January’s PS+ Titles Sink Teeth in 2021 With RPGs, Lara Croft
At this point, Sony’s PS+ service is competing against widely different rivals in terms of the free games they’re offering each month. Once a battle to see whose games would be better each month, now there’s little opposition between it and Xbox’s lower-profile Games With Gold monthly downloads. However, there’s no arguing with the momentum of that company’s Game Pass dedicated service and the excellent titles they’ve been making available. While PlayStation does have its own version of that kind of service, at this point the “comparisons” mostly boil down to complete packages … and in that regard, PS+ has taken great strides over last year to kick their quality into gear.
Does that continue into this first month of 2021? Absolutely. They’re starting things off right by including one PS5 game for owners of that console (only playable on PS5s) and a pair of excellent titles for the PS4, one being a AAA powerhouse and the other an exciting, well-received time sink of a game. First impressions are important, and Sony’s doing the right things with their PS+ service shortly after the launch of their newest console. Let’s take a gander, but before we do, be sure to Grab a Year Subscription to PlayStation Plus on Amazon.
My enthusiasm for Maneater could be felt within a several mile radius upon both the release of the trailer and while I was playing through the game. There have been shark video games before, but nothing like the freedom afforded to the player in this one, in which they gain control of a baby bull shark dumped into the waters of a pseudo-Floridian bayou shortly after the murder of their parent. It’s amazing to see how the moving parts of an action-RPG guide the gameplay along here, where the wimpy little character must eat up enemies how they can early to level up their body, preparing to enter bigger bodies of water and get revenge.
At that larger body state, Maneater cashes in on its promise as something resembling a shark RPG. There are choices, yes, which hinge on the types of mutations you choose to give (and upgrade) to the bull shark, and you do have some say in how many humans or sea creatures you’d like to consume. That said, like most action-RPGs, it’s typically best and the most fun to do as much as possible to complete tasks and earn rewards: attacking human hot spots for mass consumption, destroying seafaring vessels, defeat shark hunters. Filled with personality and addictively easy controlling of the shark, Maneater’s one of the better games to come out of last year and far and away the best shark game, like, ever, dude.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Despite Lara Croft being one of gaming’s most popular characters, the Tomb Raider franchise began to suffer from escalation. Even after a reboot, it reaches bizarre levels of action by the end of the 2000s, growing more fantastical with each installment. Amid a time when gritty, semi-realistic video games were gaining popularity, 2013’s rebooted version of Tomb Raider came right on time, capitalizing on the popularity of “female survivalist heroes who are also archers”. Semi-open exploration of areas, thrilling but smart cinematics, and grounded use of tech gave Lara Croft the right touch of realism.
Fast-forward to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third entry in this latest trilogy, and it’s come close to reaching “that point” again by putting Lara Croft in a race to resolve the conundrum of a mythological box that could trigger the apocalypse. Beyond the storytelling’s outlandishness, however, the game has refined its now-familiar combat and survival mechanisms as Croft navigates jungles and tombs alike, to a point that’s arguably not that different from the second entry in the series. It’s tricky to balance not going overboard in the story with gameplay that’s well-tread but works, and while Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t do it flawlessly, it does get Lara Croft to the end of this trilogy with her head held high.
While it’s a struggle for developers to get an action-RPG title to make it on a mainstream level when they aren’t a AAA studio, there’s always some solace to be found in the fact that those who like RPGs like this are rather voracious and will eventually get around to the title at some point. Spiders attempted to break into this niche several years back with Bound By Flame, but it was met with subpar reviews to its gaming shallowness, bluntly adult characterizations, and lack of role-playing interactivity despite its customizable veneer. It’s as if Spiders listened to each of these criticisms and aimed to correct every point when making GreedFall.
On an island environment that combines the swagger of a pirate tale with mystical powers and dangerous monsters, GreedFall allows the player to customize their character and engage in versatile combat and exploration of an absorbing setting. Both critics and players take no time in mentioning that the game liberally borrows its elements from other AAA titles – a healthy mix of old-school BioWare and peak Ubisoft — but it does so with reverence and quality in mind. Depth, party mechanics, exploration surprises, diplomatic maturity, and choice-and-consequence design prove that Spiders knows what its audience wants.