I’m not a hardcore gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but even I am not terribly keen on the recently announced Xbox One, in particular its heavy Internet connection reliance and seemingly painful DRM system Microsoft seems so keen to implement.
Which is probably why I’m already leaning towards Sony’s PS4 when the time finally arises to retire my current Xbox 360.
And to be honest, this video on how to share a PS4 game with a friend did make me laugh:
Can’t say I like the look, but at the end of the day, as long as it plays games I’d be happy.
Seeing as Crystal Dynamics did such an outstanding job in resurrecting the Tomb Raider franchise with their stunning (and player-friendly) Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend, it would have been quite a shame not to keep the ball rolling and that is exactly what Eidos did to mark the 10 year anniversary of this popular game franchise by having Crystal Dynamics come up with their homage to the first ever Tomb Raider game released in the form of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Over the last ten years Lara Croft has become somewhat of an icon amongst gamers and remains one of the most popular female game characters ever created, both amongst male and female admirers. After the slump that was driven home by the appalling Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Lara Croft looked destined to end her illustrious career on a rather low note, but thankfully Eidos wasn’t just about to mothball one of their biggest money spinners like that and instead brought in Crystal Dynamics to try and resurrect their fallen star. Of course, as history has it, they succeeded with the enjoyable Tomb Raider: Legend and thanks to that particular success we now get even more Tomb Raider action in the form of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a direct homage to the original title that started the whole craze way back when.
For those gamers old enough to remember the original Tomb Raider, it was somewhat of a revolution in gaming as it marked the first real use of 3D polygonal, tightly designed levels with a 3rd person character model that pretty much had the freedom to move wherever the user pleased. Tomb Raider was also the hallmark of the puzzle quest genre as the game, despite its many action sequences, was as much about flipping switches and figuring out puzzles as it was about shooting things – in fact even more so. To many a gamer that experienced Tomb Raider in its original run, few games of that era will ever surpass it and it is upon this nostalgia that Crystal Dynamic builds with their latest release.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary isn’t a direct port of the original game nor is it something entirely different that simply makes reference to the original. Instead, Crystal Dynamics have gone and taken the best of the look, feel and levels from the original and slightly updated them for today’s gaming complexity and then meshed these updated pieces with some new material that leaves you with a game that stands shoulder to shoulder with today’s best releases but at the same time invokes a very strong sense of nostalgia for all those who played the original.
For those of you who didn’t get to experience the first game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary retells the story of how Lara Croft goes off in search of the legendary Scion of Atlantis pieces, artifacts that her father was extremely intrigued by and that may very well hold some sort of clue to the mystery that surrounds his eventual disappearance.
As with the original, you basically get dropped into a number of tombs scattered across the globe and then need to work your way through each location solving a number of tricky puzzles, avoiding some nefarious traps, beating down any wildlife that sees you as a threat, battling any stage boss that you might be unlucky enough to encounter and generally staying alive long enough to grab the Scion and get the hell out of the place before it caves in on top of you. This generic formula for each level stays basically the same throughout the game, though obviously the further you go along the more secrets and implications of your actions gets revealed through the scattered FMVs and cutscenes, until you are quite literally dropped into the big finale sequence at the end of it all.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary takes a step back from Tomb Raider: Legend and strips all your high tech gadgetry away, although you do get to keep the magnetic grappling hook that becomes invaluable for some of the later tomb traversing. Naturally all of the weapon pickups that were available in the original are found in this release, and as before, getting ammunition for them is sometimes a tricky affair. And as with the original, Anniversary completely shifts the emphasis away from shooting enemies and squarely back on to puzzle solving and switch flipping.
This means a lot more thinking needs to be done, the path of progression isn’t all that clear and you are going to constantly be running, jumping or rolling to avoid some or other deadly tomb trap. And of course, as gamers familiar with the original know, Anniversary loves to throw in those surprise encounters with creatures, guaranteed to give you more than a small fright.
As with Legend, the controls for Lara are rather fluid and well animated, and she generally does exactly what you want to with the freedom of movement you’ve come to expect from Lara. There is a lot more jumping in this iteration of the game and you’ll need to become fairly adept at controlling her actions if you want to get through some of the more tricky exploration bits.
