Monday, June 23, 2014

L.A. Noire Sucks: "More Like L.A. Bore"















L.A. Noire showed a lot of potential back in 2011. Going down its list of features, we have: a unique setting and theme, based around 1940s Los Angeles in a film noir-inspired detective story; a finely-detailed open world to explore, complete with side-missions; an emphasis on old-school adventure-style crime scene investigations; and never-before-seen facial animation technology allowing for realistic interrogations. This game had a lot to be excited about, and all of the pre-release hype and post-release praise had me quite eager to play it. But, as is seemingly always the case with such critically-hyped games, I found it incredibly disappointing and overrated.

L.A. Noire is one of the most expensive games ever made, and it shows. An astonishing amount of research went into accurately recreating 1947 Los Angeles, right down to traffic patterns and smog levels, and every square foot of the city is rendered with extraordinary detail. The facial animations, meanwhile, are some of the most realistic I've ever seen in a video game. All of this historical and graphical fidelity comes at the expense of gameplay, however, as if developer Team Bondi spent all their time and money bringing this wonderful world to life aesthetically, and then forgot to design some worthwhile gameplay to bring it to life mechanically.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Review of The X-Files FMV Game















My wife won't answer my calls, my partner is secretly working for a shadow agency, I can't get in touch with the Seattle Police Department's Computer Crime Lab, and I can't remember the password to my own computer. Such is life for Seattle-based FBI agent Craig Willmore, who's been tasked by Assistant Director Walter Skinner with locating his two missing agents, Diana Scully and Wolf Mulder.

Released in 1998 during the height of The X-Files' popularity, the aptly and succinctly named The X-Files Game is a point-and-click, full-motion-video adventure game designed to look and feel like an interactive episode from the television series. Featuring a story conceived by the series creator himself, Chris Carter, and cast appearances by virtually all of the series' regulars, The X-Files Game uses the license with great authenticity and is a real treat for fans of the series. If you've watched the show, you'll probably enjoy seeing all of the familiar characters, picking up on the references and in-jokes, and perhaps even treating it as a "lost episode" of the series' mythos. The game behind the license, however, isn't all that good.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Board Game Review: The Cave













The Cave is a game in which two-to-five players take the role of speleologists competing to earn the most prestige for exploring a newly-discovered cave system. The board begins with only a single tile at the cave's entrance and then progressively fills itself out as players explore beyond the starting point, laying new tiles for each section of the cave that they choose to explore. Along the way, players will face perilous drops, tight crevices, flooded chambers, and underground wonders. To get the credit for these discoveries, players will need to be well-prepared with the right gear for the job, and will have to use their limited actions and resources wisely before returning to base camp to resupply. Whoever manages their resources best and explores the most of the cave wins the game. 

I was drawn to The Cave for a lot of reasons, but the primary factor was that I liked the idea of an easy-going, tile-laying exploration game that I could play with a variety of people. Seeing your cave expand the longer you play, shaping itself into its own unique configuration each time you play is very appealing, and the theme of scientists exploring a cave is something that I think everyone can enjoy. More importantly, the rules are simple enough to learn that this game could be played by just about anyone. The Cave is therefore a pretty good game to play with friends and family members who aren't very big gamers, but I find it a little disappointing to play in any other context besides that. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I Love/Hate Tomb Raider Anniversary













Tomb Raider 2013 was the first Tomb Raider game I'd ever played. I liked it quite a bit, despite all of my criticisms, though I realized it was a very different type of game than what was originally established in the 90s by Core Design. To get some more perspective on the series, I decided to try the one-two combo of the original 1996 Tomb Raider and its 2007 remake, Tomb Raider Anniversary. Originally, I planned on playing corresponding levels in each game side-by-side for direct comparison, but I gave up on that endeavor after only completing the first level in the original game.

As it turns out, the original Tomb Raider hasn't aged very well, and I just couldn't bring myself to put up with its clunky control scheme after getting a taste of the more modernized Tomb Raider Anniversary. From what I could tell of that first level, Anniversary seems like a faithful remake that captures the spirit of the original game with all of the same setpieces and puzzles, but with obviously better graphics and better controls. Anniversary takes it one step further by adding some of its own original content in the form of extra explorable areas on the side with extra hidden rewards, which I think makes Anniversary the definitive edition of this game, which is not to be confused with 2014's Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.

Whereas my opinion of Tomb Raider 2013 remained a flatline from beginning to end, consisting of enthusiastic enjoyment marred by disappointing missed potential, Anniversary marked a much more dramatic rise and fall as I played through it. I was so impressed by its level design, its puzzles, and its convincing emphasis on platforming and exploration over combat that I was prepared to declare Anniversary one of my all-time favorite platforming games early on. The more I played, however, the more I realized how much I'd grown to despise it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Uncharted 3 Kinda Sucks















I didn't think it was possible, but Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is almost as bad as the first game, Drake's Fortune, albeit for different reasons. After the second game demonstrated some competence in its design, I figured Naughty Dog had ironed out the wrinkles in their formula and would only improve the experience with a third opportunity to polish and refine said formula. If nothing else, they could have repackaged the exact same gameplay with a new story and new locations, and I probably would've been content not to see significant improvement as long as it was merely "as good as" the previous game. I certainly didn't expect it to get worse

Uncharted 3 is a decent game in the sense that it looks nice and its gameplay isn't completely broken, but almost everything feels worse than it did in the previous game. The story is full of plot holes and undeveloped characters, the platforming sections are completely cursory, and the combat feels like a tedious chore once again. Worse than that, the game wants so badly to be cinematic and visually exciting that it comes at the expense of gameplay -- it feels like the game only reluctantly lets you play it, and whenever you do, it only serves to interrupt the game's script and ruin the effectiveness of its dramatic scenes. Uncharted 3 is a pretty good "interactive visual experience" but kind of sucks as a video game. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Uncharted 2 Is So Much Better Than UC1















The first Uncharted is one of the worst games of the previous console generation that I've ever played. I absolutely hated it. If I had to decide whether or not to play the sequel based solely on my experiences with the first game, I never would have given it a chance -- but since I'm a glutton for punishment and everyone insisted that the second game was better than the first, I figured I'd give it a shot and see if the general public would be wrong about the same series twice in a row.

As it turns out, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a competently-designed game. Basically everything that was wrong about the first game (which was basically everything) has been fixed and improved in the sequel; the story has more momentum behind it, the puzzles actually require some thought to solve, the platforming requires careful timing and precision, the combat feels much more fluid, there's much more variety, and the different gameplay elements are balanced much more appropriately. This is what I expected (and did not get) from Drake's Fortune.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Sucks














When it comes to PS3 exclusives, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune may be the most overrated, most over-hyped game in existence. This game was so immensely popular and successful back in 2007 that it instantly became a flagship series for Sony and a prime selling point for the PS3. This was the game that you absolutely had to buy if you owned a PS3, and it was reason enough to consider getting a PS3 over an Xbox 360 just to be able to play this game. I have no idea what people saw in it, because it's absolute rubbish. 

The thing that annoyed me the most is that I was expecting a fun, lighthearted action-adventure / puzzle-platformer game in the style of the Indiana Jones movies and the early Tomb Raider games -- that's exactly how the game was marketed, and those are the exact comparisons everyone made when describing the game in reviews and forum posts. What I got, however, was a straight-up action shooter that only borrows the general theme from Indy and Lara's adventures. That would be fine, of course, if the game were actually any good as a shooter, but it simply isn't.