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23 year old gamer looking to one day become a gaming journalist.
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NOTE: These are my initial impressions after a little over a week of play-time. I will do a follow up piece after a few more months.



The OUYA is an interesting little console. I've been extremely skeptical ever since it was posted on Kickstarter last year. I started to pay more attention to it once it blew past its goal and ended up reaching a staggering $8.5 Million, the second largest backed item in Kickstarter history. It promises a cheap way to play games on a HD TV. It's also a very open system. The creators encourage modding and anyone who owns an OUYA can make games for it as the system can be used as a development kit. Sounds almost too good to be true.

The weeks leading up to release were interesting times for the OUYA. If you backed it on Kickstarter you were supposed to get the system along with another controller but many people still haven't received their units yet. Also, early reviews of the OUYA were hitting to some pretty negative comments. Seeing many negative written pieces on the OUYA, I almost wrote the thing off. A few days out of release though, I got the urge to purchase one. I think this was mainly due to the fact that I love tech and I for some reason must own everything.†

I didn't pre-order it and was under the impression that I would not be able to obtain one seeing is that the system sold out everywhere on launch day. I made one final stop to my local GameStop and they actually had one. So I picked up the device and went home with excitement but also prepared disappointment. So how is the system? Well I will go over my first initial impressions and hope to write more impression pieces in the coming months once I spend more time with it.



First impression I had was amazement at just how small the system actual was. I also opened it up to take a peak at the inner workings ans there is actually a lot of free space inside the little box. After that, I checked out the controller which I can say that I don't care for. It feels okay albeit a little "off." You pop the faceplate on each side of the controller to access the battery area. This is a little weird and upon putting the faceplates back on, there is a distinct lack of knowing if it's snapped into place or not. They just kinda go into place. The box also contains the power adapter and HDMI cable. It's nice they included a HDMI but the bale is extremely short so I assume most people wont bother with it and use their own. It was strange to see that the box contained no manual or any piece of paper with instructions. With all the neat possibilities the system has, I would have like to seen at least a little booklet detailing everything.

Upon firing up the system, you will have to connect to the Internet via wi-fi or Ethernet. I had quite a bit of trouble connecting to my wi-fi even though my router was sitting right next to the system. After I connected I was greeted with a system update. The update doesn't take too long and comes with some clever one-liners about what the system is updating. Then comes a part I struggled with for way too long. You must enter a credit or debit card in order to continue. No big deal however, it would not verify my card even though all the information is correct. I tried several times to no avail. I had to completely shut off the system and restart it in order for it to take. Very frustrating.

After finally getting into the UI and messing around, one thing stood out. The controller is BAD. The basic reasoning is the unresponsiveness of it. Everything you do,† from playing games to navigating the menu is hit of miss with the thing. It also comes with a touch pad that works poorly as well. There really isn't one good thing I can say about the controller. Luckily, you can use your Dualshock 3 with the system.



The game selection is kinda weak at the moment and pretty lackluster. Most are just bad ports or mediocre phone games that aren't even optimized for the OUYA. The lone exception may be Towerfall but that game is only good with friends. Also, don't believe that "games are free" slogan. The OUYA works like every other system. Each game has a demo. Like the game? Then you can buy it.

The main reasoning for most to buy the system is the ability to run emulators, side-load a bunch of programs and the ability to develop on the system with little to no cost. As of having the system for a little over a week, I can say that if you are just looking to play games, STAY AWAY. At least for now. If your someone who loves to tinker around with tech and do a little modding here and there you may find this little guy interesting.
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The Last of Us comes to us by way of Naughty Dog, the fine folks behind Crash, Jak and Daxter and more recently, Uncharted. In The Last of Us, we see Naughty Dog go in a completely different direction. One filled with death, horror, gritty reality and uncertainty. Is Naughty Dog's take on the post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak a ride worth taking? Absolutely.

It's 20 years after a viral outbreak has brought humanity to its knees. Small pockets of government controlled areas still cling to hope behind walled-off areas or cites. Resistance groups scavenge the lands looking for supplies and do what needs to be done to survive. Anyone else is either dead or infected. It's a bleak world. One of seemingly no hope as humanity is hanging on by a thread. The Cordyceps virus has ravaged the world turning people into zombie like creatures.




