Category Archives: Reviews and Impressions
This section is for posts regarding our hands on time with either newly released or upcoming game titles. This is the place to check if you want our analysis on a game or beta, or if you want to weight in on your own opinion in the review’s comments.
Lara Croft is arguably the most iconic heroine in video game history. She’s smart, wealthy, capable, and physically attractive; that said, there really hasn’t been a knockout Tomb Raider title in a long time. There have been some moderately successful remakes and a spin-off or two that got critical acclaim, but Lara Croft has been slowly sliding into obscurity as time and consoles march ever forward. Hopefully Crystal Dynamics’ reboot this year will change that though.
Tomb Raider (the 2013th edition), is a prequel-reboot for the iconic Lara Croft, reimagining her as a young college grad, bright eyed and ready to see the world. As with all great adventures though, things don’t go according to plan and she and her friends wind up stranded on a lost island in the Japanese equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. On said island, Lara is forced to grow up quickly, learning survival and fighting skills to combat the island’s hostile natives. The story starts out on the more realistic side of the fiction genre (aside from Lara being an indestructible savant when it comes to guerrilla warfare), and introduces you slowly to the mysticism and fantasy elements later in the plot. A lot of people have faulted the game for not merging the thematic and gameplay elements well enough, citing Lara’s initial horrified reactions to violence and killing in contrast with the gameplay that immediately follows. Personally I never found the transition particularly jarring, but then again I’ve never been bothered by the casual killing in the Uncharted series either. It’s never easy to marry good story to good gameplay, and while Tomb Raider isn’t perfect on that front, it does a far sight better than almost anything else in its genre, and has a story that keeps an engaging pace all the way.
The gameplay in Tomb Raider wears its Uncharted influences right on its sleeve. There are copious amounts of platforming and gunplay, and the big set piece moments Crystal Dynamics has dreamt up could easily go toe to toe with just about anything I’ve seen out of Naughty Dogs’ titles. Tomb Raider manages to distinguish itself in some pretty key areas though that make it an even better title than Uncharted in a lot of ways. The island isn’t open world per say, but you are allowed to fast travel back to any completed location from a number of the campsites Lara finds as checkpoints. Through exploration and plot beats you receive weapons and equipment that can be used to access new areas of the map, enabling you to go back and grab collectibles and experience you may have missed the first time. Combat in Tomb Raider I would rate differently depending on how you decide to play it. Lara has access to a machine gun, a bow, a pistol, and a shotgun, and if you’re playing with anything other than the bow, I’m going to argue that you’re doing it wrong. Compared to Uncharted, most of Tomb Raider’s combat is by the numbers and tends to disappear into the murk that is third person shooting in general (for me at least). The bow though is a different beast, requiring a heavier dose of skill and stealth to utilize in some of the hairier encounters. Most of the later encounters involve armored enemies, so shooting them in weak spots or dodging and quickly lining up a counter could be absolutely thrilling. In addition, I felt like the bow fit the themes of survival and desperation the game was setting up much more that the grenade launcher or assault rifle. Who feels desperate when they’re aiming down the sights on a grenade launcher?
I tend to avoid harping on about graphics or sound production, but Tomb Raider looks absolutely gorgeous. I’m playing on a pretty well stocked PC with everything turned up, and the island vistas Lara gets to sneak, shoot, and climb through are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Once cleared, I often found it eerie how detailed and well designed some of the areas were, and looking closely you could often decipher a story about the lives of those that had come before. Sound and music are excellent, though there were occasional instances where lip-syncing didn’t seem to be quite right, but it was never enough of an issue to bother me or pull me out of the narrative. Lastly, on the subject of production values, I’d like to touch on the game’s set pieces. There are sequences in Tomb Raider that will have you literally saying wow. Buildings burn and collapse, destructive winds rip down ruins and walls, rock slides send you and the environment careening down mountainsides. The time and care put into these sequences boggles the mind, especially the wind scenes which I won’t spoil with details, but I’ll just say that it is one of the most incredible spectacles I’ve yet scene in a video game, and this late in the console generation, that’s saying something.
