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Recap Review: Tomb Raider (PS1)

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It’s a groundbreaking video game that stars a rare female protagonist. It’s been adapted into two movies starring Angelina Jolie, with a new reboot starring Alicia Vikander coming to theaters on March 16th. Thia the Bard has already written an excellent article for Real Women of Gaming about the impact that it had on the gaming industry with its famous protagonist, Lara Croft. It’s the one and only Tomb Raider!

It’s also a game that I never tried playing until recently. But then, lo and behold, I managed to find a copy in my local retro game store for $6, and here we are.

Tomb Raider, originally released for the PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn, and PC, stars Lara Croft, an adventurous woman who likes exploring dangerous locations and finding priceless artifacts. The game begins with Jacqueline Natla hiring her to find a piece of a scion in the mountains of Peru- but Lara is soon betrayed and strikes out to find the rest of the pieces on her own.

When I first started playing this game, I realized just how much modern games have spoiled me. I’m used to playing through tutorials that hold my hand the entire time, telling me exactly what buttons to press in every situation. Tomb Raider has a tutorial, but it’s not part of the main game. Instead, you can access Lara’s home in the main menu, and she’ll guide you through jumping, running, walking, etc. But even then, there’s no “press X to perform an action.” It’s always “press the jump button” or “press the action button.” You want to know which button’s the jump button? Well, you’ll just have to read the manual or figure it out yourself, because Lara’s not talking.

So I was completely out of my league when I first dove into the adventure and had to backtrack to Lara’s house to figure out what I needed to do. That said, I love the setup. It’s perfect for experienced gamers who don’t need a repeat lesson at the start of every playthrough, and also great for people like me who tend to start games, stop them when life gets in the way, and then pick them up again months later. The tutorial’s there to refresh your memory whenever you need it, and then you can jump right back into the actual game.

Unfortunately, the controls and graphics haven’t aged well. It can be difficult to navigate a three-dimensional environment with a control pad instead of a control stick.  I’ve done it in the past with DS games like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. But Tomb Raider felt clunkier, perhaps because it’s on a bigger screen with wider areas to explore. Fortunately, the developers added the “walk” command that allows Lara to move slowly through treacherous areas, and while walking, she cannot fall over a ledge no matter how much you push her. This helps out a lot.

(Also, yes, some PS1 controllers come with control sticks, but the ones that I own did not work with Tomb Raider.  Lara only ever moved when I directed her with the control pad.)

Obviously, most games from the PS1-era have not stood the test of time in terms of how they look.  So it is with Tomb Raider. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the silliness of polygon characters bobbing their heads up and down as they “talked” in certain cutscenes, if only for nostalgic reasons. The cutscenes that take place in-between levels have a higher quality.  Although, again, that’s not saying much. It looks great for a PS1 game.

The visuals may look awkward, but Tomb Raider has good voice acting for its short cutscenes and Lara’s tutorial. It also has a different approach to its soundtrack compared to other video games that I’ve played in the past. You’ll hear musical themes throughout the game, but only at specific points, and not for very long. It usually starts up when you reach a significant area or come across a certain enemy. The rest of the time, you explore the tombs in silence. In this way, the soundtrack gives you a sense of where you are and how you’re progressing through the game. However, it’s no guarantee of anything. There are situations, such as the final fight in the Tomb of Qualopec, where the enemy attacks Lara with no musical warning whatsoever and you have to act fast.

Finally, there’s Lara Croft herself.  I like her character and how she prefers exploring tombs “for sport,” as she puts it, rather than for riches. Additionally, I think it’s really neat that while Lara does battle a couple of male antagonists, the main villain in the first Tomb Raider is another woman. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Yes, Lara’s character design is problematic with her unrealistically large breasts shown on the cover.  But, for what it’s worth, the actual game doesn’t focus on her appearance as much as it focuses on her love of tomb raiding and action skills.  As Cracked.com put it in their article, “6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming:” “Lara is strong, independently wealthy, beautiful, smart, and great at what she does.”  And I enjoyed have the opportunity to go on exciting adventures with a smart, capable, adventurous woman as the playable character.

