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Tomb Raider:  Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider:  Definitive Edition - Unboxing

After playing part of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition video game for the first time, I have a three letter word to describe it --  "Wow!"  I preordered this game awhile back and have just now had the opportunity to play part of it.  When I received Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, starring Lara Croft on the release date in March, 2014 from Amazon.com, I did an unboxing of this game complete with pictures. I was that impressed by the artistry of the video game packaging which included a hard cover book with artwork from the game that is worthy of framing.  What was missing was a poster of Lara Croft in action as she braves the perils and tribulations of what it takes to survive.

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Tomb Raider Unboxed (game and book) with Pixelbot robot courtesy of DPL looking on 

Of course packaging is just that -- packaging.  What really counts about a video game, in my opinion, is the enjoyment that you experience from playing the game, whether your excitement for the game stems from the action, characters, story line, creativity of plot, or any number of other reasons.  If you ask me which of these choices Tomb Raider: Definitive Collection excelled in, I would have to say the character and the action.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Expectations 

When I slipped the physical video game disc in my PS4, and the Tomb Raider cover art showed on the screen, I was unsure what to expect.  I saw the previous version of this  game played during the holidays by my family member, and at that time, I was impressed by the realistic graphics, as well as the requirement to use logical thinking skills to advance in the game.  At that time, I was a bystander, just looking at the video game playing action, listening to the realistic sound effects as Lara Croft splashed her way through the deep seas, roamed forests, etc., to accomplish her missions.  Just as there is a saying "Seeing is believing" -- regarding video game playing I think there should be a saying "Playing is believing."  It is only by actually holding a video game controller, controlling and experiencing the actions of the video game characters yourself that, in my opinion, you can truly decide if you will not only play the video game again, but will also recommend others to play it as well.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Spoiler Alert

I am going to give you a spoiler alert here, just in case you have not played the game and want to experience the gameplay with the surprises and suspenseful moments in tact.  If you have not played Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, you may want to stop reading here, because the next sections I will be talking about my experiences with this video game, including how Lara Croft got through certain obstacles during the first part of the game, that you may prefer to figure out on your own. I played this game in the normal mode, vs. the easy or hard options. Also as a disclaimer, this review does not cover the complete video game -- only the first parts that I played.

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Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Actions/Adventures

I liked the action-packed movie introduction which included actions where Lara Croft seemingly spirals down a long drop before she reaches the bottom. She is visibly in pain, her clothing is soiled and she has blood all over her, including her face. Unfortunately, she also is hurt and has a sharp object jutting in her left side.  My first action in the gameplay was to use the controller to remove the shart object from hurting her -- which I succeeded in doing.  From then on  -- for the part of the game I played, Lara Croft moves throughout the video game environments, clutching her side with her right hand over the wound while in some cases holding a torch in her left hand.  But not to worry, as I played the game longer, eventually she felt well enough to remove her hand from her side, to regain use of both of her hands.  

As I continued to move her along the terrains, I had already decided that this was an exploratory type game, where you use the character to discover the surroundings. However, I stood to be corrected.  I found out soon enough that Lara Croft does a lot more than move around the environments.  Just when I was getting comfortable moving her through parts of the dark cave where she had landed, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, an enemy apppeared and tried to capture her.  I literally jumped when this happened, because this was totally unexpected. From then on, I knew this game would be adventurous and suspenseful.  After about three tries, I was able to get Lara Croft to fight off her enemy, and breathed a sigh of relief when within the small cave she was in, a door closed that blocked the enemy from entering.  

That one particular unexpected action got my adrenalin going.  I kept thinking what would happen next.  I had Lara Croft continue her adventures in the cave by having her to traverse treacherous waters where there was fire on one side of a waterfall and barrels of fuel on the other.  The problem was that in order to get out,  Lara Croft had to go through the waterfall while carrying her torch -- which of course did not work. The water would put out the fire each time, as expected.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Strategies

Throughout the game, you are given pictures of which buttons on the controller to push as well as information on the mission or environment that Lara Croft has entered. Also, when you push the L1 button on your controller, the environment turns to black and white and items that can help you to escape, etc. are lit up brighter than the others. Once you release the L1 button, the game actions, including the colors return.

