Categories
Comment Reviews

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

I saw La La Land about a week and a bit ago. I loved it. It’s probably one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. The music, the story, the cinematography – I was a fan of all of it. If you enjoy a good film, you simply must go and see La La Land.

Although I’ve had my eye on this film for a while, it was not until relatively recently that I saw the reviews that they used in the trailer. You know the ones I mean – where they read a review and clip a sentence or two out to put on the posters, like text sound-bites. I never trust them when they only pick one word from the review to sum up the whole thing. Like “Astonishing.” That could very well be taken out of context, for example:

Astonishing. How could a film be this bad?

I’m not going to read all of those reviews to confirm that these little clippings are being used in proper context, so we’ll never know if the review is in the proper context or not. Which is why I never normally pay attention to them, but one caught my eye:

They just don’t make movies like this anymore.

Now I’ll admit, I couldn’t find the source with my classic ‘fifteen seconds of Googling, and then just giving up’ routine,  but I promise I’m not making this quote up beyond the limitations of the variable reliability of my memory. This review got me thinking. Do they really not? If you think about it, they just did – it’s called La La Land and you should totally go and see it. In all seriousness, however, I get what this person meant, but I think there is a reason for that.

For one thing, Hollywood hasn’t been making a whole lot of musicals since the 60s, just simply because people got bored of them; people demanded a different, more modern kind of film. “Musicals are the kind of thing my parents like; it’s not for me and my band of cool, hip, rebellious friends – I want to see something different and challenging, something that will really knock my socks off!” Is what I imagine the teenagers of the 70s and 80s spoke like (I’ll have to ask my Dad for confirmation), and we all know that the film industry is the slave of the teenager, with all their disposable income and confused ideas about rebellion and challenging the status quo etc. I thought people liked Status Quo, maybe I should listen to their music sometime.

The main reason I think this person holds this view is quite simple: La La Land is intentionally nostalgic. They couldn’t make it more obvious if they tried; the film even references the fact that it is pretty nostalgic. I think this is part of the subject matter of the film, however, and not the director & writer Damien Chazelle being a pretentious git. The film is about the dreaminess of the idea of Hollywood (despite the real Hollywood apparently being not very nice as a place) – hence why the film is called La La Land. The film is deeply artistic, and it the kind of art I really appreciate; it’s trying to look like an old film from the 40s and 50s by using techniques like film with real film cameras, strong colours and cinematography that makes some scenes look like it was filmed on a big sound stage like those musicals from back in the day, and all with a highly appropriate degree of subtlety.

I suppose the reason this review got me thinking the most is the constant assumption that people jump to that because an old film is old it makes it better “‘cos these Hollywood producers only care about money rather than the art of film. Do you know how many masterpieces are turned down every day because they aren’t some superhero blockbuster? I don’t, but I bet it’s a lot.” Is what they say. But is older better? No. There’s not much of a debate to be had about the subject. Have you seen the latest season of South Park? You should – it deals exactly with this subject. Hollywood has discovered a new goldmine to exploit: nostalgia. There have been so many films and TV shows that are rebooting old films and TV shows from the 70s and 80s these days, and not nearly half of them have been any good. And in any case, when people say that all the good films were made before the year 2000, they’re only thinking of the classics: Alien, Terminator, Ghost Busters and so on, they never consider the terrible films like 1997s Air Bud, 1989s Alls Fair (3.6/10 on IMDB) or 1965s Monster A-Go Go (2.8). Not thinking about them are you, nostalgic people?

I’m not saying that La La Land is only liked because of the nostalgia factor, because I have no nostalgia for these types of films, having only seen things like The Sound of Music and West Side Story in the past few years for the first time, and I didn’t think much of them – least of all West Side Story. I can see what style and era La La Land is going after, but it doesn’t remind me of any film in particular. And anyway, I reject the whole idea that films aren’t as good as they used to be; there have been some bloody brilliant films that have come out quite recently – La La Land is not the only good film of late and it’s not good because it looks a bit old.

So in conclusion, they do make films like this anymore, nostalgia should be treated with scepticism and I really liked La La Land. You should go and see it.

Categories
Reviews

2016: A Review

I seriously considered not doing a post about 2016 – not because of the whole ‘what a terrible year’ trend that is cancerously infecting the internet and television since the end of John Olivers television program, where I believe it started – but because I’m sick of it. Was 2016 the best year ever? Not particularly; many bad things happened. Was it a year that couldn’t possibly get worse? No. Not at all. We’re all still here, and to be brutally honest, I had quite a nice year where some quite good things happened to me and also involved me in many strange and inexplicable ways. I am sick of people talking about 2016 being the apocalypse and the end of civilised society; life goes on and things are only as bad as you let them be (within reason – I mean if you have terminal cancer, I can’t imagine there’s much you can do to make things better than someone who is in perfect health). I’m also not a massive fan of my round up of 2015; it lacks a real purpose and it doesn’t have much to say, but that was a year ago, let’s see how writing a post every month for a year has improved my writing ability.

I’m certainly still leaving it to the last minute; the idea was one post per month and not necessarily a post on the final day of each month, so the fact that November’s was on the 29th doesn’t mean it was too early, it just meant I was at least slightly organised in November. I have managed to do a post every month for the year of 2016, so doesn’t that make the year just a little bit better for everyone in the entire universe? I’m writing this post starting from about 18:15 on the 31st of December 2016, so perhaps next year I could get a little more organised and write these in advance. I’ll also try to write more often a just do a post whenever I feel I have something to say but continue to make sure I write at least once a month; it’s a lot easier to do this when I have something to talk about, but much harder when I had something to discuss but I left it too long and lost interest – I think it’s easy to tell which posts I’m referencing if you just read them. Go on, read all of them – some of them are actually okay to read, and others you can just think about something else while rolling your eyes across the text, pretending to yourself that you are actually paying attention to what you are looking at.

Overall, 2016 ain’t been that bad for me; I did some nice things – I went to Vietnam and also Norfolk! I watched some excellent television programmes and read at least one book. I made some friends, caught up with others that I hadn’t seen  in a while, I’m supposed to mention Jeff at some point so here you go, I moved into a house for University with some pretty cool people and I’d say that honestly, I’m feeling happier than I did a year ago. So my personal life is going pretty well thanks. How are you? Uh-huh, yeah, yeah, really? Oka- yea- I don’t actually care that much, sorry, I was only being polite and anyway I can’t actually hear you.

In 2017 I want many things to happen, and since I’m talking to The Internet as a whole, and The Internet as a whole is definitely going to see this, I want to make my wishes for 2017 known to all. Reddit, Youtube and Twitter, please, please, please stop using the words ‘cringy’ and ‘cancerous’ to describe absolutely everything and anything you don’t like. I think this is a trend started by the YouTube channel H3H3 and the sheeple have followed. I’m not sure what it is about the word ‘cringy’ that irks me so, but every time I see it or hear it I LITERALLY CRINGE. I actually can’t think of a better description – I just hate it, I hate how overused it is – it tingles my teeth in a deeply unpleasant way.

I hope I don’t have to explain why the word ‘cancerous’ is a bit of an over-the-top, inappropriate word for something so small as an annoying meme or YouTube channel. ‘Cancerous’ suggests an entity which acts as an active detriment to the healthy existence of another entity – like, well… a tumour. Going a bit far, don’t you think? A little insensitive, too. You know, for people who are actively suffering from cancer.

All year I’ve been hearing these words to describe absolutely everything that is disliked on the internet. Leafy? Oh, he’s so cancerous. That Game of War advert? What cancer! What cringe! PrankInvasion? God, what cringy cancer! Please find another word. An appropriate word, a better word. Like ‘bloody annoying’, or ‘not at all very good, not at all, indeed’.

Also, could we make Bernie or someone the president and can we not Brexit, pls? K, thanks, bye.

P.S.

I still need to work on my endings.

