Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot

I was getting a bit tired of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, so I took a short break and finally played Tomb Raider, which I had gotten in a Steam sale. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best games of 2013.

For the record, I’ve never been a fan of the Tomb Raider games. Originally, they were largely nothing more than jumping puzzles, but honestly I haven’t played any of the hundreds of TR games since the original few, so I’m not sure what they’ve evolved into. All I know is that 2013 Tomb Raider bears no resemblance to the Tomb Raiders I remember.

The new Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like Uncharted, which is not surprising since Uncharted was clearly a derivative of earlier versions of Tomb Raider. (Both of which are descended in some way from the Indiana Jones franchise.)

There are basically three elements to the game: The evolving story, solving jumping and logic puzzles, and shooting bad guys. Oh, and some exploration to find hidden things if you want, but that’s optional. There aren’t really any "tombs" involved, per se, unless you do some optional side quests.

The game delivers on those main three elements almost perfectly. The story was great, the puzzles were great, and the shooting was great. The puzzles were not exactly difficult, but I expect that is by design. Unlike Bioshock Infinite, when I was always anxious to get past the "game part" to get back to the "story part," I almost never felt like the gameplay was a chore. (With one exception noted below.)

There was only one part of the game that annoyed me, which I have to get off my chest. Toward the end, when the pace of the story was picking up, and everything was clearly driving toward the final confrontation at an accelerating pace, you come into this room where you had to figure out how to work a combination of levers and jump on things to get through a hole in the wall. Up to this point, most of the puzzles had been fairly straightforward. I struggled a bit until Lara herself gave me a hint (she does that now and then), then I smacked myself in the head and moved the big thingy down into the right position so I could jump through the hole up there … except I couldn’t jump that far. Then I realized you had to get the big thingy swinging, jump onto it, then jump over to the wall, scramble up and through the hole. I knew in my head exactly how it should go. But getting Lara to actually do those steps took many, many tries. You have to time the jumps just right, execute the scrambles just right, and grab the ledges just right. It drives me absolutely crazy when a game forces you to executes moves just right before you can proceed. I am not 12 years old anymore. I do not have nearly enough patience to sit and do the same tasks over and over and over again until I get it right. (Honestly I don’t think I liked it much when I was 12, either.) And all the while, in the unfolding story, Lara is supposed to be getting into this place to stop something from happening before it’s too late. And she’s stuck in this stupid room, running and jumping and climbing over and over again. "Hold on, evil bad guy, just wait, let me get through this door, just a minute, almost there, almost got it." Arg! I get why they would save the harder puzzles for the end, but it killed the pace of the story.

Other than that, the game was awesome. It’s a pretty brutal story though. It’s not a light-hearted adventure romp like you might expect from a Tomb Raider game. It’s more of a survival horror type of game to be honest. There’s blood and guts and corpses everywhere.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Finished

Finished Brotherhood. Cool game – shorter than Assassin’s Creed II but I think more polished. (By the way, when I say I “finished” I mean I finished the story; I’m nowhere near 100% completion, because I’m not a completionist gamer. I think it was somewhere around 40% actually.)

Another cliffhanger ending. Can’t really say anything without spoiling it, but I was a little bit suspicious of that person anyway.

Started Revelations. First thing I noticed is that Desmond’s and Ezio’s faces look completely different! Not just aged, but totally different people. It’s really jarring, especially since the voices are the same. It’s like different actors playing the same part, but they got voiceovers from the original actors.

OH! And for some reason, they changed the controller buttons! Holding Y is no longer eagle sense or synchronize – now it just throws whatever your ranged weapon is. You have to use the left stick button for eagle sense, and those stick buttons are like the worst buttons imaginable.

Assassin's Creed II Finished

I finished Assassin’s Creed II last night. Man, the storytelling in this series is really good. It ended in a cliffhanger just like the first one did. And there was actually some light gameplay *during the closing credits*. How cool is that?

Anyway I started in on Brotherhood right away, which is a noticably better-looking game. It also feels a bit more like Uncharted. That is, it feels more action-oriented, with less buttons to worry about pushing. Plus there’s a part where Desmond and Lily (I think that’s her name?) wander around in some catacombs for a while trading witty banter, just like you saw Drake and what’s-her-name doing in Uncharted.

UPDATE: Her name is actually Lucy and what’s-her-name is Elena.

Finally Finishing up Assassin's Creed II

Over the weekend I decided to press on with the Assassin’s Creed series, since I rounded out my AC game collection in the last Steam sale, picking up Brotherhood, Revelations, and AC3. I played AC2 last year but for some reason I just stopped in the middle. I decided that I should finish it before I went on to the next game so I wouldn’t miss any of the cool story stuff.

I didn’t think it would take very long, but good lord, it doesn’t ever end. It turned out I was only on like Sequence 4 or 5 out of 14. Even ignoring side quests and sticking to the main storyline, I still didn’t finish it. I love just about everything about AC, but sometimes it gets a little tedious running around from place to place when you just want to get through it.

