The necessity of Lara’s reboot

When a franchise of any sort becomes a little stale, there are usually two choices. The first is to take the Activision route; cancel it or ‘put it on hold’. Another option is to wipe the slate clean and start again with a potentially life-saving reboot. For Crystal Dynamics, the only real decision for one of their biggest IPs was the latter and that’s why the next Tomb Raider is being receiving a complete overhaul of ideas rather than letting a once mighty star fall deeper into the bargain bin.

In a conversation with Edge magazine, CD studio head Darrell Gallagher spoke of the necessity to make a serious reboot: “Lara had hit her apex in how she was before, and we didn’t really feel we could take that any farther. It was a chance to look at everything again, bring new people in who had been interested in the franchise before but didn’t feel like Lara was modern enough.” It’s interesting that he suggested Lara wasn’t modern enough. The over-sexualised female lead is fast becoming a joke for games with more realistic characters like Faith from Mirror’s Edge and Portal‘s Chell being championed as the way forward. There’s a common debate over Bayonetta who is often portrayed as a sex object yet her dialog in-game alludes to her being the one in charge of her sexuality. Regardless of my obvious tangent, as a character and the incredibly dated use of look-a-like models, Lara is old and people are noticing.

That being said, changing her completely wouldn’t be right either and although all aspects of Ms Croft were analysed, the important thing for Gallagher was keeping the essential familiarities “We left no stones unturned as we were going through the concept, and then kept the right stones. The crucial thing is that it feels like her, even though it’s completely different.” I’m all for change and admit I came to the Tomb Raider series relatively late but if the new Lara was missing some of her attitude and spirit shall we say, the danger would be her loyal audience being alienated.

When Crystal Dynamics first was given the franchise in 2003, the games which followed were often thought of as reboots by the media yet the developer didn’t view them that way. They just put their own spin on it. But this spin received a lot of criticism for being too easy, neutering the exploration element and not pushing the boundaries enough compared to other similar franchises. Over the years the games got better but still lagged behind the new kings and queens of third-person action adventures. The hope of Crystal Dynamics and fans of tomb raiding is that making a prequel where a young Lara is shipwrecked on a Japanese island and must learn to survive, will not only be a great game but one that wins back come credit for the developers too.

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Prey 2, the Boba Fett story

Human Head’s Prey 2 was announced late last week to a fanfare of “Wha?!” from gamers who thought they’d seen the last of Tommy and the sphincter corridors he navigated in the first game. Turns out they were half right. The first chunks of info have been revealed in Game Reactor and conveniently translated via one NeoGaf user who states that Tommy has been replaced by one Killian Samuels, a sheriff and prison guard. That may explain the funky get up seen in early promo imagery (seen above). Xbox 360 will be the lead SKU but a PC and PS3 version is also in the works and has been for three years using an updated version of id Tech 4.

Since Prey was, to over simplify it, Doom with portals and gravity manipulation so the guess would be that Prey 2 furthers those ideas. However the game’s producer said Kilian’s adventure is heavily inspired by Mirror’s Edge with a dash of Mass Effect, The Chronicles of Riddick and Blade Runner for good measure. It sounds as if Human Head are pulling lots of mechanics from different games because the article claims you’ll be doing battle in large scale arenas comparable to Assassin’s Creed II, utilising shadows for stealth kills or popping in and out of a Killzone or Vanquish-like cover system. The Mirror’s Edge inspiration comes from Killian’s skills in Parkour and the world is said to have the freedom of Mass Effect.

Tommy hasn’t been forgotten so to speak because Prey 2 will take place along side the first game. It begins (spoiler!) pretty much at the start of Prey 1 but has you playing as Killian rather than the stereotyped native American. Human Head gave a Star Wars analogy to the storyline saying: “If the first Prey was the Luke Sywalker version of the story, Prey 2 is Bobba Fett’s story”. So does that mean the rumours of Prey 2‘s protagonist being a bounty hunter are true also? Oh an there won’t be any multiplayer either since the developers prefer to focus on making a stella single player game instead of adding a half-baked multiplayer mode, “Who would pick the MP mode of Prey 2 ahead of the one in for example Halo Reach?” they said.

Prey 2 sounds good. Really good and draws its influence from a lot of great games. It’s not expected until some time next year which gives plenty of time for the hype to build but seeing as Prey 2 will almost definitely be providing an experience completely different from the first game, why make it a sequel and not a new IP? It’s not as if Prey was a big name in gaming back in 2006. Good yeah but not something you’d expect to receive this kind of treatment. Hey, I’m not knocking what Prey 2 could become just find it a little perplexing. But whatever, this game, regardless of its lineage, has got me already psyched for a 2012 title. Well done you!

