Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tomb Raider Review

I had no intention of playing the latest Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics. Despite all the hype and E3 awards, everything I saw seemed to indicate nothing more than a typical 3rd person action game. I never played the original (yes young gamers, this is a reboot) for more than a few minutes; therefore, I saw little appeal for me. Let's just say I was terribly misguided because Tomb Raider is easily the best game I've played in 2013 and an early contender for Game of the Year.

So what convinced me to actually play Tomb Raider? Reviews played a significant role, but the ultimate deciding factor was when I started hearing the game compared to titles like Batman: Arkham City, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, and of course, Uncharted. We certainly expected the latter, but the other games surprised me. I was tempted to play the game simply to see it fall far short of these titles I consider among the best ever. Yet again, I was wrong.

Tomb Raider doesn't reinvent the genre, but it does perfect it. Younger gamers may not remember Lara's original adventures, games that clearly inspired Naughty Dog with the Uncharted series. I can't say that Tomb Raider is an all-around, better game than Uncharted 2, which recently made my list of top 5 games this generation, but I can say it goes toe-to-toe and even bests it in many categories. Consider this: Uncharted 2's main advantages are its graphics, story and characters, which are all slightly better than what you'll find in Tomb Raider. Aside from Lara, who's equally as interesting as Nathan Drake, the other Tomb Raider characters are largely forgettable. The storyline is predictable and most of the twists are telegraphed from a mile away; even so, the story is solid enough to hold you through to the end. The game looks beautiful, but it's still a step below Uncharted. 
Do young gamers remember this...at all?
As for Tomb Raider's strong points, its most significant advantage is in the game's pacing and overall flow. Let's be honest, with Uncharted, you're essentially playing through a movie, albeit, a very beautiful movie. You have to climb up this rock and you must explore this cave. Tomb Raider presents players with a very solid linear experience...if that's how you choose to play. For gamers, like me, who prefer a little exploration, Tomb Raider will appease you as well. The game differs drastically from Uncharted by offering tombs to raid, treasures/items to collect, money to earn, and weapons to upgrade.

Those comparisons to Arkham City, Prime, and RE 4? Completely valid. Crystal Dynamics borrows liberally from those classics, but everything makes sense. For example, you're stranded on an island and start out with a very limited arsenal, both in weaponry and tools. Over time, you gain new items that allow you to traverse new paths you couldn't access before, a la Metroid.

Enough with the comparisons. Tomb Raider stands as on its own as an amazing title that breathes new life into an age-old franchise. The gameplay is rock solid and you'll love getting to know Lara. I really want to applaud Crystal Dynamics for having a game with an incredibly strong female lead, who isn't hyper-sexualized. Yes, Lara is female and yes, she's attractive. But it's far from the focus. I wouldn't say the game deemphasizes any of these factors; however, it doesn't flaunt as so many other games (and movies) tend to do. Lara is a real person and you care about her motivations. You care if she rescues her friends. You care if she lives or dies.
A survivor is born...and a gaming legend reborn.
If you've been a consistent reader of my blog, you've no doubt heard me mention the mixture of fun and quality, a battle critics must consider when reviewing all forms of media. For Tomb Raider, it excels at both. The game is polished, yet incredibly fun. Tomb Raider offers further proof that games can deliver a polished, contained story, while still allowing ample room for exploration. I have no reservations highly recommending it with a score of 9.5/10.

Haven't bought Tomb Raider yet? You're in luck. For March 26, 2013, it's Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day, which you can nab for only $41.99. Enjoy!

Score: 9.5/10

Monday, March 18, 2013

Should Sony Release Gran Turismo 6 on the PS3?

According to a top Sony Executive, Gran Turismo 6 will launch this year...on the PlayStation 3. This would be a colossal mistake for Sony that would risk sabotaging the launch of Sony's next-generation PlayStation 4 right out of the gate.

Shortly after Sony's PlayStation 4 announcement back in February, rumors started to swirl about the next title in the illustrious Gran Turismo series. Michael Denny, senior vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's Worldwide Studios told Silicon Republic, "Look at the games coming out on the PlayStation 3 like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, GT6, and then on the third-party side..." Of course, the first two games Denny mentions have already been revealed with release dates announced.

