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1:14 PM on 12.10.2013

The Best Under-appreciated Games of Last Gen

A new generation is upon us, and I personally couldn't be more excited. 2014 and beyond is shaping up brilliantly for games, but before they all hit, I feel I should look back at some of my favorite experiences from last gen that either failed critically or commercially, and explain exactly why I loved them.

Folklore (2007)
This one might hurt the most, right off the bat. Easily my favorite RPG of the generation, it was a victim of the struggling PS3's early years. It's a real shame, because the game was brilliant and there was real potential for it to be a massive hit for Sony. For me, no RPG has topped it since, even in 2013.

TimeShift (2007)
I can honestly see why this game received mixed reviews. Its gunplay isn't great, its story is poorly written, and it had a multiplayer mode that I don’t think ever worked, but I just had too much fun playing it. Manipulating time was a neat gameplay mechanic that set it apart from other shooters and held my interest. Pausing, rewinding and slowing time in-game was a new exciting thing to me.

Fracture (2008)
This game received average reviews upon release, but the concept of terrain deformation was far too interesting for me to skip it. I am very glad I didn't, because I genuinely found this game to be brilliant. Sure, the story was forgettable (in fact, I literally don’t remember it), but I will never forget having endless fun raising and lowering terrain at my own will.

Haze (2008)
Now this one is polarizing. I know of a few people who enjoyed this game despite obvious flaws, but it was also demolished upon release after months of hype. I went into Haze blind, six months or so after release and having never read anything about it. I honestly bought it from reading the back cover. It was only after completing the game and then seeking other players’ impressions that I realized just how reviled this game was. I guess perspective really can change when you haven’t been subjected to reviews!

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (2008)
I refuse to believe anyone who played this game didn't have a giant smile on their face at some point. My opinion is probably invalidated by the fact I never played the N64 games, but I thought this game was excellent. I spent hours building shit and just driving it around mindlessly. I really, really hope for a sequel from Rare. Please Microsoft, get them off of this Kinect Sports business and let them give the Banjo-Kazooie series another crack.

Too Human (2008)
Not much I can really say about this one. I can see why people dislike it, and can definitely acknowledge its flaws, but that didn't stop me from enjoying my time with the game. Early in the generation I actually thought it would remain my favorite until the end. Obviously it didn't, but that shows how strong my appreciation was at the time.

Fable II (2008)
I feel this one will be the most debatable in this list, but I enjoyed the hell out of this. Granted, not as much as the original on the Xbox, but I felt it was a worthy sequel that copped a little bit more flak than it deserved. If my 360 still worked, I would still be playing it today. Fable II is nothing mind-blowing, but it’s just fine. Fable III on the other hand…

Blur (2010)
Where to begin with Blur. The best description I ever heard for it is “Mario Kart with neon and street cars” and its not far off. One of the best racers of the generation, with excellent splitscreen modes and all around fun gameplay, it still hurts that Bizarre was shut down after its release and the sequel cancelled. This leads nicely into…

Split/Second (2010)
I actually have no idea if this sold poorly at all, or Disney were just being total assholes when they closed Black Rock following release, but I'm still so damn salty about it I'm going to include it here anyway. Ugh, why Disney? WHY?? You will never play Pure 2 or Split/Second 2 because of Disney. Let that sink in.

Resistance 3 (2011)
Critically very well received, but the title was a victim of Sony’s bumbling (pre-2013) advertising department. Which is a real shame, because it is easily the best in the Resistance series, and prior to The Last of Us, was my game of the generation. The bleak, hopeless atmosphere throughout the story was absolutely brilliant, and unlike almost every other FPS I can think of, I actually gave a shit about the protagonist. Insomniac nailed the weapons as always (atomizer secondary fire was brutal). Multiplayer was a nice addition, though lowering the player cap from 60 in Resistance 2 to 16 in the third game was a shame. The massive battles and co-op were the only things I enjoyed about 2.

Twisted Metal (2012)
Another game received pretty well critically, but it seems it didn't make much of a splash commercially. Twisted Metal multiplayer was top notch, specifically local 4-player splitscreen. It’s a shame that local multiplayer is dying in this industry, it's only the odd game such as this that comes along and proves it can still be done. Although, if you ever chose the semi-trailer for multiplayer, you suck. That thing took about 5 times the damage of every other vehicle.

Starhawk (2012)
Save for Battlefield: Bad Company 2, this is my favorite online game this generation. Calling in my own buildings that land and build before my eyes always felt great, even better if they landed on someone else. The game has admittedly gone downhill since release, to the point where I’m scared to check the server population, but at launch it was a thriving online game with an interesting “build n battle” system and vehicle combat. As far as I know, this game flopped pretty hard, but a complete lack of advertising tends to do that.

