Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tomb Raider: A Survivor is Born


               First off, I know this review is coming extremely late—but I have been working, moving into a new house, and a whole bunch of other things that have nothing to do with Tomb Raider. So let’s get past that.
                I have always been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise. My first experience was when a friend and I had burned through all of our Playstation games. We decided to borrow Tomb Raider 2 from her older brother, and my love for Lara Croft began by locking her butler in the freezer.
                Lara has always been one of my favorite video game characters. I have always seen her as one of the strongest, defiant women in the video game industry—however, I couldn’t and still can’t argue that she is a sex symbol. What started out as a programming error easily became an iconic feature of one of the most recognizable game characters in the world. Lara Croft’s “assets” became a focus when it came to the franchise. When I heard they were rebooting Tomb Raider, I didn’t really think anything of it. I figured they would begin spinning out more games like Tomb Raider: Underworld. Once I heard Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics would be working together, however, I knew I was in for something good. And that’s what I got.
                The Tomb Raider reboot took what I saw in Lara Croft and projected it onto fans everywhere. Playing as such a resilient, popular character makes you wonder. How did Lara get this way? How did she develop? It was always apparent that archaeology, history, and the search for ancient wonders was a part of Lara’s family and upbringing, but we never truly got to see the moments she became who she was, and the new Tomb Raider gave us that opportunity.
                Tomb Raider opens with Lara Croft and company on a ship voyage to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. A violent storm rips the ship apart, leaving Lara and the crew stranded on an island. Before Lara can reunite with the crew on shore, she is taken by a savage man of the island, and that is where the adventure begins.
                The gameplay was extremely smooth. With active cutscenes to move you through the action, everything flowed very well. In fact, it almost went too smooth. I would find myself saying, “Oh I’ll quit after I do this next tomb,” or “I’ll shut it down when I clear this area,” but it never happened. One problem with the older games of the Tomb Raider franchise was players not knowing how to move forward. Lara may have aided you with a hint, but sometimes it was silly how the game expected you to figure certain parts of a puzzle out for yourself. The Tomb Raider reboot fixed this with “Survival Instinct”. Think of it almost like Fallout 3’s VATS (without the pause). Lara will analyze her surroundings, revealing enemies, points of interest, collectibles, and items that can be utilized for XP or in puzzles. Survival Instinct didn’t necessarily hold your hand in a tomb, but it definitely helped. Eventually you can also level Lara up to the point where Survival Instinct will include revealing hidden items.
A unique aspect of this installment was the fear it instilled in me. In other games, I was never really intimidated by enemies (animal, human, T-Rex), but in the reboot I was pretty afraid, because they took regular human beings and made them the monsters. The enemies in Tomb Raider scared me because I knew what they were capable of, and how far they would go to protect their way of life on the island. At one point I had stayed up extremely late in the night playing, with Turtle Beach headphones, and was exploring some caves inhabited by feral, savage human beings. Needless to say I called it a night after having raspy whispers blared in my ears.
    As far as gameplay goes I did not run into anything that hindered my experience.
                Dialogue and character development was amazing. The player is introduced to various friends/coworkers of Lara, through cutscenes and memories. Lara’s memories provide insight to each character and what they mean in Lara’s life. I found myself growing as attached to these characters as Lara was. But the star of the game is obviously Lara’s character development. In the beginning, we still see Lara as a young explorer—but something is missing. She begins as a weak character, depending on the others to find her, save her, etc. 

             One of my favorite moments is during a cutscene when Lara grimaces and proclaims, “I hate tombs.” After enduring challenges throughout the game, Lara slowly holds her own and gains what was missing from before: fire. A burning passion for revealing the truth, solidifying myths, and raiding tombs ;) Watching Lara grow is truly a unique experience, especially for fans. For me, it was watching one of the women I looked up to in video games start out as a cornered animal. It was seeing Lara Croft in a light that I had never imagined, because she was too strong for that. But Lara wasn’t always strong—she wasn’t always a hero.
                Multiplayer was unfortunately, needless. I understand the vision that stemmed it, but it just didn’t draw players in. I can definitely say Tomb Raider would have been just as successful without it.

                All in all, Tomb Raider is a great play for fans and non-fans alike. Overall gameplay aside, fans will enjoy seeing the Lara they knew revitalized, and non-fans will enjoy discovering Lara in her first true adventure. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix did an amazing job taking the strong, resilient, the one and only Lara Croft and breaking her down to build her back up again. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite blog on the Citadel.

