Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tomb Raider - Video Review

Tomb Raider Review - Birth of an Icon

Score: 9.0 / 10
Tomb Raider
PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 5th, 2013

  • Beautifully detailed environments and landscapes
  • Continual action that keeps you guessing
  • Dynamic camera adds excitement to the exploration
  • Simple, satisfying cover shooting
  • Hidden tombs are short and too easy to solve
  • Button prompts for QTEs take time to adapt to
  • Skill tree loses potential to customize Lara to a preferred play style
Lara Croft has always been the seasoned adventurer that looks danger in the face with two pistols at the ready. She was always confident, headstrong, and fearless; but in the latest reboot from Crystal Dynamics, this prequel shows a younger, less adept Lara. The unsteady hand when she first raises a weapon, the heavy breathing as she sneaks past guards, and the utter fear in her eyes as she narrowly escapes danger time and time again show a more human side to the classic hero we all know. Through it all, the game never paints her as a damsel in distress, but rather showcases the building of one of gaming's most iconic heroines.

One of these boats has to have a Band-Aid
Lara's struggle to survive the island is nothing easy, and there are subtleties to the game that really add the appropriate tension. Lara grabbing her side in pain and bracing against the wall as a player moves close to it, quieting herself when guards approach whilst cuing the player that an opportunity for stealth is ahead, or the sporadic breathing when moving carefully across a rusted ledge all bring that extra sense of peril. It is this attention to detail that not only makes Lara more sympathetic, but amplifies the overall thrilling atmosphere.

This attention to detail is not only applied to the mood, but assists in crafting a visual marvel. There is more than one instance where the game will let you look out over a cliff to your destination, and oftentimes I would forget that I could control my character with the misinterpretation that I was in a cut scene. Textures are finely detailed, and the lighting's play with shadows brings memorable moments in cave exploration where your only source of vision is the torch at your side. It is the blockbuster set pieces that bring everything together. Climbing a burning skyscraper while being fired upon by the enemy as debris and bullets fly past your head, all while backed by a fully original and very fitting soundtrack is a common occurrence that gets your heart pumping and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Where did they find a helicopter?

The campaign is an evolving adventure that plays on the unexpected. Alternating between cover shooting gunplay, scripted set pieces, and seamless platforming you never know what could be around the corner. A firefight could erupt and before you can finish everyone off, you find the platform you are on will shake and tip sideways turning into a timed platforming climb. There are consecutive upgrades and new enemy types also thrown your way, which keeps you trying new tactics and new gear in both terrain traversal and shootouts. The minor inconveniences of the campaign were the quick time events, in which the timing and display take a few attempts to adapt to. The unfortunate result of failing these is a surprisingly gruesome death sequence. I found myself striving to never miss a QTE due to this facet, as watching Lara thrash and and convulse is like transitioning from an action movie to a horror film.

The collector at heart will find that despite a linear path, Tomb Raider does not feel like a closed off string of rooms. Exploration of each area reveals plenty of collectibles, optional challenges, and even hidden tombs; assisted by the helpful "hunter vision" that highlights enemies in addition to objects of interest. These tombs offer a challenge room usually involving a physics puzzle to progress. Sadly these puzzles are fairly straight forward with only a few that actually take time to solve, and for being labeled a tomb they are awfully small. Regardless of your optional task, you are rewarded with scrap metal that can be used to upgrade weapons and unlock new secondary firing modes for most weapons. There is also a leveling system to specialize in certain skill trees, but you tend to fill out all three branches by the close of the game, missing an opportunity for the game to offer players a chance to outfit Lara to their preferred method of approach.
I must channel my inner Katniss

A competitive multiplayer is also available, featuring the expected four survivors vs four scavangers matchup. These includes deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag inspired game modes. The interesting twist in each map is the ability to rig traps for your enemies, involving various rigs that can crush your opponents or set them on fire. Slight differences between the factions like the Scavengers ability to zip up rope lines will matter little as you swap after each round; giving even time with both allegiances. The mode comes complete with unlockable characters, weapon modifications, and player loadouts. It can be fun to play around with, but feels very cookie cutter to what you have seen before.