On another note, I finally picked up an Xbox controller because I got sick of trying to translate the ABXY buttons displayed on the screen into the square, triangle, circle, whatever buttons on the PS3 controller I normally used. AC was definitely made for a controller, but before now, I’ve always played it with keyboard-mouse controls. The controller is a lot easier.

Taurus Demon Down

I finally defeated the second boss in Dark Souls. I say "finally" because I spent quite a lot of time wandering around dying in the Undead Burg, leveling up with the meager amounts of souls I could accumulate from the skeletons there, and gathering bits and pieces of gear. I feel like I know the stretch of the map between the campfire and the boss like the back of my hand now. Two skeletons, run across bridge, three skeletons, up stairs, three skeletons, up the tower, one skeleton sniper, down the stairs, two skeletons and a tough dude, then another skeleton comes running down, and then you’re going up the spiral stairs to the boss area.

I killed the boss on the second try, although I don’t think the first one counted and one could possibly argue that I didn’t technically "kill" him the second time either. On the first attempt, I zapped him with my bolts, ran past him, zapped him some more, then ran past him back toward the ladder, when I suddenly had the brilliant idea to run up the ladder and rain bolts on him from above. That’s when I discovered that the boss climbs up to the top of the tower and squashes you.

On the second try I stayed on the ground, kept my distance, and shot him with sorcerer bolts. I was down to the point where one more shot would have killed him as he was running toward me. I didn’t think I would have enough time to fire again so I decided to be safe and run past him again, and naturally I managed to dodge through a hole in the wall and fell to my death. I was about to blow a gasket when I saw that the boss for some reason jumped down after me and killed himself. A slightly unsatisfying kill, but nevertheless it earned me the loot and allowed me to reach the next campfire. Which, ironically, turned out to be the same campfire as the last one.

By the way, I am playing exclusively with a PS3 controller now.

Dark Souls on the PC

I watched some very amusing "Let’s Play" videos of two of the GWJ guys playing Dark Souls, and decided that I finally needed to get this "killer" game. By killer I mean it has a reputation of being mercilessly difficult. So I got the "Prepare to Die" PC version from Steam.

Okay. So yeah, it’s hard. But it’s not hard in the way you might think. It’s hard because the controls and camera management are impossibly obtuse for a PC game, at least initially. I’m used to playing with mouse-and-keyboard, but the mouse-and-keyboard controls for this game are just horrible. It doesn’t even hide the Windows pointer. So you really have no choice but to play with the keyboard only, where in addition to the normal WASD controls on the left, your right hand has WASD-style controls on the right side of the keyboard, which controls your camera view and target-lock. It’s a bit awkward, to say the least.

So of course you tend to die a lot – not because the first encounters are particularly hard, but because you can’t figure out which key or combination of keys to press to dodge, swing your sword, run, block, turn around, or whatever. The built-in hints are no help at all since they are all for the Xbox 360 controller.

And actually, the first boss is pretty hard. During the brief tutorial section while you’re learning which buttons to press, you run into a boss almost right away. At first you think, okay, well this guy looks tough, but even though he looks big and formidable, he’s probably one of those massive bosses with only a tiny health because if the game puts me here so soon, then I must be able to defeat him with my meager skills and equipment, right? Nope. He smashes you in one or two blows, and your fist punches do not even scratch his health bar. It turns out you’re supposed to run around him to a side door.

But then after you pick up a shield and weapon and go through a few more tips and tutorials, you end up facing that boss again. You might think you’d have a better chance to kill him, but no, not really. On the second try you at least have something besides bare fists, but basically you have to keep dodging him and plinking him with your ranged ability. At least, that’s what I did with my sorcerer. I can’t imagine surviving a melee encounter.

Since the keyboard-only controls are pretty awful, I decided to see if I could get a PS3 controller to work. I did – eventually, using a slightly dubious, ad-riddled driver thingy called MotioninJoy – but I’m not sure if it’s an improvement. Movement is much more intuitive, but I don’t know if the buttons make things any easier. I should probably just stick with the controller.

I’m not sure why I want to keep playing this game, other than the perverse challenge of it, and just to say that I did. It is a neat-looking game, and it does have a very old-school RPG feel to it.

My First Look at Skyrim

I finally got Skyrim in a Steam sale. I’m not sure exactly what I expected but I kind of thought it would be something a bit more … well, different from Oblivion. All of the same annoying things from Oblivion are still there in Skyrim.

The most annoying of which is when five people walk up to you and start talking at the same time. While you’re already talking to someone else. Not to mention the laggy, unresponsive sort of feel to the interface, which is particularly annoying considering you’re supposed to play it like an FPS. I’ve played FPSs, Skyrim, and you, sir, are no FPS.

The story’s cool though. I guess. I don’t really know what it is. I just wander around trying to complete objectives, while simultaneously starting new objectives.