Parvusimperator Reviews: Rise of the Tomb Raider

A video game review! Yes, from me! I know, I don’t usually do these.

I picked up Rise of the Tomb Raider (20th Anniversary Edition) during a labor day weekend sale. I got it for my PS4, mostly on a lark. I figured that with all the DLC, and having a bunch of patches, I could probably get the $15 of enjoyment out of it.

I was skeptical because I am not a fan of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot by Square Enix. I hated the fact that it’s an origin story, because I loathe origin stories, and I hated the QTEs. I can’t stand QTEs. They’re one of the worst parts of modern gaming, and I wish they would die1. Give me agency or make it a cutscene, game developers. It’s not that hard. There’s nothing wrong with cutscenes. Also, in addition to being a stupid, unnecessary origin story2, the 2013 game was populated with a bunch of other characters whose job is to die to prove the situation is serious and torment Lara.3

So, with all that in mind, what did I think of the sequel? It’s great. In fact, it seemed like they fixed a lot of gripes that I had with the first one. Good on you, Square Enix. Let’s do a deeper dive.

Are there QTEs? Yes, but they’re fewer in number, more spaced out, and the “windows” for button presses seem more forgiving. Also, a lot of them come up in the dodge-and-then-melee combat bits, but many of these are easily bypassed by those of us who can pull off a good headshot. So that’s a big plus.

Combat is much improved this time around too, with more weapons and a bunch of craftable ammo options. I will say that as a guy who has played shooters for a long time, I would have liked to have seen more difficult combat that wasn’t also tied to the survival mechanisms. Mostly because I want auto-heal on for all those times that I screw up the platforming and faceplant on a rock. I found combat satisfying overall. I thought some of the ‘boss fights’ could have been tougher.4 Or maybe that’s just because I like firepower, picked up the “easy button” and got on with life.

The story is better this time too. Lara is still “developing” as a tomb raider/adventurer/badass, but she’s got some skills and drive this time around. And there’s only one friend that hangs around the story. He’s a pretty ok guy, and we get to know him a bit. More time getting to know him would have been better, but this wasn’t awful. Lara is fundamentally a loner, and it’s nice to see us getting back to that.

I think the platforming was a little better in this one compared to the last, but it’s still not as good as Uncharted. One of the things I really liked in Uncharted 4 is that Nate will reach for ledges if and only if he can jump to them. I thought this was a great subtle hint as to what I shouldn’t waste time/restarts from checkpoints trying to reach. Alas, Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t do this, and I really missed the feature. I did like that as Rise of the Tomb Raider progresses, you get some toys to let you zoom around the environment more, and that was fun. Any game that lets me make my own ziplines is welcome.

Graphicswise, we’re long past the era when games would try to blow their competition away in terms of prettiness. The game looks good. There are plenty of spectacular scenic vistas, as befits an adventuring game. And I’m not much of a sound connoisseur, so I’ll merely state that the sound was never a problem. Not noticing it seems about the highest compliment I can pay, since my noticing it usually means it’s awful. Music was also good, though it lacked a kickass theme to really stick with me.

Overall, go for it. You’ll enjoy it.

  1. While I would love to see this be an agonizingly painful death, I am not a Bond villain, and am not choosy when it comes to the manner of termination with extreme prejudice. 
  2. Highly redundant, I know. 
  3. God forbid we reduce the number of characters and build attachments to them so the player gives a shit when they die because this situation is SRS BIZNIZ. /sarcasm 
  4. Protip: Grenade launchers are your friend. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 19, 2018)


  • Parvusimperator and I are both still plowing our way through Shelby Foote’s book. I’m still on Volume 1; he’s nearly through Volume 2.
  • He recommends Whitman Publishing’s edition of U.S. Army in World War II, because of full-color gatefold maps.
  • I recommend the official in-house Many Words Press tabletop roleplaying game system, RPJ, because I wrote it and think it’s cool.


Guns (etc.)

