Tuesday, 31 May 2016

500th Anniversary

It feels somehow appropriate that Tomb Raider Anniversary is my 500th completed game since I started making a note of them. It's a remake of something old that really cares about its source material, and heck, it's fun and you can't ask for more than that. A lot of the levels in the game are really iconic and recognisable from the original, whereas others were a bit more meh. They had some comparison screenshots between the old and new game as unlockable extras. Interestingly, although the new shots are undeniably more detailed and realistic, detailed and realistic don't always mean better. There's a lot more colour and style in some of the early levels that undoubtedly looks unreal for some 2000-year old ruins, but I think it's important for level designers to realise that realism isn't always the ultimate target. Everyone playing it knows it's a game, so sometimes it's best to embrace that game-ness and go for a stylistic experience rather than boring old realism. Heck, it's not as if finding medpacks and ammo stashed in sealed ancient tombs is that real anyway! Now I've got that off my chest, I did really enjoy the game. Lots of the levels were great fun to play through, and were excellent reimaginings of the source material. I liked the lack of enemies and focus on traps and environmental exploration. Strange as it may sound, I did actually miss the constant bickering of Lara's helpers over the headset that were in the previous game, so I'm looking forward to them coming back in the next one. There was one mechanic that I really didn't get on with, though - there's a new move called an adrenaline dodge, or something, where time slows down as an enemy charges at you, then you have to get your timing right to dodge out of the way and perform a headshot as you do so. It wouldn't have been so bad if it was just a bonus move that you could do to perform take down kills, but for some reason the designers decided that this one move was going to be the only thing that would work against every single one of the game's bosses. Crazy! It's a really difficult move to pull off, but you have to do it multiple times every boss fight. Why? Anyway, I managed to get through all of the boss fights with minimum swearing (that may be a lie), so it's behind me now. Next up is Tomb Raider Underworld, the last game in my TR playlist (I played the following one ages ago on the PS3, and I don't own the most recent one). Something's coming up that's going to alter the amount of play time I have after this week, though, so I won't be able to get through things as quickly as I have been. Doesn't help that Inquisitor is a really long game (I'm still in the first town) and Tomb Raiders are pretty big, too, so updates might be a bit sporadic from here on out. I'll definitely still keep it up, though. 500 down, 3642 more to go :)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Legendary

I finished off Tomb Raider Legend tonight. It was a great game, and a real breath of fresh air after the darkness of the previous game. As the first game from a new team and with a completely new, modern engine, this game throws off the rigid tile-based movement of the previous games and welcomes in a much more free-roaming adventure. It's also the first of the Tomb Raiders that I've used a joypad for, rather than the keyboard. In both the control method and the gameplay, that leads to a much more free and comfortable experience, but with a lack of the precision of the old games. In those older games, a huge level full of options was thrown before you, and you had to work out where you could go based on your exact knowledge of how Lara moved. It was rigid, but it led to a feeling of total control and understanding of the character. Crystal Dynamics went for the more modern (and some might say easier) route of a very linear route with signposted areas that Lara can interact with. It makes it all a lot easier to run through and make it to the end, but Lara feels a lot more like Nathan Drake. She's lost a bit of that sense of adventure and immersion. That's not to say that I'd want to go back. The new engine is beautiful, but I do miss that sense of wonder and pillar-to-post gameplay. Anyway, I don't want to make this sound like a downer review, I completely loved my time with it. There's a lot of variety in the levels, with a feeling of some of the classic treks of old through jungle and tundra. I'd say it perhaps errs a little too far toward combat rather than exploring and puzzle solving, but at least the combat here is much improved over previous iterations (especially AoD). You only get to carry one extra weapon (other than pistols), but pretty much every enemy drops one, so you're never without options. The audio is great, too. You constantly have your two comrades chattering away over your earpiece with Lara joining in, and it really keeps the sense of immersion that you're here with the team moving through this story. All in all, it's a great reboot, and just what the series needed, but it does start the slide toward a more Uncharted-esque gameplay experience rather than the purebred old-school Tomb Raider. Next up is Anniversary where they re-imagined the original Tomb Raider game but using the new engine, so I'm very interested in seeing how this one goes. It sounds like it could be my perfect TR game!

