A Geeky Review- Tomb Raider

Every once in a while a game comes along that completely reaffirms my love of gaming. The recent reboot of Tomb Raider is one of those games. I had expected great things from Lara Croft‘s “rebirth” but what I got was quite a lot more awesome than I had planned. Tomb Raider is a near perfect game from start to finish and will leave you wanting more from our heroine, Lara, who finally got the game she deserves.

Through the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Tomb Raider franchise. Being a female myself I was instantly smitten with the idea of controlling an intelligent female protagonist. Despite her extremely short-shorts and well endowed chest, Lara had credibility as a dual gun wielding action/adventurer who became an icon in the “boys club” of memorable video game characters. Unfortunately for Lara, she was always kind of one-dimensional and through the years lacked character development and was slowly forgotten as her male counterparts progressed and became multi-dimensional.

As we moved into the current generation of consoles I hadn’t given Lara much thought, that is until I started playing Uncharted Drake’s Fortune. Not only did I think, this is the game Tomb Raider should have become, Uncharted finally succeeded in giving me the female video game character I’ve been seeking. While Elena Fisher is not Uncharted’s lead, she has become as beloved as our hero and main man Drake. All of Uncharted’s characters were created with love and depth as was the gripping cinematic quality to the franchises stories. I largely credit this with Naughty Dog’s, Amy Hennig, who is the main creative director and writer to the Uncharted series.

Amy Hennig is a legend in the games industry and previously worked for, Crystal Dynamics. As you may or may not know Crystal Dynamics took over development of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2003 and are also responsible for the current reboot of Tomb Raider. At one point during her time at Crystal Dynamics, Hennig wanted to reboot Tomb Raider but the task was given to someone else. Hennig eventually left Crystal Dynamics and joined Naughty Dog, and a legendary series was born. In a recent interview Hennig has stated that she was disappointed she didn’t get the opportunity to revive Tomb Raider. However, I feel Ms. Hennig is largely responsible for Lara’s growth as its apparent Crystal Dynamics took more than a few pointers from her groundbreaking Uncharted series.

When we first meet the new Lara Croft, we find a young woman and recent archeology graduate about to embark on her first expedition to the Yamatai island in the Dragon’s Triangle which is off the coast of Japan. It’s here that an unsure girl will be forced to overcome a bevy of trials and tribulations that will mold Lara into the iconic heroine the character has earned.

Lara and her crew set off to explore the mysterious Yamatai and the legend of its queen known as Himiko or “Sun Queen”. Legend has it Himiko had shamanistic powers in which she could control the weather. A storm is what sets off events of the adventure which leaves the crew torn apart and stranded on the strange island that is inhabited by the Solari Brotherhood, a dangerous and violent cult. Throughout Tomb Raider’s campaign an interesting and well written story unfolds but I would be doing you a disservice to elaborate on events that are responsible in transforming a young Lara who is unsure of herself into a fledgling hero, poised to take the reigns of the Tomb Raider franchise.

Not only does Lara’s character develop throughout the game, her abilities are honed as well. Early on, when you are required to walk across a narrow beam, Lara is cautious and almost clumsy about it, but later she expertly finds herself able to cross similar scenarios with ease and confidence. When Lara is forced to kill for the first time, it’s an emotional moment you won’t forget and expertly conveyed by Lara’s voice actor, Camilla Ludington.

Initially I played Tomb Raider on the 360, but I recently scored a free PC copy through a promotion with AMD Radeon when I replaced my video card with one of theirs. The graphics of the 360 version looks great but the PC version is stunningly beautiful. AMD created a cool little feature for the PC version called TressFX Hair, and let me tell you Lara’s hair looks fabulous! If you have a rig that will run Tomb Raider on Ultra settings, I highly recommend the PC version. However if you are interested in the multiplayer portion I’d go with a console version as the PC community seems to have less interest in MP for this game than console fans do.

Speaking of MP I’ve mostly enjoyed it, which is a good thing as it was recently announced that for now, any planned DLC for Tomb Raider will be Multiplayer based. I do so hope Crystal Dynamics changes their mind on this because I would love some more single player Tomb Raider even if it’s just a few new tombs to explore.

Tomb Raider is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It was developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. I can’t recommend this game enough, it is truly an epic experience. Look out The Last Of Us and Bioshock Infinite, a “contender is born”.

Gears of War: Judgement – Review

gears of war judgement flag

Gears of War: Judgement is the newest edition to the Gears family and is set before the events of the trilogy, following the events directly after Emergence Day. It follows Kilo squad which is the home of Baird and Cole from the original games as well as introducing two new people, Paduk and Sofia. All of whom you will play as during the campaign learning about each character as they tell their testimony through game progression.