Overall, I’ve had a mixed experience with Tomb Raider. I love the concept of exploring ancient tombs to find powerful artifacts before the Evil Organization gets there first. I like Lara’s character too. But it’s not a series that I’m dying to continue playing. There’s only so many times that I can miss a jump before I stop having fun and start feeling frustrated. Then again, that’s probably just me and my own lack of gaming skills. I’m still looking forward to the new movie, and I’ll probably try out the Square-Enix reboot on the PS4 someday.

Games to Get Excited About: November 2016

by Michael Wells

November is here with the usual flood of new releases. Here’s an in-depth look at one upcoming title we’re excited about and a rundown of notable releases in the coming month.

2016 is seeing the release of two games that have been in development for so long that you would be forgiven for assuming they would never actually come out. One is Final Fantasy XV, the much anticipated new entry in Square Enix’s cultural juggernaut of a series that was first announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII all the way back in 2006. The other is…

The Last Guardian

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The Last Guardian has been a fixture on vaporware lists for years. The game was originally announced as a PS3 exclusive at E3 in 2009. Even at the time of its announcement it had already been in development for 2 years. The Last Guardian generated a lot of buzz because it was the next, and possibly final, game from Fumito Ueda. Ueda is best known for his previous two games, the cult classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both games are known for their minimalist presentation and stark, beautiful visuals.

The Last Guardian showed a young boy protagonist and a large fantastic creature that seemed like something between a bird, a cat, and a deer. The boy seems reminiscent of the protagonist of Ico and a focus on working with a companion to move through the game evokes that earlier title. The creature was incredibly detailed for the time and promised to push the graphical capabilities of the PS3. The original release window came and went and news of the game slowly dwindled to a trickle. Most of it was rumors and most of the rumors were bad.

Members of the team left to pursue other projects, Ueda himself stepped down to become a creative consultant, and the press began to speculate that Sony had quietly canned the project. Despite the rumors, Sony continued to insist that the game was being developed and that it would be worth the wait. Still, with each year that passed with no news, a release for the troubled title seemed less and less likely. Had it been too ambitious? Was the detailed model and complex behavior for the creature too much of a technical hurdle to overcome? Even if it was possible, could the aging PS3 hardware handle a game that lived up to the original vision?

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In 2015, Sony brought The Last Guardian back to E3 and announced that it would be released in the 4th quarter of 2016. It joined other long awaited announcements such as Shenmue 3 and the Final Fantasy VII remake. As we approach the game’s release date, details remain scarce but there is no denying that the game looks striking and very much in the spirit of its forbears.

The game still seems to be an adventure game that keeps the austere and crumbling environments of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The protagonist must work together with the creature that the development team has tried to model realistic animal behavior for. This means that players should be able to entice it with food, sooth it when it is frightened, and care for it when it is hurt. The central goal of the game is to forge an emotional attachment to the creature.

Skepticism is warranted for any project with a history as long and troubled as The Last Guardian. The questions that plagued it throughout its development remain relevant even as the game nears release. With that said, I have been waiting for this game for eight years and I love Ueda’s previous work. I am glad that the wait is nearly over. The Last Guardian is currently scheduled to release December 6, 2016 in North America, exclusively for the PS4.

Notable November Releases:

Call of Duty Infinite Warfare

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Infinite Warfare is certainly shaping up to be one of the most contentious entries in Activision’s Call of Duty series. The title doubles down on the sci-fi themes the series has been trending towards and introduces space ships, dog fighting, and battles in zer0-G. Some fans of the series are disappointed at the direction taken by these once fairly realistic games while others are excited by the change of pace. Activision has also stirred up controversy by packing in a remaster of the first Modern Warfare game that will only be available to gamers who purchase the new title. Love it or hate it, CoD is likely to be another huge sales success this holiday season.

