Tag Archives: PS4

Hope, Hype, Disappointment – The Last Guardian and FF7

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a beautiful, haunting game with a story, atmosphere, and heartbreaking battles that have lingered with me for years. When The Last Guardian, a spiritual successor, was shown at E3 2009 I was stoked. It had a similar feel, the same beautiful lighting and magnificent architecture. Where SotC featured a man and his horse, TLG showed a relationship between a boy and his giant griffin. It looked lovely, and I was more than ready for another great experience from Team Ico.

Then, nothing. Year after year, The Last Guardian was notably absent from Sony’s press conferences and release schedules. Each year I hoped to get a brief tidbit, a hint it was still happening, but for 5 years I was disappointed. Then, last night it was back. But it was too late. Prior to this year’s E3 I had decided I didn’t care about this game anymore, and declared it vapourware. I had been strung along for far too long, disappointed too many times.

There was a brief glimmer of surprise and delight during the conference when I first realized they would actually be showing something this year, but it quickly faded. As I watched the gameplay footage I felt very little. I think annoyance at the voice of a young boy calling the birddog repeatedly was the main thing I felt, and it didn’t seem that I was seeing anything really new. Certainly not 6 years worth of new.

The Last Guardian

The constant vocalizations for the griffin in order to overcome platforming puzzles seemed to draw much more from Ico (which I was never a fan of) than Shadow of the Colossus. Worst of all, the gameplay just didn’t look very engaging. Maybe after 6 years they counted on people being so desperate for scraps of information that they’d take anything, but I was disappointed by the showing. Dull footage, barely any actual talk about the game, and a vague 2016 release date.

I think this may be a case of excitement and constant disappointment slowly turning into resentment, and I though the presentation was too little, far too late. Hopefully the game will surprise me when it’s further along in development (if it ever gets to that point).

Sony made another huge announcement last night, and that’s Final Fantasy 7 finally getting a remaster. Though this is something I’ve been hoping for for even longer than TLG, my reaction to this was one of elation. I’m so excited to be able to play one of the games that meant the most to me and really got me back into consoles back in the late 90s, and have it look nice. Those polygons just don’t age very well. Though Sony and Square Enix have made some dick moves regarding this in the past – showing a FF7 tech demo for the PS3 release, announcing a port of the original to PS4, announcing some teeny tiny FF world thing last night right before the remake reveal – they never really entertained the idea of a remake. So for the past 10 years of so I’ve felt a low key kind of hope that they’d remake it eventually, while understanding that it might never happen. But now it’s happening. I may have cried during the trailer.

The Sony presser was quite a roller coaster of emotions.

What do you think about Sony’s big announcements? Excited?

Silent Hills – Teasers, Promise, and Disappointment

Silent Hills has been cancelled. For horror fans and gamers in general, it was one of the most hyped games announced last year, and for good reason. It was to be a collaboration between Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, and Guillermo Del Toro, director, writer, and producer of a number of great dark fantasy movies. It would star Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead (and the really terrible Boondock Saints). Having such prominent names attached to this game meant it cast a wide net and got its hooks into a lot of people.

PT hallway

The biggest hype came from the playable teaser, aptly named P.T. When it was first released, it wasn’t billed as a teaser for a Silent Hill game. It wasn’t until people had solved the final puzzle that a trailer played, revealing that the next game in the Silent Hill series, Silent Hills, was happening.

P.T. was, to put it plainly, an amazing game. It was one of my best gaming experiences of 2014. But was it a successful trailer? From the wailing and rending of garments happening all over the internet since the cancellation was made official, I suppose the answer is yes. But for me, P.T. had the opposite of the intended effect. It provided a tight, harrowing experience in a perfect little package and made me question whether a full length game could improve or even match its quality. The mechanics of P.T. were simple – you walked around and you looked at things, zooming in on certain objects to trigger events. The environment was tiny – a hallway, a bathroom, and a small basement that you looped around continuously. The limited scope of the game, I would argue, is what made it so special.

