Tag Archives: Tomb Raider

Red Dead Redemption and Just Cause 2 Review

I bought myself a few new games recently and as some people have said they find my reviews a touch on the long side, this time I’m trying something a little different. So please enjoy some slighter shorter reviews of not just one but two games.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is a game published by makers of the GTA series Rockstar Studios, with Red Dead being the game the team worked on between GTV IV and V. The story is set in the American Old West as you play as John Marston a man betrayed and forced to work for the US government. It is an open world game unsurprisingly reminiscent of the GTA franchise, you’ll even come across a couple of mechanics that would go onto appear in GTV V.

Speaking of mechanics, being set in the Wild West means there’s a few things to get used to, mainly riding a horse. You soon pick it up and but it takes some practice, you can’t just hold down or hammer a button, over work your horse and it’ll throw you off. I approve of Rockstar’s choice to implement a fast travel feature as unlike driving in GTA riding a horse a long distance in Red Dead can become a touch boring.

However one mechanic I’m less happy with is that of the cattle herding, now this is something you have to do about 4-5 times in the entire story, but the problem is the AI for the cows is almost too good, despite you’re best efforts they always wander off. While this was now doubt put it to improve the Wild West feel of the game it never sat well with me as it took longer than it should to complete and somewhat broke the flow of the game. This is certainly an action game, if you go straight to one mission to the next you’ll discover Red Dead to be a fast paced and thrilling adventure.

One of the stand-out features of this game however links back to something I mentioned in my Assassins Creed: Black Flag review: it’s incredibly immersive, when you’re riding around on a horse and stumble across an abandoned town you genuinely start to feel like a bit of a cowboy. Frankly that’s one of the best things a game can do, instead of feeling like you’re disconnected from the world and pressing buttons you actually feel like you’re part of that world.

Now I know some of you might be thinking, this sounds a lot like a GTA game with a Wild West skin placed on top. That’s not the case, the two series are very distinct from one another, Red Dead leans more toward exploration than the ability to cause chaos. Secondly you should remember that both games are made by the same company using the same engine so of course they’ll be a little bit of crossover between the two. If you still think it is the case then I ask you this, is that so bad? Red Dead Redemption is of the same level of quality and polish as a GTA game and yet is just a little bit of something different and I think that’s some good praise for a game to receive.

They may have only strayed a little from their comfort zone but Rockstar have proved they aren’t just a one trick pony, if you’re done with GTA but want a game of a similar standard and gameplay you can jump right into, look no further than Red Dead Redemption.

Score: 70/100

Just Cause 2

In the last few years gaming has been doing it hardest to improve its image in the eyes of the world, giving us games with deep and meaningful stories such as the The Last of Us. Now this is something I completely approve of, however most if not all gamers deep down also have a desire to just have fun and mess around and this is where Just Cause 2 comes in.

The game’ story (if you can call it one) revolves around Rico Rodriguez an agent working for ‘The Agency’ he must travel to the fictional South Eastern Asian island of Panau to overthrow its dictator. That it really about it, but this is not a game you go into for its story, even the developers seem to be aware of this as in the game only the first two missions are compulsory, everything else is entirely optional. Speaking of missions there’s a fair few of them but they aren’t mind-blowing and become repetitive very fast, usually centred around destroy this area or assassinate this person.

Perhaps one of the most interesting mechanics this game has to offer is the combination of the parachute and grappling hook you are equipped with. Not only can the grappling hook be used as both a short and long range weapon, allowing you to yank snipers out of their nests from a distance, a surprisingly satisfying thing. You can also use it to climb buildings and using the parachute as well the hook becomes a slingshot of shorts allowing you a whole new way to travel long distances. Inside these features lies the true heart of this game, something which some games have forgotten: have fun doing crazy things. The ability to tether two objects together allows you to do whatever you want. Can I attach a 4X4 to a 747 yes you can, can I then jump out of the plane and attach myself to the 4X4 in mid-air, YES you actually can.

As someone who’s played and enjoyed GTA V I’d begun to wonder if I’d got everything out of the whole, ‘here’s an open world do what you like’ experience. But I was wrong, fundamentally GTA’s world revolves around the story and its characters whereas Just Cause 2 revolves around causing chaos, that’s even the aim, you need to cause chaos by destroying stuff to unlock later missions. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, like I said I enjoy getting lost in a game’s story but every so often is nice not to be tied down to a story and have freedom to do as you like.

I feel I must mention this game has a few rough edges, it’s one of the most glitchy games I’ve played in a while with a few leading me to have to restart the system and lose progress. The second big rough edge, the driving. With games like these driving is very much not the main point of the game so you’re never going to get Gran Turismo levels of quality. But this is somewhat below my expectations, the steering is almost completely unresponsive at speed and due to some slightly wonky physics hard braking can launch the car into a roll. Admittedly most of the time this makes the game more entertaining, however the few missions where driving is key it does begin to become a greater issue.