Watch Dogs 2

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The first Watch Dogs rode a wave of hype and excitement to a resounding “meh” on release. What had promised to be a freewheeling open world title with strange and interesting hacking abilities that affected your environment ended up being another also-ran Grand Theft Auto clone with a humorless plot and an unlikable main character. The developers have decided to take another crack at the concept, moving the action to the more colorful and interesting San Francisco and introducing a new main character that promises to at least have something like a personality. We’ll be waiting for reviews to see if the second time is the charm for this one.

Pokemon Sun and Moon

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Pokemon is back! You probably didn’t need me to tell you that. The first and by far the largest monster fighting and collecting game returns for its seventh generation with Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. This time the games are set in the tropical Alola region and Game Freak has cooked up another batch of weird and wonderful creatures to go catch. If you want a taste before the game releases, there is currently a demo available on the Nintendo e-Shop.

Final Fantasy XV

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Here it is, the other game that seemed like it might just never come out. Final Fantasy XV has gone through a lot of changes in the decade since it was announced. Much like The Last Guardian rumors have followed its troubled development almost from the start. There have been two demos available for the game, and if those are any indication the game feels like a fusion of things that feel undeniably connected to the series’ roots with other elements that can seem almost jarringly out of place. Soon we’ll be able to see if Square Enix managed to pull it off. Here’s hoping it won’t be another decade until the next one.

 

Lifted Chinese Ban on Consoles Leads to Tomahawk F1

As some of you may or may not know, the Chinese government is very well-known for banning the use of various devices and websites within the country. For example, the 2009 Xinjiang riots in Western China sparked the banning of Facebook throughout the country. Because of this, other Chinese specific social media sites, such as QQ and RenRen, have popped up in its place.

Long before the Chinese government ever banned Facebook, however, they banned gaming consoles. In 2000, consoles were outlawed in China for fear that games would have negative effects on Chinese youths. This ban was ineffective, though, as many Chinese citizens were still able to purchase off brand and smuggled gaming consoles, which were being sold openly in many Chinese cities.

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In 2014, this ban was lifted with the condition that all gaming consoles must be approved by the appropriate governmental department before hitting the market. Microsoft and Sony both pushed for their consoles to be released in China late 2014 and early 2015, however have gained little momentum among the citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

In an effort to undercut Microsoft and Sony, a Chinese company by the name of Fuse has announced that they will be releasing a console specifically for Chinese gamers. This console, the Tomahawk F1, will run on an Android system and be priced at approximately 899 Yuan, or $140, which is significantly less expensive than either the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

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It is common in China now-a-days to find “knock offs” of popular western technology at cheaper prices. For example, there are several iPhone rip-offs, including the Oppa 9, and even a Google rip-off, called Goojje. The Tomahawk F1 is along the same lines, a rip-off. While the interface is openly Android, the console itself is designed like the PlayStation 4 while the controller is almost an exact replica of the Xbox One controller.

There is no news as to whether or not Microsoft or Sony will file legal action against Fuse. Given Apple’s recent loss in a high profile trademark infringement case against a Chinese company called Xintong Tiandi, who was using the name “IPHONE” for their line of leather products, there may be no legal action taken at all, as copyright and trademark laws are different in China.

It is Fuze’s plan to have all sorts of games available for the Tomahawk F1, including PC, mobile and AAA games. As of this time, games such as Zheros, Assassin’s Creed, Saint’s Row and more will be available for the Tomahawk F1 upon it’s release.

Happy gaming, China!

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

Games to Get Excited About: No Man’s Sky

 

Guest Post By: Michael Wells

 

Happy April and welcome to this month’s edition of Games to Get Excited About! This month we’re taking a look at No Man’s Sky.

