Snapshot: Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider Art

Yes, as of last Tuesday (March 5th, 2013) the new imagining of Tomb Raider was released! The game was developed by Crystal Dynamics, and published by Square Enix, and honestly it’s probably the best Tomb Raider game released; aside from the lack of puzzles to solve.

Graphically the game is astonishing. The environments though not truly “open-world” have an open world feel to them, though there are obvious paths for you to walk upon and invisible barriers to stop you from going anywhere outside the allotted space. So needless to say you won’t be glitching up mountains like in Bethesda games, but they leave just enough room for exploration of various artifacts and things needed to upgrade weapons. Since, they focus on these small hub-like areas instead of a sprawling free-for-all environment the areas look damn near realistic, and almost next generation. I’ve been playing on Sony’s console, so I’m sure on the PC it looks even better. Despite the vast traversal options the game never feels clunky and the frame rate never drops.

Tomb Raider_Lara Croft Voice ActressThe game sounds great as well. The weapons sound realistic whether its the small whistle from the bow string or the loud explosion of fire coming into contact with a natural gas line. Since the island is tropical you will hear a lot of nature related sounds like birds and wolves, which you can actually come into contact with. The voice acting is pretty solid for most of the characters, pulling you deeper into the fiction. The best voice acting is of course Lara Croft; played by Camilla Luddington. Camilla gives a solid performance of the re-imagined Lara Croft. Hell, she may be Lara Croft in disguise  as a voice actor.

This new Tomb Raider also implements some pretty amazing mechanics that makes it feel more like a survival game, rather than a third person cover shooter; though at its core that’s exactly what this game is. The most exciting mechanic they use is a reaction based Lara. When you come into an area or approach enemies she automatically draws her equipped weapon. So now you know there are enemies in the vicinity what else will she do? Well, when you approach a low wall, bush, tree, or well just about anything that’s worth hiding behind she will automatically go into cover. The cover doesn’t feel still, like games where you would snap into cover, but rather more natural as you move from object to object. They’ve also included a feature called “survival instinct,” which works a lot like Batman’s Detective Vision in the recent Arkham games. The primary use for it is to see objects you can interact with, animals you can hunt, or enemies in the nearby area. However, after some upgrade points, it becomes very handy in finding the hidden treasures of the island! (The collectibles are actually worth collecting, because it fills in more of the fiction of the island!)

Tomb Raider_CombatThe upgrade tree is similar to Farcry 3 with three different trees to fill out. The skills aren’t to the extreme that the one’s in Farcry are, nor are they about the stealth kills, but they upgrades do make some considerable upgrades to Lara’s survival and combat abilities. The weapon upgrades are different and interesting enough for you to care to do them. They add things like better accuracy, more damage, fire arrows, and silences (just to name a small amount). You’re not able to upgrade everything out of the gate, but rather as you become more intune with survival and you find gun parts that will enable the next set of upgrades. You’ll also need salvage (a sort of upgrade currency in the game) to make the weapon upgrades, but don’t fret salvage is everywhere.

The AI is far from intelligent, but they are extremely aggressive, normally attacking in groups allowing for some to attempt to flank you while others are spraying bullets and throwing sticks of dynamite. However, most of them aren’t very hard to kill until later in the game where a little more planning and strategy is beneficial due to the various enemy types, including armored enemies.

With all of that said, we get to the best part of the game… THE STORY! The story takes place on Lara’s first expedition to find a hidden (almost Atlantis-like) island, where she hopes to find answers to the worship and culture of the ‘Sun Queen.’ However, Lara believes they must head into the Dragon’s Triangle to find the island. The Dragon’s Triangle makes the Bermuda Triangle look like a bedtime story for little kids. Nonetheless, they head straight into the storm ridden and dangerous area in search of an adventure, however, the adventure finds Lara as they shipwreck on an island with a constantly changing climate that stops all who try to leave the island.

You’ll play as Lara as she goes from being an ‘innocent’ shipwrecked girl in search of her team as she faces the many dangers of the forested island with her instincts leading the way. Though, this story is one action and over coming, as well as, a story of loss and confusion. Lara will have to survive and overcome everything if she plans to help even just one of her friends last on an island overtaken by a group of bandits who’ve been stranded on the island for years, an island who has a great amount predatory animals, and many old dangerous and explosive (and wrecked) buildings. Oh and there’s a group of over-sized and very powerful enemies protecting a sacred chamber.

Honestly, I can’t see this game just simply being a prequel story. I feel like this game has great potential for a reboot of the series. With all the resources Crystal and Square dumped into this game I’m sure we’ll atleast see a trilogy out of this new and improved Tomb Raider. Hell, as long as they keep just about everything that made this game amazing and add some more puzzles I’m sold!