I studied the environment and saw a hanging apparatus, as well as a street car-like vehicle on another level of the cave area. Both were lit or shined  brighter when I pushed the L1 button so I knew these items were required for her to escape. Also the square button would appear on the screen to push as barrels and boxes floated in the water. When I did so, the barrels would start burning and continued to float in the water.  To give you a visual of where she was during this part of the video game -- Lara Croft was in thrashing waters, among lots of burning boxes and barrels, with debris, old bottles, shoes etc. floating around with loud sounds of waves of water crashing through several areas.

To make a long story short,  I was unable to get Lara Croft to push the street car off the ramp or get her on the hanging apparatus.  This is the first part of the game where I got stuck.  After a phone call for advice, I went back to the game and tried again, this time using different actions to get her out of this cave-like atmosphere that had water and firey barrels and boxes everywhere.  I was unable to pile barrels beneath the hanging apparatus as suggested, so I tried a different strategy which surprisingly to me -- worked.  Somehow I got her into the hanging apparatus. She was unable to swing back and forth -- so I had her to jump from this apparatus. Then I had her to try once again to push the street car which by this time was full  of burning barrels.  Lo and behold -- this time the street car actually moved out of the way.  Previously, it would move just a little and then return to its original position.  When the street car moved, a multitude of actions seemed to happen all at once which resulted in her being in a totally different mountainous environment.  I had Lara Croft jump over mountains where she hung dangerously off tall cliffs. She also had to fight off another enemy in this environment. As a disclaimer -- The apparatus/street car scene actions I did when I played this game, may or may not work for you.  It may depend on the level of game that you are playing, i.e., easy, normal, hard -- or even some other reasons.

Now for the next adrenalin moment I experienced when playing the first section of Tomb Raider:: Definitive Edition.   When Lara Croft reached the mountains, she had to actually climb the mountains, by frantically clawing her way up.  To keep her from falling, I had to keep pushing the L2 and R2 buttons quickly at the same time.  I also had to move the left stick on the controller either right or left to have her dodge large, gigantic boulders before I got her to the top of the mountain.tombraider4  I tried numerous times to keep her from falling by pushing these buttons, even at one time turning the PS4 controller around so the L2 and R2 buttons were facing me.  However, I got her on the mountain-top and kept her away from the boulders by using the controller positioned in the normal way.  My fingers got a true workout here, and with the controller rumbling, the sound effects of her climbing up the mountains, and her gasping -- when she finally reached the top of the mountain, breathing heavily, I was doing just about the same thing.  I felt as if we had both shared a victory at that point, and felt quite exhilarated that she had made it up the mountain safely.  

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Likes and Dislikes

Here's  what I liked and did not like about the part of the game I played.  I liked the realistic video game graphics, where the grass moved with the wind. I liked that the game started over close to the part where you may have tried to complete a mission, instead of starting all over again.   I liked the sound effects including the sounds of the rushing waters that in some ways can be a nice sound to listen to, but can also be frightening as well -- especially if the character is on a high mountain, looking down in deep, thrashing waters.   The voice acting, was ok; however, in some of the scenes, the voice actor was difficult to understand, and when the character fell from a tall mountain, I personally think that she could have screamed more realistically.  Also the illustration of the character can be improved in some of the scenes, because in some, her face seems to be swollen at her jaws -- not in all scenes -- but in some.  I liked the realistic movement of the character's eyes, as well as the expression she had which signaled that she was at a loss as to what to do in certain situations -- however, she was able to figure things out. I also liked the voice commands where you actually speak your options, such as showing the maps, pausing etc. 

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Highly Recommended

If you have not played this game, and enjoy playing adventure, action games, I highly recommend you play Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on your PS4.  If you do not have a PS4, you may be interested to know that Tomb Raider is currently free to play on the PS3 for PS plus members.  I also have a PS3 -- but I was happy to play this game on my PS4 where I was able to use the new features of the PS4 and experience the improved graphics and sound qualities.

I'm looking forward to playing more of this game as well as seeing and experiencing via video game play the other adventures/missions Lara Croft will encounter in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is rated M for Mature and is playable on the PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows PC and Mac.

