danielkempster

With so many awesome new games coming out and on the horizon, what am I doing with my game time? Playing Gen 1 Pokémon, apparently.

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The Backlogbook - Week Five

Last Week - Week Four (30/01/2017)Next Week - Week Six (13/02/2017)

G'day folks, and welcome to the first Backlogbook entry of February. Apologies for the slight delay in getting this one out, but my usual Monday slot for writing these things was upset by some real-life happenings, and this is the first chance I've had to make amends for slipping off-schedule. Given this is the fifth one of these things, I'm sure you guys all know the drill by now - I'll be giving some airtime to the games I've played over the past seven days, then selecting two more titles to cut from my Pile of Shame as it dwindles ever closer towards the magical target figure of two-hundred entries. Eventually at some point, this series will become so ubiquitous that I won't even need to type any kind of preamble, and I'll be able to launch straight into...

This Week's Log

Last week was a bit of a non-starter for video games for a few reasons. For a start I had my shifts changed at work, which altered my morning and evening commutes on Thursday and Friday and cut out pretty much all of the time I usually dedicate to progressing in Pokémon Sun each week (hence no new chapter of the Nuzlocke Challenge last weekend). On top of that, I had a smattering of evening commitments through the week that out-prioritised any game-playing I might have otherwise scheduled. Monday nights are once again quiz nights down the local pub. Tuesday night continues to be darts night. On Wednesday night I went into London to see one of my favourite bands play their first album live in its entirety to commemorate its tenth anniversary. Come Friday night, I didn't want to play video games, I just wanted to sleep.

So at the weekend, I threw myself into some video games, and I threw myself hard. Here's exactly what I played over the course of last week, beginning (as usual) with...

Grandia

I'm running out of Grandia images to use from the GB Wiki, so here's the artwork for its official soundtrack album.
I'm running out of Grandia images to use from the GB Wiki, so here's the artwork for its official soundtrack album.

For the first time since the start of the year, I didn't play too much of Grandia last week. I spent a couple of hours with it over the course of my week's worth of lunch breaks - enough to get the second disc officially underway, but not really enough to add anything substantial to my ongoing critique of it. In some ways that's a blessing, because I went pretty deep on Grandia last week and was kind of reluctant to do the same thing again today. In others, it's a real shame, because anyone who read last week's Backlogbook will know that I'm really starting to come around on Grandia's story and characters. As it stands, this week's entry will just have to be a progress update - I'm about thirty-seven hours on the clock, and currently ascending the Tower of Doom having just met Milda. Mark my words, I'll have a lot more than that to say next week. And seriously, if you missed last week's Backlogbook, then go back and check out that Grandia write-up near the top. It's probably my best bit of blog-work since last year's Stranger's Wrath piece.

Tomb Raider

Hey Lara, it's been a while...
Hey Lara, it's been a while...

Now here's where I really lost my weekend. But before I go deep into Tomb Raider, I feel like I should explain why this is on here in the first place. When 2017 started, as part of my efforts to prevent my backlog from continuing to spiral out of control, I decided to limit myself to one video game purchase per month. That's right - from beginning to end, I don't plan to buy any more than twelve games this year. In January, my purchase was Oxenfree, which I played and wrote about last week. This month, my chosen game is Rise of the Tomb Raider, a sequel to what was one of my favourite games of the last console generation when I played it back at launch. I'm planning to get stuck into Rise sooner rather than later, but before I do that, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit its predecessor.

So I spent my weekend getting reacquainted with the rebooted reincarnation (damn, that's a lot of "re-"s) of Lara Croft. I went the whole hog, not just playing through the story but hunting down every last collectible along the way and earning a 100% completion rating by the time the credits rolled on Monday morning (I fear LEGO Star Wars may have awakened the long-dormant video game completionist within me). I feel like there's a lot I could say about Crystal Dynamics' efforts to breathe new life into the old girl, but on going back through my previous blogs I found that I've said pretty much everything already. When I originally played through Tomb Raider almost four years ago, I wrote this opinion piece about it, and having just re-read the whole thing, I don't see anything in there that I disagree with given the benefits of hindsight and a second bite of the apple. So, if you want a thorough break-down of my time spent with the game, I feel like I'm better off directing you to that old blog rather than regurgitating the same words in this space.

I think Tomb Raider out-Uncharteds both the first two Uncharted games
I think Tomb Raider out-Uncharteds both the first two Uncharted games

One stance I can take now, which I couldn't before, is that of comparing Tomb Raider with Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. Back in 2013, on my first run through, I'd never touched an Uncharted game. In the four-year interim between playthroughs, however, I've been able to sample the first two games for myself, and I now feel qualified to weigh in on that side of the argument. Bearing in mind that Uncharted pre-dates Tomb Raider by some margin, it's clear that Crystal Dynamics owe a lot to Naughty Dog in terms of their use of set-pieces, and the 'feel' of their combat and exploration mechanics (although in that last instance, there's a case to be made for both series owing a mutual debt to Ubisoft and Prince of Persia). That being said, I think Tomb Raider manages to do those things better than Uncharted, or even Uncharted 2. I feel like the set-pieces in Tomb Raider were both bigger and more memorable. I feel like the combat is much more fun. And I feel like the main reason for Tomb Raider coming out on top for me is because it goes way beyond being a simple Uncharted clone, with its deeper melee combat system, its Arkham/Metroidvania-inspired gating of exploration, and its upgrades and progression systems. If all of that stuff persists in Rise, then I think I'm in for one heck of a ride when I start it up next weekend.