At the end of the first and second Mass Effect games, I felt a mix of success and apprehension. I was happy because I was close to the end and about to see what conclusion my choices would bring upon the galaxy and its inhabitants. I was also scared, because with another Mass Effect game coming to its end I knew the black hole that had continued to reside in my heart would do so once more.
Describing Mass Effect’s absence as a black hole does seem a little extreme. However, I have never in my life become so attached to a game and been so upset when it was over. Sure, I get a little sad when I finish a Legend of Zelda or Nancy Drew installment, but they are both franchises that will continue to spin out game after game.
With Mass Effect, there was always a looming gloom that hung over the games because I knew, along with other fans, that eventually it had to end. The game’s protagonist, Commander Shepard, was one of the most human and realistic characters I have ever played. Since Shepard was so human, Shepard was also mortal to me. One day Shepard’s story would be over and I would have to let a character that I had put hours upon hours of my life into go.
As with every game before it, the third was no different when it came to its overall quality. The dialogue was satisfying, cut scenes breathtaking and the storyline compelled you to keep playing until 3 a.m. even though you knew you had to be up for work at 7.
This game hit home for a lot of fans (including myself) not only because it was the end, but also because you were fighting to save your own planet—and there was a very good chance you would not be able to.
To be honest, the game itself was kind of like eating your absolute favorite meal and then being left with a sour taste in your mouth. Bioware has been the pioneer for file-transfer-gaming. The choices you made in the first and second games completely affected the third and everything in it.
However, with no spoilers, the end of the game just seemed disappointing. I had worked for over 140 hours of my life to get to the final chapter and—nothing I chose seemed to have an effect. For two and three-quarters of a series everything I did had some kind of consequence that was unique to the choice I made. Yet, no matter which path you took in all the games, somehow every player would end up in the same place.
I might just be an unhappy gamer, upset that the game is over and realizing that there is no Mass Effect 4; only, I was not the only fan left dissatisfied with the ending to the series. There are actually so many that have complained to Bioware that the company is actually going to change the ending. That is almost like everyone being upset that Bruce Willis was really a ghost the whole time in “The Sixth Sense” and M. Night Shyamalan rewriting and redirecting the movie.
I will be replaying the Mass Effect series and the third game by itself. I want to replay the third game with my original fem-Shep and not only change my final decision but also change my relationship with Kaidan. Yes, I chose the whiney guy every straight man who plays the game loves to hate. And I really have liked Kaidan, all along—until Bioware ruined his appeal for me by making him bisexual out of the gosh-darn blue (but that rant is a whole other story).
Honestly, I’m going to go back and get with James, mainly because he is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. Even though I’m a girl who loves games and all that is nerdy (which usually puts me with the boys) I’m still a girl…and he’s Freddie Prinze Jr.
As a fan, the most I hope for is that Bioware will continue on with the Mass Effect universe. They have created such an amazing galaxy full of unique worlds, species and characters that it would be a waste not to create a new story (or prequel) of some kind.
Although I will miss sleepless nights and tired mornings after playing the last game, I am glad to have had the experience. The gameplay, dialogue, character development and story were as always, amazing. I smiled at the screen like a goof the first two hours I played, cried when I lost friends and laughed my ass off when Garrus and James talked shit. The unloved conclusion was my only real issue with the game and if Bioware wants to replace it with DLC gamers everywhere will probably complain about having to pay. But, as always, we’ll buy it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Catherine the Great

Atlus’s newest puzzle-platformer adventure game had gamers pining just to play the demo. Players take control of the protagonist Vincent, a regular-Joe kind of guy who reminds one of Wesley from Wanted or “The Narrator” from Fight Club. He is a man who is coming to the part of his life where he must choose what he really wants and settle down with those ideas. Vincent has been steadily seeing the seductive and smart Katherine for years since reconnecting at a high school reunion. The plot develops when Vincent, unnerved by Katherine’s advances toward marriage and children, visits his favorite local bar and gets drunk with his friends. A chance meeting with the alluring, yet adorable Catherine leads to a black-out night that opens up to a white-out morning with Vincent waking up next to the beautiful blonde.

The drunken affair sends Vincent spiraling into a nightmare of chaos in which he must choose how to resolve the situation and how he ultimately will decide what course his life will take simply by choosing which letter to begin “atherine” with.

Catherine features an interesting combination of gameplay that includes platform action-puzzles in which Vincent must make his way up a tower of blocks before time runs out or the “boss” of the night has caught up to him. The other ingredient is the dialogue which takes place during the day while Vincent’s nightmares take place during the night when the player sends him home. Although the dialogue is diverse in the fact that players can choose certain options, gamers should not go down the same path I did and expect Mass Effect type consequences. As amazing as Catherine was, I was completely let down by the fact that the dialogue options that players chose did not truly influence the end of the game.

Throughout Vincent’s ordeal, a morality bar appears that is left blank and up to the player to decide what it actually stands for (right or wrong, stability or chaos, etc.). There are two main parts to controlling the bar—the major component is how players answer a series of questions that are asked at the end of each nightmare level and the minor factor is the dialogue. In fact, a lot of the time I could not tell just by reading the answer choices which way I would set the bar during conversation based on what I chose. This can be perceived as unique in its own way because of the mystery aspect, but a pain in the ass for anyone who is trying just to play through the game again to get a different ending.