The shooting aspect of the game retains the new targeting system introduced in Legend and as such remains a pretty simple affair to pull off. A nice addition to the system however is the ‘killing shot’ bullet time that Lara can pull off when her enemies charge at her, slowing down time and giving you one shot at taking down the creature with a single bullet. It is something that has been done before, but it fits nicely into this world and is quite fun to perform, breaking up the long monotonous tomb exploring bits.
Visually, Tomb Raider: Anniversary hasn’t changed all that much from the Legend release, but it remains as stunningly beautiful as ever, with lush, finely detailed backgrounds and smoothly animated character models that ooze detail. The interactive cutscenes also make a comeback in this title, just to make sure you keep on your toes and don’t doze off during the usually non-interactive bits. The few FMVs that are thrown in are almost direct remakes of the original footage and you’ll often find yourself marveling in the nostalgia they introduce as the Lara Croft story unfolds.
And as stunning as the visuals are, the audio for Tomb Raider is just as good. Gorgeously rich compositions create a moody and wondrous atmosphere while the voice actor behind Lara does an absolute stellar job of bringing the character to life. The sound effects are also fully realized and help turn each tomb into an immersive experience, leaving nothing to imagination.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary looks good, sounds good and plays good. So it must be a brilliant game, right? Well, it certainly is an awesome game, especially for lovers of the series. Unfortunately if you are the type who doesn’t like scratching your head in solving sometimes abstract puzzles and retrying certain jumps and grabs over and over again, then you are in for a bit of a disappointing experience. Anniversary is a lot tougher than Legend and certainly does not look after casual gamers like the previous one did. Even for experienced games, the number of traps, the difficulty of the traps and mind-numbingly sameness of each room objective – i.e. find the switches to open the locks to open the door to the next stage makes for a surprisingly frustrating experience, particularly as you reach the later levels of the game.
Honestly, unless you are an absolute fanatic or have tons of patience and the willingness to try things over and over again, you are going to find yourself tossing the controller at the screen more than once in frustration and as such, makes Anniversary better suited as a hire than a purchase for the casual gamers out there.
However, to true fans of the Lara Croft mythos the game is a godsend and will create fanboys of them all over again. A polished title that is great fun to play and invokes a great sense of nostalgia, it is just a pity that the designers went out of their way to make it a frustrating experience to work through which ultimately detracts from the game a little.
A must for the fans, and it is an absolutely stellar action game, but it is not necessarily the greatest of purchases for casual gamers unless you particularly like solving environment puzzles and being frustrated.
Related Link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/adventure/tombraider10thanniversaryedition/index.html
Almost everyone knows of the 1983 iconic gangster movie Scarface, starring a young Al Pacino as Tony Montana – the ruthless cocaine gang lord in Miami who eventually gets his comeuppance after he starts getting a little too eager in sampling his product all the time.
But what if Tony hadn’t died at the end of the movie? What would have happened next? Well that is exactly the scenario that Sierra’ and Radical Entertainment’s Scarface: The World is Yours tackles and we end up with a huge and enjoyable sandbox world experience ala Grand Theft Auto style.
Basically the story is broken up into four major sections which sees you takeover four different sections in Miami and after each area is controlled, you get to take on a couple of missions en route to the final boss confrontation for that area. Of course the bosses are all pretty much the snakes from the movie and the story arc is pretty much one of revenge and reclamation of Tony’s lost empire.
Like I said, Scarface is a sandbox genre game meaning you literally have the whole of Miami to play in. Each territory has three or more fronts which you need to take over by completing their attached mission and once those are done you then proceed in taking down the area’s warehouse distribution point. Obviously the warehouse missions are the hardest territorial missions to complete, but once you have completed one then you become the owner of that territory and advance the game. Once you have taken an area under your wing, you then take on a string of missions that usually results in the taking down of one of your revenge targets – one of the rival Miami gang lords.
To succeed in your missions you need money, respect and weapons. The number one way of getting your hands on this is through dealing in cocaine, pretty much your staple income. The way this is done is by following leads (missions) that will eventually lead you to suppliers of various sizes (they get larger as you progress through the game). Once you have bought the necessary coke from the suppliers you can then sell it to the various coke street dealers that inhabit Miama and when you start getting the bigger loads in, distribute them via your fronts.
At the same time there are a lot of hostile gangs and soldiers running around the territories and you will need to root them out with force – and of course in an as bloody as possible manner possible.
