LAG – Tomb Raider

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
Marvel's not the only one who can recast an icon

This probably doesn't need to be said for a title this old, but I also don't always have spoilers in my reviews.  So, warning: potential spoilers to come. Tomb Raider was another Steam sale pick up I got during the Square Enix sale I got Absolution in.  However, unlike Absolution, Tomb Raider is a game I was pleasantly surprised by.  The Tomb Raider franchise is another one I jumped into part way through the series, when they did their first reboot with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld.  Obviously that was a big step forward in the series, and I think their latest reboot with Tomb Raider was just as significant if not more so. With almost every TR game I've played, I've always felt like I was playing a game that just a little behind the times.  Being a late-comer to the series probably didn't help with that, but even playing one of the titles on release data tended to be accompanied by that feeling.  Tomb Raider has been the only exception, and it was even one of those titles that I got to late.  I think the origin story approach gave that degree of separation from the rest of the series that allowed them to break away from a stagnant past and create something new. Beyond the highly publicized changes in character design, another addition to this title is a meaningful story that you can actually get immersed in.  Stories in the earlier titles were either non-existent or all over the place, which makes it hard to stay engaged.  With Tomb Raider, we're actually given something that (ok, maybe not the stuff at the end) could have actually happened.  Sure, it's a little extreme at times, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen people build up a survivalist cult in an isolated area that's based in that area's indigenous culture.

"Never get out of the boat."

But I digress, another element that helped keep the story world cohesive were improvements made to the general game play.  Nothing takes you out of a story like having to battle against weird clipping points during a simple platforming puzzle or a crappy grapple mechanic you have to use just to move around.  The evolution of Lara's equipment also helped provide depth to the different areas of the world and how you were able to interact with them, and the journal entries Laura would read at key save points kept you immersed in the events around you even when you as a player were managing your equipment or skills.

Shhh...

The only downside I really experienced with Tomb Raider is more due to my own play style than anything.  If you give me a game with any kind of stealth element, I have to go full stealth, all the time.  This wasn't a problem at all for the early stages of the game where you are outnumbered and the focus really is survival.  Still, as the story progresses, guns become more important and you start unlocking melee combat skills.  At this point I did start using the guns I was able to pick up, but I really didn't dive into the combat skills until late game when there was nothing else for me to choose.  The story was almost completely run and gun at that point, so they were definitely useful then, but I feel like I missed out a little by not using them sooner.
ouch

Yeah, that's an ice axe.

I've talked with people who say the different takedowns seemed out of place when compared with the classic Lara from the earlier titles, and while I agree, I didn't see it as a negative.  It's just another pointed difference between this title and every other one that came before it.  Is it really necessary for Laura to unload an assault rife clip into an attacker that's close enough to touch?  No, it's not, and it's pretty grizzly when you think about it outside of the detached world of video games.  Still, I think these help further define the world you are put into and enhance the gritty survival-focused story that every other gameplay element, cutscene and plot point are driving at. All in all, Tomb Raider definitely exceeded my expectations.  So much so that writing this review is making me want to play it again.  Yeah, I'm going to do that.  You should too, and you can probably pick it up for pretty cheap about now.

LAG – Hitman: Absolution

May 7th, 2015 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)
It was absolutely ok.

Gaming is something that hasn't suffered too much during my blogging hiatus.  For the most part, I've just been trying to work on that backlog of games in my Steam library that every PC gamer has, and for me, one of those games was Hitman Absolution. The Hitman franchise was one I jumped into with Hitman 2; and while Contracts was an interesting follow up to Silent Assassin, Blood Money was what really endeared me to the series.  Even though the story was pretty much non-existent in Blood Money, I loved the open nature of each mission environment, and it made the replay value of the game go through the roof for me.  Not like KOTOR or Dragon Age replay value good, but still pretty impressive for a game where the premise isn't much more than a bald guy who kills people. So about five years go by and there's a new Hitman coming out.  I go to PAX that year, see it there and think, "Awesome! Graphics have come a long way since 2006.  I wonder what they've put into the new game?"  So I stood in the Square Enix area to watch their trailer.  Did they feature any of the new gameplay mechanics?  No.  Did they setup the fact that there is actually a story to follow now?  Nope.  Did they show the improved graphics?  No.  It was a pre-rendered cutsceen-style trailer that showcased this:

They're called the Saints. Subtle, I know.

I understand why this particular approach is used when your fan base is made up predominately by straight males, but it was so blatant that I couldn't help but laugh a little.  Needless to say, I didn't fork out the premium price on release date to see if the nun-inspired assassin squad thing went anywhere, but I did eventually pick it up during a Square Enix sale day on Steam. It took me two moderately long sittings to play through the single player story, but you could probably grind it out in a day with some dedication.  In short, it was ok.  The main thing that turned me off was how you were made to interact with the environments.  It was a much more linear play through, which isn't necessarily bad, but I always felt like the game was rushing me along.  I never got the feeling that I was some master assassin that could complete a mission in any number of ways.  Instead, I felt more like I was some assassin intern just stumbling from one situation to the next, only running into those best-option scenarios by chance.  I appreciate that they still tried to give you options, but the pace felt too frantic to really understand and enjoy what those options were.
hitman absolution chicken.jpg

Don't worry, I'm a professional.

Still, it wasn't all bad.  The graphics were a lot better than previous titles, and disguises played a much more important role in this title than anything previous.  Actually, the whole character recognition mechanic that takes into account disguises, the kind of NPC and the weapon/object you're holding added a new layer to the game that was fun to plan around.  The amount of objects to interact with and use also added depth to the gameplay, although I was a little upset about not really being able to choose your equipment load out.  I understand how that fit into the story, but at the same time that nerfed some of that replay value I found in previous titles.  Going into a level a second time with better equipment and getting a different experience was no longer in the cards. I think in the end, if you're a fan of the franchise, you'll do what I did: buy it cheap, marathon and moderately enjoy the single player, think back to it with an element of fondness, but probably never play it again.