HONORABLE MENTIONSPlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, DmC: Devil May Cry (didn't feel like getting eaten alive), Remember Me.

That about summarizes the games that left a lasting impression on me.  These games are a big part of the reason I put absolutely zero stock into reviews or sales. Just think of all the amazing experiences people could miss just because they read a number at the bottom that was a bit lower than they wanted?

But how about you, dear readers? Did you enjoy any of these games, or do you have any favorites you feel were unappreciated? Discuss them in the comments below!

PS - This is my first blog in a long time, so I'm happy to listen to feedback about how shit/great/perfect it was and where I could improve. It would be much appreciated!   read

4:29 AM on 03.05.2013

Tomb Raider: My Thoughts

Tomb Raider is an interesting game. In the time from its announcement to its release, I've observed a lot of discussion, often heated, about the new direction the franchise was heading. Some were pleased with the new look, while others either deemed it unecessary or "trying too hard to be Uncharted."

I avoided most of the publicity for Tomb Raider leading up to its release. It certainly had my attention, but I always saw it as the kind of game that would sneak up on me and surprise me. It has certainly achieved that. Tomb Raider broke the street date by 4 days here in Australia, and after seeing the high praise it had received, I couldn't help but snatch it up. Four days later, I have spent over 20 hours in the game, so here is exactly what I think of it.

It's amazing.

The game opens by introducing us to the new Lara Croft, before quickly beating the shit out of her. She is younger, more innocent, and much less sexualised than previous versions of the character. Gone are the short shorts and the exposed torso. What's replaced her is a modest young woman.

A young archaeologist, Lara is part of an expedition who are shipwrecked on Yamatai, an island full of all kinds of twisted mysteries. She washes ashore and is kidnapped almost instantly, before being tied up and hung upside down. Most of the beginning of the game involves quick time events depicting Lara's escape, and while this will bother many, I personally didn't find them too intrusive, as they seem to be present for the sake of establishing character and giving us a quick look at the horror Lara is suddenly dealing with.

The writing is also superb. Lara is a brilliantly written character, and Crystal Dynamics have succeeded in fleshing her out and genuinely making the player feel for her. In the beginning, I felt sympathy for the scared young Lara getting beat up at every turn, and witnessing her transformation from this innocent woman into a killer who does what she must to survive is truly gripping. The story is also written fairly well, as the secrets to the island are revealed it becomes apparent that there is more happening there than science can explain. These events are supernatural, and bring with them some nice twists.

The moment Lara comes across the bow and arrow weapon, the game opens up. Initially, you only hunt animals, and while not actually mandatory, it is a good way to get the hang of your new weapon. At first, it took me around 5 shots to kill a simple deer, because I couldn't even get close to a headshot. However, pretty soon I was nailing them between the eyes with ease. All this builds up to the moment you receive a gun. Now this is the point where the story really kicks off, so as of now, I will stop talking about it to avoid potential spoilers as it's an experience definitely worth going into blind. But know this: Lara's first kill is an emotionally draining moment, and the kind of scene that remains with you throughout the game.

Where Tomb Raider really shines is the combat. This is a combat system done exceptionally well, so well in fact I can barely fault it. You will have 4 weapons to use at any time throughout the game: Your bow, a shotgun, a sub-machine gun and your pistol. All of these weapons are a joy to use, particularly the bow. They all have an immensely satisfying impact. During combat, Lara automatically gets down low and moves silently, which is a great indicator that there are enemies nearby in case you didn't notice them.

The cover system is perfect. Unlike comparable games such as Uncharted, there is no dedicated button to snap into cover. Instead, Lara will automatically take cover behind a wall or crate when walking up to it. Now, I understand this may seem to be a system that opens up frustrating possibilities of accidently snapping to cover when simply walking around a corner, but this never happened to me. It just worked when I wanted it to.

Throughout the game, you will come across campfires. These will either be Day Camps or Fast Travel Camps. The latter allows you to quickly travel between any other Fast Travel Camps you have encountered throughout the game, a particularly handy feature after completing the story, as it allows you to return to look for any relics, documents or GPS caches you may have missed. These are scattered through every section of the island, and are much easier to find after retrieving the hidden treasure map for that section.

These camps can also be used to upgrade weapons or spend skill points. Salvage, which is picked up by looting enemy corpses or opening boxes, is the currency of Tomb Raider. Weapon upgrades vary from simple recoil improvements to damage enhancers. The bow in particular has some brilliant upgrades that make great use of fire and explosives. I have never seen napalm used in a better way than with arrows that explode on impact.

