Tag Archives: Video Games

“Tomb Raider” – Lara’s Renaissance

To quote Lady Croft herself, "I can do this..."

To quote Lady Croft herself, “I can do this…”

TL;DR verdict? “Tomb Raider” is a fantastic game.  Buy with confidence.

Whether or not Lara Croft‘s latest Crystal Dynamics game is a true entry in the series or such a departure that it constitutes an adjunct spin-off is worthy of further discussion, but the title stands on its own.

It’s a little too early to start shouting about ‘game of the year’ considerations but this latest Lara adventure is a cinematic adventure of such quality that it rivals generation-defining PS3 titan “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” for sheer thrills, visual splendour and storytelling.  Given that the second Nathan Drake game is probably in my top two games of this generation, that’s no small complement.  I’d hope to see this title get it’s due come the end of the year, but I suspect that “Bioshock: Infinite” has game of 2013 all wrapped up unless the shipped product has been somehow inadvertently swapped out in the disc-pressing stage for a tie-in “Smurfs” shovelware effort.

Katniss who?

Katniss who?

Having listened to this week’s episode of the “Weekend Confirmed” podcast, I know that redoubtable host Garnett Lee will disagree in particular with my estimation of the story, and he’s entitled to feel misgivings towards it, but I really feel that this tougher survival story achieves the difficult balance of giving equal importance to character and plotting, pitching a younger Lara Croft through the proverbial mill whilst sketching out some of the elements of her persona in a way which should please long-term fans and players who’ve never picked up a “Tomb Raider” game before.

No game is perfect and often bears the hallmarks of influence . This game at least has the taste to be influenced by really good stuff. As well as the aforementioned Naughty Dog‘s awesome PS3 adventure series, you can pick out gameplay mechanics popularised by Rock Steady’s “Batman”games (Lara has a ‘detective vision’-like ‘survival instinct’ which highlights useful equipment and environmental tools), a gear and skills upgrading system which recalls latter-day “Call of Duty” multi-player perks and the foreboding dread of classic survival horror title “Resident Evil 4” as well as a scene in a charnel pit which is right out of Neil Marshall‘s magnificent horror film, “The Descent”.

The gore and combat can get a little overwrought, it’s true, and might put off some long-time fans who’ve felt that Lara is better when she’s exploring and traversing than when she’s sneaking up on some misogynist cult member and sticking arrows in his gullet but I see this as a real step forward for the character and a tantalising glimpse at what Crystal Dynamics might do with next-gen hardware – the PS3 version that I’ve been playing is utterly beautiful to behold.

Lara’s next game (and the inevitable “Uncharted 4”) might just be the reasons that I pick up a PlayStation 4.

 

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The Art Game

"Ico" - yep, no art here...

“Ico” – yep, no art here…

Oh, the fuss which ensued when arty types MoMA announced their intent to display new-fangled vidya ga3mz as art.

Critics quailed and hand-wrung sneerily over The Meaning Of It All whilst displaying a delightful ignorance of the medium they were presuming to denounce (what else is new?), whilst gamers rushed in defence to the right of interactive entertainment to be considered on the same terms as fine art, cinema or dance.

Today, in a post on The Guardian’s games blog, Keith Stuart does a damn good job of shutting down critics and framing the debate in terms that even no-nothing, buttoned-up art critics might be able to understand.

My position continues to be thus – art shouldn’t be something which should be the exclusive province of a handful of university-educated, cosseted egotists whose every noxious emission installation is greeted with braying wonder and exaggerated importance by art critics, whose livelihood depends on perpetuating the notion of artist-as-rock star.

Look, Ma - high art!

Look, Ma – high art!

Could it be this odd emphasis on the collective assembling an end product which so vexes art critics and defies their limited abilities to assess games properly?  The likes of Shigeru MiyamotoCliff Bleszinski or David Cage aside, there are comparatively few ‘auteurist’ games designers who give critics a singular presence to hang their analysis upon.  You’re not considering the work of a Damian Hirst or Tracey Emin in isolation and perpetuating what, to me, seems like an increasingly outdated view of the solitary artist labouring over work in a studio – you’re thinking about Media Molecule, Ubisoft Montreal or Team Meat delivering an interactive experience.  How do you sift, quantify and consider the work of hundreds of individuals in a meaningful way in order to accurately assess the quality of a game?

Honestly, I don’t care if games are art.  It’s a meaningless descriptor to employ and one which seems to be employed to keep arts bloggers in page views – we’re talking trolling, here, in its purest form.

I know that when I explore the island in the new “Tomb Raider”, I’m getting an experience which I can’t get from a novel or a film and one which is entirely new and beyond the ability of the critical establishment to describe.  They’re not up to the job, frankly, and we shouldn’t be giving such irrelevancies the oxygen of consideration.

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PS4 Hype Train? All aboard!

PS4 devkit and new controller image via T3.com

Hype level critical?  Video Games forum posting privileges not revoked?  A much-loved, custom Jack Tretton action figure clutched to your ample bosom?  Your best “Rii-iii-iii-ddd-ggg-eee R-aaa-ccc-eee-rrr!” impersonation ready to be unleashed?

Yep, you’re ready for tonight’s PlayStation press conference and the awe-inducing technology bound to be revealed as the latest iteration of the PlayStation console (are we still calling it Orbis?) makes its worldwide public debut tonight in New York – just as I go to bed, in fact:  I hardly dare guess how large the NeoGaf threads will be by tomorrow morning…

Expect the motion-sensor DualShock pictured above to feature, some increased online functionality to be embedded in the system, heavily rumoured game streaming tech from Gakkai to solve the backwards compatibility issue which bedevils new games consoles and all manner of widgetry to take advantage of those tablets and smartphones which were but so much vapour when the PS3 made its debut in 2007.