Being an avid Gears fan having followed the story from the beginning in Aspho Fields during the Pendulum Wars to the end in Azura, it was nice to be able to play and see what happened with some of the characters before they were the saviors we expected. Having said that I know I may seem biased and that I will not be giving a fair review, but this game has quite a few downfalls so hear me out. I will keep this as spoiler free as possible.

GoW Kilo Squad

What I liked about this game is that you have options for how the campaign will play out. You play as all four characters learning about their experiences while chasing down Karn, the antagonist in this game. But while you are doing this there are what is being deemed “declassified missions” where you will use different weapons or the enemies will be given different weapons, they can also be made harder or come in larger groups, there are also a few declassified missions where your vision or health regeneration is impaired to ramp up the difficulty. The reason this is cool is because the game plays as an interactive narrative while the squad tells their testimony in court so the “declassified missions” are allegations that would have otherwise been omitted. Though this serves no real purpose, it feels like a cool add-on.

Also they have included what feels like DLC for Gears 3 called “Aftermath” which is a small set of missions set in Gears 3 time and it has you playing as Baird with Cole and Carmine in a squad. They go in search of a boat and backup for their landing in Azura and decide to seek Paduk back in Halvo bay. This was a nice glimpse into what was unknown and looked over in 3 and is appreciated from both a fan and consumer stand point as it was not paid DLC, even though you can tell that was its original purpose.

Something else I like is that the weapons have been slightly redone so they feel more evenly powered, the first one that comes to mind is the sawed-off. In Gears 3, the sawed-off was introduced as a super powerful one shot weapon that will do maximum damage at very close range. While this is accurate I never felt like it was quite right until I got a hold of it in Judgement, it has been redone and now offers two shots while still feeling super powerful at a close range.

The new Overrun mode in the multiplayer is awesome, I love objective based multiplayer where you jockey with a team for control over something tangible. Also the new Survival mode is fun as hell, it is pretty much horde mode in Overrun and now that I have said that I feel a bit cheated.

So in this new iteration in the franchise there have been a rather large number of changes. The major of which (at least for me) is that the four weapon system is now gone so you only have a primary and secondary instead of being able to equip three guns and grenades. While grenades are still there, the third gun being taken away feels wrong. Though many people probably never got around to really using the pistol that was equipped it just feels wrong not to have it there. The game seems to make up for this by offering more ammo especially if the declassified mission you accept has the locusts using COG weapons then ammo is plentiful.

A few of the multiplayer modes have been removed as part of the changes like Horde and Beast mode. While Gears feels (to me) to have really defined the Horde mode I cannot seem to wrap my mind around why it is not included in the game, this mode has been one of the most influential from Gears and not having it in this game just seems, wrong. Since Gears 3 had introduced an awesome new mode that lets you play as the locust against AI COG opponents we all kind of expected to have it included with the new game, I even expected it to be better since most games upgrade with new versions being released. Overrun mode does let you play as the locust and break the fortifications and all that but it just does not have that same awesome feel that beast mode did.

One major downfall for the game is that it feels terribly short. While the Gears franchise is not exactly known for having super long campaign play, this just felt exceptionally short. While you play through the testimony of the Gears depicting what happened leading up to the court hearing, you catch up to modern time entirely too fast and the game ends shortly after.

Another issue I have is the character choice. Paduk and Sofia do not resonate with me what-so-ever, not that they feel tacked on or added in as fluffer to make to story longer or anything, they just seem temporary and like the relationship just does not matter. You play through each person and get to know them and their agenda (Paduk is an ex-UIR soldier and Sofia is an Onyx Guard cadet) and while that is a good aspect for the narrative and fits it well, you cannot really connect with them knowing that they have no other place in the storyline outside of this particular game.

My personal most hated thing about the game was that they included new enemies. While it was good seeing the Kryll again since it was dated before the lightmass bombing, I felt that adding new enemies did not fit into the series well because it raises questions such as “Well where were they in the other games?” and “How were those specific types killed off?” The new additions did add a bit more variety and that was fine but from a purist view I cannot justify their existence in this universe as there is no answer to the questions posed.

The main enemy you chase after is named Karn, as we learn from Paduk he is a very powerful and feared general of the locusts. But his great power is never actually shown, he is seen commanding a few groups of locusts but his destruction is hidden so he just seems like some guy riding a big bug. There are a few more issues I have with the addition of Karn but I want this to be spoiler free so I will just leave it at where it is for now.

