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Sprite Machine

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  1. OK, I really need to replay the first two. It's been too long. I might have to go into media blackout mode until I've finished them. Enjoy Shenmue 3, everyone!!
  2. Quite how Lara held her breath long enough to get down here, I don't know, but the level starts underwater, the mini-sub crashing into the ocean bed, and with only a trail of barrels and debris leading the way through the murky, shark-invested water to an old sunken ship, whereupon I emerge in the pockets of air that have been trapped inside its cavernous upside-down hull. As far as levels go, this is very imaginative, and I'd almost describe this as a tomb - though Goons With Guns(tm) are still roaming around the place, also looking for its treasure. Walking around on ceilings, climbing through upside-down doors, activating old mechanisms and moving water and rubble around - my only criticsm is that lots of the level looks a horrible rust colour.
  3. The second level in the "offshore" region is Diving Area. This is a relatively straightforward level, which mostly involves finding card keys and circuit boards to open doors or move machinery, dive through some very deep underwater areas avoiding frogmen with harpoons, and shooting yet more big dudes with guns and dogs (and the occasional flamethrower). There's even a section where a helicopter lifts off out of an open landing pad as you run towards it. Bonus, I find an M16 assault rifle! This packs a meaner punch than the uzis. There isn't much environmental puzzling here, it's predominantly opening doors and shooting people. Though I vaguely remember doing all of this, I've never played the game 'properly', having to manage ammo and health kits, choosing wisely which weapons to equip. It's hardly a survival horror but it's something to think about. I save my harpoons by luring any frogmen to the surface and shooting them from the edge like ducks in a barrel. I dive down and swim around a little submarine right at the bottom of a deep pool, though it doesn't do anything (it appears in the cutscene that follows). The in-engine cutscenes look very dated. Lara's character model is fine but all other characters look like they've been pulled out of Minecraft. The monk gives some information about what Marco Bartoli is trying to do, look for the Seraph that his father acquired before his ship was sunk. The Seraph unlocks something at the monastery, and the monastery presumably holds something that unlocks the Great Wall vault - hence the globetrotting. While the monk is chatting, Lara gets changed into a wetsuit. Aside from her gym wear in the mansion practice levels, this is the first time in the series that the character model changes 'skin' in game. Bartoli kills the monk and I escape with the submarine into the inky depths of the ocean. A shark makes the sub crash and I'm left to my own devices, forty fathoms down...
  4. Binge the whole thing and write up a 2000 word essay by the end of the week. I expect snark.
  5. Christ, this is a hell of a level. It's massive! Two hours, it took me to get through it. Two hours! Mind you, I remember playing it 20 years ago on the PlayStation and it felt like I spent weeks on that one level. You've got the outside bit with the moat(?) first, then the domed roof area, then you drop down into some sort of control room, dodging rocks rolling towards you (for some reason?). Then, once you get into the main hub of the opera house, you just spend ages going back and forth, finding little buttons to open doors elsewhere around the stage (which also has a moat?), raise the stage curtain up, dodge sand bags, go in and out of a dressing room, through some deadly vents, through a flooded basement and up and down in a lift. Eventually, a large warehouse full of crates leads to the exit and a waiting sea plane to the oil rigs, though not before being confronted by a massive dude with a giant gun. Then there's a cutscene with the main villain Marco Bartoli and his henchman flying the plane - which badly needs subtitles 'cos I can hardly understand a word they're saying - followed by an FMV in which the plane lands at an offshore rig (its wing clips through the bloody door - and this is pre-rendered! [see 1:51:27 above!]) in which Lara awakens from her meeting with a heavy spanner to find she's trapped in a room and has no weapons. So, the Offshore Rig level is a bit like Natla's Mines from the first game, in as much as you have ammo but no weapons and have to win them back. The pistols are in the plane, which is quite tricky to access. It took me ages to remember what to do, but you have to get the two enemies to chase you and one of them shoots the windows open in the main control room, letting you access the outside and get back into the plane. Then you just go around murdering everyone to get the rest of your weapons back, including a brand new one - the harpoon gun. This is the only weapon that can be drawn and fired underwater. The level design is kinda baffling in parts, though. In the original Tomb Raider, you could get away with having levers and switches open big ancient stone doors elsewhere in the level, as if they've been designed by lost civilizations to intentionally mislead and dissuade would be looters. You can imagine the hidden mechanisms behind those stone walls whirring away when you pull on a bit of exposed machinery and set things in motion. But an opera house where a switch in one room opens a door somewhere else? Or a button on a rig that opens a hatch on a plane to which it isn't even connected? That stretches believabilitly. And beyond that, you've got the problem of building 'real' places out of the same massive blocks that were used to build stone temples and whatnot. I suppose that's what happens with sequels. They want to do more, they want to show different environments, bring in more guns and action and changes of scenery. Tomb Raider 2 - occasionally featuring tombs.