Hail to Nuffle (a joke for the Blood Bowl players)

Choosing and Buying an AEW&C Platform

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C, often colloquially called AWACS even though that’s a specific system for the role) is what separates the Serious Air Forces from the cut-rate posers. The idea is to take a large airframe, usually a jetliner, put a big radar on it, and then have a bunch of people sitting at computers to coordinate your sorties. All the benefits of GCI in a portable package!

A large part of picking a platform is determining your constraints. We’re looking for a land-based platform that’s relatively low cost to operate and can handle a good number of friendly and enemy aircraft. For this reason, we’re going to look at the larger class of AEW&C platforms.

As a brief aside, the smaller platforms are the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, and a number of business jet derivatives. The Hawkeye is the only decent carrierborne AEW&C platform available, so if we were looking to build a naval air arm, that’s what we’d pick for the purpose.

The obvious large AEW&C platform is the E-3 Sentry. However, it is built on a Boeing 707-derived airframe, and these are no longer in production. No luck there. This problem also presented itself to the Japanese when they were looking for a larger platform to supplement their Hawkeyes in the 1990s.

Boeing obliged with the E-767, which puts the radar and computers from the E-3 onto a 767-200 airframe. The resulting widebody has space for up to 19 controller consoles, though I couldn’t find a great source on how many the JASDF use. It still uses the same radar as on the Sentry, albeit with upgrades. Also, as presently configured, it has no aerial refueling capability.

About a decade later, Boeing responded to an Australian RFP with a new design: the E-7A Wedgetail. This aircraft is based on the 737-700 airframe, and mounts Northrop Grumman’s Multirole Electronically Scanned Array radar. This is an actively scanned array, so it doesn’t need to rotate. It does posses aerial refueling capability, and is capable of mounting up to twelve controller consoles. At present, Australia has fitted ten consoles.

In terms of bigger platforms, these are the contenders. More consoles on the E-767 means it can coordinate more friendly aircraft. The more advanced MESA radar on the Wedgetail lets it refresh scans of regions faster and adjust power to focus on particular sectors with longer-ranged scans. It’s also able to handle simultaneous air and surface search. and the actively scanned array should be better at ECCM.

You can probably see where this is going. We’re opting for the E-7A Wedgetail. It’s even the cheaper option of the two. It’s telling that Wedgetail has had several export successes since being sold to the Australians. It’s also telling that the E-767 is absent from most of Boeing’s current marketing materials.

The Opinionated Bastards: Tukayyid (Sep. 28, 3052)


It’s a good month for training, but I appear to have lost my screenshot thereof.

Still, the drills stretch on interminably, and news of a rebel concentration suitable to attack is a welcome diversion.

The Action of September 13, 3052

The surprisingly-timely action of September 13 involves both Bear’s Bruisers and Drake’s Destroyers. (That’s Teddy Bear, Hanzoku, Severe, and Euchre, if you’ve lost track, plus Carcer, Woad, Linebuster, and Blinky.)

The enemy is a reinforced Vedette platoon, six tanks and two medium mechs of indeterminate make, currently stationed in a town. Weather is bad; high winds rare reducing weapon accuracy and hampering vehicle movement.



The enemy deploys in the city, where the tight quarters will work to their advantage—and ours. Bear’s Bruisers move north to deal with the enemy Wolverine, while Drake’s Destroyers swing around south to march through the center of the city.

Round 1


Both of the Bastards’ lances advance. Almost nobody is within weapons range at this stage. Hanzoku takes a crack at an enemy Vedette, while the first enemy medium mech, a Wolverine, fires on Euchre‘s Trebuchet.

The Wolverine scores the luckiest of lucky shots, clanging an AC/5 shell off of Euchre‘s cockpit. He shakes his head, bell rung, but forges on.

Round 2


Bear’s Bruisers now have a number of good targets, but are good targets themselves, as both enemy mechs move out of the city and a Vedette runs at top speed down the road.

Drake’s Destroyers, under Carcer‘s command, aren’t in great position, and the weather means they’ll be a little slow to reposition. Blame your staff officer’s rustiness.

The Bruisers concentrate on the Vedette, hoping to knock it out this round. Down south, Woad with his trusty Grasshoper is the only pilot with a shot. He lines up on a broken-down Vedette in the center of town and lets loose an alpha strike.

