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Monthly Archives: January 2017

tomb raider was pretty good and definitely worth its steam sale price. i’m going to be liberal with spoilers here because it’s nearly 4 years old. if you haven’t picked it up and don’t want to be spoiled, yes you should pick it up next time it’s on sale, which is always.


the tomb raider reboot took me 9 hours across a single session of gameplay to beat, which leaves it on the shortish side. it’s very pretty. i found its story interesting and engaging on several levels. there are just entirely too many quick-time events. 1 is too many but this was filled with them. the characters seemed pretty good and well fleshed out. (you’ll notice i said “seemed” because we spend almost no time fleshing out those relationships.) the environmental puzzles are decent if generally not difficult, and there’s multiple ways to approach the combat this game is full of, which i always appreciate.

i wasn’t really expecting that actually, so much 3PS combat in tomb raider. maybe that’s on me. but there’s a ton of it. there are a million bullet-spongy guys ready to attack you at basically all times. the bow and arrow is a pretty nice way to deal with that, especially since you can light guys on fire eventually, but its fire rate is low, and headshots less reliable, than the pistol, which is broken. use the pistol until you’re out of ammo if your aim is even remotely decent because the enemies can take like three full body blasts with the shotgun but only one headshot (two if they wear a helmet). enemies take too many bullets to bring down but not if you go full mccree.

this got a little bit tiresome toward the end, especially when outright gunplay was inescapable. but there’s a lot of times in the game where you were able to play a more stealthy style, and that was where the combat shined for me. my favorite part of the game was around the hunting lodge, right after the helicopter crashes and roth dies. lara stays behind a while, and her friends go on back down to the beach, then when she tries to catch up it’s night and the forest is full of baddies. i had a blast sneaking around and arrowing (because it’s quiet) fools in the face, and sneaking up on other fools to choke them out. the game would have benefited from more gameplay like that and less outright shootouts, or at the very least if the cover system was more of a cover system and less “try to stand behind this rock.” i mashed spacebar trying to snap to cover like i was playing mass effect 3 a ton of times. i jumped up and down like a moron and died lol.

the parts where you run around the map doing crazy parkour stuff are almost always fun. the maps are designed to be, if a little linear in that respect, at least very fluid. it’s no mirror’s edge where there’s multiple ways to do everything, that’s for sure. but as long as you aren’t jumping between rock wall climbs it’s very fun. when you have to do that it’s painfully touchy. maybe that’s a keyboard problem, where it’s hard to hold D and press E at the same time without doing manual gymnastics. other wise that stuff feels good.

so let’s talk about control, or lack thereof, and the way this game kind of beefs it in that area. there are times when i want the game to give me control. i’d like to avoid a fight, or do it stealthy, or find an alternate route, or go more than a few minutes between cinematics. the first few hours of the game have way too many of those and it feels like you’re playing a movie. a really enjoyable movie, but not a super interactive game, you know? the whole experience in general feels cinematic which is to its benefit, but sometimes you want more control. you go accomplish one thing then it’s another cutscene. but other times you want less control. i don’t need to “repeatedly mash” a button to open a door or a chest. just let me press or hold. i don’t need three QTEs to get out of being attacked by a wolf i couldn’t shoot fast enough. let me die and reload and try to actually hit it this time.

and for the love of god, do NOT make QTE boss fights. that’s just lazy and a big reason i wasn’t a fan of arkham knight. obviously tomb raider is less “about” the fighting than batman, so that’s not gamebreaking here, but it’s so annoying and part of what makes the end of the game feel a little chunky.

so the 9-hour length is on the shortish side, and i’d say the most obvious way to boost length would be not to add story. there’s plenty of that and there’s already a lengthening formula in place that gets abused by the end. (we’re almost there! oh no the floor falls out.) what needs added is either missions or side-quests or something that deepens the relationships between characters. they clearly exist. we see some flashes of this in the camcorder cinematics, which lara has a peek at during the quickly-abandoned survival game part, and in the journal pages you can (very) randomly find. it’s obvious this game’s writers created a ton of info about its characters and their relationships. it’s too bad most of that gets left out of the game. i don’t need a full fledged loyalty mission for everyone or anything like that, but i would love to get more time with sam, or alex, or whoever grim was, before the game tries to use them to impact me. i really liked sam from the minute we met her so i was motivated to go save her already, but that’s a personal thing. build some rapport between the player and those characters, man.