When you’re confined to a small area, everything can be controlled. The player experience can be engineered down to the smallest detail. There’s no wandering off to collect ammo or health packs, no pausing to read a codex or a quest log, no inventory management. Player choice and branching paths can be great, but there’s also something to say for a gaming experience which removes all but the most basic choices from you (do you really want to turn around?) and delivers the exact experience the creator intended.

I was so impressed by P.T., was provided with so much fun and terror as I played through it with a group of friends, that my outlook for Silent Hills was bleak from the get go. It was just too good to be a teaser. Could a more open world provide such a consistently tense atmosphere? Could a full length game keep me on the edge of my seat like this? Would the addition of fumbling combat or having to search for keys add anything at all to the experience? I don’t think so.

It’s disappointing that Kojima and Del Toro don’t get a chance to try to live up to P.T. but at the same time I appreciate the game they did deliver. If you’ve got a PS4 and haven’t already, make sure you download P.T. before it’s gone.

The Last of Us Remastered (Review)

When The Last of Us came out on PS3 in 2013, it was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. A ridiculous number of publications gave it a perfect score. I never played it then, because I was usually playing something on the 360. However, when it was announced that it would be remastered and re-released for the PS4, I was really excited to finally play the game of the generation.

Of course, given how well reviewed the game was, it would be difficult to live up to the hype.

The opening of The Last of Us was absolutely wonderful. It was cinematic, everything looked great. You’re introduced to Joel and his daughter and their relationship is established quickly and easily. The problem (infection) is introduced in a way that is both mysterious and frightening, and the fact that the game puts you in the shoes of a young girl at the start makes things even more bewildering and intense. The opening has drama, emotion, it sets the world up brilliantly.

Then we skip forward 20 years. We’re reintroduced to Joel and his companion Tess and then… not much happens for a while. We walk around – for a few minutes this is interesting because we’re learning what the world has become. But then we continue walking, through basements and abandoned buildings. A few lines of dialogue are exchanged between Joel and Tess, but it’s pretty quiet. Joel is very stoic and doesn’t give us much to relate to. We come across our first infected enemies, but the fight is a tutorial and they are very quickly and easily dispatched. After an amazing opening, we’ve now spent about 30 minutes doing nothing but walking along a set path without much action or story progression and it’s really jarring. At this point, my interest was really waning.

Things happen slowly. The first big fights are slow – you have so little ammo that you pretty much have to resort to stealth kills which require patience that I don’t possess. We finally meet Ellie and discover the point of the game but relationship between her and Joel also builds slowly. It wasn’t until Bill’s Town that things started to pick up, and it wasn’t until the journey to Pittsburgh that the game really got its hooks in me and I became totally invested. That was almost halfway through the game. There were major pacing problems.

I feel like I’m reviewing two different games here. The first half looked really pretty and had some good writing, but from a gameplay standpoint, it just wasn’t that fun. The last half, on the other hand, was brilliant. In the first half of the game I didn’t enjoy the combat at all. It was too slow, ammo was so scarce. Dying was frustrating because all I had to look forward to was another abandoned building to walk through. In the second half of the game, I enjoyed combat so much more. I had a wide variety of weapons to choose from and if I wanted to fight rather than sneak around all the time, I could. Plus, the action scenes were usually followed up by some really great character development and storytelling. The pacing was 100x better in the 2nd half of the game. So let’s focus on that now.

The storytelling in The Last of Us was so, so good. Once I got far enough into the game I loved Ellie and Joel and totally believed their relationship. The dialogue was great, and the wonderful animation of the characters made things seem even more real. It was the little moments that made this game special. The first part that really got me was Joel and Ellie in the truck, heading to Pittsburgh. They had this dialogue that was so natural, and filled with humour and pain. The music helped cap it off and it was really beautiful. The stories told in the collectible documents you find around the game were also really compelling. Getting a glimpse into the lives of other people in the game world who you would never met was intriguing, and usually sad.

There were a lot of really exciting set pieces later in the game as well. Using the sniper rifle in the suburbs to save the rest of your group was really one of my favorite combat scenes. There were also a few parts of the Winter portion of the game that were different and got very stressful.