This is Tomb Raider for a post-Uncharted world, and its very well done. Lara is a redefined character whose traits and strengths aren’t summarized by one word adjectives like ‘brutal’ or ‘hot’ anymore. The story Crystal Dynamics tells is at once exciting and suspenseful, and while there’s not quite as much tomb raiding as I might have liked for a game with such a title, it is definitely one of the best games to come out this year and will hopefully mark the start of a new series that carries over into the next generation as a flagship title for the industry. I’d recommend Tomb Raider to anyone who was once a fan of the series, to anyone who enjoyed Uncharted, and to anyone who enjoys action-packed adventures of survival and mystery. Tomb Raider is my favorite game of 2013 so far, and sets a pretty high bar for the rest of this year’s lineup. Share your thoughts on the game in the comments below.
Bioshock Infinite is…well, its…uhhh…it’s hard to talk about. Not because its bad or anything. On the contrary, its incredibly fun and deeply engaging. The trouble arises when you try to talk about the game’s most important aspect, which is its plot. Its…well, let’s talk about that last and see if I can’t come up with an idea of how to discuss it when I get there.
Where Rapture was a symbol of decadence in decay, Columbia is a vision of patriotism gone mad. Everywhere you turn, you see picturesque scenes of an idyllic American dream, tempered with gradually increasing doses of racism and class warfare. The city is slowly falling apart at the seams, the dream of American superiority pulled apart by the realities of human evil and cruelty, and you get a front-seat view of the craziness. The art direction is fantastic, and you can tell the developers did their homework when it came to designing the look and feel of the early 20th century city in the clouds. I’d also praise the game for breaking away from the standard doom and gloom grays and browns of the standard shooter palette, splashing environments with bright reds and sky blues at regular intervals to break up the brown monotony of corridors and ruins.
Bioshock Infinite is pretty standard in terms of gunplay. There are shotguns and pistols, RPG’s and sniper rifles. Vigors are similar enough to Plasmids from the previous titles that you have a pretty good idea of how they work right off the bat, though the visuals associated with each Vigor can be incredible as Booker occasionally holds up his hand to examine the eerie effect its having on his body. While the weapons and powers don’t really break the mold, the open areas where you can utilize the sky lines and the options that open up when Elizabeth starts opening tears give the combat a fresh twist. The fighting is at its most fun when you’re given a wide open area and a lot of tears to open up and call in resources from. Though these areas can be few and far between through certain segments of the campaign, when they do come along they are a high mark that is sad to come down from.
Alright, the story. A word of warning, skip this paragraph if you want to remain 100% in the dark about it. I’ll avoid any major spoilers or twists, but it’s difficult to describe the premise without putting you farther along the path of enlightenment than you should be at the game’s start. Alright, spoiler haters gone? Ok: Bioshock Infinite is a game about parallel universes. You get that pretty early on if you’re observant, and they spell it out for you not too much further after that. Elizabeth’s power is to access these parallel universes, and the mystery revolves around this ability, her origin, and the relationships between you, her, and Comstock. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you have to hunt for to confirm, and I’m pretty sure gamers will be debating for months what actually happened at the end, so if deep, bewildering stories are your kind of thing, Bioshock Infinite was made just for you. Some people will almost certainly dislike the ending, but I personally found it dark and satisfying. If you enjoyed movies like Looper or Inception you’ll almost certainly like Bioshock Infinite’s story.
Okay, whether you’re rejoining the review after that last paragraph or have read all the way through, Bioshock Infinite is a great game, and its the kind of game you’ll have special memories of following your first playthrough. The magic of working out the best vantages of attack for each level and the brain bomb you get the first time through the story can likely never be recaptured, so enjoy your time in Columbia the first time through. Savor it. Bioshock Infinite beats Bioshock in every way that counts, and that’s saying something standing next to one of the highest rated games of all time. You’ll like Bioshock Infinite if you’re a gamer; trust me, try it, have fun, and make sure you lie down for a bit when its over. It’s a wild ride.
Game: Bioshock Infinite
Developer: Irrational Games
Between me and my wife, we’ve spent a lifetime total of 260 hours in Skyrim. Well over a year after its release, we’re still playing finding, new dungeons and quests and leveling characters through various playthroughs. I suppose it goes without saying that the release of Dragonborn was pretty exciting for both of us.
