tiistai 11. kesäkuuta 2013

REVIEW - Spider-Man / X-Men: Arcade's Revenge | SNES | 1992

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: November 1992
DEVELOPER(S): Software Creations, Unexpected Development (GB)

The 100th SNES review! ...And it's only fitting that this milestone for my favourite video game console of all time involves two of my favourite Marvel comics, marking the debut of the X-Men - still a way to go to their first exclusive entry in the marathon - at the same time. ...And, I guess you could call it fitting that this is a game once again financed by my arch nemesis in the business. Spider-Man / X-Men: Arcade's Revenge was the fifth console game based on the X-Men, and the first 16-bit video game installment in the long-running franchise. Although this was his first SNES appearance as well, Spider-Man already had nearly a total of ten games under his belt, and each one of those games - with the exception of Sega's Spider-Man - had failed critically and commercially, especially those financed by LJN. So, I'm willing to bet they considered X-Men the main sales point here, especially since the X-Men animated series had premiered a month prior to the release of the game's first version - which was this one for the SNES. Let's have a look.

X my heart and hope to die

Almost excited.
Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit and Storm are kidnapped by Arcade, and Spider-Man sets out to rescue the X-Men. He ends up falling into Arcade's trap like the rest of them and fighting for his life in Murderworld.

My first image of this game was something along the lines of RoboCop versus The Terminator; essentially a one man's show, but kinda "reinforced" with another brand, so the game would sell better. That image certainly didn't go away instantly, as the game begins from the abduction of the X-Men, with Spider-Man as the only playable character in a very strange - and dull - game of fetch. Well, then the game truly begins, and you'll be able to choose between Spider-Man and four of my favourite X-Men. Having no idea what this game would be like, I nearly piss my pants in excitement, get myself a cup of coffee and have a smoke before heading into what might be an entertaining game.

Entertaining game, my ass.

First off, the graphics. OK - colour me impressed that there's a specific graphical style, and to some extent, even a specific gameplay style designed for each character. But, what binds all characters is a confusing background design and hectic atmosphere. It's impossible to make out what's going on half the time, and those nice graphical effects - even some Mode 7 there - why are they here? It's like: "look, we invested time and money to make this game look as great as we possibly could". Well, that's great, it really is, but the one thing LJN never got through their tiny little minds is gameplay's importance to the consumer. Besides, the game sounds like ass. The music's better and more diverse than usual, but the sound effects suck, especially the _one single scream_ each guy or gal let out when they die, and Spider-Sense.

What a cheerful chamber of death.
The first level's indeed one strange, effortless run for some collectables I could never really identify. You'll get very familiar with this level if you're even dreaming of beating this heap to the hilt, I assure you. After that, it's your choice. Each character has two different levels for you to complete, and once you're done with every level in the game, you'll supposedly take on Arcade himself, as Spider-Man. Well, as everyone knows, I'm a Wolverine fan to the core, so I practically have no choice but to start out as him. Turns out I'm not too willing to carry on after this shitstorm.

The characters take much more damage from a single blow than it would first seem, and whenever they're hit, there's no invisibility period of any kind - they just stand there, taking constant damage from a rapid-fire source, ultimately dying, and checkpoints are nowhere to be discovered. With this long, boring and confusing level design, that's a fatal mistake from the developers. Collision detection is completely off at the most important of times. The first boss in Wolverine's episode (Apocalypse) is almost impossible to hit without taking some damage yourself. He's fucking enfuriating with his long arms, and Wolverine's surprising inability to do just about anything isn't worth a smile either. You're in for something much worse, and that's where I'll stop - I tried all the different "games", but I think what I'm about to say is quite enough for me to draw a conclusion without further due.

Spot the spikes before the spikes spot you.
Wolverine's second level is a gauntlet run, in which he's supposed to cut down anvils and weights hanging from the ceiling, to drop them down on Juggernaut, who's chasing him. Well, if clowns throwing virtually unavoidable bombs on you half the time isn't enough, the lack of collision detection kicks in just about all the time, preventing you from cutting the ropes, and to survive the level, you've got to keep moving - you simply can't stall because of one setback, 'cause if Juggernaut catches up to you, you're dead. Get this, though: when you reach the end of the level and haven't dropped EACH AND EVERY FUCKING WEIGHT on Juggernaut, he'll catch up to you and headbutt you to death. Well, even if you are somehow able to swallow this crap that ISN'T YOUR FAULT, and willing to try again, you only have as many tries as you have lives left in the counter. There are no continues, and those lives are shared between characters. Lose 'em all, and it's back to the beginning, back to Spidey's stupid game of fetch.

I hope there's some sort of image forming in your head, and I hope it's one of refusal to ever touch this piece of garbage. I'm sorry the 100th SNES review had to end this way, but I guess it couldn't have been avoided with such assholes calling the shots - year after year, game after game, I grow to loathe them more. It's time to take on their last few Spider-Man games, which I used to hold in much higher regard than the rest of their whole catalog - I fear time might've played some tricks on my mind.

+ Good graphics and presentation... again
+ The controls are basically all right this time around

- Unreasonable difficulty, stemming from such things as...
- Half-assed collision detection
- Lack of continues
- Confusing level design
- General inabilities of all characters

< 3.5 >

REVIEW - Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six | NES | 1992

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 1992
PUBLISHER(S): LJN, Flying Edge (GG, SMS)

Spider-Man's NES debut actually came a while before Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers - unfortunately - saw daylight on the Game Boy, and like the handheld game, this one was also the work of B.I.T.S. and LJN, and based on a comic book serial released around the same time. Return of the Sinister Six, the serial was called; it resurrected a specific group of great Marvel supervillains from the 60's, who as a group and under their hard-hitting moniker were considered the perfect gallery of bosses for a Spider-Man video game. Yeah, well, no one we've never seen in another game belongs in the Sinister Six, and Venom isn't a member, so what we've got left is a good title and some faint hope for a good game. ...Yeah, well, the title's good.

Return of the sinister d... too predictable.

Why are you pink? Seriously: why are you
Doctor Octopus has reunited the Sinister Six, a group of supervillains consisting of Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Vulture, Hobgoblin and himself. Only one man stands between the group and their plot for world domination - you know who.

I'm starting to get really frustrated, here. I know I'm up for some good Marvel games at some point, maybe not great ones, but good games that are authentic comic book fun, and fun to review - or alternatively, games that are absolutely so laughably horrible that they jump the line of being fun to review as well. With the exception of the half decent old DOS game The Amazing Spider-Man, the Spider-Man games I've done thus far have all suffered from the very same problems. It's like time stood still for these games, like they all popped up from the very same pooper at the very same time. There are no developments, no improvements. Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six was a chance for these two fuck-ups to get their acts straight after a couple of failures on the Game Boy, focus on the gameplay mechanics for once and not solely how cool it would look to the undemanding, casual Marvel fan.