Speaking of Winter, getting to play as Ellie for part of the game was a welcome change, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know her character better. Winter was one of the more intense episodes of the game and was really enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, something that happened right at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. (Minor spoiler warning) Ellie gets captured, hurt, the people she loves are in danger. She faces down enemies who are also cannibals, has to kill many of them, is under constant threat of being murdered and eaten… and then at the very end (this clearly wasn’t enough to traumatize our 14-year-old heroine) it’s implied that she’s also threatened with rape. I was really disappointed by this. It’s such a lazy, common, unnecessary way of putting female characters through the wringer. During the rest of the game, the writers were brilliant and handled character development (and my emotions) with surgical precision. Why they felt the need to start swinging a big machete at this point is beyond me.

I’m not going to give anything away about the end of the game, but I thought it was really well done. The story that had been developing and the relationship between Joel and Ellie that had been building all came to a head and there was major pay off. It was a satisfying ending, and the fact that it was put together like a great movie made it even better.

The DLC, Left Behind, was also included with the game. During this you play as Ellie, before Joel ever comes into the picture. Left Behind was a perfect 2 hour gaming experience. It has the same great writing as the main game, though the dialogue between Ellie and her friend Riley may actually be even better. The pacing is great. It’s not as action-heavy, but the game wastes no time. Every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

The Last of Us is a really difficult game to rate. It starts with a bang, but within the first couple hours of gameplay I was often tempted to just put it down because the excitement dropped off so much. If it hadn’t been so critically revered, I probably would have put it down. Ultimately I was rewarded for sticking it out because the last half of the game was amazing.

Rating: 9/10 – The Last of Us is one of the best written stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Though it drags at the start, in the end it was totally worth playing. It’s an emotional roller coaster that really gets you invested in what’s going to happen next and makes you care about the characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as the story, but it gets better as the game goes on and is very enjoyable by the end. The perfection that is Left Behind is what’s bumping this rating up from an 8 to a 9.

Murdered: Soul Suspect (Review)

Murdered: Soul Suspect was released in June of 2014 by developer Airtight Games. The game has received mediocre to negative reviews, and I assume sales weren’t that great since Airtight closed up shop only a month after release.

Expectations really worked against the game. When I first heard about it, I was very interested. The impression I got from previews was that it was an adventure game made modern. When I saw that it was released for the new consoles, I was somewhat confused (adventure games on console?) but stoked that there was something I actually wanted to play on the XBox One. Then I saw the price. $69.99 at GameStop. This threw me for a loop. Adventure games don’t cost that much money. Even though the images from the game looked AAA quality, I never expected this to be a full price game. So, while I wanted to play it, I decided that I’d wait 6 months for it to come down in price. My boyfriend went out and got me a copy for PS4, so I obviously have played the game, but I can imagine the price driving off a number of potential buyers.

Murdered puts you in the shoes of Detective Ronan O’Connor who, at the beginning of the game, is being murdered. You become a ghost and need to wrap up unfinished business – namely tracking down the serial killer who killed you and has been killing young women in Salem – before you can move on.

The gameplay mainly focuses on solving mysteries. You investigate the scene of your own murder, and as the game progresses you investigate the scenes of other Bell Killer crimes. Here is where the game feels like an updated point-and-click adventure. You scour the area for clues, examining anything relevant, then conclude the investigation by selecting the most relevant clue. Sometimes choosing the most relevant clue was not very intuitive. Or, the answer was so simple that I completely overlooked it – I was trying to be clever and think like a detective, but the right answer wasn’t clever at all. I found this to be more of a problem at the beginning of the game though, and it got better by the end.

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Murdered involves a lot of exploration. As you travel through Salem you discover not only clues about the Bell Killer, but also information about the town’s history and Ronan’s life. Salem is dark, but also quite beautiful. There’s a kind of double environment effect, as you can see both the town as it really is, and see ghostly remnants of the past.

