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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

OSU 2016 Football Preview

Ohio State Buckeyes 2016 Football Preview

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Whether other Big Ten fans want to admit it or not, the league's respect is based primarily on the accomplishments of Ohio State.  The only other Big Ten school to even play for a national championship in this century is Nebraska, and the Huskers weren't even in the Big Ten at that time.  And when Ohio State lost two straight BCS title games in 2006 and 2007, the Big Ten was derided as the "Big MAC" by the rest of the college football world.  What changed as of late?  It was when Urban Meyer went from embarrassing the Big Ten (at Florida) to knocking the SEC off their pedestal after the 2014 season at Ohio State.  Sure, other schools (such as Michigan State) have restored some prestige to the Big Ten, but just like Alabama makes the SEC look really, really good, Ohio State is what's driven the Big Ten's national image in this century.
Going 50-4 the last four years since Urban decided to become a Buckeye has made Ohio State part of the national conversation in football. And while the shine from that 2014 national championship still glows in the trophy room, most of the players from that squad have moved on.  In fact, Ohio State only returns six starters (three on each side of the ball) from last year's squad. But much like Nebraska did in the 90's, the Buckeyesdon't rebuild, they reload.   And unlike Nebraska's powerhouse teams of the past, Meyer's Ohio State rosters are stocked full of very highly touted blue chippers, no matter what evaluator you subscribe to.
One of those returning starters is junior quarterback J.T. Barrett (6'2" 225 lbs.), who won't have to worry about a quarterback controversy now that Cardale Jones is gone.  As a freshman, Barrett completed 65% of his passes for 34 touchdowns and 2,834 yards with 10 interceptions.  He finished fifth in the Heisman balloting in 2014, but splitting time with Jones last season, his numbers dropped to 63% passing for just 11 touchdowns and 992 yards. He's still a threat with his legs, rushing for 682 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Joe Burrow (6'3" 208 lbs.), who's father Jimmy and brothers Jamie and Dan all played for Nebraska.
Now that Ezekiel Elliott is a Dallas Cowboy and Bri'onte Dunn was dismissed for violating team rules in July, Ohio State is starting over from scratch at running back, as nobody who played last year returns. The likely starter should be redshirt freshman Mike Weber (5'10" 215 lbs.) who looked pretty impressive in preseason practice before injuring his knee and missing the entire season. He's in the mold of Carlos Hyde as a big back...and so is incoming freshman Antonio Williams (5'11" 215 lbs.).
A similar situation exists at receiver where only junior H-back Curtis Samuel (5'11" 200 lbs.) and senior H-back Dontre Wilson (5'10" 195 lbs.) are the only players returning with multiple catches last season. Senior wide receiver Corey Smith (6'1" 195 lbs.) caught five passes in 2014, but missed all of 2015 with a leg injury.  Likewise, sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown (6'2" 222 lbs.) caught one pass in 2014, then missed all of 2015 with a broken leg.  After that, it's a bunch of newcomers.  With nine four-star wide receivers on this year's roster, you have to assume that the Buckeyes will find someone who can make a catch or two this season.
If you have been doing the math, that means there are two returning starters on the offensive line, and both are pretty good.  Senior center Pat Elflein (6'3" 300 lbs.) was a first team all Big Ten honoree at right guard in 2014 and a second-team all-American at right guard last season. To accommodate Elflein's move to center, junior Billy Price (6'4" 315 lbs.) slides over to right guard after starting every game his first two seasons, earning second team all-Big Ten honors last season.  Plenty of blue chippers await in the background to fill in the rest of the lineup, so again, you have to figure Ohio State will find someone to give them a competent offensive line.
Normally in these previews, I always look at last season to set a baseline, but with Ohio State, it's really tough to do with only three returning starters. On the defensive line, Ohio State did give us a bit of a preview in the Fiesta Bowl.  Due to injuries and suspensions, the Buckeyes had to play the new guys - and play well they did. Junior defensive endTyquan Lewis (6'4" 260 lbs.) is the lone returning starter; he had 54 tackles last season with 14 of them for a loss. He was limited last season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery in January. On the other side, sophomore Sam Hubbard (6'5" 265 lbs.) will replace Joey Bosa, the all-American now playing for the Chargers; Hubbard had 28 tackles with 8 for a loss as a freshman reserve.
Junior middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan (6'2" 240 lbs.) led the Buckeyes last season with 119 tackles.  A freshman all-American in 2014, McMillan was first team all-Big Ten and a Butkus awaart semifinalist last season.  Juniors Dante Booker (6'3" 233 lbs.) andChris Worley (6'2" 225 lbs.) will be called upon to replace two NFL draft picks; as reserves last season, they added 22 and 17 tackles.
In the secondary, only junior cornerback Gareon Conley (6'0" 195 lbs.) returns as a starter; Conley started all 13 games last season with 49 tackles and two interceptions.  At the other cornerback position, Ohio State will likely be turning to one of two sophomores with limited experience last season: either Denzel Ward (5'11" 180 lbs.) or Marshon Lattimore (6'0" 191 lbs.).  It's much the same at safety, where it looks like sophomoreMalik Hooker (6'2" 205 lbs.) will be one starter after playing 179 snaps last season as a freshman backup.  At the other side, it could be either Erick Smith (6'0" 202 lbs.) or Cam Burrows (6'0" 208 lbs.), both of whom are on the mend from season ending surgeries in 2015.
At just about every other program (not named Alabama), this level of inexperience would seem to be a warning sign of a rather mediocre rebuilding season. But this is Urban Meyer's Ohio State program, a program that's stocked full of blue-chippers.  Could Ohio State struggle to go 6-6? Absolutely.  But could they go 11-1 or 12-0? Absolutely. And understanding Meyer's track record, I'd suggest that the latter is more likely than the former.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ohio State Rookies Fair Well in NFL Pre Season Week One

NFL football is back — Well, at least preseason NFL football is back.

While the warmup games may not lend much time to watching starters on your favorite NFL team, it is a good chance for rookies to see some live reps and get some game experience. Things move a lot faster in the NFL and the hits are a lot harder, but former Ohio State standouts performed well on their first weekend in the League.


Former Buckeyes showed off on offense during Week 1 of the preseason, including Cardale Jones(once again proving why his nickname is 12-Gauge), Braxton Miller (proving he can make tough catches) and Michael Thomas (who solidifies his role as a possible starter each time he takes the field). Nick Vannett is also working his way into the depth chart in Seattle, making two catches for 22 yards in his Week 1 showing.

Cardale Jones

The young quarterback went 11 for 21 during his preseason debut, recording 162 yards and a touchdown with the team’s third-team players. He helped the team launch an attempt to come from behind against the Colts, but ultimately came up a point shy. He came away from the game with the highest quarterback rating of the Bills’ three quarterbacks.

Braxton Miller

The quarterback turned wide receiver wasn’t too flashy during his debut with the Houston Texans, but a slick sideline snag supported his position switch ahead of taking his talents to the League.

Michael Thomas

The wide out has been a favorite of quarterback Drew Brees throughout OTAs and training camp, and finally everyone could see why. Thomas made a slew of catches in his debut that made Saints’ fans glad to have the Buckeye on their roster. No doubt a starter for the team, Thomas caught four of six targets for 64 yards — and did so in spectacular, and often diving, fashion.

Offensive line

A main reason the Buckeye offense was so dominate, was thanks to the big men up front. With three new Ohio State players looking to make their marks in the NFL on the line, only two of the three rookies are expected to be on a roster come the start of the regular season.

