Monthly Archives: January 2016
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Review by Jenni Contrisciani
Lara Croft is back in Rise of the Tomb Raider and she’s as deadly as ever. The developer, Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix had some big expectations to live up to after the success of reintroducing Lara Croft in the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider: A Survivor is Born. While I enjoyed this game, it didn’t produce the visceral feelings I had playing the first. Perhaps I had just gotten used to balancing on sheer precipices or dealing with people trying to kill me, but this version lacked some of the soul that I found so endearing in the original. Some people complained about the psychological play that Lara went through in the first Tomb Raider, but as a geek girl gamer, I found it intriguing and more realistic. I felt the chills in me as Lara was hunted, as she fought to survive, and as she explored spooky places. I didn’t quite feel that the second time around. Granted, she is a bit more hard core now after having offed multiple attackers in the first version, but I can’t believe she had turned into a callous killer by episode two. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great game, and it still has a ton of character development, especially in the complex relationship Lara has /had with her father so this is by no means a simple shoot-em-up game.
Mechanically, Crystal Dynamics has pioneered some great effects including the movement of Lara’s hair during normal gameplay, and the effects of moving through snow. Lara now has to craft more items, which adds a bit of realism. Before you hunted for experience, now you have to hunt to get materials to survive. Lara also can now swim, and use more stealth and distraction to defeat enemies allowing for more of a mental aspect to combat versus sheer force. This type of combat appeals to the more ninja-like and cerebral amongst us, as opposed to the true berserker Viking warrior. Her main weapon of stealth is still her bow, which some gamers have said makes her a Katniss Everdeen-light, but I found it satisfying conducting well planned and lengthy stalked stealth kills with the quiet death of her deadly arrows.
Lara is pretty much covered up in this episode. In the first outing, Crystal Dynamics had her clothes gradually get shredded on Yamatai Island. While realistic, I suspect this was done as much to tantalize teen boys as much as to provide a realistic sartorial scenario. Now, Lara is covered in a fur parka in the snows of Siberia which may be a let-down to male gamers, but provides a smirking satisfaction amongst we girl gamers who are used to our characters being half-naked. Physically, Lara remains within normal anatomical proportions which was always the joke in the previous cartoonish versions of her in earlier games.
The plot in Rise of the Tomb Raider revolves around finding a relic before a quasi-religious order known as Trinity retrieves it for their own nefarious purposes. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the use of the term Trinity for the bad guys as it seems Christians seem to be taking the fall in a lot of games as the bad guys these days, but we can always imagine them to be a diabolical offshoot of fanatics, in the vein of the DaVinci Code books. There are some decent plot twists, and the characters, both good and bad are better defined than the average video game characters.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more introspection and angst from Lara as she moved through this story, but it was still far better than the average game, and ages ahead of its time in its treatment of female characters. I give this game two thumbs up with a smile that is close to, but not quite as wide as the first Tomb Raider. I guess a part of me will always be left on Yamatai Island, just as Lara was.
Assassins Creed: Syndicate, Review by Jenni Contrisciani
Assassin’s Creed is an action-adventure video game series created by Montreal based Ubisoft. The games are set in actual historical settings with the protagonists being the Assassins, an organization that fights for free will, with the Templars set as the antagonists who desire to control the world and mold it to their dictates. As of 2015, there have been nine main games, however it is only the latest, Assassins Creed Syndicate, that has a playable female character. Ubisoft is to be congratulated and given positive reinforcement for this change despite taking so long to allow players to play a woman. Over the past year Ubisoft has heard from its fans who essentially demanded a playable female character. In addition, Ubisoft threw in a transgender female to male non-player character (NPC) named Ned Wynart. The beginning of the game now indicates that the game is not only put together by a team with various religious beliefs but also sexual orientations and gender identities. Now that is listening to your fan base. What many reviewers seem to have missed is that Ubisoft featured a crossdressing NPC in Assassins Creed: Unity, in the form of the historical Madame Chevalier d’Eon, an actual French spy and diplomat.