It's entirely possible Denny simply misspoke; however, I believe it much more likely to be a slip of the tongue. The question now is why would Sony release Gran Turismo 6 on the PS3 rather than the PS4? The most likely answer is because there are far more PS3 users than there will be PS4 users this holiday, regardless of how well PS4 performs at launch. In theory, this would position GT6 to sell more copies.

Unfortunately, this would undoubtedly have an inverse affect on the PS4 launch. Sony is already showing significant support for the aging PS3 at the end of its life cycle. Both The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls are hotly anticipated titles releasing this year for PS3. If you throw GT6 into the mix, is there really any reason to upgrade to PS4 this year? Oh and there's also a little game called Grand Theft Auto 6 releasing this year on all current-gen and next-gen systems. Again, it begs the question: why upgrade with so many quality titles to play on PS3?

Make no mistake, GT6 is a system seller. The series has sold a staggering 67.89 million units. According to IGN's Colin Moriarty, "The best-selling Gran Turismo game of all-time is Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec on PlayStation 2, which has sold 14.89 million copies worldwide." The original Gran Turismo sold 10.85 million units on the PSone. These numbers easily make it Sony's best-selling franchise.

If Sony releases GT6 only for PS4, it would certainly have a positive affect on the launch. Quality racing titles tend to age well so although sales would initially be lower with a PS4-only launch, it would likely pay off in the long run. GT6 would continue to chart strongly throughout the PS4's life cycle and would also help Sony's new console start strong out of the gate.

But maybe this isn't the best solution. Why not pull a Nintendo and release the game on both systems? After all, it worked during the launch of the Wii with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The game sold better on Wii by a 5:1 margin, despite being developed on the GameCube. The Wii went on to have one of the most successful console launches of all-time (Wii Sports undoubtedly played a role in this alongside Twilight Princess).

Sony would still risk losing sales on PS4 by not giving users enough of a reason to buy early; however, it would keep from alienating PS3 owners and may convince a few to go ahead an upgrade when they consider GT6 would still be on the PS4 (likely with better graphics), much like many GameCube owners did with Twilight Princess. 

The console world has changed. Microsoft and Nintendo aren't the only competitors anymore. Mobile devices are surging, PC gaming is holding strong thanks to the likes of Steam, and even web-based games are having an impact on Sony's future. They can ill-afford to launch a system without an enticing hook. Killzone won't be enough on its own. The PS4 needs its Super Mario 64 or Halo. Why not launch the new PS4 with your best-selling franchise of all-time?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trophy Tuesday: The Most Difficult Platinum Trophy

I've platinumed quite a few games, 41 to be exact. A few of those games, such as Trine 2, were rather easy and could be completed in just a few hours. Others took a great deal of time with Skyrim taking me over 100 hours to platinum. As I pondered this week's Trophy Tuesday blog entry, I considered my most difficult platinum trophy ever.

The contenders:
  • Skyrim
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Modern Warfare 2 
  • Mass Effect 2 
Rather than basing it solely off my experience with each game, I decided to take a look at two factors: 1) Difficulty rating according to ps3trophies.org and 2) How many platinumed the game according to PSNProfiles.com.

Let's start with the difficulty rating. Here are the results going from most difficult (1) to least difficult (5).
  1. Batman: Arkham City (7/10 TIE)
  2. Batman: Arkham Asylum (7/10 TIE)
  3. Modern Warfare 2 (6.5)
  4. Mass Effect 2 (6/10)
  5. Skyrim (4.5/10)
Next, let's rank them in order of the most rare platinum (1) to the most common platinum (5).
  1. Batman: Arkham City (10,885)
  2. Mass Effect 2 (10,955)
  3. Skyrim (22,752)
  4. Batman: Arkham Asylum (23,183)
  5. Modern Warfare 2 (56,561)
Truth be told, I would have said Arkham City even before looking at these numbers. Not only did it prove to be the most challenging, it also ended up being the platinum trophy I treasure the most. You see, many trophies are simply a battle of attrition. Find this many items, defeat this many enemies, travel this far...Arkham City has its share of these trophies, but it's really the challenge maps and Riddler trophies that set it apart. 

Whereas other games require you to repeat tasks over and over to get a certain trophy, Arkham City's challenge maps require true skill. You have to practice your moves repeatedly and time your parries perfectly, that is if players wish to pursue the game's most difficult trophy, which requires you to use every move at your disposal (gadgets and all) in one continuous free-flow combo...without getting hit. 

