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Sprite Machine

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  1. Yeah, Angel of Darkness will be next, but I own the PC version, which might need a fair bit of patching these days. We'll see. Before that, though, I've got some slightly older games to play. (My dumb quest is to play my whole backlog in chronological order.) ------- Previously... 19) Shenmue HD - PC - 2018 (1999/2000) I last played this nearly twenty years ago, so it's been fun to play through it again. Yes, it's definitely dated by modern standards: the writing and acting are clichéd and wooden, the controls and movement feel stilted, the textures and character models are not as impressive as they used to be, and the 'fading-in' distant NPCs is laughably bad. However, despite this, Shenmue still creates an unbeatable atmosphere and sense of place. I think it's primarily due to the use of audio, crowd/street noises, music, etc. But also the pacing of the game is so sedate, so deliberate and focused on the little details that you cant help but absorb the ambience at your leisure. I've never been to Japan, but it feels like I have. The game's opening beats are a wonderful representation of this, with gameplay that consists of asking around for clues, having to observe the environment and read signs rather than follow a waypoint or mini-map. You feel like you're solving the mystery in a real place, and there's plenty to keep you amused in between as every little shop, dispenser or arcade game is new and exciting. However, around the half-way point, the pacing does start to drag and you run out of things to do. Without a fast-foward option, you get made to wait for a particular time of day, or wait for the next day before you can progress, and most of the game's ongoing diversions cost precious Yen. You'll get a job, which solves the money problem but turns every day into a chore, which I guess was the point. It becomes a slightly dull routine before the excitement picks up again for the finalé. The combat system also never clicked with me. I could spend time at the dojo or car park learning all the fancy moves, memorising the button inputs, but as soon as I got into an actual fight, I could barely pull off a single one. I always wished Ryo looked even a fraction as cool in the free fights as he did in the QTE fights. Beyond fighting, asking people questions and playing the odd minigame, there's not actually a lot to Shenmue. It's a pretty strange hodgepodge of gameplay ideas, and although I've always thought of it as an action-RPG or something, I don't think that does it justice. It's not as long as I remember it being, nor does it have as much depth or freedom as I remember it having, however that small town feeling is something quite special and I was glad to relive it. I've very much enjoyed my time with it, and look forward to continuing the adventure in Hong Kong.
  2. That's Tomb Raider Chronicles finished in three sessions. Blimey, it's pretty short. Not that it's a bad thing, I wouldn't have wanted it to go on any longer. The second half of the game is where it starts falling apart. So I finish the Ireland levels, and because young Lara can't shoot anything, most of the challenge is finding ways around the nasty things that attack you - eg. throwing a flaming torch at the little demon munchkins, or trapping a sea hag in a cage by placing one of her silver coins into it. There's also some fiddly platforming and annoying rope-swinging sections. Not great, to be honest. The game then moves onto a modern high-tech, high-security facility, with Lara dressed like she's auditioning for the Matrix, leather-clad with shades. This is the worst part of the game by far - not just because it's themed nothing like a 'Tomb Raider' but it's full of horrible gameplay. There's 'attempted stealth', which was all the rage back then in the years following Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu - throwing stealth sections into totally unsuitable games. The difficulty shoots through the roof, there's awkward challenges often with fixed camera angles, so much trial-and-error, and Lara doesn't have her usual pistols, just a rifle thing, so for the first time ever you only have limited ammo. There's an encounter near the end with a helicopter, a cyborg and a series of gas-filled rooms that's just ridiculous, and this is what they chose to end the game instead of a standard boss fight. I think I'd've preferred the standard boss fight! I know Tomb Raider games exist in a universe where nothing is too weird to happen, but this facility not only has humanoid cyborgs like the Terminator, but also laser guns and a functioning teleporter system. The game has many save bugs where reloading a save point resets something you've done or triggers something you haven't. At one point, you have to walk into an X-ray scanner room and open a box amongst a room of booby-trapped boxes, but entering the room doesn't activate the X-ray viewpoint. Saving and reloading does. Sometimes the X-ray view changes back but the boxes are still see-through. Or there's a room that you have to fill with water to destroy a cyborg, but if you drain the water, save and reload, the water is back. Or a metal hatch opens and a soldier is behind it, but when you reload the save, the hatch doesn't open, you can jump right through it like it's not there, and the soldier has vanished. Really, really sloppy work. It's a baffling end to the game and a disappointing conclusion to the series. But it's done! No more classic Tomb Raiders. No more "walk to the edge, tap back, then press forward and jump". Thanks for indulging my ridiculous marathon. I now have complete playthroughs of all five games saved on my YouTube channel: TR1: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwP-iWOdoxx0q7zjsvIcIit3GbMIcM0FQ TR2: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwP-iWOdoxx2cYRIMxe_2YzEhEgTqiGoK TR3: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwP-iWOdoxx1R66rS-VDCWihXxcq3PJXl TR4: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwP-iWOdoxx21BwrXk-7bpt1sXf-ZYZpd TR5: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwP-iWOdoxx0i7DB37ngvG5OQ3nIyRnUQ I will attempt to play the, er... next one, but not just yet.