Categories
Games Reviews

The First Half of Uncharted: Schrödinger’s Franchise

Last month, I posted a day later than I should have. I know, unbelievable. So, to balance out this terrible crime, I’m posting this one a day earlier than I normally would. Satisfied, Ambrose?


Last Christmas, I received the Uncharted Collection as a gift. Just what I wanted, especially as I had asked for it specifically. I wanted it because of a simple reason: PlayStation fans won’t shut up about it and considering I bought a PS4 to play exclusives, I thought I might as well give it a go. The series was developed by Naughty Dog, who, of course, developed Crash Bandicoot, Jack and Dexter and The Last of Us. I really liked The Last of Us, and I grew up playing the Crash Bandicoot games. I think Uncharted is worth my time. However, I’ve only so far been able to play the first two, so I’ve still got two to go (I also bought the fourth one when I got the collection), but I feel now is the time to share my thoughts. If my opinion is drastically changed after I play the second half, I’ll update you.

Uncharted is about a man called Nathan Drake, who is supposedly a direct ancestor of Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer. Determined to follow in the great man’s footsteps, Nathan is basically Indiana Jones/ Lara Croft and he explores tombs, solves puzzles and fights the bad guys to stop some unholy evil from destroying the whole entire world etc. etc. etc. Fairly standard stuff if you ask me. Although I sound sceptical, I will admit that the writing in Uncharted is probably the best thing about the games; the characters are well developed, the story is, well, interesting enough to keep me playing, and as you’ll find out, that’s pretty impressive. There have been several times when characters have genuinely made my laugh and I can say that I do really care about most of the characters. The story is never anything groundbreaking or actively gripping and perhaps a little too complicated for me to bother paying that much attention to the finer points, but hey, I didn’t get bored and stop.

The visuals of the Uncharted games are pretty impressive. Even more so when you remember that these games were developed for the PS3. Naughty Dog somehow managed to work out a way of working unholy dark magic with the PS3’s complicated cell processor to make it produce graphics that, at the time, look absolutely face-meltingly, stunningly fabulous. I know I’m playing it on the PS4, and a version which has been optimised for the PS4 with improved graphics, but still, wow. Several times, especially in Uncharted 2, I had to stop just to have a look around and take in what I was seeing. Naughty Dog are wizards, and they know how to make this bit of hardware do magical things. Massive environments, colourful scenes and the small details which just bring the whole thing together.

The environments are the kind that you just want to spend all your time climbing about and exploring. It’s clear a lot of ideas have been taken from Tomb Raider here, and to be fair, the new Tomb Raiders have clearly taken some ideas back from Uncharted. I have had the most enjoyable time in Uncharted just climbing up the walls and solving the many, actually often quite challenging, puzzles. It’s not that it’s relaxing – it’s not like therapy or a spa day or anything – it’s interesting enough that if climbing and puzzle solving were over half the game, I’d be quite satisfied with it as a game.

I’ve played the first two hours or so of Uncharted 3 (I’ll get back to it when I don’t have so much coursework to do), and I got to a point where Nathan climbed out of a well and encountered about 20 bad guys. At that point, I sighed, heavily. I remarked to the world that I had been enjoying myself, and now I had to deal with this. Combat in the Uncharted games is many things: difficult, repetitive, irritating, but most of all, it’s tedious. When I started playing the games I didn’t mind the endless combat, but when I realised that it never changes, I started to loathe it.

Combat is the same format every time, and it never seems to end. Enter an area, get behind cover, shoot ten or twenty bad guys, despair as a second wave arrives, run out of ammo much quicker than should, scramble around getting more, get shot by three RPGs at once, die, start again. Do this a couple more times and you’ll eventually get through (assuming there isn’t a third and then a forth wave), but then feel your soul die as you enter a new area, get behind cover… It’s all just tedious, and there is hardly ever a break. In my Tomb Raider review, I said that one of the things about the game is that it never stops. To quote myself exactly:

The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended.

You’d think, then, that I’d like this endless combat in Uncharted, but the difference here is that Tomb Raider indeed didn’t stop, but it didn’t repeat itself too much – sometimes you’d be running, sometimes you’d be fighting, sometimes you’d be almost falling off a cliff. It’s tense, it’s full of action and – vitally – it never gets boring. Uncharted’s action gets boring and fatiguing, but Tomb Raider’s doesn’t. It’s called variety, Naughty Dog, and it’s very important to create enjoyable gameplay. The game isn’t even satisfying to complete, I felt glad, but only that it was finally over and I wouldn’t have to ever do it again. I felt like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I doubt he would describe his feeling as being ‘satisfied’ at his quest being over, but I’m sure he felt happy that it was all over. But at least Sauron didn’t make a sequel to the One Ring, so Frodo got off easy there.

It’s a real shame because the combat almost tips the balance against all the good things about this game and plunges it into a set of games I don’t want to play. If I’m brutally honest, if I didn’t already own the entire franchise, I’d probably not bother playing past the first game. Hell, I’d have probably not have bothered finishing the first one. It took months to do that because I got stuck on a particularly irritating combat section and got so angry that I decided I needed a break for a few months.

I’ll play the rest of the franchise because I own them and not because I would have bought each respective one after completing them. I just keep comparing them to the glory that is the Tomb Raider series. I’m very interested in the fourth installment, as it is post-Last Of Us, and I want to know how that game changed the series, probably not much considering it’s likely that they were working on both games at the same time, but I can dream!

Categories
Comment Games Reviews

The Turing Test

A little while ago, it was my 20th birthday. “Huzzah!” came my cry as my teenage years had come to an end and I entered the void of the time between being a teenager and a proper adult, with a job and a place to live that isn’t my parent’s house. One of my many birthday gifts was a game called The Turing Test. I’d asked for this because it was intriguing; I’d seen a part of the game being played on a YouTube channel, and I became very interested in it, both for the  gameplay and the discussion the game creates.

The game is a puzzle game, and clearly takes many themes directly from Portal – you’re solving puzzle rooms to get through a sci-fi facility while being talked to by a sentient robot, who turns out to be a little sinister – very Portal. The difference here is the far more serious tone that game takes, it’s a lot darker and brings up quite complicated ethical and philosophical issues, that really get you thinking while solving these puzzles. The game gets you thinking by presenting you with a well-balanced argument about AI and how you prove something has intelligence. It even goes into arguments about what intelligence even is and how you can define and measure it. By the end of the game, I had a lot to think about, which lead me to do a bit of reading on my own on the subject, but it also helps that one of my modules in University is all about AI, so I’ve been learning from that. The game is good, and I’d recommend playing it, but I don’t really have much to say on the subject. The ending is very good and left me very conflicted about who’s side I was on, the robot’s or the humans’.

But that’s not what I came here to write about, I want to write about the Turing test, as in the actual Turing test. Most people know about the original idea of the Turing test – a person sits at a computer terminal and has two conversations, one with a computer and one with another human. If the person is unable to reliably tell which is which just based on the conversation they had, the computer has passed the Turing test. For a lot of people, this is not a very convincing test, and most would argue that it is possible to program any computer specifically to pass the Turing test, without needing it to be intelligent at all. The  main argument for this comes from John Searle in a book he wrote called Minds, Brains, and Programs. The argument is called The Chinese Room. It argues that a computer can be programmed to fake the ability to have a conversation with someone using a rulebook telling it how to reply to every possible input to look convincing as a sentient being, when in fact, it’s just faking, this is basically how things like Cleverbot work. Some people have taken this argument to mean that it is completely impossible for a computer to be truly intelligent, as a computer is unable to understand the meaning of the replies it is giving and is simply pretending to be clever (like a lot of us d0).

