Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tomb Raider Review


A reboot of a renowned franchise is fraught with danger. You not only have to meet the desires of the long time fans that have implanted in their minds what the game should be about, but bring it up to scratch with what is currently being used in the industry. For Tomb Raider it appears that the ridiculous breast size is out as well as the true dungeon platforming of the past in return for a truly gripping story and more varied gameplay that pushes Lara to her limits. Getting the balance right was a mighty task that could threaten to tarnish the Tomb Raider reputation if this game was a flop. After sitting glued to the television for the duration of the story I can say this isn't the case and Tomb Raider is everything I could've hoped for and more.

Presentation

When Tomb Raider was originally revealed at E3 I was truly blown away. It looked absolutely gorgeous and the realistic direction of the franchise looked like a brilliant decision. Seeing a short sneak peek showcasing a vast environment that was full of detail may have been a shining light among many repetitive areas. This is not the case and I spent countless times just stopping and admiring the view from where I was situated. Environments are constantly changing and you will be moving through dark caves lit only by the torch in your hand to vast expansive open areas. Standing on the edge of a cliff and looking out over the desolate island highlights the huge draw distance and amount of detail put into every nook and cranny of this game.


Lara's interaction with her environment is taken advantage off at every possible opportunity. I love games that go to that extra effort to manipulate the protagonist and not just give them one base animation for movement. From everything to bending to get under rock ledges or crouching at the opportune moment to sneak up on an enemy she is aware of her surroundings. Character models are top notch not only for the main characters in the story but also even the enemies. Small details such as hair swaying in the breeze or blood and dirt covering Lara after she has escaped from the grasp of the enemies are all reasons why this is such a beautiful looking game. Damn, I never stopped being impressed by it.

A game where you spend over 10 hours listening to a girl screaming and breathing loudly sounds like it would be irritating. The groans of pain and yelps of dispair let you feel empathy for Lara as she is pushed to her limits in an attempt to escape the island. The voice acting is outstanding in this game and manages to convey the magnitude of the situation to the gamer. Lara is a girl who is facing emotions and situations she hasn't previously come across and must react to them quickly. Talking to herself and others who are part of her posse of stranded survivors explains the story to you. Her supporting cast don't reveal as much as Lara since they kind of come and go but you will generate a real connection with Lara's feelings and emotions.


The musical score works extremely well in collaboration with the tense moments of the game in particular. For a game that is meant to be purely an action platformer I found myself tensing up in moments where you didn't know what was about to happen next. The score played perfectly into these moments with upbeat sounds turning it into more of a horror game instead of action. I felt like it added an awful lot to the game and couldn't possibly fault the sound and overall presentation of the game.

Gameplay

I decided that I would enter this reboot of the franchise with an open mind. Too often I have found myself disappointed by imaging it as more of a HD reboot of the same game instead of bringing it into this generation of gaming. I expected quicktime events and the big explosions that enhance the action in moments that would seem fairly mundane without it. I am glad I came with no expectations because it allowed me to truly experience the amazing adventure you undertake as Lara Croft. Too many games try to drag you in by the action which leaves gaping holes in plot lines, if they have one to begin with. I found Tomb Raider gripping from a gameplay point of view, but also felt emotionally connected to Lara's hardship and the struggle to escape from the island.

The premise of the story is you and your crew are looking for an escape from the island they have become shipwrecked on. They become split up and Lara must quickly transform from this scared, innocent girl to someone who has the ability to take on extreme danger without a second thought. The first hour is all about building up to this point where Lara kills her first person. This is an emotionally tense moment and you will encounter many of these throughout the game. I found it gripping and showed a regretful side of Lara, revealing some darker demons rather than a ravaged killer which is something too often portrayed in gaming. Having to toss up between gripping decisions tears Lara apart and seeing it unfold it thrilling, even if you have no choice in the path taken. Story twists are everywhere and it kept me guessing at every turn. There was a point where I genuinely believed the game was ending, only for it to end in tragedy for the crew and further hardship as they battled to unlock the secrets of the island. The only downside of the story is that the other characters are under developed and don't feature the same emotional attachment that comes with Lara. It is expected seeing how the majority of the game is based around Lara, but the cameos they provide don't bring true meaning even though you can sense a deeper meaning behind what they are doing.


Let's get this straight, Tomb Raider is definitely a linear game and all the talk about exploration may fool some. To get from point A to point B there will be a sole path you must take to reach there. Along the path there may be the odd alternative path that leads to one of the many collectible documents, artefacts or GPS caches, but they will always point you in the right direction. For those who enjoy an open game, you will find most pleasure traversing the open areas that are set out to perfection to test your brain to solve the puzzle of how to reach the areas you need to. This can sometimes be simple of require some clever manipulation of the environment to pull it off.

Platforming plays a big part of the game, but really comes to the forefront in the secret tombs that you can discover. The one true off the path section of the game brings the hardest puzzles to Lara as she attempts to find the treasure at the end of the trail. I liked these moments because you aren't worrying about death and its more about using your wit and skills to get past the puzzle. They gave me a sense of deja vu and I felt like being in the similar hidden tombs of Assassin's Creed, something I always strived to complete because they were a really fun part of the game.

Accompanying the platforming segments is often a fair bit of action. Without revealing too much of the story there are people out to get you and Lara is forced into some pretty brutal situations. With a bow & arrow, shotgun, handgun and assault rifle at your disposal you will learn skills to take down these enemies masterfully or with simple brute force. How you do it is up to you, I was fearful that they would reward stealth far too heavily but I felt capable of going with either approach in most situations. The game would give subtle hints as to when it was best to go stealthily or perhaps wait for a group of guards to walk past that exploding barrel, but then the reins were handed over to you.


Once you finish the story I felt like I wanted to go back to the areas I had previously visited and look for collectibles, finish upgrading my weapons and completing my skills set. Collectibles are generally a time consuming exercise I don't wish to participate in but Tomb Raider makes it fun and rewarding to find them. There is so much to talk about that I could go on all day. Quick time events aren't too intrusive and bring the story together with some exciting moments that perfectly reflect what you are heading into. Gameplay is varied and you won't find yourself doing something for longer than necessary. The story flows and the positives vastly outweigh the negatives here.

What about the multiplayer you ask? It is bland, feels tacked on and will not last more than a few months once everyone moves on. The worst decision Square Enix have made in a long time is the choice to put multiplayer inside a single player experience. It is best if your eyes never stray to this mode as it is a mere scratch on a near impenetrable force that is the single player campaign.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, this was a game I wanted to see through to the end. Games too often lead me dragging my feet towards the finish line instead of sprinting with a strong desire. Tomb Raider gripped me with both hands and didn't let go under the credits were rolling. The graphics are milking the last drips of power out of this generation, the story is well crafted and runs smoothly while also making me feel emotions I never expected to experience in a video game. The action is a heap of fun, while linear, but that hardly matters when everything is placed for a reason and you have the smarts to use it to the full potential. While there are some more strong games coming out to close this generation, I personally see Tomb Raider going down as one of the strongest performances to come out of 2013. I can't recommend this game enough, go and play it already. The single player is worth it and we can just forget about the atrocity that is multiplayer.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 10/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10

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