weekend recap: all tombs raided

Finished Tomb Raider.  Currently at around 93% completion, and I’m not sure I give a shit about finding the last few things there are to find.  Lara is fully leveled up, as are her weapons (not that there are that many people to fight), and the stuff that’s left (mostly GPS caches) doesn’t have much of a payoff.  Usually when I finish one of these kinds of action/adventure games, I feel compelled to go back and replay one of my favorite levels, if only to really take in the scenery and find all the hidden stuff without the pressure of combat.  But you can’t really do that in this edition of Tomb Raider, as there aren’t really any levels to speak of.  There are certainly different geographic locations on the island, but it’s not quite the same thing.

I think, overall, that it’s a very good game; that the developer’s intentions were clear, and that they were largely successful in achieving what they set out to achieve.  But it’s not perfect; there’s still too much killing (and, let me tell you – for a girl who starts out hesitant and apologetic to kill a deer in order to survive, she ends up kneecapping dudes with pickaxes and spearing dudes in the throat with arrows), and the whole 2nd act is basically one long chase sequence where everything is on fire.

There’s also something else that troubles me a little bit, though it’s a bit more subtle; they go through great lengths to make Lara Croft a real, relatable human being this time around, someone grounded in reality (even if she has an incredibly high tolerance for pain).  But without getting too spoilery, the mystery of the island is, in fact, something supernatural.  I was actually hoping for some scientific, grounded-in-reality explanation to what was going on, being that everything else was meant to evoke a real-world feeling.  The ending isn’t necessarily disappointing, but it did feel a bit… hokey.

I’d also add that some of the systems they introduce in the beginning feel unnecessary and undeveloped – like the whole survivalist thing, about needing to hunt game in order to stay alive.  Actually, once you kill that first deer mentioned above, you don’t need to kill any animals (besides the wolves that attack you) ever again; and if you do, the XP you gain is modest, at best.  I’m not saying I wanted them to introduce a hunger system, but it’s just weird that in the beginning of the game it’s presented as something important, and within 30 minutes it’s an afterthought.

Still, problems aside, I had a really good time with it; I’d give it a solid B+.  I’m just not sure if I’ll ever find myself going back to play it again, the way I have with other, similar titles.

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My 3DS experience continues to be hit-or-miss.  I’ve got 2 games on rental right now – Etrian Odyssey 4 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, which, if nothing else, wins the “Most Ridiculous Title of 2013” award.  I gave Castlevania about 30 minutes before sending it back; the screens are too dark to really see what’s going on, and the 3D gives me a splitting headache – even with it turned off.  And the first real boss was a bit of a dick.  I generally like Castlevania games – not necessarily for the fiction, but for the action and the map-filling and such.  But this one kinda felt like it was going nowhere, fast.

Etrian Odyssey, on the other hand, is a bit more interesting, and I’m tempted to stick with it – even if a lot of the mechanics seem needlessly convoluted.  It’s a fairly standard dungeon-crawling turn-based RPG, but there’s also this map-making feature that’s kinda fascinating, where you actually chart your progress through each dungeon’s maze.  Some of your quests actually depend on your cartography skills – you need to be able to point to something on the map in order to show your quest-giver where a given object might be.   The party management system is not very intuitive, and so I’m never sure if I’ve arranged my party correctly or if they’re as well-equipped as they need to be.  It’s tempting to think that a lot of this stuff would be familiar to people who’ve played the earlier 3 games, but I haven’t, and I don’t plan to, and so I’m stuck with a level of obtuseness that is a little intimidating.  But the actual exploring and fighting is fun enough, and the map-making aspect is certainly novel and engaging, and so I’m probably going to hang on to it for a little while longer.

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I was going to write a thing here about being conflicted about what to do about Bioshock Infinite, but it’s a very silly problem to have and I’m not sure it’s all that interesting, either.  But I’ll write it anyway.

The gist of it is that I was always planning on playing it on my 360, but there’s a few snags in that plan.  Firstly,  the release date (March 25) is right at the edge of the baby arrival window, and so if I were to pre-order a copy and the baby arrived before the 25th, then my game would be stuck at my office for 2 weeks (as I can’t really get packages delivered to my apartment).  Not that I’d be playing a game instead of taking care of my newborn child, but you understand what I mean, right?  The baby’s gotta sleep at some point, and when I’m in that weird exhausted half-sleep daze that will be as close as I can get to experiencing actual drug use, I’m going to want to unwind with some Bioshock.    Secondly, when the baby is sleeping, I’m sure my wife will want to unwind as well, and if I’m playing Bioshock on the big TV in the living room, she’s relegated to the bedroom with the smaller TV, and I always feel bad about that.

