Tomb Raider

While the picture I’ve got here suggests I’m writing about the original version of Tomb Raider, the one I’ve just played was the remastered version on the PS5. In essence though, it is the same game. You can even press the start button and the graphics immediately shift into the more pixelated world of the original.

I played this game back in the day, and playing it now evokes a strange sort of nostalgia. Even though Tomb Raider has become an enormous story telling franchise, the game really doesn’t tell much of a story at all. It is all gameplay.

Even though now it can seem a bit tedious and clunky compared to the slicker, more conveniently set up games we play now, it is still a cracking game. The puzzles are decent, though not a hair on the ones from games like resident evil. Without this, we wouldn’t have games like Uncharted. 

It’s just a mindless, meditation of a game that carries a huge amount of nostalgia with it and although I was happy to finish it by the end, I had fun. And that’s the whole point at the end of the day.

Hogwarts Legacy

This is a big game. It’s a game built upon a franchise that weilds tremendous power. And the concept of the game is ambitious – an open world Harry Potter RPG. And yet, I have heard relatively little talk over it. Hence the reason I was tentative in giving it a go in case it bitterly disappointed.

It did not disappoint. In fact I was genuinely surprised at how good it is. One of my main concerns was that it would be too cosmetic, without much depth. In fact it is incredibly varied and thoughtful with huge detail and practical texture to the world in which your character moves about. For example, the various puzzle side quests are fun and provide a distraction from the main quests that are just far removed enough to provide something interesting.

The combat is fun although my only criticisms would be the fact it can get a tad repetitive and is a bit easy. I had to set it to hard mode quite early which I pretty much never do!

I liked the way they used the spells and the broomstick is fun to pilot around the well-realised Hogwarts area. Hogwarts itself is the real highlight and it is vast, with nooks and crannies that still pop up on you even late in the game.

This is a really good solid game. If I had to put my finger on why it isn’t shouted from the rooftops ad finitum, I would struggle to be specific. Only that the story and the characters within just don’t quite hit the mark. The story is alright but nothing special. As such, the world just doesn’t seem quite as magical and enthralling as it might do. In retrospect, the developers might have opted for a set main character rather than a customisable one. I called mine Twisty McNobbins, so perhaps some of the fault lies with me, but still.

Alan Wake 2

I played the first Alan Wake when it came out many years ago and quickly gave up on it. Repetitive and weird were my take homes on that one. I also played Control (a game set within the same universe as Alan Wake) and managed to finish it albeit having found it to be equally weird and lacking in enjoyment. 

Having seen people going mad about the new Alan Wake and having seen the glossy new graphics, I wondered perhaps whether the developers had learnt from the lessons that caused on the draw backs with the original. To an extent, they have. The fighting and encounter rate is far more restrained meaning there are far fewer long monotonous sections to wade through mindlessly. 

In principle, I enjoy the frequency of readable items that can be encountered throughout the richly rendered and realised world. You sense a ‘but’ coming on. 

It’s a big one. Alan Wake 2 is an ever-shifting dreamlike trip of a game. For some that may appeal but certainly not to me. I personally find the mechanic of shifting perspectives and reality far to convenient a plot tool and it does not allow for any sense of connection to the landscape within which the game is played to develop. 

The plot is in there somewhere but the words and comments from the characters, whether spoken or written down are a garbled jumble of pretense and nonsense. Although on the face of it this is no doubt meant to sound mysterious and clever. Make no mistake, there is nothing clever about it. The solution to a Jonathan Creek episode is clever. The intricate relationships and interactions we see within the Last of Us games are clever. Alan Wake is not clever, no matter how much it likes to think it is. 

For me it got tedious very quickly. I simply didn’t become invested in any of the characters. It got bleak and weird almost immediately and never recovered. All the gloss in the world can’t take that away. The bits where one of the characters, Saga, profiles other characters in her mind seems to rely on the so called trendy stylism of the real footage of the actors swirling ethereally in the background (something that happened and annoyed me in Control as well) annoyed me no end. It’s a game in which the dialogue to substance ratio is uncommonly large. 

Before I completely tear into it to shreds, I suppose I have to give credit to the sequences where the song is playing in the background as Alan Wake runs around killing generic enemies which was kind of cool but also quite clunky and annoying. It was a lot better than the original. And… no that’s it. 

It seems to be an ever increasing theme in modern media at the moment – an overreliance on the lack of one reality, an obsession with multiverse and dimension shifting. To me this is lazy and misguided and the sooner everyone snaps out of it, the better. 

This game, particularly the dream-like Alan Wake sections, was a creepy ordeal of boredom and indifference that thinks it is far more intelligent that it actually is.

 

Ghost of Tsushima

Been holding off this one for a long time but after too many people gave it good reviews I finally succumbed. In some ways I wish I hadn’t. There is no doubt that this is a thoughtful, beautifully realised world that they have created. The combat in this game is a real strong point and is fun and satisfying. It quickly however, becomes quite repetitive. The world map is vast and there are long rides on a clunky horse to get from one place to the next with very little depth within that world to satisfy one’s curiosity. 