One thing I liked was that the world did not feel empty. There are plenty of people walking through the town. As a ghost you’re able to possess the living and read their minds, or sometimes even influence what they do. The world is also filled with other ghosts. You’re able to help some of them move on as a series of side-quests, while others aren’t quite ready yet.

Though Murdered bills itself as an action-adventure game, there really isn’t much action. The only ‘danger’ in the game comes from demons who appear in certain places that need to be taken care of. Defeating demons is mainly a matter of stealth. You hide out of sight, or within the  ghostly auras scattered around every location, then sneak up behind the demon and perform a QTE. It’s fairly simple and mostly requires patience and timing.

On an aesthetic level, I though Murdered was very good. The graphics are good, the city of Salem is interesting to explore and the ghostly apparitions which flit in and out of existence are a nice, eerie touch. I was happy with the voice acting and the writing of all the major characters.

Again, I have to emphasize that expectations are what will make or break this game. It’s an adventure game that focuses on exploration and telling a good story. Aside from the main plot, I really enjoyed the little stories the game told. You’d come across a crying ghost on a beach and discover how she died. You’d collect a set of hidden collectibles and be treated with a well-told ghost story.  I appreciated the game for what it was, so I had a lot of fun with it. If you like exploring, uncovering clues, and good narrative, I think you’d like Murdered too.

Murdered: Soul Suspect cat possession

However, if you’re expecting an action game, that’s not what you’re going to get. But you do get to possess and play as a cat sometimes.

My playthrough of Murdered took me about 7-8 hours, and that’s with going out of my way to find all the collectibles. Though I generally don’t like to harp on games for length, I thought it was a bit short considering the price point. However, the price has already dropped a fair bit, especially if you’re willing to play it on PC.

Rating: 7/10 – What it lacks in action, it makes up for by telling a good story and giving a haunting, fully-formed world to explore. Some of the detective work isn’t very intuitive, but I still recommend the game for people who like exploration and ghost stories.

A History of Control(lers)

Video game controllers are something I have a lot of strong feelings about. When a game has a multi-console release, I don’t care too much about framerates or 720p vs. 1080p. Exclusive content usually doesn’t sell me on one or the other. But the controller – how comfortable it feels in my hands, and how intuitive playing the game will be – that’s important to me.

So today, I’d like to go through a (completely biased) history and review of all the console controllers that have been a part of my gaming life.

NES (1985)

I remember the good old days. Days when controllers were simple. When ergonomics was a term I had never heard. When I didn’t spend all day in front of a computer with my hands on a keyboard and need to worry about repetitive strain injuries. I was 7, and holding a blocky NES controller was second nature to me.

NES controller

Looking back, it’s not a pretty controller. And it’s definitely not a comfortable controller to hold. But it did its job for me at the time, and having only 2 buttons was good enough for the games of that era. Of course, I’m not 7 anymore and my hands are no longer child-sized. Games have also become much more complex. Luckily, controllers evolved.

Sega Genesis (1988)

The Sega Genesis was released in North America three years after the NES and it introduced a much nicer controller.

With the jump to a 16-bit CPU, Sega introduced a controller with a third button. Though the positioning of the buttons was a bit odd, the extra button was nice (and a few years later they introduced a 6-button version). The D-Pad allowed you to push in 8 directions. The shape of the controller was a huge improvement and much more comfortable to hold.

SNES (1991)

Nintendo entered the 16-bit era with the SNES.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller

The biggest improvement over the NES controller was the introduction of more buttons. X and Y were added and the diagonal placement of the buttons really worked and became a mainstay for most future controllers. Left and right shoulder buttons were also introduced, bringing the button count up to six. The D-Pad remained pretty much the same and though they added some curves, the way you held the controller didn’t change much.

Playstation (1995)

Sony entered the console wars with the 32-bit PlayStation.

