Updates every Thursday!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tomb Raider

What the fuck did I just play?

I have never played a Tomb Raider title before so I had neither preconceived notions nor nostalgic expectations of what I was getting myself into. However, I read quite a bit about this game before hand so I knew there would be blood, gore, violence, a rape scene that got everyone really angry at the developers, and something about Lara Croft’s hair…?

I dunno.

So I wasn’t particularly surprised to find Lara’s archeological pleasure cruise turn sour within the first minute and a half of game play. The ship sank, Lara almost drowned, she washed up on shore, was too tired from drowning to call out to her friends a few meters away, was punched into unconsciousness by some unknown person, and awoke to find herself hanging upside-down in a cave, wrapped in a sack that probably smelled like gym socks soaked in urine with a slight undertone of rotten fish.

She leads such an exciting life.

Now, gore doesn’t really bother me all that much. I have been desensitized by video games, movies, and American culture in general just like any other normal person. But when Lara falls in one of the early scenes and lands on a piece of rusty rebar my immediate response was, “Ow. That would really hurt.” And they make it look so real!

After that I mostly spent a bunch of time crawling through flooded caves lighting things on fire with my trusty torch and performing quick time events. Yes, you heard me. The entire first ten minutes of the game are comprised of cutscenes and quick time events. Sure, I make a few jumps onto ledges and walk through some harsh environments, all while being bombarded with foreshadowing of the cult that is clearly looking to ruin my day, but most of it is “press this button here” and “jiggle that joystick” there. Look, I’ll jiggle my joystick on my own time, ok?

To be honest, I don’t really mind quick time events that much. I do feel they are somewhat unnecessary, but sometimes it’s nice to feel like you’re contributing to the moment. So when I was crawling beneath a recently fallen rock from the now collapsing cave and some crazed lunatic was grabbing at my legs I really felt one with Lara as she too failed to hit the triangle button at the appropriate time and was crushed by a boulder the size of a small car.

Her ten minutes were up.

Happy Thoughts: This is a very pretty game graphically and the animation feels very real, which allows the player to connect with the characters. More importantly, the writing and pacing are strong and leave you wanting for more. Ron Rosenberg got a lot of shit for his comments about wanting to protect Lara. He may have misspoken. I don’t really know and I don’t really care. My experience was that you connect with her. It’s not that you’re protecting her. You become her and you’re protecting yourself. That’s a pretty powerful feeling to be given in the first ten minutes of a game. Of course, I’m easily drawn into stories so maybe that’s just me.

Sad Thoughts: Quick time events are not my favorite. In terms of game play the first ten minutes are kind of weak.

Bottom Line: This game seems like it may be going somewhere and I am totally drawn in by the plot. I would at least give it the time to see if the game play picks up some more. Perhaps another ten minutes will give me my answer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Assassin’s Creed III

Being as I have played both Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II I felt that I should be able to judge Assassin’s Creed III based solely on the merits of the first two games. So my initial review was this:
You will spend a lot of time climbing buildings in a sandbox world built around a specific country during a specific time period with the ultimate goal of stabbing a bunch of people in the back with blades that spring from your wrists. You will assassinate high profile targets, have a revealing conversation with them during their final moments, and whisper a quick prayer over their corpse before unceremoniously dropping their limp body (physics!) in the street, temple, church, villa, or castle where you found them. Only this time it’s in America!

Boy was I wrong.

Assassin’s Creed III is entirely cut scenes! The only time I got to control the character was to walk him from point A to point B between those cut scenes in, what I think, was an entirely unnecessary gesture to give me the illusion of control.

During these scenes I relearned the plots of the previous two games, got a bit of history on both the Templars and Assassins, and learned that Desmond Miles (the protagonist) has a father who is apparently important to the story now. I didn’t even know he had existed. He must have come along during the original Assassin’s Creed III or IV – Brotherhood and Revelations, respectively.

“What?” you ask, “You haven’t played those?” To which I respond, “Leave me alone! I don’t have money or – as you are probably aware by now – time to play all these extra games they keep throwing at me!”

The worst cut scene was the awkward moment in the van when nobody spoke or moved or really seemed to exist at all. It’s like that family car ride when your parents suddenly and way too casually mention that they are getting divorced.

So I walked the character into some cave, which was really an ancient temple with super high tech future computers – yeah, let that sentence sink in for a bit – and then my character passed out and was dropped into a world made of geometric shapes of varying hues of white and gray. I finally had the ability to free run! But I could not tell for the life of me what surfaces I could latch onto so I was mostly just guessing, which when you guess wrong means you fall into forever and have to start all over. I left my character hanging from a wall and turned to write this review:

The controls are sloppy and, apparently, unnecessary considering most of the time I wasn’t even playing. I miss the tight demanding controls of the previous games where every action had a separate button (or combination of buttons) whereas now you basically hold down one button and it does everything for you. This is particularly annoying when your character goes to jump when you didn’t tell them to and, for whatever reason, they jump in the direction of immediate death even though you were clearly pointing at the wall with what looked to be a groove for climbing, but apparently wasn’t and I thought I saw a bar sticking out that was meant to be grabbed…but I digress. The game also felt more linear than the previous titles and there was no sandbox in which to play.