  3. Previously... 18) Tomb Raider Chronicles - PC - 2000 A.k.a. Tomb Raider 5, and this was the last one released on the PlayStation (and Dreamcast) and the last of them to be built on that old 'blocky' engine. I gather it was Eidos who wanted another Tomb Raider out for Christmas that year while most of the team at Core Design wanted to work on the next gen iteration, so this one is a little lacklustre. At most, it's half the length of the previous game and serves to tell four of Lara's 'lost' adventures while her friends and butler reminisce and mourn her death... but is this really the end of the famous Lara Croft, or does Werner Von Croy find some evidence of her survival in a post-game FMV? Only one way to find out! (I'll tell you: it's the latter.) I remember this game being a bit janky when I played it back in 2000 / early 2001, but revisiting it now, the first half of the game is actually pretty good. It's nothing new, the formula was getting old, and most of it isn't set anywhere near a tomb, but it's solid and distinctly low on annoyances. The Rome levels are nicely designed and not overly difficult. The Russian sub levels are pretty cool and, again, not overly obtuse or frustrating. The horror-themed levels in Ireland with teenage Lara are where the game starts to slip in quality, with annoying fetch quests and spooky critters attacking you. And then the final adventure in the high-tech building is just a load of bullshit and bugs - really awful design, annoyingly hard difficulty, bad camera angles, attempted 'stealth' sections, trial-and-error challenges, and glitches. And Lara looks like she's auditioning to be in the Matrix, with her skin-tight shiny catsuit and sunglasses. A bad end to the game, unfortunately, and a mediocre end to the whole 'classic' series. Still, how much worse could they get?
  4. I am flying through this one, it's not very long at all. (Admittedly, being in lockdown does help!) My second session finishes off Rome, takes me through all four levels of the Russian base / sub, and the first two levels of Ireland. So, there is no moving back and forth between levels like in TR4; this is strictly a linear progression from one to the next. As expected, starting each new story resets your equipment. There are secret collectable gold roses tracked throughout the whole game but I've not been aiming to get them all (I've missed loads already - they're quite hard to find). The Colosseum is the closest thing to a tomb in this game. It's not bad, it's got some lions, Roman soldiers and magic warrior statues in it. The Russian base is also quite decent. It's most definitely not a tomb and it's full of human enemies with guns, but I was going into this game expecting it to be a bit of a mess and it's really not. It's quite solid. No real bullshittery to speak of yet. Ireland is a flashback to Lara as a teenager (post-Cambodia, because she's got her backpack!) and this is the horror-themed section, with spooky castles and enemies based on folklore. Since young Lara doesn't carry guns, there are no enemies to 'kill', although there are some nasty things to avoid. I'm not enjoying Ireland quite so much as the previous two areas but I should finish it pretty soon.