Taylor Decker is expected to contribute as a starter right away, and his first preseason game didn’t bode well for the young players’ confidence. He drew a holding flag during the Week 1 matchup against the Buckeye-loaded Steelers and failed to stand up James Harrison letting him get to Stafford and force a fumble. The Lions haven’t sounded the alarm yet, and are hoping to see steady improvements by Decker throughout the preseason.

Despite playing Week 1, center Joel Hale only saw 13 snaps and he, along with Chase Farris, aren’t expected to make their respective team’s 53-man roster.


Some of the Buckeyes best defenders made their way to the NFL in 2016, and some have already shown signs of greatness — and surprised a few people along the way. First-round pick for the Giants, Eli Apple, gave the team a scare following a hit to his knee during their preseason game against the Dolphins — following an MRI, everything is said to be fine, with he’s said to be taking it “day by day”.

Tyvis Powell

One of the bigger surprises from the NFL Draft was Powell not being taken during the seven round event. It wasn’t long after the close of the draft that the Buckeye was fielding offers from teams across the country, before ultimately signing with the Seattle Seahawks. Not that the lively player needed anymore fire to motivate him, but the draft snub is certainly ushering him to a spot on the final roster.

Powell is expected to make the roster for his abilities on special teams — a skill position Devin Smith never seemed to perfect — and with these highlights on defense his value has definitely gone up.

Darron Lee

The first-round pick has caught the attention of his coaches during OTAs and training camp and continued to show off during the Jets’ first preseason game. Lee recorded the teams’ second sack of the game and even put up some miles on special teams -- even if that’s not exactly where he’s used to being.

“I’m pretty tired from special teams, I’m not going to lie,” Lee said, according to the team. “But according to everybody else, that’s what a rookie has to do. I have to keep running down on special teams, but still go out and make plays regardless if you’re winded. But other than that, I had a lot of fun.”

Vonn Bell

Despite being a force in training camp, Bell struggled a bit during his preseason debut, getting embarrassed on a cut by Patriots’ Julian Edelman and missing a golden chance at a interception that seemed to slip right through his hands. Hopefully, he can show the team that his efforts in practice can rollover to game day, and earn his spot on the final roster.

Joshua Perry

Continuing as one of the best guys on and off the field, Perry — unlike Bosa — made his debut for the Chargers in Week 1 and was able to force a fumble in one of several impressive plays. He spoke after the game about areas of improvement, and admitted that going against the tough Arizona run offense in Week 2 will be a challenge, but one that he’s ready to tackle (pun intended).

Adolphus Washington

The Buffalo Bills are thanking their lucky stars to have gotten Washington in the third round, especially given the production he’s had in training camp and now in preseason. He’s already expected to start for the Bills at left defensive end, where he saw extended playing time during Week 1 of the preseason, with Coach Ryan lauding his addition to the d-line rotation.

Special teams

Sometimes rookies can make a 53-man roster for their special team abilities alone. Aside, from looking good on offense, Jalin Marshall continues to shine on kick returns. He proved his worth during the Jets’ first preseason game, with an 80-yard return.

Not all Buckeyes made their debut during Week 1 of the preseason, with Ezekiel Elliott forced to delay the Cowboys’ second-coming due to a hamstring issue sustained during training camp, but is expected to get some reps during the preseason as a lead-in to a carry-heavy rookie season. Joey Bosa was also noticeably absent, but not surprisingly given the way his contract negotiations have gone with the San Diego Chargers — offset language and bonus money payout schedule has kept the Buckeye from signing his rookie deal with the team.

So far, the latest batch of Buckeyes to head to the NFL are carrying on a long tradition of excellence in the League. We’ll see where they all land once the teams announce their final 53-man rosters, but there will certainly be a bevy of Buckeye talent to root for throughout the regular season.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SB Nation 2016-2017 College Football Final 4 and Bowl Projections

What a joke SB Nation  Michigan in final 4......... lmao

College Football PlayoffNational ChampionshipLSUClemsonJan. 9TampaFiesta winner vs. Peach winnerFiestaClemsonMichiganDec. 31Glendale, Ariz.Playoff rankings top 4PeachLSUTCUDec. 31AtlantaPlayoff rankings top 4

LSU returns a whole t o n, could play 12 bowl teams in 13 games, upgraded at defensive coordinator, and gets Bama and Ole Miss at home. But the quarterback, they shout. Brandon Harris was middlin' in the SEC as a true sophomore, has a horde of weapons, and doesn't exactly need to throw for 5,000 yards here. To bet on a Zombie Les Miles team is to cannonball into a volcano, so I am wearing moisture-wicking garments.

Clemson's my No. 2. Deshaun Watson's offense is going to eat souls, and the defense can't falltoo far.

Michigan might be the safest Playoff pick in the country; I don't think the Wolverines are the best team, but look at that schedule. 7-0 heading into East Lansing should be expected. 8-4 would be a disaster. The Wolverines should have a monstrous defense, and the only real Q is at quarterback, where there are decent options on paper.

[To clarify, I don't mean UM is some sort of Playoff lock. I mean if you had to pick just one team to make the Playoff, Michigan might be the best choice. Or Alabama. Live dangerously.]

Lastly, I think the Pac-12 will devour itself, Notre Dame's schedule has a bump too many, and it'll be a long time before a conference gets two teams in. So hey there, Big 12. The Frogs return a load, once you account for injuries, and the home schedule includes conference favorite Oklahoma and potential OOC prize Arkansas.

New Year's Six bowlsCottonTennesseeHoustonJan. 1Arlington, TexasAt-largeRoseOhio StateWashingtonJan. 1Pasadena, Calif.Big Ten 1 vs. Pac-12 1SugarOklahomaAlabamaJan. 1New OrleansBig 12 1 vs. SEC 1OrangeFlorida StateNotre DameDec. 30MiamiACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND

In this year's rotation, the whole NY6 slate is basically set by the Playoff rankings within each conference. There's only one at-large game, and that one has to include the Group of 5 auto bid.

So, yeah. This part's pretty easy for now.

I spent a lot of time debating Houston vs. Boise State or Western Michigan and Washington vs. its entire division.

