Monday, April 22, 2013

A Hero(ine) Worth Cheering For: my Tomb Raider review

Even when the original was released when I was a preteen starting to experience hormones, Tomb Raider didn't get me very interested. Besides her bust line looking to fake (do video game characters get plastic surgery?), the series itself suffered (for me) from tank controls (keeping her from moving in a lifelike manner, no matter the gen system), awkward encounters with unbelievable creatures, not-very-believable storylines, etc. Even when the last one before the reboot came out, I could not even fake interest. Even with the improvements done to her face for the Anniversary Edition, she still looked like a "dollface," not a human being. Then news about the reboot came out, and I immediately took ne about Lara's newly-designed face and model and was thankful they went for realism, not idealism.
Now we get the real deal of a woman.
This, quite honestly, was an exhilarating experience, watching a naïve young woman who lost both parents before the game's events become a force to be feared and reckoned with.
It starts off when Lara's boat goes into a bizarre storm system in the Dragon Triangle (an actual geographic area, go ahead and look it up) to search for a mythical island that she is positive really exists (and prove big-headed scientists wrong about the location). But there is a problem, in going into the storm system, the ship gets BADLY wrecked and the crew gets separated from Lara. Before Lara can get their attention, she gets knocked out by... someone.
From there, all sense gets lost, and nightmares get realized.
Upon waking up, Lara shows she's not just some other video game character that either stays silent nor immediately "knows" what's going on, but is frightened by what she sees. And to get out of what she's in, she realizes she will have to hurt herself ("Oh God... this is going to hurt!") and hurt she gets. Gets ablaze, falls in midair, then lands with a spike on the ground protruding through her side. But no time to fix it and let it heal, she needs to escape where she's from, which is a cave that proves to be truly bizarre, with imagery reminiscent of the religiously creepy atmosphere of Bioshock 2. Only a couple notches crazier.
And as if the hurt she'll go through throughout the entire game will not be bad enough, she has to endure psychological pain as well- the first person she shoots a gun at. In this gaming generation, we're so focused on "kill-target-to-advance-story" that this comes as a realistic stunner. A person looking for her, finds her, makes a disturbing sexual advance on her, yet doesn't rape her, instead, he simply tries to kill her (by choking), through 2 QTE's, she gets the enemy's gun and fires (first shot she gets made me cringe) then one last shot. And it's her response that drives the realism home effectively. She doesn't take a breather like it will be fine, doesn't shrug it off and call it a day. She does what many war veterans describe as their first kill or killing many then do: she vomits from adrenaline overload and the thought that she's killed a person, sure, a game character, but, in the gaming world, a person that won't regenerate nor spawn back to attacker with a vengeance. She keeps in contact with a mentor through a walkie-talkie and, when she describes killing the adversary, she says "I killed him... I had no choice." He doesn't soften the tone, doesn't cheer her up, but drives the realism even farther, "That could not have been easy, Lara."
Then it gets more intense after that. And not only in the torment, but the mystery of the island itself. The scriptwriting shows itself to be thought-out very well, having many complex themes intertwined into the story, with people sacrificing their selves to keep Lara going forward to her ultimate goal, even when she does not want to because of their sacrifices.
With all the stuff that Lara was going through, I ended up thinking an uncanny thought, a very candid one, Come on Lara, you can do what I probably couldn't do myself! Talk about being honest with one's self.
Now comes one of the biggest surprises in the game- the trophies (I have a PS3 copy, ok?). With the exception of two (one of them only kinda), the trophies don't deal with the story. The only ones that do deal with getting every bit of dialogue from all the characters during the story, the other being when you beat the game. The rest deal with killing/looting animals of different sorts, collecting GPS caches, artifacts, journals, environment-related tasks (like burning zealot flags in the mountain village), and completing the optional tombs (and there's plenty). This game is a first for me. You don't gauge how far you are in the story from the trophies gained, so you have room to wonder what's going on and have extra room to explore around, collecting XP to upgrade your weapons and improve your hunting expertise (and more).
Good move, Square Enix!
Now, I got this game for more than one reason. One was because the designers decided to go for realism over idealism (can't state that detail enough). Another was, a Christian-based review site that's not so much Biblically-based as it as solely focused on family-friendly content. In other words, on their review for this game, they moved the overall message of the game itself. The reviewer claimed they'd suffered a "misogynistic guilt trip," missing the core of the game- that a young naive archaeologist will have to overcome extreme odds to survive a lethal, brutalizing world, and won't come out unscathed, let alone clean.
What this video game does (through all the death-defying set pieces, crumbling worldscapes, QTE's, first-time experiences, becoming a fearful sight to a male-only cult, and so much more intense things) is create a relatable, enjoyable, likable heroine.
With how the ending went, I do hope Lara will have an equally intense and interesting adventure, welcome, Survivor!
My review: 5/5