One negative thing I will note before we move on, though - the final "boss" encounter (and Lara inheriting her trademark dual pistols) being reduced to a quick-time event feels like a cheap cop-out, and definitely puts a bit of a dampener on an otherwise incredible interactive experience. I'm not sure I'd want a proper, bona fide boss battle in this kind of game either, but I hope that Rise at least avoids this particular anticlimactic pitfall.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

I'm done screwing with canonical timelines for now
I'm done screwing with canonical timelines for now

I bet you thought this was over, didn't you? I certainly did - two weeks ago I declared myself done with LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and ready to move on to other things. But when I booted up my 360 to start replaying Tomb Raider, I was greeted by this title still sitting in my disc tray. In that moment I made the decision to follow through on the nebulous commitment I made a fortnight ago, and wrap up the handful of Achievements I missed out on during my quest for 100%. Turns out none of them were particularly taxing or time-consuming, as I picked up all eleven in just over an hour of playtime. I'd initially believed that the Crossover and Revenge Achievements were tied to beating bosses in Free Play mode, but they can actually be earned in Arcade mode too, so plugging in a second controller solved that predicament to great effect.

I'm now the proud owner of a save game with 100% in-game completion, all Achievements and 1000 Gamerscore in LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. And right now, I'll be damned happy if I never have to look at another plastic brick again. Or at least, not for a good long while. I don't want to rule out ever getting round to LEGO Harry Potter or LEGO The Hobbit just yet.

The Lost Pages

Speaking of ruling things out, this is The Lost Pages, the section of the Backlogbook where I part ways with a pair of games that I'm realistically never going to play. This is all with a view to trimming down my Pile of Shame and making sure that it's all killer and no filler going forward. This week sees our strongest themed link between our Lost Pages yet - not only are they from the same franchise, but one is a direct sequel of the other. Both are PC ports of Dreamcast games that I bought in Steam sales as curiosity pieces. Have you guessed yet?

Sonic Adventure DX

Sorry Big the Cat. It's not personal, it just... Actually, yeah, I guess it kind of is
Sorry Big the Cat. It's not personal, it just... Actually, yeah, I guess it kind of is

There was a time when I loved Sonic the Hedgehog. The original game was one of my first ever video game experiences, alongside Alex Kidd in Miracle World. I remember spending hours at my cousin's house when I was five, pushing my way through Sonic 2, making incremental progress each time (not unlike this site's fantastic 'This Is the Run' series, although my own successful 'Run' didn't come until over a decade later). When I was seven and had a Mega Drive of my own, Sonic 3 was my jam. I would play it every evening when I got home from school, occasionally letting one of my sisters control Tails and laughing as I left them behind to die off-screen. Ah, those were the days.

Then, things changed. My household didn't upgrade from the Mega Drive to the Saturn - we jumped ship completely and migrated to the PlayStation, leaving the Blue Blur behind. When the Dreamcast came out and Sonic Adventure was touted as its killer app, it was something I admired from a distance for a little while. Then I became fixated on the prospect of the PlayStation 2, because yo dude, Final Fantasy X was coming out on it! Consequently, I missed out on Sonic's first foray into the third dimension. At the time I regretted it, because the game was well-received and blew pretty much all of its graphical contemporaries out of the water. But attempting to go back to it now on Steam, I feel like I made the right choice in hindsight. Sonic Adventure really hasn't aged well. Its graphics, arguably the best thing about it back then, are still the best thing about it now. It feels like a game that's too big for its boots, trying to tell an epic story and introducing this enormous cast of bit-part characters when all you really want to do is just go fast. That might be fine if the going fast was consistently enjoyable, but all too often it's interrupted by an unstable camera. These are all things I probably could have overlooked in 2000, but not in 2017. I missed the boat with Sonic Adventure, and I'm fine with accepting that. You win this one, Eggman, but you'll always be Robotnik to me.

Sonic Adventure 2

It's Rouge the Bat, everyone's favourite Sonic character!
It's Rouge the Bat, everyone's favourite Sonic character!

There's really nothing I can write down here that I haven't already said above, is there? Truth be told I've never played any of Sonic Adventure 2, since I've never finished the original Sonic Adventure. But, from anectodal evidence, I gather that this doubles down on a lot of the original's problems by introducing even more unnecessary characters, and by extension even more middling mechanics and problematic level design. Ultimately, if I can't see myself making it through the first Sonic Adventure, then why would I devote time to the sequel? It's a case of either both or none at all, and under the immense weight of my backlog, I'm going to opt for the latter.

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That'll do it for this edition of the Backlogbook. I'm not entirely sure it's been worth the wait, but at least it's finished and out there. Be sure to join me again next week (hopefully Monday), when I should have some fresh thoughts to share on Grandia, some early impressions on Rise of the Tomb Raider, and two more neglected titles from my Pile of Shame will take the long walk to the proverbial hangman's noose. Thanks for reading, as always. Take care, and I'll see you around.

Daniel

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Currently playing - Grandia (PS1C)

Last Week - Week Four (30/01/2017)Next Week - Week Six (13/02/2017)
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