I actually have a bit of a large probelm with Sofia. Before I delve into that though I would like to preface it with the fact that the person writing the Gears games and books, Karen Traviss, did not pen this one and boy does it show. The story throughout the games has been overlapping and arcing to show you what happened in older more important times as well as present day so you know what is going on when old battles or hardships are referenced. The characters always feel real with their distinct personalities and you can level with them on a few levels.

Judgement however, is not like that. Judgement was penned by two new guys and it shows, it shows in a bad way. The always hilarious and level-headed Cole was mostly silent until you played his testimony and even then he just did not feel like the same guy, he just seemed dry and unattached, almost broody. Baird, known for his razor tongue and quick sarcasm was more friendly and cheerful, that just is not the Baird we all know and love/hate. Then we have Sofia. Rather than incorporate one of the already established female characters (Anya, Bernie, Sam) the writers chose to go with a new conventionally attractive red-head who wears a skin-tight black catsuit under her armor; unlike Anya, Sam, and Bernie in Gears 3, Sofia does not cover much of her lower body with pockets or accoutrements, so the player gets a nice view of just how tight her pants are.

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The most notable thing about this feisty red head is not her looks but that she is an inexperienced cadet that always seems to be needing a talking-to from another character. Everyone else in the game outranks her, out-ages her, and outweighs her by well more than half and yet she still tries to make her naive opinions heard. This theme continues up until the last lines of the game, which I will not give away.

Gears are meant to be strong and resolved in their actions and she just seems out-of-place constantly being corrected and letting her emotions get in her way, this is not what women Gears are meant to be. It is demonstrated that she has a history of letting her emotions get in the way, in the campaign you find yourself tracking down something to help with your objective that leads you to the mansion of one of her old professors whom had a crush on her even though he was married and had kids. Anyway so everyone gets into the mansion and find the professor dead which sounds like it would be a cinematic moment for Sofia right? Wrong! Not even a little bit, it is like there is a scene missing or something, she just moved on with no care to the man’s demise. Maybe the writers were trying to show that she can be tough and not as cliche as she seems but they missed the mark by not acknowledging it at all after the lead-in. Or maybe we are just supposed to believe that she is now interested in someone else, perhaps an older man in the squad, perhaps Paduk.

Without getting into a complete diatribe over the whole situation, I dislike this premise because it is so very cliche, woman with a troubled past falls for squad-mate whom she is not supposed to be with blah blah blah. This feels like a step backward. Gears of War 3 gave multiple women guns, agency, and personality. Gears of War: Judgment gives its one woman a gun, an old lover who seemed like a jerk, a new lover who seems like a jerk as well, and then … off-screen torture, fade to black. All in a pair of sexy, skin-tight pants. I don’t expect that much of my military shooters, but Gears 3 had knocked the bar up a few notches. Judgment failed to meet the level that its predecessor set. Had Judgment included at least one other woman (or more!), Sofia’s hackneyed story-line might have stuck out less. I have no issue with women being sexualized in games, that is a certain style that people like including myself on occasion. But Gears is not the place for that.

Okay moving away from the sexism and cliche’s to a final verdict! Overall I would say I like Judgement, I had fun playing the short campaign and plan on playing through it again on Insane and playing the multiplayer for a while as well. If you are interested in the story then it is a solid buy, if you are only kind of interested then wait until it drops to the $30 price.

A Geeky Review- Bioshock Infinite (No Spoilers)

I’ve been anticipating the release of Bioshock Infinite for quite some time. Often when I place such high regards on a game, I’m disappointed. It’s not necessarily the games fault either but rather the unrealistic bar I set for it.

Bioshock Infinite arrived in my life shortly after midnight on Tuesday March 26. The next 48 hours would be filled with sleep deprivation and obsession. Seriously, I played Bioshock Infinite every chance I could and when I wasn’t playing, it’s all I could think about. Even upon completing my first play through my mind has been swimming with thoughts of what I experienced in Bioshock Infinite.

I recently started my second playthrough. I often play games more than once, rarely immediately after completing it for the first time. Bioshock Infinite is darn near perfect. A bold statement I know but I’d even go as far as saying it just might be the best game I’ve ever played. I’m haunted by events that took place in Bioshock Infinite. The game takes place in a fictional 1912 but presents the player with social commentary that could be applied to present day events.

It’s also worth mentioning that the poignant story is not presented with a heavy hand. If you game for the sole purpose of escapism, Bioshock Infinite also has much to offer in the ways of fun gameplay, gorgeous graphics and intriguing characters. The heart of the story is the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth. Both characters will go down as some of the most memorable gaming has to offer. The fact that Elizabeth is non-playable never deters from her charm. And for once the tag along NPC character you must look after, isn’t a thorn in your side. In fact at times Elizabeth is downright useful and never gets in the way.