In conclusion?   I am, in the parlance of the young people, like so totes stoked, yeah?

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New Xbox watches you

 

Kotaku, the gaming news blog which is ever the scourge of the self-described thinking gamer, may have done it again.

Citing information and documents gleaned from arch thorn in the side of Microsoft, SuperDAE, the games blog today claims to have an inside track on many things Xbox 720 related.

Fancy having a Kinect plugged in all the time (because the new Xbox integrates the peripheral video control deeply into the Xbox UI)?  Keen on the idea of playing a game as you install it to the now standard 500gb HD platter?  It would be intriguing to see how much of this stuff comes to pass and how much is just click-bait designed to inspire comment thread meltdowns (which drives more clicks) – if the word on the boards is true, we’ll find out just how much is on the level on or around the big Sony announcement on 20th February.

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Is this the next Xbox – or just a very confusing infographic?

Image

Look! Colours and boxes!  Via VG Leaks.com

So, this is what the inside of the next Xbox looks like, apparently.

It’s a deeply interconnected series of coloured boxes with vaguely impenetrable titles, which will somehow allow you to play the next “Gears of War” in eye-wateringly intense super HD vision from the future.  Why, it’s almost as if we’re on the verge of a new generation of games consoles, Valve-approved PCs and similar free time monopolising devices of fun…

I’m no technologist, but I know that 8 GB of RAM and an identical number of CPU Cores promise lots of potential to deliver more immersive games worlds.  Of course, it’s an arguable point as to whether the complexity of the PS3‘s internal architecture was ever satisfyingly grappled with by most of the multi-platform publishers and developers in this generation of machines – if the 360 couldn’t handle it, it does seem that EA and Activision didn’t exactly shoot for the fences with the systems out there.

Ever played “Dragon Age: Origins” on the PS3?  Exactly.

Expect major fireworks to be unleashed come E3 this June – or possibly earlier, if you believe the word on t3h str33tz…

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Hypocrisy? What hypocrisy?

We’ve barely had time to try and process Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut and UK tabloids are up to their usual tricks.

Oh look - one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love...

Oh look – one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love…

Rupert Murdoch’s wholly above reproach UK tabloid newspaper The Sun today has a headline story skirting around the idea that Adam Lanza’s rampage is somehow connected to his ‘obsession’ with Activision’sCall of DutyFPS franchise.

You know the kind of thing before you read it – no real evidence to speak of, a few splashy pull-quotes and amateur psychology aplenty conspire to deliver the kind of schlock, predictable, cynically hand-wringing story we usually see after a tragedy like Newtown, all the while trying to inspire an emotional, “Won’t Somebody Think About The Children?” type reaction in the kinds of parents who are (whisper it quietly) probably buying “Black Ops 2” as  a Christmas present for their kids (if they’re not already playing it themselves).

Did Lanza play “Call of Duty”?  Who knows – who cares?  He was a young American adult.  The bigger story would be that he didn’t play “CoD“, “Battlefield” or “Medal of Honor”.

If he did play video games, why does it automatically follow that he was being somehow desensitized or made more susceptible to violent power fantasies?  I’ve played “Call of Duty” instalments in the past and all that I can point to is an increasing lack of desire to engage with that franchise.  Am I somehow miraculously unaffected by the otherwise corrupting, pernicious influence of these games?  Is it down to my living in a different country without easy access to guns?  Am I too old and set in my ways to buy into such shock and awe pyrotechnics?

Just as a matter of curiosity – is the “Call of Duty” game series being raked over the coals by The Sun today any relation to the “Call of Duty” game lauded in breathless prose in a story tied to the launch of “Black Ops 2”?  Or in this feature about how ‘SAS hero (TM)’ Andy McNab believes that the game teaches morality to kids?  Or is that a different series of blockbuster action FPS titles from Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch?

When it’s going to sell copies or connect The Sun in a positive way with a blockbuster, generation-defining pop culture entertainment brand loved by their demographic, the paper will happily get into bed with Activision in a mutually beneficial relationship.  When there’s a sliver-thin line of particularly smelly, easy answer bullshit to peddle, that partnership gets swiftly forgotten about in the rush to sell papers or get page impressions.

Hypocrisy?  Surely not.  Not on Rupert’s watch.

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

It’s a good job that Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t make violent, gun-heavy entertainment isn’t it?

 

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Bungie’s Destiny revealed?

Looks…wintry?  Image via Bungie.net

If secrets were an ocean, the internet would be an especially leaky boat.

By accident (or design) early images of Bungie’s ultra top secret, post-“Halo” game, codenamed ‘Destiny’ by those in the know, have leaked online and prompted the presumably sanguine developer to post their own preview image by way of response.  And as that blog post I’ve just linked to suggests, further updates will be coming soon, suggesting that fans of the “Halo” creators action oeuvre might yet get an early Christmas gift to speculate wildly about.

As you can see, the image above suggests that Bungie haven’t gone nuts and come up with a cute IOS casual title – we’re still firmly in the realms of big sci-fi chaps with guns and esoteric hardware, whatever else the game might be about.  Rumours suggest that this universe features a future, space-faring Earth society beaten back to their home planet by a hostile Alien presence in the universe only to be defended by a mysterious alien ship which hovers above our humble blue-and-green marble world.

One to add to my ludicrous pile of shame once it appears in 2013 or 2014, wouldn’t you agree?

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