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Treyarch will be bringing some more science fiction into the world of modern military shooters this coming Tuesday with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The game is a sequel to the first Black Ops, but is taking place quite some amount of time after the first game; actually it will be taking place in the year 2025. Yes, apparently we will be in another war in 2025 that resembles the cold war with much better weaponry, as technology and weapons mate to create the spawn of the world’s demise. No I’m kidding, but the weapons and new machines do look pretty awesome, and will aid a group of elite military professionals as they try to being back the Earth’s super powers (greatest and most dangerous nations) back from the brink of deletion.

This will without a doubt be the most ambitious Call of Duty since Modern Warfare opened up the world to what online console gaming could be like. Zombies mode will be back in three different types of stages throughout 5 large maps. You will have the traditional zombies mode where four people traverse a large, and normally graphically beautiful map, as you fight of the waves of people that are trying to eat our brains. However, Treyarch has added another zombies mode to the mix that will include 8 players fighting off the zombies. This mode will split the 8 players into two teams of 4, which will both be trying to be the strongest team to survive this pandemic; while you won’t be able to shoot the other players, will be able to mess with them to try and ensure their demise.

Normal multiplayer has also had some adjustments made to make the game flow much better and become even more addictive fun. One of these key features includes the addition of CODcasting. So remember that little thing Black Ops allowed you to do as far as recording your favorite matches on your console and saving them to show all your friends. Well not only is there that, but CODcasting literally allows play-by-play commentary on everything that is happening in the map! Also, they have changed of the create a character, class leveling, and kill streaks. While I don’t have much information on those, I’m sure hoping it won’t let me down after I have been hyped up about everything else the game has to offer.

Derek Padakowski

Pre-Shot: Little Big Planet Karting

Oh yeah, Little Big Planet is entering the whole karting scene. Actually this year is a decent year for nintendo knock offs; no offense is intended towards Little Big Planet Karting or Playstation All-Stars. Nonetheless, I’m sure this game is going to be a great addition to the Little Big Planet Franchise. It still follows the company’s favorite motto “Play. Create. Share.”

You’ll be able to play a fun packed story with races, combat arenas (that are packed with LBP styled weaponry), and intense boss battles; and that’s only the STORY! Once your done that all you future game creators get to dive into the create mode to build your own intense levels, personalized carts, and, of course, your own sack boys (or sack girls); all of which can be uploaded for other people to download. The game will be 1-4 players local, or a maximum of 8 players online. Also, the game will have 3D functionality (unless your trying to use the Sony dual cast screen.) Who else is excited for this creative and funky game that’s due out some time this fall!

Derek Padakowski

Snapshot: Sleeping Dogs

 The game was originally supposed to be to be the next True Crime game, but after being cancelled by Activision due to its high budget costs, Square Enix got the the rights to the game and finished the game under the title Sleeping Dogs.

Sleeping Dogs is about an undercover cop, Wei Shen, who is brought to Hong Kong to infiltrate the Triads to try and take down their operations through out the city. However, Wei Shen begins to blur the lines between his two identities as he rekindles a friendship with a childhood friend, and makes new friends in the underground world.

There were many people that were pretty much comparing the game to Rockstar’s hit franchise Grand Theft Auto, but Sleeping Dogs is so much more than that. My favorite part of the game, aside from the story, is the combat system. It’s very similar to the combat system implemented in Batman Arkham City. It’s incredibly useful and fun throughout the entire game as you gain new moves by moving through the upgrade trees. It was certainly a surprise to see this mechanic in a third person crime shooter. However, since they put such an emphasis on the combat, they slacked off on the driving controls. Driving, needless to say, was my least favorite factor of the game, which made it a drag to grind through the racing missions in the game.

Another fun aspect of the game are the challenges they place in the game. One of the challenges in the game even rewards you for ‘driving clean,’ which means you can’t hit civilians, cars, or even the random obstacles placed throughout the world. Your challenge times, or scores, are then uploaded to online leader boards so you can compare your success with your friends and others around the world. Aside, from the online leader boards there isn’t any online play.

Visually the game is stunning, especially every time it rains. It obviously looks better on the PC, but the consoles display all the images and animations very well too. United Front Games did a very good job of portraying Hong Kong; especially Hong Kong night life with the large mass of Neon Signs filling the streets.

The side jobs throughout the world are relatively rewarding, except for some grinding events and my ever hated racing missions. There are a couple of side games you can play, one of them being a Chinese version of Poker. Which were really only fun the first few times through, but I didn’t really spend much more time outside the main events indulging in them.

Honestly, I feel the game is pretty underated for it gives its players. The mechanics were mostly well done, the visuals reward your eyes, and your explorative side, and a number of the side jobs aren’t all that boring and really just add to the story and world. Sleeping Dogs released at the beginning of the summer, when there wasn’t really much coming out, but still didn’t do as well as it probably should have. There is so much more to the game that I can’t even explain it all in words, you’ll just have to try it out for yourself! I encourage all types of gamers to give Sleeping Dogs a try.