Original PlayStation controller

This is console the one that spawned my love of RPGs. It’s also the one that added the phrase “No, I don’t want to come outside, I’m playing video games” to my daily vocabulary. The PS controller was an absolute joy to use after so many years of Nintendo bricks. PS added another pair of shoulder buttons (L2/R2), but other than that the button configuration was pretty much the same as the SNES. The the four face buttons were labelled with shapes/colours, likely so they weren’t directly ripping off Nintendo. The grip handles were the big selling feature for me, and (thankfully) soon every major console controller would have them.

N64 (1996)

Nintendo, not to be outdone by Sony, released the 64-bit N64 a year later. It was a more powerful machine but still relied on expensive, limited-capacity cartridges rather than moving to CD-ROMs. In terms of sales, the N64 was hugely outperformed by the PlayStation.

Nintendo 64 controller

Here is where the slow descent into madness starts. The N64 controller was odd in that there were a couple different ways you could grip it. It could be held in the traditional way, with the left and right grips – meaning you had to use the D-Pad, and would not be able to reach the analog stick or the trigger (Z-button) underneath. Well, actually you could reach those, but it wasn’t comfortable. I don’t even want to tell you how I held this controller for my first few months of playing Goldeneye. The other option was to hold the center grip and right grip – this way you could use the analog stick and trigger, but couldn’t use the D-Pad or left shoulder button. Not being able to easily reach every button on a controller was a very strange design decision. Nintendo also recreated the wheel by dropping the X and Y buttons and replacing them with 4 smaller C-buttons.

In 1997 the Rumble Pak was released, making the N64 controller the first one that could vibrate in response to in-game events. The Rumble Pak was a separate peripheral that got plugged into the memory slot on the controller.

PlayStation DualShock (1998)

It didn’t come with a new console, but Sony released an even better PS controller a couple of years later.

Playstation Dual Shock controller

In 1998, the DualShock controller was released for the PlayStation, which added a number of new features. Most obvious were the two analog sticks, which gave gamers a choice between the D-Pad or the stick for movement, and opened up the door for camera control using the right stick. You could also press the analog sticks down, giving two more buttons to play with (L3/R3). Sony one-upped Nintendo’s Rumble Pak by adding internal vibration motors. The DualShock’s rumblings were far superior to the Rumble Pak’s loud and jarring gyrations.

PlayStation 2 (2000)

Oh PS2, how I loved you. What a great console with an amazing library of games. And that backwards compatibility… It’s the best-selling console of all time for a reason.

PlayStation 2 - DualShock 2 controller

Functionally and aesthetically, the DualShock 2 was not much different from the DualShock 1. Kudos to Sony for not messing with a good thing.

XBox (2001)

In 2001 Microsoft began their journey into the console market with the XBox.
Microsoft XBox controller
The original XBox controller was a hulking beast. I don’t even think that people with large hands liked it much, as even though it had a huge surface area, the buttons were inexplicably squished together. For me, Microsoft’s best design choice was swapping the positions of the D-Pad and left stick, which made everything feel much more balanced. The XBox controller had nice solid feeling trigger buttons, and also added two small black and white buttons (which I honestly can’t even remember a use for).

Nintendo GameCube (2001)

After the N64, which had some great games but lackluster sales, Nintendo released the GameCube, hoping to turn things around. Unfortunately, the sales were still dwarfed by the PS2.

Nintendo GameCube controller

The GameCube controller was quite different from the N64’s. They got rid of the middle grip, which was good. However, they also completely reconfigured the buttons again. Now we were back to 4 buttons (A, B, X, Y) on the controller face, which had 3 different shapes. There was a left and right Trigger, and the Z-button got moved above the right Trigger and changed into a shoulder button. There was no corresponding shoulder button on the left side. Like the XBox, the GameCube controller put the left stick above the D-Pad. I think the GameCube controller is funny looking, but it’s actually my favourite offering from Nintendo.

XBox Controller S (2002)

The next year Microsoft released a more reasonably sized controller for the Xbox, which became the standard.

Microsoft XBox controller

The A, B, X, Y buttons were moved into more standard positions with better spacing, though Start and Back got moved got moved to the left side because giant logo placement is clearly most important. It wasn’t quite there yet, but Microsoft was well on its way to creating a very good thing.