Bowl (* = filling another conference's bid)Conference selection order, not based on standingsFoster FarmsWisconsinStanfordTBASanta Clara, Calif.Big Ten 5-7 vs. Pac-12 4OutbackNebraskaFloridaJan. 2TampaBig Ten 2-4 vs. SEC 3-8CitrusPenn StateOle MissDec. 31OrlandoBig Ten 2-4/ACC vs. SEC 2TaxSlayerMiamiGeorgiaDec. 31Jacksonville, Fla.ACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7 vs. SEC 3-8Music CityIowaSouth CarolinaDec. 30NashvilleACC 3-6/Big Ten 5-7 vs. SEC 3-8LibertyTexas TechMissouriDec. 30MemphisBig 12 5 vs. SEC 3-8SunNorth CarolinaOregonDec. 30El PasoACC 3-6 vs. Pac-12 5ArizonaAir ForceGeorgia StateDec. 30TucsonMWC vs. Sun BeltAlamoTexasUSCDec. 29San AntonioBig 12 2 vs. Pac-12 2BelkVirginia TechAuburnDec. 29CharlotteACC 3-6 vs. SEC 3-8BirminghamCincinnatiTexas A&MDec. 29Birmingham, Ala.American vs. SEC 9PinstripePittMinnesotaDec. 28New York CityACC 3-6 vs. Big Ten 5-7Russell AthleticLouisvilleWest VirginiaDec. 28OrlandoACC 2 vs. Big 12 3TexasOklahoma StateArkansasDec. 28HoustonBig 12 4 vs. SEC 3-8CactusBaylorArizonaDec. 27Tempe, Ariz.Big 12 6 vs. Pac-12 7Heart of DallasMarylandWKUDec. 27DallasBig Ten vs. C-USAHolidayMichigan StateUCLADec. 27San DiegoBig Ten 2-4 vs. Pac-12 3MilitaryNC StateTempleDec. 27Annapolis, Md.ACC vs. AmericanIndependenceNorthwestern*Mississippi StateDec. 26Shreveport, La.ACC vs. SECSt. PetersburgGeorgia TechUSFDec. 26St. Petersburg, Fla.ACC vs. AmericanQuick LaneSyracuseIndianaDec. 26DetroitACC vs. Big TenHawaiiFIUUtah StateDec. 24HonoluluC-USA vs. MWCGoDaddyWMUAppalachian StateDec. 23Mobile, Ala.MAC 1 vs. Sun Belt 2Armed ForcesWashington State*NavyDec. 23Fort Worth, TexasBig 12 vs. NavyBahamasTulsaOhioDec. 23Nassau, BSAmerican vs. MACPotatoToledoColorado StateDec. 22Boise, IdahoMAC 2 vs. MWCPoinsettiaBYUSan Diego StateDec. 21San DiegoBYU vs. MWCBoca RatonMemphisSouthern MissDec. 20Boca Raton, Fla.American vs. C-USAMiami BeachUConnCMUDec. 19MiamiAmerican vs. MACLas VegasBoise StateUtahDec. 17Las VegasMWC 1 vs. Pac-12 6CameliaNIUGeorgia SouthernDec. 17Montgomery, Ala.MAC 3 vs. Sun Belt 3CelebrationN.C. CentralGrambling StateDec. 17AtlantaMEAC vs. SWACCureCal*TroyDec. 17OrlandoAmerican vs. Sun BeltNew MexicoMarshallNew MexicoDec. 17AlbuquerqueC-USA vs. MWCNew OrleansArkansas StateLA TechDec. 17New OrleansSun

Thursday, June 2, 2016

10 Stats to Know for the NBA Finals

10 Stats to know for the NBA Finals

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers begin the NBA Finals on Thursday, and it's a completely different series than last year. We've looked at what the Warriors and Cavaliers have to do to win, and we've examined some role players to watch. Now, let's get numerical. Here are 10 stats to keep in mind as Game 1 approaches:

1. The Cavs' 3-point shooting has been insane. In the playoffs, they are taking 34.6 3-pointers per game and making 43.4 percent of them. Both of those marks lead the league. This long-distance shooting is absurd, and it is the reason they are scoring 116.2 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs.

2. In the regular season against the Warriors, Cleveland struggled from the 3-point line. The Cavs took 49 3s, and made 24.5 percent of them. Both of those marks were lower against Golden State than any other team.

3. This is the first time that the two top teams in 3-pointers made have met in the NBA Finals, per ESPN Stats and Info. The defending champs set an NBA record with 1,077 made 3s this season -- no team had ever finished with 1,000 before. The Cavaliers made 880 3-pointers.

4. Cleveland is the only team scoring more points on catch-and-shoot opportunities than the Warriors in the playoffs. The Cavs are averaging 34.4 points that way in each game, and making 45.8 percent of their catch-and-shoot jumpers, per NBA.com.

5. Golden State has contested 66.2 percent of its opponents' shots in the postseason, which is third-highest among playoff teams, per NBA.com. It will need to keep that up against Cleveland. The Cavs, meanwhile, have contested only 57.1 percent of their opponents' shots, which is worse than any playoff team other than the Memphis Grizzlies.

6. The pass-happy Warriors are averaging a league-high 25 assists per game and a league-high 7.9 secondary assists per game, per NBA.com. The crazy thing is that both of those marks are lower than their regular-season numbers.

7. Golden State's "death lineup" -- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green -- destroyed teams all year long, scoring 142 points per 100 possessions and allowing 95 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. This is the starting lineup that swung last year's NBA Finals, but it did not play against Cleveland in the two regular-season two meetings.

8. The Cavs also have a deadly lineup -- Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, LeBron James and Channing Frye -- but they only discovered it in the playoffs. That group has scored 133.2 points per 100 possessions and allowed 86.6 points per 100 possessions in the postseason, and Cleveland has made an outrageous 54.3 percent of its 3s with those five on the floor.

9. LeBron James has taken 251 shots in the playoffs, and 132 of them have come in the restricted area, where he has shot 72 percent. That's quite a ratio, but it makes sense because he has shot 42-for-119 (35 percent) outside of the restricted area.

10. The Warriors were second in the league in pace in the regular season, while the Cavs were 28th. In the playoffs, that has not changed -- Golden State has been the fastest team, and Cleveland has been slower than everybody but the Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said they would try to push the pace, though. This is probably because they have scored 1.25 points per possession in transition in the postseason.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Now is the Best Time for LeBron and the Cavs

Now or Never for LeBron and the Cavs

CLEVELAND – LeBron James, as he often is, was in control of the music in the Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room. This was after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals here last week, after Kevin Love returned to form, after a complete annihilation of Toronto made the NBA Finals feel like the inevitability it was. The Cavs open at Golden State on Thursday.

The symphonic tastes of professional athletes rarely extend past a month ago, but LeBron isn't your normal young, rich and famous star. For one, he's old school. Second, he's got a hokey, suburban dad angle to him – he's a self-professed fan of HGTV, the Food Network and the "Pitch Perfect" movies. He's also cool enough to cop to it without concern.

Winning a big game called for more than just the latest hits, and besides, what's current that's better than the O'Jays? So the 1972 classic "Back Stabbers" rang through the place, LeBron loudly singing along.

"They smile in your face," James crooned. "All the time they want to take your place. The back stabbers … back stabbers."

LeBron said it was just a great song and wasn't meant to symbolize anything. Moments later the O'Jay's "For the Love of Money" – which Donald Trump used as the opening of his reality show – came on.


LeBron James is headed to his sixth straight NBA Finals. (Getty Images)

LeBron sat there and sang that one too. He was entertaining himself, if no one else.

"I didn't appreciate last year personally on getting to The Finals," James said.

That's not an issue this year. The playoffs have been a blast for LeBron James, a 12-2 record, relatively little drama with a team that is well rested and fully operational – most notably with a healthy Love and Kyrie Irving.

The journey thus far has been enjoyable, but now comes the hard part, the pressurized part, the legacy stuff he signed up for when he returned to Cleveland.

These NBA Finals remain about whether James can deliver a desperate, title-starved city to the ultimate destination. Nothing else will suffice. It's all-or-nothing again, no matter how good the music sounds along the way.

James knows this, he's just trying to take the challenge with less internal pressure, in part because he isn't required to do as much. He's averaging just 36.4 minutes a game, down nearly five minutes from a year ago.

"Just so much was going on in my mind [last year], knowing that Kev was out for the rest of the season and knowing that Ky was dealing with injuries all the way from the first round," LeBron said. " … Having these guys right here at full strength, having our team at full strength, and the way I feel personally, I appreciate this moment, to be able to be a part of it and to be there once again."

This is LeBron's sixth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, 2011-14 in Miami, 2015-16 in Cleveland. The only other players to do that came from the Boston Celtics' dynasty of the late 1960s and 1970s.