Red Dead redemption 2 has large areas to ride through but it works because you really feel part of the world and there is realism, variety and depth throughout, giving every patch of seemingly empty space through which one rides the potential to bring with it something new or useful. Ghost of Tsushima, for all its merits, is not remotely in the same league. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two games with RDR2 being, in my opinion right up there as a modern masterpiece. 

But I found myself quite early on resolving to just do what is necessary to move the story on so that I could finish the game and put if behind me. By any measure, that is not the sign of a game I would say I enjoyed. Many will disagree with me on this and I respect that. Like I said, it has many good features and its attempt to be different with the Haikus and meditations are to be commended but ultimately, it was not a game that worked for me. 

 

Resident Evil 4

Everyone seemed to have been going a bit mad over this game so I thought I would jump in. I never played the original so I was fresh to this remake. I enjoy resident evil games for their story exposition and puzzling features. The horror and suspense get me when the enemies are rationed and well utilised. 

I also like the mansion house type settings, full of documents and environmental story telling. 

None of that really features in RE4 which is probably why I hadn’t played it until now. Don’t get me wrong, it was ok but it was essentially still a shooter which I waded through dutifully, feeling the odd fleeting moments of satisfaction after killing certain bosses but ultimately with it all feeling a bit hollow. 

Clearly loads of people enjoyed this. I do wonder how many people actually enjoyed this as opposed to those who maybe enjoyed it because psychologically they felt they should enjoy it given the hype. Give me a more atmospheric, measured and plausible horror game any day; one with depth and intelligence and that doesn’t rely on the fantastical and the bizarre.

Madison

This is a hell of a scary game. I mean some actual jump and screaming out loud moments. Your character finds himself in a sort of haunted house setting but soon, reality starts shifting around him and it becomes clear there is an evil entity against which he must resist. 

The setting and atmosphere is spot on and, while I’m not keen generally on things that alter and shift reality (I think it’s a bit of a lazy and simple technique that suspends disbelieve) it kind of really works here. There are some genuinely sinister moments. Plus there are puzzles which I love in this sort of game. 

If you fancy solving some puzzles and getting underwear soilingly scared, this is worth a play.

Final Fantasy VII remake

Full disclosure up front, the original Final Fantasy VII is probably my favourite game (Last of Us runs it close). The remake is therefore something I was extremely anxious about. I could write an entire essay on this game but will try to be concise. 

I was disappointed with this game. Not hugely so as I had already prepared myself for the fact that it was going to be something different. So fundamentally have the dismantled everything that made the original good however, that I am more angry than anything. 

What was good about the first game? The story. Exactly as it was, in full. The music. The materia system. The bad guy and his gradual, sinister introduction. 

What did they do with this game? They split one game into three. Hence an inevitable need to pad out the perfect story with extra stuff, none of which adds to it and all of which detracts. In addition, the story itself has been altered to the extent that I had really no idea what was going on. So totally has the story been altered that there is a suggestion it is going down the ‘alternate universe’ path. Nonsense. 

Sephiroth is immediately introduced in meaningless visions as opposed to the sinister blood trail that we follow in the original. One of the best bits of the game in my opinion and no where to be seen in this one. 

The music is also padded out with new songs which sound like a Japanese pre-teen playlist or weirdly out of place dance music/rock fusions. 

The combat means the materia system is significantly sidelined. Yes it’s still there but there is so little variability or potential for strategy that the best system for RPG ever devised is hamstrung. The combat is a mess of confusing button mashing action, as if it has been drawn into the prevailing template that countless other games align themselves to these days. 

What annoys me as none of these changes seem likely to have made production any easier. They seem to have been conscious decisions. Obviously the cynical decision to split it into three is to make more money. This is at the obvious expense of quality. The add-ons, the in game purchases and all the modern crap further detract from this decimation of a classic.

By no means does it appear high on ranking lists but I suspect it would be even lower if it weren’t for the curious phenomenon that causes humans to will themselves into enjoying something, even if they don’t. Without the original, this game would barely create a stir I suspect. Overall, just a huge shame. Everyone involved in the decisions on the direction and structure should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. 

Rant over.

Days Gone

This is the first video game review I’ve done, but I will go back and cover the games I’ve played in the recent past. 

Days Gone is by no means the best game I’ve played but having said that the critical review it received when it came out was, in my opinion, very harsh. It is a good game and an ambitious one. On the face of it, an open world zombie game set in North America is not very unique. Look deeper though and you will find game mechanics and levels of playability that belie the outward cliché.  

It’s a long game, probably too long. The first half is slow and it doesn’t feel as if much progress is being made. If you persevere however, you will be rewarded. I liked the voice acting and the difficulty and the strategy element involved in taking out large hordes of zombies (Freakers). I loved the environment  – I’m a sucker for the pacific northwest. Marks off for a story diluted with fetch quests and a missed opportunity for more depth and structure. The finale didn’t quite hit the mark for me. 

All of that said, I’d love there to be a sequel. I think the premise has potential. While I was sort of waiting for it to end initially, once I was past that midway point things no longer felt like a slog, and I settled into it. Fun. Tense in places, reasonably challenging and a game I would recommend.