in fact i’m pretty sure apart from randomly stumbling on tombs and finding shit on the ground, there were no side-quests at all. there’s quite a bit of room for growth there.

so yeah. it’s a pretty game with beautiful foliage, outstanding hair effects, and quite a lot of draw distance actually. the only negative i have graphically is in the geothermal tunnels there’s what i think is supposed to be a Descent-style pool of blood and its just hilarious red water. (of course i ran everything on max because old game.) the story is a pretty good examination of human desperation and the descent into madness, and the way you experience it is mostly cool. the game play is great as long as it stays out of its own way with the forced gunplay and QTEs. sadly it gets in its own way a lot. pretty short, and wastes some obviously deep characters with shallow presentation. it’s pretty good and i liked it and it’s on sale all the time. no real excuse to not pick it up next steam sale if you haven’t before. do it. it’ll be 5 bucks or less. how’s rise, btw?

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alternate title for this one could be It Came From Steam Winter Sale.

i came across this title a long time ago while clicking, bored, through the steam discovery queue. it seemed really interesting, but i wasn’t prepared to spend time or money with it then, so i wishlisted it. here’s the summary from its steam store page. i’ll talk about the game’s story, which is extremely cool and also spoils the whole experience, at the very end. read it if you aren’t going to play this game.

A single player exploration driven adventure with survival elements, set on a mysterious and seemingly uninhabited alien planet. Survive through exploration, and unlock the mysteries of Gliese-6143-C. From the creators of “Unmechanical” and successor to “The Ball”.

Earth has been destroyed and mankind lingers on in a small fleet of ships near Pluto. As humanity’s last hope, you are sent to scout a distant planet as a potential location for a colony. After years of space travel disaster strikes however, and your ship is destroyed when approaching the planet…

With your team members dead and your equipment gone you have no way of communicating or receiving help from anyone… you are completely and utterly alone…

Desperately you look for a way of phoning home, but as you explore the seemingly desolate planet, you uncover the dark secrets buried within the depths. In this otherworldly odyssey you uncover mystery upon mystery as you try to survive the harsh climate.

the solus project is also designed for VR. my computer is definitely VR capable (shoutout to the new pascal-architecture GTX1070 humming away next to me) but i don’t have a headset, so i played in 2D. i’ve seen VR as a gimmick all along, but you know? i’d be interested in experiencing this game from the inside. it’s pretty cool.

it isn’t an open world, but there is definitely a fair amount of real estate to explore here. you crash-land on an archipelago with a helpful voice warning you to find a heat source and not to stay wet. there’s some classic exposition/world building laying around a page at a time, and then night falls and brings a tornado with it, forcing you into a cave. well, it forced me into a cave. i’ll get into the tornadoes in a minute. the opening sequences orient you to the minimal survival elements, teach you how to craft (a torch) and get you moving toward a sound. what sound? that’s a great question because the game didn’t actually make a sound. pretty dumb.

so why do i say this is pretty cool? let’s check out the good shit to bad shit ratio.

GS/BS: good

gliese-6143c is an ugly place, but this is a pretty game. the color palette involves a hell of a lot of grays. there’s several stunning moments though. i don’t often “whoa” out loud at visuals… unless i’m looking for a new home in minecraft and find a pine forest on extreme hills bordering the ocean with snow nearby and overhangs… but this game got me a few times.

the terrain is often rough and unforgiving, but almost never do you find yourself stuck if you leave the main paths. part of that is thanks to the head-scratching inclusion of a teleportation device. you shoot a disc and then you can teleport to that disc. it shoots… i dont know, 50 feet? tops? it has two purposes in the game: some puzzles and getting unstuck from the jaggy geology if you tried to jumping-puzzle your way around and fell.