Skill points can be used to enhance Lara's ability as a hunter or survivor. Survivor skills involve bonuses like more rewards when looting enemies, and hunter rewards include brutal finishing moves against stunned enemies. These finishers can be truly violent, and even shocking, so try not to go out and murder a bunch of people after playing this, alright? That's totally a likely thing.

Strangely enough, most of the tombs in Tomb Raider are optional to explore, but I don't know why someone wouldn't, as they are great fun to explore. Each tomb holds a puzzle that when solved grants Lara access to a treasure map and other rewards. These puzzles are satisfying to finally solve, as some of them are real head-scratchers. Bonus points to this game for including a puzzle involving electrified water. I can't remember the last time I played a game with that, but it was definitely a long time ago!

The platforming side of Tomb Raider is where a lot of similarities with Uncharted come from. You will climb, jump, fall, dodge and swing your way through many various environments and set pieces. I absolutely love the Uncharted series, but I get the feeling that returning to it after playing this will make me wish it had some features Tomb Raider had. Lara can shoot rope arrows into rope surfaces and, later into the game, rocks, and climb up or glide down the rope. Not only can she interact with ledges, but also rock faces, which Lara scales with her pick-axe.

The single player campaign took me around 13-14 hours, though anyone who speed runs this could easily top it in 9 or 10. I've spent an extra 6 or so hours just going through the levels completing my treasure collection, so there is definitely replay value past the story. Sadly, enemies rarely appear after completing the story, so if you are desperate to get trophies relating to bodycounts or a certain kill type, you might be better off to start a new game.

I feel I should at least touch on the multiplayer component. I only managed to find one game, and even then it only had 4 players on the server despite the game supporting up to 8, most likely due to the game not being released worldwide yet. The mode I played was team deathmatch, and it was fairly standard. A few nice little innovations were there in the ability to blow up parts of the level, and setting traps to catch enemies in, but it really felt like the definition of a shoehorned multiplayer experience. I will definitely try it out again when its full, but I don't see it gripping me for a long period of time the way Uncharted 3 did.

If I have any negatives regarding the game, its the minor glitches I encountered that literally took sight away from the screen, leaving just a crosshair and limited HUD elements. In the middle of a heated battle with 10+ enemies, this can be deadly, and indeed proved to be, several times over. I managed to work past it though, but this is an issue that needs fixing. Also, despite being a wonderfully written game, I found some of the background characters to be fairly bland compared to Lara. Maybe this is because in comparison Lara seems fleshed out and interesting as a character, but the rest really seemed like shallow, cliched stereotypes for the most part.

Tomb Raider is a high quality single player experience. It's almost impossible to avoid comparisons to Far Cry 3 in concept and Uncharted in gameplay, despite the latter being heavily influenced by the original Tomb Raider games, but I feel it far exceeds both in execution and enjoyment. This is the most fun I've had in an action-adventure game since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and is easily on par with it, if not slightly above it. If you love single player experiences, and are a longtime fan or a newcomer to the series, I couldn't recommend this game more. I had an absolute blast playing it, and for the first time in a long time, feel like I could justify the $79 price tag it has in my country. Take note other publishers: this is how you reboot a series.   read

12:27 AM on 06.10.2012

The Hype Machine: Why it can ruin a game

Before I get into this, let’s get something straight. I’m sure most of you realise that what follows will be my personal experiences with a game, and is not a reflection of said game’s quality. Because no matter how well-made, fun or engrossing a game is, the hype generated by either the internet or your expectations can make or break it.

The number of games that I have ruined for myself through hype is staggering. Probably the biggest in that list is Battlefield 3. For years I wanted it, at one point Googling it daily just to see if there had been any announcements. This was a game that I had the very biggest expectations for. Its announcement only added to my expectations, as the original 12 minute trailer just looked brilliant.

Of course, the extent to which I wanted this game was always setting me up for disappointment. It’s not that Battlefield 3 was a bad game, but there came a moment after I had been playing for a few weeks where I thought, ‘Huh, so this is it.’ Something was missing, this wasn’t how I had pictured it. Teamwork was pretty much non-existent, the maps felt uninspired, and perhaps the most shocking part was playing it just made me want to go back and play Bad Company 2 instead.

And that is exactly what I have been doing for the past 9 months. This is a game I had been playing since launch day in 2010, and a game where I feel right at home in. Every inch of every map was familiar to me, unlike Battlefield 3. Even the campaign was better, because battlefield 3 felt like it was straight out of a B-grade film.

And Tekken 6. Oh boy, Tekken 6. This is a game that I played about 3 times before taking it back. Again, not a bad game, but after years of playing Tekken: Dark Resurrection on my PSP, something felt missing.