You play as Joel. A man who has lived through the beginning of these terrible events. A man that now makes his living as a black-market dealer selling weapons and drugs.†He is older and wiser, but also broken, and you really get a sense that he has seen and done some awful stuff that weighs on him more everyday. Joel is tasked with transporting a package to a group known as the Fireflys who are stationed across the country. The package? Well the package is a young girl named Ellie. Ellie is 14 years old. She has only seen the world as it stands now. She doesn't know what the world was like pre-outbreak and because of this, there are many interesting conversations between the two.

I'm not going into detail with the story due to spoiler but I will say this. The story is amazing. It will put you through a wide range of emotions and your jaw will drop a few times. The main thing I want to get through is the character interaction. The interactions between Joel and Ellie are some of the best interactions between characters that I have ever seen in a videogame. This relationship only grows as the game moves forward and I think its fair to say these two steal the show. There are many other characters in the game, some of which play major roles, and they are all interesting and very well acted as well.
The game is very much a survival horror game. You will traverse across many various levels and while doing so, you will scavenge for supplies to help you survive. You will then run into either gangs or infected. Each encounter feels different but equally stressful (in a good way). You can use either a more action approach or stealth approach. The more trigger happy approach will use up your resources fast and more than likely leave you dead pretty quickly. There is a high emphasis on stealth. You can stealth kill just about everything in the game and it's a great way to save and build up your resources. The great thing about the stealth is that once you are spotted, you can quickly move around and get back into stealth. The enemies will be aware of your presence but will not know where you exactly are.



There are two main types of enemies. The hunters, who are people who will do anything to survive, and the infected. Each also have various enemy types. You will run into way more hunters than infected but I see this as a good thing. Run-ins with the infected never get old and are equally scary, tense and stressful each and every time. With the infected, stealth is key as Joel cannot take much before he dies. Once you set them off, be prepared for a fight. I will say that sneaking through a dark room full of them can be one of the most stressful things I've had to do in gaming. You don't want to fight these things and any†sound or wrong move will set them off.

Joel has a wide range or equipment options to help deal with enemies. There are a decent number of guns in the game along with smoke bombs, molotov cocktails, a bow and various other things. Ammo for the guns are always scarce so you will have to think out your approach to each battle more carefully. You can craft bombs and shivs to help you through but the most important item may just be the bottle or brick. These can be used to throw at enemies to stun them or used to lure them away from the scene allowing you to sneak past. Use these. The game has not shortage of them so don't be afraid to throw many of them.

The bottles and bricks also come in handy if you pair them with the "Listening" skill. Joel's listening ability is basically "detective mode" from the Arkham games. You will be able to see enemies through walls, so long as they are moving. This lets you plan out your attacks. If the enemies aren't moving, throw a bottle or brick to get them to make a sound. As soon as they do, you will see them. It's very useful and a skill I recommend upgrading right away.



Another important item is the shiv. These can be used to quickly and quietly stealth kill enemies. You can also strangle them but this takes longer and makes some noise. Shivs are extremely important when dealing with the clickers. The clicker is an enemy who sees using sound. When you hear them "click" that means they are listening to their surroundings. These guys can only be stealth killed if you have a shiv. If you don't have a shiv, and they grab you, they will instantly kill you. Shivs can also be used to open locked doors. Behind these doors usually contains ammo, supplies and collectibles. But do you want to use the shiv on a door? or save them for encounters with clickers? It's a nice balancing act that I found myself wishing I did one and not the other countless times.

The game does that balancing act well. Each item that you can craft has certain things you need in order to make it. Usually you will have two options and you will need to choose one or another in most cases. Example: should you make a health kit or a molotov cocktail?†You really got to think of what you NEED before you make it. There were a few times that I could make many items because I hoarded supplies the entire game but that depends on your play style. If you play it slow and easy while always exploring for supplies, you shouldn't have too much of an issue crafting items. However you do have a limit on items you can carry. You can't sit there and have 99 rags or 50 bottles of alcohol.

The act or crafting items of switching guns is done in real time. This creates a sense of urgency. In an pinch and need to heal? Better hide and find and good spot because this leave you open for an attack.

