Thursday, 7 March 2013

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is an intense reboot of the series, a prequel which allows you to see Lara Croft as you’ve never seen her before. Young, vulnerable and in danger, Lara learns to adapt quickly and become the tough heroine we’ve come to know and love.

The game sees the budding archaeologist shipwrecked on an incredibly beautiful island, regrouping with her friends, and above all trying to survive the wrath of some pretty unpleasant islanders. With wrecks everywhere, unwelcoming inhabitants, creepy artefacts and even a plane crash before your very eyes – it all feels very Lost. Just like the Lost island, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Tomb Raider provides plenty of opportunity to show off the stunning landscapes as you clamber dangerously across rope bridges or scale a radio tower; you simply cannot play this game without appreciating the spectacular graphics. 

Everything feels smooth, too. Particularly for the first hour, the game can feel almost like a continuing cut-scene as Lara moves flawlessly and realistically from one space to another. This feels a little restrictive to start, with quick-time events and structured set pieces, but becomes more open as the game goes on. The gameplay seems to have a perfect balance between feeling completely natural whilst still being challenging, it feels genuinely dangerous to scramble up walls and use your axe to haul up rock faces, and yet Lara’s movements are still confident and relatively easy. 

Whilst we’re used to Lara Croft with a hardened attitude, this game sees a completely different side of her character. It’s genuinely interesting to see the young Lara starting out as an archaeologist, suddenly she feels like a completely normal human being, and it’s really realistic. You’ll be so interested in listening to Lara that the other characters seem completely obsolete and a little lacking, but it actually doesn’t even matter. Ignoring every word her friends says wouldn’t take away from this game, which should be a criticism, but it’s a true testament to how brilliant Lara’s character is here. Her attitude is perfect, even when struggling for survival she still manages to take note of the archaeology around her, being fascinated by the history of the tombs and symbols around her. 

Whilst she is vulnerable, she does not feel weak. She hardens quickly, almost too quickly. Your first kill as Lara is one of the most intensely emotional moments of the game, as she struggles with a near-death scenario, grabs the hand gun and gorily blows the head off her first kill, promptly breaking down into tears. From this moment, she wields this weapon and many others with ease, needing to pop heads off of several islanders around most corners she takes. Whilst this quick development feels a little startling, you can see how it would be tiresome dealing with a teary Lara at every kill. However, this could have been paced a little better.

Combat may be thrown upon you a little, but it’s easy enough to pick up. It’s pretty standard. Cover based, aim for the head unless you want to waste a ton of ammo, and vary your weapon choices. Collecting of XP and salvage from surrounding objects and from looting dead bodies is an intuitive way to engage more with your surroundings, allowing you to upgrade skills and weapons. It’s a familiar system and it works well here, encouraging you both to explore a little further and take a little more care during combat scenes. 

Tomb Raider is a game you should probably play whether you’ve been a fan of the series beforehand or not. It’s certainly been taken up a notch, all you need to do is not press ‘Y’ quick enough or misjudge a jump to see Lara brutally and realistically die in front of you; hearing her scream and her bones crush is enough for you to be pretty terrified of letting her die again – and you can definitely see why the game gets its ‘18’ rating. The gameplay is fast pace and exciting, yet still allowing you to chill out and explore tombs if you’re interested. The smooth, natural feel of incredibly high-pressure events is difficult to achieve and it’s done brilliantly here, and everything looks, sounds and feels stunning. The reboot gives you a totally different view of Lara Croft, adding an incredible layer of depth and realism. As she stands covered in blood, exhales and mutters “I hate tombs”, you can’t help but giggle a little. She’s a real person for once, and she’s a pretty amazing one.

Gameplay – 8.5

Impressively smooth and intuitive whilst still challenging, you feel like you’re constantly taking risks. Moving from place to place is fluid and dynamic, it never feels repetitive. Combat is good, just thrown on you a little unrealistically.

Presentation – 9.0

The island is not only beautiful, with vast landscapes constantly viewable and gorgeous, but also very much alive and responsive. Animals move around you in the forest and water washes dirt off your body, the game’s attention to detail is noticeable and looks fantastic.

Replay value – 7.5

It’s very tempting to just storm through the first player campaign, which does leave some room for replay, as you’ll probably want to go back and explore some of the secret tombs you left behind. However, once you’ve completed that, there’s probably not much left to do. The multiplayer isn’t anything new or exciting, and whilst if you’re a fan of multiplayer you’ll enjoy it, you’ll probably be back on Call of Duty by the end of the week.

Final thoughts – 9.0

Tomb Raider is an extremely impressive reboot of a series that I’d never taken particularly seriously before. It’s a beautiful game with smooth, fast paced and challenging gameplay. Most significantly though, Lara’s character is brilliantly written and gives amazing depth to probably gaming’s most iconic heroine. 

Kaz Scattergood

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