One trophy requires you to utilize every
move in your arsenal without taking damage. 
Believe it or not, the combat challenges actually easy when compared to the predator and campaign challenges, which will take trophy hunters to the brink of insanity. For campaign challenges, you're given a 3 room combo where you must obtain all 3 medals on each challenge for a total of 9 medals. You must complete them in order and you're only allowed 3 continues. Fail more than 3 times and you'll be forced to start from the first challenge all over again.

Aside from the slew of skill-based trophies, there are a number of other trophies, unrelated to skill, that will drive you crazy. You'll have to play the entire game twice if the platinum is your ultimate goal. Arkham City features a New Game Plus mode, which must be completed to earn a silver trophy. You'll have to complete every Riddler challenge and find all the Riddler trophies. There's also the bronze Calendar Man trophy, which requires you to play the game on 12 specific dates throughout the year and speak with Calendar Man. You are able to adjust the time on your PS3 to obtain this trophy; however, it can get cumbersome to repeatedly save the game, quit game, restart game, talk to Calendar Man, etc.

In the end, I'm incredibly proud of this platinum trophy and encourage anyone who wants a challenge to go for it. It will take time, dedication, and practice, but in the end, Batman: Arkham City will be one of the rarest platinum trophies in your collection. For easy platinum trophies? Check out my previous two Trophy Tuesday entries on Sly and Far Cry 3. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

What Are The Best Games Of This Generation?

Does it make the cut?
A recent post on Neogaf got me thinking about my favorite games from this generation. I was surprised at how difficult it turned out to be. I struggled to narrow my extensive list of quality titles down to five. I'm still not sure I'm completely happy with my list.

The problem? I left off a number of games I played for days. What is the best way to determine a top 5 list? 

The main problem is this: I can distinguish between games/movies I love and games/movies that are expertly crafted/well-made. They don't always have to be mutually exclusive, yet sometimes they are. Let's look at the original Pirates of the Caribbean. I absolutely love watching that movie. I could watch it many times and still enjoy it. With that being said, I'm fully able to recognize that it's not the greatest movie ever made. It's not even the greatest movie I've ever seen, personally. But how does one weight enjoyment v.s. quality?

Oscar worthy? No. Great popcorn flick? Absolutely.
So we are left to decide how best to rank games. I've come to believe top games should be both fun and well-made. The difficulty arises when you have a game you played far more than any others, but it may not be the most polished game out there. There are two games I spent more hours playing this generation than any other: Skyrim and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

If reviewing those games though, they would not be at the top of my list. Both have their own set of technical issues and shortcomings; however, the fun factor was enough to keep me playing for hours on end. When it comes time to rank my favorite games, do I go by play time or how I would review each game? I ended up asking myself this question: if you could only have played 5 games from this generation, what would they be?

Couldn't have a top 5 list without it.
With this new qualifier, Skyrim, Journey, and Heavy Rain earn immediate spots. The latter two made me feel certain emotions I never have before while playing a video game. Heavy Rain will stick with me forever because of the choices I made to impact the story, whereas I'll never forget Journey because of the almost-spiritual experience it evokes. Skyrim earns its immediate spot because no game has ever pulled me into its world more. Within a few hours of starting the game, I wanted to go everywhere and explore as much as possible. 

After that, it gets more tricky. I'm still leaving off a number of incredibly fun games and a wide selection of polished games as well. One spot is almost assuredly going to Infamous 2 or Batman Arkham City. I platinumed both titles and enjoyed every minute of each.

The final spot? I'm still left with the entire Uncharted series, Red Dead Redemption, the Mass Effect series, Portal 2, Far Cry 3, Dishonored, the Call of Duty series and Super Mario Galaxy. Wow. That's no easy task. I can't imagine having missed any of those games this past generation. I'm narrowing it down to Uncharted 2, Red Dead Redemption, and Mass Effect 2 because they each had polish, amazing stories, and incredible gameplay. Truth be told, you can't go wrong with any of them, but I will have to say Uncharted 2 by an ever so slight margin. 