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Published in Playstation 4
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 00:00

Thief Review (PS4)

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By Matt Bradford

The City is in shambles, its leaders corrupt, and its people are dropping like flies. One thief possesses the skills and guile to set things right, but he (and by extension, you) will have to wade through a hot mess of an adventure before the day is won.

And yes, Thief is a hot mess. It's the kind that offers just enough to keep you interested, but ultimately leaves you wondering if you're enjoying the ride or holding out for the game you think/hope it can become. To be fair, Square Enix's Thief revival has its bright spots. These, however, are few and far between, and only hardcore fans (or those who haven't played a stealth game in ten years) will stick around long enough to see them shine.

This game again...?

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The setup is enticing (if not entirely familiar). After a botched job puts Garrett and his partner Erin out of commission, our hero awakes from a year-long coma to find Erin missing and The City in ruins. A disease called the Gloom is eating away at its (very few) residents and the powers-that-be seem more concerned with plotting nefarious deeds than doing their jobs. Can you guess which grumbly-voiced criminal reluctantly decides to save the day?

Swap Gloom with Rat Plague, The City with Dunwall, and Garrett's “focus” powers with Corvo's supernatural abilities, and the comparisons to Dishonored are hard to ignore. Both share a breezy, first person style; embrace similar themes; and accommodate the same “choose your own playstyle” approach to mission objectives (hell, both even have a brothel, mansion, and derelict factory mission to boot). But where Dishonored injects its dystopian fantasy land with a sense of energy, color, and style, Thief remains relentlessly bleak and lifeless at nearly every turn.

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Take, for instance, The City; Thief's central hub wherein Garrett will spend his downtime running odd jobs and filling his pockets with shiny objects (don't bother asking who he's selling them too or why everyone is poor and yet The City is overflowing with expensive silverware). While nicely detailed and peppered with secrets, it is aggressively bland and void of life. It is a bleak patchwork of locked doors, empty rooms, dead ends, and random loading screens; and its districts offer little variety beyond “dilapidated row of buildings” to “dilapidated row of buildings with a gate”. What few NPCs you will encounter are barely animated puppets who offer little aside from repeated lines of dialogue and the occasional pickpocketing opportunity.

On the upside, The City contains a great number of hidden rooms and secret areas. On the downside, you'll find it hard to give a crap. Truly, the first time you crack open a window and slip in to rob some poor schmuck's bedroom, you'll get a sense that Garrett has hours of thief-like instances just waiting to be found. And then, once it becomes obvious none of these areas are inhabited or pose any real threat beyond the occasional lock or trap, robbing these areas of their valuables becomes more of a chore than anything else. Once you see one empty living room with a nightstand and valuable watch, you'll have basically seen them all. Eventually, you won't even bother.

This sense of lifelessness extends to Garrett's missions. Like The City, Thief's mission locales are barely memorable, offering little to do beyond scour for scraps of paper (plot!) and whatever McGuffin you've been instructed to nab. Even The City's brothel, which should have been one of the more lively and enticing hotspots, is a boring maze of boring rooms, boring hallways, and “hostesses” who aren't so much skilled in the art of seduction as they are with rubbing awkwardly over their clients (and in some cases not moving at all). Here again, you'll spend a bulk of your time eluding the same guards, rummaging through the same drawers, opening the same treasure chests and eventually stumbling across a “hidden ancient secret” which--surprise surprise--is filled with ancient bookshelves, ancient drawers, and dustier versions of things you've seen before.

thief 2By the time Garrett's journey is through, you'll struggle to remember what it was all about. Mostly, because it gives you little reason to care, but also because Garrett himself is about as unlikable and compelling as his world. On brief occasions, you'll engage in an interesting puzzle or exhilarating (albeit heavily scripted) escape sequence. And sometimes you'll resist the temptation to skip a somewhat interesting cutscene (assuming you can put up with the noticeable frame rate drop). In the end, however, all these positive moments will do is make you realize Square Enix had the ability to make something impactful out of Thief, but fumbled along the way.

The lights are on, but no one's home

This being Thief, one would expect any shortcomings to be overshadowed by an expert stealth experience. After all, this is Thief; the series that inspired numerous stealth series when it debuted in 1998. By extension, this reboot should remind everyone how it's done. I mean, that's kind of the only reason a new Thief game should exist, right?

Yeah...about that...