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Understanding Gandalf now

There is a scene in Fellowship of the Rings where, during the talk Gandalf has about responsibility and the dangers of carrying the One Ring to Frodo, after some thought, Frodo exclaims that he will do what's been asked of him, and not solemnly either. Rather, with some enthusiasm. In both book and film, Gandalf's reply is pretty much verbatim- "No matter how long I'm around your kind, you hobbits always manage to surprise me!"
When news hit about the bombing in Boston, there was one thing I was expecting all day, all night, all next day, and all next night to hear... yet I didn't hear it. People shaking verbal fists at God, demanding that He show Himself. For once, I heard nothing like that. What actually happened was something I rarely see during a tragedy on American soil- the community acting as one living, communicating, interacting body.
Sure, there's already a number of conspiracy theories flying around, everything from the predictable "Muslim terrorists" to "American government" being behind it, this happening, that happening, yet I haven't heard word of anyone chewing God out (or cussing Him out) for the three people who died and the couple dozen injured to any degree. Instead, I saw pictures and videos of people running right into the epicenter of the danger zone (without a second thought, it seemed) to help others out. Runners who griped that they weren't doing as good as they expected their selves to be found theirselves thankful that they had a chance to do something more meaningful and impacting than proving theirselves race-worthy. Restaurants opened to help the starving without charging anyone, volunteers freely gave blood (far more than the Red Cross had asked for), tents got set up for people to recover under and get looked at. Even atheist comedian Patton Oswalt never said anything denigrating God, but gave a word of inspiration (yep, that shows God can even use an atheist as a source of hope), and a memorable quote from Mr. Rogers became an instant viral pic on facebook to be shared, helping us through yet another dark time.
Yet, for once that I can recall, no one showed doubt against God, everyone was actually being God-like in character, helping people, encouraging one another, nothing negative (aside from the 3 casualties) showed up to show the ugly side of human nature.
Who knew my own home nation could do something to surprise this jaded American? Now I know how Gandalf the Gray felt when he told Frodo his surprise.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just an Irish gamer

