Game of the year 2013

Thief Review

I activate my focus ability to scout out the area and find an opening to sneak by the enemy patrols. A single guard stands nearby. Slowly, I inch my way behind the target and shift into the light for a moment to make my move. As quickly as I appeared, I vanish back into the shadows–25 gold pieces richer from the coins lifted from the guard’s purse. That’s Thief, a game that differentiates itself from other “stealth” titles in that sneaking around unseen isn’t just an option–it’s practically mandatory. You’re a thief who’s out to make a quick buck, not to murder everyone in sight. But while the sneaky elements of the game are well implemented and enjoyable enough to warrant a playthrough, Garrett’s long-awaited return doesn’t hold many surprises when it comes to Thief’s gameplay or plot.

The reboot kicks off in the middle of a heist, reintroducing you to the master thief Garrett and his rookie partner, Erin. Long story short, Erin is overconfident about the job, interrupts a secret cult ritual, and falls into a mystical light, resulting in an explosion that leaves Garrett unconscious. You awaken a year later with no memory of the time between the heist and the present. It’s up to you to figure out what has transpired within that lost time, what happened to Erin, and why The City is in the middle of a destructive revolution during the 15-hour campaign. The intro starts the game off strong, but as you progress the story’s poorly told and isn’t terribly exciting.

Throughout the main missions, it’s difficult to follow exactly what is going on. The major events and characters never feel important enough to pay attention to, and all of the story elements haphazardly come together in a disjointed way. The City is in peril, but Garrett doesn’t really care. A revolution against the corrupt Baron has begun, but Garrett only wants to find Erin. The motivations of the characters are all over the place, and the story poorly explains the situation from one chapter to the next. Even the reason why Garrett has super thief powers and a glowing blue eye is only sort of explained in the last half of the game. If you’re looking for an enticing story to keep you hooked, the predictable betrayals and confusing plot points aren’t enough to carry you through to the unsatisfying ending.


Thief was reviewed on Xbox One.

However, even though the story’s a wash, the stealth gameplay and thievery will keep you playing for the long run. Thief abandons action-heavy gameplay for slow, sneaky stealth. The majority of the game has you doing what thieves do best: lifting valuables, breaking into safes, and disappearing into the shadows. You also have access to Garrett’s arsenal of gadgets that allow access to new areas, and water, fire, and gas arrows are invaluable tools for distracting enemies. Using your gadgets effectively is rewarding in a way that makes you feel like a real thief as you disable traps with your wire-cutters, access secret vents with your wrench tool, and dowse torches with a shot of a water arrow.

Then there’s the thieving, which is exceptionally addictive. I was eager to explore every drawer and china cabinet when I knew they might contain loot, or at least a clue describing the location of valuable treasure. Plus, skulking around while stealing the silverware and golden rings laying around the environments becomes an alluring but entertaining distraction.

The same goes for the side jobs, which give much more life to The City’s otherwise forgettable residents. You’ll meet with citizens offering high-risk jobs that net you handsome rewards and oftentimes interesting side stories. But if you just want to test your sneaking skills, there are also challenge modes that offer well-designed, timed scenarios. With all of the collectibles, extra quests, and treasures to uncover, there is definitely plenty to explore in Thief’s dark, samey environments.

More Info

Release date:                                                                                                 Feb 25 2014 – PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC                                                                               Feb 25 2014 – PS3                                                                          (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: Eidos
Developed by: Eidos Montreal
ESRB Rating:
Mature
  

Speaking of, while it makes sense that a Thief would only work at night, the darkness that permeates the entire game doesn’t help to create a noticeable mix of settings. You’ll move from the dark streets of the City to the dark halls of a mental institution to the dark caves of an ancient underground library. These locales sound interesting on paper, but in the game you always feel like you are in the same place, in the dark, stealing stuff.

