Rise of the Tomb Raider – impressions

Tomb Raider 1

I have literally just finished Rise of the Tomb Raider, the latest game in the famed franchise starring intrepid explorer Lara Croft.  The previous game, simply titled Tomb Raider was a very well made reboot for the franchise and saw our heroine shipwrecked on an island with more than a few dangers and adventures hidden within.  This game has Lara more as the adventurer we know and love and is more a straight-forward expedition to discover the ‘divine-source’ somewhere in Siberia, following in the footsteps of her father before her. 

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-8Developer Crystal Dynamics have created a very polished and detailed gaming experience that has all the climbing, exploring and ‘tomb-raiding’ you could hope for whilst also crafting a compelling, very well written story and believable characters.  Doesn’t hurt that it looks drop-dead gorgeous throughout.  The visuals on display here, with a wealth of effects and an epic scale are some of the best yet seen on XB1, with realistic rain, wind, smoke, fire, snow and water – also the little details to Lara herself from getting wet and mucky in water to a gradual coating of snow and grime on her clothing is quite something.  She also reacts realistically to climbing, leaping and falling or getting hurt that not for a second do you feel like this is just some videogame avatar, but a real, living and breathing person.  Quite an achievement, carried over it has to be said from the previous game. 

It gets pretty tough in combat, where as outside of getting shot exploring and solving puzzles is more about thinking your way through an area.  The combat however is at times fiendishly unforgiving and if you haven’t got enough bullets or you’re a crap aim or you have run out of bandages, you’re dead.  It’s also mostly set in Siberia apart from an epilogue that has Lara exploring a more sunny climate.  Flashbacks to Lara’s past, glimpses of Croft manor would have benefitted from a bit of gameplay thrown in, but the rest of the game is pretty immense with large open areas to explore and find secrets and hidden tombs in … so I can’t say I felt limited at all.  Also stealth, something that was hyped up (stalking and killing enemies in the forest wilderness) isn’t perfect as with the last game and getting spotted is all too easy…so going in all guns blazing is usually the best plan in the end.

screenshots captured directly from my Xbox One


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This kept my interest throughout, and Tomb Raider has always been gaming crack for me – I just can’t get enough of it.  So this met and exceeded my expectations no doubt. 

An essential purchase.


Movie Night

What have I been up to lately?  Well I can’t recall if I had mentioned this but over the last few months I’ve begun a ‘movie night’ with my Dad.  Each Tuesday we watch a movie and have some popcorn.  It’s nice and also an excuse to get some movie watching in.  It’s not always a new movie though so sometimes I don’t have a review to post afterwards.  Last Tuesday was such a case, as we watched the horror ‘Oculus’ which I previously reviewed.  Again I enjoyed it and my Dad got a lot out of it too.  So in coming weeks you may get to see more reviews, but if there is a lull, it’s probably down to us watching something I’ve already reviewed (I have ‘John Wick’ lined up for Tuesday).

metal-gear-solid-5-the-phantom-painIn other news I have been playing a great deal of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.  It’s my first proper stab at a Metal Gear game since Metal Gear Solid 2, and even though I purchased Metal Gear Solid 3, I didn’t play it all that much, and I skipped Metal Gear Solid 4.  What do I think of this latest entry?  Like many games these days, it’s open world and huge, with side quests (ops) and a large storyline that I am only really touching the surface of.  Graphically it’s pretty lush.  The wildlands of Afghanistan are immensely detailed and atmospheric and look fantastic, especially with sand storms, day to night cycle and great textures, lighting and effects – even if the water is a bit last-gen.  I like the concept of mother base too, your hub location where you can build up your army (from kidnapping enemy soldiers) and adding to the facilities for developing better equipment for use in the field.  It’s very absorbing stuff.  It also plays really well.  Metal Gear pretty much invented the stealth genre and the ideas here work superbly, with the Fulton delivery system (the ability to attach a balloon to a knocked out enemy, animal or piece of equipment, and immediately send it back to mother base) proving a great deal of fun.  That’s not to say it’s easy as the game takes no prisoners if you get discovered, and the intelligent enemies will hunt you down and nine times out of ten, end your game swiftly.  I’m having a great time with it, but like I said – it’s still early days.

