drake's coffin, which contains a diary seemingly pointing towards El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Instead, Drake learns that El Dorado is actually a gold statue which was hauled away by the Spaniards to an island in the pacific. Drake heads to the island with a reporter named Elena who is trying to film a documentary.

Unfortunately, the characters never really feel fleshed out. They have enough personality to stand on their own, but you'd always like to know a bit more. Uncharted hurtles forward like a Hollywood blockbuster, so there's never really any time for that. Naughty Dog did their best to make Nathan Drake a ringer for Indiana Jones, but he never quite has the qualities to pull of the arrogance in a charming way. Elena is about as interesting as a wet rag and unfortunately, our villains are as well. The story never really rises above serviceable, but the lore surrounding El Dorado that the game creates is an interesting twist.

Uncharted plays out as a third person adventure game. There's a fair amount of platforming here, which works very well. You'll be scaling walls, swinging on vines, doing... adventurer stuff, I suppose. It would've been nice to have a bit more platforming, actually. There's also a puzzle element to the game. These are very poorly designed. They're not bad, they just make you feel like an idiot. I'm not a fan of games constantly pandering, but there are certain things that are sort of expected with puzzles in games. Some kind of indication of what exactly you should be doing.

You're right, idol. I probably shouldn't have sex. Shia LaBoeuf be damned.

Let me explain; early in the game, a character (Sully) who is helping you lights a sort of giant torch on fire with a cigar. This in turn causes a lantern on the ceiling to light as well. In front of you is a giant pile of wood that it appears you can move out of the way somehow. The lantern on the ceiling is chained; logically, you can't shoot it down. Uncharted doesn't really give you hints or a clear solution. Sully makes some kind of a statement about burning the wood pile to get through. I immediately start looking for something to light off of the main torch thing. There's a lot of different objects in the environment, so the lantern is not the immediate choice. I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes until Sully says "try shooting the lantern." So, I shoot it. It doesn't break or fall down, it just sort of drops a bit of burning wood and it sets the pile on fire. Not only was this not intuitive, you made me feel stupid. I spent a fair amount of time looking for another way, then you just insult me with the answer.

Not all of the puzzles have the same absent-mindedness to their design, but there are a few. I think the key to making a good puzzle is to make it just obscure enough, but also just obvious enough. Then you feel clever, you're getting something done. That just wasted my time and made me feel stupid in the end.

The rest of the game plays out as a third person shooter. There's a fun variety of weapons, but ammo can seem a bit scarce. For the most part, you'll be hugging cover and popping out to take shots. The shooting mechanics aren't the best. Your targeting reticule is a bit large and touchy, and it can be hard to get a good shot on an enemy. In addition, they take a lot of shots to take down. Some real bullet sponge business. This wouldn't be as glaring of an issue, but Uncharted isn't really a long game. It took me about 7 hours to finish. Moving through the levels doesn't take long, the only real hold up is the enemies. Once you're in an area where you're being attacked, it's wave after wave after wave of enemies. You're likely to die once or twice just because of the volume of enemies and the fact that they never stop coming. They just kind of upped the enemy count to pad out the game. It's sort of weird. With all of the bodies laying around at the end of some segments I think Nathan Drake may be a more prolific killer than Max Payne.

That difficulty padding applies heavily to the final boss as well. For the most part, he's an average shot. However, if you're popped out at a specific time he will shoot you in the head without fail, every time. It feels cheap and it's very annoying. It's especially odd as there's really nothing else in the game resembling a boss.

Forced motion controls!? NO WAY!

The controls can occasionally be frustrating. Using the Sixaxis control to balance on logs is annoying but it doesn't come up too often. This is also one of those games were buttons are context sensitive. There were a few times where I ended up hopping over a ledge to my death inadvertently. Surprisingly, the platforming goes off without a hitch. Everything with the game comes together when you're scaling walls. There are some odd design choices; in particular, a scene where you're riding with Elena on a jet ski. If you want to fire, you have to come to a complete stop to use your weapon. This obviously opens you up to being immediately fucking ruined with a rocket launcher.

It sounds like I have pretty heavy criticism for this game, but I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. It's just brainless enough that it's enjoyable to come back to and it's just clever enough to make you want to come back. This is one of those games where you know the sequel will rectify every single nitpick and make it all better. Time proved that to be right as Uncharted 2 was a blockbuster when it came out. I've got it sitting on the shelf, and I'm working my way to it. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune can be had for very cheap, and it's worth the 7 hours.

The Score: 8/10

Monday, December 15, 2014

Repairing the PlayStation 2's PS1 Fuse with a Resettable Fuse

First things first... this isn't a PlayStation 1 fuse. It's a PS1 fuse. That's what it's labeled as on the motherboard.

This sucker is also the destroyer of worlds if you anger it.

The PS1 fuse is there for the power and eject buttons. If you've never opened a PS2, these are a nightmare. They're attached by a ~8 inch ribbon cable to the motherboard. The actual power and eject buttons are connected to the top of the case, meaning you have to walk on eggshells every time you open the PS2.

This fuse blows at the slightest disturbance. I blew mine out just doing some routine maintenance. I found that I had a V4 PS2 and not a V3 as I thought, so I bought a KHS-400C laser since they're reputed to be more reliable (it does seem to be). Anyways, while I was closing up the system I didn't have this ribbon cable seated well. It was slightly off, which shorted the cable and blew the PS1 fuse.