  5. I've started on Tomb Raider Chronicles (aka. Tomb Raider 5). So, the premise of this one is that, after Lara is missing presumed dead in Egypt, a few of her colleagues and acquaintances go back to her mansion after a memorial for her and reminisce about her past (previously untold) adventures. I had this on PlayStation back in 2000. It's quite likely, actually, that I played this on the PS2, as I got that console in early 2001. In fact, I do seem to recall running the game with the textures filtered, in between rounds of TimeSplitters and Tekken Tag Tournament. This is a shorter game than the previous ones, and takes place over four different areas, each with three or four levels. It shouldn't take me quite so long to get through it. I've recorded this first session with a commentary so I can add some reactions as I play. Some early observations, then: - This first section in Rome appears to be set prior to the events of Tomb Raider 1, since Pierre and Larson are both the antagonists. - Although Rome has some nice archetecture, it's certainly not a tomb. - There's no specific tutorial level but you can take a detour into the opera house in the first level and go through the motions of learning the moves. - Lara's moveset is largely the same as that from TR4, except she can now also tightrope walk - the most pointless addition to platformers! - Graphics and UI are identical to TR4 - this feels like an expansion pack. Oh, they updated the save/load icons so they're no longer PS memory cards! - The first couple of levels are actually pretty fun! The level design is good and the challenge is fair. No sudden traps and I didn't die at all until near the end of level 2. - The boss at the end of the second level is absolutely ridiculous. A bullet sponge that took so long to kill I actually thought I was doing something wrong. - Presumably, if each story in the game is self-contained, I'll start with a fresh load-out every three levels or so. That's probably why I got the revolver this early. Haven't found the shotgun yet, though. More soon!
  6. And it's done. A final session today polished it off. First is "The Great Pyramid", or "Let's Jump On Sloped Platforms And Hope I Don't Slide Off Them, Featuring Sudden Falling Bricks". The top of the pyramid is so far up, the game can't actually render it all properly. I shoulda looked for a draw distance mod. More giant enemy crabs scorpions, and that poison distortion effect is pretty cool. Then you go around another pyramid, over some pits, inside the pyramid, realise you've missed one of the artifacts and have to go back out again (just me?), and work your way down into the temple of Horus. There's a pretty good puzzle with some scales and measuring out exact amounts of water using two different water bags. I quite enjoyed that. Also, it's refreshing that the final battle isn't yet another guns blazing slugfest, and you have to escape and lock Set back in his tomb without firing a bullet. So, it's over. Von Croy is released from his demonic possession and is no longer evil, but he fails to rescue Lara from the crumbling tomb and she falls to her apparent death. A fitting ending for "The Last Revelation", but it turned out not to be the last one at all. This has been an interesting revisit to a game I haven't played in 20 years. I do actually remember little snippets of it - the motorbike, using the gun scope, the big pyramid and the ending - but very little of the specifics. It is a classier game than the rather scummy third installment, it's got better theming, better lighting, better level design and better production values. However, it's still not a patch on the original (and maybe not better than 2, I'm not sure). For me, it's a case of adding too many object puzzles, too many arbitrary rules, obscure ways to interact with objects, levers and blocks. It's too... I dunno, 'fussy'? Too many times did I get stumped, head off to read a guide, and go "oh, you can push/pick up/use the bloody [X]?!" It began to feel too much like a point-and-click adventure game where you just run around pressing action on every object, and that's not what I want from Tomb Raider. On the other hand, some switches and levers gave massively over-the-top indication of what they just opened, with swooping cinematic cameras and everything. It's inconsistent. Still, they were churning these games out on a yearly conveyor belt; it's a miracle it works at all! Let's do a little order of preference so far: TR1 > TR2/TR4 (can't decide) > TR3. Something like that. One more game.
  7. Previously... 17) Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation - PC - 1999 A.k.a. Tomb Raider 4. Completed once, with the help of a walkthrough here and there. See, here's the thing - the first few Tomb Raider games were predominantly navigational puzzles, ie. "how do I get up there", "how do I make that jump", "where's the switch for that door", etc. But in TR4, the designers seemed intent on turning it into more of an adventure game, with collectible items and activating objects. Not obvious objects like big one-size blocks, but everyday things. Pick up a scroll on the floor, but only that one. Slide that lantern along the ground, but only that one. Drag that body across the floor, but only from one position. Push that door open, but not from that side. Use a crowbar on this door, but not on that one. The worst part of adventure games is when you get stuck and just run around for hours pressing X next to everything and hoping for something to trigger, and sadly this game felt a little too much like that for my liking. However, that being said, it's generally pretty decent, has better level design and visual design than the previous game, and the PC version fares well too with more advanced lighting than the PlayStation (although it has some minor bugs). The production values are higher and it's clear Core Design wanted to go out with a bang, go back to the roots of what made Tomb Raider distinctive (tombs!) and end Lara's story with her apparent untimely demise. If it weren't some frustrating design decisions, this would have been a classy exit.