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Stripped to its basics, Thief is barely more than a inflexible game of shadow and light. Move between the shadows and the world is yours for the taking (or clubbing). It doesn't matter if guards are looking directly at you, if said shadow is cast by one barrel in the middle of a bonfire, or if you're kneeling behind a waist-high statue. Thief's dark areas are magical zones that are invisible to enemies despite the fact that there is a full-grown human who is clearly squatting one foot away from you rifling through a noisy drawer.

On the occasion you do step into the light, expect everyone within a square mile radius to notice. Thankfully, Thief's enemies are mostly idiots, so these situations will rarely end in failure. It's entirely possible to skip stealth altogether and run directly towards the objective, as enemies are easily duped and will always give up the chase for very little reason. Guards on your tail? Duck into the nearest room. Rebels on your back? Climb a ladder and watch as they forget what they were searching for. Better yet, just hightail it for that glowing ball or important door standing between you and the next area. Guards are a-OK with letting you slip through to the next sequence without raising alarm or continuing their attack. Maybe they're union guards? Who knows. Except one of the lines you'll hear time and time again is, “He 'aint my problem anymore”. But actually, yes, he's your only problem.

In some ways, Thief is unintentionally funny to watch. On one occasion, a jeweller caught me red-handed in his dimly lit workshop. As I crouched in place to plot my escape, he back away in fear and soon returned to pacing the workshop in search of the dastardly thief who barely escaped his grasp. This happened four more times as I proceeded to rob him blind, and even when he finally called a guard to come investigate, I was able to scale a nearby walkway and shake my head as both he and the guard gave up the hunt after zero investigation. And then, on another occasion, I stormed the side entry of a mansion with my crossbow a-blazing, only to lose every last one of my pissed-off pursuers by ducking behind a crate. In a dead end.

In short: Garrett's enemies are morons. Or lazy. Or both. Even the game's paranormal foes who can sense Garrett's focus moves are easily avoided with slow movements and shadow hopping. It's sad, too, because judging by the abilities and weaponry Garrett has at his disposal, you're constantly aware that you can (and should) be trying harder. In actuality, the game has a way of making you over-confident in your ability to outwit enemies and find paths which may as well read “Stealth Route Here.” Don't want to deal a room full of guard? Look an inch to your left for a shiny blue grapple point or one of the many conveniently placed vents. Better yet, just run for it; it'll all be over quicker.

Thief's AI was so lacking that I started wondering if the real game was hidden elsewhere in either its Master Thief or custom difficult mode (the latter of which lets you define your own rules). And while guards do adopt heightened senses, they are still easily tricked and outrun. So you'll still be compelled to run around, but you'll likely suffer more bolts to the face than usual.

thief 3Death from a thousand annoyances

It's not just problematic AI and uninspired design that bury Thief's rare moments of inspiration. It's the little things. Things like choppy cut-scenes (on a digital download for PS4), characters that repeat the same animations ad nauseam during conversations, or the countless times you'll hear voices that sound like they're in the same room only to discover you're hearing rogue snippets of dialogue from someone outside and a street away. It's the abnormally long load screens which you'll never see coming, waist high objects you can't scale, arrow abilities that look cool but are never needed, and a slippery PS4 touchscreen inventory system that'll discourage you from using items altogether. It's side quests that offer more of the same, bonus thief challenges that break all the rules in all the wrong places, unituitive mission objectives (curse you, vault!), and brief moments of “hey, this is kind of neat” which last just long enough to keep you on the job.

To steal a line from one of thief's own guards, “I have better things to do”. Surely, Thief is a functional game—and it'll do in a pinch--but there are better games to play. Games like Dishonored, which has oodles more style and finely-tuned gameplay; Assassin's Creed, which has richer worlds to explore; Uncharted, which has a better story and characters to latch on to; and Splinter Cell or Metal Gear, which outpace Thief's stealth mechanics in every way.

Truly, Thief should have been the game that redefined its genre, as its ancestors did years ago. It should have been the technically superior next-gen title early adopters could wave in the face of their last-gen friends (who also have their own version). It should have been...better? Instead, Square Enix's reboot barely comes off as a half-baked Thief clone, which is really the biggest crime of all.

 5.5/10

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Published in Playstation 4