The Osborns called. They want their glider back.
Well, to my surprise, Return of the Sinister Six doesn't look all that ugly - although it has some shades of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to it like in weird palette choices - nor does it sound all that bad. The controls are also quite good; it's no surprise that the web mechanics suck, and it's awkward how the B button is assigned to three different moves which appear to be registered at a total random, and Spidey has some problems clinging on to ropes or any surfaces you can climb, but well, at least the guy jumps properly. All things seem to be somewhat in check, so how can this game possibly be so horrible? Well, the collection of some of the poorest level design ever will take care of your dissatisfaction with this here product.

It's not just that the levels are dull, one tiny mistake - which might not be yours but of the dark side of the control and detection scheme - can send you down into a pit you can't escape from. That's right: it's not hard, it's not tricky, it's not improbable, it's IMPOSSIBLE. There's a block, at the exact height you can't reach by jumping, and it also prevents you from landing a web shot to a higher level. Flipping yourself onto the block by using a web shot is equally impossible. You might think to yourself: that's all right, suicide is always an option since the enemies respawn all the time. Well, in the particular pit I'm speaking of, the only enemies are rats. It takes forever to be killed by a rat or even two of them, especially since you have plenty of health - actually, the game is very easy, since you have so much health and enemies are so easy to attack, including bosses. Or would be, without this fuckery. Well, even if you do manage to kill yourself by abusing those poor rats, keep in mind that you have only one continue. Fall into this particular pit or any other inescapable trap this incomplete piece of crap has in store one more time, and your game's over. Talk about unreasonable, huh? I'm not sure that's the right word.

This is it: the hole of doom.
Well, I guess it's not the worst waste of time from the B.I.T.S. library of Spider-Man games... wait. Yes, it is - it's literally a waste of time if it's virtually impossible to beat, and only due to lackluster design and seemingly the total lack of testing. Even so, it shows some potential; up 'til the first killing point, I even liked it to some extent. That's an accomplishment, I guess.

+ Semi-functional controls
+ Not as bad as I thought from an audiovisual standpoint

- Like I said, SEMI-functional controls
- Unbelievably poor, incomplete level design, which at its worst might prevent you from completing the game - and which also provides the only true challenge within this game
- Lots of health, but only one continue to go with the previous flaw

< 5.0 >

REVIEW - Spider-Man | GEN | 1991

GENRE(S): Action
DEVELOPER(S): Sega, Technopop (GEN)

The first 16-bit Spider-Man game was released in 1991 on Sega Genesis, and instead of a completely new game, it was a port of a fairly successful Master System game, released a year earlier. This game is most commonly known as Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, but officially it's known as just Spider-Man. The Genesis port, in particular, is historical for being one of the best-selling games based on Marvel Comics, and naturally, a title which went on to influence the development of a whole array of 16-bit Marvel games. We're talking about best selling, and influencing the development - not necessarily a very good or influential game in itself. This one's still quite popular in retro circles, but what I see is a frustrating, uncomfortable drivel with boring level design; quite entertaining after what I've just been through by the strength of three bad games, but a very disappointing start to Spidey's 16-bit career.

Caught in a web

"Honest businessman" Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin, has gathered around a whole group of Spider-Man's arch enemies - Doctor Octopus, Electro, The Lizard, The Sandman, The Hobgoblin, and last but not least, Venom - planted a bomb somewhere in New York City, and laid the blame on our friendly neighbourhood hero. Spider-Man must evade the police as well as his boss, clear his name and bring these foes to justice.

I don't give a fuck 'bout no laws of gravity.
The idea of a Marvel marathon first came to me as early as summer of 2010, when I first started doing the blog and wrote the first Batman marathon - which actually wasn't supposed to be a marathon at first, I had only done Batman: Arkham Asylum. A friend who I first got acquainted with around 2008 read the review and then I told him I was going to do some Batman retro reviews to go with it once I figured out what to do with the reviews I had written up 'til that point. He told me that he was always more of a Spider-Man fan and asked me to do a review of the first Spider-Man game on the Sega Genesis - he had it when he was a kid, and was kinda shocked I didn't know that much about Sega Genesis, or the game called Spider-Man. He told me it was a classic, and judging by his description of the game and its gallery of rogues, I was kinda intrigued. However, I told him that if I ever did a Spider-Man marathon, I'd have no choice but to take on the rest of the Marvel roster as well - after all, Marvel was always an interesting subject as a whole while DC Comics only had Batman, who alone outshined Marvel Comics. Well, I'm done with Batman for now, and well on my way with the Marvel marathon I envisioned back then, now it's time to take on this old favourite of a friend, as a kind of a favour to him... if you can count this review as such, 'cause the game hasn't aged too well. In fact, I think it never was too special. Unlike this friend of mine (born in '89), I was very much around when the game came out - playing the 8-bit Batman game and enjoying the hell out of it, something I still do. This 16-bit Spider-Man game has nothing on it, despite some good grounds.

The level design, backgrounds included, is extremely generic and boring, character design is of much better quality - despite of very few different enemies. The game was praised for its graphics back in the day, which I have to question because yes, while I think the boss sprites are very faithful to their comic book counterparts and Spider-Man's movement is artificially swift and smooth, there's really nothing much else to cheer about. The game looks really bland and I honestly think better looking Genesis games were released back in the 80's. The music's some generic ambient jive, not really loud enough to get on your nerves though.

The level design is truly the most enfuriating flaw there is to Spider-Man. The levels are basically cubic mazes with no clear indication of which direction to go, and when you finally figure it out, you're probably dying due to a thug with infinite ammo waiting around each corner and there are at least two bosses in each level to take care of. Top it all off with the absolute minimum of extra health to collect, and NO additional checkpoints to the start of the level. That's right, even if you get capped by the second boss, you'll have to do the whole level again - the whole boring level. Oh yeah, and since I didn't mention it yet, there are instances where you MUST take damage to be able to proceed. Oh yeah, and if you want a hint of what the enemy A.I.'s like, check out my review of RoboCop 3 for the SNES; actually, it's exactly the same! They just shoot, shoot, shoot. Duck, and they won't be able to hit you - they just keep shooting forward. Actually, the levels are also extremely similar to those in RoboCop 3... hmmm...

Not much health or webbing left. How about I...
DUCK? Ha-ha!!
The control scheme is hit and miss, all the way. I kind of like the jumping and swinging, but climbing anything and attempting to hop off whatever you're climbing is pure hell. Many times there's a thug waiting on top of the wall you're climbing, and since there's no way to climb a corner, and he just keeps shooting forward once you're in his range without the slightest ceasefire, you have no choice but to jump up, hope that you make the jump and even if you make the jump, you'll probably have to eat a bullet or two before you can put the guy down with a web shot - provided you have enough webbing at your disposal. If not, good luck - and good luck with the rest of the level, as well. Like I said, power-ups do not grow on trees in this game.

You can buy more webbing (hmm, interesting...) with money, and to get money, you can use a camera to take pictures of enemies. You can also use a web shield to absorb bullets, and you can also return home to rest at any time to replenish your health. Sounds very dandy, but truth be told, these features are completely useless. OK, maybe you'll get some kicks out of that camera stunt, and certainly more ammo, but there's just no practical use for that shield, and even if resting at home sounds like a good idea, doing it means that you'll have to do the whole level all over again.

