Archive for July, 2013

Tomb Raider (2013)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’d like to personally dedicate the following review to the Steam Summer Sale. Good times were had, plenty of money was spent, and at the end of it all I had 11 new games to call my own, 13 if you count everything included in Doom 3 BFG Edition. Anyway, I’ve played a little bit of most of them, but Tomb Raider was the first one that I kept playing. Well, second actually, but I still need to play all of the DLC for Fallout New Vegas and there’s this annoying bug that’s halting my progress, so I won’t play that game again until it’s thought about how its action have consequences and decided to stop being such a little shit.

-Anyway, Tomb Raider is meant to be an origin story for the character of Lara Croft, taking place while she was still a young, bright-eyed, innocent archaeologist just out of college on her first real expedition. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, her expedition shipwrecks onto the island she was looking to explore and Lara is separated from most of the crew. It’s up to her to find her friends, fend off the evil pirates that inhabit the island, and figure out how to get everyone home safely. For a story that initially comes across as nothing more than “we’re stuck on this island and we’d really rather not be,” Tomb Raider shows a surprising amount of depth, with some solid writing complemented by some good voice-acting to make the experience feel much more meaningful than it otherwise would.

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-While there is plenty of story to be had with the other characters and the conflict with the island’s inhabitants, the main focus of the story is developing the character of Lara, as much like in Far Cry 3, we can see her slowly change from an innocent, civilized person just like anyone else into a hardened warrior, molded by her constant exposure to violence in its most raw and devastating form. I’ve heard complaints that Lara’s development feels wrong, as she’s supposed to be innocent and inexperienced, but can already climb and jump incredibly well, but again, Far Cry 3 made similar assertions, but Jason Brody was really good at firing automatic weapons and impaling people with a machete, so there are certain instances where the story must take a back-seat to the gameplay, but this is only meant to be in service of the player, so I don’t mind.

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-On the gameplay side, Tomb Raider is certainly one of the most varied games I’ve ever played. Gameplay flows smoothly between climbing and platforming through the jungle, solving puzzles to find the way forward, and dealing with enemies. Combat in Tomb Raider works pretty well, but the fact that the enemies often far outnumber you coupled with your not all that substantial health bar, even with regeneration, direct combat is often not the way to go. Stealth is usually the best option when dealing with enemies, and I like that the game doesn’t force you to kill the enemies if you think it would alert the others to your position, occasionally allowing you to sneak past potential threats to save your ammo for later. Also, here’s something that I really wish more games would do. You know how most third-person action games have you press a button that slaps your character against the wall when taking cover. You know how rigid and robotic that all feels, almost like you’re just fulfilling an obligation? Well, in Tomb Raider, you can take cover by simply walking up to it, and when enemies aren’t around, Lara won’t even bother. It’s little, but I really like it. It’s almost like this in itself is another angle of characterization, where Lara is learning to be more diligent of her surroundings and takes it upon herself to hide from potential threats.

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-There’s the by now pretty standard progression and upgrade system that has you using limited resources scavenged from the environment to upgrade Lara’s weapons and using experience points to upgrade abilities. It’s pretty typical stuff, but it manages to not feel forced, so while I could have done without it, I don’t begrudge it for being there.

Image-Overall, Tomb Raider is a great game. It’s looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. Some of the combat instances can be a little frustrating, and the quick-time-events are a bit annoying at first, but it’s still a great deal on the whole. 

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Gears of War Judgment

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-After I was sufficiently disappointed with the way Gears of War 3 turned out, I was pretty apprehensive about how Judgment was supposed to work, especially with it being a prequel that basically spoils its own ending to anyone that remembers a few minor details from any of the first three games. That said, I had some time and disposable income last week, so I found it for $40 and gave it a whirl.

-Our story follows the previously unseen Kilo Squad, led by Lieutenant Damon Baird, the whiny engineer guy from the other games. And there’s your spoiler right there. The story sees Baird being accused of war crimes, and his current rank of Lieutenant puts him above Sergeant Marcus Fenix, the guy that he had to take orders from in previous games. Anyway, the rest of the squad consists of Cole, sadly much more quiet and less funny than before, and newcomers Paduk and Sofia, respectively a former member of an anti-COG resistance army that’s joined them for the sake of killing the Locust, and a new recruit to some kind of COG special forces, who also serves as further proof that for all their silly macho-man heroics flying everywhere, Epic Games is surprisingly competent when it comes to writing female characters. For a prequel that any series veteran with half a brain already has figured out, Judgment manages to achieve a decent level of engagement with its plot, as the writers wisely made sure that the final verdict of the war crimes tribunal is far from the only thing that we need to concern ourselves with.