You can also upgrade Joel and his weapons by collecting supplies and pills. The pills are used to upgrade Joel's skills such as max health, crafting speed, healing speed and the ever so useful listening skill. You will also salvage parts from the world that can be used to upgrade the reload speed, ammo capacity, range and more for your guns. I was very thorough in my playthrough and was nowhere near maxing anything out. And even though you can upgrade Joel, it never feels like you become a powerful killing machine. At all times, the game makes you feel weak and vulnerable. You are no videogame superhero. You're a normal guy.

The actual act of movement will feel similar to those who played the Uncharted series. Some might have issues with how loose the gunplay can be, but I feel that it fits perfectly in The Last of Us. It creates a sense of tension and can stress you out during skirmishes. Some may see that as a negative, but I feel that is fits the tone of the game. The melee in the game works decently enough however some enemies will grab you right through your melee animation. That can be frustrating.




Throughout your journey you will always have Ellie by your side. So yes, this is an escort mission in full game form. It's not bad though. For one, you get the awesome character iteration between the two and two,†Ellie really helps you out in fights later in the game. Is she in danger when your fighting enemies? Not really however there are times she can be grabbed. If you don't save her quickly she can die resulting in game over. However, the enemy usually doesn't grab her too often. I will say that she isn't totally invisible in battles like Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite. She will throw bottles and distract enemies and sometimes even kill enemies for you.

My one lone problem with the games comes by way of the A.I. though. At times they will get in your way. I can't tell you how many times I tried to get through a door only for Ellie to stand there and not move. It does get pretty annoying and happens way too much. The A.I. can also break the immersion sometimes. You will be sneaking through a dark room full of infected and Ellie will run around, knocking stuff over and sometimes run right into the enemy. This doesn't alert the enemy or ruin your stealth which is kind of silly but the alternative would be a more frustrating experience. It does break the immersion a bit. Nothing major but something you will notice.

The game also come with a multiplayer mode. You have two game mode. One is 4v4 that is round based. Each round your only given 1 life and first team to 5 wins. The other is similar but gives each team more respawns but as players die, the teams ticket count dwindles. First team to deplete the other teams tickets wins.




The multiplayer does a few cool things to actually mix it up. First of all, the multiplayer has the full crafting component from the single player. You will have to scavenge the maps for ingredients to craft bombs or heath kits. Ammo is also very limited but can be bought on the fly using parts you collect by scavenging or assisting your team. The really awesome thing is the overall metagame. The better you do in matches the more people enter your clan. However, the bigger your clan gets, the better you must do each match. The overall goal is to reach 12 weeks. Each match counts as 1 day. This creates a sense of urgency knowing that if you don't do well enough each match ans collect enough resources, people in your clan will die. There is a chance you may not make it to 12 weeks. A neat feature is that it connects with your Facebook and uses your friends names in your clan.

The multiplayer also features a whole suite of loadout options. You can choose a wide range of weapons, perks and customization features. Veterans of the Uncharted multiplayer will have an easier transition into The Last of Us but there still is a bit of a learning curve. You must take it slow and easy just like the single player. You do not last long. Once you find your footing, the multiplayer is fun and engaging.

The Last of Us is a game that makes you wonder if we even need new consoles. It looks and sounds amazing. Every aspect of the presentation is top-notch. The graphics are the best we have seen this generation and the detail given†on each character is stunning. The facial animations shine and stand up there as the best in the business. The environments look gorgeous and Naughty Dogs attention to the little things is truly something to behold. When you play, take in the environments. Explore everything, it's worth it.

The sound work is also brilliant. Every single voice actors nails there roles. Joel and Ellie are obvious stand-out but each actor could win an award for the work he/she did. The original score perfectly sets the dreary mood.

Before I wrap it up, I will say this. The Last of Us may not be for everyone. The difficulty can be brutal at times and the game is extremely violent. If you are someone who casually plays games for fun or someone who is easily offended by extreme gore or language, The Last of Us may not be for you. The story can also put a major toll on you emotionally. I was physically and emotionally drained at the end of my 12 hour playthrough. However, you you want a good story and don't mind the violence, or are somebody just looking for a great survival horror game, do not miss this game.