Mods and emergent gameplay have carried Skyrim far beyond the typical cycle of release and stagnation that plagues most games, but they can only go so far in keeping people hooked. Developer generated new worlds, monsters, and quests have a certain professional zing to them, and I was thrilled to find Solstheim, the northern island province of Morrowind, to be teeming with new wildlife, locals, and adventure. Its not quite as dense as Skyrim, and the main quest is a good deal shorter than I might have hoped, but it is a good chunk of content for a game already full to the brim with quality content.
As a bit of fan service, the ambient music of Solstheim includes a large number of tracks from Morrowind, and it’s easy to be pulled back into the game’s magical atmosphere when gazing up at a mushroom villa or conversing with Bonemould armored Dunmer guards. Its a friendly wink and nod to old fans of the series, though it does leave a bit of an ache for a real remake of some of those older titles in the Skyrim engine. I recognize that’s a pipe dream for such a large production, but its easy to dream with the old Morrowind theme playing in my ears.
If you’re still playing Skyrim today, I strongly recommend you lay down some cash for this latest update. It may not provide the whole-new-world feeling stepping into the main game did when it came out, but it offers a shot in the arm and a happy level of fan service. Any favorite parts? Any complaints you feel must be voiced? Let me know your thoughts on Dragonborn in the comments below.
Alexander Bruce, the developer, was kind enough to provide a Steam code for Antichamber, and I got a chance to lose myself in some of the Escher-esque puzzles.
Antichamber is a puzzle game with a minimalist aesthetic that revolves around geometry and spatial manipulation. Meaning? Walls move, the floors fall out from under you, and sometimes going right will end up taking you left. There are some real mind twisters, and puzzle fans will love getting lost in Antichamber’s sterile corridors.
Puzzles themselves range in difficulty from easy to infuriating. Most of your interactions are dependent on your movement and positioning, and a lot of experimentation is required to figure out how and why things happen within a puzzle. Some floors disappear if you move too quickly over them, while others only appear if you dash across empty space. Other puzzles require the use of special matter guns that allow you to manipulate colored cubes in the environment. Once these tools become available, the nature of the puzzles shifts and begins to revolve around manipulation of cubes, which can do anything from build stairways to prop open doors and trigger laser sensors. It keeps the game fresh throughout, though there are points at which you’ll struggle with a puzzle only to realize much later you don’t have the resource to bypass it yet. Antichamber’s puzzles exist in a maze-like environment, so you’ll hit dead ends and obstacles you can’t overcome until much later, and its never really clear when a puzzle is beyond your ability or simply tricky. If you can handle a bit of ambiguity in terms of whether what you’re doing is actually physically possible or not, you’ll do fine.
The minimalist graphics and audio match the game’s atmosphere well. Walls are stark white with sharp black edges. Primary colors pop up in puzzles to highlight important features or help distinguish paths in the labyrinth of test chambers. There isn’t any music, but there are sound effects and ambient noises that give certain areas a surreal feel to them. Early on, I fell down a long pit (don’t worry, there’s no damage for falling), and landed in a new hallway. When I hit the floor though, instead of a thud there was a watery splash, and with each step I splashed down the sterile white hallway, looking for a way out. Sound plays an important role in helping you navigate some areas, so from then on I took to referring to that particular hall as the ‘Water Hall.’ Other areas of note were the ‘Clock Room’ and the ‘Bird Chamber.’
Antichamber might not appeal to every gamer. Narrative is, like the presentation, minimal; you might be able to glean something resembling storytelling from the ambient signs that accompany most puzzles, and the ending is enigmatic enough that a meaning might be drawn from it, but I think most of that is interpretive beyond the limits of standard narrative. Players who loved Portal’s escaping test subject plot may not click with Antichamber’s abstract experience, but if you’re there for the puzzles, you’ll get a satisfying journey.
I really liked Antichamber, in spite of the headaches that ensued from banging my head against so many walls. Its an incredible feat for a single developer running on the Unreal Engine, and a great game in a genre that too often revolves around tropes and tired conventions. I’d recommend Antichamber to fans of puzzle games, M.C. Escher, Portal, or unique indie games that will exercise your brain and patience. Any follow-up thoughts on Antichamber? Leave them in the comments, and enjoy.
Developer: Alexander Bruce