Crystal Dynamics took a risk in going back to the beginning, but it was a risk that paid off. Tomb Raider looks and feels like the adventure game its daring heroine deserves. I found myself asking what they could do to a top a particular sequence, only to turn the corner and find one just as thrilling. Lara's new voice and look is a perfect fit for this reboot, and the attention to detail in both gameplay and look give an incredible, seamless display. Daring shootouts, frantic scrambles across collapsing structures, and relentless foes push Lara in every chapter, and you find that as her resolve strengthens, so does your determination to see her through to the end.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

EA Abandons Online Pass


EA took flak when it adopted its online pass system. The system required players to enter a code provided with the game at launch to access any online multiplayer features, a move that mandated used game connoisseurs purchase a code separately if they wished to play online.

According to Gameinformer [1], the company has now decided to do away with the system entirely. The move comes as a result of the lack of response the system was getting from players, as well as the negative feedback they received.

EA's VP of corporate communications had this to say to Gameinformer:

"There's not much to say. The online pass came out in 2010. It was a way of packaging together a suite of post-launch content and services for people. There was also an element for people who bought the game second sale. It never really caught on. People didn't like it. People told us that they didn't like it and you know, we went through a cycle and we're about to put out some new games and we just decided not to do that anymore. We're 100 percent committed to creating on-going content and services so the consumers get more value out of the game – you know games like Battlefield and FIFA where there's all sorts of new things that get added all the time – but the whole idea of packaging it up with an online pass, clearly it was not popular, so we listened to people and we stopped doing it."
Despite being voted the worst company in America [3], this move may give them a few Paragon points in the eyes of the gaming community.

[1]For the full story from Gameinformer -
[2]Image from EA official website -
[3]EA voted worst company in America, via Business Insider -

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May Releases - Running on Fumes

Highlighted Release

PS3 - Xbox 360 
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: May 28th, 2013

May slows things down considerably, but one game in particular stands out among the rest. Fuse was teased at E3 last year and has since been stripped of the comical counterpart shown as "Overstrike", for a more serious adrenaline fused 3rd person shooter.With Insomniac Games at the helm, you can be assured that the weaponry offered will be intriguing to say the least. This co-op shooter gives each player their own special ability and skill tree, which could result in a solid co-operative experience.

May 1st

May 12th

May 19th

Monday, April 15, 2013

ZombiU Review - Survival of the Fittest

Score: 7.75 / 10
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 18th, 2012

  • Revives the hesitance and caution that a survival horror game should possess
  • Gamepad works well in inventory management and map navigation
  • Healthy variety of guns and upgrades to adapt to your playstyle
  • Controls can be difficult to adapt to in the more hectic situations
  • Melee weaponry is limited to a single weapon
  • Repeating environments make the city feel a bit bland
  • Multiplayer limited to two players
ZombiU, ironically enough, revives a lot of what makes a survival horror game great. It brings the key element that makes the genre so enjoyable; hesitance. A single bite can kill you, and with zombies lurking in dark corners or roaming in packs through the streets, it becomes a game of caution as every enemy is a huge threat. Do you risk using bullets and creating noise or opt for a slower, quieter path? Do you engage the threat directly or sneak around? Do you stock up on barricades for a reinforced escape route or load up on health items? Though slumping on execution, ZombiU succeeds in creating a survival horror game filled with tension and trepidation.

Where is the nearest Home Depot?

You begin as any good apocalyptic based situation should; running for your life as zombies close in on your position, armed with nothing more than a good set of sprinting legs. Guided by an ambiguous voice known as "The Prepper" over a speaker system, your randomly chosen citizen makes it to a safehouse where you are tasked with finding a way out of the city. The overarching dilemma of escape soon becomes complicated as you cross paths with a doctor trying to cure the virus and a secret society dubbed "The Ravens of Dee". You begin to question your once solid commitment to your primary liberator, and your resulting loyalty will determine one of three possible endings. The choices feel less like actual decisions to make for completionists, but the questionable circumstance adds an indecisive trust. It's not very complex, but compelling enough, considering you embody a random character with no real backstory or speech.

The random identity you assume adds a sense of attachment. Once your character is bitten, you are down where you stand and are thrown into another distinct identity. Not only are you teleported back to the safehouse, you must also hunt your previous role down and kill yourself. It is an interesting mechanic that leaves you with an uneasy feeling as you bash your previous body's head in to retrieve your gear. Keeping your identity is not the only incentive in staying alive, as your character's once highly leveled marksmanship with weaponry will be lost upon death. Your corpse also has the possibility to appear in another players games, giving the subtle connection with the community in addition to spray painted warnings you can place on the wall.

