Monthly Archives: August 2017

REVIEW: Rise of the Tomb Raider (No Spoilers)

Rise of the tomb raider bear

Rise of the Tomb Raider made its PS4 debut in October of 2016, a little under a year since its initial debut on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in November of 2015. I enjoyed the 2013 reboot of the franchise a few years back, but not enough to justify the purchase of a new console, so I waited until the PlayStation 4 release of the game a year later. With all of the downloadable content included, what did I think of the game? Read on and find out.

Rise of the tomb raider jonah

In 2013’s Tomb Raider, I found the supporting cast lackluster, aside from Lara Croft’s mentor Roth. The two characters held engaging dialogue, and their relationship was believable. Thankfully, the supporting cast in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a bit better than in 2013’s Tomb Raider, but not by a whole lot. Jonah is a friend of Lara’s who appeared during the previous title, and he accompanies her during her latest excursion – to discover the lost city of Kitezh, and acquire an artifact known as the Divine Source. A man named Jacob is also met along the journey, who proved to be a more interesting and likeable character than I initially expected. Lara and Jacob’s story offers a satisfying conclusion, but I can’t say the same for Jonah and Lara’s. The storyline never explores exactly why they are friends beyond their shared desire to acquire the Divine Source; I never felt too worried when Jonah was in trouble, because the game didn’t exactly provide me with a reason why I should care. Lara is proven to be a fierce warrior more than capable of looking after herself, and I wish Jonah provided some vital ability or quirk that Lara required to complete her journey. Instead, I felt disappointed by their relationship, as it feels like it didn’t go anywhere.

rise of the tomb raider stealth

 

The main villains, on the hand, are better fleshed-out than the relationship between Lara and Jonah. The actions they take during their race for the Divine Source are harsh and unforgiving, but I found their reasons for taking those actions to make sense toward their reasoning for them; in other words, I found them believable villains. I believe that in most dramatic works of fiction such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, a compelling villain is one that should be more than just a cackling, evil warlord; they should be someone who has a reason for their terrible acts, one that can be understood by the viewer as a person who does terrible things for an understandable cause. Take Magneto from the X-Men, for example. He is a ruthless, cunning super villain that wants the best for mutants, his own race, even if that means bringing an end to the non-mutant human race. His means of bringing peace for his people are flawed, yet understood. The X-Men films which explore Magneto’s past expose the audience to the reasons why Magneto has become the man he is, and they are shown why they should feel sympathy in his plight. Despite Magneto’s evil intentions, his end goal is understandable, given the hardships that he has endured. A villain that is human and possesses good intentions accomplished in an evil way is not fitting for every work of fiction, but for the ones where it does work, it provides an extremely compelling villain that is not easily forgotten. This method of explaining a villain’s intentions probably wouldn’t work too well in a Mario Brothers game, but the way it is handled in Rise of the Tomb Raider is adequate. That being said, the main story itself was fine. It didn’t have many surprises, no shocking twists or strong character development, but it was a fine backdrop to keep me moving forward.

Rise of the tomb raider snow

Rise of the Tomb Raider controls near identically to the previous game; so for players that went through the first one, they should expect more of the same. There are a few new traversal options that spice things up, such as the broadhead arrows which allow Lara to scale walls by shooting arrows into specific spots she can climb upon. Aside from a few exceptions, expect to use similar climbing gear from 2013’s Tomb Raider to scale tall cliffs and ancient debris. I was not a big fan of the combat in 2013’s Tomb Raider, feeling that it was a bit too clumsy and frenetic for my liking, and that aspect remains mostly the same in this sequel. It remains serviceable, and shooting targets from a decent range feels fine; but once enemies get up close, hitting them becomes an awkward process, even when using firearms. The melee attack that Lara possesses is weak and unsatisfying, although it does open up possibilities for violent finishers that are appealing to watch. Some of the executions on human enemies seem rather brutal and uncharacteristic of Lara to perform, but I excused their brutality simply for the fact that Lara has been through Hell and back during her previous journey. Upgrading Lara’s gear during the journey is accomplished using the many collectibles scattered across each terrain, and it was satisfying to put these resources toward improving weaponry and learning new abilities. The frankly extensive list of costumes that Lara can don is also a neat feature, most of them offering perks to combat or exploration. I enjoyed the combat encounters the least during my playtime, moreso enjoying the game’s massive, explorable environments, but the gunplay was definitely serviceable and didn’t often frustrate me. Lara continues to rock the bow and arrow, and I hope that trend continues in future installments.