He's a June regular. So saying this might be his last chance, or that a frantic feeling should settle in, is ridiculous. That said, this is his 13th season and while he's only 31, there are miles on the tread. You can tack 192 playoff games and counting to his 987 regular-season ones. He already ranks 42nd all-time in regular-season minutes played and sixth in playoff minutes. Plus, there has been plenty of work for USA Basketball, including three Olympics.

While it's certainly not now-or-never for LeBron to win one for Cleveland, now sure would be a good time to get it done. You get only so many cracks at this, and championship windows – for players and teams – tend to shut faster than anticipated. You never want chances to slip by.

As good as Golden State is, the opportunity is right there.

For LeBron, the sense of drama is amplified by his return to Cleveland, just 35 miles north of his hometown of Akron and where he played the first seven seasons of his career, reaching the 2007 Finals but then bailing to Miami in heartbreaking fashion in the summer of 2010.


LeBron James and the Cavs should have a healthy roster for the Finals this year. (AP)

His time with the Heat proved fruitful with two championships, but in addition to satisfaction and excitement, one of the emotions James said he felt when he finally won his first title in 2012 was relief. This isn't uncommon for the truly great athlete, for whom a championship isn't just a dream, but an expectation that can become a burden when a career drags along without one.

Getting that off your back can be exhilarating, freeing, even life changing.

Only James decided to put the burden back on his back; at least sort of. In returning to Cleveland, which hasn't won a championship in any major professional sport since the 1964 (pre-Super Bowl) Browns, he reset the clock in a way that wouldn't have existed had he stayed in Miami. It also felt like he was coming back to make things right in the town he left behind. Anything less will be unsatisfying.

"I don't really get caught up in all of that," James said of Cleveland's doldrums, which is the smart answer. "We're going to prepare ourselves. Our coaching staff will prepare us, and we're going to go out and give it our all, and we're going to live with the results."

"I know our city deserves it," he continued. "Our fans deserve it. But that gives us no sense of entitlement. We've still got to go out and do it."

A year ago he nearly solo-teamed it to the championship, pushing Golden State to six games while averaging, out of necessity, 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in the Finals. During this year's playoffs he's gladly avoided taking over games, using the team's diversity of attack. He's down in nearly every stat, most telling: 9.3 fewer shots per game.

Love and Irving have "been the reason why we've played at such a high level," James said. "They've accepted the challenge. They wanted to get back to this moment."

The moment is here. It's an old, familiar Finals opponent, an old, familiar stage and old, familiar challenge for LeBron James, who's sitting at his locker, singing along to old, familiar songs

Monday, May 16, 2016

Fun Facts about the Cleveland Browns and Hugh Jackson

Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson leads the change in Cleveland

Hue Jackson has not even coached a single game for the Cleveland Browns, yet his impact is already highly noticeable.

When the Cleveland Browns take the field in 2016 they will likely struggle, but that will not be a completely accurate reflection of the coach Hue Jackson has done. Jackson has not coached a single game for the Cleveland Browns, yet his impact is already highly noticeable. The days of simply preaching about change appears to finally be coming to an end, and the days of actual change taking place are here.
Fans of the Browns have been filled with empty promise after empty promise as each new regime has rolled in. With the possible exception of the Mangini era, no regime has been able to show any progress that backed up the lofty promises they made to the Cleveland faithful. Everyone  looking at the Browns kept echoing the same response, you have to give your coaches time, change does not happen over night. Changes in the win loss column may take time, but changes in the mentality and attitude of a team seems to take place a lot quicker with Hue Jackson at the helm.

When Cleveland hired Coach Jackson it was met with an overwhelmingly positive response around the league. Coach Jackson is a highly respected coach in the NFL and for the first time in a long time the Browns were able to get their guy on the first try. The amount of respect other coaches in the NFL have for Coach Jackson is evident by the staff he was able to surround himself with. The Browns coaching staff could easily be considered one of the deepest in the league today. It may not been the Cleveland Browns coaching tree from the mid nineties when Bill Belicheck was running the show, but the amount of experience that is now in Cleveland will be evident starting this season. The silly mental mistakes and being simply outcoached appear as if they will be a thing of distant memory soon.

A few weeks ago, the ESPN 30 for 30 Film “ Believeland” debuted at the annual Cleveland International Film Festival. Of course, this documentary would not have been complete without Marty Schottenheimer and the 1980s Cleveland Browns.
Schottenheimer served as a coach in Cleveland from 1980 to 1988. He started as a defensive coordinator under Sam Rutigliano until taking over as head coach in the middle of the 1984 season. Schottenheimer finished with a 44-27 record (.620 winning percentage) as head coach of the Browns.
He also served as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. Overall, his career record in 21 years as an NFL head coach was 200-126-1 (.613); the tie came with the Chiefs against the Browns in 1989.

Browns fun facts: Coach Marty

1)      Schottenheimer was drafted in both the NFL and AFL Drafts.
As a linebacker from the University of Pittsburgh, Schottenheimer was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the fourth round (49th overall) of the 1965 NFL Draft. On the same day (November 28, 1964), he was also drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round (56th overall) of the 1965 AFL Draft. He opted to play in the AFL.
He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with the Bills. After spending four years in Buffalo, Schottenheimer played two years with the Boston Patriots (now known as the New England Patriots). In 79 games, he recorded six interceptions—including one for a touchdown—and one fumble recovery.
Hall of fame players who were drafted ahead of Schottenheimer in both drafts were Joe Namath, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Fred Biletnikoff.
2)      Schottenheimer was the only Browns coach other than Paul Brown to lead the team to four consecutive playoff appearances.
In the 1985 playoffs, the Browns lost a 21-3 lead and gave up 21 unanswered points to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.
In the 1986 and 1987 AFC Championship Games, John Elway and the Denver Broncos haunted the Browns with “The Drive” and “The Fumble”.
In the 1988 playoffs, Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers got the best of the Browns in a back-and-forth game. Mike Pagel started at quarterback in Schottenheimer’s last game as coach of the Browns as Bernie Kosar, Gary Danielson, Pagel and Don Strock all dealt with injuries throughout the season.
3)      12 future first-time NFL head coaches worked under Schottenheimer as an assistant coach.
The list includes: Lindy Infante, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Gunther Cunningham, Herm Edwards, Mike McCarthy, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Hue Jackson, Bruce Arians, Marc Trestman and Rob Chudzinski.
Cowher, Dungy and McCarthy ended up winning Super Bowl championships as head coaches.
Wade Phillips ended up becoming a head coach for a third time (fifth time if including two stints as an interim head coach) after coaching under Schottenheimer with the Chargers.
Jackson has taken over the Browns in his second stint as a head coach, just three years after Chudzinski’s rookie head coaching campaign in Cleveland in 2013.
Who knows—there could be more assistant coaches from the Schottenheimer coaching tree who end up becoming NFL head coaches.  
4)      Notable quarterbacks who started under Schottenheimer included: Bernie Kosar, Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana, Rich Gannon, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
Ron Jaworski and Doug Flutie also had short stints as backup quarterbacks/spot starters for Schottenheimer.
5)      Six running backs who played under Schottenheimer ran for a total of 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons: Kevin Mack, Earnest Byner, Christian Okoye (twice), Barry Word, Stephen Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson (five times).
In 2006—Schottenheimer’s last season in the NFL—Tomlinson set a single-season record with 28 rushing touchdowns. Upon retiring after the 2011 season, Tomlinson declared that he wants Schottenheimer to present him at the ceremony when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  
Other notable running backs who played under Schottenheimer included: Kimble Anders, Marcus Allen, Lorenzo Neal, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles.
6)      Although the “Martyball” philosophy on offense was heavily criticized, Schottenheimer had six top five finishes in points scored per game and four other top ten finishes.
With Lindy Infante as Schottenheimer’s offensive coordinator in 1986 and 1987, the Browns actually averaged more points per game (24.4 and 26.0) than the 1980 Kardiac Kids under Sam Rutigliano and 1980 NFL MVP Brian Sipe (22.3).  
7)      In his 26 years as a defensive coordinator or head coach, Schottenheimer’s defenses ranked in the top ten 11 times and in the top half of the league 20 times.
He had two number one defenses: 1995 Chiefs (15.1 points allowed per game) and 1997 Chiefs (14.5).
His best Browns defense ranked second in the NFL in 1987 by allowing 15.9 points per game.
8)      Schottenheimer won a championship as the head coach and general manager of the Virginia Destroyers of the UFL in 2011.
He was also named UFL Coach of the Year of the four-team league. His starting running back was Dominic Rhodes, who played under Tony Dungy with the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
Sadly, Schottenheimer left the team before the 2012 season, suing UFL founder Bill Hambrecht for failing to pay him his 2011 salary. Similar lawsuits by other players and coaches reflected the insurmountable financial problems across the league. The UFL folded in 2013.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Uncharted 4 Reviews

