Monday, 14 December 2015

Lara rises to raid some tombs

Rise Of The Tomb Raider



Platform tested: Xbox One

Bigger and better, they're the words that often follow a sequel of a game. A cliché perhaps, and not always for the better considering how large games are these days, however for Rise Of The Tomb Raider it hits the nail on the head. I really enjoyed the last TR reboot in 2013, scoring it a whopping six stars, and amazingly enough this game surpasses it in every way! Read my TR2013 review here and 2014's Definitive Edition review here.

Lets make it clear form the start here though; if you're a fan of the classic old-style TR, and did not enjoy the previous reboot, well, then this will game will probably not do much for you. However before you dismiss it entirely, it goes more classic TR than the last game, and has far more rewarding exploring going on. It's less about being stranded and surviving, and far more about raiding tombs and being and adventurer. ROTTR has returned to it's original roots, the introduction of Lara's beginning was done in the previous game and this time it's about rising the Tomb Raider up to it's old self again.






To put a perspective on how this game, from the first minute, pulls the player straight in and holds a firm grip. Proving strongly that it's worth every penny you spent buying it, and to give a scale of how much grander and different ROTTR is to TR2013's dark and dungeon-like introduction. We need only look at the first hour being played:

First we climb a huge mountain, dangerously crossing a glacier and preventing yourself from falling down to your certain death in a dense snow storm. Swiftly the game switches over to a boiling desert-like Syrian landscape, via a cutscene depicting the incredible motion and face expressions the game offers in an ingame cutscene at Richard Crofts (Lara's dad) apartment. In Syria we are introduced to a whole palace ruin set in stone in a valley mountainside, traversing it's tight, dusty and scary tunnels beneath it, before discovering our first tomb. Beautifully lit by sunlight from the cracks in the roof, set in the middle of ruins of an ancient civilization.

Then, once again, it shifts back to icy Siberia. Returning to a snowy and open landscape, following the treacherous glacier climb, where you are left cold and isolated and have to make up a camp fire and hunt animals to survive the night.

The sheer variation in this hour alone is incredible and it's literally one of the best first hours of any game I've played ever. It sets the bar sky high and thankfully it keeps it risen throughout it's 45 hours of playtime. That's right, it's a huge game if you plan to collect and explore everything, making the last TR look almost small in comparison. The open areas are larger and there's just more of them, though luckily it strikes a perfect mix of open and restricted environments, stopping the game falling into just another sandbox game with a random game world built around it. Every spot on each map feels detailed and well thought through.


"...it's literally one of the best first hours of any game I've played ever."

There's not just more land to traverse, there's loads more stuff to do. There's a deeper level system to everything, there are abilities to earn, stuff to buy, gun parts to find, tons of secret buried treasures, languages to decipher and a bunch of hidden tombs. Exhausted? How about animals to hunt and crates to find resources for: ammunition, bombs, pouches, outfits and arrows to build? At times I felt I was playing an open RPG game, not the latest adventures of Lara. 

Exploring the hidden tombs, instead of simply giving you XP like in the last game, actually gives new abilities Lara can master. It makes the exploring even more rewarding and being an actual tomb raider pays off. Speaking of these hidden tombs, I felt they were much better implemented this time around. Their locations often wander quite a distance off from the main map and a larger and more complex to solve. Avoiding them and you are really missing out on some of the finest Tomb Raider moments in the game, they really bring back the nostalgia of the older games. Without the time consuming frustration they often brought to the player back in the 90's. Call gamers today lazy, but retrying and failing challenges with hardly any save points isn't something I have nostalgic feeling about.




ROTTR's story also feels improved, accompanying the larger game it feels more bold and grand, yet it sadly contains some typical Hollywood clichés. I really liked some of the set pieces shown at Lara's mansion, filling in the back story further and giving variation to talking scenes. There's definitely more dialogue going on, and I felt it was like being in a large movie playing it. There's tons of extra stories to dig into to, old manuscripts, radio conversations and diaries, though these are optional if you want to find or listen to them.

The game just has this perfect balance going on  between exploration, fighting action and traversing  and surviving the actual environment. It shifts subtly between them, back and forth, never leaving the player tired of repetitive tasks, a perfectly balanced game if I ever saw one. For more veteran Tomb Raider players, like myself, there's just a lot more exploration to do this time around, but it's never anything you have to do and as such the game caters for all audiences.

Sure it might not always keep it's framerate solid, and yes it keeps itself close to the last games winning formula, but the whole package just comes together as this years best game for me. It takes used elements and goes an extra mile with them. It's just a quality game through and through and it keeps you engaged for hours on end. Not only is it this years best game for me, it's also be one of my favourite top three Tomb Raiders of all time. Yes, it's that good.

Rating

★★★★★

    + Plus points

    • Bigger, more beautiful and just more content everywhere compared to TR2013.
    • More exploration and tombs for TR veterans.
    • Side missions, more comprehensive level systems and interactions with NPC's are a welcome addition.

    - Minus points

    • Framedrops in some visually crowded areas, though nothing too bad.
    • Too aggressive hinting and tips from the game itself.
    • The main villains are a bit cliché, and one dimensional.

    Friday, 4 December 2015

    Guardians of the fifth halo

    Halo 5: Guardians




    Platform tested: Xbox One

    There's no Xbox generation without a Halo game, and while Halo: The Master Chief Collection last year put the Spartans on Microsoft's latest console, it was only a remastered collection of previous games in the series. Halo 5: Guardians then, is a brand new entry, following closely to Halo 4, both visually and presentation wise. Once again 343 Industries aims to deliver a Halo experience worthy of Bungie's efforts that ended with Halo: Reach.

