Archive for February, 2013

, | Game diaries

swing_away

Most videogames are power fantasies. Tomb Raider is no exception. Lara Croft has always been an action heroine, and this latest Tomb Raider is an origin story to get her to that point. However, the template this time is a horror movie instead of an action movie. It’s a bit like Far Cry 3, but without being embarrassingly bad. Far Cry 3 clumsily resembles something by Eli Roth, something about how foreigners are bad, and learning to stab them with a machete is as much a rite of passage as getting a tribal tattoo on your forearm.

So what sets Tomb Raider apart? For starters, it knows better than to mistake Eli Roth for a good horror director.

After the jump, from zero to axe murderer in one game Continue reading →

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, | Game diaries

That's_no_Angelina

The previous Lara Croft was perfectly expressed by casting Angelina Jolie for the Tomb Raider movies. Larger than life, iconic, aglow with celebrity, handy with pistols, plastically unreal.

The new Lara Croft is none of those thing. This Lara Croft is small and girlish, with a pony tail instead of the previous tightly practical braid. She looks more likely to raid a library than a tomb (she even claims to hate tombs at one point). She’s smart and competent, but aware of her limitations. She expresses self-doubt, grief, confusion, anguish, and pain. She runs out of breath. She is not a superman. She is cold, wet, dirty, and sometimes wounded. Indiana Jones might get his knuckles scraped up before the scene is over, but he — and Nathan Drake, by the way — is defined by swagger and confidence. He has no self-doubt, only the grim resignation and acceptance that befits a stoically invulnerable character. See also, pre-Skyfall James Bond.

So if this Tomb Raider reboot were made into a movie, the new Lara Croft wouldn’t just be someone famous. She certainly wouldn’t be just another model. She would have to express something new for the series and it seems to me Crystal Dynamics had someone in mind.

After the jump, is it as obvious to you as it is to me? Continue reading →

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, | Games

PC_gamers_not_served_here

A community manager on Blizzard’s forums explains that the characters I’ve spent dozens of hours playing in Diablo III, with even more dozens of hours potentially ahead, won’t be accessible in the Playstation 4 version.

While we think cross-platform play would be awesome, there are currently no plans to allow connectivity between PlayStation Network and Battle.net (this is pretty standard for most games that have PC and console support). As a result, the characters on your Battle.net account and PlayStation account will also remain separate.

In other words, Valve’s Portal 2 can do what Blizzard can’t.

There’s a certain point where you invest enough in a game that you’re not going to start over just because the developers have adapted it to a gamepad and your couch is comfortable. Diablo III has gone well beyond that point. Still, a Playstation 4 version will be great for people who can’t play Diablo III because they don’t have PCs. If you see any of them, tell them for me.

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, | Games

this_is_what_happens_when_you_don't_use_conditioner

Skullgirls proves that a fighting game doesn’t have to be part of some long-running franchise to be exceptional. One of the greatest strengths of this game is the character design (Peacock was my pick for best character design of last year). And now the developers at Lab Zero have a new character on the way. Squigly is an opera singer with a fire-breathing cyborg snake sticking out of her head. Her unique ability is to literally change the boundaries of the game. From the developers’ description:

Squigly’s jump is floaty, her dashes take some time to build momentum, and her normals can’t reach across the screen. So how does she get close enough to do damage? By singing. As an opera star, when Squigly sings all eyes focus on her, forcibly shifting the game’s camera towards her. This naturally moves the edge of playfield with it, dragging her opponent towards her. No other game has a move like this, and it should open a number of interesting tactical possibilities.

Squigly is the focus of Lab Zero’s kickstarter campaign on Indiegogo. If if passes — actually, when it passes, based on how much it’s made on its first day — Squigly will be a free update for Skullgirls on all platforms. “If we actually manage to make her,” Lab Zero says in their video, “then anyone in the world can get her, so long as you have a copy of Skullgirls.”

Go here for more info or to support the campaign.

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, | Game diaries

nine_down_one_to_go

One of the many ways that Tomb Raider is as good as Rocksteady’s Batman games is that it’s sprinkled with collectibles. And not just haphazardly. It’s not “hey, go get me some feathers!”, a la Assassin’s Creed. Many of these are artifacts, modeled in 3D as they were in Uncharted, and sometimes worth turning over to discover a hidden bonus, all tapping into the game’s xp system and all arranged in themed groups relating to the game’s setting.