Nothing hits to very much effect. Severe scores with one of her Clan ER Medium Lasers, slicing into the Vedette’s armor. Woad hits his target with a single medium laser. The Wolverine and a Vedette score hits in response. Everything else goes wide or spatters harmlessly off of armor.

Round 3


In the south, the Destroyers split up. Carcer and Linebuster, with longer-ranged mechs, split out to the west, where they’ll be able to fire on enemies leaving town along the northwest road. Woad and Blinky, in faster, shorter-ranged mechs, move into town to flank the vehicles hiding there.


In the north, Severe and Teddy Bear aim to shoot at and stomp on the nearest Vedette, respectively, while Hanzoku trades fire with a Vedette poking its nose out of town and Euchre looks to deal some damage to one coming out along the northwest road.

Four of Severe‘s five lasers find their mark, dealing a combined 24 damage, but Teddy Bear gets the kill with a stomp. Euchre damages his target’s left track, but doesn’t get the kill, while Woad and Blinky team up to knock out the immobilized Vedette in town. Blinky gets the last hit.

Round 4


Carcer is in range of a Vedette, and lines up her laser shot eagerly. Woad pushes into the town, thanks to the magic of jump jets, while Blinky lags behind a bit.

Severe again proves the worth of her Koshi, slicing deep into a Vedette’s rear armor and heavily damaging its engine. Hanzoku finishes off the Vedette darting past his mech with a kick which caves in the roof of its turret.

Round 5


Everyone is in on the action now. Hanzoku, Carcer, and the allied Vulcan race to take down the enemy Wolverine, while Severe, Woad, and Blinky move into the center of the city to deal with the remaining two Vedettes.

Teddy Bear lands a full alpha strike on his target Vedette, immobilizing it and knocking off both tracks, but not quite managing to bring it down with weapons fire. He finishes the job with a kick to the rear armor. Hanzoku beheads the Wolverine with a well-aimed volley of laser fire, notching the kill for himself. Woad and Severe collaborate to immobilize one of the city center Vedettes, while Blinky immobilizes the other.


The other enemy mech, a Phoenix Hawk which did very little, falls back, leaving the two Vedettes for Woad and Blinky. Each scores one kill.

Damage, Injuries, Salvage

Our mechs are all but undamaged, none of our pilots are badly hurt, and although we can’t convince the ComStar liaison to give us the Wolverine, we do get six Vedettes for the mechanics to cut apart. An excellent battle, professionally won.

Between selling off the Vedette chassis after stripping them of everything useful and ransoming prisoners, we end the mission up about 750,000 C-bills.

Kill Board(s)

Blinky and Hanzoku both emerge with two kills. Hanzoku leapfrogs Linebuster by dint of having more mech kills and now tying for overall count.

Last Battle

Forgot to take a screenshot. It’s been a while! I’m out of practice.

All-Time Leaders

  1. “Rook” Ishikawa (27, 8 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  2. “Drake” Halit (14, 6 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  3. “Woad” Kohler (14, 5 mechs, 1 Clan kill)
  4. “Carcer” Ngo (11, 5 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  5. “Wizard” Que (7, 6 mechs, 6 Clan kills)
  6. “Teddy Bear” Jamil (6, 3 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  7. “Double Dog” Dare (5, 2 mechs, 1 Clan kill)
  8. “Hanzoku” Yuksel (5, 4 mechs, 2 Clan kill)
  9. “Linebuster” Atkinson (5)
  10. “Severe” Payne (4, 4 mechs)
  11. “Milspec” Ortega (4, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  12. “Ker-Ker” Ec (3, 2 mechs)
  13. “Euchre” Kojic (2, 2 mechs)
  14. “Blinky” Stirzacre (2)
  15. “Kicks” Hernandez (1, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  16. Simona (1, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  17. “Wojtek” Frajtov (1, 1 mech)


It is now September 28, 3052; there’s another battle pending.


We have 65.431 million C-bills in the bank, up 108,000 since last update.

Repairs and Refits

Our techs continue to work on refitting our two assault mechs. Edina Cameron is only a few days’ work away from getting Rook‘s Stalker back into the field. Kepano Endo has about four months of work left on Drake‘s Awesome.