    Let's divide this review into two parts; the single and multi player modes. But before going more in depth on each, let's visually comment the game as these are a common nominator. It's a beautiful game and reminds me a lot of Halo 4's artstyle, only with far larger scale and a rock solid 60fps framerate (remember that the original Halo 4 on the Xbox 360 only was 720p@30fps). Halo 5 achieves it's performance by scaling it's resolution on the fly, a technology used in the latest Wolfenstein.

    I appreciate that they went for the high framerate, it makes gameplay seem so precise and smooth. Much like how the Halo MCC collection proved this series needs it. While the arenas in multiplayer are sharp and detailed, the visual excellence of the game really shines through in the single player. Vast and beautiful areas with sharp textures that not only work as backdrops, but look really good close up too. It's the best looking first person shooter for the Xbox One to date.





    Singleplayer

    Halo 5's storyline follows closely to Halo 4, and sets you in the role of two different fireteams; Osiris and Blue Team. The latter is led by the legendary Master Chief himself. The player changes control of each fireteam as the story progresses. It's a great way of showing the story unfold from two sides and quickly shift from one location to a completely different one. There are many returning characters from the Halo lore too, such as "Buck" (voiced by Nathan Fillion) from Halo: ODST. Often revisiting old cast throughout the Halo games gives the whole universe a good sense of continuity.

    The story is conveyed with extremely well crafted cutscenes scenes and excellent voiceacting, also following the narrative style of Halo 4. Though I do wonder why they went from ingame rendered scenes and have opted for CGI instead. I always prefer that custscenes are rendered in-game to give a cohesive visual appearance throughout a game. The actual story though, is a mixed bag for me. I felt the end and the build-up towards it became confusing and sadly the inclusion of Cortana once again feels unnecessary. Even though I really liked her character in Halo 4.


    "The large canyon locations are perhaps the most impressive, featuring some incredible design and awe inspiring scenery."

    Back when Halo 4 released I felt that the size of the locations had been sacrificed for the graphical upgrade compared to Halo 3. Halo 5, luckily, feels like the combination of Halo 4's stunning visuals and Halo 3's map sizes. We are treated to some large areas to roam.

    These areas have multiple routes and angles to attack the enemies in, some are even many stories in height, putting vertical depth into the combat. The large canyon locations are perhaps the most impressive, featuring some incredible design and awe inspiring scenery. Overall the variety in environments are diverse, but I felt the more minimalistic and futuristic design of the later levels became somewhat bland. Kudos though, for having secret paths and areas to find by smashing through walls in many areas. 

    While I enjoyed the large and more free roaming feel to combat. There is nothing actually to do in these open areas when they appear in non-battle sections. Take mission 9 for instance; I'm in this grand canyon sort of base with lots of red tents and covenant soldiers walking about. But I can't really interact with anything. They could have added a store or somewhere I could level up, customize or buy weapons. Maybe some dialogue that lead to some side-missions to multiplayer maps against bots for instance. Just small things that would have given the game some more depth and lifespan. Instead I get a marker telling me to go speak to someone, and then the game moves on, leaving the area and not really utilizing it for the potential it could have had.




    Multiplayer

    Probably one of the most popular franchises for multiplayer, Halo continues it's huge popularity online with Halo 5. This time multiplayer is divided into arena mode and warzone. Arena mainly consists of small maps where team deathmatch, free for all, capture the flag and elimination types take place. They are incredibly fast matches, often lasting no more than 12 minutes. It's a classic take on multiplayer and a well proved formula. At times it reminds me of Unreal Tournament with the small and more chaotic maps.

    Warzone is the new large, I would like to say Battlefield inspired, multiplayer mode. There are only a tiny handful of maps, but these are gigantic in size. Each team tries to take over bases and hold key buildings in their possession to earn points. Individual points for kills can be used to require more powerful weapons and vehicles to outgun the opposing team with.

    While I initially was intrigued about this mode it quickly just ended up as a standstill at the buildings in the middle of each map, like a frozen trench war. Even adding some bots in the mix, which Titanfall did in a way better manner, just falls short. One can't shake an empty feeling of an oversized map. The intensity only builds up if somebody drives in with a tank or large vehicle.

    What I really miss, are medium sized maps. Especially a team deathmatch mode with a few vehicles, but not on the huge scale warzone offers. I was a huge fan of the big team playlist in Halo 4. In Halo 5 you either have the small arena maps or the gigantic warzone maps. There's no middle ground that should have been catered for in my opinion, like the size of the classic Halo 3 map Valhalla for instance.

    The end result is that multiplayer becomes very divided in either a chaotic and very intense small-mapped deathmatch multiplayer or a huge scale Battlefield-ish one. I'm guessing people will be sticking to one or the other much more than jumping back and forwards between them, 

    Conclusion

    On the technical and gameplay side Halo 5 delivers a fantastic end result, it's a beautiful and incredibly smooth game to play, but the content and story are disappointing. A divided multiplayer and a singleplayer that simply walks the safe path from beginning to end, pull down a product that could have been far better. I just would have appreciated more substance and variation in both single and multiplayer.

    That being said, it's still a solid game and it's a welcome release to finally play a Halo that takes full advantage of the Xbox One. Nothing groundbreaking, but a safe release, for good or worse that's up to you.

    Rating

    ★★★★

      + Plus points

      • Visually rich and with a solid 60 fps framerate to boot.
      • Multiplayer is a fast and well presented affair.
      • Story now supports four player coop and features large open areas.

      - Minus points

      • The actual storyline is confusing and ends rather disappointing.
      • Multiplayer either has tiny maps or very large ones, no in-between.
      • Singleplayer could use more depth, like leveling and customization of weapons.