i really don’t like a lot of survival elements in games. speaking of minecraft, the inclusion of hunger in beta 1.8 was the beginning of the end of me playing that game regularly .it’s just irritating. i don’t vidya to worry about feeding myself. but it’s not bad here, really. you can regain health by sleeping or consuming medkits, but you need to sleep someplace safe or you’ll get interrupted by the elements. (or killed. more later.) i didn’t play on the hard difficulty specifically because the difficulty only changes how much you get out of resources, but generally, i didnt starve or die of thirst. (i did freeze to death once, but that was my own fault.) there’s camps frequently with bowls of soup and troughs of clean water, and the caves are filled with trickles of water to fill up bottles with. the surface is scattered with debris from your ships, including food and medkits. there’s even plants you can eat, or set on fire, depending on your needs, and one of them dries you instantly when you eat it so you don’t die of hypothermia. the survival elements never seem to get in the way, just make you think about what you’re doing. i only found sleep annoying. and btw, when you get the cold device, keep it forever. you’ll thank me.

the experience, story wise, is a very good one. i will talk openly with spoilers at the end about it, but generally, this is a very chill, survival-ish walking game, until you see the dolls that cannot be unseen a couple hours in and everything takes a hella dark turn. the environment is littered with backstory and lore. some of the stuff from your fallen comrades bored me, but i soaked up everything i could find on the planet itself. by endgame i was done being distracted. i wanted answers just as badly as the protagonist did.

the puzzles are reasonable, once you understand what’s going on, and the traps are generally something visible that don’t kill you immediately if you don’t know its a trap yet. there was only one puzzle i had to google a solution for, and that was just because i’d somehow made it about 70% of the way through the game without noticing one of the puzzle mechanics. the solus project doesn’t really hold your hand at all, apart from the ubiquitous Forward Vector pointing the general direction of the way, so you’re left to discover mechanics on your own, and generally you do. there was only one puzzle i couldn’t beat, googled, spent a while until i finally settled on skipping through a long youtube walkthrough, and then said “oh good fuck you can just push it? wow i’m an idiot.” an earlier puzzle that should have required this mechanic, i was able to solve anyway by sprinting, jumping, and throwing a teleport disc as i fell far enough to go to half-health, then teleporting to where i was meant to go. lol.

finally the length feels about right to me. i played the way i usually play: very thoroughly at the beginning, and sprinting to the end of the main plotline by the end, and that took me about 11 hours. not too short, not too long, and obviously longer if you go find all the secrets and discover everything.

GS/BS: bad

this is minor, but with my rig, everything set to ultra, and excellent performance, there was noticeable pop-in all the time.

i don’t think the developers of this game understand a tornado. the game starts and night falls and it rains and a tornado comes. i ran like hell for a cave and waited for the noise to pass. that… wasn’t necessary. much later you’re in an environment that’s all cliffs and bridges, and it storms there frequently. you cannot hide from the tornadoes there. and… it doesn’t really matter. i stayed in the most protected corners possible as they went by, but they were often like right down my back as i ran from them, with no adverse affects to me except getting wet. i should have been dead by tornado lots of times. tornadoes in the solus project do not pass the oklahoma test.

the teleport device felt extremely underwhelming and underutilized. it’s a nice idea, but it’s often forgotten, and when you do use it, you often jump like, ten feet or less.

okay, let’s talk instagibs. instagibs are not fun. the worst was when i was climbing in perfectly fine weather during the day and was one-shot in the back by a meteor. are you serious? what the hell is that? there’s meteor showers infrequently but not rarely, and when you see them coming you can scramble for cover, but i got hosed by one from behind with no chance for warning. fortunately it was like 30 seconds past a save, and i reloaded and climbed right back up without incident. those showers are random and unscripted apparently, lol. some caves are also toxic, with your PDA’s warning being the only warning you get, and you die SO FAST. you can survive in 90-degree Celsius environments orders of magnitude longer than a toxic cave. oh, and i hid in a hole from a lightning storm once and got hit anyway while in a person-sized shaft about 7 feet down. mostly the game doesn’t bullshit you. but sometimes it does. so it goes.