The Last of Us is an amazing game from top to bottom. It tells one of the darkest yet satisfying tales ever told in gaming. Every character is well acted and the game looks gorgeous. With a 12-15 hour campaign (depending on play style) and an addicting multiplayer feature, this is a game that will be in your PS3 for some time. If you don't have a PS3 I suggest buying one for this game. It's that good.

Pros:
+ Amazing Story
+ Phenomenal Characters (Esp. Joel and Ellie)
+ Great Gameplay
+ Satisfying Stealth
+ Good Crafting System
+ Addicting Multiplayer
+ Looks and Sounds Great

Cons:
- A.I. Can at Times Break Immersion or Get in Your Way


OVERALL: 9.5/10
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What is the most important component in a videogame? Is it graphics? How about gameplay? Or even a cohesive story? Well all of those are valid answers, but to me its atmosphere and detail put into the world. Iíve played many games. Iíve played many very excellent games but if I run down a list of my favorite games, all of them have one thing in common; atmosphere and a world that I never wanted to leave.


Iíll be honest. I am such a sucker for a masterfully created world or environment that I sometimes overlook core problems to games. In my mind though, who cares? A game may have mediocre gameplay or a story that doesn't quite make sense but if it has a believable world and a great sense of atmosphere, Iím all in.


I love getting lost in another world. I love exploring environments and taking in the scenery. The best games allow you to explore and learn more about the world if you so choose. Instead of rambling more, Iíll just give you a list of games who I believe have the best atmosphere/worlds (in no particular order). I also realise that there are many other games out there with great worlds and whatnot, however; I haven't played every game.


L.A. Noire



Ah L.A. Noire. I love this game. I honestly may be one of the few as most people seem to have a lot of complaints about this game. The funny thing is that every single complaint or negative comment I've heard about L.A. Noire, I've agreed with to some extent. The game changer for me though has to be the masterful recreation of post WWII Los Angeles.


I canít tell you how many times I just walked down the streets, exploring back alleys and the small neighborhoods, listening in on the conversations NPCs were having about the war or economy and even just admiring the small details like store fronts and street signs. The original score paired with the licensed songs of the time made it that much better. I really felt like I was living in 1950ís Los Angeles.


The game took me about 25-30 hours to 100% but to this day I still fire it up from time to time and just walk/drive around and I still find new areas or small details that I never noticed before. Because of all this, no matter what problems the game may have in terms of gameplay or story, L.A. Noire will always be one of my favorite games; all because of its beautifully crafted world that I canít remove from my memory.


Red Dead Redemption



We are two games in and we have two Rockstar games. Red Dead is a rare game. I donít think there is such thing as a ďperfectĒ game but if I had to choose one game that came close, it would be this game. Of course, one of the things that makes that possible is the games wonderful interpretation of the early 1900ís in the wild west.


I honestly donít even know where to begin. This game has a lot of empty desert space yet; even those empty spaces have better atmosphere then most other games out there today. I canít tell you how many times I was walking out in those spaces only to be struck with fear of the unknown or intrigue of what stories those spaces had to tell. Trust me; those places do have some stories. This, coupled with the fact that all sorts of animals go about there business, makes the wilderness a great and terrifying place to roam.


The towns in the games†are also†beautifully done. Some are more busy then others but all feel like real, living places. The people move and react like real people and at any given time an old west shootout could break out. The subtle dialogue between the inhabitants of these cites are well done and can be quite funny or informative. Spend about 5 minutes in these towns and youíll want to actually be living there; if you can ignore the bank robberies and gunshots, although, I guess thatís no worse than present day Detroit. And donít get me started on the abandoned ghost towns. The air is filled with dread and intrigue. So great!


The music also lends a hand in solidifying the world as one of the best gaming worlds ever created. There are many reasons why you should play Red Dead Redemption, but for nothing else, this game world needs to be experienced by everyone.


Mass Effect (Series)

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The Mass Effect series is by far my favorite gaming series to date. The universe that Bioware created is one of great wonder and excitement. You can freely move about the galaxy and learn about other planets, talk to the various other alien species to learn about their culture, grab a drink at the nearest bar, dance along to the space-y techno music or just sit still and admire the fantastic skyboxes. All of this makes it a universe you would love to live in.