  8. It's a stormy night as Lara arrives at the final destination in TR4, Giza and the Sphinx complex. Now, I've never been to see the actual sphinx at Giza, but I'm guessing it doesn't really have a hidden tomb underneath it containing demonic bull monsters, nor is it surrounded by deadly pits and suspicious buildings full of ammunition. It's probably more likely filled with tourists, but I guess that's why they set this level at night. Maybe they used the same crowd control company they used to clear out the Great Wall of China before Lara got there, or empty out the streets of Venice. Anyway, this area is alright, it's got a good atmosphere, although there is the odd bit of bullshittery too: - Witness, at 7:20, the metal vent grate that doesn't break when I shoot it. Witness when I return to it at 17:00, that it now breaks when I shoot it. I hate having to go and look at a walkthrough, but when I did I was like "what the actual fuck?!" - The three heiroglyph buttons at 26:31. Each represents a letter of the alphabet but the solution is just to press them in alphabetical order, which it doesn't tell you, so you'd naturally try a few different things, right? The bullshittery comes from when you don't do it right, you have to go through a mini dungeon full of blades to reset the puzzle, without realising what you pressed was wrong. Every time. "Pressed the wrong sequence? Sorry, we're not telling you it's wrong but enjoy this five minute diversion through some spikes and shit!" - 53:30. Hey guess what, the binoculars that you never need - turns out you do need them. They have a torch on them! Thanks for tellling me, game! - 55:45. "Here's a horrific underwater 3D maze. You have a good sense of direction, right?" Me: " " - 1:15:50. "Hope you're not trying to open that trapdoor from anywhere other than this very specific spot and direction!" - 1:25:09. Getting back around and over this pit stumped me for ages. Very hard to read the terrain (and easy to forget you can shimmy around corners now!). - 1:36:15. These rope swings and every time they appear in the game. All of them. (Not featured above: 15 minutes of falling into spike pits from missing a rope by inches.) Anyway, that's it for now. I may be able to finish the game in one more session, we'll see...
  9. The bullshittery continues. There's a door that doesn't have a key hole and yet it needs a key to open it (Lara just puts the key into the middle of the door and it opens!). There's another door that's supposed to open when you shoot an electrical circuit box elsewhere, however due to a bug in this version, there is no cutaway shot of the door opening, and the circuit box doesn't really do anything when it's hit so there's no way to know what's just happened or that anything has happened. Then there are key items that are quite well hidden when there's no obvious clue that you're missing them, the motorbike getting stuck on scenery and you can only do a pathetic little reverse shuffle, and yet more flying locusts that swarm around you at seemingly random points that you can't avoid. After that, you go into a temple, rescue the French dude and meet up with the demonic Von Croy, and that part of the level is actually quite decent as it's almost entirely environmental challenge rather than "find/use/combine the object" challenge. Lara steals back the amulet and heads to Giza, which I understand isn't particularly far although there's no transition cutscene at all.
  10. Cairo is spooky and dark, as a curse seems to have befallen the city. The villain, Von Croy, looks like he's got the spirit of the evil god Set inside him, causing locusts to swarm around him. Armed goons litter the streets and there's a massive fire-breathing monster in one section. There's some absolute bullshit design in the first section, City of the Dead. There's a lever that doesn't open anything until you move a body off a grate, but it doesn't tell you that. At no point are you ever able to move bodies and there's no indication that this one can be moved unless you happen to stand in exactly the right place and press X. There are levers that don't look like levers. There are gun turrets on rooftops that rip you to shreds unless you hit them in just the right place, which you can only do if you get behind them, with no indication that you can't damage them without wasting ammo. There's an invincible armoured minotaur in one part of the city that, again, you can waste your entire ammo supply on unless you know what to do first (I have edited out a lot of these lengthy failures from the below footage). There's all sorts of misleading or hard-to-read level design, and it's generally not very fun. You can run people over on your bike, though. What a shame, I was really enjoying the first few levels. Maybe somebody needs to make a Tomb Raider compilation that's just the first three levels of every game in the series.