Let my end by saying, despite what sounds like an overly negative review, I don’t think this is a bad game it just perhaps lacks the polish of big games like Red Dead Redemption and Tomb Raider. Thankfully as this game is a few years old it can now be picked up used for around a 1/3 its original price, and I think that makes it good value.

It may not be up there with the AAA games in terms of quality, but if you go into Just Cause 2 expecting a fun and crazy world with limitless options, it’ll pay you back a hundred times over.

Score: 53/100

 

Well that’s that, hopefully my next review will be Batman: Arkham City not sure when that’ll be up so just follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with all my articles. (@AnotherGmgBlog)

Feedback is welcomed concerning the new review format, would you like me to go back to long reviews or do you prefer shorter ones?

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Tomb Raider (2013) Review

It’s been a while, but I’m happy to be writing another review. Even before I started playing Tomb Raider there was a lot riding on it, this was my first new game in a while and I was a desperate to find a game to somewhat fill the void left by Uncharted. Did it deliver? Let’s find out.

I shall briefly outline the plot, we find Lara Croft and friends stranded on the mysterious island of Yamatai, an island dominated by storms making escape impossible and forcing Lara to discover its secrets. Perhaps the most significant fact about this game’s narrative is that it is set during a time in which Lara Croft has yet to become the famous Tomb Raider and the player sees her forced to adapt to events of the island and being the journey to becoming that infamous heroine. It is also worth noting a number of people believe this plot could be used if the Tomb Raider film franchise also gets a reboot in future.

I will begin be addressing something of the elephant in the room, a criticism often levelled at this game, is essentially a reskin of Uncharted. The opposite is even true to a point, during its development Uncharted was rather affectionately nicknamed ‘Dude Raider’. Now I’m not going to try and argue that similarities don’t exist between the two games, I’ll admit a few sequences in Tomb Raider got me thinking, this reminds me of Uncharted. The most obvious example being the now almost cliché, walking on a bridge/platform and part of it breaks putting you in danger sequence. However this fact shouldn’t be used to devalue the achievements of Square Enix, the similarities exist as both games sit with the action-adventure genre, which many will argue that Uncharted helped bring back into the spotlight, thus tropes of the genre are almost guaranteed to appear in both series. Want more proof? Recent footage of the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End shows for the first time Nathan Drake equipped with a grappling hook, while admittedly not present in the Square Enix iteration the grappling hook has been a long standing feature of the Tomb Raider franchise.

However if you dig a little deeper into Tomb Raider you’ll start to realise there are stark differences compared to Uncharted. First and foremost is the sense of depth of the game as a whole. Don’t get me wrong I love Uncharted but it’s somewhat difficult to argue it as little more as a run and gun platforming game. I feel that the sense of depth comes from the more open and exploratory nature of Tomb Raider versus the somewhat linear progression of Uncharted. If you want to look for them there are albeit not very well hidden ‘secret tombs’ in Tomb Raider not to the extent of previous instalments of the franchise but they’re there. Testament to this is the fact that even with a pretty decent amount of exploring I finished the story with only 61% completion, if you want it there’s more to do in Tomb Raider than meets the eye. Speaking of tombs, I will just briefly touch on the puzzle elements of this game. Puzzles played a major role in the original Tomb Raider series as well as the first reboot beginning with Tomb Raider: Legend. Conversely the 2013 iteration lacks puzzles in the traditional sense, instead going for a more lateral thinking approach. Basically the answer of open a door is not hidden, it’s in plain sight you just have to approach it in the right way. A great example is at one point having to move a hook around overhead lines to open a door. You start thinking, if I pull it over there does that mean I will be able to get it back over there?. I should stress these are often rather simple and people with the right sort of mind will solve it in two seconds, it’s just another little thing adding to the overall depth of Tomb Raider. The ‘secret tombs’ do help to increase this game’s puzzle credentials, I’m very much glad they’re a feature as it shows despite being a reboot the developers haven’t forgot the heritage of the Tomb Raider franchise. Although this is one area that is perhaps in need of expansion in the sequel.

Secondly (this is an area I normally don’t discuss) the character development is another clear difference between the two. Playing Tomb Raider really put Uncharted into perspective to me, looking back Nathan Drake as a character seems a little shallow, known mainly for just witty remarks and sarcasm. Contrast this with the Tomb Raider-in training we have with Lara Croft, this might just be me or it might just be good storytelling but it really felt that as the game progressed so did Lara, she became battle hardened, in fact to quote the final image of the game, “A Survivor is Born”. There is also a much greater sense of progression in Tomb Raider, it managed to do the thing every good game does, just when you think you’ve mastered everything it chucks a new mechanic or weapon to keep you on your toes. Compare this to Uncharted, which to my mind had little if no progression of this kind. Frankly my only example is learning to throw back grenades about half way through Uncharted 3 and honestly that’s such a major combat mechanic I think it should have been there from the start.