Mechwarrior Claims and Assignments

  • For the record, the following mechwarriors are claimed.
    • Captain Huri “Drake” Halit (Mephansteras) – Awesome Custom (refitting)
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Lt. SG Mariamu “Rook” Ishikawa (Culise) – Stalker STK-3Fb (refitting)
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s) – Thunderbolt TDR-5S-T
    • Sgt. Jose “Milspec” Ortega (milspec) – Crab CRB-20
    • Sgt. Tedros “Teddy Bear” Jamil (Knave) – Vulcan VL-5T
    • Cpl. Damayanti “Carcer” Ngo (Dorsidwarf) – Flashman FLS-7K
    • Cpl. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing) – Grasshopper GHR-5H
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack) – Trebuchet TBT-5S
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies) – Koshi Custom
    • Pvt. E-Shei “Ker-Ker” Ec (Kanil) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Pvt. Ed “Hanzoku” Yuksel (Hanzoku) – Guillotine GLT-4L
    • Pvt. Ik-jun “Wojtek” Frajtov (Blaze) – Trebuchet TBT-5N
    • Pvt. Xue-Min “Wizard” Que (Rince Wind) – Guillotine GLT-4P
    • Pvt. Abdul-Hafiz “Pepper” Popalzi (mrkilla22) – Archer ARC-2K
    • Pvt. Kevin “Blinky” Stirzacre (moghopper) – Ostroc OSR-2C
    • Pvt. Gwenael “Kicks” Hernandez (Sheyra) – Phoenix Hawk PXH-1K
    • Pvt. Elroy “Faceplant” Farooqi (NickAragua) – Dragon DRG-5N
  • The following mechwarriors are available.
    • Rec. Simona – Ryoken/Stormcrow B (missing lasers)

Action Items

Nothing much to speak of.


We’re now running MekHQ 0.44. Happily, everything I’d done on a custom basis is now merged into the main branch, so it was pretty painless. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get 0.45 to load the save game, so we may be stuck here for a bit.

Choosing a Tanker Aircraft

Tanker aircraft are a requirement for any serious projection of airpower. And no one ever has enough of them. So let’s go get some.

Previously, the standard in aerial refueling was the KC-135, a close relative of the classic Boeing 707. Today, there are two different airframes available for tankers. There is the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330. The 767 has two tanker derivatives: the KC-767, which is derived from the 767-200ER and is in use by Italy and Japan; and the KC-46A, which is based on the 767-200LRF1 and is in use by the United States and Japan. Note that the KC-46A is bigger than the KC-767, and carries more fuel. The A330-MRTT is the tanker derivative of the A330, and it is bigger than the KC-46A.

Now on to the choices. We know from the USAF tanker proposals that the 767 options have a lower projected life cycle cost than the A330-MRTT. For many export customers, this is outweighed by the greater fuel and cargo capacity of the Airbus. On the other hand, the 767s smaller size means it can operate out of smaller airfields. It is closer in size to the KC-135R, for those looking for a direct replacement, or just trying to picture sizes.

For us, we’d also point out the massive USAF buy of KC-46As as points in its favor, since that will mean the type will get more future upgrades and development money, if only to keep the US fleet going. Further, 767s are Boeing aircraft, and have a flight envelope not restricted by the flight computer. We prefer this.

So we’re going with the KC-46A. It’ll get the upgrades, and Boeing is still making 767s for the civilian market, which is a plus. We expect to be able to cannibalize ex-civilian airliners for parts and airframes for years after the type is formally retired (as was done with the KC-135), but the longer we can go before having to do this the better.

  1. Which is actually quite a bit different from the 767-200ER. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 12, 2018)

Slim pickings this week, in part because I did not do my usual defense news trawl every morning. My bad.


  • I’m still plowing through Volume 1 of Foote, having now made it past Grant’s victory at Shiloh, the entirely unsuccessful Confederate attempts to march through the desert Southwest to California, and the capture of New Orleans. It’s worth remarking how the story of the Civil War is the Confederacy winning slightly in one place and losing badly in four other places.