  11. My fifth and sixth sessions with TR4 take me through Alexandria. This is a big area, comprising multiple levels including a town square, a coastal ruin, an ancient library and Cleopatra's palaces. Lara's french friend, Jean-Yves, helps her out with vague advice, while I take out Von Croy's goons around the city. I also encounter more supernatural enemies - mechanical men, and skeletons that can't be killed except with explosives or by knocking them off ledges. There's also a very strange 'Egyptian Adventure' indoor amusement park that, despite being a tourist attraction, is nevertheless littered with very real deadly traps, and a seemingly magic mirror. Ah, Tomb Raider. These are long: Where I struggle at the moment is with knowing what to do when I get stuck. Lara's ability to open doors or hatches is a little arbitrary. Sometimes she can push or kick a door open, sometimes she has to use a crowbar, sometimes she can't open a door at all, or can only push it from the other side. I am so used to looking for switches to open things that I keep getting stuck, then realise I was in the right place all along. I don't like having to use walkthroughs for help, but there's no way I would have thought I could remove a coat hook from a wall. The larger areas also means more backtracking, and some of the traversal is agonisingly slow, particularly climbing into raised crawl spaces and slowly turning around to drop out the other side again. This can get very boring. Other annoying things are enemies you can't kill, fire spirits or other ghosts that follow you around until you find a way to extinguish them, beetles or scarabs that crawl around the floor and eat you, and traps that you don't see coming, necessitating saving every five minutes or less. I mean, it's still better than the previous game, and some of the new features are geniunely rather good, but I don't think it's challenging the overall quality of the original any time soon. Oh, I also only just realised Lara can now shimmy around corners when hanging. Like, that's pretty much revolutionary! Maybe I should have read the manual first. Other noteworthy things: Lots of breakable objects, clay pots, wooden boxes, etc. If it looks like it might break, shoot it! Lots and lots of collectable items, ammo, medikits, in all levels. And you will need them! A fair number of mini-bosses or tough enemies showing up. FMV and cutscenes are quite frequent. Cairo is next...
  12. Yeah, Uncharted is not much like Tomb Raider. (Although modern Tomb Raiders are a lot like Uncharted!)
  13. The end of Semerkhet's tomb is a bit harder, with some tedious rope swinging sections, pole climbing and a horrific bit with a circular blade blockade. It ends with an invincible bull chasing you around a maze. (I hate enemies that chase you; it reminds me of those two little colossi from SotC.) Following that is one level set on a moving train. Train levels in games are literally always good, and this is no exception. Von Croy's men jump onto the train with swords and his helicopter flies overhead while I'm shimmying across the side of a carriage, inches from death. It's like a 32-bit Uncharted. Nice new death animations here. Onto Alexandria now. Gotta revive Horus or something.
  14. So, TR4 is a little different in how its levels are structured. Previously, levels were self-contained and played through sequentially. In TR4, the levels are more like 'areas' through which you can move in and out, carrying across items from one to another. Each segment is smaller but it makes for larger overall areas. The Karnak area is made up of five sections, and although I don't get through them all in a single session, I make pretty good progress. This is mostly a really good area with some good level design and interesting puzzles, including a mirror illusion. Each switch or trigger will generally show you what it has opened, with a cinematic camera swoop, so I didn't get lost so often. And there aren't too many human enemies either. There are new switch types, including an upside-down lever, and Lara can push open some heavy doors. Pretty good stuff! (I have edited the video for length and removed some of the repetition/deaths.)
  15. Yeah, first one's the best. Dunno if GOG mod them to work properly, but if not, they'll all need some serious fixin'.
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