It’s difficult to fully discuss the events of Bioshock Infinite without being spoilerific, so I won’t even try. I think it would be a crime having this game spoiled in even the slightest. I implore every player of this game to stop and think about the ending before judging it. I myself played the last part which is largely cutscenes a few times before I was fully able to process what just happened.

Hidden clues are found amongst the voxophone recordings as well as the sightseers that are scattered around Columbia. Speaking of Columbia, it’s easily one of the most beautiful worlds to ever grace gaming. For all its beauty and lightness, Columbia masks an underlying darkness of racism and civil war. At the forefront of this hatred and exceptionalism, is the self-proclaimed prophet, Zachary Comstock, Infinite’s answer to Andrew Ryan.

Fans of the Bioshock series will be familiar with the gameplay but I found it a little less challenging than the previous two endeavors and would suggest playing the game one level of difficulty higher. Finishing the game will unlock the 1999 mode which is an increasingly tougher mode with limited ammo and stronger enemies plus respawning will cost you $100. Should you not have enough money to pay the toll, you are sent back to the main menu.

It’s kind of bittersweet that the current generation of consoles is being ushered out by the masterpiece that is Bioshock Infinite, considering Bioshock helped kick it off. Kudos to you Ken Levine and Irrational Games. Bioshock Infinite just set a new standard in the world of games.

A Geeky Review – Sacred Citadel

Having just played Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite back to back, I was prepared to be underwhelmed with games for a while. The aforementioned titles really raised the bar of what games can accomplish, and both totally blew my mind. I had visions of me falling into a gaming slump or at least a chance to play catch up with my DVR until Naughty Dog‘s The Last Of Us releases. Actually that’s kind of ridiculous considering how much I love gaming but the thought of bitter disappointment on my next gaming excursion did cross my mind.

Luckily for me, the fine folks at Deep Silver hooked me up with a copy of their game Sacred Citadel. Described in a press release as an action adventure hack and slash with RPG elements. I love a good hack and slash but throw in the added bonus of RPG characteristics and well, color me intrigued!

Sacred Citadel is part of the Sacred game series, and intends to serve as a prequel to the upcoming Sacred 3. If you haven’t played any of the Sacred games, fear not, Sacred Citadel is perfectly fine to dive right into for the uninitiated like myself.

Upon starting the game you are asked to choose a character class to represent you. There are four, Warrior, Ranger, Mage, and Shaman. Each has unique abilities and characteristics.

Sacred Citadel is presented in four acts and takes place in the world of Ancaria where the evil Ashen empire has enslaved the population. Their henchmen are the Grimmoc, whose job is to wipe out the Seraphim. It’s your duty to help defeat the evil Ashen empire, and that’s when the fun begins!

You start off with lowly weapons and very few skills. Throughout the game as you progress so does your character and weapons. Dual wield with a variety of artillery including Swords and axes, better weapons become available for purchase in the towns or are often dropped along the way by enemies. I found that every weapon dropped by enemies were always better than anything you already owned, which was nice unlike in Borderlands where often I discarded a gun only to find what I left behind was much better than the new one.

Speaking of Borderlands I often found Sacred Citadel to resemble the shooter, only without guns. That comparison also extends to the style of art used in Sacred Citadel as well as the RPG leveling up of characters and weapons. Sure it’s not as dynamic of graphics but this game is much smaller scale and is download only across multi platforms. With that being said, I am in no way implying that Sacred Citadel is not top-notch quality and I had a ton of fun playing it.

Sacred Citadel offers co-op for up to three players. Do your self a favor and bring along a friend or two because it really is much more fun. However, if you are a lone wolf type of gamer, Sacred Citadel still has much to offer. Co-op can be played locally or online. I did experience a bit of lag playing online co-op but nothing too tragic.

Gameplay is very fluid and combos are pulled off with a smoothness and ease that is essential to the brawler genre. Sacred Citadel does run a little short but considering you can purchase it for $14.99 on Steam and PSN which translates to 1200 Microsoft points, it’s a deal.

Sacred Citadel is available now on PSN, XBLA and Steam and was developed by SouthEnd Interactive with publishing rights being handled by Deep Silver.

Geeky Game Review: Metro Last Light

For the past few years I’ve been meaning to finish 2010′s Metro 2033. I was instantly drawn to the post apocalyptic story driven shooter but have always found the clunkiness of its controls a major deterrent. As Metro 2033 found itself further back in my ever growing backlog of games, the future of its sequel looked as bleak as the post apocalyptic Russian setting that is Metro.