EA loses faith

Aw, now this brings a tear to my eye. Just one mind you because the end of the first game really did my head in! I’m talking about the apparent cease to development of Mirror’s Edge 2 by EA. According to Press 2 Play (via Videogamer), the publisher was shown a prototype of ME2 but they didn’t like what they saw and canned it instead of allowing DICE to continue with the project. The team behind it are now moved on to another game, most likely to help out with Battlefield 3 since Riccetiello wants nothing more than to dominate the FPS genre.

It’s a shame that Mirror’s Edge as a franchise has not been allowed to develop even though it was full of great ideas. The biggest problem was how it confused audiences with what it was trying to be. Adding a shooting element was unnecessary and poorly implemented so those going into the game thinking it was a FPS left feeling bitter and disappointed. For what it was, a Parkour adventure game, it was really good and the kind of game that would transcend brilliantly into a beefier, better sequel. Sadly, this hasn’t been allowed to happen in a market where low sales can mean the end to an otherwise fun experience. I hope EA eventually do revisit the IP, remove the combat and pinch a few ideas from Assassin’s Creed. That would be cool but unlikely. Sigh.

The real Lara Croft

How do you lead a legendary gaming character back to potential greatness after a spell of dodgy decisions? Make her real, make her believable. The unsurprising (but cool) announcement of a new Tomb Raider was met with a pleasing shock at just how much Lara Croft will change, not just in age but in appearance and personality too. The ongoing coverage over at Game Informer has unearthed some new information about the challenges Crystal Dynamics are going through by making their biggest star relevant for today’s market.

Global brand director, Karl Stewart, revealed that at the start of the project, Tomb Raider 9 was going to be a continuation of Underworld but thankfully realised that: “it was not the way we needed to go. We had to stop in our tracks and reevaluate everything in order to choose a new direction. The origin story came about through lots of research and deciding how to reposition Lara to get her where she needed to go. A reboot wasn’t at the top of the list to begin with, but it certainly shone through as the direction the franchise needed.” Amen to that. Art director, Brian Horton, spoke of the need to keep Lara recognisable but update her look to be relevant to an era where realism is highly important: “We want people to care for Lara at the end of the day. And if they can look at her and go “this is someone that I want to help through this survival journey,” then we have met our goal.” To do this, the team started not with character model but with a full understanding of who the new Lara is as a person, someone who is young and vulnerable that has a great deal of inner strength and hopefully admiration from the player. Everyone knows that Lara Croft is the busty treasure hunter but CD wants people to look beyond the guns, boobs and animated hair.

So much so, the swishing braided locks of many a Laras has been replaced with a simple ponytail, “We wanted to have the hair itself tell a bit of the story. So the hair moves and helps to sell the drama,” Said Horton. “The idea is to have it at the right length to give it some great secondary motion in action sequences.” It certainly didn’t hurt Bayonetta to have a head full of seemingly living hair. And notice how in the few promotional shots of Lara, her bust is more in keeping with real life, not unbelievably large for such an athletic lass. Upsetting for some I’m sure but Horton dashed hopes of any of the old school ‘bonuses’ of previous games: “There is a different tone we are going for across the board, and Lara Croft as a sex object isn’t our goal. No unlockable bikinis.” Faith from Mirror’s Edge has always been praised for her appearance and how she looks like a convincing game character. Crystal Dynamics want to recreate that idea for Croft.

Since it’s a story about the development of a hero, the emphasis of Lara learning from doing and growing in strength was also important to the team. As the game progresses, so do her animations, representing her growing in confidence to any given task. Stewart said: “For example, when she hears the scavenger for the first time, her natural reaction is to step back and ask “what the hell is that?” But as you progress she becomes stronger and her animations change, as does her character performance.” Nice huh? Underworld was particularly good at showing the subtle animations of Lara as she shielded her face from fire or walked through thick foliage. Expanding on that and making it something important throughout the game is awesome. It sounds like Crystal Dynamics has put a lot of work into all the areas where the franchise had gone astray over the years. I am indeed a happy boy. Now, about making a new Legacy of Kain game… anyone?