Immediately before all the controversy over gun control, there was major talks and debates over whether the mass shootings in America over the past 3-5 years were a byproduct of video game violence.
As an avid gamer since I was a young kid, I can officially tell you I don't find the logic behind the statement. Why? It's easy.
My brother, when I told him the government was trying to pass yet another law to prevent violent video games (if not video games overall) from being sold, let alone being put on shelves, he had a two-in-one response.
1. They won't be able to do it, not only because video games have one of the biggest and strongest fanbase industries in generations, but because they started using technology, in the first place, as a way to train soldiers in the army on how to shoot, react to situations, etc. They'd essentially have to also ban an effective method of training soldiers, especially those who've never used guns up to that point.
2. This one was more personal to both of us. We were both raised on video games, including violent ones. And, as kids, the most violent one we played is still, to this very day, on every list of top banned/controversial games list, is consistently at the very top of the list. We both played it frequently and turned out fine (don't look at me like that!). That game was Mortal Kombat. Known for its extreme, gratuitous, over-the-top hyperviolence, it was the reason a politician came up with the ESRB.
Granted, some people have psychological reasons that they shouldn't play games, the problem is that we would not know who they are unless they played a game.
Like in centuries past, when a person did something considered "strange" and were called "witch" out of ignorance and not looking into the evidence but, rather, going by personal bias, when mass shootings happen anywhere, or any other kind of shocking violence (and I have the sick feeling that, in due time, there will no longer be a thought of how "shocking" any kind of violence will be since we're getting desensitized), politicians immediately pipe up that it was because of violent video games, case closed, everyone back to your day job. If only life could be so easy, huh?
Not everyone who commits a crime has ever played a video game. A man stabbed another man over in Europe when a certain game was popular on the PS2, and when our government officials claimed the man just HAD to have had played the game, the man said, "I've never heard of Manhunt."
Can you say epic face palm moment?
Anyway, I'm not the only one who sees no logic in taking away violent video games from the shelves, as I saw an author, Bruce Hennigan, post a few articles on his site ( about his thoughts on the matter, including a response from his own gamer son (who's a little older than me) about the entire subject. It was well thought-out, balanced, provoking (in a very good way), and, if the government has its way in the future and reflects the book 1984, Bruce's son's response could either be considered invalid or just get taken down and he'd be forced to be quiet on the matter, anything just so the government can be made to look like it knows... "best"?
I admit, I do have a pretty bad temper at times, but it doesn't stem from playing violent games all my life (including the reboot Tomb Raider, the Dead Space series, the Assassin's Creed series, Gears of War, etc.), it actually comes from my Irish heritage, among other parts of my heritage. I do believe that even if I never once played a violent game, never watched anyone play a violent game, not even watched any video game walkthroughs on youtube, then I would still have this temper. Yes, it can be sharp (as some of my former co-workers at Wal-Mart in Alva can testify), but have I ever thought of gunning down the bullies at any of the schools I attended? Never once. If anything, I wondered what would happen if terrorists had tried to take over the school and I were stuck, not in a classroom, but in (get ready to laugh) the bathroom, having more free reign. I knew, even then, the mental scenarios were all implausible, but it was never about getting violent, it was about helping others (my schoolmates, even the ones that I couldn't stand with how much they picked on, ridiculed, and mocked me) survive.
That's something I look for in a game, no matter how family-friendly or violent. The positive aspects of the storyline.
Call of Duty series: no matter what tragedies happened, the good guys always looked for a contingency to save America. Yeah, a lot of headshots and explosions, but never a civilian to gun down (except in Modern Warfare 2, which the game allowed you the option to skip the entire level, and playing the level helped one understand all the angles of reasons behind the machinations of undercover warfare and foreign betrayals, but you don't have to play it if you felt like you'd be in the boots of a terrorist, something the news pundits seem to have purposely left out of their reports). In Black Ops 2, though it gets extremely graphic in both the past and the future, you do have important people to protect, and if they die at the hands of the enemies, it's game over, so you have to protect them, period.
Batman: Arkham series: Though the enemies may have guns and knives, make lewd comments about the women, and swear (nothing beyond PG-13 lingo, though), Batman doesn't use a single normal gun (just a shock gun that temporarily incapacitates an enemy), never kills, and doesn't use knives, and he's always trying to protect the innocent. In Arkham City, there's even an occasional side mission where you rescue "political prisoners" from being beaten up and killed by other inmates.
Sleeping Dogs: crippling moves, bone-breaking moves, heavy shoot-outs, a bloodied wedding, gang warfare, even fatal melee moves have nothing on the split-storyline of a man who's trying to be an undercover officer and get in with an old gang who believe above, all else, in respecting one another and having trust.
My brother has quite a collection of violent video games as well, yet some I would never have a copy of for my PS3 because they have no positive aspect in their storyline (biggest example, no reason to give society a reason to hope, only fame and fortune through very gratuitous means).
So, does violent video games cause people to commit extremely atrocious crimes? It depends on one's psychological status. If they know something has the potential to make them snap for whatever reason and they ignore that inner voice telling them they shouldn't play it, it's not the game developer's fault, not the video game industry's fault. It's the player's fault for not listening to inner caution. And to ban games is a sure way to take away games with a strong, solid hopeful storyline that transcends all the violence within.