I also got my hands on Gears of War: Ultimate Editon, which looks great…it was always a very well made shooter and had some good characters and a great concept.  The gameplay hasn’t aged badly at all and you can see how the game has influenced a ton of games since it came out, especially with the rock-solid cover-mechanic and the satisfying gunplay.  Graphically it’s quite a step-up from the original, and the textures, lighting and everything looks really good.  I’d say some of the design; of the characters and levels has moved on a bit, but it’s still worth revisiting.

Garbage-20Other than this, I’m still in run up mode to November, where two things are happening…firstly on November 9th I finally get to see in concert my favourite band of all-time ‘Garbage’ of which it’s a special 20th anniversary tour to celebrate the anniversary of their debut album, and loads of things are happening online at the moment, such as regular updates on the band’s Twitter, Facebook, Periscope and Instagram accounts, as well as a re-release of the album in special packaging, on CD, Vinyl and digital complete with remixes, b-sides and specially re-mastered versions of the individual tracks.  I obviously have stuff pre-ordered, and am looking forward to it a great deal.  Next up is my 40th birthday on the 14th.  Now I’m not big on fuss or attention, it can make me uncomfortable…but hey I’m hitting the big 4-0 so may as well make the most of it.  Not sure what that’s going to be right now, but as I’ll be in London leading up to it, that’s a good a start as any.

On TV I’ve been finishing up season 3 of Orange Is The New Black which has once again been great.  I’m also watching Game of Thrones (currently working my way through season 3) and Australian prison drama Wentworth, which I highly recommend.


I’m sitting here also at the start of a week off from work.  Damn work has felt gruelling of late.  I’ve also got my head in a slightly better place than it’s seemed to have been in a while.  Depression, thoughts of things that have happened to me in the past etc. can linger and it’s easy to wallow in it, but it never does me any good or solves anything … so even though moving completely on seems like the hardest thing to do some days, I’m trying my hardest.  I really am.  Having good work colleagues and a job I enjoy and a good family around me helps a great deal and makes me wake up to myself.

So here’s to relaxing, watching movies, playing games and a few days out.  I’m looking forward to it!

Xbox @ E3 2015


Not long finished watching Microsoft’s E3 briefing and have come away rather impressed.  We got to see a new Gears of War being demonstrated in-game and hell, it looked bad-ass.  Only a glimpse but the next-gen graphics and a new somewhat Chris Pratt inspired protagonist certainly peaked my interest for one of my favourite franchises.  It was also good news to hear a fully remade version of the original Gears Of War would be out this year the wet our appetites for the next instalment.

rise_of_the_tomb_raider1It was also good to finally see some in-game footage of Rise of the Tomb Raider even if the footage shown was a bit heavy on cinematics and less on the actual gameplay – but the snow and weather and ice effects shown were very nice … and considering the game is out in November, I’d say what we saw was pretty much as it will be to play.

I was mildly intrigued with the announced Rare Replay Collection.  The famed studio that made a big splash in the Nintendo days hasn’t exactly wowed audiences since it got acquired by Microsoft back in the early days of Xbox (can we forgive the abomination that was Perfect Dark Zero?) but the chance to rediscover countless Rare gems such as Banjo Kazooie and Conkers Bad Fur Day was mouth-watering.  No word on if said games would be spruced up in next-gen clothing, but considering it’s a compilation, I doubt it.  Rare also revealed a new I.P. in the name of Sea of Thieves, a multi-player open world what looks like pirate sea fairing-thing.  Certainly interesting and the cell-shaded, cartoon visuals definitely appeal.  Excuse me though if I haven’t got massive faith in Rare as a developer these days.