Needless to say, Spider-Man is an extremely frustrating game - not totally bad, though, and the presentation's quite all right. That's one of the most important basics to take care of when you're making a licensed game, since if at least the presentation's good, kids might dig it. They don't care about the stuff us grown-ups do. We've all been kids...

+ Good presentation
+ An epic rogues gallery

- On/off controls
- Shitty level design
- Lousy enemy A.I.
- Useless extra items and features

< 6.1 >

REVIEW - Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers | GB | 1993

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: July 1993

Nowadays, sequels almost never cease to please those people who were into their preceding titles. They might even outright amaze them. When you make a near-masterpiece of a first game, you observe and take notes of what mainly the media thinks you could've done better - after all, the media in turn affects a lot of casual gamers and their takes on the game, whether they want to admit it or not. Then, you release the second game, and it very often is just the kind of game people wanted the first one to be like. It's all very simple and obvious. Back in the early 90's credible, wide-spread video game reviews hardly existed, and even if they did, very few developers would've taken 'em seriously. That might be the exact reason why a game like Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers came to existence - why stop publishing games which basically sell themselves, and why improve the game if there's no one around to tell everyone it sucks before it's too late? The company it's in might not be too impressive in itself, but Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers is plain horrible, and one of the worst games I've had to suffer along the Marvel road.

Slay him, slay him dead

During a routine New York City check-up, Spider-Man finds himself face to face with a group of robots of unknown origin, dubbed the Spider-Slayers.

Although many are willing to disagree with me on this one for some doggone reason, Spider-Man 3 has virtually nothing to do with its predecessors. It's not really a typical platformer like the first one, nor is it more like an adventure game like the second one. I'd call this somewhat of a hybrid... of a few different colours of crap. It starts off like a side-scrolling beat 'em up, a generic but not a totally unplayable one - once the platform jumping kicks in somewhere around the second or third level, it takes a dive. Not a gradual one, either - but a straight, head-on dive to hell.

There's a call from a Mr. Giger.
The cutscenes are full of grammatical errors and extremely boring in look, but the in-game graphics are actually quite good, so good that I'm (mostly) willing to disregard how much character designers owe to other people for these designs (whether it's the developers or the comic book artists, I'm not really sure since I'm not acquainted with the serial this game's loosely based on). The soundtrack comprises of about a quarter of a handful of loops, at most.

I wish the curse of bad controls that plagued almost every Marvel game of the era, regardless of the platform, was present, but no, the controls in Spider-Man 3 ain't bad. Instead, they're so horrible that they render the game completely unplayable from a certain point forward. As far as the beat 'em up schtick carries on - not too far - the game's nearly all right. In the first level, you need to identify 20 muggers from an array of constantly spawning sprites in a park and kick their ass. You lose points from attacking civilians. Too bad the difference between a mugger and an innocent bystander can't be figured out until they're something like half an inch away from Spidey, which very easily allows them to land a cheap shot after another at you. Collision detection also sucks ass. Luckily you have a lot of health to spare. The first boss is quite easy to figure out and defeat just by using basic melee attacks, once again thanks to your vast reserves of health.

Let's do this simple, aight?
You open your mouth, I jump
in, level complete. No? This
ain't anything like my youth.
The bird boss is the waterbreaker, who'll most likely leave you with the conclusion that you bought this game for its first five minutes. You're supposed to get on top of this fuckoo-cuckoo instead of attacking him from the ground, and to do that, you must use your web - unlimited this time, but that's far from the point - to first make it to the top of the two buildings on your sides, then climb on his back. First of all, simply jumping in this game requires effort, not to mention clinging onto a wall or ceiling, or sling the web at the absolute correct time, or even make it stick to a surface. Finally, the most impossible task of all: use the web for swinging and jumping. If you thought the controls in the previous games were bad... no. I was going to recommend this game for reference, but I won't even do that. Steer clear from this piece of trash.

Well, that's it for the Spider-Man games for the original Game Boy - finally, after only three games. Two which sucked, but almost had potential, and one which turns out simply unplayable in a matter of minutes. Next up, several Spider-Man console games from three different generations, all from the 90's though. I'm not prepared for greatness, but I'm certainly prepared for some better time than I ever spent with these three.

+ Sometimes highly impressive in-game graphics
+ The first level shows some faint promise...

- ...Which is immediately flushed down the toilet
- Melee combat suffers greatly from poor collision detection
- "Jump! Jump! In the name of God, jump!"
- Totally unresponsive, confusing web mechanics which render the game unplayable
- Repetitive music and boring "cutscenes", presentation at its absolute worst

< 2.5 >

REVIEW - Spider-Man 2 | GB | 1992

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: Aug 1992

Spider-Man still hadn't made his home debut under the Nintendo brand when LJN were already squeezing out a sequel to Game Boy's The Amazing Spider-Man. This game was called Spider-Man 2 in the U.S., but I guess us Europeans had to have the connection to the previous game spelled out for us, as the game was renamed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 upon its European launch. The game's original title makes it the first of three games released on the three most essential Game Boy models through time, named Spider-Man 2. Pretty neat, huh? ...Now for the more important question: did anyone care? No, not even me - I'm desperately trying to come up with something to start with, here. The game certainly doesn't offer up much to go on, despite a nice gameplay concept.

Cranial carnage

Peter Parker wakes up with the worst hangover ever - or so it seems, at least - and upon reading the morning Bugle, discovers that Spider-Man's been framed for a bank robbery. He takes on a band of villains led by Mysterio, believing them responsible for the robbery and his condition.

Mine too.
I've said it before, and though it's kinda hard to believe sometimes, I'm always willing to give the benefit of a doubt to a licensed game - always, especially when they deal with a favourite comic book character of mine, or a few of them. This one has appealing box art on its side - last game had Venom for a final boss, this one's got... well, Mysterio. Carnage, the second-to-last boss is depicted on the front cover - and making him second-to-last doesn't really tingle my senses in any good way. It was a letdown, having the first boss from the last game as the head honcho and probably Spider-Man's most deadliest enemy as a mere right hand man, but I guess my point - it's there, somewhere - is that you can certainly play the game long enough to see this awkward equation transpire. Which isn't long at all, since the game is damn short. The controls are  devastatingly bad, the game doesn't look or sound that awesome - the cutscenes are particularly poor - but the game has somewhat of a neat idea, as it's more of an adventure game than of the standard action-platformer fare.

Spider-Man 2 is like a very early and compact draft of Batman: Arkham Asylum, with downtown New York serving as Arkham Island. Don't get your slightest hopes up about the game's quality by the notion that I just made, as it was merely the first game to come to my mind when describing the concept on a theoretical level. The game doesn't have clear cuts between levels, and not every level ends in a boss fight. For example, the Hobgoblin's up there from the beginning, hovering on top of Peter's house and dropping bombs on the street. You're supposed to figure out how to get to him and what makes him tick; if I'm not totally mistaken, it's possible to clash with him right when you see him, not recommended though. In some cases, you can get to boss rooms beforehand, but won't be able to meet the boss face to face before finding and registering a clue to the boss' whereabouts from somewhere else. Ironic. And kinda frustrating.

