Saturday, November 28, 2015

all things to all people: the modern renaissance human

Since F4 is out of reach for winter diversion, I got a copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider and started playing that.  I played the 2013 Tomb Raider game last winter, so this ROTR isn't totally new to me as compared to the classic originals that I played on PS1 and PS2.  I'm aware that it's both open-world and linear, I'm aware that it's formulaic (hunt for things lazily identified with the "awareness" function that makes it all glow for you; platforming jumps/crawls/swings meshed with Bat-Utility-Belt tool trickery; more combat and less puzzle-solving than original game; and an attempt at being more literary/story-oriented than the original game.

It also arrives in a certain game-playing era, one that keeps moving faster and further toward the end point of a barely-involved watching of an animated story.FN

The reviews I scanned before getting a copy of the game were almost to a person impressed with the graphics of the game, but I'm sure they're talking about the cinematic cutscenes, because the actual game world is no more impressive graphically than Skyrim when run on my 360 and CRT.  Of course Skyrim only has very minor cutscene use, and even then mostly if you activate the combat action cam for kill scenes.  Otherwise you have the opening lead-in cinematic, and nothing else.  On those bases, Skyrim's graphics are weaker.  But in the actual gameplay situation, one's as good as the other.

The biggest gripes I have so far are these:

1) Tough combat situations will arise suddenly, not as a ramp-up of existing combat.  For this to work well, the shooting mechanics and camera control of Lara & her weapon must be precise, or playing the scenario will result in those moments that can make you need to buy a new controller.  The camera control is not consistent enough in this game, sometimes you can't see what you need to hit because you're obscured by Lara's body or the panels/shades of the environment.  Making matters worse, the gun/weapon changing is not seamless, nor is reloading.  I got killed on reloads many times, and when those reloads obviously weren't quick enough I went for weapon switches, which were no quicker.  I'm not playing on a tougher setting, just middle of the road -- "Tomb Raider."

2) It's so similar to 2013 Tomb Raider in its layouts (environments) that it doesn't seem a different game.  2013 TR was fun enough, so I'm not really complaining about the game play when I say this; I'm talking about the fact that it's a new game $60 fee for what seems like a mild rewrite of the existing game.  It's Ludlum-esque.  At least in the Elder Scrolls series, you get entirely new environments.  Skyrim looks nothing like Oblivion which looks nothing like Morrowind.  Well, except for caves -- they stay pretty much the same throughout TES games.

3) This is a universal gripe that has existed since at least 2010 or so:  the newer HD games don't display well on CRT teevees.  The game's map and its information panel are impossible for me to use well because everything's blurry.  My teevee can't do the resolution needed for everything to be crisp, so playing the game becomes less a strategic matter using the information panel during gameplay, and more a be-in-the-game situation.  I don't mind this part, it's the fact that I can't read the damned screen that is a problem.

4) Stealth, my favorite playing style, happens automatically and is controlled by the software, rather than by your choice of using a crouched movement, etc.  Whether you are being stealthy is not within your control, really.  Can't say I understand this game design choice.

Best things about the game:

1) The story has an interesting mix of human social dynamics, and in my take on the story, it seems to comment on socialism, religion, authoritarianism, and human independence.  I'm early in the Geothermal Valley part of the game, and thus far it's never been didactic, bossy, stern, chastising, chiding, lecturing, hectoring or anything like that when it handles these subjects, it just raises them as part of the history of the region you explore.  You can just take it as landscape, or you can let it be part of a developing history of humans dealing with other humans. 

2) It's as good as ever at inducing vertigo.

3) The rope-arrow to create ziplines remains fun.

4) There's an insane number of tombs and caves and things to seek, just in the base game.  Hopefully the formula won't have worn me down before I've uncovered every discoverable.

-- Chet Redweld, an amateur amateur gamer.


FN - This was foreshadowed by the "gaming industry" pitching hard for games-as-art several years back, because apparently the coders and game-designers themselves are more impressed with the animation-as-diversion side of things than the actual game-playing diversion side of things.  As a cynic, I'm not surprised -- but I thought geeks' own alienation would be more a template for ignoring what's "popular" or appealing to a great majority of people.  I guess that's true only for geeks of prior generations.


Honoria Helper, L.C.S.W. said...

A cynic? Is that what you call constant pessimism and a wish for total human devolution? Cynicism?

I think the more video games resemble the types of cartoons I watched as a child, the more educational they can be. Imagine a TED Lecture game! Imagine if Richard Dawkins and the Brights could teach people the simple wrongness of believing in anything other than human progress! This is the way forward, Mr. Redweld. Follow us and you will be in much better company, I promise you this.

Chet Redweld said...

Ms Helper, those who see things as you do have been in the game design & production world for over 20 years.

Of course, that game and its titular character's story world were designed for children ages 1-8.

I wonder if it's actually any type of progress to have games designed for adults arriving at the same model with merely slicker graphics some 23 years later.

Honoria Helper, L.C.S.W. said...

Yes, because in comparison, adults are stupider now than in 1993, while children in 2016 are geniuses and are the best and brightest hope for a technologically advanced future.

Games with adult player target groups must be designed for what you might call "idiots" in 2016, because most adults now didn't grow up fully connected like today's genius children. Most adults are afraid of technology and its various sophistications. Why, just look at yourself for a simple example!

I remember reading your review of Dark Souls. You can't memorize all the button combinations, so you think the game is stupid and absurd. That's because you're an older person who grew up with land lines and rolodexes and Kodak Instamatic or Polariod cameras and no personal computers. Genius children of the 21st Century, on the other hand, find no problem memorizing an infinite number of button combinations. They are like Rain Man, but with more social skills.

You, on the other hand, are like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

Chet Redweld said...

That was a bit like the one question too many during cross-examination, Ms. Helper. Though I suppose you had to go that far to deal with the stupidity of someone who grew up in the 20th Century, eh?

Chet Redweld said...

After more hours and advancing further in the main story, the combat difficulty problem is more clear: I'm used to moving the player and the camera simultaneously, and Tomb Raider wants you to let it control the camera. It fights you when you try to spin the camera to follow Lara's movements as if you were Lara. It wants to Airbus you, and not let you fly the plane.

Chet Redweld said...

Because, celestial and ethereal spiritual power source knows, it's "elitist" to want to be a more analog thinker in a digital world. Yield to Big Data, that's reality!

Chet Redweld said...

Meanwhile I have finished the game and found the hardest part was the spinning and counter-rotating tiers of orbits in The Orrery. Once again I was fighting the camera control, trying to move the camera with the player's movement, and it kept fighting me, and I kept missing landings or grabs, and falling repeatedly to my death. Once I stopped fighting the camera and let the game Autobus me, I finished The Orrery moving puzzle pretty easily. Why have such a puzzle if you don't really need to time anything, you just sit there and do run-jump-grab and don't have to worry about pace, trajectory, precision of placement?

Once I learned it was more like the worst tracks on Track Central in Trials Fusion, The Orrery wasn't hard.

What's a bad track in Trials Fusion's Track Central? It's one that you just hammer the throttle when the tree goes green, and then let off the throttle when you pass the end mark. You don't have to finesse the throttle, use the brakes, move body position, or articulate the bike. Just hammer.

That's The Orrery.

Harold Caidagh said...

"Autobus", Chet?




Chet Redweld said...

I've eaten at Automats in NYC in the 1970-71 era.

I know that Autocar used to make tractor-trailer and other heavy trucks, but they got sold to Volvo/White, I think.

Yes, I meant Airbus, Hal. See my Dec 1 2015, 7:20 am comment.