Tomb Raider Legend on PC (8/10)

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I could have sworn I had played this game before, but I wasn’t completely sure. I get this one confused with Tomb Raider: Anniversary. All I knew is that I didn’t own it and, if I had played it, it was probably on Gametap as a freebie. Well, this weekend it went on Steam sale for 97¢ so I grabbed it knowing that if I managed to have an hour of fun with it, it would have been worth the price.

Yup, I’ve played it before. I definitely remember the first level. Things get cloudy after that. These games aren’t quite known for their strong, memorable narratives. The game would seem completely new to me then I’d hit a particularly tricky level and memories would flood back. Most of the reason I write these redundant reviews is to help me remember what I’ve seen or played.

This is the first of the Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider games and it still holds up rather well. The only areas of the game that haven’t aged as well are the shooting mechanics, an occasional quicktime event, and the too-close camera positioning. Otherwise, the controls are fluid and the tombs offer a medium-level puzzle challenge. There’s no crafting, and object collecting is limited to a half-a-dozen or so statues per level. This is straightforward fun that doesn’t wear out it’s welcome.

Q: The Winged Serpent (7/10)

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A piece of 80s shlock that’s much better than it should be mostly due to the excellent cast and characters. The plot involves a small time crook, grizzly murders, ancient Aztec sacrifice and the return of Quetzalcoatl. Interspersed every ten minutes or so are hilarious scenes of random New Yorkers being attacked from the sky by a mostly unseen monster. Q emerges in her full stop-motion glory at the climax and by then you are totally cool with how corny it looks. The right elements are all here, and it is very entertaining, but a generally lack of cohesion keep the movie from being great.

Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid - Wood Engraving

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This print has nothing to do with the movie of the same name. This started as a sketch of a large man with a lobster bib and it morphed into this. I wanted to try engraving in maple again after years of using resingrave. I’m hear to say end-grain maple stinks. The lines are rough and it prints very unevenly. But never mind that. Buy this print!

Rise of the Tomb Raider on PC (8/10)

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Part two of the Tomb Raider reboot doesn’t offer anything really new in terms of game play but that’s okay. The core of the series is 3-D platforming mechanics and it does that very well. This is especially evident in the nine or so “challenge tombs” scattered throughout the world.

The graphics are stunning and most of the environments are fun to explore. The world is zoned off into half-a-dozen regions which are fairly open-world in their layout. Much of my time was spent hunting down the inane collectibles in order to get a 100% complete. I almost got everything before the end, but there is a region in the prelude that you can’t return to until you have beaten the final boss.

The story takes place somewhere in snowy Russia where the people dress like vikings and speak English. As per usual, there isn’t much more narrative beyond a magic object and a group of mercenaries racing to find it before Lara. These games could be perfect if they could just put a little more effort into the plot and characters.

As an aside, I am really getting tired of crafting in games. It’s not too complicated here, but I’d rather not be bothered with having to grab every mushroom or twig I see.

Boxer from Shantung (8/10)

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A small-time hood uses his fighting mastery to become the boss of his own gang. Features a fight with a giant European wrestler and a long, bloody finale in which the hero has an axe in his belly half the time. The movie is a bit too long but that final fight really makes up for all the fluff. Like Man of Iron, the lead character isn’t terribly likable but I guess he makes a little effort not to be a really bad crime boss.

The Ettin - Pen and Ink Drawing

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Earlier this year I decided to support a Kickstarter campaign for a new Apple ][ game called Nox Archaist. It is going to be an RPG in the style of the 8-bit Ultima games. There are was a call-out for artwork submissions to be included in the manual. I decided to try and produce some drawings for the project. In the end I made about half-a-dozen pen and ink drawings of various fantasy creatures. This one was perhaps my favorite of the lot. As of this writing they were still looking for more art and, if I can find some time, I’ll try to do a few more; continuing my long-standing tradition of not being paid for my art services.

Ultima Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams on MS-DOS (8/10)

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Martian Dreams is built on the same game engine as Ultima VI. Much like that game, it is much less of an RPG and more of an adventure game in which you are wandering through the world, talking to NPCs, and combining objects to solve puzzles. You’re not really building up and customizing your character here. Sure there’s combat and leveling up, but it doesn’t really feel like it matters much.

The most important part of this game is the story and the world it’s built around. Martian Dreams takes place a fictionalized the late nineteenth century setting in which space flight is a reality. Dozens of historical luminaries from the era have all been accidentally sent to Mars and it’s the player’s job to find them all and get them back home. Along the way the real-life talents of the characters will come in to play: George Washington Carver knows botany, Louis Comfort Tiffany know glass making, and Sarah Bernhardt knows, um, stage make-up. The only human villains are the evil monk Rasputin and the anarchist Emma Goldman.

You will soon find out that Mars is not completely devoid of life. The landscape is dotted with the ruins of an ancient race of plant beings. It is all very imaginative and unlike any game that is being produced these days. The game has the feel of a classic Jules Verne novel. I think a modern developer would have pushed to make it as steampunk as possible. Anything to get the cretins cos-playing at some dumb-ass convention.

That isn’t to say that this game couldn’t use some modern updates. There is no way to track your quests other than “good” old-fashioned note taking. As with Ultima VI it pays to play the game in a window and have a text editor open to the side where you write everything down. Every little detail is important. A couple of events won’t trigger unless you type the exact word into a dialogue. If was smart, they’d implement an in-game overlay note taking/map making interface for these classic games.

You also have to act like a crazy cat-lady hoarder with every object you pick up. If you lose that weed-sprayer, there’s no way to beat the game. I had a central dumping point for every object I decided to drop. Who knows if you’re going to need martian dirt money or chewing tobacco later on.

I only have a couple of major quibbles. First, the world map is not very interesting. Lots and lots of red dirt and hills. You’ll be doing lots of walking all over that featureless map. Second, combat is not very fun or important to the story. Fights just get in the way when you are trying to run hundreds of miles across the dirt plains. The weapons are all just as good as the kitchen knife you find early on. Guns just weigh you down and the final battle doesn’t even let you take the weapons you’ve collected in to battle. That said, if you are patient, Martian Dreams is a unique and refreshing RPG adventure.