Image-As for the gameplay, Judgment sticks to the tried-and-true formula of previous games.  It’s a third-person shooter with emphasis on using the game’s cover system to avoid the worst of the punishment being doled out by the Locust. Every new installment has brought with it new weapons and enemy types, and with this being a prequel, they actually justify the new stuff by saying the new stuff is left over from the UIR, the army that Paduk used to serve. Unlike Gears 3, however, the new weapons are actually really good, with a new kind of sniper rifle, a bolt-action rifile of sorts, a semi-automatic redesign of the Hammerburst, and a new grenade launcher. The fact that every one of these guns had me excited whenever I found them already puts them way ahead of the disappointments that came with Gears 3. In addition, new “Declassified Missions” have been added in campaign. They’re basically optional objectives that make the game a little harder in exchange for a higher yield of experience that can be used to unlock new modes and multiplayer characters.

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-The competitive multiplayer is relatively standard stuff. Playing Free for all mode is a bit of a joke, since the weapon system basically forces everyone to use the shotgun, but other modes allow more flexibility, and are actually pretty fun. It’s nothing too revolutionary, but fun nonetheless. On the co-op front, the entire campaign can be played with up to 4 people, and there are a couple new variants on the Gears mainstay Hoard mode to keep things feeling fresh.

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-Overall, Gears of War Judgment is a fun little game from a franchise that has lasted much longer than I thought it would. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s a fun time with some badass guns and interesting enemies. 84/100

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Fable 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-Allow me to preface the following entry by saying that I would most likely never have played Fable 3 had it not been free to Xbox Live gold members recently. That said, I stopped paying for Gold almost a year ago, so I used some other trickery to get the free game by other means. 

-The game starts you off having to choose whether to play as a man or a woman. Ever since the hilarious opportunity playing as a female afforded me in Fallout New Vegas, I’ve always chosen a female character in RPGs on the off-chance that the designers decided to leave a present for players that took the road less traveled. Anyway, after that you wake up from an apparently rough night of having sex with your dog (seriously, it kinda looks that way) and your butler kindly informers you that your brother, king of the land has been a massive jerk face for a while now. So after some slow, boring tutorials and walks around the castle, you escape with the butler and your old soldier friend. There’s some more bullshit later, but eventually you get to the meat of the game: earning the trust of influential people in the kingdom so you can raise an army to overthrow your brother. It’s not exactly riveting stuff, and the absence of any real characters other than your old friend Walter makes for a bland time to be had doing odd jobs for stupid villagers just to earn upgrade points.

Image-Now here’s where things start to suck. One of the more important aspects of an RPG in terms of immersion is the interface design. The player will never feel like the hero of Albion if they have to spend tons of time navigating ugly menus to try figuring out how to equip their new sword or change clothes or whatever. That said, Fable 3 might just have the worst interface I’ve ever seen. Rather than a simple menu system, Fable 3 has a “Sanctuary,” basically a room with different doors that represent your weapon stash, clothing stash, map, story progress, options menu, and Xbox live store. It’s a mess, and having to physically walk around in what is basically a 3D menu just feels stupid and clumsy.

Image-Then there’s the combat. Dear lord, the combat. Let’s pause for a bit and discuss the role that difficulty has on a game. A game needs to present at least a minor bit of challenge in order for the player to feel engaged. If a game is too easy, the player will feel as though the game is a waste of their time, more of a chore than an actual game, so to speak. With that said, Fable 3 might just be the easiest game I’ve ever played. In my  entire time playing, I never once died. Hell, I never even used a health potion, or any of those other weird potions that the games puts in to help you with the hilariously easy combat. Melee fighting is a load of shit, with overly defensive enemies not so much making the fight harder as much as drawing it out, so you’re left with guns and magic. Both guns and magic allow you to blast enemies from across the screen with unblockable attacks, and it makes combat feel more like an obligation than an enjoyable experience.

Image-One last thing that I need to mention. The system by which you earn money is the most hilariously exploitable thing I’ve played in a long time. Some background: after you get enough friends, you lead a daring assault on the castle to overthrow your brother. After destroying most of a town in the battle, your brother simple gives you control and lets you become ruler of Albion. Oh, by the way, this big evil monster thing will show up one year from today to destroy the kingdom, and I was acting like a dick so I could save money for an army to fight it off. Now you have to choose between spending the castle’s treasury on keeping people happy only to have them all die in a year, or breaking your promises and making life shit for another year so that you can save all of their lives. These two options are rather stupidly referred  to as “good” and “evil” respectively. That said, you can save everyone and still get the good ending. How, you may ask? Well, the best way to get money is to rent property and own stores which pay out to you every five minutes of real time. The countdown to apocalypse only ticks in between story missions, so basically buy all the best stores and houses, then leave the game running for several hours while you let the money pour on in. I mostly just did this to gain the satisfaction of giving a big fat middle finger to the designers that came up with this stupid “good and evil” nonsense.

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-Basically, Fable 3 is a massive waste of time. The story is dull, the combat is way too easy, and the overall execution can best be described as lazy. Even if it is still free, your time is too valuable to be wasted on something this pointless. 34/100

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