XBox 360 (2005)

Microsoft got a head start on the 7th console generation by releasing the 360 a scant four years after the original XBox.

XBox 360 wireless controller

And here it is. The XBox 360 wireless controller – the pinnacle of gamepad design. I love everything about this controller – the shape, the weight of it in my hands, the perfect placement of every button, trigger and stick in relation to my fingers. It’s sleek and smooth, the black and white buttons from the original XBox controller were removed and replaced with left and right bumpers. The center Guide button was added to turn the console or controllers on and off, or access the 360’s menu. If I could use this controller on every console I’d be a happy girl.

Of course, the problem the best controller being released in 2005 is that the future designs just feel inferior (some more than others).

 PlayStation 3 (2006)

Sony came out with two controller for the PS3 – the Sixaxis and the DualShock 3. However, they’re almost identical so I’ll address them both at once.

Sony PS3 Sixaxis control

Sony seemed to like the design of the DualShock, so the appearance of PS3’s DualShock 3 and Sixaxis controllers was very similar. The Analog button was removed, and a PS button (which functioned much like the 360’s Guide button) added. These controllers also used motion sensing technology to experiment with motion controls. Heavy Rain was the only game I played on the PS3 that used this (actually, it was the only game I ever finished on the PS3, period) and the motion controls weren’t as obnoxious as I expected.

Wii (2006)

The Wii was the last of the 7th generation of consoles, and with its release came the realization that I was definitely not Nintendo’s target audience anymore.

Nintendo Wiimote and nunchuk

Nintendo went off the motion control deep end with the Wii Remote. The Wii Remote is long and skinny, designed to be used with one hand and pointed at the motion sensor. The labelling of the buttons was completely changed – again. Now there was a 1 and 2 where A and B would usually be. A was now a big button near the D-Pad, while B was a trigger on the underside of the remote. Start and Select were now + and -. Some games used the Wii Remote on its own, while others added the nunchuck which gave players an analog stick for movement and a C trigger button. I guess using completely awkward controls and flailing around could be fun if you’re: a) a child, b) playing Wii Sports with a group of people, c) drunk, but otherwise these controllers are total bullshit.

Wiimote horizontal grip

Some games let you hold the Wii Remote horizontally… I have nothing nice to say about this.

Wii Classic Controller

If you hated the Wii Remote, Nintendo also sold the Classic Controller (along with about 90 other accessories). With the exception of the analog sticks, the Classic Controller has a very similar design and shape as an SNES controller. Because of all the controllers you could replicate, why not copy the one released in 1991? Attach the cord to the bottom instead of the top just to show what a special snowflake you are as well.

Wii U (2012)

The Wii U was marketed terribly, and sold accordingly (though it seems to be improving now). As someone who pretty much stopped paying attention to Nintendo after the Wii, I was under the impression that the Wii U Gamepad was the new system, rather than the controller for a long time. Sigh. Nintendo, why don’t you want me to love you? (I could probably write a whole post on this).

Wii U gamepad

The Wii U Gamepad is huge. Like a handheld console, except even bigger. The thing that drives me crazy about many Nintendo controllers (well, one of the things) is that no matter how big the device gets – whether it’s the Wii U Gamepad or the 3DS XL – the controls stay child-sized. The D-Pad is small, the buttons are tiny and close together. My hands aren’t even large, but I pick up a DS and think “wow, this definitely was not designed to be held by me”.

The one cool thing about the Gamepad is that you can use it like a handheld and play in bed or something while the console is in the other room (you do have to get up to put the disc in though). However, playing with this monstrosity when you’re sitting in front of the TV the Wii U is connected to is so completely unappealing. It just isn’t at all comfortable to hold. The touchpad is used to as a 2nd screen to supplement gameplay in a lot of games. That can include things like displaying the track map in Mario Kart 8 (a feature which does not offend me), or having to blow into the microphone or rub the screen to reveal secrets in Super Mario 3D World (a feature which is fucking obnoxious).

