After finishing Tomb Raider, I’m happy with the gameplay appraisal I posted halfway through. This is a title that’s not sure whether it wants to be “the subtle tale of a young woman using her wits to survive… or a summer blockbuster, long on explosions and short on brains.” There is a fair amount of running and jumping and climbing about, as much of a pleasure as it was in Assassin’s Creed; there are puzzles whose solutions made me feel quite pleased with myself; and there is a lot of third-person cover shooting, too much and too repetitive for my taste (and with some downright aggravating ‘watch pattern -> dodge -> counterattack -> repeat’ closed-arena boss fights).
I do want to home in on one word in that last sentence – “cover”. In a game that derives so much of its appeal from the main character’s agility, I am not convinced that cover shooting was the best way to handle combat. Taking cover, by definition, deprives Lara of her agility; and while she has to move from cover to cover (enemies will lob Molotov cocktails or grenades if she stays still too long), a brief scramble to the next waist-high obstacle pales next to the freedom of the game’s non-combat segments. TR does contain a tantalising “what might have been” moment – one particular sequence is a lot closer to old-fashioned run-and-gun shooters, and it’s amazing what a difference that made to my enjoyment. Suddenly I could sprint! Retreat! Climb up and climb down! Fall back to a previously cleared section! Why even stop there? In a game with this many cliffside jumps and ziplines – see the above screenshot – couldn’t Lara have, say, an unlockable ability to aim her pistol in bullet time and shoot while in mid-air (a la one skill in Sleeping Dogs), or while shimmying along a rope? Surely the designers could have done better than the parade of shooting galleries that did make into the game.
Now that Muse Games has announced Adventure Mode, the long-awaited expansion for last year’s airship shooterGuns of Icarus Online, the time seemed ripe to highlight my two favourite tracks from the base game’s soundtrack:
1. The game’s main menu theme, “Adventure”, composed by Zain Effendi — a short, sweet, mellow piece that goes beautifully with the game’s steampunk setting.
2. An more stirring in-game piece, “Crimson Sky”, composed by Gimmen Gong.
Enjoy, and stay tuned for my upcoming email interview with Muse!
Last week, I read an urban fantasy novel, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (released in the US as Midnight Riot), about a modern London constable who becomes apprentice to the last sorcerer on the force. The very next day, I read its sequel, Moon over Soho. And the day after that, I read the third in the series, Whispers Under Ground. Three books in three days – they’re that good! And that addictive.
To start, I should get my one criticism of these books out of the way: their plots do not hang together very well, with Rivers of London being the most egregious offender. However, Aaronovitch writes with such exuberance that I can forgive him the wayward plots. What does he do right? That’s a longer list.
For this week’s song, we’re going back to the ’80s – specifically, to Conan the Barbarian, a movie that tried so, so hard to be a dark, serious fantasy epic. It didn’t quite succeed, but Basil Poledouris’ majestic soundtrack brought it tantalisingly close. Below, I present the iconic main theme, “Anvil of Crom”, and a gentle travelling theme, “Theology/Civilization” – great ambient music for any fantasy RPG. Enjoy!
Eador:Genesis is a turn-based fantasy strategy game in the vein of Dominions, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Master of Magic. Originally released back in 2009 as the brainchild of one man, Alexey Bokulev, it was only recently translated into English by publisher Snowbird Games. I’ve been playing the game since last week, and while its graphics and production values are… well, what one would expect from an indie strategy game, its gameplay is pure just-one-more-turnium.
The outline of Genesis will be familiar to genre fans. There is a campaign, which I have not tried; all my matches have been on randomly generated maps. Players start with one province and expand across the map, conquering independent provinces, levelling up heroes, and eventually butting heads with each other in tactical battles. The last one standing wins the game. However, Genesis has several distinctive features:
1. Flowing, micromanagement-light gameplay. I think this is half the secret of Genesis’ addictiveness. Most turn-based strategy games, fantasy or otherwise, require constant fiddling from the player – managing multiple cities’ build queues, pushing numerous armies across the map, etc. By contrast, while Genesis offers plenty of choice – look at all the buildings on that construction screen! – at least on small maps, I only have to deal with a handful of moving parts each turn. Build queues? In Genesis, most construction is done in the capital, a la Imperialism – provincial improvements are relatively bare-bones – and in any case, you can only build one building and one province improvement per turn. As for armies, I’ve never had more than two heroes in play. This means there’s relatively little busywork each turn, and few impediments before it’s time for the next battle.
Following on from last year’s Gods and Kings, 2K/Firaxis has announced Brave New World, a second expansion for Civilization V. Whereas G&K‘s headline features were religion and espionage, BNW seems to focus on “soft power”: trade, culture, diplomacy, and a new “World Congress” a la the UN in previous Civ games/the Planetary Council in Alpha Centauri. I look forward to finding out more.
For the last week, I’ve guided Lara Croft across an island filled with dangers, both natural and two-legged, in Tomb Raider. This is the first game in the series I’ve played (apart from the Guardian of Light spinoff) – after developer Crystal Dynamics promised both lavish AAA excitement and a story with a heart, I hoped for something truly great. Halfway in, I can report this is good, and often exciting – but so far, it’s not great.
This week, I’d like to spotlight the music of Motoi Sakuraba — probably best known nowadays as the composer of the Dark Souls soundtrack, but I’ve been a fan of his for years, ever since I heard his work on the Valkyrie Profile games. For now, I’ve chosen just a few tracks: the regular battle themes from Valkyrie Profile (1999) and Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (2006), plus one boss battle theme from Dark Souls (2011). Note how his style has broadened over the years – the overwhelming majority of the original Valkyrie Profile‘s music is in the same upbeat rock style, whereas by Silmeria the music takes on a deeper, more epic quality that finally blossoms into the very different sound of Dark Souls. Enjoy!