Think of it this way: a computer knows the definition of house and it knows the definition of home but does it understand the true meaning of either word. To a human, we understand what it truly is to make a house a home™, but does a computer which is basing its understanding on:

House
noun
  1. a building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys.
    “a house of Cotswold stone”
  2. a building in which people meet for a particular activity.
    “a house of prayer”

And:

Home
  1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
    “the floods forced many people to flee their homes”
  2. an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.
    “an old people’s home”

Both definitions are taken directly from Google, which is probably where an AI would get its knowledge from (No intelligent being would dare touch Bing). I know which house is my home – it’s not the house I live in permanently, it’s the house I grew up in rather than the house I live in when it’s term time at my University.

But, when one looks at the other side of this philosophical coin, one can see the other argument. Taking a quote directly from the Turing test game, this argument can be summarised quite neatly:

If someone copied, exactly, the brain of a duck into a digital form that could be run by a computer, and put it into a perfect robot copy of a duck, would onlookers not say, “that is a duck”. After all, if it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and does everything a duck would typically do, would you not simply say “That is a duck!”.

I’m not sure I would make any comment about a duck if I saw one, but it does raise an interesting point: if a computer could mimic intelligence perfectly, why does that not mean it is intelligent? In the Chinese room example – sure, the person in the room doesn’t understand Chinese, but the whole system does understand Chinese, or at least appears to. This is the main argument against the Chinese room experiment, and I think that it is a very interesting one.

Humans have been known to think very highly of themselves, so when it comes to the idea that a computer could become intelligent, we tend to get a bit snooty about the attempts to make a computer intelligent, dismissing them as ‘faking’ or ‘cheating’, but I think that before we can understand how a computer can be intelligent, we need to know how a human can be intelligent, and even the simple question of “what even is intelligence? How do we measure it? Where does it come from?”

In my AI lectures, students have been asked “What is you favourite colour?” to which they reply blue, red or some other colour. Is that an intelligent answer? I walk to University every day, is that an intelligent act? Does someone have to be intelligent to walk from A to B? Or do they just do it, especially when they have walked this route before? What is it to be intelligent? What do we do that is classed as intelligent?

Sorry to end this on a list of questions, but I simply don’t have a solid answer to any of this. If you want to know more, there was a really cool program on Channel 4 a couple of days ago (that was definitely not an hour long advert for Humans season 2) which explored some of these questions, it was called How to Build a Human. Watch it, it was very cool. I won’t watch Humans, though. Maybe someone can tell me if it’s worth watching, and then I probably still won’t; I have a vendetta against Channel 4 at the moment.

Categories
Comment Games

My Day at EGX 2016

Every year, I go to EGX. It’s a tradition that’s last about four years now. It started when I found out about it from a friend and learned that it was about a thirty-minute journey from my house in London. It’s moved to Birmingham now, which means my pleasant thirty-minute journey has changed to a stressful three-and-a-half hour journey – and all because Earl’s Court is gone (also, you could argue that the NEC is a more appropriate location for a UK convention as it is located more centrally in the country – but on the downside, it means you have to go into Birmingham). I usually go with my brother, but this year he couldn’t come for a plethora of reasons, so I spent the day on my own. So, with no one else to share my experience this year with, I thought I’d just write about it.

 

img_0618
Oh, the things you see.

 

I love the experience of going to EGX; I feel suddenly I’m with a whole massive room full of thousands of other people who are a bit like me in at least some small way, of all different ages and backgrounds. I like listening to conversations and finding that people are talking about the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonoured or loads of other games, they may even be talking about being excited to meet the Yogscast, or Syndicate (I have no idea why you’d want to meet him after recent events). To put it simply, EGX is one of the only places where that small part of my life feels less alone; it reminds me that there are other people – real people, in front of my face – who also spend a few hours every night watching the same YouTube videos that I’m watching, it reminds me that there are other people obsessing over their PC builds and other people who play far too much Skyrim to be healthy. It reminds me that I am part of a community – that’s why I go to EGX every year, and that’s why I still went when they moved the event to Birmingham – that’s right, it’s so good, I’ll brave having to be in Birmingham for eight whole hours.

This year, I planned to go to EGX as soon as tickets were available. I didn’t spend really any time at all thinking about what I’d being doing about the time EGX was on – I just assumed I could fit my life around EGX. I bought tickets for the Friday, and then as soon as I could, I booked tickets for the train. If I’d known about a show on that night by the YouTube group Hat Films, I’d have gone to that, but it was too late; my ticket home was booked.

 

IMG_0592.jpg
This is a very cinematic queue shot.

 

After I’d travelled the three hours to get to the NEC, I started on the labyrinth that is the epic twenty-minute journey between the train station and the halls where EGX was being held. If you’ve not been to the NEC via train, you should know that the train station, the airport and the NEC are all one building. It’s bloody massive in there. I spent the time walking along and finding my way. For most of the walk, there aren’t any signs pointing you to EGX, but that’s fine – just follow the gamers. How can you tell who are gamers and who aren’t? Strangely enough, that doesn’t prove much of a challenge. The NEC is so massive, that at any one time, multiple exhibitions are going on. When I was getting close to the hall I needed to go to, I, surrounded by some other gamers heading to EGX, approached a man who clearly worked for the NEC – based on his uniform, who stood next to a signpost which pointed off in two opposite directions – one pointing to the cycling convention to the right, and the other to EGX on the left. The man took one look at us and must have thought, “are these people into cycling or gaming?”, clearly, the answer was obvious to him as he called to us, “The entrance to EGX is in hall 8.” If I were a lesser man I’d have been offended that when he looked at my toned, athletic body he didn’t instantly assume I was after the cycling show.

I’ll give this to the NEC, there is a hell of a lot less queueing to get in than when the show was at Earl’s Court. You walk in, show someone your ticket and they give you a wristband and when the event opens, they just let everyone walk in and try to spot anyone who hasn’t got a wristband. When event goers walked in this year, they were given the gift of Tornado energy drink. I never go understand this connection between energy drinks and gaming, but I will admit that Tornado is the only energy drink I’ve ever had which I can bare the taste of – believe it or not, I actually drank the whole thing. If I were to start drinking energy drinks, I’d drink Tornado (can I have ad money now, Tornado?).

When I do get into EGX, I like to spend an hour walking around and seeing what’s on offer; eight hours go by quickly when at EGX, so you need to prioritise and find out what you want to invest your precious time onto looking at. It would be great if you could have a go on all the AAA titles, but in my experience, you’ll probably have trouble squeezing more that two into your visit, especially if you want to do anything other than playing the AAA titles.

 

IMG_0611.jpg
Not sure I do want to have a go on that to be honest.

 

This year, the over 18 area was almost completely not worth going in at all as far as I’m concerned; unless you really want to spend three hours queueing to get a go on Titanfall 2, Gears of War or Battlefield One – not very worthwhile if you ask me. The only redeeming feature of the area was the small stand set up to promote South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I’d have had a go on it if it weren’t for the Nosulous Rift you had to wear while playing. If you’ve not played The Stick of Truth (the first South Park game), you should know that one of the main game mechanics in that game is the ability to produce flatulence at will. This is a feature that has been carried on to the new game, and, to promote this new game, the developers built this device which, when one produces flatulence in game, squirts a rather nasty smell into one’s nose, for immersion purposes, and to add to that, one’s face is broadcast to a large screen above one, so all may observe one’s reaction for general amusement. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, and in any case, I will buy the game when it comes out; I really liked the Stick of Truth.

 

IMG_0594.jpg
Another cinematic queue shot.

 

Moving on to the regular area, I noticed one game I was vaguely interested in, and that was Dishonoured 2. I only played a couple of hours of Dishonored 1, and I can’t actually remember why that was. I’ve seen a full playthrough on YouTube, however, so I do know what happens and how the game is played. I entered the queue, thinking that it wouldn’t take very long; the queue as far as I could see only went around the corner of the booth – I thought it’d take 30 minutes at most. When, after about 25 minutes, I finally got around the corner, I saw the endless zig-zagging maze of tenser barriers that was the rest of the queue. By that point, however, I felt that I’d been in the queue so long, it’d be a sign of weakness to leave then. It took a further hour in the queue to get in.