Girls of gaming get deviant

Mad Spike is a man on a mission. One that seems to involve systematically turning his favourite video game heroines into semi-real objects of desire by Photoshopping their heads and defining features onto naked female bodies. But this isn’t some crude cut ‘n’ paste job of an ‘over enthusiastic’ teenager, the models he creates on his deviantART page (via Kotaku) are incredibly well done. Especially his Mass Effect range including Liara in her blue birthday suit and Miranda wearing little more than some high heels. And Bayonetta’s once cover-all hair doesn’t quite cover all. The nudity isn’t a reason to applaud his efforts though since naked fan art is nothing new but the attention to detail and artistic poses Mad Spike arranges the characters in is. Check out the hard-as-nails Jack looking fragile and helpless in her scene, one that’s more tasteful than titillating. Some of the images do seem to only exist for lewd purposes like his take on a flashing Lara Croft or Faith from Mirror’s Edge looking a tad, um, chilly. But look beyond that, if you can, and do make sure you’re of an appropriate age please. Oh and there’s dude characters on there too. Like you really care.

Review: Mirror’s Edge (iPhone)

After a long wait for iPhone gamers, Mirror’s Edge has come to the device with the promise – or at least hope – of setting right the wrongs of its console brethren. Those being a poor implementation of combat and a number of claustrophobic levels stifling heroine Faith’s energy. So has the iPhone game succeeded? No. But the first half did feel quite special.

Faith, one of a few guerilla activists in a stark and repressed city, is a runner delivering important information and propaganda for her cause. To avoid detection she runs along rooftops, leaping from scaffolding to billboards to cranes all by the simple flick of your finger. Slide up and she jumps and climbs over objects, down makes her slide and a flick from left or right starts her running in that direction. To me, Mirror’s Edge is about speed and an effortless traversal of levels and here on the iPhone I got that sense of fluidity from these controls. I was grinning like a child with a sizeable lolly pop as Faith moved so satisfactory in the visually pleasing world. Colour coding helped keep the pace highlighting red objects to either jump over or slide beneath and orange billboards that Faith could wall-run across. It was a joy to play.

But then came the indoor areas. And the combat. Enclosing a character who’s best at leaping great distances and evoking a super heroic quality in levels that have low ceilings is utter madness. There was still a good feeling of speed when she ran from left to right and vice versa but too many places for her to be annoyingly slowed down or worse, come to a sudden stop. Guards and the occasional rogue runner usually popped up in these levels too adding insult to injury. To fight, again a simple flick was in order; towards a character would disarm them, down would make Faith slide and kick their legs away but jumping and a swipe in their direction made her do a kind of flying kick. To help with you chose, the game went into temporary slo-mo giving time to select what you feel is best. Great to begin with but not so often that again my experience of speed was hampered. If you mess up don’t expect sympathy either because these guards are armed and will gun down Faith if she lingers too long.

Any form of story is interlaced between levels when they load in a scrolling block of text, distorted for perspective like the start of Star Wars films. It was hard to read and no doubt left over from when Mirror’s Edge was on the iPad. I skipped most of them and didn’t feel as if I was necessarily missing out because the fun of Mirror’s Edge comes from running not reading.

Like the rooftop terrain where much of Mirror’s Edge for the iPhone is set, EA’s port of the console version comes with considerable highs and disruptive lows. There’s a unmatched quality about its controls for the most part but the game suffers in the tighter indoor levels and becomes a nuisance if you happen to slip up in combat. But most troubling of all is the length. For a £2.99 iPhone game, I would have expected it to last longer than an hour and if not, be an hour of pure enjoyment. It does have a speed run option and you can replay the levels if you so wish but it definitely won’t be all of them. Mirror’s Edge is good but could have been great, hell, it could have been brilliant and certainly started that way but didn’t quite finish with the same sense of satisfaction.

Verdict:
Good
Entertaining and worthy of your time but still room for improvement.

Mirror’s Edge finally comes to iPhone

Vodpod videos no longer available.

At long last, EA’s run-em-up Mirror’s Edge has come to the iPhone after being held back to make way for the iPad version to shine. Since the game was first spoke of being an iPhone title, somewhere deep down I always knew it would leap onto Apple’s handheld and that time is now, complete with a price drop. Mirror’s Edge for iPhone costs £2.99 ($4.99) and appears to be the same as the iPad’s port with swanky Retina Display approving graphics. The video above shows just how smooth the whole thing is on the iPhone and looks pretty damn cool. Best add that to my download queue!

{Thanks Touch Arcade}