Review: Tomb Raider II

Lara Croft’s first adventure, Tomb Raider, had her globetrotting from Peru to Greece to Egypt and quickly became one of the best-selling games of all time. It boasted great-for-the-time gameplay, had crossover appeal to non-gamers, and made a bonafide video game icon out of its protagonist.  So it was no surprise when Tomb Raider II was released for the PlayStation and PC in 1997, just a year after the smash hit original. With such a quick turnaround, developer Core Design was only afforded the opportunity to make slight refinements to the game, resulting in a game that many believed to be slightly inferior to its predecessor. Still, the game sold like crazy and Core Design went right back to the well, pushing out three straight sequels over the next three years. As a result, the quality of the games continued to dip. Things reached a nadir in 2003 when, even with a major advertising blitz, the putrid Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness came out to slow sales. Since then, the series has endured two separate reboots, and with 2013’s excellent Tomb Raider, the series appears to be back on the right track. But how well do the classic original games in the series hold up? After playing the recent reboots, can Lara’s second adventure still make for an enjoyable experience all these years later? In my opinion, no, Tomb Raider II just doesn’t hold up.

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RE: Revelations 2 Episode 2

There was clear room for improvement in Resident Evil Revelations 2’s second episode, and while it is a bit more fun to play than the first, core weaknesses remain to keep it from reaching its full potential. Things are a bit more open-ended in Episode 2 with a few nonlinear environments to explore and more of a focus on action. There are a few major gunfights that will challenge players more than anything in Episode 1. The structure of the episode remains the same as Claire and Moira must make their way through an abandoned village in search of a central tower where a woman known as “the Overseer” is presumed to be broadcasting threatening messages. Barry and Natalia must also make their way through the same environment while encountering different obstacles. Despite Moira’s notable weaknesses as a playable character, she and Claire get the better half here as their initial exploration of the village is reminiscent of the fantastic Resident Evil 4; the game even seems to acknowledge this with a not-so-subtle Chekhov’s chainsaw thrown in for good measure. Still, it’s confounding that the game isn’t doing anything special with its central cooperative mechanic. It could really benefit from temporarily breaking up Claire and Moira or Barry and Natalia, allowing all of the characters a few minutes’ worth of gameplay tailored strictly to their own abilities, but with two of the four episodes of Revelations 2 completed, that is starting to seem unlikely.

3.5 Chicks out of 5

On Birdman and Boyhood

During the lead-up to the 87th Academy Awards, most Oscar prognosticators agreed that the contest for Best Picture had become a bout between two heavyweights. In one corner was Boyhood, a Richard Linklater film twelve years in the making that depicted a young man’s journey from age six to the first day of college. In the other was Birdman, a movie from Alejandro Iñárritu about a washed up movie star trying to hack out a career resurrection as a playwright and stage actor. Both pictures were strong contenders backed by staunch advocates.

Of course, as so often is the case in any popularity contest, many of the biggest proponents of each film turned into the biggest critics of the other. Boyhood detractors complained that although a twelve-year production timeframe was an impressive feat, it didn’t necessarily make for an impressive final product. They also belittled the script for being overly long and underdeveloped, largely improvised on a year-by-year basis. Meanwhile, Birdman opponents dismissed the film’s seamless aesthetic, designed to look like one long take, as more of a technical gimmick than an artistic endeavor. Moreover, many rolled their eyes at the prospect of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, comprised of several old white men who ascribe relevance within the acting and writing industries, being won over by a fictional old white man struggling for relevance in the acting and writing industries. The hot takes continued long after the Oscars, too. After Birdman won Best Picture, several editorials claimed that the Academy had just made its biggest mistake in decades, arguing that Boyhood will long be held up as a far more deserving candidate. On the other hand, gametimebro’s own editor-in-chief Keith boldly claimed in a recent podcast that Boyhood winning Best Picture would have been the single worst Oscars travesty of all time.

Buried by all of the divisive commentary, however, is an important development. In either case, whether Birdman or Boyhood had won Best Picture, the Academy was set to reward a truly unique and original movie with its highest honor. This is something the Academy almost never does anymore.

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Review: The Order: 1886

Ever since its in-engine reveal trailer at E3 2013, The Order: 1886, a Sony exclusive developed by Ready at Dawn and Santa Monica Studios, has been looked to by gamers to justify their purchase of the PlayStation 4. With its unprecedented graphics and cinematic feel, The Order appeared to be the first game to deliver a uniquely next-gen experience. As a result, the game was burdened with some lofty expectations that it unfortunately fails to meet. Though it looks amazing and has its share of fun moments, The Order: 1886 focuses too heavily on attempting to approximate a movie and ultimately fails thanks to disjointed, derivative gameplay that is never quite woven together to create a cohesive narrative.