Why the people who’d set up the event didn’t allow us to use keyboard and mouse will forever haunt my wonderings. The game was being demoed on PC, yet they only allowed me to have an Xbox One controller, which meant I had a tough time getting through the whole level in the half an hour I had, simply because I am terrible at first-person games when using a controller; I only ever use keyboard and mouse. I was just about to get the final part of the level when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up.

If you’d like my thoughts concerning Dishonoured 2, here they are put simply: it’s pretty much the same as Dishonoured 1 except with some new features, like being able to play as Emily, a skill tree system and new abilities. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No. Dishonoured 1 was a good game, and I think the attitude of taking a good game and adding new features to it is a good one. I don’t mean Call of Duty or FIFA style, where the game isn’t really changed at all, only graphical changes and maybe a new gun or football team (and this year, managers!), I mean new game mechanics and improvements to old ones to make the game more enjoyable. It’s why I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider – it’s pretty close to the previous game, but with new features and improvements to old ones. I like that system of making sequels. I will probably get Dishonoured 2 on November the eleventh, the day it comes out.

 

IMG_0600.jpg
I’m trying to point out that there are a lot of queues.

 

After doing that, I decided then was my time to go and meet the Yogscast. I’ve been a fan of that lot for quite a long time now I think about it, but I’ve only ever met HAT Films at a convention before. The experience of actually meeting these people who you’ve been watching videos and live streams of nearly every day for the past 5 years is a slightly bizarre one, to say the least. You think you know these people, because you do to an extent – you know some random things about their lives from the stories they’ve told, on the way over on the train I was listening to the Triforce podcast where Lewis was talking about weird things that have happened to him at conventions, and previously he’d been talking about dealing with his landlord and giving away details about the flat he was living in, but when you’re standing in front of him and actually talking to him, you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know this person, and he doesn’t know you at all.

 

IMG_0042.jpg
Actaully a very nice T-shirt.

 

In spite of that, Lewis actually was excellent at making conversation with the people who came up to meet him. He asked me a couple of questions and was very confident. He somehow made it very easy to talk to him, which is a real talent. We didn’t talk long, however, as there was a big queue behind me. I moved through Duncan, Kim and Turps, none of whom I talked to at all really other than saying hello and asking each other how the other was. I’m used to this; I am pretty awful at conversations, especially if I’m expected to lead it, and also it should be said that they were all about to have a break, so they were looking a bit worn out.

The other half of the Yogscast that was there was on the other side and required a different queue. This side had only just started so the energy with all of them was much higher and they seemed more enthusiastic. I met Hannah, who was very friendly and eager to talk, Caffcast, who was equally talkative, Vadact, who I’d never heard of and didn’t really say anything to me and of course, HAT films. Trott laughed at his own signature because he felt it wasn’t as good as anyone else’s, Ross was cheerful and friendly, and I actually had a 30-second conversation with Smith about Dishonoured. All in all, meeting the Yogscast was a very worthwhile thing to do.

 

IMG_0635.jpg
Thanks, Sony, the backlight really makes taking a picture easy (Not! Lol!).

 

After that I had lunch and decided to have a bit more of a look around the place for my next adventure. I saw the new PS4, which is indeed smaller, and I saw the PS4 Pro, which I think looks a bit weird to be brutally honest, but whatever. I then had a look at all the different PC stands like Scan who were trying to flog their very fancy looking PCs for a lot more money than I’d ever pay for anything ever. I was slightly gratified that most PCs they were showing off had the same keyboard and mouse combo that I use, I suppose Corsair was sponsoring them.

I then moved on to have a look at the Retro Arcade, featuring genuine retro things, like ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and a BBC Micro, what I have one of. They also had a couple of Xbox 360s and PS3s. It’s too soon; I’m not ready to accept it. I spent quite a long time here, looking at all the different old gaming machines, like an original asteroids machine which I played quite a lot of.

By the time I’d torn myself way, there were only about 40 minutes left of the convention, and that’s when I found, tucked away in the corner, Horizon Zero Dawn. I really wanted to have a go on that, but I was too late; they’d accepted their final group of people. I’ve really wanted just to know what that game is and if I should get excited about it. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until the game has more information made public, or when it is reviewed – what a struggle life is.

It then wasn’t long before the event was closed, and I was heading home. I’d had a pretty great day out, even though I didn’t feel I’d achieved very much, but you could say that is what makes a day great. I’m for sure going back next year, and probably every year – it’s not something I’d miss, unless they moved it to Swindon or somewhere.

This post ended up a lot longer than I thought it’d be. This is why people have editors, I suppose, but because I don’t, you’ll have to manage for now – poor you.

Categories
Games Reviews

Enderal – Just Fantastic

EDIT (28/09/16) – You may want to disregard my comments regarding the loading times, as it turns out it was an issue with my motherboard. I got suspicious when every one of my games started to have an eternity for a loading time. Blame me; I should have investigated further rather than blindly assume. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.


So, with the Elder Scrolls VI not coming to us until the year one million and a half, I suppose we’ll all have to compromise. And compromise we shall, with the new, highly anticipated mod from Sure AI, Enderal. Sure AI was behind such mods as Cube Experimental – for Fallout 3, Nehrim – for Oblivion, and now Enderal – for Skyrim. But what is Enderal? Enderal is a “total conversion mod for Skyrim” which literally changes everything about the game – the world, the story, the quests, the character system, levelling, skills, graphics, the UI – in short, it’s basically a whole new game using Skyrim’s engine. It’s incredible what this small team of twelve people, with no budget, have managed to achieve – they’ve created a game with “at least 30 hours of gameplay”, a massive, beautiful world to explore, and an epic story line. But is it actually good, and does my title allow for any kind of suspense? Let’s find out.

20160828004042_1
The Map of Enderal.

Enderal  is fantastic – it’s even beyond fantastic – it’s bloody impressive and I think I love it. I’m saying this although I haven’t had too much of a chance to actually play that much of it, but the amount I have played has really impressed me. Starting with the world, it’s actually quite large and very pretty – even without ENB enabled (you can’t use ENB with Enderal) – and a lot of fun to explore. I can see myself getting lost in the world in the same way I often get lost in Skyrim’s, the world is full of rolling hills and expansive countryside which gives you a real sense of being in the open world and being able to explore anywhere you like. To put it neatly, the world is pretty great, and on par with the beauty of Skyrim’s.

And then there are the cities. There is only one city, Ark, which sits roughly in the centre of Enderal, but I can tell you, Sure AI have addressed the many voices crying out for better cities in Skyrim. Many people, including me, were unsatisfied with the cities in Skyrim; they’re all very small and aren’t very complicated. Ark, on the other hand, is pretty damn large and pretty damn complicated – it involves five quarters (yes, I know, I was confused as well), a whole “under city” below ground and a large palace type place, where clever people live.

20160829180644_1
Pretty massive if you ask me.

It’s worth pointing out the Ark is, in fact, the only city in Enderal, but I don’t think I need another one – I can accept that with the smallish total size of Enderal that they’d only have one city. There are towns, however, about 4 or 5 of them, all of them quite big and are laid out in ways which feel unique to each place.

I will just quickly jump to Bethesda’s defence before you started thinking that Bethesda should have done the same thing with their many resources and infinite time, by saying this: the reason the cities aren’t unimaginably huge in Skyrim is because, A, Skyrim is not the kind of place to have humongous cities and vast towns; they’re a simple people up there and aren’t into that sort of thing, and B, the world designers were probably trying to keep the world feeling concise and neat, because I will admit that the vast size of Ark and the towns can feel a bit messy, and a little bit empty. The engine is not capable of having a crazy amount of NPCs hanging about and doing their thing – it was never built for that. It’s weird, then, that Ark is so large yet there simply aren’t very many people about – it’s quite like Aberystwyth in that way. I’m not the only one to think this.