Many reviewers have raged over the nightmare puzzles in their entirety, either unsure of their point in general or frustrated with their difficulty level. Personally I dreaded every night that I would send Vincent home after the first few levels. However, I would also begin each night with the determination to get through to the next day. Vincent was my bro and by God I was going to get him through this. I learned to appreciate the difficulty of the puzzles because they kept me completely enthralled in the dialogue and story. I also believe that puzzles were a good choice on Atlus’s part as a metaphor for the confusion that Vincent experiences during the day.

After being trained to expect masterfully optional storylines thanks to companies like Bioware and the new player-chooses trend, Catherine was a let-down in the fact that players are funneled along very set paths that lead to the alternate endings. While I knew the dialogue did not play too majorly into my ending, I still embraced it happily and fell in love with each individual character. Catherine is truly a breath of fresh air and deserves (and will receive) more than one play through on my part.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Veridian Dynamics and Blue Sun

So I'm re-watching Better off Ted currently (if you haven't seen it yet Netflix it, trust me), and this morning, while watching Season 1, episode 6 "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" I noticed two things:

First, during a monologue, the following exchange occurred:
Linda: Listen to my tone and not my words. We can't just stand here and let them take Ted away from us.  He is the shiniest employee we have.
Lem: Did you just say "shiniest"?
Linda: Again, listen to my tone and not my words. We have to do something.
Phil: Linda's tone is right. We can't function without Ted

It is completely brushed over that Linda referred to Ted as "shiney", using it as a word of praise in a way that is not traditionally done outside of the Firefly universe. Then, as Ted is going through the drawers of the security guard's station looking for a badge, he opens and closes a couple of drawers, pausing only on one drawer, which contained just a single pair of blue latex gloves, a la Blue Sun. In fact, he opens the drawer, goes to close it, and re-opens it once more, creating a deliberate focus on them.

If you're not familiar with the series, there are two mysterious men in Firefly/Serenity, who wear blue latex gloves like those shown. From FireflyWiki.org :

"Hands Of Blue- These two blue-gloved men (agents of the Blue Sun Corporation? The Academy? the Alliance?) are pursuing River after her escape from The Academy. They always appear as a pair ("Two by Two"), have a generally creepifying demeanor, and wear blue gloves at all times."

So this was something new to me, I tried Googling variations of "Better off Ted, Firefly", but didn't come up with anything. Has anyone else seen or heard of any connections between the two shows? Perhaps a shared writer? I'm very curious.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Firefly Fans, I Gotta Bone to Pick with You

"Oh but Sarah, you're so super busy right now, what are you even doing blogging?"

Okay, first off, not ALL Firefly fans, hokay? I'm pretty fond of the series myself and fancy my "well-loved" little car in a Serenity-esque light. HOWEVER, this is a bit much.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the series' recent jump back onto cable (thank you again, Science Channel), Nathan Fillion made the following, now extremely famous comment: "If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet." Shortly after this seemingly innocent, passing comment hit the internet, a campaign was launched to try and collect said $300 million dollars for Nathan Fillion, so that he might buy up the rights to the show, and revive the series. There is even a website and facebook page, but I'm not linking them here purely because I find the whole thing completely absurd and refuse to give them the additional traffic. If you're really curious, hit our buddy Google.

Now, I'm going to try very, very hard not to type up this whole rant with caps lock on, but no promises. My frustration with this matter is deep, and complex, and cannot be held within the confines of lower-case letters. First of all, it was a quick, five question interview, and while I was not there to speak of the tones Mr. Fillion used in making said remark, I can almost assure you it was said in passing, and not intended to imply that everyone should send him their money so he can revive Firefly (he'd probably prefer you send it to his charity of choice, Kids Need to Read). Not that he would need to buy up the rights anyway, as Joss Wheadon (creator of the show, along with Angel, Buffy, Dollhouse, and others) has said on many occasions, Firefly was his most beloved work, and he'd be first to bring it back, if doing so were possible at this point. Besides, he didn't say "I'll start the series back up", he said "distribute it on the Internet." In addition, the show was fantastic, but nowhere near a $300 million dollar franchise. And my biggest beef with this whole thing... Why is that one passing comment the thing to spark such an outcry? WHERE WERE YOU GUYS IN 2003 WHEN THE ENTIRE CAST WASN'T ON OTHER PROJECTS?

So, in conclusion, don't pledge to send Nathan Fillion money to bring back Firefly, you asscats. If you have so much dough burning a hole in your pocket that you just can't stand it, how about helping out Kids Need to Read? Cause, yanno, they DO. Otherwise, how else could you wind up with something like the mangled literary mess you've just finished reading? Yeah, spooky.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Back, Bitches!

I'm back on Xbox Live, so be sure and add me, if you haven't already.


Possibly changing that shortly. I'll keep you posted :3