Wii U Pro Controller

Thank goodness Nintendo had the sense to release a proper controller for the Wii U, because if I had to use the Gamepad or a Wiimote I would never touch the thing (which would be a shame, because Mario and Donkey Kong are fun). The Pro Controller looks like a rip-off of the 360 controller. I don’t know how Microsoft feels about this, but I think this was an excellent design decision. For some reason they’ve swapped the positions of the right stick and A/B/X/Y buttons, which makes this controller more awkward than it needs to be, but it’s still 100x better than the other options for the Wii U.

PlayStation 4 (2013)

The PlayStation 4 is currently the most powerful console. Apparently, with great power comes great responsibility… and the need to “improve” on an already very good controller.

PlayStation 4 DualShock 4

The DualShock 4 is pretty similar to the DualShock 3, but made a few changes. The grips are wider apart and the Start/Select (now Options and Share) have been moved to the top in order to make room for an gratuitously large touch pad. In games like Tomb Raider and Murdered: Soul Suspect, the touch pad is used open the game menu or map which is okay by me, even though it’s too big for this to be the main function. However, a game like Infamous: Second Son makes you swipe the touchpad to perform certain actions, which feels totally unnecessary. They also added a large light bar along the top edge of the controller. Apparently it’s used for player identification, though the light will often change colours based on things happening in the games. Generally the bar glows a really bright blue, so if you’re playing in the dark don’t tip the controller up if you don’t want to be blinded.

The speaker added to the controller is kind of cool, and the motion sense is still there, but has been used sparingly in most games I’ve played.

XBox One (2013)

The XBox One is the most recent major console release.

XBox One controllerMost of the development for this controller was focused on refinement, while the design was left relatively the same. The textures of the analog sticks have changed and gotten a little smaller. The Start and Back buttons were relabeled. The biggest improvements are on the bumpers and triggers – they feel really nice, solid, and responsive now. The Guide button now glows white instead of a muted green. I’m not sure what it is about the latest generation and making the controllers glow so brightly – isn’t the glow from the tv enough? I don’t find the XBox One controller quite as comfortable to hold as the 360’s, but it’s pretty close.

Top 5

Here’s the TLDR version of what I’d rate the best major console controllers from 1985 onwards.

  1. XBox 360
  2. PS DualShock 2
  3. XBox One
  4. Nintendo GameCube
  5. PS DualShock 4

And the worst? Pretty much everything else from Nintendo, with the Wii Remote taking home the award of “controller I’d most like to throw in a fire.”

What do you think? What are the best and worst console controllers?

Doing it Right: Tomb Raider (2013)

Doing it Right is a new, hopefully regular, feature I’ll be writing that looks at games that I think are making positive strides in regard to females and representation in games. While it’s important to call out games when they are sexist and reinforcing negative stereotypes, I think it’s equally important to recognize the games that are succeeding at elevating themselves away from that. 

I played through the Tomb Raider reboot on PS4 for the first time not too long ago. From a gameplay perspective, I thought it was amazing. It looked and sounded great, and the controls were smooth as silk. It was one of the most engaging and entertaining games I’ve played in a while. But how does it hold up when I look deeper? Through her history Lara Croft has been interpreted in many ways, from strong female role model to virtual blow-up doll. Have Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics re-invented Lara in a positive way or have they fallen back on lazy and sexist video game tropes?

Lara Croft

Classic Lara Croft

When I think of classic Lara Croft, the above image is what comes to mind. On the bright side, she looks fierce and determined. But she has completely unrealistic body proportions. Besides the huge breasts, which she was always known for, she also had small hips and a teeny, tiny waist. She has an unnaturally wide stance. She was always an ass kicker, but she was also eye candy, with her physical assets at the forefront.

Lara Croft reimangined

This is the new Lara. She looks just as determined, though maybe a little less fierce (this is an origin story, after all). Her body proportions are much more realistic. She looks like someone who is strong, who can climb up cliff faces and use a bow with a heavy enough draw weight to take down an enemy. Her outfit is a reasonable outfit for raiding tombs. I do have to suspend disbelief a little bit that those skinny tank top straps or her bra straps never slide off her shoulders, but I can get past that. The new Lara makes me believe that her designers thought about function just as much as form.