Returning to things about the world I do like, I like seeing adventures hanging about the place. In Skyrim, it seemed that you were the single adventurer in the whole world and you never saw anyone else doing anything of the sort. In Enderal, I saw several people kitted out in gear for adventuring about the place, which is a nice touch. And speaking of characters, there are some. People seem much more alive and real than in Skyrim; people speak more casually and say things that, you know, a real person might say to another real person – the writing and voice acting is superb.

 

20160829172926_1
The Hero menu, where you can see your character and stuff.

 

It’s pretty clear to me that Sure AI share the opinion of many about what some refer to as “the dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls”, because they’ve made this game a lot more Morrowind-ey, by removing the ‘learn by doing’ system of Skyrim (which I think is actually very innovative and a great way to do character progression but whatever I suppose), and replacing it with a more traditional, “here are some skill points where ‘d ya wanna put ’em?” system, they’ve also completely removed the fast traveling system (which, again, fast traveling I think makes the game a lot more accessible and if you don’t want to use fast travel then just don’t but whatever), and replaced that with a more traditional, “just walk for hours on end” type system. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are these things called “teleport scrolls” which you can use to get to places, but there is a limited supply and you have to use the right one to get to the place you need to go. Also, in Ark, you can interact with sign posts to move around the city a bit quicker than by walking. I wish you could, like in the Witcher 3, use sign posts to fast travel to any other sign post in the game; I don’t feel like Ark is so big that I need to fast travel around it, but I suppose that’s to cut down on the number of loading screens you’ll have to endure.

 

20160829184916_1
You’ll see this a lot, for a very long time, and you’ll go mad looking at it.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my God! What is going on with the loading in this game? I have had serious problems with actually getting this game to load at all past the main menu. Just this morning I had problems getting the main menu to load at all – I eventually gave up. I’ve done some research to suggest that this is a common issue for many people, some saying that for them loading times are on average between 5-10 minutes, and that’s for every loading screen – not just the first one. I count that as unplayable. I can’t wait that long for the game to load, I simply can’t – show me anyone who can. I’ve more than a couple of times gotten out of my chair and leant over my window sill to contemplate life while the game loads the next area – I’ve come to some interesting conclusions in that time, but perhaps I’ll discuss this another time. You know how bad the loading time is? It’s worse than GTA V. Not even joking.

 

20160828004012_1
This game is too cool for horses, apparently.

I should reiterate if I have not mentioned already, that I haven’t played a huge amount of this game, so how I should feel entitled to review it is anyone’s guess, but I’ll discuss the parts I have played. The game starts off with some very intense/creepy/disturbing gameplay, and then you end up on a ship with a friend. Through the dialogue, you discover that you and he are stowaways aboard this vessel. Anyway, plot, plot, plot, and you have a creepy vision and end up on a beach.

Before we continue I would just like to mention a few things. Firstly, damn these guys are good at the cinematic stuff, and second, I found the character creation to be a bit lacklustre; at the start, you are introduced to your father, who is most definitely a human man, which means you are forced into being half human. You can’t even be fully human – you have to be half human and half something else. The variety of something else includes four options: something that looks like an orc and an elf, something that looks like and elf and an orc, something a bit orkcey/elfey and something this is, I suppose, kind of a cross between an elf and perhaps some sort of orc. They each look slightly different from each other and they have different stats tied to them, but in terms of looks, you’re stuck with one. Although it should be said that the inclusion of ApachiiSkyHair was very much appreciated.

 

20160829174844_1.jpg
My character, Amber Stottlesworth.

 

What then follows carries the title we all fear, the tutorial, and it’s a long one. It is actually quite an interesting tutorial that sets up the story, the information about nearly all the gameplay and sets you up with the basic equipment you need to do your thing, before dumping you in the world. It involves crawling through a cave, killing some things and then wandering in the wilderness for quite a while, which is a good way of letting you appreciate the beauty of the world, but it is quite a lot of wandering at the start, a time when a game needs to hook the player and keep them going until they stop resisting and follow willingly.

Speaking of quite a lot of wandering, I want to discuss this issue of fast travelling. It’s not in Enderal, so you need to do a lot of walking to places, and probably getting ambushed on the way. In the world of this game, there is a thing called the “Red Fever” which basically means everyone in the wilderness hates you and wants to kill you. I’m not a fan of this, It’s not a good way of encouraging exploration when you’re worried that if you step your foot out the front door, a crazy loon will start gnawing it off. Makes a man want to just fast travel everywhere. I had a nasty surprise when I discovered that fast travelling wasn’t in the game. I had just run for miles as every creature and person in the world was trying to hack me to bits for whatever reason, so I could talk to a nice old man about something I wasn’t paying attention to because it wasn’t super interesting. After the conversation finished it told me I had to go back to the person I’d been sent by, which meant going all the way back the way I came. Needless to say, discovering that fast travel isn’t a thing upset me slightly, but luckily I know the following three commands to type into the console: “tcai”, “tcl”, “tgm”. With my new abilities of an infinite sprint, flying and being ignored by people who had wanted to kill me a minute before hand, I flew through the terrain to my destination. Cheating, I know, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to fight my way all the way back.

 

20160829174610_1.jpg
What I value is KNAWLEDGE!

 

Getting back to the point, while playing I noticed something I liked: Sure AI clearly have played Skyrim quite a lot because they’ve added some pretty cool features. For instance, if you have a follower who walks too far away from you or gets lost somehow (which happens all the time in Skyrim), the games puts a marker above their head. It’s simple, but it made finding my follower a lot easier than it would have been without it.

Another little nice feature was the way they’ve done dialogues. Some ideas have been borrowed from the Witcher, including how the dialogue options point out which options will move the conversation on, and which will just give you more information. It makes sure you don’t say something that you can’t unsay which might cause issues later. The other thing is the knowledge system. The knowledge system is one which tells you that this option will give you information  about the world. The interesting thing about is that it’s set up in a ‘collect them all’ type of system. This is good because I’d have never asked about these things otherwise, and I actually learned quite a lot about the world of Enderal this way. Now I’m looking for them and actively wanting to know these juicy, interesting facts.

 

20160829175917_1.jpg
Looks… familiar…

 

The whole theme of this game is a bit weird and conflicting; it looks like Skyrim, but it’s all a bit darker and more brutal. While playing Skyrim I never, for instance, come across a corpse hanging from a tree or had characters effin’ and jeffin’ all over the place. I quite like it, but I also don’t. It’s like a halfway point between the themes of the Witcher and Skyrim – I find that bizarre, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with many hours of playing.

After all that you might be wondering why it is that I said that I loved this game/mod. Well, it’s more Skyrim, innit. Between thirty and  a hundred hours of it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it. It gives me something to do with myself until Skyrim Special Edition comes to us in October. To sum up, play this mod if you have Skyrim; you’ll probably enjoy it. If the loading screens don’t bore you to death, that is.

 

 

Categories
Comment Games

Musings On The Elder Scrolls VI

It’s official – The Elder Scrolls VI won’t be in my hands until several years have passed. Bethesda has confirmed that not only is it scheduled to be released after two new IPs they’re producing, but also that the game is not even in development yet. We know it’s coming; Todd Howard said that “Of course they will be a new Elder Scrolls”, but it seems that The Elder Scrolls VI is coming in the same way that winter was coming in Game of Thrones for the first 6 seasons (is that a spoiler? If so… sorry?) – in that it’ll happen, oh yeah it’ll happen, and when it does you’ll know about it! However, it’s going to be so far in the future that you’ll have likely forgotten it was going to be a thing until Bethesda announces it, which will likely be about 20 minutes before official release, knowing Bethesda.

By the time The Elder Scrolls VI is in my hands I’ll have finished University and probably (hopefully) I’ll have a job and will (maybe) have moved out of my parents’ house. My life will be completely different from how it is now (probably), and what’s more shocking, is that by the Bethesda development schedule, The Elder Scrolls VI will be released over 10 years after The Elder Scrolls V, quite a wait for us Elder Scrolls fans. Consider it – the original Bioshock came out 9 years ago, and think how long ago that was – I was 8, and I’ll be over 25 by the time The Elder Scrolls VI is something I can play for hours and days and moths forever. It better be worth the wait – that’s all I’m saying.