And where was my cool assassin getup? I didn’t want to play as some modern-age punk in a crappy hoodie with no peak. I want to run along the rooftops of an ancient city and “accidently” stab the innocent musician that keeps running in front of me.

Happy Thoughts: The plot and writing for the game were significantly better than the previous games with pacing being more appropriate and characters more interesting. Desmond is getting a little grumpy, but on the up side that weird blonde lady with the super huge mouth from Assassin’s Creed II is nowhere to be found. Where did she go to anyway?

Sad Thoughts: The action feels simplified and a little too loose and I can’t always tell where the stupid ledges are!

Bottom line: This game didn’t take within the ten minute limit. It was too much plot and not enough game play and I felt like I was being railroaded.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Bridge

Genre: Strategy, Indie, Casual (I'd call it a puzzle game)

Developer: Ty Taylor and Mario CastaƱeda (Some guys in a basement)

Publisher: The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild

System: PC via Steam

The Bridge is trying to redefine the genre of "redefining the genre" games. Like many indie titles, it attempts to blow your mind by getting you to think from a different perspective. In this case you play a character in a 2D, black and white, pencil-drawn world likened to the work of M. C. Escher. And like his work you seem to go in an endless circle of worlds that cannot possibly exist in the plane of reality as we know it. In The Bridge you use a magical, unexplained ability to tilt and twirl the world to solve various puzzles that involve keys and giant, scary, evil ball faces of death.

It is quite strange.

Upon starting the game you are immediately dropped into, well, the game*. There is no menu to speak of, just a quick downward pan to a man sitting under a tree.

This game is already attempting to tickle my fancy.

You are quickly taught the controls: right and left arrows tilt the world, A and D move your character back and forth, W walks through doors, Space rewinds time, and Enter forwards the plot or rather starts the next section. We'll talk more about the "plot" in a bit. Holy crap! Could this be any easier? Maybe. But pogo-stick champion and its constant single-button-mashing action has not been invented yet to my knowledge.

Let's talk a bit about the character. He is an older gentleman, an intellectual of sorts, probably a professor - his house does have a library and skewed dimensions, and he is wearing a nice wool vest and a stylish, most likely tweed, suit - and he is going off to do...something. Who knows? Who cares? The developers certainly don't or they would have told you that right from the beginning. They didn't even give him a name! I like to call him "Professor Cryptic" on account of him saying all sorts of mysterious things. Things such as, "Only everything. My fortitude to tread onward...My integrity of wit...and my home." ...What the fuck is that all about?! That doesn't tell me shit about what's going on. How did his world come to be so f-ed up? Why does he have the power to rotate the land to his will? Why does he get drawn into every new level when we all know he just walked through that door? At least some of these problems could have been addressed.

The puzzles are actually quite interesting. I mean, for the first four levels you really are just turning the world around over and over and over and over and over...you get the point. I took to it like rabies to a dog and found myself solving the puzzles rather quickly. They were not much of a challenge and the turning left my brain feeling like mush and wanting to avoid water. But puzzle number five got me stuck in a bit of a loop (forgive the pun). It didn't take me too long to figure out that it was the keys that were the key to this puzzle. They had to move around in spirals while Prof. Cryptic shuffled to keep up with the constantly shifting land. Key number one was a piece of cake, but key number two just sort of made me dizzy. I got it eventually.

Overall, I liked this game and would highly recommend buying it not just because I have a bias toward indie games and puzzlers, and not just because I happen to like M. C. Escher, but simply because it was fun and they don't make it for Macs. Lord it over those punks. The artsy games are for Windows!

Happy Thoughts: The game gets you moving right away. No fuss, no muss.

Sad Thoughts: The plot good do with a good sprucing up and the puzzles were simple (hence the "casual" genre, me thinks)

Bottom Line: If you like puzzlers, which I do, you should consider buying it, 'cuz it's super cheap.

*It should be noted that upon first starting the game, Steam had to make two updates that - after I began timing several minutes in - still took another minute and twelve seconds before it actually loaded the game. I didn't have time to actually play my ten minutes then so I quit the game. Upon trying to start the game for the second time, Steam began a "first time setup" that lasted for several minutes. I should have counted these against the game's full ten minutes, but I felt like being nice and had a little extra time to spare.