4 out of 5

Derek Padakowski

Snapshot: Heavy Rain

Yes, it’s been two years since this game has come out, and yes.. I just got around to playing it. Boy have I been missing out. I finally picked Heavy Rain up because Quantic Dream’s new game Beyond: Two Souls will be coming out relatively soon, and I wanted to see what else they did in this console’s generation!

Heavy Rain is a crazy story about four originally unconnected people in a town where a serial killer is preying on young boys. These four people, all very different in personality and physical appearances, have one thing in common. The recent abduction of Shaun Mars, the son of one of the four protagonists, Ethan Mars. While Ethan Mars, is trying to save his son while going through trials, which are often highly intense, the other three protagonists are trying to solve the mystery of the Origami Killer’s identity while all coming into contact in one form or another. How far are a father, an investigative journalist, an FBI agent, and a private investigator willing to go to save the life of a child?

The graphics for the game are very attractive and well done for being a 2010 game. There is a mass amount of detail placed in the character’s faces and actions. Hell it looks like a CG movie most of the time, and honestly feels like one throughout most of the game. The only problem I had with the visuals was when button prompts would randomly vanish.

The mechanics are actually fairly simple, though the tasks you have to complete are pretty varied from person to person. The game plays as a movie that you have control over. You interact with the environment around you with prompts that pop up between but presses, holding down multiple buttons in a pattern, and moving the joy stick in varied patterns. Also, the game is pretty much one large section of QTEs after another, but they never get boring or annoying, other than when you make a mistake. Personally, I’m not a large fan of QTEs in games, but the use of them in this game has me rethinking my whole stance on them. They are fun and exciting, and one mess up could change the whole story in the wink of an eye.

Heavy Rain has one of the greatest stories I have experienced in the gaming world. Nothing goes without meaning from dialogue, to the choices you make, and all the way down to QTEs and cut scenes. There is some amount of shooting, and violence in the game, but not in way that seems off putting. There is a reason behind every choice you make, and an equal consequence to the actions you make, or even the amount of time you take to make a choice. You literally control everything from conversations to simple comforting actions for other characters.

Even though the characters are all very different you don’t get the sense that any other character is more important than any other. Yes there are characters with more game play time than others, but the way each character is set and the environments are created you are easily transition from one character’s shoes to another character’s shoes. This actually makes all the decisions quite a bit harder and more emotional. You can tell there is some sort of purpose for everything and everyone you encounter throughout the play time.

4.75 out of 5

Derek Padakowski

Snapshot: Tokyo Jungle

Tokyo Jungle is a downloadable game for Playstation 3 users. It is probably one of the most interesting survival games I have played in quite some time. The premise is that all human kind has gone extinct on Earth and animals have taken over the cities. These animals range from pets to zoo animals, and the setting is primarily.. well.. Tokyo.

The animals in the streets of this stone and metal jungle range from ordinary house cats and pet beagles, who have become ferral animals to survive, all the way too animals such as chimps, hippos, and tigers. Hell they even through in my favorite type of animal, DINOSAURS. Now, I’m not exactly just sure how they tied these fierce reptiles into the fiction, but I can’t wait to see.

The game mechanics are simple enough that just about anyone can get into this 3D side scroller type game. However, just because the mechanics are simple, that does not mean that game is short on challenges at all. Actually, quite the opposite. Since the mechanics are simple, there is a limited amount of things you can do as you try to take over the territories in the city, whether it be by beating and eating prey (predators) or by sneaking around and eating the plant life (grazers).

Honestly, the game is a blast and keeps bringing me back. In order to play as the different animals you have to play through Survival Mode as other types of animals and complete challenges. So the replay value comes not only from the joy and ease of game play, but also from the ability to play as a multitude of animals that you have to work pretty hard to obtain. There is all the online leader board aspects from many games that are coming out this year, and the art style is great and matches the tone of the game. The soundtrack, though, is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the game. The music certainly gets you amped for the challenges you will face as a cat, beagle, deer, ostrich, tiger, and well many more breeds of animals.

The odd thing about the game is the animation cutting that was implemented. So as you go around peeing to mark the territories they developer decided that they shouldn’t actually add the peeing animation. However, when you go to breed with mates, they did feel it necessary to add the animation for you beginning to mount another animal. They don’t go through the whole animation, but I just found it funny to see where the developer was willing to draw the line.

Overall the game is a lot of fun. Sometimes I even find it hard for me to put the controller down. It’s only $15 from PSN and there is plenty of play time throughout the game to more than make it worth while on an dollar per hour ratio. While the game may not be for everyone I highly suggest checking it out.

I give the game a 4.5 out of 5.

Derek Padakowski