  6. Level 3, Bartoli's Hideout, is the second level of the Venice location. Do you know what I miss? I miss the loading screens from the PS1, they set the scene nicely. The PC is so fast, everything loads instantly! This level has even more goons with guns, more shoot-outs in small rooms, shoot-outs in big rooms, shoot-outs on balconies, shoot-outs through windows. It's kinda fun smashing through glass, and there's a neat puzzle with a room full of chandeliers, but I'm not getting that same "Tomb Raider" vibe. Also, I stand by my firm belief that the introduction of the "save anywhere" feature in TR2 directly led to the designers putting in loads more traps, ambushes and unpredictable awkward jumps, because they knew you'd save all over the place and wouldn't give a shit if you fell off something and died or got set on fire (see also: cheap deaths and quick-saving on PC games of the same era). A shame, I used to love this game as a young'un. I don't feel it's aged as well as its predecessor. Still, onto the Opera House...
  7. Modding Tomb Raider 2 (PC) is a little bit trickier than the first one; there are a few different ways of doing it and disagreements over which is best. There's a wrapper/code-injector method that supports lots of classic PC games and lets you replace textures and do other stuff, but the program is quite tricky to use and Windows thinks it's a virus. It does work, though. Then there's a much easier method which replaces the executable and does lots of really cool stuff. It doesn't let you replace textures, though, but you can use it in conjunction with the above method. I couldn't get controller mapping working with either, so I've set up Steam to do that, and I've replaced the FMVs with upscaled ones. I must have spent a good three hours just fidding with all different mods and patches. Finally, I've settled on a configuration I like. Original textures, filtering turned off, but 1080p widescreen display. It's pretty much an HD version of what I remember playing 20 years ago but with the 'black fog' draw distance massively increased. I'll be playing through all of the game hopefully. I honestly don't think I've played it all the way through without using ammo/med-pack cheats. Some observations to start with. Lara's mansion training level is much bigger. I mean, the mansion is the same size but you can go outside now and there's a massive hedge maze and obstacle course. There are dark rooms with nothing in them and the butler follows you around. You can lock him in the pantry. The engine supports sky boxes so now the outdoors exists! Most of the levels are outdoors now. The Great Wall sees Lara shooting tigers, birds and spiders, and stumbling across ancient booby-traps. Obviously not a touristy area. Had a bit of trouble with my controls locking up. Seems to be alright now, just have to watch I don't press too many buttons at once. T-Rex(es) in a secret cave under the Great Wall of China makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Neither does Lara's insistence of murdering everything she comes across. (no commentary for this one) Venice is a weird setting for a "Tomb Raider" game. Again, this must be some private backwater corner of the city because there's no people around except goons with guns. The environmental puzzles are inventive but the combat is very tedious. I particularly dislike the way new enemies re-spawn when you do things, just appear out of nowhere in areas that you've already cleared. Gun-toting dudes in the first game were rare - here, they're around every corner. Blowing up mines with a boat and driving up ramps is quite an inventive scenario, albeit tricky to pull off. I don't recall how long it took me to work that solution out 20 years ago. Best new feature? No more pointy boobs.
  8. Just had a quick go on Ultrawings. The comfort settings are good (not too obtrusive covers around the cockpit and you can 'look through' them by turning your head), but even so, boy is my head spinning! I need to ration my time with this one, I think. Clicking all the little ignition and fuel buttons inside the aircraft is very satisfying. I'm not convinced about using the Move's face buttons for rudder control but I don't see what else they could have done. (Oh, is this one of those games compatible with that weird food pedal/pad thingamy?) Love the save file interface at the start, and the newspaper article when you crash.
  9. Given he's wearing his old TNG-era uniform, I'm pretty sure it isn't really Data. Dream sequence or holodeck, surely, playing the role of Android Jiminy Cricket.
  10. I mean in the latest trailer. They've deflated him. Have you seen what Brent Spiner looks like nowadays? That's no enviable task!
  11. Data pretty much looks like he did in Nemesis, which is quite incredible. I'm up for a bit of nostalgia-of-the-week, though I don't expect much more than that. The new characters seem dreadful.
  12. Having just completed Astro Bot (including all the challenge levels), can I just say, that anyone who has a PSVR but hasn't got Astro Bot... get Astro Bot.
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