Assuming the role of errand boy for The Prepper sets you out into different areas of the city, gathering items and slinking your way through droves of undead. Resources are precious, and simply blasting a path to your goal results in empty clips and panic. A single target on the map will indicate your goal, but the promise of stumbling upon a new weapon or finding a jackpot of medical items will have you combing through apartment buildings and suitcases to find every resource possible. Using a sewer system to fast travel between areas will have you returning to previously inaccessible territory as you gather new gear and upgrades. Objectives are pretty straight forward, and usually result in retrievals gone awry with alarms signaling undead or other events to heighten the already tense environment.

You couldn't have just used chalk?

The game works surprisingly well with the Wii-U Gamepad. Your map and inventory management is all handled on the seperate screen, using the touch screen to move items in your inventory or navigate the map to see what is ahead. A motion tracker sends out a blip on the map to detect enemies and points of interest, giving you a moment to enter a zone and plan ahead. The Gamepad is also used to scan your surroundings. Holding the controller up and looking around the room gives you the ability to scan enemies, items, and intel that can be marked on the map. Its blacklight will also show certain hidden messages that can lead to possible upgrades. With CCTV cameras opening up the map for each zone and the promise of finding loot, you find yourself using the feature quite often.

When the swarm of undead finally notice your presence, the game can get a bit hectic. While you begin fighting simple undead, eventually armored zombies or shrieking monstrosities will attract more enemies that can begin a panic. Luckily, there is a vast array of upgradeable weaponry for your preferred arsenal. Shotguns, machine guns, and the usual norm will be picked up for those who wish to be loud and sniper rifles and crossbows are available for those who prefer the long distance method. There is only a single cricket bat for melee situations, and killing one zombie takes an unsatisfying amount of time. The undead become predictable, but when a large group attacks, the click of an empty clip will make things frantic. The gamepad works well in inventory management, but during combat it can become difficult to switch weapons on the fly.

I'm out of bullets!...guess...guess I'll used that stuffed animal

A multiplayer mode is also included, but is limited to two players LAN. It's humans vs zombies in a capture point based game, with four scattered points on a map. One player acts as the zombie king, using the Gamepad to disperse forces against the human, upgrading to more formidable zombies as the game progresses. The human player has a set loadout of weaponry and must stave off the waves of undead while defending and capturing points, picking up powerups to stem the tide. It's a hectic situation for the human, and a manically enjoyable one for the zombie king as his zombies overwhelm the human's hold on a beacon. Though fun, the promise of adding a few more players to the fray would have extended the life of the experience.

ZombiU has its faults, but the overall survival horror experience was reminiscent of what the genre used to be. Limited resources, the reluctance of entering dark rooms, and the hectic fear that every zombie is as dangerous as the last keeps the game interesting. It makes great use of the gamepad in exploration and inventory management. The difficulties and issues with the controls and other faults may hold the game back from greatness, but as it stands, this ended up being my favorite launch title for the Wii-U.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April Releases - Hutts, Heroes, and Hellions

Highlighted Release

Injustice: Gods Among Us
PS3 - Xbox 360 - Wii-U 
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
Release Date: April 16th, 2013

April looks to finally give us a breather from big name titles, but Injustice: Gods Among Us looks to be the sleeper hit everyone could use this month. Bringing all the big names of the DC universe and throwing them into a Mortal Kombat inspired format seems like the formula for a great game. The fights that have been shown thus far show power behind every hit, a detail that fans can appreciate, and the potential for a story that could actually prove interesting and provide meaning behind all the beatings. It has been a while since a good fighting game has come about, and Injustice looks like the perfect title to break the trend.

April 1st

April 16th

April 23rd

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Beautiful Lie

There have been a substantial amount of cinematic trailers lately, each drawing my attention toward a different game. The Elder Scrolls Online showcased a particularly acrobatic archer, throwing his sword in the air to disperse three soldiers before catching it to finish a fourth. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm's introduction presented a brilliant battle as a swarm of Zerg decimate a last stand of Terran forces. These trailers are always entertaining, brilliantly polished, and serve as a testament of quality to a game. That is when I realized something:

The actual game will never capture the feel of that cinematic.