Key items are the most important part of making progress. In the first level, you need a crowbar to bust through a boarded up door - yep, even Spider-Man needs tools sometimes - a key card for another door, and finally, some oil to make Hob's busted hovercraft work after the boss fight and fly you over an electric fence at the end of the street. To have any chance against the Lizard, you need to have a vial of antidote equipped as you fight him, an antidote which is hidden away in his lab, obscured by a puzzle - a real puzzle! Neat. Everything thus far sounds kinda neat, now doesn't it?

It's the heebee-jeebie again.
Well, feel free to cling on to everything that I just said in an effort to be intrigued, 'cause here goes: the game's controls are FUBAR. Seriously. It sounds just as annoying as you'd expect any other Game Boy title of the sort to sound, and due to the tricks to hide the game's ultimate linearity, it can be quite damn cryptic at its worst. When it comes to these particular types of cryptic passages, I'd compare Spider-Man 2 to a much more recent multi-platform title for the current console generation, which I'm actually playing at the moment, but I won't since I haven't reviewed that game just yet. Probably very soon, though. I'll also probably return to this game then. Only verbally, though - I'm not too intrigued in taking this for another spin.

As ironic as it might sound, I'm quite stoked - relatively speaking - about taking on the third game in this series. Nothing about Spider-Man 2 is top-notch, not even relatively, but for once, LJN invested in an interesting game instead of another simple platformer, one that Marvel fans might want to check out for its kinda unique idea alone.

+ Neat, original concept

- Crappy presentation in comparison to the previous game
- Controls; the web in particular is still a bitch to work with, and still a bitch to replenish if you run out
- Cryptic passages; despite being able to move freely across "levels", you need to find every single clue and location indicator in the game to actually make progress

< 5.8 >

maanantai 10. kesäkuuta 2013

The summer of love (for games)


Despite all of my best attempts to make time for the blog, this year's been very dry thus far, especially these last few months despite a well-deserved holiday, which I've enjoyed for the last three weeks. Although there's a lot going on outside of the gaming scene in my life, it's mainly because I finally discovered Skyrim in the spring, and I've spent a lot more time on that game, and that game alone, than I ever believed to. The second reason is that just about every plan I've made for the blog lately has hit some sort of snag - they're still on, definitely, but they keep pushing back all the time. I'm behind my schedule on the Metal Gear project (as in having enough time to complete some essential games that I want to make a part of it), and the Marvel marathon stands absolutely still 'cause I'm utterly missing two or three games I originally wanted to have for this marathon. That's the reason for the most recent reviews which might've seemed kinda random and surprising. I won't make any promises on what's coming, but I can definitely assure you that the pace is picking up, at least for a few weeks leading into the summer festivals and my 29th birthday, and hopefully some time after that.

Here's what I'm getting. Looks quite
damn worth it.
The following weekend marks the release of what's already been dubbed "the Citizen Kane of video games", Naughty Dog's PlayStation 3-exclusive The Last of Us. I have a special edition placed on pre-order at GameStop - but, unfortunately, I will not be able to provide my own take on the game as fast as usual, due to another promotion at work taking effect on the very same day and probably sucking up all my energy for a few days to come. The review of this highly anticipated spiritual successor to the Uncharted trilogy will hopefully be up next week, and I'm already counting on this game to restore my respect towards this console generation, therefore pretty much restore my joy of writing about more recent games. It's very hard not to count on this game, just check out the reviews. Tens everywhere, wow - even though that has not always been a good omen. Take Naughty Dog's previous huge game, for example. Still - and this is my final word on the subject for now - I trust the game to rock. The review will be up A.S.A.P., I'm trying very hard to get something squeezed in before that.

REVIEW - Silent Hill HD Collection | PS3 | 2012

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror / Compilation
RELEASED: March 20, 2012
DEVELOPER(S): Team Silent, Hijinx Studios

In 1996, Shinji Mikami's Resident Evil laid down the foundations for the true rise of the survival horror genre. It wasn't before 1999 that Resident Evil was truly challenged for the mantle of the best in survival horror, by Keiichiro Toyama's Silent Hill. This truly sick, twisted game starred a man in desperate search of his beloved daughter in a seemingly ordinary small town, where something had gone horribly wrong and where the laws of reality no longer applied. Among other things, Silent Hill became known for its thick atmosphere, full 3D exploration, Akira Yamaoka's legendary music and sound design, hard puzzles and a very different lead character for a genre game - a geeky writer instead of any sort of combat specialist. It was Silent Hill 2, originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2001, that hit the ultimate jackpot. Although initial reception to the game was a bit mixed, the game has since become a milestone in survival horror, and a standard in the psychological side of it - everything that was ever exclusively great about this franchise manifests within that game. Silent Hill 3 was a great game, as well, although it took a more graphic approach to horror, and was a direct sequel to the first game - thus remaining the only direct sequel in the whole series, kind of a letdown to people who missed the original. As many people - including me - are concerned, that's pretty much where the magic of Silent Hill ended. The fourth game was OK - at the most - but after that, Team Silent quit development, bringing upon the gradual commercial downfall of the franchise and also, the gradual disappearance of elements which people used to recognize it from. In the wake of tens of high-definition re-releases of tens of quality games from yesterday, one always hoped that Silent Hill would get some sort of HD treatment. In early 2012, it happened. And suddenly I wish it hadn't.

That's it, I'm whipping out the PS2

Troy Baker : James Sunderland
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn : Mary Shepherd-Sunderland / Maria
Liam O'Brien : Eddie Dombrowski
Laura Bailey : Angela Orosco
Travis Willingham : Ernest Baldwin
Kirk Thornton : Game Show Host
Amanda Winn-Lee : Heather Mason
Laura Bailey : Claudia Wolf
Yuri Lowenthal : Vincent
Kirk Thornton : Douglas Cartland

In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland travels to the resort town of Silent Hill to search for his wife Mary, from whom he has received a letter, inviting him to meet her at their "special place". What sounds like a romantic gesture is actually quite frightening, as Mary has been dead and buried for three years. In Silent Hill 3, 17-year old Heather finds herself prey to creatures from another world, led by a religious fanatic who seems to believe this young girl is the one and only key to eternal paradise.

It's been a while since I reviewed these games separately (9.1 for Silent Hill 2 and 8.6 for Silent Hill 3), so I might as well briefly recap my history with Silent Hill, especially these two games. Silent Hill 2 (The Director's Cut - much more common in Europe than the original, it would seem, and the one included here) was one of the first games I got for my then brand new PS2 back in 2003, around the time Silent Hill 3 had just been released. I had played the first game very little - but I did remember its name quite well. As a matter of fact, I (semi-)advertently severed ties with a friend of mine who had the game when I went to business college, and I spent a year and a half looking for the game everywhere. I had no idea how webstores or Internet auctions worked back then - if I didn't find something in the here and now, I gave up on it. The first game indeed was kind of a rare find if you lived in a small town; I went shopping in bigger cities at least once a year, but either this particular game never turned up, or I had just enough money to round out my record collection instead - something that was way more important to me than games back then.