  • Capitalist markets in North Korea – My opinion on the currently-ruling Mr. Kim is that his secret desire is to be remembered as a liberalizer who brought North Korea out of darkness and into the modern age, owing to his evidently-long childhood in the West, but that his ability to do so is limited by the North Korean power structure. Not to say our man Jong-un is anything but a brutal dictator even by the standards of brutal dictators, which is what the preponderance of the evidence suggests, but brutal dictators who liberalize tend to be treated decently by the world, whereas the rest of the North Korean government would pretty much all end up on trial for crimes against humanity.
  • From the gee-who’d-have-thunk file, a novelist who wrote about how to murder your husband has been charged with murdering her husband.

Errata: URG-I updates

Earlier this year I wrote a post on the URG-I upgrade kit for USASOC’s M4s. This is a pretty simple set of drop-in parts to improve the functionality of the M4 by using a low-profile gas block, barrel with a midlength gas system, improved flash hider that can also mount a suppressor, and a new, longer, free-float handguard with mlok slots instead of picatinny rails.

When I first wrote the article, I compared it to a “stock” M4 upper. To do so I had to make some guesses as to the weights of the new parts. I have since been able to find the correct weights, and the article has been updated with those.

If you just want the correct weights without re-reading the article, they are as follows:
Geissele Mk 16 13″ handguard, 14.7 oz.
Surefire SF4P flash hider, 4.48 oz.
Daniel Defense 14.5″ CHF Midlength, Gov’t profile barrel, 24 oz.

Whence Cometh PMAGs?

It occurred to me that there are plenty of folks who don’t understand how and why Magpul’s fantastic PMAGs became the standard magazine for AR-15 users both civilian and military. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In terms of product, Magpul’s PMAGs1 hit a solid mix of reasonable price, reasonable quality, reasonable durability, and reasonable reliability of feeding (which is to say, function). They’re also pretty ubiquitous. Easy to find almost anywhere. While you can buy more durable magazines, they will cost you more. And mags that are cheaper by a large enough margin to care about don’t work as well.

Magpul wasn’t the first to come to market with a polymer magazine. Their first prototypes were made in 2006. They were among the first to come out with a polymer magazine that worked well, and they had built a customer base with some of their other quality products, like their magazine pulls (hence the company name).

Of course, the AR-15’s original magazines were made from thin aluminum. They were originally intended to be disposable after a single use, and this allowed the Armalite design team to make them very lightweight. However, the military did not go for that, and reissued magazines. Civilian shooters would also not treat aluminum magazines as disposable items either. However, the Armalite design team was not given a chance to redesign the magazines to make them more durable.

One of the things that will crop up with ‘USGI’ aluminum magazines is that the feed lips can deform, whether from being dropped or being smacked or whatever. And a property of metal is that when deformed with enough force, you’ll get “plastic deformation,” i.e. it will stay bent. If the feed lips get messed up, your mag isn’t going to work. These can be subtle problems. Your eye won’t know, but your rifle will. Like the princess and the pea.

Now, the military hates to throw things out, so mags that get bad from use and abuse (or stupid, stupid boots) are going to stick around. And civilians aren’t very likely to throw out bad mags either. They paid good money for those! That’s not to mention the affect of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which allowed the sale to non-law enforcement civilians of standard capacity magazines made before 1994. So those aluminum mags were going nowhere. And those old mags were now worth a premium, so whatever crappy mag that a guy could dig up could be resold at a significant profit. Even if the mag was beat to hell.

I still have a folder of data on my hard drive of proper feed lip dimensions and instructions for retuning feed lips to get them close to original spec so that they wouldn’t induce double feeds. Ugh. Bad memories.

After the sunset of the ban in 2004, the market exploded with manufacturers making standard capacity magazines. Of course, the nature of the aluminum USGI magazines meant that it was pretty hard for the layman to tell if the magazine was made by anyone who knew what they were doing. Substandard materials or construction methods could lead to more problems. Or more rapid onset of problems. Or not; you could just get lucky.