The reason why this is stupid is that the logical answer is for me to simply download the game on Steam, which is how I’ve been playing most of my games lately anyway  including Tomb Raider, actually.  I have kick-ass PC headphones which will prevent the baby from hearing all the strange noises, and the PC is in the office, which means my wife can relax in the living room.  My only concern, really, is that while my PC can run Bioshock, it can’t necessarily run it as well as it could, and so it may not look as fantastic as I’d hope.  Still, Tomb Raider looked more than OK on my PC, and so I’m sure Bioshock’s performance will suffice.

>Back To The Apocalypse

>I find it hard to believe that it’s really December 19. The year was already moving pretty fast, and now I look up and see that Christmas is next fucking week. What the hell happened?

In any event, the release calendar madness has finally slowed down, and now I find myself with a bunch of titles that I finally have some time to enjoy.

First and foremost, I’m getting back into Fallout 3. I had put it down a few weeks ago for some reason, and when I heard about the forthcoming packages of DLC – one of which would raise the level cap and make the endgame a bit more productive – I felt like my time with the game would be better spent with all that stuff intact, instead of playing it now, finishing it, and then coming back later. (I had originally meant to talk about this very thing in relation to this particular article from MTV Multiplayer.) And I guess there’s a part of me that still does feel that way; I’d like to be able to seamlessly incorporate this new DLC into my Fallout experience. That said, last night I found myself with an empty apartment and a lot of options, and I found myself missing the Fallout experience.

Goddamn, that game is awesome. I believe I said in my 2008 wrap-up that I thought I might be a little intimidated by it; it’s such a huge world and there’s so much to do and I still haven’t totally figured out how good or evil I want to be, even though I’m level 10 and have put in a considerable amount of hours into it already. I put it in last night and it only took me about 30 seconds to remember how it worked and I was immediately hooked, again. I’m trying to stay away from the main quest, and as a result I’ve found a ton of other things to see and explore. I used to do this thing in Oblivion – if I was walking towards my targeted location, and another random, undiscovered location started to appear in my map, I’d always feel compelled to stray away just far enough to see what it was that I’d found, and I find myself doing the same thing here in Fallout. And it’s really incredible to see what Bethesda has crammed in there. I’m currently on a side mission that’s taken me to some pretty awesome locations, and the level of detail in every room is just staggering, and it boggles my mind to think that if I had only made a left turn in Rivet City instead of a right, I would never have seen any of it. And the thing of it is, I’m already well aware that there’s a ton of stuff that I’ve already missed because I went one way and not the other. Absolutely incredible.

Rock Band 2 continues to be a nightly source of amusement at my house; my wife has finally graduated to “Medium” difficulty on guitar, and we’re getting back into Tour mode again. I made a brief mention of this in the 2008 Year In Music post on my other blog; there’s 2 songs in particular that I found in the store that I’ve totally fallen in love with, and I ended up purchasing those songs in iTunes – Maximo Park’s “Girls Who Play Guitars” and Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye.” They’re both fun as hell to play on drums, but they also just kick a lot of ass in general.

I made a special category in my 2008 Year in Games post so as to congratulate myself for not being a total whore and buying the Strongbad Games, even though I’m a big fan of the cartoon and an even bigger fan of point-and-click adventure games. Then, of course, it was announced just the other day that they were releasing all 5 adventures on Steam, and so OF COURSE I went and downloaded them immediately. Steam was acting a little weird last night, though, and I couldn’t actually open Episode 1. But I did check out the tutorial in Episode 5, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into, and of course I’m totally fucking hooked.

I finally beat the single-player campaign in Little Big Planet, and then I started dabbling in user-created levels, most of which are kinda shitty. (It does sound strange to use the phrase “single-player campaign” for a game like LBP, but to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you use the nomenclature you have.) I’m not sure I’m ready to begin designing my own levels just yet; I may end up going back into the single-player to try and find all the stickers and objects that I didn’t get the first time. I gotta say – even though the controls are awfully floaty and the back-middle-front aspect of it can get terribly screwed up, that game’s charm is absolutely impossible to deny. I am fully on board the Sackboy bandwagon.

Finally, my DS is finally starting to come to life again. I’ve been getting into Chrono Trigger a little more, and I’ve also been enjoying the newest Castlevania game. I find it incredible that Konami has basically been making the same Castlevania game for a million years and yet it still ends up being pretty awesome every single time.

And so what are you playing this weekend?