Welcome to the February edition of Backlog Abyss! I’m looking ahead at the release calendar for March and I am already exhausted.
For February, I played three new releases and finished up a trilogy I started in January that I managed to sneak in right before You Know What™ released and took over our collective free time. Let’s start with the short ones first!
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
One thing I’ve learned from finishing the original Uncharted trilogy is that there are certain games that completely evaporate from my memory as soon as I’m finished with them. Even Uncharted 2, a game I really enjoyed, has been evicted from my brain space while games that I haven’t played in years continue to live rent-free in there (one day I’ll get around to that Mega Man Legends replay). Uncharted 3 is another casualty to the memory hole, and in fact I’d say it was on its way out in the middle of me trying to finish it.
It’s an okay game that attempts to build on the second entry’s fundamentals, but I feel like it bungles a few things in the process. There’s a new focus on hand-to-hand combat which is something this series has never done particularly well, and…it’s still not great here to be honest. It’s like a less engaging version of the combat you’d find in the Batman: Arkham games. They even dump you in combat encounters that are strictly melee to show it off and the nicest thing I can say about them is that it at least provides a change of pace from the usual climbing and shooting that the franchise is known for.
The pacing is also worse. Uncharted 2’s brisk pacing and level of spectacle made up for the bits I didn’t enjoy, but 3 feels more disjointed in its structure and those unenjoyable bits stick out more as a result. The story tries to lean more into Drake and Sully’s relationship and there are some interesting moments that come from that, but it never feels like it’s taking any risks with these characters. I find most of the main cast pretty likable (especially Cutter), but it genuinely feels like even they’re going through the motions on this adventure. The stakes always seem high but they never feel high.
Which, yeah, it’s Uncharted. These are popcorn action movies where the heroes beat the bad guys and make it out relatively unscathed; the story is merely a means to connect the action and the set pieces. And unfortunately there’s nothing here that matches the grandiosity of 2’s train section. The ship graveyard comes close and escaping a ship as its imploding and rapidly filling with water is pretty intense, but it’s all over so quickly that it barely registered for me outside of some clever level design that sees you climbing up sideways furniture as the ship continues to capsize.
I don’t want to rail too hard on this game because I do think it’s fine. The moment-to-moment action can be fun and there’s some funny banter between the main characters but the tedium really started setting in with this one and there’s ultimately nothing here that will stick with me in the long term. I vaguely remember Uncharted 4 upping the ante with a more personal story and more interesting combat encounters though, so I’m looking forward to replaying that one after I finish The Big Game™.
Did you know that sometimes I write reviews outside of my own website? Last month I was given the opportunity to review OlliOlli World for GG, which is essentially Letterboxd for games. Recently they’ve been branching out with official reviews and the publishers graciously provided a code for us. You can check that review out here!
I actually still boot this game up from time to time whenever I need something quick to get into. There are a ton of optional challenges and courses with branching routes to explore, so there’s no shortage of things to do in it. I can’t recommend it enough and I can’t wait to see where the devs at Roll7 go from here.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
At this point, every new Pokemon release is destined to be met with the same level of cacophonous discourse on the internet, whether it’s about a perceived shoddiness in its graphical fidelity or missing features. I’d be lying if I said any of it mattered to me though. I’m sure there’s a case to be made about a brand as ubiquitous and money-printing as Pokémon having games that look as low-budget as they do, but I just can’t bring myself to engage with that level of toxicity these days.
I also find it hard to care about the graphics in Arceus because, well, I think it looks endearing from a presentation perspective! Also this is the most fun I’ve had with a Pokémon game since the DS era.
I don’t have anything against the mainline Pokemon games; it’s a satisfying gameplay loop when the vibe is right, but the formula has worn on me in recent years. I fucked with Sword for a little bit before falling off, and I barely made it an hour into Shining Pearl before feeling fatigued. It’s me, not them.
That’s why Arceus was so appealing to me from the get-go. It set out to shake the fundamentals in a way that I found very enticing, and thankfully it lived up to the expectations I had. It’s an intoxicating gameplay loop; explore big open zones teeming with Pokémon, catch ‘em to fill out your pokedex, do quests, etc. I love that you can catch the majority of them without initiating battle now. It adds a new layer of strategy to each encounter since you can be stealthy and employ different tactics like distracting them with throwable items or throwing a Pokeball at their back for a higher success rate. I often found myself ignoring the main questline for hours at a time because I wanted to take in the world and explore every nook and cranny I could before moving on. I don’t really do that with a lot of games these days because I always feel pressed for time but Arceus nails that sense of wanderlust that I crave in these types of games.
Even though getting sidetracked is why I loved my time with this game so much, the main story is still engaging and takes a lot of interesting twists and turns. The rivalry between the Diamond and Pearl clans kept me invested throughout, and the endgame was an absolute ride and I couldn’t wait to see how it all ended. At the time of writing this I’ve only hit the credits and haven’t done much with the post-game, but it’s on my docket for when there’s a crumb of downtime in the deluge of new releases this year.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a blast. It’s pretty damn close to the dream Pokémon game I always imagined as a child, and with Scarlet/Violet looking like it’s taking cues from Arceus’s open, exploratory environments, I have a feeling I’m going to be pulled right back in.
Elden Ring: The First 20 Hours
*very tiny minor spoilers regarding the first area but nothing that’ll ruin the experience for you*+
So uh, I definitely have not beaten Elden Ring yet. I did, however, manage to put nearly twenty hours into this game before the first of March, so I figured I’d write up a few thoughts on my experiences thus far. At the time of writing this, I’m at forty-five hours with no end in sight, so look forward to that in the March edition of Backlog Abyss.
My first twenty hours in Elden Ring were defined by raw curiosity. Stepping out into Limgrave and glancing up at the Erd Tree for the first time was one of the most chill-inducing moments I’ve had with a game since stepping out onto that plateau in Breath of the Wild and seeing that I could indeed climb that mountain in the distance.
What FromSoftware has achieved here is nothing short of staggering. The sheer density of things you can find in this game is overwhelming, and it’s almost always something interesting. I say “almost”, because there are a lot of little copy-paste mini-dungeons that I’ve stumbled into but the optional nature of everything makes these less of a chore since I can just go somewhere else.
And that’s the real magic of this game: You never really feel like you’re hitting a wall because you can just step away and do something else (unless you’re a stubborn idiot like me and nearly burn yourself out on one boss; look forward to me elaborating on that next month). I got flattened by an early boss that serves as something of a skill check before moving on to the next area. I left, did some grinding, explored some optional caves and dungeons, beefed up my dude, and came back to take revenge. This game is still incredibly tough, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a newfound sense of approachability thanks to its openness. It brings more of an RPG vibe to the whole thing. Your story and your journey through the Lands Between will vary drastically from someone else’s, and that’s just fucking cool.
My first twenty hours in Elden Ring were perfect. I mentioned Pokemon Legends nailing a sense of wanderlust that I love in some of my all time favorite games, and this game is maybe the best example of what I’m looking for. I look forward to seeing this journey to its conclusion, and I look even more forward to sharing it with you in the next Backlog Abyss.
I should mention that I started the Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy VI, but then Elden Ring happened. That’s not to say I’m fully abandoning it though and I’m determined to make time for it because it’s an incredible game. The Pixel Remaster in particular has been great so far and I can’t wait to hear more of the incredible soundtrack. For now though, it’s back to the Lands Between for me (and maybe Gran Turismo 7). March has…so many video games coming out and there’s no way I’m getting to all of them, but maybe the summer will provide us all with a little catch-up time.
Until next time!