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No Man’s Sky is a game you may have been hearing about for a while. The game is the brainchild of Sean Murray, formerly of the Burnout series, and was unveiled by developer Hello Games and publisher Sony back at E3 2014. The game generated a lot of buzz for its popping visual style and promise of seamless gameplay. A particular standout for me was the part near the end of the trailer where the player hops in their spaceship on the surface of one world, then flies into space and down towards the surface of a neighboring planet with nary a loading screen in sight. With a heavy emphasis on freedom and exploration the game made a positive first impression for many gamers. That early reveal was a tantalizing glimpse of the project’s potential, but it left a lot of questions in its wake.

 

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No Man’s Sky promises a LOT of space

How Does It Work?

One of the first things that was revealed about No Man’s Sky is it’s scale. The game promises 18 Quintillion unique planets to explore. Obviously it would be impossible for any designer to come up with that much content so instead the game universe is proceduraly generated from seed code that mixes and matches from potential combinations of traits for planets including the atmosphere, biome, geography, and presence of intelligent life. The game renders that in real time as the player explores, and discards it when the player is not present. What makes this interesting is that any player who goes to the same spot will see the same things but the game doesn’t need to use the processing power to depict more than a infinitesimal fraction of its vast universe.

What Do You Do?

Hello Games has talked a lot about the scale of the game and the math that makes it possible. It’s obvious that they are proud of the work they’ve done, and rightly so. But the promise of an infinite universe only gets you so far if that universe isn’t full of interesting things to do. Details on the actual gameplay have been scarce until recently. So what can you do in a playground of this frankly unimaginable size?

The primary motivation of the game is exploration itself. Every planet you discover, every alien creature, and every landmark will be tagged as your discovery. A lot of the initial draw for the game will simply be seeing what is waiting over the next hill, on the next moon, past the next star… The eventual goal will be to make your way to the center of the Universe. As you progress further towards the center the game will become more challenging. Planets will become more dangerous, not only will they have stronger and more aggressive creatures, but they will also have extreme temperatures, toxic atmospheres, and other hazards. In order to survive you will need to upgrade your spacesuit and weapon to overcome the challenges. More dangerous planets will yield more valuable resources which you can use to craft more powerful upgrades. Crafting will utilize the game’s periodic table as you synthesize compounds from the raw elements you obtain from mining, scavenging ruins, and salvaging enemy robots and ships.

Your ship can be upgraded as well, to improve your speed, weapons and defenses, and even your FTL drive so that you can jump further and speed your progress towards your goal. Space provides its own challenges in the form of factions that can ally with or attack you based on your behavior. If you act like a pirate, don’t be surprised when the local faction drops a hunter killer fleet into your system to deal with you. But if you move to a sector controlled by that faction’s rivals they may reward you for attacking their enemies and give you preferential prices on trades. You can even take part in large scale space battles between factions that happen based on ongoing changes in the persistent universe.

A Shared But Lonely Universe

No Man’s Sky is an online game and the marks you make on it with your discoveries and interactions with factions will leave a permanent mark on the universe of the game. With that said, Hello Games has crafted what promises to be a strangely solitary experience. With the magnitude of the game’s universe it will be a very rare occurrence for players to run into other players. The game doesn’t provide any way to track other players or party with them. It doesn’t even incorporate any way to talk to each other. In some ways this design ethos reminds me of Journey. It will be interesting to see whether people coordinate outside the game to meet up within it. Will we see a galactic mapping project, or a safe planet become a de facto meetup spot? Will we see players build a structure around potential PvP? This is one part of the game which will probably surprise even the developers once it is released.

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So Why Get Excited?

No Man’s Sky is promising to bring an unprecedented amount of scale to a genre of game that has always benefited from having wider horizons. The ultimate question of whether the game is mechanically satisfying and rewarding to play won’t be answerable until the game is in our hands but the game has a staggering amount of potential. To get an idea of why I’m excited look at the picture above this paragraph. In the foreground there is a stone tablet that will help you decipher an alien language so you can better communicate with that faction. In the background is a small outpost of some kind. Maybe it’s a trading post, or maybe it’s home to some unfriendly natives. In the sky is a moon or sister planet that you can fly to with no loading or instancing of any kind. No Man’s Sky offers the final realization in some ways of that old game developer’s promise: If you can see it, you can get to it.