It’s easy enough to find the locations of most collectibles on the map, by either finding treasure maps, usually in tombs, or by unlocking the skill that lets you “ping” the area with Lara’s instinct mode. You can then go into the map and drop a waypoint on an artifact so that its location shows up in the world when you use instinct mode again. This is a great way to find stuff in the more vertical areas, where you’d otherwise go bonkers trying to figure out if an icon is something above you or below you.

But then there are themed collectibles that don’t show up on the map. These are called challenges. They rely on actually exploring, looking around, peering into places you wouldn’t normally peer, basically poring over the world the developers have created to be a place worth poring over. And at times, they’re really hard to find.

After the jump, the challenge of challenges Continue reading →

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, | Games

drive

In what videogame inspired movie will you find the following plot, which I read at Empire Online?

Aaron Paul plays a street racer who goes into business with a rich arrogant car supplier played by Dominic Cooper, only to find himself framed when another friend dies during a race. Sent to jail, Aaron Paul’s character wants revenge and, once released, signs on for a cross-country race for a chance to strike back. But the rich arrogant car supplier learns about the scheme and puts a bounty on his head, forcing him to go up against various illegal drivers in powerful vehicles. Michael Keaton plays the reclusive oddball host of the event who invites the best racers from around the world to compete. Also in the cast is Imogen Poots as an exotic car dealer who connects rich clients with supercharged rides.

Guess the videogame license that inspired this storyline. If you guessed any driving game other than Need for Speed, you’re wrong.

Need for Speed, due out next year, will be directed by the guy who made Act of Valor, which could easily be a Call of Duty or Medal of Honor tie-in if it changed its name.

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, | Features

get_in

This week’s wallet threat is seriously elevated due to the release of three Star Wars themed tables for Pinball FX. Two of the tables are superlative, and arguably among the best developer Zen Studios has ever made. And the third is, well, still pretty decent considering that the Clone Wars cartoon theme is about as appealing to me as a Rocky and Bullwinkle theme. I’ll have more details tomorrow, but you should put your wallet on standby for about ten bucks.

Also, batten down your wallet’s hatches if you have any interest in old school, party-based, stat-heavy RPGs where you get to draw maps on your Nintendo DS. The basic summary of Etrian Odyssey IV: Something Something the Titan Something is that Atlus has done it again! And this time the new skill trees make character builds less inscrutable, the zeppelin overworld offers more non-linearity, and the casual difficulty level is always there if you find yourself against a brick wall (I haven’t needed it yet!). Etrian Odyssey IV is still a lot of grinding, but that’s just a fact of Etrian Odysseys. I’ll have a full review up after I’ve made more progress, but I can safely say that fellow Etrian Odyssists won’t be disappointed.

I should also warn you that Brutal Legend, my choice for best game of the year in 2009, is out this week for the PC. In case you didn’t know, it’s not just a wondrous open-world game, even for people like me who aren’t into heavy metal and who find Jack Black uniquely grating. It’s also a damn fine real-time strategy game. Don’t come whining to me about how there are no new real-time strategy games until you’ve gotten your mouse and keyboard on Brutal Legend.

I don’t think Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army, which is also out this week, is real. Developer Rebellion is probably pranking us. I’m not going to fall for it. But if there is a Nazi zombie army, I can think of no better man to defeat it than an elite sniper. Wait, can zombies tell the direction they’re being sniped from? Someone should make a game that explores that question.

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, | Games

Friday_Path_of_Exile_flu

One of the unique features of Path of Exile is leagues. When you create a character in Grinding Gears Games’ action RPG, you select your character’s league. Currently, there are default and hardcore leagues. Default is default. Hardcore means you get one life. If you die, your character suffers a fate worse than death; she is kicked downstairs to the default league. Oh, the ignominy!