An iconic horror game at some of its most
When I found Silent Hill 2 in a local supermarket, having just acquired a PS2, I was fuckin' ecstatic - if this game was anywhere near the positive chills I got from my very brief time with the first game, it was bound to be a winner. It wasn't a direct sequel, either - I couldn't even remember the plot outline of the first game too well, just that there was some guy named Harry looking for his daughter in a misty ghost town full of some grotesque monsters, and that there was a school with a fiendish piano puzzle somehow linked to birds. Silent Hill 2 had a totally different story in a redesigned version of the very same setting - a misty ghost town called Silent Hill - and judging by what I read, this game was supposed to be a little more psychological than the first one, heavily influenced by David Lynch's works. As just about everyone knows, I'm a Lynch fan without any close peers - I've worshipped the man and revered him as a demigod for years, while just about everyone around me have had no idea who he was before I've told them, and even then very few have shown any interest in the guy's works beyond Twin Peaks. Silent Hill 2 had all the keys to blow me away, but it didn't. I found the game boring and let it sit for over six months.

If my memory serves me right, I bought Silent Hill 3 after reading a positive review which also led me to believe that it was somewhat different than the previous game, different enough for me to give the game another chance. Well, Silent Hill 3 disappointed me in a few ways - like being a direct sequel to the first game which was kind of an enigma for me back then - but it definitely worked for me in a lot more ways. It was violent, exciting, and simply sick. After beating the game, I gave Silent Hill 2 another go without any hesitation, and having better sense of how the game worked than I had months before, I found one of my favourite games of all time - which ultimately left me disappointed with Silent Hill 3. Ironic. And just a tad confusing, I know. In a nutshell, Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece in survival horror, with more replay value than many other genre games. Silent Hill 3 - not so much replay value, a weaker story, but enough playability and mindbending audiovisual effects, meaning some truly horrifying moments, to qualify for a great addition to the series.

Let's start from the bang this disc offers for your buck. There's absolutely no question in my mind: Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 are the best games you could hope to find from a high-definition compilation, since totally remaking a PS1 game is always off limits, too much of an effort. Let's take the Metal Gear Solid collection for an example: how hard would've it been to secure the rights to butter up and re-release GameCube's critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes? Indeed, they already had a remake of Metal Gear Solid under their belts, and they still didn't use it to their advantage (and apparently, it's not on the upcoming Legacy collection either, although that one's supposed to be "complete"). Still, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection hardly left one cold, since there were a total of five games on that disc - two of the best ever made, at that. Also, despite the fact that the conversion of Metal Gear Solid 3 was based on the arguably needless Subsistence version of the game, the compilation was a hearty, stylish, moreover full-powered effort, definitely worth your money - especially if you had never played these games before. Silent Hill HD Collection just has these two games. I'm not saying there's anything I'm personally missing, but I'm guessing there are a lot of die-hard fans who think Silent Hill: 0rigins, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and especially the numerical entry Silent Hill 4: The Room should've been included. Well, this bundle's initial value is the least of your worries, I'm afraid.

First off, if you're an Xbox 360 owner... I'm sorry. Both versions of the software were full of glitches upon arrival, and for some reason, the Xbox 360 version of the game was never patched. They actually offered automatic refunds for the Xbox 360 game at some point - how about that, really? "No, we won't patch the game. Here's your money back. We're smart. That's S-M-R-T." I'm not sure what the nature of these glitches are, but I've heard some people claim they're so dramatic that they actually prevent you from beating at least one of the games on the disc. It's not that they're totally gone from the PS3 version after the huge update, either. In a nutshell, it seems like Silent Hill 2 is the only game with some technical effort put into it. Silent Hill 3 is teeming with technical problems - the high-definition graphics look like ass (and we're talking about one of the best-looking PS2 games here!), the a/v sync is totally off (not to mention the new voiceovers) and the game seems to freeze for a second or two every time an enemy appears or just something out of the ordinary happens - I remember it freezing just before one of the many unexpected sound effects that were originally squeezed in to make the player shit his/her pants. It's like a warning. Silent Hill 3 used to be one of the most frightening games I've ever played. I guess the original release still is. While Silent Hill 2 is quite fun to clash through - there are just a few similar problems, AND I've got to admit that seeing the game through for the 11th time doesn't quite feel the same anymore - Silent Hill 3 is a pain in the ass. If you want to experience the game as it was meant to be, in its (one and only) true form, get yourself a PS2. Seriously. I couldn't even see it to the end, I just couldn't handle all the shittiness... or the final boss.

Despite suffering from severe graphical issues and a bit bulky controls, Silent Hill 2 indeed does have some spunk left in it, and some whole new spunk shot into it - not deliberately, though. Due to a legal dispute with the good old monotonic and/or overacting voiceover cast of the original, they went and re-recorded the voiceovers with a whole new cast, directed by voice actress and singer Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who's of course a veteran of the Silent Hill series, and who provides the voices of Mary and Maria herself. Troy Baker's fast becoming one of the most prolific voice actors, just recently securing Mark Hamill's legacy as Joker in the upcoming Arkham game - and he's voicing James, so you can just imagine how much more vivid this version of the game sounds than the original. Ironic, too - you see, you have the option of turning on the old voiceovers for Silent Hill 2. There's no such option for Silent Hill 3 - and what's ironic about it, is that the new voiceovers for Silent Hill 3 sound like ass compared to the original. They're totally out of context about 80% of the time, and there's absolutely no emotion involved. The only semblance of emotion comes from Laura Bailey, who seems to know at least something about the games and the characters she's doing. She replaces Donna Burke's characters in both games (Angela and Claudia), and I must say that even if I was annoyed with Burke's overacting, her lines weren't any better than her acting - a better, more experienced actress makes it quite clear.

Silent Hill 2's "severe graphical issues" - Hijinx Studios did absolutely NOTHING besides change the resolution. To put it the most simply I possibly can: the fog isn't as thick as it originally was, and the thinning reveals some nasty errors, such as Toluca Lake cut in half before your very eyes, just a few feet off the shore, with nothing beyond but total emptiness. Ever wondered how a full 3D game worked so smooth despite having such nice graphics and framerate at the time? There's your reason - there's nothing in the mist. One undefined surrounding area is loaded at a time, and since you don't visit the lake until the boat level in which movement is very limited, the lake is "useless" in the eye of the developer. The eye of the gamer is very sharp, however. Well, let this be a warning, and I'll let 'em off with a warning, 'cause Silent Hill 2 is still a hoot. Especially the melee and camera controls are a little dated and clumsy, the boss fights are dumb, the Born from a Wish subscenario is cool but even more unreplayable than I remembered, and the game is riddled with ill logic - outright stupidity at times - but the story and atmosphere still represent the all-time best in survival horror, and I sincerely think it's still a great entry point. If it wasn't for the better voiceovers and the Trophies, though, I would not hesitate to direct newbies to the original Director's Cut, preferrably on the PS2. Hacking through Born from a Wish, I birthed a wish to be done with it already halfway through it, especially so that I could take on Silent Hill 3 after such a long break. I had no idea what I was in for.