Tamriel_Map
Tamriel – in all its glory.

There has been much speculation over The Elder Scrolls VI, mainly focusing around where it’ll be set. Will it be Valenwood? Black Marsh? Hammerfell? Or perhaps all of Tamriel? I don’t personally like the idea of just creating a game that covers all of Tamriel; I like the focus on a particular area that we’ve had in the previous games. In The Elder Scrolls V, you really get to know Skyrim as an area and it’s people (those racist, bigoted Nords. They’re almost as bad as UKIP supporters). It was interesting to learn about the people of Skyrim and how they felt about the empire, which leads to the civil war which every player loves so much – I’ve come to calling it #Skexit. Yeah, I love Skyrim, and I’m hoping the ‘special edition’ will tide me over for a while. Although I’m fairly sure my modding can beat the graphical improvements any day of the week, but whatever – it’s an excuse to start a new character.

20160616002709_1
Not sure how the special edition is going to top this…

All I really care about with the new Elder Scrolls is that Bethesda keeps it as open as every other Elder Scrolls before it. I spend about 40% of my time in Skyrim just sort of wandering about and doing, well, nothing. Doing nothing at all in Skyrim is more entertaining and fun to me than shooting people in Call of Duty or fighting through missions in GTA V; it’s indescribable – I don’t know why I enjoy it so much – I think it’s just relaxing. It’s like a sort of Zen. I also like how I can play nearly 200 hours of the game at the time of writing this and still be surprised at discovering new things in the world I hadn’t ever seen before and discovering new epic quest lines that I didn’t know about. There is so much to do in Skyrim, and if The Elder Scrolls VI has as much, then I’ll be satisfied with that.

I could go on about how great The Elder Scrolls is all day, and I might internally, but I’m sure you have other things to do. I’m not sure whether I should try to forget about The Elder Scrolls until the new one comes out, or just play Skyrim like crazy until then. I think the latter will do nicely.

Categories
Comment Reviews

Anime is Weird – Sword Art Online is Great

I used to be one of those people. I used to avoid anime. I would scroll through Netflix, see an anime title, and instantly reject it. Why? Because anime is weird. People told me to try it, they told me that it’s really good when you get used to it. This only leads me to judge those people harshly. “They’re weird, ” I thought to myself, “They can no longer be my friend” I decided. Over the past three days, my mind has been opened; anime is really weird, and yet it is also amazing.

The first I heard of Sword Art Online when my brother mentioned it to me a few years ago. He said the name in passing and my response was thus:
“Sounds like a video game.”
“Yes, it’s supposed to” he replied.
I forgot about this until earlier in 2015 when the exact same thing happened, this time in a shop. I later found it on Netflix and added it to my list. It was only a few days ago that I decided to take the plunge. I watched one episode and my reaction was to tweet the following.

https://twitter.com/sammysquirrel12/status/688148658873737216

And it is. I stand firmly behind this tweet. I watched all 25 episodes of Sword Art Online and you know what? Anime is weird – but sometimes it’s great. And it is greater than it is weird if that makes sense.

swordartonline
Yes – this is indeed an anime.

Sword Art Online is about a video game – an MMO in the year 2022 called Sword Art Online, hilariously enough. What’s exciting about this video game it that it is the first to use a new VR technology called ‘Nerve Gear’ which straps on to your head, and it’s basically like Avatar except better in every way. Your mind is transferred to this virtual world where you fight monsters and hang out with other players in a fantasy world. It’s amazing and everyone logs in on the launch day since it’s the first of its kind. Things go well until the players notice that there is no way to leave; the logout button is missing. They learn that if someone removes the Nerve Gear helmet in the real world, they’ll die. They also learn that if they die in the game, they die in real life. It’s Matrix rules without the convenient telephone situation or any other way of leaving. The only way they can leave is if the boss on the 100th level of this big old tower has been defeated (which means they have to beat the bosses of all the other 99 floors as well). So that kind of sucks and people get upset about it.

We follow the story of Kirito. Kirito is special in this world; he was a beta tester, which gives him a distinct advantage; there were only 200 beta testers (it’s worth clarifying here that the players could log out during the beta test). He’s also MLG pro-MVP god – like seriously, he’s so OP most of the time that’s it’s sort of ridiculous. There’s one point where about four other players attack him at the same time and his reaction is to tank it; his HP is so high at that point that, even with all four players attacking at the same time, he couldn’t be harmed. Kirito meets a girl named Asuna. Asuna is mysterious and at first, they don’t get along, but after time, they grow to love each other in an entirely predictable manner. I’ve no problems with this because it’s not that important – what is important is that they are head over heels for each other and damn well pleased about it. The plot then follows. I won’t spoil it for you, go watch it for yourself. Their love is cheesy, yet somehow it’s not cringy. I genuinely cared about their relationship because it’s not over the top, it’s almost subtle and you could call it realistic, depending on your expectations. I cared so deeply by the end for these two; any harm that came to either of them felt like it was harming me too. Okay – maybe not that extreme, but them sticking together felt, for some reason, really important to me.

It’s not all love and games in Sword Art Online, there are the other people as well, and more than that, the world of Sword Art Online is incredibly detailed – it almost feels real. The story is about this world and the people who live in it, and the writing really brings the world and its people to life. I mentioned that Kirito was a beta tester earlier. Well, that causes some friction early in the story and also throughout. You see, some people reckon that beta testers have an unfair advantage – a six-month unfair advantage to be precise. Worse, these beta testers, with their advanced knowledge about the game, generally decided not help new players out when the crisis began and just play solo, collecting all the good items before anyone else could get them. This, you’ll agree, is not very sporting and you could describe this kind of behaviour as cheating. Shocking – I know. These people are labelled ‘beaters’ – a combination of beta tester and cheater. I’m not sure what’s wrong with calling someone a cheater but whatever floats your boat. Beaters are not well liked in this world and some people say some right nasty things to them. Those things hurt. Beaters are discriminated against and treated with a certain level of suspicion. Because Kirito is a beater some choose not listen to him when he tells them something important – a move which seems really stupid considering that he probably knows what he’s talking about. It’s this kind of real world discrimination, brought into a fantasy world, which makes the people seem like people. A proper society emerges, with all sorts of social issues, there is a big army which keeps the peace between people, there are lawbreakers who steal from others and murders who murder each other, there’s common racism, there’re shops, there’s true complexity in the world.

sword-art-online
Drama.

I could go on. And I would if I could make it interesting. There’s so much that I want to write about – the people, the world, the story, the way the game makes sense and is generally really well thought out and so on. Honestly, it’s fantastic. I do however want to talk about anime in general and not just stick to how great Sword Art Online is. Anime is weird. Most of the time I’ve no issue with its weirdness. It really adds to the experience when something so predictably anime happens. It’s an inexplicable mix of cheesy and deadly serious, and a heap of melodrama mixed with genuine drama. It sounds like it can’t work, but it’s amazing. Just look at the opening credits for God’s sake!

The confusing translations also add to it. I’ve read those lyrics many times and I still don’t know what it’s on about. I have no issue with that. I think it’s great and can only amplify my enjoyment. Anime is anime. It’s weird, and I can’t even explain why. All I know is that there were several moments where my reaction was “yup, this is an anime.” Sometimes things happen which are so typically anime that I can’t help but feel exasperated. Women are all attractive people – far more than the men (although this may be just my heterosexual male viewpoint), and I don’t really know how I feel about it. They spend half their time being over emotional, and the other half being genuinely strong characters. I can’t think of a single woman in SAO who wasn’t up for a fight. The women are strong and feel necessary, so I don’t think I have an issue with them. Anime is weird. I can only explain why by showing you this (with the mildest of spoilers):

Sword Art Online is brilliant. Go watch it. I finished it yesterday and since then I’ve felt a familiar sense of emptiness I always get when something great ends. I got it with the Witcher 3, and I got it (not quite as much) from this. It’s an emotional ride which left me feeling warm and happy, but also sad that it was over. Yes, I know there is a series 2, but I don’t want to watch it in case it’s not as good. It doesn’t feel like something which should have a sequel or a potential film for that matter. I may try watching the next series, but I’m not interested in disappointment. Anime is weird – but most of the time, it’s great.