Outside of the stealth elements, Thief feels limited. The combat, for instance, is severely lacking. Yes, Garrett is a master thief, not a warrior, but every once in awhile you might find yourself going toe-to-toe with a guard. When this happens, all you have is a sword-dodging side-step move and a weak-feeling blackjack attack at your disposal, making for some incredibly dull encounters. Plus, because the combat is so lackluster, several of the armor and weapon upgrades become irrelevant simply because you’ll want to avoid the boring head-on conflicts at all costs.

Thief also has some issues with sound glitches. On more than one occasion, I experienced looping guard dialogue that continued even when I was nowhere near the source, and there was also some inaudible speech during in-game cutscenes. Only by enabling subtitles was I able to discern what was being said. None of these sound bugs were enough to completely ruin the experience, but the fact that sound issues came up fairly regularly was annoying to say the least.

Still, despite its uninspired storytelling and occasional bugs, Thief is an enjoyable adventure that anyone looking for a stealth-based experience will enjoy. The reboot doesn’t introduce any new concepts; it instead sticks to the simple, traditional shadow-skulking of the previous titles. But as any thief knows, the best payoff doesn’t come without a few risks, and the rebooted Thief prefers playing it safe over raking in the big haul.

Thief maintains the strengths of its stealth-centric predecessors and offers plenty in the way of actual thievery, but don’t expect any fun, new gameplay mechanics or an enchanting story in this reboot.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition review

Lara Croft is dead. This time, she was ripped apart by wolves. Death has also come in a variety of other forms: boulders, bear traps, spikes to the throat–each over-the-top execution a display of vulnerability. These shocking moments are heavy-handed with their message, but it comes across loud and clear: Lara Croft, the new Lara Croft, isn’t a pistol-wielding superhero. She’s an inexperienced adventurer caught in the middle of a harrowing sequence of events. The only thing more surprising than the brutality Lara endures during Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot is just how polished the whole experience is–now even more shiny in the Definitive Edition. Tomb Raider is still a fantastic game and an excellent origin story for one of gaming’s original treasure seekers. If you’ve already played and finished the game, either skip to the end for my verdict on the PS4 / XO Definitive Edition, or check out the new boxout, which details all the fresh features in the game. New to ‘Raider? Read on…

After getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island during her first-ever archaeology expedition, Lara finds herself in one life-or-death situation after another. Her crew is missing, and the island’s cult-like inhabitants are eager to kill her. The narrative’s dark, distressing tone is established right from the start, and never once does it stray during Tomb Raider’s 15-hour campaign. This consistency builds a great deal of tension and intrigue, and you’ll be eager to keep playing to see what happens next.

Throughout the game, you’re tasked with solving elaborate puzzles and taking on sporadic groups of enemies; in addition to plenty of platforming and exploration. After you finish Tomb Raider’s long-winded tutorial, it easily rivals the best Uncharted has to offer–and that’s not a claim made lightly. Where Uncharted props itself up on Nathan Drake’s charm, platforming prowess, and ability to shoot dudes in the head without getting bummed out, Tomb Raider’s foundation is one of excellent pacing, and an ominous story of survival.

The development of Lara’s character is an integral part of that experience. She’s a far cry from the stylish adventurer you used to know. In the stead of a dolled up gunslinger is a do-what-it-takes female lead who’s intelligent and capable. It’s unsettling to watch her brave some truly disturbing situations–at times, Tomb Raider is more survival horror than action adventure–but she deals with it because death is the only alternative, culminating in her gratifying evolution from a green explorer to a seasoned survivor. It’s a shame that caliber of character development doesn’t extend to the supporting cast. Her shipwrecked friends are pretty generic characters who, while rarely annoying, just aren’t memorable.

But what those characters lack in magnetism is more than made up for by the incredible personality and mystery of the island setting. It’s a bizarre place filled with ancient shrines, World War II-era bunkers, and all sorts of relics and trinkets spanning multiple centuries. It’s always clear that something strange is going on, and the island’s secrets tease you right up until the very end. You explore a huge variety of environments, sectioned off into hub-like zones, all of which give clues that help you uncovering the island’s overall enigma. From underground ruins and snow-laden mountain tops to lush forests and grim oceanside cliffs, no one area ever feels like a rehash of another, and the sheer amount of detail in each is impressive.