Despite its minor flaws, Silent Hill 2 was indeed pretty much the same game as ever. I wouldn't say better, but the new voiceovers alone proved that this game was handled with some semblance of emotion. So what happened then? Silent Hill 3 is the polar opposite. At least some of the voice actors are experienced folk, but the voiceover work is much worse than it was in the original - in which most of the cast were unknown house talent. They're just reading their lines over a cup of coffee, it seems. It's like the actors that appear in both games spent the whole day re-recording Silent Hill 2 and did this game as a late shift bonus, all tired and out of bullets. All the grainy details that marked the game as one of the finest-looking games on the PS2 are either blurred or gone altogether with the change in resolution, and it's FULL of glitches, that at their worst take all the horror away - like I said, there's usually a brief freeze leading into anything unusual happening on the screen. Just a change in camera angle may freeze the video, but the audio goes on. Just imagine how the cutscenes look and sound. If you've played this game before, you might want to skip 'em. Fun, isn't it?

Another iconic game has lost most of its
Well, it doesn't stop there. I have a feeling they did something to the bosses' endurance and patterns. For example, I've used the exact same strategy to kill the final boss for years - that strategy won't work anymore, not at all. It's funny how a faithful (term used loosely) port misguides the player in such a way. The end of the game is really hard, by far the only truly hard part of the game. The challenge extends all the way to the puzzles if you make the mistake of taking on the Hard puzzle level. It can be a pretty frustrating back and forth run, during which you're pretty much forced to use a lot of health items and waste all your ammo. Well, I've never had a problem with that - I'll gladly use up all my health items and ammo, 'cause I won't need 'em in the final boss. Ever since I figured out a sure-fire strategy, I've never had to use any ammo, and the boss hasn't been able to even touch me. I trust the game to be the very same as ever, and I head into the final confrontation - with the word "FINALLY" constantly repeating in my brain - ...and get my head bashed in 27 times in a row, desperately trying to make my old strategy work, before giving up and laying the game to eternal rest. If this port was what I expected it to be, I would bow my head in respect to the developers for making the game a bit harder than it originally was, and might even restart it, with better knowledge. Now, I have absolutely no interest for any such thing. It's so poor - with all sense of drama, truly effective noise effects and nasty surprises, and graphical appeal removed, Silent Hill 3 hasn't got much left to make a difference. It's pretty much an action game like any other - a very disfunctional one.

The Trophies/Achievements are quite dumb, but even that dumbness takes root in the fact that we have not-so-great ports of great games on our hands; if this was my first time with both games and they'd both be how they should, I would have a great time cashing in on some trinkets. Silent Hill 2 yields only a handful of Trophies on the first run - you need to unlock all the endings (including "Born from a Wish") and pretty much all the weapons just to get started with a Platinum run. I did all this on the PS2, and it was a long process, 'cause there are so many endings. Like I said - 11th time. I don't think any game in the world is worth almost ten more playthroughs. Well, Silent Hill 3 yields a few more on the first run - IF you know what you're doing. If you don't, you're lucky to end up with a half handful. It's not enough to kill the bosses to earn their Trophies, you have to kill them within a specific time, eight minutes being the most - and that, of course, is for the final boss, due to her ridiculous amount of health. As you might know, this game only has three different endings - however, all of them must be unlocked to work towards the Platinum, despite the very slight differences between the two _sensical_ endings, the less common of which is a bitch to unlock as it is. Unlocking just one ending to get a Trophy - I believe I'll never see the day I'll get a Trophy for it, since I'm going back to the PS2 for this particular game at least.

Both God of War compilations were the stuff of gods - if a die-hard fan doesn't own a PSP, the second compilation is an outright MUST. The (first) Metal Gear compilation has its flaws, but it also compensates for each minor flaw it has with its more than sufficient amount of games and value. The Resident Evil compilation is very enjoyable, due to the simple fact that Resident Evil 4 doesn't seem to age. Even the Ico compilation was enjoyable to some extent, although I'm not a huge fan of the brand - those huge fans seem to revere that one as a masterpiece. This compilation, however, misses out on everything - absolutely everything - that makes these HD "remakes" so essential. It's a simple by-product of a growing trend, a half-baked pile which might honestly bring the more recent games in the series to a more positive light, not the other way around. Once more, I strongly advise you to brush the dust off your PS2. The magic and art of early Silent Hill are more likely found there.

+ Silent Hill 2, for the most part, including:
+ The new voiceover work
+ Quite minimal glitches and errors
+ The still great story and emotional drive

- Silent Hill 3, for the most part, including:
- The new voiceover work (and this one, you cannot change to the old)
- Downtoned (or outpolished) graphical details
- A whole array of glitches and errors, sometimes resulting in downtoned horror elements
- Dumb Trophies/Achievements for both games
- ...And on top (and in addition), both games suffer from the same problems as ever; bulky digital controls and underdeveloped melee combat, totally useless analog controls, hotspots invisible to the player, and ill all-around logic

< 6.5 >

maanantai 3. kesäkuuta 2013

REVIEW - Tomb Raider | Xbox 360 | 2013

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: March 5, 2013
DEVELOPER(S): Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, Nixxes Software (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix

After finally laying Skyrim to rest for a while, I wanted to take this chance to look at the most recent release in another ultra-popular franchise I've never fully appreciated - actually, one that I've perceived the most overrated franchise in one of my favourite genres. Released in 1996, Tomb Raider may have revolutionized the 3D action-adventure genre, but from where I stand, it was always more about the lead character Lara Croft, her measurements, and how great it was to have a game with an outstanding feminine lead; she was a role model for geek girls and a wet dream for geek boys. The game really was never that special in my honest opinion. Even when everyone else was going on and on about Tomb Raider III, I actually preferred Crystal Dynamics' "side project" Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver - kind of a similar game, but much better and way underrated in its own time. Well, Tomb Raider games basically sold themselves and the franchise kept on growing. I actually fell from the wagon a long time ago; I wouldn't have a clue as to how many of these games there were if it wasn't for some Internet database to keep me informed of how Tomb Raider: Underworld and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light fit in. The decision to reboot the series was made by Crystal Dynamics five years ago. I once said that if Tomb Raider was ever completely rebooted, I might give it another shot, especially if they toned down on Lara's overtly sexual being. Crystal Dynamics did just that, and had many years to hype the game to hell and back, and back again, in an endless cycle that would inevitably net in a few unbelievers in addition to long-time fans. I expected to see a fairly good game after all that hype, but I dared not expect to see perhaps the best nearly brand new third-person action game I've played in a while, not to mention the best game Square Enix has published in over a decade.