I can’t do a blog like this without mentioning my PlayStation Vita. I use my Vita almost daily – but not for games. It’s for music, or Facebook, or spinning the world around on Welcome park while making the floating icons collide. It really boils down to all the games I pictured playing on it. I watched its announcement live when it was the NGP, and pictured myself playing Killzone, LittleBigPlanet, Bioshock, Gravity Rush and more shortly after launch. None of these have happened yet, Killzone hasn’t even been revealed. But with all the games lined up for later this year, I think the Vita might just get used a lot more.

But everything I’ve said above can also work the other way around. Games mostly hated, be it critically or by players in general, can be great experiences when going in blind. This is what happened with Haze.

I bought Haze for $15 preowned a year or two after it was released. I had seen no reviews, heard nobody’s opinion, and saw it as that game I heard of years ago that got delayed a lot. And I had an absolute blast with it. This and Resistance: Fall of man were my first experiences with the PS3, and I loved them both. Haze’s online component was mostly empty by that time, but Resistance had a loyal fanbase, and still has one awesome server running today that is one-shot kills, which still gets the odd game out of me.

Who could hate The Simpsons Skateboarding? It was one of my fondest PS2-era memories, along with Road Rage and Hit & Run. I was shocked to find Skateboarding had 1/10 reviews everywhere, and Road Rage around the 4/10 mark. My 15-year-old self would have given them both 10s.

This is why I’ve never used a review to convince me of a game. Skyrim bored me like crazy, I loved Medal of Honor, and hated Modern Warfare 3. As for the games soon to be released that I am excited for (The Last of Us, Most Wanted, Halo 4), I just hope they don’t disappoint, and will avoid their reviews upon release like the plague.   read

11:53 PM on 05.04.2012

My Strange Love Affair with Call of Duty: Black Ops

I am the first one to admit that the Call of Duty series hasn’t exactly been fresh for over 5 years now. In fact, I actively state this opinion at most opportunities. As someone who has admittedly always favored the Battlefield series, Call of Duty couldn’t be less appealing to me.

The thing is, I liked Call of Duty 4. I think most people did. But I’m going to use the already over saturated opinion that the games to follow were all mediocre in comparison. World at War seemed a step back for the series for me, and MW2 and MW3 were really re-skins of Call of Duty 4.

But for some strange reason, I couldn’t get enough of Call of Duty: Black Ops.

It maintained the things I hate about the series, ranging from the shallow multiplayer to the predictable single player, all the while keeping the frustrating abundance of pre-teens blazing dubstep and swearing into their microphones. The graphics again improved maybe one percent from the previous games, the colors were bland and boring; yet I loved it.

Most of this is probably due to the fact that the Cold War is something that I loved studying when I had to. Anything that deals with this time period is likely to have my interest, and is probably the reason I loved X-Men: First Class so much too. Any historian or teacher would probably scoff at Black Ops’ take on the era, but the point of the game isn’t to be historically accurate, unlike Genji: Days of the Blade, with its well-documented crab fights.

It was just supposed to be mindless, fast-paced fun. And that’s exactly what I got from it. The campaign was exactly what you’d expect from a Call of Duty title, but I didn’t care. It was short, but it was satisfying. The multiplayer was frustrating as ever, at least for me it was. But I enjoyed it. Zombies mode has had some of the most memorable online moments for me, and with a capable team, is the best part of the game. The game felt fulfilling to me in all regards, which is really something seeing as I had the lowest expectations possible going into it. And fuck I loved Nuketown!

For these reasons, Black Ops remains the only Call of Duty game I have bought since COD4. I have rented each of the others, played them a decent amount, and found them all disappointing. Among my friends, I am known as the biased COD hater, and get labelled a ‘Battlefield fanboy’ fairly regularly, even though Battlefield 3 was one of my biggest gaming disappointments of 2011. They have unanimous praise for every entry in the COD series, and when we have couch multiplayer sessions, they still wonder why I can at times dominate them in Black Ops, but be completely thrashed by them in the MW series.

And upon hearing that Black Ops II is set during a future Cold War with China, I am excited. This time, I will be going into a Call of Duty game with good expectations for the first time ever. Likely, this is what will let me down, but they must be doing something right if I have interest. Near-future disaster games also interest me, which is why I looked forward to Homefront so much. Black Ops II, don't be another Homefront!

You may be wondering what the point of this blog is. I have wondering the same thing during its writing, but it really acts as an admittance to liking a game from a series I dislike. Its my first blog, so if I fucked up somewhere, tell me so I don't fuck up again!   read

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