Categories
Games Reviews

Tomb Raider (2013) Is a Really Good Game

I was going to write this post a few weeks ago, but I got ill for a bit. Then I forgot about it. It’s a bit of a shame because I had replayed the game only a few days before so it was all really fresh in my mind. Now it is only a slightly vague memory. Oh well. On with the show!


Okay, unpopular opinion time: I really, enormously and with a full heart, love the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider – and when I type ‘love’ I am not exaggerating. I think it is one of the best games I have ever played. Now – before you lube up your maces and WD-40 you rusty pitchforks ready to track me down using Google Maps – you should know two things; my blog is hosted in America which is not where I live and don’t judge me until you have read this review.

What's she looking at?
What’s she looking at?

Okay, firstly let’s talk about the obvious thing that everyone complains about a lot. I wanna start this review by explaining the bad things about this game and telling you why you should get over them and play this game. Actual puzzles. Anyone who has played one of the original Tomb Raider games will know that they had no shortage of puzzles in them. Mostly athletic type things which involve jumping around, landing on buttons, weighing things down and stuff like that. They were often not super complicated, just hard to perform. It’s the kind of thing you have to have the patience of a monk to handle. I never didn’t like them, I just didn’t often have time for them and after a while would resort to the internet to get things moving again. In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, there is a distinct lack of these puzzles in the main campaign. I think off the top of my head there are about two or three.

There are other puzzles, but they are all optional ones which you have to seek out and solve to get something (It was never particularly clear on what I was getting out of solving them other than a sense of satisfaction). The puzzles in the main campaign are not too difficult to work out, and they don’t take too long either. They are easy once you know what you are doing. The optional puzzles are different. Most of them are kinda challenging to work out what to do, and I would have completely given up on a couple of them if it weren’t for the obviously-Arkham-inspired survivor vision (or whatever it’s called) which, at the tap of a button, marks your objective and makes anything you can interact with glow a bright yellow. Some would argue that this makes it to easy. That’s a fair opinion, and I have a solution for you: don’t use it unless you are completely and hopelessly stuck, and let the stupid people use the easy option.

The other problem with the puzzles is – as all the good ones are optional – it’s often a puzzle to find them. When you are kinda near an entrance to a puzzle room the game will notify you with a sound effect and a popup. It doesn’t actually tell you where it is, and survivor vision doesn’t highlight it for you (unless it does and I never tried that). Worse, some puzzles you can’t enter until you get an upgrade. This means you have to remember where it was (it doesn’t mark it on the map (unless it does and I never tried that)) and come back for it later. This puzzle thing isn’t the end of the world and certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me – it just would be nice if in the next game more of the puzzles are in the campaign or just easy to find.

Well - you screwed this one up, Lara
Well – you screwed this one up, Lara

So – if the puzzles are lacking in a Tomb Raider game, what’s left? Well, I’ll tell you: lots of mind-bending and exciting action. The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended. There are countless action sequences which have Lara jumping and flipping, hiding behind cover and being a super action hero as you run through an area shooting people in the face with a shotgun and sniping people with a compound bow as the entire world around you blows up and falls apart leaving you to jump wildly – desperately attempting to just cling on to anything you can to survive.

There is one – what only can be described as a ‘holy hell’ moment – where you’ve been fighting on a big old boat suspended in some trees, and when the flight is over, the ropes holding the boat up on one side are broken, and the whole boat drops sideways, leaving you to hang off tiny ledges in the ground – while a maniac is shooting at you with a mini-gun. It gets a bit intense at some points.

Yep - that's Lara swimming in a river of blood.
Yep – that’s Lara swimming in a river of blood.

One thing Crystal Dynamics really vamped-up from the original games is the sheer amount of gore. The first few Tomb Raider games were known for their gruesome death cut scenes, which some considered to be a bit much. This was a practice which eventually died out in the Tomb Raider series. Well, Crystal Dynamics wanted it back, and it really is back. There are many times in the game where if you make a small slip up, a jagged, rusty pipe will end up being lodged through the base of Lara’s head and come out the top, though the middle of her brain – and other things like that.

I don’t think it will be easy for me to remember the first time Lara shoots someone in the game; it’s pretty intense. Lara tries to escape from be captured by a load of cultist weirdos and hides inside a small gap between some huts. This part is done very craftily; you expect it to be the standard Lord of the Rings style moment where the pursuer almost finds her but is distracted at the last second. I was stunned when he grabbed her and pulled her out. In an intense button mashing session (which happens quite a lot in the game) you grab his gun and struggle to aim at his head where just at the right moment – you pull right trigger and shoot him right in the face which… almost kills him. Lara is a little upset at this – as you would be – staring into the eyes of the almost-dead shivering bloody man on the ground, who had friends and a family, and who was only trying to survive. He dies after a few seconds letting Lara pull herself together and get out of there. Yeah – it gets intense. That bit left me breathless the first time I played it. Even when I replayed it I felt a little shocked; I’d forgotten how brutal it all was.

Of course, as was pointed out by many reviewers at release, this representation of the horror and brutality that is murder doesn’t last long. Withing about thirty seconds of this you have to shoot four or five people in a cover shooting battle. It’s a little jarring, to say the least, and it leaves you not sure how to feel about all of this. You quite easily forget all of that when you get more into the game and the combat system gets quite fun.

They... got in the way...
They… got in the way…

Okay, time for another unpopular opinion: the combat system in this game isn’t bad at all. I grant you it takes some getting used to and it’s not so fun when you aren’t very good at it, but when you are good at it and you unlock some of the combat upgrades, it gets deliciously exhilarating.

The combat first starts out as cover-shooting, which I normally find quite boring and I don’t really want to spend my time doing it. You start off with the handgun you stole from that guy you killed, but during the story, you find some other weapons. They’re all old, a bit damaged and kinda crappy. But that’s okay! Over the course of the game, you pick up salvage from boxes and crates. Sometimes it’s a puzzle to get it but it’s quite satisfying when you do. Using this salvage you can upgrade the weapons. They’re all themed upgrades and they’re quite realistic to the situation. For instance, you can’t attach a scope to the assault rifle; where would she have the parts to do that? But she can tape two magazines together to allow for faster reloading, she can bind the stock to reduce recoil, she can tape a flint to her torch to light it wherever she wants. All of these upgrades are realistic to the situation, and it’s things like this that I like.

The combat is brutal. It starts out as cover shooting, but evolves to more melee elements, in the most traditional sense of melee, meaning a confused fight or scuffle. Early in the game you acquire an Ice Pick for opening doors and as a general multi-tool – it’s surprisingly versatile. After a bit of upgrading, Lara learns how to throw dirt into the enemy’s eyes and drive the ice pick into their skull. Yup. You can unlock finishers which have Lara push them to the ground and pepper them with the assault rifle. Yup – it’s harsh. Fire arrows will allow you to set your prey on fire and a grenade launcher attachment to the rifle lets you generally blow stuff up. I like it. Some people don’t like how the brutality of Lara’s actions juxtapose the timidness of her character at the start of the game. I like it; it’s character development. She’ becoming the Lara Croft of legends (and video games) past. This is addressed in the dialogue at the very end. The bad guy (?) says this to Lara:

“I was only trying to save people’s lives. How many have you killed to do the same?”

(That’s not an exact quote; I don’t have super-memory) She starts out hating her experience, but at the end of the game it’ revealed that she grew to enjoy it – like Lara Croft is like in other games. The game ends with this cheesy line:

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you home soon.”

