Friday, January 9, 2009

Game along with the Geek Beginning NOW

The problem with the big fall video game release season is, nobody, not even a professional geek such as myself, has time to play ALL the games you want to play. The other problem is, of course, after the game companies purge all those games in a three-month span, it takes a couple of months for the next top-flight title to hit the shelves.

This year, I've decided to combine those big problems into one glorious solution. I have a large pile of games that were either bought, given to me as gifts, or sent to me by companies looking for reviews, all sitting on top of my VCR at home. (Yes, I still have a VCR and I love it.) For the next couple of months, I plan on playing through these still-cellophaned games.

And, I'm inviting all of you readers to play along with me. Every night I play, I'll get on here and give a report on my progress, and you all can do the same for your own progress in the comments section.

The first game I'm playing is "Tomb Raider: Underworld," which will be followed by (in no particular order) "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed," "Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts," the upcoming "Fable II" expansion, "Prince of Persia" and a couple of older Wii titles I've had for months. I also might pepper in a night of original Nintendo once in a while. Hopefully the pile will last until we start getting a decent game here and there beginning in late February.

Ready? Then let's begin now:


Last night I began playing the Xbox 360 version of "Tomb Raider: Underworld," and spent nearly five hours with the game. Although, I am probably only technically around three hours into the story, since I am sorry to admit to playing like a bit of a noob for a while before getting a feel for the title.

I haven't played the first game in "Tomb Raider's" next-gen rebooted series, "Tomb Raider: Legend," so it took me a little while the learn what to expect. And it didn't help that developer Crystal Dynamics throws you into the deep end — literally — right out of the box.

Without really filling us players in on what, exactly, we're doing there, you (as Ms. Croft) are out on a yacht in the middle of nowhere and you need to jump into the ocean. Sure, it doesn't take too long to learn you're supposed to try and reach the bottom of the ocean, but even after you get there, it takes a good deal of blindly searching around the ocean's floor to find the caves you need to enter to unlock the door leading to the actual beginning of your adventure.

Personally, I cannot believe any game developer would want to begin an action game with such boredom, because by the time 45 minutes had passed by and I was still navigating jelly fish, I felt like "Underworld" had to be a horribly put-together flop of a game.

Luckily, I kept playing, found the necessary keys, got out of the water, and am happier for it. That's not to say I stopped playing like a noob, though. Maybe I have just been playing too many "God of War"-type games lately, but when I first saw a Kraaken in my path the thoughts going through my head were along the lines of:
"OK, I must have to hit his tentacles free first, then his eyes will open up, and I'll have to hit him in the eyes to stun him, then I can flip a switch and drop the spikey ceiling on him, then I'll have to do it twice more before he's dead."

But nope, all I had to do was jump from cliff to cliff, hit a few switches and drop the hammer once to clear my path. Some fight, huh? All the same, I wasted another 30 mins or so trying to fight the beast before learning how to handle the situation.

I also do see myself dying an inordinate amount of times, just based on depth perception issues. Is the ledge too far away? Gotta jump to find out! Heck, I pity the poor gamers who have to play this game without an HD monitor, since I'm having a hard enough time discerning ledges from certain doom with my nice big TV.

That said, now that I've gotten that whole Kraaken situation figured out, and I jumped my way around the jungles of Thailand, I find myself enjoying this game more and more. While I still feel like the game is fairly linear, as the story rolls on I'm finding an increasing number of places where you can do things several different ways, which encourages a little more creativity than I've seen in previous "Tomb Raider" games.

Just to keep you updated, since I know I only touched on Thailand and its awesome lizard men and tiger fights (I love my shotgun) very quickly here, I am currently finished with the first two chapters and about to explore Lara's father's crypt. But, to close out today's post, I just needed to complain about my one true complaint so far:

The camera in this game is TERRIBLE. I say this fully knowing it would have been very difficult to make a good camera for this game, since Lara is up against walls and obstacles nearly all the time. That said, for a game that requires so much jumping backwards and reaching for ledges and cliffs, you'll find this camera costs gamers several minutes of time in certain spots. Coming out of the second room housing Thor's gauntlets (or rather, it used to house Thor's second gauntlet), it took me a good 15 minutes at 6 a.m. just to use a wall grapple to get across from one ledge to another, just because of how the camera naturally moved as you jump. You can imagine how much yelling was going on with such frustration so late at night.

Oh well. Tonight, I venture into the crypt after work. I invite you all to join me!

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