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

For a worrisome amount of time, Uncharted 4 feels like little more than a familiar, obligatory sequel, existing the way Mario Karts and Halos do to continue bolstering one faction in the ongoing console wars. Excellent, fresh ideas for these kinds of automatic sequels are not a prerequisite.
Thankfully, after nine chapters, Uncharted 4 dramatically improves and hits a great stride for much longer. By the end, it justifies the creation of a sequel in this nearly decade-old series beyond the need to check off the box betweenRatchet & Clank and Wipeout on the PlayStation platform franchise list.
The early levels on Uncharted 4 have what we’d expect. We play as Nathan Drake in a third-person, world-spanning quest to find treasure. We explore ruins and fight thugs. We climb walls, shoot guns, and take cover from streams of enemies. We solve some puzzles and banter with a buddy character who sometimes helps us boost up to higher ledges. We do this in beautiful locations. The levels are linear, the action dramatic.
The opening hours are mostly familiar, though the series looks a lot better than it ever did before. Plus, there are now a few rare moments when you can choose Drake’s lines.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Introducing Nadine Ross, one of the series’ newest nemeses.

High-quality game series generate high expectations. Simply serving a prettier dish of comfort food would have been a waste of a studio that most recently made 2013's emotionally wrenching survival adventure The Last of Us. Naughty Dog could have moved on and arguably should have, having been so successful with something new the last time out. But they’re back, Drake is back, and we’re back, for what they swear is their last treasure-hunting score.
Uncharted 4's slow start is initially worrying, a sign that the franchise’s well may have dried. An opening speedboat chase is a weak intro in the wake ofUncharted 2's climb through a dangling train car or even Uncharted 3's bar brawl. A couple of levels later, we’re in familiar shootouts in new, gorgeous locales. The enemies absorb fewer shots, it seems, so that’s been improved, but the first quarter of the game largely feels routine and safe, like a top actor coasting through a role they’ve done so many times before. In previous games, Naughty Dog had already pushed things in the first act. They did the love triangles and major fake-out deaths. They had us climb in every climate and discover multiple lost cities.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Sam Drake with younger brother, Nathan. image via Sony.

Enter Sam Drake, long lost elder brother to Nathan. Since the events ofUncharted 3, the younger Drake retired from the life of illegal treasure hunting. He settled into a routine of menial salvage work and dinners with his longtime romantic partner Elena, who seems glad to be finally living like a normal person. Sam shows up, a new character who left Nathan’s life before the series began. He explains that his life is in danger from an angry drug lord and that he’ll survive only if Nathan helps him find some great pirate treasure. Nathan is drawn back in, and Sam becomes the newest buddy to accompany Nathan through levels of climbing, shooting and treasure hunting.
Sam is not the injection of new blood the series needed. He’s bland and more of a plot device for others to react to than a compelling character on his own. His return into Nathan’s life is well expressed in cutscenes, but as a companion in many of the game’s levels, Sam mostly mutters forgettable lines from the background. The best new things about the game, it turns out, come not from a new character (the new villains aren’t so hot either) but from new gameplay.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The top designers in gaming all perform a specific, great magic trick. As you start their games, they sneakily teach you new things and seed their long-form stories until you’re past what was really just a prologue. Only then can you handle the real game. In this case, Uncharted 4's designers hang back for nine chapters, past several major multi-level set-pieces, teasing tiny bits of new or improved gameplay. They’re training you to be ready when the game finally opens up, which it does when Nathan Drake and friends get to Madagascar and begin driving around in a fully controllable jeep.
By the game’s 10th chapter, officially called The Twelve Towers and the start of the Madagascar section, you’ve been sufficiently prepped. In earlier levels, Drake got a rope that the player could sporadically use to swing across gaps. The game also introduced the concept of hiding in tall grass and springing forth to stealthily disable enemy guards, though enemies were seldom so abundant that this was more efficient than starting a gun fight.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
A stealth lesson early in the game. Hide in the tall grass, and you can take out an enemy without making a ruckus, though the yellow outline on the other guard indicates rising suspicion.

As the levels expand, you’re getting into big, roomy outdoor fights in areas filled with beams from which you can grapple. You can spot a distant enemy, swing to them and tackle them (or shoot them while in mid-swing). You’re getting into fights set on both sides of a chasm. You can swing back and forth as the bullets fly.
At other times, you’re in a jungle thick with enemies and tall grass. Your most viable bet is to creep and climb and jump guards from the weeds. Even the game’s roomier levels are still largely linear, but they are wider. They have more paths, more ways to flank bad guys, more ways to attack them from below, behind or above. This alleviates some of the tedium that made the previous games’ shootouts melt into monotony. You’ll still fight a lot of enemies, but you can mix up your methods for taking the bad guys out. And as scripted as these games tend to be, the tweaks to combat in Uncharted 4 allow you to be more expressive, to feel like you’re playing in your own style.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The climbing becomes more complex, too, another area where the series has greatly improved. There are now more red-herring edges that lead you to dead ends. You gain a new climbing tool, a piton, that lets you stab any part of porous wall that is within arm’s reach and then pull yourself to it and up or over to another developer-placed ledge. As with combat, the player is being given more agency, more of a stake in how things will play. In small but appreciable ways, the game feels less scripted.
The added control doesn’t undermine one of Uncharted’s most beloved features. The game still feels like a thrill ride when it funnels into linear, more scripted sequences involving collapsing buildings, vehicle chases, and more. The ones in Uncharted 4 are the caliber of the best levels of any Uncharted. Take, for example, the chase with the crane, which is even more exciting to play than it was to see when Sony demoed it last year.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

Deeper and deeper into the game, the subtle design improvements steadily accumulate. These feel like the right advances for a series that always explored new gameplay on the back of improved technology and an attempt to recreate mundane real-world matters rarely seen in games. The earlier Uncharteds, for example, used better in-game physics and scene-staging tricks to present playable fights on top of unsteady trains or inside wave-tossed boats. That ethos is apparent throughout this game, with every death-defying swing of Drake’s rope, every well-staged set piece and every tweak to the climbing and combat.
Sony’s public demos of the game have shown some of Uncharted 4's excellent middle. Gawking at the game, as stunningly beautiful as it is, is no replacement for playing it. The game feels terrific, especially during its scenes of breathless spectacle. Its visuals, though, have undeniable allure. Artistically unconventional games such as Journey and Wind Waker HD may have their partisans who say one of them is the medium’s best-looking game, but in the category of photorealistic graphics, Uncharted 4 is now the champ.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The game’s impressively deep photo mode, which can be accessed at any time, will doubtless result in some of the best real gaming screenshots ever seen. It became one of my favorite diversions as I played.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Photo mode activated, camera pulled back.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Filter and white frame added.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Among the photo mode’s many features, a simple but useful option to hide the characters. You can choose to hide buddy characters or civilians, too.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

Even more impressive are the faces of Uncharted 4's characters, especially the scene-stealing expressions of series regular Elena Fisher, who has her own struggles with supposed retirement bliss. Their marriage is compellingly imperfect. Elena’s smirks, sighs, incredulous stares, playful grins, and bitten lower lip support that and improve a script that superbly presents the undulations of a restless union.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Image via Sony.