Enter Magpul’s PMAG. Magpul hit the market with a good design, good materials (finally–remember this wasn’t the first attempt at a polymer AR-15 magazine), and good quality control. If you bought a Magpul PMAG, it would work, unlike previous polymer magazine efforts. And you didn’t find PMAGs in a box with a bunch of other curbstomped mags at a gunshow. Even if you did, they looked distinctive. Plus, they were cheap enough to buy a lot of.

Once they got the polymer magazines working well, Magpul’s choice of material brought other benefits. Polymer doesn’t deform like aluminum does; ironically it doesn’t do “plastic deformation”. It’ll either spring back to its original shape (elastic deformation) or break. And when it breaks it’s obvious. Maybe there’s a chunk of feedlip missing. Maybe there’s a big crack down the back of the magazine. Maybe the weld split. And it’s probably going to vomit bullets all over the floor when you try to fill it.

There you have it. Why we love our PMAGs.

  1. All caps, because Magpul spells it that way. And when I say PMAG, I do mean “Magpul’s PMAG” not something else. Not the imitators. And I like Magpul a lot, so I’ll happily oblige them on their branding. 

Choosing a Jet Trainer

While not glamorous, jet trainers are an important part of an air force’s inventory. And with the US Air Force looking for a replacement for its venerable T-38s, I thought I might do likewise. As always, we’re looking for something off the shelf, which is doubly important for a trainer. A trainer’s most important evaluation criterion is cost; it should be cheap to buy and cheap to operate. It should, however, have a reasonably sophisticated cockpit so students can start learning on the sorts of instruments they’ll see on your front line fighters, as this will reduce training time there.

Cost is always a hard thing for the armchair strategist to analyze, however recently Poland sought a new trainer. Looking at their tender, we can get an excellent idea of relative costs, since Poland makes none of the three leading contenders. They compared the current model of BAE’s Hawk trainer, Alenia’s M-346, and Korean Aerospace’s T-50. All three are new-build aircraft, complete with modern comforts like glass cockpits. Costs for the bid (for a fixed initial number of aircraft) broke down as follows: M-346: 1.168 billion złoty, Hawk: 1.754 billion złoty, and T-50: 1.803 billion złoty. The M-346 won in Poland. It has also won a similar comparison in Singapore, but I don’t have their competitive bids to examine.

We might next ask if we ask anything more of our trainer. Some smaller air forces have trainers that are tasked to also be light attack aircraft. Were this the case, like any other tender we’d start discussing payload and compatible weapons fit. However, since we do not have such a role in mind for our trainer, we do not need to make such comparisons.

Since the M-346 is our lowest-cost option that meets our capability requirements, the M-346 is our choice.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Sep. 5, 2018)

At least it’s on Wednesday today!


  • Parvusimperator is up to volume two of Shelby Foote’s three-volume Civil War set, which means I’m now on Volume 1. Foote’s narrative is, so far, excellent and comprehensive.


  • Revisiting the Russo-Georgian War
  • A fuller account of the Russo-Georgian War
  • Russian performance in the Syrian War – notable for its brief treatment of Russian precision munitions, which aren’t so much precision munitions, generally, as precision attack systems in the aircraft delivering them. Per War on the Rocks above, this has changed somewhat, with greater numbers of actual guided weapons now in Russian stocks.
  • Boeing wins the MQ-25 contract – good job, Boeing. You’ve had a bit of a tough go of it with contracts lately, but between the KC-46 and the MQ-25, you’re now the acknowledged leader in air-to-air refueling worldwide. Also, way to go, Navy, for finally realizing that a dedicated tanker is important. It remains to be seen whether a drone tanker is a good idea, but buddy refueling definitely has its limits. Speaking of…
  • Navy F-35C and F/A-18F involved in air-to-air refueling accident – oops. Apparently, the F-35 managed to ingest the end of the drogue. No details on the actual extent of the damage, but the Navy said it’s a Class A Mishap, which means damage exceeded $2 million. Now we’ll get to see how good the LockMart repair manuals are.


  • The Last Enfield – my favorite bolt-action battle rifle, in its ultimate form.

Football Is Pretty Much Here, So Educate Yourself