Rise of the tomb raider title card

Many comparisons can be made between the last two Tomb Raider games and the Uncharted series. 2013’s Tomb Raider adopted some of the big set-piece moments that the Uncharted series became known for in the late 2000’s; this is ironic, considering the Tomb Raider series is one that has persisted since the PlayStation One era, and Uncharted was the one being accused of ripping off the Tomb Raider games. With that being said, I’ve always found the set-piece moments in the last two Tomb Raider titles to be rather bland, aside from a couple of exceptions. There’s a few in Rise of the Tomb Raider that stand out, but I can only remember a single bombastic moment from 2013’s Tomb Raider, whereas I’m easily able to recall most of the set-pieces that take place in the Uncharted series. I think future Tomb Raider titles should attempt to incorporate even more big set-piece moments, because if there’s one thing that I think Tomb Raider does better than Uncharted, it is giving the player control over more of the experience. There are a few too many times in the Uncharted games when character control is wrestled away from the player only for a cutscene to play out, but I haven’t found that Rise of the Tomb Raider suffered this problem, which is great to see. I don’t necessarily have a problem with cutscenes used in games, but it can be frustrating when there are long stretches of time spent not playing the game, instead watching a short film in place of it.

Rise of the tomb raider sweatshirt

All of that being said, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a solid game. The set-piece moments aren’t as bombastic as I’d like them to be, the gameplay flows decently enough, and the story isn’t much interesting; yet despite these issues, I enjoyed my time in Lara Croft’s world. I found Lara’s backstory to be interesting, where they focus on the relationship she had with her father, and I hope to see more of her past explored in future Tomb Raider titles. The stinger after the end credits sure guarantees we’ll see another Tomb Raider, but really, was there any doubt?

 

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. If you’d like, let me know how my writing can improve, as I’m always looking to do better each day. Have a wonderful week.

 

  • Matt
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REVIEW: Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania Wallpaper

Hey everyone, I’m back from vacation! I spent a week away from home by the shore, which gave me ample time to relax on the beach; and of course, dive into Sonic Mania, thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch. I’m not shilling for Nintendo, I swear! I just love this system. Being away from home right after the release of Sonic Mania was also a great opportunity to play it on the go. Anyway, let’s get on with the review. As someone that has only played a handful of Sonic games, what do I think of the blue blur’s latest adventure? Important note: I’ve never played the original Sonic games from the Genesis. I’ve only played bits of Sonic Advance for the Gameboy Advance, the entirety of Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS, and a few of the home console 3D adventures. However, I’ve watched an entire run of Sonic 2, and seen parts of Sonic 3.

Sonic Mania Circle

To put it simply, Sonic Mania is awesome. The game is a celebration of the best parts of Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and 3 (& Knuckles) remaining true to the original trilogy while providing fun new levels and boss fights. The controls for all three characters (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) is tight and exactly as expected; not nearly on the level of responsiveness as classic Mario platforming, but precise enough as not to feel annoying.