That rather nicely brings me on to my next segment, let’s look at some of the gameplay mechanics in more detail. Firstly we’ll start with ‘Survival Instincts’ tap L2 or equivalent at any point and the world turns black and white with key objects that you need glowing, it will also show you a compass point marking where you need to go. From what I’ve seen two major criticisms have been levelled at it. Firstly it appears to be a blatant copy of Assassin’s Creed’s ‘Eagle Vision’ and secondly the compass mark shouldn’t be in an adventure game because they should be about exploring and finding out the way by yourself. My response to this? Well first I’d say if it really bothers you don’t use it, unlike ‘Eagle Vision’ it’s not a necessary part of the game, it’s simply there to aid you if needed. Furthermore I don’t think it’s the worst thing for one developer to be inspired by another, Square Enix is basically saying to Ubisoft, well done we like your idea. Otherwise what would’ve happened is the developers would have been so obsessed with distancing themselves from established mechanics that their new mechanic would be something that probably wouldn’t work and would just annoy you. Secondly the compass issue, yes it does somewhat go against the spirit of the genre, but let’s look at this practically, one of the worst things I feel that can happen in any game is that you have no idea where to go next and you’re just stuck going in circles, features like this just give you a nudge in the right direction so you never end up in that situation.

Next up we come to the ‘Salvage’ system. Salvage is the system used to upgrade your weapons throughout the game, for example it may cost 200 salvage to upgrade your pistol to improve its accuracy. Salvage is gained through the looting of corpses and the breaking of boxes scattered around the map. In theory bar one occasion you don’t have to do this, however if you don’t you’ll also miss the chance to collect weapon parts which allow you to completely overhaul and improve your weapon. Secondly it helps to inject a sense of exploration into the game, furthermore the perfect balance was found with the position of extra boxes, not so close that you don’t have to stray from the game’s main path and yet not so far that you think, I really can’t be bothered going all that way. For me collecting in games can be very hit and miss, the charm and aesthetic of LEGO games means I found collecting in those games fun and not in any way a chore. In most other games however, Uncharted included I don’t really bother as doing it often serves little purpose beyond gaining achievements. Thus I think it should be seen as proof of quality that this game got me obsessed with exploring and collecting. It is worth nothing that footage of this game’s upcoming sequel Rise of The Tomb Raider shown at E3 2015, highlighted that the salvage system has been expanded into a full crafting system meaning particular items are needed for a particular purpose, i.e. leaves are needed as part of a health pack, something to look forward to perhaps.

Lastly we have the ’Skill Point’ system, of course this is nothing new to anyone whose played an RPG but a rare thing in a game of this genre. As you gain experience points through general progression and particular manoeuvres you gain skill points to ‘spend’ on a particular area. This is a welcome addition as it allows you to tailor Lara to suit your style, if you’re an explorer pick the upgrades that increase the XP or salvage you get. This also helps to contribute to the great sense of progression in the game, early on there is effectively no melee combat, all you have is the ability to dodge attacks. But if you spend your points right you can create a more melee focused Lara, allowing you to deliver timed attacks to stun enemies to be followed up with a melee ‘finisher’.

To stop this review sounding incredibly unbalanced I will mention one albeit incredibly minor criticism. I have never liked the fact that in 2 out of the 3 Uncharted games the final boss is basically a sequence of quick-time events. I prefer a more traditional boss battle in which you have a big enemy with lots of life that you have to kill in a small area testing all your skills. Did Tomb Raider deliver? Well sort of, I won’t spoil it but the penultimate fight in the game is a ‘traditional’ boss battle which then leads into the final boss which is once again mainly quick time events. My compliant? I wish those two fights were swapped round, the sense of satisfaction I got after a pretty gruelling battle during the penultimate fight made me feel I’d really been tested, I was then slightly annoyed that the final fight wasn’t much of a test at all. But as you can see this this is a very minor criticism in an otherwise nearly perfect game, and for all I know maybe a QTE final boss in just another trope of the action adventure genre…

Now sadly I’ve reached both the end of the game and this review, one of my best gaming experiences in a long while, from now on I’ll just be praying for Rise of the Tomb Raider to get its release date and perhaps even a rumoured PS3 release. Although if Rise turns out even half as good as the first it may be time to invest in a PS4.

Updates: As mentioned in my previous article, I did make an appearance on the One Track Gamers Podcast, talking a little about Tomb Raider and just having a fun discussion about games in general, give that a listen at www.onetrackgamers.com

As far is the blog is concerned, currently unsure what my next review will be. Although I do have a couple ideas for some other articles that may appear in the coming weeks so keep an eye of my Twitter (@AnotherGmgBlog) for details of those.

Tomb Raider is back, and it has managed to reclaim the crown of best action-adventure game, the ball is in your court Mr Drake… An absolute must-play, if you own a current or last gen console pick up a copy now.

93/100