That is not to say the game will be terrible or fail to offer such opportunities as showcased, but even at the highest possible level of play I will not feel like the character in the trailer. The archer that swiftly decimates a group of solders, will most likely stand in place shuffling between a set number of animations. The Starcraft battle of Zerg and Terran will not be a heart driven last stand, but become a brief explosive meeting in which each unit vibrantly fades into nothing.

My biggest personal experience with this discouragement was with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Prior to the game's release, a teaser trailer showcased a Sith taking down an entire star destroyer using only the force. I had never seen anything like that in the franchise history and was genuinely excited to experience it in-game. I purchased my copy, reached that pivotal moment, and was met with utter disappointment. The sequence was frustrating, tie fighters continually broke your connection, and the second you let go the ship magically plopped back to its original orbit. I was not the powerful, intimidating figure that was painted for me in the cinematic trailer, but a fumbling Jedi incapable of multitasking.
My focus needs more focus!
I blame much of this lowered expectation on something you would never expect; movie trailers. When you see a trailer for a movie it discloses the characters, small snippits of the plot, and general high points of the film. It essentially takes an hour and fourty-five minutes of film and deludes it to a two minute snapshot meant to entice you to purchase a ticket. The big difference is that what you see in a movie trailer will likely appear on the big screen, while cinematic trailers in gaming rarely allow you the participate in the epic battles they display or perform the elegant movements illustrated. You may bump into a few recognizable characters or walk through the same location, but the sense of familiarity typically ends there.

Part of this is due to the way these cinematic trailers are created. Square Enix, for example, is known for their lavish cinematics for Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, and the more recent Tomb Raider. Their internal studio, Visual Works, is the team responsible for this - taking the ideas and direction from the development team and turning into a visual representation of the final product. It's a similar process for other studios as well (Diablo III, SwtoR). Different parts of a studio or third party entrants will come in, look at the game, take everything into consideration, and craft their vision. The video below gives you a more in-depth look at their process:

So aside from the unrealistic notion of a cinematic trailer becoming gameplay anytime soon, what have developers done that has alleviated this predicament for me?

That would be the most common gaming adaptation of them all; quicktime events. Overlaying button prompts has become a practical norm nowadays, and I have always envisioned them as interactive cinematic scenes. God of War was the first experience I had with this, and a memorable one at that. Vigorously tapping the circle button vaguely mimicked the effort my spartan was putting into reeling a Hydra head closer and closer before slamming it into the deck. Though still lacking the flair of the cinematic, it's as close as one can get to feeling a sense of control as your character performs feats normally inaccessible to your standard movement.
I will defeat you, Hydra. I'm tapping as hard as I can!

Cinematic trailers have become more impressive with each generation of consoles, and despite my inability to mimic their unique feeling in-game, it is hard to be too bitter about it. The sole purpose of a cinematic trailer is to reel the viewer in while giving an "idea" of what the game will offer, and stands as physical evidence of the hard work and dedication going into the development of the title on all fronts. Sure, I may not be able to recreate an archer quite as cool as the one in the trailer, but that is perfectly alright if the overall quality reflects what went into making him so awesome in the first place. For now, I will simply bask in the beauty and professionalism put into these amazing teasers of what is to come...even if they turn out to be a lie.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

March Releases - Cities in Land, Sky, and LEGO

Highlighted Release

Bioshock: Infinite
PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC 
Developer: Irrational Games, 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: March 26th, 2013

Without a doubt, the most anticipated title for the month has to be Bioshock: Infinite. With the same team from the original game at the wheel, you can expect great results. Screens and trailers alone showcase a captivating world to explore, intense shootouts, and some of the most powerful vocal performances to ever grace a game. Everything is in place for Bioshock: Infinite to become a potential game of the year.

March 5th

March 12th

March 19th

March 26th

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Assassin's Creed III Review - Freedom Fighters

Score: 8.75 / 10
Assassin's Creed III
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC- WiiU
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: October 31st, 2012

  • The most visually polished Assassin Creed to date
  • Naval combat is infinitely satisfying
  • Movement and platforming tweaks provide seamless transitions
  • A perfect snapshot of the American Revolution
  • Technical glitches hamper some aspects of the game
  • An ending with more questions than answers
  • Frustrating chase sequences
  • Slow to start