Games mark technical progress at a weird pace. The phenomenal facial expressions in Uncharted 4 are a landmark achievement. So are the game’s winch and rope technology, which produce the (no snark) incredible ability for us, as Nathan Drake, to manually wind a cord around a metal bar or tree trunk by moving him around said bar or trunk. This is an action as simple as wrapping a thread around a pencil, and yet it has rarely, if ever, been presented in a major game before, presumably because the physics of it are so complex.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

See how the cord wraps around? That happened manually by swimming around the axle. Here’s a video of another sequence involving the same physics:
All of the game’s technical improvements do not blot out some faults. The more conventionally-designed stealth system, for example, might be an improvement in combat vocabulary for this series, but feels under-developed. It begs for Drake to be able to attract or distract guards with a whistle, a tap or a tossed rock. Such options are standard in the better Assassin’s CreedSplinter Cell and Metal Gear games (as well as Naughty Dog’s very own The Last of Us) and are key for guiding patrolling guards into a stealth death. It makes no gameplay sense for Drake to have to squat silently in the grass hoping a guard will come near him. That our expert survivalist never makes a noise to trick an enemy breaks the illusion of reality the graphics are engineered to create.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
The game has several puzzles and numerous optional opportunities for Nathan Drake to find extra things to jot in his journal.

What should happen in a fourth major installment, especially in an entertainment culture that fetishizes trilogies? By his fourth major appearance, Han Solo was killed off. Die Hard’s John McClane was a parody of himself by movie number three and still continued to a fourth. Wry, beleaguered Nathan Drake is more or less an amalgamation of those two action heroes and seemed largely tapped of potential going into this game. His marriage difficulties in this game make him more interesting, more so than a lost brother does, though the game’s creators find some good friction in colliding those plot developments.
Nathan Drake is mostly in his sunset as he chases this final treasure. We’ve all been here before, and the story is regularly reminding us that it’s time to move on. It’s even in the title. Perhaps it fits and even works as meta-commentary, then, that Uncharted 4 stumbles near the end. Final gameplay sequences feel rushed or at least less cleverly laid out than the hours of action that preceded them. Characters make odd exits, some perhaps being saved for an expansion or some non-Naughty Dog sequel or spin-off. The game’s very last playable sequence and cutscene help clarify what Uncharted 4's real themes were and will provoke some lively discussion. Some of the dissatisfaction the game’s oddly-paced final quarter presents may be a product of deadlines. Some is hopefully intentional. No spoilers about what becomes of Nathan and Sam’s quest, but us real-life treasure hunters don’t always get everything we want.
Thankfully, Uncharted games are more than their beginnings or endings or multiplayer options, the last of which will provide its own odd coda to Naughty Dog’s saga. Like a full-cast dance number at the end of a Bollywood movie,Uncharted 4's competitive multiplayer is an affair for every major (and many minor) member of the series’ cast. Nathan, Sam, Elena, Sully, Chloe, and many more will adventure on in competitive modes designed to be expanded for a year for free (read: please keep playing and don’t trade in the game!). The multiplayer is stuffed with optional, unlockable cosmetic items that the developers say can all be won in-game if you don’t feel like purchasing them with real money. The game’s PvP modes have been largely unavailable to play prior to the game’s release, so an assessment of its quality will have to wait.

The original Uncharted emerged in late 2007 as an alternate, Sony-exclusiveTomb Raider that starred a man and as a thematic maturation from the studio that brought us Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. It was born at a time when it was aspirational for games to feel like interactive movies. It was designed initially as a solo experience and an homage to pulp adventures. It arrives now as something of an anachronism, in a gaming scene filled with more punishing, unscripted sandbox survival adventures and amid a rising tide of games designed to borrow storytelling styles not from movies but from TV.
What Uncharted proved most effectively to be for nearly a decade was a showcase for an ambitious game studio that was determined to push the possibilities of graphics, virtual acting and thrill-ride gameplay. The series reliably delivered that three times on the PlayStation 3 under former creative director Amy Hennig and does so again with studio veterans Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who helmed this newest one on PS4. Uncharted 4 may have problems at its edges, but its middle is phenomenal. It is a sufficiently wonderful finale for a studio that has made its own case that its next great step should be somewhere new.

One more day in paradise.

"We receive the due reward of our deeds." So reads the inscription on an artifact discovered in the early hours of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. It's a passage from the Bible, spoken by Saint Dismas, a man crucified on the same day as Jesus. He spent years robbing and murdering innocent people before being sentenced to death for his crimes. And with those last words of revelation, Dismas earned the title of the Penitent Thief.
This anecdote sets the tone for a powerful game about loss, betrayal, regret, and redemption. In both its momentous set pieces and its intimate, personal moments, Uncharted 4 drives its narrative forward with a rare understanding of its characters, its world, and the gameplay tying them all together. It's a stunning combination of disparate parts. It's a breathtaking marvel of a game.
By this point in the series, developer Naughty Dog has led us across the globe in search of famous treasures from equally famous legends: we unearthed El Dorado in the Amazon rainforest, found the Cintamani Stone deep in the Himalayas, and entered Iram of the Pillars, a sandswept city with a religious history of its own. In Uncharted 4, however, we find protagonist Nathan Drake leading a quiet life with freelance journalist Elena Fisher, who happens to be his wife. They live in New Orleans. They have a three-bedroom house. They play video games together.
But this all changes with the return of Nathan's older brother Sam, who was presumed dead for 15 years. Not only is he alive and well, but he's fallen in with criminals, and needs help paying a debt. He also has a lead on one of history's greatest treasures: the loot of the pirate Henry Avery, which the brothers have sought since their early days of treasure hunting. Now, with Nathan forced out of his calm life, they set off to chase their elusive white whale.

Elena and Nathan are leading a quiet life at the beginning of Uncharted 4.