I've also been chugging through a bit of Inquisitor. I'm playing it on easy, but it's still incredibly hard. It also crashes...a lot, but I'm still enjoying it.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Ancient!

I finished off Legacy of the Ancients last night. For its age, I quite enjoyed it. It's a pretty standard Ultima-style RPG of that time, with a primitive overland section combined with 1st person dungeon exploration. It's quite a compact game with only 3 dungeons and a couple of castles, but you do have to revisit some of them multiple times, which strings it out a bit. The framing story is fairly unique. There's a 'hub' dungeon which is a museum, and you need to gather coins to view the exhibits in it - each one unlocks something different, a new area of the game, or a new ability. Your task is to collect coins so you can unlock all of the exhibits and proceed to the big bad. The actual combat system is fairly rudimentary - you just press F to fight - and there is a selection of weapons, but they essentially all do the same thing, just with slightly bigger numbers. You can buy a few magic spells, but they're expensive, so you can't go wild, and each spell is only good for one use. There are a lot of combats, but weirdly, they don't give you any experience. The caretaker of the museum grants you new levels when you've completed certain tasks in the game, and levels don't really do much - just give you a few more hit points and alter the kinds of monsters you find, what they give you, and what's available in shops. Monsters usually only give you money or food when you defeat them, but if you talk to them then they'll sometimes offer you treasures for sale - including the coins that you're after. This leads to a very polite - ask questions first and hack bits off later - dynamic where I spent most of the end game trying to chat up monsters then running away if they just growled at me. Not very heroic, but I was in a hurry to find the last coins I needed. You can also sometimes get coins randomly in towns from shopkeepers, but I found it was quicker to talk to the monsters. It's actually quite a fun little game, and the story is quite good (though very basic). It would have been nice if the game was a bit bigger - for example, there's one castle that you have to basically loot numerous times, getting a little bit further each time, and killing a million guards in the process. It would have been nice if there had been different castles for each part of the loot rather than revisiting the same one over and over again, but there we go. It was the eighties, so I can let the designers off. The graphics are all CGA, but quite good for the time, I particularly liked the goofy run cycle for your guy (and loved the goofy fly cycle for pegasus!). I don't know if I'd particularly recommend a game this old to most people, but I enjoyed it - particularly the slightly mad framing story. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...The Lion King! Yes, the platform game based on the movie. No idea what this one's like, but I enjoyed the Aladdin game back in the day, so hopefully it's a little like that. I'm also getting through Tomb Raider Legend. Handily, the game tracks your completion, so I can officially state that I'm 41% through it at the moment.

.,.Hmmm...my copy of The Lion King appears to be bugged. The roar meter never fills up, so it's impossible to progress in the game. Ah well. All I can say is that it looked quite nice - very similar to Aladdin in its cartoon graphics and animation style. So, next up on the randometer is...Inquisitor! Ooh, quite looking forward to that. It's a newish but Infinity-Engine-style old-school RPG. Should be a good one.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Angel of Doneness