You can also choose to put Lara in different outfits, which I believe were DLC originally, but were included in the PS4 definitive edition. In most games I find games that the ‘bonus’ outfits for female characters tend to be much more revealing than their original costumes (see games ranging from Metroid to Cool Boarders 2 to Bayonetta). In Tomb Raider, it’s very refreshing to see that this isn’t the case.

Tomb Raider skins

The extra skins actually put more clothes on Lara. Her starting tank top is as revealing as it gets. Again, function is just as important as form. She gets the Sure Shot outfit, which puts her in archery gear. She gets the Hunter outfit, which adds camouflage to her normal attire. Three of the six bonus outfits have sleeves. Most of them cover her chest. Lara is still gorgeous, but not in a “we need to make her overtly sexy so men will want to play this game” way.

The new Lara is also smart. Not that the old Lara wasn’t, but here it’s made very clear that she’s an academic. She knows a lot about other cultures, she has good instincts, and is continuously puzzling things out throughout the game. She figures things out when other people can’t. When she finds an artifact in the game she shows reverence towards it. The term “tomb raider” doesn’t really fit Lara, as she’s not going to exotic locales to pillage another culture’s historical artifacts. She yearns for discovery and knowledge. Through journal entries found throughout the game, we see that Lara’s brains and bravery also inspires adoration from the rest of the Endurance crew.

There was a lot of controversy about the Tomb Raider reboot and how Lara is portrayed, and most of that was due to some incredibly dumb things said by the executive producer before the game was released. Things like “we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again” and suggesting that “When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character… They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.'” I can tell you that’s not the Tomb Raider I played. People will interpret things in different ways, but to me, Lara was never broken. Lots of bad things happened, but she overcame them all. The game occasionally showed that she was scared or in pain or doubting, but she kept going. I can’t fault a game for trying to make the protagonist more emotionally realistic. Most people can’t be in mortal danger, drop hundreds of bodies, or have their friends die without being a little shaken up.

Damsel in Distress

Tomb Raider does use one of the oldest tropes in the book, the damsel in distress. Early in the game, Lara’s friend Sam gets kidnapped. Sam is a descendant of the Sun Queen Himiko, so Lara literally needs to save the princess. However, a couple of things set this scenario apart from the usually problematic cliche.

Lara and Sam

First, none of the women need to be saved by a man. Lara is the one who does all the rescuing. She saves a number of the men in her crew as well.

Second, Sam is never portrayed as an object or a prize, as the damsel in distress so often is. We learn about her through her interactions with Lara and the rest of the crew, as well as through journal entries. She’s not just a plot device, she’s a real character. The relationship between her and Lara is established.

Diversity

Women play most of the important roles within the game, from the hero, to the skeptic, to the one who needs rescuing, to the big bad.

The crew of the Endurance is fairly sexually and ethnically diverse. There are 4 men and 3 women. Four characters are white, one is black, one is Japanese, and one is Polynesian.

The nameless bad guys who Lara has to fight are also very diverse. In many games where the protagonist racks up a big kill count the antagonists are the “savage” natives, or just some kind of non-white/non-Western group. As you learn through journal entries found on the island, the Solarii Brotherhood is made up of the people who have crashed on the island, who come from all over the world.

It’s not stated anywhere in the game but if you wanted to, you could absolutely interpret the relationship between Lara and Sam as a romantic one.

 Overall

In addition to being a whole lot of fun, I found Tomb Raider to be a very positive experience from a feminist perspective. Lara was presented as a strong woman, who only got stronger throughout the game. That’s not to say that it’s completely without problems but, as I mentioned, I wanted to focus on the good things. If you want to hear some more opinions about the game, and hear some discussion of the more problematic things, go listen the episode of Justice Points I was a guest on. I tried not to overlap the article with the podcast too much.