Sam's arrival not only upends Nathan's newfound domestication, but complicates his emotional life as well. Uncharted 4 gives us insight into his past, and the way it shaped his psyche: how he despises authority; how he uses humor as a shield; how he long ago accepted violence as a justifiable means to an end. Uncharted 4 tells this story with affection, showing an expert attention to detail in the way Nathan's voice falters when discussing his childhood, or how he stares at Elena when she's not looking. These details are painfully human. They bring the characters to life.
This nuanced take on Nathan's personality is reflected in Uncharted 4's gameplay, too. As with previous titles, Uncharted 4 revolves around third-person combat, climbing, and puzzle-solving. But, unlike its predecessors, this game often lets you sneak past enemy soldiers without doing any harm at all. This is a clear influence from The Last of Us, developer Naughty Dog's darker take on a third-person adventure. Stealth requires a patient, measured approach--but it feeds into the idea of a more reserved Nathan. Uncharted 4's action flows seamlessly alongside its narrative. It's a fluid, believable experience when it all comes together.
There are minor mechanical problems: the cover mechanic can send you to the wrong obstacle or wall in the middle of firefights, and rarely, Nathan will grab the wrong ledge when climbing. But these observations wash away within the grand scheme of things. There's always something incredible around the corner to erase the momentary annoyances.
Uncharted 4's action flows seamlessly along with its narrative.
The game borrows from The Last of Us in terms of structure as well. Much like its cousin, Uncharted 4 embraces a more open approach with much of its level design. There are small sandboxes where you climb towers, learn the layout, mark enemies, and choose to fight through them, or circumvent the group in the interest of a quiet escape. These areas would hurt the pace of a lesser game, but Uncharted 4 keeps tension alive even in its calculated moments, transitioning from open areas to action sequences without halting the momentum.
Speaking of: Uncharted 4's set-pieces are the best in the series, and among the best-coordinated stunts in the medium. There's a heist in Tuscany. There's an acrobatic escape along the cliffs of Scotland. There's a chase through a busy marketplace, and it opens onto farmland as you leap between trucks, slide through the mud, and crash through shacks in the Madagascar countryside. Just when you think Uncharted 4 might settle into a steady rhythm, it throws something new at you with high velocity and incredible power.

One of the game's massive puzzles.

These sequences give you agency, but also enough guidance to maintain the euphoric rush of a car chase without constantly dying. I'm reminded of Half-Life 2's escape from City 17, where you sprint through apartments and over rooftops, controlling your character while the game directs you without sacrificing tension in the process.
The key difference with Uncharted 4 is how it directs you with its camera and lighting, guiding you to the correct ledge or doorway or crumbling wall as you leap through explosions and plumes of smoke. Audio cues also aid you--characters shout over the din of gunfire, telling you when to fight and when to keep running. The dialogue makes sense within the moment.
And then there's the presentation of it all. The cinematography, both in-game and during cutscenes, amplifies the wonder of this gorgeous world. It's not enough to call the jungles lush. They're vibrant. It's not enough to call the game's version of Scotland vast. It's majestic. There's also incredible animation at play, and it sets a new watermark for games in the way it can illustrate subtle emotions like distrust and yearning.
Sweeping camera shots and intimate close-ups tie the characters to the beautiful locales, as Drake gazes toward mythical places he only dreamed of as a kid. Uncharted 4 doesn't root its visuals in the hues of realism, but rather, paints the world as it might look to someone intent on exploring every inch of it--someone intoxicated by the prospect of adventure.
Uncharted 4's cinematography, both in cutscenes and out, amplifies the wonder of its gorgeous world.
Uncharted 4's multiplayer, though, ditches grounded storytelling in favor of all-out chaos: Nathan Drake clones swing from grappling hooks. Victor Sullivans pistol-whip each other. The villains of past Uncharted games lob grenades and fire RPGs and beat one another into a pulp.
This all plays out in multiplayer mode staples such as team deathmatch and zone control. But then there are Mysticals--attacks that make use of the artifacts we've become familiar with throughout the series. El Dorado summons aggressive spectres to attack your foes, the Cintamani Stone revives fallen teammates, and the Djinn lets you teleport short distances, blinking from spot to spot for a tactical advantage. In addition to these fantastical elements, you can earn gold through kills and revives, and find it scattered across multiplayer maps. It lets you add Mysticals to your inventory, but also lets you summon AI snipers and medics to aid your team's efforts. Uncharted 4's multiplayer exhibits the necessary creativity to elevate its already fluid third-person mechanics.
But although the multiplayer works well, and features a progression system that can keep you playing past your first few matches, it is not the primary draw.

The world is bathed in vibrant hues and gorgeous detail.

The draw of Uncharted 4 is its remarkable single-player journey. How each of its parts feeds into the same cohesive whole. This is a narrative that continues in its gameplay, as Nathan places a reassuring hand on his brother's shoulder, or mutters a joke in Elena's ear. Uncharted 4 is so meticulous, you get the sense that its characters are thinking things we'll never hear out loud. "We have a lot of ground to cover," one person says. Is that in reference to the journey, or the first uncertain step toward forgiveness? We can read it however we want.
Uncharted 4's gameplay pushes the narrative forward, the narrative feeds off its gameplay, and every detail coalesces to create something bigger. Uncharted 4 bounces between set pieces and personal moments with such grace, with such skill and poise and affection for its characters, that you don't mind when the guns stop firing, and the smoke clears, and Nathan gets a moment to breathe.
Yes, this is a thrilling adventure through exotic locations, with spectacular action sequences and a pacing that pulls you through with ease. I had a smile on my face the second it began. But it's also a story about family. It's a story about self-examination. It's a story about making sacrifices for the ones you care about.
And most of all, as its final moments make clear, this is a story about storytelling--the importance we lend our idols, legends, and myths. How we pass down the ones that inspire us. How an old photo of three friends sitting on a pile of gold can unleash a flood of memories. Uncharted 4 is a challenge to the medium. In its writing, in its design, in its understanding of what makes games unique, Uncharted 4 is something to aspire to. It's a shining example. And we'll be talking about it for years to come.

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     Stunning action sequences
     Nuanced, emotional characters and story
     Gorgeous world, animation, and cinematography
     Gameplay and narrative form a spectacular whole
     Inconsistent cover system
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    Uncharted 4: A Thief's End' Review (PS4): The Legend of Nathan Drake