The female character you can play is named Evie Frye, however in a nod to hard core male gamers who might have balked at playing “just a girl” and not bought the game, Evie’s twin brother, Jacob Frye, is also a playable character. The Frye twins have to take over the gang world of London in typical Assassin’s Creed fashion. Evie’s character has a few more stealth skills than her brother, who conversely has a few more brawler skills. Of the two, Evie comes off as more intellectual and focused, while Jacob is portrayed as somewhat impetuous and hot headed. Otherwise, they can be played the same, with the player actually determining how sneaky or frontal assault attacks they wish to do.
Physically, Evie Frye is pleasing to a female gamer. She is pretty without being unrealistically “Hollywood glamorous.” With her black hair pulled into a controlled plaited bun behind her head she looks effectively coifed for an assassin, as opposed to pornstar hair flying around her face obscuring her vision. It was a plus for Ubisoft developers as that type of hairstyle is much easier to mod than Lara Croft’s in Tomb Raider, which incidentally was one of the best hair treatments I’ve ever seen in a video game (non cut-scene.) Evie is fairly well endowed up top, although not comically so, and her bosom is kept under wraps with outfits that show nary a hint of cleavage. Despite how hard boy gamers may try, there is no getting a peak down Evie’s shirt. This is welcome and respectable as far too many game companies think a metal brassiere is enough armor for a medieval female warrior.
Personality-wise, Evie is layered, much more so than her brother, with opinions on topics ranging from Imperialism, to child labor, to strategy and tactics. She shows loyalty to her father and a dedication to the Assassin order that Jacob only gets superficially. She isn’t ever put in a situation where she needs to be rescued, which I half expected to see throughout the game at some point, but was pleasantly surprised not to. There is a slight love interest but very light, and she is the one in charge of it.
Overall, Ubisoft has done a nice job on this latest version of Assassin’s Creed and I hope to see more playable female characters from them in the future. Girls are gamers too you know!
I was born in Flint, Michigan. When people ask me where I was born, I admit it, but I also add “Don’t hold that against me.” I say it somewhat in jest, somewhat as political commentary, and partly of embarrassment. I grew up in Flint at a time when much of GM and the auto industry had left and Flint was on a downward decline. I went to Kearsley High School (Go Hornets!) and my classmates all struggled with poverty, parents out of work, and hardship. I remember my parents struggling to make ends meet, and we had things like pancakes or bean soup for dinner on many occasions. Perhaps that is why I ended up as short as I am. Poor diet will do that to you. We shopped at Kmart on good months, Salvation Army on the bad ones. But my parents were together and our family was full of love. My childhood was happy, despite getting our food from “The Day Old Store.” I look back and laugh now, back then I thought it was really fresh, not past the marked expiration date as it actually was. My friends and I played outside and our games were all make believe and didn’t cost money. All around us, Flint declined. Money left. Jobs left. People left. Yet, it hadn’t reached the levels that Flint is at today. We were careful venturing downtown, but vast areas of the city hadn’t turned into Flintlujjah (a takeoff on Spike Lee’s version of Chicago, I combine Flint with Fallujah, Iraq.) The water was also safe to drink. Flint’s current crisis is caused by a multitude of issues… the economy, poor local government, callous administration by the emergency manager- put in place because Flint couldn’t balance its own books, like Detroit MI, and Pontiac, MI. There was a failure at the local government, the State DEQ and the US Environmental Protection agency. Just like it took researchers from a University in West Virginia to find Volkswagen cheating on EPA emissions tests, it took a West Virginia University to confirm that Flint’s drinking water was unsafe, correcting a safe finding from the EPA. Meanwhile thousands of Flint residents were lead poisoned. It is apropos in a way; the bad luck and continued state of decline and insults that my hometown has suffered, that it also suffer this one. Michigan is surrounded by the biggest bodies of fresh water yet Flint residents are drinking bottled water donated by people like some third world town in Chad or Mali, Africa. Flint may be the canary in the coal mine. There are lots of economically depressed cities across America, all with aging infrastructure, lack of money and poor government. We’ve all gotten used to watching shows like “The Walking Dead” on TV; perhaps we are being conditioned to deal with an apocalyptic landscape of decline and ruthless survival. I don’t know. I hope we still have a choice. It will be a long way to fix Flint, and lead poisoning is permanent so there will be no fixing those kids, but hopefully, just hopefully, Flint can be a warning to the rest of the country. Perhaps then, its people may not have suffered in vain, or died in vain.