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Review: RE: Revelations 2 Episode 1

Now that the Resident Evil series has made the jump to the eighth generation of video game consoles with the episodically-released Resident Evil: Revelations 2, it’s sadly hard to have high expectations. After a strong run of main franchise games with Resident Evil 4, 5, and Revelations between 2004 and 2011, Capcom has run into a cold streak, with 2012’s terrible Operation: Raccoon City followed up months later by the only slightly improved Resident Evil 6 (for those wondering at home, there’s essentially no logic to what constitutes a spin-off and what’s a main numbered game in the Resident Evil universe). But Revelations 2 does have a bit of a reputation to live up to; the original Revelations was one of the strongest games in the early days of the Nintendo 3DS, a well-paced blend of old-school survival horror the series cut its teeth on and the more fast-paced action of the more recent installments. If Resident Evil: Revelations 2 could build off the strengths of its predecessor, it might make fans forget about Capcom’s recent failures. Unfortunately, while the recently-released first chapter makes for a fun few hours, it doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of the best of the series.

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On Netflix’s Zelda adaptation

Last month, a flurry of reports emerged alleging that Nintendo and Netflix were in the process of developing a live-action series based on The Legend of Zelda. And by all accounts, they’re really going for something big; the phrase “Game of Thrones for a family audience” was thrown around for good measure. Lots of people seem pretty excited about the rumored adaptation, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to boasting one of the deepest and richest universes in all of gaming, The Legend of Zelda is well known and easily recognized by even the most casual of gamers. Twenty-five years and seventeen games’ worth of intellectual property would provide showrunners with an immense array of pre-imagined kingdoms, characters, and potential plot arcs. Meanwhile, the franchise’s loose and fractured timeline almost seems tailor-made to allow creators the freedom to craft their own original stories rather than attempting faithful adaptations of any games in particular.

Still, despite all the elements of Zelda that point toward a TV series being a great idea, there’s at least one enormous obstacle for the concept, right at the center of everything else: Link.

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Review: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Ever since its initial release on the Nintendo 64 in 2000, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has existed in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s shadow. It holds the distinction of not only being one of the few direct sequels in the franchise but also the direct sequel to what many believe is the best Zelda game of all time. What’s more, it was saddled with an impossibly short development cycle of just over one year, necessitating the re-use of the Ocarina of Time engine as well as many of its assets. With the uncharacteristically short turnaround between games, the memory of Ocarina of Time was fresh in the mind of gamers as they embarked on their next adventure with Link. Because of that, it was nearly impossible to evaluate Majora’s Mask without making direct comparisons to Ocarina of Time.

Perhaps that is why Nintendo did so much to differentiate the two titles in all the areas they could. Majora’s Mask was darker and stranger with a much heavier emphasis on side quests. Unfortunately for Nintendo, it seemed gamers didn’t want a differentiated game; though it received similar critical acclaim, Majora’s Mask could never match the commercial success of its predecessor. By comparison, it was a bit of a failure. Well, it’s now been seventeen years since the original release of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask has finally been given opportunity to come out of the shadows and be evaluated on its own merits. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D remake for the Nintendo 3DS delivers in spades as developer Grezzo has made all the right tweaks to make a fifteen-year-old game relevant and accessible in today’s gaming landscape. This is absolutely the best version of the game and also one of the very best reasons to own a 3DS.

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Review: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

While entries in the Castlevania series had appeared on Nintendo handhelds before the 2001 release of Circle of the Moon, the results varied in quality and rarely lived up to their console brethren. Hardware limitations on the Game Boy resulted in short games with poor graphics and limited save capabilities. All of that changed with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which launched alongside Nintendo’s new Game Boy Advance, ushering in an era of high-quality handheld Castlevania games that continued throughout the GBA’s run and then through the Nintendo DS as well. While I’ve played and loved the two games that followed this on the Game Boy Advance – 2002’s Harmony of Dissonance and 2003’s Aria of Sorrow – it was time to go back and play Circle of the Moon to see if it could hold up against its successors.

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Review: Game of Thrones: Episode 1

“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.”

– Cersei Lannister

Okay. That’s a bit dramatic. You won’t die if you play this game, but you might find yourself making decisions that cost a character his life. When it was announced that Telltale Games would be tackling the Game of Thrones Universe I was thrilled. In many ways, it felt like a match made in heaven. After all, HBO’s Game of Thrones is a show that delves deep into relationships and how they can be forever altered by a slip of the tongue or a strategic misstep. To me, there’s no better studio to translate that dynamic into a game. Does Game of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice live up to my lofty expectations? Yes, for the most part, but it’s held back by a few nagging issues that prevent it from realizing its full potential.

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