Takes the final spot in my top 5.
I'll leave you with my top 10 here (just because I have to give these other games recognition somehow). 
  1. Journey
  2. Skyrim
  3. Batman Arkham City
  4. Heavy Rain
  5. Uncharted 2
  6. Mass Effect 2
  7. Red Dead Redemption
  8. Infamous 2
  9. Portal 2
  10. Modern Warfare 2
What are your favorite games from this generation? Is it as hard for you as it was for me? 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Trophy Tuesday: Far Cry 3

Last Friday, I posted a blog about Far Cry 3 and how everyone should play it. Turns out, it's also a great game for trophies. Truth be told, there are very few annoying trophies in the game. I've actually enjoyed seeking out each one to see everything this game has to offer.

PS3trophies.org rates the game's platinum trophy difficulty a 3 out of 10 and in my experience, this is accurate. There are only two missable trophies and those are actually quite difficult to miss. As long as you liberate at least two outposts without being detected, you should be fine. Difficulty does not affect any of the trophies so feel free to play on any level you prefer.

There is also a series of co-op trophies, which you can actually obtain on your own if you have a 2nd controller. Although not ideal, you do have the option if you have an aversion to playing co-op or just don't have any friends.

Don't do it!
Platinum trophies usually fall into three different categories: attainable/terrible game, attainable/fun game, or unattainable. Luckily, Far Cry 3 falls squarely into the 2nd category, much like Sly Cooper. My one piece of advice for trophy hunters? Don't give into the terrible games! It's a never ending cycle and you'll likely regret it completely. There are way too many quality titles with attainable platinums to waste your time on games like Terminator Salvation or Kung Fu Panda...believe me, I know. I've platinumed them both. Don't hate. Just go play Far Cry 3 and add another platinum to your trophy room.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Everyone Should Play Far Cry 3

The weekend is finally here and you know what that means...time for some hardcore gaming! I've been progressing through Far Cry 3 and hope to beat it this weekend. The game is fantastic and I regret not playing it sooner.

It's really not important to have played a Far Cry game before. This entry is its own story - and what a story it is. In fact, the game combines an incredible story with an open world not unlike that of Skyrim...with guns instead of swords and sharks, tigers, and komodo dragons instead of - well, regular dragons. Yes, this is is a game with komodo dragons. Yes, they'll attack you. Oh, and the game runs much better than Skyrim in terms of framerate.

I've always had a fascination with sharks and komodo dragons. They are two of nature's most fearsome predators. By fascination, I mean I'm terrified of them. I've yet to be attacked by a shark (in the game) and hope I can avoid it entirely (both in-game and in real life). As far as I have found, there's really no way to attack while underwater, which means you're incredibly vulnerable. At one point in the game, I needed sharkskin to craft a new item. I shot at the sharks from outside the water and then quickly dove in for the pelts. Luckily, no other sharks approached before I could return to the surface. I also had an untimely death at the hands of a crocodile that resulted in me throwing my controller and screaming like a little girl. My dog seemed rather annoyed that I woke her with my shout. My wife was also less than impressed.

In all seriousness, the game does a fantastic job of drawing you into the lush landscape of Bangkok. Each situation feels unique and what I love is how you can go about a mission in entirely different ways. You can be stealth or you can go in aggressively with your guns. But let's be honest, there's really nothing unique or innovative about offering you basic, cookie-cutter stealth and aggressive options. Fortunately, Far Cry 3 offers you hundreds of possibilities.

Get out of the way and watch the ensuing carnage. 
With Far Cry 3, your decisions are multilayered and you have a number of ways to be stealth or aggressive. For example, if you spot a caged animal right in the middle of an outpost, you can shoot off the door and watch from afar as a bear or leopard wreaks havoc on the enemy. Maybe you prefer a more aggressive approach, in which, one of my favorite options relies on the use of a vehicle. Depending on the outpost's layout, you may be able to take out everyone with your vehicle. If you want to be a little more creative, you can race straight for an outpost and allow the enemy to fire at your vehicle and eventually it will start smoking. Once you see the flames, you can bail out of what is now a very large explosion waiting to happen. If you time it just right, the vehicle will explode and take out a number of enemies.

This really just scratches the surface, but hopefully it's enough to whet your appetite. If you haven't already played Far Cry 3, I would highly recommend it. There's a ton to do, the story is engaging, and the gameplay is fantastic. I may also try and squeeze in some time with Link to the Past this weekend as well. How about you? What is everyone else playing this weekend?

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