Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Rebuilding a legend

Tomb Raider

The Tomb Raider franchise and the main heroine, Lara Croft, are some of the gaming industry's biggest names. There is no shock that Crystal Dynamics wanted to make a new game in the series. Tomb Raider once again is rebooted for the franchise to breathe fresh air. A reboot that perhaps will turn away some of the old fans, but really it shouldn't.

After the first 6 titles, Core Design gave up the Tomb Raider games and a reboot was made with TR: Legend. The reboot gave way for a remake of the first game and the TR: Underworld game in 2008. This previous reboot gave way for new people to the franchise with the easy and fairly forgiving Legend game, however it quickly became like the old franchise again. I recall the opening level in Underworld as being an fairly harsh beginning and a steep learning curve. This of course suited the old TR fans perfectly (much like myself), but it turned away new players trying out the famous series. This second reboot then, tries to repair this, and it succeeds very well.

To begin with I was fairly sceptical to this game, due to the fact that I liked the freedom of exploring and the unforgiving nature of the older games. However, I decided to put away my prejudice and simply take Tomb Raider for what it is. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable games I have played in a long time.

Hunting earns you experience points and is rather tricky, but fun!
The islanders are a resentless bunch and will kill Lara if they get the chance.

TR looks incredible and is presented so cinematically you actually feel like your playing a movie. There are no loading screens after the game loads up the first time, you simply walk from one end of the game to the other. Loading is cleverly covered in some claustrophobic cave walking or cliff hanging. It helps the game feel more real and it hides away cumbersome HUD's, it's all about the cinematic visuals.

The game begins the building of a legend, that being the famous Lara Croft. It's perfect for beginners to get into what the franchise is all about. It shows how Lara as a vulnerable  yet curious, a young explorer getting thrown into a harsh situation she has to fight to survive. Once again, like Far Cry 3, this game shows that fighting to survive is great concept. 

Zip lining is always fun, in any game!

Lara gets beaten up badly in this game; taking falls, punches and bullets.

Graphically TR is truly beautiful and amazingly varied. It is perhaps one of the most visually stunning games created to date. The island opens up for tons of variation in it's landscape; from  rocky coastal mountainside battered by the rough sea surrounding the island, torch-lit caves full of creepy skeletons and remains of ancient civilizations, snowy mountain tops with incredible heights and drops and all the way to undiscovered Chinese Imperial villages.

I love the fact that they have combined natural environments, primitive civilisations, World War 2 ruins and Asian temples all into one island. This variety in types of historical environments to explore helps keep the tradition of TR games shifting locations often through each game. Only this time it's all located in one open world. Stunning!

Finding and helping the crew from the stranded ship you arrived in.

The torch and fire itself is a very useful item for surviving the island and finding your way through dark areas.

The gameplay feels totally renewed for this game, and it is about time. Agreed that the game is a little more forgiving in the climbing parts and leads you along a lighter path than the old TR games (which often left you completely alone). That doesn't take away the fact that this game plays fantastic. The climbing and exploring of the luscious environments feels great and the shooting, damn the shooting is really good. Gone are the truly terrible fighting mechanics of the old TR games, and new is a cover-based, awesome third person shooter.

The game allows you to earn XP and upgrade your weapons and skills, XP is earned from killing enemies/animals and exploring and finding items. It gives a meaning to exploring and finding items, rather than just crossing them off on a list like the previous games in the series. A welcome bonus and makes your life easier when you earn skillpoints which give you new abilities, while the weapons see real improvement when upgraded.

Speaking of weapons, it's actually one of the few games where I loved the bow and arrow. The bow lets you stealthy kill enemies and feels really powerful! This combination of adventure, action and RPG elements works perfect and truly proves that gaming genres can learn from each other and pick out the best parts. TR even has similarity to the early Silent Hill games in some of it's creepy, dark and rather occult locations.

The game is amazingly well paced. It will go from hectic gunfights to calm exploration within moments. Filling in story cutscenes and really breathtaking exploration too. I never had a dull moment in the game and felt like I always was doing, seeing and playing something new. That's the key to my high review score here; Tomb Raider combines many gameplay elements, does each one really good and continues to introduce new elements and interesting plot twists. It's a rare quality in a game lasting for over 20 hours if you plan on finding every secret. TR never lets your attention go and captivates you from beginning to end.

Fierce animals are also a problem on the island.

More than often a stealthy approach is the best way to take out enemies.

TR is fantastically presented and played all the way through, and it is perhaps a glimpse of what games will be like from now on; a seamless, cinematic and movie-like presentation, genre mixing and well paced game which constantly and consistently introduces new elements to drive you on. It feels almost like a next generation game and shows that a franchise can be renewed and rebooted with complete success. I highly doubt this game will fall out of my top three games of 2013.

Without hesitation pick up this game and play it.

Lara is back.



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