Shitty. Without the PS1 fuse functioning, there is no way to turn on the PS2 and use it. I don't like how easily this fuse blows, so I wanted to negate any future issues. I considered bridging the fuse, but if it blows that easily, this seemed like a bad idea. Enter resettable fuses. They don't blow like traditional fuses, and they're widely used in modern electronics. Opening any recent game console, you'll see resettable fuses everywhere. As always, Wikipedia has the rundown.

The PS1 fuse for a V4 PlayStation 2 is a 400 miliamp (or .4 amps) fuse rated at 12 volts. I couldn't find a 400mA 12v resettable fuse, so I bought a 400mA 60v fuse. The voltage really doesn't matter here, the amps do.


There's not enough clearance on the board for the resettable fuse to stand, so I trimmed the legs quite a bit and laid it down. Since the fuse is blown, you don't need to remove it; the current isn't moving through the fuse, so soldering either end of the fuse to the other will bypass the blown fuse. I left the original PS1 fuse in and soldered the resettable fuse to the sides of the fuse. This made life considerably easier since the original fuses are surface mount components.

There it is all installed. I trimmed the legs down to where they bend inwards. It was the perfect size to fit right against the edges of the original fuse. I had concerns about this working even though it was completely sound in theory. I reassembled everything and...


Now I can get back to Final Fantasy XII. I did have a working PS2 slim, but I really hate that thing. Plus I'm very attached to my HDD mod now. I'll do a post on setting all of that up soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Xbox Mod Adventure: Part 3

Now that the difficult things are out of the way, on to the easy stuff (depending on skill level).

First is putting on a more user friendly dash. I prefer an older version of XBMC with the MC360 skin. I think the newer versions of XBMC are a bit more style over substance.

Fantasy football team name + The Sacko for some smack talk.

There's a few different ways to get XBMC as your main dash. A more popular option is to set it up with a shortcut XBE that will change boot priority for dashes, but I just deleted UnleashX and dropped XBMC in. I figure this leaves less room for error and I felt ballsy enough to do it since I had XboxHDM running anyways. If you don't have XboxHDM and your EEPROM, you probably shouldn't do that just because you'll be screwed if you mess it up.

I left UnleashX on the Xbox and put it in the applications folder. UnleashX is a good way to rip games, so it's a useful dash to keep around. Honestly, there's not a whole lot UnleashX can do that XBMC can't if your Xbox is only softmodded. So, I ripped all of my Xbox games with UnleashX which did not take too long (probably averaged out to about 12 minutes per game, much better than ripping games to the PS2 HDD), and added about 30 more games which I downloaded.

If you're downloading games, you'll need to FTP them to the Xbox. Filezilla is a wonderful option for this. If you don't have a crossover cable then you can share your wi-fi connection through your ethernet port and connect your Xbox to your computer that way. You'll then be able to check the IP address in XBMC (or on the main screen in UnleashX) and start moving your games over.

I ended up putting 82 games on the Xbox. There was still a fair amount of free space as well, but I think I covered most of the Xbox essentials. I also put on quite a few emulators. This is a pretty good list of what's available

These were the emulators I ended up putting on. There's a few MAME games, a full NeoGeo set, full Gameboy/Color/Advance sets, full SNES set, full NES set, full Genesis set and full 32X set. The Nintendo 64 emulator has about 100 of the games that work best with the emulator. After all of the games went on, there was still over 200gb left. Plenty of space to add more MAME games and get a healthy collection going for a PlayStation emulator, too. The NeoGenesis emulator is actually pretty cool, as it will run genuine Sega CD games from the Xbox's drive. Sort of a novelty thing, but I tried it out.

I also added DLC for all of the original Xbox games that had it and applied title updates as well. You can no longer download the title updates or the DLC since the original Xbox Live servers went offline, but some kind souls created installers with all of the content that you can download and run. They'll install the DLC and sign it to your console.

A lot of that content is multiplayer only... but all is not lost. Most multiplayer Xbox games had LAN options... which you can tunnel over the internet and play with other people. Enter XLink Kai and XBConnect. These let you tunnel that connection and play online. I use XLink Kai semi-frequently for Halo 2. This is the most common game people play, but I've managed to get people together to play some Tony Hawk 2x as well (awesome). I prefer XLink Kai's interface and the fact that it has a native OS X client. XBConnect has a much more serious crowd, which can sort of interrupt the fun of just getting online to play.

Anyways, this Xbox is done.

It needs to be cleaned though. A lot of consoles seem to favor these ridges in their design for some reason. Dust likes to sit in those ridges but it's not a problem.

I take a paper towel, wet it and then use a credit card to run it along the inside of the ridges to get the dust out.

Now it looks brand new and it's better than ever with a 500gb HDD and tons of games.

I traded this Xbox to my friend for a 120gb PlayStation 3 slim, Max Payne 3, Uncharted 3, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Sports Champions, two DualShock 3 controllers, two Move controllers and the PS3 camera. He was having issues with data becoming corrupted on the hard drive and didn't want to mess with fixing it, so he bought a PS4 and wanted a way to play some older games.

This Xbox was actually finished and the exchange was made a couple of weeks ago, so I'll have some PlayStation 3 stuff up soon.