 

A cool new addition for Sonic is his ability to spin dash while in mid-air, allowing for a speed boost upon hitting the ground. This gives better opportunities for gaining faster speed, which is especially useful in the game’s time trials for each of the game’s thirteen zones. Each of these zones is separated into two acts, excluding the final zone. A few of my favorites include the classic Green Hill Zone, Oil Ocean Zone, Lava Reef Zone, and Studiopolis Zone, but each one brings fun diversity to the fast-focused gameplay. For example, Hydrocity Zone has players navigating levels both above water and submerged in it. Finding shortcuts and avoiding large falls rewards players with the higher ground, allowing them to bypass some underwater sections. I never found the underwater sections to be particularly frustrating, mostly because of how short they are. There are a couple of forced underwater sections in certain levels, but the frequent air bubble pockets made these parts less stressful than I remember them being in previous Sonic games.

Sonic Mania Knuckles

The level design in Sonic Mania is great, offering many speed opportunities as well as precise platforming challenges within each act. It is very difficult to explore every nook and cranny of a level during a single playthrough, and once this fact is accepted, it’s fun discovering the many secrets and power-ups that lie in wait throughout each level. I’m a bit of a completionist, often feeling compelled to 100% finish a game if I especially enjoy it, but I have accepted that there is no way to do this in Sonic Mania unless you play through the game multiple times as each character. Thankfully, each character offers unique abilities that enrich the levels they occupy, but that also means Sonic won’t be able to reach a certain high ledge that only Tails can fly toward, or one which Knuckles can reach using his wall-climb. Even after finishing the game as all three heroes, I still mostly enjoy playing as Sonic, but Knuckles isn’t far behind, his wall-climbing ability and glide offering surprising maneuverability across each act’s sprawling landscape.

Sonic Mania UFO

The two bonus games offered in Sonic Mania range from decent to fantastic. To access the first bonus game, players will have to collect at least 25 rings and pass a checkpoint marker, from which they can enter an isometric, top-down view of Sonic as he runs along blue orbs attempting to hit them all, avoiding red orbs in the process. I think this bonus game is a fun diversion, but I did not feel inclined to play it at every chance I got. However, the second bonus game, hidden in certain secret spots within each zone, is a ton of fun. This bonus game finds players controlling Sonic behind his back, akin to modern 3D titles, chasing after a UFO carrying a chaos emerald. Sonic’s movement in this bonus game is a bit slippery, especially as he gains speed, but I always felt in control of his movements despite this. As you pick up speed by collecting blue orbs, the bonus stage music ramps up, driving you to try your hardest to avoid falling off course before catching the UFO. Finding the entrances to this bonus game encourages exploration, as they are often well hidden in each level away from the main path. Collecting all of the chaos emeralds grants an extra zone to tackle, but I won’t spoil the results of that encounter here. It’s a challenge collecting all of the emeralds, but boy is it worth it!

Sonic Mania Boss

As expected from a Sonic game, there are boss fights aplenty. Presented at the end of each act, most of these battles are executed well, some sticking with the tried-and-true design of jumping into Eggman’s robotic ship at least eight times. The most interesting of these battles offer a unique spin on the formula. I found a few in particular to be especially interesting, but I won’t spoil them here; I’ll simply mention which zone they take place in. First off, Chemical Plant Zone, Act 2 is stellar because of its unexpected nature, which felt right at home in the game (especially considering there is already a Sonic game with which they ripped this boss fight straight out of). Flying Battery Zone, Act 2 is great, offering a familiar method of attack with different means of hurting the boss. And finally, the boss fight in Act 2 of Metallic Madness Zone is a lot of fun, especially because it incorporates a mechanic from the entirety of the level itself into the fight. Overall, I’d say the boss battles in Sonic Mania are a success. A few of them harken back to the original trilogy for inspiration, while others offer a different look at the formula. In my eyes, the only stinker of a boss fight would be the final confrontation in Act 2 of Oil Ocean. Trudging through slimy goop during a high-stakes battle isn’t fun, especially when certain sections of the fight force away all of the solid ground of which to stand on. I found myself dying to this particular boss more times than I could count, but they were eventually defeated by exercising a lot of patience. To me, it felt a bit cold in an otherwise great zone.