Camilla Luddington : Lara Croft
Robin Atkin Downes : Conrad Roth / Axis Scientist / Prisoner / Solarii
Cooper Thornton : Dr. James Whitman
Robert Craighead : Father Mathias
Arden Cho : Samantha Nishimura / Stephanie / Sun Queen
Andy Hoff : Alex Weiss / Crewman
Earl Baylon : Jonah Maiava
Tanya Alexander : Joslin Reyes
James Walsh : Angus Grimaldi
Vladimir Kulich : Nikolai / Solarii

Is it just me or is anyone else thinking Kate
from Lost?
Lara Croft is a young, inexperienced archaeologist out on her first expedition to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai off the east coast of Japan. When a terrible storm tears her team's ship in half, Lara finds herself stranded on a desert island, separated from her teammates. To make things worse, the island's home to an insane cult linked to the mysterious, unearthly power that seems to violently intervene with any attempts to leave the island or even contact the outside world.

Let's take it from the top once more. I was 12 when the original Tomb Raider came out, and all my friends who had a PlayStation - no Saturns in my immediate vicinity - had a copy. Nearly all of 'em loved the game, but whenever they talked about it, they talked about Lara Croft and how visually pleasing it was to look at that bundle of polygons at the time, not how the game actually was or what the plot was like; they didn't perceive it as much more than Indiana Jones with tits. Well yes, we were 12-year old BOYS, but Lara Croft's promotion as the world's sexiest action hero was purely intentional from the developers', not to mention the publishers' side, and I felt her popularity completely overshadowed the art of gameplay. To rest my case, I tried the game, and I found it not only immensely boring, but uncomfortable to play as well. I skipped the second game altogether, and played through the tutorial sequence and a couple of levels in the third one, just to once again brand the game boring and uncomfortable, and even repetitive this time around; there really wasn't anything fundamentally different about games one and three from my point of view. By far the only difference I spotted immediately was the smoothed out shape of Lara's breasts, which I had always conceived as the most important part(s) of Tomb Raider. Not much to go on, I think.

Those anxiously waiting to plug an atomic bomb up my ass right now, read on - I think you'll like this next bit. Around this time last year, I really began considering the purchase of the whole new Tomb Raider once it came out, after watching a few promotional videos on the 'Tube for the hell of it. It seemed that everything that was ever wrong about this series was fixed, and the promotional art was simply gorgeous - all the way to the "younger, inexperienced, sensitive" new character model of Lara Croft. Yeah, sure, she was cute - not to mention bloody and dirty - but not the boob-tastic, dual-wielding superwoman with an otherworldly level of charisma. Instead, an innocent, smart but extremely naive, and athletic girl next door, caught in the worst situation of her easy-going aristocratic life. Descriptions of semi-open world gameplay, realistic physics, visceral violence, and solid storyline development gave off that maybe, just maybe, Crystal Dynamics was planning to make a real GAME this time. Then, I turned to the old games - my ex-girlfriend was always a huge fan of Tomb Raider, and she wasn't that stunned by all information that had leaked about the reboot so far. Somewhat inspired by her rants of old vs. new, I took on the first Tomb Raider game once more. Long story short: the graphics are very dated, which removes Lara's importance, and thus, the core of the game's original attraction. I still dislike it. I recognize the good ideas, I recognize the immense influence on better games of the sort which were to come, but really, it was never that good in itself. Remember what I said about you liking this? I just said that to make you feel a little bit more comfortable. Now you can whip out the a-bomb if you want. Or, you could just read what I have to say about THIS game - but remember, dealing with the old series is now done. I am going to treat Tomb Raider '13 as a completely new game, a new beginning. 'Cause that's what it is in my view - actually, it's so good that I easily tend to forget it's part of an existing franchise, not to mention one I've never liked.

Hello? I'm a young girl, all alone. Dirty,
wounded. Not too hard to look at, either. Anyone?
Crazy natives? Cult priests? Other perverts?
Tomb Raider is like a Lost spin-off, and anyone who liked that show and has a good mind for 3D action will most definitely get a whole flurry of kicks out of it. Let's see, there's a mysterious desert island, and our team of protagonists gets stranded there due to a freak accident. There's a mysterious, unnatural power surrounding the island, disabling and destroying all approaching vehicles, with its source hidden somewhere in its heart. There's a faction of previous inhabitants at work on the island, who seem to worship this power, but at the same time, they seem to fight it by different means - either way, becoming an opposing force to Lara and her crew. Yeah, it's so much like Lost. But unlike Lost with its whole group of stellar characters and constantly confusing storyline development, Tomb Raider is a simple story which mainly focuses on the character development, incredible survival and coming of age of one single character - Lara Croft.

Instead of carrying two heavy pistols like a boss right off the bat and gunning down everything and anything in her way without a moment's hesitation, celebrating a well-placed headshot with a charming punchline, this "earlier" incarnation of history's most popular video game heroine is barely comfortable with a gun - let alone killing someone. She's scared shitless for most of the game's duration, of everything and everyone, and she has good reason to, as she is forced, time and time again, to test her limits with death-defying climbs to which there is no choice if she wants to get herself and her team off Yamatai. On top, she has to deal with hundreds of cult members all alone, with minimal resources, starting with basic self defense and a flimsy makeshift hunting bow. She has to navigate ancient ruins with full, terrifying knowledge that the floor could crumble down beneath her feet at any minute, sending her to who knows what sort of grisly death. Oh, the deaths are grisly, I can tell you that much. I'm a little disappointed with how soft many of the potentially grisliest death animations actually are, but if they looked just the way I wanted them to, the game would most probably be rated X - so watching Lara crushed by a rock straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or parachuting straight into a huge, sharp tree branch, shivering in pain and desperation before drawing her last breath, or simply falling down a huge chasm and hitting a rock on the way down with a sharp sound effect to cap the deal, will have to do. And everything else that won't necessarily lead to her death... oh, believe me, you'll feel sorry for her, for all the shit she has to go through. Think of Solid Snake's mishaps in Metal Gear Solid 4, and you'll get the picture. ...Did I just compare Tomb Raider to Metal Gear? A younger version of me is scolding me right now. But it's very true - this Lara Croft is my kind of girl, and her violent and somewhat tragic character development is a treat to watch, play and experience. Camilla Luddington's (Californication) cute voice doesn't exactly make her hard on the ears, either.

There's a lot of effort put into the full-3D level design, but otherwise, Tomb Raider really isn't the finest-looking game around. It doesn't look a whole lot better than games that came out four or five years ago.  NPC models look nice enough, though, and our heroine is quite fine in the core sense of the word. The score by Jason Graves of Dead Space fame is a very functional mix of the intense and the adventureous; none too standout stuff, functional nonetheless.