Assassin Creed may be an annual release but they always perfect one aspect; capturing a time period to the finest detail. Crowds of citizens, architectural marvels, even the manner of dialogue are the closest thing you can get to a time machine. I have crept through the crowded markets of Damascus, steered boats through the Grand Canal in Venice, and even battled in the Colosseum of Rome. Now with the third installment, Ubisoft has brought the marvels a little closer to home with the American Revolution. Battles and iconic figures I only read about in grade school are suddenly brought to life. Ubisoft not only allows you to participate in these events, but assist in bringing about the birth of a nation.
This will not end well

You pick up where the last game left off, with the overarching story of Desmond and his war with the Templars. A now conscious Desmond, Rebecca, Shaun, and Desmond's father make their way to a temple that houses the tool to preventing the apocalypse. The path is blocked, and in order to reveal the location of the key Desmond hops back into the past as Conner, a Native-American who gets caught up in the Templar-Assassin war when his village is destroyed. The plot bounces between the two stories, but with four games under Desmond's belt, his proves to be the weaker of the two. The few twists and turns through Conner's tale were welcome surprises, and the parallels of the father-son relationships over both time periods were intriguing; but the abrupt ending will leave you scratching your head as to where the franchise could go from here.

The open world of Assassin's Creed 3 is a spectacle in and of itself. Over the years the games have looked better and better, and without a doubt this is the most visually stunning title in the franchise. Lush forests, snowy hilltops, and bustling cities entice you to stop and smell the roses once in a while. It is a world where even when I turn the game off, it still feels alive and breathing. The original soundtrack adds a lot to the game, enhancing the beauty around you or the sense of urgency in an action packed mission. From fantastic animation and mocap to the natural appeal of the voice cast, this is one glorious setting that will tempt you to explore every corner of the free world.

My arms are tired but MAN is that pretty

Like previous titles you open with Desmond, but soon dive into your ancestry through the use of the animus. The game is slower to start than previous titles, and you do not assume the expected role of Conner for a good few hours. It was a bit of a damper, but the latter half of the game is what makes Assassin's Creed so hypnotically enjoyable. You can follow the typical path of sticking to your main mission and working to knock out templars one by one, but the insane amount of side content will beckon you off the main questline for a bit of fun. The most intriguing of these is the naval combat, offering ship battles that are so stunning in presentation that they rarely lessen in satisfaction. Everything ranging from crafting, side missions, hunting, viewpoints, and so much more offer a huge checklist for the most diehard of collectors.

Actual story missions do not stray far from the expected. You have the conventional tailing objectives, platforming objectives, and assassinations leading up to the big expected kill at the end of the sequence. Some interesting moments involving historic battles like the Battle at Bunker Hill or the Boston Tea Party are gratifying, but nothing beyond mission structure of the previous AC games are present. I expected a bit more in terms of the jump from the second game to an official "third" game. Chase missions in particular are no stranger to this franchise, but for some reason prove irritating in this installment. One such mission had me chasing a soldier in circles, leaving me feeling like Wiley Coyote tailing the Road Runner. Even the final mission's chase sequence was so frustrating in execution that it put a huge damper on Conner's closing sequence.

Combat and movement have been tweaked and after four years, the game feels familiar, albeit sleeker than ever. Transitions while platforming are much more precise, and Conner can move and snake his way through a crowd with ease. He now automatically posts up against corners for a perfect view when remaining stealthy. When things get less stealthy, opponents are a little less straight forward than they use to be, forming firing lines and becoming less open to attack. Your arsenal has been updated to handle these situations with such items as the rope dart to string up enemy patrols or my favorite technique of grabbing a soldier to use as a human shield before being fired upon. 

I hope winter comes soon cause this white is not very stealthy

Multiplayer also makes its return. The traditional contract assassination missions prove as enjoyable as ever, with the return of a few team modes. It would be nice to have an even playing field for some of the new players, but rest assured that the high level characters have a distinct advantage in their arsenal. New modes include Wolfpack, in which two teams work together to take out NPCs within a time limit and Domination where you have to have to control certain areas. Regardless it is the classic contract killing mode that remains one of the most underestimated multiplayer modes in gaming, and can be incredibly fun if you are willing to give it a chance.

There is something spellbinding about the Assassin's Creed franchise, and few downfalls aside...this is one stellar entry into the series. The numerous collectibles and side content offer plenty to explore, but it's the perfect snapshot of the American Revolution that makes the game so intriguing. Bugs and dampers aside, I walked away from ACIII simultaneously pleased and curious as to where the franchise is headed.