In 2012 it was no secret that THQ, Publisher of the Metro series was in financial trouble. Several games on THQ’s roster faced delays while the iconic publisher of video games tried to come up with a solution to their financial woes while still maintaining a level of commitment to the hard work developers like 4A invested into their games. In the end THQ filed for bankruptcy and their games were auctioned off to the highest bidders. Eventually Metro Last Light ended up at Deep Silver and now is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Metro Last Light picks up where Metro 2033 left off, if you are new to the series be sure to watch the beginning cutscenes that will fill you in on the story thus far. The Metro universe is inspired by the books of Dmitry Glukhovsky and follows our hero Artyom through the devastation and consequences of a nuclear holocaust in his once beautiful Russia. Artyom is a Ranger and is sent to find the last known remaining “Dark One“. The Dark Ones were the species Artyom chose to call in a missile strike on in Metro 2033 and is therefore responsible for their extinction.

There is dissent amongst Artyom’s fellow survivors as to what is to be done with the last remaining Dark One, who is just a child. Of course, once Artyom finds the lone Dark One, we soon learn that a few other political factions are also on the hunt for the Dark One and have their own agendas as to why. Our hero Artyom has one distinct advantage, he can communicate with the dying race. In doing so Artyom starts to doubt his decision of helping commit genocide against the misunderstood Dark Ones.

Metro Last Light is best described as a shooter / horror-survival hybrid. The nicely paced campaign unfolds with both political upheaval and scary mutants all struggling to control the Metro. The story is very intriguing and well written despite a few weak spots in the plot. It has inspired me to dust off my copy of Metro 2033 and place it at the beginning of my backlog. The Metro world is one I can’t wait to revisit.

The setting of post apocalyptic Russia is one of great tragic beauty. 4A’s eye for detail and use of light and darkness gives the feel that the most important character of the game is the Metro itself. I found myself adjusting my eyes to adapt to the dark of the underground tunnels and cringing while wiping the imaginary cobwebs away as if my video game surroundings were my reality. Turning off a light will help you hide from human A.I. but will impede your ability to navigate around the Metro and might also catch you off guard from creatures of the dark.

Gameplay was incredibly smooth and much improved from the first Metro. Controls felt natural and were easy to learn, my biggest complaint would have to be the A.I.. Often I could sneak up on a group of 2 or 3 video game enemies and stab all of them in a very un-stealthy fashion without being detected. Non human or mutant enemies were a different story and were much more relentless in their pursuit of Artyom.

Weapons and ammo are plentiful in Metro Last Light as not only were they lying all around, human A.I. almost always had some on them that you could scavenge from their dead corpses. Above ground movement requires the use of a gas mask for survival but once again filters to extend your clean breathing were fairly abundant.

Metro Last Light’s gameplay while still challenging at times is easier than I remember its predecessor to be. Most of my in-game deaths resulted from my own stupidity or lack of paying attention. One other issue I had with the game was a few of the automatic checkpoints were inconveniently located, like the time I kept respawning with very little air left on my filter, no replacements in sight, and a great deal of travel left to get to my destination. However, on the subject of checkpoints, kudos for them being frequent especially in long battles or boss fights, unlike some current games I know. That’s right, God Of War Ascension and Crysis 3 I’m talking about you!

I played the game on a PC running it at the ultimate settings and if you have a powerful gaming rig, I recommend doing the same. The graphics of Metro Last Light are stunning and despite its devastated Russian setting, it’s quite beautiful. If you are playing it on a PC with an AMD video card, be sure to turn PHYSX off in the settings. I played a few hours without incident before I experienced any problems with the graphics. I didn’t notice any more issues after turning PHYSX off and the game looked just as amazing with it off as it did on. Also, if you turn PHYSX off mid gameplay you will have to quit to your desktop and restart the game before the setting will change.

I experienced a few minor glitches with the A.I. and for whatever reason during the last battle my weapons would not fire at times, despite having a full magazine. I also had issues with the night vision goggles and never once got them to work. Overall though, my experience with Metro Last Light was very enjoyable. I’d give it an 8 out of 10. In a year where Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite have raised the bar on video games, I’d say that is quite impressive.

A very special thank you goes out to the amazing PR department at Deep Silver for supplying me with a review copy of Metro Last Light as well as advice on optimal settings for my PC.

Metro Last Light was developed by 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is now available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

  • Deep Silver opens the gates to Moscow’s underground: Metro: Last Light is now available

  • Metro: Last Light doesn’t treat you like a moron

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