The level design's pretty awesome.
Well, then. Let's put this into perspective: we have an action-adventure game, filled with epic firefights, simple controls, and a little bit of treasure hunting on the side, with a charismatic lead character, climbing to some insane heights and surviving impossible odds time and time again. Doesn't take a genius to figure out an obvious point of comparison - a little series of games called Uncharted, the last of which is Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. A game some consider to be the ultimate game in one of my favourite new franchises of the last decade. And I seriously think Tomb Raider's better than that particular game. I think it's worse to disappoint towards the end than have a slow start - that's what Uncharted 3 did in my opinion, in every context, while Tomb Raider's the other way around. It might take a few hours to grab you by the crotch, but when it does, it keeps you 'til the end.

Let's keep riding this track... when Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, the first game, came out in 2007, it was a refreshing throwback to the times when controls were simple and every button on a controller that had more than two action buttons did not need to do anything, nor were there seemingly endless combinations of buttons doing something else. You just moved, climbed, and shot everyone in sight. Six years later, we've grown accustomed to slow but sure developments in the traditional action-adventure control scheme and gameplay concept that were kind of reset with Drake's Fortune. That might be one of the reasons why Tomb Raider might not stick on you on the first try - it's so simple, it's like another reset and we don't need one anymore. Then you'll realize how fun it is to move, climb and shoot everyone in sight once again. Not once will you have to deal with boring shit like Nate's hike through the desert in Uncharted 3, or some hallucination segment which has become somewhat of a predictable standard in any sort of story-driven game nowadays, and was present in Uncharted 3 as well. Tomb Raider's just a pure, exciting, action-packed journey from the beginning to the end, and as cinematic and chocked full with script as it might be, it never takes a dive or comes to such a sudden stop. You control much of the game's tempo, not the other way around. As long as it lasts to hammer the game to 100% - which isn't too long, I'm afraid - you'll have fun. The combat, both melee and long-ranged combat, is incredibly satisfying and visceral (a little more about that later), navigation gets quicker and more comfortable with each new weapon and gadget you acquire, and there are no tedious criteria standing between you and the 100% mark, like hunting down a hundred rats or something as retarded and typical as that. Just a fair amount of simple collectables, which you can hunt down on the go or wait 'til you've finished the story and fast travel to almost any place that holds missing stuff. What's best, you won't need to try your luck - every location that has stuff has got a checklist for that stuff, easily accessible via the fast travel menu. If you have a treasure map for that location, or a certain upgrade in stock, you can find almost everything by just using those as guides to your GPS. Sounds a bit too easy, and it is a bit too easy, but not everything is in plain sight.

First off, the hidden tombs to raid. There are a few of these hidden in the darkest corners of Yamatai, and they're obviously influenced by the hidden tombs in Assassin's Creed; considering how simple they are, specifically Assassin's Creed III. They're not very puzzling nor are they too lengthy, but they're fun to scavenge nonetheless to have a small break from the main path every once in a while. Then, the level-specific challenges, which require you to go on a search for level-specific items and mostly destroy them, such as distinct lanterns or cult effigies - for these items, you get no guidance from the game, which makes them the most exciting and rewarding collectables in my view. Relics are familiar to anyone who's played Uncharted. In addition, there are GPS caches, finding all of which results in a couple of cryptic messages perhaps laying down the foundations for a sequel, and interesting diaries left behind by several NPC's and unseen characters somehow related to the cult. I personally didn't spend too much time on any of these - except for the tombs - during the game, I went for most of it after I was done with the story mode, and I think there's just the right overall amount of collectables, and the ability to fast travel, to keep you from getting bored; I had fun. Especially since you can't miss anything, and the game spawns a few enemies for you to kill in areas you've already completed. Now let me tell you about that.

In this game, "stealth kill" means strangling
a dude using a bow. Clever girl...
Lara begins as a trained, but inexperienced combatant - she goes through hell in the later parts of this here trip, but in the start of the game, she's not prepared for any of it. She doesn't carry a weapon of any kind, and gets nauseated from just seeing a dead body, not to mention one she's produced herself. It actually takes a while for her to acquire just a makeshift hunting bow, which might seem pathetic against swarms of enemies armed to the teeth, but once you get the hang of using it and especially once you upgrade it, it's fucking deadly. You can upgrade your skills in three different categories at any camp, and build basic upgrades for your weapons, but to completely remodel a weapon (and fast travel), you need a more secure camp. There's usually one in each level. Upgrading guns, weapons and gear is one thing, but upgrading your own skills is another.

Stealth kills by strangling and very basic melee is unlocked from the beginning, but once Lara gets the hang of combat in the vein of up, close and personal, you can unleash all sorts of mayhem on enemies without breaking a sweat, including but certainly not limited to, tackling them and blowing their faces off with a shotgun blast. My favourite of these upgrades has got to be a counterattack where Lara sticks an arrow in one's knee (making them "Former Adventurers" like the Achievement says, hilarious since I'm fresh off Skyrim) and smacks 'em in the face with a rock. Survivor upgrades give you access to better general movement, and more and better salvage, while both the Hunter and Brawler upgrades work together to make you a better fighter from both ranges. It's all ridiculously simple considering the day and age, but none the less neat.

I'm pretty sure that's a, um... no, I'm positive
that's a burning plane. Duck and cover.
Many hardcore players will find Tomb Raider's worst flaw in its easy level of difficulty, something which I consider reasonable for a change, just because it doesn't have those tedious rat-hunting escapades to annoy, or anything of the sort. It's not any easier or harder to beat than any game of this generation, but it's extremely easy to complete to the 100% hilt, thanks to the cartography upgrade - once again, if you take it, and find all the treasure maps to boot, the level-specific challenges are the only collectables you've got to find all by yourself to make the 100% grade. Since navigation within the levels is limited after you've beaten the game, it won't be all that hard - shouldn't take you more than a day. After that, there's really nothing to do but to start all over if you're interested enough. Or go and make your own conclusions of the much-criticized multiplayer. As per usual, especially since this is the Xbox version of the game, I have nothing to say about that subject.

I've beaten around the bush for days whether to publish this review as it is, but then I thought: as popular as this franchise is, I've never hesitated to state my opinions. Yeah, I might be a bigot when it comes to old-school Tomb Raider - I might be totally wrong about it. The first game might've been great. But, I didn't like it, it's as simple as that, and I never saw any changes for the better. I still don't, but I like this one. Once again, other people might have their own opinions on whether it's any good or not, and that's fine. Tomb Raider might not turn out the game of the year considering everything that's still coming up, but it sure is Square Enix's best investment in years. (And guess what? They were disappointed in it. What the fuck is going on in that company, I wonder.)

+ The "new-old-new" Lara Croft is dashing; great character development, downtoned sexuality, and fantastic moves
+ Incredibly satisfying, visceral combat
+ Cool collectables, and a simple yet neat upgrade system
+ The developers kept an open mind for change, and good influence from games that were originally influenced by the original Tomb Raider (and turned out so much better)
+ Great, albeit a bit confusing level design - you'll get the hang of it
+ Constant cinematic, yet interactive surprises, and gnarly deaths expecting around every corner

- The graphics are not quite what I would expect from such a long-developed 2013 game
- A violent game, sure, but not quite as graphic as it was made out to be
- A little too easy to hack to the absolute hilt

< 8.9 >