As with any sandbox title you have freedom in steal which ever car you want and shooting just about anyone you want (interestingly enough, that isn’t quite true – you can in fact only shoot other gangsters. Try pointing at innocents and Tony mutters something about innocent blood). Of course, any criminal activity and the police start noticing and before long you may very well be running for you life to try and escape them.
There are basically two gauges you want to keep your eye on, namely the Cop and Gang heat gauges which report the level of trouble you’ve stirred up with either of the two factions. If the level rises to high then there is basically a penalty to pay. Of course you can keep these levels down through good old bribes or just completing successful drug trades.
What elevates Scarface above GTA though is its impressive targeting system which makes the gun battles far more rewarding to do – which is a good thing because gun battles certainly make up the largest portion of the game play. Of course Tony has a variety of upgradeable weapons to choose from, though the Chainsaw is certainly one of the bloodiest of the lot.
Of course, most of Tony’s money that he makes comes in the form of ‘dirty cash’ which he then has to launder at a bank which also acts as a save point. Of course, this isn’t just an easy thing of going up to the counter and pressing a button. Instead you are presented with a circular dial (similar to the ones used in golf games to control the swing) which you need to fill up to the required level without going bust. Each of the levels represent a different percentage cut the bank takes from you and although an interesting mechanic in the beginning, the meter quickly becomes tiring and frustrating as more and more of the game becomes staked on it.
Tony also has a Balls meter to keep an eye on, a meter which basically can be filled up by doing some crazy driving and swearing like crazy after you kill someone (in fact, Tony even has a dedicated swearing/taunt button). When your balls meter fills up you get to go into …Blind Rage’ mode in which time basically slows down and you gain health for killing your opponents.
There are a lot of smaller mini-games also stuffed into the game and in fact, because this game has just such an immense scale to it, means that it is guaranteed to keep you busy for a long, long time. You can pilot all manner of cars and boats, partake in an almost endless number of different side missions and stumble across almost 200 unique conversations and interactions.
In terms of graphics, Scarface doesn’t really stand out as anything special, mainly because as a sandbox game it suffers the same problem that plagues all games in the genre – there is just simply too much stuff to show on screen to allow for overly pretty graphics. Nevertheless, the character models are all pretty distinguishable and you will recognise the movie characters instantaneously, even if they don’t look all that detailed. Also, the inability to draw circles neatly is also glaringly apparent in Scarface as well, and this detracts a lot from the look of the game. Nevertheless, for a sandbox title it isn’t all that bad and is certainly passable on the graphics front.
On the audio side of things Scarface really falls apart a little by virtue of the fact that its soundtrack is so wide and varied that it really just doesn’t pull well together. There is a lot of cheesy 80s music stuffed in there of course, but a lot of the music doesn’t really gel well with Scarface’s era setting and a tighter soundtrack would have done the game wonders.
In terms of the voices used throughout the game, special mention must be made of the guy who voices Tony Montana. He does a great impersonation of Al Pacino and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if you thought you were getting the real deal. The rest of the voices work pretty well throughout the game as well and there isn’t anything that comes across as downright amateurish at all.
This is a mature game with a lot of swearing and mature themes, and basically Scarface ends up doing exactly what GTA did before it, only coming across as far more realistic and less cartoonish than GTA ever did. Having a well back-story to lean on is certainly another plus and in the end it turns out to be a more than competent game that is well scripted and will easily suck up those hours while still remaining quite a satisfying and rewarding experience – even if its variable difficulty sometimes frustrates the hell out of you!
Scarface is a great addition to the sandbox genre and fans of this open world style of gameplay are guaranteed to get a kick out of it.
Related Link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/scarface/index.html
Man, this just in. Seems like the PS3 is really pushing to be way more than just a games console. Already a formidable media centre, it has just been announced that Sony is going to be introducing a new external device that will allow the PS3 to act as a digital TV tuner and recorder. Sony says the device, called the PlayTV, will allow users to watch high-definition TV broadcasts and record them to the game unit’s hard drive.
It will also allow transfer of recorded content to Sony’s handheld PlayStation Portable for viewing.
It is slated for release in Europe from early 2008, but I’m pretty sure it wont take to long after that for it to make it to our shores be it along official or unofficial lines of course :)
So come on Microsoft – what next are you going to make the XBOX 360 do?