However, as of tomorrow morning, Grinding Gear Games will offer additional leagues. 109 of them, to be exact. It’s the start of what they’re calling “season one”. This is a series of temporary leagues. They’re events, really, over the next month and a half, starting with a one-hour solo play league tomorrow morning at 9am Pacific. This means you start a new character and play solo for an hour to get as far as you can. Then your character is demoted to one of the permanent leagues and your account is credited with prize points based on how you ranked, whether you were first to clear a quest, what level you reached, and so forth (scoring for S01E01 — season one, event one — is listed here). Other leagues last varying amounts of time, they allow grouping, or they have superfast turbo speed monsters. You can click on upcoming leagues in the schedule for specifics.

So what’s the point? Prize points are the point. As you accumulate prize points, you work your way up a list of unique items, available only this season and listed on the season page. Maybe I can get Redbeak, a fast, hard-hitting, life-sucking sword that does more damage when you’re hurt. Could I possibly get Wanderlust, a pair of speedy, mana-charging, wool shoes that make you immune to freezing. I’d love to see what the “extra gore” trait does on those Facebreaker gloves. I’m guessing it’s something like Fallout’s “Bloody Mess” perk. But do I like Path of Exile enough to play 240 points worth of league events in the next month?

I’m thinking.

Frankly, given the way the scoring works, I’ll be lucky to have my own Redbeak by the end of season one. But I love that Grinding Gear Games is doing this sort of thing.

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, | Games

the_world_for_99_cents

Firaxis has added multiplayer support to Civilization Revolution on the iPad. What a great idea! I enjoyed it on the Xbox 360 when it came out, and then I bought it on the iPhone before I had my iPad. Bad AI doesn’t seem so stupid when it’s on an iPhone. How smart can a game be on such a tiny screen anyway? But I haven’t played Civilization Revolution in a while. Assuming it supports asynchronous play, what a great way to enjoy its sleek boardgameyness.

Since I already own it, I go to download it on my iPad. And I see that a separate iPad version is available for only 99 cents. Okay, it’s worth a look. What else am I going to do with a dollar? I buy it, download it, and tap on the multiplayer option on the main menu to see how it works. Can I challenge my friends? Will it work asynchronously? Can I get away with playing Spain in a multiplayer game and running roughshod over my land-bound friends while I explore the seas and their wonders? And what are these two multiplayer modes listed on the game’s “what’s new” page on iTunes?

Oh, look what’s behind the multiplayer option on the main menu:

3_dollars_to_bring_friends

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, | Games podcasts

legendary_tactical_obstacle

This week we welcome Stardock’s Derek Paxton to talk about add-ons that make strategy games even better. For instance, the upcoming Legendary Heroes add-on for Fallen Enchantress. We also talk about Crysis 3, Nooky Koodie Poodoo: Wrath of the White Witch, this World of Warcraft thing McMaster keeps playing, the latest on Bungie and Gas Powered Games, and Sony’s Playstation 4 “look ma, no price!” reveal.

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, | Game reviews

wind_chill

A Valley Without Wind 2 is nothing like A Valley Without Wind 1. So many of the things that made me eventually love Valley 1 — it takes a while to wrap your head around that game, and you might give up before you realize you love it — are missing in this overhaul, which has just been released as a separate executable available for free to owners of Valley 1. Valley 2 has no crafting, no collectibles, no inventory, no spell customization, no fancy traversal gimmicks, no dungeon exploration, no grinding. It is basically missing 90% of the gameplay that dragged me into Valley 1. The sorts of moments I detailed here are entirely gone. Even the music is different. The original game’s 8-bit retro ditty has been replaced with a Japanese pop song, but in English.

So what Valley 1 fan is going to want anything to do with Valley 2?

After the jump, me Continue reading →

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, | Features

I_shall_not_pass

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is out this week. I’d like to say I’ve played it. Technically, I have. But only the first thirty minutes or so, and then about an hour of the next five minutes. Look, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I’m no stranger to brawlers. I understand precise timing. But I can’t get past your robot puma that has a chainsaw on its tail. You’ve obviously put that battle in here to teach me parrying, which I’ve accomplished several times successfully in the tutorial mission that I’ve replayed a couple of times to make sure I understand it. But after no less than 20 attempts at this puma with a chainsaw on its tail, I’m just going to assume that you’re not for me. Which is fine, since I still have Devil May Cry.

Crysis 3 is out this week. It’s very Crysis 3.

Finally, Paradox’s March of the Eagles focuses on combat during the early 19th century, when combat was one of the least interesting things happening.

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