“I’m not going home.”

And then the music swells and the credits roll. She could just go home, but it’s probably better she doesn’t; she may well get bored and kill a bunch of the public for taking too long in a queue or something.

Is this a DV cam, in 2013?
Is this a DV cam, in 2013?

The story is… okay. It’s quite a puzzle because the whole big thing about this game was how Rhianna Pratchett came along and was all huffy and puffy about how games never have good stories because developers don’t care enough and are evil compiling machines who just want to kill people in a digital fantasy land. Pratchett wrote the story and was all proud of it, I remember her talking about it on the radio. Personally, I think the story ain’t bad. The main complaint I’ve seen about it is it being a little difficult to follow at times. I won’t spoil it, but play the game yourself and see if you understand it.

The main problem I have with the story is not the complexity of the plot, but of the characters. You see, there ain’t much. Every character is pretty two-dimensional. Lara’s companions are a multi-race 80’s power supergroup involving an Asian woman, a black woman, a Scottish stereotype, a nerd, a Hawaiian,  a clearly-going-to-sell-us-out-at-the-first-opportunity cowardly intellectual man and a trustworthy, down-to-earth northerner. They all behave the way you expect they would. This wouldn’t be so noticeable if it weren’t that Lara’s character is so three-dimensional. Do I care about these characters? Yes, I do. Well, most of them anyway; there’s a couple who you know are going to die from the start, so forget about attaching to them.

The antagonist is alright, though. He’s this sort of religious leader type who knows what’s up on the island because he’s been there so long. He’s become hardened in his old age and will do anything it takes to get off the island. By the end of the game I pretty much was sympathizing with him; by that point Lara’s body count is pretty much in the hundreds and he’s just trying to get off the island. Granted – the process involves human sacrifice, but he’s been there for about twenty years – he’s gonna do all it takes.

No Lara - it's not a good idea.
No Lara – it’s not a good idea.

The picture above was taken at one of my favorite points in the game. It’s quite early on where Lara is trying to radio for help. The only way to get the radio tower working is by climbing to the control panel, which is helpfully located at the top of the tower. I’d like to point out that there is no reason for any sort of control panel to be at the top of the tower, but this one is. When you get to the top, it just feels great. I don’t really know why – but it does. And then you get to zipline all the way back down it’s a bunch of fun. Climbing in this game is awesome. I can’t tell you why, but I just love the way Lara traverses around the place. It feels like an action film and I love it.

Two guns!
Two guns!

So then, to conclude, this game is great. If for any reason you have not played it, I must inform you that you are missing out, and we should all be excited for the new game coming out early next year (I’m not counting the xbone release in November because I don’t have an xbone). The new game is set to have many more puzzles in the main story line and some actual tomb raiding! Seriously, play this game. Stop reading this, stop doing anything else until you have played this game to completion.


Wow, you read all of that? Thank you very much for giving me your time. You deserve a treat. How about a look at my Tomb Raider screenshots folder (warning: very vague and minor spoilers!):

Categories
Reviews Technology and Devices

The Microsoft Band Is a Great Fitness Tracker

…but not a great smart watch. I bought one of these devices last week having been told many times that it makes a great smart watch and will change the way  you use your phone and therefore your life will change forever. I’ve always liked the idea of a smart watch, as long as they aren’t too expensive, and as the Microsoft Band is only £145 on Amazon I decided to get one.

When researching the band I found myself confused; a quick peruse of the official web page will tell you the Microsoft aren’t really pushing it as a smart watch and more focusing on the fitness band side of things. You would have thought that the band would be advertised more as a smart watch considering the Apple Watch (or is it iWatch?). Microsoft could immediately put forward their smartwatch to show people their alternative, with very little effort. After all, it has basically all the  features of a smartwatch and is much better at tracking your heart beat and general exercise than the Apple Watch. I put this down to Microsoft, as usual, being a bit stupid with their advertising.

I got my band last Monday and started wearing it constantly. I enjoyed my time with it, but after a while, I started noticing some irritating problems. But first, let’s talk about some of the positives. My favourite feature of the Band is the sleep tracking. Before you go to sleep you simply have to tap the sleep icon and press the ‘Action’ button. I’ll bid you goodnight and the screen turn off. When you wake up, you press the action button again and the sleep tracking ends. Immediately it’ll tell you if you had a good night’s sleep, how many times you woke up, your resting heart rate and more. What do you do with this information? It’s up to you, but I’ve found it useful when people ask if you’ve slept well. You can give them some very specific information about your night’s sleep and even hand them a graph on your phone for them to see for themselves. I’m sure this gets old eventually.

I had optimal sleep that night!
I had optimal sleep that night!

Another feature I appreciated was the step tracking tool. You can set a daily goal for steps you want to be walking a day. Microsoft (I think based on my height, weight, and sex) recommended a daily step goal of 5000 steps a day. Sounds like a lot? It really isn’t. I achieved that goal by vaguely wandering around my house. I increased this goal to 8000 steps a day which was slightly more than I would be doing anyway. When you reach this goal the band buzzes on your wrist and congratulates you. It does work; I wanted to make the band praise me for being a great guy for reaching my goal, and 8000 steps sound like an achievement to me. If I ever get used to that goal, I can simply increase it even more. It encouraged me to find reasons to go out walking and add some steps to my count. In terms of accuracy, it’s pretty good, but not exact. I found that I could increase the step count by viciously waving my arm around in big circles. Somehow this doesn’t feel like cheating the system when the method requires such physical exertion.

My daily step count last week.
My daily step count last week.

The band does these fitness and health things pretty well. It can also track your golf games, bike rides, and runs. It also has quite a cool ‘Guided Workout’ feature, which basically makes the Band buzz and tell you when to move on to the next stage of your workout, then afterwards it’ll tell you stuff like calorie burn and peak heart rate. This would be great, but I’m not a fitness guy – I’ve never been to a gym or done a workout without being forced (I’m talking about school, not anything weird).

What it ain’t so great at is all the basic smart watch stuff. When I got texts my phone would buzz but my wrist wouldn’t, at least not until I’d read and replied to the text on my phone. I’d get a phone call and my wrist would do nothing. This is quite annoying because it makes you feel like you can’t actually trust it to tell you anything. I wouldn’t leave my phone on silent with the vibration off because I would definitely miss a phone call or a text message. When it does tell you about a phone call, text message or email, it pops up on the screen and buzzes, you dismiss it and then the icon concerning the notification will have a big number on it demanding you acknowledge the notification again. This became mildly irritating after a couple of days of it. It seems to forget when you’ve read a notification and when you haven’t.

Moving on to the actual hardware of the band, I have a complaint about the shape of the band. A band would normally be a circle which wraps around your wrist and it feels very comfortable. The Microsoft Band is a square. It’s designed with the heart rate monitor on one side and the screen on the other. Both sides are completely flat and reasonably wide. This makes you wait feel more like it’s had a vice attached to it, only a little bit more comfortable than that. This is something which you can bear for a while and eventually get used to. It would be so much better if the screen were curved just a little bit to fit over your wrist more comfortably.

I was amazed how quickly the band picks up scratches. In one week I looked after it pretty damn well and tried pretty hard not to scratch it, and it seemed to pick up scratches like nothing else. This is why the band comes with a screen protector already applied. It’s not a big problem; you can’t see the scratches on mine unless you’re looking very closely and with direct light, but that’s only after a week, what about a month, or even a year?

Some of that is smudged fingerprints.
Some of that is smudged fingerprints.

I suppose that’s it. I had fun with my band, but it’s not what I expected. I’d like it a lot if I were really into fitness, but I wanted a smart watch, and it just doesn’t fit the brief there. I’m serious, get this if you want a great fitness band, don’t if you want a smart watch. If you do want it, why not have mine? It’s on eBay right now! (Ends 20th of September 2015)