That level of seamless exploration is something that I have been waiting for since I started gaming. With high expectations there is always the potential for disappointment, but at this point I can’t help but be optimistic. Wherever the game ends up taking me, it is a journey I’m looking forward to taking.

No Man’s Sky releases for PC and the PlayStation 4 on June 21, 2016. The game will have a physical and digital release and there are two collector’s editions including a PC only edition that comes with a model space ship in case the digital ship isn’t enough for you.

Review: Beyond: Two Souls

Dev: Quantic DreamBeyond_Two_Souls_final_cover
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2013
Platform: PS3, PS4

Starring: Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe

Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive, dramatic action-adventure game in which your choices matter. In 2013, Beyond: Two Souls became the second video game to be featured in the Tribeca Film Festival.

What’s it about?
Jodie Holmes (Page) is an extraordinary girl. Not only do strange things always happen around her, but she is able to talk to and control an incorporeal form named Aiden. Her power discovered at a young age, she is taken in and studied by Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Dafoe), who is a researcher for the Department of Paranormal Activity.

The plot is broken up and scattered. As the player completes each section, making choices that will effect the final outcome, Jodie’s story becomes more and more clear.

What did I think?
Not only is this game stunning in its graphics, Beyond: Two Souls actually gives meaning to the idea of a “choice game.” The way you play the game actually effects the final outcome, which is a nice change from games that give the illusion of choice, but only provide one path for the player to go down.

The game utilizes motion capture technology to create vividly life-like characters. Much like Until Dawn, this game has recognizable characters played by actors and actresses we all know and love. This is a recent renovation in video games that allows for the game to come to life by mixing two mediums of entertainment: Gaming and Movies.

The story line can be confusing at first, since the game was originally built so that Jodie’s memories are scattered. You’re constantly going back and forth in her timeline. This is an interesting feature because we’re seeing her life as she’s remembering it and we don’t always remember things in chronological order. While I like the way it was originally designed, I give big props to the developer for also including the option to complete the story line in chronological order. I know a lot of people who would find that much easier than trying to keep track of scattered memories.

Do I recommend it?
Oh yes. The game has tons of replayability, amazing graphics and an intriguing story line. You’d be crazy not to pick this one up.

Free Game Spotlight: Grim Fandango

Dev: Double Fine Productions
Platform: PS4, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Jan. 27, 2015

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Much like Xbox Gold, The Playstation Network gives free games each month to its subscribers. Currently, one of these games is Grim Fandango Remastered. This game is an RPG adventure game originally released by LucasArts in 1998. Sony announced that the game would be remastered and re-released during E3 2014. It was finally available for public consumption on January 27, 2015.

In the game, you play as Manny Calavera, who must repay his debt to the Underworld by collecting souls.

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The story is divided into four parts, each taking place on Nov. 2, four years in a row. In the beginning, Manny is a travel agent for the Department of Death, working off his debt to the Underworld. He grows more and more frustrated by the fact that he is always assigned low-class clients who cannot afford the Number Nine Luxury Express to their final destination, which puts his job in jeopardy.

Upon learning that his system has been rigged by his boss, Manny teams up with his driver – Glottis – and rushes to rescue his latest client, Meche Colomar, who was pure of heart during her life and should have been on the Number Nine train.

2860770-trailer_grimfandango_launch_20150505Grim Fandango received universal acclaim and was praised by many critics. The artistic design and overall direction of the game allowed for it to be selected for several gaming awards in the late ’90s. Unfortunately, the game was a commercial failure, which ultimately lead to LucasArts to discontinue their adventure game development.

The remastered version was able to be released after Disney acquired LucasArts. Double Fine Productions improved the character graphics, added an orchestrated score and included director’s commentary. The game is currently available for free on the PS4 for those subscribed to The Playstation Network. It is also available on Steam and on your mobile device.