but that’s pretty much it for the bad shit half of the ratio, causing the good shit to overwhelm it and win the day. i liked the game and recommend it. was quite a cool experience. stop reading now if you think you might play it.

spoilers

let me back out if you’re a “this sounds interesting but i’m not into that genre” person and tell some story.

you crash on the planet, you’re alone, you start thinking about two things: finding survivors and communicating with your fleet. you find no survivors, but the first person you encounter (dead) was trying to build a comms tower to send a message home. the game becomes about finding more parts to build the tower and power it. weirdly enough, after finding signs of past civilization on this planet, you run into basically the remains of a town on a hill, and there’s a giant cable in it. at least half the game is spent following that cable looking for a power source, and in the process, you encounter some kind of living death smoke, dolls that follow you when you don’t look at them (#dontblink), and tales of the Sky Ones, who seem to have brought a more primitive civilization with them. and they look extremely human, just with longer skulls. longer even than cro-magnons but otherwise, just, humans. you know this because their skeletons are everywhere. sometimes hanging from the ceiling. so it goes. i didn’t expect the game to get creepy as SHIT but it does.

we eventually learn that the Sky Ones are a very old, far-flung but still Type 1, kinda reptilian race. they themselves researched someone called the Ancients and found a device they left behind, which contained some kind of infinite energy source, or seemingly so. it put off a waveform which they later decoded, strangely, into a recessive DNA strand. the Sky Ones then began searching the galaxy for life forms that this matched to study and experiment on. the theory is, the primitive people you run into on this planet are early humans that the Sky Ones moved from earth to this place in order to run experiments on them. the humans saw them as gods until they learned some dark secret of theirs, which seems to be that the energy source involved harvesting them. they revolted, stole one of the energy orbs, and eventually were wiped out. so it goes. the Sky Ones are still around on this planet and as you move about, activating their machinery, they start to check you out in person. well, through orbs and cameras and stuff like that. finally they begin transmitting messages to you through your PDA and even arrange debris to spell out COME TO US.

if you’re able to survive environments of extreme cold and then extreme heat, you are rewarded with the last tower piece you need – an energy source. after you find a star map that lets you identify a safer planet to colonize than this one, everything comes to a head. one of their orbs is in front of you and they go TAKE IT and you do, and a smoke monster pops out to chase you, you run, follow the vectors back to the comms tower, call home, and wow! the lady you talk to cannot BELIEVE you’re alive because the humans up there are fucked, and you saved the species. they’re relieved to hear this planet supports life, and… that’s when the Sky Ones start to approach you from all directions. before you can finish explaining it’s very dangerous here and give her the coordinates for the safer planet, they cut off the transmission, put you on a flying saucer, and that’s it, gg. the species they had been testing on before is coming back to their planet again without them having to expend any energy or time themselves to move them here*. all this has happened before. all this will happen again.

i found that ending a little bit disappointing. obviously you’re just a lucky happenstance for the Sky Ones. they shot down your ship because they shoot down everything. (logs you can find prove this.) it must have taken millions of years for their race to transfer humans from earth to gliese-6143c before, but now they will bring themselves here in just 15. all they have to do is help you send a message home and suddenly how convenient everything you’ve found has been, the camps between the ancient traps, the orbs and cairns leading the way, all makes sense. they take advantage of an opportunity. ultimately, you fail. humanity will die if you don’t call them. humanity will die here as experiments if you do. so it goes. if you’d just transmitted your data before having a conversation with the motherfleet, it would be fine and you’d sacrifice yourself saving humanity. :/

that’s ultimately not enough to put me off recommending the game of course. it’s pretty clever and a great experience. i dug it a lot. just imperfect in its ending, that’s all.

*earth was destroyed when this planetary system moved directly through the solar system, so it’s super super close to the human fleet.