Sonic Mania Logo

Sonic Mania feels like a love letter to fans of Sonic’s side-scrolling roots. Even though recent 3D Sonic titles have incorporated side-scrolling and precision platforming elements into the mix, none of them brought nearly as many interesting ideas to the table as Sonic Mania does. The entirety of this game oozes with personality and care; I encountered zero bugs in my extensive time with the game, save for one graphical error at the end of Green Hill Zone, Act 2. This game has made me understand the gaming community’s love for the original Sonic titles, and has me more excited than ever to see the future of Sonic the Hedgehog.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Next, I’ll be writing my review of either Rise of the Tomb Raider or Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. I finished Tomb Raider a week ago, and I’m going through Uncharted right now, so I’ll soon see which one I’m more interested in writing about.

 

Have a great week, everyone.

 

  • Matt

Shady Business Practices in Video Games

Hi folks, I wanted to write something a little bit different today. Usually I write here about my thoughts on a game I’ve played, be it a new release or an old one, but something caught my eye recently that disgusted me enough to want to write about it.

fortnite title

I haven’t been keeping up with news about the recently-released Fortnite from Epic Games because, well, I don’t really care about the game. The premise simply doesn’t interest me. However, in a recent article from Gamespot, I read that the game has sold over 500,000 copies across three different platforms as of July 26th. That’s a big problem, considering the game will be a free-to-play title in 2018. That’s right, Epic Games is selling an early access title for upwards of $40 that is going to be completely free to start playing by next year.

 

This is a gross business practice that effectively has early buyers acting as bug testers for when the free-to-play release of Fortnite hits digital storefronts. Unlike bug testers, these people are not being paid for what they are doing, but are instead paying the publisher for accessing the unfinished game early. I say unfinished because the FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the official Fortnite web page describes the game as an early access release. I’ll include a link to that page right here.

pac-man cash

It doesn’t matter how finished or complete the game is right now. As it stands, Fortnite is an early access title that will be completely free-to-play starting next year, and players are ponying up cash to access it early. When the free-to-play version releases, the purchase that consumers made to get that early copy will have been for naught, except bragging rights that they played the game ahead of its official release. I’m not one to say how people should be spending their money, but this business practice feels exploitative, especially when you consider people who have a tight budget for new games. Purchasing Fortnite is an effective way to waste money on a release that will soon be available for free.

loot boxes

On top of this, Fortnite offers microtransactions which are available in both the early access release, and will assuredly be available in the free-to-play release as well. As many other people online have correctly stated before, microtransactions have no place in any video game that isn’t free-to-play. It is a shady business practice that breaks the in-game economy by incentivising players to spend extra money to unlock items that may otherwise take many hours to unlock by normal means of playing. Just look at Overwatch, for example. It’s a game that has millions of fans, including myself, but the loot box system in that game is also exploitative and assures that nobody will ever unlock every item unless they pay extra for loot boxes. Even if these items are all cosmetic, they still affect perception of the game and encourage additional purchases on top of the entry level fee for the game itself. Cosmetic items or otherwise, it is gross to have these additional purchases for loot boxes available on top of an up-front fee for the game.

 

Let’s not even get into the whole Middle Earth: Shadow of War news that has been popping up recently about that game’s microtransactions. If you’d like a good breakdown of that game’s price gouging, look no further than this wonderful informative video that was released today by Jim Sterling; I’ll link it right here.

shadow of war microtransactions yeah

The previous game in this Lord of the Rings series, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, is a great game that deserved the praise it received back in 2014. The business practices behind its sequel ensure I won’t be playing Shadow of War on day one, if at all in the near future, despite being a fan of both Lord of the Rings and Shadow of Mordor. I refuse to support a single-player, triple-A game release that offers microtransactions on day one. It’s one thing to have these additional payments available in multiplayer-only video games, but it is especially egregious to find them in an exclusively single-player release.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m close to finishing up Rise of the Tomb Raider, a game I’ve wanted to play for a little while now, and I’ll share my thoughts on it soon. Have a great week, all.

 

  • Matt