Monday, 18 March 2013

Mitch Reviews: Tomb Raider



Does this reboot freshen up the series or are Lara’s days of treasure hunting finally over?

Story

Whilst it’s debatable as to whether or not previous Tomb Raider games had strong stories, I think everybody will agree that Lara’s latest outing is driven by a story worth knowing. You’re thrown straight into the thick of the action within minutes of booting the game up, experiencing an expedition gone wrong to find the elusive Japanese kingdom of Yamatai.

The thrill of excitement experienced within the first few minutes doesn’t wear off due to the well-paced story, character progression and unobtrusive set pieces. Being a reboot, we get to join Lara on her first adventure as we watch her become who we’re familiar with; the explorer we know her to be.

Characters are proven to be in-depth and as you collect journals and items, you learn more about other characters' histories as well as insights by Lara herself, giving her thoughts on the situation, the people she’s with and the emotional effect events have on her. Chances are, you’ll be thinking similar things to her due to how realistic the characters are and how easy it is to place yourself in their shoes.

Gameplay

One thing that stunned me in this game was the brutality and gore, the emphasis that Lara is only a young, untrained woman who’s vulnerable to the dangers of the outside world. With infamous QTEs making an appearance, you need to be quick to avoid instant death via strangulation and being crushed, impaled or murdered; the more sadistic of us may fail these entirely on purpose just to see what unfortunate ends Crystal Dynamics have cooked up for Lara. Luckily, the QTEs are unobtrusive but give you some control over the dynamically spectacular set pieces.

Gone are Lara’s trademark pistols, now replaced by an iconic bow and arrow. Whilst this is the most effective weapon in the game, you can also use a sole pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun and a pickaxe for when you want to get down and dirty up-close.
These can be upgraded by finding materials in tombs and littered boxes which allow you to improve accuracy, strength, reload speed and various other things.
Platforming has had a major overhaul and thankfully, Lara can now jump smoothly like a normal person rather than the stiff and painful platforming segments we had to suffer during earlier Tomb Raider titles. Climbing feels smooth and efficient, with the new Rope Ascender tool allowing you to quickly soar to your desired destination or to escape enemy fire. It’s a shame that you’re unable to attack when climbing as I feel this could have mixed the gameplay up, but hopefully we’ll see a more aggressive Lara in a sequel.

Getting into cover is easy but you’ll find yourself sticking to things by accident as Lara sidles besides things when in close proximity rather than at the press of a button. You’re able to roll and slide into cover which is great during a firefight as Lara falls fairly quick if you try to be overly offensive, and it also allows you to evade molotovs which incapacitate you for a short period when it makes contact.

Graphics

Lara’s latest journey looks terrific and does its best to immerse you in the experience; the island theme is prominent and does a great job of making you feel stranded, alone and fragile.
The weather is dynamic and primarily features rain, which adds to the tension and mixes well with the darkness and blood that stains many locations. As someone who has been playing Tomb Raider since the first installment, I’m surprised to see how gritty and gory this one actually is but it’s definitely a positive as it allows us to care for Lara in a way that we never would have previously (you know, when she was a blow up doll with eyes glued on).
TressFX makes its first appearance in a game and makes its shining debut on the top of Lara’s head, giving her hair more the ability to portray itself realistically to hopefully become a multiplayer character or better yet, star in its own title in which it can grace our screens in all its glory. Hopefully we’ll see TressFX more in future now its proven itself. (James' note: TressFX totally sounds like a hair product.)

Audio

Voice-acting is top-notch, especially Camilla Luddington’s portrayal of Lara, and aids in relating to the characters and caring about what happens to them on the island as you can hear the stress and desperation as they discuss how to escape the cursed island.

Firearms sound awful and don’t pack a punch but, fortunately, the bow and arrow proves to be the best weapon available and comes with a satisfying ‘ping!’ sound. Explosions become background noise in the later parts of the game due to the immense amount of flammable barrels conveniently placed around the island.
The music itself is great but you won’t find yourself humming Tomb Raider tunes once you’ve finished the campaign, which is disappointing as a good soundtrack can change your outlook on a game and get your adrenaline pumping when played at the appropriate time.

Lasting Appeal

There’s a lot to see and do in the campaign including finding collectibles and journals and completing side-missions in the form of hidden tombs and when you feel that you’ve had your fill here, you can jump on the online multiplayer modes.

The multiplayer itself is lacking in comparison to the campaign with it being noticeably laggy and an awful matchmaking system where if someone leaves a game, you’ll have to be incredibly lucky to have that spot replaced without leaving the game and joining another. As is standard in most multiplayer titles, you are able to level up, unlock weapons, loadouts and perks and prestige once you hit a specific level.  It may require a few patches before I can fully recommend the multiplayer segment of Tomb Raider; it’s good fun but it feels tacked on. Thankfully, this doesn’t detract from the steller single-player campaign.

Tomb Raider is an excellent reboot which I fully recommend - if mostly due to the single player - and the addition of multiplayer is just the icing on the cupcake.

Mitchell is a freelance journalist and senior moderator at Playfire. You can find more of his work at http://mitchjay92.blogspot.co.uk/ or contact him at www.playfire.com/mitchjay1992. He's also got quite a few other reviews here.

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