Tomb Raider on PS4 and Xbox One

So, you want to know about The Definitive Edition on PS4 and Xbox One? Well, for starters the game looks prettier. Not massively better, but better nonetheless. The frame-rate is higher and more consistent, making combat and platforming feel smoother. The Lara character model has been reworked, and her hair now flops about more realistically. Looks nice, but adds nothing to the game. Voice commands now let you access the map, and change weapons, while audio diaries now play through PS4′s controller speaker. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop them playing through the TV too, so you get an awful echoing effect.

During Lara’s journey, you encounter plenty of dangers. Traps, hostile cultists, and vicious animals alike will stand in your way. Nearly every battle feels like an intense fight to the death instead of just another shootout, despite the fact you rarely encounter more than five or six enemies at a time. The bad-guy AI is great for the most part, as foes will kick over tables to form barricades or shoot off flares to call for help. Best of all, they often react realistically to your shots. Cap an enemy in the leg, for example, and he’ll go down to the ground where you can finish him off with a melee execution. Usually a climbing-axe to the skull. Nasty!

Lara’s inexperience shows through early on, as her shots are inaccurate and weak. By defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and finding the many collectibles hidden on the island, you gain experience points and resources for upgrading Lara’s skills and weapons. Other games that try to emulate the growth of an unseasoned character don’t pull it off with quite the same aplomb as Tomb Raider does–by the end of the adventure, Lara’s transformation into a powerful heroine is noticeable, and feels natural.

But Tomb Raider isn’t all about fighting. It’s totally common to spend five minutes exchanging fire with a group of enemies, then go 45 without seeing a soul. These breaks in battle are filled with great platforming segments, clever puzzles, and adrenaline-pumping set piece moments, and the pacing throughout is unrivaled by any other game in the genre. Even the rate at which Lara obtains new weapons and equipment–like rope arrows that open up new sections of some zones on the island–is admirable, as you snag new gear right up until the final chapters.

Tomb Raider’s single-player campaign alone is worth the price of admission for new-comers, but its multiplayer component will be a welcome addition for those looking for a bit more longevity. Multiplayer maps are filled with climbable ledges, zip lines, and level-specific traps that are perfect for scoring easy kills. There are some pretty decent modes to keep things interesting for awhile, too, such as Cry for Help in which one team must capture a series of control points before the other kills and loots 20 players. That said, the multiplayer doesn’t feel as genre-defining as the campaign, as it doesn’t really introduce anything new to keep you interested after a dozen matches or so.

Even if you’ve never been a huge fan of Lara Croft’s fortune-hunting adventures, Tomb Raider is sure to impress. Its expert sense of pacing, captivating setting, and dark tone create a truly memorable experience that’s further enhanced by an immense level of detail. Lara Croft, the old Lara Croft, is dead. In place of a dolled-up gunslinger is a do-what-it-takes survivor–and I hope she hasn’t had her fill of adventuring just yet.

Is the Definitive Edition worth buying? The improvements are too subtle and gimmicky for me to recommend that experienced Tomb Raiders–people who have already finished the game on PS3 or Xbox 360–drop $50 / £40 on the next-gen version. However, if you own a PS4 or Xbox One, and you haven’t yet experienced the new Tomb Raider, then you should leap any chasm and murder any hired merc who stands in your way until you’ve got this playing on your console… It’s still brilliant, and the Definitive Edition is the superior version.

More Info

Release date:                                                                                                 Jan 28 2014 – PS4, Xbox One                                                                               Mar 05 2013 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC                                                                               Dec 09 2013 – Mac                                                                          (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Crystal Dynamics
Franchise: Tomb Raider
ESRB Rating:
Mature
  

One of the best adventure games on console, with a fantastic blend of action and exploration. The Definitive Edition really is definitive, but isn’t worth a repeat buy for those who’ve already experienced Lara’s story