Tomb Raider (2013) game banner

Crystal Dynamics really missed the point with this game. It seems like the creative team started the project with one creative vision to make a “lost on an island adventure story”, and then early on, they all got fired and replaced with people who were instructed by corporate overlords to make “Uncharted with a girl” and the final product turned into a mindless shooter.

Tomb Raider - limited edition box
The only things you'll be "surviving" for most of this game is bullets and explosions.

The game is called "Tomb Raider”, but the bulk of the game is an action shooter instead of exploring tombs.

The tagline on the back of the box says “A survivor is born”, and the first objective in the game is to find a bow and kill a deer for dinner, but then you don’t ever have to hunt or treat wounds or take refuge from the elements or do any other “survival” things.

A sheer majority of the game is shooting hordes of enemies in tedious gunfight after tedious gunfight after tedious gunfight. Maybe over the course of the game, you’ll stumble across a tomb or two. But if you do, it’s just a 15-minute detour while you solve a single environmental/platforming puzzle in order to collect an arbitrary and useless reward. The rest of your time will be spent running around the levels that you just cleared of bad guys and collecting random items.

Tomb Raider - hair physics
Hair probably isn't the part of Lara's anatomy that many ... um ... "fans" were hoping to see benefit from real-time physics, but then again, at least this is something innovative.

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This review was originally published 05/15/2011 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Portal 2

Portal 2 cover art

Yes GladOS, we brought you back to life because we really do love to test!

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this game. I love the first Portal, as it was about as close to "perfect" as any game has ever come, but I couldn’t help but fear that Valve might turn this into a franchise, and in doing so, some of the allure of the game would be lost. But the game was released, and it is a triumph. Mostly.

Apparently, a very long time has passed since the first game. The Enrichment Center is very different. Under the care of the watchful AI, Wheatley, the entire facility has been slowly falling apart. The degrading, decrepit test chambers make for much more interesting visuals than the sterile, white and gray chambers of the first game. They are now overgrown with weeds and vines, panels are falling off the walls, broken glass litters the floors, and fallen and bent metal beams and girders obstruct some of your paths. It’s just too bad that with all the debris and vegetation littering the environment, that none of it is interactive. It slightly breaks the immersion when you walk through dangling leaves and they don’t react to your passing at all.

There is a lot of visual variety in this game. You travel through the dilapidated chambers of the early game until the facility begins to rebuild itself. You watch it piece itself back together. Then you get to travel through the deepest guts of Aperture Science. And finally, you come back to see the test chambers tear themselves apart again

Portal 2 - co-op characters

The co-op puzzles are fun, but not terribly replayable.
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This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct). It has been republished here for archival purposes - and in anticipation of a Trine 2 review.

Trine

Trine cover

A fun and graphically very pretty puzzle-platformer, but physics and controls could have used a little more work.

If you look at the review score above, and think "Hmm, this game can’t be that good to be given a 76," you should be aware that the score takes into account that this game was reviewed as if it were a full-priced $40 to $60 title. But, don’t be discouraged, Trine (regardless of price point) is still good. The friends who have played co-op with me virtually unanimously agree that the game’s fun factor make it worthwhile even at a $40+ price point, regardless of its rating. That being said, let’s talk about the actual game.

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Catherine box art

Despite the over-corporatization of the video game industry, not every game is going to be a consumer mega-hit like whatever Call of Duty game that happens to be coming out any given November. Sometimes, these little-known, niche titles can be real gems in the rough (Demon’s Souls, Trine). Other times, they just barely get by. But more often than not, they are utter garbage.

Catherine is not a game for everybody. Not only does it have a very mature plot, but most people probably won’t find it’s gameplay very appealing either. But even though I wouldn’t consider Catherine to be a particularly good game, it isn't a horrible game either, and I have no doubt that its charmingly quirky nature will earn itself a very hardcore following from its niche fans (particularly among adolescent boys). And I definitely have to give the developers credit for really trying to create something that is new and interesting instead of just something that has mass-market appeal.

The entire game consists of pretty much 3 parts that loop a handful of times:

  1. Long-ass cutscene that the player has absolutely no control over.
  2. A scene at the bar in which you walk around with your hands stuffed in your pockets, talking to friends and fellow patrons, and sending/receiving text messages on your phone.
  3. A series of increasingly-long and increasingly-difficult puzzle/platforming sequences in which you push blocks around in order to climb to the top of a wall of cubes.

Rinse and repeat. Or not rinse. But definitely lots of repeating.

The first two parts tend to be the most interesting parts, while the puzzle sections start off being fun but quickly devolve into a frustrating mess of bad camera, twitchy controls, and unnecessarily escalating and cheap difficulty.

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L.A. Noire box art

After decades of video gaming, the real good guys with the uniforms and badges finally get their moment to shine! But can they stand up to the vigilantes, anti-heroes, super heroes, undercover cops, crooked cops, and outright criminals that we are used to playing as?

Brain before brawn

Fighting crime isn’t all glamour and excitement. The job of a protector of the peace isn’t all shootouts, car chases, street brawls, damsels in distress, and throwing cars at super villains. There’s a lot of walking around crime scenes and looking at stuff. Figuring out what kind and size of shoe left the prints in the dirt. Reading the brand name of the lipstick of murdered women. Reading the addresses of bars off of matchbooks. Looking up the registered owner of a car with a license plate number provided by a witness. Reading through hotel registries. And accusing people of lying about stuff. It is this element of police work that L.A. Noire tries to capture. The focus of this game is taken away from gun fights, chases, and action scenes, and attempts to highlight the more cerebral elements of police work.

Although the exciting stuff does still happen, this game is a departure for Rockstar games. It puts the player in the role of a police investigator with a badge rather than the hardened criminals, vigilantes, bullies, and antiheroes that we’re used to. The exaggerated fictional cities and over-the-top dark humor have been replaced with a massive and highly detailed (although somewhat anachronistic) reproduction of 1940’s Los Angeles that takes itself much more seriously. The map is pretty large, accurate, and surprisingly densely packed with streets and alleyways. Average roads are multi-lane, sidewalks are decently-sized, and everything has a great sense of scale to it that most city-sandbox games lack. And the game only contains a fraction of the actual city!

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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EA proves it doesn’t care about making the best product possible; releases ‘NCAA Football 13’ on time, without physics engineEA proves it doesn’t care about making the best product possible; releases ‘NCAA Football 13’ on time, without physics engine08/05/2012 It seems pretty apparent that EA doesn’t give a damn about releasing the best product possible. They just want to milk it for all the money it’s worth. If they really cared about making NCAA Football ‘13 the best game it could be, then they would have delayed it a few weeks in order to install the same, potentially revolutionary,...