One of the real big announcements was that Xbox One was going to be backwards compatible with Xbox 360.  Now considering the vast library of games for the 360, that’s a big coop for the new console even if backwards compatibility has always seemed silly to me on a new console.  Can’t people movie on?  But considering Microsoft’s struggles with their console this generation compared to the PS4, I think it’s a very wise move to get the former fan base back on board.

Forza 6

There was the expected Forza 6 and Halo 5 Guardians presentations (…wow!), and another glimpse of The Division with what has to be said slightly pared back graphics??  Add to this the recently announced Fallout 4 on Microsoft’s stage along with Rainbow Six Siege.  Then we also came to Holo Lens and the recently announced partnership with Oculus Rift (owned by Valve??) to get excited about, but no word on a price point for either, and surprisingly Oculus Rift had very little being said about it.


So for day one, this was a good showing for Microsoft and Xbox One.  There was still plenty of talk of Indie games and Windows 10 which I’m cautiously optimistic about … yet overall, I was suitably excited.  No shows for the hyped exclusives Quantum Break and Crackdown, but you could say we still got more than a bumper show this year.

Over to you Sony.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt impressions

Geralt W3

Probably the most anticipated game of the year.  CD Project Red’s long awaited follow up to the award winning Witcher 2: Assassin Of Kings takes the series full open world RPG and is the most ambitious project the acclaimed studio have ever under took.

But the important thing here, beyond the hype is for a fairly take them or leave them fan of RPGs, how does it play?  I chose to pick up (or more specifically download) the Xbox One version, and after about seven hours with it, I can confidently say … this game has me hooked.  Think a cross between Red Dead Redemption, The Elder Scrolls series and to some extent Assassin’s Creed and you sort of get the idea.  You play as Geralt, a bad-ass monster hunter or Witcher; feared, respected and reviled in equal measure.  The quest kicks off with you in search of the sorceress Yennifer; a former lover of Geralt’s who he’s been tracking for years and is close to catching up with her.  Also you are on the look out for your prodigy Witcher / sorcerer Ciri, who we meet in the flashback prologue where you train her as a child.  The story holds many twists and turns however, places to visit monsters to hunt and kill for bounty, and a massive, highly detailed world to explore and get lost in.

Launch trailer

This kind of game for me can be a little daunting and I’ll admit it took a while to really get into.  The fighting controls are a little unwieldy at first until you get your head around them and learn to throw in magic and protection spells with your swordplay.  Yet with plenty of character customization, potions to brew and abilities to unlock … this becomes a very deep and engrossing experience that I’ve really only touched the surface of.

On the Xbox One it looks fantastic.  One of the most impressive aspects is the weather and the lighting, how trees blow in the wind, rain fall, mist rolls across the land and moonlight bleeds in through the trees (or eye-burning sunlight).  Also add the sheer detail to houses, villages, grass, very realistic water and the wealth of creatures and monsters … and a myriad of interesting folk and characters.  This is a joy to behold.  There are a few (minor) fluctuations in frame rate and occasional pop-in or glitches, and the game did freeze on me once after dying.  So it’s not perfect, but for the scale and number of things going on it’s still an impressive technical achievement that will only get smoother and more polished with future patches.


Screenshot captured directly from my Xbox One

Anyone after a long, rewarding and deep game to really get involved in, then you can’t go wrong with this epic RPG.  It has it all and I’m sure will throw up many surprises and memorable situations as I progress.  It’s out now for PC, PS4 and XB1.  So what you waiting for?  Time to kick some monster ass and break some hearts.

An update and stuff

So what have I been up to lately?  Well I managed to complete Assassin’s Creed Unity on the PS4, the first AC game I have ever kept interested in until the end.  Why?  I think setting was key.  Of the previous games in the series I have played, most have been set either in medieval (AC 1 & 2) or around the time of the crusades (AC 3) and well, the pirating of AC4 never appealed so I didn’t play that one.  However this one was set in Paris, during the revolution, the time of Napoleon etc. and it was a brilliantly atmospheric setting I personally have plenty of interest in. 

