Top Gear – Season 23

With the departure of the headliners of Top Gear for the last 22 seasons and their new Amazon show, Grand Tour, and the recast Top Gear the interest is high and success is a high bar to reach. The inevitable comparison of Top Gear season 22 versus Top Gear season 23 is such a dis-service because season 22 was in stride knowing what they were and right now season 23 is trying to find their footing.

Organically it does a poor job of setting any foundation outside of trying to be Top Gear. They are trying to recreate what previous hosts had perfected and it shows. They really don’t do enough to establish their credentials and love for cars. The episode comes across as celebrities and cars, but not anyone who has a deep found respect and love for the automobile as art, technology, power, and toys. The episode only tried to establish a friendship between Chris Evans and American Matt LeBlanc, but nothing to establish Sabine Schmitz who had the most love for the automobile that she was not afraid to insult the corvette Z06 she was driving.  Matt sounds like he is doing a documentary and comes across as very dry in his voice overs. Chris is the better of the two and has personality in his presentation. They need to find their own groove and they could grow into it, but it will be a while before it gels together and the ratings will suffer as a result.

The change to a rallycross track and off road combination for the stars in the reasonable price car was a unique twist and having two stars as the first show to establish some competition was wise, but it appears this might be a trend to have 2 stars each week and if they continue to fail to have any commonality in their promotions then it will just continue to be dry segments.

Production wise the show was not quite up to the expectations of Top Gear fans. The audio was just mixed poorly with crowd and music being too loud compared to the presenters and commentary. The picture quality is excellent outside of an oddly too bright Stig lap with the Dodge Viper ACR that I suspect is a combination of abnormally great weather and higher quality filming (4k maybe), but it just felt like it missed the traditional Top Gear blue tint on their track filming.

The first show just felt like an odd combination of segments, rough production values, and personalities that are still finding their voices. The show should be unapologetically British and Matt’s presence might not have the lasting appeal.

 


Extra Gear the additional show presented by Rory Reid and Chris Harris showed more personality, comfort about discussing cars, and actual car humor as they insult the mentality of having a phone app to open your door when handles still work. Extra Gear did a better job trying to recreate the feeling of Top Gear then Chris and Matt were able to pull off.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the culmination of the story of Nathan Drake and his misadventures searching for treasure, his identity, and his place in the world. After discovering the legacy of Francis Drake his claimed namesake in El Dorado, braving the risks of Shambhala,  and the hidden voyage of Francis Drake into the Rub’al Khali desert Nathan Drake is found living a domestic life working for a marine salvage company.  Nathan is doing his best to live the home life and sharing moments with his wife Elena Fisher like betting each other over video games to decide who does the dirty dishes. Surprisingly Nathan is greeted by his brother Samuel Drake, someone he thought  dead, and after brotherly comradery and catching up he thrust into a new adventure searching for the infamous pirate Henry Avery, his treasure, and the key to saving Samuel Drake’s life.

Through various flashbacks, this journey explains the backstory of the Drake brothers, the strains of honesty in relationships, and what it means to be family. The traditional gameplay elements of cover shooting, climbing, puzzle solving, and amazing set pieces carry through into this entry. New features are the rope grapple for climbing, swinging, and mobility based combat as well as an enemy tagging system to assist with stealth efforts. The bones of The Last of Us, the previous Naughty Dog release are visible in this game and it is best described as a hybrid between the Last of Us and Uncharted. The crate moving for accessibility to higher areas is straight from The Last of Us. The follow system by the non-player characters is the same. and only your actions can result in enemy alerts.

New enemy AI is visible with enemies pairing up to investigate disturbances. I was verbally shocked when pulling an enemy down a ledge when hanging there and the enemy actually grabbed Nathan’s leg on the way down leading to a grapple break scenario.  This random element showing the evolution of enemies are the delights and surprises in playing these games.

The callbacks in the game are lovely between playing Crash Bandicoot and referencing Monkey Island were highlights.

Plot wise the story is fraught with danger, betrayals, surprises, and death-defying escapes we come to expect from Uncharted, but the mystical elements of the first three games have been replaced with the scarier elements of human relationships and emotions of greed and betrayal. For someone new the series starting on this penultimate entry it would be accurate to complain that the third act of the game can drag down the pace, but for someone who has grown up with the story of Uncharted and Nathan Drake the understated plot that allows the characters to breathe and live is a fitting and appropriate conclusion of the Uncharted Saga. While that last stage is slower paced than previous entries third act due to what the player and the game has shared over the lifespan makes it all the more meaningful.

In hindsight, it was a good thing for Naughty Dog to release the Nathan Drake collection to allow all of the games to be playable on the same system. With the story, I strongly recommend playing the Nathan Drake Collection of games first before to fully appreciate the plot.