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness is complete, and so ends an era in Tomb Raider history. AoD was the last of the Core games - after that, Lara lay dormant for a while before Crystal Dynamics picked up the baton. AoD has a bad reputation, and I was expecting the worst going into it, but actually I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It has its problems, sure, but it certainly wasn't the travesty that I believed it to be. What did it do wrong? Well, there are a lot of bugs - it was obviously released in a suboptimal state. The basic movement controls are terrible. Lara is no longer the responsive, athletic girl she used to be, now she stumbles around like a drunken sailor never quite responding to the way that you want her to. You get used to some of the failings and they soon become an awkward second nature, but some of them are just terrible, for example when you try and hop onto a platform and she'll suddenly veer off wildly in mid air - that one's fun, or whenever you draw your guns - Lara's movement when aiming is atrocious, luckily there aren't *that* many enemies in this game, so it doesn't cause problems as often as it could have done. Kurtis Trent - well, he's not quite as bad as I thought he was going to be, and the twist in his story was unexpected, but A) he controls worse than Lara, and B) he's the guy you have to fight the worst boss in the game with. A + B = fun. Also, in virtually every cutscene with Kurtis you see he wielding an amazing magical spinny bladey thing that he can control with his mind and use to decapitate enemies with ease. Can you use it in the game? No, of course not. You have to put up with a completely useless pop-gun (and the worse than atrocious controls that come with it). As I say, it's a testament to the game that even with all of these problems it's still quite enjoyable. They introduced a basic level-up system where at certain points in the game Lara would gain, say, a strength upgrade allowing her to hang on ledges a bit longer without falling. It didn't really work, though, just felt like an arbitrary way of stopping you going a certain way until the developers said you could. They could have potentially done more with it, but I think it dilutes the core Tomb Raider experience - it's not really what the game's about, so I'm glad that's the last we'll see of it. The level design is pretty good, if a little linear, and the story was kind of interesting. It didn't really reach a conclusion - apparently they'd planned 3 games, but only got to make this one - but it kind of tied up most of its loose ends. The graphics were much improved over previous games, and it would have been interesting to see how far they could have gone with the story and the engine, but hey, it wasn't to be. AoD tanked at retail and in contemporary reviews, and that was the end of Lara's days at Core. Next up is Legend, the first of the Crystal Dynamics games. I've already had a quick run through of the training level and the first level, and it's a breath of fresh air. I'm looking froward to playing through the rest of it, and I've heard that these later games are shorter than the Core ones, hopefully I'll be able to speed through it.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Knights Who Say Grind

We had a long weekend here in the UK so I managed to sneak enough time to grind out to the end of Knights of Pen and Paper. 'Grind' is sooo the operative word there. It was originally made as a mobile title with microtransactions, so the point was obviously that people would use real money to purchase in-game funds to stock up on items in order to blast through the game more quickly. In-game money itself is earned quite slowly in order to encourage players to spend real money to get it quicker - so far, so normal evil mobile game. When the game was converted to PC they rightly removed the real money aspect of it, but unfortunately didn't alter the slow rate of gaining in-game money, so there is a crazy-crazy amount of grinding required to get anywhere. You quickly get to a point where quest monsters are way harder than your current party, so you have to continue grinding for experience to become strong enough to beat them. By far the worst example of grinding is the Blacksmith. The blacksmith starts with a small chance of being able to create upgraded weapons and armor. This chance can be increased by leveling up the blacksmith, and this is done by supplying him with the aptly named Grindstones. Grindstones only show up rarely (I think they're on a timer so you can't farm them) in caves, and even then, you only have a small chance of mining them when you do find them. You need a certain number of grindstones to upgrade the blacksmith, and this number rises exponentially each time you level him up (or maybe linearly...I never was any good at maths!). Ultimately it feels like you need millions of the damned things to be able to level up the blacksmith enough that he'll actually be able to make an item rather than fluffing it every time. Of course, you can also buy grindstones from the shop, but that requires grinding for more money... It's a shame, because the game itself is quite fun initially. The set up is enjoyable, and although there aren't really that many combat options, beating monsters and leveling up always feels good. In the end, though, the campaign is just way too long, with way too many samey quests, and the grind... the grind is just horrendous. I'm very happy to have finished this one. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Legacy of the Ancients! It's an old DOS RPG from the '80s. I don't think it's one I've played before, so should be interesting. I'll keep plugging away at Tomb Raider as well, reckon I'm about a third of the way through.