Secondly I have been playing Grand Theft Auto V.  Now eagle-eyed readers of this blog may recall me posting about it a while back when I got it on the Xbox 360.  Well, for one reason or another I didn’t play it all that much of it, and since jumping to the next-generation with the PS4 and Xbox One, I thought it was high time I took a second look following it’s revamped re-release on these consoles.  I picked it up on PS4, and must say for what is technically a last-gen title, the detail (with improved textures, lighting, effects as well as an enhanced array of music on the various radio stations) it’s one of the best looking games I have played to date.  GTA V is a fantastic game following the exploits of three characters; Michael the former gangster now in witness protection, Franklin the stereotypical gang-banger hoodlum and Trevor the meth-dealing lunatic.  The missions are cinematic and the world is alive and complex and massive.  There are a ton of things to see and do and it never feels boring.  I’m loving it.  Check out a few screenshots I took with the PS4 to show off how damn gorgeous this next-gen version looks in the flesh:

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On the gaming horizon (next Tuesday to be specific) is The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt.  A heavily hyped and very well reviewed game that I have pre-ordered for my Xbox One.  From everything I have read and seen, it’s sounding like it will be a mammoth RPG adventure to rival the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy, with you as a bad-ass monster hunter known as Garalt, who inhabits a huge world that is one of the biggest apparently ever made and full of detail, missions, characters and true next-gen visuals.  I have watched some gameplay and read several reviews, and suffice to say I am VERY excited.  Roll on May 19th … I’ll do an early impressions some time in the week.


In other news, I’ve sadly not managed to secure a trip to the cinema to see The Avengers: Age Of Ultron yet and can see it being a Blu-ray review later in the year.  The same might go for Mad Max Fury Road, but I’m still optimistic about getting to see that one, so watch this space (and no, going by myself doesn’t appeal all that much).  I have a few movies on the agenda however, the names of which I’ll keep to myself for now and let you be surprised when I post the reviews.  Yeah, I’m all about the tease.

On the TV watching front I have been pretty addicted to Better Call Saul, that breaking Bad spin-off starring everyone’s favourite crooked attorney Saul Goodman (or Jimmy Magill as he’s currently known).  It seems to have all the polish and great writing of Breaking Bad (well, it is by Vince Gilligan after all) and just keeps getting better and better.  I’m also watching The Following season 3 (yeah, yeah I know…we’re not getting a season 4…boo hiss) which has again been brilliant this year.  Clearly there is no accounting for taste, so another show hits the skids.  Talking of TV, I’m also looking forward to season 3 of Orange Is The New Black, a show at first I wasn’t entirely sure was me … the first series was good but a little lightweight, but with an excellent and gripping season 2, I am now officially a fan.  Damn Netflix just keeps on giving, doesn’t it?  I am also watching Brit drama Luther on it at the moment which stars popular actor Idris Elba as a tough Police detective who specialises in catching serial killers – right up my alley.


So other than the above, and getting over some man-flu and a tickly cough that just won’t quit … it’s been all about work, which is going very well.  I am learning some new stuff to do more with secretarial tasks and finding it challenging and educational.  Love it when my job gives me those opportunities to learn new skills and I think it helps build a real profile and shape me for the future.  I’m also of course still looking forward to finally seeing my favourite band Garbage in November when they appear at Brixton Academy in London.  It’s going to be such a once in a life time experience for me, someone who doesn’t really get such opportunities.  I have my big brother to thank for making this happen and with my 40th birthday very much right after, November is looking to be a real belter.

Well, enough from me for now.  Hope you’re all having fun in whatever you’re all up to and continue to check in on me and this blog regularly for more updates, reviews and gaming impressions.