    Paul TassiPaul Tassi, Contributor
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Uncharted 4 seemed like a sure thing for ages, a next-gen version of one of PlayStation’s greatest exclusive franchises. But after a number of delays and a series of high-profile departures, including series architect Amy Hennig, it seemed possible that Naughty Dog could drop the ball on Nathan Drake’s final adventure, if they weren’t careful.
    They didn’t.
    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End fully lives up to the legacy of the series. It retreads familiar ground (sometimes a bit too much), but overall is a drop-dead gorgeous, engaging, and thrilling experience. It’s a worthy send-off for Nathan Drake, and possibly the series as a whole.
    In this fourth installment, we find Nathan Drake (Nolan North) “retired” at last, attempting to live a normal life with his former partner in adventure and current wife, Elena (Emily Rose). But when his long-lost brother Sam (Troy Baker) turns up, he reunites with Sully (Richard McGonagle) and the trio head off to rekindle an old treasure hunt, the two brothers’ very first, which they abandoned over a decade earlier.
    The Hardy Boys title for all this would be “Captain Avery and the Case of the Missing Pirate Fortune.” It was a mystery the two men explored in their younger years along with a rich partner, Rafe (Warren Kole), who has become their present day adversary as the search for the treasure resumes. He’s hired an army of mercenaries run by the menacing Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey), and they all guest star in the coveted role of “guys you will be murdering by the dozen.”
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    As the story goes, famed pirate Captain Henry Avery pulled off a heist worth $400 million, and stashed the treasure in some secret locale. The boys exhume clues they abandoned years ago, and their new adventure takes them from the rocky hills of Scotland to the lush island jungles around Madagascar. As the plot progresses, more and more famous pirates are pulled in, and the legend, and the amount of potential treasure, grows even larger. But so do the risks, naturally.
    Uncharted has a reputation of pushing the graphical envelope on PlayStation with every new installment, and certainly did so in all three of its entries on PlayStation 3. Given that great-looking games are dropping left and right on PS4 these days, I wasn’t expecting it to have quite that same level of impact today with Uncharted 4, but I was wrong.
    I have not seen a better looking game on consoles. Only rarely do I ever come across a game where I just want to sit and stare, but Uncharted has produced that feeling yet again with A Thief’s End. It’s strange, I enjoyed taking in these sweeping vistas and fiddling with camera mode more than I did actually playing the game, much of the time, which might be one of its faults. But every single area in this game is worth just sitting and looking at. Yes, there are the obvious landscapes like towering mountains or lush islands surrounded by crystal clear water, but the man-made structures, from Italian mansions to lost pirate cities, are what really catch the eye. At one point, I even just sat and stared at a bunch of stacked folding tables in a dimly lit basement, because that’s how well they were rendered. It may be old hat to say an Uncharted game is good looking at this point, but honestly, it’s its best feature.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    This new age of animation also helps out with storytelling as well. Uncharted has always had colorful characters and a solid script, but now that we’ve gone into full-on performance-capture mode, the characters are more alive than ever, and I think it’s helped create a more compelling story than what we’ve seen before.
    There are two ways the story works really well in Uncharted 4, the first being through the characters’ relationships with one another. Nathan’s relationship with his brother Sam, despite being someone we’ve heard almost nothing about previous to this, is the centerpiece of the game, and one of its strongest aspects. Their bond feels real, and changes in believable and logical ways as the events of the game unfold. I like that Sam isn’t a stereotype of a ne’er-do-well older brother, and though he has his secrets, almost everything he does is for the love of his family. I was not wild about how Nathan treats Elena initially, namely by lying to her about this new treasure hunt for reasons he’s never able to effectively articulate. Thankfully, it’s made explicit eventually that Nate was just being an ass, and as Elena rejoins the cast, the mending of her and Nathan’s relationship is well-written and endearing. These are all great characters, and once again, they work really well together.
    The other success of the story is the tale of the pirate treasure itself. Without going into too much detail, this is one of the most compelling “lost fortune” type stories I’ve seen, and the rabbit hole of the story of Avery’s treasure keeps going deeper and deeper when you think it’s going to be a relatively straightforward arc. This is the first time I remember being truly impressed by the telling of a “legend” in a game like this, be itUncharted or Tomb Raider, and I’d almost put the concept up there with Raiders orLast Crusade, truthfully. If they ever get around to making that Uncharted movie, this is certainly the best storyline of the bunch.
    Obviously, none of what I’ve discussed so far has anything at all to do with gameplay, and that’s where the game falters a bit. It’s the same as all the previous Unchartedgames with only minor tweaks. Shooting feels chaotic and loose in a mostly good way, and there are some fun combat “puzzles” to be solved, trying to take down loads of enemies in creative ways. But in terms of the kind of high-flying “cinematic” combat you’ve seen in the trailers, it doesn’t quite play out that way in practice most of the time. Swinging in on a rope and clobbering a guy with a leaping punch is well and good, but suddenly you’re in the middle of five other enemies getting riddled with bullets. Most encounters are a blend of a few stealth kills, and then getting spotted, and then everything going to hell as you scramble around trying not to die. It’s fun, but even the “creatively” laid out arena areas don’t produce much of anything you haven’t seen before in this genre.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Another issue is that combat is probably only 20% of the game, with cutscenes and puzzles making up another 10%. The other 70%? Climbing. Oh god, the climbing.
    Look, back when Uncharted debuted and Nathan Drake was scaling cliffs with silky smooth animation, and your heart would leap in your chest whenever a ledge crumbled, a climbing-focused game was all well and good. But since then, after three totalUncharted games, two Tomb Raider reboots and an infinite number of Assassin’s Creeds, I’ve just about had it with climbing.
    It isn’t fun. It isn’t a puzzle. It’s just a mechanic to push the game along at a snail’s pace, yet make players feel like they’re doing something.
    I understand that a certain amount of climbing is simply going to be necessary in a game like this, but Uncharted 4, like a few of the past games, takes things too far. There are many chapters (out of 20+) that are almost nothing but climbing. We found a clue here, and now we have to go across the entire island to reach that tower over there, so what follows is 35 minutes of tedious ledge-grabbing and cliff-hopping. Sure, you will die a few times when you make a wrong leap, but it’s not a challenge. It’s not interesting gameplay. The highlight is taking in the scenery itself. Adding a new rope climb/swing mechanic did not make these segments any better, and Far Cry and Tomb Raider have been using that for years anyway.
    It’s here that Uncharted 4 could have used some editing. A few of these climbing only chapters could have been cut or shortened. The game is very, very long for a single player campaign, and if the amount of climbing had been reduced by a quarter or even half, I honestly wouldn’t have minded. More combat, more driving, more puzzles, hell, even more cutscenes, but please, less climbing.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    There are great and not-so-great chapters in Uncharted 4, but thankfully the former dramatically outweigh the latter. My least favorite, besides the climbing-only ones, was one where you’re stuck in a pirate tunnel full of explosive booby traps you have to blunder through, routinely getting blown up through seemingly no fault of your own. It felt weirdly out of place with everything else, and it seemed like it should have been cut entirely.
    But the best chapters? There are quite a few. I loved a sequence where you’re arranging a heist in a gorgeous Italian mansion. I loved exploring (and fighting in) a ruined pirate city. There’s a chase sequence that feels like a (slightly more realistic) variant of Just Cause as you hop from car to car, baking in the heat of constant explosions. My favorite above all else was a peaceful chapter that was more or less open world roaming, as you and Sam have a boat and sail around a chain of small islands looking for clues. It was beautiful, not very linear, and I loved it.
    As for this being the “ending” of Nathan Drake’s story, I won’t say much, other than it seems unlikely that anyone will leave this game horrifically scared by the events that unfold, as this isn’t that kind of series. But neither did I get my dream fantasy ending of Drake doing a Scrooge McDuck dive into a pool of gold either. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the resolution as it began, but there’s a really touching epilogue that ultimately seems like the proper send-off for the series. I’ll explore the multi-layered ending more in-depth in a future, spoilery post.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    I also should acknowledge that the game has a multiplayer component, though I will admit that I almost never partake in the mode during Uncharted games, sticking to the main story instead. Multiplayer has been largely offline during this review period, though there were a few scheduled sessions I wasn’t able to participate in. I did play a bit of the beta, and found it well-made, but probably not my cup of tea. I do like howUncharted 4 will be supported by free map DLC, and everything you unlock can be earned in-game, rather than stuffed into microtransactions. If you’ve been a fan ofUncharted multiplayer in the past, and this fits your style of third person action, you will probably find a lot to like here. This review, however, is focused on the story, as you’ve seen. I will probably have more thoughts on multiplayer once it goes fully live.
    Ultimately, I was deeply impressed by Uncharted 4, and I absolutely believe it lives up to the high bar of quality the series has set for itself, meaning all the delays were probably worth it. I think it relies entirely too much on the no-longer-innovative climbing mechanic, but there’s simply no denying that this game is a visual masterpiece with likable characters in an interesting and intense story. In short, it’s an Uncharted game, and once again, that can speak for itself.
    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
    Platform: PS4
    Developer: Naughty Dog
    PublisherSony Interactive
    Released: May 10th, 2016
    Price: $59.99
    Score: 9/10