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The great thing about Mass Effect is that if you are every curious about something in the game, chances are, you can go and learn about it in game. This deepens not only the story but your drive to learn more about the universe and its inhabitants. I have spent many of hours just reading up about the planets, colonies, races, technology and religions that make up the Mass Effect universe. In many ways, itís why I love Star Wars. There are just so many stories that can be told even though the main story arch is over.


Even though I love all of them, I would say the first Mass Effect had a slightly better way of interpreting the universe as it made you seem so small in the grand scheme of things. The surfaces of the uncharted planets you could land on seemed to go on forever and the dialogue tree was more expansive which allowed more possibilities for interesting conversation. The Citadel was also much bigger, which goes along with making you feel like a tiny human in this giant galaxy.


Even though the main arch of the series is over, I still find myself reading the novels and comics because I want to learn more about this universe. This series could go on for a very long time, whether it be in videogame form or written form, and I hope it does. There are many stories to tell and because the universe they crafted is so massive, they can easily come up with new stories.


Bioshock

The †world in Bioshock is one of intrigue, wonder and death. Walking through the various environments that Rapture has to offer, I found myself stopping and marveling at the attention to detail. It seemed as though each environment you discovered, each room you stumbled upon and even each splicer you killed had their own story to tell. The game also had a great cast of unforgettable characters that only added to the mystery and wonder of Rapture.


The game also boosted a strong soundtrack that fit with the early 1900's theme. And just in case you weren't pulled into the world with all that, they threw in some audio logs that fully fleshed out the city, not only in it's current condition, but what it was like before everything went to hell. Rapture may be a beautiful city beneath the ocean, but it holds terribly dark secrets. Secrets you want to know.


This is a world that I wish could be erased from my memory just so I can go back and experience it again for the first time.


Dead Space


This is one world I would not want to live in but it absolutely nails the horror atmosphere. The things that Dead Space does so well is it makes you scared. I was terrified to even move two feet and forget about going around any corner. The ship was dark and the only sounds you heard was the sound of creatures moaning or walking in the distance. As you walk through the dreary hallways, you will see shadows moving around and at times, will expect an enemy to jump out at you around the next corner only for no enemy to be found. This build tension and stresses you out like no other. Then the game throws enemies at you when you least expect it.


You feel alone in Dead Space. Your aboard a terrifying ship that a drift in the middle of deep space. It's still one of the most stressful games I have ever played. The game builds the tension like no other. The first Dead Space did this the best while I found the other two games in the series lacked the same punch. Which is no surprise since the series is going more toward the action side of things. If you like horror games, or games with terrific atmosphere, it doesn't get much better than Dead Space. Just remember, in space, no one can hear you scream.


The Last of Us



I've had this article stewing in my head for a few weeks now but have put it off because I knew I would be playing The Last of Us in a short time. I'm glad I waited because The Last of Us has an incredible world and atmosphere. Dead Space for me, was the champion of making you stressed and terrified to move due to it's incredible atmosphere. It WAS the champion. Not anymore as The Last of Us undoubtedly takes the belt.


First off, The Last of Us has an incredibly detailed world. It's one of no hope, death and desperation. Humanity has been pushed to the brink. Whole cities have been abandoned and brought to there knees by a virus outbreak. Each building you enter, house you wonder through and flyer you read each have a story to tell. A story of a family being torn apart or how police were overrun with infected. Sure you can just play through the game and only notice the main plot (which is amazing) but I suggest taking the time to take in the little things. Survey your surroundings, gather the collectibles and interact with Ellie. You will get much more out of it and the world will pull you in.


I also suggest not to play The Last of Us in one sitting as it can be one of the more stressful and emotionally tiring games you'll ever play. The main story helps this but also each encounter. You face many human enemies through out the game. Way more than infected. This isn't a bad thing though as it makes each infected encounter more special, tense and stressful. You will enter dark rooms that you must stealth through or the infected will hear you. You don't want that as they can kill you easily. All you can hear at times are their moans or the clicking sound of the "clickers" and with no other sounds to clash with these, it makes it all the more terrifying.


The Last of Us is special in several ways but the world Naughty Dog created is one the most detailed ones around. The atmosphere is dripping with uncertainty and death. It's a nasty world out there, but one I don't want to leave.




So, what gaming worlds are your favorite? What games have the best atmosphere?
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